Irishman Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667 and is probably best known today for the fantasy work Gulliver’s Travels. As a satirist, cleric and poet he has influenced writers and artists down the ages, including John Ruskin and George Orwell. Although known for his writing, he also went on to become Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in his home town.
His father died 7 months before Swift was born and, shortly after, his mother left for England, leaving her child in the care of an Uncle who took responsibility for his upbringing. Swift went to Kilkenny College and then, in 1682, to Dublin University but was forced to leave for England when revolution and discord spread throughout the city.
His mother helped get him a position with the diplomat Sir William Temple in Farnham, England. Unable to better his position through patronage, Swift decided to become a priest and later took up a position in Kilroot, County Antrim. It was an inauspicious start, he was not happy being out in the country away from the city with its power and influence.
In 1704, Swift published two works and started to garner a reputation as a writer in England. His books A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books were political and religious satires and made Swift friends amongst the likes of Pope, Gay and Arbuthnot. If Swift believed that publishing a work like A Tale of a Tub which parodied religion would earn him a living, he was to be disappointed. It may also have cost him the opportunity to progress within the church. It was more likely that he intended it to be noticed by those of influence at the time and this goal it more than adequately achieved.
Over the next few years he became more politically active and was recruited by the new Tory government to act as editor of The Examiner and began his career as a political pamphleteer. This continued until the fall of the Tory government. When Queen Anne took to the throne she appeared to take an open dislike to Swift and his satiric writings and, with the return of the Whig parliament, he decided his best course of action would be to leave England and return to Ireland.
He began writing several pamphlets in support of the Irish cause and was something of an irritation to the government of the time. It was also then that he began to write his masterpieces such as Gulliver’s Travels which contained strong political metaphors and sharp satirical wit. When it was published in 1727 it immediately became a success and was reprinted and distributed in several countries including France and Germany.
Later in life Swift seemed to become increasingly obsessed with death and would behave erratically, often ending long standing associations and friendships without much reason. In 1741 his mental health was so bad that guardians had to be appointed in order to manage his affairs. In 1745 Swift died at the age of 80.