Jonathan Swift, a British author, born in Dublin, Nov. 30, 1667, died there, Oct, 19, 1745. He was of purely English descent; his father, dying before the birth of his son, left his family in dependent circumstances. In his 15th year he entered Trinity college, Dublin, where from his insufficiency in some respects he received his bachelor's degree only speciali gratia, in February, 1685; but he remained in college studying for a master's degree till the revolution of 1689 drove him to England, where he became private secretary to Sir William Temple, whose wife was related to his mother. He employed his leisure hours in study, and acquired a remarkable familiarity with public affairs. In 1692 Swift took his master's degree at Oxford, and two years later, finding Temple unwilling to make any definite provision for him, he went to Ireland. In October, 1694, he was ordained, and soon after received the prebend of Kilroot, in the diocese of Connor; but in a few months he returned to his secretaryship. . Temple, dying in January, 1699, left him a legacy, coupled with the task of editing his posthumous works (London, 1699). Swift next became chaplain to Lord Berkeley, one of the lords justices of Ireland, whom in 1699 he accompanied to Dublin, acting as his secretary during the journey.
He was supplanted in the secretaryship by a person who subsequently interfered so that the rich deanery of Deny, at Berkeley's disposal, and to which Swift deemed himself entitled, was given to another. Swift exclaimed to the earl and his secretary, "Confound you both for a couple of scoundrels!" and left the castle. But he soon came back, the new dean of Derry (Dr. Bolton) being required to resign to him the vicarage of Lara-cor and several other livings, amounting altogether to nearly £400 a year. In 1700 Swift assumed his parochial duties at Laracor, and shortly after received the prebend of Dunlavin in St. Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, and in February following took his doctor's degree in Dublin university. In 1701 he made the first of a number of annual visits to England, and published anonymously in London his " Discourse on the Contests and Dissensions between the Nobles and Commons of Athens and Rome," vindicating the conduct of the whig leaders, Somers, Halifax, Harley, and Portland, in respect to the partition treaty.
It was generally attributed to Somers himself or Burnet; but Swift avowed the authorship in the succeeding year, and was immediately admitted into the society of the statesmen he had defended, and into that of Addison, Steele, Ar-buthnot, and others of the leading wits of the time. Some trifles in prose and verse had shown an original vein of humor, but he had .signally failed in a series of "Pindaric Odes." In 1704 appeared his "Battle of the Books," written at Moor Park in 1697, in support of Sir William Temple's views in the controversy respecting the relative merits of ancient and modern learning. This was succeeded by the "Tale of a Tub," a satire upon the Roman Catholics and dissenters. It is one of Swift's most perfect and labored efforts, but its imputed irreligious tendency proved an insurmountable obstacle to his hopes of high preferment. In 1708 he published his "Argument to prove the Inconvenience of Abolishing Christianity," a masterpiece of grave irony; " Sentiments of a Church of England Man with respect to Religion and Government;" the humorous attacks on Partridge the almanac maker, entitled "Predictions for 1708, by Isaac Bicker-staff;" and "Letters on the Sacramental Test," in which he differed with the whigs, and this may partially explain his subsequent abandonment of that party.
In 1709 ho published the onlv work to which he ever attached his name, "A Project for the Advancement of Religion and the Reformation of Manners." Failing to receive preferment from the whigs, he went over to the tories in October, 1710; and for several months the "Examiner," a weekly paper established by St. John and others in the interest of the ministry, was the vehicle for bitter attacks from his pen upon prominent whig statesmen. About this time he formed the society of Brothers, composed of 16 influential tories, of which he was the most active member. His powerful pamphlet on the " Conduct of the Allies," published in November, 1711, which had a considerable influence in bringing the war to a close, raised his reputation to the highest pitch, and he found himself in a position to confer substantial favors. But he himself, while dictating, as Dr. Johnson has observed, the political opinions of the English nation, remained unrewarded; and the efforts of Harley and St. John, now become Lords Oxford and Boling-broke, aided by Mrs. Masham, were unavailing to procure him a bishopric, the queen, under the advice of Archbishop Sharp and other prelates, positively refusing him any high preferment.
On the failure of an application in his behalf for the vacant see of Hereford, through the opposition of the duchess of Somerset, whom he had lampooned, Swift threatened to withdraw his support from the ministry, but was pacified by his appointment, in February, 1713, to the deanery of St. Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, the income of which amounted to £700. He had scarcely got settled in his deanery when he was summoned back to England to reconcile the difficulties between Oxford and Bolingbroke. About this time he wrote his "Public Spirit of the Whigs," which reflected so bitterly upon the Scottish nation and nobility that the latter in a body presented a complaint to the queen. In June, 1714, appeared his " Free Thoughts on the State of Public Affairs;" and on the dismissal of Oxford a few weeks later he declined the flattering overtures of Bolingbroke, in order to be of service to the disgraced minister. The death of the queen immediately after this event and the overthrow of the tories sent Swift back to Ireland, where he remained during the next 12 years. - Swift's history was painfully involved with that of three young ladies.
One was Miss Jane Waring, sister of a college friend, of whom he became enamored in Belfast; he called her Varina. His offer of marriage she at first declined on account of her own ill health and his insufficient income; and the hopelessness of settling differences on both sides led to a cessation of their intercourse. While secretary for Sir William Temple, Swift had conceived a strong friendship for Esther Johnson, daughter of a woman who was for many years an attendant upon Temple's sister, Lady Gif-fard. Swift's account of Esther is that "her father was a younger brother of a good family in Nottinghamshire, her mother of a lower degree." Swift on his first settlement in Ireland invited this young lady (named Stella in his poems) to Laracor, and with a friend, Mrs. Dingley, she came and resided near him. They were intimate, saw each other often, and corresponded when apart; and she attended to his household in his absence. Subsequently, in London, he became acquainted with Hester Vanhomrigh, a spirited, intelligent, and accomplished girl, whom he kindly noticed and aided in her studies.
She conceived for him a passion so earnest that she proposed marriage, which he declined, but without discouraging her advances; and after the death of her mother she went to Ireland (1714) to dwell in his vicinity. Vanessa (the name he gave her), ignorant for a time of his relations to Stella, endured his coldness with hope of a favorable change, till in 1717 she retired with her sister to Marley abbey to live in deep seclusion. Meantime Stella urged her claims, and won his consent under the stipulation of perpetual secrecy; and they were married privately in the garden of the deanery in 1716. Their relations had been, and because of this secrecy continued to be, equivocal. Vanessa's sister being ill, Swift several times visited the abbey; but receiving no other encouragement, and tormented by suspicion and impatience, Vanessa wrote to Stella to ascertain the nature of her intimacy with Swift. The dean, getting possession of the letter, rode directly to Marley abbey, thing it upon the table before Vanessa with a frown which struck her dumb with terror, and instantly departed.
The unhappy woman survived this shock but a few weeks, and Swift, overcome by shame and remorse, retired for two months to solitude in the south of Ireland. After her death appeared his poem "Cadenus and Vanessa," describing the manner in which Swift (personified as Cadenus, an anagram of Decaitus, the dean) received the early advances of Miss Vanhomrigh. Five years later Stella herself died, without any public recognition of her marriage. - Swift produced in 1720 "A Defence of English Commodities, being an Answer to the Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures," followed in 1724 by the celebrated "Drapicr's Letters," in opposition to the royal grant authorizing Wood to coin £108,000 in halfpence and farthings for general circulation in Ireland. The author denounced the whole system of government in Ireland with a vigor and point which aroused a powerful popular feeling in his favor. His effigy was produced on signs and medals, and distributed broadcast in innumerable prints; and so powerful became his influence with the lower classes that Walpole, when meditating legal proceedings against him, was told that it would require 10,000 men to arrest him.
In 172G appeared his "Gulliver's Travels," a series of satires on human nature and society, the most original and extraordinary of all his productions, and that by which he will be known while the language lasts. In 1726 and 1727 he made visits to England, renewing his intimacy with Pope, Gay, Bolingbroke, Arbuthnot, and others of his early friends; but after the death of Stella he never left Ireland. For several years he wrote with vigor and increasing bitterness on Irish affairs, and amused himself with composing verses, the humor of which is more than equalled by the fierceness and obscenity of the satire; but by 1736 his health became so undermined by frequently recurring attacks of deafness and vertigo, to which he had been subject from an early age, as to preclude further literary labors. His infirmities rapidly increased after this, and in a corresponding degree his memory and intellect decayed. In the latter part of 1740 his memory almost entirely left him, and frequent fits of passion at length terminated in furious lunacy. This subsided in 1742, and he passed the last three years of his life in a condition of speechless torpor. He was interred in the cathedral, amid extravagant demonstrations of popular respect.
He bequeathed the bulk of his property, amounting to £10,000, to found a hospital for insane persons. Swift was tall and well made, with a swarthy complexion, and a cast of face that would have been heavy but for the pleasing expression of his eyes. - Some posthumous works of Swift were published long after his death, including "A History of the four last Years of Queen Anne;" "Polite Conversation," a satire on the frivolities of fashionable life; and "Directions for Servants." A complete edition of his writings was published in 19 vols, by Sir Walter Scott, whose biography of him is still the standard one. That by Dr. Johnson, in his "Lives of the Poets," reflects too closely the dislike which the biographer always entertained for Swift. There is also a copious life by Thomas Sheridan, and an account of his latter years by Dr. Wilde of Dublin, written on the occasion of the remains of Swift and Stella being exhumed, during some repairs in St. Patrick's cathedral, in 1835. The character of Swift is the subject of an elaborate essay by Thackeray, included in his " British Humorists." See also the "Life of Jonathan Swift," by John Forster, including numerous poems and other matter hitherto unpublished (London, 1875 et seq.).