Jonathan Swift, an English writer was born in 1667. He was commonly recognized as one of the outstanding satirists in the English language. As Downie (1984) explains, Jonathan’s biography gives an account of his political ideas and provides important commentary on his major works (p. 1). Jonathan was born in Dublin, and was second born and the only son in their family. His father was Irish born, and his mother was sibling of the vicar of Frisby on the Wreake, England. Jonathan was born seven month after father’s death. There have been many stories about history of Jonathan and especially his childhood life. It is believed that, Jonathan’s mother went back to England, leaving him with his father’s family while he was still young. Godwin, who was uncle of Jonathan became his guardian, and send him to Kilkenny grammar school from 1674 to 1682.
In 1682, Jonathan joined Dublin University to pursue BA and graduated in 1686. After his undergraduate degree, Jonathan proceeded for master’s degree. At school, Jonathan did not have outstanding performance and his teachers took note of his determined behavior. During the study of his master’s there arose problems in Ireland concerning the glorious revolution, and Jonathan was forced to leave for England in the year 1688. When he reached England, Jonathan found his mother, who got him a position of secretary and personal assistant of Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Farnham. According to Ray (2007), Temple was an English diplomat, essayist and, writer and in English literature, he is recognized as the patron of Jonathan swift (p. 516). Temple was a retiree of public service and was concentrating on tending his garden and writing his memoirs. After winning the confidence of Sir William Temple, Jonathan was entrusted “importance matters”. In three years of their association, Temple introduced Jonathan to “William III” and sent him to London to request the king to approve the bill for triennial parliament.
When Jonathan started staying at Moor Park, he met an eight (8) old girl, known as Esther Johnson. Esther was fatherless and a daughter of one of the household servants. Jonathan mentored Esther and nicknamed her “Stella”. They established a close but indefinite relationship for the rest of Esther’s life. In 1690, Jonathan left Temple due to health problem and went to Ireland, however he returned a year later. After coming back, Jonathan joined Hertford College, where he obtained his second M.A degree in 1692. Jonathan left Moor Park, and was ordained as a priest in reputable church of Ireland. In 1694, Jonathan was assigned a position of “prebend” of Kilroot within the diocese of Consor.
This new position put Jonathan in remote community, away from the source of power, and thus he felt one-off. While still in Kilroot, Jonathan fell in love with a lady called Jane Waring, and swore to remain there if she would marry him. However, Jane decline and Jonathan left his post and returned to Moor Park in the year 1696, where he stayed till Temple’s death. In the Moor Park, Jonathan used to write Temple’s memoirs and letters for publication. It was at this period, when Jonathan wrote “The Battle of the Books”, a satire addressing to critics of Temple’s essay, but this book was not published until 1704.
Temple died on January 27, 1699. Jonathan stayed in England for a while editing the Temple’s memoirs, and also expecting his work to be recognized and get a suitable position in England. Unfortunately, his work made enemies of some of Temple’s relatives and friends who were against the imprudence used in the memoirs. Jonathan decided to approach King William directly, with view he had been connected with Temple and belief that he had been assured a position. However, this did not work for Jonathan, that he got a lower position of secretary and chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley.
Jonathan moved on, and started ministering at Laracor, to a congregation of about fifteen (15) people. At this new place, he had enough time for refining his garden, constructing a canal, planting willows, and rebuilding the manse. While serving as chaplain to Lord Berkeley, he mostly stayed in Dublin and traveled to London often. Jonathan published secretly, a pamphlet titled “a discourse on the contests and dissentions in Athens and Rome” in 1701.
Jonathan continued to advance his academics, and in February 1702, he received Doctorate degree in divinity from trinity college, Dublin. He traveled to England and back to Ireland in company of Esther Johnson and his friend Rebecca Dingley, who also belonged to Temple household. At this time, there was a big controversy surrounding Jonathan’s relationship with Esther’s, and there were rumors that, they had married secretly. It was during his visit to England, that he published “A Tale of a Tub” and “The battle of the Books” in the year 1704. Following the publication of these two books, Jonathan began to gain reputation as a writer. Other writers and individuals who had passion in writing profession were attracted by great work. Some of these persons were; Alexander pope, John Arbuthnot, and John Gay with whom, they started “Martinus scriblerus” club in 1713.
Jonathan started to get involved in politics. He stayed in London between 1707 and 1710, pushing upon the Whig administration of Lord Godolphin concerning the Irish clergy to the first fruits and twentieth, which attributed up to 2,500 pounds yearly. Jonathan did not succeed in his effort because this was already given to the brethren in England. However, in this move, Jonathan got sympathy from opposition leader Tory. As a result of their warm relationship, Jonathan was recruited in their team as an editor of the examiner when they came in to authority in 1710. The following year, Jonathan published a political pamphlet “The conduct of the Allies,” which criticized Whig administration for failing to bring to an end the prolonged war with France. The Tory government after taking over, it conducted negotiations secretly with France, leading to Treaty of Utrecht ending the Spanish succession war.
Jonathan played an important role as a mediator between Henry St. John, the secretary of state for foreign affairs then, and the Robert Harley lord treasure and prime minister. Jonathan could easily do this because he was in the inner circle of the Tory government. During this “difficult time”, Jonathan wrote a series of letters to Esther Johnson explaining his experience and thoughts, which he later collected and published as “The journal to Stella”. The differences between the two Tory leaders resulted to the firing of Harley in 1714. Following the death of Queen Anne and succession of “George I”, the Whig came back to the power and the Tory leaders were summoned in court for treason, for conducting secret negotiations with France.
While still in London, Jonathan became familiar with the Vanhomrigh family, and started relating with one of the daughter, also known as Esther, and also a fatherless, another indefinite relationship which contradicts Jonathan’s biographers. Jonathan nicknamed his lover “Vanessa” and featured her as one of the main character in his poem Cadenus and Vanessa. In this poem, he suggests that Esther was obsessed with him, and that he may have accepted her love, only to regret this and attempt to end the relationship. Jonathan went back to Ireland in 1714, and Esther followed him, where confrontation involving Esther Johnson.
During the leadership of the Tory government, Jonathan assumed that his excellent service would land him to church appointment in England. However, Queen Anne was not pleased by Jonathan and frustrated these efforts or rather the dream of Jonathan. The only position he could be given was Deanery of St. Patrick’s, Dublin. After the Whig came back in to power, it was only wise option for Jonathan to go back to Ireland, because he was part of Tory government and there were many issues concerning their governance while on power.
In Ireland, Jonathan started to practice his pamphleteering skills in support of Irish causes, writing some of his most memorable works; Drapier’s Letters (1724), proposal for universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720), and A modest proposal (1729), crediting him as an Irish patriot. It was also during these years when he started writing his masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels collections of publication. Most of these publications was about his political experiences of past. For example, the experience in which the giant Gulliver puts out the Lilliputian fire is a metaphor for the Tories’ unlawful peace treaty; having done excellent thing in an unfortunate manner.
Jonathan returned to England in 1727, however while he was there with Alexander pope, he was informed that Esther Johnson was dying, thus he had to rush back and be with her. Unfortunately Esther Johnson, died on 28th of January in 1728, Jonathan had prayed at her bedside, even composed prayers for her welfare. It was during that night of the death of Esther, when Jonathan started writing his The Death of Mrs. Johnson.
The death of Esther affected, and he became very sick, even he could not attend the funeral. “Death lies at the core of each person’s private existence, but part of death’s meaning is to be found in the fact that it occurs in a biological and social world that survives” (Schell, 2004, p. 134). The death became an often feature in Jonathan’s life from that point. He wrote another book entitled “Verses on the death of Dr. Swift” his own obituary which was published in 1739. Jonathan died on October 19, 1745, and was buried on his own cathedral by Esther Johnson’s side, as he had instructed.
Downie, James Alan. Jonathan Swift, political writer. Greater New York City Area, NY: Routledge, 1984.
Ray, Ed. Mohit K. The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. New Delhi Area, India: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2007.
Schell, Jonathan. The Jonathan Schell reader on the United States at war, the long crisis of the American republic, and the fate of the earth. Greater Denver Area, US: Nation Books, 2004.