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Biography of Jonathan Swift

Portrait of Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift was an eighteenth century writer of satirical works such as “Gulliver’s Travels”.

When and Where was he Born?

30th November 1667, Dublin, Ireland.

Family Background:

Jonathan Swift’s parents were both English. His father died before his birth. His sister and he were raised by his mother and three uncles.

Education:

Kilkenny School, Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin.

Timeline of Jonathan Swift:

1668: At the age of one, Swift is taken by his wet nurse to her hometown of Whitehaven in Cumberland, England. 

1670: Swift returns to his family in Ireland.

1682: Swift goes to Trinity College, Dublin although he was never a very good or hard working student.

1686: He receives his degree “speciali gratia” i.e. because of a special decree. Undaunted he stayed on to study for a higher degree.

1689: He moves to England due to political unrest in Ireland and works as secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Farnham in Surrey. Temple an ex-diplomat needed someone to help him prepare his memoirs. The relationship between the two men was always difficult but Swift stays with him for ten years. Whilst at Moor Park he has full access to the large, well-stocked library. He becomes the tutor to Esther Johnson the daughter of Temple’s housekeeper. He referred to Esther as Stella in his writings and some say that the two were secretly married. He supported his master on the side of the Ancients in the “Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes” which had spread from France and started to write “The Battle of the Books”.

1699: Death of Sir William Temple. Swift returns to Ireland and toakes up various positions in the church.

1704: Jonathan Swift’s first book “A Tale of a Tub”, which he had worked on at Moor Park, is published anonymously. This was considered to be blasphemous by Queen Anne and put paid to any chances of preferment within the church. He continues to write numerous essays and his popularity increases both in England as well as in Ireland.

1713: Swift and his literary friends found the Scriblerus Club.

1714: At the death of Queen Anne the Tory tradition comes to an abrupt end and Swift returns to Ireland for good. He becomes Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. He wrote little more until the 1720’s when he began to write poetry again. His essays of the period were quite satirical, especially “A Modest Proposal” in which Swift proposes selling the children of the Irish poor as food for the rich. He also engaged himself in the cause of Irish liberties.

1721: Jonathan Swift begins to write his most famous work “Gulliver’s Travels”.

1723: His friend Miss Esther Vanhomrigh, who was immortalised as “Vanessa”, dies leaving him half of her property in her will.

1724: He publishes “The Drapier’s Letters” which concerns itself with the restrictions placed by the English on Irish Trade particularly in the wool industry.

1725: He finishes “Gulliver’s Travels.” The work is in several parts and aims it’s satire at political parties, religious dissension and man’s inhumanity and pomposity.

1726: Gulliver is published anonymously and is an instant success. He makes a short visit to London.

1727: He makes another short visit to London.

1730’s: He continues to write but several other authors claim that his sanity is in doubt. Some recent scholars think that this may have been caused by Meniere’s Disease. It is clear that a disorder of the inner-ear causing vertigo caused him much trouble.

1733: He publishes what he himself considered to be his best satire, “On Poetry: a Rhapsody”.

1742: Swift suffered a stroke and was cared for by local people.

When and Where did he Die?

19th October 1745, Dublin, Ireland from syphilis (which he said he contracted from “dirty sheets when out of town”.

Age at Death:

78.

Written Works:

1701: “Contests in Athens and Rome”.
1704: “The Battle of Books”. “A Tale of a Tub”.
1708: “Esquire Bickerstaff’s most Strange and Wonderful Predictions for the Year 1708”.
1712: “Meditation Upon a Broomstick”.
1711: “An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity”. “Conduct of the Allies”.
1712: “Proposals for Correcting the English Language”.
1720: “Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures”.
1721: “Letter to a Young Gentleman Lately Entered into Holy Orders”.
1726: “Gulliver’s Travels.” “Cadenus and Vanessa”.
1728: “A Short View of the State of Ireland”.
1729: “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to their Parents”.
1735: “Collected Works”.
1736: “The Legion Club”.
1745: “Directions to Servants”.
(1758): “The History of the Four Last Years of the Queen”.

Marriage:

Probably never married although sometimes said to have married Esther Johnson, whom he called Stella, in secret.

Site of Grave:

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, next to “Stella”

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

British Library.

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