Jonathan swift

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Portrait by Charles Jervas (1675-1739). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Jonathan Swift
Born November 30 1667(1667-Template:MONTHNUMBER-30)
Dublin, Ireland]]
Died October 19 1745(1745-Template:MONTHNUMBER-19) (aged 77)
Pen name M.B. Drapier, Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff
Occupation Satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, priest
Language English
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Notable work(s) Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Tale of a Tub, Drapier's Letters

Rev. Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 - 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish poet and prose writer, who has been called the foremost prose satirist in the English language.[1]



Swift was born at Dublin of English parents. John Dryden was his cousin, and he also claimed kin with Robert Herrick. Brought up in circumstances of extreme poverty. He went to school at Kilkenny, and afterwards to Trinity Coll., Dublin, where he gave no evidence of ability, but displayed a turbulent and unruly temper, and only obtained a degree by "special grace." After the Revolution he joined his mother in Leicester, by whose influence he was admitted to the household of Sir William Temple at Moor Park. Here he acted as secretary, and having access to a well-stocked library, became a close student. At Moor Park he met William III, who offered him a troop of horse; he also met Esther Johnson (Stella), a natural daughter of Sir William, who was afterwards to enter so largely into his life. He left Temple's service in 1694 and returned to Ireland, where he took orders, and obtained the small living of Kilroot, near Belfast. There he wrote his Tale of a Tub, a most consummate piece of satire, and The Battle of the Books, which were published together in 1704. In 1698 he returned to Moor Park. On the death of Temple in 1699 he undertook by request the publication of his works, and thereafter returned to Ireland as chaplain to the Lord Deputy, the Earl of Berkeley, from whom he obtained the vicarage of Laracor and a prebend in St. Patrick's Cathedral. He made frequent visits to London and became the friend of Addison, Steele, Congreve, and other Whig writers, and wrote various pamphlets, chiefly on ecclesiastical subjects. In 1710, disgusted with the neglect of the Whigs, alike of himself and of the claims of his church, he attached himself to Harley and Bolingbroke. The next few years were filled with political controversy. In 1713 he was made Dean of St. Patrick's, the last piece of patronage which he received. After the death of Queen Anne Swift retired to Ireland, where he remained for the rest of his life a thoroughly embittered man. Though he disliked the Irish and considered residence in Ireland as banishment, he interested himself in Irish affairs, and attained extraordinary popularity by his Drapier's Letters, directed against the introduction of "Wood's halfpence." In 1726 he visited England and joined with Pope and Arbuthnot in publishing Miscellanies (1727). In 1726 he also published Gulliver's Travels, his most widely and permanently popular work. His last visit to England was paid in 1727 and in the following year "Stella" died. Though he had a circle of friends in Dublin, and was a popular idol, the shadows were darkening around him. The fears of insanity by which he had been all his life haunted, pressed more and more upon him. He became increasingly morose and savage in his misanthropy, and though he had a rally in which he produced some of his most brilliant, work -- the Rhapsody on Poetry, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, and; the Modest Proposal (a horrible but masterly piece of irony) -- he gradually sank into almost total loss of his facilities, and died on October 19, 1745.[2]

Swift was tall and powerfully made. His eyes, blue and flashing under excitement, were the most remarkable part of his appearance. His character is 1 of the gloomiest and least attractive among English writers. Intensely proud, he suffered bitterly in youth and early manhood from the humiliations of poverty and dependence, which preyed upon a mind in which the seeds of insanity were latent until it became dominated by a ferocious misanthropy. As a writer he is our greatest master of grave irony, and while he presents the most humorous ideas, the severity of his own countenance never relaxes. The Tale of a Tub and Gulliver's Travels are the greatest satires in the English language, although the concluding part of the latter is a savage and almost insane attack upon the whole human race. His history is a tragedy darkening into catastrophe, and as Thackeray has said, "So great a man he seems that thinking of him is like thinking of an Empire falling."[2]

He originally published all of his works under pseudonyms — such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M.B. Drapier — or anonymously.[3]

Youth and educationEdit

Swift was born at No. 7 Hoey’s Court, Dublin, on the 30th of November 1667, a few months after the death of his father, also Jonathan Swift (1640–1667), who had married about 1664 Abigaile {Erick), of an old Leicestershire family. His grandfather, Thomas Swift, vicar of Goodrich near Ross, appears to have been a doughty member of the church militant, who lost his possessions by taking the losing side in the Civil War and died in 1658 before the Restoration could bring him redress. He married Elizabeth, niece of Sir Erasmus Dryden, grandfather of poet John Dryden. Hence the familiarity of the poet's well-known “cooling-card” to the budding genius of his kinsman Jonathan: “Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet.”[4]

The young Jonathan Swift was taken to England as an infant and nursed at Whitehaven, returning to Ireland in his 4th year. He was educated mainly at the charges of his uncle Godwin, a Tipperary official, who was thought to dole out his help in a somewhat grudging manner. In fact the apparently prosperous relative was the victim of unfortunate speculations, and chose rather to be reproached with avarice than with imprudence. The youth was resentful of what he regarded as curmudgeonly treatment, a bitterness became ingrained and began to corrode his whole nature; and although he came in time to grasp the real state of the case he never mentioned his uncle with kindness or regard.[4]

At 6 he went to Kilkenny School, where Congreve was a schoolfellow; at 14 he entered as a pensioner at Trinity College, Dublin, where he seems to have neglected his opportunities. He was referred in natural, philosophy, including mathematics, and obtained his degree only by a special but by no means infrequent act of indulgence. The patronage of his uncle galled him: he was dull and unhappy. We find in Swift few signs of precocious genius. As with Goldsmith, and so many other men who have become artists of the pen, college proved a stepmother to him.[4]

Early careerEdit

In 1688 the rich uncle, whose supposed riches had dwindled so much that at his death he was almost insolvent, died, having decayed, it would seem, not less in mind than in body and estate, and Swift sought counsel of his mother at Leicester. After a brief residence with his mother, who was needlessly alarmed at the idea of her son falling a victim to some casual coquette, Swift towards the close of 1689 entered upon an engagement as secretary to Sir William Temple, whose wife (Dorothy Osborne) was distantly related to Mrs Swift.[5]

Moor ParkEdit

At Moor Park, near Farnham, the residence to which Temple had retired to cultivate apricots after the rapid decline of his influence during the critical period of Charles II's reign (1679-1681), Swift's acquaintance with Esther Johnson (the "Stella" of the famous Journal) was begun. Stella's mother was living at Moor Park, as servant or dame de compagnie of Temple's strong-minded sister, Lady Giffard. Swift was 22 and Esther 8 years old at the time, and a curious friendship sprang up between them. He taught the little girl how to write and gave her advice in reading.[5]

On his arrival at Moor Park, Swift was, in his own words, a raw, inexperienced youth, and his duties were merely those of accountkeeper and amanuensis: his ability gradually won him the confidence of his employer, and he was entrusted with some important missions. He was introduced to William III during that monarch's visit to Sir William's, and on one occasion accompanied the king in his walks round the grounds. In 1693 Temple sent him to try and convince the king of the inevitable necessity of triennial parliaments. William remained unconvinced and Swift's vanity received a useful lesson. The king had previously taught him "how to cut asparagus after the Dutch fashion."[5]

In 1694, however, Swift (who had in the meantime obtained the degree of M.A. ad eundem at Oxford) left Temple, who had, he considered, delayed too long in obtaining him preferment. A certificate of conduct while under Temple's roof was required by all the Irish bishops he consulted before they would proceed in the matter of his ordination, and after five months' delay, caused by wounded pride, Swift had to kiss the rod and solicit in obsequious terms the favorr of a testimonial from his discarded patron. Forgiveness was easy to a man of Temple's elevation and temperament, and he not only despatched the necessary recommendation but added a personal request which obtained for Swift the small prebend of Kilroot near Belfast (January 1695).[5]

At Kilroot the new incumbent carried on a premature flirtation with a Miss Jane Waring, whom he called "Varina." In the spring of 1696 he asked the reluctant Varina to wait until he was in a position to marry. Just 4 years later he wrote to her in terms of such calculated harshness and imposed such conditions as to make further relations virtually impossible.[5]

In the meantime he had grown tired of Irish life and was glad to accept Temple's proposal for his return to Moor Park, where he continued until Temple's death in January 1699. During this period he wrote much and burned most of what he had written. He read and learned even more than he wrote. Moor Park took him away from brooding and glooming in Ireland and brought him into the corridor of contemporary history, an intimate acquaintance with which became the chief passion of Swift's life.[5]

His 1st essay in satiric prose arose directly from the position which he occupied as domestic author in the Temple household.[5]

Sir William had in 1692 published his Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning, transplanting to England a controversy begun in France by Fontenelle. Incidentally Temple had cited the letters of Phalaris as evidence of the superiority of the Ancients over the Moderns. Temple's praise of Phalaris led to an Oxford edition of the Epistles nominally edited by Charles Boyle. While this was preparing, William Wotton, in 1694, wrote his Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, traversing Temple's general conclusions. Swift's Battle of the Books was written in 1697 expressly to refute this. Boyle's Vindication and Bentley's refutation of the authenticity of Phalaris came later. Swift's aim was limited to co-operation in what was then deemed the well-deserved putting down of Bentley by Boyle, with a view to which he represented Bentley and Wotton as the representatives of modern pedantry, transfixed by Boyle in a suit of armor given him by the gods as the representative of the "two noblest of things, sweetness and light." The satire remained unpublished until 1704, when it was issued along with The Tale of a Tub.[5]

In 1695 Wotton declared that Swift had borrowed his Combat des livres from the Histoire poétique de la guerre nouvellement déclarée entre les anciens et les modernes (Paris, 1688). He might have derived the idea of a battle from the French title, but the resemblances and parallels between the 2 books are slight. Swift was manifestly extremely imperfectly acquainted with the facts of the case at issue. Such data as he displays may well have been derived from no authority more recondite than Temple's own essay.[5]


In addition to £100, Temple left to Swift the trust and profit of publishing his posthumous writings — 5 volumes appeared in 1700, 1703 and 1709. The resulting profit was small, and Swift's editorial duties brought him into acrimonious relation with Lady Giffard. The dedication to King William was to have procured Swift an English prebend, but this miscarried owing to the negligence or indifference of Henry Sidney, earl of Romney.[5]

Swift then accepted an offer from Lord Berkeley, who in the summer of 1699 was appointed one of the lords justices of Ireland. Swift was to be his chaplain and secretary, but upon reaching Ireland Berkeley gave the secretaryship to a Mr. Bushe, who had persuaded him that it was an unfit post for a clergyman. The rich deanery of Derry then became vacant and Swift applied for it. The secretary had already accepted a bribe, but Swift was informed that he might still have the place for £1000. With bitter indignation Swift denounced the simony and threw up his chaplaincy, but he was ultimately reconciled to Berkeley by the presentation to the rectory of Agher in Meath with the united vicarages of Laracor and Rathbeggan, to which was added the prebend of Dunlavin in St Patrick's — the total value being about £230 a year.[5]

He was now often in Dublin, at most 20 miles distant, and through Lady Berkeley and her daughters he became the familiar and chartered satirist of the fashionable society there. At Laracor, near Trim, Swift rebuilt the parsonage, made a fish-pond, and planted a garden with poplars and willows, bordering a canal. His congregation consisted of about 15 persons, "most of them gentle and all of them simple." He read prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays to himself and his clerk, beginning the exhortation "Dearly beloved Roger, the Scripture moveth you and me in sundry places."[5]

Political powerEdit

He soon began to grow tired of Ireland again, hoever, and to pay visits in Leicester and London. The author of the Tale of a Tub, which he had had by him since 1696 or 1698, must have felt conscious of powers capable of far more effective exercise than reading-desk or pulpit at Laracor could supply; and his resolution to exchange divinity for politics must appear fully justified by the result.[5]

Whig satiristEdit

The Discourse on the Dissensions in Athens and Rome (September 1701), written to repel the tactics of the Tory commons in their attack on the Partition Treaties "without humour and without satire," and intended as a dissuasive from the pending impeachment of Somers, Orford, Halifax and Portland, received the honor - extraordinary for the maiden publication of a young politician - of being generally attributed to Somers himself or to Burnet, the latter of whom found a public disavowal necessary.[5]

In April or May 1704 appeared a more remarkable work. Clearness, cogency, masculine simplicity of diction, are conspicuous in the pamphlet, but true creative power told the Tale of a Tub. "Good God! what a genius I had when I wrote that book!" was his own exclamation in his latter years.[5]

In February 1701 Swift took his D.D. degree at Dublin, and before the close of the year he had taken a step destined to exercise a most important influence on his life, by inviting 2 ladies to Laracor. Esther, daughter of a merchant named Edward Johnson, a dependant, and legatee to a small amount, of Sir William Temple's (born in March 1680), whose acquaintance he had made at Moor Park in 1689, and whom he has immortalized as "Stella,"[6] came over with her companion Rebecca Dingley, a poor relative of the Temple family, and was soon permanently domiciled in his neighbourhood. (The melancholy tale of Swift's attachment will be more conveniently narrated later, and is only alluded to here for the sake of chronology.)[7]

Meanwhile the sphere of his intimacies was rapidly widening. He had been in England for 3 years together, 1701 to 1704, and counted Pope, Steele and Addison among his friends. The success of his pamphlet gained him ready access to all Whig circles; but already his confidence in that party was shaken, and he was beginning to meditate that change of sides which has drawn down upon him so much but such unjustifiable obloquy.[7]

The true state of the case may easily be collected from his next publications - The Sentiments of a Church of England Man, and On the Reasonableness of a Test (1708). The vital differences among the friends of the Hanover succession were not political, but ecclesiastical. From this point of view Swift's sympathies were entirely with the Tories. As a minister of the Church he felt his duty and his interest equally concerned in the support of her cause; nor could he fail to discover the inevitable tendency of Whig doctrines, whatever caresses individual Whigs might bestow on individual clergymen, to abase the Establishment as a corporation. He sincerely believed that the ultimate purpose of freethinkers was to escape from moral restraints, and he had an unreasoning antipathy to Scotch Presbyterians and English Dissenters. If Whiggism could be proved to entail Dissent, he was prepared to abandon it. A pamphlets written about this time contains Swift's recipe for the promotion of religion, and is of itself a sufficient testimony to the extreme materialism of his views. Censorships and penalties are among the means he recommends.[7]

His pen was exerted to better purpose in the most consummate example of his irony, the Argument to prove that the abolishing of Christianity in England may, as things now stand, be attended with some inconveniencies (1708).[7]

Isaac BickerstaffEdit

The next few months witnessed 1 of the most amusing hoaxes ever perpetrated against the quackery of astrologers. In his Almanac for 1707 a Protestant alarmist and plot vaticinator styled John Partridge warned customers against rivals and impostors. This notice attracted Swift's attention, and in January 1708 he issued Predictions for the ensuing year by Isaac Bickerstaff, written to prevent the people of England being imposed upon by vulgar almanac makers. In this brochure he predicts solemnly that on 29 March at 11 o'clock at night Partridge the almanac maker should infallibly die of a raging fever. On 30 March he issued a letter confirming Partridge's sad fate. Grub Street elegies on the almanac maker were hawked about London. Partridge was widely deplored in obituary notices and his name was struck off the rolls at Stationers' Hall.[7]

The poor man was obliged to issue a special almanac to assure his clients and the public that he was not dead: he was fatuous enough to add that he was not only alive at the time of writing, but that he was also demonstrably alive on the day when the knave Bickerstaff (a name borrowed by Swift from a sign in Long Acre) asserted that he died of fever. This elicited Swift's most amusing Vindication of Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. in April 1709. The laughter thus provoked extinguished the Predictions for 3 years, and in 1715 Partridge died in fact; but the episode left a permanent trace in classic literature, for when in 1709 Steele was to start the Tatler, it occurred to him that he could secure the public ear in no surer way than by adopting the name of Bickerstaff.[7]

From February 1708 to April 1709 Swift was in London, urging upon the Godolphin administration the claims of the Irish clergy to the 1st-fruits and 20ths ("Queen Anne's Bounty"), which brought in about £2500 a year, already granted to their brethren in England.[8] His having been selected for such a commission shows that he was not yet regarded as a deserter from the Whigs, although the ill success of his representations probably helped to make him one.[7]

Tory satiristEdit

By November 1710 Swift was again domiciled in London, and writing his Journal to Stella, that unique exemplar of a giant's playfulness, "which was written for one person's private pleasure and has had indestructible attractiveness for every one since." In the 1st pages of this marvelously minute record of a busy life we find him depicting the decline of Whig credit and complaining of the cold reception accorded him by Godolphin, whose penetration had doubtless detected the precariousness of his allegiance.[7]

Within a few weeks he had become the lampooner of the fallen treasurer, the bosom friend of Oxford and Bolingbroke, and the writer of the Examiner, a journal established as the exponent of Tory views (November 1710). He was now a power in the state, the intimate friend and recognized equal of the 1st writers of the day, the associate of ministers on a footing of perfect cordiality and familiarity. "We were determined to have you," said Bolingbroke to him afterwards; "you were the only one we were afraid of." He gained his point respecting the Irish endowments; and, by his own account, his credit procured the fortune of more than 40 deserving or undeserving clients.[7]

The envious but graphic description of his demeanor conveyed to us by Bishop Kennet attests the real dignity of his position no less than the airs he thought fit to assume in consequence. The cheerful, almost jovial, tone of his letters to Stella evinces his full contentment, nor was he one to be moved to gratitude for small mercies. He had it, in fact, fully in his own power to determine his relations with the ministry, and he would be satisfied with nothing short of familiar and ostentatious equality.[7]

His advent marks a new era in English political life, the age of public opinion, created indeed by the circumstances of the time, but powerfully fostered and accelerated by him. By a strange but not infrequent irony of fate the most imperious and despotic spirit of his day labored to enthrone a power which, had he himself been in authority, he would have utterly detested and despised. For a brief time he seemed to resume the whole power of the English press in his own pen and to guide public opinion as he would.[7]

His services to his party as writer of the Examiner, which he quit in July 1711, were even surpassed by those which he rendered as the author of telling pamphlets, among which The Conduct of the Allies and of the Late Ministry, in beginning and carrying on the Present War, and Remarks on the Barrier Treaty (November and December 1711) hold the 1st rank. In truth, however, he was lifted by the wave he seemed to command.[7] Surfeited with glory, which it began, after Malplaquet, to think might be purchased at too heavy a cost, the nation wanted a convenient excuse for relinquishing a burdensome war, which the great military genius of the age was suspected of prolonging to fill his pockets. The Whigs had been long in office. The High Church party had derived great strength from the Sacheverell trial.[9]

Swift did not bring about the revolution with which, notwithstanding, he associated his name. There seems no reason to suppose that he was consulted respecting the great Tory strokes of the creation of the 12 new peers and the dismissal of Marlborough (December 1711), but they would hardly have been ventured upon if The Conduct of the Allies and the Examiners had not prepared the way. A scarcely less important service was rendered to the ministry by his Letter to the October Club, artfully composed to soothe the impatience of Harley's extreme followers. He had every claim to the highest preferment that ministers could give him, but his own pride and prejudice in high places stood in his way. Generous men like Oxford and Bolingbroke cannot have been unwilling to reward so serviceable a friend, especially when their own interest lay in keeping him in England. Harley by this time was losing influence and was becoming chronically incapable of any sustained effort.[9]

Swift was naturally a little sore at seeing the see of Hereford slipping through his fingers. He had already lost Waterford owing to the prejudice against making the author of the Tale of a Tub a bishop, and he still had formidable antagonists in the archbishop of York, whom he had scandalized, and the duchess of Somerset, whom he had satirized. Anne was particularly amenable to the influence of priestly and female favorites, and it must be considered a proof of the strong interest made for Swift that she was eventually persuaded to appoint him to the deanery of St Patrick's, Dublin, vacant by the removal of Bishop Sterne to Dromore. It is to his honor that he never speaks of the queen with resentment or bitterness. In June 1713 he set out to take possession of his deanery, and encountered a very cold reception from the Dublin public.[9]

Fall of the ToriesEdit

The dissensions between the chiefs of his party speedily recalled him to England. He found affairs in a desperate condition. The queen's demise was evidently at hand, and the same instinctive good sense which had ranged the nation on the side of the Tories, when Tories alone could terminate a fatiguing war, rendered it Whig when Tories manifestly could not be trusted to maintain the Protestant succession. In any event the occupants of office could merely have had the choice of risking their heads in an attempt to exclude the elector of Hanover, or of waiting patiently till he should come and eject them from their posts; yet they might have remained formidable could they have remained united.[9]

To the indignation with which he regarded Oxford's refusal to advance him in the peerage the active St. John added an old disgust at the treasurer's pedantic and dilatory formalism, as well as his evident propensity, while leaving his colleague the fatigues, to engross for himself the chief credit of the administration. Their schemes of policy diverged as widely as their characters: Bolingbroke's brain teemed with the wildest plans, which Oxford might have more effectually discountenanced had he been prepared with anything in their place.[9]

Swift's endeavors for an accommodation were as fruitless as unremitting. His mortification was little likely to temper the habitual virulence of his pen, which rarely produced anything more acrimonious than the attacks he at this period directed against Burnet and his former friend Steele. One of his pamphlets against the latter (The Public Spirit of the Whigs set forth in their Generous Encouragement of the Author of the Crisis, 1714) was near involving him in a prosecution, some invectives against the Scottish peers having proved so exasperating to Argyll and others that they repaired to the queen to demand the punishment of the author, of whose identity there could be no doubt, although, like all Swift's writings (except the Proposal for the Extension of Religion), the pamphlet had been published anonymously. The immediate withdrawal of the offensive passage, and a sham prosecution instituted against the printer, extricated Swift from his danger.[9]

Meanwhile the crisis had arrived, and the discord of Oxford and Bolingbroke had become patent to all the nation. Foreseeing, as is probable, the impending fall of the former, Swift retired to Upper Letcombe, in Berkshire, and there spent some weeks in the strictest seclusion. This leisure was occupied in the composition of his remarkable pamphlet, Some Free Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs, which indicates his complete conversion to the bold policy of Bolingbroke. The utter exclusion of Whigs as well as Dissenters from office, the remodelling of the army, the imposition of the most rigid restraints on the heir to the throne - such were the measures which, by recommending, Swift tacitly admitted to be necessary to the triumph of his party.[9]

If he were serious, it can only be said that the desperation of his circumstances had momentarily troubled the lucidity of his understanding; if the pamphlet were merely intended as a feeler after public opinion, it is surprising that he did not perceive how irretrievably he was ruining his friends in the eyes of all moderate men. Bolingbroke's daring spirit, however, recoiled from no extreme, and, fortunately for Swift, he added so much of his own to the latter's MS. that the production was first delayed and then, upon the news of Anne's death, immediately suppressed.[9]

This incident but just anticipated the revolution which, after Bolingbroke had enjoyed a 3 days' triumph over Oxford, drove him into:exile and prostrated his party, but enabled Swift to perform the noblest action of his life. Almost the 1st acts of Bolingbroke's ephemeral premiership were to order him 1,000 pounds from the exchequer and despatch him the most flattering invitations. The same post brought a letter from Oxford, soliciting Swift's company in his retirement; and, to the latter's immortal honor, he hesitated not an instant in preferring the solace of his friend to the offers of St John. When, a few days afterwards, Oxford was in prison and in danger of his life, Swift begged to share his captivity; and it was only on the offer being declined that he finally directed his steps towards Ireland, where he was very ill received. The draft on the exchequer was intercepted by the queen's death.[9]

Literary lifeEdit

These 4 busy years of Swift's London life had not been entirely engrossed by politics. As the associate of Steele, with whom he quarrelled, and of Addison, whose esteem for him survived all differences, afterwards as the intimate comrade of Pope and Arbuthnot, the friend of Congreve and Atterbury, Parnell and Gay, he entered deeply into the literary life of the period.[9]

He was treasurer and a leading member of the Brothers, a society of wits and statesmen which recalls the days of Horace and Maecenas. He promoted the subscription for Pope's Homer, contributed some numbers to the Tatler, Spectator, and Intelligencer, and joined with Pope and Arbuthnot in establishing the Scriblerus Club, writing Martinus Scriblerus (his share in which can have been but small), as well as John Bull, where the chapter recommending the education of all blue-eyed children in depravity for the public good must surely be his.[9]

His miscellanies, in some of which his satire made the nearest approach perhaps ever made to the methods of physical force, such as A Meditation upon a Broomstick, and the poems "Sid Hamet's Rod," "The City Shower," "The Windsor Prophecy," "The Prediction of Merlin," and "The History of Vanbrugh's House," belong to this period. A more labored work, his Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712), in a letter to Harley, suggesting the regulation of the English language by an academy, is chiefly remarkable as a proof of the deference paid to French taste by the most original English writer of his day. His History of the Four Last Years of the Reign of Queen Anne is not on a level with his other political writings. To sum up the incidents of this eventful period of his life, it was during it that he lost his mother, always loved and dutifully honored, by death; his sister had been estranged from him some years before by an imprudent marriage, which, though making her a liberal allowance, he never forgave.[9]

"Exile" in DublinEdit

The change from London to Dublin can seldom be an agreeable one. To Swift it meant for the time the fall from unique authority to absolute insignificance. All share in the administration of even Irish affairs was denied him; every politician shunned him; and his society hardly included a single author or wit. He "continued in the greatest privacy" and "began to think of death." At a later period he talked of "dying of rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole"; for some time, however, he was buoyed up by feeble hopes of a restoration to England. So late as 1726 he was in England making overtures to Walpole, but he had no claim on ministerial goodwill, and as an opponent he had by that time done his worst.[10]

Stella and VanessaEdit

By an especial cruelty of fate, what should have been the comfort became the bane of his existence. We have already mentioned his invitation of Esther Johnson and Mrs. Dingley to Ireland. Both before and after his elevation to the deanery of St. Patrick's these ladies continued to reside near him, and superintended his household during his absence in London. He had offered no obstacle in 1704 to a match proposed for Stella to Dr. William Tisdall of Dublin, and, with his evident delight in the society of the dark-haired, brighteyed, witty beauty—a model, if we may take his word, of all that woman should be — it seemed unaccountable that he did not secure it to himself by the expedient of matrimony. A constitutional infirmity has been suggested as the reason, and the conjecture derives support from several peculiarities in his writings. But, whatever the cause, his conduct proved none the less the fatal embitterment of his life and Stella's and yet another's.[10]

He had always been unlucky in his relations with the fair sex. In 1695 he had idealized "Varina." Varina was avenged by Vanessa, who pursued Swift to far other purpose. Esther Vanhomrigh (born February 14, 1690), the daughter of a Dublin merchant of Dutch origin, who died in 1703 leaving £16,000, had become known to Swift at the height of his political influence. He lodged close to her mother, was introduced to the family by Sir A. Fountaine in 1708 and became an intimate of the house. Vanessa insensibly became his pupil, and he insensibly became the object of her impassioned affection. Her letters reveal a spirit full of ardour and enthusiasm, and warped by that perverse bent which leads so many women to prefer a tyrant to a companion.[10]

Swift, on the other hand, was devoid of passion. Of friendship, even of tender regard, he was fully capable, but not of love. The spiritual realm, whether in divine or earthly things, was a region closed to him, where he had never set foot. As a friend he must have greatly preferred Stella to Vanessa. Marriage was out of the question with him, and, judged in the light of Stella's dignity and womanliness, this ardent and unreasoning display of passion was beyond comprehension.[10]

But Vanessa assailed him on a very weak side. The strongest of all his instincts was the thirst for imperious domination. Vanessa hugged the fetters to which Stella merely submitted. Flattered to excess by her surrender, yet conscious of his binding obligations and his real preference, he could neither discard the one beauty nor desert the other. It is humiliating to human strength and consoling to human weakness to find the Titan behaving like the least resolute of mortals, seeking refuge in temporizing, in evasion, in fortuitious circumstance. He no doubt trusted that his move to Dublin would bring relief, but here again his evil star interposed. Vanessa's mother died (1714), and she followed him to Ireland, taking up her abode at Celbridge within 10 miles of Dublin.[10]

Unable to marry Stella without destroying Vanessa, or to openly welcome Vanessa without destroying Stella, he was thus involved in the most miserable embarrassment; he continued to temporize. Had the solution of marriage been open Stella would undoubtedly have been Swift's choice. Some mysterious obstacle intervened. It was rumored at the time that Stella was the natural daughter of Temple, and Swift himself at times seems to have been doubtful as to his own paternity. There is naturally no evidence for such reports, which may have been fabrications of the anti-deanery faction in Dublin.[10]

From the same source sprang the report of Swift's marriage to Stella by Bishop Ashe in the deanery garden at Clogher in the summer of 1716. The ceremony, it is suggested, may have been extorted by the jealousy of Stella and have been accompanied by the express condition on Swift's side that the marriage was never to be avowed. The evidence is by no means complete and has never been exhaustively reviewed. John Lyon, Swift's constant attendant from 1735 onwards, disbelieved the story. It was accepted by the early biographers, Deane Swift, Orrery, Delany and Sheridan; also by Johnson, Scott, Dr Garnett, Craik, Dr Bernard and others. The arguments against the marriage were 1st marshalled by Monck Mason in his History of St Patrick's, and the conjecture, though plausible, has failed to convince Forster, Stephen, Aitken, Hill, Lane Poole and Churton Collins.[10]

Never more than a nominal wife at most, the unfortunate Stella commonly passed for his mistress till the day of her death (in her will she writes herself spinster), bearing her doom with uncomplaining resignation, and consoled in some degree by unquestionable proofs of the permanence of his love, if his feeling for her deserves the name.[10]

Meanwhile his efforts were directed to soothe Miss Vanhomrigh, to whom he addressed "Cadenus [Decanus] and Vanessa," the history of their attachment and the best example of his serious poetry, and for whom he sought to provide honorably in marriage, without either succeeding in his immediate aim or in thereby opening her eyes to the hopelessness of her passion. In 1720, on what occasion is uncertain, he began to pay her regular visits.[10]

Sir Walter Scott found the Abbey garden at Celbridge still full of laurels, several of which Vanessa was accustomed to plant whenever she expected Swift, and the table at which they had been used to sit was still shown. But the catastrophe of her tragedy was at hand. Worn out with his evasions, she at last (1723) took the desperate step of writing to Stella or, according to another account, to Swift himself, demanding to know the nature of the connection with him, and this terminated the melancholy history as with a clap of thunder.[10]

Stella sent her rival's letter to Swift, and retired to a friend's house. Swift rode down to Marley Abbey with a terrible countenance, petrified Vanessa by his frown, and departed without a word, flinging down a packet which only contained her own letter to Stella. Vanessa died within a few weeks. She left the poem and correspondence for publication. The former appeared immediately, the latter was suppressed until it was published by Sir Walter Scott.[10]

5 years afterwards Stella followed Vanessa to the grave. The grief which the gradual decay of her health evidently occasioned Swift is sufficient proof of the sincerity of his attachment, as he understood it. It is a just remark of Thackeray's that he everywhere half-consciously recognizes her as his better angel, and dwells on her wit and her tenderness with a fondness he never exhibits for any other topic. She died on 28 January 1728, and her wretched lover sat down the same night to record her virtues in language of unsurpassed simplicity, but to us who know the story more significantly for what it conceals than for what it tells.[10]

A lock of her hair is preserved, with the inscription in Swift's handwriting, most affecting in its apparent cynicism, "Only a woman's hair!" "Only a woman's hair," comments Thackeray; "only love, only fidelity, purity, innocence, beauty, only the tenderest heart in the world stricken and wounded, and passed away out of reach of pangs of hope deferred, love insulted and pitiless desertion; only that lock of hair left, and memory, and remorse, for the guilty, lonely wretch, shuddering over the grave of his victim." The more unanswerable this tremendous indictment appears upon the evidence the greater the probability that the evidence is incomplete. Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner.[10]

Drapier's LettersEdit

Between the death of Vanessa and the death of Stella came the greatest political and the greatest literary triumph of Swift's life. He had fled to Ireland a broken man, to all appearance politically extinct; a few years were to raise him once more to the summit of popularity, though power was for ever denied him.[10]

Consciously or unconsciously he 1st taught the Irish to rely upon themselves, and for many generations his name was the most universally popular in the country. With his fierce hatred of what he recognized as injustice, it was impossible that he should not feel exasperated at the gross misgovernment of Ireland for the supposed benefit of England, the systematic exclusion of Irishmen from places of honour and profit, the spoliation of the country by absentee landlords, the deliberate discouragement of Irish trade and manufactures.[10]

An Irish patriot in the strict sense of the term he was not; he was proud of being an Englishman, who had been accidentally "dropped in Ireland"; he looked upon the indigenous population as conquered savages; but his pride and sense of equity alike revolted against the stay-at-home Englishmen's contemptuous treatment of their own garrison, and he delighted in finding a point in which the triumphant faction was still vulnerable. His Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures, published anonymously in 1720, urging the Irish to disuse English goods, became the subject of a prosecution, which at length had to be dropped. A greater opportunity was at hand.[11]

One of the chief wants of Ireland in that day, and for many a day afterwards, was that of small currency adapted to the daily transactions of life. Questions of coinage occupy a large part of the correspondence of the primate, Archbishop Boulter, whose anxiety to deal rightly with the matter is evidently very real and conscientious. There is no reason to think that the English ministry wished otherwise; but secret influences were at work, and a patent for supplying Ireland with a coinage of copper halfpence was accorded to William Wood on such terms that the profit accruing from the difference between the intrinsic and the nominal value of the coins, about 40%, was mainly divided between him and George I's favourite duchess of Kendal, by whose influence Wood had obtained the privilege.[11]

Swift now had his opportunity, and the famous 6 letters signed M.B. Drapier (April to December 1724) soon set Ireland in a flame. Every effort was used to discover, or rather to obtain legal evidence against, the author, whom, Walpole was assured, it would then have taken 10,000 men to apprehend. None could be procured; the public passion swept everything before it; the patent was cancelled; Wood was compensated by a pension; Swift was raised to a height of popularity which he retained for the rest of his life; and the only real sufferers were the Irish people, who lost a convenience so badly needed that they might well have afforded to connive at Wood's illicit profits.[11]

Gulliver's TravelsEdit

The noise of the Drapier Letters had hardly died away when Swift acquired a more durable glory by the publication of Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World, in four parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon and then a captain of several ships (Benjamin Motto, October 1726). The 1st hint came to him at the meetings of the Scriblerus Club in 1714, and the work was well advanced, it would seem, by 1720. Allusions show that it was circulated privately for a considerable period before its actual (anonymous) publication, on the 28th of October 1726.[11]

Pope arranged that Erasmus Lewis should act as literary agent in negotiating the manuscript. Swift was afraid of the reception the book would meet with, especially in political circles. The keenness of the satire on courts, parties and statesmen certainly suggests that it was planned while Swift's disappointments as a public man were still rankling and recent.[11]

Swift's grave humor and power of enforcing momentous truth by ludicrous exaggeration were next displayed in his Modest Proposal for Preventing the' Children of Poor People from being a Burden to their Parents or the Country, by fattening and eating them (1729), a parallel to the Argument against Abolishing Christianity, and as great a masterpiece of tragic as the latter is of comic irony. The Directions to Servants (first published in 1745) in like manner derive their overpowering comic force from the imperturbable solemnity with which all the misdemeanors that domestics can commit are enjoined upon them as duties. The power of minute observation displayed is most remarkable, as also in Polite Conversation (written in 1731, published in 1738), a surprising assemblage of the vulgarities and trivialities current in ordinary talk. As in the Directions, the satire, though cutting, is good-natured, and the piece shows more animal spirits than usual in Swift's latter years. It was a last flash of gaiety.[12]

Final yearsEdit

The attacks of giddiness and deafness to which he had always been liable increased upon him. Already in 1721 he complains that the buzzing in his ears disconcerts and confounds him.[12]

He hated the Irish parliament for its lethargy and the Irish bishops for their interference. He fiercely opposed Archbishop Boulter's plans for the reform of the Irish currency, but admitted that his real objection was sentimental: the coins should be struck as well as circulated in Ireland. His exertions in repressing robbery and mendicancy were strenuous and successful.[12]

His popularity remained as great as ever, and, when he was menaced by the bully Bettesworth, Dublin rose as 1 man to defend him. He governed his cathedral with great strictness and conscientiousness, and for years after Stella's death continued to hold a miniature court at the deanery. But his failings of mind were exacerbated by his bodily infirmities; he grew more and more whimsical and capricious, morbidly suspicious and morbidly parsimonius; old friends were estranged or removed by death, and new friends did not come forward in their place.[12]

For many years, nevertheless, he maintained a correspondence with Pope and Bolingbroke, and with Arbuthnot and Gay until their deaths, with such warmth as to prove that an ill opinion of mankind had not made him a misanthrope, and that human affection and sympathy were still very necessary to him. The letters become scarcer and scarcer with the decay of his faculties; at last, in 1740, comes one to his kind niece, Mrs Whiteway, of heartrending pathos:—

"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 of body and mind. All I can say is that I am not in torture; but I daily and hourly expect it. Pray let me know how your health is and your family: I hardly understand one word I write. I am sure my days will be very few; few and miserable they must be. I am, for those few days, yours entirely—Jonathan Swift.
"If I do not blunder, it is Saturday, July 26, 1740.
"If I live till Monday I shall hope to see you, perhaps for the last time."[12]

Account book entries continue until 1742.[12]


In part VIII of his series, The Story of Civilization, Will Durant describes the final years of Swift's life:

Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to take care of his affairs and watch lest in his outbursts of violence he should do himself harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye. He went a whole year without uttering a word."[13]

In September 1742 his physical malady reached a crisis, from which he emerged a helpless wreck, with faculties paralysed rather than destroyed — "He never talked nonsense or said a foolish thing." The particulars of his case have been investigated by Dr. Bucknill and Sir William Wilde, who have proved that he suffered from nothing that could be called mental derangement until the "labyrinthine vertigo" from which he had suffered all his life, and which he erroneously attributed to a surfeit of fruit, produced paralysis,—

a symptom of which was the not uncommon one of aphasia, or the automatic utterance of words ungoverned by intention. As a consequence of that paralysis, but not before, the brain, already weakened by senile decay, at length gave way, and Swift sank into the dementia which preceded his death."[12]

In other words he retained his reason until in his 74th year he was struck down by a new disease in the form of a localized left-sided apoplexy or cerebral softening. Aphasia due to the local trouble and general decay then progressed rapidly together, and even then at 76, 2 more years were still to elapse before "he exchanged the sleep of idiocy for the sleep of death."[12]

The scene closed on 10 October 1745. With what he himself described as a satiric touch, his fortune was bequeathed to found a hospital for idiots and lunatics, now an important institution, as it was in many respects a pioneer bequest.[12]

He was interred in his cathedral at midnight on the 22nd of October, in the same coffin as Stella.[12]

Epitaph Edit

File:St. Patrick's Cathedral Swift epitaph.jpg

Swift wrote his own epitaph:

Hic depositum est Corpus
Hujus Ecclesiæ Cathedralis
Ubi sæva Indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit,
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem.
Obiit 19º Die Mensis Octobris
A.D. 1745 Anno Ætatis 78º.[14] [3]

The literal translation of which is: "Here is laid the Body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, Dean of this Cathedral Church, where fierce Indignation can no longer injure the Heart. Go forth, Voyager, and copy, if you can, this vigorous (to the best of his ability) Champion of Liberty. He died on the 19th Day of the Month of October, A.D. 1745, in the 78th Year of his Age."[3]

William Butler Yeats freely translated it 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.[3]

The stress which Swift thus laid upon his character as an assertor of liberty has hardly been ratified by posterity, which has apparently neglected the patriot for the genius and the wit. Not unreasonably; for if half his patriotism sprang from an instinctive hatred of oppression, the other half was disappointed egotism. He utterly lacked the ideal aspiration which the patriot should possess: his hatred of villainy was far more intense than his love of virtue. The same cramping realism clings to him everywhere beyond the domain of politics — in his religion, in his fancies, in his affections. At the same time, it is the secret of his wonderful concentration of power: he realizes everything with such intensity that he cannot fail to be impressive.[12]

His master passion is imperious pride — the lust of despotic dominion. He would have his superiority acknowledged, and cared little for the rest. Place and profit were comparatively indifferent to him; he declares that he never received a farthing for any of his works except Gulliver's Travels, and that only by Pope's management; and he had so little regard for literary fame that he put his name to only one of his writings. Contemptuous of the opinion of his fellows, he hid his virtues, paraded his faults, affected some failings from which he was really exempt, and, since his munificent charity could not be concealed from the recipients, labored to spoil it by gratuitous surliness.[12]

Judged by some passages of his life he would appear a heartless egotist, and yet he was capable of the sincerest friendship and could never dispense with human sympathy. Thus an object of pity as well as awe, he is the most tragic figure in our literature — the only man of his age who could be conceived as affording a groundwork for one of the creations of Shakespeare. "To think of him," says Thackeray, "is like thinking of the ruin of a great empire." Nothing finer or truer could be said.[12]


Swift was a prolific writer. The most recent collection of his prose works (Herbert Davis, ed. Basil Blackwell, 1965-) comprises 14 volumes. A recent edition of his complete poetry (Pat Rodges, ed. Penguin, 1983) is 953 pages long. An edition of his correspondence (David Woolley, ed. P. Lang, 1999) fills 3 volumes.[3]

Except in his unsuccessful essay in history, he never, after the mistake of his early Pindaric attempts, strays beyond his sphere, never attempts what he is not qualified to do, and never fails to do it. His writings have not 1 literary fault except their occasional looseness of grammar and their frequent indecency. Within certain limits, his imagination and invention are as active as those of the most creative poets.[12]

Major worksEdit

File:Jonathan Swift - Project Gutenberg eText 18250.jpg
File:Swift works.png

Swift inoculated the Scriblerus Club with his own hatred of pedantry, cant and circumlocution. His own prose is the acme of incisive force and directness. He uses the vernacular with an economy which no other English writer has rivalled. There is a masculinity about his phrases which makes him as clear to the humblest capacity as they are capable of being made to anyone. Ironist as he is, there is no writer that ever wrote whose meaning is more absolutely unmistakable. He is the grand master of the order of plain speech.[12]

As a master of humor, irony and invective he has no superior; his reasoning powers are no less remarkable within their range, but he never gets beyond the range of an advocate. Few men of so much mental force have had so little genius for speculation, and he is constantly dominated by fierce instincts which he mistakes for reasons.[12]

Tale of a TubEdit

Swift's 1st major work, A Tale of a Tub, demonstrates many of the themes and stylistic techniques he would employ in his later work. It is at once wildly playful and funny while being pointed and harshly critical of its targets. In its main thread, the Tale recounts the exploits of three sons, representing the main threads of Christianity, who receive a bequest from their father of a coat each, with the added instructions to make no alterations whatsoever. However, the sons soon find that their coats have fallen out of current fashion, and begin to look for loopholes in their father's will that will let them make the needed alterations. As each finds his own means of getting around their father's admonition, they struggle with each other for power and dominance. Inserted into this story, in alternating chapters, the narrator includes a series of whimsical "digressions" on various subjects.[3]

It is, indeed, if not the most amusing of Swift's satirical works, the most strikingly original, and the one in which the compass of his powers is most fully displayed. In his kindred productions he relies mainly upon a single element of the humorous - logical sequence and unruffled gravity bridling in an otherwise frantic absurdity, and investing it with an air of sense. In the Tale of a Tub he lashes out in all directions. The humor, if less cogent and cumulative, is richer,[5] and more varied; the invention, too, is more daringly original and more completely out of the reach of ordinary faculties. The supernatural coats and the quintessential loaf may be paralleled but cannot be surpassed; and the book is throughout a mine of suggestiveness, as, for example, in the anticipation of Carlyle's clothes philosophy within the compass of a few lines. At the same time it wants unity and coherence, it attains no conclusion, and the author abuses his digressive method of composition and his convenient fiction of hiatuses in the original manuscript. The charges it occasioned of profanity and irreverence were natural, but groundless. There is nothing in the book inconsistent with Swift's professed and real character as a sturdy Church of England parson, who accepted the doctrines of his Church as an essential constituent of the social order around him, battled for them with the fidelity of a soldier defending his colors, and held it no part of his duty to understand, interpret, or assimilate them.[7]

Drapier's LettersEdit

Drapier's Letters (1724) was a series of pamphlets against the monopoly granted by the English government to William Wood to provide the Irish with copper coinage. It was widely believed that Wood would need to flood Ireland with debased coinage in order make a profit. In these "letters" Swift posed as a shop-keeper—a draper—in order to criticize the plan. Swift's writing was so effective in undermining opinion in the project that a reward was offered by the government to anyone disclosing the true identity of the author. Though hardly a secret (on returning to Dublin after one of his trips to England, Swift was greeted with a banner, "Welcome Home, Drapier") no one turned Swift in. The government eventually resorted to hiring none other than Sir Isaac Newton to certify the soundness of Wood's coinage to counter Swift's accusations. In "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift" (1739) Swift recalled this as one of his best achievements.[3]

Swift's pamphlets, written in a style more level with the popular intelligence than even his own ordinary manner, are models alike to the controversialist who aids a good cause and to him who is burdened with a bad one. The former may profit by the study of his marvellous lucidity and vehemence, the latter by his sublime audacity in exaggeration and the sophistry with which he involves the innocent halfpence in the obloquy of the nefarious patentee.[11]

Gulliver's TravelsEdit

Gulliver's Travels, a large portion of which Swift wrote at Woodbrook House in County Laois, was published in 1726. It is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, the Travels was published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon and later a sea captain. Some of the correspondence between printer Benj. Motte and Gulliver's also-fictional cousin negotiating the book's publication has survived.[3]

It is Swift's peculiar good fortune that his book can dispense with the interpretation of which it is nevertheless susceptible, and may be equally enjoyed whether its inner meaning is apprehended or not. It is so true, so entirely based upon the facts of human nature, that the question what particular class of persons supplied the author with his examples of folly or misdoing, however interesting to the commentator, may be neglected by the reader.[11]

It is also fortunate for him that in 3 parts out of the 4 he should have entirely missed "the chief end I propose to myself, to vex the world rather than divert it." The world, which perhaps ought to have been vexed, chose rather to be diverted; and the great satirist literally strains his power ut pueris placeat. Few books have added so much to the innocent mirth of mankind as the first 2 parts of Gulliver; the misanthropy is quite overpowered by the fun. The 3rd part, equally masterly in composition, is less felicitous in invention; and in the 4th Swift has indeed carried out his design of vexing the world at his own cost.[11]

Human nature indignantly rejects her portrait in the Yahoo as a gross libel, and the protest is fully warranted. An intelligence from a superior sphere, bound on a voyage to the earth, might actually have obtained a fair idea of average humanity by a preliminary call at Lilliput or Brobdingnag, but not from a visit to the Yahoos.[11]

While Gulliver is infinitely the most famous and popular of Swift's works, it exhibits no greater powers of mind than many others. The secret of success, here as elsewhere, is the writer's marvelous imperturbability in paradox, his teeming imagination and his rigid logic. Grant his premises, and all the rest follows; his world may be turned topsy-turvy, but the relative situation of its contents is unchanged.[11]

The laborious attempts that have been made, particularly in Germany, to affiliate the Travels only serve to bring Swift's essential originality into stronger relief. He had naturally read Lucian and Rabelais - possibly Crusoe and the Arabian Nights. He had read as a young man the lunary adventure of Bishop Wilkins, Bishop Godwin and Cyrano de Bergerac. He had read contemporary accounts of Peter the Wild Boy, the History of Sevarambes by D'Alais (1677) and Foligny's Journey of Jacques Sadeut to Australia (1693). He may have read Joshua Barnes's description of a race of "Pygmies" in his Gerania of 1675. He copied the account of the storm in the 2nd voyage almost literally from Sturmy's Compleat Mariner. Travelers' tales were deliberately embalmed by Swift in the amber of his irony. Something similar was attempted by Raspe in his Munchausen 60 years later.[11]

Though it has often been mistakenly thought of and published in bowdlerized form as a children's book, it is a great and sophisticated satire of human nature based on Swift's experience of his times. Gulliver's Travels is an anatomy of human nature, a sardonic looking-glass, often criticized for its apparent misanthropy. It asks its readers to refute it, to deny that it has adequately characterized human nature and society. Each of the four books—recounting four voyages to mostly-fictional exotic lands—has a different theme, but all are attempts to deflate human pride. Critics hail the work as a satiric reflection on the shortcomings of Enlightenment thought.[3]

A Modest ProposalEdit

In 1729, Swift published A Modest Proposal]] for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, a satire in which the narrator, with intentionally grotesque logic, recommends that Ireland's poor escape their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich: ”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...” Following the satirical form, he introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by deriding them:

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients ... taxing our absentees ... using [nothing] except what is of our own growth and manufacture ... rejecting ... foreign luxury ... introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance ... learning to love our country ... quitting our animosities and factions ... teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants.... Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.[3]


His Pindaric Odes, written before 1700, in the manner of Cowley, indicate the rudiments of a real satirist, but a satirist struggling with a most uncongenial form of expression.[5] In November 1707, he produced his best narrative poem, Baucis and Philemon.[7]

After the Directions to Servants Swift wrote little beyond occasional verses, not seldom indecent and commonly trivial. He sought refuge from inferior society often in nonsense, occasionally in obscenity. An exception must be made in the case of the delightful "Hamilton's Bawn," and still more of the verses on his own death (1731), 1 of the most powerful and also 1 of the saddest of his poems. In "The Legion Club of 1736" he composed the fiercest of all his verse satires.[12]

Critical introductionEdit

by John Nichol

Dryden, then the veteran of our literature, sitting in the dictator’s chair left vacant by Ben Jonson and waiting for Samuel Johnson, having perused an ode on the Athenian Society dating from Moor Park, February 14, 1691, hazarded the prediction: "Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet." The unforgiven criticism has received from the judgment of posterity an assent qualified by respect for the strongest satirist of England and for an ability which cannot help making itself here and there manifest even in his verse.

Swift’s satire is of 2 kinds: the party polemic of his earlier years, which culminated in 1724 in the Drapier’s Letters, and the expression of a misanthropy as genuine as that of Shakespeare’s Timon, of a rage directed not against Dissent or Church or Whig or Tory, but mankind, finding mature vent in the most terrible libel that has ever been imagined — a libel on the whole of his race — the hideous immortal mockery of the closing voyage of Gulliver. Such a work could only have been written by one born a cynic, doubly soured by some mysterious affliction, and by having had

‘To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone,’

till he had lost any original capacity he may have had for becoming a poet. His genius, moreover, was from the first as far removed from that peculiar to poetry as it is possible for any genius of the first rank to be.

The power of Swift’s prose was the terror of his own, and remains the wonder of after times. With the exception of a few clumsy paragraphs thrown off in haste, he says what he means in the homeliest native English that can be conceived. Disdaining even those refinements or shades of expression to which most writers touching on delicate or dangerous subjects feel compelled to resort, he owes almost nothing to foreign influence. "I am," he wrote, "for every man’s working on his own materials, and producing only what he can find within himself".: he consistently carved everything he had to set before his readers out of the plain facts with which he professed to deal.

In his masterpieces there is scarce a hint from any known source, rarely a quotation: his sentences are self-sufficient, and fit the occasion as a glove the hand. In the Tale of a Tub he anticipates Teufelsdröckh in his contempt for trappings of speech as of person; he regarded fine language as leather and prunella. Though Swift’s Allegories are abundant, he disdained ordinary metaphor, in the spirit in which Bentham defined poetry as misrepresentation.

But towards the close of the 17th and during the early years of the 18th century, almost every English writer — apart from those purely scientific — had to pay toll to what he called the Muses. Bunyan seems to have written his bad lines to italicise the distinction between the most highly imaginative prose and poetry. In the next age no one who addressed the general public could escape the trial; and Swift’s verses are at least as worthy of preservation as Addison’s.

In following a fashion he also gratified a talent,— nor Pope nor Byron had a greater,— for fluent rhyme. Generally careless, often harsh, his versification is seldom laboured: his pen may run till it wearies the reader; but we see no reason in fall of energy why Swift’s Hudibrastic jingle should cease, any more than why the waves of Spenser’s stanza should not roll for ever.

The other merits of our author’s verse are those of his prose — condensation, pith, always the effect, generally the reality, of sincere purpose, and, with few exceptions, simplicity and directness. The exceptions are in his unhappy Pindaric odes, and some of his later contributions to the pedantry of the age. The former could scarcely be worse, for they have almost the contortions of Cowley, without his occasional flow and elevation. Take the following lines from the "Athenian Ode:"

  ‘Just so the mighty Nile has suffered in its fame
  Because ’tis said (and perhaps only said)
We ’ve found a little inconsiderable head
  That feeds the huge, unequal stream.’

And again:

  ‘And then how much and nothing is mankind,
  Whose reason is weighed down by popular air,
Who by that vainly talks of baffling death:
  And hopes to lengthen life by a transfusion of breath,
Which yet whoe’er examines right will find
  To be an art as vain as bottling up of wind.’

As in Congreve’s "Address to Silence," the force of cacophony can no further go. It may be said that these lines were the products of "green, unknowing youth," but during the same years the same writer was maturing the Tale of a Tub.

Swift had no ear save for the discords of the world, and in such cases a stiff regular measure, which is a sort of rhythmic policeman, is the only safe guard. Pindaric flights, unless under the guidance of the genius that makes music as it runs, invariably result in confusion worse confounded. Not least among our debts to Dryden may be ranked his fencing the ode from his cousin Swift.

Of the pseudo-classic efforts of the latter, "Cadenus and Vanessa," published in 1723, probably written about 10 years earlier, may be taken as a type. No selection from his verses would be esteemed satisfactory that did not exhibit a sample of this once celebrated production: but, apart from the tragic interest of the personal warning it conveys, it is, as M. Taine says, "a threadbare allegory in which the author’s prosaic freaks tear his Greek frippery." The same critic justly remarks that Swift "wore his mythology like a wig: that his pleading before Venus is like a legal procedure," and that he habitually "turns his classic wine to vinegar." The other writers of the time had turned it into milk and water, but Prior and the rest had a grace to which Swift was a stranger. Their laughter is genuine though light; his was funereal and sardonic. His pleasantry is rarely pleasant, and he is never at heart more gloomy than when he affects to be gay.

Most of his occasional verses, written at intervals from 1690 till 1733, are either frigid compliments or thinly veiled invectives, many of which, like the epigrams that disfigure the otherwise exquisite pages of Herrick, have all the coarseness with only half the wit of Martial. His addresses to women are, as might be expected, singularly unfortunate. He says truly of himself that he

‘could praise, esteem, approve,
But understood not what it was to love.’

He can never get out of his satiric pulpit, and while saluting his mistresses as nymphs, he lectures them as school-girls. His verses to Stella, whom he came as near to loving as was for him possible, and whose death certainly hastened his mental ruin, are as unimpassioned as those to Vanessa, with whose affections he merely trifled.

Swift’s tendency to dwell on the meaner, and even the revolting facts of life, pardonable in his prose, is unpardonable in those tributes to Venus Cloacina, in which he intrudes on a lady’s boudoir with the eye of a surgeon fresh from a dissecting-room or an hospital. His society verses are like those of a man writing with his feet, for he delights to trample on what others caress. Often he seems, among singing birds, a vulture screeching over carrion.

Of Swift’s graver satiric pieces, the Rhapsody on Poetry has the fatal drawback of suggesting a comparison with The Dunciad. In The Beast’s Confession, vivid and trenchant though it be, the author appears occasionally to intrude on the gardens of Prior and Gay. Had he been an artist in verse, he might have written something in English more like the sixth satire of Juvenal than Churchill ever succeeded in doing. But Swift despised art: he rode rough-shod, on his ambling cynic steed, through bad double rhyme and halting rhythm, to his end.

War with the cold steel of prose was his business: his poems are the mere side-lights and pastimes of a man too grim to join heartily in any game. Only here and there among them, as in the strange medley of pathos and humour on his own death, there is a flash from the eyes which Pope — good hater and good friend — said were azure as the heavens, a touch of the hand that was never weary of giving gifts to the poor and blows to the powerful, a reflection of the universal condottiere, misanthrope and sceptic, who has a claim to our forbearance in that he detested, as Johnson and as Byron detested, cowardice and cant.[15]


His influence, which grew during the 18th century in spite of the depreciation of Dr. Johnson, has shared in the eclipse of the Queen Anne wits which began about the time of Jeffrey. Yet as the author of Gulliver he is still read all over the world, while in England discipleship to Swift is recognized as one of the surest passports to a prose style. Among those upon whom Swift's influence has been most discernible may be mentioned Chesterfield, Smollett, Cobbett, Hazlitt, Scott, Borrow, Newman, Belloc.

John Ruskin named Swift as one of the 3 people in history who were the most influential for him.[16]

Recognition Edit

File:St. Patrick's Cathedral Swift bust.jpg

Swift received the freedom of Dublin in 1729.[12]



  • "Ode to the Athenian Society," in Supplement To The Fifth Volume Of The Athenian Gazette. London: John Dunton, 1692.
  • Baucis and Philemon: Imitated from Ovid. Oxford, UK: Leon LIchfield, 1709; London: H. Hills, 1710.
  • The Fable of Midas. London: John Morphew, 1712.
  • The Bubble: A poem. London: Benj. Tooke, 1721.
  • Apollo's Edict. 1721.
  • Cadenus and Vanessa. A poem. Dublin: 1726.
  • An Epistle Upon An Epistle; from a certain Doctor To a certain great Lord: Being A Christmas-Box for D.D---y. Dublin: 1730.
  • An Epistle To His Excellency John Lord Carteret, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Dublin: 1730.
  • A Libel On D--------D-------And A Certain Great Lord. 1730.
  • Lady A--S--N Weary of the Dean (single sheet). 1730.
  • A Panegyric On the Reverend Dean Swift. London: J. Roberts / N. Blandford, 1730..
  • An Apology To The Lady C--R--T. 1730.
  • Traulus ... in a dialogue between Tom and Robin. (2 volumes), 1730.
  • A Soldier And A Scholar; or, The Lady's Judgment Upon those two Characters In the Persons of Captain---and D--n S--T. London: J. Roberts, 1732;
    • also published as The Grand Question Debated. London: A. Moore, 1732.
  • An Elegy On Dicky and Dolly, With the Virgin: A poem; to which is added, The Narrative of D.S. when he was in the North of Ireland. Dublin: James Hoey, 1732.
  • The Lady's Dressing Room. London: J. Roberts, 1732.
  • An Epistle To A Lady, Who desired the Author to make Verses on Her, In The Heroick Stile; also A Poem, Occasion'd by Reading Dr. Young's Satires, Called the Universal Passion. Dublin & London: J. Wilford, 1734 [1733].
  • On Poetry: A rapsody. Dublin & London: J. Huggonson, 1733.
  • A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed. Written for the Honour of the Fair Sex ; Pars minima est ipsa Puella sui. Ovid Remed. Amoris; to Which Are Added, Strephon and Chloe; and Cassinus and Peter. Dublin & London: J. Roberts, 1734.
  • "The Legion Club," in S---t contra omnes: An Irish miscellany. Dublin & London: R. Amy & Mrs. Dodd, 1736.
  • The Beasts Confession: To the priest, on Observing how most Men mistake their own Talents. Written in the Year 1732. Dublin: George Faulkner, 1738.
  • Verses On The Death Of Dr. Swift. Written by Himself: Nov. 1731. London: C. Bathurst, 1739.
  • Poetical Works (edited by Thomas Park). (4 volumes), London: Charles Whittingham, for J. Sharpe, 1806.
  • The Poems of Jonathan Swift (edited by William Ernst Browning). (2 volumes), London: George Bell, 1910. Volume I, Volume II
  • The Poems of Jonathan Swift (edited by Harold Williams). (3 volumes), Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1937; revised, 1958.
  • Collected Poems (edited by Joseph Horrell). (2 volumes), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul / Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958.
  • Poetical Works (edited by Herbert Davis). Oxford, UK: Standard Authors / London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • The Complete Poems (edited by Pat Rogers). London: Penguin Books / New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.


  • A Tale Of A Tub: Written for the universal improvement of mankind which is added, An Account of a Battel Between the Antient and Modern Books in St. James's Library. London: John Nutt, 1704)
    • enlarged as A Tale of a Tub ... the fifth edition; with the author's apology and explanatory notes. London: John Nutt, 1710.
  • Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World, in Four Parts; by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships. (2 volumes), London: Benj. Motte, 1726
    • enlarged as Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World ... to which are prefix'd, Several Copies of Verses Explanatory and Commendatory; never before printed. (2 volumes), London: Benj. Motte, 1728.
    • Gulliver's Travels (edited by Robert A. Greenberg). New York: Norton, 1970.


  • A Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions between The Nobles and the Commons In Athens and Rome, with The Consequences they had upon both those States. London: John Nutt, 1701; Boston, 1728.
  • A Project For The Advancement of Religion, and the Reformation of Manners. London: Benjamin Tooke, 1709.
  • A Meditation Upon A Broom-Stick; and somewhat beside, of the same author's. London: E. Curll, 1710.
  • The Conduct Of The Allies, and Of The Late Ministry, in Beginning and Carrying on the Present War. London:John Morphew, 1712 [1711].
  • A Proposal For Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining The English Tongue; in a letter to the Most Honourable Robert Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, Lord High Treasurer of Great Britain. London: Benj. Tooke, 1712.
  • The Lucubrations Of Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. (with Richrd Steele, et al). (5 volumes), London: E. Nutt, A. Bell, J. Darby, A. Bettesworth, J. Pemberton, J. Hooke, C. Rivington, R. Cruttenden, T. Cox, J. Battley, F. Clay & E. Simon, 1720.
  • Fraud Detected; or, The Hibernian patriot: Containing ll the Drapier's Letters to the People of Ireland, on Wood's Coinage, &c. Dublin: George Faulkner, 1725.
  • A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children Of Poor People From being a Burthen to their Parents, Or The Country, And For making them Beneficial to the Publick. Dublin: S. Harding, 1729.
  • The Life And Genuine Character Of Doctor Swift, Written by Himself. London: J. Roberts, 1733.
  • A Complete Collection Of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England; in three dialogues (as "Simon Wagstaff"). London: B. Motte / C. Bathurst, 1738)
    • also published as A Treatise On Polite Conversation. Dublin: George Faulkner, 1738)
    • dramatized as Tittle Tattle; or, Taste a-la-Mode: A New Farce (as "Timothy Fribble"). London: R. Griffiths, 1749.
  • Directions To Servants. Dublin: George Faulkner, 1745
    • enlarged as Directions To Servants In General. London: R. Dodsley / M. Cooper, 1745.
  • The Last Will And Testament Of Jonathan Swift, D.D. Dublin & London: M. Cooper, 1746.
  • The History of the Four Last Years of the Queen. London: A. Millar, 1758.
  • Sermons. Glasgow: Robert Urie, 1763.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Miscellanies in Prose and Verse. London: John Morphew, 1711;
    • enlarged edition, (5 volumes), London: Benjamin Motte / Lawton Gilliver / Charles Davis, 1727-1735.
  • The Works of J. S, D.D, D.S.P.D.. (4 volumes), Dublin: George Faulkner, 1735; (20 volumes), 1738-1772.
  • Works. (14 volumes), London: C. Bathurst, 1751.
  • Works ... to which is prefixed, The Doctor's Life, with Remarks on his Writings. (9 volumes), Dublin & Edinburgh: G. Hamilton / J. Balfour / L. Hunter, 1752.
  • Works ... with Some Account of the Author's Life (edited by John Hawkesworth, Deane Swift, & John Nichols). (27 volumes), London: C. Bathurst, 1754-1779.
  • Works ... arranged, revised, and corrected, with notes (edited by Thomas Sheridan). (17 volumes), London: C. Bathurst, 1784
    • corrected & revised by John Nichols. (24 volumes), London: J. Johnson, John Nichols & Son, 1803; New York: Durell, 1812.
  • Works ... containing additional letters, tracts, and poems, not hitherto published (edited by Sir Walter Scott). (19 volumes), Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1814).
  • Works ... containing onteresting and valuable papers, not hitherto published (edited by Thomas Roscoe). (2 volumes), London: Washbourne, 1841.
  • The Portable Swift (edited by Carl van Doren). New York: Viking, 1948.


  • Horace, Part of the Seventh Epistle Of The First Book Of Horace Imitated; and address'd to a noble peer. London: A. Dodd, 1713.
  • Horace, The First Ode Of The Second Book Of Horace Paraphras'd: And Address'd to Richard St--le, Esq. London: A. Dodd, 1713.
  • Callimachu, The Birth Of Manly Virtue. Dublin: George Grierson, 1725.
  • Horace, Book I. Ode XIV: O navis, referent, &c.; paraphrased and inscribed to Ir--d. 1730.
  • Horace, An Imitation Of The Sixth Satire Of The Second Book Of Horace (by Swift and Alexander Pope). London: B. Motte / C. Bathurst / J. & P. Knapton, 1738).


  • The Examiner (newspaper; by Swift et al). (6 volumes), London: John Morphew, 1710-1714.
  • The Intelligencer (newspaper; by Swift et al). Dublin: S. Harding, II May 1728-7 May 1729; collected edition, London: Francis Cogan, 1730.
  • John Creighton, Memoirs of Capt. John Creichton: Written by himself 1731.

Letters and journalsEdit

  • Letters Between Dr. Swift, Mr. Pope, &c. From the Year 1714 to 1736. London: T. Cooper, 1741.
  • The Works of Mr. Alexander Pope, In Prose: Volume 2 (includes letters by Swift). London: J. & P. Knapton / C. Bathurst / R. Dodsley, 1741.
  • Letters To and From Dr. J. Swift, D.S.P.D.; from the Year 1714, to 1738. Dublin: George Faulkner, 1741.
  • Journal to Stella. London: George Routledge, 1900.
  • Correspondence (edited by F. Elrington Ball). (6 volumes), London: Bell, 1910-1914.
  • Correspondence (edited by Harold Williams). (5 volumes), Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1963-1965.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[17]

See alsoEdit

"A Description of the Morning" by Jonathan Swift (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

"A Description of the Morning" by Jonathan Swift (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Jonathan Swift — Description of a City Shower audiobook

Jonathan Swift — Description of a City Shower audiobook

The Lady’s Dressing Room, Jonathan Swift

The Lady’s Dressing Room, Jonathan Swift. Audiobook Long Poems

References Edit

  • PD-icon.svg Garnett, Richard, & Thomas Seccombe (1911). "Swift, Jonathan". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 224-230. . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 10, 2018.</ref>
  • Samuel Johnson's "Life of Swift": JaffeBros. From his Lives of the Poets.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray's influential vitriolic biography: JaffeBros. From his English Humourists of The Eighteenth Century.
  • Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire: A Study of Satiric Technique, 1953, Cambridge: Harvard U P,
  • Jae Num Lee "Swift and Scatological Satire", 1971, University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 0826301967 jstor review
  • Lee, Jae Num. "Scatology in Continental Satirical Writings from Aristophanes to Rabelais" and "English Scatological Writings from Skelton to Pope." Swift and Scatological Satire. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1971. 7–22; 23–53.
  • Susan Gubar "The Female Monster in Augustan Satire" Signs, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1977), pp. 380–394
  • Many other sources are listed here.


  1. Ricardo Quintane, "Jonathan Swift, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Mar. 9, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 John William Cousin, "Swift, Jonathan," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 366-368. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 9, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Jonathan Swift, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, July 8, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Garnett & Seccombe, 224.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 Garnett & Seccombe, 225.
  6. The name "Stella" is simply a translation of Esther. Swift may have learned that Esther means "star" from the Elementa linguae persicae of John Greaves or from some Persian scholar; but he is more likely to have seen the etymology in the form given from Jewish sources in Buxtorf's Lexicon, where the interpretation takes the more suggestive form "Stella Veneris."
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 Garnett & Seccombe, 226.
  8. The grant of the 1st-fruits was to be made contingent on a concession from the Irish clergy in the shape of the abolition of the sacramental test. This Swift would not agree to. He ultimately won his point from Harley, and his success marks his open rupture with the Whigs.
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 Garnett & Seccombe, 227.
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 Garnett & Seccombe, 228.
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 Garnett & Seccombe, 229.
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 12.14 12.15 12.16 12.17 Garnett & Seccombe, 230.
  13. "The Story of Civilization", V.8., 362.
  14. Text extracted from the introduction to The Journal to Stella by George A. Aitken and from other sources)
  15. from John Nichol, "Critical Introduction: Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 19, 2016.
  16. John Ruskin: Sesame and Lillies
  17. Bibliography, Jonathan Swift 1667-1745, Poetry Foundation. Web, Dec. 10, 2016.

External links Edit

  • Swift Quotations: JaffeBros – many choice, well-documented Swift quotations here
  • Swift quotes at Bartleby: – 59 quotations, with notes
Audio / video
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