Gulliver's Travels "Extracting Sunbeams Out Of Cucumbers"

Jonathan Swift

"Extracting Sunbeams Out Of Cucumbers"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Lemuel Gulliver visits the land of Balnibarbi, where people insist on doing everything in an impractical fashion. Those few who wish to use common sense in their activities are forced by social and political pressure to conform to the impractical. The epitome of the attitudes of the people of the land is found in the Grand Academy at the capital city of Lagado. At the academy Gulliver sees all sorts of experimentation going on. The most striking aspect of the projects is their absurdity, the second is that they all require a constant flow of money, like modern research and development projects. Swift is not satirizing only general impracticality; he is also hitting some of the contemporary follies of the British Royal Academy, whose membership sometimes indulged in activities that Swift, at least, did not approve. The first projector Gulliver meets at the Grand Academy of Lagado is typical of them all:

. . . He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt in eight years more, that he should be able to supply the Governor's gardens with sunshine at a reasonable rate; but he complained that his stock was low . . . since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers. I made him a small present. . . .