Biography of Jonathan Swift

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:

1682: Swift went to Trinity College, Dublin although he was never a very good student.

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

1689: He moved to England due to political unrest in Ireland and worked 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 stayed with him for ten years. Whilst at Moor Park he had full access to the large, well-stocked library. He became 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 returned to Ireland and took 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, was published anonymously. This was considered to be blasphemous by Queen Anne and put paid to any chances of preferment within the church. He continued to write numerous essays and his popularity increased both in England as well as Ireland.

1710: He returned to London. Although he had been born into the Whig political tradition he now began to be influenced by the Tories and he became Editor of the Tory journal “The Examiner”. Also began writing the “Journal to Stella.”

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

1714: At the death of Queen Anne the Tory tradition came to an abrupt end and Swift returned to Ireland for good. He became 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 began 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 published “The Drapier’s Letters” which concerned itself with the restrictions placed by the English on Irish Trade particularly in the wool industry.

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

1726: Gulliver was published anonymously and was an instant success. Short visit to London.

1727: Short visit to London

1730’s: He continued to write but some writers have said that his sanity was 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 published what he himself considered to be his best satire, “On Poetry: a Rhapsody”.

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

When and Where did he Die?

19th October 1745, Dublin, Ireland.

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‚Äôs Cathedral, Dublin, next to “Stella”

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

British Library.