Jonathan Swift

	Our Marchants on th'Exchange doe plott
	To encrease the kingdoms wealth by trade;
	At Gresham Colledge a Learned Knott
	Unparallel'd designes have layd
	To make themselves a Corporation
	And know all things by Demonstration.
				-- Joseph Glanvill

Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet. -- Dryden

For a time, he dictated the political opinions of the English nation. -- Dr Johnson

I have long been weary of the world, and shall for the small remainder of my days be weary of life. -- Jonathan Swift

By what I have gathered from your own relation ... I can only conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth. -- King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver's Travels

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), writer, satirist, political pamphleteer, author of Gulliver's Travels.

Swift was born in Dublin (30 November 1667), educated at Kilkenny School and Trinity College, Dublin.

Swift served his political apprenticeship under the Whig statesman, Sir William Temple. Swift was secretary to Sir William at Moor Park, Farnham 1689-1694, 1696-1699. The intervening years Swift spent in Ireland, where he was ordained and received the small prebend of Kilroot. On the death of Sir William, Swift returned to Ireland, where he was given the prebend of St Patrick's, Dublin. It was at Moor Park that Swift met his beloved Stella to whom he dedicated his journal.

Swift's political career spanned forty years and three monarchs - Queen Anne, George I and George II. At the height of his political career, Swift was able to order Ministers around, his pen was the mightiest sword in the land and justly feared.

Swift's fall from grace can be traced to the blocking of his appointment as Bishop of Hereford, and his acceptance of St Patrick's in Dublin. Henceforth Swift was to be exiled to the backwater of Ireland. It was from Ireland that the disillusioned Swift launched Gulliver's Travels, his blistering satire on the corrupt English establishment.

Gulliver's Travels (1726) was published in great secrecy. Even the publisher did not know who the author was. It was dropped of at his house from a hackney carriage under the cover of darkness. Gulliver's Travels was an immediate success, Voltaire (1694-1778), who was at the time living in England, translated it into French and made it known across the Channel.

Gulliver's Travels was Swift's savage attack on those who had abandoned him. It was not only the corrupt politicians who were attacked, he did not spare philosophers, teachers and entrepreneurs who promoted scams (the South Sea Bubble had burst a few years before the publication of Gulliver's Travels). In the intervening two centuries there has been little advancement. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are but two of the many unscrupulous politicians who could be named, the Moonies and other religious cults flourish, FreeServe, an Internet company that has little if anything of intrinsic value or merit, has recently been valued in excess of a $1 million in advance of its rumoured share flotation, corporate criminality reaps vast rewards and goes unpunished.

Swift was not the only one to launch such attacks. In 1701, jobbers of the East India Company tried to rig parliamentary elections and take over the Bank of England, two decades later the South Sea Bubble burst (1719-20). Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), who was twice declared bankrupt and died hiding out in Cripplegate from creditors, wrote a series of pamphlets attacking jobbers and their fellow travellers, Villainy of stock-jobbers detected (1701), Political History of the Devil (1726), 'the trade of soul-selling, like our late more eminent bubbles', Life of Jonathan Wild (1725), General History of Pyrates (1724), History of Pyrates(1728). In London, 1722, a murderer considered his crimes to be a trifle compared with those of the Directors of the South Sea Bubble; 'To cut Men's heads off is but a trifle to them'. No longer was wealth to be based on men's honest toil, instead on unsubstantiated opinion and trickery.

Daniel Defoe (Villainy of stock-jobbers detected, 1701):

These People can ruin Men silently, undermine and impoverish by a sort of impenetrable Artifice, like Poison that works at a distance, can wheedle Men to ruin themselves, and Fiddle them out of their Money, by that strange and unheard of Engines of Interests, Discounts, Transfers, Tallies, Debentures, Shares, Projects and the Devil and all of Figures and hard Names.

Daniel Defoe (History of apparitions, 1727):

Could souls come back to demand redress of grievances ... what confusion would Exchange Alley and the Exchange of London be in! What distraction would it make in all the affairs of life! and how soon would the men who amassed immense wealth, anno 1720, disappear ... and sink under the guilt of their own good fortune.

Daniel Defoe (Review, Vol 4, No 107, 18 October 1707):

It would make a sad Chasm on the Exchange of London, if all the Pyrates should be taken away from among the Merchants there, whether we be understood to speak of your Litteral or Allegorical Pyrates ... if all thee should be taken off the Exchange, and rendezvous'd ... Bless Us, what Crowding ther'd be when they meet!

Jonathan Swift's works include, The Tale of a Tub (1704), The Battle of the Books (1704), Gulliver's Travels (1726), Journal to Stella (written 1710-11). Gulliver's Travels was the only work for which he was paid, for which he received the princely sum of 200.

Swift was a generous man, a third of his income went to charity, another third went to establish a foundation for the insane - St Patrick's Hospital for Imbeciles (opened 1757). Whilst he had political authority he used his position to advance the cause of those less fortunate than himself.

In the last years of his life Swift slowly went mad, and in his last years his affairs had to be handled by a trust. Swift died 19 October 1745, and was buried side by with his beloved Stella in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Esther Johnson, called Stella by Swift, was the daughter of the housekeeper to Sir William Temple at Moor Park. Swift first met her when she was eight and taught her to read.

Swift was a founder member of the Scriblerus Club (c 1713). Other members included Pope, Arbuthnot, Gay, Parnell, Congreve, Lord Oxford, Atterbury. Gulliver's Travels may have had its origins in the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, designed to ridicule 'all the false tastes in learning, under the character of a man of capacity enough, that had dipped into every art and science, but injudiciously in each'. Although a joint effort, the work is thought to have been written mainly, if not entirely by, Arbuthnot, as an attack against 'false tastes in learning'. The travels of Martinus Scriblerus correspond quite closely with those of Gulliver. The Memoirs were published in the second volume of Pope's prose works (1741), but the work is incomplete and only the first volume has survived to today. From their collaborations together, Gay got the idea for The Beggar's Opera (1728).

John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), physician to Queen Anne, Fellow of the Royal Society, close friend of Jonathan Swift, acquaintance of Gay and most of the literary figures of the time. Together with Swift, Gay and others he was a founder of the Scriblerus Club. Arbuthnot published a number of political pamphlets, the best known being 'The History of John Bull', a collection of pamphlets issued in 1712, and included in Poe and Swift's Miscellany of 1727. Arbuthnot was the principal author of the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, which may have inspired Swift to write Gulliver's Travels.

It was as secretary to Sir William Temple (1628-99) that Swift served his political apprenticeship. Essayist and statesman, son of Sir John Temple (1600-77), educated at Bishop Stortford School and Emanuel College, Cambridge, Sir William served as an envoy at Brussels (1666), where at The Hague he negotiated the Triple Alliance between England, Holland and Sweden (1668). He also helped to arrange the marriage between William of Holland and Mary. He left politics and went into retirement disillusioned by 'the uncertainty of princes, the caprices of fortune, the corruption of ministers, the violence of factions, the unsteadiness of counsels and the infidelity of friends'. He wrote a number of political essays including, 'Essay Upon the Present State of Ireland' (1668), 'Observations Upon ... the Netherlands' (1672) and 'The Advancement of Trade in Ireland' (1673). Sir William Temple lived at Moor Park, Farnham.

Following his move from Sheen, Sir William Temple lived at Moor Park on the outskirts of the ancient market town of Farnham (Surrey, England). Today, Moor Park is in need of repair and appears to house some form of training establishment. The North Downs Way runs nearby. A public footpath runs through the grounds of Moor Park, parallel to the River Wey, and eventually leads to the ruins of the Waverly Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey that inspired Sir Walter Scott to write the Waverley novels. The footpath runs past the caves thought to have once been inhabited by the witch Mother Ludlam.

Web Resources

Suggested Reading

John Carswell, The South Sea Bubble, 1960

John R R Christie, Laputa revisited [in John Christie & Sally Shuttleworth (eds), Nature transfigured, Manchester University Press, 1989] {an unreadable essay of unintelligible gibberish}

Joseph McMinn, Jonathan Swift: a Literary Life, 1991

Russell Mokhiber & Robert Weissman, Corporate Predators, Common Courage Press, 1999

David Nokes, Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed, 1987

Letitia Pilkington, Memoirs, 1748

Simon Schaffer, Defoe's natural philosophy and the worlds of credit [in John Christie & Sally Shuttleworth (eds), Nature transfigured, Manchester University Press, 1989]

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, illustr George Morrow, Thomas Nelson and Sons

Jonathan Swift, Selected Works, ed Angus Ross & David Woolley, 1984

Jonathan Swift, Selected Poems, ed Pat Rogers, 1993

Jonathan Swift, Swift's Irish Pamphlets: An Introductory Sample, ed Joseph McMinn, 1991

(c) Keith Parkins 1999 -- June 1999 rev 0