Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, Whig, Tory, Dean of the church, and defender of the lives of Irishmen. The period in England from 1688 to 1788 was a period of struggles that had enormous influence of poetry: Medieval and Classical; Crown and Parliament; French and English; Whigs and Tories. With the victory of the Whigs came the panegyrical poetry of Joseph Addison with The Campaign written to celebrate the victory at Blenheim, Charles Montague on Charles II: Thomas Tickell with Kensington Gardens. At the same time there was the rise of the familiar or pedestrian style verse of Swift as in Description of a City Shower.

Although Swift was born in Dublin (1667) he was English; a Yorkshire on his father’s side and Leicester on his mother’s side. Educated first at Trinity College, Dublin and later graduated from Oxford fully qualified for a successful literary, liturgical life. But he had a sharp tongue and this coupled with an inherited mental affliction truncated his rise in the political/social arena and subsequent isolation as a parish priest far from public view. He predicted his demise in these words “I shall be like that tree, I shall die at the top.”

Sir Walter Scott described him as tall with dark, heavy eyebrows; his blue eyes stood out by contrast. Other close associates describe as having a haughty, egotistical manner and “an imperious irritable pride.” All were impediments to whatever opportunities which were once promised thus he became nothing more than a parish priest banished to Northern Ireland, the land where he was born. In today’s world it would be described as “put out of the loop.” Not that most of his career or lack of was due to his own need to “keep the pot boiling” or just “muck racking”. His first loss was the lucrative deanery of Derry. His Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man and Against Abolishing Christianity were published in 1708. In the latter work he wrote:

“And to urge another argument of a parallel nature: if Christianity were one abolished, how could the freethinkers, the strong reasoners, and the men of profound learning, be able to find another subject, so calculated in all points, whereon to display their abilities? What wonderful productions of wit should we be deprived of from those whose genius by continual practice has been wholly turned upon raillery and invectives against religion, and would therefore never be able to shine of distinguish themselves upon any other subject! We are daily complaining of the great decline of wit among us, and would we take away the greatest, perhaps the only topic we have left? Who would have suspected Asgil for a wit, or Toland for a philosopher, if the inexhaustible stock of Christianity had not been at hand to provide them with materials? What other subject, through all art of nature, could have produced Tindal for a profound author, or furnished him with readers? It is the wise choice of the subject that alone adorns and distinguishes the writer. For had a hundred such pens as these been employed on the side of religion, they would immediately have sunk into silence and oblivion.”

Two of his publications contributed to his loss of support in the court of Queen Anne in 1713 after the death of Queen Anne he was exiled to Dublin. This was fertile ground for the master of both Horatian and Juvenalian satire. Though technically no longer a politician he became the priest “who if reduced to silence is of little use to his church”. Swift took up the defense of Irish rights he wrote Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720) attacking the abuses of Charles II and William of Orange. After Charles II had ruined Irish shipping and forbidden the exportation of horses, cattle, meat and dairy products the alternative to starving was to make a living out of sheep wool. Then in 1699 William prohibited the sale of woolen goods leaving an estimated 42,000 families without any available source of income. Next came Drapiers Letters (1724) where Swift posing as a shop-keeper or draper exposed the attempt by the English government to provide Ireland with an inferior half-pence, mostly brass not copper, coin. His Baucis and Philemon and Cadenus and Vanessa were in a lighter vein.

Swift described himself as a misanthrope. He was the master impersonator: as Isaac Bickerstaff, the clairvoyant astrologer who challenged John Partridge and his popular almanac; Cadenus in Cadenus and Vanessa (1726), which was an anagram for the Latin decanus or Dean; Presto in the Journal to Stella. A shop-keeper in Drapier, exposing the coinage controversy between Ireland and England (1724-1725); and finally, in the tour de force Gulliver’s Travels (1726) he was Lemuel Gulliver, the ship’s physician. “He was one to be loved and hated, to be pitied and feared, and that perchance by the same people at the same time.” And he was not altogether accepted as dean of St. Patrick in fact on the morning of Swift's installation as Dean, “the following scurrilous lines by Smedley, Dean of Clogher, were affixed to the doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral:

To-day this Temple gets a Dean
  Of parts and fame uncommon,
Us'd both to pray and to prophane,
  To serve both God and mammon.
When Wharton reign'd a Whig he was;
  When Pembroke—that's dispute, Sir;
In Oxford's time, what Oxford pleased,
  Non-con, or Jack, or Neuter.
This place he got by wit and rhime,
  And many ways most odd,
And might a Bishop be in time,
  Did he believe in God.
Look down, St. Patrick, look, we pray,
  On thine own church and steeple;
Convert thy Dean on this great day,
  Or else God help the people.
And now, whene'er his Deanship dies,
  Upon his stone be graven,
A man of God here buried lies,
  Who never thought of heaven.

Slowly his attacks of unprovoked giddiness increased which, if diagnosed today, would constitute Meniere’s disease. His deafness became more apparent and, in verse, there were more virulent style attacks against Queen Anne and Prime Minister Walpole The Tale of the Tub was his finest work. It is best described as a Rabelaisian, allegorical satire on the divisions in the Christian religion where he vented a nurtured resentment of John Dryden for Dryden’s loyalty to James II. The villification of other officials coupled with the need to shock conventional ideas truncated his career. In his personal life he fared no better. There was Esther Vanhomrigh who was Vanessa in verse and who died in 1723 three years later Esther Johnson who was Stella in verse also died.

In the Ode to the Athenian Society Swift wrote on aspiration to fame:

“Were I to form a regular thought of Fame,
Which is perhaps as hard to imagine right,
As to paint Echo to the sight,
I would not draw the idea from an empty name;
Because alas! when we all die
Careless and ignorant posterity,
Although they praise the learning and the wit,
And though the title seem to show
The name and man by whom the book was writ,
Yet how shall they be brought to know
Whether that very name was he, or you, or I?

Banished from London, though a disappointment, didn’t destroy his sense of humor, at least at the beginning. He wrote of it in Epistle 7 of Imitation of Horace:

“Lewis his patron’s humour knows,
Away upon his errand goes,
And quickly did the matter sift;
Found out that it was Doctor Swift,
A clergyman of special note
For shunning those of his own coat;
Take care betimes to run him down;
No libertine; not over-nice;
Addicted to no kind of vice;
Went where he pleased, said what he thought;
Not rich, but owed no man a groat:
In state opinions a la mode;
He hated Warton like a toad,
Had given the faction many a wound,
And libeled all the junto round;
Kept company with men of wit,
Who oft-times fathered what he writ:
His works were hawked in every street,
But seldom rose above a sheet:
Of late indeed the paper stamp
Did very much the genius cramp;
And since he could not spend his fire,
He now intended to retire.”

By 1714 his mood changed from a frivolous move to that of banishment. In October of that year he wrote In Silence:

“My female friends, whose tender hearts
Have better learned to act their parts,
Receive the news in doleful dumps:
‘The Dean is dead; Pray, what is trumps?)
Then Lord have mercy on his soul!
(Ladies, I’ll venture on the vole);
Six deans, they say, must bear the pall
(I wish, I knew what king to call!).
Madam, your husband will attend
The funeral of so good a friend?’
“No, Madam, ‘tis a shocking sight,
And he’s engaged to-morrow night:
My Lady Club will take it ill
If he should fail her at Quadrille.
He loved the Dean (I lead a heart),
But dearest friends, they say, must part:
His time was come; he ran his race;
We hope he’s in a better place.”

His On His Own Death is a self-portrait of humorous self-depreciation in rhymed couplets.

“He never thought an honour done him,
Because a peer was proud to own him;
Would rather slip aside, and choose
To talk with wits in dirty shows;
And scorn the tools with stars and garters,
So often seen caressing Chartres.
He never courted men in station,
Nor persons held in admiration;
Of no man’s greatness was afraid,
Because he sought for no man’s aid.
Though trusted long in great affairs,
He gave himself no haughty airs:
Without regarding private ends,
Spent all his credit for his friends,
And only chose the wise And good;
No flatterers; no allies in blood;
But succoured virtue in distress,
And seldom failed of good success,
As numbers in their hearts must own,
Who but for him, had been unknown.
He kept with princes due decorum,
Yet never stood in awe before ‘em:
He followed David’s lesson just,
In princes never put his trust;
And would you make him truly sour,
Provoke him with s slave in power.
The Irish senate if you named
With what impatience he declaimed!
Fair LIBERTY was all his cry,
For her he stood prepared to die;
For her he boldly stood alone,
For her he oft exposed his own.
Two kingdoms, just as faction led,
Had set a price upon his head;
But not a traitor could be found
To sell him for six hundred pound.

And this epigram was certainly a test of projection as he wrote, “A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.”

It is the late work Gulliver’s Travels first published in 1727 where we find one of satire’s finest masterpieces. The work is divided into four sections each section describes a different society – Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and Houyhnhnmland. The facts and customs of each country are recorded. The main character, Gulliver, is a scientist, trained doctor, hopeful, simple, and filled with good will toward mankind. The “Age of Enlightenment” is the time of optimism, arguing that the perfectability of mankind will be made possible through education, better governing, but first there must be a rejection of the past and its contribution. Were Gulliver’s values Swifts? Not really. Students frequently mistake Gulliver as representing Swift. In literary form, satire is meant to be a lesson in irony thus much of what Gulliver thinks and believes is the exact opposite of what Swift thinks and believes. At the end of his travels, Gulliver is a disillusioned man. Swift embraced the individual, it is when the individuals form themselves into groups- church, political, or social that their troubles begin and reason flies out the door. He writes in Laputa about a country where social pressure to do absurd projects in an unpractical way. At one point they go about “Extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers.”

In The Story of Civilization Will Durant describes the last years of Swift’s life “Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to take care of his affairs and watch lest in his outbursts of violence he should do himself harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye which swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye. He went a whole year without uttering a word.”

He was much loved and revered in Dublin and is buried there at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He left the world to use his own words where “savage indignation could torture his heart no more.”

His epitaph reads:

Hujus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
(Dean of this Cathedral Church)
Ubi sæva Indignatio
(Where firce indignation
(can no longer
Cor lacerare nequit,
(injure the Heart.
Abi Viator
(Go forth, Voyager)
Et imitare, si poteris,
(and copy if you can)
Strenuum pro virile
(this vigorous)
Libertatis Vindicatorem.
(Champion of Liberty).

Another version was offered by W. B. Yeats:

“Swift has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his Breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-Besotted Traveler; he
Served human liberty.”

Now about his writing.
Our first characteristic is the use of merciless language and biting wit.

“Perhaps I may allow the Dean
Had too much satire in his vein;
And seem’d determined not to starve it,
Because no age could more deserve it.
Yet malice never was his aim;
He lash’d the vice, but spared the name;
No individual could resent,
Where thousands equally were meant;
His satire points at no defect,
But what all mortals may correct;
For he abhorr’d that senseless tribe
Who call it humour when they gibe:
He spared a hump, or crooked nose,
Whose owners set not up for beaux.
True genuine dulness moved his pity,
Unless it offer’d to be witty.
Those who their ignorance confest,
But laugh’d to hear an idiot quote
A verse from Horace learn’d by rote.
He knew a hundred pleasing stories,
With all the turns of Whigs and tories:
Was cheerful to his dying day;
And friends would let him have his way.
He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house for fools and mad;
And show’d by one satiric touch,
No nation wanted it so much.” Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift

“Behold, his funeral appears,
Nor widow’s sighs, nor orphan’s tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
And what of that? His friends may say.
He had those honours in his day.
Turn to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.” A Satyrical Elegy for the Duke of Marlborough

To my certain knowledge, some of our greatest wits in your poetical way have not as much real learning as would cover sixpence in the bottom of a basin; nor do I think the worse of them…
“Query whether churches are not dormitories of the living as well as of the dead?”
“Apollo was held the god of physic and sender of diseases. Both were originally the same trade, and still continue.”
“The two maxims of any great man at court are, always to keep his countenance, and never to keep his word.”

“A pudding is all my desire,
My mistress I never require;
A lover I find it a jest is,
His misery never at rest is.”

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“Swift’s tendency to dwell on the meaner, and even the revolting facts of life, pardonable in his prose, is unpardonable in those tributes to Venus, in which he intrudes on a lady’s boudoir with the eye of a surgeon fresh from a dissecting-room or an hospital.” J. Nichols
“His society verses are like those of a man writing with his feet, for he delights to trample on what others caress. Often he seems, among singing birds, a vulture screeching over carrion.” J. Nichols

“Of his poetical writings it may be said that though only surpassed in wit and humor by his more universally known prose, they are infinitely nastier than anything else in the English language.” James Parton

Swift’s mastery of the language for purposes of ridicule is universally allowed to be unsurpassed. His range is indeed somewhat too wide for ordinary tastes; in the process of “debasing and defiling,” he sometimes condescends to use the language of the brothel.” Minto

“Swift flings filth like a maniac, plunges into ferocious personalities, and ends fitly with the execration “May their God, the devil, confound them!” Leslie Stephen

Our second characteristic is master of vers de societe, simplicity, clearness.

“The slip-shop ‘prentice from his master’s door
Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
Now Moll had whirl’d her mop with dext’rous airs,
Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.
The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel’s edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep,
Till drown’d in shriller notes of chimney-sweep:
Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet;
And brickdust Moll had scream’d through half the street
The turnkey now his flock returning sees,
Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees:
The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands,
And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.” Description of the Morning 1709. The Tattler

“This single stick, which you now behold ingloriously lying in that neglected corner, I once knew in a flourishing state in a forest.  It was full of sap, full of leaves, and full of boughs; but now in vain does the busy art of man pretend to vie with nature, by tying that withered bundle of twigs to its sapless trunk; it is now at best but the reverse of what it was, a tree turned upside-down, the branches on the earth, and the root in the air; it is now handled by every dirty wench, condemned to do her drudgery, and, by a capricious kind of fate, destined to make other things clean, and be nasty itself; at length, worn to the stumps in the service of the maids, it is either thrown out of doors or condemned to the last use—of kindling a fire.  When I behold this I sighed, and said within myself, “Surely mortal man is a broomstick!”  Nature sent him into the world strong and lusty, in a thriving condition, wearing his own hair on his head, the proper branches of this reasoning vegetable, till the axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs, and left him a withered trunk; he then flies to art, and puts on a periwig, valuing himself upon an unnatural bundle of hairs, all covered with powder, that never grew on his head; but now should this our broomstick pretend to enter the scene, proud of those birchen spoils it never bore, and all covered with dust, through the sweepings of the finest lady’s chamber, we should be apt to ridicule and despise its vanity.  Partial judges that we are of our own excellencies, and other men’s defaults!
But a broomstick, perhaps you will say, is an emblem of a tree standing on its head; and pray what is a man but a topsy-turvy creature, his animal faculties perpetually mounted on his rational, his head where his heels should be, grovelling on the earth?  And yet, with all his faults, he sets up to be a universal reformer and corrector of abuses, a remover of grievances, rakes into every slut’s corner of nature, bringing hidden corruptions to the light, and raises a mighty dust where there was none before, sharing deeply all the while in the very same pollutions he pretends to sweep away.  His last days are spent in slavery to women, and generally the least deserving; till, worn to the stumps, like his brother besom, he is either kicked out of doors, or made use of to kindle flames for others to warm themselves by.” Meditation on a Broomstick

“Ere bribes convince you whom to choose,
The precepts of Lord Coke peruse.
Observe an elephant, says he,
And let him like your member be:
First take a man that's free from Gaul,
For elephants have none at all;
In flocks or parties he must keep;
For elephants live just like sheep.
Stubborn in honour he must be;
For elephants ne'er bend the knee.
Last, let his memory be sound,
In which your elephant's profound;
That old examples from the wise
May prompt him in his noes and ayes.
  Thus the Lord Coke hath gravely writ,
In all the form of lawyer's wit:
And then, with Latin and all that,
Shows the comparison is pat.
Yet in some points my lord is wrong,
One's teeth are sold, and t'other's tongue:
Now, men of parliament, God knows,
Are more like elephants of shows;
Whose docile memory and sense
Are turn'd to trick, to gather pence;
To get their master half-a-crown,
They spread the flag, or lay it down:
Those who bore bulwarks on their backs,
And guarded nations from attacks,
Now practise every pliant gesture,
Opening their trunk for every tester.
Siam, for elephants so famed,
Is not with England to be named:
Their elephants by men are sold;
Ours sell themselves, and take the gold.” In response to Sir Edward Coke’s recommendation that “Every member of the house being a counsellor should have three properties of the elephant; first that he hath no gall; secondly, that he is inflexible and cannot bow; thirdly, that he is of a most ripe and perfect memory … first, to be without gall, that is, without malice, rancor, heat, and envy: … secondly, that he be constant, inflexible, and not be bowed, or turned from the right either for fear, reward, or favour, nor in judgement respect any person: … thirdly, of a ripe memory, that they remembering perils past, might prevent dangers to come."

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“His delight was in simplicity. His style was well suited to his thoughts, which are never subtilised by nice disquisitions, decorated by sparkling conceits, elevated by ambitious sentences of variegated by far-sought learning.” Johnson Life of Swift

“He does not deal with subjects where single words are much open to different interpretations by different readers, and so has not much room for showing his skill in preventing ambiguity. But he is careful to make his words fit close to his ideas, and often brings out his meaning sharply, by contrasting it with what he does mean.” Minto Manual of English Prose

"In the poetical works there is not much upon which the critic can exercise his powers. They are often humorous, almost always light, and have the qualities which recommend such compositions, easiness and gaiety. They are, for the most part, what their author intended. The diction is correct, the numbers are smooth, and the rhymes exact. There seldom occurs a hard laboured expression or a redundant epithet; all his verses exemplify his own definition of a good style—they consist of 'proper words in proper places.’” Johnson Life of Swift

“Swift had no passionate love for ideals—indeed, he may have thought ideals to be figments of an overheated and, therefore, aberrated imagination. The practically real was the best ideal; and by the real he would understand that power which most capably and most regulatively nursed, guided, and assisted the best instincts of the average man. The average man was but a sorry creature, and required adventitious aids for his development. Gifted as he was with a large sympathy, Swift yet was seemingly incapable of appreciating those thought-forms which help us to visualize mentally our religious aspirations and emotions. A mere emotion was but subject-matter for his satire. He suspected any zeal which protested too much for truth, and considered it "odds on" it being "either petulancy, ambition, or pride." W. E Lecky

Our third characteristic is master of the persuasive pamphlet.

“Good God! Who are this wretch’s advisers? Who are his supporters, abettors, encouragers, or sharers?...It is no loss of honour to submit to the lion; but who, with the figure of a man, can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat?” Drapiers Letters

“There is one advantage greater than any of the foregoing, proposed by the abolishing of Christianity: that it will utterly extinguish parties among us, by removing those factious distinctions of High and Low Church, of Whig and Tory, Presbyterian and Church of England, which are now so many mutual clogs upon public proceedings, and are apt to prefer the gratifying themselves, or depressing their adversaries, before the most important interest of the state.” Argument against Abolishing Christianity

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“The efficacy of this wonder-working pamplet was supplied by the passions of its readers; that it operated by the mere weight of facts with a very little assistance from the hand that produced them…the art of the pamphleteer lay in bringing the popular passions into exercise...in picking out, and showing in strong light, facts that were escaping general notice.” Temple Scott. Vol. 3

“The condition of Ireland, at this time, was such as to arouse the warmest indignation from the most indifferent and unprejudiced—and it was a condition for which English misrule was mainly responsible. It cannot therefore be wondered at that Swift should be among the strenuous and persistent opponents of a policy which spelled ruin to his country, and his patriotism must be recognized even if we accept the existence of a personal motive.” Temple Scott. Vol. 7.
“Burke spoke of Swift's tracts of a public nature, relating to Ireland, as "those in which the Dean appears in the best light, because they do honour to his heart as well as his head; furnishing some additional proofs that, though he was very free in his abuse of the inhabitants of that country, as well natives as foreigners, he had their interest sincerely at heart, and perfectly understood it."

“The Bickerstaff pamphlets about a fictitious astrologer grew as a result of popularity to greater fame as the supposed editor of the Tattler.” Reader’s Book of Knowledge

“Let Ireland tell how wit upheld her cause,
Her trade supported, and supplied her laws;
And leave on Swift this grateful verse engraved,
The rights a Court attack’d, a poet saved.
Behold the hand that wrought a nation’s cure,
Stretch’d to relieve the idiot and the poor;
Proud vice to brand, or injured worth adorn,
And stretch the ray to ages yet unborn.” Alexander Pope

Our fourth characteristic is delight in allegory, enigmatics, and irony.

“The guardian of the regal library, a person of great valour, but chiefly renowned for his humanity, had been a fierce champion for the Moderns, and, in an engagement upon Parnassus, had vowed with his own hands to knock down two of the ancient chiefs who guarded a small pass on the superior rock, but, endeavouring to climb up, was cruelly obstructed by his own unhappy weight and tendency towards his centre, a quality to which those of the Modern party are extremely subject; for, being light-headed, they have, in speculation, a wonderful agility, and conceive nothing too high for them to mount, but, in reducing to practice, discover a mighty pressure about their posteriors and their heels.  Having thus failed in his design, the disappointed champion bore a cruel rancour to the Ancients, which he resolved to gratify by showing all marks of his favour to the books of their adversaries, and lodging them in the fairest apartments; when, at the same time, whatever book had the boldness to own itself for an advocate of the Ancients was buried alive in some obscure corner, and threatened, upon the least displeasure, to be turned out of doors.  Besides, it so happened that about this time there was a strange confusion of place among all the books in the library, for which several reasons were assigned.  Some imputed it to a great heap of learned dust, which a perverse wind blew off from a shelf of Moderns into the keeper’s eyes.  Others affirmed he had a humour to pick the worms out of the schoolmen, and swallow them fresh and fasting, whereof some fell upon his spleen, and some climbed up into his head, to the great perturbation of both.  And lastly, others maintained that, by walking much in the dark about the library, he had quite lost the situation of it out of his head; and therefore, in replacing his books, he was apt to mistake and clap Descartes next to Aristotle, poor Plato had got between Hobbes and the Seven Wise Masters, and Virgil was hemmed in with Dryden on one side and Wither on the other.” The Battle of the Books

“At certain seasons of the year you might behold the priests among them in vast numbers, with their mouths gaping wide against a storm. At other times were to be seen several hundreds linked together in a circular chain, with every man a pair of bellows applied to his neighbour’s breech, by which they blew up each other to the size of a tun; and for that reason…did usually call their bodies their vessels.” General Assembly of Presbyterians

“…Exposed to want, and wind, and weather,
They just keep life and soul together,
Till summer showers and evening's dew
Again the verdant glebe renew;
And, as the vegetables rise,
The famish'd cow her want supplies;
Without an ounce of last year's flesh;
Whate'er she gains is young and fresh;
Grows plump and round, and full of mettle,
As rising from Medea's kettle.
With youth and beauty to enchant
Europa's counterfeit gallant.
  Why, Stella, should you knit your brow,
If I compare you to a cow?
'Tis just the case; for you have fasted
So long, till all your flesh is wasted;
And must against the warmer days
Be sent to Quilca down to graze;
Where mirth, and exercise, and air,
Will soon your appetite repair:...” A Receipt to Restore Stella’s Youth 1724
”O, Heavenly born! In deepest dells
If fairer science ever dwells
Beneath the mossy cave;
Indulge the verdure of the woods,
With azure beauty glid the floods,
And flowery carpets lave.” Ode on Science

Comments from critics, colleagues and himself:

“Wit now and then, struck smartly, shows a spark,
Sufficient to redeem the modern race
From total night and absolute disgrace.
While servile trick and initiative knack
Confine the million in the beaten track,
Perhaps some courser, who discains the road,
Snuffs up the wind, and flings himself aboard.” Cowper on Swift

“Will nothing but from Greece or Rome
Please me? Is nothing good at home?
Yes; better;; but I look in vain
For a Moliere or La Fontaine.
Swift, in his humour was as strong,
But there was gall upon his tongue.
Bitters and acids may excite,
Yet satisfy not appetitie.” Landor

“O thou! Whatever title please thine ear,
Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff, or Gulliver!
Whether thou choose Cervantes’ serious air,
Or laugh and shake in Rabelais’ easy chair,
Or praise the court, or magnify manking,
Or thy grieved country’s copper chains unbind;
From thy Boeotia tough her power retires,
Mourn not, my Swift! At ought our realm requires,
Here poleased behold hyer mighty wings outspread
To hatch a new Sauturnian age of lead.” Alexander Pope

We close with Swift’s Thoughts on Various subjects, Moral and Diverting:

 'Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery's the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit.

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

Reflect on things past as wars, negotiations, factions, etc.  We enter so little into those interests, that we wonder how men could possibly be so busy and concerned for things so transitory; look on the present times, we find the same humour, yet wonder not at all.

A wise man endeavours, by considering all circumstances, to make conjectures and form conclusions; but the smallest accident intervening (and in the course of affairs it is impossible to foresee all) does often produce such turns and changes, that at last he is just as much in doubt of events as the most ignorant and inexperienced person.

Positiveness is a good quality for preachers and orators, because he that would obtrude his thoughts and reasons upon a multitude, will convince others the more, as he appears convinced himself.

How is it possible to expect that mankind will take advice, when they will not so much as take warning?

I forget whether Advice be among the lost things which Aristo says are to be found in the moon; that and Time ought to have been there.

No preacher is listened to but Time, which gives us the same train and turn of thought that older people have tried in vain to put into our heads before.

When we desire or solicit anything, our minds run wholly on the good side or circumstances of it; when it is obtained, our minds run wholly on the bad ones.

In a glass-house the workmen often fling in a small quantity of fresh coals, which seems to disturb the fire, but very much enlivens it.  This seems to allude to a gentle stirring of the passions, that the mind may not languish.

Religion seems to have grown an infant with age, and requires miracles to nurse it, as it had in its infancy.

All fits of pleasure are balanced by an equal degree of pain or languor; it is like spending this year part of the next year’s revenue.

The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

Would a writer know how to behave himself with relation to posterity, let him consider in old books what he finds that he is glad to know, and what omissions he most laments.

Whatever the poets pretend, it is plain they give immortality to none but themselves; it is Homer and Virgil we reverence and admire, not Achilles or Æneas. 

With historians it is quite the contrary; our thoughts are taken up with the actions, persons, and events we read, and we little regard the authors.
When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

Men who possess all the advantages of life, are in a state where there are many accidents to disorder and discompose, but few to please them.

It is unwise to punish cowards with ignominy, for if they had regarded that they would not have been cowards; death is their proper punishment, because they fear it most.

The greatest inventions were produced in the times of ignorance, as the use of the compass, gunpowder, and printing, and by the dullest nation, as the Germans.

One argument to prove that the common relations of ghosts and spectres are generally false, may be drawn from the opinion held that spirits are never seen by more than one person at a time; that is to say, it seldom happens to above one person in a company to be possessed with any high degree of spleen or melancholy.

I am apt to think that, in the day of Judgment, there will be small allowance given to the wise for their want of morals, nor to the ignorant for their want of faith, because both are without excuse.  This renders the advantages equal of ignorance and knowledge.  But, some scruples in the wise, and some vices in the ignorant, will perhaps be forgiven upon the strength of temptation to each.

The value of several circumstances in story lessens very much by distance of time, though some minute circumstances are very valuable; and it requires great judgment in a writer to distinguish.

It is grown a word of course for writers to say, “This critical age,” as divines say, “This sinful age.”

It is pleasant to observe how free the present age is in laying taxes on the next.  Future ages shall talk of this; this shall be famous to all posterity.  Whereas their time and thoughts will be taken up about present things, as ours are now.

The chameleon, who is said to feed upon nothing but air, hath, of all animals, the nimblest tongue.

When a man is made a spiritual peer he loses his surname; when a temporal, his Christian name.

It is in disputes as in armies, where the weaker side sets up false lights, and makes a great noise, to make the enemy believe them more numerous and strong than they really are.

Some men, under the notions of weeding out prejudices, eradicate virtue, honesty, and religion.

In all well-instituted commonwealths, care has been taken to limit men’s possessions; which is done for many reasons, and among the rest, for one which perhaps is not often considered: that when bounds are set to men’s desires, after they have acquired as much as the laws will permit them, their private interest is at an end, and they have nothing to do but to take care of the public.

There are but three ways for a man to revenge himself of the censure of the world: to despise it, to return the like, or to endeavour to live so as to avoid it.  The first of these is usually pretended, the last is almost impossible; the universal practice is for the second.

I never heard a finer piece of satire against lawyers than that of astrologers, when they pretend by rules of art to tell when a suit will end, and whether to the advantage of the plaintiff or defendant; thus making the matter depend entirely upon the influence of the stars, without the least regard to the merits of the cause.

The expression in Apocrypha about Tobit and his dog following him I have often heard ridiculed, yet Homer has the same words of Telemachus more than once; and Virgil says something like it of Evander.  And I take the book of Tobit to be partly poetical.

I have known some men possessed of good qualities, which were very serviceable to others, but useless to themselves; like a sun-dial on the front of a house, to inform the neighbours and passengers, but not the owner within.

If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics, religion, learning, etc., beginning from his youth and so go on to old age, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would appear at last!

What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not we are told expressly: that they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.
It is a miserable thing to live in suspense; it is the life of a spider.

The Stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.

Physicians ought not to give their judgment of religion, for the same reason that butchers are not admitted to be jurors upon life and death.

The reason why so few marriages are happy, is, because young ladies spend their time in making nets, not in making cages.

If a man will observe as he walks the streets, I believe he will find the merriest countenances in mourning coaches.

Nothing more unqualifies a man to act with prudence than a misfortune that is attended with shame and guilt.

The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.

Ambition often puts men upon doing the meanest offices; so climbing is performed in the same posture with creeping.

Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.

Although men are accused for not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength.  It is, in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of.

Satire is reckoned the easiest of all wit, but I take it to be otherwise in very bad times: for it is as hard to satirise well a man of distinguished vices, as to praise well a man of distinguished virtues.  It is easy enough to do either to people of moderate characters.

Invention is the talent of youth, and judgment of age; so that our judgment grows harder to please, when we have fewer things to offer it: this goes through the whole commerce of life.  When we are old, our friends find it difficult to please us, and are less concerned whether we be pleased or no.
No wise man ever wished to be younger.

An idle reason lessens the weight of the good ones you gave before.

The motives of the best actions will not bear too strict an inquiry.  It is allowed that the cause of most actions, good or bad, may he resolved into the love of ourselves; but the self-love of some men inclines them to please others, and the self-love of others is wholly employed in pleasing themselves.  This makes the great distinction between virtue and vice.  Religion is the best motive of all actions, yet religion is allowed to be the highest instance of self-love.
Old men view best at a distance with the eyes of their understanding as well as with those of nature.

Some people take more care to hide their wisdom than their folly.

Anthony Henley’s farmer, dying of an asthma, said, “Well, if I can get this breath once out, I’ll take care it never got in again.”

The humour of exploding many things under the name of trifles, fopperies, and only imaginary goods, is a very false proof either of wisdom or magnanimity, and a great check to virtuous actions.  For instance, with regard to fame, there is in most people a reluctance and unwillingness to be forgotten.  We observe, even among the vulgar, how fond they are to have an inscription over their grave.  It requires but little philosophy to discover and observe that there is no intrinsic value in all this; however, if it be founded in our nature as an incitement to virtue, it ought not to be ridiculed.

Complaint is the largest tribute heaven receives, and the sincerest part of our devotion.

The common fluency of speech in many men, and most women, is owing to a scarcity of matter, and a scarcity of words; for whoever is a master of language, and hath a mind full of ideas, will be apt, in speaking, to hesitate upon the choice of both; whereas common speakers have only one set of ideas, and one set of words to clothe them in, and these are always ready at the mouth.  So people come faster out of a church when it is almost empty, than when a crowd is at the door.

Few are qualified to shine in company; but it is in most men’s power to be agreeable.  The reason, therefore, why conversation runs so low at present, is not the defect of understanding, but pride, vanity, ill-nature, affectation, singularity, positiveness, or some other vice, the effect of a wrong education.
To be vain is rather a mark of humility than pride.  Vain men delight in telling what honours have been done them, what great company they have kept, and the like, by which they plainly confess that these honours were more than their due, and such as their friends would not believe if they had not been told: whereas a man truly proud thinks the greatest honours below his merit, and consequently scorns to boast.  I therefore deliver it as a maxim, that whoever desires the character of a proud man, ought to conceal his vanity.

Law, in a free country, is, or ought to be, the determination of the majority of those who have property in land.

One argument used to the disadvantage of Providence I take to be a very strong one in its defence.  It is objected that storms and tempests, unfruitful seasons, serpents, spiders, flies, and other noxious or troublesome animals, with many more instances of the like kind, discover an imperfection in nature, because human life would be much easier without them; but the design of Providence may clearly be perceived in this proceeding.  The motions of the sun and moon—in short, the whole system of the universe, as far as philosophers have been able to discover and observe, are in the utmost degree of regularity and perfection; but wherever God hath left to man the power of interposing a remedy by thought or labour, there he hath placed things in a state of imperfection, on purpose to stir up human industry, without which life would stagnate, or, indeed, rather, could not subsist at all: Curis accuunt mortalia corda.

Praise is the daughter of present power. How inconsistent is man with himself!

I have known several persons of great fame for wisdom in public affairs and counsels governed by foolish servants.
I have known great Ministers, distinguished for wit and learning, who preferred none but dunces.
I have known men of great valour cowards to their wives.
I have known men of the greatest cunning perpetually cheated.
I knew three great Ministers, who could exactly compute and settle the accounts of a kingdom, but were wholly ignorant of their own economy.

The preaching of divines helps to preserve well-inclined men in the course of virtue, but seldom or never reclaims the vicious.

Princes usually make wiser choices than the servants whom they trust for the disposal of places: I have known a prince, more than once, choose an able Minister, but I never observed that Minister to use his credit in the disposal of an employment to a person whom he thought the fittest for it.  One of the greatest in this age owned and excused the matter from the violence of parties and the unreasonableness of friends.
Small causes are sufficient to make a man uneasy when great ones are not in the way.  For want of a block he will stumble at a straw.
Dignity, high station, or great riches, are in some sort necessary to old men, in order to keep the younger at a distance, who are otherwise too apt to insult them upon the score of their age.

Every man desires to live long; but no man would be old.

Love of flattery in most men proceeds from the mean opinion they have of themselves; in women from the contrary.

If books and laws continue to increase as they have done for fifty years past, I am in some concern for future ages how any man will be learned, or any man a lawyer.

Kings are commonly said to have long hands; I wish they had as long ears.

Princes in their infancy, childhood, and youth are said to discover prodigious parts and wit, to speak things that surprise and astonish.  Strange, so many hopeful princes, and so many shameful kings!  If they happen to die young, they would have been prodigies of wisdom and virtue.  If they live, they are often prodigies indeed, but of another sort.

Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions, and consequently of no use to a good king or a good ministry; for which reason Courts are so overrun with politics.

A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.

Apollo was held the god of physic and sender of diseases.  Both were originally the same trade, and still continue.

Old men and comets have been reverenced for the same reason: their long beards, and pretences to foretell events.

A person was asked at court, what he thought of an ambassador and his train, who were all embroidery and lace, full of bows, cringes, and gestures; he said, it was Solomon’s importation, gold and apes.

Most sorts of diversion in men, children, and other animals, is an imitation of fighting.

Augustus meeting an ass with a lucky name foretold himself good fortune.  I meet many asses, but none of them have lucky names.

If a man makes me keep my distance, the comfort is he keeps his at the same time.

Who can deny that all men are violent lovers of truth when we see them so positive in their errors, which they will maintain out of their zeal to truth, although they contradict themselves every day of their lives?

That was excellently observed, say I, when I read a passage in an author, where his opinion agrees with mine.  When we differ, there I pronounce him to be mistaken.

Very few men, properly speaking, live at present, but are providing to live another time.

Laws penned with the utmost care and exactness, and in the vulgar language, are often perverted to wrong meanings; then why should we wonder that the Bible is so?

Although men are accused for not knowing their weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength.

A man seeing a wasp creeping into a vial filled with honey, that was hung on a fruit tree, said thus: “Why, thou sottish animal, art thou mad to go into that vial, where you see many hundred of your kind there dying in it before you?”  “The reproach is just,” answered the wasp, “but not from you men, who are so far from taking example by other people’s follies, that you will not take warning by your own.  If after falling several times into this vial, and escaping by chance, I should fall in again, I should then but resemble you.”

An old miser kept a tame jackdaw, that used to steal pieces of money, and hide them in a hole, which the cat observing, asked why he would hoard up those round shining things that he could make no use of?  “Why,” said the jackdaw, “my master has a whole chest full, and makes no more use of them than I.”
Men are content to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.

If the men of wit and genius would resolve never to complain in their works of critics and detractors, the next age would not know that they ever had any.
After all the maxims and systems of trade and commerce, a stander-by would think the affairs of the world were most ridiculously contrived.

There are few countries which, if well cultivated, would not support double the number of their inhabitants, and yet fewer where one-third of the people are not extremely stinted even in the necessaries of life.  I send out twenty barrels of corn, which would maintain a family in bread for a year, and I bring back in return a vessel of wine, which half a dozen good follows would drink in less than a month, at the expense of their health and reason.

A man would have but few spectators, if he offered to show for threepence how he could thrust a red-hot iron into a barrel of gunpowder, and it should not take fire.