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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Jonathan Swift

Anglo-Irish author, the greatest prose satirist in the English language. Born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, he was ordained an Anglican priest in 1695. His literary talents became evident in 1704, with the publication of two works written during the 1690s when he was secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park in Surrey: The Battle of the Books is a mock-heroic account of a struggle between classical and modern authors; and A Tale of a Tub satirizes Roman Catholics and Presbyterians while finding relatively little fault with Anglicans. The tone of his irony is evident in the title of another attack, in 1708, on what he regarded as fashionable trends in religion – An Argument to prove that the Abolishing of Christianity in England, may as Things now stand, be attended with some Inconveniences.

In 1710 he became the leading polemicist for a new Tory administration in London. He described his daily life at this period in the letters which he sent to 'Stella' in Dublin. She was Esther Johnson, whom he had first known as an 8-year-old child when he gave her lessons at Moor Park. There has been much speculation about their relationship, which was probably just a close friendship. The letters, first published in 1766, became known as his Journal to Stella. The other important female friend in his life was 'Vanessa' – Esther Vanhomrigh, whom he met in London in 1708 and who followed him back to Ireland. His services to the Tories gave him hope of a bishopric, but he was appointed in 1713 dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, where he spent the rest of his life – apart from visiting London in 1726–7 to arrange for the publication of *Gulliver's Travels.

His disappointment and relative seclusion served to sharpen his satirical talents. In addition to Gulliver the 1720s produced The Drapier's Letters (1724), a series of pamphlets which caused the government to back down on a corrupt scheme for supplying the copper coinage of Ireland (this victory made Swift something of a national hero).

A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of poor People in Ireland, from being a Burden to their Parents or Country (1729) is, though brief, the most savagely effective of all his works. The argument enables him to describe the dreadful conditions of poverty in Ireland, for his proposal is that everyone would be far better off if poor children were fattened up and eaten. He fully earned the Latin epitaph, written by himself, which is above his grave in St Patrick's. It says that he has gone where saeva indignatio (fierce indignation) can no longer tear his heart.

Swift was also an accomplished poet, usually in rhyming couplets of 8-syllable lines. Best known are his Verses on the Death of Dr Swift (1731), in which he surveys his life's achievement and the likely impact of the news in various quarters:
My female Friends, whose tender Hearts,
Have better learned to Act their Parts.
Receive the News in doleful dumps,
'The Dean is Dead (and what is Trumps?).'


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