Jonathan Swift

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Jonathan Swift, painting by Charles Jervas (around 1710)
Jonathan Swift signature.svg
Jonathan Swift, painting by Michael Dahl

Jonathan Swift (born November 30, 1667 in Dublin , Kingdom of Ireland , † October 19, 1745 ibid) was an Irish writer and satirist of the early Enlightenment . He has also written under the following pseudonyms : Isaac Bickerstaff , A Dissenter, A Person of Quality, A Person of Honor, MB Drapier, TRDJSDOPII (The Reverend Doctor Jonathan Swift, Dean of Patrick's in Ireland).


Jonathan Swift was born in Hoey's Court, Dublin, seven months after the death of his father of the same name. He spent the first five years of his life with a nanny in England while his mother stayed in Ireland but then moved to Leicester, England. Jonathan was raised by relatives on his return to Dublin. In 1682 he enrolled at the request of his uncle as a theology student at Dublin University , where he is said to have been noticed as rebellious; He only got his degree “by grace” ( by special favor ). After training in Dublin, he went to England and took up a position as secretary to Sir William Temple , a retired diplomat and distant relative of his mother. This enabled him to continue his university education to the Master of Arts , which he received at Hart Hall in Oxford . His relationship with Sir William, who saw Swift as an upstart, deteriorated afterwards. Swift returned to Ireland and was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Ireland . He found a job in Kilroot in 1694 , which he soon gave up due to the working conditions and a new offer from Sir William.

The second job with Sir William (from 1695) turned out to be more successful. Swift finished here his first major work, A Tale of a Tub ( Tale of a ton ), and wrote The Battle of the Books ( The Battle of the Books ), both of which should appear in print until the 1704th

Here he also met Esther Johnson, Sir Williams' illegitimate daughter, whom he called Stella in his diaries . The death of his patron in 1699 ended Swift's good position; he could no longer hope for a high position in the Church in England and moved back to Ireland. There he found another job in the church. Esther Johnson followed him and settled in nearby Trim . His literary career began in 1701 with the anonymous publication of Dissensions in Athens and Rome . With the appearance of the previously written satires A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books , Swift secured a reputation as a writer.

After failed political engagement, first for the Whigs and, due to disappointment in their politics, from 1710 for the Tories , the death of Queen Anne ended the influence of the Tories and thus also Swift's political career. He was the editor of the Tory weekly Examiner in 1710/1711 . Swift, who was considered to be ambitious, had also helped the Tories to the Deanery of St. Patrick in Dublin. His return to Ireland was followed by sharp-tongued political satires in which he attacked the exploitation of the poor Irish by English landowners. Some satires caused such a stir that the British government offered £ 300 for locating the anonymous author. Famous are the letters from the cloth merchant MB in Dublin (1723), in which he reviled the new English copper money in Ireland. Archbishop Boulter's allegation that he incited the people was countered by Swift: "All I have to do is lift my fingers and you would be torn to pieces."

Commemorative plaque in Saint Patrick's Park, Dublin

In addition to his relationship with Esther Johnson, Swift had an eleven-year secret affair with what he called Vanessa , Esther Vanhomrigh, who knew nothing about Stella and died in 1723 shortly after Swift confessed to her. Stella died in 1728. In 1729 Swift was made an honorary citizen of Dublin.

In old age, he was increasingly seen as irritable, impolite and eccentric. In 1733 a grotesque treatise on faeces was published: Human ordure botanically considered ("Human stool from a botanical point of view"), according to the cover of Dr. S ----- t. It has been assigned to him on various occasions, but the authorship is unclear.

Swift is said to have long suffered from an inner ear disease that made him feel dizzy and more and more bothered him with age. Another disease is said to have caused "pebble-like substances" to accumulate in his body, which he himself called "urine grit". There is also controversial speculation that Swift was said to have been in a state of mental derangement since 1740, before becoming disabled after suffering a stroke in 1742. A preliminary biographical note about Jonathan Swift in "Gulliver's Reisen", edition 1839, allows the conclusion that Swift in his last years was suffering from a pathological enlargement of the liquor- filled fluid spaces ( cerebral ventricles ) in his brain ( hydrocephalus ) and probably from a kind of skin tuberculosis ( Scrofula ) suffered, quote: “He was afflicted with scrofula, which perhaps accelerated the breakdown of his mind. The real cause, however, was an accumulation of water in the brain, as it was found when opening after his death. ”Swift died in 1745. His grave is next to that of Esther Johnson in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

Literary work

Illustration to Gulliver's Travels by Richard Redgrave in the 19th century

Little has survived of Swift's early literary attempts. Only after his return to Ireland are there writings that identify him as the satirist who is known to this day . His novel The travels into several remote nations of the world by Lemuel Gulliver ( dt.Gullivers Reisen ) was published in 1726. For a long time mainly viewed as a children's book, and deprived of its satire in abridged editions , it is often undervalued. In a sort of Robinsonade , Swift describes Gulliver's travels in various countries, whose ridiculed peculiarities the Enlightenment thinkers uses as sharp points against the English ruling class, the Royal Academy and human nature in general. An interesting detail of the story is also the description of two Martian moons ; in fact, two Martian moons were discovered 150 years later. In honor of Swift, the largest crater on the moon Deimos was named after him.

He then wrote several times against the conditions in the English-ruled Ireland. His best-known satire is A Modest Proposal , in which he proposes to eradicate overpopulation, poverty and crime by using Irish babies as food and making a profit by exporting them. In the Steuereinmaleins (1728) the first beginnings of the Laffer curve, which later became known in economics, appear .

From him z. B. the satirical saying: People are even more repulsive than they are.


  • Dissensions in Athens and Rome. 1701.
  • The Tale of a Tub. 1704.
  • The Battle of the Books. 1704.
  • Bickerstaff Predictions for 1708. 1707.
  • The Sentiments of a Church of England Man. 1708.
  • Arguments Against Abolishing Christianity. 1708.
  • Letter upon the Sacramental Test. 1708.
  • Project for the Advancement of Learning. 1709.
  • Ancient Prophecy. 1709.
  • Sid Hamet's Rod. 1710.
  • Meditation upon a broomstick. 1710.
  • Short Character of the Earl of Wharton. 1710.
  • The Conduct of the Allies. 1711.
  • The Representation of the House of Commons on the State of the Nation. 1711.
  • An Address of Thanks to the Queen. 1711.
  • Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue. 1712.
  • Reflections on the Barrier Treaty. 1712.
  • Remarks on the Bishop of Sarum's Introduction to His Third Volume of the History of the Reformation. 1712.
  • Journal to Stella. 1710-13.
  • The Public Spirit of the Whigs. 1713?
  • Free Thoughts on the State of Public Affairs.
  • Cadenus and Vanessa. 1713.
  • A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures, & c. 1720.
  • The Drapier's Letters. 1724.
  • Gulliver's Travels. 1726. ( Gulliver's Travels )
  • Miscellanies. 1727.
  • A short view of the state of Ireland. Harding, Dublin 1727/1728.
    • Reprint: Pickering & Chatto, London 2005. In: Leslie A. Clarkson, E. Margaret Crawford: An account of the rise, progress, and decline of the fever lately epidemical in Ireland .
  • A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen. 1729.
  • A Letter from the Grand Mistress of the Female Free-Masons to Mr. Harding, the Printer. 1731?
  • The Day of Judgment. 1731.
  • Verses on the Death of Dr Swift. 1731.
  • Rhapsody of Poetry. 1735?
  • The Legion Club. 1736.
  • Upon Sleeping in Church. posthumously .
  • History of the Peace of Utrecht. posthumously.
  • Directions to Servants. posthumously.

There were 37 books in total



  • H. Teerink, AH Scouten: A Bibliography of the Writings of Jonathan Swift. Philadelphia 1963.
  • RH Rodino: Swift Studies, 1965-1980. An Annotated Bibliography . 1984.

Work editions

  • Herbert Davis et al. (Ed.): The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift. 16 volumes. Oxford 1939-1968.
  • Harold Williams (Ed.): The Poems of Jonathan Swift. 3 volumes. Oxford 1937. (repr. 1958)
  • Harold Williams (Ed.): The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift . 5 volumes. Oxford 1963-1972.
  • David Woolley (Ed.): The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, DD 4 volumes:
    • I: Letters 1690-1714. (nos 1-300). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1999.
    • II: Letters 1714-1726. (nos. 301-700). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2001.
    • III: Letters 1726-1734. (nos. 701-1100). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2003.
    • IV: Letters 1734-1745. (nos. 1101-1508). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2007.
    • V: indexes. (forthcoming)

Secondary literature

  • I. Honorary Award: Swift. The Man, His Works, and the Age . 3 volumes. London 1962-1983.
  • Hermann J. Real, Heinz J. Vienken: Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels. Munich 1984.
  • Justus Franz Wittkop : Jonathan Swift. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1976, ISBN 3-499-50242-9 .
  • C. Peake: Swift's Satirical Elegy on a Late Famous General. In: Review of English Literature. 3, 1962, pp. 80-89.
  • Melanie Maria Just: Jonathan Swift's On poetry: A rapsody: a critical edition with a historical introduction and commentary. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2004, ISBN 3-631-53265-2 .
  • Dirk F. Passmann, Heinz J. Vienken: The Library and Reading of Jonathan Swift. A Bio-Bibliographical Handbook. (= Swift's Library in 4 volumes.) Part I, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-631-41926-0 .
  • Wilhelm Füger: Jonathan Swift's Autonekrolog - The verses on the death of Dr. Swift, DSPD Translation - Commentary - Interpretation . Publishing house Dr. Kovac, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2006, ISBN 3-8300-2660-9 .
  • FP Lock: The Politics of Gulliver's Travels. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1980, ISBN 0-19-812656-5 .
  • Victoria Glendinning : Jonathan Swift. Hutchinson 1998.
  • Leo Damrosch: Jonathan Swift: his life and his world. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, Conn. ao 2013, ISBN 978-0-300-16499-2 .
  • Eugene Hammond: Jonathan Swift: Irish blow-in , Newark: University of Delaware Press, [2016], ISBN 978-1-61149-606-2
  • Eugene Hammond: Jonathan Swift: our dean , Newark: University of Delaware Press, [2016], ISBN 978-1-61149-609-3

Individual evidence

  1. Swift had two sessions with the painter Charles Jervas in 1709 and 1710 ( Memento of the original from April 21, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. DNB, Märchen von einer Tonne , ISBN 3-548-37097-7 (see also edition Altona anno 1737 online  - Internet Archive ).
  3. DNB, The Battle of Books
  4. ( Memento of the original from January 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ Title page of the edition of 1733 (the same text had previously been published anonymously)
  6. ( Memento of the original from October 24, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /

Web links

Commons : Jonathan Swift  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Jonathan Swift  - Sources and full texts (English)
Wikisource: Jonathan Swift  - Sources and full texts