Bio of Jonathan Swift

Bio of Jonathan Swift

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Bio of Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin on November 30, 1667. His father had died before his birth, and soon after he was born, his mother returned to Leicestershire. He was left in the care of his three uncles, particularly his Uncle Godwin. It is believed that this situation, along with his unstable homelife, led to a sense of insecurity and abandonment that he carried with him for the rest of his life. At age 6, he was sent to the best school in Ireland, the Kilkenny School. Then at age 15 he entered Trinity College, located in Dublin. He did not pay much attention to his studies, and in 1686 he received his degree speciali grata (by special favor). He continued studies at Trinity in hopes of gaining an advanced degree, but because of political unrest he was forced to move to England in 1689.

In England, he worked as a secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Surrey. Swift worked with Temple, a diplomat and writer who was preparing his memoirs, for the next 10 years. It was here that he met Esther Johnson, the love of his life, whom he nicknamed Stella. Simultaneously, he attended Oxford where he receive his M.A. in 1692. He wished to enter politics but settled instead for the church, in which he was ordained in 1694. In January of 1695 he was ordained priest , Prebend of Kilroot. In 1697 he wrote The Battle of the Books, which was later published in 1704. In the later 1690’s he wrote The Tale of the Tub, his first published work. When Temple died in 1699, Swift went back to England as chaplain to the Earl of Berkely.

In 1700, he became one of the canons of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and wrote articles and letters for the English Whigs. In 1702 he moved back to England in hope of political appointment, and it was here that he published A Tale of the Tub. It was a satire on corruption in religion and learning. Battle of the Books was a mock heroic satire. The dazzling irony of these works earned him notoriety but no appointment. The Bickerstaff Papers (1707-09), some of which first appeared in Richard Steele’s Tatler, a newspaper to which Swift often contributed, demolished the pretensions of John Partridge, a popular astrologer.

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In 1709 he was sent to London to solicit funds for his church in Ireland. The Whig leaders refused to grant his request because they were sympathetic to the Puritans and dissenters. Although Swift had been a member of the Whig party since birth, he was uncomfortable with many of the party’s beliefs. Swift’s fear of the Puritans caused him to switch sides to the Tory party in 1710.

The Tories recognized that Swift was a valuable asset to their cause, and made him editor of their journal, the Examiner. This made him an unofficial power in English politics, as well as a leading writer. Later that year, he learned of his mother’s death, but he was not very affected since she played a minimal role in his life and upbringing. During this time period, his friends included, Steele, Alexander Pope and John Gay. His life at this time is recorded in the Journal to Stella, which were his letters to Esther Johnson. In 1713, the Scriblerus Club was founded by Swift, Pope, Parnell, Gay, and Arbuthnot. When the Tories fell in 1714, his political power ended. Swift was then appointed Dean of St. Patrick’s. This post carried great prestige, but it made it impossible for him to leave Ireland. Ireland in the 18th century was a colony of England, exploited by absentee English landlords and denied self-government. The spectacle of Irish servitude in general and in particular a scheme by one William Wood, who had received a royal patent to issue a new Irish coinage and planned to profit from debasing it, provoked Swift in 1724 to write the Drapier’s Letters, exhorting the Irish to refuse Wood’s coinage and develop their own economy. The development of the Irish economy was also the topic of his last and most brilliant satire, A Modest Proposal, (1729) in which he ironically counseled his countrymen to turn their children into a cash crop. These efforts made Swift a national hero, but even then did not reconcile him to living in Ireland.

In 1726 Jonathan Swift visits England with a manuscript for Gulliver’s Travels, which was published anonymously. This was his last visit to England, that same year Gulliver’s Travels was translated into French, German, and Dutch. In 1728, Esther "Stella" Johnson died. In 1731, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, was written. In 1732, Swift’s dear friend John Gay died. In 1735, Faulkner publishes Swift’s works and the corrected version of Gulliver’s Travels.

Swift’s final years are the subject of some controversy. Some have suggested that Swift went insane, but that theory has not been confirmed. It is known that Swift suffered from vertigo, due to an inner ear disease. However he remained inactive throughout the 1730’s, before suffering a stroke in 1742. He declined mentally and in 1742 he was declared unfit to manage himself. For the next three years, Swift was cared for by guardians. On October 19, 1745 Jonathan Swift died. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, next to Stella. On the wall next to his coffin is an epitaph written himself. It reads: "The body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, dean of this cathedral church, is buried here, where fierce indignation can no more lacerate his heart. Go, traveler, and imitate, if you can, one who strove with all his strength to champion liberty".

As a satirist Swift’s technique was to create fictional speakers, such as Lemuel Gulliver and the Modest Proposel, who utter sentiments that the intelligent reader will recognize as sinfully complacent, egotistical, stupid, or mad. Swift is thus the master of understated irony, and his name has become practically synonymous with the type of satire in which the most outrageous statements are offered in a straight-faced manner. He has often been accused of a morbid preoccupation with physical decay. It should be remembered, however, that this preoccupation belongs technically to his speakers, of whom Swift did not expect the reader to approve.
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