Jonathan Swift



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A brilliant satirist
Jonathan Swift, son of the English lawyer Jonathan Swift the elder, was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 30, 1667. He grew up there in the care of his uncle before attending Trinity College at the age of fourteen, where he stayed for seven years, graduating in 1688. In that year, he became the secretary of Sir William Temple, an English politician and member of the Whig party. She proved his faithful and ideal companion as the letters posthumously collected in “A Journal to Stella”. In 1694, he took religious orders in the Church of Ireland and then spent a year as a country parson. He then spent further time in the service of Temple before returning to Ireland to become the chaplain of the earl of Berkeley. Meanwhile, he had begun to write satires on the political and religious corruption surrounding him, working on “A Tale of a Tub”, which supports the position of the Anglican Church against its critics on the left and the right, and “The Battle of the Books”, which argues for the supremacy of the classics against modern thought and literature. He also wrote a number of political pamphlets in favour of the Whig party. In 1709 he went to London to campaign for the Irish church but was unsuccessful. After some conflicts with the Whig party, mostly because of Swift’s strong allegiance to the church, he became a member of the more conservative Tory party in 1710.
Unfortunately for Swift, the Tory government fell out of power in 1714 and Swift, despite his fame for his writings, fell out of favour. Swift, who had been hoping to be assigned a position in the Church of England, instead returned to Dublin, where he became the dean of St. Patrick’s. During his brief time in England, Swift had become friends with writers such as Alexander Pope, and during a meeting of their literary club, the Martinus Scriblerus Club, they decided to write satires of modern learning. After his return to Ireland, Swift became a staunch supporter of the Irish against English attempts to weaken their economy and political power, writing pamphlets such as “A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture”, which urged a complete boycott of English imports, and “The Drapier’s Letters”, a series of pamphlets Swift wrote in an assumed character, M.B. Drapier, attacking the government’s proposal for a new coinage which would have increased the poverty of Ireland.
An Irish hero
Since then he was considered a national hero, though he continued to regard Ireland as a place of exile. Gulliver’s Travels was a controversial work when it was first published in 1726; and in 1729 he published “A Modest Proposal”, in which he suggests that the Irish problems of famine and overpopulation could be easily solved by having the babies of poor Irish subjects sold as delicacies to feed the rich.
His biting irony was directed against the Irish as well, who seemed to him passive in their misfortune. The proposal mocked the figure of the projector who builds rational plans for the benefit of humanity, a figure that was becoming popular in the 18th century. Swift’s later years were characterised by the decay of his metal faculties and he died in 1475.

A controversial writer
Swift is without doubt one of the most controversial among English great writer. He has been labelled alternatively as a misanthrope, a man with a morbid attitude, a monster or a lover of mankind. What clearly emerges from his works is that he was seriously concerned with politics and society, and that his attitude was prevalently conservative. In a letter to Pope he defined himself as a hater of man, whom he described as “an animal capable of reason”. Reason is an instrument that must be used properly; too intensive a use of reason is an error of judgement and therefore unreasonable.
Swift found in irony and satire the means that suited his temperament and his interests. He usually achieved the effect of parody combining ironic intent with the simplicity of his style and his diction.