A Swift Introduction

Some of Jonathan Swifts most famous writing were satires including the well-known Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Swift was influenced, “by the works of the classical authors, the great ‘Ancients’ whom he revered, but it owed a great deal, as well, both to the works of friends and contemporaries like Addison, Steele, and Pope, whom he admired and collaborated with, and to the works of enemies like Defoe . . .” (Cody). A lot of his writings focus around contemporary events like English politics, or socio-economic events of Ireland. One could describe Swift as a risk-taker when it comes to pushes the boundaries on what he could write about and how. He tended to mock political officials for some of the choices that they made, like he did in A Modest Proposal. This boldness that Swift wrote with is what made him dangerous to society. “Thomas De Quincey wrote in 1847 that ‘the meanness of Swift’s nature, and his rigid incapacity for dealing with the grandeurs of the human spirit, with religion, with poetry or even with science when it rose above the mercenary practical, is absolutely appalling. His own Yahoo is not a more abominable one-sided degradation of humanity than he himself in under this aspect. . ..’” (Cody). When Pope wrote something that ruffled peoples feather, they were content with sweeping him under the rug; however, when Swift ruffled feathers, he did it in a way that people couldn’t just ignore him. I believe a lot of why people couldn’t just sweep him under the rug was because of his use of language. “His values, however were those of his age, and the Romantics and the Victorians reacted against his work even more strongly than they did against Pope’s. Pope they merely relegated to the dust-bin, but they perceived Swift, particularly the Swift who had brought Gulliver to the Country of the Houhynhynms, as a threat, and they savaged him” (Cody). According to the History of the English Language, “In the matters of language, Swift was a conservative. His conservatism was grounded in a set of political and religious, as well as linguistic, opinions” (Baugh 253). Swift was very influential because, “although [he] upheld the classics, he understood the merits of a plain English style, so long as it was not polluted by crude and careless usages” (Baugh 253). Although he had lost his reputation in his time, today, Swift is viewed as one of the greatest satirist in the English language. But despite his reputation, Jonathan Swift died a great, famous, and enormously respected man in the year 1745.

 

Cody, David . “Jonathan Swift’s Sources and Influence: An Introduction.” Jonathan Swift’s Sources and Influence: An Introduction. The Victorian Web, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. A history of the English language. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. Print.

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