Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jonathan Swift

The satirist Jonathan Swift was born this day, November 30, in the year 1667.  Swift was born in Dublin, and educated at Kilkenny College.  As his father, also Jonathan, had died during his wife's pregnancy, Jonathan was supported in his education by a relative of his father.  Jonathan's uncle, Dryden William Swift (the family was related to poet John Dryden), took on this responsibility.  Jonathan later furthered his study at Dublin University, earning a Doctor of Divinity degree. 

Swift is best known for his novel "Gulliver's Travels".  Sir Walter Scott edited a 19 volume set of "The Works of Jonathan Swift", which Archibald Constable published.  Scott included his own notes and a life of Swift.  Here is a portion of Scott's Life of Swift, as taken from "The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott...":

'The life of Swift forms an interesting and instructive narrative to all who love to contemplate those alternations of good and evil which chequer the fate of individuals, distinguished by their talents and by their fame. Born under circumstances of the most pressing calamity, educated by the cold and careless charity of relations, denied the usual honours attached to academical study, and spending years of dependence upon the inefficient patronage of Sir William Temple, the earlier part of his history may be considered as a continued tale of depressed genius and disappointed hopes. Yet, under all these disadvantages, Swift arose to be the counsellor of a British administration, the best defender of their measures, and the intimate friend of all who were noble or renowned, learned or witty, in the classic age of Queen Anne. The events of his latter years were not less strongly contrasted. Involved in the fall of his patrons, he became a discontented and persecuted exile from England, and from his friends, yet, almost at once, attained a pitch of popularity which rendered him the idol of Ireland, and the dread of those who ruled that kingdom. Nor was his domestic fate less extraordinary—loving, and beloved by two of the most beautiful and interesting women of the time, he was doomed to form a happy and tranquil union with neither, and saw them sink successively to the grave, under the consciousness that their mortal disease had its source in disappointed hopes, and ill-re.quited affection. His talents also, the source of his fame and his pride, whose brilliancy had so long dazzled and delighted mankind, became gradually clouded by disease, and perverted by passion, as their possessor approached the goal of life; and, ere he. attained it, were levelled far below those of ordinary humanity. From the life of Swift, therefore, may be derived the important lesson, that, as no misfortunes should induce genius to despair, no rank of fame, however elevated, should encourage its possessor to presumption. And those to whom fate has denied such brilliant qualities, or to whom she has refused the necessary opportunities of displaying them, may be taught, while perusing the history of this illustrious man, how little happiness depends upon the possession of transcendent genius, of political influence, or of popular renown.


Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity, and Dean of St Patrick's, Dublin, was descended from the younger branch of the family of Swifts, in Yorkshire, which had been settled in that county for many years. His immediate ancestor was the Reverend Thomas Swift, vicar of Goodrich, in Herefordshire, and proprietor of a small estate in that neighbourhood. At the beginning of the civil wars, this gentleman distinguished himself by his zeal and activity in the cause of Charles I.; and his grandson has recorded, in a separate memoir, his exploits and sufferings during the civil wars. To that memoir, and the notes which accompany it, the reader is referred for farther particulars concerning Swift's family. After having been repeatedly plundered by the parliamentary soldiers, even to the clothes of the infant in the cradle, (which, according to family tradition, was Jonathan, father of the Dean,) and to the last loaf which was to support his numerous family, Thomas Swift died in the year 1658, leaving ten sons, and three or four daughters, with no other fortune than the small estate to which he was born, and that almost ruined by fines and sequestrations. The sufferings of this gentleman were of some service to his family after the Restoration; for Godwin Swift, his eldest son, who had studied at Gray's Inn, and had been called to the bar, was appointed Attorney-general of the Palatinate of Tipperary, under the Duke of Ormond. He was a man of talents, and appears to have possessed a considerable revenue, which he greatly embarrassed by embarking in speculative and expensive projects, to which his nephew, Jonathan, ever after entertained an unconquerable aversion. Meantime, however, the success of Godwin Swift, in his profession, attracted to Ireland three of his brethren, William, Jonathan, and Adam, all of whom settled in that kingdom, and there lived and died.
 
Jonathan Swift, the father of the celebrated author, was the sixth or seventh son of the Vicar of Goodrich, the number of whose descendants, and the obscurity of their fortunes, does not admit of distinguishing his lineage more accurately. Jonathan, like his brother Godwin, appears to have been bred to the law, though not like him called to the bar. He added to the embarrassments of his situation, by marrying Abigail Ericke of Leicestershire, a lady whose ancient genealogy was her principal dowry. The Dean has, himself, informed us, that his father obtained some agencies and employments in Ireland; but his principal promotion seems to have been the office of steward to' the society of the King's Inns, Dublin, to which he was nominated in 1665.


This situation he did not long enjoy, for he died in 1667, two years after his appointment, leaving an infant daughter, and his widow, then pregnant [with Jonathan], in a very destitute situation, as Mrs Swift was unable, without the assistance of the society, even to defray the expense of her husband's funeral...'

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