The foremost prose satirist in the English language, Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667, and there graduated from Trinity College. The Swift family was English, but had been in Ireland since the Civil Wars.
In 1688 the writer travelled to England. Here he was ppointed secretary to Sir Willaim Temple,an English statesman famous for his culture, and had the opportunity to be acquainted with aristocratic and political circles. In 1694 Swift left Temple and went to Ireland where he was ordained an Anglican priest, but he soon returned to work with Temple. When Sir William died Swift had difficulty in finding employment, so he returned to Ireland, but made frequent visits to London. 1704 saw the publication of the famous Tale of a Tub, a powerful pamphlet satirising the Church and modern learning.
Despite his Royalist family background Swift had Whig sympathies, and counted Steels and Addison among his friends. However, when he realised that the Whigs neglected the legislation he advocated, he joined the Tories and made close friends among them. He became acquainted with brilliant intellectuals like the poet Alexander Pope, the dramatist John Gay and the mathematician and writer Dr Arbuthnot, and together they formed the Scriblerus Club, an association of witty writers who satirised their contemporaries. It was in this period that he wrote for a Troy journal, The Examiner.
Queen Anne appointed him Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedreal in Dublin in 1713. In Ireland Swift was not indifferent to the endless sufferings of the Irish, and was indignant at England’s exploitation of the country. He responded to oppressive legislation with works like Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720) inviting the Irish to boycott English goods, and the famous and brilliant Drapier’s Letters, so called because they were signed M.B Drapier. The mysterious M.B Drapier protested against a new coinage designed for the Irish, which was believed to be not worth its value. These letters set Ireland aflame, and the project was dropped. Every effort was made to obtain evidence of Swift’s authorship, but in vain: all the Irish protected him.
In 1726 the publication of Travels into Remote Nations of the World, in four parts, by Lemuel Gulliver gave Swift lasting reputation. The book, generally known as Gulliver’s Travels, was published anonymously. It is a satire on courts, parties and statesmen. Particularly poignant in the descriptions of the Whiggish tiny people – the Lilliputians.
Grim humour marks his famous Modet Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from being Burden to their parents or the Country (1729). This work was another attack against the British for their injustices to the Irish. Swift spent the rest of his life in Ireland, where he died in 1745 and was buried in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.