Jonathan Swift: Selections


"ONE of those authors (the fellow that was pilloried, I have forgot his name) is indeed so grave, sententious, dogmatical a rogue, that there is no enduring him," says Swift in a Letter concerning the Sacramental Test. He is speaking of Defoe.

"Now I know a learned man at this time, an orator in the Latin, a walking index of books, who has all the libraries of Europe in his head, from the Vatican at Rome to the learned collection of Dr. Salmon at Fleet Ditch; but he is a cynic in behavior, a fury in temper, impolite in conversation, abusive in language, and ungovernable in passion. Is this to be learned? Then may I still be illiterate," says Defoe in the seventh volume of the Review. He is speaking of Swift.

Thus and thus only do these two great prose geniuses of their age greet each other.

The passages are characteristic of their authors; the former marked with pride, and the latter with humility; both qualities more apparent than real. Swift is abusive and contemptuous, but describes rather justly the nature of Defoe's political satire. Defoe seems to speak more in sorrow than in anger, suggesting the possibility of the useful employment of talents; not for the sake of good that might be done, but for the sake of reproaching the delinquent. As usual, it is Defoe who is probably in the right, and it is Swift with whom we sympathize. It is obvious that A Modest Proposal and An Argument against Abolishing Christianity owe much to The . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1924


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