Jonathan Swift 350

30 November 2017

As well as being the Feast Day of St Andrew (happy St Andrew's Day to all our Scottish alumni and friends), today marks the 350th birthday of cleric and writer Jonathan Swift. Born in Dublin of English descent, Swift studied at Trinity College Dublin, before being forced to flee to England in 1688 as a result of political troubles in Ireland connected with the Glorious Revolution. Through his mother he managed to secure the position of secretary and personal assistant to Sir William Temple, a former English diplomat who lived at Moor Park in Surrey. 

In his memoirs, Swift claims to have been a student at Oxford for many years. However, the reality is that he was only a student at the University for one term, having matriculated at Hart Hall in Trinity Term 1692, taking his MA in July of that year. This was a prerequisite to becoming an ordained clergyman, a career path Swift had not originally planned on pursuing. Aware, though, that Temple's connections were unlikely to secure him a more favourable position, he was ordained into the Irish Established Church following his time at Oxford.

For much of his career, Swift alternated between life in Ireland and England, and became heavily involved in the political world of the eighteenth century. He was well-connected within Tory circles of the time, connections that he hoped would pay dividends in his own professional career. However, some of his publications met with disapproval from the establishment, rising all the way to the monarchy. It is reported that Queen Anne disliked A Tale of Tub, which she described as 'blasphemous'. Along with the fall of the Tory government and his ostricisation from the establishment, Swift failed to secure a significant position within the Church of England, something to which he had always aspired. Instead, he was appointed Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, a post that was beyond the control of the Queen.

Swift was a prolific writer, satirist, and poet during his lifetime, but it is probably for his 1726 Gulliver's Travels that he is best known today. Swift originally seems to have attempted to have distanced himself from the work, publishing it anonymously and sending all correspondence to publishers and others through pseudonyms. You can read more about this fascinating aspect of the work on the OUP Blog, and there are more details about Swift and his relationship with Hertford College in our alumni section.