Swift, Jonathan

Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift. Image source Crawfordartgallery.ie

Jonathan Swift was born on the 30 November 1667, at 7 Hoey’s Court, Dublin.

His father, according to the Cabinet of Irish Literature, was a full cousin of the poet Dryden. His mother moved back to her home in England after her husband’s death, but Swift stayed in Dublin with an uncle, entering Kilkenny Grammar School, 1672-81. He received his BA degree from Trinity College Dublin in 1686. Thereafter he lived in England for a time, where he met Esther Johnson (she appears in his work as Stella), who was then eight years old. He returned to Ireland and was ordained a priest of the Church of Ireland in 1695. He was appointed Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1713. Esther Johnson moved to Ireland in 1702 and Swift received an admission of love from her in 1712.

His best known works are The Battle of the Books (written 1696-98, published 1704); A Tale of the Tub (1704); Cadenus and Vanessa. A Poem (written 1713); Drapier’s Letters [against the coinage crisis in Ireland] (secretly issued March 1724-25 and Dec 1725); Gulliver’s Travels, written 1721-1725, issued by Jonathan Swift as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver (1726); A Short View Of The State Of Ireland (1727-8); A Modest Proposal [full title: A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children Of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents, Or The Country, And For making them Beneficial to the Publick] (Dublin, S. Harding, 1729); The Life And Genuine Character Of Doctor Swift, Written by Himself (1733); The Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D, D.S.P.D.4 volumes (Dublin: Printed by & for George Faulkner, 1735. Enlarged to 20 volumes, 1738-1772).

He was revered by the Dublin poor for his charity (he was known by them as The Dane). He is thought to have spent one third of his money on charity in Dublin and saved another third to establish St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles (opened in 1757), which still exists as a psychiatric hospital. He also built an Alms house for old women who were no longer able to maintain themselves.

He was declared ‘of unsound mind and body’ in 1742 (he is now known to have suffered from Menière’s disease), and died on October 19, 1745. He was buried at night on October 22 beside Stella (Esther Johnson, 1680-1728) in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. His famous epitaph, written by himself, is inscribed over his tomb : ubi saeva indignation ulterius cor lacerare nequit. The full inscription on the plaque reads (translated from Latin):

Here is laid the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity, Dean of this Cathedral Church, where fierce indignation can no longer rend the heart. Go, traveller, and imitate if you can this earnest and dedicated champion of liberty. He died on the 19th day of October 1745 AD. Aged 78 years.


Jonathan Swift at the Crawford Art Gallery

Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels

St Patrick’s Cathedral and Swift

When I come to be Old (1699)

Jonathan Swift at The National Library of Ireland


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