Friendship Poems

Jonathan Swift Biography

Jonathan Swift is most remembered for works such as Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity and A Tale of a Tub. Swift, best known as the foremost prose satirist in the English language, is lesser known for his poetry. It is interesting to note that, early in his career, Swift published all of his works under pseudonyms such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M.B. Drapier or Anonymous.

Jonathan Swift, born at No. 7, Hoey’s Court, in Dublin, Ireland on November 30, 1667, was the second child, and only son, born to Jonathan Swift and wife Abigail Erick. His father was Irish born while his mother was English. Swift arrived seven months after his father’s untimely death. Many of the facts about Swift’s early life are obscure, confusing and sometimes contradictory. It is, however, widely believed that his mother returned to England when Jonathan was still very young, leaving him to be raised by his father’s family. His Uncle Godwin took primary responsibility for young Jonathan, sending him with one of his cousins to Kilkenny College.

Records show that in 1682 he attended Dublin University at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and received his B.A. in 1686. Swift was studying for his Master’s degree when political troubles in Ireland forced him to leave for England in 1688. His mother then helped him get a position as secretary and personal assistant to Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Farnham.

Swift left Temple’s employ in 1690 to return to Ireland, due in large part to his health, returning to Moor Park in 1670. The illness, known today as Menieres disease, described as fits of vertigo or giddiness, plagued Swift throughout his life. During this second stay with Temple, Swift received his M.A. from Hertford College, Oxford in 1692. Swift left Moor Park again, this time to become an ordained priest in the Established Church of England.

Isolated in a small, remote community known as Kilroot, far from the centers of power and influence, various reports indicate that Swift was apparently miserable in his new position. However, some experts have reason to believe that Swift may have become romantically entwined with Jane Waring while at Kilroot. A letter regarding the purported situation survived him; in it, he offers to remain if she would marry him and promises to leave and never return to Ireland if she refused. As Swift left his post and returned to England, and Temple’s service at Moor Park, in 1696 where he remained until Temple’s death, it is assumed that she refused.

On January 27, 1699, Temple died. After Temple’s death, Swift stayed remained in England briefly to complete the editing of Temple’s memoirs, and, perhaps, in the hope that recognition of his work might earn him a suitable position in England.

When a suitable position did not materialize, Swift returned to Ireland where he had a long string of affairs and a prolific writing career. While writing he also served as a chaplain to a congregation of about 15 people but had abundant leisure to tend to his hobbies and his writing. While he would visit England many times over the years, his writing was always based in Ireland in the place he truly considered home.

Much of his final writings were political in nature; this brought to light the fact that Swift knew he had more enemies than friends. In 1738, Swift began to show signs of serious illness and, in 1742, he appeared to have suffered a stroke, losing the ability to speak and realizing his worst fears of becoming mentally disabled. In order to protect him from unscrupulous hangers on, who had begun to prey on the great man, his closest companions took the step of having him declared of “unsound mind and memory.” In spite of that declaration, purportedly done for protective reasons, it was believed for many years that Swift really was insane at this point.

In 1742, he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which swelled to the size of an egg and five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye. In addition, he went an entire year without uttering a word.

On October 19, 1745, Swift died. After lying in repose so the people of Dublin could pay their last respects, he was buried in his own cathedral. The bulk of his fortune, twelve thousand pounds, was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill. Originally known as St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles when it opened in 1757, it still exists as a psychiatric hospital today.

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