The book was very popular upon release and was commonly discussed within social circles. Public reception widely varied, with the book receiving an initially enthusiastic reaction with readers praising its satire, and some reporting that the satire's cleverness sounded like a realistic account of a man's travels. James Beattie commended Swift’s work for its “truth” regarding the narration and claims that “the statesman, the philosopher, and the critick, will admire his keenness of satire, energy of description, and vivacity of language,” noting that even children can enjoy the novel. As popularity increased, critics came to appreciate the deeper aspects of Gulliver’s Travels. It became known for its insightful take on morality, expanding its reputation beyond just humorous satire.
Despite its initial positive reception, the book faced backlash. One of the first critics of the book, referred to as Lord Bolingbroke, criticized Swift for his overt use of misanthropy. Other negative responses to the book also looked towards its portrayal of humanity, which was considered inaccurate. Swifts’s peers rejected the book on claims that its themes of misanthropy were harmful and offensive. They criticized its satire for exceeding what was deemed acceptable and appropriate, including the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos’s similarities to humans. There was also controversy surrounding the political allegories. Readers enjoyed the political references, finding them humorous. However, members of the Whig party were offended, believing that Swift mocked their politics.
British novelist and journalist William Makepeace Thackeray described Swift's work as "blasphemous", citing its critical view of mankind as ludicrous and overly harsh. He concludes his critique by remarking that he cannot understand the origins of Swift’s critiques on humanity.