The author of Guillver’s Travels was a leading witer and satirist, celebrated for his ironic writings and considered the foremost prose satirist in the English language. Jonathan Swift is best known for what is now a staple children’s book, but the stories he’s penned have a deeper multi-faceted meaning. It’s even gone so far as having its own label, the “Swiftian” satire.
Here are 12 interesting facts you might not have known about Jonathan Swift!
Jonathan Swift Interesting Facts
1. He came up with “sweetness and light”
The expression “sweetness and light” is used widely in the English language, but did you know that it was written first by Jonathan Swift? He used it when he wrote an essay defending the classics against the moderns, and it’s got a somewhat strange origin actually. Swift was comparing the modern writers with spiders and the classical writers with bees, and therefore mentioned that the honey of bees is “sweetness and light” in order to express his preference for the classics.
2. He also wrote essays like “The Benefit of Farting Explain’d”
Not all of Swift’s work was elegant. An interesting fact about Jonathan Swift is that he is believed to have written an essay about the benefits of flatulence, as well as another one about human excrement, signed “Dr. Shit.”
This was never really confirmed, however.
3. Gulliver’s Travels sold 10,000 copies
By the standards of 1726 when it was published, the book Travels into Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships – as its complete title reads – was an absolute best-seller. Within three weeks, it had sold 10,000 copies.
The book was also published anonymously under the pseudonym Lemuel Gulliver, as many of his other work was.
4. He left his fortune to a mental health hospital
After his death, Swift left most of his money so that the St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles (the mentally ill) could be founded. To this day, the same hospital exists as St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, and it is the leading not-for-profit mental health organisation in Ireland.
5. He studied to become a priest
Originally, Jonathan Swift was studying to become a priest, before delving into the world of writing, an interesting fact about Jonathan Swift. He was enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin. Eventually, he received a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1702.
6. He invented the name Vanessa
While he was living in London, Swift became close to the Vanhomrigh family of Dutch merchants. He started a relationship with Esther, one of the daughters, but later on regretted this and tried to break things off. Esther appears to have been really in love with Swift, and he invented the code name “Vanessa” for their secret love letters. He did so by adding “Essa” which is a pet form of her name Esther, to the “Van” from her surname.
Later on, Esther followed Swift to Ireland before their relationship eventually ended.
7. He had interesting code words in his writings
Swift wrote the poem “Cadenus and Vanessa” about his affair with Esther Vanhomright. In their love letters, he used the word “coffee” to mention sex between the two.
8. He had an impact on astronomy
In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift mentioned two moons around Mars, which was an accurate prediction later confirmed in the real world. An interesting fact about Jonathan Swift is that he even used Kepler’s Theorem to calculate their orbital periods.
The Swift Crater on Moon Deimos is therefore named after him.
9. He also invented the word “cowboy”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was Swift who first used this word, so he is considered its inventor.
10. Gulliver’s Travels is really a clever satire
For most of its life, the book Gulliver’s Travels has been considered a fun children’s book about adventures. However, it is in reality a satire of human nature, and has been criticised for its negativity towards humankind actually. The main theme that runs through all four different travels described is human pride.
11. He criticised religion and suffered for it
During his time in England, Swift published his first major satirical work, A Tale of a Tub. In it, three sons represent the three main threads of Christianity. They receive a coat each in their father’s will, but seeing how the coats were no longer fashionable, they all want to try to alter them, in spite of precise instructions to not change them at all. The whole story carries on with their efforts to find a loophole in the will.
While this is one of Swift’s best work, Queen Anne didn’t like it and considered it blasphemous, an interesting Jonathan Swift fact. She didn’t agree with Swift and she blocked his appointment in the church (which he had hoped to get).
12. Some of his best work was in support of the Irish
Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin but spent much of his life in England, including his early childhood. When his hopes of a prominent role in the church didn’t work out, he returned to Ireland and started to write in support of various Irish causes. The pamphlets Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture, Drapier’s Letters and A Modest Proposal turned him into a full-fledged Irish patriot.
This wasn’t a good thing, however. The Government tried to silence him and his printer was convicted of seditious libel in 1720. This was a criminal offence and meant that the work in question was aimed against the established order. The reason Swift himself wasn’t convicted is that the works were published under a pseudonym (but were widely known to be his anyway).
In spite of being known widely as a children’s book author, Jonathan Swift was an extremely prolific writer of pamphlets and satires, whose involvement in Irish and English politics left a big mark in his time. Gulliver’s Travels was not meant to be for children, and remains one of the most interesting satires of human nature ever written. And there you have it, 12 top facts about the remarkable writer Jonathan Swift!
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