Gulliver's Travels: Biography: Jonathan Swift
The satirist Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667, in Dublin, Ireland, the second child and only son of English immigrants, Jonathan Swift (a lawyer) and Abigail. He was born just seven months after his father's death. Little is known about Swift's early years, but it is believed that his mother returned to England when he was very young, leaving him to be raised by his father's family. His uncle took responsibility for the boy and sent him to Kilkenny Grammar School. At the age of fourteen he enrolled in Trinity College, Dublin, from which he received his B.A. degree in 1686. Swift was studying for his master's degree when political unrest prompted him to leave Ireland for England in 1688. He obtained the position of secretary to the English politician and member of the Whig party Sir William Temple, at his country house, Moor Park in Hertfordshire. At Moor Park, he formed the closest relationship of his life with Esther Johnson, the fatherless eight-year-old daughter of one of the household servants. Swift became her tutor and mentor, and the two remained friends for the rest of her life. Swift nicknamed her "Stella" and his letters to her were posthumously published as the Journal to Stella. Legends circulated that the two were secretly married in 1716, but there is no proof of this.
In 1694, Swift was ordained as a priest in the Church of Ireland and worked as a country parson in Northern Ireland. In 1696 he returned to Moor Park, where he remained until Temple's death in 1699. He took up a post in Ireland as chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley. In 1709 he went to London to campaign for the Irish church, but was unsuccessful. Here he became friends with the English satirist and poet Alexander Pope and other writers, and they formed a literary club, the Martinus Scriblerus Club, to satirize the abuses of modern learning. Book III of Gulliver's Travels was later to result from this project.
Though Swift had written pamphlets in support of the Whig party, he fell into conflict with the party and changed his allegiance to the Tory party in 1710. Swift began to publish satires on political and religious corruption, including A Tale of a Tub (1710). All of Swift's writings were published either anonymously or under pseudonyms, including Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, and M.B. Drapier.
During his time in London, Swift cultivated a close friendship with a second fatherless young woman, Esther Vanhomrigh, whom he nicknamed "Vanessa." As her feelings for him grew more intense, Swift backed away, claiming in a long poem he wrote for her in 1713, "Cadenus and Vanessa," that he only wanted friendship, not romantic love. This did not deter her, and she later followed him to Ireland to live. He visited her there, but maintained a distance.
When the Tory government fell from power in 1714, Swift's writings lost popularity and he went to Dublin, where he became Dean of St Patrick's. In 1726 Swift published Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World, which later became known as Gulliver's Travels. It was so controversial that it was not published in a full, uncensored version until ten years later. Alexander Pope stated, "it is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery," and it is widely believed that it has never been out of print since then. The British author George Orwell declared it to be among the six indispensable books in world literature.
Swift took up the cause of the impoverishment of Ireland by England, and wrote pamphlets such as the satire A Modest Proposal (1729), in which he suggests that the problems of famine and overpopulation in Ireland could be solved by selling the babies of poor Irish people as food for the rich.
Swift's friends remarked that he grew increasingly bitter with age. Three years before his death in Dublin on October 19, 1745, he was declared unable to care for himself. Some biographers believe that he was incapacitated by a stroke. He was buried next to Esther Johnson, as he requested. He bequeathed his money to found a hospital for the mentally ill, St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin. As of 2006, it still exists as a psychiatric facility. Swift wrote his own obituary, "Lines on the Death of Dr Swift," which contained the following lines: "He gave the little wealth he had / To build a house for fools and mad, / And showed by one satiric touch / No nation needed it so much."
Gullivers Travels Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Gulliver's Travels
- Novel Summary
- Part I Chapters I-III
- Part I Chapters IV-VI
- Part I Chapters VII-VIII
- Part II Chapters I-III
- Part II Chapters IV-VIII
- Part III Chapters IV-XI
- Part III Chapters I-III
- Part IV Chapters I-III
- Part IV Chapters IV-VII
- Part IV Chapters VIII-XII
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Jonathan Swift
- Essay Q&A