Gulliver's Travels eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667, in Ireland. Swift's father died before Jonathan was born, and the young boy's three uncles helped to raise and influence him. At 15, Swift entered Trinity College in Dublin, considered one of Ireland's best schools. However, in 1689, civil, religious, and political unrest forced him and other Protestants to flee Ireland for England

Swift began to work as secretary to Sir William Temple; at the former Member of Parliament's home, he was allowed to explore the influential gentleman's vast library and meet numerous important people. Swift also tutored a woman named Esther Johnson, whom he called Stella. It is unclear if they were merely friends or were secretly married, but Swift wrote his Journal to Stella (1710-1713) for her.

Swift changed his political support from the Whigs to the Tories, who he felt were more supportive of the Anglican Church. He disliked the endless religious squabbling between various denominations over what he believed were insignificant differences as much as he detested political disputes and society's discrepancies. Although Swift called himself a “misanthrope,” his writings constantly reflect the belief that humanity could better itself.

From 1721-1725, he composed Gulliver's Travels, a satire of society in general, power foolishly applied, useless thinking, and unnecessary institutions. Swift's most important work, published anonymously in 1726, was an instant success. He had become an Anglican priest in 1695, but his satire, A Tale of a Tub (1704), offended Queen Anne, who found it blasphemous. Her opposition eliminated any position for Swift in the English Church, and he returned to Ireland, where he later wrote A Modest Proposal (1729), the infamous piece that suggested selling poor Irish children as food for the rich

During his later years, Swift was thought to be insane, but modern biographers believe he suffered from extreme vertigo, which was complicated by difficulties from an earlier stroke. Jonathan Swift died in a mental institution, in 1745.