Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Jonathan Swift was one of the famous English writers of the Age of Enlightenment. Moreover, he was a bitter satirist of the beginning of the 18th century.

In his “Battle of the Books” (1704) he supported the ancients. In the “Tale of a Tub” (1704) he attacked the religious ideas. Swift is known to students of literature as the writer of most bitter and utterly damning satire ever written in England — “A Modest Proposals” (1729). Jonathan is still loved and valued in Ireland as one of the first and greatest of the fighters for Irish freedom.

Although Swift was born in Dublin, his parents were both English connected with several important families, but themselves possessed of little property. His father was unfortunate, he died at 25 with his son still unborn. Swift was born on 30 November, 1667, six months after his father’s death. His uncle Godwin Swift undertook to pay for his upbringing and education, but Swift hated his uncle.

Swift was educated at Trinity College with little satisfaction to either himself or the teachers. This is a fragment of Swift’s autobiography: “… he (Swift wrote in a third person) too much neglected his academic studies, for some parts of which he had no relish by nature, and turned himself to reading history and poetry.”

Swift was graduated without honours in 1688. In those times Sir William Temple was an important statesman and diplomat in England. In 1688 he had already retired and met with leading writers and politicians at Moon Park. Jonathan Swift became his secretary. This was an interesting position for a young man of 21, because it afforded him wonderful chances of meeting the important people of that time. On the other hand, Swift learned much of the dishonesty of successful politicians.

Jonathan Swift remained at Moon Park until he was 32. During his work at Temple’s Swift taught the house-keeper’s daughter Stella who became his intimate friend and close companion up to the end. In 1699 Sir Temple died, and Swift had to search for a new job. He was given the position of chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley who soon gave him a small living, the vicarage of Laracour in Ireland. Swift visited different political clubs, wrote his important pamphlets and got acquainted with famous people.

In 1710 Swift joined the Tory party.

In 1720 he published his powerful pamphlet “A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacturer” which proclaimed an economic independence for Ireland. Swift became the hero of Dublin, but police was searching for the author of the rebellious pamphlet. The police didn’t know who the author was, but the population knew the author quite well.

Jonathan’s masterpiece, “Gulliver’s Travels”, appeared in 1726. It is written in four books, but the young people prefer to read only two of them: Gulliver’s voyages to Lilliput (where the people are six inches high) and Brobdingnag (where the people are the giants). The Lilliputians fight wars which seem foolish. The King of Brobdingnag thinks that the people are the most terrible creatures on the earth.

Lemuel Gulliver is the main character of the book. He is educated both as a doctor and as a sailor. He is given the job of a ship surgeon and sets sail from Bristol on 4 May, 1699.

It is his first voyage. The cruise is a success, but after a long trading tour in the East India the crew of the ship is driven out of their route by a storm and shipwrecked in a strange land. While asleep he is captured and bound by several thousands of the six-inch tall inhabitants. After many thrilling adventures Gulliver returns to England. There he succeeds in a small business by selling a number of the Lilliputian sheep, cows and other things which he has taken with him.

Two months later, on 20 June, 1702, he again goes to sea. The ship is immediately driven out of its course by a storm. The members of the crew row to a strange shore to get drinking water. While Gulliver wanders along the shore, others are terrified by some giants and escape, leaving Gulliver alone. He is soon picked up between thumb and forefinger by one of those giants. But in the end Gulliver manages to rescue, and returns home.

Gulliver’s third voyage takes place a few months later. This journey is less interesting. Gulliver is captured by pirates, and set adrift in a small boat in which he reaches an uninhabited island. After that Gulliver manages to escape with the help of people of Laputa — a sort of floating island. These people are very strange. They are fond of mathematics and music. Moreover, they can make their floating island move at will. Finally, Gulliver returns home, to England. He was absent for about six years.

Stella, Swift’s close friend died in 1728. Swift suffered a lot, his mind was breaking. Ten years (1730-1740) he spent in loneliness… In 1742 at 74 Swift was declared insane. In 1745 he died and was buried with simplicity.

Swift remains one of the very few who have made satire an effective weapon with which he attacks the enemy.

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