FLYING SAUCERS

On June 24, 1947 Kenneth Arnold, a business man from Boise, Idaho, was flying a private airplane near Mt. Ranier, Washington. He observed a formation of objects flying along in a line which he said looked "like pie plates skipping over water." He reported this incident to the press, which dubbed the objects "flying saucers." With that report the phenomenon was upon us here in the United States.
 

The term was not original. On January 25, 1878 the Denison Daily News of Denison, Texas reported that the preceding day a farmer named John Martin had observed a dark flying object in the shape of a disc cruising across the sky "at a wonderful speed;" he used the word "saucer" to describe it.
 

Reports of strange objects in the sky have occurred throughout history. These have been described in various ways, always according to the understanding and vocabulary of the individuals making the reports. They may be flying chariots, flying fire, fire balls, or numerous other assorted designations. During World War II many military pilots reported strange lights in the skies but the phenomenon was so elusive and so irregular that little official notice was given to it.
 

Then in 1945 human beings on this planet performed an act which raised them to a level of danger never before seen on our world. They exploded the first atomic bombs, and used them destructively to terminate one of their recurrent wars. That year marked a demarcation point in world history. We were headed for racial suicide unless action was taken to limit that awesome and horrendous power.
 

The year 1946 saw numerous reports of strange flying objects, many of them centered in Europe. But it was not until a year later that the United States became conscious of them on a large scale. The observational activity by space beings was now in full swing. And a program was underway to enlighten the people of this planet.
 

The term "El Disco" is used prevalently in South America. Other geographical regions may use other terms, but the term "Flying Saucer" is now recognized worldwide. Although it is not always descriptive of observed objects it became a universal term for strange objects in the sky. During the mid-50s the term UFOs was coined for these "Unidentified Flying Objects" and is now used by official agencies and serious investigators. But the term "Flying Saucer" is still held in popular conception.
 

Swift, in a sense, predicted this phrase in his description of the "Flying Island," which he also called a "Floating Island."
 

I desired leave of this Prince to see the curiosities of the island, which he was graciously pleased to grant, and ordered my tutor to attend me. I chiefly wanted to know to what cause in art or in nature it owed its several motions, whereof I will now give a philosophical account to the reader. 

The Flying or Floating Island is exactly circular, its diameter 7,837 yards, or about four miles and an half, and consequently contains ten thousand acres. It is three hundred yards thick. The bottom or under surface, which appears to those who view it from below, is one even regular plate of adamant, shooting up to the height of about two hundred yards. Above it lie the several minerals in their usual order, and over all is a coat of rich mould ten or twelve foot deep. The declivity of the upper surface, from the circumference to the centre, is the natural cause why all the dews and rains which fall upon the island, are conveyed in small rivulets towards the middle, where they are emptied into four large basins, each of about half a mile circuit, and two hundred yards distant from the centre. 


We could hardly call this a "philosophical description." Swift gave exact dimensions.
 

As we saw earlier William Booth Gill described his floating object as a disc. If we take Swift's exact dimensions and sketch them to scale we get the object shown in the following figure. It has these unique features:
 

1) It is exactly circular.
 

2) It is 7,387 yards in diameter.  

3) It is 300 yards thick.
 

4) The bottom is flat and smooth, one even regular plate.
 

5) The underside shoots up to a height of 200 yards.
 

6) The upper surface has a declivity from the circumference to the center.
 

This constitutes a perfect saucer shape.
 

However, it is truly prodigious in size, containing some 10,000 acres. Hovering over New York City it would span one third the length of Manhattan Island, and extend from New Jersey west of the Hudson across the East River to Brooklyn. What did Swift intend by the dimensions? Nothing in our skies today is reported so large. No one has reported a flying saucer, a flying cloud, a flying cigar or any other object with comparable size.
 

We can see how Swift buried a description of a "flying saucer" in his "satire" of Laputa.
 

Why did no one recognize Swift's description until now? What is the meaning behind this story written nearly three hundred ago?
 

The answer lies in our expectation of the purpose of Swift's story. If everyone thinks he was providing satire, we will see only satirical purpose. Then we will interpret according to that mental framework. But if our planetary supervisors knew the day would arrive when "flying saucers" would populate our skies, then they used Swift to provide verification of such descriptions.
 

Obviously we have a major problem. There must be significance behind Swift's story which has escaped the attention of readers since it was first published in 1726. But even more, this strange story has not come to the eye of modern readers who are acquainted with the saucer phenomenon. It has remained obscure and unknown.
 

Before entering into a more detailed treatment of this problem I shall consider the details of the report. We then can go on to more informed examination of Swift's context.
 

Open to interpretation is the point at which the bottom surface begins to shoot up to a height of 200 yards, or exactly what Swift meant by that statement. He said that the bottom was flat and smooth, one even regular plate of adamant. For the bottom to be one flat, smooth, even and regular plate Swift may have meant merely that it was without irregularities, protuberances or cavities, without contradicting the slightly convex shape in the relatively small upward slope.
 

If the collecting basins for the dews and the rains are on a flat portion of the top surface how far out from the center would that flat portion extend? If the basins are a half mile in circuit their diameters would be approximately 280 yards, and their radii 140 yards. If we assume the centers of the basins are 200 yards from the center of the island, the edges of the basins outermost toward the circumference of the island are 340 yards (200 + 140) distant from the center of the island. However, if we assume the inner edges of the basins are 200 yards from the center of the island, rather than their centers, the outer edges would be 200 yards plus the diameter of the basins, another 280 yards, or a total of 480 yards, from the center.

 

Regardless of which approach we use, the distance from the outer edges of the basins to the circumference is still great. The radial distance from the center of the island to the circumference is approximately 3920 yards. Therefore, the distance from the outer edges of the basins to the circumference would be about 3580 yards in the first case, and 3440 yards in the second. In either case this provides adequate distance for the declivity of the upper surface to catch all the dews and rains, as Swift so aptly put it. Maintaining his requirement of a thickness of 300 yards, with the bottom surface shooting up to match the upper declivity, we obtain the saucer shape.
 

Swift does not say how the four basins are located with respect to one another on the top surface, but it seems reasonable to place them at the four quadrants, as shown in the drawing.

 

 

 

 

What did Swift mean by the dews and the rains? This appears to be a description of a technique for collecting water for the inhabitants of this unusual flying island, certainly a necessity if inhabited by human mortals for extended periods. Or is this part of a satirical context, to be deciphered by some understanding of allusion? Or perhaps merely part of a fantasy invented to satisfy the context?
 

As I shall show in a following discussion, there is more than mere imagination to Swift's basins, the dews, and the rains.
 

Was he also satisfying the story context when he described the "several minerals in their usual order?" This tells us nothing, since we do not know what those minerals might be, nor their "usual" order, nor their thickness. Swift used the term "mould" to mean the soil in and upon which plants grow. We shall return to consider these aspects of Swift's satirical context. For the moment we shall continue with another item which builds upon the thesis that Swift was describing a flying object from another world.
 

Swift continues with the text:
 

At the center of the island there is a chasm about fifty yards in diameter, from whence the astronomers descend into a large dome, which is therefore called Flandona Gagnole, or the Astronomers' Cave, situated at the depth of an hundred yards beneath the upper surface of the adamant... 

 

Prominent among reports of objects in our skies today are descriptions of dome shapes. This central protrusion is found in many photographs, and is universally regarded in popular form as an inherent part of the objects.
 

Swift includes this dome as part of the Flying Island.
 

Again we have an item which matches modern reports but which is altogether too large. The chasm is fifty yards in diameter, or 150 feet across. It is located at a depth of an

hundred yards beneath the upper surface. However, we do not know if the dome or the floor of the Astronomers Cave is one hundred yards down.

 

The description does point up one factor. The astronomers would occupy an area inside the flying island. In modern reports intelligent beings also occupy the interiors of the flying objects. The large size of the cave matches the large size of the island, although we have not yet considered the total context of Swift's description and his gargantuan dimensions.
 

It may help to summarize the items which agree with modern reports.
 

1) A strange object in the air, not ordinary to our experience realm.
 

2) The object hovers, or floats, according to the will of its operators. Is defies the laws of gravity as we understand them. The object also can ascend or descend, and move horizontally according to intelligent desire.
 

3) The object is disc shaped.
 

4) The object is saucer shaped.
 

5) The object has a central dome.
 

6) The object sparkles brightly, either from the sea below or from its inherent properties.
 

7) The object is occupied by creatures who look and act like human beings.
 

The thesis of this book is that Swift was providing a satirical context to bury the report of a real experience.
 

I shall now go on to the opinions expressed by our modern scholarly world on the meaning and purpose of Swift's "satire."


 

SCHOLARLY OPINION

We have a choice of two possibilities:
 

Either Swift had an experience which led to the flying saucer description, or he invented it from his imagination.
 

If he invented it we must ask how he came to describe details which parallel modern reports so closely.
 

Conversely, if the description came from actual experience we must ask why he framed it as he did, in a satirical context.
 

Swift's strange invention has not gone unnoticed in the scholarly world. In 1937 two professors at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts published two articles which dealt with Swift's voyage to Laputa. Both articles appeared in the Oct 1937, Volume II issue of Annals of Science. The first article was entitled "The Scientific Background of the Voyage to Laputa." The second was entitled "Swift's 'Flying Island' in the Voyage to Laputa."
 

Marjorie Nicolson was a professor of English; Nora M. Mohler was an associate professor of Physics. They collaborated to probe the sources of Swift's scientific satire, and its influence on English literature. The first article concentrated on the scientific background of Gulliver's visit to the Academies at Lagado, while the second dealt exclusively with the Flying Island.
 

I shall postpone consideration of the first article because it deals with the larger context of Gulliver's Travels. Here I shall examine their study of the Flying Island.
 

From their research Nicolson and Mohler concluded that previous critics of Gulliver's Travels were wrong in arguing no literary source or analog for the Flying Island. They felt critics previously were at a loss to explain its mechanism and its symbolism because of inadequate investigation of the sources available to Swift. They rejected the view that it was a purely imaginary, and not particularly successful, creation of fancy. They believed the Flying Island was dependent upon other sources, more so than other sections of the Travels, and that this was not a haphazard or fortuitous piece of fancy but that every detail of its structure and mechanism was drawn carefully and thoughtfully from contemporary science.
 

However, the two professors were not entirely consistent in their viewpoint. It may be helpful to quote their words from introductory comments:
 

He (Swift) was a setter of riddles, who knew that full appreciation of his cleverness would appear only when the riddles were solved. "A critic who seeks to explain the ...significance of Gulliver's Travels may be guilty of too much ingenuity, but he cannot fairly be charged with exaggerated curiosity", writes one of the most acute commentators, (Sir Charles Firth, "The Political Significance of Gulliver's Travels" from the Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol 9, 1919, page 1), who continues: "He is searching for a secret which Swift tells us is hidden there, and endeavoring to solve riddles which were intended to exercise his wits". Swift expressed the hope that posterity would be curious enough "to consult annals and compare dates", in order to detect the double meaning in his work; he might have gone further, and urged his readers to scrutinize with care his mathematics, to be vigilant whenever figures were introduced, to be on guard, indeed, at every phrase if they would finally succeed in "untwisting all the chains that tie the hidden sound of harmony" of his pattern. 

Such analysis is particularly important in solving the puzzle of the complex Flying Island, for magnetism and loadstones, Gilbert and Newton, "flying chariots" and the world in the moon are here welded into a new whole which takes its place as one of the most remarkable pseudo-scientific passages in the literature of the eighteenth century. 

 

These remarks by the two professors are highly curious; they state exactly the thesis of this present analysis. But the conclusions drawn by the two professors are diametrically opposite to mine. They believe Swift drew upon historic or contemporary sources to develop this exceptional work of satire. I propose that he produced the account from actual experience and buried it in satire.
 

Did I not search "for a secret which Swift tells us is hidden there, and endeavor to solve riddles which were intended to exercise our wits?"
 

We cannot be accused of being "a critic who seeks to explain the ...significance of Gulliver's Travels" and also "guilty of too much ingenuity," while unfairly "charged with exaggerated curiosity."
 

We cannot engage in exaggerated curiosity for one of the most impressive secrets of all time.
 

Indeed:
 

"Swift expressed the hope that posterity would be curious enough 'to consult annals and compare dates'," exactly as I have done.
 

". . . in order to detect the double meaning in his work."
 

Furthermore, I have "gone further, and scrutinized with care his mathematics," an easy exercise which no human mortal apparently has published since Swift made known to the world his remarkable, brilliant, and succinct, mathematical description.
 

I have been "vigilant whenever figures were introduced," and have been "on guard, indeed, at every phrase if they would finally succeed in 'untwisting all the chains that tie the hidden sound of harmony" of his pattern.
 

But this ability is not unrelated to unfolding world events. The world might have drawn up Swift's Flying Saucer over the past three hundred years, but how would anyone have been able to determine the ingenuity of his description without the modern context of flying saucers.
 

Nicolson and Mohler had more difficulty in identifying Swift's sources than their remarks imply. That difficulty is emphasized by their own words. In the introductory paragraph they state that:
 

"Every detail of its structure and mechanism was drawn carefully and thoughtfully from contemporary science" but in the next paragraph they state that "The sudden appearance upon this accepted scene of an extra-terrestrial inhabited world is as startling to the reader as to Gulliver. The ultimate source of Swift's imagination of his floating adamantine island will probably never be defined..." 

 

That was a dramatic failure in scholarly prophecy. Only the hand of God unfolding revelation today has permitted us to demonstrate Swift's ultimate source.
 

It is curious that these words should have been written such a short time before the current phenomenon broke loose upon our world. Had the two professors waited they may never have written their paper on The Voyage to Laputa. With extra-terrestrial visitations reported prevalently in the press the "sudden appearance upon this accepted scene of an extra-terrestrial inhabited world" may have struck too strong a chord with them. Indeed, Swift's story would have been even more startling with such background.
 

Nicolson and Mohler mention two possible sources of inspiration for Swift's "flying" or "floating" island.

1) Sir William Temple wrote a series of Essays in which he spoke of England as "this floating island." At another time Temple made the remark that "Our counsels and conduct were like those of a floating island," driven one way or "the other according to the winds and tides." Swift spent several years with Temple and was his literary executor. He would have been familiar with the terms invented by Temple.
 

2) Swift was the product of classical training, able to read and write in Latin. He could have been familiar with passages from ancient Latin sources. Perhaps he remembered another adamantine island - the floating island of Delos, "by the blessed gods of Olympus known as the far-seen star of the dark-blue earth," as it was stated in a fragment from Pindar. Or as Pliny said, Delos was an island which suddenly sprang up and appeared. According to legend Delos was an island which strayed about the deep, until the time of the birth of Apollo and Artemis, when it was chained upon "four pillars resting on adamant, rising perpendicular from the roots of the earth."
 

However, Nicolson and Mohler admit that the Floating Island of Laputa does not emerge from the deep; it descends from the heavens, an idea not suggested in the classics.
 

They then discuss other features of this strange flying apparition. They believed that discussion of the minerals "in their usual order" would not surprise modern readers, since we now have detailed knowledge of earth crustal structure. In Swift's day this knowledge was just beginning to be formulated and did not have the degree of sophistication we now take for granted. But several papers had been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society which could have suggested the phrase to Swift. In 1718-19 John Strachey reported observations on strata in coal-mines in Somersetshire from which he suggested the general conclusion that the folds of the earth seem to follow regular patterns in the strata of their "bowels." In 1725 he expanded on his theory with evidence from other areas, generalizing on the patterns he had found. This material would have been available to Swift in time for him to include such a remark in the description of the flying island. Strachey mentions the layers of the minerals "in their usual order" and covered with "Malt or Loom, and Soil." The phrasing is strikingly like that used by Swift. The similarity suggests that Swift may have borrowed the phrases for his story.

 

Nicolson and Mohler admit this is a passing resemblance, and that other features of Swift's island are more interesting. One of those was the Astronomer's Cave with a large chasm located beneath the top surface of the island. They found that the Royal Observatory in Paris had similar architecture. A contemporary account stated that "there is, besides many other rooms for Philosophical uses and purposes, a very deep Cave, having an hundred and threescore and ten steps of descent; wherein many sorts of Experiments are intended to be made, being of that nature, that they require to be remote from the Sun-beams and the open Air."
 

The professors fail to draw out the purposes of a deep cave. Men who have worked in deep shafts open to the sky have noted that they can see stars in broad daylight. This visual ability comes about because scattering of sunlight is inhibited in the shaft, making the sky appear more dark when viewed straight up. Another benefit of caves in the ground is stability of temperature and humidity; unstable conditions can affect delicate instruments. For both the minerals and the Astronomer's Cave we see that Swift could draw upon contemporary sources. But did he borrow from these sources to strengthen the framework of an imaginary floating island, or did he use them to veil the true significance of an account that was literally out of this world?
 

Nicolson and Mohler go on to discuss the adamantine construction of the island, the means of locomotion from a great loadstone mounted in the Astronomer's Cave, and its magnetic properties. We shall postpone examination of these ideas for a later discussion. However, the professors used one aspect of the magnetic properties to explain their views of how Swift arrived at the idea of an island which contained such unusual properties.
 

William Gilbert, 1544-1603, made discoveries in electricity and magnetism which he published in De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure, Physiologia Nova in 1600. His cardinal discovery was the magnetic field of the earth with its poles, equator and axis. He was led to this generalization by prolonged experiments with globular magnets, or terrellas as he called them, on which he poised small magnetic needles, finding that, no matter where he placed the needles, they always pointed to the poles. He also learned that the needles could dip, or incline, and thus discovered a property of the earth wherein the magnetic fields are not perfectly aligned but have local variations. Gilbert's terrellas were miniature models of the earth, measuring four to five inches in diameter.
 

According to Gilbert's own words: "A Terrella, or an orbicular Loadstone, about four inches and 1/2 in Diametre, with the one half immersed in the Centre of a Plane and Horizontal Table; so as to be like a Globe with the Poles in the Horizon." Seizing upon the parallel between the four and one-half inches diameter of Gilbert's terrellas with their magnetic properties, and Swift's four and one-half mile diameter of the flying island with its magnetic properties, the two professors proposed that Swift borrowed the idea from Gilbert, but merely magnified the inches to miles. However, they were not content with that suggestion but went on to suggest further that perhaps the 7,837 yards for the diameter of the island was borrowed from current estimates for the diameter of the earth, calculated by Newton to be in the range of 7,832 to 7,846 miles. For this second possibility Swift reduced miles to yards to obtain his dimensions.
 

Nicolson and Mohler obviously could not have it both ways. Did Swift use Gilbert's terrellas as his model, or did he use Newton's calculated diameter of the earth for his model? In the first case he scaled up from inches to miles; in the second case he scaled down from miles to yards. The two professors suggested that perhaps Swift had both sources in mind and merely found a happy coincidence in the numbers. Unfortunately, the two professors were merely scratching for explanations. Why not use numbers which would mislead his readers, if the purpose was to keep the secret veiled from so many probing godless minds?
 

However, their important point was that Swift was visualizing a sphere, and not a disc. As they stated, "In any case, his is a number which points unmistakably to his conception of the Flying Island as a "little earth"."
 

Here we have an example of how preconceptions determine understanding (and misunderstanding). They quote his phrase "exactly circular" to demonstrate his intent, neglecting the fact that a disc also is "exactly circular." They used Swift's illustration of the Flying Island moving in tacking motion around Balnibarbi, the homeland of the Laputans. This illustration was included in early editions of the Travels as Plate IIII, Part III, Page 39. When viewed from above the disc appears circular. They believed Swift was showing a globe, when actually he was showing the circular disc viewed from above.
 

The two professors illustrate their theory further with drawings made for later editions of the Travels, showing an island flying in the air, almost globular in appearance, built up of many layers of "minerals", terraces, grasses, trees, houses and palaces. From these several factors they believe Swift intended to show a globe, a miniature earth.
 

Indeed, we admit to a curiosity about Swift's large dimensions of 7,837 yards, equal to nearly four and one-half miles. We can accept that Swift would choose numbers from contemporary science to arrive at his dimensions. But we cannot accept those numbers as implying a structure which violates his explicit descriptions.

 

 

LITERARY TRADITIONS

The scholarly assessment of Swift's Voyage to Laputa would not be complete without some examination of possible literary sources. Nicolson and Mohler review the literary traditions of "cosmic voyages," and flights of space fancy they feel could have influenced Swift. Traditions of moon voyages can be traced back to the Greek poet Orpheus and to Lucian, c. AD 150, a Greek rhetorician and satirist, who conceived of the possibility of an inhabited world on the moon. The modern trend may have been started by Johannes Kepler when his cosmic voyage, Somnium, seu de Astonomia Lunari, was published posthumously in 1634. Francis Godwin increased public interest with The Man in the Moon: Or A Discourse of a Voyage thither, by Domingo Gonsales, published in London in 1638. Also that year John Wilkins published Discovery of a New World in the Moone, in which he conceived of a "flying chariot." As he wrote: "I doe seriously, and upon good grounds affirme it possible to make a flying Chariot. In which a man may sit, and give such a motion unto it, as shall convey him through the aire. And this perhaps might bee made large enough to carry divers men at the same time, together with foode for their viaticum, and commodities for traffic."
 

The range of the popular imagination can be seen in the interest displayed by scientists like Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren who made models of "wings" and "chariots" and who kept up lively intercourse with the ornithologist Francis Willughby and also with Robert Boyle on the nature of the air. Impetus to this popular dream may have been enlivened by the writings of Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, the famous French soldier and brilliant satirist, (1619-1655). He invented a number of stories of flight to the moon and the sun, satirizing the popular fancy, in which he included irreverent references to biblical tradition. He suggested that Eve accompanied Adam upon his "translation" from this earth by "the Sympathy which still united the half to the whole ...as the Amber attracts the Straw and the Load-stone turns toward the North. He developed his ideas in a description of a "Flying Horse" in which the prophet Elijah made his ascent into heaven. As Cyrano wrote: "Elijah took a piece of Load-stone about two Foot square", which had been melted in a furnace until it became the size of a bowl. "After these preparations," Elijah states, "I got a very light Machine of Iron made, into which I went - and when I was well seated in my place, I threw this Magnetic Bowl as high as I could into the Air. Now the Iron Machine, which I had purposely made more massive in the middle than at the ends, was presently elevated, and in a just Poise, because the middle received the greatest force of Attraction. So then, as I arrived at the place whither my Load-stone had attracted me, I presently threw up my Bowl in the Air over me."
 

In 1703 David Russen of Hythe published his Iter Lunare: A Voyage to the Moon, in which he examined Cyrano's work more seriously. He insisted that Cyrano's work should not be called a "Comical History" but rather a "Rational History." In 1709 Bartholomeu Lourenco de Gusmao proposed a device he called the Passarola. He received honor and financial reward when a small model of the proposed machine maintained itself in the air before an astonished audience in the royal audience chamber of King John V of Portugal. The report has been vehemently debated by modern historians of flight, some believing he discovered the principle of heavier-than-air machines, while others believe he was a charlatan. The machine combined both winds and sails, but also held an essential secret, not yet solved, in two large spheres, which operated upon the principle of magnetism. This spectacle of flight, if only for a model, would have been enough to bring it popular attention.
 

Another popular writer, and contemporary of Swift, was Daniel Defoe, author of the well-known, Robinson Crusoe. In 1705 Defoe turned his attention to the theme of flight, producing three works in rapid succession: A Journey to the World of the Moon, A Letter from the Man in the Moon, and The Consolidator, all published in 1705. In The Consolidator Defoe describes a flying machine, but the description is so vague one cannot deduce an exact principle of flight from it. The "Floating Figure," as Defoe called it, "was a certain Engine formed in the shape of a Chariot, on the Backs of two vast Bodies with extended Wings, which spread about 50 yards in Breadth, compos'd of Feathers so nicely put together, that no Air could pass; and as the Bodies were made of Lunar Earth which would bear on a certain Spirit deposited in a proper quantity, to last out the Voyage; and this Fire so order'd as to move about such Springs and Wheels as kept the Wings in a most exact and regular Motion, always ascendant..." In one brief passage Defoe suggests the principle of gravity or of terrestrial magnetism for propulsive purposes: "When this Engine, by help of these Artifical Wings, has raised itself up to a certain height, the Wings are as useful to keep it from falling back into the Moon, as they were before to raise it, and keep it from falling back into this Region again. This may happen from an Alteration of Centers, and Gravity having past a certain Line, the Equipoise changes its Tendency, the Magnetik Quality being beyond it, it inclines of Course, and pursues a Center, which it finds in the Lunar World, and lands us safe upon the Surface." The statements by Defoe are so brief, and

so inexact in meaning, we cannot deduce his intent. He could have been suggesting a principle of flight based on magnetic repulsion and attraction, but we cannot explicitly resolve his description.

 

This review by Nicolson and Mohler is limited to classical and contemporary sources which may have influenced Swift in his preparation of the story of the Flying Island. They did not review sources outside the classical and western European tradition, from the Chinese or Japanese, from India, or from other sources. In Swift's day these would have been virtually unknown, with a high degree of probability against any influence from those cultures.

 

In our attempts to understand Swift we must recognize that a context of literature did exist, with high degree of popular appeal. Writers such as Defoe worked on that keen public interest to sell their works. The thesis that those sources may have influenced Swift can be maintained only if Swift had no unique experience and was fabricating his account strictly from imagination. The consequence of Swift's experience was an account of a Flying Island, or more exactly a Flying Saucer, but that experience should not be confused with the popular fancy. Swift could take that popular appeal and write an account which would fit with such fancy, as a vehicle for expressing his experience. Nicolson and Mohler were not unfair to Swift, in spite of their lack of knowledge of his source. As they stated it:
 

"While Swift may have picked up scattered hints from his predecessors, ...his Flying Island nevertheless remains unique in the history of both literature and pseudo-science, both for its size and for the plausibly scientific principle of its motivation. Historians of aviation have admitted to their ranks of pioneers far less ingenious and certainly far less briliant inventions than this - the first and last flying machine which successfully operated upon the principle of terrestrial magnetism! 

 

While their proposals were neither the first nor the last, they have assessed the phenomenon quite accurately. Nevertheless, in view of their perception it is amazing how two professors, in spite of their cautions about being "on guard, at every phrase" would not succeed in "untwisting all the chains that tie the hidden soul of harmony." How could they neglect the thickness of 300 hundred yards, and the declivity of the upper surface from circumference to center. This amazing neglect shows how we may strain at academic learning but completely miss the key to understanding. In view of this fact the proposal by Nicolson and Mohler collapses. Their attempts to derive contemporary scientific or literary sources for Swift's Flying Island appear for what they truly are - sheer speculation. While the two professors have favored us with considerable research and scholarly expertise their conclusions carry no weight. There is far more to Swift's Flying Island than a feeble attempt on his part to portray a miniature version of our terrestrial planet. We must give full regard to the fact that we can always find parallels in both literature and science if we search diligently. But this does not make them true. Many parallels exist in the real world. We must use our common sense in weighing the soundness of the parallels we propose. We can believe Swift borrowed from literature and science; or we can believe he acquired his descriptions from actual experience. How we believe will depend on our orientations, or intellectual integrity, and our fear of those higher realities. Swift may have, and probably did, borrow from current accounts, in the Philosophical Transactions and from other sources, to provide a context for the Flying Island. But he did not borrow to invent a charming fancy; he borrowed to help veil a most precious secret - an incredible object of celestial origins floating in the air.
 

Consider Swift's position. If he had experience of contact with visitors from space what would he do? Would he be under a compulsion to tell others? How would it affect his psychological balance? Would he be able to restrain himself? Would such an unusual experience affect his conduct? Should we see repercussions in his writing and his activities? If he told others he had been visited by beings from space what would happen? Would he be committed to an insane asylum? How could he otherwise relate his experience? Might he be under compulsion to make a record of the fact, even if buried in satire? Does satire not provide a convenient vehicle for a strange report? If satire uses allusion to shape thought and portray scenes different from reality, does it not also provide a means for recording a most amazing event? Then Swift's exaggeration of size is part of the framework of the allusion. A floating island occupied by men should be sufficiently large to make it self-supporting. The occupants need water from the dews and the rains. They cannot dig far into a soil that is only twelve feet thick. With soil twelve feet thick and the minerals in the usual order the flying island becomes part of a satire on science, with size appropriate to the setting, but maintaining dimensions to scale so that a discerning reader can draw out the object and recognize it for what it is - a flying saucer. This is a most incredible satire. But Swift does not leave us hanging on this one thread. He offers more to show the true meaning of his strange experience.