Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) was a poet, satirist and clergyman; his parents were English but he was born in Dublin. His father died before he was born and his mother soon returned to England. Jonathan was brought up by his nurse in Cumbria and later by his Uncle Godwin back in Dublin. He was very unhappy as he was treated like the poor relative who had kindly been given a home. Jonathan went to Trinity College, Dublin where he was an unruly student and only just scraped through the examinations.
Through family connections he went to work in the home of Sir William Temple in Surrey, as secretary and later became both friend and editor. A young girl called Esther was also living in Sir William’s house; she became Swift’s closest friend and perhaps his wife. There is a mystery surrounding the relationship – Swift clearly loved her but we don’t know whether or not they ever married.
Jonathan Swift’s cousin, the poet John Dryden, told him he would never be a poet, but he soon became known as a poet and writer. He wrote many political pamphlets and was sometimes known as ‘the mad parson’. He became dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin in 1713 and became popular in Ireland as a patriotic writer.
Swift was always afraid of madness and often suffered from depression; he suffered serious ill health in his last years. He wrote many volumes of prose and poetry but his best-known work is Gulliver’s Travels in which he turned ‘traveller’s tales’ into a biting satire on contemporary life. It has appealed to a wide range of readers over the years, including in its abridged form many children. As well as being a satire it is an exciting story, funny and very inventive.