Biography Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

photo of Jonathan Swift
  • Time Period1667 - 1745
  • PlaceDublin
  • CountryIreland

Poet Biography

Swift, a cousin of Dryden, was born in Dublin and went to school with the playwright Congreve. He completed his education at Trinity College, Dublin, where he gained his degree only by "special grace", because of his bad behaviour.

Swift's life-long involvement with political concerns began in 1689 when he became secretary to Sir William Temple, a diplomat and essayist. He was ordained in 1694 and this marks another key focus in his life and work. He was given a prebend at St Patrick's, Dublin in 1699. Swift had several close literary companions and in 1714 together with Pope, Gay and others he founded the Scribelunus club. The professed aim of this club was to ridicule "false tastes in learning", and indeed, much of Swift's written work is an attack on the institutions and accepted beliefs of his day. Gulliver's Travels, for instance is presented as an attractive travel novel yet also mounts an attack against political parties, philosophers, historians and others, through detailed satiric observation. Through his regular trips to London, Swift became acquainted with Addison, Steele and Halifax and he particularly enjoyed playing language games with Sheridan. Although Gulliver's Travels had an immediate and widespread success, the satirical element alienated many including Dr Johnson and Thackeray, and there were even claims that Swift had been mad before he died.