Thursday, October 10, 2013

Biography of Swift

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667.  His father died shortly before he was born and his mother chose to return to England, where she was from.  He was given over to his uncle to be cared for.  He attended school in Dublin and received a B.A. from Trinity College.  While working on his master's degree, he was forced back to England during the 'Glorious Revolution'.  His mother got him a position with Sir William Temple, a diplomat of some importance.
Swift bounced back and forth a bit from Temple's employ to Ireland.  In 1694 he became an ordained priest and was assigned to a parish in a small remote part of County Antrim, Ireland.  While there he apparently had some sort of romantic encounter with a woman named Jane Waring.  This didn't go well and in 1696 he returned to Temple.  While there he wrote his famous 'Battle of the Books'.
Temple died in 1699 and Swift was at odds for some time.  He pursued various positions, including a secretary spot with then King William.  Nothing worked and he ended up with a very small congregation some twenty miles outside of Dublin.  While there he traveled back to London from time to time and published an anonymous political pamplet.  In the following years he published some other work, 'The Tale of the Tub' and the 'Battle of the Books'.
Swift's skill as a writer began to get attention and he became friends with Alexander Pope and others.  He also became more politically active.  He became a promiment Tory.  Swift also made enemies.  Of note, he angered Queen Anne by publicly noting which women of her bedchamber she could trust and whom she could not(!).
When the Whigs came back into power, Swift moved again to Ireland.  He continued to write, and in 1729 published the wonderful 'Modest Proposal'.  While there he tangled with the Irish judiciary.  He was obviously not a man who feared a fight, or at least he didn't know how to stay out of one.
Around this time he wrote 'Gulliver's Travels'.  It was published anonymously, but Swift was well known as the author.  It sold and sold and sold and was quickly translated into French and German.  It was even pirated back into Ireland.
Some time in the 1730's, it appears that Swift became insane.  His friends were worried that he would hurt himself.  He was declared not to be of 'sound mind and body' and in 1741 he had a guardian appointed.  In 1742 he suffered a stroke, causing great swelling to his left eye.  He didn't speak for a year.  He finally died in 1745.  Years before he had composed an epitaph in Latin.  W.B. Yeats translated it like this:
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.

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