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Jonathan Swift

Bio: Jonathan Swift is almost universally accorded a leading place among the greatest of prose satirists. Born in Dublin of English parents on November 30, 1667, Swift never knew his father, who had died several months before his birth. After his mother returned to England the boy was raised in Ireland by paternal uncles, all of whom were lawyers. At the age of six, Swift entered Kilkenny School, the foremost Anglican academy in Ireland, and at fourteen he was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin. In 1688 political turmoil prompted many Protestants to flee Ireland, and the twenty-one-year-old Swift journeyed to England, where he secured a position as secretary to Sir William Temple, a retired diplomat and statesman. For much of the next decade Swift flourished at Moor Park, Temple's country estate in Surrey. Availing himself of Temple's remarkable library, Swift acquired a first-rate education in history and political theory; moreover he discovered his talent for writing scathing satire. In quick succession Swift turned out two brilliant works: A Tale of a Tub, a scandalous attack on corruption in learning and religion, and The Battle of the Books, a mock-heroic treatise concerning the merits of ancient versus modern scholarship. (Neither was published until 1704.) It was also during the years at Moor Park that he met Esther Johnson, or 'Stella,' who remained a companion until her death in 1728.

In 1713 Swift was installed as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. After the Tories' fall from power the following year he retired to Ireland, virtually disappearing for a time from the public stage. But in the 1720s he resurfaced as a champion of the Irish people. Drapier's Letters (1724), a series of pamphlets attacking the English for exploiting his adopted countrymen, made Swift something of a national hero. 'A Modest Proposal' (1729), a bitterly ironic tract in which he suggested that the starving Irish sell their children as meat, further enhanced his reputation as 'the Hibernian Patriot.'

Swift returned briefly to London in 1726 with a manuscript of Gulliver's Travels, a devastating satire of English politics and society. 'It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery,' said Alexander Pope when the work appeared. Indeed, Swift's masterpiece has captivated readers ever since. G. K. Chesterton observed: 'Swift was a man who could write what nobody else could have written ... at a time when nobody else would have dared to write it.



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