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According to Swift's novel, Gulliver was born in Nottinghamshire c. 1661, where his father had a small estate; the Gulliver family is said to have originated in Oxfordshire, however. He supposedly studied for three years (c. 1675-1678) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, leaving to become an apprentice to an eminent London surgeon; after four years (c. 1678-1682), he left to study at the University of Leiden, a prominent Dutch university and medical school. He also educated himself in navigation and mathematics, leaving the University around 1685.
Prior to the voyages whose adventures are recounted in the novel, he is described as having travelled less remarkably to the Levant (c. 1685-1688) and later to the East Indies and West Indies (c. 1690-1696). In Brobdingnag, he compares a loud sound to the Niagara Falls, so presumably he visited the place at some point. Between his travels he married Miss Mary Burton (c. 1688), daughter of a London hosier. As of the time of his return from Lilliput, they had a son named Johnny, studying at grammar-school, and a daughter named Betty, married with children by the time Lemuel wrote his memoirs. Mary was pregnant with another child by the time her husband left on his last voyage. In his education and travels, Gulliver acquired some knowledge of "High and Low Dutch, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Lingua Franca"; he later states that he understood some Greek, and that he "understood (Portuguese) very well".
Gulliver's remarkable travels begin in 1699 and end in 1715, having changed Gulliver's personality to that of a recluse. He claims to have written his memoirs five years following his last return to England, i.e., in 1720 or 1721. The frontispiece to the 1726 edition of Gulliver's Travels shows a fictitious engraving of Gulliver at the age of 58 (i.e., c. 1719). An additional preface, attributed to Gulliver, added to a revised version of the work is given the fictional date of April 2, 1727, at which time Gulliver would have been about 65 or 66 years old. The earliest editions of the book credited Gulliver as the author, whom many at the time believed to be a real person. Swift, an Anglican clergyman, had published much of his work anonymously or pseudonymously.
On Mars's largest moon, Phobos, the crater Gulliver is named after him, while the crater Grildrig has the name given to Gulliver by the farmer's daughter Glumdalclitch in Brobdingnag, because of Swift's 'prediction' of the two then undiscovered Martian moons, which his Laputan astronomers had discovered.