Jonathan Swift: Notes


Note: Matthew Arnold’s tag for Hellenism, ‘sweetness and light’, in Culture and Anarchy is taken from Swift’s Battle of the Books.

Modest Proposal: Richard Dickson, the bookseller who sold The Modest Proposal, gave a notice of it in his news-sheet Dublin Intelligence (Sat. 8 Nov. 1729), as follows: ‘The late apparent Spirit of Patriotism, or Love to Our Country, so abounding of Late, has produced a New Scheme, said in Publick to be written by D--- S----, wherein the Author as an Effectual Means for preventing the Children of Poor People, from being a Burthen to their Parents or Country, and for making them Beneficial to the PUblic, and save Expences to the Nation, ingenuously Advises that one Fourth Part of the infants under Two Years Old, be forthwith Fatten’d, brought to market and Sold for Food, reasoning that they will be Dainty Bits for Land Lords, who as they have already Devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Right to Eat up the Children. N.B. This Excellent Treatise may be had at the Printers hereof. (Quoted in James Ward, ‘Bodies of Sale: Marketing a Modest Proposal’, in Irish Studies Review, August 2007, pp.284-85, as supra.)

Ward remarks, ‘By paraphrasing its giveaway line […] Dickson’s advertisement spoils any claim that the Proposal might have over all but the most obtuse reader’s credibility’ - and further notes that by being offered for sale among specifics for common diseases of the day, ‘Swift's text become complicit in the processes it would indict.’ (Ibid., p.285.)

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Drapier’s Letters: The 1st Letter argues for the sovereign rights of kingdom of Ireland in terms derived from William Molyneux (‘by the laws of God, of nations, and of your own country, you are and ought to be as free a people as your brethren in England’; McMinn, ed., Irish Pamphlets, 1991, p.80); 2nd Letter assails Wood and the Duchess of Kendal (How dare he oppose a nation [... / ...] how can he hope to oppose a nation?’); 3rd Letter addresses the nobility and gentry and asserts right of Ireland to autonomy as of equal status with England under the crown; 4th Letter launches invective against slavery, tyranny, injustice, addressing this time ‘the Whole People of Ireland’; 5th Letter addressed to Robert Molesworth, adopts a calm and reasonable tone, the patent having been by this date withdrawn.

Letter to Langford: W.E.H. Lecky writes: ‘There is a curious lettter of Swift extant, to Sir Arthur Langford, rebuking him for allowing a [Presbyterian] conventicle to be built on his property, and threatening to take measures to shut it up.’ (Letter of 30 Oct. 1714; Swift’s Correspondence, ed. 1766, ii, 19-21; Lecky, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century [Cabinet Edn. 1892; 1913 iss., p.427n2.)

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Travelogues: Swift read works such as Hakluyt’s Voyages (1587), Linshcoten’s Voyages into the Easte and West Indies (1598), and William Dampier’s New Voyage Round the World [3rd edn.] (1698-1703 as well as Gabriel de Foigny’s La terre australe connue (1676). See Peter Kuch, ed. & intro., Irelands in the Asia-Pacific , Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2003, p.x. And further: ‘It is open to speculatioin whether Dampier’s supposedly first-hand account of the Australian aboriginals as “the most miserable people on earth” provided Swift with his favourite epithet for the Yahoos, there is no doubting the longevity of the image, for two centuries after this description was first published […] it was still being reproduced in Australian school-texts, with baleful effects […].’ (Ibid., p.xi.)

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731): Robert Harley (1st Earl of Oxford), the Tory chief whom Queen Anne appointed as Prime Minister on her accession the throne, employed Defoe as a spy, counsellor and pamphleteer during 11 years following the publication of his Legion’s Memorial. In Feb. 1704, Defoe launched The Review. By 1715, he had turned from politics to fiction though during that time he had issued History of the Union (1707), composed in Scotland with the aim of supporting the Government's plan, building on the conception of the British as a non-regional people which had characterised The True-Born Englishman (1701) - a satire on those who attacked William III for his Dutch origins, and which rendered Defoe attractive to the whigs behind William and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Defoe's pamphlet The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702) was a satirical essay on the theme of anti-Presbyterian sentiments in the triumphalist Anglicanism which was sounded at the time of Queen Anne's accession. It cost him a time in the stocks though he was defended by a honour guad of supporters and won general popularity by his writings. His Hymn to the Pillory (1703) marks this experience. His subsequent works incl. The Family Instructor (1715), A Diary of the Year of the Plague (1722), A Tour of the Island of Great Britain (

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Duke of Schomberg: Swift wrote to Lady Holderness, a descendent of the Duke of Schomberg, inviting her to contribute to the cost of a memorial for the Duke, who had died at the Battle of the Boyne, and was ignored. In 1831 he set a black marble plaque in the cathedral with his own inscription which includes the information that the descendants had been unwilling to assist: [...] Decanus et capitulum maximopere etiam atque etiam petierunt, ut haeredes Ducis monumentum in memoriam parentis erigendum curarent. / Sed postquam per epistolas, per amicos, diu ac saepe orando nil perfecere; hunc demum lapidem statuerent; saltem us scias hospes ubinam terrarum SCHONBERGENSIS cineres delitescunt.

See J. Crofton Croker, Historical Songs of Ireland, Percy Society 1841, p.68ff. Croker quotes a longer and mores stinging version of the inscription which he finds in Dr. Delany's memoir. The whole transaction is quoted from william Monck Mason's History of the Antiquities of the Church of St Patrick (1819).

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Stella (Esther Johnson): Swift included a collection of her witticisms was published under the titles on Bon Mots de Stella as an appendix to some editions of Gulliver's Travels. A portrait of ‘Stella’ appeared in Faulkner’s edn. of Swift’s Works (Dublin 1768). The original hangs above the mantelpiece of the Irish Consulate in Washington, DC, on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland [in 2008]. ‘Stella’ is also the name of one of the wards at St. Patrick’s hospital, Dublin. There is a novel on the Stella-Swift relationship (Trudy J. Morgan-Cole, The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson, Canada: Penguin 2006).

Patrick Delany tells the story of Archbishop King, saying after Swift had just rushed from the room in tears, ‘You have just met the most unhappy man on earth; but on the subject of his wretchedness you must never ask questions’ (copied by Scott and Thackeray).

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Swifts library: The contents were compiled by William Le Fanu in ‘A Catalogue of Books belonging to Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s, 19 Dec. 1745.’

Marsh’s Library copy Clarendon’s The History of the rebellion and civil wars in England, begun in the year 1641, 3 vols. (Oxford: at the Theater 1707, 1703, 1704) holds extensive annotations by Jonathan Swift virulently antagonistic to the part played by the Scots, along with marginal corrections of Clarendon’s prose, especially repetitions of words within a short space, which Swift calls cacofonia.]

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James Joyce - echoes Swift in Finnegans Wake (1939): Behove this sound of Irish sense. Really? / Here English may be seen. Royally? / One sovereign punned to petery pence. Regally? / The silence speaks the scene. Fake!’ [FW], a parody of Swift on the magazine fort. Cited in Atherton, Books at the Wake, p. 121. Swift is a pervasive figure in the Wake colouring many phrases, viz., ‘Gaping Gill, swift to mate errthors, stern to checkself [... &c.]’ (FW 037). Further, in Finnegans Wake, Joyce copies Swift’s letter to Vanessa (Esther van Homerigh) on her birthday - St. Valentine’s Day: ‘[accept this torn letter] of a linenhall valentino with my fondest and much left to tutor. X.X.X.X.’ [FW 458.02] See A. Martin Freeman, Vanessa and Her Correspondence with Jonathan Swift, London 1921), p.11ff.

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Biblical study: There is a biblical precedent for the theme of A Modest Proposal: ‘And I will cause them to eat the flesh of theirs sons and the flesh of their daughters.’ (Jeremiah, 19, 9.)

Francis Doherty discusses the impact on Samuel Beckett of biographies of Swift by Stephen Gwynn (Life and Friendships of Dean Swift [London: Thornton Butterworth] 1933) and Mario Rossi & Joseph M. Hone (Swift, or The Egotist, London 1934) in ‘Watt in an Irish Frame’, Irish University Review (Autumn 1990), pp.191ff.

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Moor Park, the home of Sir William Temple, whom Swift served as secretary, and were he taught Esther Johnston (‘Stella’), was later used as a lunatic asylum, a college of theology, a home or code-breaking unit in World War Two, and a centre for the study of primates; now attached to the University of Surrey. (See review of Moor Park, the 1994 novel by Gabriel Josipovici, in Times Literary Supplement, 23 Sept. 1994.)

Brinsley MacNamara, “On Seeing Swift at Laracor” [poem], which deals with his servant Patrick Brell, who ‘sold him for a show’.

A ‘Lost’ satirical letter by Swift was in the keeping of Mrs. Aldworth of Co. Cork, acc. to Arthur Young (A Tour of Ireland, 1780; see under Young, infra.)

John Jordan, in Patrician Stations (1971), writes of St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin’s Mental Asylum particularly dedicated to alcoholic retreats: ‘Your Toms, Dicks and Harrys are here, great Dean. / You gave your lolly to found our first democratic / institution. Paudeen and Algernon rub minds.’

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Edmund Burke compares the French Assembly with the floating island in Gulliver’s Travels, ‘From its general aspect one would conclude that it had been for some time past under the special direction of the learned academicians of Laputa and Balbibarbi’ (Reflections, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien, p.238).

George Faulkner had a bust of Swift, commissioned from Patrick Cunningham, installed outside his shop, 1763, an engraving of same being used for the 14 vols. duodecimo edn. of the works (1768); the bust was later presented to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and placed in a niche there in 1776. (See Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: The Irish Identity (Yale UP 1995).

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Alexander Pope addresses the opening lines of The Dunciad to ‘Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff or Gulliver’ and compares him to Cervantes and to Rabelais (‘Rab’lais’).

Sean O’Casey includes Swift among the the symbolic population of his heroic Dublin in Red Roses for Me (Act. III): Rector, ‘I’ve read that tens of toughs such as those [whom Inspector has called ‘flotsam and jetsam’] followed Swift to the grave.’ Inspector, ‘Indeed, sir? A queer man, the poor demented Dean; a right queer man.’ (Three More Plays, Pan Edn. 1978, p.279).

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Fr. Prout (Francis Sylvester Mahoney) provides himself with Swift for a father and Stella for a mother in his character as Fr. Prout of Watergrasshill, in ‘Dean Swift’s madness, or the Tale of a Churn’, also defends Swift agains charges of barefaced political opportunism in claiming that he ‘sought not the smiles of court, nor ever sighed for ecclesiastical dignities’. (Cited in Terry Eagleton, ‘Cork and the Carnivalesque: Frances Sylvester Mahony (Fr. Prout)’, in Irish Studies Review (Autumn 1996), pp.2-7; p.2.

The original letters of the Journal to Stella were offered for sale at Sotheby’s and bought by the British Museum in May 1919, as part of the Morrison collection; they were bound as a volume in fine calf with the inscription, ‘Original Letters of Dr Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, to Mrs Van Homrigh, celebrated by him in his published works under the name of Vanessa.//With the foul copies of her Letters and Answers in her own Writing.’ (See Sybil Le Brocquy, Cadenus, 1962 p.42).

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Swift’s victory in the affair of Wood’s Ha’pence was called by Edmund Curtis ‘a small triumph for justice compared with the greater wrongs of the time, but it was important as the first note of Anglo-Irish opposition to the selfish deomination of Ireland by England.’ (A History of Ireland, 1936, p.267.)

Saeva indignatio/savage indignation

Vide Swift’s epitaph: ‘Hic depositum est Corpus / IONATHAN SWIFT S.T.D. / Hujus Ecclesiae Cathedralis / Decani / Ubi saeva Indignatio / Ulterius / Cor lacerare nequit. [... &c.’; as given under Quotations, supra].

Note that the epithet saeva indignatio is associated with the Roman satirist Juvenal in Ronan Sheenan’s DRB essay , on the killing of Veronica Guerin (“Though the Sky Fall”, Dublin Review of Books, No. 39, 15 July 2013) - an essay that includes the phrase ‘sed quis custodiet custodes ipsos? (Who will guard the guards themselves)’ from Juvenal’s 6th Satire of which Sheehan writes: ‘Juvenal’s sixth satire is often described as a satire upon women. That is not quite accurate. Nevertheless, the satire informs my view of the life and death of Veronica Guerin. Juvenal sees the city as being under threat on account of the actions of a significant number of women. Specifically threatened is the institution of marriage, integral to society. Juvenal offers himself as a defender of the city's essential values. His response is to make a series of denunciations of individuals, naming names, detailing activities and offering a moral response, saeva indignatio.’ (Available online; accessed 18.09.2013.)

Cf.: William Anderson, ‘The Programs of Juvenal’s Later Books’, in Classical Philology, LVII (July 1962): ‘[...] Scaliger’s phrase about saeva indignatio was apparently written, and is always cited, to characterise the mood of every satire [by Juvenal], or at least the attitude which we should associate with the satirist. [...] It was the twisted application of such an assumption that prompted the outrageous thesis of Ribbeck’s De echte un de unechte Juvenal, almost a hundred years ago. Because he failed to find in the satires of Books 4 and 5 the techniques which belonged to the indignant Juvenal, Ribbeck felt free to label Satires 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15 as the work of an interpolator.’ (p.145; available at JSTOR - online; accessed 18.09.2013. )

Hence Scaliger is the author of the descriptive phrase, now a commonplace in regard to Juvenal. By the same token, Sheehan makes no mistake even implies an awareness that that the epithet is applied to Juvenal not by Juvenal.

Who said?: ‘After twenty times reading the whole, I never in my opinion saw so much good satire, or more good sense, in so many lines. How it passes in Dublin I know not yet; but I am sure it will be a great disadvantage to the poem, that the persons and facts will not be understood, till an explanation comes out, and a very full one. Again I insist, you must have your Asterisks filled up with some real names of real Dunces.’ (Davis, ed., Letters, Vo. III, p.32; cited in Hermann J. Real, ‘“Bacon advanced with Furious Mien”: Gulliver’s Linguistic Travels’, in Vir Bonus Dicendi Peritus, Wiesbaden 1997, p.347.)

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W. B. Yeats, Words Upon the Window Pane, a 100-min. film dir. Mary McGuckian (1994); elegant period piece, based on one-act play by Yeats, first film by this director; Jim Sheridan as Swift; Brid Brennan and Orla Brady as ‘two women who love him too passionately’; cast incls. Ian Richardson, Geraldine Chaplin, Donal Donnelly, Gerald James, John Lynch, Gemma Craven, Gerard McSorley, and Hugh O’Connor. (Programme of Walter Reade Theatre, 1994; see details under Yeats.)

Sybil le Brocquy has argued on documentary records that he had a child called Patrick with Vanessa, the cause of his passionate quarrel with her and the sundering of his friendship with Stella (see Cadenus: a Resassessment in the Light of New Evidence of the Relationships between Swift, Stella, and Vanessa (Dublin: Dolmen 1962). the three-volume biography by Irvin Ehrenpreis (1962-83) is informed by literary, historical and psychological concerns; Bruce Arnold has written a modern biography informed by Irish interests; see also Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics (2001).

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F. S. L. Lyons, Culture and Anarchy 1890-1939 (1989) defines Swift’s style defined in terms of the Anglo-Irish temperament and its tension between arrogance and insecurity, or between ‘the overcharged rhetoric of assertion and the sardonic irony of withdrawal.’ (p.22.)

R. F. Foster, Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000 (London: Allen Lane: 2007), remarks: ‘Jonathan Swift long ago pointed out that the wealth of a nation consisted in its people, and proceeded to argue that economic logic dictated that the impoverished and undernourished Irish should therefore turn to eating the children. Today’s economists similarly see “human capital” in terms of subsistence, supplying one of the explanations for Ireland's economic miracle.’ (p.13.)

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Armagh Public Library, being the library of the Protestant Primate of Ireland, holds a Ist edition copy of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), annotated for correction by Swift and valued at 30,000. In Dec. 2000 thieves entered the Library at 9.45 a.m. at first posing as researchers and tied up the young assistant Lorraine Frazer at gun-point having donned balaclavas; other artefacts stolen incl. a Geneva Bible (1611), a 23th c. Dutch missal, a miniature Koran, and 17th c. silver maces in Dublin silver valued at 25,000 each. The theft was thought to have been carried out to order for some collector. (securma@xs4all.nl; forwarded to Irish Studies list (Virginia), 15 Dec. 2000.] Note that two suspects were arrested and charged shortly afterwards. The library also contains “Pleas of the Innocents” addressed Oliver Cromwell.

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Portraits (I): TCD Library holds a bust of Swift by Louis-Francois Roubillion (1945). There is also a portrait dated 1710 [var. c.1718] by Charles Jervas (c.1675-1739) in the National Gallery of Ireland. Jervas studied under Kneller and succeeded him as Royal portraitist, and did several portraits of Swift [the one in the Nat. Port. Gallery (London) being made of Swift at aetat. 43]. Swift wrote of him, ‘Do you hear anything of Jervas going, for I hate to be in town when he is there (1716). Jervas also taught Alexander Pope to paint and painted him several times, while his own translation of Don Quixote (1742) was frequently reprinted [ODNB].

Portraits (II): There is A full-length portrait of Swift by Francis Bindon, who also painted Carolan [see Oxford Ilustrated History of Ireland, 1989, p.297, & facing p.298]; note, the Bindon oil portrait of the Dean is in the King’s Hospital, Dublin (see Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits Exhibition, Ulster Mus. 1965).Bindon’s painting bears the inscription, ‘The Drapier’s Fourth Letter to the Whole People of Ireland’ [See W. B. Yeats, A Centenary Exhibition, Nat. Gallery of Ireland 1965).

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Barbadoes: Jonathan Swift was coined the term ‘barbadise’ as refering to the penal transportation of persons to the Barbadoes (Information supplied by Loreto Todd.)

Werburghia: Jon. Swift was born in the parish of, and presumably baptised in the church of St. Werburgh’s, in Dublin. Samuel Johnson was married to Elisabeth Porter (his “Tetty”) in St. Werburgh’s Church in Derby - an event re-enacted every year.

The Peacock Theatre (Abbey Th., Dublin) was the venue for a discussion on Gulliver’s Travels conducted by Victoria Glendinning, John Mullan and Bruce Arnold and chaired by Mary Shine Thompson on Sunday 122 June 2008 [Notre Dame Irish Seminar announcements].

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