English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

Jonathan Swift

JONATHAN SWIFT (1667–1745), one of the greatest of English satirists, was born in Dublin and educated for the church at Trinity College in the same city. At the age of twenty-two he became secretary to Sir William Temple, to whom he was related, and whose works he edited. During his residence with Temple he wrote his “Tale of a Tub” and the “Battle of the Books”; and on Temple’s death he returned to Ireland, where he held several livings. During his secretaryship he had gained a knowledge of English politics, and in 1710 he left the Whig party and went over to the Tories, becoming their ablest pen at a time when pamphleteering was an important means of influencing politics. He was appointed Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, by Queen Anne in 1713, and on the fall of the Tories he retired to Ireland. He continued to write voluminously on political, literary, and ecclesiastical topics, his best known work, “Gulliver’s Travels,” being a political allegory. Several years before his death his brain became diseased, and he suffered terribly till his mind was almost totally eclipsed.

A fuller account of Swift’s life and an estimate of his character will be found in the essay by Thackeray in another volume of the Harvard Classics.

In the first three of Swift’s writings here printed will be found good examples of his treatment of social and literary questions. The ironical humor running through these essays frequently became, when he dealt with subjects on which he felt keenly, incredibly savage and at times extremely coarse; but for the power of his invective and the effectiveness of his sarcasm there is hardly a parallel in the language. The fourth paper deals with the death of Esther Johnson, the “Stella” of his Journal, whom he had known from the days when he lived with Temple, and to whom it has been supposed that he was married.