Jonathan Swift

Last updated

Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas detail.jpg
Portrait by Charles Jervas, 1710
Born(1667-11-30)30 November 1667
Dublin, Ireland
Died19 October 1745(1745-10-19) (aged 77)
Dublin, Ireland
Resting place St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
Pen name Isaac Bickerstaff, M. B. Drapier, Lemuel Gulliver, Simon Wagstaff, Esq.
Alma mater Trinity College Dublin
Notable works
Jonathan Swift signature.svg

Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish [1] satirist, author, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet, and Anglican cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, [2] hence his common sobriquet, "Dean Swift".


Swift is remembered for works such as A Tale of a Tub (1704), An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1712), Gulliver's Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729). He is regarded by the Encyclopædia Britannica as the foremost prose satirist in the English language, [1] and is less well known for his poetry. He originally published all of his works under pseudonyms—such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M. B. Drapier—or anonymously. He was a master of two styles of satire, the Horatian and Juvenalian styles.

His deadpan, ironic writing style, particularly in A Modest Proposal , has led to such satire being subsequently termed "Swiftian". [3]


Early life

Jonathan Swift was born on 30 November 1667 in Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland. He was the second child and only son of Jonathan Swift (1640–1667) and his wife Abigail Erick (or Herrick) of Frisby on the Wreake. [4] His father was a native of Goodrich, Herefordshire, but he accompanied his brothers to Ireland to seek their fortunes in law after their Royalist father's estate was brought to ruin during the English Civil War. His maternal grandfather, James Ericke, was the vicar of Thornton in Leicestershire. In 1634 the vicar was convicted of Puritan practices. Some time thereafter, Ericke and his family, including his young daughter Abigail, fled to Ireland. [5]

Swift's father joined his elder brother, Godwin, in the practice of law in Ireland. [6] He died in Dublin about seven months before his namesake was born. [7] [8] He died of syphilis, which he said he got from dirty sheets when out of town. [9]

At the age of one, child Jonathan was taken by his wet nurse to her hometown of Whitehaven, Cumberland, England. He said that there he learned to read the Bible. His nurse returned him to his mother, still in Ireland, when he was three. [10]

His mother returned to England after his birth, leaving him in the care of his uncle Godwin Swift (1628–1695), a close friend and confidant of Sir John Temple, whose son later employed Swift as his secretary. [11]

The house in which Swift was born; 1865 illustration Houghton Lowell 1816.7.3 - Life of Jonathan Swift, p 8.jpg
The house in which Swift was born; 1865 illustration

Swift's family had several interesting literary connections. His grandmother Elizabeth (Dryden) Swift was the niece of Sir Erasmus Dryden, grandfather of poet John Dryden. The same grandmother's aunt Katherine (Throckmorton) Dryden was a first cousin of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Walter Raleigh. His great-great-grandmother Margaret (Godwin) Swift was the sister of Francis Godwin, author of The Man in the Moone which influenced parts of Swift's Gulliver's Travels . His uncle Thomas Swift married a daughter of poet and playwright Sir William Davenant, a godson of William Shakespeare.

Swift's benefactor and uncle Godwin Swift took primary responsibility for the young man, sending him with one of his cousins to Kilkenny College (also attended by philosopher George Berkeley). [11] He arrived there at the age of six, where he was expected to have already learned the basic declensions in Latin. He had not, and thus began his schooling in a lower form. Swift graduated in 1682, when he was 15. [12]

Jonathan Swift in 1682, by Thomas Pooley. The artist had married into the Swift family Jonathan Swift, by Thomas Pooley.jpg
Jonathan Swift in 1682, by Thomas Pooley. The artist had married into the Swift family

He attended Trinity College Dublin, the sole constituent college of the University of Dublin, in 1682, [14] financed by Godwin's son Willoughby. The four-year course followed a curriculum largely set in the Middle Ages for the priesthood. The lectures were dominated by Aristotelian logic and philosophy. The basic skill taught the students was debate, and they were expected to be able to argue both sides of any argument or topic. Swift was an above-average student but not exceptional, and received his B.A. in 1686 "by special grace." [15]

Adult life


Swift was studying for his master's degree when political troubles in Ireland surrounding the Glorious Revolution forced him to leave for England in 1688, where his mother helped him get a position as secretary and personal assistant of Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Farnham. [16] Temple was an English diplomat who arranged the Triple Alliance of 1668. He had retired from public service to his country estate, to tend his gardens and write his memoirs. Gaining his employer's confidence, Swift "was often trusted with matters of great importance". [17] Within three years of their acquaintance, Temple had introduced his secretary to William III and sent him to London to urge the King to consent to a bill for triennial Parliaments.

Swift took up his residence at Moor Park where he met Esther Johnson, then eight years old, the daughter of an impoverished widow who acted as companion to Temple's sister Lady Giffard. Swift was her tutor and mentor, giving her the nickname "Stella", and the two maintained a close but ambiguous relationship for the rest of Esther's life. [18]

In 1690, Swift left Temple for Ireland because of his health, but returned to Moor Park the following year. The illness consisted of fits of vertigo or giddiness, now believed to be Ménière's disease, and it continued to plague him throughout his life. [19] During this second stay with Temple, Swift received his M.A. from Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1692. He then left Moor Park, apparently despairing of gaining a better position through Temple's patronage, in order to become an ordained priest in the Established Church of Ireland. He was appointed to the prebend of Kilroot in the Diocese of Connor in 1694, [20] with his parish located at Kilroot, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim.

Swift appears to have been miserable in his new position, being isolated in a small, remote community far from the centres of power and influence. While at Kilroot, however, he may well have become romantically involved with Jane Waring, whom he called "Varina", the sister of an old college friend. [17] A letter from him survives, offering to remain if she would marry him and promising to leave and never return to Ireland if she refused. She presumably refused, because Swift left his post and returned to England and Temple's service at Moor Park in 1696, and he remained there until Temple's death. There he was employed in helping to prepare Temple's memoirs and correspondence for publication. During this time, Swift wrote The Battle of the Books , a satire responding to critics of Temple's Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1690), though Battle was not published until 1704.

Temple died on 27 January 1699. [17] Swift, normally a harsh judge of human nature, said that all that was good and amiable in mankind had died with Temple. [17] He stayed on briefly in England to complete editing Temple's memoirs, and perhaps in the hope that recognition of his work might earn him a suitable position in England. Unfortunately, his work made enemies among some of Temple's family and friends, in particular Temple's formidable sister Lady Giffard, who objected to indiscretions included in the memoirs. [18] Swift's next move was to approach King William directly, based on his imagined connection through Temple and a belief that he had been promised a position. This failed so miserably that he accepted the lesser post of secretary and chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley, one of the Lords Justice of Ireland. However, when he reached Ireland, he found that the secretaryship had already been given to another. He soon obtained the living of Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan, and the prebend of Dunlavin [21] in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. [22]

Swift ministered to a congregation of about 15 at Laracor, which was just over four and half miles (7.5 km) from Summerhill, County Meath, and twenty miles (32 km) from Dublin. He had abundant leisure for cultivating his garden, making a canal after the Dutch fashion of Moor Park, planting willows, and rebuilding the vicarage. As chaplain to Lord Berkeley, he spent much of his time in Dublin and travelled to London frequently over the next ten years. In 1701, he anonymously published the political pamphlet A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome.


Swift had residence in Trim, County Meath, after 1700. He wrote many of his works during this time period. In February 1702, Swift received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College Dublin. That spring he travelled to England and then returned to Ireland in October, accompanied by Esther Johnson—now 20—and his friend Rebecca Dingley, another member of William Temple's household. There is a great mystery and controversy over Swift's relationship with Esther Johnson, nicknamed "Stella". Many, notably his close friend Thomas Sheridan, believed that they were secretly married in 1716; others, like Swift's housekeeper Mrs Brent and Rebecca Dingley (who lived with Stella all through her years in Ireland), dismissed the story as absurd. [23] Swift certainly did not wish her to marry anyone else: in 1704, when their mutual friend William Tisdall informed Swift that he intended to propose to Stella, Swift wrote to him to dissuade him from the idea. Although the tone of the letter was courteous, Swift privately expressed his disgust for Tisdall as an "interloper", and they were estranged for many years.

During his visits to England in these years, Swift published A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books (1704) and began to gain a reputation as a writer. This led to close, lifelong friendships with Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot, forming the core of the Martinus Scriblerus Club (founded in 1713).

Swift became increasingly active politically in these years. [24] Swift supported the Glorious Revolution and early in his life belonged to the Whigs. [25] [26] As a member of the Anglican Church, he feared a return of the Catholic monarchy and "Papist" absolutism. [26] From 1707 to 1709 and again in 1710, Swift was in London unsuccessfully urging upon the Whig administration of Lord Godolphin the claims of the Irish clergy to the First-Fruits and Twentieths ("Queen Anne's Bounty"), which brought in about £2,500 a year, already granted to their brethren in England. He found the opposition Tory leadership more sympathetic to his cause, and, when they came to power in 1710, he was recruited to support their cause as editor of The Examiner . In 1711, Swift published the political pamphlet The Conduct of the Allies , attacking the Whig government for its inability to end the prolonged war with France. The incoming Tory government conducted secret (and illegal) negotiations with France, resulting in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ending the War of the Spanish Succession.

Swift was part of the inner circle of the Tory government, [27] and often acted as mediator between Henry St John (Viscount Bolingbroke), the secretary of state for foreign affairs (1710–15), and Robert Harley (Earl of Oxford), lord treasurer and prime minister (1711–14). Swift recorded his experiences and thoughts during this difficult time in a long series of letters to Esther Johnson, collected and published after his death as A Journal to Stella . The animosity between the two Tory leaders eventually led to the dismissal of Harley in 1714. With the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I that year, the Whigs returned to power, and the Tory leaders were tried for treason for conducting secret negotiations with France.

Swift has been described by scholars as "a Whig in politics and Tory in religion" and Swift related his own views in similar terms, stating that as "a lover of liberty, I found myself to be what they called a Whig in politics ... But, as to religion, I confessed myself to be an High-Churchman." [25] In his "Thoughts on Religion", fearing the intense partisan strife waged over religious belief in seventeenth-century England, Swift wrote that "Every man, as a member of the commonwealth, ought to be content with the possession of his own opinion in private." [25] However, it should be borne in mind that, during Swift's time period, terms like "Whig" and "Tory" both encompassed a wide array of opinions and factions, and neither term aligns with a modern political party or modern political alignments. [25]

Also during these years in London, Swift became acquainted with the Vanhomrigh family (Dutch merchants who had settled in Ireland, then moved to London) and became involved with one of the daughters, Esther. Swift furnished Esther with the nickname "Vanessa" (derived by adding "Essa", a pet form of Esther, to the "Van" of her surname, Vanhomrigh), and she features as one of the main characters in his poem Cadenus and Vanessa . The poem and their correspondence suggest that Esther was infatuated with Swift, and that he may have reciprocated her affections, only to regret this and then try to break off the relationship. [28] Esther followed Swift to Ireland in 1714, and settled at her old family home, Celbridge Abbey. Their uneasy relationship continued for some years; then there appears to have been a confrontation, possibly involving Esther Johnson. Esther Vanhomrigh died in 1723 at the age of 35, having destroyed the will she had made in Swift's favour. [29] Another lady with whom he had a close but less intense relationship was Anne Long, a toast of the Kit-Cat Club.

Final years

Jonathan Swift (shown without wig) by Rupert Barber, 1745, National Portrait Gallery, London Jonathan Swift by Rupert Barber, 1745, National Portrait Gallery, London.JPG
Jonathan Swift (shown without wig) by Rupert Barber, 1745, National Portrait Gallery, London

Before the fall of the Tory government, Swift hoped that his services would be rewarded with a church appointment in England. However, Queen Anne appeared to have taken a dislike to Swift and thwarted these efforts. Her dislike has been attributed to A Tale of a Tub, which she thought blasphemous, compounded by The Windsor Prophecy, where Swift, with a surprising lack of tact, advised the Queen on which of her bedchamber ladies she should and should not trust. [30] The best position his friends could secure for him was the Deanery of St Patrick's; [31] this was not in the Queen's gift, and Anne, who could be a bitter enemy, made it clear that Swift would not have received the preferment if she could have prevented it. [32] With the return of the Whigs, Swift's best move was to leave England and he returned to Ireland in disappointment, a virtual exile, to live "like a rat in a hole". [33]

list of deans of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, including Jonathan Swift Brass plate listing deans of Saint Patrick's Cathedral.jpg
list of deans of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, including Jonathan Swift

Once in Ireland, however, Swift began to turn his pamphleteering skills in support of Irish causes, producing some of his most memorable works: Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720), Drapier's Letters (1724), and A Modest Proposal (1729), earning him the status of an Irish patriot. [34] This new role was unwelcome to the Government, which made clumsy attempts to silence him. His printer, Edward Waters, was convicted of seditious libel in 1720, but four years later a grand jury refused to find that the Drapier's Letters (which, though written under a pseudonym, were universally known to be Swift's work) were seditious. [35] Swift responded with an attack on the Irish judiciary almost unparalleled in its ferocity, his principal target being the "vile and profligate villain" William Whitshed, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. [36]

Also during these years, he began writing his masterpiece, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, better known as Gulliver's Travels . Much of the material reflects his political experiences of the preceding decade. For instance, the episode in which the giant Gulliver puts out the Lilliputian palace fire by urinating on it can be seen as a metaphor for the Tories' illegal peace treaty; having done a good thing in an unfortunate manner. In 1726 he paid a long-deferred visit to London, [37] taking with him the manuscript of Gulliver's Travels. During his visit, he stayed with his old friends Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot and John Gay, who helped him arrange for the anonymous publication of his book. First published in November 1726, it was an immediate hit, with a total of three printings that year and another in early 1727. French, German, and Dutch translations appeared in 1727, and pirated copies were printed in Ireland.

Swift returned to England one more time in 1727, and stayed once again with Alexander Pope. The visit was cut short when Swift received word that Esther Johnson was dying, and rushed back home to be with her. [37] On 28 January 1728, Johnson died; Swift had prayed at her bedside, even composing prayers for her comfort. Swift could not bear to be present at the end, but on the night of her death he began to write his The Death of Mrs Johnson. He was too ill to attend the funeral at St Patrick's. [37] Many years later, a lock of hair, assumed to be Johnson's, was found in his desk, wrapped in a paper bearing the words, "Only a woman's hair".

Bust in St Patrick's Cathedral St. Patrick's Cathedral Swift bust.jpg
Bust in St Patrick's Cathedral

Death became a frequent feature of Swift's life from this point. In 1731 he wrote Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, his own obituary, published in 1739. In 1732, his good friend and collaborator John Gay died. In 1735, John Arbuthnot, another friend from his days in London, died. In 1738 Swift began to show signs of illness, and in 1742 he may have suffered a stroke, losing the ability to speak and realising his worst fears of becoming mentally disabled. ("I shall be like that tree", he once said, "I shall die at the top.") [38] He became increasingly quarrelsome, and long-standing friendships, like that with Thomas Sheridan, ended without sufficient cause. To protect him from unscrupulous hangers-on, who had begun to prey on the great man, his closest companions had him declared of "unsound mind and memory". However, it was long believed by many that Swift was actually insane at this point. In his book Literature and Western Man , author J. B. Priestley even cites the final chapters of Gulliver's Travels as proof of Swift's approaching "insanity". Bewley attributes his decline to 'terminal dementia'. [19]

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

"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." [39]

In 1744, Alexander Pope died. Then on 19 October 1745, Swift, at nearly 80, died. [40] After being laid out in public view for the people of Dublin to pay their last respects, he was buried in his own cathedral by Esther Johnson's side, in accordance with his wishes. The bulk of his fortune (£12,000) was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill, originally known as St Patrick's Hospital for Imbeciles, which opened in 1757, and which still exists as a psychiatric hospital. [40]

Epitaph in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin near his burial site St. Patrick's Cathedral Swift epitaph.jpg
Epitaph in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin near his burial site
(Text extracted from the introduction to The Journal to Stella by George A. Aitken and from other sources).

Jonathan Swift wrote his own epitaph:

Hic depositum est Corpus
Hujus Ecclesiæ Cathedralis Decani,

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.

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.

W. B. Yeats poetically 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.

Swift, Stella and Vanessa – an alternative view

Michael Foot, the late British politician and leader of the Labour Party, was a great admirer of Swift and wrote about him extensively. In Debts of Honour [41] he cites with approbation a theory propounded by Denis Johnston that offers an explanation of Swift’s behavior towards Stella and Vanessa.

Pointing to contradictions in the received information about Swift’s origins and parentage, Johnston postulates that Swift’s real father was Sir William Temple's father, Sir John Temple who was Master of the Rolls in Dublin at the time. It is widely thought that Stella was Sir William Temple’s illegitimate daughter. So Swift was Sir William’s brother and Stella’s uncle. Marriage or close relations between Swift and Stella would therefore have been incest, an unthinkable prospect.

It follows that Swift could not have married Vanessa either without Stella appearing to be a cast-off mistress, which he would not contemplate. Johnston’s theory is expounded fully in his book In Search of Swift. [42] He is also cited in the Dictionary of Irish Biography [43] and the theory is presented without attribution in the Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. [44]


Swift was a prolific writer, notable for his satires. The most recent collection of his prose works (Herbert Davis, ed. Basil Blackwell, 1965–) comprises fourteen volumes. A recent edition of his complete poetry (Pat Rodges, ed. Penguin, 1983) is 953 pages long. One edition of his correspondence (David Woolley, ed. P. Lang, 1999) fills three volumes.

Major prose works

Jonathan Swift at the Deanery of St Patrick's, illus. from 1905 Temple Scott edition of Works Jonathan Swift - Project Gutenberg eText 18250.jpg
Jonathan Swift at the Deanery of St Patrick's, illus. from 1905 Temple Scott edition of Works

Swift's first major prose 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.

In 1690, Sir William Temple, Swift's patron, published An Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning a defence of classical writing (see Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns), holding up the Epistles of Phalaris as an example. William Wotton responded to Temple with Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1694), showing that the Epistles were a later forgery. A response by the supporters of the Ancients was then made by Charles Boyle (later the 4th Earl of Orrery and father of Swift's first biographer). A further retort on the Modern side came from Richard Bentley, one of the pre-eminent scholars of the day, in his essay Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1699). The final words on the topic belong to Swift in his Battle of the Books (1697, published 1704) in which he makes a humorous defence on behalf of Temple and the cause of the Ancients.

The title page to Swift's 1735 Works, depicting the author in the Dean's chair, receiving the thanks of Ireland. The Horatian motto reads, Exegi Monumentum AEre perennius
, "I have completed a monument more lasting than brass." The 'brass' is a pun, for William Wood's halfpennies (alloyed with brass) lie scattered at his feet. Cherubim award Swift a poet's laurel. Swift works.png
The title page to Swift's 1735 Works, depicting the author in the Dean's chair, receiving the thanks of Ireland. The Horatian motto reads, Exegi Monumentum Ære perennius, "I have completed a monument more lasting than brass." The 'brass' is a pun, for William Wood's halfpennies (alloyed with brass) lie scattered at his feet. Cherubim award Swift a poet's laurel.

In 1708, a cobbler named John Partridge published a popular almanac of astrological predictions. Because Partridge falsely determined the deaths of several church officials, Swift attacked Partridge in Predictions for the Ensuing Year by Isaac Bickerstaff, a parody predicting that Partridge would die on 29 March. Swift followed up with a pamphlet issued on 30 March claiming that Partridge had in fact died, which was widely believed despite Partridge's statements to the contrary. According to other sources,[ citation needed ] Richard Steele used the persona of Isaac Bickerstaff, and was the one who wrote about the "death" of John Partridge and published it in The Spectator , not Jonathan Swift.

The Drapier's Letters (1724) was a series of pamphlets against the monopoly granted by the English government to William Wood to mint copper coinage for Ireland. It was widely believed that Wood would need to flood Ireland with debased coinage in order to make a profit. In these "letters" Swift posed as a shopkeeper—a draper—to criticise 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, although there was an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute the publisher John Harding. [45] Thanks to the general outcry against the coinage, Wood's patent was rescinded in September 1725 and the coins were kept out of circulation. [46] In "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift" (1739) Swift recalled this as one of his best achievements.

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. Though it has often been mistakenly thought of and published in bowdlerised 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 criticised for its apparent misanthropy. It asks its readers to refute it, to deny that it has adequately characterised 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.

In 1729, Swift's 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 was published in Dublin by Sarah Harding. [47] It is a satire in which the narrator, with intentionally grotesque arguments, 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. [48]

Essays, tracts, pamphlets, periodicals


An 1850 illustration of Swift International Mag Jonathan Swift.jpg
An 1850 illustration of Swift

Correspondence, personal writings

Sermons, prayers



Swift's death mask Swiftdeathmask.jpg
Swift's death mask

John Ruskin named him as one of the three people in history who were the most influential for him. [50]

George Orwell named him as one of the writers he most admired, despite disagreeing with him on almost every moral and political issue. [51] Modernist poet Edith Sitwell wrote a fictional biography of Swift, titled I Live Under a Black Sun and published in 1937. [52]

Swift crater, a crater on Mars's moon Deimos, is named after Jonathan Swift, who predicted the existence of the moons of Mars. [53]

In 1982, Soviet playwright Grigory Gorin wrote a theatrical fantasy called The House That Swift Built based on the last years of Jonathan Swift's life and episodes of his works. [54] The play was filmed by director Mark Zakharov in the 1984 two-part television movie of the same name.

In honour of Swift's long-time residence in Trim, there are several monuments in the town marking his legacy. Most notable is Swift's Street, named after him. Trim also holds a recurring festival in honour of Swift, called the 'Trim Swift Festival'.

Jake Arnott features him in his 2017 novel The Fatal Tree. [55]

A 2017 analysis of library holdings data revealed that Swift is the most popular Irish author, and that Gulliver’s Travels is the most widely held work of Irish literature in libraries globally. [56]

See also


  1. 1 2 Jonathan Swift at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. "Swift", Online literature, archived from the original on 3 August 2019, retrieved 17 December 2011
  3. "What higher accolade can a reviewer pay to a contemporary satirist than to call his or her work Swiftian Archived 23 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine ?" Frank Boyle, "Johnathan Swift", Ch 11 in A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern (2008), edited by Ruben Quintero, John Wiley & Sons ISBN   0470657952
  4. Stephen, Leslie (1898). "Swift, Jonathan"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 204.
  5. Stubbs, John (2016). Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel. New York: WW Norton & Co. pp. 25–26.
  6. Stubbs (2016), p. 43.
  7. Degategno, Paul J.; Jay Stubblefield, R. (2014). Jonathan Swift. ISBN   978-1438108513. Archived from the original on 26 January 2021. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  8. "Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World". The Barnes & Noble Review. Archived from the original on 2 July 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  9. Stubbs (2016), p. 54.
  10. Stubbs (2016), pp. 58–63.
  11. 1 2 Stephen DNB, p. 205
  12. Stubbs (2016), pp. 73–74.
  13. Hourican, Bridget (2002). "Thomas Pooley". Royal Irish Academy – Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  14. "Alumni Dublinenses Supplement p. 116: a register of the students, graduates, professors and provosts of Trinity College in the University of Dublin (1593–1860) Burtchaell, G.D/Sadlier, T.U: Dublin, Alex Thom and Co, 1935
  15. Stubbs (2016), pp. 86–90
  16. Stephen DNB, p. 206
  17. 1 2 3 4 Stephen DNB, p. 207
  18. 1 2 Stephen DNB, p. 208
  19. 1 2 Bewley, Thomas H., "The health of Jonathan Swift", Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1998;91:602–605
  20. "Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: The succession of the prelates Volume 3" Cotton, H. p. 266: Dublin, Hodges & Smith, 1848–1878
  21. "Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: The succession of the prelates Volume 2" Cotton, H. p. 165: Dublin, Hodges & Smith, 1848–1878
  22. Stephen DNB, p. 209
  23. Stephen DNB, pp. 215–217
  24. Stephen DNB, p. 212.
  25. 1 2 3 4 Fox, Christopher (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift. Cambridge University Press. pp. 36–39.
  26. 1 2 Cody, David. "Jonathan Swift's Political Beliefs". Victorian Web. Archived from the original on 8 November 2018. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  27. Stephen DNB, pp. 212–215
  28. Stephen DNB, pp. 215–216
  29. Stephen DNB, p. 216
  30. Gregg, Edward (1980). Queen Anne. Yale University Press. pp. 352–353.
  31. "Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: The succession of the prelates Volume 2" Cotton, H. pp. 104–105: Dublin, Hodges & Smith, 1848–1878
  32. Gregg (1980), p. 353
  33. Stephen DNB p. 215
  34. Stephen DNB pp. 217–218
  35. Sir Walter Scott. Life of Jonathan Swift, vol. 1, Edinburgh 1814, pp. 281–282
  36. Ball, F. Elrington. The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921, London John Murray 1926, vol. 2 pp. 103–105
  37. 1 2 3 Stephen DNB, p. 219
  38. Stephen DNB, p. 221
  39. "The Story of Civilization", vol. 8., 362.
  40. 1 2 Stephen DNB, p. 222
  41. Foot, Michael (1981) Debts of Honour Harper & Row, New York. p.219
  42. Johnston, Denis (1959) In Search of Swift Hodges Figgis, Dublin
  43. Dictionary of Irish Biography
  44. Concise Cambridge History of English Literature, 1970, p. 387
  45. Elrington Ball. The Judges in Ireland, vol. 2 pp. 103–105
  46. Baltes, Sabine (2003). The Pamphlet Controversy about Wood's Halfpence (1722–25) and the Tradition of Irish Constitutional Nationalism. Peter Lang GmbH. p. 273.
  47. Traynor, Jessica. "Irish v English prizefighters: eye-gouging, kicking and sword fighting". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 9 January 2020. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  48. Swift, Jonathan (2015). A Modest Proposal. London: Penguin. p. 29. ISBN   978-0141398181.
  49. This work is often wrongly referred to as "A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind".
  50. In the preface of the 1871 edition of Sesame and Lilies Ruskin mentions three figures from literary history with whom he feels an affinity: Guido Guinicelli, Marmontel and Dean Swift; see John Ruskin, Sesame and lilies: three lectures Archived 11 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine , Smith, Elder, & Co., 1871, p. xxviii.
  51. "Politics vs. Literature: an examination of Gulliver's Travels" Shooting an Elephant and other Essays Secker and Warburg London 1950
  52. Gabriele Griffin (2003). Who's Who in Lesbian and Gay Writing. Routledge. p. 244. ISBN   978-1134722099. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  53. MathPages – Galileo's Anagrams and the Moons of Mars Archived 12 June 2018 at the Wayback Machine .
  54. Justin Hayford (12 January 2006). "The House That Swift Built". Performing Arts Review. Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on 9 February 2020. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  55. Arnott, Jake (2017). The Fatal Tree. Sceptre. ISBN   978-1473637740.
  56. "What is the most popular Irish book?". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 2 December 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

Related Research Articles

<i>Gullivers Travels</i> 1726 novel by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels, or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships is a 1726 prose satire by the Anglo-Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift, satirising both human nature and the "travellers' tales" literary subgenre. It is Swift's best known full-length work, and a classic of English literature. Swift claimed that he wrote Gulliver's Travels "to vex the world rather than divert it".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Laputa</span> Flying Fictional Island

Laputa [luh·poo·tuh] is a flying island described in the 1726 book Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. It is about 4+12 miles in diameter, with an adamantine base, which its inhabitants can manoeuvre in any direction using magnetic levitation. The island is the home of the king of Balnibarbi and his court, and is used by the king to enforce his rule over the lands below.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lilliput and Blefuscu</span> Fictional island states in Gullivers Travels

Lilliput and Blefuscu are two fictional island nations that appear in the first part of the 1726 novel Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. The two islands are neighbours in the South Indian Ocean, separated by a channel 800 yards (730 m) wide. Both are inhabited by tiny people who are about one-twelfth the height of ordinary human beings. Both are empires, i.e. realms ruled by an emperor. The capital of Lilliput is Mildendo. In some pictures, the islands are arranged like an egg, as a reference to their egg-dominated histories and cultures.

<i>A Tale of a Tub</i>

A Tale of a Tub was the first major work written by Jonathan Swift, composed between 1694 and 1697 and published in 1704. It is arguably his most difficult satire, and perhaps his best. The Tale is a prose parody divided into sections of "digression" and a "tale" of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity. A satire on the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and English Dissenters, it was famously attacked for its profanity and irreligion, starting with William Wotton, who wrote that it made a game of "God and Religion, Truth and Moral Honesty, Learning and Industry" to show "at the bottom [the author's] contemptible Opinion of every Thing which is called Christianity." The work continued to be regarded as an attack on religion well into the nineteenth century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Esther Vanhomrigh</span> Irish poet

Esther Vanhomrigh, an Irish woman of Dutch descent, was a longtime lover and correspondent of Jonathan Swift. Swift's letters to her were published after her death. Her fictional name "Vanessa" was created by Swift by taking Van from her surname, Vanhomrigh, and adding Esse, the pet form of her first name, Esther.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Esther Johnson</span> Close friend of Jonathan Swift

Esther Johnson was the English friend of Jonathan Swift, known as "Stella". Whether or not she and Swift were secretly married, and if so why the marriage was never made public, is a subject of debate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glumdalclitch</span>

Glumdalclitch is the name Gulliver gives his "nurse" in Book II of Jonathan Swift's 1726 novel Gulliver's Travels. In Book I, Gulliver travels to the land of Lilliput. Leaving there, he travels to the land of Brobdingnag. In Lilliput, Gulliver was a giant, and in Brobdingnag, he is a dwarf, with the proportions reversed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet</span> 17th-century English statesman and essayist

Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet was an English diplomat, statesman and essayist. An important diplomat, he was recalled in 1679, and for a brief period was a leading advisor to Charles II, with whom he then fell out. He retired to the country, and thereafter occupied himself with gardening and writing. He is best remembered today for two aspects of his life after retirement: a passage on the designs of Chinese gardens, written without ever having seen one, and for employing the young Jonathan Swift as his secretary. The first is sometimes given as an early indication of the English landscape garden style, praising irregularity in design.

<i>Drapiers Letters</i> Series of pamphlets by Jonathan Swift

Drapier's Letters is the collective name for a series of seven pamphlets written between 1724 and 1725 by the Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Jonathan Swift, to arouse public opinion in Ireland against the imposition of a privately minted copper coinage that Swift believed to be of inferior quality. William Wood was granted letters patent to mint the coin, and Swift saw the licensing of the patent as corrupt. In response, Swift represented Ireland as constitutionally and financially independent of Britain in the Drapier's Letters. Since the subject was politically sensitive, Swift wrote under the pseudonym M. B., Drapier, to hide from retaliation.

Lindalino is a fictional city from the 1726 satirical novel Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Lindalino successfully revolted against the flying island of Laputa. The name Lindalino is a play on words of Dublin.

Leonard Welsted was an English poet and "dunce" in Alexander Pope's writings. Welsted was an accomplished writer who composed in a relaxed, light hearted vein. He was associated with Whig party political figures in his later years, but he was tory earlier, and, in the age of patronage, this seems to have been more out of financial need than anything else.

Jonathan Smedley (1671–1729) was an Anglo-Irish churchman who became Dean of Clogher in 1724. He was an opportunist and satirical victim who engaged in a polemic with Jonathan Swift and the forces of the Tory party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sermons of Jonathan Swift</span>

Jonathan Swift, as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, produced many sermons during his tenure from 1713 to 1745. Although Swift is better known today for his secular writings such as Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub, or the Drapier's Letters, Swift was known in Dublin for his sermons that were delivered every fifth Sunday. Of these sermons, Swift wrote down 35, of which 12 have been preserved. In his sermons Swift attempted to impart traditional Church of Ireland values to his listeners in a plain manner.

Motte v Faulkner was a copyright lawsuit between Benjamin Motte and George Faulkner over who had the legal rights to publish the works of Jonathan Swift in London. This trial was one of the first to test the Statute of Anne copyright law in regards to Irish publishing independence. Although neither held the copyright to all of Swift's works, the suit became a legal struggle over Irish rights, which were eventually denied by the English courts. Faulkner, in 1735, published the Works of Jonathan Swift in Dublin. However, a few of the works were under Motte's copyright within the Kingdom of Great Britain, and when Faulkner sought to sell his book in London, Motte issued a formal complaint to Jonathan Swift and then proceeded to sue Faulkner. An injunction was issued in Motte's favor, and the book was prohibited from being sold on British soil. The basis of the law protected the rights of the author, and not the publisher, of the works, and Swift was unwilling to support a lawsuit against Faulkner. With Swift's reaction used as a basis, the lawsuit was later seen as a struggle between the rights of Irishmen to print material that were denied under English law.

Benjamin Motte was a London publisher and son of Benjamin Motte, Sr. Motte published many works and is well known for his publishing of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

"Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels" is a critical essay published in 1946 by the English author George Orwell. The essay is a review of Gulliver's Travels with a discussion of its author Jonathan Swift. The essay first appeared in Polemic No 5 in September 1946.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Trapp</span>

Joseph Trapp (1679–1747) was an English clergyman, academic, poet and pamphleteer. His production as a younger man of occasional verse and dramas led to his appointment as the first Oxford Professor of Poetry in 1708. Later his High Church opinions established him in preferment and position. As a poet, he was not well thought of by contemporaries, with Jonathan Swift refusing a dinner in an unavailing attempt to avoid revising one of Trapp’s poems, and Abel Evans making an epigram on his blank verse translation of the Aeneid with a reminder of the commandment against murder.

Thomas Sheridan was an Anglican divine, essayist, playwright, poet, schoolmaster and translator. He is chiefly remembered for his friendship with Jonathan Swift.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balnibarbi</span>

Balnibarbi is a fictional land in Jonathan Swift's 1726 satirical novel Gulliver's Travels. it was visited by Lemuel Gulliver after he was rescued by the people of the flying island of Laputa.

Robert Lindsay (1679-1743) was an Irish barrister, politician and judge in eighteenth-century Ireland. He is best remembered for his close friendship with Jonathan Swift, whom he advised on the legal aspects of the Drapier Letters.


Online works