Swift, Jonathan

Swift, Jonathan

biographical name


Jonathan Swift, detail of an oil painting by Charles Jervas; in the National Portrait Gallery, …—Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, London

(born Nov. 30, 1667, Dublin, Ire.—died Oct. 19, 1745, Dublin) Irish author, the foremost prose satirist in English. He was a student at Dublin's Trinity College during the anti-Catholic Revolution of 1688 in England. Irish Catholic reaction in Dublin led Swift, a Protestant, to seek security in England, where he spent various intervals before 1714. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1695. His first major work, A Tale of a Tub (1704), comprises three satiric sketches on religion and learning; he also became known for religious and political essays and impish pamphlets written under the name “Isaac Bickerstaff.” Reluctantly setting aside his loyalty to the Whigs, in 1710 he became the leading writer for the Tories because of their support for the established church. Journal to Stella (written 1710–13) consists of letters recording his reactions to the changing world. As a reward for writing and editing Tory publications, in 1713 he was awarded the deanery of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. He spent nearly all the rest of his life in Ireland, where he devoted himself to exposing English wrongheadedness and their unfair treatment of the Irish. His ironic tract “A Modest Proposal” (1729) proposes ameliorating Irish poverty by butchering children and selling them as food to wealthy English landlords. His famously brilliant and bitter satire Gulliver's Travels (1726), ostensibly the story of its hero's encounters with various races and societies in remote regions, reflects Swift's vision of humanity's ambiguous position between bestiality and rationality.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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