The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift

The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift

The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift

The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift

Synopsis

In addition to ensuring broad coverage of Jonathan Swift's writing by including early, as well as more well-known later works, this Companion offers access to current critical and theoretical issues concerning the author. Special emphasis is placed on Swift's problematic relationship with the land of his birth, Ireland, and on his place as a political writer in a highly politicized age.

Excerpt

“When a true Genius appears in the World, ” Swift wrote, “you may know him by this infallible Sign; that the Dunces are all in Confederacy against him”(PW i: 242). He may well have been speaking about himself. After his death, his ghost was said to haunt the aisles of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, complaining that “The Pamphlets wrote against me, would have form'd a Library.” Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) lived a contentious life in a contentious age. The day Swift, an ordained Anglican priest, became Dean of St. Patrick's in 1713, these lines of welcome were said to be posted on the Cathedral gate:

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.

Swift of course invited and sometimes even welcomed this response. He did so because he was first and foremost a political writer, and one who was not afraid to speak truth to power. As a political writer, Swift was a brilliant controversialist with an uncanny ability to become what he attacked and then burrow from within. During his lifetime, political writers were at a premium. Swift lived to see the emergence of the new two-party system in the wake of the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the explosion of print media after the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695. These contributed to what Jürgen Habermas has called the “growth of the public sphere.” In a new world of opinion-making, writers of Swift's caliber were highly sought after by politicians such as Robert Harley (later Earl of Oxford) who understood the power of the press to shape public perception. As David Oakleaf points out in this volume, in writing for Harley and the Tory administration in the last four years of Queen Anne (1710–14), Swift “attacked what he called faction with a partisan vehemence unsurpassed even in a vehement and partisan age”

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