For such a small dot on the map, we have produced more than our fair share of remarkable writers. You won’t believe the list of masterpieces to come from Dublin born novelists, playwrights and poets. If you love literature and cinema then you really must put Dublin on your wish list……
Born in Dublin in 1667, Jonathan Swift studied at Trinity College before going to England. He decided on a career in the clergy and involved himself in English politics. He began to make a name for himself as a talented essayist – writing pamphlets satirizing those with different religious and political views to his own. He eventually fell out of favour and returned to Ireland. In 1713, he was offered the deanery of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Although born into Ireland’s colonial ruling class, he became a staunch supporter of the Irish and became known as a great Irish patriot. One of his more notorious pieces of the time was the satirical A Modest Proposal, in which he suggests that the Irish could solve the duel problem of famine and overpopulation by eating their young!
Trivia Moment – Swift ‘invented’ the name Vanessa. When living in London, he was involved in a relationship with Esther Vanhomrigh. He invented a codename for their correspondence – Essa, which is a pet name for Esther, and Van from her surname!
In 1726, he completed a book he had been working on for several years. Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World became universally known as Gulliver’s Travels.
Lemuel Gulliver goes on four adventures, each one bringing new perspectives to his own life and presenting opportunities to satirize the English way of life.
In Lilliput, Gulliver is huge and the Lilliputians are tiny -at first they seem amiable but turn out to be ridiculous and petty (one example -which end of an egg a person cracks causes a deep political rift within the nation).
Brobdingnag is a land of Giants where Gulliver is humiliated by the king when he is made to see the difference between how England is and how it ought to be.
In his third adventure, Gulliver’s ship is attacked by pirates . He is rescued by the flying island of Laputa. The people in Laputa are overthinkers and absurd. They research ridiculous schemes such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers and softening marble for use in pillows which was seen as Swift’s satire on the Royal Society (the oldest national scientific institution in the world). On this adventure, he also has an opportunity to call up the dead – including Julius Caesar, Aristotle, etc. – and discovers the deceptions of history.
Finally, Gulliver meets the Houyhnhnms. This race of talking horses has been endowed with reason and lives in a rational and clean society. They contrast with the humanoid Yahoos who are filthy and brutal.
Gulliver returns to England, but is unable to reconcile himself to living among “Yahoos”. He becomes a recluse, avoiding his family and his wife, and spending his time speaking with the horses in his stables.
The book was presented as an authentic travel book – a genre that was popular at the time. The adventures read as true stories from different parts of the globe, all the more convincing with the inclusion of grid references and factual details.
Swift was 58 years old when the book appeared. At first, he concealed the fact that he was the author but his identity didn’t remain hidden for long. It was an immediate success with 3 printings that year and another in early 1727 along with French, German and Dutch editions.
Afterwards: By 1738, Swift was showing signs of illness. In 1742, he suffered what may have been a stroke – losing the ability to speak and realising his fear of becoming mentally unsound ‘I shall be like that tree. I shall die at the top’. He died in 1745, aged 78. He was buried in Dublin, in his own cathedral. He left most of his £12,000 fortune to found a hospital for the mentally ill. St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles opened in 1757 and still exists as a psychiatric hospital today (thankfully renamed St Patrick’s University Hospital).
He had written his own epitaph in Latin which W. B. Yeats poetically translated almost 200 years later:
Swift has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller; he
Served human liberty.
Quotable Jonathan Swift Quotes!
Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.
When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.
No wise man ever wished to be younger.
Swift is buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral where there is also a monument. A bust is dedicated to him in nearby Trinity College library.
The Annual Jonathan Swift Festival was launched in November 2017 to coincide with the 350th birthday of Swift.
Before you go:
Have a look at other famous works from Dublin….