"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
The clergyman and satirist, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), was born in Dublin, Ireland.
He completed his education in Ireland by attending Trinity College, Dublin and
then moved to live with his mother in Leicestershire, England (his mother was
English; his father died seen months before he was born). In 1689 he
became secretary to the diplomat, Sir William Temple. Within three years
he had gained the confidence of his employer to the point that he was introduced
to William III and sent to London to petition the newly crowned king on
By 1694 Swift had tired of his position and resolved to go into the church.
He was ordained in the Anglican church the following year and obtained a prebend,
near Belfast, Ireland (a prebend was originally a post connected to a cathedral,
usually of an administrative nature; however, the role had been dissolved by
Henry VIII more than a century earlier, but the term remained in use in some
places as an honorary title for a senior parish priest)
In 1696 he returned to Temple's employment to help prepare his memoirs and
correspondence for publication. Temple died three years later and Swift
returned to Ireland where he ministered to a congregation of about 15 people,
allowing him plenty of time for other pursuits, which included taking his
doctor's degree at Dublin University.
In 1701 he returned to England where he published, anonymously, his first
political pamphlet. He remained politically active up until 1713, but
following the fall of the Tories* after the death of Queen Anne, he moved to
Dublin where he was made Dean of St Patricks.
In 1723 he became engrossed in the Irish agitation which led to the publication
of the Drapier's Letters, and in 1726 he completed Gulliver's Travels.
He died in 1745 after a long period of illness. He wrote his own epitaph
which (translated from Latin by William Butler Yeats) reads as follows:
Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you can,
He served human liberty.
*The word 'tories' was originally used to describe rural Irish bandits. In
the 17th century it was applied to monarchists in the British House of Commons. By the 18th century the Tories were a group of politicians who favored royal
authority and the established church, and opposed parliamentary reform. After
1834 the political group preferred to use the term 'Conservative' - but
'Tories' remains in common usage.