Jonathan Swift 1667-1745

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, to where his English parents had moved after having been brought to ruin for supporting the losing Royalist cause in the Civil War. His father died when James was seven months old and his mother returned to England, leaving James in the care of his uncle Godwin, a lawyer and a close friend of Sir John Temple, whose son later employed James as his secretary. He was educated at Kilkenny College in the south-east of Ireland and went on to Trinity College, Dublin in 1682, gaining his BA four years later. He was studying for his Masters degree when the troubles caused by the Glorious Revolution forced him to leave for England.

Through the influence of his mother, he secured the job of secretary and personal assistant to the prominent diplomat Sir William Temple at Moor Park in Farnham, Surrey. It was here that he first met and acted as tutor to eight year-old Esther Johnson, who became his lifelong companion and whom he immortalised as “Stella”. He was awarded an MA from Oxford in 1692 and in 1694 moved back to Ireland to take up the appointment of prebend at Kilroot in County Antrim. There he fell in love with Jane Waring who repudiated his proposal of marriage, after which he returned to Moor Park, remaining there until the death of Sir William Temple in 1699. He stayed on to edit Temple’s memoirs but fell out with Temple’s sister, Lady Giffard, over what should be included.

He returned to Ireland to take up the living of several parishes and the appointment of prebend at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, later becoming its Dean. He received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College in 1702, the year in which “Stella”, now twenty, joined him in Ireland, together with her friend Rebecca Dinglley. The subject of his relationship with “Stella” is mysterious but there is no doubt that he wanted to keep her for himself, as he strongly warned off any potential suitors.

Swift’s first published work was Tale of a Tub in 1704 and over the next three decades, in addition to his signature work, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), he became a prolific writer of satires, sermons, essays, political pamphlets and some fine poetry. He was greatly saddened by the death of “Stella” in 1728, whereafter death became a prominent theme of his work. His poetic style is straightforward and highly satirical and he even wrote his own obituary poem, Verses on the Death of Doctor Swift DSPD. During the last few years of his life, he appears to have suffered from mental illness as guardians were appointed to take charge of his affairs. He died in 1745 and is buried in Dublin Cathedral next to his beloved Stella. Several monuments exist to him in Trim, where he lived on his return to Ireland. He is justly regarded as the greatest satirical writer in the English language.

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