What information on Jonathan Swift's background can you give me?
Jonathan Swift was an Irish author, satirist, and clergyman who was born on November 30, 1667, and who is best known for writing Gulliver’s Travels and “A Modest Proposal.” Both of these works emanate from a lifetime of clerical, political and religious service that shaped his famous parodies of society.
Jonathan Swift was the son of Jonathan Swift, Sr., who was a steward of the King’s Inn in Dublin, and Abigail Erick, who was the daughter of an English clergyman. However, the elder Jonathan Swift died several months before his son was born. Further, it is later suspected that Swift suffered from Meniere’s Disease, a condition of the inner ear that causes nausea and partial deafness. This led Abigail to leave her two children—Jonathan and his older sister—to the care of their uncle Godwin Swift in Ireland while she returned to her family in Leicester, England.
In 1673 at the age of six, Swift attended Kilkenny Grammar School, which was reportedly the best in Ireland at the time. Then, in 1682 at the age of 14, Swift attended the Trinity College of Dublin and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1686, and went on to pursue his master’s. Yet, not long into his graduate studies, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 ignited, threatening to overthrow the king of Ireland, England and Scotland, and Swift promptly moved to England to start anew. With the help of his mother, Swift secured a job as a secretary for Sir William Temple in Moor Park, Surrey, England and received his Master’s of Arts from Oxford in 1692. In 1694, Swift was appointed as a priest in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and then as Vicar (parish priest) of Kilroot, a church near Belfast, Ireland. Then in 1700, Swift was also appointed Vicar of Laracor, Ireland and as an honorary clergyman for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. In 1702, he received his Doctor of Divinity from Dublin University. Thus, Swift’s early career is characterized by excellent education and religious experiences.
Swift’s writings are heavily influenced by his upbringing, education and early career. While working under Temple, Swift wrote his first short essays and completed a manuscript for a later book. When Temple died in 1699, Swift edited and published his memoirs. While serving as a minister in Ireland, Swift published his first political pamphlet entitled, “A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome,” which defended the English constitutional balance of power between the monarchy and parliament. It was during his time at Dublin University, while completing his Doctorate of Divinity, that Swift composed some of his more notable works, such as A Tale of a Tub, which defends the middle position of the Anglican and Lutheran churches, and the Battle of the Books, which argues for classical superiority over modern sciences within the humanities. It is in these two works that Swift begins to develop his characteristic satire.
During this time, Swift became increasingly well known throughout London for his religious and political essays, including the “Bickerstaff” pamphlets of 1708-09 that ended the career of popular astrologer John Partridge by prophesying his death and providing circumstantial detail. Like all of Swift’s satirical works, these pamphlets were published anonymously to protect his identity. Swift’s writings gained him the attention of a group of Whig writers led by Joseph Addision, an English essayist who heavily contributed to the periodicals The Tatler and The Spectator. Yet, Swift did not readily endorse the Whig party, which upheld the notions that the people were the source of political power and that monarchs are only in power with the consent of the people. Also, the Whigs unanimously agreed that the future James II should be excluded from the throne since he was a Catholic. Swift was a Whig by birth and education, but he held religious loyalties to the Anglican church. He mocked those that questioned the Anglican authority in his ironic work entitled, The Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1708).
In 1710, Swift switched from the Whig party to the Tory party when Robert Harley (later earl of Oxford) and Henry St. John (later Viscount Bolingbroke) came into control of the ministry and asked Swift to become the editor of The Examiner, their official paper. The replacement of the Whigs with that of a Tory ministry is vividly recounted in Swift’s Journal to Stella, a series of letters that he addressed to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley who were living in Dublin. Swift became fully immersed in the political landscape and wrote some of his most famous political pieces, including The Conduct of the Allies, which is a direct attack on the Whig party.
Yet, Swift did not fully denounce his previous Whig leanings. He blatantly disregarded the Tory theory of the divine right of kings and he remained steadfast that the people as a whole held the ultimate power. Further, with the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the accession of George I, the Tory party was quickly declining, and Swift saw his career in England coming to an end. This prompted Swift to take a deanship at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It is also rumored that during this time, Swift secretly married Esther Johnson, although concrete evidence has not been uncovered.
After a period of seclusion during his deanship, Swift returned to his political writings in the 1720s and wrote multiple pamphlets about the social and economic problems confronting Ireland. Of these writings, the “Drapier’s Letters” (1724-25) and “A Modest Proposal” are the best known. The first work is a series of letters that attack the English government for supplying Ireland with copper halfpence and farthings. “A Modest Proposal” is an ironic work that advocates the people of Ireland should sell and consume their children to combat the country’s overpopulation and economic demise. Both works were published anonymously. Swift’s greatest literary satire, Gulliver’s Travels, was published in 1726. In this work, Swift uses fictional lands and voyage to explore notions of race, power, economy, and social distribution. The book was wildly successful and greatly contributed to Swift’s fame and legitimacy as a writer throughout the British Empire.
During Swift’s final years, he was plagued by recurrent fits of his Meniere’s disease. In 1741, Swift suffered from a stroke and lost his ability to speak, and in 1742 he was medically declared mentally incompetent. Then, on October 19, 1745, Swift died and was laid to rest next to Esther Johnson (who died in 1728) inside Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.