Writer Profile: Jonathan Swift


Dates: b. 1667, d. 1745

Literary Movement: Satire

Famous Works: A Modest Proposal, A Tale of a Tub, Gulliver’s Travels


Profile: Jonathan Swift is regarded as the foremost prose satirist in the English language. During his life, he worked as an Anglo-Irish satirist, an essayist, and a political pamphleteer—for both the Whigs and the Tories. He was a poet, a cleric, and a startlingly prolific writer. Much of his work was originally published under one of his many pseudonyms: Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M.B. Drapier, and Simon Wagstaff, Esq. A master of both Horatian and Juvenalian satire, Swift was known for his deadpan, ironic writing style.


Swift was born in Dublin in 1667. He learned to read the Bible at an early age and was cared for primarily by his nurse and uncle. He attended Dublin University in 1682, and his four-year course follow a curriculum largely set in the Middle Ages. Lectures were dominated by Aristotelian logic and philosophy. Debate was a basic skill taught to all students, and they were expected to be able to argue both sides of any argument or topic. Swift himself was an above-average student, but he was not exceptional. He was studying for his master’s degree when the Glorious Revolution forced him to leave for England in 1688.


Swift wrote many of his works while living in Trim, County Meath after 1700. In 1702, he received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College. He then began a year’s-long travel period during which he published A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books. These publications led to his gaining a reputation as a writer. Swift grew to be politically active in the following years, which did not work out in his favor; he had hoped to gain a church appointment in England, but Queen Anne was not a fan of his. He eventually secured a role as the Deanery of St. Patrick’s. He eventually moved back to Ireland. Once he returned to Ireland, he continued to pamphlet and write satire, publishing Gulliver’s Travels and becoming close friends with poet Alexander Pope.


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