Jonathan Swift


Jonathan Swift was an Irish Clergyman and an 18th century literary figure. He is most famous as the author of Gulliver's Travels, but also wrote several other books, plays, and poems, as well as a number of famous essays. He was politically active in the Tory party toward the end of the reign of Queen Anne, and many of his essays have political overtones. His A Modest Proposal, for example is a political satire that censure's the British government's indifference to the suffering of the Irish peasants. Even Gulliver's Travels is an allegory with highly political overtones, making fun of the Whig government that controlled Britain during most of Swift's life.

Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father's family was Anglo-Irish, and he was educated at Trinity college and ordained as a minister in the Anglican-Irish Church in 1694. In 1688 the Catholic James II was deposed as king of England, but Ireland rose in rebellion and declared for him. Swift was sent to England for several years and during this period, tried, but was unable to find a position in London. He returned to Ireland, and eventually became a minister of a small country church. He was, however, very disappointed in his situation, since he considered Ireland a depressing back-water, and turned to writing for solace. His efforts to find a position outside did not cease for many years.

In 1710 the Torys returned to power and he lived for several years in London where he wrote political pamphlets for the Tory government. When in London he become acquainted with the literature circle there, including Alexander Pope, who became a life-long friend. In 1714 however, the Torys fell out of favor and he returned again to Ireland and continued writing. He maintained his interest in politics, and wrote several essays on issues related to Ireland, mostly published anonymously. In 1726 he published his masterpiece Gulliver's Travels under a pseudonym, since its political overtones were fairly obviously critical of the Whig government. He lived the rest of his life in Ireland and died in 1744.

Key events during the life of Jonathan Swift:

Born in Ireland, orphaned early, and raised by father's family.
Attended Trinity College in Dublin.
Left for England during the Williamite War in Ireland.
Ordained into the Church of Ireland.
Began to publish. First play entitled Tale of a Tube.
Published political pamphlets for the Tories.
Returned to Ireland on the fall of the Tory Government.
  Continued writing and pamphleteering.
Published A Modest Proposal.
Published Gulliver's Travels.
Death of Esther Johnson.
Death of Jonathan Swift

Book Links
Stories of Gulliver's Travels Told to the Children  by  John Lang

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Lesson in Manners  in  Fifty Famous People  by  James Baldwin
Ireland in the Eighteenth Century  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Swift—'The Journal to Stella'  in  English Literature for Boys and Girls  by  H. E. Marshall

Image Links

Dean Swift
 in Ireland: Peeps at History

Short Biography
Alexander Pope Eminent poet and Satirist of the enlightenment era. Wrote Essay on Criticism.
Anne of England Last of the Stuart queens, lived during the War of the Spanish Succession.
George I First Hanoverian Monarch of Britain. Entrusted government to Robert Walpole
Esther Johnson Very close female friend of Swift's. Possibly secretly married.