LIFE AND GENIUS OF JONATHAN SWIFT
Jonathan Swift was a beautifully original writer - serious about ideas, especially politics and the human condition, in love with learning, which to him, was the most natural of all human qualities.
He was deeply loving, as a person, and also very devotedly romantic, activist to the core, religious in a deeply human sense, and an exceptional writer, imaginative and satirical but with a very real humanity.
Early life and education
He was born in Dublin, Ireland. A few months before he was born, his father died. But his mother took great care of him, not just in terms of feeding and bringing him up, but with a determination that, despite her circumstances, her son must get the best of everything.
His mother was hard up on finances, and she took a wise decision to hand over her son’s education to her brother-in-law, Godwin Swift who was an established attorney. Jonathan was enrolled in Kilkenny Grammar School, which was one of the best schools in Ireland at that time.
Gulliver had another serious problem. He suffered from Meniere’s disease that affected the inner ear and made Jonathan nauseous and hard of hearing.
Despite these tough circumstances, Jonathan showed great discipline and made good use of his 8 years in the school, 1674-1682. This foundation of the best learning, that he himself made the best use of, had a lasting influence in his life.
His deeply original mind, sensitivity and power of learning, got wings and he was able to, with such a foundation and a deep passion kindled within him, spend a lifetime in deep study, He could spend a life time learning from experiences, activism and writing. He also made a deep friendship with the great William Congreve in school.
He flowered in the ability to make friendships and above all, to endure hardships while still being alive and learning with his faculties in top gear.
That flame never lessened and he grew in leaps and bounds with every passing decade.
He filled his life, with learning, study, writing works, activism, and also found a deep and lasting and true romantic love, and great friendships. He lived a rich life and put all his life time observations and experiences into great works of artistic writings.
Without doubt, all the early school studies, combined with challenging circumstances, MADE his life by providing a great foundation which his innate nature HUNGERED NATURALLY FOR and his good fortune gave him.
Later Studies Years with William Temple (1684 – 1699)
At age 14, he enrolled in the famous Trinity College for undergraduate studies, for four years he immersed himself in deep acquaintance with all that could be learnt in the humanities during that time. At 18, he graduated and enrolled in Masters too. But soon, huge unrest came about in Ireland. What is called the Glorious Revolution motivated Swift to move to England.
Here he got employment as secretary under the famed William Temple. It was his mother who had arranged this position for him.
This was a very fruitful period for Swift. He honed his writing abilities and Temple soon recognized both his brilliance and sensitivity and gave him the most important and sensitive tasks. He rose in his abilities as a writer and also started writing his own essays and began working on a book that would be published later.
Temple was an excellent employer in that sense and made full use of Swift’s abilities and also encouraged Swift in all ways, especially to write his own original pieces.
They were wonderful ten years and another extremely eventful thing that happened to Swift was that he developed a deep and, in fact, strange love for a girl whom he called Stella. Her full name was Esther Johnson.
The special, strange and beautifully dedicated love affair of Swift with Stella.
Esther was the daughter of the house keeper at Temple’s household. Esther was only 8 years old, when Swift first met her. He began to mentor her and they developed a deep trust, closeness and actually love for each other. This is evidenced from the fact that he wrote two books inspired by her. She was a kind of muse, and his own soul in another form, who would understand all that he felt, thought and loved. When she grew older, it is said that they did marry, but it is not known with certainty.
What is certain is that all his life, Swift not only loved Stella, but shared all his soul with her.
Work as a minister near Dublin (1699- 1709) and with the Tories
In 1699, Temple passed away and after a few failed trials, here and there, Swift finally settled to become a minister near Dublin, in a small church.
Here, for the next 10 years, he lived a simple life preaching and living in the small residence that the church provided.
Now, he had ample inner motivation, space and also time to write his first political pamphlet that was called “Discourse on the contests and dissensions in Athens and Rome”.
He released 2 books anonymously - The Tale of a Tub, and the Battle of the Books.
Swift, by now, had matured in every way. He was truly a giant and he could see the pettiness, banality of life, in Church and in Politics and in the whole mankind.
His deeply sensitive nature and his hard earned erudition and his honesty and humanity made it too clear to him, what the problems of the world really were. In fact, he had risen far above the world, and the only way he could really express the truth and clarity he had was through cutting satire. Nothing else or less would do.
All his unique gifts came to a laser like focus with his satirical pen.
His love for life, humanity, definitely kindled and blossomed with Esther. Also developed simultaneously, his contempt with detachment the sick, petty, and trivial life of the people, politics and especially the emptiness of false pride.
All this he expressed in the The Tub and not surprisingly, it became a huge success as he had had laid out the truth, in satirical fashion and with utter clarity, detachment and full, obvious truth.
But, as he had chosen to use the church to portray false pride, he got a bad reputation and severe condemnation for the church.
But indirectly, he was celebrated by the more liberal people and intellectuals and when the Tories came to power, they invited him to join them, and he was made editor of the “Examiner”, a weekly.
He spent 4 years with them till they came down from power. During that time, he saw politics from close, and saw the world, especially those who craved the worst that life offers- power.
He could see, with his perspective, the degradation, the utter lack of knowledge, care, concern, and totally insane justifications, and he had no choice but to put it all in his writings for the Tories.
A large part, however, he wrote in a series to his love, Stella, and it became a book called THE JOURNAL OF STELLA. In that, as was usual with him he poured out his humanity and his observations, with a deep, and deadly perspective.
'Gulliver's Travels' and final Years at St Patrick’s Cathedral
Before the inevitable fall of the Tories, Swift returned to Ireland. In 1713, he got a post at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.
It was here that all his life’s study, observations, honed skills as a satirical writer, his panoramic and yet close hand, and first hand perspective on life and living and politics culminated in a legendary, eternal work of the greatest art – GULLIVER TRAVELS.
The book was an immediate success and since then till today, millions of people have read the book, in full, or in abridged form the world over.
After a few months of the success of that book, Swift's longtime love, Esther Johnson, fell ill. She died in January 1728. He was obviously shattered, and he poured out his deepest feelings and what he had seen and felt and shared with her, in a book called The Death of Mrs. Johnson.
In 1742, Swift met with a stroke and lost his ability to speak. On October 19, 1745, Swift passed away.
He was laid to rest next to Esther Johnson inside Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral.