Jonathan Swift


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Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Irish cleric, political pamphleteer, satirist, and author wrote Gulliver's Travels (1726);

I grew weary of the sea, and intended to stay at home with my wife and family. I removed from the Old Jewry to Fetter Lane, and from thence to Wapping, hoping to get business among the sailors; but it would not turn to account. After three years expectation that things would mend, I accepted an advantageous offer from Captain William Prichard, master of the Antelope, who was making a voyage to the South Sea. We set sail from Bristol, May 4, 1699, and our voyage was at first very prosperous.

First published under the pseudonym Lemuel Gulliver Gulliver's Travels (1726) is considered Swift's masterpiece, a culmination of his active years in politics with the Whigs then Tories. Laden with symbolism and rife with socio-political commentary it was in instant best-seller. It is a timeless illustration of the pettiness of politics, people, and the games they play. It has inspired numerous sequels and been adapted to the stage and film, entering popular culture iconography.

Jonathan Swift was born on 30 November 1667 in Dublin, Ireland; the son of Protestant Anglo-Irish parents Abigail Erick [Herrick] (c1642-1710) and Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) an attorney at King's Inn, Dublin, who had died seven months before his son was born. Young Jonathan was a sickly child, and it is said he later developed Meniere's Disease, which affects the inner ear and causes dizziness, vertigo, nausea, and hearing loss. After his father died, Jonathan's mother was left without an income and she and his nurse did their best to provide care for him. But his mother was extremely poor so when his nurse travelled to England to see relatives she took Jonathan with her. His mother would eventually return to Leicester, England to live with relatives. Thus Jonathan spent some early years in England. He then went back to Ireland to live with his paternal uncle Godwin Swift Esq. (1627-1695), member of Gray's Inn and Attorney General at Tipperary. His uncle would support him and provide him with the best education possible, although it is said Jonathan was an unhappy young man and did not excel in his studies. Having never known his father and rarely seeing his mother probably contributed to the resentment he later expressed towards his relatives and authority figures.

Uncle Godwin sent Jonathan to the Kilkenny Grammar School from 1674 to 1682 where he met friend and future playwright and poet William Congreve (1670-1729). Then, at the age of fourteen, in 1682 Swift entered Trinity College in Dublin, earning a B.A. four years later. He wanted to continue to earn an M.A. but political unrest surrounding the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the loss of financial support from his Uncle caused him to travel to England to stay with his mother in Leicester. There Swift obtained a position as Secretary to retired diplomat Sir William Temple (1628-1699), staying with him at his home in Moor Park, Surrey. It was a dramatic turn of events for Swift, who soon became acquainted with many politically influential figures of the day, and was bestowed a great deal of responsibility by Temple.

It was also at Moor Park that the now twenty-two year old Swift met the young daughter of one of Moor Park's employees, six year old Esther "Stella" Johnson (c1680-1728). They formed a profound and lasting affectionate friendship, as evidenced in Swift's journals to "Stella". Swift became friend, tutor, and mentor to her. Temple, to whom Swift was distantly related, was a powerful and influential figure and assisted Swift in gaining entrance to Oxford University, where he earned his M.A. in 1692.

Swift had early set his sights on the Church, and in 1694 took his orders and was ordained Anglican priest, obtaining the small prebend of Kilroot in Northern Ireland where he remained for about a year. Upon returning to the employ of the Temple household he was reacquainted with his beloved raven-haired Stella, now in the bloom of youth. He had been tempted back to Moor Park by Temple to assist him in writing his memoirs, setting his affairs in order, and was appointed the task of publishing his papers after his death. Swift also began to write his own works in earnest, penning The Battle of the Books (1704) in defence of Temple's stance on the importance of ancient literature over modern;

By this expedient, the public peace of libraries might certainly have been preserved if a new species of controversial books had not arisen of late years, instinct with a more malignant spirit, from the war above mentioned between the learned about the higher summit of Parnassus.--Ch. 1

In 1700 Swift became Chaplain to Lord Berkeley and was instituted as Vicar to Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan just outside Dublin. In 1701 he was awarded Doctor of Divinity from Trinity College, Dublin. In 1704 his satirical look at religion A Tale of the Tub was published. Busy with clerical duties, Swift was also immersed in Dublin society and politics. Becoming an outspoken critic, and with the intent of improving things in Ireland, he often travelled to London, England. In 1707, among many other matters, he sought the removal of taxation on the income of the Irish clergy, which was duly rejected by the Whigs. He thus severed his association with them. In 1710 he joined the Tories and his first of many political pamphlets appeared including "The Conduct of the Allies" (1711) and "The Public Spirit of the Whigs" (1714). Often tinged with bitter irony, Swift began to hone his abilities at innuendo and metaphor, and he sharpened his wit in his prodigious output of various articles, essays, and pamphlets including "Meditation on a Broomstick" (c1703) and "A Modest Proposal" (1729) wherein he suggests that the children of the Irish poor be put to good use providing sustenance to the rich English;

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

From the Preface of Swift's The Battle of the Books (1704);

Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it. But, if it should happen otherwise, the danger is not great; and I have learned from long experience never to apprehend mischief from those understandings I have been able to provoke: for anger and fury, though they add strength to the sinews of the body, yet are found to relax those of the mind, and to render all its efforts feeble and impotent. .... Wit without knowledge being a sort of cream, which gathers in a night to the top, and by a skilful hand may be soon whipped into froth; but once scummed away, what appears underneath will be fit for nothing but to be thrown to the hogs.

Swift wrote on many ecclesiastical matters including his "Three Sermons and Prayers" (1744); many more are contained in his Writings on Religion and the Church (1898) which includes "Against Abolishing Christianity" (first published in 1708). "The Bickerstaff-Partridge Papers" (1708) a satire of almanacs and astrology was "Written to prevent the people of England from being farther imposed on by vulgar almanack-makers. By Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq."

In 1713 Swift was appointed Dean of St Patrick's in Dublin. The same year he joined with, among others, Alexander Pope, to form the Scriblerus literary club. It was also around this time that he met Esther "Vanessa" Vanhomrigh (c1688-1723), who inspired his poem "Cadenus and Vanessa" (1713). Published under the pseudonym M.B. Drapier, Swift wrote his Drapier Letters (1724) in protest over bribery, corruption, deceit, and unfair treatment of the Irish on the part of the English government granting a patent to mint an inferior copper coin to William Wood. Swift's authorship of the seven Letters was never discovered during his lifetime but it caused much controversy, and that which he intended, much public awareness of the matter, for, as he writes in the fourth of his Letters, "A Letter to the Whole People of Ireland"; "by the Laws of God, of Nature, of Nations, and of your Country, you are, and ought to be, as free a people as your brethren in England,"

On 28 January 1728 Esther "Stella" Johnson died. Swift had rushed to her bedside and was overcome by grief. His health had started to decline, possibly from Alzheimer's or Meniere's disease and on 19 October 1745 Jonathan Swift died. He now rests beside his beloved Stella in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland. He had written his own epitaph, which Irish author William Butler Yeats loosely translated from the Latin as;

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty.

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2008. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Jonathan Swift

Leo Damrosch: Jonathan Swift--A New Biography

SWIFT ...but unobtrusive Jonathan Swift(1667-1745) is a problem for readers and biographers we are informed in a recent biography, because "the cast of characters in his life grew much larger as he grew older. It can be hard to keep them straight."(1) There are royalty and aristocracy, statesmen and politicians, clergymen and laymen, friends and enemies, the high and the low, lots of women from queens and duchesses down to servants and everything in between, including two beloved lovers. Trying to keep them straight may, indeed, be impossible but the story, as told by Leo Damrosch, can be enjoyed regardless. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)John Simon "A Giant Among Men," a review in The New York Times, 27/11/'13, of Leo Damrosch's Jonathan Swift,’ Yale UP, 600 pages, 2013, p. 178. Readers won't have that problem with my autobiography and life- narrative even though there is a galaxy, a myriad, & bucket-fulls of people in my life, gazing as I am at the last 70 years of my life. All this flotsam and jetsam are kept in their little places in my letters and my computer directory, tied-up in the bundles of paper and vast tracts of new cyberspace, the WWW, & the internet. This narrative keeps most of them far away from the main plot, & an analysis which goes on for over 5 volumes and 2600 pages....It will dry-out the average reader before he or she gets too far. Sadly, too, readers of my work will not enjoy the humour and immensely clever wit of this novelist, essayist, poet, satirist, epistolarian, pamphleteer. As readers wade through my-many millions of words on their long way, such is my hope, to illuminating a journey of understanding of what is, arguably, the greatest of the spiritual narratives in the history of civilization, narrative that is at the heart of this transformation of a heterodox and seemingly negligible offshoot of the Shaykhi school of the Ithna-Ashariyyih sect of Shi'ah Islam into a world religion.(1) The transformation has been slow, in some ways, and in the years ahead in this, and future centuries, it will take this world by an unobtrusive storm, at least in the years that have been my life in this first century of its Formative Age, and before centuries 2 and 3 when the world will find its soul for the next 1000 years: the journey has just begun in my lifetime when the fully institutionalized charismatic Force went through Its first decades: 1963 to 2013. 1 God Passes by, Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Pub., Trust, Wilmette, 1957, p. xii. Ron Price 7/12/'13. ------------------------------ While here and, while thinking about that genius of wit, Jonathan Swift, I'll post several other pieces, partly drawing-on and inspired by this very clever man of words who had such a grim end to his life.-Ron ---------------------------------------------------------------- THE FRIENDLY FLIGHT Seven years before he died, Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift(1667-1745), author of Gulliver’s Travels, wrote to Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford: “I am now good for nothing, very deaf, very old, and very much out of favour with those in power. My dear lord, I have a thousand things to say, but I can remember none of them.” In 1740, five years before his demise, he wrote to his cousin, Mrs Whiteway: “I have been very miserable all night and to-day extremely deaf and full of pain. I am so stupid and confounded that I cannot express the mortification I am under both in body and mind. All I can say, is that I am not in torture: but I daily and hourly expect it. I hardly understand one word I write. I am sure my days will be very few, few and miserable they must be.” Swift's brain trouble, which had threatened him all his life, became worse, and he had violent fits of temper accompanied by considerable physical pain in his last years. In his last three years, we are informed by biographers, he had dementia. The end came at last on 7 October 1745. He left his fortune to found a hospital for idiots and lunatics. -Ron Price with thanks to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes, Volume IX: “From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift,” 1907-1921. I shall keep you in mind, Jonathan, as I head down this back stretch. It is always good to have someone in my mind who is worse off than I: or so it seems, although I often wonder. Is it any use to know that: Jesus died on the cross for our sins; they hung one or two of His disciples upside down at their final life-hour; 9 million blacks from Africa became slaves in a very miserable existence; that over a billion(!) died in the last hundred years from massive trauma, suffering, disease and starvation? ….that Gone With the Wind was released in 1939, that my mother loved Ronald Coleman, and that my wife gardened yesterday while I sat in my study and had a lovely afternoon sleep before washing up…..my regular job? I trust you now live in peace, Jonathan, with your labor put away, your pain, 260 years ago: an evanescent grace is yours, I trust, and June in England forever. Life is such a little thing to lose when you pass that door where all attain all goodness--and this migration surely it's a friendly flight—& forgiveness like a flood, an early peach, all astonishment and those I loved awaiting, a light unbearable: does it burn, Jonathan? Does it burn? What a relief, eh, eh? Ron Price 24/1/'06 to 8/12/'13.


Swift, essay help

So I have decided to write an essay on Johnathan Swift. The paper has to cover Swift in one or more of his pieces and why he chose to write them in the format that he did. The professor has been consistantly vauge on the requirements so my questions are two fold. one: can anyone recomend any websites or books on Swifts works, I am specificly focusing on 'A Modest Proposal' and possibly 'Guliver's Travels' if I can't find enough to write on the first. The main topic that I need to focus on is question two. two: The professor says that the paper is on the textual aspect of the works we choose. As defined by her why they chose to write things a certain way. Can anyone clarify? One example given is focusing on why author A wrote poem A as a poem instead of a short story/essay/novel/ect. to help me better understand the topic would covering why Author A chose certain themes or what influenced them to do include them also count toward textual? Well its a bit confusing to me, hope someone else can make better sense Thank you


quotations of Jonathan Swift

-"Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of." -"Human brutes, like other beasts, find snares and poison in the provision of life, and are allured by their appetites to their destruction." -"It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind." -"The latter part of a wise person's life is occupied with curing the follies, prejudices and false opinions they contracted earlier."


My very own Modest Proposal

I have to write my own proposal on a current situation that I think should change. I was thinking about human suffering but it englobes too many themes; it's too general. Anyone got any ideas?


Jonathan Swift and...?

Hey guys, I'm writing a paper for class and want to compare Jonathan Swift with another British satirist. The catch is that whoever the other author is, he/she can't be from the same era of writing as Swift. The other catch is that it needs to be a short story as well, seeing as how I am looking at Swifts shorts at the moment. I havn't been able to come up with a British satirist that has enough similarities in order to warrant a discussion of the differences. Anyways, thanks in advance, and any help is appreciated. Help help help please! In a rush lol (due to my own procrastination and lack of planning)


If you haven't read Jonathan Swift yet....

Please do! Jonathan Swift is rightly recognised as the greatest ever literary satirist and his works are as current as today's newspaper - he wrote about the human spirit, or the lack thereof and human nature hasn't changed much. From his status as a Doctor of Divinity and member of the inner circle of the Tory (Conservative) Government of 1711-1714, Swift was in a unique position to comment on the church, England, politics and foreign affairs. Readers who enjoy the writing of satirists like Tom Sharpe and Ben Elton will particularly enjoy the sculpter scalpel work of a man 250 years before that pair. You may not get as many laughs from Swift, but if the first time you read of the war between the Endians, you aren't paralysed laughing, please apply to your local doctor to have a sense of humour implanted! And one cannot read A Modest Proposal without being overcome at the plight of a people for whom Swift would write such a message. Jonathan Swift saved no targets from exposure of its worst excesses - his attacks on the church rival Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale, while Gulliver's Travels lances many a boil on the face of society. Take time and savour the work - it's easy to be put off by the archaic form - but if you persevere, I don't believe you can fail to enjoy the satirical exposure of humans' worst frailties. I always wonder whether people claiming to dislike Swift have seen something they dislike about themselves - we're all in there, every one us has the potnetial to need the services of a flapper, occasionally at least!


Jonathan Swift Riddle

Did you know Jonathan Swift was a bit of a riddler? This riddle is one of his: We are all very little creatures; all of us have different features. One of us in glass is set; One of us you’ll find in jet. Another you may see in tin, And a fourth is boxed within. If the fifth you should pursue, It can never fly from you. What are we?


The Lady's Dressing Room

I would like to get some insight about this poem. I am not very good at interpeting poems, so I would appreciate all the help I can get. I found that another website described this poem as such: "satirizes the idealization of female beauty and brings out the contrast between the real women and the effect she puts into her beauty." do you agree?


what do you think about Jonathan swift's A Modest Proposal?

Have you ever read this book? what do you think? it is terrible?


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