The Mind and Art of Jonathan Swift

By Ricardo Quintana | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
NON-CONTROVERSIAL LETTERS

1

THE products of Swift's pen during the four last years of Queen Anne's reign may be classified under seven heads: (1) controversial verses, (2) controversial prose pamphlets, (3) controversial articles in the Examiner, (4) historical papers, (5) purely literary contributions to the Tatler of Steele and the Tatler of Harrison, (6) two pamphlets, A Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue and Mr. Collins's Discourse of Freethinking, the first strictly non-political and the second of only indirect political import, (7) non-controversial verses. The present chapter is concerned only with those of Swift's writings which fall under the last three of these heads. As for his controversial verse and prose, his contributions to the Examiner, and his historical essays, enough has been said in the preceding chapter to indicate their general nature and something of their peculiar qualities. In thus distinguishing between the compositions animated by political interest and the pieces not so animated, there is no implication that the former are less interesting or rest upon a necessarily lower level of accomplishment; A Short Character of His Ex. The Earl of Wharton and The Conduct of the Allies, to take two examples from the political category, are masterpieces in their way, more significant in respect of the author's art than many of his purely belletristic productions.

Swift first publication after his return to London in September 1710 was a paper printed by Steele in No. 230 of the Tatler ( 28 September 1710). His subject, which he developed with a firmness of touch which did not preclude a certain urbane grace and much humour, was the parlous state to which the English tongue was being reduced by a number of current 'corruptions.' He calls to Isaac Bickerstaff's attention the 'deplorable ignorance that for some years hath reigned among our English writers, the great depravity

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