Jonathan Swift and the Arts

Jonathan Swift and the Arts

Jonathan Swift and the Arts

Jonathan Swift and the Arts


Joseph McMinn was born and educated in Dublin, Ireland, where he graduated from University College Dublin. He is currently Professor of Anglo-Irish Studies at the University of Ulster in Ireland, where he specializes in eighteenth-century studies, particularly in the life and work of Jonathan Swift. Dr. McMinn is the author of Jonathan Swift: A Literary Life (1991), Jonathan's Travels: Swift and Ireland (1994), and The Supreme Fictions of John Banville (1999). He also edited Swift's Irish Pamphlets: An Introductory Selection (1991). Dr. McMinn has taught and lectured on Irish studies in many countries, including the United States, Romania, Germany, and Italy.


The idea for this book came from remarks made by irvin EHRENpreis on the subject of Swift’s attitude toward the sister-arts:

Swift had no ear for music, no eye for painting or sculpture, little under
standing of architecture, not the faintest interest in dancing. That he was
never an amateur of the arts is one of the essential differences between
his genius and the modern ideal of the creative imagination. . . . in Tem
ple, Fountaine, and Addison, Swift encountered the start of a tradition of
varied esthetic experience, of authors whose sensibility is versatile and
who genuinely appreciate other arts than those they practise—for whom
the experiencing of art is itself a literary subject.

It would seem both perverse and witless to write a study that seems to challenge the judgment of one of Swift’s most authoritative commentators. However, the present study hopes to show that, while Swift was no lover of the arts, he was engaged with them all his life, either by choice or by circumstance. the primary aim of the present study is to document Swift’s response to the nonliterary arts in his poetry, prose, and correspondence, and thereby try to understand how those arts entered into his literary imagination.

While it is impossible to write of Swift as a Renaissance figure—as was his friend, Alexander Pope—it is eminently possible to present him as someone caught up in an age in which there was a renaissance in the appreciation and understanding of the various arts. the most imaginative and exemplary studies of the kind I had in mind when first considering Swift and the arts were those by Morris R. Brownell, especially his classic work on Alexander Pope, but also his later, and perhaps lesser-known, work on Samuel Johnson. in the introduction to his study of Pope, Brownell argues that he hopes to contribute to what he calls “a neglected chapter of his biography,” as well as highlighting the extensive pattern of reference and allusion to the arts in Pope’s poetry. the present study hopes to achieve something similar . . .

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