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A Modest Proposal
The Biography of Jonathan Swift

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Historical Background | A Modest Proposal | The Biography of Jonathan Swift | Historical Analysis | Evaluation | Bibliography | Links

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland, November 20, 1667 to Jonathan and Abigail Erick. They were immigrants from England and he was their second child and only son. Jonathan Swift Sr. was a lawyer and an English civil servant. Earlier that year Swifts father passed away seven months before his son was born so his mother was left to care for her family without private income. Swift was then taken to England by his nurse, and then was sent back to Ireland. His mother then returned to England, leaving her son to be cared for by her wealthy brother in law, Uncle Goodwin. In his early years he was sent to Kilkenny Grammar School and then attended Trinity University in Dublin where he received his B.A. in 1686. He was then forced to leave for England while studying for his masters when in 1688 an anti-Catholic Revolution occurred in Ireland and James II was overthrown.

When he arrived in England his mother helped him to acquire a job as a secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park. In 1695 he was ordained in the Church of Ireland, Dublin. Swift also taught a young girl named Esther Johnson. He called her Stella and she moved to Ireland to live to live near him. With some speculations it is thought that they were married in 1716. Stella then died in 1728 and Swift kept a lock of her hair among his papers for the rest of his life.

After William Temple's death in 1699, Swift returned to Ireland. With his multiple trips to London he gained a lot of fame from his essays. Swift was also one of the central characters in the literary and political life of London throughout the reign of Queen Anne. From 1695 to 1696 Swift was the Vicar of Kilroot, Loracor from 1700, and was prebendary of St. Patricks in Dublin during 1701. While in Kilroot he met Jane Wairing, whom which he had an affair with but did not find her suitable for marriage. Between 1707 and 1709 Swift was an emissary for the Irish clergy in London.

Throughout the period of 1708 through 1713 Swift wrote many pamphlets and letters. From 1713 to 1742 he was the dean of St. Patricks Cathedral. Swift wrote A Modest Proposal in 1729. It is believed that Swift suffered from Alzheimers disease and began suffering from deafness when he was twenty. Swift also predicted his own mental decay at fifty and remarked to the poet Edward Young when they were gazing at the withered crown of a tree:

I shall be like that tree,

I shall die from the top

Swift then passed away in Dublin on October 19, 1745 just short of his 78th birthday. He left behind a great amount of poetry and prose, mainly in the form of pamphlets. William Makepeace once said about Swift:

So great a man he seems to me, that thinking of him is like thinking of an empire falling.

On his headstone it reads:

Ubi Saeva Indignatio Ulterius

Cor Lacerare Nequit

Abi Viator

Et Imitare Si Poteris

Strenuum Pro Virili

Libertatis Vindicatorem

He has gone where fierce indignation can lacerate his heart no more -- depart wayfarer, and imitate if you are able one who to the utmost strenuously championed liberty.


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