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Jonathan Swift

Researcher: Rachel Sahlman


Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift was born November 30, 1667 in Dublin. His father died before Swift's birth, leaving his wife with a baby daughter and unborn son. As a result, Swift was raised by his three uncles. It is believed that Swift felt a sense of insecurity during his childhood because he had no father and his home life was unstable

Swift's uncles took care of Swift's education. At age 6, he was sent to Kilkenny School, considered the best school in Ireland at that time. At 15, Swift entered Trinity College in Dublin. He was not a particularly good student and tended to neglect his studies. Although he received his degree in 1686, it was speciali gratia, meaning "by special favor."

Swift continued his studies at Trinity as a candidate for an advanced degree. However, in 1689 he was forced to move to England because of political unrest. In England, he worked as a secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Surrey. Temple was a diplomat and writer, who was preparing his memoirs. Although their relationship was often strained, Swift worked for Temple for the next 10 years.

During his employment at Moor Park, Swift was given unlimited access to Temple's vast library, which helped him to grow intellectually. He also met and tutored Esther Johnson, the daughter of Temple's widowed housekeeper. In later writings, Swift referred to Johnson as Stella. His relationship with Stella continues to be one of controversy and speculation. Some say Swift and Stella were secretly married.

While at Moor Park, Swift began writing his first major work, entitled A Tale of a Tub. It was published anonymously in 1704, although the work was later attributed to Swift. A Tale of a Tub was considered blasphemous by Queen Anne, and it is believed to have adversely affected Swift's chances for ecclesiastical preferment in England.

When Temple died in 1699, Swift returned to Ireland and was preferred to several posts in the Irish church. He continued to write and publish numerous essays, and his popularity increased in both Ireland and England. Swift returned to London in 1710.

Although Swift had been a member of the Whig party since birth, he was uncomfortable with many of the party's beliefs. It was at this time that Swift was won over by the Tories. He became the editor of the Tory publication, The Examiner. However, when Queen Anne died in 1714, the political tide turned and the Tory administration collapsed. Swift returned to Ireland for good. By this time, he had been preferred the deanery of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, a position he held until the end of his life. Swift wrote very little until the 1720s, when he showed a renewed interest in verse. His most well known essays during this time include "A Modest Proposal" and "Drapier's Letters." "A Modest Proposal" is a classic satirical work in which Swift outlines a plan to sell the children of the Irish poor as food for the rich.

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It is believed that Swift began to write his most famous work, Gulliver's Travels, in 1721 and finished it in 1725. Gulliver's Travels was published anonymously in 1726 and was an instant success. Its popularity continues to this day.

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 active throughout the 1730s, before suffering a stroke in 1742. For the next three years, Swift was cared for by guardians. Jonathan Swift died in Dublin on October 19, 1745. 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.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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