Jonathan Swift: Commentary

[Note: Contrary to numerical indications, there is no Swift/comm2 file (checked 24.08.2021). ]

Short Views
Jonathan Smedley
Alexander Pope
Leonard McNally
Thomas Sheridan
Thomas Davis
Thomas Carlyle
D. F. MacCarthy
John Mitchel
Stephen Leslie
Stanley Lane Poole
G. B. Shaw
Shane Leslie
Arthur Griffith
Stephen Gwynn
Augustine Birrell
Hone & Rossi
W. D. Taylor
Middleton Murry
Kenneth Burke
Ricardo Quintana
T. de Vere White
Denis Donoghue
Paul Reilly
J. W. Foster
Victoria Glendinning

Longer Comments
Dr. Patrick Delany
Thomas Sheridan
Lord Orrery
Walter Harris
Dr. Johnson
Nathan Drake
Anna Brownell Jameson
Henry Craik
Leslie Stephen
Lord Macaulay
W. M. Thackeray
W. B. Yeats
Douglas Hyde
Émile Pons
Denis Johnston
Sybil le Brocquy
Thomas Flanagan
Richard Quintana
Frank O’Connor
Jae Num Lee
Gilbert & Gubar
Irvin Ehrenpreis
Arland Ussher
Derek Mahon
Carole Fabricant
J. C. Beckett
Joseph McMinn
Kathleen Williams
Benedict Anderson
Joseph Leerssen
R. F. Foster
Pat Rogers
Andrew Carpenter
Robert Welch
Terry Eagleton
Eileen Battersby
James Kelly
Declan Kiberd
Thomas Keymer
Claude Rawson
Kevin Kiely
Terry Eagleton
James Ward
James MacLaverty

Edmund Burke: ‘See Gulliver’s Travels for the idea of countries governed by philosophers.’
(A footnote in Reflections on the French Revolution, 1790.)

Thomas Moore on Jonathan Swift, in Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824)
‘The best and most patriotic men of the time were but (as Swift styles Molyneux, and, by implication, himself) “Englishmen born here”. Swift’s own patriotism was little more than a graft of English faction upon an Irish stock - fructifying, it is true, into such splendid produce, as makes us proud to think it indigenous to the soil. How little his views of toleration expanded beyond the circumference of those about him, appears from the violence with which he always opposed the claims of the Dissenters; and for the misery and degradation of his Roman Catholic countrymen (who constituted, even then, four-fifths of the population of Ireland), he seems to have cared little more than [123] his own Gulliver would for the sufferings of so many disfranchised Yahoos.’ (p.124; &c..)
—See longer extracts in RICORSO Library, “Classic Irish Texts” - via index or direct.

Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London: Chatto & Windus 1957)
[...] When the 9th Tatler (1709) introduced Swift’s ‘Description of the Morning’ as a work where the author had ‘run into a way perfectly new, and described things as they happen’, it was being ironical. The implicit assumption of educated writers and critics was that an author’s skill was shown, not in the closeness with which he made his words correspond to their objects, but in the literary sensitivity with which his style reflected the linguistic decorum appropriate to its subject. It is natural, therefore, that it is to writers outside the circle of wit that we should have to turn for our earliest examples of fictional narrative written in a prose which restricts itself almost entirely to a descriptive and denotative use of language. (p.28.)

Worse than Swift ....
Lady M’Leod asked, if no man was naturally good? Johnson: ‘No, madam, no more than a wolf.’ Boswell: ‘Nor no woman, sir?’ Johnson: ‘No, sir’. Lady M’Leod started at this, saying, in a low voice, ‘This is worse than Swift.’ (Boswell, Life of Dr. Johnston; quoted in Ehrenpreis, Swift, Vol. III, p.451.)
Cf. the opening of Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia: ‘Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas prince of Abissinia.’ [Available online at E-Server Fiction collection.]

Worse than Swift ....
Lady M’Leod asked, if no man was naturally good? Johnson: ‘No, madam, no more than a wolf’. Boswell: ‘Nor no woman, sir?’ Johnson: ‘No, sir’. Lady M’Leod started at this, saying, in a low voice, ‘This is worse than Swift.’ (Boswell, Life of Dr. Johnston; quoted in Ehrenpreis, Swift, Vol. III, p.451.)

See short biographies at ...
The Encyclopædia Britannica - as attached.
The Victorian Web - as attached.
The Poetry Foundation - as attached.

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Short Views

Jonathan Smedley (Bishop of Clogher); prob. author of squib nailed to door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the installation of Jon. Swift in 1713: ‘Today this Temple gets a Dean, / Of parts and fame uncommon; / Used both to pray, and to profane, / To serve both God and Mammon ... / This Place he got by wit and rhyme, / And many ways most odd; / And might a Bishop be in time, / Did he believe in God ... / Look down, St Patrick, look, we pray / On thine own Church and Steeple; / Convert thy Dean on this great Day, / Or else, God help the People.’ (Quoted in Sybil le Brocquy, Cadenus, 1962, p.33. [Elsewhere called Bishop of Killala.]

[Note: Jonathan Smedley (c.1671–1729) was Dean of Killala in 1718–24 and Dean of Clogher in 1724–48: ‘He is remembered principally for a series of skirmishes in print with Jonathan Swift (qv), which began with verses he wrote on the occasion of the latter’s installation as dean of St Patrick’s in 1713. There appears to be no corroboration, however, of his claim that he fixed the verses to the door of the cathedral on the day of the installation. Smedley published them in 1714, in several editions, appended to an invented diary of a week in Swift’s life. Their mutual distaste, which appears in repeated satirical attacks by Smedley and scornful replies by Swift, was compounded by political differences.’. (see DIB/RIA - online.)]

Patrick Delany (MD) - the friend of Swift gave this account of his suffering in his last illness: ‘blind, though his eyes gave him terrible pain during his mysterious final illness: ‘In October 1742 [...],his left eye swelled as large as an egg, and the lid appeared to be so much inflamed and discoloured that the surgeons expected it to mortify. The extreme pain he was in kept him waking near a month and during one week it was with difficulty that five persons kept him from tearing out his eyes.’ (From Memoir of Swift; quoted on Peter Chrisp, “Twilight of Blindness Madness Descends on Swift”, in From Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay [ a Joyce Blogsite] 10 May 2016 - online; see further under Joyce - as infra.)

Alexander Pope: ‘Let Ireland tell how wit upheld her cause / Her trade supported, and supplied her laws; / And leave on Swift this grateful verse engraved / The rights a court attack’d a poet sav’d. Behold the hand that wrought a nation’s cure / Stretch’d to relieve the idiot and the poor / Proud vice to brand or injur’d worth adorn / and stretch the ray to ages yet unborn.’

Leonard McNally, The Claims of Ireland [ &c] (London: J. Johnson 1782), ‘[Jonathan Swift] went still further in opening the minds of the Irish, and preparing them to nurture the seeds of freedom, and to vindicate those rights which heaven has bestowed upon the human race’; further praises him as author of the idea of national autonomy and freedom of the press, in (p.14; quoted in Robert Mahony, Swift: the Irish Identity, 1995; cited in Rosine Aubertine, MA Dipl. 1996.)

Thomas Sheridan wrote a sympathetic biography immediately preceding his 17 vol. edition of the Works (1784): ‘Perhaps there never was a man whose true character was so unknown’; also, ‘witty Saying, Blunders, and things of humour, are constantly fathered on his remarkable Wit’. [Viz., Quoted by Thomas Sheridan, in The Life of Rev. Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s, London 1734; see extract - attached.]

Thomas Davis called Swift ‘the first non-military leader to whom the Ireland ever did homage’; Thackeray wrote of him disaffectedly in English Humourists [first lecture] (1851; new edn. 1853).

Thomas Carlyle: ‘In his conduct, there is much that is sad and tragic, highly blameable; but I cannot credit all that is said of his cruel unfeeling disposition. There are many circumstances to show that by nature he was one of the truest of men, of great pity for his fellow men […].’ (Lectures on the History of Literature [1838], first publ. London Ellis & Elvey, 1892, pp.168-69; quoted Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: The Irish Identity, Harvard 1995, p.85.)

Denis Florence MacCarthy, ‘The name of Jonathan Swift is unquestionably the greatest in our literature […] He was the first Anglo-Irish writer who felt that he was an Irishman, and that his injured and despised country was worthy even of the affectation of patriotism’ (The Poets and Dramatists of Ireland, Duffy 1846; p.130, quoted in Robert Mahony, op. cit.; cited in Rosine Auberting, MA Dipl., UUC 1996.)

John Mitchel: ‘[Swift’s example] penetrated the character of the whole English colony and bore fruit long after that unquiet and haughty heart lay at rest.’ (History of Ireland from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time, Duffy, 1869, p.94.)

Stephen Leslie rendered Swift’s theme as ‘burning indignation against intolerable wrongs’. (Q. source.)

Stanley Lane Poole: ‘[…] the superficial coolness may be revolting to tender-hearted people, and has indeed led to condemnation of the supposed ferocity of the author, almost as surprising as the criticisms which can see in it nothing but an exquisite piece of humour.’ (Selections from the Prose Writings, London: Kegan Paul [1884], p.204.)

G. B. Shaw: ‘Macaulay, seeing that the Irish had in Swift an author worth stealing, tried to annex him by contending that he must be classed as an Englishman because he was not an aborginal Celt. He might as well have refused the name of Briton to Addison because he did not stain himself blue and attach scythes to the poles of his sedan.’ (Preface to John Bull’s Other Island.) Note: Macaulay condemned Gulliver’s Travels as ‘filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene’.

Shane Leslie: ‘Modern Irish nationalism was born at the tip of Swift’s pen ... the first Sinn Feiner - all-aloner.’ (The Irish Tangle for English Readers, 1946, p.17.)

Arthur Griffith: ‘By his great genius, he united all Ireland, peer and peasant, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, Norman, Cromwellian and Gael in opposition to England.’

Stephen Gwynn:‘For a century and a half from Swift’s day, nearly all the literature that came out of nationalist Ireland was forged as a weapon for combat.’ (Stephen Gwynn, Irish Literature and Drama, 1936, p.12.) Further, ‘[His works] so affected popular imagination in their lifetimes that a ghost of them survives, vaguely familiar to thousands who in reality know nothing but the name.’ (q.p.)

Augustine Birrell: ‘[H]is language is horrible from first to last. He is full of odious images, of base and abominable allusions ... It is a question not of morality, but of decency, whether it is becoming to sit in the same room with this divine. How the good Sir Walter ever managed to see him through the press is amazing’. (q. source.)

J. M. Hone & Mario Rossi, ‘Ireland had become for Swift a far-off island of very strange, very stupid animals, which had only one way of maintaining themselves.’ (Swift or the Egotist, 1934, p.353.)

W. D. Taylor: ‘Grave circumstance, a serious air, truculent asides, astonishing conclusions quietly spoken, a relentless, even an unhallowed, tone all resulting in bitter, hard laughter - these are the characteristics of Swift’s irony.’ (Jonathan Swift: A Critical Essay, Peter Davis 1933, p.260.)

Middleton Murry, ‘[…] The projection of his complete despair and the projection of his anger against the Irish landlords.’ (Jonathan Swift: A Critical Biography, 1954; q.p.)

Kenneth Burke, ‘[…] planned incongruity - the imposition of a proper perspective by putting across perspectives in lurid proximity.’ (q. source).

Ricardo Quintana: ‘[H]is despair - the despair of the compelte realist - found its symbol in the macabre imagery of the Modest Proposal.’ (Introduction to Swift, 1962, p.167.)

Terence de Vere White [called Swift] ‘a meteor that happened to hit Ireland’. (The Anglo-Irish, London: Gollancz 1972; q.p.)

Denis Donoghue: ‘The Drapier’s Letters are famous not only for their style but their effects; the immediate effect of defeating a gross political [jab] and the psychological effect of creating a temprary unity between the Anglo-Irish colonists and the Irish people.’ (Thomas Davis Lecture.)

Paul Reilly, ‘[…] frustration of a militant moralists at the apathetic mass[es], toppling over into an élitist, embittered disdain’ (Jonathan Swift: The Brave Desponder, Manchester UP 1982).

J. W. Foster: ‘Swift was philosophically married to the idea of decline […]. At best, life was a modest proposal, a holding of the pale of reason against unnecessary degeneration.’ (‘Encountering Traditions’, in Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History, ed. Foster and Helena C. G. Chesney, Dublin: Lilliput 1997, p.49.)

Victoria Glendinning, ‘Swift sought to shock and shame the British public by bringing their unthinking inhumanity to its logical conclusion.’ (Jonathan Swift, London: Hutchinson 1998, p.164; quoted in Juliana Miller, UG Paper, UUC 2003.)



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Longer Comments

Thomas Sheridan, The Life of Rv. Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Dublin, by Thomas Sheridan, MA (London: Printed for C. Bathhurst, W. Strahan, B. Collins, J. F. And C. Rivington, L. Davis, W. Owen, J. Dodsley, T. Longman, R. Baldwin, T. Cadell, J. Nichols, T. Egerton, and W. Bent. MDCCLXXXIV.

The Life of Rv. Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Dublin, by Thomas Sheridan, MA (London: Printed for C. Bathhurst, W. Strahan, B. Collins, J. F. And C. Rivington, L. Davis, W. Owen, J. Dodsley, T. Longman, R. Baldwin, T. Cadell, J. Nichols, T. Egerton, and W. Bent. MDCCLXXXIV.
Contents of the First Volume [of which no second]: Dedication [ to Sir George Savile]; Introduction; Life of Doctor Swift; Sect. I: From his Birth to the Death of Sir William Temple; Sect. II: From the Death of Sir William Temple to the Time of Swift’s Introduction to Lord Oxford [31]; Sect. III: From his Introduction to Mr. Harley, to the Death of the Queen [63]; Sect. IV: A Review of his Conduction during his Connection with the Queen’s last Ministry [165}; Sect. V: From his Return to Ireland to his Death [210]; Sect. VI: Private Memoirs of Swift [283]; Sect. VII: Various anecdotes of Swift [395]; Sect. VIII: Anecdotes of the Family of Swift, written by himself [545]; His Will [557]. Front. plate of Swift, also a Plate of Dr. Thomas Sheridan, Cook sculpt. [368 facing].


His reputation for wisdom and integrity was so great, that he was consulted by the several corporations in all matters relative to trade, and chosen umpire of any differences among them, nor was there ever any appeal from his sentence. In a city where the police was perhaps on a worse footing than that of any in Europe, he in a great measure supplied the deficiency, by his own personal authority, taking notice of all public nuisances, and seeing them removed. He assumed the office of Censor General, which he rendered as formidable as that of ancient Rome. In short, what by the acknowledged superiority of his talents, his inflexible integrity, and his unwearied endeavours in serving the public, he obtained such an ascendancy over his countrymen, as perhaps no private citizen ever attained in any age or country. He was known over the whole kingdom my the title of THE DEAN, given to him by way of pre-eminence, as it were by common consent; and when THE DEAN was mentioned, it always carried with it the idea of the first and greatest man in the kingdom. The DEAN said this; THE  DEAN did that; whatever he said or did was received as infallibly right; with the same degree of implicit credit given to it, as was paid to the Stagyrite of old, or to the modern Popes.  (270-71.)
We may judge of the greatness of his influence, from a passage in a letter of Lord Carteret to him, March 24 1732, “I know by experience how much the city of Dublin thinks itself under your protection; and how strictly they used to obey all orders fulminated from the sovereignty of St. Patrick’s”. And in the postscript to another of March 24 1736, he says, “When people ask me how I governed Ireland? I Say, that I pleased Dr. Swift.”
But great as his popularity was, it was chiefly confined to the middling, and lower class of mankind. To the former of these his chief applications were made, upon a maxim of his own, “That the little virtue left in the world, is chiefly to be found among the middle rank of mankind, who are neither allured out of her paths by ambition, nor driven by poverty.”
All of this class he secured almost to a man. And by the lower ranks, and rabble in general, he was reverenced almost to adoration. They were possessed with an enthusiastic love to his person, to protect which they would readily hazard their lives; yet on his appearance among them, they felt something like a religious awe, as if in the presence of one of a superior order of beings. At the very sight of him, when engaged in any riotous proceedings, they would instantly fly different ways, like schoolboys at the approach of their master; and he has often been known, with a word, and lifting up his arm, to disperse mobs, that would have stood the brunt of the Civil and Military power united.
As to the upper class of mankind, he looked upon them as incorrigible, and therefore had scarcely any intercourse with them. He says himself, that he had little personal acquaintance with any Lord Spiritual or Temporal in the kingdom; and he considered the Members of the House of Commons in general, as a set of venal prostitutes, who sacrificed their principles, and betrayed the interests of their country, to gratify their ambition or avarice. With these he lived in a continued state of warfare, making them feel severely the sharp stings of his satyr; while they, on the other hand, dreading, and therefore hating him (pp.272-73.)
The learned Mr. Harris, in his Philological Enquiries, has the following passage: “Misanthropy is so dangerous a thing, and goes so far in sapping the very foundations of morality and religion, that I esteem the last part of Swift’s Gulliver (that I mean relative to his Houyhnhnms and Yahoos) to be a worse book to peruse, and those which we are forbid, as the most flagitious and obscene. One absurdity of this author (a wretched Philosopher, though a great Wit) is well worth remarking - in order to render the nature of man odious, and the mature of beasts amiable, he is compelled to give human characters to his beasts, and beastly characters to his men; so that we are to admire the beasts, not for being beasts, but amiable men; and to detest the men, not for being men, but detestable beasts.”

I believe so strange an interpretation of an author’s meaning, never fell from the pen of any commentator. He first assumes that the end proposed by Swift in this fable, is, to render the nature of man odious, and the nature of beats amiable. This surely was a most unaccountable design in any human creature; and before it can be admitted, it ought to be first proved that Swift was of a beastly disposition, which engaged him on the side of his fellow brutes. And if this were his object, no mortal every used more unlikely means to attain it, and no one ever more completely failed of his end. By representing a beast in a human form, without any one characteristical mark of man, he could hardly expect to render human nature itself odious: and by exhibiting so strange a phaenomenon as the soul of man actuating a quadruped, and regulating this conduct by the rules of right reason, he could as little hope to render the nature of irrational beasts more amiable. And accordingly I believe no mortal ever had a worse opinion of human nature, from his description of the Yahoos; nor a better of the brute creation, from that of the Houyhnhnms. And all the ill effect produced by this fable, has been turned on the author himself, by raising the general indignation of mankind against him, from a mistaken view of his intention: so that the Writer of the above remarks, need not have prohibited the reading of that part of Gulliver with such solemnity, as it never did, nor never can make one proselyte to Misanthropy, whereof he seems so apprehensive; but on the contrary may be productive of great good, from the moral so evidently to be deduced from it, as has already been made to appear.

[... T]he absurdity belongs to the commentator, not the author.(pp.510-11.)

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Lord Orrery, Remarks (1752), observed that ‘as the faculties of the mind shine forth at different ages in different men, so the Infancy of Dr. Swift passed on without marks of distinction. At six years old he was sent to school at Kilkenny, and about eight years afterwards he was entered a student in Trinity college, Dublin, where the moroseness of his temper rendering him unacceptable to his companions, he was little regarded and less beloved. Nor were the academical exercises agreeable to his genius. He held logic and metaphysics in the utmost contempt, and scarce considered mathematics and natural philosophy unless to turn them into ridicule. The studies that he followed were history and poetry. In these he made great progress, but to all other branches of science he had given so little application that when he appeared as a candidate for the degree of bachelor of arts, he was set aside on account of insufficiency - And even at last he obtained his admission, Speciali gratia, a phrase which in that university carries with it the utmost marks of reproach. It is a kind of dishonourable degree, and the record of it, notwithstanding Dr Swift’s present established character throughout the learned world, must for ever remain against him in the academical register at Dublin.’ (Quoted in Robert E. Ward, Encyclopaedia of Irish Schools 1500-1800, Mellen Press, 1995, p.149.)

Lord Orrery (Remarks, 1752) - cont: ‘At the sound of the Drapier’s trumpet, a spirit arose among the people, that, in the Eastern phrase, was like unto a tempest in the day of the whirlwind. Every person of rank, party, and denomination, was convinced that the admission of Wood’s copper must prove fatal to the commonwealth. The Papist, the Fanatic, the Tory, the Whig, all enlisted themselves volunteers under the banner of M. B. Drapier, and were all equally zealous to serve the common cause. Much heat, and fiery speeches against the administration, were the consequence of this union, nor had the flames been allayed, notwithstanding threats and proclamations, had not the coin been totally suppressed, and had not Wood withdrawn the patent.’ Further: ‘The name of Augustus was not bestowed upon Octavius with more universal approbation, than the name of The Drapier was bestowed upon the Dean. He no sooner assumed his new cognomen than he became the idol of the people of Ireland to a degree of devotion, that in the most superstitious country scarce any idol ever obtained. Libations to his health, or, in plain English, bumpers, were poured forth to the Drapier as large and as frequent, as to the glorious and immortal memory of King William the third. His effigies were painted in every street in Dublin […] He received their addresses with less majesty than sternness; and ranging his subjects in a circle round his parlour, spoke as copiously and with as little difficulty and hesitation, to the server point in which they supplicated his assistance, as if trade had been the only study and employment of his life […] In this state of power, and popular love and admiration, he remained till he lost his senses, a loss which he seemed to foresee, and prophetically lamented to many of his friends.’ From Remarks &c., rep. in Justin McCarthy, Irish Literature (Notre Dame UP 1904). Note that the opposite of this interpretation is represented in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. I: ‘The success achieved, however, created fresh burdens for Swift, for there were those who looked to him to cure the various ills of Ireland and who approached him time and again to endorse one scheme or another […] passage of time brought fresh pain such as the death of Stella (Esther Johnson) in 1728.’ (Bryan Coleborne, ed.; FDA1, pp.453.) [Cont.]

Lord Orrery (Remarks, 1752) - cont.: ‘Vanity makes terrible devastation in the female breast ... Vanessa was exceedingly vain ... fond of dress ... impatient to be admired; very romantic in her turn of mind; superior in her own opinion, to all her sex; full of pertness, gaiety and pride ... far from being either beautiful or genteel ... happy in the thoughts of being reputed Swift’s concubine, but still aiming, and intending to be his wife.... Thus perished at Selbridge, under all the agonies of despair, Mrs. Esther Vanhomerigh, a miserable example of an ill-spent life, fantastic wit, visionary schemes and female weakness.’ (Orrery, Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr J. Swift; quoted in Sybil le Brocquy, Cadenus, 1962, p.1, where it is juxtaposed with a quotation from Deane Swift’s Essay on the Life, Writings and Character of Dr Jonathan Swift, 1755, repudiating the charge of vanity against her.) Also: ‘When the sterness of his [Swift’s] visage was increased by rage, it is scarce possible to imagine looks, or features, that carried on them more terror.’ (Quoted in le Brocquy, op. cit., p.63).

Lord Orrery (Remarks, 1753) - cont. [on Swift’s friendships with literary women in Dublin [Laetitia Pilkington, et al.], remarks that these were ‘foolishly trusted women’ and that he ‘communicated every composition as soon as finished to his female senate’. (Quoted in Margaret Anne Doody, ‘Swift and women’, in The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift, ed. Christopher Fox, Cambridge UP 2003, p.106; cited in Sophie Christie, UG Diss., UUC 2009.) See further quotations under Boyle, John, 5th Earl of Orrery, infra.

Walter Harris: ‘Misanthropy is so dangerous a thing, and goes so far in sapping the very foundations of morality and religion, that I esteem the last part of Swift’s Gulliver (that I mean relative to his Houyhnhnms and Yahoos) to be a worse book to peruse, and those which we are forbid, as the most flagitious and obscene. [... &c.].’ (Quoted by Thomas Sheridan, in The Life of Rev. Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s, London 1734 -as supra; see also under Harris, infra.)

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Dr. Johnson: Samuel Johnson was the first of many to characterised him in terms of coarseness and ferocity whilst also attributing shallow sentiment to his saeva indignatio and spite to his motive in having ‘turned Irishman for life’ (Lives of the English Poets, 1779-81.) ‘It was from the time when he first began to patronise the Irish, that they may date their riches and prosperity. he taught them first to know their own interest, their weight, and their strength; and gave them some spirit to assert that equality with their fellow-subjects to which they have ever since been making vigorous advances, and to claim those rights which they have at last established.’ (Lives of the Poets). ‘Perhaps no writer can be so easily found that has borrowed so little, or that in his excellencies and all his defects has so well maintained his claim to be considered original’. (Ibid. [q.p.].) See further his celebrated sarcasm about at Gulliver’s Travels: ‘When once you have thought of big men, it is very easy to do all the rest.’ (Life of Dr. Johnson.)

Dr. Johnson: “Vanity of Human Wishes”: ‘In life’s last scene what prodigies surprise, / Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise? / From Marlb’rough’s eyes the streams of dotage flow / And Swift expires a driv’ler and a show.’ (Poems, ed. E. L. McAdam, Jnr., with George Milne, Yale Edn. of The Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. VI, 1964, p.106, ll.315-18.) Note: Johnson is believed to have resented Swift’s for his application to TCD for an honorary degree, and hence belittled him as a prose-writer alleging that he could not have been the author of Tale of a Tub on internal evidence, and accusing him of egotism, arrogance and tergiversation. However, Johnson called Swift ‘a man of great parts, and an instrument of much good for his country’ in conversation with Boswell (Life of Johnson, Oxford 1953, p.448).

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Nathan Drake, Jonathan Swift (1805): ‘these great and estimable qualities were sullied and debased by pride, dogmatism and misanthropy; by a temper harsh, gloomy and discontented. Such is the malignancy of a disposition prone to vilify and degrade human nature, that no abilities, however eminent, can atone for such a tendency’ (Vol. 3, p.160; quoted in Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift, The Irish Identity, 1995).

Anna Brownell Jameson, The Romance of Biography (1837) - on the death of Stella:

She died of a lingering decline, in January, 1728, four years after the death of Miss Vanhomrigh.
Thus perished these two innocent, warm-hearted and accomplished women; - so rich in all the graces of their sex - so formed to love and to be loved, to bless, and to be blessed, - sacrifices to the demoniac pride of the man they had loved and trusted. But it will be said, ‘si elles n’avaient point aimé, elles seraient moins connues:’ they have become immortal by their connection with genius; they are celebrated, merely through their attachment to a celebrated man. But, good God! what an immortality! won by what martyrdom of the heart! - And what a celebrity! not that with which the poet’s love, and his diviner verse, crown the deified object of his homage, but a celebrity, purchased with their life-blood and their tears! I quit the subject with a sense of relief: - yet one word more.
 It was after the death of these two amiable women, who had deserved so much from him, and whose enduring tenderness had flung round his odious life and character their only redeeming charm of sentiment and interest, that the native grossness and rancour of this incarnate spirit of libel burst forth with tenfold virulence. He showed how true had been his love and his respect for them, by insulting and reviling, in terms a scavenger would disavow, the sex they belonged to. Swift’s master-passion was pride, - an unconquerable, all-engrossing, self-revolving pride: he was proud of his vigorous intellect, proud of being the ‘dread and hate of half mankind,’ - proud of his contempt for women, - proud of his tremendous powers of invective. It was his boast, that he never forgave an injury; it was his boast, that the ferocious and unsparing personal satire with which he avenged himself on those who offended him, had never been softened by the repentance, or averted by the concessions of the offender. Look at him in his last years, when the cold earth was heaped over those who would have cheered and soothed his dark and stormy spirit; without a friend - deprived of the mighty powers he had abused - alternately a drivelling idiot and a furious maniac, and sinking from both into a helpless, hopeless, prostrate lethargy of body and mind! - Draw, - draw the curtain, in reverence to the human ruin, lest our woman’s hearts be tempted to unwomanly exultation!

—The Romance of Biography (Saunders & Otley 1837), pp.272-73 - available at Gutenberg Project online; accessed 25.08.2023.

Henry Craik, Life of Jonathan Swift (London: Murray 1882): - on A Modest Proposal: ‘With the calm deliberation of a statistician calculating the food supply of the country, Swift brings forward his suggestion.’ (p.414.) ‘There is a no strain of language with which the state of matters is described, but the very simplicity and matter of fact tone that are assumed, make the description all the more telling.’ (p.415; both quoted in A. E. Robinson, UUC Paper ENG106C2, 2002.)

Henry Craik, A Compendious History of English Literature (London: Griffin, Bohn, & Co. 1861): ‘Swift was universally regarded by his countrymen as the champion of the independence of Ireland - the preserver of whatever they had most to value or be proud of as a people. And perhaps the birth of political and patriotic spirit in Ireland as a general sentiment may be traced with some truth to this affair of Wood’s halfpence and to these letters of Swift.’ (pp.16-17; quoted in Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: The Irish Identity, Harvard 1995; cited in Rosine Auberting, MA Dipl., UUC 1996).

Henry Craik (Life of Jonathan Swift, [1882] 1894): ‘Most of the summers of 1724 and 1725, he [Swift] spent at Quilca, the quiet country retreat which Dr. Sheridan had made for himself in a bleak spot amongst the wildest of Cavan heaths [...] Round it have clung many traditions of its owner, Swift, and their amusements. The stretch along which Sheridan was wont, as it is said, to attempt a revival of Roman chariot races; the slope close by the lake which he used for a theatre; the seat in the garden where Stella’s arbour stood; the lake itself where Sheridan is said to have constructed an impromptu island out of twigs and turf to astonish Swift - all these have their place in the stories that haunt the neighbourhood, with a vitaility strange when we consider how completely the surrounding in habitants are separated from the class for whom Swift wrote and spoke. Not far off is the house of Rantavan, near the street of Mullagh, the home, in Swift’s days, of Henry Brooke, where, according to tradtion, Brooke’s mother showed her superiority to the general fear of the Dean, by meeting Swift on his own ground of sarcasm.’ (Vol. II, p.170.)

Sir Leslie Stephen, Swift [1882] (London: Macmillan 1899): ‘The charm of Gulliver for the young depends upon an obvious quality, which is indicated in Swift’s report of the criticism by an Irish bishop, who said that “the book was full of improbably lies, and for his part he hardly believed a word of it.” There is something pleasant in the intense gravity of the narrative, which recalls and may have been partly suggested by Robinson Crusoe, though it came naturally to Swift. I have already spoken of his delight in mystification, and the detailed realization of pure fiction seems to have been delightful in itself. The Partridge pamphlets and its various practical jokes are illustrations of a tendency which fell in with the spirit of the time, and of which Gulliver may be regarded as the highest manifestation. Swift’s peculiarity is in the curious sobriety of fancy, which leads him to keep in his most daring flights upon the confines of the possible. In the imaginary travels of Lucian and Rabelais, to which Gulliver is generally compared, we frankly take leave of the real world altogether. We are treated with arbitrary and monstrous combinations which may be amusing, but which do not challenge even a semblance of belief. In Gulliver this is so little the case that it can hardly be said in strictness that the fundamental assumptions are even impossible. Why should there not be creatures in human form with whom as in Lilliput, or one of our inches represents a foot, or, as in Brobdingnag, one of our feet represents an inch?’ [...; p.171; [1899 edn. available at Google Books - online; accessed 29.12.2009; see further under Thomas Sheridan, supra.]

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Lord Macaulay , ‘Sir William Temple’, in Essays and Lays of Ancient Rome (London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1902 Edn.): ‘Swift retained no pleasing recollections of Moor Park. And we may suppose a situation like his to have been intolerably painful to a mind haughty, irascible, and conscious of preeminent ability. Long after […] he remembered, with deep and sore feeling, how miserable he used to be for days together when he suspected that Sir William had taken something ill. He could hardly believe that he, Swift who chid the Lord Treasurer [... &c.] could be the same being who had passed nights of sleepless anxiety, in musing over a cross or a testy word of a patron. “Faith”, he wrote to Stella with bitter levity, “Sir William spoiled a fine gentleman”. Yet in justice to Temple, there is no reason to suppose that Swift was more unhappy at Moor Park than he would have been in a similar situation under any roof in England. […] Swift writes like a man who has passed his whole life in the midst of public business, and to whom the most important affairs of state are as familiar as his weekly bills. [... &c.]’ (p.458.)

Lord Macaulay, ‘Sir William Temple’ [in Essays & Lays, 1902 Edn].) - cont.: Macaulay here compares Johnson and Swift as men of practical knowledge to the latter’s great advantage].‘It is impossible to doubt that the superiority of Swift is to be attributed, in a great measure, attributed to his long and close connection with Temple.’ (Essays, 1902, p.458). Further: ‘The mirth of Swift is the mirth of Mephistopheles; the mirth of Voltaire is the mirth of Puck’ (p.756.) ‘It is not strange that Addison, who calumniated and insulted nobody, should not have calumniated or insulted Swift. But it is remarkable that Swift, to whom neither genius nor virtue was sacred, and who generally seemed to find, like most other renegades, a peculiar pleasure in attacking old friends, should have shown so much respect and tenderness to Addison.’ (‘Life of Addison’; Essays, 1902, p.765.)

Lord Macaulay, History of England (1865-77): ‘The secretary [sent by Temple to the king] was a poor scholar of four or five and twenty, under whose plain garb and ungainly deportment were concealed some of the choicest gifts that have ever been bestowed on any of the children of men; rare powers of observation, brilliant wit, grotesque invention, humour of the more austere flavour, yet exquisitely delicious, eloquence singularly pure, manly and perspicuous ... He was born in Ireland, but would have thought himself insulted if he had been called an Irishman. He was of unmixed English blood and, through life, regarded the aboriginal population of the island in which he first drew breath as an alien and servile caste.’ (History of England, London: G. M. Dent, 1906, p.198.) Macaulay calls the language of Swift in communication with Sir John Temple ‘that of a lackey, or rather of a beggar’, and describes its author as ‘[t]his humble menial [who] was at heart the haughtiest, the most aspiring, the most vindictive, the most despotic of men.’ (idem, p.199.)[Cont.]

Lord Macaulay, ‘The Life and Writings of Addison’, in Critical and Historical Essays, 1877): ‘Fortune had now changed. The accession of the House of Hanover had secured in England the liberties of the people, and in Ireland the dominion of the Protestant caste. To that caste Swift was more odious than any other man. He was hooted and even pelted in the streets of Dublin, and could not venture to ride along the strand for his health without the attendance of armed servants. Many whom he had formerly served now libelled and insulted him.’ (pp.765-66.) See also G. B. Shaw’s remarks on Macauley’s Swift [infra].

W. M. Thackeray: Thackeray regarded Swift as ‘a lonely eagle behind bars’ and considered Gulliver ‘horrible, shameful, unmanly blasphemous’ (English Humourists, 1851, q.p.) and wrote that ‘[t]o think of him [Swift] is like thinking of the ruin of a great empire.’ (idem.) Further: ‘That Swift was born at No 7, Hoey’s Court, Dublin on 30 Nov. 1667, is a certain fact, of which nobody will deny the sister island the honour and glory; but, it seems to me, he was no more an Irishman than a man born of English parents at Calcutta is a Hindoo.’ (Ibid., quoted in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane, Derry: Field Day 1991, Vol. 2, p.1,007). Further, of his his writings: ‘Filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene’ (quoted in Richard Kain, Fabulous Voyager: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Chicago UP 1947, p.1.)

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W. B. Yeats: ‘The thought of Swift, enlarged and enriched by Burke, saddled and bitted reality, and that materialism was hamstrung by Berkeley, and ancient wisdom brought back; that modern Europe had known no men more powerful.’ (Diary; Explorations, 297-98); further, ‘I read Swift for months together ...’ (Explorations, p.344.) [Swift] ‘beating on his heart in sibylline frenzy blind / because the heart in his blood-sodden breast had dragged him down into mankind.’ (”Blood and the Moon”). ‘I see an image of the modern mind’s discovery of itself, of its own permanent form […] Swift haunts me: he is always just around the next corner.’ (The Words Upon the Window Pane, Dublin: Cuala Press, 1934, p.3; R. K. Alspach, ed., Variorum Edn. of the Plays of W. B. Yeats, Macmillan 1966, p.958; cited in Victoria Glendenning, ‘Chinese Whispers and Electric Energy’, a look at the legend of Jonathan Swift 250 years [onwards], Irish Times, 21 Oct. 1995, p.8; also in Una Kealy, MA Diss., UUC, 1999.) See also “The Seven Sages”, in which reference is made to Stella note that W. B. Yeats reviewed Richard Ashe King, Swift in Ireland [q.d.], in Bookman (June 1896), rep. In John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose (1970), p.60.

W. B. Yeats (2): “Parnell’s Funeral”: [‘Through Jonathan Swift’s dark grove he passed, and there/Plucked bitter wisdom that enriched his blood’] also ‘Blood and the Moon’ (sect. II) [‘Swift beating on his breast in Sibylline frenzy blind/because the heart in his blood-sodden breast had dragged him down into mankind ...’]. Further, ‘Swift was but an Irishman by what Mr. Balfour has called the visitation of God, and much against his will’ (‘Modern Irish Poetry’, in Irish Literature, gen. ed. Justin McCarthy, NY/CUA 1904, Vol. III, p.vii.) Note that Yeats relished the anecdote of Swift preserved by Edward Young and relating how Swift was witnessed gazing at ‘a noble tree, which in its uppermost branches was much withered and decayed. Pointing at it, he said, “I shall be like that tree. I shall die at the time.’ (Young, ‘Conjectures in Original Composition’, in Works 1798, III, p.196; cited in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary to the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, p.272.)

W. B. Yeats (3) - “The Table of the Law”: ‘Jonathan Swift made a soul for the gentlemen of this city by hating his neighbour as himself.’ (From The Secret Rose [publ. 1897]; see W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, ed. G. J. Watson, London: Penguin 1995, p.207. Note that Watson supplied the annotation: ‘We have just Religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to makes us love one another’ - Tale of a Tub with Other Early Works, 1696-1707, ed. H. Davis, OUP 1975, i.241.)

See also Yeats’s rendering of Swift’s epitaph: ‘Swift has sailed into his rest; / Savage indignation there / Cannot lacerate his breast. / Imitate him if you dare, / World-besotted traveller; he / Served human liberty.’]

[ For Yeats ample and varied comments on Swift, who became one of the pillars of his poetic persona, see under Yeats > Quotations and Commentary. See also Commentary on the Collected Poems. All via W. B. Yeats > Life - as infra. ]

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Douglas Hyde calls Swift ‘a declared enemy of the Gaelic speech, which he considered prevented “the Irish from being tamed”. Further, ‘At one time he said he had a scheme by which their language ‘might easily be abolished and become a dead one in half an age, with little expense and less trouble’. In another place he says, “it would be a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language in the kingdom, so far at least as to oblige all the natives to speak English on every occasion of business, in shops, markets, fairs, and other places of dealing, yet I am wholly deceived if this might not be effectually done in less than half an age and at a very trifling expense; for such I look upon a tax to be, of only six thousand pounds to accomplish so great a work.”’ Whatever the Dean’s plan was, he did not further enlighten the public on it, and the scheme appears to have died with him.’ (Literary History of Ireland, 1901 ed., p.621; note that Swift on the abolition of Irish is printed in McMinn, Swift’s Irish Pamphlets, p.130).

Émile Pons, Swift: Les Anées de Jeunesse [q.d.]: ‘the sensualist’s leer is foreign to his work save as an object of sarcasm when he sees it on another’s face. “Erotic” subjects [33] take on a purely coprologic form and he purposely presents them in a disgusting light, devoid of any sensual appearl, like a rich essential manure. This can be seen most clearly in the last page of his Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation, where a lover’s affections and emotions are described with a realism and a serene indecency that only utter contempt could inspire. Thus, too, the licentious passages of the Digression [on Madness] are simply studies in exact realism and admirably subserve the satirical effectiveness of the work as a whole, for they add the nausea of disgust to the force of its invective.’ (Quoted [in trans.] in Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce’s Ulysses, London; Faber 1930, pp.33-34.)

Denis Johnston, ‘The Mysterious Origin of Dean Swift’, in Dublin Historical Record, III, 4 (June-Aug. 1941), pp.81-97; incls. the deposition: ‘I first became fascinated by the problem of Swift after seeing Lord Longford’s play [on Swift] at the Gate Theatre - a play that brought very vividly before my mind three interesting and vital characters, two women and a man, in a very peculiar and obscure relationship with each other ... what particularly caught my attention after reading several of the published biographies was the fact that the more one read about them ... in an effort to reconstruct their story ... the more puzzling became the problem of their collective behaviour’; goes on to speak of the discovery of Neptune from unaccountable vagaries in the behaviour of other planets; repudiates Yeats’s view of Swift as a man haunted by fear of madness and for that reason remaining unmarried; recounts his own correspondence with G. B. Shaw as to the accuracy of Mr. Carroll, rector of St. Bride, and tutor of Shaw, and reports the ‘the letter [he received back] is more concerned with Mr Shaw’s own genealogy than that of Dean Swift.’ (p.83).

Further: After some detailed discussion of the relations between Esther Johnston and Sir William and the history of the Swifts in Dublin, Johnston advances the parentage theory: ‘The explanation I am getting at is, of course, that he was not the child of the Steward of the King’s inn at all. And this is not the first time such a theory has been put forward. In fact it was widely rumoured at the time of his death that, like Stella, he too was a child of Sir William Temple. This solution so completely, so satisfactorily solves evertything that is incomprehensive about his life and work that it is with some annoyance we disover it to be quite impossible ... Sir William Temple was Ambassador to the Low Countries during the winter and spring of 1666-1667’ (93).

Denis Johnston (‘The Mysterious Origin of Dean Swift’, 1941) - cont.: Johnston finds the signature of John Temple listed last among several others in the request for admission of Jonathan Swift the Elder to Stewardship of the King’s Inns [93]; ‘So there are other Temples besides Sir William! and some of them actually in Dublin! And are they any connection? Yes, indeed! One of them - a hale, elderly man of 66 - is master of the Rolls and the owner of a fine house situated between Dame St. and the River Liffey. He is onee of those who has the Stewardship of the Inns of in his gift. And moreover, he is Sir William Temple’s father!’ [93] Johnston concludes that Swift must have been forced to tell Stella at some time this secret, which made him her uncle, and that she ‘accepted the inevitable with good grace and paid him the honour of choosing to remain his friend and companion rather than marry anybody else [95; cites Archbishop King’s remarks about Swift being the most unhappy man in all the world.] ‘Many other explanations have been given for this remark of King’s, but none of them see strong enough to account for the hideous, fierce resentment with which Swift reacted to life, and which he poured forth in that diabolically dirty verse directed against love and sex, all written, mark you, in his latter years after the death of the two women, when he was left along in the world, tormented by their memory and his own baffled passion’ [96]; ‘He did no wrong to Stella, and that is why, in spite of her knowledge of the existence of the other woman, she never showed any resentment and never appeared to expect anything more from the situation than what she got.’ [96; cont.]

Denis Johnston (‘The Mysterious Origin of Dean Swift’, 1941) - cont.: ‘Swift had many political enemies who would have been glad to snatch at any opportunity to ruin him, and it must be remembered that marriage or intercourse with a niece was and is not only contrary to the Canon Law or the Established Church, but was also an indictable offence as incest in the ordinary Criminal Courts of the land. This fear, ever present in his mind, was not merely a theological or religious scruple, but was based on the very tangible possibility of criminal proceedings should any enemy be in a position to make use of it. This was the reason for the nauseating prudery which prevented him from ever seeing Stella alone - the prudery which filled him in her last moments not so much with desolation at her approaching death, as with fear that she might die in the Deanery, “a very improper thing”, as he wrote. Personally I was never able [96] to forgive Swift for such a revolting piece of priggishness at such a moment until I saw it in the light of the true facts. Most of all, I was never able to stomach those prayers for Stella, in which he asked the Almighty for forgiveness of her sins, until I realised that he was not quite such a hypocrite in the sight of God as his words would have us believe. /.../ The one whom he did wrong was Vanessa. But he wronged her not as the monster that he seemed to be, but through his need for her, through his inability to be cruel without hatred - the only thing that could have saved her. In short, through the same demonic pity that was the keystone of his whole character’ [97]; ‘I have no patience whatever with the brand of suburban gentility that can look with greater equanimity on the spectacle of his wantonly driving a women into her grave than on the suggestion that, through no fault of his own, he was illegitimate.’ [97] (See also Denis Johnston, In Search of Swift, 1959; for longer extracts, under Denis Johnston - as attached.)

[ See also Johnston's remarks in this essay on Yeats' Words Upon a Window-pane - under Yeats > Commentary - as infra. ]

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Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959): ‘England may have judged that since the. Garrison was doing a bully’s work, it was entitled to no more than a bully’s wages. In any event she farmed out the government of Ireland to middle men, in exactly the fashion that absentees farmed out land. Parliament was controlled by the Primate, and by certain magnates and commoners who were called “undertakers,” a word in every way fitting, since in exchange for Crown favors they had undertaken to keep the country quiet. It was against these men, and their principals in London, that Swift launched his philippics. He wrote in the name of “the Irish people” and “the Irish nation.” / This “nation,” which had found so noble a voice, is one of the curiosities of political speculation. In The Drapier’s Letters, Swift excludes from it, presumably in perpetuity, not only the Catholics, whom he despised, but the Dissenters, whom he loathed. This left members of the Church of Ireland, the bulk of whose clergy and members of parliament he regarded as little better than suborned traitors. Perhaps he chose his pseudonym wisely: only a Dublin draper could be sure of meeting all his qualifications. Yet Swift’s Irish papers are lifted far above the absurdity of his central position by his patriotism, and by the rage against man’s inhumanity which led him to champion the homeless poor who lined the roads.’ (p.18.)

Sybil le Brocquy, Cadenus: A Resassessment in the Light of New Evidence of the Relationships between Swift, Stella, and Vanessa (Dublin: Dolmen 1962), argues that Swift conducted a protracted love affair with Vanessa, producing a child during a sojourn together in Berkshire in 1713, which child was fostered out to the printer Kendall, whose wife’s maiden name M’Loghin was given him (Bryan M’Loghlin), and that Vanessa, when she knew herself to be dying of tuberculosis as her siblings had died before her, turned to Stella requesting that she look to the child’s welfare, whereon Stella’s hatred of deceit compelled her to confront Swift, who in turn savagely berated Vanessa, accelerating her death (possibly through despair and drink), and triggering the famous alertation in her will; but that Stella and Swift were later somewhat reconciled, and that Stella took Bryan M’Loghlin into her household, so that he appears in her will as a child living with her ‘on charity’; that an overheard conversation concerning the ‘owning’ of some matter relates to this. In an appendix she lends support and extends Denis Johnston’s theory that Swift was the illegitimate son of Sir John Temple (not Sir William). [For longer extracts, see infra.]

Richard Quintana: ‘The world which the Modest Proposal invites us to live in is our own familiar world twice refracted, our world as remade in the enthusiastic imagination of a typical projector, and that remade world further distorted through parody’; ‘The method of Swift is creative perception.’ (‘A Situational Satire’, in Ernest Tuveson, ed., Swift: A Collection of Essays, NJ: Prentice-Hall 1964, pp.96, 99; Juliana Miller, UG Paper, UUC 2003.)

Frank O’Connor, The Backward Look (1967): ‘The first great masterpiece of literature written in English in this country is A Modest Proposal, and I would ask you to remember that it is a political tract. That political note, I would suggest, is characteristic of all Anglo-Irish literature. I know no other literature so closely linked to the immediate reality of politics.’ (p.121; quoted in Heinz Kosok,‘‘The Easter Rising versus the Battle of the Somme: Irish Plays about the First World War as Documents of the Post-colonial Condition’, in Irish Studies in Brazil, Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005, p.89.)

Jae Num Lee, Swift and Scatological Satire (New Mexico UP 1971): ‘On the one hand, Swift disparages the romantic view of humanity, which cannot stand the test of day-to-day living; on the other hand, he equally disparages the view of humanity based on physical nature alone, which ignores intellectual and moral virtues. Closely related to this idea is a plea for clarity of vision when we look at life about us. Swift clearly recognizes that human beings tend to delude themselves and see order and beauty where none exists. Swift seems to imply in these poems that life based on delusion usually ends in bitter disappointment or even tragedy. He also comments on the relationship between the sexes, particularly among the married. He does not deny the place of physical love (“passion”) in marriage, but neither does he approve of a life of unrestrained passion. Swift would agree that marriage without passion is unrealistic; he would also agree that marriage based on passion alone is just as undesirable. Neither is a reasonable situation, he would say. What he suggests is a marriage of the two - the body and the mind - in some measure of harmony and balance, an ideal applicable to all human life and conduct.’ (q.pp.)

Sandra M Gilbert & Susan Gubar, in The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (Yale UP 1979), ‘Toward a Feminist Poetics’ [being Pt. I] - ‘The Queen’s Looking Glass: Female Creativity, Male Images of Women, and the Metaphor of Literary Paternity’ [I.1]: ‘It is significant, then, that Jonathan Swift’s disgust with the monstrous females who populate so many of his verses seems to have been caused specifically by the inexorable failure of female art. Like disgusted Gulliver, who returns to England only to prefer the stable to the parlor, his horses to his wife, Swift projects his horror of time, his dread of physicality, on to another stinking creature - the degenerate woman. Probably the most famous instance of this projection occurs in his so-called dirty poems. In these works, we peer behind the facade of the angel woman to discover that, say, the idealized “Caelia, Caelia, Caelia, shits!” We discover that the seemingly unblemished Chloe must “either void or burst,” and that the female “inner space” of the “Queen of Love” is like a foul chamber pot. 68 Though some critics have suggested that the misogyny implied by Swift’s characterizations of these women is merely ironic, what emerges from his most furious poems in this vein is a horror of female flesh and a revulsion at the inability - the powerlessness - of female arts to redeem or to transform the flesh. Thus for Swift female sexuality is consistently equated with degeneration, disease, and death, while female arts are trivial attempts to forestall an inevitable end. [32] / Significantly, as if defining the tradition of duplicity in which even Patmore’s uxorious speaker placed his heroine, Swift devotes many poems to an examination of the role deception plays in the creation of a saving but inadequate fiction of femininity. In “A Beautiful Young Nymph,” a battered prostitute removes her wig, her crystal eye, her teeth, and her padding at bedtime, so that the next morning she must employ all her “Arts” to reconstruct her “scatter’d Parts.”*’ Such as they are, however, her arts only contribute to her own suffering or that of others, and the same thing is true of Diana in “The Progress of Beauty,” who awakes as a mingled mass of dirt and sweat, with cracked lips, foul teeth, and gummy eyes, to spend four hours artfully reconstructing herself. Because she is inexorably rotting away, however, Swift declares that eventually all forms will fail, for “Art no longer can prevayl / When the Materialls all are gone.” 70 The strategies of Chloe, Caelia, Corinna, and Diana - artists manqué all - have no success, Swift shows, except in temporarily staving off dissolution, for like Pope’s “S- --A of Queens,” Swift’s females are composed of what Pope called “Matter too soft,” and their arts are thus always inadequate. (pp.31-32.)

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Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age (London: Methuen 1983), ‘The Drapier’s Fourth Letter’ [Chap. 10]: ‘Halfway through his essay, M. B. produces the tremendous question of Irish freedom. IN three paragraphs of crescendo he rejects the ordinary sense of “depending kingdom” and delcares that the people of Ireland possess by right every kind of liberty that belongs to those of England. Then he brings out a themee that will attract dangerous harmonious in his finale; for he dissolves the idea of law as a pretext for English despotism and leaves force alone as t he foundation of Ireland’s “depending” state: [quotes at length ‘[...] For in Reason, all Government without the Consent of the Governed, is the very Definition of Slavery [..., &c. - as under Quotations, supra.] Locke himself had said that even when a nation was conquered in a just war, the people might not fairly be deprived of their property; and some such references seems the point of Swift’s “eleven men armed”. Locke had also, notoriously, siad that the people had the right to resist their government when it invaded property rights; so it is no wonder if Walpole (for I assume it was he), in the report of the English Privy Council, denied Wood’s patent was “derogatory, or invasive, of any liberties or privileges of [the King’s] subjects of Ireland”. Swift - of course - like Archbishop King - held precisely the opposite view. / Swift’s great readjustment in this essay follows from his view of force as the solitary sanction of an oppressive regime. Regardless [155] of law or custom, if a government ignores the needs and wishes of its subjects, it deserves, according to his reasoning, no loyalty. This is the sustaining and spinal column of the Fourth Letter; and with this support, M. B. changes the alignment of his polarities. Instead fo confronting Wood, Walpole, and King George, he now reduces all of them to the level of agents of England herself.’ (p.155-56; cont.)

Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age, 1983) - cont.: ‘It is worth observing that constitutional history supports Swift. [...]. When William Molyneux demonstrated that Irland was no depending kingdom, he only added his friend Locke’s political philosophy to a gathering of earlier proofs; and Archbishop King (another friend of Molyneux) had echoed them years before Swift took them up. The Drapier was perfectly correct to insist that there was no way to comprehend the Declaratory Act within the theory of governnment universally accepted by English statesmen. / Once Swift had identified himself with England, her culture, her government, her foreign policiy. He had justified England against her enemies and her false allies. He had seen in English leaders the most approximate realization of civilized Christian statesmen. He had disregarded English imperialism, taken the slave trade for granted, and suppressed his sympathy with Ireland. / But now his illusions were burned away, and he spoke as the disinterested moral conscience of humanity -“the whole [256] people. “ This was the spirit of Swift that was to gain new life in American revolutionary propaganda, in Irish nationalism, in the genius of Swift and Joyce. A double experience of exile had purified Swift’s mind. His years in England had taught him to see Ireland dwindled, feckless, and vulnerable; his identification with Irland had taught him to see the hollowness of English pretensions. / If Swift’s own decayed people lacked the virtures that strengthened their masters, they at least owned the merit of being victims. One day Swift would declare (in A Modest Proposal) what he already knew, that the Irish too could be oppressors. But for the time being, they represented the uppers side of our human ambivalence. As a poor, dependent, fatherless boy, Swift had underfone enough humiliation to leave him most at ease when he defended the weak. [...].’ (pp.256-57.) Note that Ehrenpreis earlier identifies the pseudonymic initials adopted by Swift with the name of Marcus Brutus, for whom Gulliver professes a ‘profound veneration’ aroused by his ‘consummate virtue [...] intrepidity and firmness of mind [...] truest love of his country, and general benevolence for mankind in every lineament of his countenance’. (Ehrenpreis, op. cit. 1983, p.208; citing Jack Gilbert ‘The Drapier’s Initials’, in N[otes] & Q[ueries], 208, June 1963, pp.217-18.)

Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age (London: Methuen 1983), ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ [Chap. 23]: ‘[...] From the time of his retirement to Letcombe Bassett in the spring of 1714, Swift had been trying to produce memoirs or reflections on his experience of politics. One after another, they had remained incomplete or unpublishable. “There are few things he ever wrote”, said Delany, “that he did not wish to be published.” (A Letter to Deane Swift, London 1755, p.17.). Yet of these pieces the earliest to appear (Some Free Thoughts) only emerged in 1741. Swift transferred his energy to Irish affairs; but the Proposal raised maddening difficulties for him. He tried to compress his anger and insight into the so-called “Letter to Pope” (January 1722) but decided very wisely to leave that in manuscript until 1741. / I believe, therefore, that when Swift embarked on Gulliver’s Travels, it was to convert these repressed impulses into the shape [445] of a fantasy. He would thus generalize his response to the public events he had known and deliver his confirmed views on human nature as it was exhibited in English society, especially in the conduct of government. But rather than speak out directly, he would speak both ironically and simply in turns, through the mouths of various spokesmen, including an eponymous narrator. By employing fictitious persons and places in a pseudo-memoir, he would escape the frustrations that had smothered his less covert speech. Thus the self-transforming energy of the unprintable essays found a new vehicle, bold enough to satisfy Swift’s anger, expressive enough to convey his doctrine, but so disguised that it could be sold in London.’ (p.445-46; cont.)

Irvin Ehrenpreis (Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age, 1983) - cont.: ‘If the satirist embodies himself in his work, he also keeps withdrawing from it, smiling at the naïveté of his own ideals. The harmony of Swift’s book lies in comic themes - confrontations of mind and body - connected by an ironic tone which is focused in turn on the ambiguous relation of the author to his project. This comic, ironic self-awareness, flickering on and off without warning, is the true, animating spirit that bathes Swift’s masterpiece. In the jurisprudence of this sensibility there is always an appeal from the sublime to the ridiculous. / The reflex by which Swift passed from sober preaching to self-mockery is hard to illustrate conclusively in Gulliver’s Travels because he is not himself the narrator; and the constant puzzle of interpretation is whether or not, at this or that point, the author is indeed ridiculing the protagonist. But in Swift’s letters we hear the reflex constantly. Writing to Bolingbroke about the relation between wealth and virtue, Swift soberly denounces the view that all ages of the world are equally virtuous or vicious; and he alludes to a serious scheme of his own to make virtue the central principle of government. But after some quite earnest sentences he suddenly catches himself and reverses his tone. [Quotes letter to Bolingbroke: “I have a scheme ... to govern England upon the principles of virtue ... I dine alone upon half a dish of meat, mix water with my wine walk ten miles a day, and read Baronius”, &c., and remarks:] From a straightforward, serious recommendation of his proposal, Swift has slipped into ridicule of himself for pressing it on the reader. This reversal of tone is the same as what we hear in Gulliver’s Travels.’ (p.450.)

Irvin Ehrenpreis (Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age, 1983) - cont.: ‘The design of Gulliver shows the effects of Swift’s travels and of his fondness for travel books. The ease and regularity with which Gulliver leaves his wife and children corresponds to Swift’s habit of abandoning Stella. Swift’s voyages between England and Ireland were, for him, like shuttlings between civilisation and barbarism. When he travelled within Ireland, he seemed [458] often to navigate seas of bestiality in order to reach islets of human culture [see his comments on Cope’s neighbourhood, Williams II, p.431]; and the sharpness of the contrasts gave him a point of view from his comic, ironic survey of mankind.’ (pp.457-58.) [Cont.]

Irvin Ehrenpreis (Swift: The Man, His Works and the Age, 1983) - cont.: ‘The books Swift read and remembered while composing Gulliver only added to his store of real travels. The hints supplied by more or less true accounts, such as Dampier’s, are numberless. But their significance for Gulliver is clarified by the implication of the fantasies. / Travel books as a group sometimes provoked English readers to humorous reflectons on the faults of European society or of human nature as such. More often they fed the European and Christian sense of easy superiority to the outlanders. [...] Lucian’s True History underlay Swift’s parodies of historians and writers of travels, providing a tone of genial, easygoing ridicule of all mankind. Rabelais inspired much of the satire on learning or science, as well as the farce of some giant-pigmy incidents. He had the idea of drowning a city in the urine of a giant. Rabelais’ preoccupation with the functions of the body showed Swift how to use them to ridicule spiritual aspirations. Rabelais’ oscillations between benevolence toward mankind and contempt for them foreshadowed Swift comedy. More’s Utopia gave Swift the most impressive model for shaming Europeans with the moral accomplishments of pagans. The still [458] broader satire of comparing humans with animals (though common in antiquity and natural to Swift) was most pertinently embodied in the travesties of travel literature composed by Cyrano de Bergerac.’ (pp.458-59; cont.)

Irvin Ehrenpreis (Swift: The Man, His Works and His Age, 1983) - cont.: ‘The tendency of such literature was ambiguous [...] It could enforce reason and religion. It could also undermine Christianity by implying that the highest virtue was available to men who never knew Christian revelation. Swift, I believe, hd his own reservatins about Christian creeds, but not to the extent of supposing that men without religion might be superior to those who possessed it. In Gulliver’s Travels the remote peoples serve as both positive and negative depreciators of the European. If these new nations seem admirable, their effect is to expose European corruptions. If they are evil, their vices are identified with those of Christian Europe. / The implications for religion could only be troubling. I think Swift recognized the fact and tried to build his case on moral grounds that gave decisive importance to the phsyical aspect of human existence. But not only does religion keep entering into the story, Swift’s morality also keeps clashing with Swift’s history; i.e., his general principles are often undermined by his particular judgements.’ (p.459; cont.)

Irvin Ehrenpreis (Swift: The Man, His Works and His Age, 1983) - cont.: ‘[...] A Christian priest of Swift’s generation normally held that revealed religion is essential to keep men morally upright, and we know that in his sermons Swift preached this doctrine. Admittedly, there were virtuous pagans, but these were rare exceptions with extraordinary gifts. Humanity as a whole could not expect to resist vice without the threat of damnation and the promise of heavenly bliss. / Yet when Gulliver visits Glubbdubdrib and thinks of men who were truly great, he does not illustrate the doctrine. Although Gulliver lists six heros of public virtue, only one of them is a Christian and he is no Protestant. Nevertheless, Gulliver says that “all the ages of the world cannot add a seventh” to these. (Pt. III, Chap. VIII, ultimate para.) Grace works in mysterious ways if Gulliver is right.’ (Cites [R. W. Frantz, ‘Swift’s Yahoos and the Voyagers’, in Modern Philology, 29. Aug. 1931), pp.49-57; W. A. Eddy, Gulliver’s Travels: A Critical Study, Princeton 1923, pp.61-64; Huntington Brown, Ralelais in Literature, Cambridge Mass., 1933, pp.161-71; Kathleen Williams, Swift and the Age of Compromise, Kansas 1958, pp.179-83, et al.

Irvin Ehrenpreis: Swift, The Man, His Work and the Age, 1962-83): ‘The Modest Proposal joins not only the Drapier’s but all Swift’s tracts on Ireland in its paradoxical view of human misery. The sufferers whom he wishes to help are people for whom he has a degree of contempt.’ (Swift, The Man, His Work and the Age, 1962-83 [q.p.]; quoted in Gavin Brown, MA Essay, UUC 2002.)

Ehrenpreis on Gulliver's Travels

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Irvin Ehrenpreis: Swift, The Man, His Work and the Age, 1962-83) - Remarks on Gulliver’s Travels [extract]

VI: Body and Soul

In Swift’s story, following a common moral tradition, the physical is opposed to the spiritual as disappointing reality is opposed to ideal conduct. Swift was instinctively fascinated and repelled by the relation of bodily processes to filth. Unpleasant smells, perspiration, body oils, urine, faeces excited his imagination. But he could self-consciously turn these deep preoccupations to moral and aesthetic use. By dwelling on them, he could correct men’s habit of regarding the body as easily subordinate to their higher faculties. In Christian tradition it is normal to link such imagery to the idea of sin, and Swift could therefore hope that his representation of the Yahoos would remind the reader of old descriptions of fallen humanity-as when John Bradford said, `What a charnel-house of stinking carrion is this body and life of wicked man.’
 It was not, however, to the peculiarly Christian tradition that Swift mainly appealed. Rather it was to the comic and moral association of flesh with filth-associations that children share with adults, and that Christians share with pagans. These are associations the Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and Englishmen have in common. On the one hand, the body is the spirit’s tragedy; on the other, it is the spirit’s farce. Gulliver’s Travels is designed to keep both these attitudes in sight at once, and to destroy the dignity of man in all his shapes by their constant juxtaposition. This is why Swift delights in the quarrel between physical needs and human ambition, between the tangible world and the ways of men. It is why he builds his work on the physical contrasts of size and shape, why he draws attention to Gulliver’s bowels and bladder, to his genitals, to the freckles of Lilliputian ladies, to the breast of the giant wet nurse, the stinks of the maids of honour, the cancer of the giant beggar-woman. It is one reason that Part Three, which is not based on such contrasts, is the weakest section of the book.
 From the physical point of view, farce and horror coincide. What is loathsome in the beggar is absurd in the maids of honour. Looking into a Brobdingnagian mirror, Gulliver feels ridiculous (p.107). Looking at his reflection in Houyhnhnmland, he is horrified (p.278). Each response implies the other. These materials are managed most deftly in the Voyage to Lilliput, and with growing clumsiness in the later voyages-Part Four being heavy-handed in its didacticism and Part Three using filth and body functions in the most elementary manner.
 We must look at Lilliput to see Swift’s finest talent for comedy. Here, when Gulliver wakes up, he suffers pains of several kinds. His body is immobilized and tied down. At the same time, the cause of his pain and imprisonment appears as a race of contemptibly small, doll-like creatures. [...] But the doll-like comedy soon gives way to something less refined, when Gulliver pisses:

I was able ... to ease myself with making water; which I very plentifully did, to the great astonishment of the people, who conjecturing by my motions what I was going to do, immediately opened to the right and left on that side, to avoid the torrent which fell with noise and violence from me. (p.25)

Insensibly, we had been led to connect Gulliver’s mere size with a kind of moral dignity. His pain, his imprisonment, his literally superior point of view, and of course his Englishness excited our respectful sympathy. The vivid, unexpected picture of his urinating suddenly ties us to him on a level we had buried. Embarrassment at the author’s indelicacy matches a humbler embarrassment over the exposure of our own coarseness (we too would have had to piss), producing Swift’s comedy of shameful truth.
  It would be a mistake to base Swift’s satirical comedy on literary allusion. Mainly the comedy revives those experiences of childhood, shared by us all, in which a natural shame mysteriously attaches itself to a normal process. A simpler example from the Voyage to Brobdingnag will clarify this analysis. At the end of Chapter Five, Gulliver recalls an attempt he made to display muscular agility:

There was a cow-dung in the path, and I must needs try my activity by attempting to leap over it. I took a run, but unfortunately jumped short, and found myself just in the middle up to my knees. I waded through with some difficulty, and one of the footmen wiped me as clean as he could with his handkerchief; for I was filthily bemired, and my nurse confined me to my box until we returned home; where the Queen was soon informed of what had passed, and the footmen spread it about the court; so that all the mirth, for some days, was at my expense. (p.124)

The comedy here sets Gulliver’s exhibitionist vanity against the coarseness of his humiliation. Pride goeth before a fall. If he had not foolishly aspired to show his vigour, there would be little humour in the accident. If he had been physically harmed, there would be still less. But the body is insulted and the spirit suffers.
  One might recall celebrated parallels in ancient epic: Ajax with dung in his mouth during the funeral games for Patroclus (Iliad 23. 773-7), Nisus prone in filthy manure during the funeral games for Anchises (Aeneid 5. 327-33). But Gulliver is not like Ajax, whose ambition seemed admirable to Homer, and whose fall is funny but not ironical.’ And Gulliver is even less like Nisus, whose ambition is yet more worthy and whose fall is pathetic.
  Swift’s farce gets its edge not from literary precedent but from the turn of his prose. In this passage the language does not underline the sense but cuts across it. A distinct opposition appears between the colourless tone of the plain narrative and the grossness of the material. It is a contrast supporting the moral opposition between false heroism and unheroic bathos; and it irradiates the honest, physical body imposing its truth on a self-deceiving imagination. Swift’s ability to call up the child’s ambivalence toward filth and to make it work for subtleties of style, marks him off from lesser satirists.
  So also the suffering of the body matters. When Gulliver, in Part One, receives an account of the Lilliputian court’s plan to do away with him, Swift endows the friendly reporter with an amazing style, in which the sympathy of the speaker is undercut by the coolness with which he tells of the murderous proposals. Through all the sinister assumptions of the informative but accomplished courtier, a physical reality looms-that Gulliver is to be first blinded and then starved to death. The tangible, carnal facts

five or six thousand of his majesty’s subjects might, in two or three days, cut your flesh from your bones, take it away by cartloads, and bury it in distant parts to prevent infection; leaving the skeleton as a monument of admiration to posterity (Davis xi. 7 1)

-these details overpower the ethical fallacies of the speaker. It is gruesome but hilarious that the good-natured courtier should assign the virtue of lenity or mercy to either of the two sides (in the division among the councillors) when the issue is whether Gulliver should be burned, poisoned, or blinded.
  The reader may if he wishes think of the Marian martyrs, of Samson, or of Hercules as parallel cases. We know that the description of Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians echoes the description by Philostratus of Hercules tied down by pygmies;’ and when Flimnap and Bolgolam want Gulliver’s servants to `strew poisonous juice on your shirts and sheets, which would soon make you tear your own flesh and die’ (p.69), we think of the shirt of Nessus. Yet these possibilities again must remain barely audible. Swift’s syntax, irony, and humour give the passage its brilliance. Any references to history or literature are secondary. Only because Gulliver did in the end escape without harm can the comic tone be maintained and the series of gruesome possibilities become merely a prologue to the farce of the recommendation made by Reldresal, a kind-hearted minister of state who tries to defend Gulliver

 That if his majesty, in consideration of your services, and pursuant to his own merciful disposition, would please to spare your life and give order to put out your eyes; he humbly conceived, that by this expedient, justice might in some measure be satisfied, and all the world would applaud the lenity of the emperor. (p.70)

 In the whole of Gulliver’s Travels there are few stretches of sustained, comic, ironic brilliance to equal the paragraphs from which I have chosen these specimens.’ It is such manipulations of tone, it is such thematic patterns, that give the book its deepest harmony.

VII: The Attack on the Reader
Few readers of Gulliver’s Travels come away from it feeling that the author has strengthened their devotion to Christianity. So it is fortunate that Swift’s real argument lies elsewhere. By locating it not in the soul but in the body, Swift can simply compare the account of human nature generally accepted with the data of experience. He can set our theory of morals beside our visible practice. If religion has failed to touch the hearts of men, perhaps they may be moved by elementary shame, by the sight of the abyss between the principles they themselves preach and the corruption of their lives. Merely on the grounds of enlightened self-interest they may then turn away from their deformities.
 This is why Swift chose a repetitive, narrative fantasy. In his story, the inventive form, the imaginative incidents, and not the doctrine, are what touch us first and draw us in. The social or political institutions we hear about come before us first as phenomena to be examined, not as teachings we must accept. They belong to a comic fantasy that may refer to us but that seems initially self-contained and no attack on our character. We begin as external spectators, privileged to criticize not only these remote and freakish people but the narrator himself.
 Inevitably, we go beyond acceptance and rejection; for soon, half-consciously, we set up our own ideals beside theirs. We are lured into competition with Gulliver, whose judgments often put us off.
 When the élaircissements come, therefore, we are caught with our guard down; for then we realize that the author is judging us as we judge his creatures; and treacherously we are tempted to share his point of view. At these moments we dimly realize that it does not matter whether we accept the Lilliputians’ high principles of law, government, and education (pp. 58-63), or the doctrines of the King of Brobdingnag, or those of the Houyhnhnms; for they do not represent eccentric novelties but ultimate possibilities, rational morality pressed all the way. In Swift’s design they stand for what the reader, rather than the middle-aged Dean of St Patrick’s, might accept as irreproachable (if unreachable) ideals. If we could re-cast them to shape the view of human possibility bequeathed to us by Goethe or Tolstoy, Swift’s final argument would still obtain: viz., that judged by whatever reasonable standard we may affect to approve, our lives must appear vile betrayals of our principles. [End sect.]
[For full-text version of this chapter, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, infra.]

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Arland Ussher: ‘It is my habit of my mind to think in symbols, and Swift seems to me very like the hinge or pivot on which the history of the British and Irish nations turns. When Swift came to Ireland with the fall of the Tory ministry, something even greater than he went out of England and entered into Ireland; I think it was the spirit of the old Latin and Christian England. Ireland had always been part of Christendom, but not until Swift had lived did she begin to be a part of Europe, consciously a nation, in the European sense in which France is a nation. England, on the other hand, had already been for two hundred years the Protestant, intensely [patriotic [island] that we know [...]‘ (‘Swift’, Special Supplement, The Irish Times, 30 Nov. 1967.)

Derek Mahon (Introduction to Jonathan Swift: Selected Poems, London: Sphere Books 1972): ‘[T]he young practitioner still aspired to some version of the sublime. The mature poet, the Swift we think we know, took no interest in the sublime except as an object of derision. [... &c.]. But if he was quick to recognise the ridiculous in the sublime, the idiotic in the heroic, he shared (and took seriously) the low-level anxiety of his time in regard to “chaos”, whose “dread empire” Pope evoked in The Dunciad. With Swift this was not only a cultural but a personal fear. Any lapse from a briskly rational standard, in sexual matters for instance, and Pandora’s box might turn into a temple of the winds.’ (p.12; quoted in Jefferson Holdridge, ‘Night-Rule: Decadence and Sublimity in Derek Mahon from The Yellow Book to the ‘Italian Poems’, in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan], XVII, 2002, p.52.)

Carole Fabricant, ‘In many ways, the depiction of the Yahoos, as Sir Chalres Firth notes, “recalls a description given by Swift, in prose pamphlets written about the same time, of the people whom he terms ‘the savage old Irish”’. More broadly, the yahoos embody characteristics tha Swift periodically observed in the Irish people as whole; slovenishness, squalor, and a certain kind of barbarity, paradoxically co-existing with an excessive submissiveness to authority […] not to mention their basic position as a servant class to a ruling elite, who seem to have established a kind of equestrian Ascendancy. […] The point to be stressed in all of this is the complex shifting perspectives explored in Gulliver’s fourth voyage are inextricably linked to a existing landscape and its actual inhabitants […] Swift’s personal travels through the more isolated regions of ireland gave him first-hand knowledge of the omnipresent squalor, visibly dramatised by the excremental realities, that characterised the Irish countryside. In Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels, the brutish, dung-filled world is largely treated with contempt; elsewhere, in Swift’s writings, this world is treated with alternating pity, anguish, and outrave against the external forces responsible for these condtions.’ (‘Central Features of Swift’s Landscape’, in Swift’s Lanscape, Notre Dame UP 1982, Vol. II, p.35.)

J. C. Beckett: ‘It is the common characteristic of all his political writings that they arose from immediate circumstances and dealt with questions to which he felt an answer must be found at once.’ (‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, in Claude Rawson, The Character of Swift’s Satire: A Revised Focus, Delaware UP; London: AUP 1983, p.166.) Further, ‘Swift the Irishman in England is aggressively conscious of his status as one of a ruling group, very insistent of the respect in which he felt he should be held. Swift, in Ireland can achieve the same end only by insisting on the status and rights of the country in which he is compelled, however unwillingly, to live.’ (In ‘Eighteenth Century Ireland 1690-1800’, in A New History of Ireland, ed. T. W. Moody & W. E. Vaughan, OUP 1986, IV, p.434.)

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Joseph McMinn, ‘Swift’s writings on Ireland are based on the belief that literature of this kind was a public sevice, vital to civil and social improvement of the state. They are, like most pamphlets, rehetorical exericises in the art of persuasion, polemical and function, their purpose is to change influential a ttitudes on issued of national importance, so that Ireland will [be] saner and more civilised for its people.’ Swift’s Irish Pamphlets: An Introductory Selection, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, p.13.) ‘[Swift’s pamphlets] represent a defence of Protestantism interest in Ireland. They consistently, though regretfully, raise the legal and constitutional rights of what Swift saw as a supremely loyal but unjustly treated part of his majesty’s kingdom.’ (Ibid., p.14; the foregoing quoted in Gavin Brown, MA Course Essay, UUC 2002.)

Joseph McMinn, ‘Swift was by no means alone during this whole period frm 1720 onwards, in drawing attentoin to the miserable state of Ireland. On matters of trade and coinage and agriculture and absentee landlords there was a steady flow of often well0written and well-argued papaers, form some of which he was not unwiling to borrow information.’ (In Jonathan’s Travels: Swift and Ireland, Belfast: Appletree Press, 1994, p.95.)

Kathleen Williams, Jonathan Swift (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1968): of A Modest Proposal: ‘Current econonic theory, in Swift’s time, was based on the aphorism that a country’s riches consisted in its people, and that the population should, accordingly, be kept up and increased. But in Ireland, the people can only contribute to their country’s resources by dying [...].’ (p.57.) Further: ‘The ironical presentation, though a persona, of an unacceptable point of view shows up more sharply than a straighforward denunciation could do the intellectual fallacies and moral inadequacies involved in the treatment of the Irish, or the acceptance of religion as a social convenience, and it engages our feelings more strongly.’ (p.105; both quoted in Saskia Ternien, UG Paper, UUC 2003.)

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism [rev. edn.] (London: Verso 1991): ‘The growth of what might be called “comparative history” led in time to the hitherto unheard-of conception of a “modernity” explicitly juxtaposed to “antiquity”, and by no means necessarily to the latter’s advantage. The issue was fiercely joined in the “Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns” which dominated French intellectual life in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. To quote Auerbach again, ‘Under Louis XIV the French had the courage to consider their own [68] culture a valid model on a par with that of the ancients, and they imposed this view on the rest of Europe.” / In the course of the sixteenth century, Europe’s “discovery” of grandiose civilisations hitherto only dimly rumoured - in China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent - or completely unknown - Aztec, Mexico and Incan Peru - suggested an irremediable human pluralism. Most of these civilisations had developed quite separate from the known history of Europe, Christendom, Antiquity, indeed man: their genealogies lay outside of and were unassimilable to Eden. (Only homogeneous, empty time would offer them accommodation.) The impact of the “discoveries” can be gauged by the peculiar geographies of the imaginary politics of the age. More’s Utopia, which appeared in 1516, purported to be the account of a sailor, encountered by the author in Antwerp, who had participated in Amerigo Vespucci’s 1497-1498 expedition to the Americas. Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1626) was perhaps new above all because it was situated in the Pacific Ocean. Swift’s magnificent Island of the Hoyhnhnms (1726) came with a bogus map of its South Atlantic location. (The meaning of these settings may be clearer if one considers how unimaginable it would be to place Plato’s Republic on any map, sham or ideal.) All these tongue-in-cheek utopias, “modelled” on real discoveries, are depicted, not as lost Edens, but as contemporary societies. One could argue that they had to be, since they were composed of criticisms of contemporary societies, and the discoveries had ended the necessity for seeking models in a vanished antiquity. In the wake of the utopians came the luminaries of the Enlightenment, Vico, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau, who increasingly exploited a “real” non-Europe for a barrage of subversive writings [Persian Letters] directed against current European social and political institutions. In effect, it became possible to thing of Europe as only [69] one among many civilisations, and not necessarily the Chosen or the best. / In due course, discovery and conquest also caused a revolution in European ideas about language […]’ (pp.68-70.) [Note that Swift engaged in both battles of the ancients and the moderns - coming down on the side of the ancients - and in imaginary geographies of the contemporary-exotic.)’

Joseph Leerssen writes of ‘Hugh MacGauran, a rumbustious poet whose poem “Pléaráca na Ruarcach” was the first to gain literary fame in English translation at none other than Swift’s hand, using a rollicking tetrameter, “O’Rourke’s noble fare will ne’er be forgot, / By those who were there and those who were not.”’ (See Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, Amsterdam 1986, pp.371-72.)

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R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 1988), speaks of Ascendancy attitudes [as quoted under Foster, supra] and adds: ‘These are the attitudes most memorably expressed in Swift’s campaigning pamphlets against the import of English manufactures (1720), and subsequently against the royal grant of a minting patent for halfpence to William Wood. This action was seen not only as debasing the Irish currency unnecessarily, but as doing it over the heads of the Irish Privy Council: hence Swift’s deduction that “government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery”, though public agitation concentrated more on the injustice of being palmed off yet again with “brass money”. / In fact, Ireland did need more coin - if not halfpence - and Wood’s money was up to mint standards. But the argument against “tyranny”, which Swift later built into Gulliver’s third voyage as the rebellion of the Lindalinians, is important in that it was couched in terms of an appeal to natural as well as historical rights; principle was asserted rather than precedent. And this raised two implicit difficulties. One was that the argument from principle implied inclusiveness of all Irishmen, however much the theoreticians of colonial nationalism might strain at it. The other difficulty lay in questioning the royal [173] prerogative to issue such a patent; for since the days of Patrick Darcy, royal prerogative was the ultimate basis of the colonists’ argument that the Irish parliament had dual status with Westminster. These troublesome implications helped to keep economic criticisms as the front-line of the argument against Wood’s patent; but the larger issues galvanised public opinion, to the extent that the patent was withdrawn, and the whole venture ignominiously scrapped.’ (pp.173-74.)

Pat Rogers, review of James Woolley, ed. The Intelligencer [by Swift and Sheridan] (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1991 ), 363pp., in Times Literary Supplement, 17 July 1992: ‘Though ostensibly the subject of the journal is Dublin matters, Swift’s mind wanders to English topics, showing a frequent influence from Pope’s gallery of villains in the first Dunciad. The Intelligencer is full of the life of Dublin streets, and the present ed., unlike Williams and Davis, has been able to draw on the resurgent Irish historiography [making] the first ever edition of a Swiftian text set squarely in its Irish context, and incidentally the most satisfactory version of any text by Swift which has yet come before us.’ [For further, see under Thomas Sheridan, supra].

Andrew Carpenter , prefatory remarks to Tale of a Tub (1704), in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Derry 1991, Vol. I: ‘The book is really in two parts which run concurrently, the tale proper and digressions, the later, with the lengthy introductions and prefaces, take up much more than half the book and are, in themselves, satiric comments on the distortions of learnng so clearly found in books put together by hacks. This distortions of the world of religion - the other main subject of the satire - are highlighted in the story itself. This is an allegory in which a father (God) leaves his three sons, Peter (the Roman catholic church), Martin (The anglican or established protestant church) and Jack (the non-conformist churches, particularly the presbyterian church), his will (the Bible); the abberations of the catholic church are seem in Peter’s behaviour, those of the presbyterians in that of Jack. Martin, the middle son (representing the church nearest to Swift’s own ideal) distorts his father’s will less than the other two brothers. Story and digressions are interwoven and often inseparable.’ (p.330.) Also quotes Swift: ‘Good God! what a genius I had when I wrote that book.’ (Idem.)

Robert Welch: ‘Horror enters Swift’s writing, and the grim heartless, icy Irish humour that often seeks to contain it, in A Modest Proposal (1729), the pamphlet which advances, in po-faced solemnity, the economic advantages of breeding children as food, rather than having to feed them. This would solve Irish poverty, control population growth, and inculcate the virtues of planning and skilful management of human resources. English indifference and casual arrogance are compounding for themselves, he fears, a wicked alliance against the best interests of peace and solid order, exactly the anxieties later pressing upon Burke in the 1790s.’ (‘Irish writing in English’, in Introduction English Studies, ed. Richard Bradford, London: Pearson Educ. 1996, pp.657-70.)

Terry Eagleton, review of Victoria Glendinning, Jonathan Swift (1998), writes scathingly about her statement that Swift is ethical ‘true north’, rejoining: ‘[Swift] was a fanatical High Churchman who believed firmly in the suppression of Catholics and dissenters, and despite his strategic, self-interested shifts between Whigs and Tories, preached a fairly unremarkable brand of conservatism. It was out of that benighted, rather brutal philosophy that he conjured some of the most deviously aggressive literature in English.’ (Guardian Weekly, Books Section [during] Sept. 1998).

Eileen Battersby, revew of Victoria Glendinning, Jonathan Swift (Pimlico), in The Irish Times [15 Jan. 2000): ‘Overly personal, rather jolly account ... Glendinning’s chummy tone and slangy prose irritate, as does her random approach to the man and the social history of the world he inhabited ... endless asides, obtrusive conversational tone, speculative theorising about Swift’s paternity and Stella’s - “You don’t have to believe the incest story. I had much rather you did not” - about his sexuality, obsessive cleanliness, &c., and her smug beliefe that she understands the Irish as well as the British and vice versa [sic], are a trouble to the reader.’

James Kelly: ‘Jonathan Swift well captured the feelings of rejection in his allegory of “the injured lady” (Ireland) who had been taken advatage of and ruined by a suitor (England) only to be forsaken for another (Scotland). In truth, Irish protestants did not have strong grounds for feeling aggrieved since they perceived a legislative union as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Their primary object was to secure the same commercial and constitutional rights as Englishmen; when this was not forthcoming, they reverted easily to their more familar strategy of asserting their rights, as subjects possessed of a separate kingdom.’ ( ‘the Act of Union: Its Origin and Background’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.53; citing Swift, Prose Writings, ed., H. Davis, Vol. IX, Oxford 1968, pp.3-9.)

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Declan Kiberd, ‘Home and Away: Gulliver’s Travels’, in Irish Classics, London: Granta 2000), writes that Swift appealed in his Drapier’s Letters to a ‘very Protestant notion of contract; Ireland no more dependent on England than England on Ireland, for both were sovereign kingdoms subject not to the parliament of London but to the crown.’ (p.84; quoted in Paul Murray, MA Essay, UUC 2002.) Kiberd compares Swift’s air of social superiority to Mr Wood with the Gaelic poets’ attitude towards the incoming English settlers. Of Gulliver’s Travels: ‘That Swift doesn’t want us to endorse Gulliver’s misanthropy at the end is clear enough […]The text in the reader’s hand has often put other texts in question and is now somewhat undercut by the discovery thta its author, if no longer mad, is certainly a grumpy old man. If this subverts some of the more superficial satire offered by Gulliver, that is so that an even more radical kind of mockery can now do its work. The consequence is that the reader is asked to supply some sort of mental qualification to the more extreme judgements made by Gulliver all through. In other words, the subversion of textual authority auctually works to a moderating effect. Here agaain is an example of Swift’s formal innovation producing rather traditional results. Gulliver’s Travels pleads to be not just read, but reread. Its ironies and doublings work to make an increasingly vigilant reader supply a countervailing or opposing thought. / The deepest irony is this: that Gulliver has tried to transcend the code of his birth only to discover that it and it alone is the instrument by which anything else can be known at all. What is profoundest in life is reached when the dreamer or theorist or traveller is reaching [102] honestly back towards reality [here quotes from the Examiner on utopianism and realism, as supra]. The two impulses were at work in Gulliver’s Travels: the anarchist employment of other codes with which the criticise one’s own, and then the final, weary acceptance of the established order.’ (pp.102-03.)

Declan Kiberd (‘Home and Away: Gulliver’s Travels’, 2000) - cont.: ‘Never again […] would a major artist offer quite such an extreme dichotomy btween the surface composure of his utterance and the violent rages that tore at the subtext beneath. To find an analogy for that, one would have to turn back to the Gaelic poetry of Ó Rathaille and Ó Bruadair, artist who faced identical technical problems. The classical ideals they had inherited from the filí could [103] no longer be embodied or even described in contemporary social terms: they could only be inferred by a savage irony of indirection as existing in a purely imaginary world. Their ultimate ploy in their greatest poems was to employ satire and then to discredit the norms that gave it meaning but patently could not sustain the values off which it fed. They were, quite bluntly, engraged with the ancients for not surviving in better shape […] (p.103-04.) ‘The Dean is described [by Ehrenpreis] as brave in conscience but timid by instinct, with the result that his most daring ideas were often published discreetly in some distant place. His traditional piety screened, or was screened by, an unconventional personality; and his deceptively simple language was used to convey astoundingly complex thought. [...; 106] Swift’s signed writings can seem official and predictable, while his pseudonymous productions remain open and performative: yet there is a continuity, for the use of masks permits him to explore extremes without succombing to extremism, to be balanced without being boring. He wrote better when he didn’t try to express himself […].’ (pp.106-07.)

Thomas Keymer, review of Claude Rawson, Barbarism and the European Imagination (Oxford: OUP 2001), in Times Literary Supplement (19 Oct. 2001) Rawson prominently cites A Proposal for Giving Badges to the Beggars in all the Parishes of Dublin’ by ‘the Dean of St. Patrick’s [Swift], usually excluding from teaching editions of Swift but on a par with The Modest Proposal (and written eight years after). Keymer quotes Rawson: ‘The style has given no indication of its potential nastiness. Swift means the phrase [‘dropped from its Dam’] to erupt in all its cruel violence, yet is formally spoken by the Proposer and we are not to suppose him to be a violent and unkind man.’ Keymer writes: ‘it is in this awkward, conflicted, alarming space between proposal and disavowal that Rawson’s account of European visions of barbarism from the conquest of the Americas to the ending of the Holocaust ambitiously, and magisterially, dwells.’ Further, ‘[a] volatile combination of “meaning it” and “not meaning it” typifies the compendious range of texts that Rawson assembles […].’ (TLS, p.12.)

Claude Rawson, ‘Our Friend is not Well’, in Times Literary Supplement (29 Nov. 2002), is a scathing review of David Woolley, ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, Vol. 2: “Letters 1714-1726” (Peter Lang), in which he charges that the commentary fails to give information ‘in an intelligible and user-friendly way’ and ‘has not been designed to save you trouble’, with further charges that the ‘frenetic cross-referencing’ method leads from notes that do not ‘tell you’ to others that ‘usually don’t tell you either’ such simple matters as the significance of coffee in Swift’s correspondence with Vanessa; quotes, e.g., ‘The earlier literal signification [of coffee] was displaced by a symbolic secondary one which he [Swift] obliquely defines more than once, suggesting, when taken together, the concept or idea of their actual encounters.’

Kevin Kiely, review of Cadenus and Swift’s Most Valuable Friend, in Books Ireland (May 2004), p.114: ‘Le Brocquy supported Denis Johnston’s In Search of Swift (1959) concerning the patrimony of Swift and Stella; he had uncovered facts making Stella the niece of Swift - and thus legally unable to marry him. Carpenter is somewhat sympathetic to the literary detection of Le Brocquy and Johnston who produced work ‘of different standards from those of a university press”. / Vanessa, one of the two great loves of Swift’s life, was a solicitor when they met in London in 1711. They got engaged when he was forty-four, she twenty-three. Their romance set in London and Dublin reads like a slim novelette of the eighteenth century, with duplicity on Swift’s part as he flirts with Vanessa and constantly writes to Stella back in Dublin. When he and Vanessa are settled in Dublin (at different locations) he continues both relationships. / “’I will see you in a day or two, and believe me, it goes to my soul not to see you oftener” (Swift to Vanessa). There are quarrels about Stella: “I have suffered since I saw you last; those killing, killing words of yours” (Vanessa to Swift). Swift refers to her “huffs” and bad moods. She addresses him as “Cad”, referring to his poem “Cadenus and Vanessa”. The letters have appropriate blanks and many secret phrases that remain coded to this day. Swift’s paranoia about Dublin gossip was pervasive; hence the scanty reference to the boy. The relationship with Vanessa lasted over seventeen years. / The dramatic ending occurred with Vanessa’s letter to either Stella or Swift (no scholar knows for certain), asking if they were married. Swift came to reply in person; this precipitated an argument, after which the Dean departed from Vanessa’s life forever. She died soon after. Swift’s own words on the occasion, as he fled from Dublin for a brief respite to the countryside, are preserved: “nothing more unqualifies a man to act with prudence than a misfortune that is attended with shame and guilt.” the boy was left to Stella’s guardianship and died eight years later, aged nineteen.’ (See further under Sybil le Brocquy, supra.)


Terry Eagleton, An Introduction to the Novel (Oxford: Wiley Blackstaff 2005) - Chap. 2: Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift:

There is an interesting ambiguity in Swift’s presentation of the bestial, shit-smeared Yahoos. Are they meant to be an image of humanity in general, or of ‘primitive’ peoples in particular? There is evidence, for example, to suggest that the Anglo-Irish Swift saw the colonized people of Ireland as Yahoos. The Yahoos reflect among other things an Anglo-Irish fear and hatred of those they oppress. ‘Yahoo’, then, may mean all people or just some people, just as it may signify a human condition but also a way of perceiving that condition. And this leads to some interesting political ambiguities. If ‘primitive’ peoples like the Irish or South Sea islanders really are Yahoos, then this would seem to justify a smack of firm colonial government. But if Yahoos are humanity at large, then the colonial governors are (metaphorically speaking) bestial and shit-smeared too, which undercuts their right to rule. Colonialism then becomes a matter of a bunch of hypocritical savages lording it over a bunch of non-hypocritical ones. On this theory, the masters are as worthless as the natives - an opinion which, as in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, undermines colonialism (what right have they then to rule?) but also confirms some of its prejudices (the natives really are worthless). / This ambiguity reflects something of Swift’s own double-edged relations to colonialism. As a member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, he was, so to speak, colonized and colonialist at the same time. He was in the ironic position of belonging to a sidelined governing class - a body of Anglo-Irishmen who ruled over the common people of Ireland, but who felt shabbily treated by the British on whose behalf they governed. Swift played a key role in the British colonial state: at one stage he was the Tories’ chief propagandist, and helped to draft the monarch’s speeches to parliament. But there were also certain questions on which he spoke up eloquently for the Irish people against their British overlords. He was caught between the coffee houses of Westminster and the starving weavers on his Dublin doorstep, rather as Gulliver is caught between Houyhnhnms and Yahoos. If he did not consider himself an Irishman/Yahoo, the British/Houyhnhnms sometimes did. / Swift the Yahoo can be heard loud and clear at the end of Gulliver’s Travels, ventriloquized in Gulliver’s magnificent tirade against imperialism [quotes]:

The colonial adventurers go on shore to rob and plunder; they see an harmless people, are entertained with kindness, they give the country a new name, they take formal possession of it for the king, they set up a rotten plank or a stone for a memorial, they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force for a sample, return home, and get their pardon. Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed, their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free licence given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people.

If such a passage were to crop up in Defoe, indeed in many an English author, one might anticipate an immediate disclaimer: the British don’t do that kind of thing. We are speaking of the Belgians, Spanish, French or Portuguese. Swift does indeed instantly append such a disclaimer, but it is wholly ironic: ‘But this description, I confess, doth by no means affect the British nation, who may be an example to the whole world for their wisdom, care, and justice in planting colonies; their liberal endowments for the advancement of religion and learning ...’. It is because Swift is Irish, conscious of the muddle, prejudice, nepotism, brutality and crass inefficiency of the British administration at Dublin Castle, that he is saved from the customary double-think.


Swift’s satirical technique is quite often to play off a powerless ideal against an intolerable reality. The ideal is so distant from reality that it allows us to take the measure of just how desperate things are. But it is also a contrast with its own perfection which helps to make our world look so dire. We need our visions to remind us of how imperfect our actuality is; but if we did not entertain such exacting ideals, we might not find our actuality as insufferable as we do. The ideal is remote enough to show up the gravity of our situation, but for just the same reason it is incapable of repairing it. To avoid being gulled by ideals, we need to cut them satirically down to size. The grandiose dreams of Reason, as we have seen, need to be confronted with the blunt fact of the body, with its unlovely habits and appetites. But this may leave us with such a fearfully hacked-down image of the human that we will need instantly to appeal to Reason to amplify it. Perhaps this constant dialectical see-saw, trimming our sails one way and now another, is the closest we can now come to a life of virtue.

This, in effect, is the trap which Gulliver’s Travels springs. As with A Modest Proposal, the pamphlet in which Swift calmly advocates roasting and eating babies as a solution to Ireland’s economic woes, there is no way out of this lethal logic as long as one accepts the terms which it sets up. Perhaps it is only by rejecting the very terms which the work offers us that we can break out of its closed ideological circuit; and perhaps this is part of what Swift’s writing is encouraging us to do.’ (Personal copy; BS.)

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James Ward, ‘Bodies for Sale: Marketing a Modest Proposal’, in Irish Studies Review, 15, 3 (August 2007): ‘A major achievement of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (1729) lies in its finding a use for a previously unmarketable product. “I Am assured by our Merchants that a Boy or a Girl before twelve Years old, is no saleable Commodity”, says the Proposer, before going on to offer an ingenious solution to this lack of commercial viability. But the Proposal does more than solve a salesman’s dilemma. When it recommends that poor children be butchered and sold to “Persons of Quality and Fortune”, Swift’s text exhumes the dead metaphor buried within the idea of consumption and extends it into an allegorical representation of Irish society. As a product of that society, however, Swift’s pamphlet was subject to the processes it sought to indict. By exploring how one Dublin merchant handled the eminently saleable commodity that was A Modest Proposal, this essay shows that Swift’s text was itself commodified. A close look at this process will help answer a question recently posed by S. J. Connolly, who asks whether Swift should be seen ‘as analyst or as representative type’ - as a commentator on Irish society in his day, or as a product of that society. (‘Swift and Protestant Ireland: Images and Reality’, in Locating Swift: Essays from Dublin on the 250th Anniversary of the Death of Jonathan Swift 1667-1745, ed. Aileen Douglas, Patrick Kelly & Ian Campbell Ross, Four Courts Press 1998, pp.28-46.) This essay responds with the suggestion that the Proposal is very much a product in the literal sense. The text may set Swift up as an outsider offering a horrified commentary on an insanely acquisitive culture, but as a saleable product the Proposal cannot help but participate in the cult of commodity fetishism it satirises.’ [cont.]

James Ward (‘Bodies for Sale: Marketing a Modest Proposal’, 2007) - cont.: ‘By pointing to the ubiquity of consumption as process and metaphor in eighteenth-century Ireland, several commentators have to date questioned the claim of Swift’s text to unique insight, and suggested that it can be accommodated within larger discourses of consumption in literary and political history. Martyn Powell, Robert Mahony and Claude Rawson have all in different ways contributed to a questioning of Swift’s status as a privileged observer of his society. Powell asserts that despite its exceptionaiism, “Swift’s Modest Proposal was not an aberration - this cannibalistic strain runs through eighteenth-century Irish literature when dealing with the relationship between imperial metropolis and colony.” (Politics of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, London: Macmillan/Palgrave 2005, p.38.) Mahony adds relationships of dependency to those of consumption and shows howbthese extend back through the seventeenth century, while Rawson, having identified visions of industrial-scale murder and cannibalism as a recurring theme in Anglo-lrish literature, goes on to locate Swift in relation to European discourses of barbarism and cannibalism from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. (Mahony, ‘Protestant Dependence and Consumption in Swift’s Irish Writings’, in S. J. Connolly, ed., Political Thought in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Four Courts Press 2000; Rawson, God, Gulliver and Genicide: Barbarism and the European Imagination, 1492-1945, OUP 2007.) These more expansive and inclusive views have usefully challenged a critical tradition which tended to privilege Swift as having unrivalled insight, and which read A Modest Proposal as its ultimate expression his ‘last word on the state of Ireland’, in Davis’s phrase. My own concern is to complement such long-range perspectives with an intense focus on the days and weeks surrounding the Proposal’s publication, and through a study of this historical moment to relocate Swift’s text within a specifically commercial discourse. Showing how even a satire so biting as A Modest Proposal could be peddled to the polite world in full knowledge of its ironic premise, I will argue that the consumer society of early eighteenth-century Ireland could accommodate popular protest as well as consensus. But I also wish to expose the limited force of such protest. […].’ (See further the advertisement for Modest Proposal issued by Richard Dickson, under Notes, infra.) [Cont.]

James Ward (‘Bodies for Sale: Marketing a Modest Proposal’, 2007), cont.: ‘[…] Swift may be remembered as one who lampooned projectors, but he was known in his day for earnest proposals as well as modest ones. In this respect he was only one among many who proposed serious plans for reducing the national debt or increasing the amount of small change in circulation, or devised ways to account for the origin of loughs and bogs while proposing to drain those bogs and build canals through them. A sample of tracts published on such subjects in the same year as Swift’s Proposal might include James Maculla’s A New Scheme Proposed to the People of Ireland for Increasing the Cash of this Kingdom by Making Promissory Notes of Copper (and Swift’s unpublished reply, A Letter on Maculla’s Project about Halfpence and a new one Proposed), David Bindon’s A Scheme for supplying Industrious Men with Money to carry on their Trades and a tract signed “Patrophilus” entitled Considerations on the Act for Encouraging In-Land Navigation in Ireland. Later in this essay I will go on to discuss a proposal by John Browne which combined several of these concerns, and which also happened to be advertised alongside Swift’s more famous satiric pamphlet. For now it can be observed that, like their comic counterparts, these Proposers do not observe any sharp distinction between human and material resources, and while they place an earnest emphasis on the benefits that will arise to the public from the implementation of their chosen schemes, they also mount an appeal to the venal or selfish interests of their readers. A Modest Proposal obeys this generic convention by appealing simultaneously to polite pretensions and good intentions. Its unique selling point is an ability to combine patriotic frugality with fashionable excess. Such a conflation is often achieved within the space of a single sentence, as when Swift’s text announces that roast baby will be “introduced to the Tables of all Gentlemen of Fortune in the Kingdom, who have any refinement in Taste”. Challenged to exhibit a minimum of refinement, these gentlemen are then assured that they are adding to the amount of cash in circulation and that their “Money will circulate among ourselves, the Goods being entirely of our own Manufacture”. Swift’s speaker offers such advantages lightly, and his remarks on this score are customarily taken as little more than the stylistic flourishes of a master-parodist. But the topicality of such remarks in the autumn of 1729 should not be underestimated Swift is alluding to the desperate shortage of money in the kingdom and the equally pressing question of how to address this shortage whilst continuing to demonstrate one’s refinement in taste.’ (p.288.)

See also ...

James Ward, ‘Reading Swift and Ireland, 1720-1729: Constituencies, Contexts and Constructions of Identity in Jonathan Swift’s Occasional Writings of the 1720s’ [PhD] (Leeds Univ. 2004) - Abstract:

The 1720s was a decade of crisis in Ireland. Jonathan Swift’s occasional writings from these years extend the country’s political and economic crises into dramas of personal and national identity. Part One of this thesis investigates the material conditions of the relationship between Swift, his Irish audience, and the underlying problems of identity that such an audience simultaneously poses and occludes. Part Two is an anatomy of the literary modes through which that relationship is figured.
 The first chapter offers the 1720 Declaratory Act as an important subtext for Swift’s “inaugural' work of the decade, the 1720 Proposal for the Universal Use of1rish Manufacture. Challenging retrospective constructions of the author’s textual and political authority, the chapter examines how Swift the “Hibernian patriot' was largely an invention of the crisis surrounding the act. Chapter Two argues that The Drapier’s Letters reconfigure the language that had been used in the past to depict the Catholic threat to Protestant Ireland, and use it to depict the threat emerging from England.
  Part Two moves to the question of identity, which Chapter Three designates a kind of “style', both a mode of expression and a trend in polite society. The writing of history and the social signification of language are the main concerns of this chapter, which investigates how Irish historiography becomes the focus for a range of concerns in the 1720s. Chapter Four nominates the pastoral genre as an alternative vehicle for the reading and writing of history in Swift’s Ireland. It identifies a Virgilian dialectic of expropriation and protection by a patron as an important method of “reading' oneself into history and identity. Looking at various manifestations of crisis in Ireland in 1729 - famine, fuel shortages and emigration, the final chapter argues that A Modest Proposal uses techniques of allegory to produce a crisis of interpretation. By promoting and perpetuating misreading, it mirrors the pervasive climate of error that produced this text.
 As a whole the thesis documents three transitions. It traces the emergence of a parodic method of literary and political representation which eventually overwhelms any claims Swift’s writing might once have made to positive [iv] advocacy. Once considered the dominant and definitive voice of 1720s Ireland, Swift is re-appraised as one writer among many, and his writing as a product of his society rather than an authoritative comment on it. Finally, the Presbyterians of Ireland are shown to emerge by the end of the decade as the primary focus for the anxieties and aggressions that animate Swift’s occasional writings. (pp.iv-v.)


In a 1727 poem, Jonathan Swift calls Ireland 'the land I hate' (1 'Holyhead. September 25 1727). ' With only a little work, hatred can be made to define Swift's relationship with the land of his birth. The fact of his nativity was misery enough - on his birthday every year he would recite a passage from the Book of Job which begins 'Let the day perish wherein I was born' - and such grief could only be compounded by its location. 2 That he had been born in Ireland was sometimes an embarrassment to be denied, sometimes a technicality to be contested and sometimes a stigma to be grudgingly borne. To English friends Swift claimed to be of English birth; when a correspondent referred to Ireland as his native country, he replied that he only 'happened [ ... ] by a perfect Accident' to have been bom there. This unfortunate circumstance made him a 'Teague, [or] an Irishman, or what People please'. 3 Nonetheless, he maintained, 'the best Part of my Life was in England'. The word 'best' is here used with characteristic ambiguity by a writer whose famously plain style is never as transparent as it seems. Whether he meant to say that he had spent the majority of his years in England, or merely the ones that to him seemed most worthwhile, it is not difficult to construct a reading in which Swift's hatred for Ireland comes to inflect - if not to infect - nearly everything he wrote. (p.1.)

—Available as pdf - online.

James McLaverty, ‘The Failure of the Swift-Pope Miscellanies (1727-32) and The Life and Genuine Character of Doctor Swift (1733)’, in Reading Swift: Papers from The Fifth Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, ed. Herman J. Real (Brill 2008), pp.131-48 - Abstract: ‘The four volumes of Swift-Pope Miscellanies (1727–1732) were designed by Pope to show the two writers “like friends, side by side ... walking down hand in hand to posterity,” but his editing of these collections created disappointment and resentment. In an enterprise that always took second place to his own plans for the Dunciad (1729) and Works II (1735), he published a wide range of Swift’s best work while withholding his own. He rejected opportunities for the two writers to pay tribute to one another, and allowed himself and the London booksellers, Gilliver and Motte, to become rivals for copy with Swift’s trusted Dublin bookseller, George Faulkner, and his protégé, Matthew Pilkington. These entanglements are the necessary context for understanding Swift’s assent to a Dublin edition of his Works and for interpreting the Life and Genuine Character of Dr Swift, which, at least in part, constitutes Swift’s infuriated response to Pope’s neglect of the responsibilities of literary friendship." (p.131 - available online; accessed 18.04.2024.)

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