Você está na página 1de 322


Jonathan Swift’s angers were all too real, though Swift was temper-
amentally equivocal about their display. Even in his most brilliant
satire, A Tale of a Tub, the aggressive vitality of the narrative is
designed, for all the intensity of its sting, never to lose its cool. Yet
Swift’s angers are partly self-implicating, since his own temperament
was close to the things he attacked, and behind his angers are deep
self-divisions. Though he regarded himself as ‘English’ and despised
the Irish ‘natives’ over whom the English ruled, Swift became the hero
of an Irish independence he would not have desired. In this magis-
terial account, Claude Rawson, widely considered the leading Swift
scholar of our time, brings together recent work, as well as classic ear-
lier discussions extensively revised, offering fresh insights into Swift’s
bleak view of human nature, his brilliant wit, and the indignations
and self-divisions of his writings and political activism.

c l a u d e r a w s o n is Maynard Mack Professor Emeritus of English

at Yale University. He is a General Editor of The Cambridge Edition
of the Works of Jonathan Swift and author of God, Gulliver and
Genocide: Barbarism and the European Imagination 1492–1945 (2001).
He is most recently the editor of Essential Writings of Jonathan Swift:
A Norton Critical Edition (co-edited with Ian Higgins, 2010); Great
Shakespeareans: Volume 1, Dryden Pope, Johnson, Malone (2010); Lit-
erature and Politics in the Age of Swift: English and Irish Perspectives
(Cambridge, 2010) and The Cambridge Companion to English Poets
(Cambridge, 2011).

University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom

Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge.

It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of
education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781107034778
© Claude Rawson 2014
This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without the written
permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published 2014
Printed in the United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc
A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Rawson, Claude Julien.
Swift’s angers / Claude Rawson.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-1-107-03477-8 (hardback)
1. Swift, Jonathan, 1667–1745 – Criticism and interpretation. 2. Swift, Jonathan, 1667–1745 –
Psychology. 3. Swift, Jonathan, 1667–1745 – Political and social views. 4. Anger in literature.
5. Polarity in literature. 6. Politics and literature – Ireland – History – 18th century. 7. Politics
and literature – England – History – 18th century. I. Title.
pr3727.r33 2014
828 .509 – dc23 2014012952
isbn 978-1-107-03477-8 Hardback
isbn 978-1-107-61010-1 Paperback
Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of
urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,
and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,
accurate or appropriate.
This book is dedicated,
with affectionate admiration,
to Pat Rogers.

List of illustrations page ix

Acknowledgements x
List of abbreviations xii

Introduction: not Timons manner 1

part i ireland 19
1 Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 21
2 The injured lady and the Drapier: A reading of Swift’s Irish
tracts 47

part ii fiction 83
3 Swift, satire and the novel 85
4 Gulliver’s Travels 96
5 Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 132

part iii poetry 151

6 Rage and raillery and Swift: The case of Cadenus and Vanessa 153
7 Vanessa as a reader of Gulliver’s Travels 163
8 Swift’s poetry: an overview 170
9 ‘I the lofty stile decline’: Vicissitudes of the ‘heroick strain’ in
Swift’s poems 198

viii Contents
10 Savage indignation revisited: Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of
liberty 239

Notes 268
Index 299

4.1 Title page of Gulliver’s Travels, first edition, 1726 (Bodleian

Library Arch., A d.34 v.1, title page). page 98
4.2 Frontispiece portrait, Gulliver’s Travels, first edition, 1726
(Bodleian Library Arch., A d.34 v.1, frontispiece). 99
4.3 Later state of frontispiece portrait, Gulliver’s Travels, first
edition, 1726 (Bodleian Library Vet., A4 e.2217 v.1,
frontispiece). 100
4.4 Title page of Gulliver’s Travels, in Works, 1735, iii (Bodleian
Library Radcl. e.233 v.3, title page). 106
4.5 Frontispiece portrait of Gulliver, in Works, 1735, iii, octavo
edition (Bodleian Library Radcl. e.233 v.3, frontispiece). 108
4.6 Frontispiece portrait of Swift, in Works, 1735, i (Bodleian
Library Radcl. e.231 v.1, frontispiece). 109
10.1 Swift’s Epitaph in St Patrick’s Cathedral. 240


I owe extensive debts to friends and colleagues who over the years have
answered questions and solved problems. They include: Linda Bree,
Nicholas Canny, S. J. Connolly, Denis Donoghue, Kirk Freudenburg,
Maurice Harmon, David Hayton, Ian Higgins, Regina Janes, Roy John-
ston, Stephen Karian, Thomas Keymer, Harold Love, Ian McBride, Patrick
McCaughey, James McLaverty, Robert Mahony, Marjorie Perloff, Margaret
Powell, Valerie Rumbold, Mary Shine Thompson, Angus Trumbull,
Abigail Williams, James Woolley.
I am grateful to President Michael D. Higgins for making available to
me the text of his address on Swift at St Patrick’s Cathedral in October 2012.
The President’s personal assistant, Helen Carney, and his ADC, Colonel
Brendan McAndrew, have generously provided information and help. I am
also indebted to two successive deans of St Patrick’s, The Very Reverend
Robert MacCarthy and The Very Reverend Victor Stacey, who have been
presiding over the annual symposia on Swift held at the Deanery each
October, for many kindnesses and much information.
The following libraries have been a constant resource: the British Library;
The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford; the Cambridge Uni-
versity Library; the National Library of Ireland; the National Archives,
Dublin and the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Last but not least, the
Yale University Libraries, and the Yale Center for British Art, have provided
the home base for most of the work on this book.
Finally, I wish to express special thanks to Cynthia Ingram, who has
helped with every aspect and every stage of the preparation of this volume.
Several pieces in this volume contain material from, or are revised,
reworked, or enlarged versions of, the following publications, and appear
with permission of the publishers. The Introduction contains some para-
graphs first published in ‘Like a Conjur’d Spirit’, Times Literary Supplement,
10 March 2000, 3–5.

Acknowledgements xi
‘The Injured Lady and the Drapier’, Prose Studies, 3 (1980), 15–43. Frank
Cass & Co. (Taylor & Francis), revised and enlarged.
‘Swift, Satire and the Novel’, in Thomas Keymer, ed., Fiction in English,
1500–1750, volume i of The Oxford History of the Novel in English,
‘Gulliver’s Travels’, revised and enlarged from Introduction, Gulliver’s
Travels, ed. Claude Rawson and Ian Higgins, Oxford World’s Classics,
Oxford University Press, 2005.
Claude Rawson, ‘Swift’s “I” Narrators’, revised and updated version of
essay in the Norton Critical Edition of Gulliver’s Travels, ed. Albert
J. Rivero, New York: Norton, 2002, itself a revised version of a paper
originally published in Rudolf Freiburg, Arno Löffler and Wolfgang
Zach, eds., with the assistance of Jan Schnitker, Swift: The Enigmatic
Dean: Festschrift for Hermann Josef Real, Tübingen, Stauffenburg-
Verlag, 1998, pp. 231–46. © Claude Rawson, 1998. Reprinted by per-
mission of the author.
‘Rage and Raillery and Swift’, revised and abridged from Donald C.
Mell, ed., Pope, Swift, and Women Writers, University of Delaware
Press, 1996, 2nd edn. 1998, pp. 179–91.
‘Swift’s Poetry: An Overview’, revised and reworked from ‘Jonathan
Swift’, in Claude Rawson, ed., Cambridge Companion to English Poets,
Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 213–34; and ‘Swift’, in Michael
O’Neill, ed., Cambridge History of English Poetry, Chapter 17, 2010,
pp. 318–32.
‘“I the Lofty Stile Decline”’, revised and enlarged from Robert Folkenflik,
ed., The English Hero, 1660–1800, University of Delaware Press, 1982,
pp. 79–115.
‘Savage Indignation Revisited: Swift, Yeats, and the “Cry” of Liberty’,
revised and enlarged from Claude Rawson, ed., Politics and Literature
in the Age of Swift: English and Irish Perspectives, Cambridge University
Press, 2010, pp. 185–217.

CE: John Dryden, The Works of John Dryden, eds.

Edward Niles Hooker, H. T. Swedenberg Jr.,
20 vols., Berkeley, Los Angeles, London,
University of California Press, 1956–2000.
Complete Poems: Jonathan Swift, Complete Poems, ed. Pat
Rogers, Harmondsworth, Penguin and New
Haven, Yale, 1983.
Correspondence: Jonathan Swift, Correspondence of Jonathan
Swift, ed. David Woolley, 5 vols., Frankfurt,
Peter Lang, 1999–.
CSS: Claude Rawson, ed., The Character of Swift’s
Satire: A Revised Focus, Newark, DE,
University of Delaware Press, 1983.
CWJS: Jonathan Swift, Cambridge Edition of the
Works of Jonathan Swift, 18 vols., Cambridge
University Press, 2008–.
Ehrenpreis: Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The Man, His Works,
and the Age, 3 vols. London, Methuen,
EPW: Jonathan Swift, English Political Writings
1711–1714, ed. Bertrand A. Goldgar and Ian
Gadd, CWJS, 2008.
Ferguson: Oliver W. Ferguson, Jonathan Swift and
Ireland Urbana, University of Illinois Press,
GGG: Claude Rawson, God, Gulliver, and Genocide:
Barbarism and the European Imagination,
1492–1945, Oxford University Press, 2001.
GR: Claude Rawson, Gulliver and the Gentle
Reader, London, Routledge, 1973; 2nd edn.,
Humanities Press, 1991.

List of abbreviations xiii
GT: Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, ed. David
Womersley, CWJS, 2012.
HF: Claude Rawson, Henry Fielding and the
Augustan Ideal under Stress, London,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.
Intelligencer: Jonathan Swift and Thomas Sheridan, The
Intelligencer, ed. James Woolley, Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1992.
JSt: Jonathan Swift, Journal to Stella, ed. Harold
Williams, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2 vols.,
Mayhew: George P. Mayhew, Rage or Raillery: The Swift
Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, San
Marino, CA, Huntington Library, 1967.
OCIH: S. J. Connolly, ed., Oxford Companion to Irish
History, Oxford University Press, 1998.
OED: Oxford English Dictionary.
OFCS: Claude Rawson, Order from Confusion Sprung:
Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature from
Swift to Cowper, Allen and Unwin 1985; 2nd
edn. Humanities Press, 1992.
Poems: Jonathan Swift, Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed.
Harold Williams. 3 vols., 2nd edn., Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1958.
Politics and Literature: Claude Rawson, ed., Politics and Literature in
the Age of Swift: English and Irish Perspectives,
Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Pope Prose: Alexander Pope, Prose Works of Alexander
Pope, Volume i, ed. Norman Ault, Volume II,
ed. Rosemary Cowler, Oxford, Blackwell,
PW: Jonathan Swift, Prose Writings of Jonathan
Swift, ed. Herbert Davis and others, 14 vols.,
Oxford, Blackwell, 1939–68.
RES: Review of English Studies.
SCA: Denis Donoghue, ed., Jonathan Swift. A
Critical Anthology, Harmondsworth, Penguin,
Tale: Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub & Other
Works, ed. Marcus Walsh, CWJS, 2010.
xiv List of abbreviations
TE: Alexander Pope, Twickenham Edition of the
Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt,
Maynard Mack and others, 11 vols. in 12,
London, Methuen, 1939–69.
TS: Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy, ed. Melvyn
and Joan New, 3 vols., Gainesville, University
Presses of Florida, 1978.
VMP: T. S. Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical
Poetry, ed. Ronald Schuchard, San Diego,
Harcourt Brace, 1993.

Swift’s prose, unless otherwise noted, is cited from PW or, where available,
from CWJS, and the poetry from Poems. Regrettably, two volumes of
CWJS, Parodics, Hoaxes, Mock Treatises, ed. Valerie Rumbold, and Journal
to Stella, ed. Abigail Williams, appeared too late to be systematically cited
in this book.
Introduction: not Timons manner

Swift’s angers beset our thinking about him. They permeate his con-
flicted feelings about Ireland. They were vivid to Yeats, who was variously
‘haunted’ by Swift, and who recreated Swift in his own fervid self-image.
They were much in T. S. Eliot’s mind when he spoke of ‘the colossal Swift,
the greatest writer of English prose, and the greatest man who has ever writ-
ten great English prose’.1 Eliot more than once expressed his unbounded
admiration of Gulliver’s Travels by describing Swift’s satire as ‘terrible’.2 It
is the angers that loom largest in Eliot’s critical utterances, though Eliot’s
own poems show the imprint of a more tartly sardonic Swift, and imitate
some of the lighter cadences of Swift’s poems, on which Eliot never wrote
at length, though he more than once said he intended to. The poems show,
as indeed does Swift’s prose, the self-undercutting containment to which
Swift always subjected these angers. Eliot, who shows perhaps the most
intimate responsiveness to Swift’s writing of any of the great poets who
have honoured Swift (they include Byron and Yeats), understood the sar-
donic undercutting, as Yeats did not, but Eliot’s critical comments, unlike
his poems, take little account of the levity in which Swift enveloped nearly
all his most serious and heartfelt writings. The Swift of the ‘terrible’ angers
and the Swift of the sarcastic levity are, however, complementary and indis-
soluble. That Eliot never registered the intimacy of the connection may be
a byproduct of the fact that, in spite of the many scattered expressions of
his deep admiration for Swift, he never seems to have allowed himself to
write at length on the subject.
The angers, of course, were all too real, but Swift was temperamentally
equivocal about their display. Even when we may suppose them to have
been at white heat, as in A Tale of a Tub, the brilliant aggressive vitality
is designed, for all the intensity of its sting, never to lose its cool. The
contemptuous energy with which he mimicked the forms of ‘modern’ ego-
centrism and the self-promoting typographical antics of what we now like to
call ‘print culture’, is a billowing performance of indignant impersonation,
2 Swift’s Angers
in which the force and incriminating accuracy of the aggression never
shows loss of authorial composure. A feature of these angers, as Sterne
smirkingly sensed, was that they were partly self-implicating. Swift was
spared from seeing the Shandy phenomenon in its fully fledged published
form, but he intuitively repudiated it as part of the impending ‘modern’
menace. The loathing he expressed for its posturing self-promotion went
with an unnerving intimation that it was part of a radical human self-
regard to which he himself, like his readers and humanity at large, were by
definition predisposed. The closeness of Swift’s temperament to the things
he attacked is a defining feature of his writing, and one of which he was
edgily self-aware. He evokes it with a minutely inward participation, which
later writers from Sterne to Norman Mailer, all of whom he would have
disavowed, were to adopt, or unparody, as a workable model for their own
egocentric enterprises.
In his poems, as in his prose, Swift shrank from a ‘lofty Stile’ which
might give the angers away. ‘In a Jest I spend my Rage’, he said, preferring
to ‘encounter Vice with Mirth’, not primarily out of some allegiance to
satiric good-humour or Horatian urbanity, but because displaying rage
would make him vulnerable: ‘I Shou’d make a Figure scurvy’ (Epistle to
a Lady, 1728?, 218–19, 168, 142). The refusal extended to all forms of the
‘Heroick Strain’ (136), erotic and panegyric, as well as epic or indeed
satirical. Although the poem in which he expressed these stipulations was
ostensibly a polite refusal to pay compliments to a lady ‘in the Heroick Stile’,
one of the main thrusts of the poem is to disavow Juvenalian majesties of
satiric indignation. We know in practice that he seldom went in for grand
unguarded denunciations, perpetrating his aggressions on his victims as
well as his readers in a more intimately needling way, making them, as
he says in the poem, ‘wriggle, howl, and skip’, and setting their ‘Spirits
all a working’, rather than pounding them with indignant tirades which
might only expose his own lack of composure (180, 207). But he also says
of his satiric adversaries that ‘it must be understood, I would hang them if
I cou’d’ (169–70).
This was the mood in which he wrote, some three years earlier, that
his forthcoming ‘Travells’ were erected upon a ‘great foundation of Misan-
thropy (though not Timons manner)’ (Swift to Pope, 29 September 1725).
‘Great foundation of Misanthropy’ is a knowing jokiness, mock-pompously
coded to a complicit correspondent, and whose inflated phrasing is not a
sign of not meaning what it says. The disavowal of Timon’s manner seems,
as in the poem, a disavowal of rant, a withholding of ‘manner’, not matter.
But Swift’s irony is aggressively mercurial. It does not mean the opposite of
Introduction: not Timons manner 3
what it says, as irony is supposed to do, but acts with elusive indirections
designed both to cover himself and wrongfoot his readers. Readers often
oblige. When Swift added two months later that, ‘I tell you after all that I
do not hate Mankind, it is vous autres who hate them because you would
have them reasonable Animals, and are Angry for being disappointed’
(26 November 1725), the learned of the twentieth-century academy con-
cluded that ‘after all’ Swift did not ‘hate Mankind’. He said so. Older, and
perhaps younger, readers might think Swift was not exactly expressing a
benevolent view of the human race, and that he was indeed ‘angry’ when
he contemptuously said he was not angry because he expected nothing
from mankind. The disavowal of anger is another form of the same coded
irony which in the earlier letter mock-pompously proclaimed his ‘great
foundation of Misanthropy’. The sentences disavowing anger are followed
by: ‘I am no more angry with [Walpole] than I was with the Kite that last
week flew away with one of my Chickins and yet I was pleas’d when one
of my Servants shot him two days after.’ As in the poem, he would hang
[Walpole] if he could.
The interplay between what are sometimes called Swift’s ‘intensities’, and
the edgily playful guardedness which undercuts without neutralising them,
is the pervasive, and indeed defining, feature of Swift’s style. It underlies
the enraged lightheartedness of A Tale of a Tub, and the ‘madness’ of the
misanthropic Gulliver, deranged and ranting, but not, on the facts of the
story, wrong as to the substance of his grievances, though distanced from
his author by a touch of unhinged indignity. Swift understood as well as
Rochester or Oldham that ranting indignation is self-disarming, and could
be used to release outrageous utterance while keeping the author free of
the taint of excessive utterance. The undercutting of excessive inculpation
is itself undercut by the realities it reveals. This is as evident in the almost
tribal imprecations of Swift’s late poems against Irish politicians as it is in
the fictional device of putting his castigation of humanity in the mouth of
a deranged Gulliver, whose manner can be disowned without significant
attenuation of the substance.
Any grandiloquent denunciations that are allowed into Swift’s writings
tend usually to be over the top, advertising the assurance that the author
himself is mockingly aware of excess. Swift studiously avoided all the forms
of high talk favoured by the Augustan masters, Dryden, whom he despised,
as well as Pope, whom he admired and loved. He kept aloof from the
statelier forms of the ‘heroic’ couplet, while remaining fully appreciative
of Pope’s mastery of the form, and of its claim to poetic primacy. Though
virtually all his poems are ironically protected by an element of parody, he
4 Swift’s Angers
never attempted in verse that loftiest form of parody known as the mock
epic, as though fearing that the original majesties might rub off on the
mockery (as both Dryden and Pope would have wanted them to). His only
extended mock heroic, The Battle of the Books, is flattened by the medium
of prose, and by competing subheroic parodies of journalism and scholarly
It is only for posthumous publication that Swift released the single
unmediated declaration of ‘savage indignation’ which underlies the mythol-
ogised image of him as a Titanic Juvenalian castigator. Even in the ‘obituary’
for himself in the Verses on the Death of Dr Swift (1731–9) there is no hint of
this. The poem is largely written in the flip tetrameters of his best-known
mature style, of which Eliot called Swift a ‘master’.3 In so far as it is not
itself undercut by a touch of self-mockery, the rare grandiloquence of ‘Fair
LIBERTY was all his Cry’ (347) is attributed to an ‘impartial’ obituarist,
not the narrator himself. It is not until the epitaph for his memorial tablet,
which Swift dictated in his will, that the boast of being ‘Libertatis Vindi-
cator’, along with the reference to his ‘saeva Indignatio’, make their bald
appearance, for posthumous display alone, and at the impersonal distance
of an ancient language on a marble monument. As the chapter on ‘Savage
Indignation’ argues below, this impersonality seems to conceal a desire to
release the boast which Swift’s natural style throughout his life had been
instinctively disposed to suppress. Having proclaimed, in the Epistle to a
Lady and elsewhere, his preference for Horatian banter over Juvenalian
basting, he for once adopts in the epitaph a note of Juvenalian grandeur,
not only proclaiming the trademark indignatio of Juvenal’s first satire (facit
indignatio versum, i. 79), but accentuating it beyond his Roman original
by adding the adjective saeva (savage), which Juvenal did not use in this
context. Nor does Juvenal in Latin, or Swift in English, speak of this indig-
nation lacerating his heart, though Swift’s posthumous Latin confesses that
it was doing so before his death.
Yeats evoked Saeva Indignatio when he wrote, in ‘Blood and the Moon’
(1928), of ‘Swift beating on his breast in sibylline frenzy blind’, in a fit
of fervid exaltation which would probably have seemed more deranged to
Swift than the mad Gulliver whom he created as an ironic cover. Both
Yeats and Eliot, in their different ways, emphasise a ‘heroic’ or ‘terrible’
Swift, a perspective which requires adjustment in the context of Swift’s
own deep stylistic instincts, but not, I think, the revisionism to which it
has been subjected in the university culture of the last half-century, which
has preferred an equable Swift, ‘ironic’ and therefore not ‘angry’. Swift’s
kinsman and biographer Deane Swift might seem to have been thinking
Introduction: not Timons manner 5
of such readers when he wrote in 1755 of ‘these mighty softeners; these
kind pretenders to benevolence; these hollow charity-mongers’.4 But the
kinsman’s point, on the contrary, is that Swift would have been affronted
by those who took a softer view of human nature than that of Gulliver’s
‘Last Voyage’, and who were thus censuring Swift’s harsh portrayal of the
Yahoos rather than rehabilitating his kindliness.5 What Deane Swift felt
called upon to do was to ‘justify all the sarcasms of the Doctor’, not pretend
they were tolerantly intended.
Like Swift’s kinsman, Yeats and Eliot, as well as most readers before the
Second World War, understood Swift’s ‘sarcasms’ as an expression of anger,
not as a dilution of it. They would not assume that when Swift said ‘I
hate and detest that animal called man’, he was neutralising the sentiment
by a jokey inflation, any more than when he said, eight weeks later to
the same person, ‘I do not hate Mankind’, he was literally contradicting
himself. The irony in both passages is a slippery and guarded obliquity,
not a declaration of philanthropic goodwill. When he said ‘I would hang
them if I cou’d’, he did not mean it ‘literally’, any more than we do when
we say someone ‘ought to be shot’, but he was not wishing them a long,
happy life and all the democratic freedoms, as latter-day revisionists like to
believe. What earlier readers, admiring or hostile, sometimes overlooked
was the volatile indirection with which Swift modulated the expression
of his angers. Swift’s ironies may be playful, aggressive and destabilising.
They serve to intensify or sometimes soften, and almost always to distance,
a literal reading, rather than to contradict it.
Swift’s epitaph, then, is perhaps the only occasion on which Swift did
not shrink from the ‘lofty Stile’, either in anger or self-exaltation. Swift’s
posthumous reputation has often been coloured by the epitaph’s excep-
tional resonance. It has elicited the poetic engagement, at what T. S. Eliot
might call the ‘first intensity’, of the two greatest English poets of the
twentieth century.6 Yeats and Eliot belong to a line of poets, rather than
critics, from Shenstone and Byron to Ted Hughes, Geoffrey Hill and Derek
Mahon, who have championed Swift as a poet, sometimes preferring him
to Pope. Pope’s reputation had tended, with exceptions, to be fostered by
critics rather than poets.7 When Yeats turned Swift’s epitaph (‘the greatest
epitaph in history’) into an English poem, he produced a spare and vibrant
piece of Yeatsian mythologising which, for all its verbal closeness to the
original, Swift would never have written.8 The translation not only intro-
duces self-dramatising features (‘Swift has sailed into his rest’, ‘Imitate him
if you dare, World-besotted traveller’), but also strikes an unSwiftian note
even when it is most literal.
6 Swift’s Angers
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.

The clarion note of public monumentalism is somewhat alien to Swift’s

Latin original, though the words, in a literal prose rendering, have a similar
sense: ‘Where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart.’
Almost four years after Yeats’s death, the ‘familiar compound ghost’ in
T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding (1942), which is a composite incarnation of
several poets including Yeats and Swift themselves, offers a self-consciously
different perspective on Swift’s epitaph, to which John Hayward drew
Eliot’s attention during the composition of his poem. Describing ‘the gifts
reserved for age’, the ghost speaks of

the conscious impotence of rage

At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
(Little Gidding, 135–7)

The personal vulnerability of this differs sharply from the defiant declar-
ativeness of Yeats’s version, and is in its way closer to the mood of Swift’s
own epitaph, though Swift would not have permitted himself such a con-
fessional idiom either. The particular declarativeness of Swift’s own epitaph
contains within it, however, the pathos of having felt unable to indulge in
such self-appraisal, let alone self-praise, in any of his lifetime writings. It
is not that Eliot writes like Swift, but that he has perceived an intimate
defensive painfulness which Yeats’s heroic accents do not capture.
Yeats understood more fully than Eliot the importance of Ireland in
Swift’s writings, and wrote vividly about it. He dramatised the subject
beyond the reticences Swift imposed on himself, occluding Swift’s self-
divisions behind a glow of heroic fervour. As in Swift’s other writings,
the impulse of ‘savage indignation’ was usually curbed not only by Swift’s
shyness of the figure scurvy, but by conflicted loyalties, to Ireland, which
he served without feeling he belonged to it, and to England, to which he
felt he belonged and was rejected by, and whose domination of Ireland he
Around 1708 Addison gave Swift a copy of his Remarks on Several Parts of
Italy, inscribed (among other compliments) to ‘the Greatest Genius of his
Age’.9 There is nothing surprising about the description, except its date.
Though Swift was in his early forties, he was still at that time a clergyman
Introduction: not Timons manner 7
on the make, impatient for ecclesiastical advancement, political influence
and literary recognition. His great triumphs and tragedies lay in the future.
The only considerable work he had published was the subversive Tale of
a Tub, which he never acknowledged, though he fumed inwardly when it
was attributed to others. Even the Tale seems to have been better known
for foul-mouthed irreverence than for its brilliance or imaginative daring,
let alone its ferocious insight into the gaping idiocy, not yet visible to the
naked eye, of an emerging ‘modern’ culture, whose culminating expression,
a quarter of a millennium later, was to be the curdled Shandean posturing
of Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself.
Swift’s best-known writing still lay twenty years ahead, the astonishing
product of his late fifties and sixties: Gulliver’s Travels (1726), A Modest
Proposal (1729), and the wonderful poems of the 1720s and 1730s, over-
shadowed by his prose and by the hegemony of the Popeian couplet over
official canons of taste (to which Swift modestly deferred), but admired by
poets, more than by critics, for their mastery of a mode of ‘serious’ light
verse which shaped the styles of Byron, Eliot and Auden. Nor had Swift yet
established himself as the Hibernian Patriot, a dominant and ambivalent
figure in the long line of Anglo-Irish defenders of Irish liberties which
includes Burke, Charles Stewart Parnell and Yeats.
If Swift had died in 1708, or even in 1713, he would be remembered as
a significant minor figure. He enjoyed a brief period of political influence
as a Tory pamphleteer and hanger-on of the short-lived ministry of Harley
and Bolingbroke. He was a founder-member of the literary coterie known
as the Scriblerus Club, which also included Pope, Gay, Thomas Parnell,
Arbuthnot and Harley himself. But he had failed to get preferment in
the English Church, and had to settle, in 1713, for a lifetime of exile as
Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He attributed the failure partly to
disapproval at court of the unacknowledged Tale of a Tub. The rest of his
life was spent in the political wilderness, in a country where he felt he had
been ‘dropped’ by a mere accident of birth. It was there that he earned his
place in history as an activist of Irish interests and where, over time, he
wrote the books which entitle him to Addison’s prophetic praise.
Addison’s dedication reads in full ‘To Dr Jonathan Swift, The most
Agreeable Companion The Truest Friend And the Greatest Genius of his
Age’. Allowance must be made for the inflated style of such courtesies, but
the compliment still seems excessive, even in 1708. Three years later, Addi-
son repeated the compliment in print in the Spectator (No. 135, 4 August
1711). The two men were friends and collaborators for several years, before
a political and personal estrangement (mostly from Steele) set in during
8 Swift’s Angers
Swift’s attachment to the Tory ministry. In a letter of 29 February 1707/8,
Addison asked Swift to postpone a visit from the morning until ‘about
two in the After-noon when I may hope to enjoy your Conversation more
at leisure which I set a very great value upon’, and when Mr Steele ‘will
Dine with us’.10 The reason for the postponement was that Addison, at this
time Under-Secretary to the Earl of Sunderland, Secretary of State for the
Southern Department, had been directed to wait on his boss. It’s hard to
gauge all the social nuances, but Swift was nowhere near important enough
to be thus deferred to on the strength of his social or political standing. It
is clear that the ‘companionship’ of this intensely ambitious and morosely
discontented parson was indeed in some way compelling, and that it must
have revealed the brilliance which had not yet become fully manifested in
his known publications, since his authorship of the Tale was not public
knowledge. On 10 July Swift wrote to Ambrose Philips of the ‘Triumvi-
rate of Mr Addison Steele and me’, a species of benign celebrity swagger
Swift later displayed about his relations with Tory grandees, but also, as
with the latter, genuinely reflecting a substantial personal and professional
Addison’s letter is the forty-first item in a correspondence which, over
the whole span of Swift’s life, includes more than fifteen hundred letters.
Swift was also in his forty-first year, however, and the score suggests his
relative unimportance at that date. Neither he nor anyone else evidently
thought his correspondence interesting enough to preserve, and a few of
the letters are between third parties anyway. From the earliest date, Swift’s
letters offer an exceptional insight into the preoccupations, reticences and
self-divisions which are determining features, often unacknowledged, con-
cealed, or deflected by irony, of his published writings. Swift’s own first
surviving letter, No. 2 in the series, is a remarkable piece of self-analysis.
Addressed to the Rev. John Kendall on 11 February 1691/2, it reports the
comment of a ‘person of great Honour in Ireland’ who told Swift that his
‘mind was like a conjur’d spirit, that would doe mischief, if I woud not
give it employment’.12 The words have become a familiar starting point for
descriptions of Swift’s character. The particular interest of Swift’s accep-
tance of their accuracy lies less in the memorable reference to his ‘conjur’d
spirit’ than in an acknowledgement of energies of mind that would not lie
down unless strictly channelled.
Like Samuel Johnson after him, Swift was recognising a truth about
himself which he saw more broadly as a perversity of the human condi-
tion itself, consisting in mental aspirations or stresses that can never be
satisfied or resolved, only allayed or kept at bay by ad hoc disciplines and
Introduction: not Timons manner 9
temporary palliatives. No possibility of ‘cure’, still less of a spiritual resolu-
tion, seemed available to either man. The built-in psychological restlessness
which Johnson saw as the natural condition of human unhappiness, calling
for a compassionate fellow-feeling, Swift viewed as a radical unruliness, of
which his own ‘conjur’d spirit’ was a personal expression. This was under-
stood as potentially susceptible of every viciousness and folly, and therefore
as needing to be tenaciously held down. The potential for freewheeling
mental excess and moral depravity is the psychological basis of Swift’s satir-
ical vision of the human condition, and one which implicates him, along
with the reader and all third parties, in that condition. The view animates
his almost unique character as a satirist who, instead of soliciting his reader’s
solidarity in a conspiracy of the right-minded against the bad, inculpates
not only the reader but also himself in the diagnosis of universal turpitude.
The compassionate Johnson, by this standard, has been described, without
disparagement, as a satirist manqué, always softening or retreating into
a majestic commiseration at the point where a potentially encompassing
inculpation looms.
The letter about Swift’s ‘conjur’d spirit’ also offers a fascinating glimpse
of feverish writing habits: ‘in these seven weeks I have been here, I have
writt, & burnt and writt again upon almost all manner of subjects, more
perhaps than any man in England’. There’s a clear recognition that writing
is a means of assuaging, not just expressing, uncontainable pressures which,
in his mature thinking, he came to identify with the radical human restless-
ness. The brilliant unruliness of A Tale of a Tub, a mimicry of unbridled
self-expression, is both the severest critique, and also an act of buoyant cre-
ative participation in the gaudiest of indisciplines. He was to write much
of this book, where he wrote the letter, at Moor Park, the home of Sir
William Temple, his unsatisfactory patron, whose essay ‘Upon Ancient
and Modern Learning’ (1690) triggered a late English phase of the quarrel
of the Ancients and Moderns. The Tale, written to defend the cultural rule
of law represented by the classical tradition against the filthy modern tide
of engulfing self-sufficiency and self-assertion, was, by a cruel but under-
standable paradox, immediately seen as subversive, in religion, as in other
matters. Without it, however, Tristram Shandy, Finnegans Wake, Watt and
Pale Fire would not exist as we know them. These works are simultane-
ously an extension of Swift’s parody and an unparodying, and testify to
the inwardness of Swift’s imaginative rapport with what he rejected. He
did not, of course, foresee them literally. What he did was to look at the
venial garrulousness of Dryden and reimagine it as a monster of egomania
in the manner of Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself. But the energy with
10 Swift’s Angers
which, in his somewhat neurasthenic apprehensions of the future course of
modernism, he excoriated that self-indulgence, also produced one of the
very best works in the rejected mode, bringing out its potential with an
energy and inventiveness that were also a source of great achievements in
In that sense, the Tale was a triumphant expression of the ‘conjur’d
spirit’, one he could never own up to, which nevertheless (in his own
not altogether unfounded view) permanently damaged his career in the
Church, and which it grieved him to see attributed to, or claimed by,
others, including his cousin Thomas Swift. It was to this cousin, also
attached to Temple’s household, that he wrote, some three months after
the letter to Kendall, another letter offering a remarkable insight into his
writing habits (3 May 1692). Swift was trying to write poems: not, in these
early years, the witty verses from which Byron, Eliot and Auden learned
many things, but celebrative ‘Pindarick’ odes in the style popularised in
England by Cowley. It’s not his style, and he would soon grow out of it, but
he didn’t know this yet. These poems, and the letter, show a commitment
to poetry which, despite occasional disclaimers, he never abandoned. He
is envious of a recent ‘Copy of verses’ by Thomas, ‘which tho indeed they
are not so correct as yr others, are what I could not do under 2 or 3 days’.13
He reports that he finds it hard to write ‘of a sudden’, is given to finding
it ‘exceeding silly stuff’, and is undergoing a combination of writer’s block
and the feverish writing and blotting and rewriting that he described to
I esteem the time of studying Poetry to be 2 hours in a morning, and that
onely when the humor sits, which I esteem for the flower of the whole Day,
and truly I make bold to employ them that way and yet I seldom write
above 2 stanzaes in a week I mean such as are to any Pindarick Ode, and
yet I have known my self in so good a humor as to make 2 in a day, but it
may be no more in a week after, and when all’s done, I alter them a hundred
times, and yet I do not believe my self to be a laborious dry writer, because
if the fitt comes not immediatly I never heed it but think of something else.

The conjur’d spirit surfaces in those words, and also the recognition of
self-regard, of being ‘overfond of my own writings’, and of not wanting
anyone to know:
I would not have the world think so for a million, but it is so, and I find
when I writt what pleases me I am Cowley to my self and can read it a
hundred times over, I know ‘tis a desperate weakness, and has nothing to
defend it but it’s secrecy.14
Introduction: not Timons manner 11
The self-castigation is itself a bit of an ego-trip. It is a mode he would
have jeered at in Dryden or (had he been able to read him) Sterne. But
it is largely without that mode of self-cherishing which he was to iden-
tify in the Tale as a hallmark of ‘modern’ confessional writing, sniffed
out of scattered clues in Dryden and blown up into an advance parody of
Sterne. Not that Swift was himself incapable of luxuries of Shandeism, mas-
querading as self-criticism. These appear mainly in later autobiographical
poems, including admired ones, like the distasteful Cadenus and Vanessa
and that more engaging exercise in self-promotion, the Verses on the Death of
Dr. Swift, both of which are examined in the present volume. If these exam-
ples show the downside of Swift’s tendency, often knowingly exploited, of
seeing himself as resembling the things he often attacks, the Tale represents
its high point.
At the time of the early letter to his cousin, he had no idea that he
would write any of these works, but the letter contains forewarnings in
explicit form of another characteristic: ‘I can not write anything easy to
be understood thô it were but in the praise of an old Shooe’, a remark
which looks ahead, knowingly or otherwise, to a long career of stylistic
obliquity, of which the Tale itself was to be one of the most mercurially
slippery examples.15 This elusiveness, designed equally to ‘vex the world’
and protect his own rear, went with an insistent praise of the clear, concise
speech, plain-spoken to the point of reductiveness, which animates many
satiric effects, and also with the insistence on proper words in proper places,
and the admonition that sermons should tell people what their duty is, and
avoid the language of philosophical or theological abstraction or spiritual
pretension (PW, ix. 70–7, 66). In the same letter he tells Thomas Swift
that ‘to enter upon causes of Philosophy is what I protest I will rather
dy in a ditch than go about’, an advance variation on the Mechanical
Operation of the Spirit’s philosopher, whose ‘Thoughts and Eyes were fixed
upon the Constellations’, and who ‘found himself seduced by his lower Parts
into a Ditch’.16 The affectation of reductive simplicity, however, was also
something that came up for derision, as in Gulliver’s protestations of ‘plain
Matter of Fact in the simplest Manner and Style’ (iv. xii).
The letters display an anxiety and a self-regard whose pathos, especially
in the more immature ones, doesn’t always exceed their tedium: the nag-
ging sense of injured or unrewarded merit, for example, a jockeying for
recognition (especially of his strenuous efforts to secure the reversion to
the Irish clergy of the income of the First Fruits and Twentieth Parts),
professing that he does ‘not regard the Reputation of it at all’, but furious
at not being mentioned in ‘a Letter of thanks signed by 17 B[isho]ps’.17 The
12 Swift’s Angers
dogged boasts of favour with the great are recurrent, not untrue, but com-
promised by their own sense of insecurity and by some absurd affectations:
courtesies and condescensions from Harley, including promises ‘to carry
me to the Queen’, which remained unhonoured, secret hints of favours or
preferments, Harley ‘whisper[ing] me to dine with him’, the triumphalist
retailing of cheap gossip about his masters’ humiliated opponent, Marl-
borough (his ‘abject Submission; that he was the meanest of her Majesty’s
Instruments; her humble Creature; a poor Worm, &c.’). An invitation to
dinner by Secretary of State St John is reported to Stella with the words ‘I
am lazy and won’t go’, when his attendance was evidently already agreed
upon, and he did indeed go, and stayed five hours.18
Underlying all this was his raw concern with his career prospects, and
his desire to escape Ireland (‘no man is throughly miserable unless he be
condemnd to live in Ireland’) and get some preferment in the English
church. Twenty-five years later, secure in his standing as the Hibernian
Patriot, he was still writing of Ireland with explosively recalcitrant loyalties:
As to my Native Country, (as you call it) I happened indeed by a perfect
Accident to be born here . . . thus I am a Teague, or an Irishman, or what
People please, although the best Part of my Life was in England.19

Year after year, while toiling in London in the interests of the Church of
Ireland, he faced the prospect of returning to Ireland because his money
was running out, or no one would promote him (‘nothing comes of it,
nor I believe will’). Occasional expressions of attachment to Ireland are
grudging, or sarcastic, or both: ‘if I love Ireland better than I did, it is
because we are nearer related, for I am deeply allyed to it’s Poverty’; ‘I
must learn to make my Court to that Country and People better than I
have done’, since he isn’t sure he will ‘never be blesst again with a Return
to Ireland’; recovering from a year’s ‘downright Sickness’, he is ‘in the
Country, cultivating half an Acre of Irish bog’, of which he sometimes
also said ‘I always left it with Regret’). ‘My ambition is to live in England,
and with a competency to support me with honour’, but he was at one
point so unhopeful of avoiding a return to Ireland that ‘all my Hopes now
terminate in my Bishoprick of Virginia’20 (this reflection acquires an ironic
resonance from Fynes Moryson’s famous description of Ireland as an island
in the ‘Virginian Sea’).21 Complimenting Atterbury on his appointment
as Dean of Christ Church, Swift said with a grimace of self-depreciation
that he himself was fit only to ‘retire to Ireland, and wait for better times’,
since ‘great Ministers’ have suddenly taken up ‘this exploded custom of
rewarding merit’.
Introduction: not Timons manner 13
The bitterness blended rage and helpless pathos in billowing mixtures.
William King, the Archbishop of Dublin, advised him in September
1711 not to neglect his career ‘but to make use of the favour and interest you
have at present’ in England: ‘You certainly may now have an opportunity
to provide for yourself, and I entreat you not to neglect it.’22 The advice
was kindly meant. King always wrote intelligently to Swift, though more
usually on ecclesiastical and political than on personal matters. The Arch-
bishop was a rock of political good sense and personal goodwill, whose
relations with Swift went through considerable periods of strain, but who
was a wise and patient mentor and a powerful collaborator on ecclesias-
tical and political causes dear to both of them. His stable and intelligent
presence is a sustaining element in the long period when Swift’s concern
with, and resentments about, his own advancement were a dominant note.
His one impercipience seems to have been to take Swift at his word as
being ‘not ambitious’, and he tactlessly suggested that Swift might use his
writing talents to adorn some godly theme. Swift saw this as a bid by the
Archbishop to extricate himself from undertakings to help him, and wrote
with unusually raw anger to his friend Charles Ford:
I never expect Sincerity from any man; and am no more angry at the Breach
of it, than at the colour of his Hair. that same A.Bp told me in severall Letters
that he would shortly mention something about my self, which would be
to my Advantage; I have heard from others that he resolved to provide for
me before any man. Two days ago he performs his Promise, which consists
of two Parts, first to advise me to get some Preferment now I have so many
Friends. Secondly, because I have Parts and Learning, and a happy Pen, he
thinks it my Duty to engage in some useful Subject of Divinity untouched
by others, w[hi]ch he doubts not, I should manage with great Success &c.
He was afraid, I expected something from him; He had got some other
View; and so takes care to undeceive me. Now, do You imagine I take this
ill, or think the worse of him for it?23

‘Do You imagine I take this ill?’ is full of huffy indignation pretending
lofty indifference. ‘I am no more angry’ at a man’s insincerity than ‘at the
colour of his Hair’ is on a par with what he later said about his imputed
hatred of mankind, that he was no more angry with human unreason, or
with Walpole, than with the kite that stole one of his chickens, but was
glad the bird was shot.
King’s remark about the possibility of Swift writing on some ‘useful
subject of Divinity’ may have seemed clumsy or patronising. The editor
of the Correspondence says that ‘it is difficult to believe’ that King hadn’t
heard the rumours of Swift’s authorship of A Tale of a Tub, whose Dublin
14 Swift’s Angers
edition appeared in 1705. More pertinent, in the context of a letter of 1711,
is the fact that the fifth edition of the Tale (1710), with Swift’s ‘Apology’,
and the Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1711), had appeared more recently
still. Swift knew perfectly well that his reputation was not helped by his
rumoured authorship of the Tale, and King had in mind a book that would
help to ‘answer some objections against you’.24 Two months later King was
writing, in relation to Curll’s Miscellanies By Dr. Jonathan Swift, ‘You see
how malicious some are towards you, in printing a parcel of trifles, falsely,
as your works. This makes it necessary, that you should shame those varlets,
by something that may enlighten the world, which, I am sure, your genius
will reach, if you set yourself to it.’25
In his replies to King himself, Swift said as to the writing, that he has
‘often thought of some Subjects . . . But, my Lord, to ask a Man floating at
Sea, what he designes to do when he gets ashore, is too hasty a Question’,
though he also professed himself indifferent to advancement. In what
‘relates to my Fortune, I shall never be able to make myself believed how
indifferent I am about it’. Nevertheless, ‘I have been pretty well known
to several great Men in my Life; and it was their Duty, if they thought
I might have been of Use, to put me into a Capacity for it; but, I never
yet knew one great Man in my Life, who was not every Day swayed by
other Motives in distributing his Favours.’26 All the same, a few weeks
later, on 5 February 1711/2, having heard of the death of the Dean of Wells,
he wrote to Harley, now Earl of Oxford, that ‘I entirely submitt my poor
Fortunes to Your Lordship.’ Woolley’s commentary gives a vivid sense of
Swift’s agitation in writing this short note, which, though ‘a lifelong and
meticulous dater of letters’, he misdated by a month. Embarrassment may
have been compounded by the fact that he was in Oxford’s company that
evening (and may have passed the note by hand).27
The sequel is bleakly set out in Woolley’s note: the post ‘remained
vacant for the next fourteen months, along with the deaneries of Ely
(25 March) and Lichfield (19 June), when all three were provisionally filled,
13 April 1713, a week after Swift knew that he might secure the deanery
of St. Patrick’s, Dublin’.28 Swift’s future was settled for life. No English
preferment, and a lifetime as an Irish dean. Years later, he wrote of ‘having
been driven to this wretched Kingdom (to which I was almost a Stranger)
by [Robert Harley’s] want of power to keep me in what I ought to call
my own Country; though I happened to be dropped here, and was a Year
old before I left it, and to my Sorrow, did not dye, before I came back to
it again’.29 It was clearly the bitterest disappointment of his career. Even
compliments on this preferment would be hurtful, as Steele realised when,
Introduction: not Timons manner 15
at the time of their bitter falling out in 1713, he wrote to Swift on 19 May
(apropos of a slur in the Examiner which Swift denied having made): ‘I
believe I could prevail upon the Guardian to say there was a mistake in
putting my name in his paper: But the English would laugh at us, should
we argue in so Irish a manner. I am heartily glad of your being made Dean
of St. Patrick’s.’30 Steele was as Irish as Swift and the remark seems a mock-
abasement, genially implicating them both. But the acidulous felicitation
must have cut to the quick, and the double reminder of unwanted Irishness
evidently seemed, in Swift’s circumstances, to be hitting below the belt.
Swift could give as good as he got. In a pamphlet published later in the year,
The Importance of the Guardian Considered, Swift delivered himself of his
own double-barrelled putdown against the notoriously debt-ridden Steele:
‘What Bailiff would venture to Arrest Mr. St –, now he has the Honour to
be your Representative? and what Bailiff ever scrupled it before?’, a passage
Leavis celebrated, in a somewhat point-missing judgement, as an example
of the way ‘surprise is a perpetually varied accompaniment of the grave,
dispassionate, matter-of-fact tone in which Swift delivers his intensities’.31
Swift later reapplied a simpler version of this insult to the Duke of Chandos:
Oh! wer’t thou not a Duke, my good Duke Humphry,
From Bayliffs claws thou scarce cou’d keep thy Bum free.32
The insult also has an Irish subtext, since the Duke had snubbed Swift’s
request for the return of some records of Ireland. But the exchange with
Steele is fraught with a more conflicted Irish hurt. It may be thought that the
episode is an amusing inverted precursor of Oscar Wilde’s desire to enlist
Shaw in a gesture of complicit Irishness, which Shaw would probably have
rebuffed more benignly than Swift.33
The bitterness of Swift’s personal disappointment was to merge into a
spirit of political indignation and an impassioned activism in Irish affairs.
If the hurt that triggered this particular intensity partly derived from a
perceived slur about the Irish Deanship, and if that appointment was an
enduring sadness for Swift, the sadness came with a poignant paradox,
which lies in the fact that all Swift’s greatest writings, apart from the Tale,
were to belong to the period of this deanship, as did his most signal services
to Ireland. Swift’s Irish patriotism, one need hardly say, was hardly enlisted
in defence of a conquered native population. The savage old Irish, as
Swift and other English writers frequently referred to them, were not, for
the most part, included in that ‘Whole People of Ireland’ to whom the
Fourth Drapier’s Letter is so eloquently addressed. When the Archbishop
of Dublin wrote to Swift on 1 September 1711 that the ‘people of Ireland’
16 Swift’s Angers
were in fear of an invasion by the Pretender, he didn’t include the ‘natives’,
who, as he said months later, were thought likelier to welcome and assist
rather than fear such an event (‘the Papists seem to have great hopes and
the Protestants generally great fears’), though Swift thought the danger was
slight.34 The Irish were indeed ‘natives’ in the technical sense we nowadays
only use ironically, and the Archbishop wrote in the same letter, and in
others, about plans ‘to convert the natives’, much as if they had been
‘Indians’ from America, Africa or the South Seas (these included the use of
bilingual editions of the Anglican Catechism and Book of Common Prayer).35
Swift’s attitude to the natives was a characteristic oscillation between
contempt and occasional grudging compassion. When they took to beg-
gary, Swift’s feelings about them came close to Kurtz’s ‘exterminate all the
brutes’, though, not being in Kurtz’s state of delirium, he and some other
English writers shrank from a full literal articulation of this sentiment.
Compared with Swift’s expressions of an impulse to exterminate the beg-
gars of Dublin from the earth, Shaw’s posthumous remarks about Wilde
are again more benign, but from the same stable: ‘I am an Irishman. I know
that there is no beggar upon earth as shameless as an Irish beggar.’36 Swift’s
Irish patriotism was that of the colonial, jealously guarding the interests of
the beleaguered settler against the high-handedness of the mother country
as well as the savagery of the local population. His rage was indeed often
directed against the English oppressor, but was sometimes, as in A Mod-
est Proposal, reserved mainly for his own settler group, whom he blamed
bitterly for their feckless incompetence in defence of their interests, and
their subservience to the English in the commercial and economic spheres,
where English pressure was not strictly enforceable. The Modest Proposal
is based on an old myth, going back to antiquity and much revived by
English writers, that the Irish were cannibals, like the Scythians and like
any ‘Indians’. It envisages the ‘natives’ marketing their babies in a cannibal
trade, but the consumers are expected to be the affluent and ruling groups,
the fine ladies and gentlemen, the bankers, the merchants and adminis-
trators, who, in a crowning insult, are thus assimilated to their own most
despised subgroup, including the beggars.
In 1713, the Deanship of St Patrick’s seemed a disappointment and a
failure. The appointment to Wells was, in fact, blocked by the Queen,
because of a squib, The Windsor Prophecy, which Swift had published in
December 1711, urging the removal of the Queen’s favourite, the Duchess
of Somerset. It was a grossly abusive lampoon, which Swift was urged by
well-wishers to withdraw from publication. He seems only to have gone
through the motions.37 It shows a fault-line in the style of his ambition,
Introduction: not Timons manner 17
determined to achieve success in the teeth of a defiant readiness to offend,
and thus courting failure with a stubborn carelessness of his own interest.
He told the story around July 1714, shortly before the Queen’s death, in
the poem ‘The Author upon Himself’, which begins ‘By an [old red-pate,
murd’ring Hag] pursu’d, A Crazy Prelate, and a Royal Prude’, alluding to
the Archbishop of York’s disapproval of the Tale as well as to the issue of
the Windsor Prophecy.38 The poem is a comic and inventive replay of the
petulant self-regard of the letters. He describes himself as having ‘the Sin of
Wit no venial Crime’, and an urbanity which never ‘shew’d the Parson in his
Gait or Face’, boasting that he was welcome ‘at the Tables of the Great’, ‘In
Favour . . . with Ministers of State’ who ‘whisper in his Ear’, while ‘Yeomen
cry, Make Room, as if a Duke were passing by’. The idiom is swaddled in the
element of cute self-fondness which reappears in the Verses on the Death, an
idiom determined to register self-praise but embarrassed to do so overtly.
‘Nay, ‘twas affirm’d, he sometimes dealt in Rhime’ is a typical example of
mock-depreciation. The poem ends on a note of self-consoling dignity.
After the publication of the Windsor Prophecy, the prelate who had shown
the Queen Swift’s ‘dang’rous Treatise writ against the Spleen’ (the Tale),
sues for Swift’s pardon, while the Duchess remains implacable (‘From her
red Locks her Mouth with Venom fills’, thence instilling Satanic poison
in the royal ear). Swift gets Harley’s protection and is reinstated in glory,
but, in this account, decently retires, weary of faction. These examples
reveal a potential for reckless daring alongside an elusive caution and a
restless anxiety about attributions to him of writings by himself or others,
or indeed of writings by others. The satisfactions of social and political
recognition, which Johnson saw as childish boastfulness, were the flipside
of bitternesses of rejection and rankling career disappointments. They
grew from the personal to the political, and flowered into a huge national
achievement, as well as into what Eliot called Swift’s ‘colossal’ stature as a
writer, in verse and prose.
Though he regarded himself as ‘English’, and despised the Irish ‘natives’
over whom the English ruled, Swift became the hero of an Irish inde-
pendence he would not have desired. His works are in other ways bound
by a counter-intuitive blend of loyalties and allegiances. He stands at a
particular confluence between ancient and modern, as an authoritarian
upholder of classical antiquity and its Renaissance avatars, who neverthe-
less ushered in many of the modes of modern writing, which he practised
with a fervour of complicit mimicry while engaged in a rearguard action
against them. Hence his appeal to ‘modern’ and avant-garde sensibilities
from Sterne and Sade onwards. A Tale of a Tub must be understood in the
18 Swift’s Angers
multiple contexts of Renaissance ‘learned wit’, of Erasmus and Rabelais,
and of the seventeenth-century ‘quarrel’ of Ancients and Moderns, but
also of the novels of Sterne, Beckett or Mailer; or Swift’s poems against
the background of Horace, Juvenal and Pope, as well as of his formative
impact on Yeats and Eliot. The literary history this book tells is an attempt
to report continuities and change through an intensive probing of nuances
and registers. It brings together a body of work, uncollected or unpub-
lished, stretching over several decades. Previously published pieces have
been extensively revised and expanded. I have tried to minimise overlaps
and repetitions, but it has not always been possible to do this without
impairing the flow or rhythm of the local argument.
part i
chapter 1

Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity

When I say that I am an Irishman I mean that I was born in Ireland,

and that my native language is the English of Swift and not the
unspeakable jargon of the mid-xix century London newspapers. My
extraction is the extraction of most Englishmen: that is, I have no trace
in me of the commercially imported North Spanish strain which
passes for aboriginal Irish: I am a genuine typical Irishman of the
Danish, Norman, Cromwellian, and (of course) Scotch invasions. I
am violently and arrogantly Protestant by family tradition; but let no
English Government therefore count on my allegiance: I am English
enough to be an inveterate Republican and Home Ruler . . .

The more Protestant an Irishman is – the more English he is, if it

flatters you to have it put that way, the more intolerable he finds it to
be ruled by English instead of Irish folly.
Shaw, ‘Preface for Politicians’, 19061

In 1617, the English writer Fynes Moryson, who served as secretary and
historian to Lord Deputy Mountjoy in Ireland from 1600, published An
Itinerary, describing the author’s travels across Europe and the Middle East.
Sections dealing with Ireland were published as An History of Ireland, from
the Year 1599, to 1603 in 1735. Portions with unpublished material survived
in manuscript, including ‘a more considered version’ (1625) of the original
account of Ireland in the Nine Years’ War, and were published in 1998.2
It has been said that ‘with the exception of Irish whiskey, Moryson had
nothing good to say about [Ireland] or its inhabitants’. The book is more
interesting than this suggests.3 In the chapter ‘Of Ireland, touching nature,
and mamers’, Moryson announces that in this chapter he ‘will [only]
speake of the meere Irish’.4 The word ‘only’ is deleted, and he does not
quite stick to this intention (the manuscript, however, survives in several
hands).5 In the very next sentence, by way of establishing firm distinctions,
22 Ireland
he adds: ‘Only I will say for the English Irish that they may be knowne
by the discription of our English at home.’ English are English and Irish
are Irish. But Moryson’s use of the word ‘only’ is a hostage to fortune,
betraying continued vacillation. The new statement is then modified in a
third statement, which in fact undertakes an elaborate comparison between
the English in Ireland and the ‘meere Irish’ (so much for speaking ‘only’
about the latter), and adds that the former grow progressively more like
the latter (so much for saying ‘only’ that the former ‘may be knowne by
the discription of our English at home’):
But as horses Cowes and sheepe transported out of England into Ireland,
doe each race and breeding declyne worse and worse, till in few yeares they
nothing differ from the races and breeds of the Irish horses and Cattle. So
the posterities of the English planted in Ireland, doe each discent growe
more and more Irish, in nature manners and customes, so as wee founde
in the last Rebellion diuers of the most ancient English Familyes planted
of old in Ireland, to be turned as rude and barbarous as any of the meere
Irish lords. Partly because the manners and Customes of the meere Irish giue
great liberty to all mens liues, and absolute power to great men ouer the
inferiors, both which men naturally affect. Partly because the meere Irish of
old overtopped the English Irish in nomber and nothing is more naturall yea
necessary, then for the lesse nomber to accommodate it selfe to the greater.
And espetially because the English are naturally inclyned to apply themselues
to the manners and Customes of any forrayne nations with whome they
liue and Converse, whereas the meere Irish by nature haue singular and
obstinate pertinacity in retayning their old manners and Customes, so as
they could neuer be drawne, by the lawes, gentile governnment, and free
conversation of the English, to any Ciuility in manners, or reformation in
A striking feature of this passage is the extent to which, even at this
early date, it shows the English preoccupation with the Irish serving the
English themselves as a mode of self-definition. This seems to have been
cultural rather than personal, and perhaps carried a greater immediacy than
other European explorations of kinship with conquered ‘savages’. It was less
tentative than Montaigne on Amerindians, to whom the Irish were in fact
sometimes assimilated, or even than Conrad’s Marlow on Africans, whose
alleged resemblance to the Irish was also an English commonplace. As early
as 1700, Ned Ward reported that the Irish ‘in our Western Plantations . . . are
distinguished by the Ignominious Epithet of White Negroes’.6 The idea
is now adopted by Irish people themselves as a postmodern jokerie, as
when characters in Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments (1987) said the Irish
were the ‘niggers of Europe’, or else as a studied postcolonial self-image,
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 23
as when Mary Robinson, ex-president of the Irish Republic, called the
starving Somalis ‘the Irish of Africa’ or insisted on her Irishness when Third
World leaders didn’t want to confer on a European a UN appointment she
This belated gyration in the politics of identity would have seemed
counter-intuitive in some sectors of Irish nationalist aspiration, in which
there has traditionally been ‘a strain of white triumphalism’. In Declan
Kiberd’s words, ‘de Valera and [Sean T.] O’Kelly were uncomfortably
aware’ of this. Kiberd notes, of India and Ireland under British rule, that
‘the Indians were far more likely to proclaim their solidarity with the Irish
than vice versa’.8 Although a kinship was sometimes professed between
Negro slaves in America and the Irish under British rule, the militant Young
Irelander John Mitchel (1815–75), who thought British rule in Ireland could
not be justified, defended slavery and supported the Confederacy in the
American Civil War.9 Mitchel, an Ulster Presbyterian, was a variously
paradoxical case, but his position was defended by Arthur Griffith, co-
founder of Sinn Fein, who affirmed that no ‘excuse’ was ‘needed for an
Irish Nationalist declining to hold the negro his peer in right’:
He who holds Ireland a nation and all means lawful to restore her the full
and free exercise of national liberties thereby no more commits himself to
the theory that black equals white . . . than he commits himself to the belief
that sunshine is extractable from cucumbers.10

Griffith’s declaration has an unexpected Gulliverian subtext: ‘extracting

Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers’ was one of the projects of the Academy of
Lagado, and thus an epitome of the crazy state of Ireland as Swift perceived
it to be, including its agricultural mayhem. The cucumbers ‘were to be
put into Vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the Air in raw
inclement Summers’ (iii. v). Griffith’s allusion is inexplicit and perhaps
unwitting, but his Preface said ‘Nature gifted Mitchel with the genius, and
more than the strength of Swift’, placing Swift (as Yeats and de Valera were
to do) in a small group of Irish patriots (Griffith’s other two were Sean
O’Neill and Parnell).11 Mitchel himself courted the resemblance with an
angry ambivalence, mentioning or echoing Swift a good deal, not least
in a letter of 1857 which speaks of having ‘had the misfortune, I and my
children, to be born in a country which suffered itself to be oppressed and
humiliated by another; less devotion to truth and justice than raging wrath
against cant and insolence’.12
It is interesting to consider Moryson’s remarks in the context of such
affirmations of difference. He makes affirmations of his own, of course,
24 Ireland
including his closing remark about the Irish deficiencies of ‘Ciuility in man-
ners’ and ‘reformation in Religion’, and the easy conjunction he assumes
between the two, to which I shall return. But what I wish to examine first
is the perception of an opposite feature, even as difference is being starkly
asserted, a growing process of acculturation, also affirmed by Moryson,
which shows the English becoming more and more like the Irish, and
which occurs in spite of a deeply institutionalised resistance to the merg-
ing of identities, and the strict observance of a ban on cross-community
marriages. Moryson notes how self-contained, almost to the point of inces-
tuousness, the ‘English Irish’ way of marriage was. By contrast with the
dissolute ‘meere Irish dwelling in the fieldes’ among whom ‘maryage was
rare’, the English Irish ‘keepe it orderly as in England, saue that, inrespect
of the lawe forbidding them to marrye with the meere Irish, the Cittizens
taking wiues within there owne walls, were growne to be all of kindred one
with another, and so vsed to mary those of neere kindred’. In contrasting
the Irish reluctance to marry at all, Moryson reports in the next sentence,
from a source cited by Camden, that the Irish ‘were giuen to Incest’, a
wilder version of what is said of English interbreeding, but tending to
analogy rather than antithesis.13 The idea of the Irish as sexually promis-
cuous (the Yahoos, ‘like other Brutes, had their Females in common’, GT,
iv. vii) and incestuous, as well as cannibal, like the Scythians, is reported
as hearsay at least as early as the time of Augustus, in Strabo’s Geography
(iv. v. 4).
Moryson’s remarks occur in a chapter of ethnographic summing-up,
describing the ‘meere Irish’ natives by contrast with the English born in
Ireland, but simultaneously enforcing an old thesis that the English Irish
had been corrupted by Irish ways. Earlier in the work he had described
how the latter had made their territorial acquisitions by ‘making frendship
and mariages with the meere Irish . . . and dayly more degenerating from
the English, applyed themselues to the Customes, manners, language, and
apparell of the meere Irish’.14 He describes them as defying the legislation
designed to prevent the Gaelicisation of the English (most notably in the
Statute of Kilkenny, 1366):
For contrary to these lawes, the English Irish haue for many ages, almost
from the first conquest, contracted mariages with the meere Irish, whose
children of mingled race could not but degenerate from theire English
Parents, and allso mutually fostered each others Children, which bond of
loue the Irish generally so much esteeme, as they will giue theire Foster
Children a parte of theire goods with theire owne Children, and the very
Children fostered together loue one another as naturall brothers and sisters,
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 25
yea theire Foster brothers or sisters better then theire owne. Only I must
say for the English Irish Cittisens, espetially those of Corck, that they haue
euer so much avoyded these marriages with the meere Irish, as for want of
others commonly marying among themselues, all the men and wemen of
the Cittie had for many ages beene of kindred in neere degree one with the
This extraordinary farrago of imputations suggests that the English inter-
marry with the Irish to their detriment, and when they do not, fall into the
Irish habit of incest. A remarkable feature of the portrait is the glimpses it
gives of Irish parental affection and love of fostering.
Descriptions such as this support the later ethnographic summary in a
partly resentful acknowledgement of negative acculturation, which never-
theless concedes attractive features to the despised barbarian. Both in these
passages, and in the ethnographic summary ‘Of Ireland, touching nature,
and manners’, Moryson, at the same time as asserting the mereness of both
English and Irish, is also conceding a great tendency for the one to turn into
the other. Comparable observations were made by other writers, notably
Sir Richard Cox, rebutting notions of radical ethnic difference in 1689.16
Moryson appears to prefigure, doubtless grudgingly, some observations of
later commentators, including Shaw in John Bull’s Other Island (1904) and
Declan Kiberd in Inventing Ireland, about the high degree of resemblance
between the two groups, an observation already registered in Tacitus’s
Agricola (xxiv). Shaw had no truck with ‘the neo-Gaelic movement’, the
‘commercially imported North Spanish strain which passes for aboriginal
Irish’, or ‘those two hollowest of fictions, the Irish and English “races”’.
‘I am a genuine typical Irishman of the Danish, Norman, Cromwellian,
and (of course) Scotch invasions’, Protestant, and ‘English enough to be
an inveterate Republican and Home Ruler’.17 Kiberd’s book, an extended
study of the literary manifestations of these reciprocities, opens with two
propositions, that ‘If England had never existed, the Irish would have been
rather lonely. Each nation badly needed the other, for the purpose of defin-
ing itself’, and that ‘If Ireland had never existed, the English would have
invented it.’18 He offers the following description of the perspective of
Shaw’s play:
In other words, at root the English and Irish are rather similar peoples, who
have nonetheless decided to perform versions of Englishness and Irishness
to one another, in the attempt to wrest a material advantage from the
unsuspecting audience of each performance. Each group projects onto the
other many attributes which it has denied in itself, but at bottom both
peoples are alike.19
26 Ireland
Moryson’s grudgingness on this subject goes with the predictable sugges-
tion that the Irish, though resembling ‘us’, are inferior. Later in the same
century, Sir William Petty described the process of mutual acculturation
in similar terms, though in an altered cultural and economic environ-
ment: ‘English in Ireland, growing poor and discontented, degenerate into
Irish; & vice versa; Irish; growing into Wealth and Favour, reconcile to the
English.’20 Concessions of similarity required recognition of Irish inferi-
ority, a recurrent sentiment whose traces are still to be found in Shaw,
though earlier writers seem more likely to ascribe resemblances to cul-
tural assimilation than to any ethnic affinity. Either way, a remarkable
offshoot of this phenomenon is the fact, as the medieval historian Robin
Frame expresses it, that the British state ‘has never brought itself to regard
the bit that seceded – the citizens of the Irish Republic – as aliens’.21
Kiberd suggests that the fact of resemblance creates a cultural need on
both sides to affirm difference. Moryson, almost four centuries earlier, was
already affirming the fact and indeed expounding its various evolutions.
In doing so, he was also expressing, without affirming, a similar cultural
Among Moryson’s ‘English Irish’, there were ‘Old English’ (then some-
times called Anglo-Irish, or Anglo-Hiberni), descendants of Anglo-Norman
invaders of the twelfth century, as Andrew Hadfield says, and ‘more
recent immigrants . . . referred to as “New English”’. Later, the word Anglo-
Irish broadened to include the latter, or collectively to mean ‘people of
English descent born or resident in Ireland; (also) people of mixed English
and Irish descent’ (OED). We are reminded that ‘mere’ is not in itself
pejorative. It does not have that force ‘in early modern English’. ‘Elizabeth
I could refer to herself as “mere English”.’22 Mere merely means real, pure,
the ‘native Irish’. But if mere isn’t pejorative, ‘Irish’ certainly is, and in
assimilating themselves to the Irish, the English, according to Moryson,
‘declyne worse and worse’.23 It is not simple. The Irish have a stubborn
devotion to their ways, a kind of proud recalcitrance, or independence
of spirit, which the English, ‘with their lawes, gentile government, and
free conversation’, as well as their ‘Ciuility in manners, or reformation in
Religion’, do not have.24
In a momentary, surprising way, the wild Irish assume, in relation to the
English, a role comparable, in some English mythologies, to that of the
English themselves, in relation to the French. In the national mythologies
of only a few decades later, the French are sometimes portrayed as a peo-
ple of superior civility, but of unreformed faith and of slavish character,
ruled by a tyrant, while the English, coarse but freedom-loving, possess
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 27
liberties cherished by enlightened persons in both nations, though there
is no suggestion that enlightened persons of any nation cherished the
coarse independence of the Irish. Thus Francisco de Cuellar, an officer of
the Spanish Armada stranded in Ireland, described the Irish natives who
sheltered and protected the Spanish against the English, as often naked
savages who eat oats and ‘some flesh half-cooked without bread or salt’,
and who ‘live as brute beasts’.25 (Eating oats was widely instanced, in
contempt or compassion, as a feature of the Irish diet.)26 Cuellar reports
further that their ‘chief inclination’ is thieving, a theme much reverted to
by Swift and other English writers. Even their chiefs are routinely referred
to as savages: ‘an important savage very friendly to the King of Spain’, ‘a
savage gentleman [MacClancy], a very brave soldier and a great enemy
of the Queen of England’. Cuellar constantly reminds himself and his
correspondent that these savages are Christian, like the chief O’Rourke:
‘although a savage, he is a very good Christian and an enemy to heretics’.
But there are times when even the Catholicism of the natives has for
Cuellar a ring of barbarism about it. ‘These people call themselves Chris-
tians. Mass is said among them, and regulated according to the orders
of the Church of Rome’, and they are, like O’Rourke, great enemies of
the ‘heretics’. But an Irish girl grabbed some holy relics belonging to
Cuellar: ‘these the savage damsel took and hung them round her neck,
making me a sign that she wished to keep them, saying to me that she
was a Christian: which she was in like manner as Mahomet’. He also
declines to marry the chieftain MacClancy’s sister. Although Cuellar con-
tinually reports the English persecution of Irish Catholics, he seems never
to refer to the English as savages and almost never fails to use that word of
the Irish.
In Moryson’s time, the French seem to have viewed the English much as
the English viewed the Irish, or perhaps a notch above: in the words of Paul
Langford, ‘as an interesting remnant of the barbaric culture that it was the
historic mission of Latin civility and Gallic culture to tame’, candidates for
what the vocabulary of French empire would later call a mission civilisatrice.
According to Langford, it was not until the mid eighteenth century that
the image of English freedom was seen as ‘something that might prof-
itably be employed to polish the increasingly tarnished absolutism of the
Bourbon monarchy’.27 In fact, English boasts of liberties denied to ‘our
Neighbours’, the French or the Spanish, were common in seventeenth-
and early eighteenth-century writers, including Dryden, Prior, Pope and
others.28 Envy of English liberty is found not much later in some French
authors, including the early Voltaire, though some Frenchmen continued
28 Ireland
to think of this liberty as an ‘anthropological’ relic of Germanic tribalism,
with (again like the Irish in English eyes) Amerindian analogues.29 The
counterpart to liberty was barbarity, for which the English had something
of a Continental reputation.30
The English self-image included a qualified and not always confident
pride in freedom, as compared especially with French despotism, modified
by a sense that this came with a shortfall in civility, of which it was
equally awkward to feel proud or ashamed. One version of this ambivalence
may be seen in the well-known lines of Pope’s Essay on Criticism (1711),
commenting, in the main admiringly, on how ‘Critic Learning flourish’d
most in France’:
The Rules, a Nation born to serve, obeys,
And Boileau still in Right of Horace sways.
But we, brave Britons, Foreign Laws despis’d,
And kept unconquer’d, and unciviliz’d,
Fierce for the Liberties of Wit, and bold,
We still defy’d the Romans, as of old.

It is hard to judge, in this parade of italics, how much is sarcastic and how
much proudly declarative. As William Empson said of these lines:
The ‘critic-learning’ of the French does not seem to be called mistaken;
there is only a possibility that Boileau’s claim to be heir of Horace might
be wrong. But while Pope despises the English for breaking the rules he
contrives still more firmly to despise the French for keeping them.31
There is a comparably intricate ambiguity in English attitudes to the
Irish. The stubbornly native Irish of Moryson’s account, in their own savage
way, labour under the same tyrannical religion as the super-civilised French.
They combine their savage liberty with total subservience to absolute
power: ‘the meere Irish giue great liberty to all mens liues, and absolute
power to great men ouer the inferiors, both which men naturally affect’.32
The last words indicate that in Moryson’s view these are two reasons which
tend to encourage the English to model themselves on the Irish, over and
above the natural imitativeness of their national character.
The Irish penchant for tyranny, and the slavishness which accompanies
it, sometimes rubbed off on ‘the English Irish (that is English borne in
Ireland’), and sometimes had to be managed.33 It remains mainly a feature
of the Irish. Moryson says their ‘cheefes of Countryes (for most of them
are not lords from any gramts [grants] of our kings, which English titles
indeede they dispise), prefix O or Mac before their names, in token of
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 29
greatnes, being absolut Tyrants ouer their people, themselues eating vpon
them and making them feede their kerne or footemen [foot-soldiers], and
their horsemen’ (a practice, according to Hadfield, also ‘adopted by the
English in Ireland’). The inferior groups are the symmetrical obverse, who
‘willingly suffer great men to eate vpon them’.34 ‘Eate vpon’ refers to the
custom of ‘coign and livery’, the ‘food and entertainment exacted, by the
Irish chiefs, for their soldiers and attendants’ and the ‘impost’ levied for
that purpose (OED, ‘Coynye, n.’). The phrase here means literally to feed
off the people, i.e. take food at their expense, and metaphorically to feed
on them, i.e. to batten on or exploit them, a quasi-cannibal metaphor.
It thus readily taps into those accusations of a real or literal cannibalism,
which Moryson himself, like Spenser and Camden, reports about the Irish,
in much the way that ancient writers spoke of Scythians, and sixteenth-
century Europeans of Amerindians. It is a theme which provides the basis of
an often misunderstood irony in Swift’s Modest Proposal, whose resonances
are by no means as simply indignant at the plight of the Irish poor as John
Mitchel suggested when he wrote of ‘a bitter Dean Swift, with accustomed
ferocity of sarcasm, while the saeva indignatio gnawed his heart, making and
publishing his “Modest Proposal” to relieve the fearful distress by cooking
and eating the children of the poor’.35 An enduring sense of the Irish as self-
destructive, deriving less literally from the cannibal stereotype, and closer
to the particular asperity of Swift, survives in later Irish writers. Shaw’s quip
that ‘if you put an Irishman on a spit you can always get another Irishman
to baste him’, or Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus describing Ireland as ‘the old sow
that eats her farrow’, are examples.36
Like the French, too, Moryson’s Irish willingly bow under an unreformed
religion, with ‘swarmes of Romish Prists tyranising ouer their Consciences’,
much like the infamous ‘couple-beggars’ of Swift’s Irish tracts, as well as
of accounts by Camden and others. Again, this subservience goes with a
great wildness. The ‘Romish Prists’ are part of a quartet of ‘beasts that
plague Ireland’, the other three being ‘lyse vpon their bodyes, Ratts in
theire howses, Wollues in their fieldes’, an observation Moryson recycles
more than once from some Latin ‘verses’.37 The priests or couple-beggars
are seen by Swift as part of an Irish world of loose morals, in which beggars
travel about with their trulls and their bastards, seldom marrying and wildly
unchaste. Moryson had said a century earlier: ‘The wemen generally are not
much commended for Chastity.’38 Moryson adds that ‘among meere Irish
dwelling in the fieldes, maryage was rare’, just as A Modest Proposal reports
that their offspring ‘are seldom the Fruits of Marriage’ (PW, xii. 111).39
Moryson registers, in engagingly aggrieved bafflement, that ‘the Common
30 Ireland
voyce was that generally, as kissing goes by fauor, so they would rather
offende with an Irish horseboy then with the English of better rancke’, an
observation he had already made at least once, prompting his recent editor
to ask whether Moryson himself had ‘been turned down’.40 All manner
of perversions are ascribed to them, and Camden is cited as saying ‘that
the wemen deliuered of Children did after the sixth day admitt theire
husbandes to lye with them’,41 an outlandishness falling slightly short of
that of a ‘She-Yahoo [who] would admit the Male, while she was pregnant’
(unlike ‘other Brutes’, says Gulliver, following Pliny, who said ‘few animals
except woman’ do this) (iv. vii).42
The Irish are both free and unfree, partaking variously of English and
French national traits, as perceived by the English. Like the French, the
Irish, despite their wildness, are ruled by native despots and willing to be
exploited. In English eyes this could be thought a product, or by-product,
of unreformed religion, which Moryson associated, or juxtaposed, with a
lack of ‘Ciuility in manners’. Spenser made the link between incivility and
Papism in a more nuanced way, qualifying it with the view (resembling
Cuellar’s) that the Irish are too wild even to be good Catholics, that
Catholicism might be expected to play a role in civilising them, and also that
there is a shortage of good English clergy for the mission civilisatrice.43 In
the late seventeenth century Sir Richard Cox’s Hibernia Anglicana (1689–
90) rejected the notion of a racial difference based on supposed Gaelic
Mediterranean origins, and argued that the Irish–English dividing-line was
between the barbarism of a motley British riff-raff and the greater civility of
English invaders. (He also took time to make the common analogy between
Irish tribal chiefs and American Indians.) Cox insisted, as did others, that
in his time, the effective distinction was not national but denominational,
between Catholics and Protestants. At this time, as Connolly reports,
Protestants in Ireland called themselves English (or sometimes British in
deference to the Ulster Scots).44
The English don’t impute this lack to the unreformed French, and
sometimes see the French carrying civility to ridiculous excess. The English
presume to have civility, which they deny to the Irish, and which the French
can safely be assumed to deny the English. It might be expected that the
Irish–French analogy would break down over civility, which no one was
supposed to attribute to the Irish and everyone attributed to the French. As
early as William of Malmesbury (c.1125), the Irish were regarded as grossly
uncultivated by comparison with the English and French, an example of a
secular sense of ‘barbarian’, replacing the religious sense in which barbari
was used by Latin Christian authors to mean ‘pagan’.45 But, especially
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 31
when the English became a middle term in the comparison, even this
aspect of the Irish–French analogy was sometimes activated. It had an odd
persistence. Or perhaps, on Paul Langford’s evidence, the notion that the
Irish, like the French, were superior in urbanity to the English developed at
a later time. Sir John Carr, for example, reported in 1805 being impressed,
at an Irish ball, by ‘the spirit, good-humour, grace, and elegance, which
prevail in it: in this accomplishment they may rank next to the animated
inhabitants of Paris’. Langford cites a less flattering expression of this,
more directly tapping the political analogy, and reported in 1821 by Lady
Louisa Stuart, daughter of the Earl of Bute (a Scottish Prime Minister of
Great Britain), as well as granddaughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
An Irish lady boasted ‘long ago’ of the resemblance in ease and freedom
of manner which promoted friendship between the French and Irish: ‘“I
am not at all surprised at it,” replied I, and I own I thought many traits
of the French Revolution and the Irish Rebellion afterwards served to
prove the truth of her observation in a manner she would not have been
pleased at.’46
Moryson had not imputed urbanity to the Irish, and it had not been usual
to impute a passion for liberty to the French. But the French Revolution had
signalled to self-respecting Britons that French republican liberty was an
even worse form of tyranny than their old monarchy. The touted French
politeness was accordingly reduced to an anarchic barbarity, which was
portrayed, by Burke, Gillray and others, as including reversions to the very
cannibalism which was the ultimate mark of the savage, and which it was
commonplace to impute to the Irish, as well as to the feuding French,
from the Religious Wars to the Revolution and after.47 The lady who
boasted of Irish urbanity to Lady Louisa Stuart was doubtless thinking not
of the natives but of the gracious-mannered Ascendancy houses, and their
courtesy and elegance, which were later to stir the imagination of Yeats.
But it was a complaint of Swift that the English view of their Anglo-Irish
cousins was inclined to merge them into an indistinguishable resemblance
to the natives. Lady Louisa Stuart’s response to the Irish lady seems to
carry more than a whiff of this sometimes deliberate assimilation, always
remembering, however, that she herself was an Anglo-Scottish patrician.
As to the Irish reputation for urbanity, it did, as it happens, also extend to
the natives, even in Swift, as we shall see.
There was thus ambivalence, including a perception of resemblance to
‘us’, about the Irish, though the dominant rhetoric was one of ethnic
domination and separation, a pattern evident among English writers since
the sixteenth century, or even before. Petty reports that:
32 Ireland
The English in Ireland before Henry the VII’s time, lived in Ireland as the
Europians do in America, or as several Nations do now upon the same
Continent; so as an Englishman was not punishable for killing an Irish-man,
and they were governed by different Laws; the Irish by the Brehan–Law, and
the English there by the Laws of England.48
The frequent assimilation of the Irish to Amerindians, from the sixteenth
to the nineteenth centuries, was common.49 It seems to be reflected
in Moryson’s published references to Ireland as a ‘famous Iland in the
Virginian Sea’, a cisatlantic outpost of America.50 Richard Cox was perhaps
remembering Moryson’s phrasing, wittingly or unwittingly, when he spoke
of ‘an Island seated in the Vergivian Sea’. The latter is an old name for the
Irish Sea, going back to Ptolemy, and found repeatedly in seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century writers, which perhaps raises the question of whether
Moryson himself was punning or misspelling.51 Either way, Swift himself
spoke of the ‘savage old Irish’ in much the same way as he referred to
‘the savage Indians’. The two blend in the ‘very knowing American of my
Acquaintance in London’, expert in cannibalism, in A Modest Proposal, who
is what we would now call a native American (PW, xii. 111). This may or
may not incorporate the kind of compassion which seems to come to the
surface sometimes in Swift’s Irish writings. But he also complained in Intel-
ligencer (19) that those Irish emigrating to America who have not ‘Dyed
miserably in their Passage’ were exposed to mortal danger on arrival, by
being settled by the English in territory which lay ‘between them, and the
Wild Indians’. He cited here, and again in the ‘Answer to the Craftsman’
(1730) two years later, the barbarian auxiliary troops whom the Romans
used in their armies as a buffer for their own legionaries, to the effect that
the Irish were being used ‘as a Screen between his Majesty’s English Subjects
and the savage Indians’.52
An irate pamphleteer from New York in 1733 vehemently contested
Swift’s criticisms of Ireland, England and America, and questioned whether
such a practice had ever occurred in Roman history either.53 Swift seems
to have derived his Roman information from Tacitus’s British book, the
Agricola, where the Britons, as it happens, were the barbarian counterpart
to ‘the savage Indians’. Agricola, who was Tacitus’s father-in-law, is reported
earlier to have thought Ireland could be overpowered and occupied by a
single legion and a moderate number of auxiliaries (modicis auxilariis), an
occupation which would be useful for controlling Britain also.54 Tacitus
refers to Britons as ‘barbarians’ (barbari) with something of the broad
brush inclusiveness with which Gulliver describes Yahoos as like ‘all savage
Nations’ (iv. ii), and incidentally finds it hard to say which were the
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 33
indigenous or immigrant groups.55 Swift seemed to accept, in the Letter
to the Whole People of Ireland (1724), that the ‘Sort of Savage Irish’ with
whom he felt the English of his time identified the Anglo-Irish of his class,
were exactly what British barbarians seemed to the Romans ‘in Caesar’s
Time, when they painted their Bodies, or cloathed themselves with the Skins
of Beasts’ (PW, x. 64). The main error, in his eyes, was that it implicated
people like himself, not that the analogy was otherwise false.
Swift was unlikely to lavish compassion on those transported for crime
or vagrancy, and the Intelligencer essay was not concerned with Catholic
emigrants.56 In that work, Swift was writing, in the person of a Northern
landowner, about impoverished Protestants, with a heightened sense of
their victimisation, though they included Ulster Presbyterians, whom he
normally thought a dangerous enemy. This Intelligencer, mainly directed
at English ill-treatment, is as free of his hostility to Ulster Presbyterians
as of the customary animus against Catholics, who are said, in A Modest
Proposal only a year later, to ‘leave their dear Native Country, to fight for the
Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes’ (PW, xii. 109). The
sarcasm about emigration has taken another turn in the ‘Letter Concerning
the Weavers’, where American emigration is something Swift is ‘not in the
least sorry to hear of’, since ‘the uncontrolled Maxim that People are the
Riches of a Nation is no maxim here under our Circumstances’ (PW,
xii. 66). One of Swift’s other unpublished essays, ‘Maxims Controlled in
Ireland’ (1729), is a list of those ‘maxims’ of universal import which don’t
apply to, or are ‘controlled’ (i.e. confuted) in, Ireland (PW, xii. 129–37), a
foreshadowing of that Irish exceptionalism of which Kiberd has described a
later and more benign version.57 When he complained, in A Proposal for the
Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720), of ministers and other officials
who ‘were apt, from their high Elevation, to look down upon this Kingdom,
as if it had been one of their Colonies of Out-casts in America’ (PW, ix.
21), he was not deploring any analogy between savage Irish and Indians,
but the fact that English settlers in Ireland were being treated no better
than if they had been criminal riff-raff who had fled or been transported to
America.58 He was to write very differently about Irish emigrants from the
North eight years later, as we have seen. Such confusions on the part of the
English are bad enough, in Swift’s eyes. An identification of his own people
with the wild Irish would appear in this context an intolerable affront.
The issue was not only one of contempt for the natives. It was a matter
of preserving an identity, perceived as beleaguered, which was an English
identity the English of England seemed unwilling to acknowledge. In
A Letter to the Lord Chancellor Middleton, dated 26 October 1724, invoking
34 Ireland
the American comparison in a different form, he complained again of
people from England who know little more of Ireland ‘than they do of
Mexico; further than that it is a Country subject to the King of England,
full of Boggs, inhabited by wild Irish Papists’, and who think ‘that it were
better for England if this whole Island were sunk into the Sea’ (PW, x.
103). As early as 1707, the English lover of the Injured Lady had expressed
the thought ‘that it had been much better for him’ if Ireland had ‘sunk
to the Bottom of the Sea’ (ix. 6). These notions sound like Carlyle on
both Irish and Blacks, and Swift felt appropriately bitter. But Edward Said,
who does not quote the full statement from the Letter to Middleton, thinks
Swift is complaining that the Irish natives are being caricatured in the
same way as ‘African and Asian peoples [are] even today’.59 What Swift
is really outraged by, however, is the fact that his own people are being
mistaken for the ‘wild Irish’, who are indeed in this context equivalent
to ‘African and Asian peoples’, a view on which Swift differs from the
nationalists Mitchel and Griffith.60 It was not uncommon in Swift’s world
to be offended at being mistaken for an Irish native.61 Swift’s protective
instincts are comparable to those of European settlers in overseas colonies,
resentful of high-handedness from the metropolis (a state of fluctuating
tensions dating back in Ireland to the Middle Ages),62 but in no mood to
identify themselves with the natives.
Like some colons in twentieth-century Africa, whose aspiration was for a
French Algeria or British Kenya, Swift and his kind sometimes seemed to
feel more English than the English, purer or finer upholders of an English
identity. In the passage from the Letter to Middleton, there is a moment of
indignant comedy in which Swift, evidently taking it for granted that the
‘wild Irish’ were indeed rightly expected to look different and outlandish,
describes how ‘upon the Arrival of an Irish-man to a Country Town, I
have known Crouds coming about him, and wondering to see him look so
much better than themselves’ (PW, x. 103). The Irishman in this example is
not wild Irish, but an Englishman from Ireland, for example Swift himself,
just as English as the English, only better.63 Swift was not alone among
persons of English stock in appropriating an Irish designation. Whether as
an expression of cultural ownership, or of growing patriotism in the face
of oppressions from London or of English sneering, such affirmations of
Irishness were acquiring currency by the 1720s.64
Such an outlook, in the Anglo-Irish as in the colons, went with an
exacerbated assertion of ownership of the colonised land, their ownership,
as distinct, in Ireland’s case, from that of either London or the natives.
As J. C. Beckett said, ‘For Swift, “the savage old Irish” (as he calls them
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 35
elsewhere) were no more a part of the “Irish nation” than the Iroquois or the
Sioux formed part of the British colonies in North America.’65 When the
Modest Proposer speaks of the whoring beggars of Ireland as ‘our Savages’,
Swift is replicating the phraseology of, for example, André Thevet, in the
French colony in the bay of Rio de Janeiro in the 1550s, who spoke of
the local Indians as ‘nos sauvages’.66 The ‘our’ or ‘nos’ is contemptuously
possessive. In a symmetrical inversion of this possessive assumption, Swift
spoke of the ‘Irish nation’, without any suggestion of paradox, in a sense
which blandly excluded ‘our’ native savages.67
Swift’s fancy of an English crowd gaping with wonder at an ‘Irishman’
who wasn’t ‘wild’, and who looked not only like themselves but ‘so much
better than themselves’, is an odd little outburst, not least for its suggestion
of an autobiographical application. On a similar level of proprietorial
oddity, Swift sometimes affected to believe, as Beckett remarked, that the
Irish climate was better than the English.68 Praise of the Irish climate
was in fact hardly habitual to Swift, any more than to Shaw.69 Swift’s
bridling, in A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture and
elsewhere, at any hint of English superiority over Ireland, has more than a
little of cultural cringe. Beckett further remarks that, ‘though he strongly
supported the “Irish interest” against the “English interest”, in public
affairs, his outlook remains that of a colonial, aggressively determined to
hold himself aloof from the despised “natives” and resentful of any assumed
superiority on the part of the mother country’.70 Swift’s letter to Pope of
23 June 1737 complained that Pope, in his published letters, ‘had failed to
distinguish between the two population groups in Ireland – “the savage old
Irish”, on the one hand, and “the English Gentry of this Kingdom”, on the
other’. The former group, ‘who are only the vulgar, and some Gentlemen
who live in the Irish parts of the Kingdom,’ may refer to a combination
of Gaelic natives and English families barbarised by residence outside the
Pale.71 He added that ‘the English Colonies’ in Ireland were ‘much more
civilized than many Counties in England, and speak better English, and
are much better bred’, and went on to complain ‘that an American who is
of the fifth generation from England, should be allowed to preserve that
title [i.e. of English], only because we have been told by some of them that
their names are entered in some parish in London’.72
This ideal of Englishness, caught up in the ethnic frictions and resent-
ments of imperial transplantation, is a paradoxical variation on Juvenal’s
defeated affirmation of a native Roman virtue submerged in Rome’s melt-
ing pot of upstart foreign populations. The true stamp of the ruling race
has passed from the homegrown metropolitan to the colonial expatriate.
36 Ireland
Swift’s ideal Englishman is Anglo-Irish, in an irony to which Shaw, in 1906,
was to add his own inventive elaborations:

When I look round me on the hybrid cosmopolitans, slum poisoned or

square pampered, who call themselves Englishmen today, and see them
bullied by the Irish Protestant garrison as no Bengalee now lets himself be
bullied by an Englishman; when I see the Irishman everywhere standing
clearheaded, sane, hardily callous to the boyish sentimentalities, susceptibil-
ities, and credulities that make the Englishman the dupe of every charlatan
and the idolater of every numskull, I perceive that Ireland is the only spot
on earth which still produces the ideal Englishman of history. (‘Preface for
Politicians’, pp. 9–10)

Shaw’s remarks reflect the intricate partisanships of the Home Rule debate.
‘Garrison’ was a current term for the Unionist minority. G. K. Chesterton
said in 1909 that it was ‘the word that public phraseology has found for that
minority’, with which he impishly identified Shaw himself, comparing him
with Swift.73 Shaw’s ‘Irish Protestant garrison’ sound like descendants of
the Presbyterian Ulstermen who were Swift’s particular bêtes noires. Shaw’s
Preface brandishes a further hoop in the spiral of imperial demography.
Rich flavours of comeuppance are to be found in this view of the English
sahib as a ‘hybrid cosmopolitan’. But Shaw is no less alive than Swift
to the sense of an ethnically questionable imperial riff-raff, whether of
immigrants or emigrants, and including homegrown upstarts. Neither
author conforms to Said’s idea of a complaint about the treatment of
‘African and Asian peoples’, though both authors held more nuanced views
on the Irish comparison than John Mitchel or Arthur Griffith. Shaw is
more emphatic than Swift in denying the distinction between English
and Irish ‘races’, and his contempt for ethnic categorisations is doubtless
greater, but both writers project an acute sense of the distinction between
the Irish Englishman, or English Irishman, and his degraded avatars or
alien subjects.
Swift’s letter to Pope was in praise of ‘the English Gentry of this King-
dom’. Of the fact that Swift nevertheless sometimes violently denounced
this ‘English Gentry’, and the bureaucrats and clergy and merchants and
farmers, for their political, commercial, and social depravities or inepti-
tudes, J. C. Beckett says such things were ‘so to speak, inside the family’,
not for the wider world.74 On the issue of Irish good-breeding, Swift may
have been tapping into the perception, already noticed, that the Anglo-
Irish were politer and livelier and more sociable than the English, both
in Ireland and in England itself. Similar things were said about the Scots
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 37
and Welsh, and linked with a perception of the English as phlegmatic and
slow to which Swift himself occasionally gave voice, in the Project for the
Advancement of Religion and elsewhere.75 Swift was not being altogether
disparaging, English slowness being readily taken as a mark of sound char-
acter, distinct from the flashy French as well as the light-headed Irish. He
may even have been striking some coded Ascendancy note, comparable to
that of Burke, in the Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), when
he acknowledged, not without pride, that (in the view of Frenchmen he
disdained) ‘we are supposed a dull sluggish race’, evidently thereby immune
to the foreign liveliness of revolutions: ‘Thanks to our sullen resistance to
innovation, thanks to the cold sluggishness of our national character, we
still bear the stamp of our forefathers.’76 (Burke’s ‘we’ and ‘our’ evidently
align with the English.) When registered by English persons, the compli-
ments on the superior sociability of the Irish tended, as Langford says,
to be backhanded, and made with a clear implication that no Englishman
would want to emulate it. In a similar way, Irish (i.e. Anglo-Irish) brilliance
in conversation or rhetoric, even when displayed in its most spectacular
forms by a Burke or a Sheridan, or a Wilde or Shaw, might be put down
as a ‘gift of the gab’.77 What Swift was partly expounding in the letter to
Pope was no doubt an earlier version of such English superciliousness.
Swift’s words to Pope seem to look ahead to the more wholehearted
affirmations of Irish sociability and urbanity cited by Langford. These
invoked the French analogy, and include Sir John Carr’s observations on
the Irish ball (not, one supposes, a habitual venue of Swift’s). Swift would
be unlikely to think the French analogy in itself as much to boast about,
but Carr’s account is consonant with Swift’s own affirmation about ‘the
English Gentry of this Kingdom’. Carr went on to apply his observations to
the native peasantry: ‘Their native urbanity to each other is very pleasing;
I have frequently seen two boors take off their hats and salute each other
with great civility.’78
You might not expect such an acknowledgement from Swift, but in the
letter of July–2 August 1732 to the distinguished military officer and Jacobite
exile Charles Wogan, Swift spoke even of the native Irish as superior to their
oppressors in both wit and culture, in a passage which begins, however,
with observations about exiles of the officer class:
Although I have no great Regard for your Trade, from the Judgment I make
of those who profess it in these Kingdoms, yet I cannot but highly esteem
those Gentlemen of Ireland, who, with all the Disadvantages of being Exiles
and Strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their Valour and
Conduct in so many Parts of Europe, I think, above all other Nations;
38 Ireland
which ought to make the English ashamed of the Reproaches they cast on
the Ignorance, the Dulness, and the Want of Courage in the Irish Natives;
those Defects, wherever they happen, arising only from the Poverty and
Slavery they suffer from their inhuman Neighbours, and the base corrupt
Spirits of too many of the chief Gentry, &c. By such Events as these, the
very Grecians are grown slavish, ignorant, and superstitious. I do assert that
from several Experiments, I have made in travelling over both Kingdoms,
I have found the poor Cottagers here, who could speak our Language,
to have much better natural Taste for good Sense, Humour and Raillery,
than ever I observed among People of the like Sort in England. But the
Millions of Oppressions they lye under, the Tyranny of their Landlords, the
ridiculous Zeal of their Priests, and the general Misery of the whole Nation,
have been enough to damp the best Spirits under the Sun. (Correspondence,
iii. 514–15)
Everything in this outburst is an exception, from the praise of Jacobite
soldiers, which might be set against the sarcasm in A Modest Proposal about
Irish Papists who ‘leave their dear Native Country, to fight for the Pretender
in Spain’ (Works, xii. 109), to the celebration of ‘the poor Cottagers’, out of
line with the general run of his comments on the savage natives. The only
familiar note is in the closing remarks about ‘the Millions of Oppressions
they lye under, the Tyranny of their Landlords, the ridiculous Zeal of their
Priests, and the general Misery of the whole Nation’. It is undoubtedly a
strongly felt and highly personal letter, which also goes on to make some
revealingly personal remarks about how he regards his own work as a poet
(iv. 52). The confessional sincerity is unmistakable, but the Irish outburst
was presumably calibrated to the feelings of the distinguished exile he was
writing to, who had himself served as a high-ranking officer in Spain, and
allowance should also be made for shifting contexts as well as personal
fluctuations of mood.
In a personality as intensely irritable as Swift’s, as prickly and as sensitive
to its own vulnerabilities and the slights of others, such fluctuations doubt-
less came naturally. Moods of aggressive contempt alternated readily with
gestures of resentful self-disparagement or defiantly unexpected compli-
ments to the enemy. Such things belong to the volatility and opportunism
of immediate provocations, and to an oblique and teasing variant of what
Johnson called talking for victory. More deeply characteristic is his sense,
in a letter to the second Earl of Oxford, of 14 June 1737, of ‘having been
driven to this wretched Kingdom (to which I was almost a Stranger) by
[My Lord Your Father’s] want of power to keep me in what I ought to call
my own Country; though I happened to be dropped here, and was a Year
old before I left it. (sic) and to my Sorrow, did not dye, before I came back
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 39
to it again’.79 It was in fact no ‘accident’, as Swift repeatedly claimed, that
he was ‘dropped’ in Ireland. He was Irish not only by birth but by upbring-
ing and education, and, in Beckett’s words, ‘several members of the Swift
family had settled in Ireland, part of the mid-seventeenth-century stream
of recruits to the English colony that had existed for almost five hundred
years’.80 Even in the letter to Lord Oxford, the ‘cursed factious oppressed
miserable country’ is ‘not made so by Nature, but by [the] slavish hellish
principalls of an execrable prevayling Faction in it’.81 ‘Not made so by
Nature’, implying that the alienation is not radical, but the virulent exten-
sion of a quarter-century of party-political catastrophe, reflects a tension
between grudgingly belonging and not belonging. There was no doubt of
his dismay at having failed to secure a preferment that would have allowed
him to live in England, and no mistaking his obsessively reiterated insis-
tence that he was an Englishman.82 But there were also moods of defeat,
or of contrariness to his own self, when he could look misfortune in the
face and praise the Irish people, or countryside, or weather, or concede
self-punitively that the circumstances of his birth made him indeed an
Irishman or Teague.83
It is doubtless true that had Swift ‘received the English preferment that
he hoped for we should have heard nothing from him about the wrongs
of Ireland . . . his private letters . . . contain less about Irish nationality than
about his own sense of living in exile’.84 That he spoke in this way from a
sense of personal injury, in a reply in kind to a country which had rejected
him, is consistent with what may be surmised of his personality. His resent-
ment of England’s oppression of Ireland was in some ways experienced as a
personal grudge, as though the oppressor nation, of which he would gladly
have been a part, had added injury to insult by maltreating the land he
had been reduced to calling his own because of his very rejection by that
oppressor. But it is also consistent with his character that he took Ireland’s
injury as his own in the grander and more public sense, transcending per-
sonal injury or the self-interested rejectionism of the colon, and achieving
an affirmation which ultimately earned him a place of honour in the annals
of Irish patriotism.
The immediate results of his Irish activism, even over Wood’s halfpence,
brought little practical benefit to Ireland. Beckett says well that after it
‘the constitutional position was unchanged; restraints on Irish trade con-
tinued; the policy of appointing Englishmen to important posts was even
extended’.85 But Swift led from above, in contempt for the Anglo-Irish
victims he was defending, as well as for these victims’ victims, the ‘old
savage Irish’, whose descendants now honour him as a national hero. He
40 Ireland
inaugurated a line of ascendancy patriots, Grattan, Parnell, Yeats and oth-
ers, who invoked the ‘Spirit of Swift’ and struggled for a majority they did
not belong to and whom Swift thought of as a savage and almost subhuman
mob.86 He is celebrated publicly by modern Irish governments, and praised
by former rebel leaders whose imprisonment and perhaps execution Swift
would not only have supported but possibly advocated, and who seem not
necessarily unaware of the likelihood of this. Adopted as a hero in his own
lifetime, for victories that were circumscribed and local in practice, though
potent in symbolism, and which earned him a name for courage and effec-
tiveness in which he took sardonic satisfaction, he acquired an inaugural
role in an Irish liberation he would never have expected, or wanted.
Swift had no thought of Irish independence in any present-day sense of
the term. Though he loathed the ‘depending’ status of the English Irish, he
had no thought of conferring power on the native Irish. It would not have
seemed an option and he would have hated it. He did not want Ireland to
merge with England, in the way some colonists later desired Algerian inte-
gration with France. But he would have resisted as fiercely as they did any
prospect of ‘independence’ for the natives, or native rule. Swift affirmed,
notably in the fourth Drapier’s letter, the doctrine of William Molyneux’s
The Case of Ireland, Stated (1698), that Ireland was not a ‘depending King-
dom’ of England, but a separate kingdom, with its own Parliament, which
was, by constitutional treaty, ruled by the same monarch.87 He rejected any
control of Irish affairs by the Parliament of England, its right to legislate
for Ireland, and especially the appellate jurisdiction of the English House
of Lords.88 Molyneux’s doctrine was ‘unsustainable’ in the political reality
of successive periods.89 He resented the appointment of Englishmen from
the mother country to offices in Ireland, and wished his own compatriots
would do more to promote Irish, rather than English, commercial inter-
ests. But he would have abhorred a native Ireland. This was not merely a
conventional reluctance to be ruled by perceived savages, but a sense of the
unthinkability of an Ireland totally severed, constitutionally and culturally,
from England and Englishness.
In that sense, Ireland had to be affirmed as English, if not as subservient
to England. It is in that appropriative spirit that many scions of the Protes-
tant Ascendancy down to the twentieth century sometimes thought of
themselves as Irish, the natives not being included in that phrase. In his
Letter to the Whole People of Ireland (dated 13 October 1724), the Drapier
made it quite clear, though not to some modern readers, that he was
addressing only the ruling groups of English stock.90 When he complained
of Englishmen lording it contemptuously over the people of Ireland, his
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 41
resentment was not on behalf of the natives (or two weeks later, in the Letter
to Middleton, even at the idea that they might be ‘sunk into the Sea’), but at
the suggestion that people like himself were being identified with them.91
The phrase ‘Whole People’ is not inclusive but appropriative, quite differ-
ent from the idiomatically neutral way in which he referred, in the Letter to
Middleton (dated 26 October 1724), the Drapier’s sixth letter, to ‘the People
of this Kingdom’ as consisting of ‘Irish Papists’ and ‘English Protestants’.
The ‘slippage’, if it is one, is mainly colloquial, rather than expressive of
ethnic fine distinctions, or confusions, and Swift also used ‘native’ in both
hostile and neutrally inclusive senses.92 Swift is quick to add (in his own
name) that the Irish Papists are ‘as inconsiderable, in Point of Power, as
the Women and Children’. They have no civil rights, and virtually no civic
identity. This is not said as a complaint, but in reassurance.93 The words
are recycled almost verbatim from the remark, fifteen years earlier, in the
Letter Concerning the Sacramental Test (1709), where the fact that ‘we look
upon [the Papists in this Kingdom] to be altogether as inconsiderable as
the Women and Children’ (PW, ii. 120), is intended to allay scares of an
impending Catholic menace.
The more resonantly rhetorical ‘Whole People’ does not mean ‘entire
population’ but ‘all of us’, as distinct from the particular groups (e.g.
‘Tradesmen, Shop-Keepers, Farmers, and Country-People in General, of the
Kingdom of Ireland’) or individuals (e.g. Viscounts Molesworth or Midle-
ton) to whom other of the Drapier’s letters were more specifically addressed,
and somewhat in the style of the old Thatcherite ‘one of us’ as distinct from
a generic ‘them.’ The ‘Whole People of Ireland’ is an English category, rest-
ing on what Beckett calls an ‘explicit disavowal’ of inclusiveness.94 It even
manages to make out that the prospect of Wood’s halfpence, a privatisation
of the currency which Swift must have perceived as one of the excesses of
Whig mercantilism, was as redolent of Jacobite and popish villainy as any
wild native mob.
Such paradoxes are epiphenomena of the historic and enveloping para-
dox of the Anglo-Irish predicament. It was perceived by ‘one of the first
invaders’, Maurice FitzGerald, besieged in Dublin in 1171, ‘that while we are
English to the Irish we are Irish to the English’ (‘ut sicut Hibernicis Angli,
sic et Anglis Hibernici’).95 Four centuries later, in 1598, Sir Christopher St
Lawrence used similar language.96 By the second half of the seventeenth
century, in the narrative of T. W. Moody, the original ‘Anglo-Irish’ or ‘Old
English’, Catholic ‘descendants of the medieval English colony’ who were
loyal to the English Crown, had been largely dispossessed of their lands and
political power.97 The ‘New English’, to whom Beckett now applies the
42 Ireland
name ‘Anglo-Irish’, the more recent generations of Protestant settlers and
administrators, acquired control of property and influence so great that
they could both marginalise the ‘Old English’ and control the subjugated
majority. Whereas once antagonisms had existed between the Catholic but
loyalist ‘Old English’ and the rebellious ‘Old Irish’, ‘by the eighteenth cen-
tury the basic division in Irish life had become one of religion rather than
of race’.98 Thus in early modern Ireland, the Irish used the word ‘British’
to mean English and Scots, not Irish. As early as the seventeenth century,
Catholics ‘play[ed] down ethnicity within Ireland and between Ireland
and Britain’, while in the eighteenth century, Irish Protestants originally
called themselves English, ‘Irish’ being reserved for the Catholic natives,
but sometimes adopted for themselves an appropriative use of ‘Irish’, which
implied that the natives were non-persons.99
The new Anglo-Irish colons developed their own adversarial agenda
against the mother country. They derived a sense of identity from calling
themselves the ‘Irish nation’, but found it hard to counter their dependence
‘by coming to terms with the majority in their own country, a majority
that was now pushing its way towards power and developing a nationalism
of its own with which the Anglo-Irish could have no sympathy’.100 It was a
preview of the classic predicament of the twentieth-century European colons
on the eve, or at the time, of national independence movements. The ‘Irish
nation’ which was of English stock and unattuned to the aspirations of the
native majority went on calling itself Irish in relation to the English, but, in
a new variant of Maurice FitzGerald’s phrase, English, or perhaps British,
in relation to the Irish. In later contexts, the ethnic term was sometimes
replaced by the political or party terms ‘Loyalist’ and ‘Unionist’, the latter
first recorded by OED in a specifically Irish context in 1886, without always
relinquishing an element of resentment against the nation to whom loyalty
was being affirmed, and remembering also that Irish republicanism had
some Ulster Presbyterian roots.101 Hostility to the native might remain
strong, even as the imputation of savagery became harder to take seriously
or get away with socially, and the denominational or political label affirmed
a fresh ascendancy over the ethnic, though in the case of the Irish natives
the two categories were never altogether separate.
Swift, viewed in isolation from later events, might seem to be locked
into an earlier and perhaps more benign version of this bind. It is ironic
that its dominant modern incarnation is made up mainly of Belfast Pres-
byterianism, for which Swift nursed a hatred even greater than for Popery.
But it is also the case that Swift stands at the head of a long line of activists
who led the fight for Irish freedom from within the ranks of a Protestant
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 43
Ascendancy, a textbook case, or perhaps an Irish variant, of that leadership
from above, from the dominant class or ruling group, which has been a fea-
ture of the earlier phases (especially) of some liberation movements. These
men of the Ascendancy, Grattan, Fitzgerald, Wolfe Tone, Emmet, Parnell
and Yeats, served a majority to which they could never really belong, but
which simultaneously numbered them among its heroes and was suspicious
of their alien stock.
They recognised what Grattan called the ‘spirit of Swift’ as a foundation
of their work. All, with Swift at their head, were invoked, on more than
one occasion, by the last of their great spokesmen, W. B. Yeats. When
Yeats, in the Irish Senate debate on 11 June 1925, spoke in favour of divorce,
as a member of the Protestant minority in Catholic Ireland and against
majority sentiment, he reminded his fellow senators, in a characteristic
access of fervour, that his people had no reason to be underestimated in
Ireland: ‘We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people
of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the
people of Emmet, the people of Parnell’, adding, for good measure, ‘We
have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have
created the best of its political intelligence.’102 In his masterly account of
this debate, R. F. Foster reports that the mention of Burke and Swift were
late additions.103 This may seem surprising in view of the vibrant presence
of both writers in Yeats’s poems, but Yeats ‘discovered’ Swift rather late.104
The debate ended in some exquisite intellectual mayhem, the senators
did not approve divorce, and parts of public opinion were affronted by
the Ascendancy arrogance of the speech.105 But his eloquence did not go
unremarked (‘the speech just spoken is equal to any I have ever heard’, said
Colonel Maurice Moore, brother of the novelist and the speaker of some
otherwise silly interventions.106 Eighteen months earlier, on 15 November
1923, the Senate, congratulating Yeats on the Nobel Prize, paid tribute to
‘the great moral courage and the patriotism which induced him . . . to cast
in his lot with his own people here at home’ and to place ‘his very great gifts
at the service of the Senate’.107 We may observe that Shaw, having also been
invited to serve on the Irish Senate, answered ‘that I would consider it if
the seat of the Irish Government were transferred to London’.108 Each case
in its way reflects a national regard for great writers, and what some would
consider a counter-intuitive readiness to honour its Anglo-Irish heroes,
which has light to throw on the afterlife of Swift’s reputation, too.
It is perhaps not surprising, and perhaps a good thing, that the language
of Yeatsian fervour has not passed into the common stream of political
oratory. Eight years later, on 6 February 1933, Eamon de Valera, opening
44 Ireland
the Athlone Broadcasting Station, issued a roll-call of Ascendancy heroes
in a decidedly lower key:

Anglo-Irish literature, though far less characteristic of the nation than that
produced in the Irish language, includes much that is of lasting worth.
Ireland has produced in Dean Swift perhaps the greatest satirist in the
English language; in Edmund Burke probably the greatest writer on politics;
in William Carleton a novelist of the first rank; in Oliver Goldsmith a poet
of rare merit. Henry Grattan was one of the most eloquent orators of his
time – the golden age of oratory in the English language. Theobald Wolfe
Tone has left us one of the most delightful autobiographies in literature.109

Honorific enumerations of Protestant heroes had become something of a

subgenre among nationalists opposed to British rule well before Yeats or
de Valera. The Ulsterman John Mitchel offered a short parenthetical list,
(‘Swift, Lucas, Molyneux’), when denouncing the political annihilation of
Catholics in Swift’s time, and sardonically registering Swift’s own desire for
a Protestant Ireland. Arthur Griffith included Mitchel himself with Swift
and Parnell (but also adding Sean O’Neill).110
De Valera’s list is closer in time and in some details to Yeats’s, and
he may have been remembering it. De Valera’s statement is perhaps the
more remarkable because not powered by Yeatsian fervours of dynastic
exaltation, and spoken in a context in which the speaker was insisting
on achievements he valued more greatly in the Irish language, as well
as on the cruelties of English oppression, and from a sense of perceived
‘serious . . . emergency in relations with Britain’ at the time of speaking.
On the other hand, it is noticeable that de Valera is more disposed to
praise the literary achievement than the patriotic services of these men.
The praise of Wolfe Tone, for example, for leaving us ‘one of the most
delightful autobiographies in literature’, seems pointed in its omission of
the major political effort.111
But in 1967, at the Dublin Tercentenary Celebrations of Swift’s birth,
an event attended by virtually the entire government of the Republic, de
Valera, then the President, and Patron of the event, spoke with a somewhat
different emphasis on Swift. I was present on that occasion. The Irish Times
reported his words at the opening ceremony, on 25 April 1967:

In his brief opening speech, Mr. de Valera said that . . . the famous Dean’s
name had been part of the folk-history he had experienced as a boy. He first
met Swift’s writings at school . . . where he remembered remarks that had
been made about him in a history of English literature. Over the years he
had found out more about Swift, he had discovered no reason to revise the
Swift, Ireland and the paradoxes of ethnicity 45
favourable judgment of this book: the Dean had been a great prose-writer
and satirist, and a powerful political pamphleteer.
Later, when he became more interested in politics than he had been as a
boy, he had learned that Swift had been one of the pioneers of a group
of Anglo-Irishmen – ‘the Irish colonists, I might call them’ – who realised
that they ought not to permit themselves to be governed by Ministers from
England. He was a bit doubtful about Swift as an Irishman he had preferred
to live in England, and, when he came here, did not take very kindly to
the Irish people but realised that Swift had set a headline which had been
followed not merely in the 18th century but much later.112
The acknowledgement is more measured than Yeats’s, and perhaps more
lucidly in touch with the political reality. It is less grudging than the praise
of 1933, and sees the political significance of Swift to de Valera’s own cause,
along with a recognition of what, from this point of view, was an incomplete
commitment to the Republican aspirations of Ireland. In this restatement
de Valera seized on the essential fact that while Swift didn’t think much
of the natives, he wanted to keep London out of Irish affairs, and began
the dynamic that led to independence. This is not unlike John Mitchel’s
idea of Swift over a hundred years earlier in his Jail Journal (1854), though
that had been expressed with an indignant resentment which the elderly
President of a now sovereign republic no longer felt the need to express.113
For this reason, Swift survives as a great Irish figure, even among people
on whom, on the evidence available to us, he would be likely to have
looked down. There is kudos to be earned among Dublin taxi-drivers from
the disclosure that one is in Dublin to study or celebrate Swift. This is
compatible with the fact that the same taxi-driver might not be aware that
Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels, only that he was a good thing, and that he
fought with success against the English. But even that is not the whole
story, because what one senses in these reactions of the Dublin street is
an unlettered respect for letters not matched in other Western cultures,
especially not those of the Anglophone world.
The fact should not be overstated. At the time of the 1967 celebrations,
an international meeting of the tenth All-Ireland Alcoholics Anonymous
Convention was taking place in Tralee, reported in the local and national
press.114 Many of the ‘five hundred delegates from California, Florida, New
York, Texas, England, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, France, Germany,
Norway and Ireland’ must have passed through Dublin.115 Some of the
visiting Swiftians, wearing our Swift Tercentenary name tags on our jackets,
were naturally mistaken for the less specialised group. I remember some
good-natured jeering in the streets, advising us to ‘have a drink, Paddy’. If
46 Ireland
one convention was being taken for the other, the conclusion is inescapable
that while Swift aroused national pride, it was the other topic that captured
public awareness.
De Valera was variously memorable, that hot April afternoon. Having
delivered his speech, he sat for hours through those of others, listening
with courteous alertness while many dozed in the heat. I noticed that his
ADC was snoring gently, slumped over his bemedalled torso. This officer,
Colonel Brennan, was at other times an effective facilitator at de Valera’s
public appearances. Though blind and (in 1967) in his eighties, de Valera
would sometimes ‘astound people by striding through a strange building
unassisted. He accomplished this seeming miracle by sending his aide de
camp, Colonel Sean Brennan, to inspect the location beforehand, pacing
the distances and counting the steps involved.’116 It seems unlikely, however,
that the Colonel did the President’s homework on Swift.
At another learned gathering, in summer 1999, de Valera’s granddaugh-
ter, Ms Sı́le de Valera, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the
Islands in 1997–2002, spoke dutifully of the Hibernian Patriot when open-
ing an exhibition at the National Library of Ireland, though without the
compelling engagement of her grandfather. Which English government,
however, would mount a vast tercentenary celebration for this, or any
other, great English writer, or put on display, as active participants, not
only prominent members of its government, but also its very senior head
of state? And where, in the rest of the Anglophone world, would one find
leading politicians not only honouring a writer, but showing signs of having
read him?
It might be supposed that the de Valeras were exceptional, or that times
had changed. But on 21 October 2012, following the eleventh of a series
of international symposia on Swift held annually at the Deanery of St
Patrick’s Cathedral in recent years under the auspices of two of Swift’s suc-
cessors, deans Robert MacCarthy and Victor Stacey, the recently elected
President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, gave an extensive address on
Swift in the Cathedral, expressing an eloquent understanding of the writer,
and a knowledgeable and unillusioned command of his many contradic-
tions. The new President’s ADC, Colonel Brendan McAndrew, was in very
wakeful attendance throughout.117
chapter 2

The injured lady and the Drapier

A reading of Swift’s Irish tracts

Swift has long been known as a champion of Irish interests, and discerning
readers have come to understand that this was no uncomplicated attack on
the English oppressor, but an ambiguous and sometimes volatile blend of
compassion and contempt for the Irish victims, in which their failure to
help themselves was often deplored more than (or at least as much as) their
exploitation by the English. Swift’s courageous interventions in Irish causes
more than once involved personal risk from an English governing authority,
while his manner and tone frequently indicated that he nevertheless felt
himself an Englishman, dropped by an accident of birth among a savage
and feckless people whom he despised.
It also seems clear that what he repeatedly described as the mad predica-
ment of Ireland in the 1720s and 1730s became for him an image of a larger
human folly, a combination of turpitudes and miseries closely related to
those which Swift anatomised in A Tale of a Tub and especially in the
Yahoos of Gulliver’s Travels (the latter a production of Swift’s most active
Irish period and powerfully if obliquely concerned with the condition of
Ireland). A similar vision and similar energies of style hold these works
together, a matter nevertheless not easily amenable to paraphrase. Swift’s
political thought comes to us so charged with mixed and shifting feelings,
and above all with such a sense of unresolved tension, of the hopelessness
of any clear resolution to a predicament seen as rooted in man’s refractory
nature (including, as he would admit, his own), that they lose much of
their character in any merely ideological summary.
Swift’s first essay on Irish affairs, The Story of the Injured Lady (PW, ix.
1–12), was written in 1707, just before the Act of Union between England
and Scotland. It was not published until 1746. The injured lady is Ireland,
who feels jilted when England takes her less faithful and less attractive
rival, Scotland, in marriage. The lady’s portrait of this unlovely rival seems
to draw on a characteristic Swiftian riff, published three years before the
Injured Lady was written, on the ‘Satyrical Itch,’ its origins in Scotland,
48 Ireland
and the fragrance of its breath (Tale, Preface, p. 30).1 Swift’s allegory of the
Union is piquantly sketched in the mode of a ‘novelistic’ intrigue which,
equally characteristically, is never allowed to develop beyond the strict
contours of satirical summarising:
As to her Person she is tall and lean, and very ill-shaped; she hath bad
Features, and a worse Complexion; she hath a stinking Breath, and twenty
ill Smells about her besides; which are yet more unsufferable by her natural
Sluttishness; for she is always lousy, and never without the Itch. As to her
other Qualities, she hath no Reputation either for Virtue, Honesty, Truth, or
Manners; and it is no Wonder, considering what her Education hath been.
Scolding and Cursing are her common Conversation. To sum up all; she
is poor and beggarly, and gets a sorry Maintenance by pilfering whereever
she comes. As for this Gentleman who is so fond of her, she still beareth
him an invincible Hatred; revileth him to his Face, and raileth at him in all
Companies. Her House is frequented by a Company of Rogues and Thieves,
and Pickpockets . . . Once, attended with a crew of Raggamuffins, she broke
into his House, turned all Things topsy-turvy, and then set it on Fire. At the
same Time, she told so many Lies among his Servants, that it set them all by
the Ears, and his poor Steward was knocked on the Head . . . To conclude
her Character; she is of a different Religion, being a Presbyterian of the most
rank and virulent Kind, and consequently having an inveterate Hatred to
the Church; yet, I am sure, I have been always told, that in Marriage there
ought to be an Union of Minds as well as of Persons. (ix. 3–4)2
Swift subscribed to the constitutional doctrine that Ireland was a non-
depending kingdom, sharing the same monarch as England but not sub-
ject to the English Parliament. The classic expression of this doctrine was
William Molyneux’s The Case of Ireland (1698), which was declared sedi-
tious by the Parliament in London. The Irish House of Commons had
unsuccessfully requested a union with England in 1703. Swift saw in this
further evidence of the quasi-colonial status into which Ireland had been
sinking for centuries.3 The lady’s narrative is an ingeniously particularised
allegory of the whole unhappy history of Ireland’s relations with England.
But an ‘answer’ to the lady by her ‘friend’ makes the point (to be repeated in
many later tracts, notably A Modest Proposal), that the Irish are not blame-
less for their own troubles, and urges them to adopt more determined and
effective measures in their own interest (ix. 10–12). These include a reasser-
tion of the status of Ireland as a nation, with its own Parliament (though
sharing a monarch with England), and the pursuit of various self-protective
economic policies.
This reproachful exhortation to the Irish to mind their own economic
interest against English tyranny was almost as important a theme in Swift’s
The injured lady and the Drapier 49
Irish writings as the protest against the tyranny itself. The note is struck in
the first of the major series of later tracts, A Proposal for the Universal Use of
Irish Manufacture, in Cloaths and Furniture of Houses, &c. Utterly Rejecting
and Renouncing Every Thing Wearable that Comes from England (1720; ix.
13 ff.). The Irish situation had recently become particularly bitter. The
Declaratory Act ‘for the better securing the Dependency of . . . Ireland’,
which affirmed the right of the British Parliament to legislate for Ireland
and abolished the appellate jurisdiction of the Irish House of Lords, had
just been passed. This has been described as ‘the most inflammatory piece
of legislation of the century’, defining ‘unequivocally Ireland’s status as
a depending kingdom’.4 There had also been, in recent years, very great
poverty: ‘Whoever travels this Country, and observes the Face of Nature,
or the Faces, and Habits, and Dwellings of the Natives, will hardly think
himself in a Land where either Law, Religion, or common Humanity is
professed’ (ix. 21). Irish agriculture was badly run down by the practices
of rack-renting and absentee landlords, as well as by laws enacted by the
Irish Parliament under the influence of wool-growing interests, prohibiting
tenants from converting pastures into tillable land. Almost all Ireland’s grain
had to be imported from England, while the English were, as Swift said,
‘doing all that in them lie, to make our Wool a Drug to us, and a Monopoly
to them’ (ix. 15). Attempts by the Irish Parliament in 1716 and 1719 to alter
the laws against tillage were neutralised by the English Privy Council.
Swift attributed a large part of these troubles to the Irish themselves,
the bad landlords, the grazing interests, and above all perhaps those Irish
women and men who, from vanity and luxurious habits, used imported
materials from England, instead of cloths of Irish manufacture, for clothing
and household use.5 To some extent, the attack was undeserved. The Irish
Parliament had repeatedly passed resolutions for the use of Irish manufac-
ture, but larger, well-established English manufacturers could offer better
goods more cheaply, while Ireland was prevented from levying adequate
tariffs on English imports.6 On the other hand, part of the trouble was
due to the bad reputation of Irish drapers, and Swift urged them not only
to improve the range and quality of their products, but also ‘not to play the
Knave, according to their Custom, by exacting and imposing upon the Nobility
and Gentry, either as to the Prices or the Goodness’ (ix. 17).
Swift proposed measures which were directly in the power of the Irish,
by which is usually meant the ruling settler group rather than the ‘natives’.7
Landlords and drapers could mend their ways, while Members of Parlia-
ment and their families, and other social groups, could resolve to use only
Irish materials, and ‘never to appear with one single Shred that comes from
50 Ireland
England’ (ix. 16). The list calls to mind the series ‘of other Expedients’
which, nine years later, the Modest Proposer, discouraged by years of vain
attempts at persuasion, was finally to abandon in favour of his cannibal
project (xii. 116–17). Like the Modest Proposer, Swift himself repeatedly
reproached the Irish (often more severely than in the Proposal of 1720) for
their failure to help themselves, in such later tracts as A Short View of the
State of Ireland, An Answer to A Memorial, ‘A Letter to the Archbishop
of Dublin, Concerning the Weavers’, ‘A Proposal that all the Ladies and
Women of Ireland should Appear Constantly in Irish Manufactures’ (all
1728–9; xii. 1 ff., 13 ff., 63 ff., 119 ff.).
These culpable Irish are the Protestant ruling class, not the ‘natives,’ who
have no particular role in the political demography, whether as significant
agents or as victims. In the ultimate fantasy of A Modest Proposal, when
‘other Expedients’ have been excluded, the only remaining solution for
repairing the economy does fall to the natives, because of a traditional
implication that the Irish are cannibals. Even then, they are expected to
sell their babies for food, though the actual eating will be done by their
more affluent and non-‘native’ superiors, always remembering that, as we
shall see, the ‘natives’ are themselves culpable ‘savages,’ not exonerated by
The Modest Proposer has given up as ‘vain, idle, visionary Thoughts’ the
notion that these practical expedients will ever be adopted (xii. 117). But in
the ‘Letter Concerning the Weavers’, Swift claimed that any schemes ‘for
preserving this Kingdom from utter ruin’, other than a refusal to import
English goods, were ‘idle and visionary’ too (xii. 66). The two madnesses
blur into one another. In the Modest Proposal, the righteous alienation of
the disaffected reformer curdles into the mad cannibal objectives of a ‘sane’
world he had once tried to mend; and there, as well as in the more practical
or non-ironic exhortations of other tracts, Swift makes it clear that this
sane Ireland is too mad to save itself even by the most elementary exercise
of self-interest. In the Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture
the paradoxes are put vividly:
The Scripture tells us, that Oppression makes a wise Man mad; therefore,
consequently speaking, the Reason why some Men are not mad, is because
they are not wise: However, it were to be wished that Oppression would, in
Time, teach a little Wisdom to Fools. (ix. 18)9

The imprisoning double-bind of the Digression on Madness’s ‘Fool

among Knaves’ (Tale, p. 112), which implies that the alternative to either is
the other, turns here into something less destructive or nihilistic, because
The injured lady and the Drapier 51
this time it is charged with a fervour of compassion and supports a direct
call to action. But the later formulation is not necessarily more hopeful.
The opening paragraph of ‘Maxims Controlled in Ireland’ (c.1729; xii.
129–37) suggests an Irish outpost of the Academy of Modern Bedlam:
imagine a legislator forming a system for the government of Bedlam, and,
proceeding upon the maxim that man is a sociable animal, should draw them
out of their cells, and form them into corporations or general assemblies;
the consequence might probably be, that they would fall foul on each other,
or burn the house over their own heads. (xii. 131)10
It is not the only time Ireland and the Irish were compared to Bedlam.
A still more ferocious example is the late poem about the Irish Parliament,
The Legion Club (1736). Swiftian madness, as well as being destructive,
often consists of vicious circles of nastiness which are self-nourishing and
self-perpetuating. The inmates of the Legion Club, forming ‘a grand Com-
mittee’ by dabbling in their dung (52–3; Poems, iii. 831), are also related
to the lunatic in the Digression Concerning Madness, who feeds on ‘the
Reversion of his own Ordure, which exspiring into Steams, whirls per-
petually about, and at last reinfunds’ (Tale, p. 115). These circularities are
grimly imprisoning, yet have a wild vitality of self-destruction. And the
Irish writings extend and re-echo the manic gyrations of the Digression
with many bitterly inclusive ‘fool-knave’ ironies, in which the Irish are
shown as mercilessly trapped in tangled webs of their own making:
Remove me from this land of slaves
Where all are fools, and all are knaves
Where every knave & fool is bought
Yet kindly sells himself for nought.
(‘Ireld’ , 1–4, Poems, ii. 421)

The Irish, ‘Who truckle most, when treated worst’ (Verses on the Death,
398), enact a circular dance of cannibal destruction, not the first or last
time Ireland is described as being in an anthropophagous state of self-
consumption, living
in Slavery to Slaves,
Worse than the Anarchy at Sea,
Where Fishes on each other prey.11
This ‘Anarchy’ resembles that Hobbesian ‘State of War by Nature’ described
in On Poetry: A Rapsody (311 ff.; Poems, ii. 650 ff.), where larger animals eat
smaller ones, and where some (namely fleas and Grub Street poets) devour
their own kind.12 The Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture
52 Ireland
contains some expected pieces of paradoxical or circular ‘anti-nature’ (e.g.
the slavish landlords who tyrannise over their tenants, for ‘Slaves have a
natural Disposition to be Tyrants’, ix. 21). It also establishes some ironic
links with Grub Street, and therefore again, in a manner, with the world
of A Tale of a Tub and On Poetry, when it makes the point that English
fools and Grub Street hacks who are hardly noticed in England turn into
powerful persons admired for their ‘Eloquence and Wisdom’ when they cross
the Irish sea (ix. 19–20). Swift adds, ‘I have somewhat of a Tendency that
way my self’ (ix. 19). The irony of this coy self-implication is not altogether
intended to exclude himself. As he said in ‘A Letter on the Fishery’ (1734),
‘We are all Slaves, and Knaves, and Fools’ (xiii. 112).
By a piquant and characteristic convergence, Ireland is also compared
to that quintessential type of the ‘modern’ hack, a spider, whose earliest
and most memorable appearance had been in the Battle of the Books (Tale,
pp. 149–52). In the Proposal of 1720, Swift retells Ovid’s extremely nasty
story (Metamorphoses, vi. 1–145) of Pallas’s envy of Arachne’s skill in spin-
ning and weaving, and her metamorphosis of the maiden ‘into a Spyder,
enjoining her to spin and weave for ever, out of her own Bowels’. But beyond
the gruesome injustice to Arachne, and unlike the spider in the Battle of the
Books, Ireland is then further frustrated by England: ‘For the greatest Part
of our Bowels and Vitals is extracted, without allowing us the Liberty of
spinning and weaving them’ (ix. 18). It is surprising to see Swift treating a
spider as a figure of sympathy, but consistent in its way with the ambiguous
and paradoxical nature of some of his most intense antipathies.13
A hostile treatment of Arachne appears in A Defence of English Com-
modities (1720), purportedly ‘Written by Dean Swift’ as ‘An ANSWER to
the Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures, & co’, but attacking
the Proposal as the work of a ‘Reverend Projector for the Good of Ireland’.
It is printed as an appendix to PW and identified as ‘possibly by JS’ (ix.
267–77, xiv. 131b), and was reprinted in Curll’s Miscellanies, Written by
Jonathan Swift, The Fourth Edition (1722), in both cases accompanied by
Swift’s poem An Elegy On – – – Demar (Poems, i. 232). The Defence rebukes
Swift’s Proposal in Swift’s own name, both for its perversely sympathetic
treatment of Arachne and for its perspective on the English treatment of
Ireland. This mischievous hoax, however, has a teasing aptness to Swift’s
own more intricate combinations of censoriousness and sympathy. Swift’s
compassion for the spider victim in the Proposal itself, and his loathing
for the noxious arachnid in the Battle, enter into an intimately counter-
intuitive relationship, which is variously emblematic of his feelings about
Ireland. The bitterest point in the Proposal is in the additional coil of
The injured lady and the Drapier 53
irony, which differentiates Ireland from all other spiders and all other
The bitter sense of Ireland as a special case colours even such feeling as
there is, in the Proposal, that protective measures can be adopted. There
is a special irony in the fact that there are things which the English could
not, either in practice or natural justice, impose on the Irish without their
consent. Commenting on a proposed law to make the Irish export their
best ‘Wheaten Straw’ to Dunstable, and then buy back annually ‘so many
Tun of Straw-Hats’ manufactured there out of this Irish straw, Swift asks
‘whether a Law to bind Men without their own Consent, be obligatory in
foro Conscientiae’. Scripture and Christian casuists are ‘wholly silent in the
Matter’, and
The Oracle of Reason, the great Law of Nature, and general Opinion of
Civilians, wherever they treat of limitted Governments, are, indeed, decisive
enough. (ix. 19)

A clear implication is that the ordinary rules of Reason, Nature or civil law
do not operate in Ireland. And if this unnatural uniqueness of Ireland is
part of the theme of a relatively early and affirmative work like the Proposal
of 1720, it recurs a fortiori in the darker pamphlets of later years. In the
‘Letter Concerning the Weavers’, Swift wrote that ‘I cannot reflect on the
singular condition of this Country, different from all others upon the face
of the Earth, without some Emotion’ (xii. 65). This taps into an endur-
ing tradition of downbeat Irish exceptionalism, which has recently been
observed to take some upward-looking forms.14 For Swift, this ‘singular
condition’ is the basis of a series of powerful ironic lists, in the Short View
of the State of Ireland and in ‘Maxims Controlled’, of ‘the true Causes of any
Countries flourishing and growing rich’, tested against the actual effects of
‘those Causes in the Kingdom of Ireland’ (Short View, xii. 5). The Short
View is a retort to ruling families and their English visitors who, in the
complacency of a wilfully limited vision, or for political self-interest, put
it about that ‘all Things are in a flourishing Condition’ (xii. 5):15
I think it a little unhospitable, and others may call it a subtil Piece of Malice;
that, because there may be a Dozen Families in this Town, able to entertain
their English Friends in a generous Manner at their Tables; their Guests,
upon their Return to England, shall report, that we wallow in Riches and
Luxury. (xii. 12)

The reiterated argument is that the factors normally deemed to create

prosperity in other countries were, because of English oppression and Irish
54 Ireland
fecklessness, lacking in Ireland. Those factors which were not lacking, how-
ever, also failed for the same reasons to produce the expected prosperity.
For example, ‘the Conveniency of safe Ports and Havens’ normally helps
commerce, but the possession of such ports, ‘which Nature hath bestowed
so liberally on this Kingdom, is of no more Use to us, than a beautiful
Prospect to a Man shut up in Dungeon’ (xii. 6, 8).16 This dismal dungeon,
as we read on, in fact hardly opens on any ‘beautiful Prospect.’ The anti-
natural condition of Ireland is reflected in physical landscapes and scenes of
‘Misery and Desolation’ (xii. 8–9). The verses written at ‘Holyhead. Sept.
25. 1727’ as he faced Ireland’s ‘slavish hateful shore’ say that he normally
preferred even the ‘bleaky shore’ of Holyhead.
Where loudest winds incessant roar
Where neither herb nor tree will thrive,
Where nature hardly seems alive.
(20, 29–32; Poems, ii. 420–1)

At the climax of the Short View are two powerful images of flowering,
both as painfully scarred as anything we are likely to find in Swift, outside
some of the last writings about Stella (which are, incidentally, almost
contemporary with the Short View: the Holyhead verses themselves are
fraught with anxieties about Stella’s illness). The first is the famous outburst:
If we do flourish, it must be against every Law of Nature and Reason; like
the Thorn at Glassenbury, that blossoms in the Midst of Winter. (xii. 10)

The pain is double. There is no flowering, but, if there were, it would be a

bitter mockery. The betrayal of natural expectation is almost more painful
for taking a positive turn, since our impulse to rejoice at the bonus of a
winter-blossoming curdles into bewilderment. It is hard for the reader to
come to terms with the relief, and the freakishness of the event, as Swift
presents it, is counter-intuitively disturbing. The fierce glow of the image
is further intensified by a context relatively bare of imagery. In the next
paragraph, a further surge of flowering occurs, when Swift invites ‘the
worthy Commissioners . . . from England’ to see for themselves ‘the thriving
numerous Plantations; the noble Woods; the Abundance and Vicinity of
Country-Seats; the commodious Farmers Houses and Barns; the Towns
and Villages, where every Body is busy . . . the vast Numbers of Ships in
our Harbours and Docks’. We know as we read that this opulent celebration
is ironic, and we expect, of course, some deflation. But when Swift comes
to take it all back, he does so in a way which he hardly ever allowed himself
in his other published works, openly breaking the fiction of irony, and with
The injured lady and the Drapier 55
an unusually vulnerable admission of personal sorrow: ‘But my Heart is
too heavy to continue this Irony longer’ (xii. 10).
The Glastonbury thorn is an early-flowering variety of hawthorn, sup-
posed to have sprung up at Glastonbury from the staff of Joseph of Ari-
mathea, and to produce its blossoms on Christmas-day (OED). Swift’s
image is not quite presented as a neutral fact of natural history, like Bacon’s
account of the mistletoe in Sylva Sylvarum: ‘It is ever green, winter and sum-
mer . . . it continueth green winter and summer, which the tree doth not.’17
Nor is it reported, as it was in Defoe’s Tour, published not long before the
Short View, as a folkloric item, ‘universally attested’ by the locals and ‘taken’
by Defoe ‘upon their Honour’.18 Swift’s thorn had an unexpected afterlife
when Joseph Conrad wrote about the ‘ephemeral Franco-Canadian Trans-
port Company’, which ‘flourished no longer than roses live, and unlike the
roses it blossomed in the dead of winter’,19 and which Conrad reported as a
nostalgic oddity. Even the sequence of key-phrases is the same: flourished,
blossomed, winter. But the thorn in the Short View is baldly presented as a
surreal fact, part of a large painfulness, in which the condition of Ireland is
seen as a freakish defiance of nature’s laws. It connects with an important
chapter in Gulliver’s Travels (iii. iv), which is partly concerned to allegorise
the unnatural state of Irish agriculture (‘neither did I observe any Expecta-
tion either of Corn or Grass, although the Soil appeared to be excellent’).
Ireland is not expressly mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels, though variously
implied throughout, and clearly much on Swift’s mind, and in so far as it
is apprehended as a subject of that work it inevitably merges into Swift’s
wider analysis of the mad perversity of human nature, becoming one of its
most immediately specific instances.
The natural upsidedown-ness in the Short View is prefigured by the
deranged Academicians of Lagado in the same chapter of Gulliver’s Trav-
els, who systematically add a man-made anti-nature to that which can
already be found without their help in life’s own natural aberrancies. These
scientists have schemes to make ‘All the Fruits of the Earth . . . come to
Maturity at whatever Season we think fit to chuse.’ Swift seems here to
be mocking the scientific agriculture of Bacon’s New Atlantis, where ‘trees
and flowers’ are made ‘to come earlier or later than their seasons’.20 What
was for Bacon a programme of improvement, is for Swift a compounding
of the perverse unnaturalness of the human mind, of which scientists are
one of Swift’s favourite subspecies, and whose results here vividly re-enact
Ireland’s plight: ‘in the mean time, the whole Country lies miserably waste,
the Houses in Ruins, and the People without Food or Cloaths’. In the next
chapter, the Academicians of Lagado are busy ‘softening Marble for Pillows
56 Ireland
and Pin-cushions’ and trying ‘to prevent the Growth of Wool’ on sheep.
Another has ‘a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers’, which
may or may not be an intuition of vitamin C, but is certainly not regarded
as useful (iii. v).
Among Swift’s Irish tracts, the Short View is second in power only to
A Modest Proposal. But its systematic elaboration of the notion that ‘There
is not one Argument used to prove the Riches of Ireland, which is not a
logical Demonstration of its Poverty’ (xii. 11) is most closely paralleled by
‘Maxims Controlled’ (`controlled’ means confuted), a work not published
in Swift’s lifetime which also proceeds by ironic enumeration, though less
tellingly than the Short View. But its opening paragraph, which contains
the powerful comparison of Ireland with Bedlam already quoted, also
establishes the related theme of anti-naturalness with a tart laconic force:

all these Maxims do necessarily pre-suppose a kingdom, or commonwealth,

to have the same natural rights common to the rest of mankind who
have entered into civil society. For, if we could conceive a nation where
each of the inhabitants had but one eye, one leg, and one hand, it is
plain that, before you could institute them into a republic, an allowance
must be made for those material defects, wherein they differed from other
mortals. (xii. 131)

By an odd fortuity, if that is what it is, the example of a people with

‘one leg, and one hand’ echoes Gulliver’s words at the end of the Travels,
when he says that the Houyhnhnms are no more proud of their virtues
‘than I should be for not wanting a Leg or an Arm, which no Man in his
Wits would boast of, although he must be miserable without them’ (iv.
xii). Gulliver’s point is that English Yahoos are proud for no better reason
than that. But on this logic even Gulliver’s contemptuously low-pitched
conception of human normality is lacking in Ireland, which is as miserable
as Gulliver would be without a leg or an arm. The self-extending spiral of
unnaturalness of the human situation takes a characteristic further twist. In
i. iii, Gulliver had described the political mores of Lilliput (aka England)
to be ‘such as I have not observed the least Resemblance of in any other
Country of the old or the new World’: but the Modest Proposer’s Ireland,
like ‘no other that ever was, is, or I think ever can be upon Earth’ (PW, xii.
116), is something else again.
For even if it is conceded that Irishmen had the proper human quota
of arms and legs, the Irish predicament made them differ from ordinary
people as much as the Yahoos of Houyhnhnmland did from those of
Europe. As Swift wrote in the ‘Letter Concerning the Weavers’:
The injured lady and the Drapier 57
I cannot reflect on the singular condition of this Country, different from
all others upon the face of the Earth, without some Emotion, and without
often examining as I pass the streets whether those animals which come in
my way with two legs and human faces, clad, and erect, be of the same
species with what I have seen very like them in England, as to the outward
Shape, but differing in their notions, natures, and intellectualls more than
any two kinds of Brutes in a forest. (PW, xii. 65)21

The passage has connections with some unsettling uses of the mythe
animal in the Modest Proposal and other Irish writings.22 Swift had no
pity to waste on Yahoos, and such compassion as he expressed for the
real-life Irish natives was not unmixed with a fierce, exasperated distaste
for their ‘Idleness, Nastyness, and Thievery’ (PW, x. 139). Another differ-
ence is that Gulliver finally recognised the likenesses between Yahoos and
Englishmen, beneath the differences, while the Irish, in passages like this,
remain unique, not forgetting that the Yahoos themselves are, at the end of
the day, residually unlike other humans. Gulliver, maddened that after six
months the world should still remain unreformed by his book, nevertheless
stopped short of the Modest Proposer’s ultimate cannibal escalation, after
his own earlier sensible expedients had failed; and the Proposer’s folly, unlike
Gulliver’s, is one of supposed accommodation to, not virtuous rejection of,
the world he lives in. It is an Irish world.
The ‘singular condition’ of Ireland had, of course, exercised Swift before
Gulliver’s Travels, and the Travels are themselves often concerned with
Ireland. Irvin Ehrenpreis has written of ‘the pervasive presence of Ireland’
in the latter: ‘Throughout the third and fourth voyages the echoes of his
Irish years are so copious that a historian of Georgian Ireland might head
his chapters with epigraphs drawn from Gulliver’s Travels.’23 If we are more
particularly struck, in reverse, by the Gulliverian reverberations in some
later Irish tracts, perhaps the point is partly that in these later years Ireland
increasingly became the localised focus, in Swift’s imagination, for thoughts
on that radical folly of man which had been the chief subject of that fiction.
Certainly, ironies of oppression with a Gulliverian flavour existed in
Ireland before the Travels. Oliver Ferguson writes of a proposal of the Irish
Parliament in 1719 for dealing with Catholic priests:
The House of Commons passed an act providing that all unregistered
priests who were first offenders be branded on the cheek (‘with a large P’);
the Irish Privy Council submitted it to England, with the refinement that
instead of branding, the penalty be castration. This was too much even for
English apathy, and for probably the only time since the seventeenth century,
Poynings’ Law was put to good use. The English Privy Council – with a
58 Ireland
show of mercy much like that of the King of Lilliput to Gulliver – rejected
the substituted penalty in favor of branding. On its return to Ireland for
final passage, the bill was thrown out altogether by the Lords, not because
of any humanitarian promptings, but because of a technicality involving
Catholic leases.24
The proposed tortures were not unprecedented, or confined to Ireland.25
The passage has perhaps more Gulliverian ironies than Ferguson says. The
pseudo-humanitarianism of the Irish Lords resembles not only that of the
King of Lilliput, but also that of the King of Luggnagg (iii. ix). It is even
more like the reluctance of the King of Laputa and his ministers to drop
the flying island on the oppressed land below because it would, among
other things, ‘be a great Damage to their own Estates that lie all below’
and indeed to the overhanging island itself (iii. iii).26 A difference is that in
the life portrayed in the pamphlets the Irish were being victimised by each
other. But we should also remember that Gulliver’s Houyhnhnm master
proposed to his parliament that the Yahoos of Houyhnhnmland should be
castrated (iv. ix), and there is no reason to suppose that Swift was inviting
the reader to be horrified at the thought.
The Irish tracts most closely connected with Gulliver’s Travels, and most
exactly contemporary in date, are the Drapier’s Letters, written during
1724–5 to oppose the threatened introduction into Ireland of the copper
coinage known as Wood’s halfpence.27 In 1722, an English entrepreneur
and iron merchant named William Wood obtained (reputedly by bribing
the Duchess of Kendal, the King’s mistress) a patent from the Crown
to produce a new copper coinage for use in Ireland, without consultation
with, and against the wishes of, the Irish Parliament and the Commissioners
of Revenue in Dublin. The scheme was widely resisted in Ireland, even
by supporters of the English government. In 1724–5, Swift wrote a series
of tracts urging a boycott of the coinage, mainly in the form of letters
purporting to be by a Dublin draper. Five of these were published at
the time. Two others (one of which was written in Swift’s own name),
together with an account of a mock-execution of Wood’s effigy, were not
printed until 1735. Largely as a result of Swift’s activity, Wood’s patent was
surrendered in 1725. Swift became a popular hero in Ireland. The period
of composition of Book iii of Gulliver (from early in 1724 to the middle
of 1725) actually encloses the activities of the Drapier, and a suppressed
passage in iii.iii specifically allegorises the successful resistance of the Irish,
under Swift’s leadership, to Wood’s patent.28
The injured lady and the Drapier 59
There are some notable parallels of satiric method, and satiric outlook,
between Book iii and the Drapier’s Letters. The description of Lagado in
iii. iv is well recognised as a description of Ireland:

I never knew a Soil so unhappily cultivated, Houses so ill contrived and

so ruinous, or a People whose Countenances and Habit expressed so much
Misery and Want.

Only a superficial reading will take this to be expressing a simple, unmixed

compassion for Irish miseries. In context we are never allowed to forget
that the people of Lagado are not just poor Irishmen, but also wilfully
self-destructive projectors, ‘so many busy Heads, Hands and Faces’ whose
activities puzzled Gulliver ‘because I did not discover any good Effects
they produced’. Their ragged clothes suggest not merely destitution, but
a kind of wild eccentricity not unrelated to A Tale of a Tub’s Jack, or
the Academy of Modern Bedlam: ‘The People in the Streets walked fast,
looked wild, their Eyes fixed, and were generally in Rags’ (xi. 174). As to
the ‘ill contrived and . . . ruinous’ houses, one of the points is that, unlike
the buildings on Lord Munodi’s estate, they lack a rational structure and
classic regularity, and reflect the perversity of the impractical, pedantic and
over-refined intellects who built them. In iii.ii, we had already met the
architectural absurdities of the Laputians:

Their Houses are very ill built, the Walls bevil, without one right Angle in any
Apartment; and this Defect ariseth from the Contempt they bear for practical
Geometry; which they despise as vulgar and mechanick, those Instructions
they give being too refined for the Intellectuals of their Workmen; which
occasions perpetual Mistakes.

One of the Academy’s architectural contrivances turns out to be ‘a new

Method for building Houses, by beginning at the Roof, and working
downwards to the Foundation’, so that the structural disarray is hardly
surprising (iii. v). This is the architectural counterpart to the state of
Laputian agriculture in iii. iv, the country’s apparently ‘excellent . . . Soil
so unhappily cultivated’, and many other aspects of their lives and their
This peculiar mingling of satiric targets, the state of Ireland and the
state of learning, colonial evils and scientific projects, has caused concern
to some readers. Herbert Davis remarked:

The miseries of Lagado and the ruinous state of agriculture in that country
may be taken as a picture of contemporary Ireland, but these conditions are
60 Ireland
also attributed to misdirected scientific projects and bubble schemes, and
the satire loses some point through this confusion.29

The ‘confusion’ is perhaps, as Davis implies, partly the product of frag-

mented periods of composition, but it is also, in the inclusive and somewhat
freewheeling reach of Gulliver’s Travels, the expression of a comprehen-
sive disarray, in which seemingly undifferentiated forces gather up into a
cumulative universal melting-pot. The viciousness and folly of the Yahoo
species, epitomised by the Irish, but to which, by the end, we are all told
we belong, and the mismanagement and misery they bring in their wake,
are held together in a universally inculpating fusion.
It is characteristic of Swift’s whole satiric manner that in parts iii and iv,
Ireland and the rest of humankind work, with a fitfully insistent oppor-
tunism, as natural reflections of one another. Oppressor and victim, colonist
and savage, demented savant and brutish barbarian, merge in the crucible
of this erring and degraded human predicament. The assimilation of a
degraded agriculture to an academy of depraved scientists is no more and
no less paradoxical than the extension of the Yahoo definition from brute,
to Irish, to English, to Portuguese and everyone else. It is not unlike
the recurrent and counter-intuitive symbiosis, in Swift’s other writings,
between modern perversions of intellect and primitive savagery. The ‘Dis-
course Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit’ is addressed
to, or makes learned references to the work of, Australian aborigines and
Amerindian cannibals (‘the Academy of the Beaux Esprits in New-Holland’,
‘the Iroquois Virtuosi’ and ‘the Literati of Topinambou’).30 The thread, a
quarter of a century before Gulliver’s Travels, is one which also binds the
scientific and Irish nightmares of parts iii and iv, in much the same way
as in the Tale’s ‘Digression concerning Criticks’, the filth and ordure of
‘modern’ critics go back, genealogically and otherwise, to the darkest
of old times, or, in Cadenus and Vanessa and other poems, the polite-
ness of modern beaux and the behaviour of Irish politicians are identified
with an apelike brutishness.31
In Lagado, political folly (in the form of ineptitude under tyranny,
and of the tyranny itself ) was thus readily identified for Swift with other
absurdities of intellect, however superficially unrelated to one another,
part of the collective unreason of a stubborn human deviation from plain
and rational paths. The King of Brobdingnag purported to confine ‘the
Knowledge of governing within very narrow Bounds; to common Sense
and Reason, to Justice and Lenity, to the Speedy Determination of Civil
and criminal Causes; with some other obvious Topicks which are not
The injured lady and the Drapier 61
worth considering’. Gulliver patronisingly scorns the Brobdingnagians for
‘not having hitherto reduced Politicks into a Science, as the more acute
Wits of Europe have done’ (ii. vii). The Laputians, on the other hand, like
European mathematicians, have a ‘strong Disposition’ to politics, ‘although
I could never discover the least Analogy between the two Sciences’, the non-
connection, of course, signalling a deep connection in the murky waters of
human character. Gulliver takes
this Quality to spring from a very common Infirmity of human Nature,
inclining us to be more curious and conceited in Matters where we have
least Concern, and for which we are least adapted either by Study or
Nature. (iii. ii)
This passage may allude specifically to Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘expert’ testi-
mony, as Comptroller of the Mint, that Wood’s coins were of good metal,
discredited in Ireland by the information that Wood himself had chosen
Newton’s samples.32 The Academy of Lagado, and in particular its School of
Political Projectors, are the full crystallisation of this radical and irrational
link between ‘science’ and politics (iii. v–vi). The School is remarkable not
only in being a vivid embodiment of the link, but also for the strange inclu-
siveness of its conception of political madness, taking in the good and bad
alike. Its researchers pursue not only some nasty and obscene projects for
making tyranny more oppressive and more insanely and pryingly effective,
but also certain objectives which Swift himself regarded as essentially right
(though too quixotic in the real world to be feasible).
In the spirit of Swift’s own earlier Project for the Advancement of Religion,
for example, one Professor proposed ‘to lay a certain Tax upon Vices and
Folly’ (iii. vi). More fundamentally, and in the opening words of the chapter
which contains Gulliver’s account of the School (so that the words have a
particular impact), we learn:
In the School of political Projectors I was but ill entertained; the Professors
appearing in my Judgment wholly out of their Senses; which is a Scene that
never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy People were proposing
Schemes for persuading Monarchs to chuse Favourites upon the Score of
their Wisdom, Capacity and Virtue; of teaching Ministers to consult the
publick Good; of rewarding Merit, great Abilities, and eminent Services; of
instructing Princes to know their true Interest, by placing it on the same
Foundation with that of their People; Of chusing for Employments Persons
qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible Chimaeras, that
never entered before into the Heart of Man to conceive; and confirmed in
me the old Observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational
which some Philosophers have not maintained for Truth. (iii. vi)
62 Ireland
In Swift’s analysis of the Irish situation, few people, if any, are shown to have
such centrally desirable aspirations. But the Irish writings as a whole share
with the School of Political Projectors that unsettling sense of a general
blurring of values which makes good and bad, satirist and villain, tyrant
and tyrannised partake of the same projecting folly. The crazed improvers
in the quoted passage have as much in common with the righteous and
pessimistic Modest Proposer who was once visionary enough to make
decent and sensible proposals, as they have with their more antisocial
colleagues in the same School or with the Modest Proposer in his project
advocating infanticide. Similarly the Drapier, in his seventh letter, can
envisage that an idealistic ‘projector’ would propose useful, sensible and
inexpensive improvements which are only mad ‘projects’ in the sense that
a bad world will not do good things. ‘If I had in me the least Spirit of
a Projector, I would engage that this [a notion ‘to civilize the poorer Sort
of our Natives’] might be effected in a few Years, at a very inconsiderable
Charge’ (x. 139).
But if good men are ‘projectors’, so are the bad and the mad. William
Wood, who seeks to foist his coin on the Irish, is also, like his righteous
Swiftian opponents, repeatedly called a ‘projector’ (ix. 232, 236, x. 35, pas-
sim). And in the Drapier’s Letters as a whole, the English oppressor and the
tyrannised and self-destroying Irish are repeatedly described in metaphors
of wayward erudition. Thus, in the fourth letter, the Drapier says that the
English description of Ireland as ‘a depending Kingdom is a modern Term of
Art’ (x. 62), a new-fangled bookish dottiness; and in the sixth letter, Swift
(in his own name) is puzzled to find a justification for England’s treatment
of the Irish: ‘whether it be on Account of Poining’s Act; of Subordination;
Dependance; or any other Term of Art; which I shall not contest, but
am too dull to understand’ (x. 112). This reduction of political evil to a
pedantic eccentricity beyond a plain man’s comprehension is repeated in
the Drapier’s reference in the seventh letter to ‘these Artists’, the greedy
and ambitious Irishmen who have sacrificed ‘the highest Points of Interest
and Liberty’ to their own personal advantage, unaccountably carrying with
them the support of ‘publick Assemblies’ (x. 121). The Drapier’s Letters are
more simply and unambiguously directed against English oppression than
most of Swift’s other Irish writings, but even there the folly of the governed
(the politically inept and self-destructive Anglo-Irish and the savage, thiev-
ing natives alike) does not go unremarked. And over and above that, there
is the self-involving acerbity which reveals the Drapier not only (like Swift
himself ) as a righteous projector, but also (Swift treating his merchant
mouthpiece with a comic uppishness) as a lowly artisan or shopkeeper,
The injured lady and the Drapier 63
addressing lords ‘with the Pedantry of a Drapier; in the Terms of his own
Trade’ (x. 83).
In the Drapier’s Letters, images of the absurdity of Ireland’s state draw
particularly readily on the fantasticated world of Laputian learned folly.
The spectacle of a squire going shopping with Wood’s halfpence, which
because of their worthlessness have to be carried in huge and cumbersome
quantities, is an example:
If a Squire has a mind to come to Town to buy Cloaths and Wine and
Spices for himself and Family, or perhaps to pass the Winter here; he must
bring with him five or six Horses loaden with Sacks as the Farmers bring
their Corn; and when his Lady comes in her Coach to our Shops, it must
be followed by a Car loaded with Mr. Wood’s Money. (x. 6)

This anticipates the reduction to a similar cumbersome absurdity of the

Laputian project to abolish words and replace them by things:
since Words are only Names for Things, it would be more convenient for
all Men to carry about them, such Things as were necessary to express the
particular Business they are to discourse on . . . many of the most Learned
and Wise adhere to the new Scheme of expressing themselves by Things;
which hath only this Inconvenience attending it; that if a Man’s Business be
very great, and of various Kinds, he must be obliged in Proportion to carry
a greater Bundle of Things upon his Back, unless he can afford one or two
strong Servants to attend him. (iii. v)

The parody is of the Royal Society’s ambition, expressed by its historian

Thomas Sprat, to bring language back to a state of ‘primitive purity, and
shortness, when men deliver’d so many things, almost in an equal number of
words’.33 The traffic between the Drapier’s world and Gulliver’s is two-way.
If the Drapier’s monetary fantasy anticipates this Laputian zaniness, the
Laputian world of deranged learning is in return charged with suggestions
of political rebellion. The Academy of Lagado’s project about words and
things, like that of Wood’s halfpence, failed to come about. But it would
have succeeded,
to the great Ease as well as Health of the Subject, if the Women in Conjunc-
tion with the Vulgar and Illiterate had not threatned to raise a Rebellion,
unless they might be allowed the Liberty to speak with their Tongues, after
the Manner of their Forefathers: Such constant irreconcileable Enemies to
Science are the common People.

The Drapier’s idiom and the satire on learning converge, with the same
hints of rebellion, the appeal to ancient liberties, the reduction of the issues
64 Ireland
to the common sense of ordinary people, the implication that plain honest
people (including women and the uneducated) do not understand the
refinements of scientists, whether political or other.
It is not habitual to Swift to applaud ‘the Vulgar and Illiterate’, least of
all in ‘Rebellion’ or in alliance with ‘the Women’ (although ‘the common
People’ sometimes serve as a foil to the dottiness of refined intellects,
including critics, and a reputable woman in Laputa may escape from
her politically eminent but scholastically deranged husband, preferring to
live with ‘an old deformed Footman, who beat her every Day’).34 When
Swift more than once said the Irish Papists were looked upon as being
‘as inconsiderable as the Women and Children’, he was speaking with
contempt of a political impotence he did not consider undeserved.35 Swift’s
lower or pariah groups are not usually pitied or exonerated for being victims
of more depraved oppressors. Swift’s commonest tactic is to identify the self-
styled superiors with the rejected underclass without removing contempt
for either. Gulliver’s Travels assimilates ‘us’ to ‘all savage Nations’ (iv. ii)
in the generic form of Yahoos. It is only when natives are brutalised by
European invaders, in Gulliver’s famous denunciation of imperial conquest
in iv. xii, that they are momentarily referred to as a ‘harmless People’, in
order to highlight the viciousness of the invaders. This is a local intensity,
working against the whole run of the work, from the Yahoos to the ‘real-life’
savages of New-Holland whom Gulliver runs into in the preceding chapter
(iv. xi). At such points, ‘we’ become equal to our despised subgroups, or
actually worse, while the subgroups’ depravity remains largely intact.36
One of the most characteristically Swiftian features of the School of
Political Projectors is an imagery of grotesque medical experimentation,
several of the Professors displaying a special talent for combining notions
of political remedy with extravagant and radical forms of human surgery. A
mad doctor proposes to eliminate political differences by taking a hundred
leaders of each party, disposing them into couples, and sawing off and inter-
changing their occiputs, so that half the brain of each politician is mixed
with his opposite number’s by surgical transfer (iii. vi). Another doctor
proposes that Physicians be in attendance on Senates in order to ensure
calm and peaceful debates, administering to each senator the appropri-
ate ‘Lenitives, Aperitives, Abstersives, Corrosives, Restringents, Palliatives,
Laxatives, Cephalalgicks, Ictericks, Apophlegmaticks, Acousticks, as their
several Cases required’. Meanwhile, non-political academicians have cures
for the colic, one of which consists of blowing up the patient with a bellows
discharged into the anus, which may cure the disease at the cost, when tried
on a dog, of the patient’s life (iii. v).
The injured lady and the Drapier 65
There is no direct analogy to this in the Drapier’s Letters, though an
important passage in the fourth letter exists in a comparable world of
crazed anatomical violence. Walpole is said to have threatened to ram the
halfpence down the throats of the Irish, and make them swallow the coin
in fireballs (x. 63, 67). This threat is taken up and literalised, as the Drapier
drily denies its probability:
As to Swallowing these Half-pence in Fire-balls, it is a Story equally improba-
ble. For, to execute this Operation, the whole Stock of Mr. Wood’s Coin and
Metal must be melted down, and molded into hollow Balls with Wild-fire,
no bigger than a reasonable Throat can be able to swallow. Now, the Metal
he hath prepared, and already coined, will amount to at least Fifty Millions
of Half-pence to be Swallowed by a Million and a Half of People; so that
allowing Two Half-pence to each Ball, there will be about Seventeen Balls of
Wild-fire a-piece, to be swallowed by every Person in the Kingdom: And to
administer this Dose, there cannot be conveniently fewer than Fifty thou-
sand Operators, allowing one Operator to every Thirty; which, considering
the Squeamishness of some Stomachs, and the Peevishness of Young Children,
is but reasonable. Now, under Correction of better Judgments, I think the
Trouble and Charge of such an Experiment, would exceed the Profit; and
therefore I take this Report to be spurious; or, at least, only a new Scheme of
Mr. Wood himself; which, to make it pass the better in Ireland, he would
Father upon a Minister of State. (x. 68)
The last-named is also the ‘brazen Minister of State’ of the poem ‘To
Mr Gay’ (1731, 143), bloated, shameless and perfidious, whose political
eloquence issues in a phantasmagoric expectoration of ordure:
Of loud un-meaning Sounds, a rapid Flood
Rolls from his Mouth in plenteous Streams of Mud.

This discharge of political sewage, ‘Made up of Noise, and Impudence,

and Lies’, is of a piece with Swift’s habit of reimagining moral or political
turpitude in a language of physical obscenity so vivid that it comes over with
an almost literal force. The fantastication, like the cannibal imputation in
A Modest Proposal, is too outrageous to be taken literally, a point sardonically
(and studiedly) conceded in the Drapier’s remarks about fireballs, while it
retains its full moral force.
The coy denial that Walpole would propose such things (‘What vile
Words are these to put into the Mouth of a great Counsellor, in high Trust
with his Majesty, and looked upon as a prime Minister?’, x. 67) is on a par
with an earlier straight-faced claim that ‘Our Gracious Prince hath no such
ill Advisers about him’ who would urge him to force the coin illegally upon
66 Ireland
the Irish (x. 11), or that ‘The King never issues out a Proclamation but to
enjoin what the Law permits him’ (x. 21). Part of the sardonic subtext for
this royal moderation is that the King has no alternative.38 The Irish could
not be legally compelled to accept Wood’s coins, as the Drapier repeatedly
argued. ‘By English statute, the King’s subjects were required to accept as
legal tender only coins made of gold or silver.’39 The note of sanity and
moderation in the fireball passage is additionally meant to show itself to be
out of touch with a monstrous actuality of which the speaker is incredulous
only because it is physically inconvenient, or impossible, like the lowering
of the Flying Island in Gulliver’s Travels to a crunching destruction. The
Drapier nevertheless puts himself forward as a scientist and statistician who
thinks it right to provide the calculations, as though the moral likelihood of
the scheme were sufficiently powerful to need testing against the logistical
possibilities. By literalising the threat, Swift turns Wood and by extension
Walpole into spinners of projects both wicked and wild, but wild only
to the extent of emphasising their extreme malevolence, not of disarming
it by ridicule, as Walpole’s ‘un-meaning Sounds’ are not empty of evil
intent. The Drapier has no illusions about them, and his deadpan pre-
tence that Walpole is, like himself, more realistic than Wood, yields to the
mounting Swiftian sarcasm which immediately follows, closing the fourth

But I will now demonstrate, beyond all Contradiction, that Mr. Walpole is
against this Project of Mr. Wood; and is an entire Friend to Ireland; only
by this one invincible Argument, That he has the Universal Opinion of
being a wise Man, an able Minister, and in all his Proceedings, pursuing the
True Interest of the King his Master: And that, as his Integrity is above all
Corruption, so is his Fortune above all Temptation. I reckon therefore, we are
perfectly safe from that Corner; and shall never be under the Necessity of
Contending with so Formidable a Power; but be left to possess our Brogues
and Potatoes in Peace, as Remote from Thunder as we are from Jupiter. (x. 68)

‘I will now demonstrate, beyond all Contradiction’: the note is Tub-like,

or Gulliverian, in its petulantly comic bossiness (a signature joke of Swift’s,
both enacting and mimicking a characteristic Swiftian gesture), as well as
in the impatient imperiousness which Swift is projecting through it (no
joke at all).40 The coexistence throughout of cheeky fictional pretence and
a declarative Swiftian presence is very typical. The Drapier is much more
directly and consistently a spokesman for Swift’s own views than the Tale’s
‘author’, or Gulliver, or the Modest Proposer, but he has many features in
common with them. The relationship with Gulliver is particularly close. As
The injured lady and the Drapier 67
Herbert Davis says in his Introduction to the PW edition of the Drapier’s

There was a good deal in common between M.B., the linen draper whose
shop was in St. Francis Street, Dublin, and Lemuel Gulliver, the surgeon
of Redriff. The Drapier had not, like Gulliver, been to Cambridge, but he
had acquired some knowledge in the Latin tongue; and before coming to
Dublin, he had, like Gulliver, served his apprenticeship in London, and set
up in business there for himself. (x. ix)

Since the two figures are almost exact contemporaries, ‘the travels of
Gulliver’ being, as Davis adds, ‘actually interrupted by the activities of the
Drapier in Irish politics’, these resemblances are not surprising. Both are
presented as plain ordinary men, carrying some of the strengths and also
some of the weaknesses of their freedom from perverse ‘refinements’ of
intellect or morality, both in their way ‘projectors’ (not always in a bad
sense), and both belonging to what Robinson Crusoe’s father proudly called
‘the middle Station of Life’.41 Similarities between the opening paragraphs
of Robinson Crusoe and of Gulliver’s Travels, including such details as
the fact that both heroes were third sons as well as broader similarities
of subject and tone, have sometimes led to speculation as to whether
Swift was specifically deriding Defoe’s book. If Gulliver’s Travels partly
impersonates dull ordinary travellers of the Crusoe type, whether Swift
had Crusoe in mind or not, the Drapier is less mockingly (though perhaps
not unmockingly) given some very Crusoe-like sentiments, when in the
fifth letter he congratulates himself on the support of two grand juries:

which hath confirmed in me an Opinion I have long entertained; That, as

Philosophers say, Vertue is seated in the Middle; so in another Sense, the little
Virtue left in the World is chiefly to be found among the middle Rank of
Mankind; who are neither allured out of her Paths by Ambition, nor driven
by Poverty. (x. 90)

Crusoe’s father had said, five years before, that the ‘middle State’

was the best State in the World, the most suited to human Happiness,
not exposed to the Miseries and Hardships, the Labour and Sufferings
of the mechanick Part of Mankind, and not embarass’d with the Pride,
Luxury, Ambition and Envy of the upper Part of Mankind . . . That the
middle Station of Life was calculated for all kind of Vertues and all kinds
of Enjoyments . . . not embarrass’d with the Labours of the Hands or of
the Head, not sold to the Life of Slavery for daily Bread, or harrast with
perplex’d Circumstances, which rob the Soul of Peace, and the Body of Rest;
68 Ireland
not enrag’d with the Passion of Envy, or secret burning Lust of Ambition
for great things.42

The Drapier is as tantalisingly close to Crusoe’s father as the opening of

Gulliver’s narrative is, in the view of some, close to the tone of Crusoe’s own,
a resemblance which, if Swift were to admit cognisance of it, might also
imply an understated hint of derision. For all his investment in the Drapier’s
ideas and outlook, it is hardly to be expected that Swift would feel wholly
at home writing in the tone of a merchant and an upholder of the middle
ranks.43 In a different register, Fielding faced a similar stylistic problem
writing about the good merchant Heartfree in his own anti-Walpolean fic-
tion, Jonathan Wild.44 Fielding’s embarrassed ironies of mock-abasement
on the subject of Heartfree’s longsuffering virtue are comparable to the
Drapier’s habit of over-asserting his meanness and ignorance: ‘How shall I,
a poor ignorant Shop-keeper, utterly unskilled in Law, be able to answer so
weighty an Objection?’ (x. 29). Such mock-postures of self-abasement or
self-diminution occur elsewhere in Swift, as in the Project for the Advance-
ment of Religion (‘Although under a due Sense of my own Inabilities’, ii. 61),
but their frequency and centrality in the Drapier’s Letters are otherwise rare
among those Swiftian narrators who speak with their author’s substantial
endorsement. Sometimes, in the Drapier’s case, such mock-abasement can
provide a springboard for crudely effective sarcasms, expressing a righteous
puzzlement innocent of the ways of the world:

God forbid that so mean a Man as I should meddle with the King’s Pre-
rogative: But I have heard very wise Men say, that the King’s Prerogative
is bounded and limited by the Good and Welfare of his People. I desire to
know, whether it be not understood and avowed, that the Good of Ireland
was intended by this Patent. But Ireland is not consulted at all in the Matter;
and as soon as Ireland is informed of it, they declare against it. (x. 34)

The centrality and eloquence of such arguments show the Drapier to be

well able to handle the ‘weighty Objections’ of his betters, and the reader
is hardly troubled by any inconsistency between the pose of bewilderment
and the compelling competence of the arguments. The tone becomes
more uneasy in proportion as the Drapier’s arguments move from points
of outraged common sense and common justice to more technical and
elaborate legal questions, though the main discomfort is sensed in an
authorial unease in the search for an appropriate idiom for an admirable
character whose natural accents are below the author’s own stylistic zone
of comfort. Thus after the Drapier has made some very deft probings into
The injured lady and the Drapier 69
the legal status of the report of the English Privy Council’s Committee,
Swift seems unable to leave well alone:
This (may it please your Lordships and Worships) may seem a strange Way
of discoursing in an illiterate Shop-keeper. I have endeavoured (although
without the Help of Books) to improve that small Portion of Reason, which
God hath pleased to give me; and when Reason plainly appears before me,
I cannot turn away my Head from it. (x. 28)

The more self-conscious the suggestion that mere uninstructed reason

was solely at work, the more our attention is drawn to the implausibility
of this claim. Uncertainties of ‘characterisation’ at which one would not
normally demur in a pamphleteering rhetoric rear their head because of
Swift’s unctuous overplaying of the faux naı̈f: ‘some of our Laws at that
time were, as I am told, writ in Latin’ (x. 9). By comparison, rudimentary
inconsistencies of characterisation in which the Drapier implies in the first
letter that he knows no Latin, but reveals in the fifth that he ‘acquired some
little Knowledge in the Latin Tongue’ at school (x. 9, 82), are barely notice-
able in the reading, ad hoc variations with a local rhetorical force, more
appropriate to pamphleteering than fictional purposes. Fictional purposes
are formally in evidence, but perfunctory by comparison with Gulliver’s
Travels or even A Modest Proposal. An example may be the third letter,
which, unlike the first two, is addressed to ‘the Nobility and Gentry’ of Ire-
land, and of which Ferguson says, ‘For this more knowledgeable audience,
the Drapier is himself more learned, and while the Letter is by no means
altogether dispassionate, it is generally more restrained in tone than either
of the first two.’45
Swift was not mainly seeking to create a rounded character, or perhaps
any character at all. The fiction of the Drapier is not so much aimed at
persuading us that a draper was really the author, as at providing a usable
pseudonymous idiom for addressing not only legislators and economic
planners, but shopkeepers and an ordinary public likely to be affected
by the new coinage in their daily concerns of buying and selling. The
pragmatic viewpoint of a typical Dublin tradesman, confined, as far as
possible, to the practicalities, and the simple issues of right and wrong,
which would be likely to engage such a man, called for a rudimentary
satirical spokesman, rather than a fully fledged impersonation, which was
anyway all that Swift would be temperamentally or culturally disposed to
attempt when not actually engaged in the sport of hoaxing. As Ferguson
says, ‘Some readers of the first Letter may have thought they were reading
the work of an actual “M.B.”, who resided at St. Francis Street; but even
70 Ireland
the most naı̈ve cannot have been fooled long.’46 Just as Gulliver deceived
only the occasional sea captain or Irish bishop, and was meant to be seen
through by most readers, so Swift had no real intention of hiding the
fact that behind the Drapier was another, cheekier and more elusive, but
unmistakably active governing presence.
As Ferguson says:
Of more relevance than a character analysis of the Drapier is the question of
why Swift chose any persona at all. Simple anonymity would have afforded
him the protection he needed, and, as a matter of fact, the safety provided
by the Drapier’s mask was only a technical one. Everyone knew the Drapier’s
identity, but without legal proof even an Irish court could not prosecute
Swift as the author of the Letters.
Swift chose a pseudonym partly because he always preferred the pseudony-
mous to the anonymous as a more effective rhetorical device for his own
peculiar brand of irony.47

The choice between a pseudonym and anonymity was not about adopting
a ‘character’ but orchestrating an authorial tone, with a wide range of
aggressive indirections. Pseudonymous or quasi-pseudonymous speakers,
like the Drapier, Gulliver, or the Modest Proposer, offer the resource of a
formal separation from the author, and, provided they are not allowed to
develop a full novelistic identity, of being simultaneously open to inventive
mutations of satirical point-of-view. Readers who oracularly remind us that
Gulliver is not Swift, or who imagine him as a wholly separate fictional
character, normally miss the vital and intimate traffic between their voices,
a traffic to which a formally neutral or impersonal anonymity is perhaps
less adapted. The speaker of A Tale of a Tub, who has no name, may seem
an exception. But he is given an unstoppable sequence of instantaneously
shifting personalities, a ‘compleat’ outpouring of the mental mayhem of
modernity, which is itself held together by a manifest energy of authorial
presence, always evident and hard to pin down.
The Drapier belongs, in a somewhat less developed way, with Gulliver
and the Modest Proposer, his imaginative power perhaps restricted by
narrower polemical objectives. Some of the elaborations and awkwardnesses
surrounding the Drapier’s character seem almost as though Swift enjoyed
rubbing his reader’s face in a pretence which the latter is not expected
to accept. Swift is practising neither real self-disguise nor fictional self-
effacement, but throwing himself into the diablerie of the exercise. The
sixth letter, which is signed ‘J.S.’ and is the only letter not purporting to
be by the Drapier, is full of broad hints and mock-mystifying displays:
The injured lady and the Drapier 71
‘in this I confess my self to think with the Drapier’, ‘(whether the real
Author were a real Drapier or no is little to the Purpose)’, ‘I would humbly
offer another Thought, which I do not remember to have fallen under the
Drapier’s Observation’ (x. 107, 111, 113). Swift was warned not to make any
confession of authorship,48 and this letter, with its provocative signature,
was in the event not published until 1735. In the fifth letter, written after
the sixth but actually published at the time, on 31 (dated 14) December
1724, the Drapier gives a sketch which Swift clearly meant to be recognised
as autobiographical on his own part (x. 82–94).49 Just as in the sixth letter
the Dean had teasingly flourished hints about the Drapier, so in the fifth
the Drapier archly invokes the Dean: ‘I am now resolved to follow . . . the
Advice given me by a certain Dean’, ‘The Dean further observed, That I
was in a Manner left alone to stand the Battle; while others, who had Ten
thousand Times better Talents than a Drapier, were so prudent to lie still’ (x.
89). In the same paragraph, the Drapier indulges in a teasingly transparent
equivocation when he speaks of ‘a Person as innocent, as disinterested
and as well meaning as my self; who had written a very seasonable and
inoffensive Treatise, exhorting the People of this Kingdom to wear their
own Manufactures; for which, however, the Printer was prosecuted with
the utmost Virulence’ (x. 89). This is not the first time in the Drapier’s
Letters that Swift referred through the Drapier to his own Proposal for the
Universal Use of Irish Manufacture, and a very similar reference to that
pamphlet and the tribulations of its printer E. Waters had already occurred
in the opening paragraph of the first letter (x. 3). John Harding, the printer
of the Drapier’s Letters, like Waters before him, was prosecuted.50
These examples are among several in which Swift expresses pride in his
courageous efforts for Ireland. A grandeur of self-projection enters into
combination with the coy two-way traffic of innuendo between Drapier
and Dean. The note occurs elsewhere, sometimes in Swift’s own name,
but most famously perhaps in the speech of the quasi-authorial ‘impartial’
commentator of the Verses on the Death, 339 ff. (Poems, ii. 566–7). As so
often, the ‘mask’, whether of the Drapier or of the commentator, is not
a concealment of the author, nor a truly separate being, but a figure who
enables Swift both to vent and to modulate potentially arrogant affirma-
tions, simultaneously drawing back from risks of self-importance or self-
exposure. The Verses may be one of the more awkward examples.51 Perhaps
one unacknowledged function of the Drapier’s relative social ‘meanness’ is
that it provides a ready-made flattening of the high rhetoric and the proud
postures of defiance into which Swift found himself drawn by the nature
of his embattled situation. It is precisely in the fifth letter, for example, and
72 Ireland
only one paragraph after the Dean’s reported observation that the Drapier
‘was in a Manner left alone to stand the Battle’, that the Drapier delivers
his Crusoe-like defence of ‘the middle Rank of Mankind’ (x. 89–90).
Even in this matter, however, the roles are not neatly subdivided
between humble Drapier and proud Dean. The Drapier frequently takes on
grandeurs the Dean did not readily adopt except by proxy, in the declam-
atory self-assertions of the fourth letter: ‘Let whoever think otherwise, I
M.B. Drapier, desire’ (x. 62), or in the eloquent valedictory sentiments of
the fifth:
I begin to grow weary of my Office as a Writer . . . I foolishly disdained to
have Recourse to whining, lamenting, and crying for Mercy; but rather chose
to appeal to Law and Liberty, and the common Rights of Mankind without
considering the Climate I was in. (x. 93)

It has been suggested that the initials M. B. are meant to be recognised as

those of Marcus Brutus, whose hatred of tyranny, and courageous devotion
to liberty, Swift greatly admired. If this is so, the identification of a Dublin
tradesman with ‘the noblest Roman of them all’ (Julius Caesar, v. v. 68)
characteristically blends genuine grandeur with ‘incongruous joke’.52
As with rhetorical grandeurs, so with the contemptuously patrician types
of Swiftian hauteur, the Drapier (like several earlier Swiftian characters) acts
piquantly as his author’s proxy. For every openly Swiftian jibe against ‘One
William Wood, Esq; and Hard-ware-man’ in the sixth letter (x. 105) or
in the sermon on ‘Doing Good’ (ix. 232–40), may be found many from
the Drapier’s own mouth in the other letters: ‘one Mr. Wood, a mean
ordinary Man, a Hard-Ware Dealer’, ‘one single, diminutive, insignificant
Mechanick’, ‘entitled, Esq; although he were understood to be only a Hard-
ware-Man’, ‘one Single, Rapacious, Obscure, Ignominious Projector’, ‘one
William Wood, now or late of London, Hard-ware-man’ (x. 4, 19, 29, 35,
119). In these passages, Wood, a figure of great notoriety and a considerable
financier, is relentlessly exposed as a man whose name one barely remem-
bers, of no fixed address (‘now or late of London’), a small-scale operator.53
Swift later extended similar courtesies to Newton, in repayment for his
professional validation of Wood’s coins, referring to ‘one Isaac Newton, an
Instrument-Maker, formerly living near Leicester Fields, and afterwards a
Workman in the Mint, at the Tower’. A subsequent trick is to reduce New-
ton’s science to manual labour as well as quackery: ‘This Man, it seems,
was knighted for making Sun-Dyals better than others of his Trade, and
was thought to be a Conjurer.’54 An alternative turn suggests that he is
bad at, and for, his trade itself: mathematics ‘expire[ed] . . . with Sir Isaac
The injured lady and the Drapier 73
Newton’, as ‘the republic of learning must expire’ at the hands of ‘our illus-
trious modern star, Doctor Richard Bentley’.55 These loftinesses are lordly.
They resemble Lord Hervey’s reference to the famous furore aroused by
The Beggar’s Opera, in its way quite as notorious as the crisis over Wood’s
halfpence: ‘One Gay, a poet, had written a ballad opera.’56
Such scorn might seem to come oddly from a draper, especially one who
is given to protesting his own ‘low Condition of a Tradesman’ (x. 93). It
is true that, just as the Drapier’s proclamations of his own ‘meanness’ are
sometimes given a specific rhetorical function (highlighting the defenceless
courage of his stand, for example: ‘For my own Part, who am but one Man,
of obscure Condition’ (x. 127), so his insistence on Wood’s meanness
sometimes implies not simple uppishness but a somewhat tendentious
surprise that such a low man should have carried so much weight in high
places: but then ‘he is an Englishman and had Great Friends . . . knew
very well where to give Money’, etc. (x. 4–5). But such special functions do
not account for all the uppish jibes, or their sheer frequency; nor eliminate
the overriding sense of a highspirited hauteur emanating directly from the
The whole question of Swift’s and his Drapier’s treatment of the ‘mechan-
ick’ Wood belongs to a complicated area of stylistic convention which is
not always well understood. It was a gentlemanly vice to call tradesmen
mechanics, but hauteurs of this kind were not confined to gentlemen.
Whether or not real-life drapers spoke like the Drapier, such uppish accents
readily entered into the idiom of literary point-scoring and the rhetoric
of satire, even in authors not conspicuous for their pretensions to high
social rank. Johnson wrote scathingly of Swift’s loftinesses, but practised
them himself.57 Swift’s Drapier is not the first example in Augustan satirical
writing of a cloth merchant despising other tradesmen in language which
largely emanates from his satirist author rather than from his own ‘char-
acter’ or social place. Over a decade earlier, Swift’s friend Arbuthnot had
written a famous series of pamphlets in defence of the Peace of Utrecht,
in which his hero John Bull, a clothier, thinks of his ‘honest Friends and
Neighbours’ as ‘poor grovelling Mechanicks’ and despises Nicholas Frog,
the Dutch linen draper, as no gentleman but ‘a Tradesman, a self-seeking
Wretch’, though he admits himself to have been ‘bred . . . a Mechanick’.58
Arbuthnot’s editors, like some students of the Drapier’s Letters, com-
paring both series, speak of such hauteurs as mainly a matter of social
gradations, higher tradesmen scorning lower ones.59 This is technically
74 Ireland
correct: ‘Frog, that was my Fathers Kitchen-boy’ and even now ‘is but a
poor Man in comparison of the rich, the opulent John Bull’.60 But it is also
mainly a matter of satirical point-scoring, in which authorial scorn (in this
case anti-Dutch xenophobia) is expressed in a tone of social superiority
which is neither ‘realistic’ nor much concerned with fine distinctions of
rank or status.
These hauteurs of social rank act as tokens of moral superiority, as in
the case of the Drapier in relation to the ironmonger Wood, and such
distinctions of social rank tend generally to stand for more substantive
things. John Bull’s superiority to the Dutch ‘tradesmen’ expresses not
only a moral superiority of English over Dutch but also England’s greater
commercial importance as the ‘great Clothier of the World’. John Bull likes to
think of himself as a man of substance, and at other times fancies himself
as a skilled lawyer, despite mean origins which he will readily admit.61
Arbuthnot has his own uppish fun at Bull’s expense, much as Swift savours
the piquancy of speaking his own feelings through the mouth of a draper,
while at other times he makes Mrs Bull protest, as the Drapier was to do (x.
83), their humble status and their clear separation from the ‘great Folks’: ‘I
don’t know any other Hold that we Tradesmen have of these great Folks,
but their Interest.’62 Arbuthnot amusingly throws himself into the fictional
particularities entailed by his allegory. The economic difficulties into which
England’s allies have driven her (a potent theme then as now) are presented,
almost in Thatcherite style, in terms of the shopping difficulties of Mrs
Bull, housewife: ‘I am sure they have left my Family in a bad Condition,
we have hardly Money to go to Market, and no Body will take our Words
for Six Pence.’
Both John Bull and the Drapier are affectionately patronised in their
humble status, and equally affectionately mocked for some of their social
pretensions, even as their authors use these pretensions to convey a righ-
teous superiority and an uppishness which belong more to the authors
than to themselves. Arbuthnot and Swift stand outside, and even above,
fictional characters whom they are simultaneously using as embodiments
of their own political position and loyalties. In one sense these allegori-
cal characters are no more to be taken as tradesmen than Dryden’s hind
and panther as quadrupeds. In another, they form a quasi-realistic world
of mercantile preoccupation and international commercial rivalry, set up
with vivid particularity and an evident authorial gusto in the mimicry,
even as matters of high political and economic urgency assert themselves
through the playfulness itself. Serious and even impassioned defences of
England’s or Ireland’s trading position and interests, charged with a strong
The injured lady and the Drapier 75
and specific awareness of mercantile principles and of the vital importance
of commercial activity, are spoken in a rhetoric of gentlemanly scorn against
trade values. A trading ethos is earnestly asserted at the same time as it is
guyed as a fictional invention and also undermined, on a different plane,
by a patrician loftiness towards, and even against, tradesmen. The double
irony by which a Tory satirist, sometimes echoing and outdoing complaints
by Whigs like Steele, exposes Whig policies and loyalties as inimical to the
healthy commerce allegedly safeguarded by the Whigs themselves, is a key
effect of the patrician tone which both Arbuthnot and Swift inject into
their tradesmen heroes.63
The rhetoric emanates from authors who have themselves no conspicu-
ous patrician status, and who normally make no claim to any high origins.
Swift and Pope, and to a lesser degree Arbuthnot and Gay, adopted tones
of voice (particular ironic modulations and urbanities as well as loftinesses)
which stand as stylistic signals of ‘politeness’ and which notionally mirror
the uppish tones of lords and ladies, while they often scorned the shallow-
ness of uppish pretension and pride of rank as in themselves low! Ironically,
Lord Hervey’s lofty reference to ‘one Gay, a poet’ is notionally directed at
the ‘trade’ of authorship itself, though his account of Gay’s work and its
travails is vivacious and appreciative.64 As if in return for this unpublished
snub, Gay’s Scriblerian colleagues openly despised Hervey, and at the same
time (especially Pope, himself the son of a linen merchant, and Swift, the
creator and alter ego of M. B. Drapier) were themselves not slow to despise
inferior writers as ‘tradesmen’, sometimes in works which also attacked
Lord Hervey. In a note to Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (381), Pope protested,
however, that he was of gentlemanly birth and had noble connections.
Ironically, he was answering a remark he assumed to be by Hervey about
his ‘Birth Obscure’ and complaining also of Grub Street slurs which made
him out to be the son of ‘a Mechanic, a Hatter, a Farmer, nay a Bankrupt’.65
Pope evidently got as good as he gave, or gave as good as he got.
The uppish imputations that literary tradesmen wrote for money, were
party hacks and had a merchant’s narrowness of outlook rather than a
gentleman’s liberality of view, are a form of moral point-making, though
conveyed in a vocabulary of social rank.66 They are partly the appropriation
of a language of ‘politeness’ which in a notional sense derived from ideals
of high rank, though actual persons of rank might be deemed to behave
well below the standards of taste and morals which alone sanctioned the
superior tone. In a culture still impregnated with aristocratic standards, as
well as with survivals of an older world of literary patronage by nobles,
such hauteurs were a more natural part of everyday idiom than is fully
76 Ireland
understood today, and they come especially naturally to authors (like Swift
and Pope) who, while not themselves of aristocratic descent, nevertheless
entertained an element of notional lordliness in their social and literary
It was by no means confined to such authors, or to noblemen. The
scornful jibes of Swift or of Pope, or Lord Hervey’s remark about Gay, are
mirrored in writers who would normally be thought their social inferiors.
The sarcasm on Defoe contained in the title of Charles Gildon’s (anony-
mous) Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Mr. D – De F – , of London,
Hosier, 1719, is oddly like the Drapier’s ‘one William Wood, now or late
of London, Hard-ware-man’ (x. 119), some six years later. As Pat Rogers
says, ‘It is a piquant thought that the sharpest retort to Crusoe came from
a fellow-scribbler, not from one of the lordly Augustans.’68 Gildon of the
‘venal quill’ was a Grub Street author hardly superior to Defoe in social
standing (though not inferior to Pope in birth) and was himself derided
along with Defoe (as well as Hervey) in the Dunciad.69 Swift’s treatment
of Defoe, in a famous remark in A Letter Concerning the Sacramental Test
(1709), outdoes in loftiness even Lord Hervey’s ‘One Gay, a poet’: ‘One
of these Authors (the Fellow that was pilloryed, I have forgot his Name)’
(ii. 113).70 Forgetting a name or similar detail was a common ploy in the
arsenal of gentlemanly gesturing, even in novels.71 Defoe is identified in a
note in the 1735 edition of Swift’s Works, but not named in the text in place
of ‘I have forgot his Name’ as we should expect if the earlier forgetting had
been real rather than rhetorical, and if all Swift had wanted later was to tell
the name.72
This is no simple case of low people adopting the tones of high people,
in the manner discussed in Fielding’s famous ‘dissertation’ on the subject
in Joseph Andrews, ii. xii. Swift was no Miss Grave-airs, Pope no Mrs.
Slipslop. Their loftinesses were not pretences to a status they did not have,
but easy and natural exploitations of a received idiom. The relations of
this idiom to actual social status were real, but indirect and complex. As I
have already suggested, it does not necessarily express simple pretensions of
rank, although it might often do so. Nor is it necessarily a simple reflection
of occupational or ideological attitudes. There is undoubtedly a throwback
to the traditional gentlemanly contempt for the professional writer, which
rested on the notion that literature was a leisured, independent and ‘liberal’
activity, which should not be narrowed or demeaned by practical purposes
or the need for profit. That writers who lived by the pen (and who might,
like Pope, be proud of it) gave voice to similar sentiments is well known.
The achievement permitted Pope the luxury of declaring, in The First Satire
The injured lady and the Drapier 77
of the Second Book of Horace Imitated (1733), that ‘Scriblers or Peers, alike
are Mob to me’ (140), a detail expressly grafted on to his Horatian original,
grouping depraved lordlings with hack writers in a lordly putdown of
moral, not social, lowness. It is a further complication of this paradoxical
situation that Pope valued the financial independence he achieved through
his translation of Homer precisely because it freed him from the need
for profit or patronage, and enabled him to live ‘on terms of unstrained
familiarity with the greatest in the land’.73 He valued his success in his
‘trade’ because it conferred upon him a new dimension of gentlemanly
status. The process is one which piquantly parodied the more common
social mobility, which he, like Fielding, would be likely to view with mixed
feelings, of that ‘great Number of People, who are daily raised by Trade to
the Rank of Gentry’.74
Ideological predispositions in favour of trade did not rule out uppish-
nesses at the expense of it, and the latter were not confined to upholders of
agrarian values or of the traditions and outlook of a landed aristocracy. An
amusing passage in Tatler, No. 129, 4 February 1710, probably by Steele,
already a loyal Whig, and a champion of trade, who was also later to
become one of the chief opponents of Arbuthnot and Swift over the Peace
of Utrecht, speaks of the Dutch as ‘a Trading People, and in their very
Minds Mechanicks. They express their Wit in Manufacture, as we do in
Manuscript.’75 The tone is far from John Bull’s contempt for the Dutch,
and the acerbity of Swift or of Pope is largely absent from the passage’s
playful equation of the ‘trade’ of author with trades of the more ‘mechan-
ical’ sort, but it depends on the same conventions of ‘polite’ speech, and
is essentially a good-natured variant of the same uppishness. It shows how
readily authors fell into tones of voice that would give modern readers an
inexact idea of their personal, professional or political predispositions.
John Bull’s or the Drapier’s jibes against mechanick tradesmen are thus
not simply to be taken as out of ‘character’ in the mouths of clothiers or
linen drapers, nor as projections of a pretension to social rank or even of a
hostility to trade on the part of their authors. The interplay of attitudes and
overtones was too opportunistically shifting and volatile from passage to
passage to permit simplifying categorisations. Texts in which a tradesman is
shown lording it over another in the accents of an author whose own lordly
arrogance was no direct matter of rank would not have caused surprise or
puzzlement to Swift’s readers. The peculiar traffic between the voice of the
Drapier and that of his author would cause no more mystification than was
under Swift’s control or necessary to his enterprise, and the jokes inherent
in the gap between speaker and author (whether identified as Swift or
78 Ireland
merely inferred from the text as unlikely to be a ‘Drapier’) would not be
Ferguson has said that the Drapier, for rhetorical purposes, is presented
as ‘an obscure Dublin tradesman fittingly matched against an obscure
English rogue’.76 Their respective obscurities are, however, very different in
function. Wood’s indicates a dishonourable upstart’s lowness, the Drapier’s
a humble, self-reliant integrity and a plain unprotected man’s courage in
word and deed. Unlike Wood, he has no motives of gain, and at times the
protestations of disinterestedness are, as we should expect, almost authorial
disclaimers of personal profit. Thus, in the transparent autobiographical
allegory of the fifth letter, Swift conveys through the Drapier that he
gave away ‘to the Dyers and Pressers’ all profits from the sale of the letters
(x. 83). At other times, Swift indulges in some rudimentary play of character,
turning the Drapier into a substantial businessman, who will suffer less than
others if disaster strikes, and who, in a rhetorical formula Swift was later
also to put into the mouths of Gulliver (iv. xii) and the Modest Proposer
(xi. 293, xii. 118), is thus manifestly actuated by public rather than personal
I have no Interest in this Affair, but what is common to the Publick: I can
live better than many others: I have some Gold and Silver by me, and a
Shop well furnished; and shall be able to make a Shift, when many of my
Betters are starving. (x. 22)

Swift has cleverly captured the merchant’s Defoe-like pride at being,

financially, and in some moral sense consequent upon the financial, ‘better’
than his ‘Betters’. But this astute touch is itself transient and opportunist,
a momentary flourish into which Swift impishly threw himself, rather
than a sustained element of character portrayal. The proud merchant
and substantial man of business closely in touch with affairs (‘I am no
inconsiderable Shop-keeper in this Town, I have discoursed with several
of my own, and other Trades; with many Gentlemen both of City and
Country’, x. 16), is, in some ways like John Bull before him, not entirely
consistent with the humble, self-depreciating Drapier who elsewhere insists
on his low status and obscurity.
The Drapier may also be thought of as an alter ego of the Modest Pro-
poser. His calm assertion of public spirit, his particularised demonstration
that no profit-motive can enter in his case, prefigure the Modest Proposer’s,
as does the fact that he at times finds himself misunderstood and ignored
The injured lady and the Drapier 79
by the very people whom he is trying to help. Immediately after the passage
where he says that he is safer from ruin than his ‘Betters’, he adds: ‘But I am
grieved to see the Coldness and Indifference of many People with whom
I discourse . . . shall a whole Kingdom lie in a Lethargy, while Mr. Wood
comes . . . to ruin us and our Posterity for ever?’ (x. 22–3). The dejected
eloquence has something in common with the Modest Proposer’s despair
of ever having his sensible, non-cannibal ‘other Expedients’ listened to by
his countrymen (xii. 116–17).
But the Drapier is not misunderstood, normally or for long. The whole of
Ireland was united against Wood.77 Unlike the Proposer of 1729 surveying
the failure of his earlier sensible schemes, the Drapier of 1724–5 usually
knows that the people are with him, and the real-life outcome of his
efforts soon became a triumphant success. His accents of calm security,
when they occur, come from a confidence in the solidarity of righteous
men. The calm of the Modest Proposer, as he advocates cannibalism, on
the other hand, implies no hope that right will prevail, and presupposes
instead a universal solidarity of the wicked. The Drapier’s calm scientific
objectivity is exercised in proving (however ironically, and not without an
unsentimental awareness of the nasty motives of the enemy) that Wood’s
halfpence will not be rammed down the throats of the Irish; the Modest
Proposer’s, that infanticide and cannibalism would be welcomed by all
parties. Both speakers show a peculiar combination of violence and calm,
the Drapier’s violence firmly directed against the wicked,
I will shoot Mr. Wood and his Deputies through the Head, like High-way
Men or House-breakers, if they dare to force one Farthing of their Coin on
me. (x. 19–20)78

while that of the Modest Proposer is primarily directed at victims.

Or rather, the values of the Proposer are less simple, more confused.
Good and bad are less clear-cut. If the Proposer is identified with the
oppressor’s outlook, it is only because he was once a liberator who failed to
stir his fellow-countrymen to action. If he proposes infanticide, he does so
with an unsettling kindliness of manner. And if the children are emblems
of Ireland’s helpless plight, they are also the brats of rogues and whores, and
the pamphlet emphasises anyway that the Irish themselves are responsible
for their troubles. The Drapier’s Letters do not have this pervasive and
disturbing ambiguity. They owe their more unambiguous stand to the fact
that they deal with a single urgent issue, on which a straightforward call to
concerted action was overridingly necessary. It is true that even here Swift
more than once indicated that the crisis of the halfpence involved all other
80 Ireland
aspects of the state of Ireland. He complained from the very start, and
repeatedly, of the dangerous reluctance of the Irish to help themselves (e.g.
x. 3–4, 22–3), and included in the seventh letter a summary of Ireland’s
troubles in which the Irish are rebuked, as they were often to be in the later
tracts, for rackrenting and absenteeism, for ‘discourageing Agriculture’, for
favouring English manufactures, and for other kinds of ‘great Negligence
and Stupidity’ (x. 128–9). But though these themes are present in the
Drapier’s Letters, and of course before them in the Proposal for the Universal
Use of Irish Manufacture, the primary emphasis of the Drapier’s Letters is
upon the oppression from England:

Were not the People of Ireland born as free as those of England? How have
they forfeited their Freedom? Is not their Parliament as fair a Representative
of the People, as that of England? And hath not their Privy Council as great,
or a greater Share in the Administration of publick Affairs? Are they not
Subjects of the same King? Does not the same Sun shine over them? And
have they not the same God for their Protector? Am I a Free-man in England,
and do I become a Slave in six Hours, by crossing the Channel? (x. 31)

Perhaps the Gulliverian version, with its more absolute sense of the self-
destructive folly of human affairs and its deep scepticism of the viability of
positive solutions among men, imposed itself by a sort of delayed action
in these later years. No doubt the continuing attritions of circumstance
made Swift despair, increasingly, of radical improvements, and rendered his
sense of the Irishmen’s guilt even more acute than before. Where in 1724 he
looked to ‘the Whole People of Ireland’ for an effective union against the
English, in 1729 that ‘Whole People’ was seen as incurably guilty of its own
It has been much debated whether ‘Whole People’, in 1724, meant all
Irishmen or only Protestants.79 There may be a distinction between Swift’s
statement that all Irishmen were united against Wood (‘So to confound,
this hated Coin All Parties and Religions joyn’, Prometheus, 11–12, Poems i.
345) and a somewhat different implication when he addressed the Drapier’s
fourth letter to the ‘Whole People’. If ‘Whole People’ is unlikely to mean ‘All
Parties and Religions’, it is distinctly more inclusive than the more restricted
groups addressed individually in the first three letters: Shop-keepers etc.,
Mr. Harding the printer, and the nobility and gentry, respectively. Swift
may have been not entirely precise in his own mind about his implications,
varying occasionally in emphasis, according to mood or context, in a
vocabulary fraught with emotive potential as well as colloquial instability.
In the sixth letter, when he discusses ‘the whole People of England’ and their
attitude to the Irish, rejecting the charge that the Drapier has alienated
The injured lady and the Drapier 81
the two peoples from one another, he says: ‘I have lived long in both
Kingdoms, as well in Country as in Town; and therefore, take my self
to be as well informed as most Men, in the Dispositions of each People
towards the other. By the People, I understand here, only the Bulk of the
common People; and I desire no Lawyer may distort or extend my Meaning’
(x. 103). The language suggests exclusions. I am not sure that those who
are not lawyers, especially from our own distance in time, would be able
to sense Swift’s ‘Meaning’ as precisely as he seems to expect, or how even
a lawyer could ‘extend’ that ‘Meaning’ if ‘the Bulk of the common People’
actually meant everybody.
Swift speaks two short paragraphs later of ‘the People of this Kingdom’
consisting not only ‘of English Protestants’ but also of ‘Irish Papists’, adding
of the latter’s political significance that they ‘are as inconsiderable in Point
of Power, as the Women and Children’ (x. 104), an oscillation between
idiomatic and rhetorical uses perhaps implying a degree of hesitation as to
how much ‘humanity’ to concede to those subgroups. It is probable also
that the common saying about the voice of the people being the voice of
God, which Swift used from time to time, is open to similar uncertainties
and variations as to who the people were. Christopher Hill points out
that Harrington, Marvell, Locke and other seventeenth-century authors
spoke of ‘the people’ to denote what we should now call ‘the middle class’,
excluding the poor.80 It is clear that inclusive, as well as selective, uses
of the term ‘people’ occur naturally in the language, and the fact seems
compatible with the generally substantial evidence of Swift’s primarily
Protestant allegiance. If there remains doubt as to whether ‘Whole People’
meant everybody in 1724, however, there is no corresponding doubt in the
ironic reach of A Modest Proposal, where all are guilty in their way.
When the fourth letter takes up the threat of the ‘great Man . . . to make
us swallow his Coin in Fireballs’, a cannibal overtone is introduced into the

This brings to my Mind the known Story of a Scotch Man, who receiving
Sentence of Death, with all the Circumstances of Hanging, Beheading, Quar-
tering, Embowelling, and the like; cried out, What need all this Cookery?
And I think we have Reason to ask the same Question: For if we believe
Wood, here is a Dinner getting ready for us, and you see the Bill of Fare;
and I am sorry the Drink was forgot, which might easily be supplied with
Melted Lead and Flaming Pitch. (x. 67)

The image of cannibal cookery merges into that of the meal of fireballs,
and is lost in it. In the Modest Proposal the cannibal image is sustained
throughout, with a hideous consistency. But if the Drapier does not develop
82 Ireland
his cannibal image, he makes the point here that if anyone is going to
cannibalise the Irish, it is the English oppressor. That side of his message
is momentarily restated by the Modest Proposer: ‘I could name a Country,
which would be glad to eat up our whole Nation without [Salt]’ (PW, xii.
117). This is said in a spirit quite different from that of the Ulster republican
John Mitchel, himself ambivalently imbued with many of Swift’s angers,
when he closed the ‘Introductory’ to his Jail Journal (1854) with the remark
‘that this earth was not created to be civilised, ameliorated and devoured by
the Anglo-Saxons’. As Mitchel also understood, Swift wanted an Ireland
with an English character, protesting ‘against the encroachment of British
power . . . in assertion of a Protestant Nationality, and for the independence
of a Protestant Parliament’.81 At the close of his own pamphlet, Swift spoke
in similar terms of the British encroachment as an eating up, a summarily
inclusive ‘swall’wing up’ of the kind the big fishes commit on small fishes
in The Bubble (1720; 65–8, Poems, i. 253). But cannibalism in A Modest
Proposal is only marginally an English activity. It is mainly the Irish eating
themselves, and Swift saying that their sufferings are not only self-inflicted
but deserved.82
part ii
chapter 3

Swift, satire and the novel

When Tristram Shandy prophesied his book’s reception by Posterity, ‘I say,

by Posterity’, and proclaimed its right to ‘swim down the gutter of Time’
with Swift’s A Tale of a Tub (Tristram Shandy, ix. viii), he was, perhaps
unwittingly, signposting Swift’s role in the evolution of a form of novel that
didn’t yet exist in his own day: priding itself on immediacy of reporting,
a rhetoric of intensive confessional exploration, often accompanied by
gestures of close (indeed button-holing) intimacy with the reader, and a
sense that the process of writing itself is part of the self-disclosure.1 The
teller of Swift’s Tale, in dedicating his own book to Prince Posterity, boasts
‘that what I am going to say is literally true this Minute I am writing’, adding
in his Preface that his aim is to achieve ‘a Parity and strict Correspondence
of Idea’s between the Reader and the Author’.2
This is Shandean before its time, and Tristram’s famous declaration to
the reader that:
As you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now
beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is
in fault, will terminate in friendship . . . – then nothing which has touched
me will be thought trifling in its nature, or tedious in its telling. (TS, i. vi)

is a coat-trailing declaration of relation. Tristram’s words also take in Swift’s

remark in the Tale’s ‘Conclusion,’ that:
By the Time that an Author has writ out a Book, he and his Readers
are become old Acquaintants, and grow very loth to part: So that I have
sometimes known it to be in Writing, as in Visiting, where the Ceremony
of taking Leave, has employ’d more Time than the whole Conversation
before. (Tale, p. 135)

The razor precision with which Swift sums up a billowing ritual of vacuous
farewell courtesies is one a novelist might be proud of. But it is not a
novelistic feature. It may evoke, in the sense of inviting us to imagine, a
86 Fiction
whole process of compliments and good wishes, polite phrases and facial
expressions and body language, which a novelist or playwright might choose
to report in particularised detail. As a compleat collector of genteel and
ingenious conversation, Swift was familiar with all these ceremonies in their
verbal form, disembodied from any story or plot. In the Tale, he evokes
‘the whole Conversation’ without actually reporting a word of what might
have been said.
Both Polite Conversation and the Tale display surgical completeness in
evoking the essence of social inanities, in disembodied abstraction from the
detail, atmosphere or context of any specific event. This shows an intuitive
grasp of what needs satirical definition, as well as an unwillingness to give
it the full fictional life Swift was richly capable of evoking. Swift was, as we
shall see, a brilliant mimic and a successful perpetrator of literary hoaxes,
who was nevertheless disconcerted when Gulliver’s Travels was taken for
real. In the Tale’s ‘Conclusion’, Swift was bypassing a circumstantial por-
trayal which novels would soon adopt and develop, but which Swift would
have shrunk from. But he might almost have been predicting, by an act of
preemptive circumvention, those lingering exhibitions of vacuous social
geniality in the novel of manners, or the emotional nothings of what Sterne
called the ‘small sweet courtesies of life’, which include the ‘fraternal’ affec-
tion of Walter and Toby Shandy, not to mention Tristram’s fond broodings
on the ‘chapters’ that might be made ‘of what passed on the Stairs’.3
Both writers project a relation of complacently diffused geniality, Swift in
a mock-complicity that turns derisive, Sterne in a primary complicity whose
touch of fatuity is a token of the garrulous goodwill Swift is ridiculing in
advance. Sterne, of course, is aware of the mockery, and impishly defying it.
Swift’s alienating evocation of vacuous social rituals freezes the potentially
Shandean atmosphere of geniality and warmth which is the ostensible
tenor of the discourse, even as Swift’s speaker, having nothing left to
say, voices the sensibilitous intention of letting ‘the Pen still move on’
(favoured by Richardson without a hint of irony, and by Sterne with
nothing more rejectionist than a self-approving smirk). For him, the logic of
self-expression dictates not that he should stop writing, but, since ‘nothing’
is now all he has to say, that his friendship with the reader compels him,
literally, to write about that.
In doing this, the Tale is inaugurating, or at least contributing deci-
sively to, a modern tradition of unfinished narrative, whose avatars include
Byron’s Don Juan and Pound’s Cantos, as well as Tristram Shandy. This
tradition rests on the notion that experience is not subject to the orderliness
Swift, satire and the novel 87
of ‘conclusions’. The ideal of ‘classical’ completeness, once the precondi-
tion of artistic excellence, gives way to a sense of the superior authenticity
of the fragmentary and unresolved, which permeates much of the fiction
and poetry of the next three centuries. Swift’s practice anticipates the phe-
nomenon, but negates the practice he professes, more or less proleptically,
to mimic. While the writer is supposedly continuing to write forever ‘upon
Nothing’, the text itself actually stops, working as a ‘Conclusion’ in which,
as in the last chapter of Johnson’s Rasselas, ‘nothing is concluded’.
Both works testify (satirically in Swift’s case, compassionately in John-
son’s) to the unresolved instabilities of the human mind. They do so in
classic closures which affirm the unavailability of conclusions as itself a
conclusion. The Tale’s two tailpieces, ‘The Battle of the Books’ and the
‘Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit’, offer slight
variations. Both also end before properly ending, the first in a welter of
asterisks signifying that the manuscript is incomplete, the second with
the author ‘in great Haste to conclude’ because he needs to catch the
post, though he ‘had somewhat more to say’ (Tale, pp. 164, 187). The
‘Discourse,’ unlike the ‘Battle’ or the Tale itself, has only one manuscript
gap, but is formally subtitled ‘A Fragment’, all three parodying learned edi-
tions of incompletely surviving canonical texts, with a powerful, though
illogical, imputation that the breaks in the text somehow reflect a sloppi-
ness, or lack of stamina, rubbing off on the modern editor himself, who is
of course the ‘author’.
In all three cases, however, the enactment of incompleteness is a mock-
enactment. The formal announcement of the lack of conclusion is itself
a conclusive comment, closing the discussion by declaring its own frag-
mentary disreputability. Tristram Shandy’s way, on the contrary, is to col-
laborate with the non-conclusive, creating, with whatever degree of delib-
erate design, a form which in practice ends, as any discourse must, not
because the subject is exhausted, but because of the author’s demise or
some other circumstantial factor. This evolution is related to the increasing
use, as the century progresses, of unfinished forms in fiction, including
‘edited’ novels surviving in fragments, with gaps in the manuscript or the
micro-incompleteness of broken descriptions or dialogue. Incoherent or
unfinished sentences, still regarded in Jane Austen as signs of undisciplined
character or poor writing, were nevertheless increasingly used as expressions
of emotion too deep for tears, or stronger than words, or as simply truer to
spoken behaviour. Johnson defended them in Shakespeare, possibly with
the example of Richardsonian novels in mind.
88 Fiction
The example of Richardson reminds us how much fiction owes to the
pretence of an edited text, and thus also to the tradition of learned wit,
and the sub-genre of mock-editorial satire, of which Swift’s Tale is the
most accomplished example in English. The Tale and its two pendants
are offered as recensions of incompletely surviving texts, exploiting the
fragment to mimic the pedantries of editorial scholarship, or exposing
the pretence of the hiatus as a cover for ignorance, confusion or evasive
arrogance, seldom allowing any distinctive affect to the phenomenon of
incompleteness or incoherence as such. Some seventy years later, Henry
Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling (1771) used textual gaps not only to control
and ‘authenticate’ the narrative, but also to charge it with a pathos of lost
fragments and the endearing human quirks which occasioned the loss.
Mock-editorial procedures have been largely stripped of the mockery that
animates Swift’s Tale, just as syntactical breaks or incoherence, sure signs
in Swift of intellectual bankruptcy, are treated tenderly as effusions of
affection or distress. That Swift’s Tale also sometimes injects its parody
with more than a parodic charge, so that deadpan mimicry turns into
revelation of character, or erupts into an unexpected or unrelated sarcasm,
is one of the many ways in which Swiftian parody transcends its ostensible
objects for more central human concerns. This partly explains its generous
openness to unparodying in future master works Swift himself might have
wished to disown. Swift’s power to go beyond his own aggression, however,
does not entitle us to overlook his primary aggressive purposes, which may
be presumed to be antagonistic to a novel-form he may have helped to
In the sociable euphoria of the Tale’s conclusion ‘upon Nothing’, then,
Swift’s point is the vacuity of the intimacy achieved, a genial ‘modern’
idiocy, and the intellectual nullity of writing without a subject. Sterne’s
is the value of the sympathy itself, and the warm glow of feelings which
transcend any need for intellectual content and the constricting power of
words. He has hijacked Swiftian parody, and, in a manner of speaking,
unparodied it, adding, with much nodding and winking, the additional
coil of a self-promoting giggle to the spiral of self-multiplying egocentrism.
We are perhaps witnessing one of the ways in which satire enabled or
influenced certain modes of fiction, but also a seemingly clear demarcation
between the two. When the Tale’s teller boasts of saying what ‘is literally
true this Minute I am writing’ he pointedly means ‘this present Month of
August, 1697’, the moment of Dryden’s garrulities in the multiple front-
matter of the Virgil translation (Tale, pp. 25, 27). The targets of the
‘personation’, as explained in a note to the Introduction, are externally
Swift, satire and the novel 89
directed, to ‘L’estrange, Dryden, and some others’ (Tale, p. 44 n.). But the
specific parody has been allowed to mushroom into an orgy of egocentrism
that amounts, in its way, to a proleptic Tristram Shandy, which did not
yet exist to be parodied. Swift’s intuitive apprehension of the intellectual
nightmare of Shandyism, as yet undeveloped, was innocently germinating
in Dryden’s scattered and innocuous autobiographical musings.
Sterne’s cheeky bid to unparody the model is also a form of outparodying,
which retains parodic mimicry. But it turns the parody simultaneously into
a form of solipsistic celebration which is itself the subject of Swift’s original
repudiation. It offers a classic example of the way anti-forms tend to
resolve themselves into what they are ostensibly rejecting. We may guess
that Sterne’s gesture of hitching his own book to Swift’s Tale would have
been offensive to Swift in itself, as well as in its practice of rubbing-in the
offensive manner by assimilating, and indeed escalating, it with this extra
notch of proclaimed kinship.
If, however, we take a step back and consider, almost at random, the
following extract, a revised picture emerges. The writer announces that he

now got into bed, and going to open your little letter: and God send I may
find MD well, and happy, and merry, and that they love Presto as they do
fires. Oh, I won’t open it yet! yes I will! no I won’t; I am going; I can’t stay
till I turn over. What shall I do? My fingers itch; and now I have it in my
left hand; and now I’ll open it this very moment. – I have just got it, and
am cracking the seal, and can’t imagine what’s in it.4

Contrary to appearances, these are not the words of a Richardsonian hero-

ine, writing ‘to the Moment’, the writing itself interrupted by the activity
it is describing, caught up in the flow of events and the incoherence of
flustered sentiment, nor of a Shandean stylist orchestrating his immedia-
cies with an ostentatious abandonment of authorial control, which is itself
an upping of authorial control. The large text to which it belongs exhibits
the full Shandean spectrum of feverish and giggly intimacy, double enten-
dres and affectionately smutty posturings, syntactical breaks, unfinished
sentences, digressions and changes of mind, I-will-I-won’t vacillations and
will-tell-won’t-tell teasing, of which A Tale of a Tub is an ostentatious and
systematic parody.
The passage, however, is not from a victim of Swift’s satire, or a putative
embodiment of his dire anticipation of the modes of modern writing,
but was written by Swift himself, in his own name, in a letter to Esther
Johnson which came posthumously to be part of what we now know as
90 Fiction
the Journal to Stella. The writing insists literally on being taken as ‘literally
true this Minute I am writing’, in excess of the (altogether more decorous)
confessions of a Dryden which Swift excoriated in the Tale, adding all
the simpering self-display of Shandean self-irony at its most self-indulgent.
The febrile drama of opening the letter would not be out of place in many
novels of sentiment, a fact not subverted by the reality that the letter, when
opened, turns out to be from a prosaic correspondent without sentimental
content. The flirtatious idiom retains its full integrity as part of the relations
between the correspondents, unaffected by the intrusion of other business.
The Pamelaic self-consciousness about the writing materials immediately
at hand is matched beyond any Richardsonian restraint by Swift’s more
raffish reporting of a smudge on the paper, due perhaps to ‘tobacco . . . I
don’t remember I slobbered’ (JSt, i. 56).
If this latter detail anticipates later fiction, we might think of some seed-
ier diarist narrator, more redolent of bars than of boudoirs, until we recall
the Tale’s scribbler in bed in his garret, who reports in the Preface and
elsewhere that what he has just written was written in bed in his garret
(Tale, pp. 27, 109). The scribbler, evoking the hapless Dryden, is mercilessly
mocked. But the author of the Journal, who is also continually writing in
bed or before bed, itemising his diet, referring to his pen, breaking off his
sentences, changing his mind in mid-phrase, lapsing into baby talk and
bad spelling, and even using para-typographical lines and dashes in his
hand-scrawled script, is Swift himself, writing in 1710, the year the Tale
was published in its definitive form, personating Dryden and others for
much more venial acts of print-culture posturing. The overlaps and demar-
cations of fiction and satire come into unsettling proximity, without being
jettisoned, with the example from the Tale derided while the Journal’s is
The Journal, which prefigures some novels as much as the Tale does, and
does so more directly, is, however, not fiction but intimately confessional
reporting, though the fiction it prefigures would be one that purports to be
fact, like any novel in diary form, of which Sterne’s novel is a sophisticated
variant. Unlike such fiction, the Journal was not intended for publication.
It was a ‘journal,’ not a Journal, until posthumous editors made it so, a
personal correspondence that turned in Swift’s hands to a ‘journal way of
writing’ only in the sense that Swift decided, early on, to make daily entries,
to be collected in batches for posting at intervals.5
A similar process can be observed many years later, in the grief-stricken
memorandum, similarly not written for publication, ‘On the Death of
Mrs. Johnson’, which begins in the mode of formal obituary on the night of
Swift, satire and the novel 91
Stella’s death, 28 February 1728. The opening is a lovingly crafted portrait,
dignified, deeply pained, but spiced with some set-pieces of what Swift
called ‘fair-sexing’ panegyric.6 The formality, and its lightly parodic touch,
give way to an idiom the Tale ridiculed mercilessly, when, some lines later,
Swift breaks off for the night: ‘Thus far I writ the same night between
eleven and twelve’ (PW, v. 228). There are several reports on the progress,
or otherwise, of the writing itself:

January 29th , My Head achs, and I can write no more.

January 30th , Tuesday.
This is the night of the funeral, which my sickness will not suffer me to
attend. It is now nine at night, and I am removed into another apartment,
that I may not see the light in the church, which is just over against the
window of my bed-chamber. (p. 229)

A few days later he has to disclose that ‘I since writ as I found time’
(p. 233).
It is a sombre, indeed literally funereal, replay of the undertakings to
Stella in the ‘journal’ to ‘write something every day to MD, and make
it a sort of journal’, the reflections on how to keep it up to date, or to
maintain it when in pain, and the literally dozens of letters in which he
speaks of going to, or being in, bed, or writing from bed.7 One has only
to remember the Tale’s merciless treatment of the writer who tells you that
what he says ‘is literally true this Minute I am writing’, or his revelation
that, parodying Dryden, in ‘this present Month of August 1697’, what you
have just read ‘was conceived in Bed, in a Garret . . . under a long Course
of Physick’, to realise the extent of Swift’s willingness, on the subject of
Stella, to surrender himself to momentary intimacies he would not tolerate
in published writings (Tale, pp. 23, 27). They are a measure of his own
temperamental susceptibility to the states of mind, and the lapses of stylistic
composure, that were beginning to call forth modes of writing he despised,
as well as of the inwardness of his satiric understanding of them.
The Journal to Stella embodies precisely those features which Northrop
Frye, in a classic essay, identified with ‘an age of sensibility’, whose repre-
sentative prose masters were Richardson and Sterne. The ‘defining’ char-
acteristic of this is a conception of writing whose interest lay not in the
completed story or ‘finished product’, but in ‘the process of writing a
story’.8 Swift and Pope appear in Frye’s argument as proponents of the
finished work, the closed form, the rhyming couplet, regular metre, epi-
grammatic wit. The only quotation from Swift in Frye’s article is Swift’s
92 Fiction
expression of admiration, in the Verses on the Death (49–50), for Pope’s
ability to fix more sense in one couplet than Swift can do in six.9 ‘The
madness of the mazy dance’ in Pope’s riff on bad writing (Dunciad, i.
68) may be read, in this context, not only as a comment on the duncic
media of his own day, but as an apprehensive glimpse of the narrative and
discursive ideals represented by the wavy or zigzagging lines of Tristram
Shandy’s (vi. 1, ix. iv), or even by Hogarth’s line of beauty. It is an affirma-
tion of linear order and conclusiveness against the irregular plasticities of
open-ended form. In the same way, the Tale’s proleptic rejection of writ-
ing that is ‘on the spot’ and ‘keeps the emotion at a continuous present’
seems to confirm the boundaries Frye is establishing.10 But corresponding
attention is owed to the sheer fertility and inventiveness with which Swift
mimicked what he attacked, and to the closeness of his personal, unpub-
lished writings, several decades before the event, to the works described
by Frye.
The Journal to Stella’s attention to the process of its own writing is
readily assimilated to Frye’s account of ‘the sheets of Pamela’s manuscript’,
in Richardson’s novel, ‘spawning and secreting all over her master’s house,
even into the recesses of her clothes, as she fends off assault with one hand
and writes about it with the other’.11 The mercurial flirtatiousness of Swift’s
letters to Stella is less fraught with overt sexual tension or dramatic incident,
but it has a self-consciousness with unremittingly erotic overtones. Even
when Swift is opening the letter that turns out not to be from Stella, and
is thus sentimentally a non-event, the business of opening it has the febrile
mock-erotic immediacy that steers somewhere between the Pamelaic and
the Shandean: ‘Oh, I won’t open it yet! Yes I will! No I won’t . . . I’ll open it
this very moment.’ The consuming interest in what Frye calls the ‘process’
of writing and reading, and even ‘opening’, letters, is at the dramatic
centre of the writing. The solid presence of writing materials, of pens, of
paper stained with tobacco and candle-grease, is integral to this emotional
world, as it would be to Pamela’s or Shandy’s, notwithstanding the Tale’s
ridicule of its narrator, who babbles on about his instant scribbling, and
decides, having nothing more to say, ‘to let the Pen still move on’.12 It is
an odd concurrence of literary history that when Swift’s letters to Stella
were ‘Collected and Revised’ by Deane Swift in 1768, the last year of
the Shandy era, his editor and kinsman thought fit to draw additional
attention to these stains by noting that they were ‘still’ visible in the
Whatever the exact relations between Swift and Stella may have been,
the varying registers of mockery and self-mockery are part of an intensely
Swift, satire and the novel 93
eroticised style of writing ‘to the Moment’, which the Journal to Stella pro-
leptically shares with novels by Richardson and Sterne, published decades
after the letters were written. Even this aspect of the style may be said to have
been parodied, along with tart observations on the ‘modernity’ of sexual
innuendo, in Swift’s Tale several years before the letters were written.14 It is
a piquant coincidence that the affectionate mock-insults Swift repeatedly
addressed to Stella and Rebecca Dingley (hussy, boldface, slut, saucebox,
saucy box), were terms which Richardson’s Mr B was to apply to Pamela
in a more aggressively sexual pursuit, and which Fielding selected for his
parodic riff on Squire Booby in Shamela: ‘my Master cryed out, Hussy,
Slut, Saucebox, Boldface’.15 This is not the only time Swift anticipated
the demotic argot of Fielding’s Shamela, notably in his domestic servant
heroines, Frances Harris and Mary the Cook-Maid, including the latter’s
description of Thomas Sheridan as ‘a spindle-shanke’d hoddy doddy’, to
be recycled in Shamela’s reference to Mr Booby as ‘a spindle-shanked young
A proleptically Shandean riff of another kind is to be found in the letter
to Vanessa of 12 August 1720, in which he contemplates a ‘History of Cad –
and – ’ which would be ‘as long as’ the poem about them, Cadenus and

What would you give to have the History of Cad– and – exactly written
through all its steps from the beginning to this time. I believe it would do
well in Verse, and be as long as the other. I hope it will be done. It ought
to be an exact Chronicle of 12 Years; from the Time of spilling the Coffee
to drinking of Coffee, from Dunstable to Dublin with every single passage
since[.] There would be the Chaptr of the Blister, the Chaptr of Madm going
to Kensington, the Chaptr of the Colonlls going to France the Chaptr of the
Wedding with the Adventure of the lost Key. Of the Strain, of the joyfull
Return two hundred Chapters of madness. The Chaptr of long walks. The
Barkshire Surprise. fifty Chapters of little Times: The Chaptr of Chelsey.
The Chapter of Swallow, and Cluster: A hundred whole Books of my self
and so low. The Chaptr of hide, and whisper. The Chapter of who made it
so. My Sisters money. Cad– bids me tell you, that if you complain of his
puzzling you with difficult writing, he will give you enough of it.17

We would, again, not be surprised to find much of this in Tristram Shandy.

The playfully egomanic copia, the teasing mock-mystification, and the rest,
which in the Tale were travestied with a derisive rejectionism, are expressed
with a direct self-indulgence.
Generic niceties of definition, as between private letter and ‘journal’,
or journal and Journal, are less at issue in this example than in the letters
94 Fiction
to Stella. But, like Swift’s other unpublished memoranda, the riff owes
its Shandean features to the enabling freedoms of privacy, freedoms with
which Sterne chose to go public and for which he would not have remained
unchastised by Swift. But the fact that Swift could write with considerable
emotional engagement in a manner he would ruthlessly deplore in any pub-
lished work suggests an intuitive penchant for the mode of self-cherishing
introspection, and goes some way towards explaining both the extraordi-
nary rejectionist inwardness of the Tale, and its vital continuing appeal as
a primary model of self-conscious fictional expression for a long line of
writers, which includes not only Sterne, but Joyce, Beckett and Nabokov.
The Journal’s unbridled free associations, baby talk and punning, were also
to become an animating idiom of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
Swift, then, was a proleptic master of the Shandean self-conscious novel
and several other modes of modern writing, parodying his way into the
Shandean tradition before it ever properly existed, and well before Sterne’s
effort to unparody the parody while preserving it as a mode of complacent
self-exhibition. That Swift not only understood the impulse, but was capa-
ble of giving private expression to what he derided in public, is another
demonstration of his perpetual self-implication in the objects of his own
If the Journal to Stella unparodies much of the content of the Tale,
reproducing sympathetically even its Shandean coils of self-mockery, it
is also capable of conferring a graver pathos on some of the objects of
the Tale’s ridicule, without surrendering its prevailing note of unguarded
intimacy. The Tale’s jeering at the scribbler in his garret is a classic Augustan
caricature of the low-born hack, whose degraded circumstances are viewed
as an appropriate judgement on a corrupt hireling’s untalented writings.
It belongs to an age when the garret, that high place of poets, had a low
standing. The image of the poet, living in proud isolation high above the
crowd, had not reached the status for which Yeats was to celebrate it two
centuries later.18 The times were not yet disposed to honour an artist for
being socially marginal or adversarial, although compassionate and even
idealised portraits of the injustices borne by struggling writers received vivid
expression in the 1730s and 1740s, notably from the pens of Fielding and
Johnson. Swift’s ridicule of Grub Street hacks in the Tale, however, should
be set beside a more nuanced expression of uppish pathos in Swift’s account,
on two successive days in 1713, of visits to two minor writer-acquaintances,
William Diaper, the author of ‘sea-eclogues’, and William Harrison, who
ran a continuation of the Tatler in 1711. On 13 and 14 February 1713 Swift
wrote to Stella:
Swift, satire and the novel 95
13. I was to see a poor Poet one Mr Diaper, in a nasty Garret, very sick; I
gave him 20 Guinneas from Ld Bolingbrook, & disposed the othr 60 to
2 other Authors, & desird a Friend to receive the 100ll for poor Harrison;
and will carry it him to morrow morning. I sent to see how he did, & he is
extreamly ill, & I very much afflicted for him, for he is my own Creature,
& in a very honorable Post, and very worthy of it. I dined in the City. I am
in much concern for this poor Lad. His Mother & Sister attend him, & he
wants nothing. Nite poo dee Md
14. I took Parnel this morning and we walkt to see poor Harrison, I had
the 100ll in my Pocket. I told Parnel I was afraid to knock [at] the door;
my mind misgave me. I knockt, & his man in Tears told me his Master
was dead an hour before. Think wht Grief th [is is] to me; I went to his
Mothr, & have been ordering things for his Funerall with as little Cost as
possible, to morrow at ten at night. Ld Treasr was much concerned when I
told him. I could not dine with Ld Tr nor any where, but got a bit of meat
towards Evening. no loss ever grieved me so much. poor Creature. – Pray
God Almighty bless poor Md – adieu –
I send this away to night
and am sorry it must go while
I am in so much Grief.19
The pathos is nuanced by a residual uppishness. The principled contempt
for the hack shines through the affection and the sadness. No shadow of
later notions of the artist as an adversarial hero, or even a victimised outsider,
intrudes on the mood. But if the subject resembles the circumstances of
the Tale’s garreteer, the distance in mood could hardly be greater, down
to the baby talk, and the real confession of instant grief, and letting the
writing go forward in the middle of it.
chapter 4

Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was born in Dublin of English parents. His

father died before he was born, and he was brought up by relatives in
Dublin. He studied (not brilliantly) at Trinity College, Dublin, and was
ordained as a priest of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. In 1713, he became
Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, an office he held for the rest of his
life. He had always aspired to an English preferment, and hoped to become
a bishop. He attributed his failure partly to the reputation for blasphemous
unruliness of A Tale of a Tub (1704), his first major book and perhaps
his most brilliant. He defended the Tale against charges of irreligion, but
never openly acknowledged the work. This secretiveness over authorship
extended, in less extreme form, to many of his other works, including
Gulliver’s Travels (1726).
Though Irish by birth and education, Swift regarded his residence in
Ireland as a form of exile. In addition, after the death of Queen Anne
in 1714, when Swift’s political friends fell from power, Swift found him-
self in the political wilderness. After several years of pamphleteering for
Robert Harley’s Tory administration, he now largely ceased to write on
English political subjects. Though resentful of his Irish exile, he became
active in Irish politics. From 1720 onwards, he produced a series of his-
toric pamphlets on the political and economic wrongs of Ireland under
English rule and on the ineptitude of the Irish at looking after their own
interests. Through the Drapier’s Letters (1724), A Modest Proposal (1729),
and numerous other writings in verse and prose, he established himself as
a ‘Hibernian Patriot’, and is honoured in the Irish Republic to this day as a
founding hero of the modern nation. The Irish interest he defended against
rule from London was that of the English settlers, not the ‘natives’, whom,
in common with many English writers of his time, he largely despised.

First published as the Introduction to Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, ed. Claude Rawson and Ian
Higgins, Oxford World’s Classics, 2005, pp. ix–xliii.

Gulliver’s Travels 97
The Yahoos of Gulliver’s Travels are partly a portrait of these natives. But
writing from the perspective of the colon or settler, he nevertheless helped
to inaugurate a tradition of resistance to metropolitan oppression which
created the momentum for the eventual independence of an Irish Repub-
lic Swift might not have been altogether happy to see. Gulliver’s Travels
(1726), his most famous work, is partly fuelled by his perspectives on the
Irish situation (in the account of the Flying Island in Book iii, for example,
as well as the portrayal of the savage Yahoos in Book iv).
Swift’s three decades of ‘exile’ as Dean of St Patrick’s were, until he was
struck down by painful senile disorders near the end of his life, the most
active of his career, both as one of the greatest Anglo-Irish political activists,
and as an English writer. It is largely in these years that he established
himself not only as a supremely versatile and powerful satirist, but as a
poet, journalist and political commentator and activist of extraordinary
range, effectiveness and distinction. He is nevertheless chiefly remembered
for Gulliver’s Travels, which in abridged form became a famous children’s
book, and is also one of the bleakest satires of the human condition.
Gulliver’s Travels was written in the years 1721 to 1725, with Book iii
written last, and published in 1726 by the publisher Benjamin Motte. It was
a great success, as Swift’s friend John Gay reported, ‘universally read, from
the Cabinet-council to the Nursery’, quickly entering the popular folklore,
with some of the impact of a modern soap opera in creating a make-believe
world.1 It was written as a parody of travel books, a genre in which Swift was
well read. He owned the great multi-volume travel compendia of Richard
Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas, and wrote to his woman friend Vanessa
(Esther Vanhomrigh) in 1722 that he had been reading ‘I know not how
many diverting Books of History and Travells’, adding to a male friend a
few days later that they were an ‘abundance of Trash’.2
The travel-book background forms the outward armature of a deep
satirical exploration of the human creature. Behind it lies a lifetime of
reading in the works of classical and Renaissance ethnographers, from
Herodotus and Pliny to Montaigne, and a live interest in the culture,
society and politics of humans in history and in his own time. Gulliver’s
Travels belongs to a species of parody which is not mainly concerned with
the books it is ostensibly mimicking, but uses the medium of parody to
explore matters of more central and substantial human import. It purports
to be a philosophical response to definitions of man as a ‘rational animal’.
It flirted with dangerous political matter, and offered other shocks to polite
sensibilities, and Swift claimed that the publisher, Motte, had expurgated
and sanitised his text. Some corrections were made by Motte in a ‘Second
98 Fiction

4.1 Title page of Gulliver’s Travels, first edition, 1726.

Gulliver’s Travels 99

4.2 Frontispiece portrait, Gulliver’s Travels, first edition, 1726.

100 Fiction

4.3 Later state of frontispiece portrait, Gulliver’s Travels, first edition, 1726.
Gulliver’s Travels 101
Edition’ in 1727, but when the work was included in 1735 as volume iii
of the edition of Swift’s Works by the Dublin publisher George Faulkner,
it included further revisions, some of them not intended in 1726. There
was some mystification over Swift’s role in the 1735 edition, from which
Swift also pretended to keep his distance, though his involvement in it,
now much debated, seems on balance to have been not inconsiderable.
The book we know as Gulliver’s Travels first appeared on 28 Octo-
ber 1726 as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, purportedly
written by Lemuel Gulliver, ‘First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of
several SHIPS’. There was no overt sign of Swift’s authorship. The title of
Gulliver’s Travels, by which the book is nowadays universally known, is a
popular piece of shorthand, with no formal authority, though Swift was
referring coyly to ‘a Book . . . called Gulliver’s Travels’ as early as 17 Novem-
ber 1726.3 The frontispiece was a lifelike medallion portrait of ‘Captain
Lemuel Gulliver, of Redriff Ætat. suae 58’ (i.e. at the age of 58), a hitherto
unusual, possibly unprecedented, feature in an imaginary voyage, osten-
sibly signalling a true account.4 To a few friends, it was probably evident
that Gulliver’s age was also that of Jonathan Swift, whose authorship was
not disclosed, and an eagle-eyed reader would be able to report from the
text that this cannot have been Gulliver’s real age.5 Some readers may have
sensed, or formed the impression, that Gulliver’s face ‘is not unlike that
of Swift himself’.6 To the average reader of the book, the portrait held no
secret code. To the knowing reader, the code would not yield all its secrets,
for Gulliver is not Swift, although Swift is a lurking presence behind him.
(See Figures 4.1 and 4.2.)
This elusive interchange of identities extended in the opposite direction,
to portraits of Swift himself. When, after 1726, the Irish painter Francis
Bindon painted what is sometimes thought to be the first of his series
of portraits of Swift, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, the
likeness seemed to show a consciousness of the frontispiece Gulliver. The
painter is, in any case, concerned with the book. The portrait shows Swift
pointing to the title page of Book iv, ‘A Voyage to the Country of the
Houyhnhnms’, on a scroll in his hand. In the background is a peaceful Irish
landscape, with Houyhnhnm-evoking horses.7 Both this and the portrait
itself thus maintain pictorially a traffic between the fictional Gulliver and
Swift himself which conforms closely with the character and early history
of the book itself.
In the early editions, this traffic is part of a flaunted mystification, which
suggests more than the instinctive secrecy about authorship evident in most
of Swift’s major works, and which is an elusive product of convention,
102 Fiction
temperamental guardedness, and the legal and political dangers attendant
on subversive writings. There is in addition, throughout the narrative, a
protracted tease about the truth-content of the work we are reading, and
about the character and extent of the ‘real’ author’s commitment to it
(whoever he might be). This ostensibly authentic portrait of a mariner-
author is followed in the first edition by a Foreword from ‘The Publisher
[i.e. Editor] to the Reader’, signed by Gulliver’s cousin, Richard Sympson.
Some of this will not be entirely comprehensible until we have read through
the whole work. But it is possible for the reader to remain comfortable (as
he or she will not be for long) that nothing more is in the offing than a real
travel narrative, or a fiction pretending to be one, like Defoe’s Robinson
Crusoe (1719), a work Swift may have found easier to parody than to admit
to having read. In an earlier work, Swift had referred to Defoe, a lifelong
antagonist, as ‘the Fellow that was pilloryed, I have forgot his Name’,
subsequently identifying him (in 1735) in a footnote without removing the
pretence of having forgotten his name.8 But in these opening moves of the
opening of the first edition, the first-time reader has little obvious incentive
to detect mystifications and covert agendas.
‘The Publisher to the Reader’ is followed, after the Table of Contents,
by the famous opening of Gulliver’s own autobiographical narrative:

My Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five

Sons. He sent me to Emanuel-College in Cambridge, at Fourteen Years old,
where I resided three Years, and applied my self close to my Studies: But the
Charge of maintaining me (although I had a very scanty Allowance) being
too great for a narrow Fortune; I was bound Apprentice to Mr. James Bates,
an eminent Surgeon in London, with whom I continued four Years; and my
Father now and then sending me small Sums of Money, I laid them out in
learning Navigation, and other Parts of the Mathematicks, useful to those
who intend to travel, as I always believed it would be some time or other
my Fortune to do. When I left Mr. Bates, I went down to my Father; where,
by the Assistance of him and my Uncle John, and some other Relations, I
got Forty Pounds, and a Promise of Thirty Pounds a Year to maintain me
at Leyden: There I studied Physick two Years and seven Months, knowing it
would be useful in long Voyages. (i. i)

This is how the narrative begins, and how, in the first edition of 1726, the
reader gains the main impression of the character at the outset. He appears
at first sight as a classic example of the ingenuously ‘normal’ observer,
unlikely to be encumbered with dissident or antisocial prejudices, and plain
and matter of fact in his outlook and speech. We are going to be disabused
before long. Even this first impression, to an alert or knowlegeable reader,
Gulliver’s Travels 103
is potentially open to vague suspicions. There is a small indefinable crackle
of uncertainty in ‘The Publisher to the Reader’, signed by Gulliver’s cousin
Richard Sympson, of whom we know nothing yet, which precedes the
narrative, and which speaks without prior context of Gulliver’s prolixity,
and his addiction to sailors’ jargon, of which the book has had to be pruned.
Some references to Gulliver’s reputation for ‘Veracity’, and to his ‘good
Esteem among his Neighbours’, acquire their full piquancy in the light
of later knowledge (and there is naturally no trace yet of later complaints
about corruptions in the text of the first edition). The ‘Publisher’ (here
meaning ‘editor’, i.e. Sympson himself ) also refers to the family origins
of the Gullivers in Banbury, home of the Banbury saints, a hotbed of
These lead naturally to covertly intimated wrinkles in the bland surface of
the opening narrative itself. A hint of anti-Puritan or anti-Dutch sentiment
might be detected, by knowing readers, in the references to Emmanuel
College or the University of Leyden. Some readers have latterly suspected
that the Mr in ‘Mr. Bates’ might have been pronounced master, and
Gulliver does refer to the death of ‘my good Master Bates’, a pun that
may or may not be accidental. It seems, on balance, doubtful to me, not
because of its smuttiness, but because the sniggering has a quite unSwiftian
lack of focus, as well as on linguistic grounds (the latter, however, both
as to the pronunciation of ‘Mr’ and of the extent of currency of the
word ‘masturbate’ in 1726, non-conclusive).10 These potential crackles of
disturbance might, to the very knowing, be further compounded by the
fact that the frontispiece portrait of Gulliver in 1726 gave him the same age
as Swift and some resemblance of feature.
But the dominant initial impact of the opening narrative is to discourage,
rather than stimulate, guardedness. The disconcerting subtexts are initially
indefinite, and of secondary force, to be fully realised only at a later stage.
The main satiric undeceptions unfold only when we discover that the
plain narrative is leading us to highly disingenuous territory, not only
lacking in factual credibility but charged with a morally disturbing content
inconsistent with the blandness of the narrative voice.
Nevertheless, this style of plain, matter-of-fact narrative, immediately
following the frontispiece and Foreword, is assumed to have deceived some
readers into believing they were being offered a true story. One sea captain
claimed to be ‘very well acquainted with Gulliver, but that the printer had
mistaken, that he livd in Wapping, & not at Rotherhith [i.e. the Redriff
of the portrait and Foreword]’. An old gentleman searched for Lilliput on
his map. Best of all, an Irish bishop reportedly preened himself on not
104 Fiction
being taken in, having been taken in to the extent that he thought he was
meant to be taken in. He declared that he thought the ‘book was full of
improbable lies, and for his part, he hardly believed a word of it’. This
triumphalism seemed to have been matched by the triumphalism of Swift
and his friends over the bishop’s addlement.11
Swift was a consummate hoaxer. He wrote a parody of the astrologer
Partridge in 1708, predicting the latter’s death, and announcing the event
on the due date, to the victim’s discomfiture. On another occasion, in
1722, he published some ‘last words’ of a dead criminal, suggesting that the
latter had left behind the names and addresses of all his criminal brethren,
thus purportedly reducing the number of street robberies.12 Such effects
of persuading the readers that they are witnessing reality rather than just
reading a story came to be valued, by Richardson as by Flaubert, as one of
the great achievements of the novel form, and, in our time, connect the
novel with soap operas. The readers who begged Richardson or Dickens
to spare Clarissa or Paul Dombey look ahead to audiences of The Archers
or Coronation Street. The compelling intimacy of this ‘illusion of life’ was,
in Swift’s lifetime, a cherished objective of Richardson, and perhaps of
Defoe, ‘the Fellow that was pilloryed’ for writing The Shortest-Way with the
Dissenters (1702), a mock extermination-proposal which was taken straight,
thus variously disturbing the peace; and who later became a founding father
of the realist novel.
To Swift, as to his contemporaries Pope or Fielding (himself a novelist of
a different stripe), conditioned by classical or Augustan standards of imper-
sonal seriousness and gentlemanly codes of ‘conversational’ decorum, such
things seemed an in-your-face vulgarity. What would do for an ephemeral
jeu d’esprit was not suitable for writings of more ambitious purpose. Even
a first-time reader of Gulliver’s Travels, once inside the Gulliverian world
of big men and little men, flying islands, and talking horses, might be
expected to understand that he or she was reading neither a true story nor a
realistic narrative. If they did not, the whole of the work’s satirical content
would misfire. The sea captain, the old gentleman, the Irish bishop were
all very well as gratifying oddities, a tribute to the satirist’s power to make
fools of obtuse know-alls. But if everyone reacted in this way, the whole
point of the book would be lost, as it was lost for those taken in by Defoe’s
Shortest-Way, with nasty consequences for the author, to boot.
The veristic trimmings of the front-matter and opening paragraphs of
Gulliver’s Travels, even for first-time readers of the first edition, ultimately
exist in relation to elements in the book which are designedly so fantas-
tic as to defy any suspension of disbelief. The deceptive opening partly
Gulliver’s Travels 105
serves as a guard-lowering ruse, an impression of truth and sympathetic
ordinariness, softening the reader into complacency before assaulting him
with a bewildering blend of unassimilable fantasy and harshly disturbing
revelations about the human creature. This unresolved tension, between
an undemandingly genial mode of writing and subsequent assaults on the
reader’s expectations and poise, is a characteristic signature of Swift’s satiric
Swift had a highly developed sense of the extra-textual resources of front-
matter, already vividly displayed in A Tale of a Tub. He went on tinkering
with the frontispiece portrait in the subsequent publication history of
Gulliver’s Travels, until it reached, in 1735, the revised version in which it is
most commonly read today. In a later issue of the first edition, a second state
of the portrait added a Latin quotation from the ending of the second satire
of the Roman poet Persius, protesting the writer’s (i.e. Gulliver’s) purity of
mind, and ‘heart steeped in nobility and honour’ (ii. 74). (See Figure 4.3.)
If the reader is seduced by this into thinking of Gulliver as a truthful or
reliable reporter, there will be much in the rest of the work to disabuse or
complicate this impression. The effect of tease and uncertainty induced by
this is something Swift developed and exploited in later appearances of the
portrait, and in other pieces of front matter.13
Swift was aware, and made a performance of being aware, that the pub-
lisher had tampered with his text. He compiled a list of changes, some of
which were added in 1727, and most of which eventually found their way
into the ‘final’ version. This formed volume iii of a collected Works pub-
lished in 1735 by the Dublin bookseller George Faulkner (in four volumes,
subsequently expanded over the years). Although an original holograph
manuscript of Gulliver’s Travels no longer survives, the evidence suggests
that the later edition is to a greater or lesser extent a revised version, rather
than a restored original.14 Swift sometimes pretended that this edition also
‘was done utterly against my will’ (to Pulteney, 8 March 1735). Faulkner,
on the other hand, says Swift worked daily with his publisher and ‘cor-
rected every Sheet of the first seven Volumes that were published in his Life
Time’.15 Swift’s account is true to character and Faulkner’s may or may not
be closer to the facts.16 Indeed, the likelihood is that Swift had a hand in
preparing Faulkner’s prefatory pieces to the volumes of 1735, if these were
‘not actually written by him’.17 Similarly, it is more than likely that Swift
was also involved in at least some aspects of the production process, espe-
cially those concerning the portraits. Here again, the title page announces
the author as Lemuel Gulliver, although now that the work is included in a
collected edition of Swift’s work, Swift’s initials are on the same title page,
106 Fiction

4.4 Title page of Gulliver’s Travels, in Works, 1735, iii.

Gulliver’s Travels 107
and secrecy of authorship gives way to a more overt tease as to the elusive
relationship between the narrator and the real-life author, by no means
identical, but linked by elusive overlappings and ambiguous distancings.18
(See Figure 4.4.) The portrait has changed. Or rather, there are two new
versions of the portrait, depending on whether the volume belongs to the
octavo format of Works, 1735, reproduced here, or the smaller duodec-
imo set.19 This time, a resemblance to portraits of Swift becomes overtly
paraded. (See Figures 4.5 and 4.6.)
It has been pointed out that ‘the oval which frames the portrait is a
shape common to both portraits and mirrors’.20 The evocation of mirrors
may or may not be apt to the game of identities between narrator and
author. Of the two versions of the Faulkner edition, the octavo especially
bears a striking likeness to the portrait of Swift himself which serves as
frontispiece to volume i of the same Faulkner edition, and which is an
engraving based on a portrait by the Irish painter Charles Jervas, who
painted Swift in 1709, and 1716–17 or 1718, and supervised engravings, and
was also a friend and portraitist of Pope.21 Unlike Pope, who sat for many
painters throughout his life, Swift did not like being painted, and was
sometimes curmudgeonly about it.22 ‘I hate to be in Town while [Jervas]
is there’, he wrote in a letter of 4 October 1716. Many years later, close to
the time of Faulkner’s edition, he speaks of having been ‘fool enough to
sit for my Picture at full length by Mr Bindon’ (15–16 June 1735). Bindon’s
work was itself ‘very much derived from Jervas’s initial effort but with some
adjustments for the advancement of age’.23 An atmosphere of irritability
surrounds Swift’s relations to portraits of himself.
An observant reader would be exercised by the resemblance between the
portraits in volumes i and iii, and, to the extent that he or she remembers
it, would be actively unsettled by the uncertainties of focus and wavelength
which it contributes to a text already heavily impregnated with teasingly
cagey obliquities. In addition, in both versions of the 1735 Gulliver fron-
tispiece, a new time-bomb has been lobbed at the reader. Gulliver’s age and
place of residence, and the quotation from Persius, are dropped. Instead, in
both versions, the caption now merely says ‘Capt. Lemuel Gulliver Splen-
dide Mendax. Hor.’ The Latin phrase comes from Horace’s Odes, iii. xi. 35,
and refers to Hypermestra, the only one of fifty daughters of Danaus who
disobeyed her father in order to save her husband. It is an inversion of the
use of Persius in the earlier edition, which had affirmed Gulliver’s honour
and purity of mind. It means ‘lying magnificently’, in a good cause, but still
lying. Attached prominently to the frontispiece portrait of the narrator, it
implies both unreliability and some sort of nobility of purpose.
108 Fiction

4.5 Frontispiece portrait of Gulliver, in Works, 1735, iii, octavo edition.

Gulliver’s Travels 109

4.6 Frontispiece portrait of Swift, in Works, 1735, i.

110 Fiction
But perhaps the most disconcerting piece of front-matter in the 1735
edition is the cantankerous letter from Gulliver to his Cousin Sympson,
dated ‘April 2, 1727’. In it, Gulliver begins by complaining that the first
edition of his book was marred by deletions and additions attributed to
Sympson’s fear ‘of giving Offence’ to ‘People in Power’, as well as by some
unacceptable stylistic usages. Gulliver’s ‘comic dismay’ is in many ways a
replay of that of Swift himself, so much so that Michael Treadwell, one of
the best students of the textual history, speaks of this as ‘Gulliver/Swift’
writing to ‘Sympson/Motte’ (i.e Benjamin Motte, the publisher of the first
edition). As always, Gulliver both is and is not Swift, and Swift’s complaints
about the corruptions of the first edition may have been to some extent
‘facetious’ or exaggerated in the manner of the letter to Sympson, partly
in order to deflect ‘onto the poor printers criticism for carelessness which
was his own and which he could not otherwise correct’, and partly out of
mischievous jokerie.24
Gulliver explains that he never wanted to publish his book, but gave
in to pressure from his cousin; that he never expected the book to have
any effect since ‘the Yahoos were a Species of Animals utterly incapable of
Amendment’; and yet that ‘instead of seeing a full Stop put to all Abuses and
Corruptions . . . as I had Reason to expect: Behold, after above six Months
Warning, I cannot learn that my Book hath produced one single Effect
according to mine Intentions’. In other words, although he expected no
change, he is angry at the absence of changes he ‘had Reason to expect’. As
a result, he is dismayed to find that six months after publication humanity
is still unreformed (the date of 2 April 1727, appended to a letter first
published in 1735, happens to be just over five, or very roughly six, months
after the original publication of Gulliver’s Travels on 28 October 1726,
as only a very knowing reader would know, though Gulliver compounds
confusion by sliding from ‘above six Months Warning’ to a remark about
‘seven Months’ being a ‘sufficient Time’):

Behold, after above six Months Warning, I cannot learn that my Book hath
produced one single Effect according to mine Intentions: I desired you
would let me know by a Letter, when Party and Faction were extinguished;
Judges learned and upright; Pleaders honest and modest, with some small
Tincture of common Sense; and Smithfield blazing with Pyramids of Law-
Books; the young Nobility’s Education entirely changed; the Physicians
banished; the female Yahoos abounding in Virtue, Honour, Truth and good
Sense: Courts and Levees of great Ministers thoroughly weeded and swept;
Wit, Merit and Learning rewarded; all Disgracers of the Press in Prose and
Verse, condemned to eat nothing but their own Cotten, and quench their
Gulliver’s Travels 111
Thirst with their own Ink. These, and a Thousand other Reformations, I
firmly counted upon by your Encouragement; as indeed they were plainly
deducible from the Precepts delivered in my Book. And, it must be owned,
that seven Months were a sufficient Time to correct every Vice and Folly
to which Yahoos are subject; if their Natures had been capable of the least
Disposition to Virtue or Wisdom; Yet so far have you been from answering
mine Expectations in any of your Letters; that on the contrary, you are
loading our Carrier every Week with Libels, and Keys, and Reflections, and
Memoirs, and Second Parts; wherein I see myself accused of reflecting upon
great States-Folk; of degrading Human Nature, (for so they have still the
Confidence to stile it) and of abusing the Female Sex. I find likewise, that
the Writers of those Bundles are not agreed among themselves; for some of
them will not allow me to be Author of mine own Travels; and others make
me an Author of Books to which I am wholly a Stranger.
The last sentence is one more salvo in the aggressive mystification over
authorship, by now largely disposed of by the inclusion of the work in an
edition of Swift’s Works, but still allowed to crackle uncomfortably, and
sufficient to sustain a reader’s chronic uncertainty as to the relationship
and exact roles of Gulliver and the satirist behind him. The language of
Gulliver to Sympson bears a disconcerting resemblance both to Swift’s own
complaints that the first edition of his book had been subjected to dele-
tions, and insertions of ‘trash contrary to the Author’s manner and Style,
and Intention’ (to Charles Ford, 9 October 1733); and also to Swift’s early
disclaimer of involvement in the revised edition of 1735, ‘an evil I cannot
prevent’ (to Pope, 8 July 1733), and which he hasn’t ‘looked into . . . nor I
believe ever shall’ (to Pulteney, 8 March 1735).25 You cannot take Swift
straight on any such issue, but he doesn’t always mean the opposite,
The traffic between the fictional text and real life is variously carried out
in Swift’s correspondence, from mixed motives of concealment and play. In
Swift’s correspondence with his friends, there is the same combination of
flaunting and concealment, a continuously nudging and winking diablerie
as to the Gulliver connection. Letters are signed, by Swift and his friends,
with Gulliverian names. One letter, to Mrs Howard (28 November 1726),
purports to be from ‘Lemuel Gulliver’. Another, from Mrs. Howard, was
signed ‘Sieve [the term is Lilliputian for a court lady] Yahoo’, which Swift
made a fussy pretence of not understanding (10, 17 November 1726). Swift
also wrote to Pope the same day (17 November) about ‘a Letter of Mrs
Howard’s, writ in such mystical terms, that I should never have found out
the meaning, if a Book had not been sent me called Gulliver’s Travels’,
adding ‘that if I were Gulliver’s friend, I would desire all my acquaintance
112 Fiction
to give out that his copy was basely mangled, and abused, and added to,
and blotted out by the printer’.26 He also corresponded, directly or by
proxy, with the publisher Motte, using the name ‘Richard Sympson’ (8,
11, 13 August 1726, 27 April 1727),27 although Sympson partially stands
for Motte himself in the book, and Swift sometimes used John Gay’s
handwriting as a cover.28
If Swift often writes in Gulliver-mode, it is not surprising that Gulliver
should sometimes write like Swift. Few early readers, and only the most
determined readers today, would have, or choose to acquire, sufficient access
to Swift’s own correspondence to recognise its resemblance to Gulliver’s
cantankerous protestations, but the resemblance reinforces or confirms
intimations in the work itself that Gulliver, like others of Swift’s derided
speakers, is related to, or resembles, his creator. There is a long history of
complaints by Swift about the corruptions in the text of Gulliver’s Travels
of which the letter to Sympson provides a grotesque Gulliverian parody.29
But even without this doubtless unintended recognition, the letter to
Sympson is a powerful low-key weapon in Swift’s wearing down of his
reader’s composure. The rest of the passage has a similar effect. The reader
will recognise a familiar rhetoric of satire, showing the satirist deranged by
the disappointment of rational expectations about humanity’s behaviour.
The disjunction between ideal and realistic expectation is a staple of satire.
In practice, it suggests that the speaker is understood by both author and
reader to be anti-social or even neurotic, but that he is right by a higher
standard, and would not have become unhinged if the world had been
a better and a saner place. The reader seems to be offered the luxury of
discounting a character who (as in Gulliver’s case) is driven to excesses of
eccentric misanthropy, and who prefers to spend his time with the horses in
his stable rather than with his wife and family. Such discounting, however,
cannot extend to the balance-sheet of human depravity which the entire
fiction has drawn up, and which Gulliver summarises in this passage, an
indictment which is evidently a principal moral lesson of the fiction.
How much, and what, to discount is what remains uncertain, a tease
which undermines readerly comfort, and enables the satirist to make his
point without being dismissed as excessive or insane, like his speaker. And
Gulliver himself speaks for his author when he expresses lack of interest
in the reader’s good opinion of his person: ‘I wrote for their Amendment,
and not their Approbation.’ The words, which most readers will meet first
though they were probably written last, prefigure Gulliver’s quarrelsome
sniping at the reader in the final chapter: ‘My principal Design was to
inform, and not to amuse thee’ (iv. xii). The testy unfriendliness of this
Gulliver’s Travels 113
is consonant with Swift’s declaration to Pope on 29 September 1725, as he
was finishing writing Gulliver’s Travels, that ‘the chief end I propose to my
self . . . is to vex the world rather then divert it’.30 Whichever words were
written first,31 it is hard to think of them as other than variations on one
another, a further sign of intimate traffic between Swift and Gulliver, and
of the atmosphere Swift was determined to create between his book and
his reader.
The first-time reader of the letter to Sympson does not yet know fully
why Gulliver likes to be in a stable, but Gulliver’s preference for the neighing
of his horses to the conversation of his family and neighbours is a hint of
disconcerting priorities, to be explained as the narrative reaches its final
stages. Indeed, the entire quarrelsome idiom is not easy for a first-time
reader to assimilate. It is the language of the later disenchanted Gulliver of
Book iv, not that of the innocuously bland narrator whom we are about to
meet in the opening chapter of Book i. To understand it fully, one needs to
have read the whole book at least once before, like some modern fictions
by Conrad, Ford, or William Faulkner, whose time-scheme is dislocated in
the service of a non-chronological understanding of the events.32 But this
is not, in Gulliver’s Travels, a matter of manipulating narrative expectation
or the presentation of character, but of inducing unease as a tactic of
satirical attrition. The simpler satirical effect, of first offering a naı̈ve and
guileless narrator ripe for shocks of undeception, gives way to a mood of
more continuous undefined foreboding, hard to reconcile with the genial
narrative of the gullible Gulliver in Book i. The unspecific unease of
Gulliver’s chatter acquires increasing validation as the evidence of human
depravity mounts, and only defines itself fully as an expression of Gulliver’s
acrimonious ‘character’ at the end.
Gulliver’s Travels is not a novel like those of Conrad, Ford or Faulkner,
of course. But nor is it much like the fictions of its own time, by Defoe,
Richardson, or even Fielding, which we agree to call novels. Swift, as I
have suggested, would not have been a willing practitioner of the realism
or narrative immediacy of Defoe or Richardson. The life-like unfolding
of a personal story is not his purpose. Such realism of notation as he
displays is largely a parody of travel books or possibly of travel fictions,
and exists in the service of satirical exposure rather than the building of
fictional ‘illusion’. Though Gulliver has a wife, family, home-address, and
elements of a biographical record, he does not come over as a fully human
personality. His progression from acquiescent lover of his kind to alienated
misanthrope is more a satirical awakening to truth than a significant process
of psychological change. Although he is never the equivalent of Swift, he is
114 Fiction
always the instrument of what Swift shows or says through him. It is usually
more natural in the reading, and certainly more productive, to attend to a
Swiftian agenda than to any sort of expression of Gulliverian personality in
anything Gulliver says. The shifts and inconsistencies of Gulliver’s point of
view are more properly understood as modulations of Swiftian irony than
as mental gyrations of the character himself.
The most remarkable example of such ‘inconsistency’ occurs in Gulliver’s
anti-imperial outburst at the end of the book, a passage of great power and
interest in its own right. Gulliver has just been telling the reader that he
has decided not to honour his obligation ‘as a Subject of England’ to report
to the government the countries he has visited, since ‘whatever Lands are
discovered by a Subject, belong to the Crown’:
To say the Truth, I had conceived a few Scruples with relation to the
distributive Justice of Princes upon those Occasions. For Instance, A Crew
of Pyrates are driven by a Storm they know not whither; at length a Boy
discovers Land from the Top-mast; they go on Shore to rob and plunder; they
see an harmless People, are entertained with Kindness, they give the Country
a new Name, they take formal Possession of it for the King, they set up a
rotten Plank or a Stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three Dozen of
the Natives, bring away a Couple more by Force for a Sample, return home,
and get their Pardon. Here commences a new Dominion acquired with a
Title by Divine Right. Ships are sent with the first Opportunity; the Natives
driven out or destroyed, their Princes tortured to discover their Gold; a free
Licence given to all Acts of Inhumanity and Lust; the Earth reeking with
the Blood of its Inhabitants: And this execrable Crew of Butchers employed
in so pious an Expedition, is a modern Colony sent to convert and civilize an
idolatrous and barbarous People. (iv. xii)

The passage is one of the great denunciations of imperial conquest, ranking

with those of Las Casas and Montaigne, and probably inspired by the
latter.33 Its indignation is a set-piece of Swiftian eloquence, one of the
rare occasions when Swift allowed himself such accents of lofty fervour,
his normal habit being expressed by the assertion that ‘I the lofty Stile
decline.’34 Its vibrant rhetoric is also, a fortiori, outside Gulliver’s range as
a stylist. But the anger it expresses confirms what we know of Gulliver’s
own feelings at this time.
In the immediately following paragraph, however, Gulliver goes on to
But this Description, I confess, doth by no means affect the British Nation,
who may be an Example to the whole World for their Wisdom, Care, and
Justice in planting Colonies; their liberal Endowments for the Advancement
Gulliver’s Travels 115
of Religion and Learning; their Choice of devout and able Pastors to prop-
agate Christianity; their Caution in stocking their Provinces with People of
sober Lives and Conversations from this the Mother Kingdom; their strict
Regard to the Distribution of Justice, in supplying the Civil Administra-
tion through all their Colonies with Officers of the greatest Abilities, utter
Strangers to Corruption: And to crown all, by sending the most vigilant
and virtuous Governors, who have no other Views than the Happiness of
the People over whom they preside, and the Honour of the King their

This cannot be the same Gulliver, unless he is being stingingly ironic. But
conscious and stinging ironies are as much outside Gulliver’s stylistic range
as the eloquent righteousness of the preceding passage. If we read either
passage as mainly expressive of Gulliver’s character, we are confronted by
a shocking and implausible inconsistency, in itself almost amounting to
cheeky defiance on the author’s part. That option contains its own readerly
discomforts. But it seems more natural to read both passages as ultimately
emanating from a Swiftian rather than Gulliverian voice, the first expressing
indignation literally, the second doing so ironically, with an added sarcasm
at the species of British complacency frequently expressed by travel writers
and imperial adventurers before and since.35
The latter sarcasm is par for the course, characteristic of Swift’s resource-
fully incriminating style. If taken straight, it is a return to Gulliver’s much
earlier manner of complacent acceptance of his country and all its ways.
The fact not only evokes the awkwardness of regarding Gulliver as a sig-
nificant personality in his own right. Since the earlier Gulliver no longer
exists, Swift’s brief resurrection of him may even be seen as a playful under-
mining of his own fictional apparatus. That it is Swift’s own voice behind
his speaker which dominates a reading of both paragraphs, straight and
ironic, seems inescapable on any reading.
It is this which makes the fullest sense of the boastful sarcasm of ‘British
is best’, and gives life to other features of both passages. In an equal
and opposite way the account of the oppression of harmless natives is
not what it seems. The reader comes upon it after a prolonged exposure,
in the rest of the book, to the unremitting depravity of humans in all
the ‘Remote Nations’ visited by Gulliver, culminating in the humanoid
Yahoos, expressly identified with ‘all savage Nations’ (iv. ii), and the all too
human natives of New Holland who shot Gulliver with an arrow, which
Gulliver feared might be poisoned, on his departure from Houyhnhnmland
(iv. xi). What is said about the ‘harmless People’ in Gulliver’s speech is
spoken with passion, and there is no reason to suppose that Swift didn’t
116 Fiction
‘mean’ it. But he meant it in a way that is coloured by an opposite and
competing perception, which the volume has been sustaining forcefully
Even in the speech itself, the ‘harmless People’ are seen as passive recip-
ients of the cruelty of others rather than as actively virtuous. When the
passage suggests that they treat their oppressors kindly, what the syntax
conveys is that the oppressors ‘are entertained with Kindness’, so that the
only specific record of good action is presented in the passive mode, in the
process of being received, rather than given. All the active verbs belong
to the invading evil-doers. The ‘harmless People’ exist more to bring out
the depravity of these evil-doers than their own virtue or suffering as
Swift detested oppressors. They were an extreme example of a viciousness
Swift saw as potential in all humans. But the oppressed were also by
definition inculpated: ‘savages’, the Irish, women, to all of whom Swift
directed some of his most stinging contempt. Accusations of ‘racism’ or
misogyny are beside the point, not because they are often anachronistic,
but because Swift’s way with despised subgroups is to say that they are
merely human, and that dominant or favoured groups are in fact just as
bad. Swift was conscious of being open to charges of misanthropy and
misogyny. Gulliver’s letter to Sympson complains of being ‘accused . . . of
degrading human Nature, (for so they have still the Confidence to stile it)
and of abusing the Female Sex’. It is a notable feature of his most memorable
disparagements, or apparent disparagements, of the female form divine (the
flayed woman of A Tale of a Tub, the Brobdingnagian ladies of Gulliver’s
Travels), that they are immediately followed by a male counter-example.
Again, this is not to deny aggressive sentiments, and the counter-examples
may have a defensive or compensatory element. But they also belong to
a persistent effort of reorientation, away from the specific category to the
human species itself.
This is especially true of the xenophobic, or what we would call ‘racist’,
aspects of Swift’s satire. A Modest Proposal is an ironic variation on the old
idea that the native Irish were cannibals. But the cannibal slur often directed
at the natives is redirected at, or at least extended to, the Anglo-Irish ruling
group to which Swift belonged, and also to the ogre nation England, willing
to devour Ireland without salt. In the fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels,
what begins as a portrait of humanoid Yahoos who resemble ‘all savage
Nations’, ends up as an anatomy of the entire human race. The language
of racial insult is used to attack the species as a whole, much as Augustan
satirists used lordly language to attack malefactors, including lords, as low.
Gulliver’s Travels 117
Humankind is represented as ‘low-race’ in the way satirised malefactors
are made to appear ‘low-class’. Arguably, ‘racists’ are likelier to use the
language of misanthropy against specific groups than to allow ethnic slurs
to spread to all humans, including themselves.
This is not to sentimentalise Swift’s account of ‘savages’, only to place
it in a wider, bleaker, but ultimately less ungenerous perspective. By the
time we reach the final chapter, relations between narrator and reader
have deteriorated. Gulliver’s distaste for humanity is accompanied by an
exacerbated quarrelsomeness, very different from the ostensibly guileless
geniality of the earliest parts of the work, a quarrelsomeness evident in the
letter to Sympson, which was added to the opening pages in 1735. The final
chapter opens with an address to the ‘gentle Reader’:

Thus, gentle Reader, I have given thee a faithful History of my Travels for
Sixteen Years, and above Seven Months; wherein I have not been so studious
of Ornament as of Truth. I could perhaps like others have astonished thee
with strange improbable Tales; but I rather chose to relate plain Matter of
Fact in the simplest Manner and Style; because my principal Design was to
inform, and not to amuse thee. (iv. xii)

The ‘familiar’ form of the second-person singular (thee) is here aggressive,

addressed to an inferior, as though familiarity had bred contempt. It may
also carry a contemptuous whiff of Puritan sermons, as does the some-
what heavy-handed insistence on a plain, simple style, echoing the Puritan
associations of Banbury and Emmanuel College at the beginning of the
work. ‘Informing’ the reader is, as we saw, the flipside of ‘vexing’ rather
than ‘diverting’ him, and the protestation of strict factual truth is also a
parody of tall travellers’ tales. But coming after a flying island, a visit to the
ancient dead and a land of speaking horses, it strikes a disconcerting note,
especially when the extravagant fantasies are recognised as in fact enforcing
moral truths about humans, which are hard, on the evidence given, to
deny. The crackling aggressiveness towards the reader may be detected in
Gulliver’s Travels from the beginning, but its forms are more benign, and
more playful, in the earlier books.
The gradual unfolding of human depravity begins with the schematic
relation between books i and ii. The puniness of the Lilliputians as they
re-enact the doings of European societies is a comment on the latter which
becomes increasingly stinging as Gulliver realises that Europeans appear to
the Brobdingnagians exactly as Lilliputians appear to him. The schema-
tism is arithmetically very exact, as to the physical proportions between
Lilliputians, humans and Brobdingnagians, but some of its ostensible
118 Fiction
signals are subjected to disturbance or surprise. The Lilliputians are por-
trayed almost throughout as unedifyingly similar to corrupt Europeans, but
in Chapter vi they are suddenly described without warning as a Utopian
commonwealth, not in every way appealing to a modern sensibility, but
nevertheless recognisably modelled on the ideal commonwealths of Plato
and Thomas More, and foreshadowing the ideally ordered Houyhnhnm
society of Book iv. This is difficult to square with all previous portrayals
of Lilliput, until, after several paragraphs of exposure to the bizarre uncer-
tainty, we get an explanation that the Utopian Lilliput is a thing of the

In relating these and the following Laws, I would only be understood to

mean the original Institutions, and not the most scandalous Corruptions
into which these People are fallen by the degenerate Nature of Man. For
as to that infamous Practice of acquiring great Employments by dancing
on the Ropes, or Badges of Favour and Distinction by leaping over Sticks,
and creeping under them; the Reader is to observe, that they were first
introduced by the Grand-father of the Emperor now reigning; and grew to
the present Height, by the gradual Increase of Party and Faction. (i. vi)

The switch is so abrupt that some critics have thought that Chapter vi was
drafted for some other purpose or context, and eventually inserted into
Book i, and that the anomaly had then to be repaired by this explanatory
adjustment cobbled for the occasion.36 In fact, the shock reversal does not
seem extraordinary as an example of Swift’s way of destabilising the reading
process. It also initiates a series of ironies on historical change which are
taken up again in the next two books.
A parallel situation in reverse occurs in Brobdingnag, a broadly good
society whose King is able to denounce the nastiness of Gulliver’s compa-
triots, and whose moral superiority to European humans is reinforced by
its imposingly gigantic physical stature. Just as the Lilliputians are revealed
to have had a constitution of great value before descending to their present
state, so the Brobdingnagians, in reverse sequence, were once no better
than other nations:

For, in the course of many Ages they have been troubled with the same
Disease, to which the whole Race of Mankind is Subject; the Nobility often
contending for Power, the People for Liberty, and the King for absolute
Dominion. All which, however happily tempered by the Laws of that King-
dom, have been sometimes violated by each of the three Parties; and have
more than once occasioned Civil Wars, the last whereof was happily put an
End to by this Prince’s Grandfather in a general Composition. (ii. vii)
Gulliver’s Travels 119
The passage refers to a technical concern over the propriety of standing
armies, but transcends this issue into a wider consideration of processes of
political change. Together with the passage from i. vi, it shows an interest
in historical cycles. The reference in each case to a change from a royal
grandfather to his grandchildren supports not the specific historical allegory
of a roman-à-clef (the search for precise correspondences has often proved
futile) so much as a general sense of processes of generational change.
The same generational span is suggested in Book iii, when Gulliver, in
Glubbdubdrib, is disappointed with his summoning of the famous dead
from the past, and desires instead to see the humbler exemplars of defunct
English decencies:

I descended so low as to desire that some English Yeomen of the old Stamp,
might be summoned to appear; once so famous for the Simplicity of their
Manners, Dyet and Dress; for Justice in their Dealings; for their true Spirit
of Liberty; for their Valour and Love of their Country. Neither could I
be wholly unmoved after comparing the Living with the Dead, when I
considered how all these pure native Virtues were prostituted for a Piece of
Money by their Grand-children; who in selling their Votes, and managing
at Elections have acquired every Vice and Corruption that can possibly be
learned in a Court. (iii. viii)

Again, the local concern with individual issues (corrupt elections) is partly
trumped by a larger interest in historical change. Here the appeal is to an
older time of English virtue not easy to identify, and roughly comparable
to the Roman past of King Numa or the early Republic, as nostalgically
evoked in Juvenal’s satires. As in the two previous books, change occurs
over a similar generational span, downwards in books i and iii, upwards in
Book ii. Contemporary England is directly parallel to the societies described
in books i and iii, to its discredit; it is inversely parallel to the society of
Book ii, also to its discredit. Historical cycles are often pessimistic concepts.
In theory, good and bad succeed one another, but as Plato implies, it is the
downward cycles that tend to prevail. The story Swift tells about England,
and other human societies, is that they are usually deteriorating.
A peculiar equivalence establishes itself in books i and ii between size and
virtue. It rests on a rhetorical presumption that physical size reflects moral
stature. The ill-governed and disagreeable Lilliputians are incrementally
contemptible because of their tiny size, while the Brobdingnagians tower
above humans in dignity and virtue, their physical height coinciding with
their possession of the moral high ground. Characteristically, we are shown
Brobdingnagians who do not live up to their best standards, and who
120 Fiction
are, for example, mercenary or cruel. Moreover, though bigger usually
seems best, it is a consequence of size that it magnifies imperfections.
The sores and cancers on the breasts of Brobdingnagian women, or the
wen on the neck of their male counter-example (ii. i, iv, v), are more
unsightly to Gulliver than the smooth skins of English ladies, but also tell
us that this is how English ladies, and Gulliver himself, would appear to
These mainly optical examples rest on modern scientific awareness,
acquired through the invention in the previous century of the telescope
and microscope. They show that Swift was not above respecting, and
making creative satirical use of, what he recognised as accurate science,
in spite of his well-known contempt for Royal Society experimentation,
whose truth and utility seemed opaque to him, and which he attacked in
the Academy of Lagado in Book iii. But the ironies of size in books i and ii
have a further effect. By suggesting that our bodies would look as repulsive
in a minuter scale of vision as Brobdingnagian bodies do to Gulliver, Swift
is implying a kind of incriminating flaw in the human physique which
may be thought of as the physical counterpart of original sin. All humans
have it, and there is no way of escaping or eradicating it. The implication
is similar to that of the memorable sentence in Swift’s earlier masterpiece,
A Tale of a Tub (1704), ‘Last Week I saw a Woman flay’d, and you will
hardly believe, how much it altered her Person for the worse’.37
The context seems to suggest that the woman was a whore being whipped
and carted, and that the punishment may be presumed to serve her right.
But it is also evident that the most virtuous human would similarly appear
the worse for being flayed, and there is an ominous subtextual crackle to the
effect that every human being is in principle caught up in the predicament
of this whore. If the logic of this implication contains escape-routes (we
don’t all deserve flaying), the poetry is clear (we would all look the worse
for flaying, no matter who we were or what we did). You cannot unflay a
woman, or make her look better flayed than unflayed, any more than you
can change the fact of pores or moles. As in Gulliver’s Travels, the example
of the woman is complemented by that of a man whose corpse is being
dissected, once again signalling that the reach of the observation is not
confined to women.38 That women are often reported on in such contexts
as an initial or initiating instance, may or may not suggest a misogynistic
animus. But they are usually quickly redefined as exemplary not of the
female sex, but of a Yahoo humanity.
The moral inculpations of physical size, unlike the positive moral stature
which runs in some sense against these, remain undeveloped or recessive
Gulliver’s Travels 121
in the first two books. Nor is there any extension in the rest of Gulliver’s
Travels of the neat schematism that binds these two books together. Book iii
consists of visits to a number of countries which provide the occasion for
extended exposure of the nastiness of totalitarian rule, the oppression of
Ireland by England, the depraved folly (intellectual as well as political)
of scientific research establishments, and, in the glimpse of otherworldly
worthies in Glubbdubdrib, the tarnished stature of several revered figures
from the past. The inhabitants of the lands in Book iii are of normal
human size, though the settings (a flying island, the country of the afterlife)
and cultures (conversations using things rather than words) are those of
otherworldly or outlandish fantasy. None is a wholly or mainly realistic
setting, any more than that of Book iv is, a fact which touches on the
mendacity of travel books, and exists in constant friction with the matter-
of-fact narration and Gulliver’s protestations of veracity. But the first three
books for the most part portray follies and depravities that are specific and
self-evidently culpable.
The case of the Brobdingnagian breasts, monstrous and horrifying, is not
self-evidently culpable, however. The example implicates all of us, because
it is strongly emphasised that we are all included in the phenomenon, since
this is how we physically appear to Lilliputians. If there is no suggestion
of active wrongdoing on our part, a touch of unspecific inculpation is
clearly sensed. This is compounded by suggestions of secondary culpability
(complacent ignorance of human squalor, misplaced pride in the body),
but is in itself unspecific and universal, like original sin. Gulliver’s Travels
is a work which (though rich in biblical resonances) addresses human
concerns outside any specific devotional or doctrinal reach, but its sense of
an inherent human depravity acts as a secular analogue to original sin, or
draws strength from that doctrine. The physical marks of a defectiveness
that is radical, universal and incurable, go with the territory.
The intimations of this through most of the first three books remain
undeveloped. In all three, humanity is portrayed in acts of moral turpi-
tude, political misgovernment, colonial subjugation, legal malpractice, and
intellectual folly. We know why they are wrong, and can in principle con-
template the idea of improvement through changes in behaviour or cir-
cumstance, though these bad things are so ubiquitous, and their cumulative
effect so overwhelming, that it is hard in practice to imagine the likelihood
of any change for the better. Towards the end of Book iii, however, Gulliver
encounters in the land of Luggnagg a small population called the Struld-
bruggs, who are born with ‘a red circular Spot . . . over the left Eye-brow’,
which eventually grows black, and signifies that they will never die (iii. x).
122 Fiction
It is the last of the exotic groups Gulliver meets before Book iv, and marks
a decisive turning point in the work as a whole.
On hearing of the Struldbruggs, Gulliver is full of expectations of the
happiness, virtue, and wisdom that he thinks immortality is bound to con-
fer, with its boundless opportunities for acquiring knowledge and experi-
ence, in the freedom and disengagement of a mind unencumbered ‘by the
continual Apprehension of Death’. In fact, the Struldbruggs have perpet-
ual life without perpetual youth, and thus inevitably deteriorate physically,
mentally and morally, once again activating reciprocities of valuation which
are already the subject of books i and ii, and here, especially, evoking a
strong resemblance between decrepitude and depravity:
When they came to Fourscore Years, which is reckoned the Extremity of liv-
ing in this Country, they had not only all the Follies and Infirmities of other
old Men, but many more which arose from the dreadful Prospect of never
dying. They were not only opinionative, peevish, covetous, morose, vain,
talkative; but uncapable of Friendship, and dead to all natural Affection,
which never descended below their Grand-children. Envy and impotent
Desires, are their prevailing Passions . . .
At Ninety they lose their Teeth and Hair; they have at that Age no Distinction
of Taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get, without Relish or Appetite.
The Diseases they were subject to, still continue without encreasing or
diminishing. In talking, they forget the common Appellation of Things,
and the Names of Persons, even of those who are their nearest Friends and
Relations . . .
They were the most mortifying Sight I ever beheld; and the Women more
horrible than the Men. Besides the usual Deformities in extreme old Age,
they acquired an additional Ghastliness in Proportion to their Number of
Years, which is not to be described. (iii. x)
‘The women more horrible than the Men’ may be evidence of ‘misogyny’,
or planted for the benefit of those who like collecting such evidence, as
Gulliver offered scatological material for those who liked accusing Swift of
scatology (i. ii). Gulliver had already told Sympson about seeing himself
accused ‘of abusing the Female Sex’. Or Gulliver, in Swift’s perception, may
just have been realistic about the anatomy of the very old. It is possible
that all these elements were in play. But the women in this brief incidental
comment are merely an extreme example of what is said about all humans,
and the strongest charge of feeling in the entire chapter has to do not with
any particular sex or category, but with the merciless effect of age on the
body, mind and morals. The depravity of the Struldbruggs is general, not
specific; instinctive, not willed; a natural consequence of age and illness,
Gulliver’s Travels 123
not something they or anyone else can ever have prevented. We are now
entering satirical territory of a new kind, in which depravity is not the
mark of what people do, but of who they are. The Struldbruggs are a very
small group, ‘not . . . above Eleven Hundred . . . of both Sexes in the whole
Kingdom’ (and these are, by definition, the historical grand total), but
their sins and nastiness are what flesh is heir to. They sketch out, in a small
prophetic way, the guilt of being merely human, and thus prepare us for
the Yahoos.
It is in the much debated fourth book that the fiction brings us to a
stark and irreducible definition of what humans are (i.e. Yahoos) and are
not (rational animals, like the Houyhnhnms). That Swift’s concern was
a definitional one, to challenge the traditional idea that humans, unlike
other beasts, are rational animals, is made clear in the famous letter to Pope
of 29 September 1725, written as Swift was completing the work:
I have got Materials Towards a Treatis proving the falsity of that Definition
animal rationale, and to show it should be only rationis capax. Upon this
great foundation of Misanthropy (though not Timons manner) the whole
building of my Travells is erected.39

The ‘Definition animal rationale’ is the standard textbook proposition that

humans, unlike beasts, have an ability to ‘reason’ or think. Much ink has
been spilt on rationis capax (capable of reason), but in fact the phrase does
not mean anything different from the original ‘definition’, in its modest
textbook sense. Swift’s friend Bolingbroke wrote to him on 14 December
1725: ‘Your Definition of Animal capax Rationis instead of the Common
one Animal Rationale, will not bear examination.’40
In both the letter and the fiction, Swift is engaging in a verbal tease.
The absolute rationality of the Houyhnhnms, modelled on Plato’s Republic
and More’s Utopia, rests on a high or ideal use of the word ‘reason’, which
was never intended in the definition of animal rationale. Swift’s tactic is
to pretend otherwise, in order to say to the reader, ‘if you think man is
a rational animal, let me show you what a rational animal is really like’.
This has no logic as a response to the ‘definition’, but its poetry, so to
speak, carries a cheekily insulting sting. The deadpan violation of logic is
elaborately sustained by Swift’s attribution of a high rationality to a society
of talking horses, since the textbooks which taught the definition habitually
gave the horse as the example of choice of a beast possessing all faculties
except reason. The association was proverbial. The hero of Samuel Butler’s
Hudibras (1663–1678), a favourite poem of Swift’s, was ‘in Logick a great
Critick’, who would
124 Fiction
undertake to prove by force
Of Argument, a Man’s no Horse.41

Swift’s use, in the composition of Gulliver’s Travels, as well as in many

details of the letter to Pope, of the textbooks in philosophy habitually
taught in the universities of Europe at the time, is now well understood.
It establishes that, contrary to the bantering denial in the letter, he is not
challenging the truth of the ‘definition’, for what that was on its own terms,
but rubbing in the fact that humans have no right to pretend to the virtues
of high rationality, falling catastrophically short of a noble ideal. It is only
by a verbal sleight of hand that this shortfall can be redefined as a lack
of ‘reason’ in the definitional sense. The trick enables Swift to imagine
a world in which horses have wisdom while human-shaped creatures are
bestial, and thus to pretend that the ‘definition’ has been rebutted. It is
an insulting ‘logical’ refutation, but it acts only as an imaginative ploy or
debating point, and has no substance other than to suggest, again, that
if humans are like the Yahoo humanoids, they are no better than their
worst subgroups, ‘low-species’ or ‘low-race’, as some people are described
as low-class.
Swift’s correspondence with Pope is full of bantering tease. Its famous
phrases, ‘I hate and detest that animal called man’, ‘this great foundation
of Misanthropy (though not Timons manner)’, have an air of playful
overstatement which distances the writer from the full literal force of his
words, without contradicting them: the denial of ‘Timons manner’ merely
means that the ‘misanthropy’ won’t be that of a ranting recluse, like the
Timon of Lucian or Shakespeare. Swift’s letters about Gulliver’s Travels are
a rich guide to attitudes, so long as the habitual obliquities of his style are
taken into proper account. In a subsequent letter to Pope of 26 November
1725, he reversed his acknowledgement of misanthropy by an apparent
I tell you after all that I do not hate Mankind, it is vous autr[e]s who hate
them because you would have them reasonable Animals, and are Angry for
being disappointed.

It is evident even from this that the supposed denial cannot be taken at
face value, though there have been some insistent attempts to do so. At all
events, the letter continues:
I have always rejected that Definition and made another of my own. I am
no more angry with – – – [the blank is usually held to refer to Walpole, the
prime minister] th[a]n I was with the Kite that last week flew away with
Gulliver’s Travels 125
one of my Chickins and yet I was pleas’d when one of my Servants shot him
two days after.42

If the letters to Pope, and the portrayal of the Houyhnhnms, rely on an

actively unresolved friction between high and low, or ideal and mundane
(or technical) senses of the word ‘reason’, the same is true of the word
‘nature’ throughout Book iv. The Houyhnhnms’s name, we are told, means
‘the Perfection of Nature’ (iv. iii), and they live ‘according to’ Nature and
Reason in a high sense in which the two terms coalesce. The Houyhnhnms,
who don’t have laws, are surprised that Gulliver’s countrymen should need
them, because, as the master thought, ‘Nature and Reason were sufficient
Guides for a reasonable Animal, as we pretended to be, in shewing us
what we ought to do, and what to avoid’ (iv. v). Nature is the term for an
ideal order in the sense in which we still speak of a gross misdeed as an
‘unnatural act’, even if it was committed spontaneously and in conformity
with the perpetrator’s ‘natural’ impulses, or his ‘nature’. The latter meaning
is a lower usage existing in a tension with the higher, a tension which is
often present in ordinary speech, and is a matter of systematic awareness
and exploitation in Book iv.43
This same tension underlies the irony of Gulliver’s complaint in the
letter to Sympson that he has been accused of ‘degrading human Nature,
(for so they have still the Confidence to stile it)’. The remark suggests
that ‘nature’ is a misnomer when applied to humans. In practice, however,
Gulliver speaks of our ‘natural Vices’, reporting for example that the master
Houyhnhnm told him:
That, although he hated the Yahoos of this Country, yet he no more blamed
them for their odious Qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a bird of Prey) for
its Cruelty, or a sharp Stone for cutting his Hoof. But, when a Creature
pretending to Reason, could be capable of such Enormities, he dreaded lest
the Corruption of that Faculty might be worse than Brutality itself. He
seemed therefore confident, that instead of Reason, we were only possessed
of some Quality fitted to increase our natural Vices. (iv. v)

The idea of nature is here taken down two successive twists of a descending
spiral. The Yahoos have a natural depravity analogous to that of a Gnnayh
or bird of prey, whom it is appropriate to hate but not to blame, like the
kite in Swift’s letter of 26 November 1725, which flew away with one of
Swift’s chickens, and was shot two days later: the Gnnayh and the kite are
evidently echoes of one another, whichever was written first.
The kite in the letter is to some extent like men, whom Swift professes
not to hate or be angry with because they know no better. But a further
126 Fiction
distinction is introduced. It is Yahoos, not us, whom the Houyhnhnm says
he hates but does not blame. For ‘us’ he reserves a further escalation of
opprobrium, since we do know better, and since in our case it is reason
itself which appears ‘to increase our natural Vices’. It’s bad enough if vices
can be ‘natural’, but if reason can increase these, a new level of depravity has
to be acknowledged. The Houyhnhnm hopes there’s another explanation,
but the language of Book iv never allows this matter to rest. In a later
conversation, about the sexual mores of the Yahoos, and their bearing on
our own, Gulliver reports:
I expected every Moment, that my Master would accuse the Yahoos of those
unnatural Appetites in both Sexes, so common among us. But Nature it
seems hath not been so expert a Schoolmistress; and these politer Plea-
sures are entirely the Production of Art and Reason, on our Side of the
Globe. (iv. vii)

If much of Book iv intimates that humans are essentially the same as

Yahoos, and also somewhat superior to them, there is a simultaneous irony
to the effect that in some ways humans are also worse.
These disconcertingly conflicting signals emerge cumulatively from such
passages. In a similar barrage of mixed signals, humans are denied the reason
they take pride in, but also have it, and it makes them worse. These are
inconsistencies of incrimination, each of them offered as true, and the
atmosphere of generalised culpability, of either-way-you-lose, is locked in
more tightly with each turn of the screw. The sense that emerges is of the
radical incurability of the human condition, grounded in the ‘nature’ of
the human animal, and imprisoningly reaffirmed each time that ‘nature’ is
redefined. That these redefinitions occur in defiance of a local logic (our
lack of reason makes us worse than we think we are, but our possession
of it makes us even worse than that) causes discomfiture to the reader
and is one of the many features of what Swift meant when he wrote to
Pope that he was determined to ‘vex’ the world rather than ‘divert’ it. This
satirical manner is the opposite of the one practised by Pope (or Fielding,
or Gibbon), which aims to establish solidarity with the reader against a bad
world. Swift’s way is to disconcert and destabilise, creating a quarrelsome
ambience in which the reader is treated as belonging to the enemy.
Swift has been described as a satirist ‘of the second person’, and it is the
deep logic of his account of humanity that there should be no exceptions.
Sniping at the reader may be an expression of temperamental aggressiveness,
but it contributes to the suggestion that the reader, if only as a member
of the human race, is included in the general inculpation. In that sense,
Gulliver’s Travels 127
it follows that the narrator and the satirist are similarly included, a fact of
which Gulliver is painfully aware, and on the basis of which Swift often
makes clear (in many of his writings) that he also is not exempt. Whatever
improvements are available to humankind from good institutions and
laws and the practical accommodations of everyday life, the account of
humanity at the essential definitional level is bleak and uncompromising.
The universal depravity suggested by the work as a whole may perhaps be
compared with the generalised dismay at human doings which God is said
to have felt just before he released the deluge: ‘I will destroy man whom I
have created from the face of the earth’ (Genesis 6:7). The Book of Genesis,
which is an important textual presence in Book iv (although Gulliver’s
Travels is not a religious allegory), does not tell us in specific terms what the
wickedness was that made God angry. This creates an atmosphere in which
the wickedness seems self-evident and comprehensively incriminating, an
effect not unlike Swift’s, except that Swift’s fiction also provides, on another
plane, a large documentation of bad doings. It is not a coincidence that
when the Houyhnhnm Assembly debates the Yahoos, it does so in the
language of Scriptural punishment: ‘The Question to be debated was,
Whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the Face of the Earth’
(iv. ix).
This language has led some interpreters to argue that Swift portrayed
the Houyhnhnms as genocidal murderers, thus inviting us to read the
book as disapproving of them. To this one might answer first that the
Yahoos are beasts in the eyes of the Houyhnhnms, so that exterminating
them would be no different from exterminating some farmyard pest in the
human world. That the Yahoos nevertheless seem human to the reader adds
a black-humorous touch, no doubt calculated to offend us, but without
erasing the main point that in the story they are an alien and unhygienic
species. Secondly, the extermination is never carried out. The latest proposal
is not said to have been implemented, so that it hangs over the situation
as a disturbing possibility, without the potentially alienating shock of an
‘actual’ extermination, though a selective culling had already been made in
the past.
To the extent that a biblical association suggests divine retribution, there
is a macabre hint of just deserts. The real difficulty about supposing the
Houyhnhnms to be genocidal tyrants is the clear evocation of God’s words
in Genesis 6:7. If the Houyhnhnms are genocidal, so is God, and the
dominant implication in both the Old Testament and Gulliver’s Travels
is not that a wanton massacre is to take place, but that mankind deserves
the punishment. The divine utterance acquired currency, not only in later
128 Fiction
books of the Old Testament but in more recent history, as a preferred
vocabulary of systematic slaughter, recurrently parodied as such in Defoe’s
Shortest-Way with the Dissenters. Ironically, it was used by the Nazis, about
whom Swift did not know, but to whom the Houyhnhnms have been
compared. Indeed, the arguments as to whether the Yahoos should be killed
outright, or castrated (which would have the same result a generation later),
and as to how either scheme bears on the fact that Yahoo labour is useful
to the Houyhnhnm economy, prefigure the Nazi example with uncanny
precision. In an earlier round-up, the Houyhnhnms had once herded the
Yahoos in a camp before a selective extermination, and elsewhere in Book
iv useful objects are manufactured by Gulliver from the skins of Yahoos.
These resemblances speak tellingly to the modern reader. They show
an insight into the mental configurations of violent oppression, as these
inhabit an exploring and creative imagination, or on the other hand pro-
voke homicidal atrocities in the realm of action. They have about them
the dimension of black humour which the Surrealist André Breton iden-
tified with Swift on the eve of World War II, seeing it as a form of cruel
play, in which the imagination is set free among prohibited or unspeakable
matters, without inhibition from the ‘degrading influence’ of satirical or
moralistic purposes.44 It is implausible to think of Swift as jettisoning such
purposes, but there is a powerful sense, recognised by many readers, in
which his writing often spills over its official meaning or tendency, flirting
disturbingly with the forbidden, or indecent, or cruel, and this, too, is
related to his habitual cultivation of his reader’s discomfort. This is very
different from having, or endorsing, Nazi characteristics, or from attribut-
ing them, whether in complicity or disparagement, to the Houyhnhnms, as
some of the more reckless readings have suggested. Had Swift known about
the Nazis, the example of his treatment of lesser tyrannies and oppressions
makes it clear that he would have instanced them as a culminating example
of Yahoo depravity.
A difficulty for the reader is that all this material is mediated through a
narrator who is variously unreliable, and who in the later parts of the story,
prefigured in the 1735 edition by the letter to Sympson, seems actually
deranged. The suggestion, as the story unfolds, is that he has been shat-
tered into total misanthropy by his experience of human doings and the
revelation of the Houyhnhnm Utopia. This utopia, like More’s common-
wealth of that name, and like Plato’s Republic, is a ‘no place’, a country
of the mind, unavailable to human aspiration except as a notional ideal.
The sting is that the ‘no place’, which is also (through a pun on two Greek
words) a ‘good place’, is not for us. But it teaches Gulliver a standard to
Gulliver’s Travels 129
which humanity does not measure up, and he is apparently ‘crazed’ by the
experience. The formula of a crazed castigator is a tried way of expressing
satirical disaffection. It corresponds in colloquial speech to the situations
in which we say that something ‘drives us crazy’ or ‘makes us mad’, but is
open to a multitude of fictional elaborations.
One such is the close of the letter to Sympson:
I must freely confess, that since my last Return, some Corruptions of my
Yahoo Nature have revived in me by Conversing with a few of your Species,
and particularly those of mine own Family, by an unavoidable Necessity; else
I should never have attempted so absurd a Project as that of reforming the
Yahoo Race in this Kingdom; but, I have now done with all such visionary
Schemes for ever.

The idea that the world is unmendable, so that the satirist is a fool for
trying, is one of the oldest in satire, and occurs in various forms in all
Swift’s major satires from A Tale of a Tub to A Modest Proposal. It goes with
the ambiguous idea, partly rooted in the paradoxes of Erasmus’s Praise of
Folly (1511), that if the world is mad and bad, the satirist’s virtue will itself
appear mad by that standard, ambiguous because one can be virtuously
crazed, like the Modest Proposer, into a vicious alienation, like that of
proposing a wholesale cannibal trade, though the latter is itself a reflection
of an imputed depravity in the victims and oppressors alike.
Gulliver’s alienations are more benign. He is rude to the Portuguese
captain, and prefers the horses in his stable to his wife and family (iv. xi).
Some modest accommodations to human society are intimated in the front
matter, approvingly by Richard Sympson in ‘The Publisher to the Reader’,
disapprovingly by Gulliver himself, who refers to Yahoo corruptions which
‘have revived in me by Conversing with a few of your Species, and partic-
ularly those of mine own Family’. These changes are reported in prefatory
pieces, but in the story’s fictional chronology they postdate the last words
of Book iv, where Gulliver is wholly unreconciled. The last words, after
Gulliver’s report on human pride, are:
I dwell the longer upon this Subject from the Desire I have to make the
Society of an English Yahoo by any Means not insupportable; and therefore
I here intreat those who have any Tincture of this absurd Vice, that they
will not presume to appear in my Sight. (iv. xii)

This is about as unfriendly a treatment of the ‘gentle Reader’ as anything

in Swift’s writings. The language is petulantly unsocial, and clearly in
breach of polite conversational manners. Any comfort we may take from
130 Fiction
the thought that Gulliver is deranged must contend with the fact that the
reading stops on this sour note, and there is no competing voice offering
an alternative point of view.
The reader should have become accustomed by now to a certain with-
drawal of conversational good manners. The book’s prevailing tone is
quarrelsome and disorientating, programmed to ‘vex’ rather than divert,
and it is the antithesis of more conventional satirical styles which purport
to engage the reader’s solidarity. The fact that Gulliver’s attitudes seem
unbalanced or unsocial acts not so much to let humankind off the hook
as to distance the author from being partially discredited by what appears
to be excessive utterance. Since the account of human doings cannot be
shrugged off as untrue, Gulliver’s response appears ‘deranged’ only because
its truth has made him so, and if Swift has made him act in a comically
unbalanced fashion it is in order to distance himself from the comedy of
excess without conceding any flaw in the diagnosis which brought it about.
The lofty accents of Juvenalian denunciation, or the rant of ‘Timons man-
ner’, are exactly what Swift guarded against. As he said in another context,
he declined a lofty style, partly fearing to ‘make a Figure scurvy’.45 If any-
thing, Swift’s dissociation from Gulliver’s manner rather than his matter (as
he told Pope he rejected Timon’s manner but not the substantive misan-
thropy) tends to disconcert rather than to palliate, since the reader may feel
entitled to discount something, but cannot be sure what, or how much.
The reader is left, at the end, to negotiate this mood in a void, without
support or signposts from the author. Gulliver may be deranged, but there
is nobody to tell us any better, or to relieve the discomfort of this ‘vexing’
alienation. The whole work’s radical assault on human nature has settled,
in the reverberating afterlife of a reading, on the reader’s frayed defences,
where in truth it has been all along. This merely accentuates the ‘logic’
of the general diagnosis, which is that, if humans are what the story says,
this includes the reader, along with more passable specimens like the King
of Brobdingnag in Book ii, Lord Munodi in Book iii, the Portuguese
Captain in Book iv, and indeed the author himself. Good readers have
always understood that Swift is, in clear-eyed mischievousness, implicated
in his own satire.
Unsurprisingly, he has for some become the type of the demonic, raging
misanthrope, best known through Thackeray’s famous denunciation.46
That view ignores Swift’s carefully calibrated rejection of the righteous
denunciations of ‘Timons manner’, his persistent preference for working
aggressively in a lower key, and his fastidious humour on the subject of
Gulliver’s eccentric excesses. But Thackeray’s view is closer to the truth
Gulliver’s Travels 131
than that of readers who, in recent decades, have seen in Swift a bland
model of civic virtue, promoting postcolonial pieties, and repudiating the
Houyhnhnms as slave-owners and racists.
Gulliver’s Travels is also a very funny book, and a consummate work of
other-worldly fiction, operating with a brilliant inventiveness in a mode of
science-fiction realism. We should not forget that some early readers took
it for real. Swift had the skills, though not, like Defoe, the instincts, of
a novelist. He took care, in Gulliver’s Travels and elsewhere, to disabuse
gullible readers of any ‘illusion’ that they were witnessing life rather than
reading fiction. But the power to create what he was eager to neutralise may
be part of the appeal of Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s book, usually, in that
format, stripped of the bleaker satiric content and the aggressions against
the reader. If Gulliver’s Travels contains parody of Defoe, this necessarily
includes mimicry of Defoe’s skills as a mimic. The sarcastic idiom which
undermines this, to a sensitive reader’s discomfort, tends to be dropped in
children’s adaptations, which perhaps helps partly to explain why one of
the world’s most disturbing satires has also survived as a children’s classic.
chapter 5

Swift’s ‘I’ narrators

I begin with a passage about beginnings of novels. It is a ‘modern’ state-

ment about modern novels, and implies some sophisticated techniques of
narrative presentation which did not become matters of active discussion
until the second half of the nineteenth century. In this passage, from Ford
Madox Ford’s memoir of Conrad (1924), Ford tells how the two novelists,
working on their own novels and on the works they wrote together, came
to reject the traditional principle that novels should begin at the beginning
of the hero’s life, and then proceed ‘chronologically to the end’:

it became very early evident to us that what was the matter with the Novel,
and the British novel in particular, was that it went straight forward, whereas
in your gradual making acquaintanceship with your fellows you never do
go straight forward. You meet an English gentleman at your golf club. He is
beefy, full of health, the moral of the boy from an English Public School of
the finest type. You discover, gradually, that he is hopelessly neurasthenic,
dishonest in matters of small change, but unexpectedly self-sacrificing, a
dreadful liar but a most painfully careful student of lepidoptera and, finally,
from the public prints, a bigamist who was once, under another name,
hammered on the Stock Exchange . . . Still, there he is, the beefy, full-fed
fellow, moral of an English Public School product. To get such a man in
fiction you could not begin at his beginning and work his life chronologically
to the end. You must first get him in with a strong impression, and then work
backwards and forwards over his past . . . That theory at least we gradually

What has this to do with Gulliver’s Travels? It is neither ‘modern’ nor (at
least in many people’s view, including my own) a novel. A few readers
think otherwise, like the critic who once spoke of ‘the long suffering Mrs.
Gulliver’ as a ‘highly underestimated heroine’, but they may be thought
to belong to the remoter purlieus of sober academic dottiness. (There is
also a more recent, polemically driven, version.)2 I also think it a fair guess
that Swift wouldn’t be too hospitable to the idea that his book resembled,
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 133
or would be included in collections with, Robinson Crusoe, or Pamela, or
Tristram Shandy. On the other hand, the beginning of Gulliver’s Travels
is indeed at the beginning of Gulliver’s career, as in Ford’s complaint
about the beginnings of English novels: ‘My Father had a small Estate in
Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons. He sent me to Emmanuel-
College in Cambridge, at Fourteen Years old.’ And it proceeds from there
through Gulliver’s education, professional training, marriage and in linear
sequence through the second, third and fourth voyages.
Unlike the kind of modern novel postulated by Ford, and practised by
James or Conrad or Ford himself or Faulkner, Gulliver’s Travels has nothing
resembling that dislocation of narrative time which reports the events in
an order which the novelist requires for the unfolding of character and
situation in the way Ford envisaged. Its linear progression is generally free
even of that kind of interruption which you get in older romances, or
novels, or narrative poems, when there is a formal flashback in which a
character tells some past story about himself or others, or flash-forward
in which, as in epics, a prophecy is given of the future fortunes of the
hero or the national destiny of his race. The nearest we get to anything
like this is the section in Book iii where Gulliver in the magic land of
Glubbdubdrib is able to call up the spirits of the famous dead from the
past history of the world, a situation which really belongs to quite different
fictional conventions (found in Lucian and Rabelais, for example) from
the ones we are talking about. On the other hand, no one reading ‘My
Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons’
would suppose they were reading Lucian or Rabelais, a small example of
the generic uncertainty that is built into the whole fabric of the work.
But things are not, in fact, so simple. Gulliver is presumed to have
written his travels, or at least got them ready for publication, after coming
back from the land of the Houyhnhnms. When books i, ii and iii, along
with Book iv, were being put together, Gulliver was already the angry,
disenchanted misanthropist whose normal tone of voice is that of the end
of Book iv. The sober, placid, complacent Gulliver, lover of his kind and of
his dear country, whom we meet in the largest part of the first three books,
no longer exists. Readers of the final version of 1735 that we normally read
nowadays sense some of this from the start, because Gulliver’s prefatory
letter to his Cousin Sympson, and some other prefixed material, transmit
some warnings. But in 1726, when readers first opened the book, there was
little in the opening pages to arouse suspicion in an overt or formal way.
The narrative’s first effective note was that of Book i, Chapter i, more or
less unsubverted, discussed above:3
134 Fiction
My Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five
Sons. He sent me to Emanuel-College in Cambridge, at Fourteen Years old,
where I resided three Years, and applied my self close to my Studies: (i. i)

This is not the voice of the man, unreconciled to the Yahoo kind, who tells
us at the end that no English Yahoo with any tincture of the ‘absurd Vice’
of Pride should ‘presume to appear in [his] Sight’ (iv. xii). It is not even
that of the traveller who protests his honest truthfulness in the opening of
the final chapter, which may superficially seem merely to confirm at the
end Gulliver’s plain style and matter-of-fact reporting as we first met it in
the very first paragraph of all. But in that earlier first paragraph, there was
no sign of the dry, testy idiom, none of the unfriendliness to the gentle
reader of statements like ‘my principal Design was to inform, and not to
amuse thee’ (iv. xii), which is Gulliver’s version of Swift’s own declaration
about Gulliver’s Travels in the famous letter to Pope of 29 September
1725 about vexing the world rather than diverting it.4 The claim to have
avoided ‘strange improbable Tales’, as we have seen, comes oddly after a
narrative of little men, big men, flying islands, visions of past heroes in the
afterworld and a well-policed nation of rational horses.
In one sense, this is the classic claim of the teller of extravagant tales, in
the tradition of Lucian and Rabelais, and a broad parody of mendacious
travel writers who protest their veracity despite obvious untruthfulness. But
again, by the time we get to the end of Book iv, we have long been aware
that the extravagant worlds which we have been encountering were not
primarily on display for their extravagance, as parodies of untruthfulness,
but in order to allegorise and drive home what are represented as devastating
home-truths, perceived in terms not of visual resemblance but of moral
exposure. Any effect of feeling superior to tellers of tall tales is neutralised by
the insights into human conduct which Gulliver has actually and crushingly
revealed. The atmosphere is sour, beyond genial joking. Even the element of
travel-parody, insisted on here and whenever Gulliver protests his veracity,
is tart and unfriendly. The reader’s nose is rubbed in a repeated reminder
that travellers are travel-liars, when parody of travel books is hardly the
main point of the fable.
In Book i, Chapter i, we do not in any case know that parody is taking
place, or did not in 1726, when the book was new, and there was no
letter to Sympson and no frontispiece mention of ‘Splendide Mendax’.
To the best of our knowledge, the factuality there is straightforward, with
no references to bad authors and no sniping at the reader. It could be
the simple, unpretentious beginning of a genuine autobiography, or of a
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 135
Defoe fiction, or of a straight travel book, or a ‘realistic’ travel fiction. This
generic indeterminacy eventually imposes confusions of wavelength which
generate their own aggressive resonances, but few unforewarned readers
of the first-edition text would be likely to be aware of these at this early
stage. What is heard in effect is the unfraught voice of the original gullible
Gulliver, cheerful, amiable and truthful according to his lights, the Gulliver
who (as we later learn) no longer exists.
Up to a point, this reflects a strategy throughout the work in which
Gulliver is made to speak of each earlier episode in the tone of voice
of the character as he was when he is supposed to have experienced the
events described, and not as he ultimately develops. It is a trick of narrative
to which it would be inappropriate to ascribe any systematic Jamesian
manipulation of consciousness. In some ways, it is a situational counterpart
of the historic present, that rudimentary grammatical device in which past
events are described in the present tense for a familiar rhetorical effect of
narrative immediacy and conviction. It also provides a kind of dramatic
enactment of chronological sequence, contributing in its own way to that
tradition of linear temporality of which Ford complained.
But there is something else. Swift is hardly given to cultivating immedia-
cies of this kind, which have their own relation to the emergence of nov-
elistic reporting, but which were discouraged by the canons of a patrician
culture which, though himself non-patrician, he upheld with an accen-
tuated fervour. These were reinforced by a quasi-Platonic objection to
‘dramatic’ imitation which he shared with many contemporaries: witness
the distaste which attends the proleptic parody of Shandean intimacies in
A Tale of a Tub, at least as ferocious as Fielding’s treatment of Richard-
son’s novel in Shamela. The beginning of another work by Swift, three
years later than Gulliver’s Travels, may help to provide a focus: A Modest
Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland, from being
a Burden to their Parents or Country; and for Making Them Beneficial to
the Publick. Both the title and the opening paragraphs, as in Gulliver’s
Travels, contain no obvious hint to first-time readers that they are reading
what will turn out to be a disconcerting work, in this case a proposal for
mass-infanticide and a cannibal trade. Just as in Gulliver readers are led to
think they are reading a straight narrative (whether factual or fictional), so
in the Modest Proposal they are for some time given no hint that anything
other than a straightforward socio-economic tract is involved. When the
disclosure comes in the Proposal, it is short, sharp and clear cut; in Gulliver
it is more elusive, less immediately dramatic, more elaborate and doggedly
continuous, as one might expect from a longer, more ambitious and more
136 Fiction
comprehensive fictional work, which is also more subtly bewildering and
unstable. But in both cases, readers are led up a garden path, and then
dropped in an unsavoury ditch.
This is partly a matter of softening-up, so that the shock, when it
comes, is more startling. It is also a practical joke or hoax. The art of
literary hoaxing is an ancient one, and a literature which sets high store
by irony has a particular tendency that way. Built into it is the risk, or the
chance, that what is said with an oblique purpose will be taken straight by
an unguarded reader, as Defoe’s extermination proposal, the Shortest-Way
with the Dissenters, was taken straight. Mock-praises were sometimes taken
as real compliments, to which Pope added a further twist, in a work in
which praise was meant as ironic attack:

Besides, a fate attends on all I write,

That when I aim at praise, they say I bite.5

Swift was more of a hoaxer than most, and the Bickerstaff Papers, in which
he wrote as an astrologer, are his most sustained, but by no means his only,
exercise of pure hoaxing, with a full-scale follow-through in real life. The
hoax is in some ways desiderated by one of the dominant traditions of the
emerging novelistic genre, that of Richardson’s ‘to the Moment’ fictions
and of Flaubert’s dramatic ‘illusion’. As we have seen, those who wrote
to Richardson begging him to spare Clarissa, or to Dickens about Paul
Dombey, were paying tribute to powerful fictional skills. The recurrence
of such phenomena in TV soap operas, and the pride of the creators of
these effects, are a reminder of the novel’s demotic affiliations, and would
be unlikely to endear themselves to Swift on those grounds.
Gulliver’s Travels, like the Modest Proposal, in this sense begins as a hoax.
Unlike the Bickerstaff or Ebenezor Elliston pamphlets,6 the Gulliverian
hoax is interrupted within the work itself, in the interests of satiric strate-
gies of surprise, shock and disillusion. This is followed by an unfolding
satiric allegory which we are invited to take more seriously than the fic-
tional trimmings, and which leads to disconcerting undeceptions and some
calculated, illusion-destroying instabilities. So quite soon, we are supposed
to know. Few readers are taken in throughout, though, as has been noted,
some readers thought that the story claimed to be a true record of fact,
including the hapless Irish bishop who was taken in by the belief that he
was meant to be taken in.7
If the hoax could be worked in this way on some readers, that would
serve for the amusement of Swift and his friends. If one of the readers
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 137
happens to be an Irish bishop, so much the better. But, as I have argued, if
all readers took Gulliver’s Travels straight, most of the point would be lost,
and Swift depends for his total effect on a reader’s awareness of at least a
large proportion of the work’s ironic turns and counter-turns. The example
of Defoe’s Shortest-Way with the Dissenters gave Swift, Pope and Fielding
grounds for anxiety about the power of large-scale ironic utterances to be
taken straight. It is easy to forget how unusual works like the Shortest-Way
might have seemed, and how different from the old paradoxical encomia
of Lucian or Rabelais, or Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, where the act of irony
was played as performance more than as plausible mimickry, and offered
mainly to learned readers skilled in decoding allusive obliquities. In a sense,
the full deceptive flavour even of the opening paragraphs of Gulliver or the
Proposal can only be experienced if the reader knows what is coming. The
1735 reader, and first readers today, are thus to some extent put on their
guard, though they might have no clear idea of what they are supposed to
guard against. The full awareness, however, can only start at the second
Gulliver’s Travels thus partly resembles those novels of Conrad or
Faulkner whose deployment of incident and event is such that they need,
almost by definition, to be read more than once for the earlier parts to
be fully intelligible. In the case of Gulliver’s Travels, however, this is not
because the chronology has been dislocated, and not in order to provide
a particular perspective on a particular character or situation, but because
of the pervasive demands of an aggressive ironic unfolding. Gulliver acci-
dentally becomes a kind of Jamesian consciousness in order to serve this
irony, which not only typically proceeds by local opportunities and oppor-
tunisms, but has to negotiate, in its large design, a continuous unstable
relationship between the one-time naı̈ve Gulliver ostensibly presupposed
by the narrative, and the final unillusioned state which is actually his from
the beginning of his act of narration, though we don’t know it. He speaks
as he does not because he is such and such a character, developing or mod-
ulating in this or that way, adopting tones of voice that respond to changes
and to pressures in his circumstances or temperament, but because Swift
is using him to project larger satiric purposes, in a manipulation of ironic
indirections, not of novelistic point of view.
It should be noted that Gulliver’s changing voices and inflections are not
in detail (though they may be in rough outline) a progressively developing
continuum, from naı̈ve gullibility to extreme disillusion. Readers have often
noticed that there are moments in the early books when the mask of the
naı̈ve panegyrist slips, allowing some uncharacteristic blistering sarcasm to
138 Fiction
come explicitly to the surface; or in the final book, when the morose and
disenchanted misanthrope suddenly finds himself praising or defending
some iniquitous practice of his own dear native country. The changes and
counterchanges in Gulliver’s voice are those of an authorial irony, not of a
novelistic character or narrator. And the irony demands, not that the reader
should be wholly captured by the illusion (as might be the case either in a
novel, or in a hoax), but that he should be aware that irony is in fact taking
The effect depends, then, on informed recognition, even in Book i,
Chapter i, paragraph 1. How could Swift expect to achieve it in 1726,
when there were no letters to Sympson, and no ‘Splendide Mendax’ under
the portrait of Captain Lemuel Gulliver, as there were to be nine years
later in 1735? The only prefatory piece in 1726 was ‘The Publisher to the
Reader’, signed by Gulliver’s cousin, Richard Sympson. It gives no more
away as to Gulliver’s state of mind than the first paragraph proper, telling
of Gulliver’s present residence, of his family antecedents, and of his living
‘in good Esteem among his Neighbours’. It notes that the family ultimately
came not from Nottinghamshire but from Banbury: perhaps readers might
pick up a whiff of potential irony, for Banbury was famous as a hotbed
of Puritan Dissent, and the biblical name Lemuel might confirm some
Dissenting association, followed up in the first paragraph of Book i proper
by the reference to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a College known for
its Puritan sympathies. There are some references to Gulliver’s factual style
of writing, including a hint that it was perhaps a little ‘too circumstantial’
(echoed later by Gulliver himself in contexts where we know the situation
better). There is also his veracity (also proclaimed later, when we know
more), about which Sympson says ‘that it became a Sort of Proverb among
his Neighbors at Redriff, when any one affirm’d a Thing, to say, it was as
true as if Mr. Gulliver had spoke it’ (later we can relate this to his learning
in Houyhnhnmland not to say the thing which was not). Cousin Sympson
also notes that Gulliver uses too many technical terms of seamanship, and
gives too many details of longitudes and latitudes, and that he had had
to cut many of these, to Mr Gulliver’s dissatisfaction. Finally, he offers to
show the original manuscript to anyone who wants to check.
Some of these points are taken up by Swift in Gulliver’s letter to Sympson,
not printed until 1735, but from that time onwards always inserted before
Sympson’s own ‘The Publisher to the Reader’. We tend to read ‘The
Publisher to the Reader’, as well as the opening of Book i, through spectacles
coloured by this later letter of Gulliver, prefixed to both, and we cannot be
sure how much of the irony we would have captured originally, unaided.
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 139
But some, at least, perhaps. Puritan associations, a highly circumstantial
style, and a large-scale use of seamen’s jargon or other terms of art, were
badges of disreputability or solecism. The inappropriateness of minute
detail or specialised terminology in polite literature was a commonplace
principle among the readers to whom Swift addressed himself. Fielding
made a telling contrast between the factual pedants (historians, topogra-
phers) who give mere facts and no insight, and the imaginative writer who
is interested in large enduring truths and may even get his facts (including
his topographical facts) wrong: ‘it being the Business of the latter [i.e.
the topographers] chiefly to describe Countries and Cities, which, by the
Assistance of Maps, they do pretty justly, and may be depended upon: But
as to the Actions and Characters of Men, their Writings are not quite so
authentic’ (Joseph Andrews, iii. i). We may note that in Book ii Gulliver
offers his services to the cartographers, to help them to get Brobdingnag in
and dispel the view that there is no land between Japan and California –
a glimpse, among many, of Gulliver as projector, as well as a jibe at his
relentless particularity in offering us boring and pointless information of
the ‘topographical’ sort, in the narrower, and also in Fielding’s wider, sense
of that term (ii. iv).
A flat, plain style would also carry with it overtones both of the Puritan
and of the scientific (and the two would be related to one another, rightly
or wrongly, and for complex reasons, in the contemporary imagination,
earning parallel and equal opprobrium in readers whose sympathies are
presupposed by Swift’s, as by Fielding’s, ironic register, different as these
are from one another in other ways). So in ‘The Publisher to the Reader’,
as in the opening of Book i, certain small vibrations might be set up. In
‘polite’ readers, a touch of superiority would be felt at the expense of the
author if taken straight, and in complicity with the author at the expense of
both Sympson and his cousin Gulliver if the irony was sensed at once. In a
sub-gentlemanly or non-polite reader, the sort of reader who read Robinson
Crusoe, for instance, any tendency to accept the idiom at face value would be
felt by Swift to be legitimate for a moment’s hoax, followed by a hammering
of disillusion. The stage, then, is set. But we are talking of brief opening
moments, and the first edition’s relatively subdued proclamations of these
things may not have been sufficient, even for contemporary readers more
sensitive to such overtones than we can be.
The objective of neutralising the potential for a protracted hoax is fun-
damental to the purpose. Without it, a large part of the satiric meaning
collapses. It was essential that the fictional illusion be destroyed, and a
strong sense established that we are reading an author with a palpable
140 Fiction
design upon us, whether we know him to be Jonathan Swift or not. An
effect contrary in every respect to the Flaubertian programme, whose twin
objectives were precisely the effacing of the author and the achievement
of illusion, is of the essence of the Swiftian enterprise. It is evident that
the clues planted throughout the early pages of the first edition text were
found to provide an insufficient guarantee, since the old gentleman who
looked for Lilliput on his map, the sea captain who knew Gulliver and
the Irish bishop who wasn’t going to be taken in, displayed a readerly
innocence incompatible with Swift’s design. It is mainly this, in my view,
which brought about the letter to Sympson. This letter not only destroys
at the outset all possibility of an innocent reading of an innocent Gulliver,
but, with its testy complaints about the book’s failure to mend the world
and the visionary nature of any attempt to do so, brings into an ostensibly
Gulliverian discourse some commonplaces of satirical rhetoric which iden-
tify the presence of a satirist speaking through him. That presence is
pervasive, and is only missed, in any protracted way, by obtuse readers.
The modern academy is full of old gentlemen, of all ages, and some of
them become Irish bishops in a present-day globalised and secular guise.
In the innocence-destroying project, the letter to Sympson is not the
only element. Gulliver’s frontispiece portraits also play a part. They have
been studied by Jenny Mezciems, Peter Wagner, Jeanne K. Welcher and
others, including, most recently, Janine Barchas.8 I will not examine them
in detail, but will here confine myself to the summary statement of a set
of parallel progressions: in the first edition of 1726, as has been noted,
the portrait gives Gulliver’s name and age, the latter the same as Swift’s;
a second state of the portrait, also 1726, adds a quotation from Persius
(ii. 73–4) hinting teasingly at his honour and purity of mind; in both,
but only to those in the know, the portraits resemble or suggest a likeness
to Swift. In 1735, compounding the letter to Sympson, the caption says
‘Splendide Mendax’, from Horace (Odes, iii. xi. 35), meaning ‘magnificently
false’, or ‘lying splendidly’ (the phrase is adverbial and not, as sometimes
understood by the critics, adjectival), signalling beyond ambiguity that no
innocent reading of Book i Chapter i will ever be possible again. Also the
work, though by Gulliver, appears in volume iii of an edition of the Works
of Swift, and volume i has a portrait of Swift, widely remarked as resembling
the portrait of Gulliver in volume iii. What those in the know could decode
in 1726 is now available to all observant readers in 1735: there are intimations
of relation between Gulliver and Swift, and simultaneously a declaration
of Gulliver’s unreliability. The confirmation of the former is reinforced
pari passu with the escalation of suspicious circumstances, culminating in
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 141
1735 with maximal indications of both, operating in pictorial signals as well
as in prefatory text.9
Similar things had occurred textually between the Dean and the Drapier.
Clive Probyn has reminded us that this was not only continued by Thomas
Sheridan, who gave the Drapier Swift’s birthday in the Intelligencer, but
was extended pictorially in the cuts to the Proposal for Giving Badges to
the Beggars, a work, incidentally, which is almost exceptional in being
published in Swift’s own name.10 The essential point is of an intimate
traffic between fictional concoction and a self-disclosure both paraded
and withheld. It may be linked to a mode of reambiguition in prefa-
tory afterthoughts, which may be observed in Renaissance authors at
times when the post-publication history of a work has suggested a poten-
tial for reductive and simplified readings. An example is the transition
between successive versions of two successive essays of Montaigne, i. xxx
and i. xxxi.11
The progressive changes in the portraits, like the introduction of the
letter to Sympson, bring into view a traffic between Swift and his fic-
tional speakers, his ‘I’ narrators, named and unnamed, who are always
his ‘spokesmen’, even when advancing opinions adversarial to his own. In
the well-known letter of 29 September 1725, Swift wrote to Pope about
the ‘great foundation of Misanthropy (though not Timons manner)’, on
which ‘my Travells is erected’, and said that ‘I never will have peace of
mind till all honest men are of my Opinion.’ He (not Gulliver) continues
in a peremptory, dry, bullying voice that is reminiscent of the author of
the Tale or Mr. Collins’s Discourse: ‘by Consequence you are to embrace
it [my Opinion] immediatly and procure that all who deserve my Esteem
may do so too. The matter is so clear that it will admit little dispute.’ The
remark is jokey. But it is a jokiness which is not self-disowning, and the
peremptoriness it projects is one which Swift shared with some of the most
derided of his fictional speakers. Compare the ‘Digression on Madness’:
‘And this I take to be a clear Solution of the Matter’ (which comes after
a spate of asterisks), or Mr Collins’s ‘you cannot but have perceived it
from what I have already said . . . You are also to understand’, and so on.12
In his letter to Pope, Swift was writing many years later than either the
Tale or the Discourse. Gulliver’s Travels was nearing completion and would
be published the following year, on 28 October 1726. Five months later,
on 2 April 1727, Gulliver himself wrote the letter to his Cousin Sympson
which since 1735 has been printed in front of Gulliver’s Travels, but which
postdated the book even more than most other prefatory items do, since it
was written not only after the book was written, but after it was published.
142 Fiction
Its given date bears a rough but inexact relation to Gulliver’s complaint
that ‘after above six Months Warning, I cannot learn that my Book hath
produced one single Effect according to mine Intentions’ (p. 6). The actual
arithmetic points to five months and four days, and the letter of 2 April
1727 first appears in a revised edition eight years after its own date.
Exactly when Swift made Gulliver write that letter we do not know. Its
designs are complex, and my argument has been that, like the 1735 fron-
tispiece which tells us that Captain Lemuel Gulliver is ‘Splendide Mendax’,
it has as one of its objectives a signal, to any reader who might be taken in
by the plain traveller’s style of Gulliver’s voice in i. i, that this is no ordinary
travel book or realistic travel fiction. A few readers had been hoaxed, as we
saw, and while this was convenient and amusing in a limited way, the satire
depended on your not being hoaxed. So the reader of the final version of
1735 opens with a letter from Gulliver which is cantankerous, distinctly
unbalanced, preening and point-making, and full of a righteous sense of
his own rightness.
What is interesting in the present context about Gulliver’s ex post facto
prefatory letter is what it has in common with Swift’s own letter to Pope,
more than a year before Gulliver’s Travels was published and some time
before it was even finished, when none of the reasons for talking like
Gulliver to his cousin Sympson existed, so far as anyone was likely to be
aware, either in real life or in the fiction as it has come to be known.
That bossy expectation that honest men will be of his opinion, that Pope
will ‘embrace it immediatly’, and that ‘the matter is so clear that it will
admit little dispute’, is not in any simple sense a parody of Gulliver, but if
temporal sequence is anything to go by, may even be read as the subject of
parody by Gulliver:
instead of seeing a full Stop put to all Abuses and Corruptions, at least in
this little Island, as I had Reason to expect: Behold, after above six Months
Warning, I cannot learn that my Book hath produced one single Effect
according to mine Intentions.

Swift is here pretending that Gulliver was not so much expecting results
as being prevailed on to publish against his own better judgement: ‘I
do . . . complain of my own great Want of Judgment, in being prevailed
upon by the Intreaties and false Reasonings of you and some others, very
much against mine own Opinion, to suffer my Travels to be published’
(p. 6). That Gulliver lurches from the one to the other is a familiar double-
bind. Either he knows his truths are so absolute that everyone must agree
as soon as they’re pointed out, or he knows the world is so unmendable
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 143
that there’s no point in pointing anything out. Both these Gullivers existed
before the letter to Sympson and pervade the fourth Book especially (which
we read after, but was written before):
I hope, I may with Justice pronounce myself an Author perfectly blameless;
against whom the Tribes of Answerers, Considerers, Observers, Reflecters,
Detecters, Remarkers, will never be able to find Matter for exercising their
Talents. (iv. xii)

Gulliver’s expectation that everyone will mend comes to much the same
thing as his expectation that no one will. It expresses reverse sides of the
same irony from his elusive maker. In the letter to Sympson, this was to
modulate into that ultimate irony of the satirist projector, that his projects
are doomed to failure and that he has ‘now done with all such visionary
Schemes forever’ (p. 8). This is also the conclusion projected by that
otherwise very unGulliverian character, the Modest Proposer, when, giving
up all Swift’s own sensible expedients as ‘vain, idle, visionary Thoughts’,
he settles for more extreme measures (PW, xii. 117).
This speaker, too, has his relations with the Swift of the letters, who offers
to drown the world in a second deluge if he could with safety, because unlike
his friends, vous autres, he doesn’t hate mankind, because he doesn’t expect
anything of it, but wouldn’t object to seeing it shot.13 Much ink has flowed
since critics used to quote ‘I do not hate Mankind’ and omit the rest. The
second half of the passage has had a proper airing from a variety of readers
who have had the stamina to read the next sentence. The letter bears an
important relationship to the passage in Book iv where Gulliver reports
the Master Houyhnhnm as hating ‘the Yahoos of this Country’ while he
‘no more blamed them for their odious Qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a
Bird of Prey) for its Cruelty’ (iv. v). In both, the hating and not hating, and
hating and not blaming, really come to much the same thing, complicated
by a local distinction between Yahoos and humans which tends to the
greater discredit of the latter. Not blaming, as in the letter to Pope, in fact
expresses the contempt of not expecting any better. But the Houyhnhnm
goes on to say that ‘when a Creature pretending to Reason’ behaved as
humans do, ‘he dreaded lest the Corruption of that Faculty might be worse
than Brutality itself’, a conclusion which not only impishly intimates both
‘hating’ and ‘blaming’, but suggests, as elsewhere in Gulliver’s Travels,
that if humans resemble Yahoos it is only at the cost of being actually
In this case, too, the letter was written before the fictional statement
was published. In the fiction, Gulliver is speaking not his own direct
144 Fiction
thoughts, but what his master told him. The statement about hating but
not blaming Yahoos is superficially antithetical to Swift’s remark about not
hating mankind. And yet I take it that few readers would seriously question
that both passages are intimately related variations on the same irony, their
antithesis very similar to that between expecting mankind to mend at once
and not expecting it to mend at all, both of which occur in Gulliver’s and
in Swift’s letters.
The traffic between Swift’s letters and his fictional works, the interplay
of ironic voices from one to the other, or from straight in one to ironic
in the other, the fictional parody of literally presented selves and the epis-
tolary parody of fictional self-projections, the fictions parodying straight
statements and letters parodying fictions, is a huge subject still largely unex-
plored. Even the elementary and obvious examples, like the ones above,
or the connection between ‘the chief end I propose to my self . . . is to vex
the world rather th[a]n divert it’ in the letter of 29 September 1725 and
Gulliver’s statement to the gentle reader in the opening of iv. xii, ‘my
principal Design was to inform, and not to amuse thee’, are only noted
occasionally, in passing. Which came first? Was ‘inform’ a variation on
‘vex’, or vice versa? We shall perhaps never be sure, but the fact of which
we are sure is that of an electric traffic between them, a tense and inti-
mate bond between obliquities of the Swiftian voice and those of his most
fictionalised personae.
The important issue is not the character of Swift’s personae or ‘I’ nar-
rators, but the perpetual elusive interplay, with a central authorial energy
operating behind them. One does not need the ‘external’ fact of the letters
to arrive at this conclusion. In Gulliver’s final chapter there is a famous
scenario of colonial conquest, discussed more fully in the previous chapter,
in which Gulliver attacks the typical ‘execrable Crew of Butchers’ who
invade some distant land and its harmless natives, and tyrannise over them
in the name of Christianity. Gulliver then goes on, against the run of this
argument, to praise British colonial conquests: ‘But this Description, I
confess, doth by no means affect the British Nation, who may be an Exam-
ple to the whole World for their Wisdom, Care, and Justice in planting
Colonies’ (iv. xii. 294). The shift would be surprising at any time, in such
a context, but is especially surprising here because at this late stage in the
Travels Gulliver has insistently established himself as an uncompromising
misanthropist, while the remarks about ‘the British Nation’ would seem to
belong to the long-extinct Gulliver who used with Pavlovian regularity to
praise his own dear countrymen in all things. Has Gulliver momentarily
reverted to an old reflex? Or is he really making a distinction between
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 145
British and foreign empires, as others did, from Hakluyt to Darwin and
Conrad? Or is he suddenly being sarcastic, in the manner of Swift, with a
tendency to ironic obliquity which even the most devout believers in the
autonomous integrity of Swift’s personae have usually resisted attributing
to him?
I suggest that we don’t know, shall never know, don’t care, or ought
not to care; that the answer is unavailable, though the question has to
be asked, if only to highlight the unavailability of the answer, as well as
its ultimate irrelevance. What we do know with clear certainty is that in
the first passage, attacking the ‘crew of Butchers’, the effective satiric voice
is attacking European colonial conquests much as Gulliver is, and in the
passage about the British it is attacking colonial conquests while Gulliver
is, or purports to be, praising them. (It would seem to be another case
of antithetical positions coming to the same thing, like hating mankind
or not hating it because one expects no better, or like expecting to mend
the world immediately and not expecting to mend it at all.) It is of very
little effective interest whether he is, or is merely purporting to be, praising
the English; whether he is being inconsistent, or subtle; whether he is
discriminating between colonialisms, or else after all being sarcastic about
each one of them, like Swift himself. What matters is that the essential
Swiftian sarcasm gets out somehow, and that the point about disreputable
colonialisms, British or other, should make itself felt.
Robert C. Elliott has insisted in one of his finest essays that it is important
to register demarcations, when, for example, the speaker in the ‘Digression
on Madness’ is praising the surface of things, and then suddenly breaks the
rules of his fictional game in a more directly Swiftian sarcasm about the
serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves. I retain my conviction
that attempts to focus on the demarcation at every point risk leading to
‘deserts of circularity’.14 Gulliver and the Tale’s author are indeed formally
set up as separate persons from their author, and the satire depends on
this fact for an endless variety of effects. But in the last analysis, if there
can be a last analysis of endless effects, the focus is on the effects, endlessly
shifting, not on the character of the persona or the exact momentary nature
of its relationship to its author. In the colonial onslaught, the explosive fact
is the attack on oppressors, not the nature of the speaker. It is useful to
think not of a continuously changing persona but of a continuous shifting
interaction between the surface voice and at least one other behind it, and
usually best to concentrate on the point being made, not on who is making
it. To vary the metaphor, if you want to stay on the rails you should be
guided by the silent train driver, not the chattering passengers.
146 Fiction
A variant of ‘I’ narration which would repay more study than it has
had is the trick of using the third person when talking about yourself, like
Dylan Thomas calling himself ‘Young Mr. Thomas’ in his autobiograph-
ical stories, or Mailer calling himself Mailer in several of his books. This
third-person ‘I’ is a Shandean legacy of sorts, almost literally puppyish
in Thomas’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, and bizarrely macho-
Shandean, if such a mixture is possible, as everything in this department
seems possible with Mailer. Swift, who parodied Shandeism in advance in
A Tale of a Tub, was himself not free of its temptations. Robert Elliott
pointed out that the most frequently used word in Swift’s poems is ‘his’,
outnumbering even ‘I’, and very often associated with some third-person
incarnation of Swift, like ‘the Dean’, which Elliott calls ‘a dramatized
version of the first person pronoun’.15
Those resistant to the idea of a simpering Shandean streak in Swift
might recall in this connection that highly unpleasant poem Cadenus and
Vanessa, where Cadenus is also, after all, an anagrammatised Dean. Elliott
doesn’t go into Swift’s Shandeism, but he is to be saluted as one of the few
Swift critics who dislike the impartial commentator in the Verses on the
Death precisely because it is a coy third-person subterfuge for celebrating
himself.16 The objection is not to the self-celebration, but to its coy pre-
tence to be something else. The self-apologies of Pope’s autobiographical
poems (the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated, the Epistle to
Dr. Arbuthnot, the Epilogue to the Satires) sustain the assurance of their own
self-praise, and do not base their claim to the honours of grand language
on a coy pretence that the language isn’t really theirs. Pope’s personae have
their own Shandean moments, as in the coy lines about piddling on broc-
coli and mutton round the year, and we have no right to think we have
disposed of any embarrassment when we have made our ritual bow to the
satirist’s ethos or the Muse of Satire, important as these things are.17 The
adoption of postures or the donning of ‘masks’ is open to all the risks and
temptations of self-regard which attend other forms of speech, and writers
must assume responsibility for the personae they select. That is why Kurt
Vonnegut, for all his own syrupy Shandeism, had a point when he said, ‘We
are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to
be.’18 Swift’s Cadenus and his ‘impartial’ commentator are cases in point.
They do him less credit than he might wish to claim, and he perhaps knew
it. He is, for better and worse, one of the most egocentric writers in the
language, but one who always took special care to avoid seeming so. The
rare unguarded displays, on sensitive occasions, of this deep temperamental
guardedness, tend to seem clumsy or callous, or both.
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 147
His first-person narrators are, by contrast, almost always overtly pre-
sented as fools, in the Tale, Gulliver, A Modest Proposal. Even the Drapier,
the nearest thing to an exception, is really treated de haut en bas. When an
‘I’ breaks through who isn’t such a figure, as in the extraordinary outburst
in A Short View of the State of Ireland (1728): ‘But my Heart is too heavy to
continue this Irony longer’, the effect is startling to the point of shocking-
ness (Elliott incidentally writes brilliantly on this).19 The Short View as a
whole is a first-person work, not by a fool, but even here the self-exposure
is minimal. The ‘I’ is perfunctory and seldom invoked, and its ‘Irony’
is presented as a series of impersonal maxims or propositions, true of all
other countries except Ireland. When the ‘I’ steps out of the impersonality
of perfunctory phrases like ‘I am assured’ or ‘I have sometimes thought’,
the effect is explosive and unbalancing: unbalancingly strong if you like,
but hardly in the same league of memorable effects as the famous passage,
non-first-person and generalising, about ‘the Thorn at Glassenbury, that
blossoms in the Midst of Winter’, which occurs two paragraphs earlier and
in fact has an arguably stronger personal charge than the direct personal
confession about Swift’s heavy heart.
The Short View suggests that when Swift writes in the first person without
a mediating speaker, the writing will normally be formal, generalising, and
relatively impersonal. The Conduct of the Allies (1711) is a case in point. Its
opening is:
The Motives that may engage a wise Prince or State in a War, I take to be one
or more of these: Either to check the overgrown Power of some ambitious
Neighbour; to recover what hath been unjustly taken from Them; to revenge
some Injury They have received; (which all Political Casuists allow); to assist
some Ally in a just Quarrel; or lastly, to defend Themselves when They are

The sober discursiveness reads like a non-ironic version of Gulliver’s

account of the causes of war:
Sometimes one Prince quarrelleth with another, for fear the other should
quarrel with him. Sometimes a War is entered upon, because the Enemy is
too strong, and sometimes because he is too weak. (iv. v)

The Preface to the Conduct, read first but once again presumably written
last, has a greater directness, prefaces being places where authors explain
themselves. It is correspondingly more fraught with hints of potential self-
parody. The price of beginning with the first person singular, ‘I cannot
sufficiently admire the Industry of a sort of Men’, is that before long the
148 Fiction
author is talking like the speaker of the Tale or Mr. Collins’s Discourse in
their most headily peremptory manner, but also like the mock-bossy Swift
of the letter to Pope about Gulliver: ‘I lay it down for a Maxim, That’ (in
the body of the Conduct the same note is occasionally struck: ‘I shall here
give a Translation . . . which will put this Matter out of Dispute’).21
One of my contentions is that Swift’s ‘I’s, when they are serious, are often
close to self-parody. Another is that, as between the Conduct and its Preface,
or between Gulliver’s Travels and the prefatory letter to Sympson, there
lurk nuances both of resemblance and of difference which repay study,
remembering always that prefaces are afterthoughts to the writer and only
forewords to the reader, and that there may be an inverse relationship of
colloquial directness to directness of authorial projection, so that the most
colloquial openings are those of non-Swiftian figures. Gulliver’s ‘I hope
you will be ready to own publickly’ (letter to Sympson) or ‘My Father had
a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons’, do not
come over as simple, direct utterances if we think of them as emanating
from the author rather than the fictional character. The same is true of the
Drapier’s ‘What I intend now to say to you’.22
The opening of the first pamphlet of Arbuthnot’s History of John Bull
(1711), narrated by Sir Humphry Polesworth, has a similar ring: ‘I need not
tell you of the great Quarrels that have happen’d in our Neighbourhood’,
an eruptive colloquial intimacy which hardly puts the reader in intimate
touch with its real-life writer. Mention of Arbuthnot brings me to a closing
suggestion for the stylistic investigation of another self-displaying tease.
Arbuthnot’s Art of Political Lying (1712) and A Brief Account of Mr. John
Ginglicutt’s Treatise Concerning the Altercation or Scolding of the Ancients
(1731), purport to be not themselves but abstracts or summarising accounts
of other books, like Swift’s Mr. C—ns’s Discourse of Free-Thinking, Put
into Plain English, by Way of Abstract, for the Use of the Poor (1713).23 The
sting in the closing phrase of the latter title reappears in the text of another
work of the same year, Swift’s satirical Preface to the B—p of S—r—m’s
Introduction (1713): ‘Let me turn this Paragraph into vulgar Language for
the Use of the Poor’, which combines a similar display of mock-bossiness
with the impudent swipe at readers gratuitously assumed to be indigent.24
Mr. Collins’s Discourse is in fact a satirical abstract of an existing book,
Anthony Collins’s Discourse of Free-Thinking (1713). Some other mock-
abstracts were free-standing. The making of these abstracts, the pretence
that one’s own or some other author’s work is an abstract when it isn’t,
and the exploitation of such fictions in satire, are the subject of an allusion
in the Introduction to A Tale of a Tub, which is both a mini-application of
Swift’s ‘I’ narrators 149
the pretence and an elaborate coded tease on the topic.25 It would be useful
to know more about the summarising or anthologising habit implied by
this, common in Augustan satire, as well as practised in earnest, and not
confined to abstracts in the formal sense, and what its interplay might be
with the presentation of selves serious and comic. Mr Collins’s abstracter
begins ‘I Send you this Apology for Free-Thinking, without the least hopes
of doing good.’26 He sounds like Swift, or Gulliver, or the Modest Proposer,
and he is preceded by a Preface.
part iii
chapter 6

Rage and raillery and Swift

The case of Cadenus and Vanessa

Cadenus and Vanessa is Swift’s longest poem and one of his most directly
autobiographical. It was published in 1726, the year of Gulliver’s Travels, but
was drafted much earlier, probably around 1713, when Swift became Dean
of St. Patrick’s.1 Cadenus is an anagram for Decanus or Dean. Vanessa, a
girl’s name now widely used, but which is said to have been invented by
Swift, is the fictional name of Esther Vanhomrigh, a woman with whom (as
also with Stella) Swift had a tutorial-erotic friendship whose exact nature
has remained unclear. The poem appeared after Vanessa’s death in 1723,
perhaps after an unauthorised publication forced Swift to produce it. It
may never have been intended for publication, and certainly has a sticky
intimacy. But it was made public and owned, and it shows in strong relief
certain features that are recurrent in some of Swift’s other well-known
It is an elaborately gallant fiction in which the Court of Venus has to
hear a plea as to who is more to blame for the modern decline of love: the
men, who have ceased to pursue it, or the women, who aren’t worthy of
the pursuit. Venus decides to test the case by forming a perfect woman,
with every beauty and every quality of mind, and Vanessa is the result. The
notion that women can and should be admired for the same intellectual
qualities as men, instead of being treated as angels or as ornamental dolls,
is implicit here, as it is explicit in the ‘Letter to a Young Lady, on her
Marriage’ (1723, PW, ix. 83–94), and the poems to Stella. In that sense, the
supposed misogynist Swift comes closer to a rational feminist position, as
we might recognise it now, than do Pope, Steele, or Addison, whose more
overt friendliness to women took a form of genial quasi-urbane gallantry
which Swift contemptuously called ‘fair-sexing’.2
On the other hand, when the poem describes the creation of Vanessa, we
learn that Venus can only obtain the intellectual virtues she wants Vanessa

154 Poetry
to have through the cooperation of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom; and that
to get that cooperation, she must hide from Pallas the fact that Vanessa
is a girl (185 ff.). Pallas is thus duped into sowing into the presumed boy
‘Seeds long unknown to Womankind, For manly Bosoms chiefly fit, The
Seeds of Knowledge, Judgement, Wit’ (203–5); Pallas is furious at the deceit
(250 ff.). And when Cadenus, Vanessa’s teacher, contemplates her progress,
it was with ‘the Master’s secret Joy In School to hear the finest Boy’ (552–3).
In this, the poem resembles a passage in the ‘Letter to a Young Lady,’ in
which Swift reassures her against the fear of joining the derided species
‘who are commonly called learned Women’, on the grounds ‘that after all
the Pains you may be at, you never can arrive, in Point of Learning, to the
Perfection of a School-Boy’ (PW, ix. 92). It is just possible that Swift’s irony
here indicates some gap between society’s perceptions and his own; or that
he is suggesting that the young woman in question is disadvantaged by
not having had the schoolboy’s years of instruction. But these possibilities
don’t seem available in the poem, where deities make prior assumptions
as to which virtues are appropriate to each sex. For reasons that escape
me, some feminist critics, in the face of Swift’s reputation for misogyny,
have nevertheless taken up this poem as a shining example of ideological
correctness on Swift’s part, a choice almost as baffling as the current erection
into a feminist hero of the rancid old patriarch Samuel Richardson.3

Cadenus and Vanessa, on any reading, precipitates some questions about
Swift and women. But I think that this poem raises even more fundamental
issues which have to do with Swift’s relations with himself, and which
inevitably bear on his relations with others: with women of course, and
lovers, but also with readers and that animal called man. I shall be arguing
that Cadenus and Vanessa is vitiated by a kind of curdled Shandeism, which
afflicts some of the most admired autobiographical poems, including the
Verses on the Death. And at the heart of this bad faith is a species of irony,
a coy self-derision, which is sometimes loosely referred to as ‘raillery’ but
which functions in specialised ways, and is, also loosely perhaps, frequently
paired or contrasted with ‘rage’. The latter is traditionally associated with
Swift but something he was reluctant to display. This is evident from his
insistent denial of a ‘lofty Style’ (described in Cadenus and Vanessa, 796–7,
as a manner ‘Which he had taught her to despise’, and more elaborately
repudiated in the Epistle to a Lady, 140, 218). It includes, but is not confined
to, his declared preference for ‘that kind of Satyr, which . . . gives the least
The case of Cadenus and Vanessa 155
Offence . . . [and] instead of lashing, Laughs Men out of their Follies, and
Vices, and is the Character that gives Horace the Preference to Juvenal’,
while somehow portraying ‘Vices of all Kinds in the strongest and most
odious Light’.4
This remark is made apropos of the Beggar’s Opera, a relatively genial
work, to which the Horatian half of the antithesis will seem broadly appro-
priate, remembering, however, that Swift is not well known for his concern
that satire should give the least offence; and also that Gay’s opera is hardly
remarkable for placing vices in ‘the strongest and most odious Light’. The
discriminations thus seem a little unfocused, not quite true of the opera or
consistent with one another: unfocused in the manner of much of Swift’s
writing on Gay, perhaps because he is so much given, on the subject of Gay,
to throwing himself back into his own personal obsessions (on matters of
preferment and careers as much as on problems of writing style). We get
some refinement of essentially the same distinction in the Epistle to a Lady,
which speaks of lashing and smiling as simultaneous (139) and not, as in
the Intelligencer essay, as mutually opposed, and of scorning rather than
hating because scorn torments the victim more than spite does (144–6).
The Epistle to a Lady also amplifies Swift’s famous remark to Pope about
vexing the world into an image of making the victims ‘wriggle, howl, and
skip’ (180), of setting their ‘Spirits all a working’ (206), while the poet
would hang them if he could (170).
The denial of angry denunciation, the refusal to concede rage, is a tease,
a form of concealment through raillery, which proclaims anger by a show
of its opposite: it is part huffily quarrelsome (as though saying I’m not
angry with them, they’re beneath my anger, etc.), and part rhetoric of the
‘I am no orator as Brutus is’ variety. But it is also a denial of manner
rather than substance. ‘This great foundation of Misanthropy (though
not Timons manner)’,5 as I have suggested, means hatred without railing,
protective of the speaker’s cool, preventing the figure scurvy, getting in first
with the tease. As a tease, it carries the characteristic expectation that some
people will be taken in; and also the expectation that the rest should ask
‘if he’s not angry what is he?’, registering the question as a rhetorical bind.
Saying he’s not angry is thus also saying that he’s not not angry, while
keeping his guard and disturbing the reader’s. Sometimes, as in Swift’s
other displays of pseudo-coolness (most notably in the Modest Proposal),
the tease is heightened by deadpan utterance, the verbal equivalent of the
clown’s straight face. It’s a case of substantive ‘rage’ coming over in the
guises of ‘raillery’, Swift’s true refusal being not so much of ‘rage’ as of
156 Poetry
There is an opposite, or perhaps a complementary process, where the
forms of rage are indeed loudly in evidence (as in the relatively rare cases
of Traulus or the Legion Club), not disguised by denials but partially
undercut or disarmed by their own excess. In these late, overtly vitriolic
denunciations, Swift gave himself over to some primitive routines of ritual
cursing which go back to ancient flyting traditions and to Irish bards
who rhymed men dead. In The Legion Club (1736), drumming routines
of magical imprecation are occasionally laced with an incongruously easy
air of Byronic or Audenesque informality, where playfulness is delightfully
evident, in a context where no suspicion could possibly arise that there was
any lack of rage in the emotional package. It’s a sophisticated defence in
the very teeth of a certain kind of lofty style, a ‘low’ lofty style, but charged
with indignant denunciation. It is, in a sense, aestheticised: the game of
ritual cursing is not merely entered into, it is played self-consciously for
all it is worth, and it is the suggestion of this, in the diablerie of full-
scale performance, that acts as a reticence of overstatement, whereas in
‘I do not hate mankind’ we have an opposite reticence of disavowal or
This is a trick Swift practised in other contexts, where there was a risk
of appearing emotionally over-committed. In the so-called poems of body-
hatred, it is widely recognised that whatever Swift may have felt about
the thought that Celia shits, the Strephons who overreact to it are the
subject of much comic exposure. But in the horrors of ‘A Beautiful Young
Nymph Going to Bed’ there are no such obvious opportunities for self-
disengagement through a pointed display of ‘raillery’. The poem is dry, and
relentless in its listing of scabrous particulars. By the end of his life, even
Irvin Ehrenpreis had stopped believing that all of this was just a matter of a
conscientious clergyman warning against fornication. But in the early essay
in which Ehrenpreis propounded this view, he also demonstrated that one
of the things Swift was doing in this poem was working on a traditional
formula in which a fine woman or handsome man is disassembled of what
turns out to be an aggregation of mechanical parts.6 What he did not
say was that Swift went beyond most of the analogues in the listing of
scabrous particulars, and that arguably there seems to be a straight-faced
impulse to outdo the competition in cheeky perfectionist bravura, playing
the gimmick for all it is worth. This is a variation on the manner of Traulus
and the Legion Club, where the excess gets a dry, flat formulation, as in
the Modest Proposal, rather than an exuberantly animated one. But it is the
same kind of excess, a ‘raillery’ that qualifies the display of ‘rage’ (or other
shocking disclosure) and by doing so enables its release.
The case of Cadenus and Vanessa 157
The bravura exercise of outdoing suggests at once that he can play the
game with the best and that he is not imprisoned within it. The figure
he makes remains secure, not scurvy. Raillery becomes a means of say-
ing that even when he most seems to be in Timon’s manner, the manner
isn’t quite Timonic, though the substance is. This needling defensiveness
is one source of Swift’s strong, aggressive power. It is also what makes
Swift give himself, in the Verses on the Death, all the praises of a tra-
ditional apologia, but remove the responsibility for this to an impartial
commentator, conveniently invented by himself. Cadenus and Vanessa has
in common with the Verses on the Death a note of light raillery which
enables certain self-regarding obliquities to take over. These are designed
to disguise or neutralise embarrassment at poetic acts of self-celebration or

The long poem about Swift’s friendship with Esther Vanhomrigh shares
many features with his other, and quite splendid, group of autobiographical
love poems, to Stella; but has a solipsistic coyness of its own. The discursive
postures are similar. The arguments, against romantic love, and in favour
of more soundly based friendship, are given more elaborate utterance,
and Vanessa is praised for having (in addition to beauty and grace) all
the moral and intellectual qualities for such friendship. But the poem
shows her developing a romantic passion for Cadenus because those very
qualities make her uninterested in, and superior to, the common forms
and customary objects of courtship. Swift is not only the embarrassed
object of her passion, but is shown to have aroused it by teaching her
those high intellectual standards which made it possible for her to fall in
love with him. And she is indeed made to declare that the very lessons he
taught her, made her love him. Compounding these things are the barely
concealed complacency of an older man at being beloved by a young
and beautiful woman; and his pretence of being above such things, itself
conveyed through a mock-pretence of being beneath them, unworthy,
embarrassed by his own vanity, and so forth (598–817).
The fussy registering of these ironic consequences of the teacher/pupil
relationship may be contrasted with the passionate forthrightness of Eloisa’s
casuistry in Pope’s ‘Eloisa to Abelard’:

Guiltless I gaz’d; heav’n listen’d while you sung;

And truths divine came mended from that tongue.
158 Poetry
From lips like those what precept fail’d to move?
Too soon they taught me ’twas no sin to love.
Back thro’ the paths of pleasing sense I ran,
Nor wish’d an Angel whom I lov’d a Man.
Dim and remote the joys of saints I see,
Nor envy them, that heav’n I lose for thee.

Part of the difference has naturally to do with the different emotional pitch
of the two poems, and with the fact that Eloisa’s words are spoken in
the grimly distressing circumstances which readers know to have befallen
the lovers (the poignantly unhappy outcome of Vanessa’s story in real
life, or the mythologies surrounding it, are not in the same way known
historical facts in Swift’s poem, which was written, though not published,
before Vanessa’s death).7 The essential awkwardness of Cadenus and Vanessa
resides in Swift’s embarrassed posture as both the retailer of her feelings
and the object of her passion. In this context, the self-exculpations of the
narrator seem mealy-mouthed:

Cadenus, who cou’d ne’er suspect

His Lessons wou’d have such Effect.

The autobiographical exposure is barely disguised by the ostensible dis-

tancing or formality suggested by the Latinised names. Indeed the trans-
parency of these names flauntingly neutralises the disguise, adding to it a
flavour of self-exhibition, teasingly insistent in its effect as the overt use of
real names, or alternatively of frankly fictitious ones, would not have been.
The enterprise lacks the clear and open tenderness, the delicate blend of
romantic gallantry and jokeyness, which inform Swift’s use of the name
Stella. The pseudo-mythological montage of classical fancy dress in which
Vanessa’s beauty, good sense and fatal passion are made to appear as prod-
ucts of a complex divine imbroglio, and in which Venus, Cupid and Pallas
manipulate the human agents to their own purposes, barely disguises a
sheepish discomfiture. The decorative indirection heightens, rather than
depersonalises, the febrile fuss. And when Venus’s Court of Love at the
end condemns all men because a perfect creature like Vanessa ‘never cou’d
one Lover find’ (867), the gallantry with which Swift takes the blame to
himself, implicitly becoming one with the foolish beaux who cannot love
a clever woman, leaves a sour taste. Voiture, the witty French poet who
taught Swift ‘That Irony which turns to Praise’, has turned to vinegar.8
The case of Cadenus and Vanessa 159
Throughout the poem, Swift goes through the motions of a frank self-
analysis whose implication is that only he is at fault. He is old, unworthy
of her, ‘understood not what was Love’ (547). The latter claim, unlike
similar remarks to Stella, again carries a simpering self-exculpation. Swift
makes Cadenus return to it (768–9, 786), not only with the alternative
promise of ‘Gratitude, Respect, Esteem’ (787) and of more rational and
durable pleasures, but with an admission that Cadenus was aware of his
own special pleading, as well as of being flattered by Vanessa’s love:
So when Cadenus could not hide,
He chose to justify his Pride. (762–3)

These luxuries of self-exposure are, in various ways, ironic. But the irony
is part of the exhibition, self-mockery – as in Sterne or Byron – adding a
further coil to complex indirections of display, though less ‘openly’ than in
Sterne or Byron. Sterne’s self-irony is simultaneously a freely indulged self-
cherishing, however, and where he criticises himself within it he seems less
dedicated to the substantive censure than to the piquant complexities of the
censuring self. If an indecorum or embarrassment results, it will in turn be
taken up, freely played with, ritualised in a lavish exhibition of introspective
personality. Such indulgence Swift could not admit, even to himself. It is
an important target of the anti-‘modern’ satire in A Tale of a Tub. But all
the face-value lucidities of his self-criticism in the poem do in practice go a
long way towards protracting the embarrassment, without taking Sterne’s
final step of making the embarrassment itself part of the game. What results
is an uneasy and unintended ‘modernism’, not parodied in a figure whom
Swift ostensibly rejects outright, as in the Tale, but emanating from a
character who (even more than Sterne’s Tristram) is a confessed projection
of the real author, as the name Cadenus makes clear. The fact throws light
on the strange kinship of Swift to his satiric butt in the Tale, but the latter’s
self-expression is protected by fictional concealments, releasing energies of
mimicry which are free from official authorial self-involvement.
This protection is lacking in Cadenus and Vanessa. In one passage,
however, omitted from some early editions, a radical concealment does
occur, the reader being told that he will never learn the outcome of the
But what Success Vanessa met,
Is to the World a Secret yet:
Whether the Nymph, to please her Swain,
Talks in a high Romantick Strain;
Or whether he at last descends
160 Poetry
To like with less Seraphick Ends;
Or, to compound the Business, whether
They temper Love and Books together;
Must never to Mankind be told,
Nor shall the conscious Muse unfold.

The last line is a tease of the same kind as Tristram Shandy’s secret about
his relations with his dear, dear Jenny.9 Did Vanessa end up talking in
‘high Romantick Strain’ in order ‘to please her Swain’ (the point being that
Cadenus had in fact ‘taught her to despise’ the ‘lofty Style’ (796–7), and
did Cadenus finally lapse to ‘less Seraphick Ends’, like the philosopher in
the Mechanical Operation ‘who, while his Thoughts and Eyes were fixed
upon the Constellations, found himself seduced by his lower Parts into a
Ditch’ (Tale, p. 187)? Swift puts himself potentially on a par with all the
canting moderns and hypocritical Puritan zealots, but it is presumably
because the poem will not tell us what really happened that Swift allows
himself the luxury there of openly inviting the speculation. He is saved from
confessional excess by a coy confession of unwillingness to confess. The
unwillingness to tell is less objectionable than the ostentatious production
of the not telling.
Two-thirds of the way through the poem, Cupid, in search of a man
likely to be acceptable to ‘A Nymph so hard to be subdu’d’ (496), discovers
I find, says he, she wants a Doctor,
Both to adore her and instruct her;
I’ll give her what she most admires,
Among those venerable Sires.
Cadenus is a Subject fit,
Grown old in Politicks and Wit;
Caress’d by Ministers of State,
Of half Mankind the Dread and Hate.
Whate’er Vexations Love attend,
She need no Rivals apprehend.
Her Sex, with universal Voice,
Must laugh at her capricious Choice.

Here, the paraded self-depreciation takes the form not of concealment,

half hinting at a sexual lapse, but of acknowledgements of unlovability
belied by the counter-intuitively bewildering fact of Vanessa’s passion.
Mock-incomprehension readily resolves itself into a fond self-praise, not
The case of Cadenus and Vanessa 161
only in the intrinsic nature of the situation, but through complimentary
additives to do with Swift’s sagacity, his prowess in politics and wit, the
power (political or satiric or both) which makes him ‘Of half Mankind the
Dread and Hate’. Formally, Cupid is speaking, not Swift, but he’s scripted
by Swift on the subject of Swift. Nothing would more clearly illustrate the
bankruptcy of the old persona-criticism than a pedantic disengagement
which failed here to register appropriate interactions between speaker and
author. The two are not, of course, identical, but it is the nature of an
author’s investment in the persona, and not the latter’s separate character,
that demands appropriate recognition.
Cupid’s words are variously revealing about Swift’s modes of self-
projection. And the characterisation of Swift in the middle:
Cadenus is a Subject fit,
Grown old in Politicks and Wit;
Caress’d by Ministers of State,
Of half Mankind the Dread and Hate,

highlights the fact that in the atmosphere of self-regarding obliquity which

disfigures this poem, it is not women who are at issue, but Swift’s own sense
of himself. These lines are an example of a mode of eloquence, common
in Swift’s poems about himself, which consists of a gingerly, quasi-ironic
indulgence of the ‘lofty Style’ he ostentatiously disavowed. One of the best-
known examples is ‘The Author upon Himself’, probably written the year
after Cadenus and Vanessa in 1714, which contains some vaunting of his
influence with ministers about which Samuel Johnson wrote scornfully:10
S— had the Sin of Wit no venial Crime;
Nay, ’twas affirm’d, he sometimes dealt in Rhime:
Humour, and Mirth, had Place in all he writ:
He reconcil’d Divinity and Wit.
He mov’d, and bow’d, and talk’t with too much Grace;
Nor shew’d the Parson in his Gait or Face;
Despis’d luxurious Wines, and costly Meat;
Yet, still was at the Tables of the Great . . .

And now, the publick Int’rest to support,

By Harley S— invited comes to Court.
In Favour grows with Ministers of State;
Admitted private, when Superiors wait:
And, Harley, not asham’d his Choice to own,
Takes him to Windsor in his Coach, alone.
At Windsor S— no sooner can appear,
162 Poetry
But, St. John comes and whispers in his Ear;
The Waiters stand in Ranks; the Yeomen cry,
Make Room; as if a Duke were passing by.
(‘Author upon Himself’, 9–16, 27–36)

Swift himself could deal with his ‘childish’ vanities with a light-hearted
grace, a feature of the poems about himself of which gestures of ironic
undercutting are in a sense the clumsy trace. In a ‘Panegyrick on the D—n’
(1730), purportedly spoken by ‘a Lady in the North’ (Lady Acheson), he is
Envy must own, you understand your
Precedence, and support your Grandeur.

A blurring of commitment to the self-evaluation, through irony and the

choice of proxy speakers, is evident even here. In ‘The Author upon Him-
self ’, a powerful if uneven poem, the tone teasingly hovers between what
gossip might be supposed to be saying (‘’twas affirm’d’) and what the author
himself would say in his ironic perspicacity, and the self-regard occasionally
has the air of something of which the author seems anxious to wash his
hands, without really giving up its satisfactions. This is also true, perhaps
especially so, of the most famous of the poems about himself, the Verses on
the Death.
chapter 7

Vanessa as a reader of Gulliver’s Travels

Vanessa died in 1723 and Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, but
Vanessa is variously connected to a master-work she cannot have seen
in print. She is thought to be alluded to in the scene in which a young
female Yahoo lusts after Gulliver (iv. viii). Gulliver is appalled and takes
evasive action, though he concedes that the creature’s ‘Countenance did
not make an Appearance altogether so hideous as the rest of the Kind’.
The churlish concession might be seen to bear some relation to Swift’s
backhanded compliments to his women friends, as well as tapping into
some traditional gallantries or mock-gallantries of travel writers, describing
sexual encounters with ‘native’ women, from Vespucci to South Pacific
visitors in the age of Cook and Bougainville.1 The differences are as striking
as the similarities. The tender turns of affectionate mock-insult to Vanessa
or Stella may not seem, in their specific texture, very like the snarling
admission that the young Yahoo was less hideous than ‘the rest of the Kind’.
By the same token, Gulliver’s horrified panic at the female’s pass is at some
distance, in emotional resonance, from Swift’s embarrassed urbanity, in
Cadenus and Vanessa, in dealing with the thrusting importunities caused
by Vanessa’s passion for him, in the poem as in life.
But there is surely a structural resemblance in both cases, and it is
arguable that the example of an older male coping with the inconveniently
insistent advances of a younger female captures a pattern in Swift’s relations
with women, though Vanessa was a special case. The autobiographical
association has detained more than one commentator, though perhaps with
no more than the slight emphasis which seems proper to the case. Thus
Paul Turner suggests that the female Yahoo evokes Vanessa, ‘who, though
nearly 25 years his junior, fell in love with Swift . . . Gulliver’s experience in
the river seems almost like a grotesque parody of Vanessa’s pursuit of Swift
to Ireland (1714) and his discouragement of her sexual advances.’2
Outside psychobiography and its shadowy alignments is a context in
which Swift’s mapping of the Yahoos’ relationship to human groups in
164 Poetry
the real world also points to Vanessa, though in such a way that Vanessa
is uncoupled from the Yahoo brute, rather than identified with her, sub-
verting the parallel without altogether neutralising it. This is especially
the case in the poem Cadenus and Vanessa, probably begun in 1713 but
not published until spring 1726, a few months before Gulliver’s Travels
itself, Vanessa herself having died in the meantime. In the poem, presum-
ably touched up close to the time of publication, Vanessa is seen as the
pointed antithesis of groups which Gulliver’s Travels identified with Yahoo
brutes. The chattering suitors whom Vanessa rejects are identified by her
as lacking the qualities which ‘distinguish’d Man from Brute’. She scorns
other women for their fondness for ‘A Dog, a Parrot, or an Ape, Or some
worse Brute in human Shape’ (345, 39–40). Both the predicament, and
the imagery, permeate the correspondence between Swift and Vanessa, a
reflection of shared attitudes to a foppish circle of acquaintances, but also
probably in shared awareness of the poem, which remained throughout
the years a private icon of their friendship and a repository of intimate
mythologies and jokes. In the 1720s especially, both of them constantly
refer to Swift as ‘Cad’. The term does not appear to have acquired its
later associations of ‘caddishness’, though it is arguable that, had it done
so, Vanessa might have wished to evoke them in the bitter sequel of their
friendship. But she used the word in correspondence with affection and
without malice.
Testimony to the poem’s active life in the sentimental transactions
between them is the fact that (on 12 August 1720) Swift suggested a com-
panion piece or sequel:

What would you give to have the history of Cad─ and ─ exactly written
through all its steps from the beginning to this time. I believe it would do
well in Verse, and as long as the other. I hope it will be done. It ought to
be an exact Chronicle of 12 Years; from the Time of spilling the Coffee to
drinking of Coffee, from Dunstable to Dublin with every single passage

(Coffee was, as everyone knows without quite knowing what it signifies, a

coded word between them, and its spilling recalls an episode at a chance
meeting, perhaps their first meeting, at an inn in Dunstable in December
1707.)4 The new poem would have been a circumstantial history, rather
than a mythological fantasy of Vanessa’s creation, with its legal proceedings
at the court of Venus, to which Swift refers as ‘the other’. This companion
poem seems not to have been written. But the correspondence includes
verses to Vanessa, which overlap in thought and tone with Cadenus and
Vanessa as a reader of Gulliver’s Travels 165
Vanessa, and seem related in Swift’s mind with the new project. The letters
themselves are full of parallels with Cadenus and Vanessa, promoting the
same moral that virtue and qualities of mind are the conditions for enduring
friendship or love, jeering at the shallow crowd of beaux and belles, together
with a vocabulary of brutes and beasts, the ‘bestes en juppes’ (beasts in skirts),
who are said, in a letter by Swift written in his self-conscious and slightly
mannered French, not to belong to the same order of creation as Vanessa.5
The latter passage in particular plays with the same ambiguous conceits of
difference of species as the poem and as Gulliver’s Travels, and reinforces a
sense of Vanessa’s ‘presence’ in the episode of the young female Yahoo, since
it is a feature of the psychobiographical sphere that antithetical tendencies
coexist and reinforce one another as they do not in linear discourse.
In any event, Swift must have had a sense of the connection between the
language and attitudes of Vanessa in the poem and the big work of fiction
which was nearly ready when the poem appeared, and which he had been
working on since before Vanessa died in 1723. Vanessa’s exposure to brutes in
the poem, and her treatment of them, connects with a biographical incident
in which Vanessa actually appears as a reader of the as-yet-unpublished
Gulliver’s Travels. She wrote to Swift in June 1722 about the guests of ‘a
great lady’ she had been visiting:

their form’s and gestures were very like those of Babboons and monky’s they
all grin’d and chatter’d at the same time . . . one of these animals snatched
my fan and was so pleased with me that it seased me with such a panick that
I apprehended nothing less then being carried up to the top of the House
and served as a friend of yours was but in this one of their owne species
came in upon which they all began to make their grimace’s.6

The allusion is to the episode where the Brobdingnagian monkey carries

Gulliver off ‘to a Roof that was next to ours’ (ii. v). The scene of Gulliver
‘in the Monky’s arms upon the roof’ is one of several which Swift, some
years later, listed to Benjamin Motte in a letter of 28 December 1727, as
potentially providing material for ‘cuts’ or illustrations to the book.7
As Harold Williams noted, Vanessa’s letter suggests that she had seen
drafts of books ii and probably iv of Gulliver’s Travels. Swift evidently
shared with her, and a very small circle, including also Charles Ford, the
fact that he was writing this fiction, a secret he otherwise guarded carefully.
In his next extant letter to her, on 13 July 1722, Swift reports his making
use of bad weather ‘to read I know not how many Books of History and
Travells’. (To Ford he wrote nine days later that the same weather had
made him ‘read through abundance of Trash’.)8 There is some scholarly
166 Poetry
recognition of Vanessa’s knowledge of the draft of Gulliver’s Travels, and
perhaps even of early recognition on her part of ‘the resemblance of Irish
society to that of the Yahoos’.9 The would-be ravisher of Vanessa is clearly
male, and, as in the poem, the brutes would seem to be of both sexes.
Vanessa may or may not have known the Yahoos, but in the world of
Gulliver’s Travels, the Yahoo brute who lusted after Gulliver, and Vanessa,
who lusted after Swift, seem to merge in Swift’s imagination as both bestial
and human, all too human.10
Vanessa’s response is perhaps the first critical insight we have into
Gulliver’s Travels. It has been seen, rightly or wrongly, as a confirma-
tion of the perception that the Yahoos are in a specific sense an allegory of
the wild Irish, within the broader umbrella of ‘all savage Nations’, whose
common features (hairy bodies, thick lips, flat noses) the Yahoos are said
to share. This is not the place to rehearse, except summarily, the fact of an
English vocabulary about Ireland, from Spenser and Camden to Carlyle
and after, which borrowed the language of European accounts of American
Indians, and continued through the nineteenth century and beyond, in
the form of analogies between the Irish and American or African natives.
The special point about Vanessa’s response is that the young people
she thinks of as analogous to brutes are in fact not the ‘native’ Irish, but
foppish beaux and belles from well-to-do Anglo-Irish families, ethnically
and socially Swift’s own group. Their brutishness, in Vanessa’s letter, as
in Swift’s poem, is the drawing-room variety and not the bog version. In
other words, they’re precisely the people who like to exclude themselves
from the standard account of the ‘savage old Irish’, of which the Yahoos,
including the young lecherous female, are in the first instance an example.
By identifying the suitors with the creatures in Swift’s book, Vanessa is
making the unexpected point that the ‘polite’ classes she moves among
are the natural equals of the native herd whom they (as well as Swift and
presumably she herself ) despise. Her perception uncovers a process more
explicitly developed in the cannibal scheme of the Modest Proposal, where
the traditional canard about cannibalism among the Irish natives is first
evoked, with stinging force, and then redirected to the rich ruling groups
who become the actual consumers of the natives’ offspring. The extension
from despised group to ruling group, and of both to representatives of
humankind, is a Swiftian signature, and Vanessa quickly saw into at least
part of it. If the young female Yahoo does contain an allusion to Vanessa
herself, that itself, in a characteristic Swiftian way, implicates those whom
Swift admires or cares for, including often himself, in the universalising
reach of his satire.
Vanessa as a reader of Gulliver’s Travels 167
Readers accustomed to the self-implicating tentacles of Swift’s satire may
be only slightly surprised to be reminded that the brutish ways so liberally
attributed to Yahoos, politicians, fashionable youths of both sexes and every
other incarnation of Englishness and Irishness, are occasionally, like all his
castigations, redirected to himself. The man who behaves like a ‘brute’
when he is ill, disturbing his patiently devoted nurse by indecent ravings
and ‘brutish passions’, is neither Yahoo nor beau, but Swift himself, writing
to Stella on her birthday in March 1724, ‘when I was sick in bed’ (32, 10–11;
Poems, ii. 754–5). It is not at all uncharacteristic that he should thus apply
one of his habitual terms of universalising castigation to his own person,
and in a mood of desolate confessional poignancy.
Nobody ever missed the point that the Yahoos had something to do with
humankind until a small army of post-World War II pedagogues came and
largely went. They belonged to a brief moment in the long history of
academic eccentricity when people not only wanted their authors to be
politically palatable, but were convinced that all authors were, or could
be reinterpreted to be, what the interpreters wanted them to be. The
manifest applicability to Swift himself of his satiric anatomy of the human
animal has not always been clearly perceived, though the broadness of its
reach has otherwise been understood by admirers and detractors alike. The
hostile identification of the Yahoos with the Irish was, in one form or
another, rampant in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and indeed
became a staple of anti-Irish denigrations. Although it has been a scholarly
commonplace since at least as far back as Sir Charles Firth’s well-known
lecture of 1919 that Swift expressly had the Irish in mind as a specific
component of the Yahoo portrayal, Vanessa’s intuition of this feature of
Gulliver’s Travels has not always received attention.11 Her knowledge of part
of Gulliver’s Travels before its publication has of course been known as long
as her letters were discussed and annotated. Ball, in 1912, and Freeman in
1921, only pick up the reference to Book ii, but in 1963 Harold Williams was
saying that in addition to the clear reference to Brobdingnag, Vanessa’s letter
‘suggests, though not decisively, that some part of the voyage to the country
of the Houyhnhnms had been seen by her’.12 In his two main references to
Vanessa’s letter, Ehrenpreis confines himself to the allusion to Brobdingnag,
noting also the special fact that Vanessa was almost unique in being allowed
access to the unpublished or uncompleted text, and even to know of
its existence.13 The other earliest mention in the correspondence, both
preceding Vanessa’s, are a letter to Ford of 15 April 1721 mentioning that he
is ‘now writing a History of my Travells’, and a letter from Bolingbroke of
1 January 1722 saying ‘I long to see yr travels’, both seeming to imply that
168 Poetry
neither of Swift’s correspondents had seen any part of the manuscript.14
It was Torchiana who was perhaps the first, in an article of 1975 entitled
‘Jonathan Swift, the Irish, and the Yahoos’, to note expressly that ‘Vanessa
for one caught the resemblance of Irish society to that of the Yahoos –
grinning, chattering, grimacing.’15 He does so, however, in a sequence of
examples designed to show Swift’s concern in the 1720s to display the
barbarity of the ‘savage natives’, and seems not to pick up the obvious fact
that Vanessa’s grimacing brutes are in fact representatives of an alternative
Irish group, the affluent governing class, and that they were presumably
of English extraction. Torchiana understands very well Swift’s distinctions
in this period between humanoid Irishmen, resembling Englishmen in
outward shape, though variously failing to measure up, whether through
native savagery or degraded living conditions, but overlooks the irony of the
resemblance of the ‘English’ socialites themselves to the Yahoo or simian
There occurs at critical moments in Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest
Proposal, a blurring of three categories, or sometimes two, into a single
undifferentiating redefinition. In the bipartite model, humans are equated
downwards with what Gulliver calls ‘all savage Nations’. But it is precisely
where contending ethnicities are in play that the special sting of Vanessa’s
perception is remarkable: she knows that the fops and beaux and belles who
spend their lives defining themselves as the opposite of the savage brutes
are actually identical with them. Her instinctive unquestioning invocation
of them as the one and only example of the Yahoo brute, not even inviting
analogy with the ‘savage’ native, instinctively registers that sliding to the
heart of the matter which is a signature of Swift himself. No wonder he
thought her his star pupil.
The key feature of Swiftian aggression, in these characteristic and indef-
inite modes, is that the most insulting identifications are the ones you
have to infer. No prose paraphrase of Gulliver’s Travels can be expected
to capture the full flavour of this insulting obliquity, without a disabling
exercise in literal joke-explaining. The official allegory is the Yahoo-human
equation, where all the other equations start. Among the dozen or so
recorded references to Gulliver’s Travels between 1721 and the letter to
Pope of 29 September 1725 about vexing the world and the ‘great foun-
dation of Misanthropy’, only one other than Vanessa’s comment of June
1722 makes any mention of Yahoo resemblances, namely Swift’s statement
to Thomas Sheridan on 11 September 1725, urging him to ‘expect no more
from Man than such an Animal is capable of, and you will every day find
my Description of Yahooes more resembling’.16 (By now, as Williams notes,
Vanessa as a reader of Gulliver’s Travels 169
‘Sheridan had evidently read Gulliver’s Travels, or Swift had read portions
to him.’)17 After that came the famous letters to Pope, of 1725, about hat-
ing and detesting that animal called man, or not hating him because not
expecting better, but being glad if someone was shot.18 But indeed, Vanessa
seems the first to have sniffed out the universalising home-truth of the
Anglo-Irish dimension. I suspect that she would have been an exceptional
analyst of Swift’s writings.
chapter 8

Swift’s poetry: an overview

Swift claimed, late in life, to have been ‘only a Man of Rhimes, and that
upon Trifles, never having written serious Couplets in my Life; yet never
any without a moral View’.1 There are many subtexts to this statement,
one of which is that he was a prolific poet, comparable in this regard
to his friend Pope, whose ‘serious Couplets’ he admired, but thought
himself unfitted for. Swift bowed before the mastery of Pope in the higher
discursive styles, content, perhaps, with his own standing as the greatest
prose author of his time. But his autobiographical poems show that he
thought of himself, and was thought of by others, as a poet. He has always
been admired (and sometimes preferred to Pope) by poets. His reputation
as a poet has indeed been higher among poets than among critics. His
admirers and imitators include Byron, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Ted Hughes,
Geoffrey Hill and Derek Mahon. His standing as a poet has been occluded
by the towering reputation of his prose satires, A Tale of a Tub (1704)
and Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and by the idea, fostered by his friend and
collaborator Alexander Pope, that the heroic couplet, as perfected by Pope,
was the normative style of serious English poetry, whose master was Pope
Adam Smith, however, offered a more subtle perspective in 1759:

In our own language, Mr. Pope and Dr. Swift have each of them introduced
a manner different from what was practised before, into all works that are
written in rhyme, the one in long verses, the other in short. The quaintness
of Butler has given place to the plainness of Swift. The rambling freedom of
Dryden, and the correct but often tedious and prosaic languor of Addison,
are no longer the objects of imitation, but all long verses are now written
after the manner of the nervous precision of Mr. Pope.2

Smith takes seriously Swift’s status as a poetic initiator, perhaps equal

to Pope, but in an alternative (and not necessarily inferior) style. The
reputations of both writers were often seen as competing, and nine years
Swift’s poetry: an overview 171
earlier the minor poet Shenstone, praising Swift’s poetic pre-eminence, did
so with an explicit dismissal of Pope: ‘I must beg Mr. Pope’s Pardon so
far as to esteem Dr. Swift (tho’ in a way rather contemptuous of regular
Poetry and therefore manly) ye Poetical Genius of ye Age he liv’d in. He
had inconceivable Invention, which was not remarkably ye Talent of ye
other.’3 Johnson’s friend Mrs Thrale had a similar opinion.4
Shenstone, like Adam Smith in a more nuanced way, nevertheless
assumes that Pope’s reputation is the officially recognised one. It is in
this context that Swift himself sometimes subscribed, or pretended to sub-
scribe, to the view that he was not a poet, ‘only a Man of Rhimes’ rather
than ‘serious Couplets’. There seems to have been no envy or false modesty
in this remark. Swift’s regard for the couplet which Pope perfected, and
which became the dominant mode of serious poetic expression in his day,
was as genuine as his reluctance to use it himself. He would probably have
accepted the common view of later generations that identified Pope as
the great poet of the time and Swift as the great master of satirical prose,
and would perhaps not have felt affronted at the relative neglect of his
poetry by later readers. Samuel Johnson wrote a life of Swift in the Lives
of the Poets (1779–1781) which, although originally written as a Preface to
Swift’s poems, barely mentioned the poems at all, beyond saying that ‘In
the Poetical Works of Dr. Swift there is not much upon which the crit-
ick can exercise his powers.’5 There is irony in Johnson’s statement, not
only because he disliked Swift, partly from an unacknowledged sense of
resemblance, but also because, although a poet of distinction himself, he
was adopting, as a ‘critick’, a view which came to be more characteristic of
critics than of other poets.
In the century or more when the reputation of eighteenth-century writ-
ers was at a particularly low ebb, roughly between the 1790s and 1920,
one of the strongest admirers of Swift as a poet was the poet Byron, also
a great admirer of Pope. Byron said of Swift, ‘he beats us all hollow, his
rhymes are wonderful’.6 When Pope began to be rehabilitated in the 1920s,
it was largely a critical and academic movement, though the poet Edith
Sitwell was an early enthusiast and T. S. Eliot an admirer.7 Swift’s poetry,
on the other hand, continued to receive little attention, except from poets.8
James Reeves, who, like Yeats, but unlike Eliot and Auden, detested Pope,
wrote an entire volume, The Reputation and Writings of Alexander Pope
(1976), denouncing what he described as an academic conspiracy to ele-
vate Pope at the expense of better poets, notably Swift, whose poems he
anthologised in his series the Poetry Bookshelf. Ted Hughes, who contin-
ued to dislike ‘everything post-Restoration in Eng Lit . . . except for the
172 Poetry
generation of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats’, made a special excep-
tion of Swift and Christopher Smart.9 Hughes wrote that: ‘Swift is the only
stylist . . . his writing is the bedrock from which every writer must start.’10
He thought Swift the ‘nearest model’ for the ‘fables’ in his own collection,
How the Whale Became (1963), and told Kenneth Baker, then the United
Kingdom’s Education Secretary, that children should memorise a page of
the prose Modest Proposal, along with some pages of Robert Frost and
Eliot’s ‘Animula,’ as a ‘great sheet anchor’ of sensibility.11 But it was Swift’s
impact on his own work as a poet that Hughes was declaring. Academic
recognition came late. Until recent decades, very few extended studies of
Swift’s poems existed, but a significant surge from the 1970s was led by a
number of women scholars, paradoxically, in the light of Swift’s reputation
for misogyny.
‘Only a Man of Rhimes’ is Swift’s acknowledgement of the supremacy of
‘serious Couplets’ and of Pope. It may also be seen as a refusal to compete.
But the hegemony Pope exercised over poetic standards, though Swift was
happy to accept it, cannot be said to have determined his choices. Well
before he knew Pope, or Pope was known as a poet, Swift had developed
the comic tetrameter style, of which Eliot called him a ‘master’, with such
poems as ‘Verses Wrote in a Lady’s Ivory Table-Book’ (1698), and ‘Baucis
and Philemon’ (1709).12 His poetic career began with a handful of odes in
the wedding-cake stanzas of which Cowley’s ‘Pindariques’ were the famous
English example, and one or two poems wholly or mostly in ‘serious
Couplets’, in honour of Congreve and Swift’s patron, Sir William Temple.
A possibly apocryphal story that Dryden told Swift ‘Cousin Swift, you will
never be a poet’ (or a ‘Pindaric poet,’ versions differ) may be responsible,
as Samuel Johnson reported, for Swift’s ‘perpetual malevolence to Dryden’,
and perhaps also, if true, for his almost total retreat from high styles
throughout the rest of his writing career.13
Nevertheless, his autobiographical poems make it clear that he also
readily thought of himself, and had a reputation, as a poet: ‘Nay, ’twas
affirm’d, he sometimes dealt in Rhime’, he reported in ‘The Author upon
Himself’ (1714, 1735, 10).14 In his Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift (1731,
1739), he jauntily reports that he was indeed once regarded as a ‘Fav’rite
of Apollo’ (249), ‘famous in his Time’ precisely for his ‘Knack at Rhyme’,
though fashions have changed and ‘His way of Writing now is past’ (263–
5).15 This is coyly self-dismissive. It also contains self-affirmation, and the
flipness reflects his habitual shyness of grand gestures. He regarded himself
as a poet in the way that his predecessor in ‘serious’ light verse, Samuel
Butler, author of Hudibras (1663–80), was regarded as a poet. Swift did
Swift’s poetry: an overview 173
occasionally write decasyllabic or ‘heroic’ couplets, but in an idiom less
tightly structured or grandiloquent than Pope’s, whose ‘serious Couplet’
mode he readily accepted as a higher thing than his own versifying.
A well-known example is ‘A Description of the Morning’ (1709), from
which we may try to discern what he meant about his couplets not being
‘serious’, though their ‘moral View’ is hardly in doubt:

Now hardly here and there an Hackney-Coach

Appearing, show’d the Ruddy Morns Approach.
Now Betty from her Masters Bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own.
The Slipshod Prentice from his Masters Door,
Had par’d the Dirt, and Sprinkled round the Floor.
Now Moll had whirl’d her Mop with dext’rous Airs,
Prepar’d to Scrub the Entry and the Stairs.
The Youth with Broomy Stumps began to trace
The Kennel-Edge, where Wheels had worn the Place.
The Smallcoal-Man was heard with Cadence deep,
’Till drown’d in Shriller Notes of Chimney-Sweep,
Duns at his Lordships Gate began to meet,
And Brickdust Moll had Scream’d through half the Street.
The Turnkey now his Flock returning sees,
Duly let out a Nights to Steal for Fees.
The watchful Bailiffs take their silent Stands,
And School-Boys lag with Satchels in their Hands.16

These couplets are not Popeian, and were written before Pope’s appear-
ance as an influential presence on the literary scene. The ‘Description of
the Morning’ actually appeared on 30 April 1709, two days before Pope
first appeared in print on 2 May.17 While Swift always accepted that ‘seri-
ous Couplets’ were Pope’s territory, his own practice in this metre is one
which goes back to Chaucer, a poet whose more informal metre Pope
chose to ‘translate’ into Popeian couplets, a manner which W. K. Wimsatt
has described as differing from Chaucer’s in ‘its closure or completeness,
its stronger tendency to parallel, and its epigrammatic, witty, intellectual
point’.18 Arguably, Swift’s array of social types, and especially its blend of
sharp observation and mild censoriousness, also shares Chaucerian features.
The more relaxed nature of Swift’s lines, their flat incremental observation
of human activity, are quite distinct from Pope’s tightly structured and
pointedly definitional portrayals of character. Swift’s pentameters tap older
traditions, untouched by ‘correctness’, and are closer to ‘the oblique forward
movement of actions in sequence’ Wimsatt perceives in Chaucer.19
174 Poetry
We can see from Swift’s ‘Description’ what Swift means when he says
his poetry is ‘never without a moral View’, even when treating of ‘low’
subject-matter with a good-natured downbeat drabness. But in this, as
in the formal or structural sense, we also see how he would think his
couplets unserious by the Popeian standard, if, as seems probable, ‘serious’
couplets stood roughly for what came more commonly to be called the
heroic couplet. Swift does not appear to have used the phrase, which is first
recorded by OED three years before Swift’s ‘Description’, in the Preface to
Joseph Browne’s The Royal Prophetess: An Heroick Poem (1706): ‘nor has
any Nation had so good success in the use of Heroick Couplets, as the
English’.20 The phrase does not seem to have been common until later
in the century. Thomas Warton used it in his History of English Poetry
(1774–81).21 Swift probably used ‘serious’ in much the way that Dryden
spoke of ‘serious’ plays as more or less synonymous with heroic plays,
notably in his essay ‘Of Heroique Playes’ (1672), which opens with the
assertion that ‘Heroick verse’ (specifically rhyming couplets) is the proper
idiom for ‘serious Playes’, which ‘ought not to imitate Conversation too
The very association with Dryden, if it occurred to Swift, would be
enough to put him on his guard, but the evidence is that a flavour of ‘heroic’
pretension hovered over the use of the couplet, and Swift’s instinctive recoil
from this is evident in his own way of imitating or travestying his classical
models, which also differs from Pope’s. The ‘Description’ parodies formal
descriptions of dawn in heroic or rural settings, the mundane and scabrous
realities of an urban morning played off against formal models describing
a battlefield sunrise or a georgic or pastoral scene. The studied flatness of
Swift’s notation avoids any reminder of the exalted stylistic allure of his
georgic or epic sources. This differs instructively from the way in which,
a few years later, Pope described Belinda, the heroine of The Rape of the
Lock (1714), emerging like the rising sun among her entourage of beautiful
Not with more Glories, in th’ Etherial Plain
The Sun first rises o’er the purpled Main,
Than issuing forth, the Rival of his Beams
Lanch’d on the Bosom of the Silver Thames.
(ii. 1–4)

Pope’s lines evoke similar epic or georgic originals, similarly pitting them
against a lowered modern reality, in this case a shallow society of amiable
flirts. Pope adds the mock-gallantry of comparing the heroine’s eyes to
Swift’s poetry: an overview 175
the sun, a staple of the kind of love-poetry about which Swift also wrote,
both derisively and poignantly, in other poems. The blowsy elevation of
Pope’s mock-grandeur, however, is designed to allow an element of original
grandeurs to rub off on the parody. Unlike Swift, he actually uses high
language for his low people, allowing part of the inflation to flower into
a dignity of its own, a method specifically cultivated in the mock-heroic
poems of Boileau, Dryden and Garth in recent decades. This procedure
reinforces a primary or unmocking element of genuine compliment to
Belinda, the real beauty and charm of her person and behaviour (‘graceful
Ease, and Sweetness void of Pride’), so that the mock-gallantries acquire
their own quality of lyricised celebration (ii. 15).
Swift’s refusal of the lofty style, described in greater detail below, is a
shrinking not only from conventions of inflated compliment, but from
grandeurs which survive (in the way Dryden or Pope wanted them to)
in the very idiom of mock-pompous pastiche. Swift’s ‘Description of the
Morning’ offers instead a flat, hard-edged comedy of low misdemeanours,
quotidian and uninflated. It evokes higher styles not by misapplying them
to low matter, but by highlighting the lowness where grandiose gesturing,
which might have been expected, is manifestly absent. High originals
announce themselves by an effacement rather than pretension of grandeur.
Swift’s friend Gay, future author of the Beggar’s Opera (1728), was to follow
Swift in composing scenes of urban busyness and squalor in forms usually
applied to pastoral subjects. Swift’s manner in this instance, however, should
equally be distinguished from a ‘burlesque’ style which he often used
elsewhere, and from which Pope’s mock-heroic also distinguished itself,
where high people speak low language instead of the other way round,
providing an effect of slapstick vulgarity: ‘I Sing the Man, read it who list,
A Trojan true, as ever pist.’23
Two kinds of burlesque were distinguished from one another by the
French poet Boileau, in remarks prefixed to the first great mock-heroic
poem, Le Lutrin (1674). One was that of the Virgil Travestied poems of
Paul Scarron (and his English imitator Charles Cotton), in which Dido
and Aeneas spoke like fishwives and porters. The other and higher form,
adopted by Boileau himself, made low people speak like Dido and Aeneas.24
Swift usually avoided the latter style, but sometimes practised the former.
But in the ‘Description’ Swift uses neither, inserting instead a flat factuality,
precise and sharp, avoiding the stylisations of high rant and low farce alike.
The manner set a style from Gay onwards. It provides a point of departure
for the drab realism of T. S. Eliot’s early poems, ‘Preludes’ (1910–11) and
‘Morning at the Window’ (1915):
176 Poetry
They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.25

What Eliot took, partly from Swift, is the idiom of flat notation, the
drabness of urban mornings, played off without Popeian grandiloquence
against remembered grandeurs of poetic dawns. Swift’s focus is on small-
scale moral slippages (the maid sleeping with her master, the slipshod
apprentice, the profiteering turnkey). This low-level scabrousness is the
product of specifiable, relatively minor, misdemeanours, though in his
more characteristic prose satires Swift defined the human condition as
radically depraved, beyond specific attributions of vice. Eliot’s drabness is
that of demoralisation rather than bad morals, lassitude rather than laxity:
his housemaids have damp (not peccant) souls, sprouting despondently,
his decors are a devitalised rather than depraved universe. Eliot offers the
raw materials of satirical perception, formally uncoupled from the satirical
enterprise of moral inculpation, a measure of large cultural shifts in poetry
in the (almost exactly) two centuries between the high age of mock-heroic
and its modernist avatars.
Swift and Eliot both offer a flattening or anticlimactic payoff, both very
different from a Popeian conclusiveness or summation. Swift ends with
the calculated inconclusiveness of yet another small-scale exemplar in an
ongoing process. The schoolboy follows the bailiff and turnkey, in a random
list that is not finalised, merely allowed to spend itself, without climax or
summation. Eliot’s ‘Preludes, ii’ replaces lagging schoolboys with a tailing-
off that is atmospheric rather than factually neutral, of ‘faint stale smells
of beer’ and ‘dingy shades, In a thousand furnished rooms’, disheartening
details hovering without comment over the dismal scene.26 ‘Morning at
the Window’ concludes with a more literal kind of hovering:
The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

The ending has a lingering, suggestive inconclusiveness, which acquires

resonance precisely from its indefinability, the ‘aimless smile that hovers in
the air And vanishes along the level of the roofs’, an ascent which acts as a
kind of dying fall. In place of Swift’s suggestion of the random continuity of
Swift’s poetry: an overview 177
human delinquencies, Eliot’s closure opens up an unresolved and studiedly
unspecific emotional state.
If, as seems likely, Eliot was remembering Swift’s poem, he takes, in this
closing passage, a remarkable turn away from it.27 Such emotionally charged
‘open’ endings became a feature of the Romantic and early modernist lyric,
their non-conclusiveness an aspect of a larger-scale retreat from earlier ideals
of classical completeness. They are in some ways the lyric counterpart of the
‘unfinished’ or fragmentary text, of which Tristram Shandy and The Waste
Land are exemplars, and which Swift derided proleptically as a ‘modern’
sloppiness, while also playing with its forms.28 Wallace Stevens’s ‘Sunday
Morning’ (1915), a non-satiric poem written the same year as ‘Morning at
the Window’, offers a poignant example of an inconclusive lyric finality,
seeming to open up an atmosphere that is beyond the limits of the poem’s
formal expression:

And, in the isolation of the sky,

At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

This, in the full accents of a great Romantic ode, is an effect to which

Eliot’s poem aspires in a somewhat lower key. That he does it in a poem
whose beginning is that of a satirical sketch on the model of Swift’s ‘Descrip-
tion’ reflects the satirical turn for which the early Eliot had a reputation,
and for which he was rebuked by Yeats.30 Eliot came to be exercised by
this reputation, but perhaps the more remarkable thing is that his satir-
ical verse is here redirected to the quizzical suggestiveness of the mood
poem, and allows a sudden lyricised turn to seep into the sourness, an
effect later developed in the satirical lyrics of W. H. Auden and Louis
MacNeice. This final turn is one Swift would not take, and marks a
large shift in the way poetry has managed the satirical impulse in recent
This lyricism was naturally outside Swift’s repertoire, and he would have
parodied it if occasion arose. Even where it has a downbeat or anticli-
mactic tendency, this style raises the emotional or rhetorical temperature,
from which Swift would have shrunk, as from any form of high man-
ner. Although almost all his poems are in some sense parodic, he never
attempted the loyalist parody of epic of which Pope’s Rape of the Lock and
Dunciad became the culminating exemplars. It was as though Swift feared
178 Poetry
that some of the majesties of the heroic original might rub off on the
parody, precisely the effect aimed at by both Dryden and Pope. The single
exception, the Battle of the Books, a brilliant mock-Virgilian narrative, alle-
gorising the Battle of the Ancients and Moderns, seems designed to divert
readers from the fact that it is travestying an epic by simultaneously being
in the flattening medium of prose, and offering competing layers of less
exalted mimicry, mock-scholarly and mock-journalese.31
When, in his late poem The Legion Club (1736, 83 ff.), Swift allowed
himself an extended allusion to Virgil’s underworld (Aeneid, vi. 264–94),
showing Irish politicians as denizens of a vicious and demented inferno, he
used the low ‘burlesque’ style repudiated by Boileau and Pope, in which
high things are expressed in low demotic terms, as though Dido and Aeneas,
in Boileau’s definition, were speaking like ‘fishwives and porters’ instead
of the other way round.32 The elevation implicit in the low being raised
to majestic heights was not for him. In the early 1690s, at the time of
the Pindaric odes, Swift himself was translating from the Aeneid, while
conceding to his cousin Thomas Swift (3 May 1692) that he could not
‘write anything easy to be understood thô it were but in the praise of an old
Shooe’. The late style of the Legion Club is an angry version of Hudibrastic
‘light’ verse, not the majestic elevation of Pope’s mock-heroic.
Pope was his friend and collaborator, and, in the view quickly established
at the time and subsequently adopted as a commonplace of literary history,
the greatest poet of the day. (The traditional stereotype usually identified
Swift as correspondingly the greatest prose writer.) Pope’s mock-heroic
masterpiece, The Dunciad (1728–1743), was dedicated to Swift, and Swift
collaborated on it in some way. The two were allies in the culture wars and
the political contentions of their time. No doubt existed in Swift’s mind
as to Pope’s mastery, and he might be said to have freely shown his lack of
envy in a genial display of mock-envy: ‘In Pope, I cannot read a Line, But
with a Sigh, I wish it mine’ (Verses on the Death, 47–8). The lines pretend
to illustrate the maxim that everyone envies the success of their friends
and takes pleasure in their distresses, and they characteristically implicate
himself in his own satire. The gesture is playful, and its ‘envy’ is turned
into a compliment to his rival, showing Swift as after all not envious,
but warmly admiring, an arch intimation that he is ‘not like that, really’.
There was a habit of jokey self-disparagement and reciprocal compliment
between the two poets. Swift wrote a poem saying Pope wrote the Dunciad
(which is dedicated to Swift) only because Swift was too deaf to maintain
conversation with him, and Pope maintained the fiction, also reporting
Swift’s poetry: an overview 179
in the Dunciad Variorum (1729) that ‘Dr. Swift . . . may be said . . . to be
Author of the Poem’, since he had snatched a first sketch of it from the
fire. The respectful camaraderie shows a touch of narcissistic spikiness on
both sides.
In the lines from the Verses on the Death, the Shandean simper may be
a natural hazard of writing one’s own obituary, where self-approbation,
repudiating grand statements about himself, while simultaneously mak-
ing sure they are made, is conducted in a way that is precariously close
to a benign bad faith. As I argue later, Pope would have no difficulty
making such statements grandly and overtly, and Swift fully accepted the
rightness of his doing so. A similarly self-exculpating coyness is appar-
ent in the tortuously self-justifying account, in Cadenus and Vanessa
(1713, 1726), of one of his two important love affairs. Here, too, compli-
ments to another are oblique compliments to himself, resting awkwardly
on a seeming self-depreciation. The moral convolutions of that poem
have a mincing self-consciousness Swift himself would be quick to dis-
own, but which is also a sign of the satirist’s intimate inwardness with
the human frailties he deplores. There are other such moments, a small
wrinkle in a great writerly achievement. But despite the affected indi-
rections, there seems for the most part neither envy nor malice in the
‘jealous Fit’ about Pope’s couplets, only admiration and an unquestioning
assumption that Pope’s is the kind of poetry that really matters, and Swift
freely accepted a substantially lower place in the pecking order of poetical
The loose playful informality of Swift’s lines about Pope’s couplet are in
the favourite four-stress metre he adopted instead of the ‘serious’ couplet,
a sophisticated adaptation of the rhythms of popular balladry somewhat
removed from demotic culture while wittily exploiting it. The manner
derives from Samuel Butler’s Spenserian burlesque Hudibras (1663–80) and
Charles Cotton’s Scarronides (1663–5), an adaptation of Scarron’s Virgile
Travesty, in which the Virgilian story is told in low language. The tetrameter
announces itself as loose, rambling, not suited to the disciplined ordering of
argument or theme, and free of the structural symmetries and oppositions
encouraged by the heroic couplet. Swift’s verse does not aim at the tightly
definitional containment of unruly forces, but at looser, more unstructured
energies, which purport to transgress the order of art, and are playfully
irreverent of verse conventions. The ‘wonderful’ rhyming praised by Byron
did not consist of euphonic exactitudes, but was a cheeky defiance of
expected harmonious closures:
180 Poetry
As I strole the City, oft I
Spy a Building large and lofty,

. . . How I want thee, humorous Hogart?

Thou I hear, a pleasant Rogue art.
(Legion Club, 1–2, 219–20)33

This is a style of rhyming that Byron, the Shelley of Peter Bell the
Third, and the Auden of ‘A Letter to Lord Byron’, exploited with great
inventiveness. ‘Bad’ rhyming is a witty resource, partly drawn from popular
entertainments (still in evidence, for example, in calypso and reggae), much
used in English demotic art from the Middle Ages onwards, in farces, heroic
rants and puppet-shows. It is exploited by a long line of non-demotic,
sophisticated poets including John Skelton, Cotton, Butler (one of Swift’s
favourite writers, ‘whose comic rhymes’, as Derek Mahon says, ‘he imitated
and surpassed’),34 Byron, Shelley, and Auden. It is a staple of the kind of
poetry Auden anthologised in his Oxford Book of Light Verse (1938) and
belongs to what another poet, Ronald Bottrall, described as ‘The Colloquial
Tradition in English Poetry’.35
‘Bad’ or ‘imperfect’ rhymes are not typically the result of carelessness or
inattention, though they may seem designed to give that impression. They
are ‘serious’ poetic devices, in the sense in which Auden said ‘light verse can
be serious’ (Swift’s ‘never without a moral View’).36 One of their elementary
registers is a cavalier defiance of expectations of euphony, closure, order,
the values embedded in the Popeian couplet, though it should be said again
that Swift was not attacking Pope or the couplet, and he may even have
been paying it the tribute of suggesting, or simulating, a sense that its high
standard was outside his own modest reach. At all events, he was indicating
a non-adversarial disengagement from its obligations, without conceding
that this was a relaxation of the ‘moral View’ he claimed for all his poems.
Some (especially later) poets have taught us that faulty rhyming can
retain the ‘seriousness’ Swift disavowed without necessarily sharing Swift’s
frequent resort to parodic levity. Wilfred Owen’s poems (for example,
‘Exposure’, ‘Insensibility’, ‘Strange Meeting’) subvert the closures of rhyme
not by jokily deflating expectations of order, but by using the dissonance
to evoke the grinding painfulness and senseless disarray of trench war-
fare. The systematic and protracted appearance of discordant near rhymes
(‘killed/cold’ [used in at least two poems], ‘brothers/withers’, ‘knives
us/nervous’, ‘wire/war’, ‘burn/born’, ‘fruit/afraid’, ‘grained/groined’,
‘hall/hell’, ‘moan/mourn’, ‘distilled/spoiled’) show the extent to which the
initiating parodic joke of a bad rhyme can be discarded or suspended, in
Swift’s poetry: an overview 181
the way that some modern writers, notably Eliot in The Waste Land, have
succeeded in discarding mockery of epic poems while availing themselves
of the poetic resources provided by the mock-heroic genre as developed
by Dryden and Pope. Even in his most sombre poem, the Dunciad, Pope
himself could not be wholly released from the joke implied in its very
nature as a mock-Aeneid. Swift would not have wished to try. The horrors
of the mock-Virgilian inferno of the Legion Club openly retain a style of
robust demotic invective, rather than the dignified Virgilian majesty Pope
would have sought to achieve while travestying it.37
Swift would have no truck, in his own writing, with the majestic accents
of the Dunciad, despite the poem’s close connections to him, any more
than with the tight satirical summations of Pope’s rhyming. His own
rough way with rhyming remains playful, serving an aggressive political
invective intended to hurt beyond the joke. One of the effects is to express
intensities of indignation without surrendering composure. The model is
not Roman satire, but resides in the accents of street balladry and rough
bardic invective. Into this Swift simultaneously injects a patrician loftiness,
as when, in Traulus (1730), Swift exposes the low ancestry of an Irish
This was dext’rous at his Trowel,
That was bred to kill a Cow well.
(Traulus, ii. 29–30)

The demotic clumsiness of the rhyming is especially brought into relief by

the fact that it occurs immediately after Swift’s billowing contempt is first
expressed with a ritualised, drumming syncopation, in which a display of
strict and perfect rhyme acts as an insolent and ostentatious prelude to
ensuing slippages:
By the Dam from Lordlings sprung,
By the Sire exhal’d from Dung
(ii. 3–4)

After this display of don’t-think-I-can’t-do-rhyme bravura, the awkward

‘Trowel/Cow well’ becomes a stylish flouting of stylishness, fully under the
poet’s control.
Swift’s late poems about Irish politicians draw additionally on traditions
of incantatory imprecation which go back to ancient ideas of the power of
words to kill. Irish bards were traditionally reputed for their ability to rhyme
rats to death, a skill which was also redirected at rival poets, a tradition
alluded to through the ages by Ben Jonson and W. B. Yeats, as well as by
182 Poetry
Swift.38 Ben Jonson spoke of the death-dealing ‘drumming rhymes’ of Irish
cursing, a commonly invoked instance of the primitive power of satire.39
These tribal vulgarities mingle in Swift’s Traulus with a lordly disdain
of lowly origins, and with an undemotic allusiveness to classical poetry
(the Muse; Atavus, the Latin word for ancestor, etc.), making an uppish
sophisticated comedy out of the disgraces of the physical body and social
class. While the invective is harsh and hyperbolic, its excess is partly self-
disarming, and the tempo’s high-spirited jauntiness conveys an impression
that the poet is having fun with his excessive insults and isn’t going over the
top. This witty undercutting of rage is essential to Swift’s manner. It extends
to non-invective contexts, and is related to a temperamental shyness of high
styles. It thrives on a sophisticated adaptation of crude and indecorous
popular rhythms and vocabulary, freedoms of verbal informality which
court risks of clumsiness and offer special opportunities for an exuberant
irreverence unavailable in the more licensed poetic styles.
Swift’s ear for the accents and cadences of popular speech and street
language has been remarked on by James Reeves and other poets.40 He
had a connoisseur’s feeling for these, as well as for the idiocies of polite
speech. This is evident in the Flaubertian mania for collecting conversa-
tional absurdities in his brilliant prose sottisier, A Compleat Collection of
Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, published in 1738. This late work, the
product of years of stubbornly dedicated collecting and recording, displays
gifts that might have been used in the creation of novels or stage comedies,
if Swift had been willing to convert mimicry into full fictional imperson-
ation. Swift held back from this, declining, as the novelist Fielding also
declined, the full surrender of manifest authorial presence it would have
required. He could capture brilliantly what was available for mockery, but
would not seek an illusion of reality, or the self-effacements of imaginative
sympathy, in the supposed manner of his despised contemporary Daniel
Defoe, if he thought of Defoe at all in this context. The snatches of con-
versation in the Compleat Collection stand as individual absurdities, with
only a nugatory dimension of story or character, and only a limited sense
of the characters’ relations with each other.
The same collecting instinct and the same ear for characteristic speech
evident in the polite inanities of the Compleat Collection may be seen,
stripped of some of its acerbity, in Swift’s mimicry of more plebeian speak-
ers. These, unlike the polite version, come more often in verse than in
prose, as in the collection of Dublin street cries, ‘Verses made for Women
who cry Apples, &.’, posthumously published in 1746 and doubtless also
collected over time. The series begins with the fruit-vendor’s cry:
Swift’s poetry: an overview 183
Come buy my fine Wares,
Plumbs, Apples and Pears,
A hundred a Penny,
In Conscience too many,
Come, will you have any.41
This has a buoyancy which calls to mind the energetic lyricism of Christina
Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ (1862). The tone darkens, not, as in Rossetti’s
poem, into disquieting fairy lore, but into an unillusioned social pathos:
My Children are seven,
I wish them in Heaven,
My Husband’s a Sot,
With his Pipe and his Pot,
Not a Farthing will gain ’em,
And I must maintain ’em.
The pathos is harsh. The woman who wishes her seven children ‘in Heaven’
is not harder-souled than the child speaker in Wordsworth’s lyrical ballad
‘We are seven’ (1798), but retains a grim gusto for life in the face of poverty
and her dispiriting domestic life.
The oyster-seller’s song does not engage with these dark social realities.
It, too, pays affable attention to popular idiom, adding a satirical rundown
of dietary superstitions:
Charming Oysters I cry,
My Masters come buy,
So plump and so fresh,
So sweet is their Flesh,
No Colchester Oyster,
Is sweeter and moyster,
Your Stomach they settle,
And rouse up your Mettle,
They’ll make you a Dad
Of a Lass or a Lad;
And, Madam your Wife
They’ll please to the Life;
Be she barren, be she old,
Be she Slut, or be she Scold,
Eat my Oysters, and lye near her,
She’ll be fruitful, never fear her.42
The genially satirical treatment of folk ideas about the digestive and pro-
creative virtues of food is more characteristic of these poems than is the
realism of ‘Apples.’
184 Poetry
The poem about oranges is written in hendecasyllabic metre, one of the
other forms intermittently favoured by Swift, through which light verse
challenges the finalities of the iambic pentameter. It reveals a warm culinary
gusto beneath a deceptive appearance of satirical sting:
Come, buy my fine Oranges, Sauce for your Veal,
And charming when squeez’d in a Pot of brown Ale.
Well roasted, with Sugar and Wine in a Cup,
They’ll make a sweet Bishop when Gentlefolks sup.43

‘Sweet Bishop’ is a brew of mulled port, not a tart reflection on the ecclesi-
astical hierarchy, or even (A Modest Proposal notwithstanding) a reflection
on the savour of clerical flesh, in the idiom of Sweeney Todd’s ‘Not as
hearty as bishop, perhaps, but not as bland as curate either’.44 It is perhaps
worth noticing that the warmth of feeling in the poem is focused more
on the taste of the food and the luxuriance of the sales-talk than on the
gentlefolk’s supping. Gentlefolk are in any case a recessive presence in these
poems. Altogether, this collection of popular street cries has a good humour
not usually extended to the politer classes. Even the signature sting about
bad breath in the poem about onions (‘lest your Kissing should be spoyl’d’)
is unusually benign, especially when one remembers the prominence of
halitosis, in servants as well as their masters, of that other late satirical com-
pilation, Directions to Servants, a prose work, published not long before the
posthumous street cries, in the year of Swift’s death (1745), and consisting
of satirical commentary rather than mimicry.
The Directions to Servants reminds us that the lower orders are no more
immune than their masters from the failings of the common Yahoo. It is
also possible that Swift saw servants as typically tainted by their relationship
to, as well as the example of, their masters. Street cries were a low form,
and Swift often used ‘cry’ pejoratively to suggest mendacity in politics as
well as street-hawking, a fact which may add an unexpected colouring
of self-mockery to the declaration, in the Verses on the Death, that ‘Fair
LIBERTY was all his Cry’ (347), as we shall see.45 But the gusto with
which Swift enters into the cries of street sellers suggests something of the
play of quasi-lordly sympathy which Augustan writers sometimes affected
for non-competing social groups, and which Yeats (with his mind partly
on Swift’s prose) extended to his whole dramatis personae of wise beggars.
Swift, too, wrote poems with wise beggars, the best known of which is ‘Mad
Mullinix and Timothy’ (1728), an early example of the series of poems on
Irish parliamentarians which includes Traulus and the Legion Club. Mad
Mullinix has something of the folly of the righteous, which is a kind of
Swift’s poetry: an overview 185
wisdom. He is a Tory adversary to the Whiggery of Dublin’s governing
group, and thus shares Swiftian sympathies, though he is not otherwise an
expression of fondness for beggars or lunatics or a shining example of the
more exalted understanding, which Yeats attributed to Swift, ‘that wisdom
comes of beggary’.46
We know from many other writings that Swift had no more affection
for beggars than, on the evidence of the Directions, he had for servants.
The harshness of the satire against servants in the Directions, which Ian
Higgins has described as ‘a master’s nightmare of household subversion and
anarchy where the turpitude of servants is manic’, parallels the comments
in his sermon on the Causes of the Wretched Condition of Ireland (1715) and
elsewhere.47 But the Directions has a force which, like the brilliant A Tale
of a Tub, derives some of its inventive energy from the zany vitality of the
depravities it is describing. Both works are examples of a process in which
an author’s creative powers transfer their grace to a graceless subject-matter,
and confer on unlovely material something of the virtues of sympathetic
It is perhaps the feat of mimicry which gives a particular charm to two
favourite poems by Swift in which servants are speaking, ‘Mrs Harris’s
Petition’ (1701, published 1711) and ‘Mary the Cook-Maid’s Letter’ (1718,
published 1732). Mrs Harris is petitioning ‘the Lords Justices of Ireland’,
one of whom is Lord Berkeley, in whose household she serves, and where
Swift is the chaplain. She has lost her purse, and reports her suspicion of
theft, with a blowsy amplitude of effrontery:

So I went to the Party suspected, and I found her full of Grief;

(Now you must know, of all Things in the World, I hate a Thief.)
However, I was resolv’d to bring the Discourse slily about,
Mrs. Dukes, said I, here’s an ugly Accident has happen’d out;
’Tis not that I value the Money three Skips of a Louse;
But the Thing I stand upon, is the Credit of the House;
’Tis true, seven Pound, four Shillings, and six Pence, makes a great Hole
in my Wages,
Besides, as they say, Service is no Inheritance in these Ages.
Now, Mrs. Dukes, you know, and every Body understands,
That tho’ ’tis hard to judge, yet Money can’t go without Hands.
The Devil take me, said she, (blessing her self,) if I ever saw’t!
So she roar’d like a Bedlam, as tho’ I had call’d her all to naught,
So you know, what could I say to her any more. (34–46)

The metre is a loping free verse, perhaps a loose variation on the four-
teener, worthy of Ogden Nash, the twentieth-century master of metrical
186 Poetry
garrulities. Mrs Harris’s use of colourful cliché (‘’Tis not that I value the
Money three Skips of a Louse’) is the demotic counterpart of the polite
inanities of the Compleat Collection or the funereal chatter of the fine ladies
in the Verses on the Death – (‘The Dean is dead, (and what is Trumps? — ))’ –
but more kindly treated.48 The self-righteous humbug of ‘But the Thing
I stand upon, is the Credit of the House’ is rendered with an easygoing
Chaucerian good humour, and the colloquial mastery even in the least
colourful phrasings (‘So you know, what could I say to her any more’) has a
geniality of accomplished ventriloqual performance which somehow rubs
off on the character herself.
Like the street cries, this poem is characterised by somewhat unexpected
exactitudes of demotic impersonation. In this, it resembles the pub scene
in the ‘Game of Chess’ section of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the work
of an author who might be supposed similarly disinclined to dramatic
impersonation, and whose other poems register a downbeat view of human
society, strongly coloured by Swiftian influences:

When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said –

I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,
Hurry up please its time
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
Hurry up please its time
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
Hurry up please its time
Swift’s poetry: an overview 187
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot —
(Waste Land, 139–67)

‘Doing the police in different voices’ (the phrase Eliot recalled from
Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (Chapter xvi) for the species of social ven-
triloquism exhibited in ‘A Game of Chess’ and which he borrowed for
the original title of The Waste Land) is not a practice we immediately
think of as characteristic of either poet.49 The passages from both poems
are expressions of female resentment, in a highly colloquial idiom, and
contain protestations of womanly virtue, though Mrs Harris’s is only to
the effect that she thought her ‘Money was as safe as my Maidenhead’
(11). The dialogue in the pub scene, which Eliot may have been helped
in composing, is conducted with extraordinary skill.50 It is almost unique
in his work, and has no equivalent in his plays. But the woodenness with
which these lines are spoken in Eliot’s own recorded readings of The Waste
Land reflects an uneasiness at entering too intimately into characters whose
voices he could capture with remarkable exactitude at the safe distance of
a mildly satirical written transcription. The resistance he evidently felt to
reading the lines aloud is an approximation to what we may imagine Swift
to have felt at the idea of writing a Richardsonian novel, had the impulse
occurred to him.51
The brilliance of Eliot’s pub dialogue, notwithstanding the upbeat clo-
sure of getting ‘the beauty of it hot’, resides in a dry, depressed atmosphere,
captured with a precision whose gusto consists of a denial of gusto. The
vitality is in its mimicry of a mean-spirited moral drabness. By contrast, the
servant Frances Harris, reporting the loss of her purse, containing ‘seven
Pound, four Shillings and six Pence, besides Farthings, in Money, and
Gold’, which she thought was as safe as her maidenhead (2, 11), expresses a
billowing personality which is the total antithesis of Eliot’s ‘damp souls of
housemaids’ (Eliot’s phrase from ‘Morning at the Window’, a poem likely
to have been partly shaped by Swift’s ‘Description of the Morning’).52 Mrs
Harris, portrayed as being sweet on the parson Swift (‘You know, I hon-
our the Cloth, I design to be a Parson’s Wife’, 60), is, despite her loss of
a not inconsiderable sum, a buoyantly garrulous spirit, with a generous
extravagance of confusion and malapropism:

Then my Dame Wadgar came, and she, you know, is thick of Hearing;
Dame, said I, as loud as I could bawl, do you know what a Loss I have had?
Nay, said she, my Lord Collway’s Folks are all very sad,
For my Lord Dromedary [Drogheda] comes a Tuesday without fail, (25–8)
188 Poetry
The poem ends with some reimbursement promised by Lord Berkeley,
whom she is humbly petitioning for ‘Protection, And that I may have
a Share in next Sunday’s Collection . . . With an Order for the Chaplain
aforesaid; or, instead of Him, a Better’ (70–3). Swift portrays his female
servants as having a comically self-interested affection for him, including
marital ambitions. ‘Mary the Cook-Maid’s Letter to Dr. Sheridan’ is writ-
ten to complain that Swift’s friend and fellow parson Thomas Sheridan
(grandfather of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan) had ‘call’d my
Master a Knave’ (5):53

Knave in your Teeth, Mr. Sheridan, ’tis both a Shame and a Sin,
And the Dean my Master is an honester Man than you and all your kin:
He has more Goodness in his little Finger, than you have in your whole Body,
My Master is a parsonable Man, and not a spindle-shank’d hoddy-doddy
And now whereby I find you would fain make an Excuse,
Because my Master one Day in anger call’d you Goose.
Which, and I am sure I have been his Servant four Years since October,
And he never call’d me worse than Sweet-heart drunk or sober. (7–14)

Frances Harris signalling her nuptial designs on Swift (at the time chap-
lain to the Earl of Berkeley, whose daughter she served), and Mary’s boast
that the Dean ‘never call’d me worse than Sweet-heart’ are comic enact-
ments of the stereotype of the maid aspiring to raise her status by mar-
rying the parson, though undue significance should not be attached to
the phrase ‘Sweet-heart’, and Swift did habitually call her that.54 Only
a few years later, the scenario of a maid marrying her employer would
be the subject of Richardson’s best-selling novel Pamela (1740), paro-
died in Fielding’s Shamela (1741), where the longings of Swift’s serving-
women are seen in a less genial light. The naı̈ve marital aspirations of
Mrs Harris and Mary the Cook-Maid give way to the mercenary and
lustful profligacy of Fielding’s Shamela, who marries the squire for his
money and disports herself with the parson. Swift uses language (and
spellings) Fielding was to turn to hostile use, and writes for once more
good-naturedly than Fielding. When Mary says ‘My Master is a parson-
able Man, and not a spindle-shank’d hoddy-doddy’, she looks forward to
Shamela’s protestations about her ‘vartue’ and her contemptuous descrip-
tion of her husband as a ‘spindle-shanked . . . Squire’.55 Fielding uses the
phrase regularly of sexual suitors of questionable virility, presumably the
meaning intended by Mary the Cook-Maid, but offered by Swift as an affec-
tionate take-off of colloquial servant-speak, and as a token of the maid’s
Swift’s poetry: an overview 189
Like his record of polite conversation, these imitations of servant lan-
guage may be described as ‘realistic’, but their realism is once again that of
the freestanding take-off, rather than of a searching simulation of charac-
ter. Unlike the polite mimicries of the Compleat Collection, the two servant
monologues are written with an affectionate complicity which may seem
inconsistent with some of Swift’s views about servants expressed elsewhere.
This is enhanced by the ambiguous touch of comic eroticism, which in
both cases shows the woman making what are evidently unthreatening
expressions of affection. In 1713, Swift wrote a very different poem, in
which a woman, who was not a servant, was deeply in love with the same
dean, and which did not portray the situation as unthreatening, though
a touch of self-flattery may be common to all three poems. Cadenus and
Vanessa (1713, published 1726) reports the passion of a brilliant and beau-
tiful younger woman, Vanessa, for the mature clergyman Cadenus, who
has guided her intellectual education.57 The implication is that she thus
acquired the discernment to fall in love with a man who might not oth-
erwise have expected to be attractive to a young woman, and who now
professes himself to be surprised and discomfited by the result. The poem
is coy about the outcome: ‘But what Success Vanessa met, Is to the World
a Secret yet’ (818–19), a self-conscious innuendo which Swift would be
quick to mock in others, and which anticipates, as I suggested, the winking
will-tell-won’t-tell fuss over what passed between Tristram Shandy and his
‘dear, dear Jenny’ in Sterne’s novel (i. xviii) half a century later.58 The poem,
which might be thought a prime exhibit in any potential allegation of con-
tempt for women, is much admired in some feminist circles. In real life,
the story ended tragically, but the facts of the relationship remain obscure.
The poem revolves around the fable of a divine plot to create a woman
with all the virtues of both sexes. The male virtues are those of intellect
and learning, and Vanessa’s attainments are partly offered as a demon-
stration of Swift’s genuine belief in the educability of women, and in the
need for society to think of them as something other than exalted beings
or pretty objects of gallantry. While also making the point that even a
woman so educated could not hope to emulate male accomplishments,
Swift held that the acquisition of intellectual and moral qualities was the
only basis for a woman to maintain a man’s respect after the passing of
physical attractiveness.59 While this remains a male-centred position and
takes unattractive forms in this poem, it is the mainstay of a conscientious
and serious conviction that ‘fair-sexing’, as he called it, was a falsifying
feature of both social and literary behaviour, and distorted the possibility
of mutual respect between the sexes.
190 Poetry
This conviction is expressed in the prose Letter to a Young Lady on her
Marriage (1723).60 It is also at the centre of two important groups of poems,
those addressed to Stella (1719–27) and a set of satires on the theme of female
beauty whose most important examples run from ‘The Progress of Beauty’
(1719) to The Lady’s Dressing Room (1730) and ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph
Going to Bed’ (1731), and include the famous ‘scatological’ poems about
Celia and Chloe. Stella (Esther Johnson, 1681–1728) was Swift’s closest and
steadiest woman friend, or even (as some think) his secret wife. Their
friendship, though in its way richly documented, is little understood. It
is clear that he felt for her a devotion and tenderness he expressed for no
one else. Like Vanessa, she was the product of his tutoring, and is said in
his poems to her to have risen to the standards of moral and intellectual
excellence which Swift thought necessary to ensure a durable and mutually
respectful friendship with an estimable man after the passing of physical
It is only in the poems to Stella that he seriously risked the vocabulary of
gallantry, slipping into the conventional language of amorous compliment
as though Stella were deserving of it in a uniquely literal way, and even then
lacing it with an awareness of its limits in the face of the ravages of age.
The fact reveals how deeply, as Swift himself complained, the vocabulary of
fair-sexing had permeated everyday usage, but it also shows him speaking
with a profound tenderness not found elsewhere in his work. Almost every
poem takes up an affectionately ironic position on this stylistic matter,
which was much more than merely stylistic. In the first poem (1719), when
Stella was 34, he remembered her ‘at Sixteen The brightest Virgin on the
Green’, and still very beautiful. Although Swift self-consciously claims, in
‘To Stella, Who Collected and Transcribed his Poems’, that he sang of
his lady ‘Without one Word of Cupid’s Darts, Of killing Eyes, or bleeding
Hearts’ (11–12), he continued to invoke with affectionate variations some of
the commonplaces of poetical angel worship, especially in several poignant
poems describing Stella’s ageing:

Now, this is Stella’s Case in Fact;

An Angel’s Face, a little crack’t;
(Could Poets or could Painters fix
How Angels look at thirty six)
This drew us in at first to find
In such a Form an Angel’s Mind
And ev’ry Virtue now supplyes
The fainting Rays of Stella’s Eyes
(‘Stella’s Birthday’, 1721, 15–22)
Swift’s poetry: an overview 191
The playful but compulsive involvement with the idiom he repudiates
elsewhere is parodied upwards, to a plane of higher seriousness in which the
hyperbolic celebration is diverted to Stella’s intellect, virtue and devotion
to Swift. In the poem for ‘Stella’s Birth-Day’ (1725), he wryly surveys
their friendship, with an acute awareness of the tension between poetic
pretensions and the realities of old age:
Beauty and Wit, too sad a Truth,
Have always been confin’d to Youth;
The God of Wit, and Beauty’s Queen,
He Twenty one, and She Fifteen:
No Poet ever sweetly sung,
Unless he were like Phæbus, young;
Nor ever Nymph inspir’d to Rhyme,
Unless, like Venus, in her Prime.
At Fifty six, if this be true,
Am I a Poet fit for you?
Or at the Age of Forty three,
Are you a Subject fit for me?
Adieu bright Wit, and radiant Eyes;
You must be grave, and I be wise.
Our Fate in vain we would oppose,
But I’ll still be your Friend in Prose:
Esteem and Friendship to express,
Will not require Poetick Dress;
And if the Muse deny her Aid
To have them sung, they may be said.

His final compliment to her sustains the hyperbole he considers due to her
virtues, and then muses with a painful twist on the capacity of his own
fading faculties to apprehend them:
But, Stella say, what evil Tongue
Reports you are no longer young?
That Time sits with his Scythe to mow
Where erst sate Cupid with his Bow;
That half your Locks are turn’d to Grey;
I’ll ne’er believe a Word they say.
’Tis true, but let it not be known,
My Eyes are somewhat dimmish grown;
For Nature, always in the Right,
To your Decays adapts my Sight,
And Wrinkles undistinguish’d pass,
For I’m asham’d to use a Glass;
192 Poetry
And till I see them with these Eyes,
Whoever says you have them, lyes.

No Length of Time can make you quit

Honour and Virtue, Sense and Wit,
Thus you may still be young to me,
While I can better hear than see;
Oh, ne’er may Fortune shew her Spight,
To make me deaf, and mend my Sight.61

He later added in the margin of a copy of the poem ‘now deaf 1740’.62
The depth of emotion this expresses is also reflected in the stunned
private memorandum Swift began to draft on the night of Stella’s death:

This day, being Sunday, January 28th , 1727–8, about eight o’clock at night,
a servant brought me a note, with an account of the death of the truest,
most virtuous, and valuable friend, that I, or perhaps any other person ever
was blessed with. She expired about six in the evening of this day; and, as
soon as I am left alone, which is about eleven at night, I resolve, for my own
satisfaction, to say something of her life and character.
She was born at Richmond in Surrey on the thirteenth day of March,
in the year 1681. Her father was a younger brother of a good family in
Nottinghamshire, her mother of a lower degree; and indeed she had little
to boast of her birth. I knew her from six years old, and had some share
in her education, by directing what books she should read, and perpetually
instructing her in the principles of honour and virtue; from which she never
swerved in any one action or moment of her life. She was sickly from her
childhood until about the age of fifteen: But then grew into perfect health,
and was looked upon as one of the most beautiful, graceful, and agreeable
young women in London, only a little too fat. Her hair was blacker than a
raven, and every feature of her face in perfection.63

The bruised painfulness of this is evident, but so are the residual traces
of an instinctive undercutting: ‘little to boast of her birth’, ‘only a little
too fat’. But what is perhaps most remarkable is the length to which
he goes beyond his habitual parodic impulses in the matter of high-flown
fair-sexing compliments: ‘one of the most beautiful, graceful, and agreeable
young women in London’, ‘every feature of her face in perfection’. Though
an intimately unguarded document, its beginning is that of a crafted set-
piece, the portrait, as it might be, of a heroine. It is as though a stylised
guard were being invoked at a moment of unusually raw feeling, to which
the expected crackles of irony are allowed to make a minimal appearance.
Swift’s poetry: an overview 193
What is most striking is the willingness, on essential matters, to allow raw
feelings to show through the guard, as though Stella, in some devastatingly
literal sense, was the only person worthy of a style of compliment which
Swift felt a writer should normally be ashamed of attempting.
Within this frame, the account of Stella continues for several pages on
the theme of her qualities of wisdom and character, the second day’s entry
opening briefly on the earlier note of high compliment: ‘Never was any
of her sex born with better gifts of the mind’ (228). This is the essential
emphasis in his praise of both Vanessa and Stella, and in his idea of a sound
educational programme for women. Contrasting with, and complementary
to, the poems to Stella are a series of satires which include the controversial
poems of the late 1720s and early 1730s, The Lady’s Dressing Room (written
in 1730, published in 1732, and containing a friendly parody of Belinda’s
toilette in Pope’s Rape of the Lock) and ‘Cassinus and Peter’ (1731, 1734). In
both poems, a half-witted swain discovers to his dismay that his sweetheart
defecates, like anyone else: a fact denied, or occluded, in romances and
love poems, and in the idiom of gallant compliment.64 The refrain that
‘Celia, Celia, Celia shits’ (118; echoed by a similar plaint about another
mock-pastoral heroine in ‘Strephon and Chloe’ (1731, 1734) who urinates
on her wedding night), became the focus of accusations of misogyny and
body-hatred from such vocal promoters of sexual wholesomeness as D. H.
Lawrence and Aldous Huxley.65
There is much debate over Swift’s purported misogyny, but the mockery
in these poems is chiefly at the expense of the besotted young men who
are unable to come to terms with the obvious fact that women are subject
to the same human needs as men. Swift had a profound sense of the
damaging absurdity of the excessive compliments made fashionable by
love poems and romances, which had passed into, and corrupted, the
language of social and sexual relations. A poem which belongs to the same
group, ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed’ (1731, 1734), offers a less
light-hearted picture of an ageing prostitute, who sheds her cosmetic and
prosthetic aids when going to bed.66 The formulaic ‘horror’ of this poem
is its revelation that every part of the beautiful woman (teeth, hair, breasts,
eye) is what we would now call prosthetic, and that their dismantling
reveals a syphilitic body covered in ‘Shankers, Issues, running Sores’ (30).
Part of the idea goes back to the Battle of the Books’s Goddess Criticism,
whose filthy parts, impregnated with ‘Black Juice’, disintegrate, and then
reconstitute themselves into the writings of Bentley and his ilk, like the
Nymph reassembled for the next day’s work, except that the characters of
the Battle are books and not persons.
194 Poetry
The poem follows a generic formula which goes back to classical times.
The usual irony is of a good-looking woman or man whose beauty turns
out to depend on an assembly of mechanical parts.67 A later variant,
anthologised in Auden’s Oxford Book of Light Verse (1938), is about a dying
airman who asks his mechanics to take the cylinders out of his kidneys,
the connecting-rod out of his brain, ‘And assemble the engine again’ (No.
299), which might be considered a technological escalation of Ovidian
metamorphosis. A more unusual reversal of Swift’s formula occurs in Som-
erset Maugham’s play, Lady Frederick (1907), whose heroine, a society
beauty, decides to appear stripped of all ‘the false hair, the greasepaint,
rouge, pencil, and powder’, in order, selflessly, to persuade her lover to
abandon his courtship.68
The gruesomely particularised disclosures of Swift’s poem may deliber-
ately be outplaying the other writers who have toyed with this formulaic
convention. Swift’s horrific particularity may be a nudge and wink to the
reader, implying some jokey undercutting, as in some poems where an
excess of hyperbolic invective disarms itself by the exuberance of the excess
itself. The poem’s tone may, however, seem unrelenting, and its concluding
outburst of unprocessed feeling is not easy to account for:
Corinna in the Morning dizen’d,
Who sees, will spew; who smells, be poison’d.

It is this poem, not those with the catchy refrain about Celia, that is seriously
open to allegations of body-disgust, though even here there is evidence
of a playful excess comparable to that of the political invectives, where
an over-the-top intensity comes over to some extent as a self-disarming
stylistic sport. The poem nevertheless displays a harshness or astringency
not evident in the light-hearted elan of ‘Cassinus and Peter’ or ‘Strephon
and Chloe’. All these poems, including the ‘Beautiful Young Nymph’, are
mock-pastorals with a scabrous urban setting, their heroines bearing the
pastoral names of Celia, Chloe or Corinna (the latter, however, carrying
less innocent associations, too).
The irony of the subtitle of ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph’, ‘Written for
the Honour of the Fair Sex’, may or may not imply misogyny and body-
hatred, but it is also concerned with the social assumptions behind ‘Fair
Sex’ language. Its demonstration that women are not angels contains an
element of overkill, whose character is perhaps best defined as a form
of black humour. The accompanying poems in the group, The Lady’s
Dressing Room (1730), ‘Strephon and Chloe’ and ‘Cassinus and Peter’ (both
Swift’s poetry: an overview 195
written in 1731 and published with ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph’ in 1734),
all portray a young swain’s dismay at the discovery that Celia shits and
Chloe pisses. Since they ridicule traditions of literary expression and social
outlook which pretend otherwise, much of the satire is at the expense of the
discountenanced young men. The tone has a light-hearted sharpness, later
imitated by Byron, and this portrait of modern courtship from ‘Strephon
and Chloe’ has some of the easy-going geniality of Beppo or Don Juan:
Think what a Case all Men are now in,
What ogling, sighing, toasting, vowing!
What powder’d Wigs! What Flames and Darts!
What Hampers full of bleeding Hearts!
(‘Strephon and Chloe’, 33–6)

The censorious excitations of D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and

other guardians of our sexual culture have given these poems a reputation
which may be as excessive as the feelings they attribute to Swift. The exact
emotional temperature of the poems is difficult to gauge with exactness.
Their comedy is often confident and unfraught, though ‘A Beautiful Young
Nymph’ may not reflect a relaxed view of sexual issues. A concern under-
lying the poems is that women should receive an education which would
enable them to share the same interests as men, and be taken seriously as
intelligent beings on terms of mutual respect. This rational perspective did
not extend to believing women were actually equal to men or could ever
achieve the same intellectual level. Its objective was to provide a sounder
basis for a durable friendship or marriage than the customary affectations
of mindless gallantry or the seduction of impermanent physical charms.
Swift’s views fall short of some wishful claims by his feminist admirers,
but they do not support the imputations of radical misogyny frequently
levelled at him by others. Their fullest expression is the prose ‘Letter to a
Young Lady, on her Marriage’ (1723) and the poems addressed to Vanessa
and Stella, his two closest female friends. Both were younger than himself,
and his not fully understood relationship with them included a tutorial
role on his part. The self-exculpating and disagreeable poem Cadenus and
Vanessa (1713–26) has found friends in some circles in the teeth of a coyly
self-righteous boastfulness about a young woman’s passion for him. But
it is Stella, rather than the vivacious Vanessa, who remained his steadiest
and closest woman friend, as well as the most cherished product of his
teaching. His poems to Stella on her birthday and other occasions between
1719 and her death in 1728 are a serious and deeply felt complement to the
views underlying the satirical poems about Celia, Chloe and Corinna.
196 Poetry
Swift’s poems to Vanessa and Stella are more informal and more auto-
biographical than Pope’s major poem about women, the epistle To a Lady
(1735), addressed to his friend Martha Blount and published two years after
Swift’s poem of the same title. For all its definitional pyrotechnics, and
its allure of philosophic assurance, Pope’s poem concludes in precisely the
mode of fair-sexing compliment Swift despised. The backhanded gallantry
of Pope’s argument that his addressee combines all the perfections of both
sexes (‘Nature’s last best Work . . . a softer Man’) might have struck Swift
as a preposterous foolery if his opinion of Pope had been unfriendly or
disrespectful, and if Swift hadn’t himself concocted an embarrassed fiction
employing this conceit on the subject of Vanessa, shown as having been
created by Venus and Pallas with the virtues of both sexes. Swift offered
the clarification that ‘Knowledge, Judgment, Wit’, bestowed on Vanessa
by divine deceit, were ‘manly’ virtues ‘long unknown to Womankind’
(198 ff., 203–5). He said similar things about Stella without the flustered
Whatever their psycho-biographical implications, all these poems reg-
ister a determination to counter the damaging absurdities of fair-sexing.
On balance, their main thrust is against these, and in favour of recog-
nition that women are neither angels nor whores, but human creatures
with the frailties and some of the moral and intellectual potential that go
with the territory. That their approximate equality is in many ways that
of the common Yahoo reflects the depressed view of human nature most
fully articulated in Gulliver’s Travels (1726), where humanity is viewed as
exemplifying all the vices it attributes to its own despised sexual and racial
If Swift accepted the idea that the heroic couplet, the iambic pentameter
line of ten syllables, was, as Pope practised it, the norm to aspire to, his
choice of a briefer, racier, colloquial, ‘low’ metre is making a statement less
about the standing of the couplet than about his own relationship to high
dignified speech. In his Epistle to a Lady, Who Desired the Author to Make
Verses on Her, in the Heroick Stile (possibly written in 1728, published 1733),
he playfully but firmly said that ‘For your Sake as well as mine, I the lofty
Stile decline’ (217–18).69 What was declined was not only the high rhetoric
of epic or mock-epic, or the elevated discursiveness of a philosophical
poem, but the high style of extravagant compliments to ladies. He often
parodied the latter, because he regarded the compliments of love poetry as
a ridiculous convention, but his remarks also applied, it seems, to satiric
indignations of the Roman satirist Juvenal. He argued that ridicule was a
more effective weapon than railing, without denying the intense feelings
Swift’s poetry: an overview 197
that provoked the invective of such poems as Traulus and the Legion Club:
‘In a Jest I spend my Rage: (Tho’ it must be understood, I would hang
them if I cou’d)’ (168–70).
The jest is not a matter of witty urbanity, of the kind he uses to deflect
the lady’s request, but of an exuberant excess of insult which is itself
disarmed to some extent precisely because it is excessive, a rant protected
by an element of mock-rant. The real agenda is not to declaim, for that
involves a loss of poise. Instead, he proposes entering the dirty world of
the enemy, and punishing him by undignified intimacies of humiliation,
stripping ‘their bums’ and whipping them till they squirm (177–80). Just
as the declared objective of Gulliver’s Travels was to ‘vex the world rather
th[a]n divert it’, as Swift said to Pope in a letter of 29 September 1725, so the
aim here is to get his victims to ‘wriggle, howl, and skip’, set their ‘Spirits
all a working’ (205), arousing a species of panic, rather than crushing them
by denunciation. To conclude his rejection of high styles, he additionally,
and only half-mockingly, confesses that he fears making a fool of himself:
‘I Shou’d make a Figure scurvy’ (219). The vulnerability of lofty styles
to the figure scurvy, the low-key idiom and affectations of light-hearted
inconsequence, may be a version of the feeling Auden ascribed to later
poets, whose ‘light verse’, in the context of prevailing poetic pretensions,
provided the only possibility of a ‘sufficient intimacy with their audience
to be able to forget themselves and their singing-robes’.70
chapter 9

‘I the lofty stile decline’

Vicissitudes of the ‘heroick strain’ in Swift’s poems

Swift disliked most forms of grand manner. His claim never to have ‘written
serious Couplets in my Life’, ‘yet never any without a moral View’, is a
movingly understated declaration of principle, in a letter in several ways
remarkable for its range of unaffected personal disclosure.1 The denial of
‘serious Couplets’ was partly, perhaps mainly, a matter of style. It seems to
refer to his sparse use of the formal decasyllabic couplet, and to imply that
he is not competing with Pope, whose mastery of the form he admired
but would not emulate. It also reflects the fact that nearly all his poems
contain signposted derision or parody of recognised ‘serious’ genres: the
inflated compliments of love-poetry, the grandiloquent georgic descriptions
of sunrise or storm, poems in praise of famous men, pastoral prettiness.
What is remarkable is that this most insistently parodic of satirists hardly
ever attempted that favourite among contemporary poetic modes, the
mock-heroic (in the strict sense which implies mimicry of epic poems).
There is, I think, no sustained example among his many poems, and the
only example in his work as a whole is The Battle of the Books. The Battle is,
in a sense, Swift’s Dunciad, but its continuous epic reverberations, unlike
the Dunciad’s, are flattened by other and competing parodic dimensions, as
well as by the humbler medium of prose. Between the Homeric or Virgilian
mimicry and the modern fatuities of intellect which are played off against
it in the Battle, alternative and less majestic levels of parody are interposed,
including the mock-editorial, and most notably mock-journalese.2 For the
Battle is not only an inverted epic but also, and simultaneously, a newspaper
report or fugitive pamphlet in prose: ‘A Full and True Account of the Battel
Fought last Friday’.3
This contributes to an impression that the epic parallels in the Battle
derive their force from the ingenuity of Swift’s misapplications of epic plot
or of selected Homeric or Virgilian episodes rather than from a sense of
stylistic grandeurs deflated. In the Dunciad, by contrast, parallels of epic

‘I the lofty stile decline’ 199
plot or incident are secondary objects of attention, the continuous ‘heroic’
feature residing less in an epic narrative than in the play of verbal majesty,
of Virgilian or Miltonic resonance perverted to unworthy ends. The dunces
are not, like Swift’s Moderns, allowed to find their natural mediocrity in the
mimicry of Grub Street prose which Swift blends with the epic allusion. Or
if they do, it is only in some of the notes which Pope added to the poem,
rather than in the original fabric of the mock-epic itself. Pope’s mock-
learning and mock-epic are kept in separate compartments, whereas Swift’s
mock-epic and his mock-journalese are largely the same thing. There is
also a continuous mock-learned thread in Swift’s Battle, which purports
to be both an epic and an edition of an epic, and this, too, is totally
integrated into the primary text from the start, offering a further built-in
buffer. In Pope’s verse, on the other hand, nothing is interposed between
epic grandiloquence and its grotesque application to the dunces, unless
a constant reference away from verse to commentary permits the dunces
to be seen, intermittently, in a more natural or quotidian absurdity. The
epic formula is not in serious competition with any other level of parody
within the poem, and the dunces, unlike Swift’s Moderns, are allowed to
mushroom out into a grotesque simulacrum of epic stature. Their lack of
grace or talent, their venal depravity, even their insignificance, swell into
massive potency, acquiring a bloated magnitude from the heroic majesty
in whose idiom they are presented.
It is a truism that in the mock-heroic of Pope’s Dunciad, the primary
heroic grandeurs are disfigured rather than diminished in their duncic
incarnation. At the same time, a norm of rich epic eloquence is felt to
survive the stylistic distortions, its residual majesties shining forth as a
reminder of lost greatnesses and of an ideal of order and beauty longingly
aspired to amid the disarray of the modern waste land. By an odd chemistry
wholly foreign to Swift’s manner, the world of the dunces is itself infected
with these majesties: ‘Great Cibber’s brazen, brainless brothers’, ‘Slow rose
a form, in majesty of Mud’ (i. 32, ii. 326). The word ‘majesty’ was added
in 1729, and remained in the poem thereafter. In the 1728 versions, the line
read: ‘tremendous all in mud!’ (1728, ii. 290).
Swift never sought such effects. The risk of bringing them about may
indeed have been one of the things which caused him normally to steer
clear of mock-heroic. It is as though his avoidance of ‘lofty Stile’ extended
to whatever remnants of it might survive in the parody. Dryden had spoken
in a well-known passage in the Discourse Concerning Satire of the grander
forms of mock-heroic satire as ‘undoubtedly a Species’ of ‘Heroique Poetry
200 Poetry
it self’ (CE, iv. 84). The equivalence is one which Swift undoubtedly
sensed and which could be expected to deter him. Dryden’s praise of
Boileau’s Virgilian mock-heroic as ‘the most Beautiful, and most Noble
kind of Satire’, where ‘the Majesty of the Heroique’ is ‘finely mix’d’ with
satiric venom and raises what is ‘flat and vulgar, by the Sublimity of the
Expression’, would be enough by itself to turn Swift off, even if he had not
been temperamentally on his guard against lofty styles anyway. Dryden’s
description of Boileau’s high mock-heroic occurs after a discussion of
the lower and deliberately undignified satire called burlesque, which is
identified with Hudibras and characterised by the octosyllabic ‘Doggrel
Rhime’ which Swift was soon to make his own (CE, iv. 81, Poems, ii. 631).
Swift’s despised ‘cousin’ Dryden might almost have been laying down a
scenario for Swift of what to go for and what to avoid.
Swift’s avoidance of the high mock-heroic, with its echoes of Virgilian
epic, derived mainly from a personal shyness of lofty postures. I suspect that
there may also have been an instinctive recoil from situations in which his
corrosive irony might risk accidentally subverting the revered epic originals,
as his other parodies deliberately subverted the rhetoric of love-poetry or
the solemn or falsifying routines of other genres. There is nothing in Swift’s
work quite like the Dunciad’s Virgilian or Miltonic grandeurs, any more
than of its other, non-epic, muddy majesties. He comes nearest to any kind
of Dunciadic inflation in parts of a post-Dunciadic poem, ‘To Mr. Gay on
his being Steward to the Duke of Queensberry’ (1731, Poems, ii. 530 ff.),
particularly in this portrait of a Minister (Walpole):
A bloated M–r in all his Geer,
With shameless Visage, and perfidious Leer,
Two Rows of Teeth arm each devouring Jaw;
And, Ostrich-like, his all-digesting Maw.
My Fancy drags this Monster to my View,
To show the World his chief Reverse in you.
Of loud un-meaning Sounds, a rapid Flood
Rolls from his Mouth in plenteous Streams of Mud;
With these, the Court and Senate-house he plies,
Made up of Noise, and Impudence, and Lies.

Swift’s biographer Ehrenpreis opines that the poem ‘abounds in weak-

nesses’, perhaps because ‘the form was unsympathetic’.4 The poem is indeed
one of those in which Swift did, at various times, take on the ‘heroic cou-
plet’, though he seems to have preferred the adjective ‘serious’. The couplets
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 201
of ‘To Mr. Gay’, like those of the pre-Popeian ‘Description of the Morning’
more than twenty years earlier, differ substantially from Pope’s. They have
their origin, as we have seen, in an alternative and older style of rhyming
pentameter, less touched by the Augustanising displays of assured defini-
tional containment. The poem is one of the most substantial of Swift’s
couplet poems, in both length and stature. Gay was (mistakenly) reported
to have been offered the stewardship after he had turned down a court-
appointment which he considered demeaning. The topic of preferment,
always a touchy one with Swift, was a recurrent theme in his transactions
with, and writings about, Gay. Compared with the characters of disrep-
utable public figures in Pope’s Moral Essays and Horatian Imitations, which
mostly belong to the years between the writing and publication of Swift’s
poem (1731–5), Swift’s lines are closer to a form of demonising invective
than to the rounded portraiture of the Popeian couplet. They have none of
the definitional brio of Pope’s portrait of Wharton or the mocking Virgilian
elevation (‘alas! how chang’d’) of the account of the death of Buckingham,
also portrayed as Zimri in Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, and none
of that upward contamination of loftiness pursued by Dryden and Pope
through parody.5
Pope’s feats of summation have ‘heroic’ pretensions of fearless sword-
wielding, more Juvenalian than Horatian, for which Swift, for all the Juve-
nalian ‘savage indignation’ (saeva indignatio) he professed in his epitaph,
had no appetite, just as Swift had no predilection for cameo portraiture,
with its implication that depravity was amenable to orderly definition.6
Even when apparently adopting the paired arrangements characteristic of
contemporary coupleteering, Swift gives a sense of overspilling energies
rather than containment:
Two Rows of Teeth arm each devouring Jaw;
And, Ostrich-like, his all-digesting Maw.

Deformity and viciousness, in Pope or the prose of Fielding, appear in

defiled simulation of symmetry, as when we read in Pope’s Iliad (1715) of
Thersites, whom Homer had merely described as bandy-legged and lame,
that ‘One Eye was blinking, and one Leg was lame’ (Homer, ii. 217; Pope,
ii. 264), Pope adding the eye to create a paired deformity. The definitional
allure, and the sense of naturally ordered symmetry even in conditions of
betrayal, which Pope’s manner is straining after, is wholly absent in Swift,
who shows in Walpole’s features only a brutal chaos of menacing ugliness.
202 Poetry
Similar things might be said about Walpole’s oratory, which may again
be set against that of Pope’s Thersites:
Loquacious, loud, and turbulent of Tongue:
Aw’d by no Shame, by no Respect controul’d,
In Scandal busie, in Reproaches bold.
(ii. 256–8)

Again, Pope superimposes an elaborate metrical architecture, a kind of dis-

figured Palladian montage, on Homer’s account of a garrulous malcontent,
disorderly and disrespectful of speech. Swift has no Homeric model to
rearrange, but, by contrast with Pope’s regulated and ‘heightened’ sketch
of the foul-mouthed barrack orator, attributes to Walpole’s speechmaking
a fantasticating runaway grotesquerie:
Of loud un-meaning Sounds, a rapid Flood
Rolls from his Mouth in plenteous Streams of Mud.

Though without a Homeric original to rearrange, the passage harks back to

Swift’s only mock-epic work, the prose Battle of the Books, where the scholar
Bentley’s bad breath acquires, under provocation, an ‘atramentous Quality,
of most malignant Nature, [which] was seen to distil from his Lips’. A
little earlier the Goddess Criticism’s effluvia of ‘Black Juice’ dissolve, as
we have seen, in the ‘Letters’ of print through which Bentley and his
friend express themselves. The cascading grotesquerie of the streams of
mud rolling from Walpole’s mouth is in vivid contrast to the measured
stateliness of the Dunciad’s Fleet Ditch, an actual filthy stream that ‘Rolls
the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames’ (Dunciad, ii. 272, 260 in 1729). It
seems possible that Swift was half-remembering Pope’s line, from a poem
actually dedicated to himself, in which case the difference between the
two poets appears even more striking. It is conversely likely that the lurid
pathos of Pope’s death of Buckingham owes something to Swift, as Pope’s
darker grotesqueries tend to do, borrowing and transforming something of
Swift’s register into a shabby but orderly grandeur outside Swift’s ambition
or scope.
It would be interesting to know who was remembering whom, since the
poets were seeing each other’s work, in the cadence and thrust of Swift’s:
With these, the Court and Senate-house he plies,
Made up of Noise, and Impudence, and Lies.

whose second line seems in dialogue with Pope’s

‘I the lofty stile decline’ 203
Poor Cornus sees his frantic Wife elope,
And curses Wit, and Poetry, and Pope,
(Epistle to Arbuthnot, 25–6, and see 229)

Pope’s Epistle was published in January of the year ‘To Mr Gay’ appeared
in the Faulkner edition of his Works (1735). Swift’s poem, though written
in 1731, had been almost certainly the subject of correspondence between
Pope, Swift and Gay at the time.7 Either way, Swift is practising a Popeian
measure without the Popeian allure of conclusive metrical domination,
and his couplet almost tends to the garrulous, informal manner of his
tetrameter style, where headlong rush is more evident than tight measure.
While Swift writes couplets that want to be tetrameters, Pope can convey
a comic hint of tripping animation (‘I nod in Company, I wake at Night’,
First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, 13), whose natural home might be
the Swiftian tetrameter, but on to which Pope has by contrast stamped the
couplet’s disciplined march.
‘To Mr. Gay’ closes with potential candidates for Walpole’s job (on the
accession of George II in 1727) being put off by the smell of corruption,
leaving Walpole in place:

Thus, when a greedy Sloven once has thrown

His Snot into the Mess; ’tis all his own. (161–2)

The enjambed line would be uncharacteristic in Pope (except when Pope is

parodying Milton), as would the brutally laconic pay-off, which resembles
that of ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed’. These abrupt accesses of
seemingly unprocessed spite are not altogether characteristic of Swift, either.
They suggest a loss of cool, and it may be that they are unguarded moments,
unusual in a writer so guarded. In view of Swift’s habitual renunciation
of hectoring invective, it is possible that Swift’s virulent denunciation of
Walpole was intended as to some extent a self-disarming rant, signalling
its own excess without abandoning the animus, and that its tempera-
ture, like that of the poems about Corinna and Celia, is similarly hard to
But if this has a certain Dunciadic enormity, what it shares with the Dun-
ciad is, appropriately, not so much the Dunciad’s rolling heroic eloquence
or the epic reminders, as the heaving grotesquerie. ‘Rolls from his Mouth
in plenteous Streams of Mud’ has something of Pope’s large amplitudes of
deformity, but little of the stateliness with which, in Pope, the deformity
is impregnated. In place of this stateliness are active energies of ugliness
which are essentially Swiftian.
204 Poetry
It is, however, even more characteristic of Swift to present these ugly
energies in all their teeming and unmitigated lowness, without any sugges-
tion of grandeur. Pope’s evocation of ‘the large tribute of dead dogs’ rolled
by Fleet-ditch’s streams in Dunciad, ii. 271–2, has a processional stateliness
unusual in poems discussing such scenes, of which Gay’s Trivia (1716),
‘Soon shall the Kennels swell with rapid Streams, And rush in muddy
Torrents to the Thames’ (i. 159–60) might be taken as a more neutral or
uninflated example, commensurate with its Georgic prototype. These are
very different from the headlong chaotic animation of Swift’s torrent of
drowned puppies in ‘A Description of a City Shower’ (1710), probably an
immediate precursor of both passages:
Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.
(61–3, Poems, i. 139)

Pope allowed himself the risks of introducing large tributes of dead dogs in a
work avowedly reminiscent of classical (notably Virgilian, but also Homeric
and Miltonic) epic. His irony could take in the dunces without extending
its sting to their composite epic original, preserving some grandeurs of
that original without insulting it. Swift both eschewed the grandeurs and
guarded against the risk of insult, a risk to which his peculiarly destructive
irony made him more predisposed than Pope must have felt himself to
be: it is significant that whereas both Dryden and Pope also produced
‘straight’ heroic translations of the Homeric and Virgilian epics, Swift once
attempted to translate part of the Aeneid and found, as he told Thomas
Swift on 3 May 1692, that it ‘sticks plaguily on my hands’ (Correspondence,
i. 111). He tells Thomas that he is unwilling to translate certain lines in
Book vi, though Sir William Temple wants him to, because, though he
‘perhaps’ knows the meaning, ‘’tis confounded silly nonsense in English’.
It’s not clear why these passages were singled out (Aeneid, vi. 20 ff., 74–6).
They deal, among other things, with the death of Androgeos, Pasiphaë and
her bull, the Minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus, and they advise against
trusting one’s songs to the leaves. But the anxiety about making himself
look ridiculous is evident, a few years before Dryden’s translations had
appeared for Swift to ridicule, as he would soon do in the Tale and Battle
of the Books.
This was in the early period, when Swift had not yet found his voice,
and was uneasily essaying a sustained high style in his Pindaric odes,
a matter for awkward confessions in the same letter (Correspondence,
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 205
i. 109–11). The broad Virgilian source of Swift’s ‘City Shower’ is geor-
gic, not epic, and the particular lines I have quoted interpose in addition
a parody of the Drydenian ‘triplet’ (a couplet rounded off with an alexan-
drine) between the notional evocation of Virgilian georgic and the realities
of a modern city shower, thus removing the element of literary mockery
from a revered ancient to a despised modern. That ‘licentious Manner of
modern Poets’ made fashionable by ‘DRYDEN, and other Poets in the
Reign of CHARLES II’, to which we are alerted explicitly in a Faulkner
note of 1735, and which Swift mentions among some unflattering remarks
about Dryden in a letter of the same year, does what the thread of mock-
journalese had done in the Battle.8 It cushions the mimicked grandeurs
of the ancients from the indignity of the modern duncehood to which
they are applied, by providing a modern stylistic buffer whose own inflated
pretensions can be mocked without risk of desecrating ancient altars.
It is pertinent to recall in this connection that Dryden appears in a
humiliating encounter with Virgil himself in the Battle. His Virgilian pre-
tensions express themselves in rusty armour and a helmet ‘nine times too
large for the Head, which appeared Situate far in the hinder Part, . . . like
a shrivled Beau from within the Pent-house of a modern Periwig’ (Tale,
158). In the ‘City Shower’, in a rare and subsidiary epic reminder alluding
to Virgil’s Trojan horse, the scene is likewise kept within the flattened con-
fines of contemporary foppery, the ‘Bully Greeks’ in Virgil’s horse becoming
modern beaux ‘Box’d in a Chair,’ who ‘Instead of paying Chair-men, run
them thro’’ (43–52, Poems, i. 139). Even this epic reminder avoids the nor-
mal mock-heroic procedure of setting up a grandiloquence for eventual
puncturing. As in the Battle throughout, so in this more localised case the
epic allusion is a matter of ingenious transposition rather than a parody
of high style inappropriately applied. It evokes a Virgilian episode rather
than the style in which that episode had been recounted. Its piquancy
resides in the bizarre narrative parallel and not so much in the more usual
form of upside-down mock-heroic rhetoric. As if to emphasise the point,
the idiom of narration is flat, rather than impossibly high or outrageously
low. Since Dryden, as we have seen, is deliberately derided within ten
lines of this passage, it is more than probable that Dryden (who so con-
veniently translated Virgil’s epic as well as his Georgics) was a notional
presence in Swift’s mind here also. The Virgil translation was famous,
relatively recent, and expressly under heavy attack in A Tale of a Tub
and the Battle of the Books, whose revised fifth edition appeared in the
same year as ‘A Description of a City Shower’ and probably within two
or three months of it.9 The verbal parallels with Dryden’s translation of
206 Poetry
the episode of the wooden horse are not especially close, but the slightly
ridiculous idea of him as the Mr Virgil of his time was one which Swift
would instinctively seek to exploit.10 Swift’s parody is not verbal, and no
normal reader would rush to check the text. If Dryden’s presence is sensed
here in addition to being pointedly indicated in the triplet parody a few
lines later, and in many other places throughout, then it acts by definition as
a notional buffer between Swiftian parody and Virgilian original, absolving
Swift of anti-Virgilian irreverence or any unintended slur on epic dignity.
As we have seen, the triplet from the ‘City Shower’ not only parodies
‘DRYDEN, and other Poets in the reign of CHARLES II’, but in its
first two lines demonstrates a couplet’s ability to represent an animated
tumble-down disorder which is the antithesis of the orderly containments
of Dryden and later, especially, of Pope. This effect is accentuated by the
metrical overflow of the longer third line, borrowing headlong movement
from a metre often used by English poets to achieve a clinching finality
or to round off a portentous point. This is the sense in which the closing
alexandrine is paraded in Pope’s Essay on Criticism, published the year after
Swift’s ‘City Shower’:
A needless Alexandrine ends the Song,
That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow length along.
(Essay on Criticism, 1711, 356–7)

Swift’s alexandrine (to which attention is drawn) was headlong, not slow,
and Swift himself used the form occasionally to comic or familiar effect. But
for both poets, it was an unserious metre. Though it was, in Adam Smith’s
words, ‘the heroic verse in French’, the alexandrine tended in English to the
burlesque: ‘Nothing would appear more absurd in English, than a tragedy
written in the Alexandrine verses of the French; or in French, than a work
of the same kind in verses of ten syllables.’11
In a sense, Swift’s various experiments with longer and shorter lines were
informal ways of circumventing the couplet.12 Swift did write significant
poems in couplets, but they usually avoid the definitional allure, the met-
rical ordering of the cæsura, the reciprocal patterning of half-lines, and
the tightly structured closures of rhyme, which, though not invented by
Pope, became the stamp of Popeian style. When these poems were writ-
ten, Pope was about to enter the limelight (the Pastorals appeared in 1709,
and the Essay on Criticism in 1711). But though Swift would acknowledge
Pope’s mastery of the couplet’s packed concentration, he would imitate
neither its grandeurs nor its symmetries. Even when he does practise it, as
in ‘The Author upon Himself ’ (1714, published 1735), the tone is low-key
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 207
and professes an understated modesty: ‘S– had the Sin of Wit no venial
Crime; Nay, ’twas affirm’d, he sometimes dealt in Rhime’ (9–10), one of
several revelations that he perceived his reputation as being that of a poet,
though this poem’s concerns are mostly with his political fortunes. A poem
of vehement resentments which was not published until 1735, ‘The Author
upon Himself ’ remains one of the most interesting of his couplet poems,
espousing at times a homespun narrative mode, without metrical brio, but
always with a powerful, but unPopeian, command of the form.
It contains some unprocessed self-exposure, and has an air of paying off
scores. Like the Verses on the Death of Dr Swift, it refers, with a somewhat
mincing boastfulness, to his favour with ministers during Harley’s prime-
ministership: ‘And, Harley, not asham’d his Choice to own, Takes him to
Windsor in his Coach, alone’ (31–2). Samuel Johnson remarked on the ele-
ment of abasement in Swift’s pleasure at the importance conferred on him
by his political masters.13 Such sentiments appear in their most uncensored
form in the intimately playful letters he wrote to Esther Johnson, which
are known as the Journal to Stella. Swift had a proudly defensive temper-
ament, and his unguarded self-exposure in the poem may have contained
more of the self-exposing intimacy of the Stella correspondence than Swift
intended. Swift clearly desired to establish that he was favoured by the
nation’s leaders, but the effort to avoid the risks of lofty self-celebration
through a series of low-key details sometimes comes over as embarrassed.
There is none of the aplomb of Pope’s ‘Envy must own, I live among the
Great, No Pimp of Pleasure, and no Spy of State’ (First Satire of the Second
Book of Horace, Imitated, 133–4).
Swift’s most explicit refusal of a ‘lofty Stile’ occurs in An Epistle to
a Lady, Who Desired the Author to Make Verses on Her, in the Heroick
Stile (Poems, ii. 628–38). It contains an odd mixture of genial banter with
some angry outbursts against Walpole and the Nation’s Representers which
sporadically strike a note of Juvenalian eloquence (the notion that Swift’s
poems, however, or his other works, are normally Juvenalian in manner
is a longstanding oddity of Swift studies).14 This Juvenalian element is
not only sporadic and unstable in the Epistle, but frequently mixed with,
and undercut by, a variety of competing tones: some characteristically
Swiftian touches of excremental slapstick, much informal gallantry of a
Voiture-like mock-insulting sort to Lady Acheson, an appeal to Horatian
lightness as a more effective satiric weapon than heavy denunciation. Swift
expressed a similar preference for Horace, the same year, in his review of
the Beggar’s Opera, in Intelligencer, No. 3 (p. 62). It is arguable that Swift
is not much closer to Horace than to Juvenal, of course, though perhaps
208 Poetry
paradoxically nearer Horace’s manner than was the high, polished, urbanity
of Pope’s Horatian Imitations. The fact that Pope’s Horatian poems often
had a Juvenalian flavour is nowadays well understood and compounds the
paradox, since this Juvenalian flavour makes itself felt more frequently than
in the supposedly Juvenalian Swift.
Horace, whom Swift ‘imitated’ in a number of brisk, flat and mainly
octosyllabic poems, far removed in atmosphere from Pope’s majestic Imi-
tations in English heroic metre, appealed to Swift not because of his
alleged urbanity, but because he too, as Dryden’s Discourse described it,
‘refus’d . . . the loftiness of Figures’ and could be thought of as often pitch-
ing his style rather ‘low’ (CE, iv. 77, 58 ff.). Dryden’s assertion that ‘Juvenal
Excels in the Tragical Satyre, as Horace does in the Comical’, and his
frequent references to Horace’s tendency to a lower style by contrast with
Juvenal’s ‘Elevated . . . Sonorous . . . Noble . . . sublime and lofty’ verse, help
us to understand how much likelier Swift might be to wish to model himself
on Horace than on Juvenal (CE, iv. 74, 63). Again Dryden might almost
be thought to have provided a negative scenario for Swift, which is not of
course to say that Swift’s tastes were determined by Dryden any more than
it is to say that Swift disliked Juvenal’s satire or the ‘serious’ grand style of
the great classical epics, as distinct from not being drawn to practise such
styles himself.
Swift’s own Epistle to a Lady begins, as we have seen, by dissociating
Swift from the styles of exaggerated compliment supposedly desired by
modern ladies. It is as though, as in the poems to Stella, Swift could only
liberate himself from a style he despised by engaging with it in an ironic or
critical mode. The critique embodied in Swift’s Epistle makes it his most
important statement in verse about his poetic manner and aims. It is also
a political diatribe against Walpole’s government, for which Swift himself
was nearly arrested, and it offers an insight into the Juvenalian intensities
sometimes imputed to him, which the poem itself disavows.
The gallant levity with which he refuses the lady her gallant compliments,
declining lofty styles and professing a laughing Horatian manner, goes on
to say, in an unusually abrupt transition, that his laughter at ‘the Nation’s
Representers’ is hardly amicable, and that ‘I would hang them if I cou’d’
(156, 170):
Let me, tho’ the Smell be Noisome,
Strip their Bums; let Caleb hoyse ’em;
Then, apply Alecto’s Whip,
Till they wriggle, howl, and skip.
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 209
This vitriolic escalation is remarkably lacking in the traditional majesties
of satiric denunciation. It expresses not a righteous rage from on high,
but lowers the satirist to the level of his victims, in an aggressive and
scatological intimacy, looking ahead to the Legion Club’s ‘Souse them in
their own Ex-crements’ (Legion Club, 186). Swift’s agenda is not to crush
the objects of his ire, but to torment and unnerve them from close up,
setting their ‘Spirits all a working’ (206). The disclosure tells us much
about the manner of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and its quarrelsome and
somewhat panic-inducing closeness not only to its satiric victims, but to a
more or less victimised reader.
The Epistle to a Lady is of particular interest here because it contains a
reasoned discussion of Swift’s refusal of the ‘Heroick Stile’, and because this
is presented as part of a portrait of his own character. The Epistle is one of an
important group of poetical self-portraits, along with Cadenus and Vanessa,
‘The Author upon Himself ’, and the Verses on the Death, which combine
perspicacious analysis with an element of self-mythologising apologia, plac-
ing Swift in a rather public and exalted role. The posture as such has
‘heroick’ pretensions, though in no strictly epic way, and Swift undercuts
it with some more or less embarrassed irony, as we shall see. When the
Epistle refuses a ‘Heroick Stile’ (‘I the lofty Stile decline’ (218)), this refusal
is at all events only partly on declared grounds of literary principle, con-
cerning the comparative force of Horatian and Juvenalian mockery, for
example. Nor is the ‘heroick’ which Swift refuses here principally a matter
of epic, any more than the few other grandiloquent postures he some-
times drifts into are, but embraces all forms of poetic inflation, including
especially those of amorous compliment as well as angry political denun-
ciation, though the Epistle indulges in accesses of both, even as it pretends
not to.
In the earlier Cadenus and Vanessa (796–7, 821), the ‘lofty Style . . .
Which he had taught her to despise’, meant the ‘high Romantick Strain’
of romances and love poems. The term ‘Heroick’ sits naturally in such
contexts. Indeed, the adjective ‘Homerican’ was used in Fielding’s mock-
heroic antics in Tom Jones, not only for ‘Battles’, which often had a basis in
sexual comedy (Tom Jones, iv. viii), but for transactions expressly described
as ‘a Battle of the amorous Kind’ (ix. v). The Rape of the Lock shows how
readily, in contexts serious as well as comic, the vocabularies of military
and sexual exploits (conquest, surrender, siege, killing, dying) could be
reciprocally, and indeed punningly, tapped. The use of heroical inflation
in the language of sexual compliment is exuberantly evident in Fielding’s
description of Sophia Western in Tom Jones iv. ii, which is headed ‘A short
210 Poetry
Hint of what we can do in the Sublime’. It is a comic lapse into just this sort
of panegyric inflation that Swift is purporting to shrink from, evidently
realising that even comic mimicry of it would expose him to hyperbolic
excesses, even as genuine praise and compliment are being implied. But the
disconcerting gracelessness of Cadenus and Vanessa may indicate that Swift
had a keen sense of what he was shrinking from in denying Lady Acheson’s
request in his Epistle to a Lady. He would not have found it easy to write
Pope’s mock-gallantries about Belinda any more than the compliment to
Martha Blount in Pope’s own Epistle to a Lady, who like Vanessa combined
the virtues of both sexes, forming Heaven’s ‘last best work . . . a softer Man’
(Pope, Epistle, 272). The discountenanced awkwardness of Swift’s fable in
Cadenus and Vanessa contrasts revealingly with the aplomb which Swift
admired in Pope and avoided himself.
This guardedness can be sensed implicitly in his parodies of love poetry
(including those poems to Stella where stylistic undercutting coexists with
undisguised personal tenderness), or in the self-deflating touches which
accompany his flights of indignant asperity, however strongly intended,
as in the attack on Walpole and the Nation’s Representers in the Epistle
itself (155 ff.). Swift’s temperamental instinct to offer no high style without
mocking it blends awkwardly with his self-exalting impulses, as well as
helping to explain why he would not normally touch the epic forms of the
‘heroick’, whether in parody or otherwise.
The Epistle is ostensibly concerned with the theory of satire, and with
the comparative effectiveness of different satiric methods. It also describes
some special features of Swift’s own highly individual and intimate form
of aggression towards readers and satiric victims, which were not tradi-
tional subjects of critical discussion. But what is especially interesting here
is that the reasons he gives for refusing the ‘lofty Stile’ (140, 218) are
to a considerable extent autobiographical and inward-looking. It is not
only that such a style is in some generalised way ‘against my nat’ral Vein’
For your Sake, as well as mine,
I the lofty Stile decline.
I Shou’d make a Figure scurvy,
And your Head turn Topsy-turvy.

The last line is a genially finger-wagging throwaway, but the penultimate

lets the light in on a temperamental truth, on that deep Swiftian guarded-
ness against being caught in any posture of vulnerable solemnity, or any
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 211
suspicion of that falsity which he was quick to attribute to most of the
‘high’ styles practised by his contemporaries. This guardedness, which goes
beyond the mere sense of the potential risibility of inflated rhetoric, is also,
I believe, more personal than can be accounted for by canons of ‘classical
restraint’, which hardly restrained Swift in his more tearaway flights of
comic fantasy, or by Horatian injunctions of nil admirari. Pope believed in
and repeated such injunctions,15 but they never get in the way of his effects
of heroic or mock-heroic majesty, and are seldom used for the purpose
of protective undercutting. Even the witty urbanities of Pope’s Horatian
poems are allowed their proud declamatory sweep, that confidently grandil-
oquent mastery exuded by Pope’s use of the ‘serious Couplets’ which Swift
liked to claim he never used. Swift’s alternative choice of the octosyllabic
‘Doggrel Rhime’ (58) as his normal verse-idiom proclaims among other
things a need for tactical self-subversion which Pope seldom felt. The col-
loquial informality of Swift’s imitations of Horace is a low-pitched thing,
that of Pope’s a proud and glowing urbanity. Pope is more ‘Augustan’,
though Swift, as I suggested, is perhaps closer to Horace. But the urge to
self-deflation is largely Swift’s own.
This ‘Doggrel Rhime’ is the medium of most of the poems discussed
here: the Epistle, On Poetry: A Rapsody, the Legion Club, the Verses on the
Death. It occurs, in other words, not only in outright parodies of poetic
inflation which ostentatiously draw attention to the coarse vitality of our
lower nature, as when the so-called scatological poems mock the routines
of sentimental love-poetry or when ‘A Description of a City Shower’ offers
city squalor against idyllic descriptions of the country, but also in poems
where Swift is concerned to project a self-image, and in which he seeks, with
due show of reluctance and an embattled or embarrassed self-deflation, to
fashion a ‘heroick’ posture for himself.
On Poetry: A Rapsody (1733, Poems, ii. 639 ff.), is a poem closely related in
matter (and it used to be thought in date) to the Epistle to a Lady. It, too,
as the title indicates, bids to disengage itself, through signposted parody,
from lofty styles, while quickening at times to intensities of denunciation
whose manner is belied by the prevailing show of light-hearted badinage.
Like the Epistle, On Poetry contains a political attack of some violence
against Walpole’s government, along with a somewhat different discussion
of poetical matters. The anti-Walpole anger manifests itself less in intima-
cies of highly charged resentment than in a hard colloquial mimicry of the
venal vulgarians of Walpole’s world:
212 Poetry
A Pamphlet in Sir Rob’s Defence
Will never fail to bring in Pence;
Nor be concern’d about the Sale,
He pays his Workmen on the Nail.

Walpole had no doubt of the violence of the satire and considered prosecut-
ing Swift for this poem and the Epistle. It is not the first time in Swift that
a display of punitive rage is flattened (not attenuated) by an eruption of
harshly realistic impersonation. Much of the time, however, a loose, osten-
sibly genial lightness of Hudibrastic ‘Doggrel Rhime’, and some notorious
flights of mock-panegyric, complicate the tone. Queen Caroline was taken
in by both the lightness and the irony, and had to be disabused of the
notion that the poem was meant as a compliment, confirming for William
King that ‘irony is not a figure in the German Rhetoric’.16
The poem has things in common with Pope’s First Epistle of the Second
Book of Horace, Imitated, known as the Epistle to Augustus (1737), a mock-
panegyric whose irony was also missed, and which also deals with the
difficulties met by living poets. Swift himself was evidently thinking of
Pope’s Horatian original, Epistle, ii. i, an urbanely ambivalent panegyric in
which Augustus is addressed as a patron of the arts but confronted with the
unsatisfactory condition of contemporary poetry.17 Horace’s immortalising
of Augustus is mentioned by Swift in a cancelled passage: Poems, ii. 658.18
The mock-panegyrics of both English writers are naturally hostile to the
monarch in a way Horace is not, or cannot overtly appear to be, and both
are ironically alive to the risks, as well as rewards, of satiric misprision.
Pope adds to his Horatian original two lines of additional tease, to the
effect that, in a reversal of the fate of Swift’s poem, his mock-praise might
be mistaken for hostility (as intended):

Besides, a fate attends on all I write,

That when I aim at praise, they say I bite.
(Epistle to Augustus, 408–9)

The coils of this are finely ordered. Their added piquancy, even in ironic
mystification, has a declarative directness and air of self-disengaging autho-
rial clarity (we shall probably sense this whether we are ‘taken in’ or not),
quite unlike Swift.
Whichever way we read Pope’s ironic scheme as a whole, it is clear which
writers he is applauding (e.g. Swift, 221 ff.) and which repudiating (e.g.
Cibber, 292–3), whereas Swift leaves himself somewhat implicated in his
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 213
own derided victims. He writes in a fierce haze of exasperation, which
includes self-commiseration and self-contempt:
Not Beggar’s Brat, on Bulk begot;
Nor Bastard of a Pedlar Scot;
Nor Boy brought up to cleaning Shoes,
The Spawn of Bridewell, or the Stews;
Nor Infants dropt, the spurious Pledges
Of Gipsies littering under Hedges,
Are so disqualified by Fate
To rise in Church, or Law, or State,
As he, whom Phebus in his Ire
Hath blasted with poetick Fire. (33–42)

In one sense, Swift’s posture is that of an enraged righteousness, the cham-

pion of poetry denouncing a vicious and philistine age, the true poet
towering above Grub Street. It is markedly more explosive than some lines
in Gay’s Trivia, ii. 140 ff., which appear to have suggested the language
of the ‘Beggar’s Brat’, ‘dropt’, in Gay’s words, ‘beneath a Bulk’.19 Swift’s
gesture of noble defiance is not sustained. But nor is it simply subverted
by a formulaic drop from high to low. Swift does not subject it to the
routine mechanical bathos which is the elementary staple of heroic bur-
lesque. What might be called the high indignation of the poet as hero
mingles instead with a more low-pitched note of irritated commiseration,
with Swift hovering between the roles of embattled scourge and crushed
victim, both poised against a poetry-scorning age. But there is also an
ambiguous contempt for those who insist nevertheless on writing poems,
the Grub Street poetasters as well as the true men, if any. Nora Crow Jaffe
has put it well: ‘every fool wants to write poetry, only a fool would want
to be a poet’.20 The old paradoxes of folly and wisdom, no simple upside-
down substitution of one for the other, but that unceasing reciprocal traffic
which Erasmus taught Swift and to which Swift added new coils of ironic
interpenetration in A Tale of a Tub, are actively in play here.
The testy commiseration and the dismissive contempt mingle with a
kind of autobiographical self-involvement. The unlucky poet is part Swift,
part Grub Street hack. The two are sometimes kept clearly separate, and
sometimes not. I am not referring to the supposed transition from an
authorial speaker in the earlier part of the poem, to the ‘old experienc’d
Sinner Instructing thus a young Beginner’ (75–6) who is sometimes said
to take over from him.21 This is no ‘new narrator’, suddenly introduced
to propound upside-down values, but the original authorial narrator invit-
ing the poetic beginner in effect to ‘listen to an old hand’. The critical
214 Poetry
inappropriateness of tidy-minded searching for separate personae is more
than usually obvious here. The ‘old experienc’d Sinner’ actually begins with
some straight Swiftian good sense, soon admittedly to be undercut by a
world-weary, cynical irony itself wholly characteristic of Swift (77 ff.). But
more important still is the fact that this supposed ‘new narrator’, unlike
such speakers as Gulliver or the ‘author’ of the Tale, is always fully con-
scious, when he utters his upside-down ironies, that he is himself being
sarcastic, as distinct from acting as the innocent carrier of Swift’s sarcasms:
(‘In modern Wit all printed Trash, is Set off with num’rous Breaks – and
Dashes –’; ‘Your Poem in its modish Dress, Correctly fitted for the Press,
Convey by Penny-Post to Lintot’, 93–4, 105–7).
But there are some more indefinite interpenetrations between Swift and
the things he attacks which deserve notice. Good poets and Grub Street
hacks are to some extent in the same boat, and the hostility to poetry
of a philistine age may in fact work against both in much the same way.
Thus when a poet runs foul of malicious critics, and the Town marks him
‘for a Dunce’, attributing to him ‘The vilest Doggrel Grubstreet sends . . .
’Till some fresh Blockhead takes your Place’ (137–42), the context does
not guarantee that the poor man is not, in fact, a dunce. But at the same
time Swift’s official animus is directed against the critics who abuse him,
displaced ‘Blockhead’ though he, too, might be, and Swift’s own annoyance
at misattribution to himself of Grub Street doggerel is also meant to be
detected. A few lines earlier, Swift derisively advises poets not to own their
poems, and to listen silently when these are discussed:

Be sure at Will’s the following Day,

Lie Snug, and hear what Criticks say.
And if you find the general Vogue
Pronounces you a stupid Rogue;
Damns all your Thoughts as low and little,
Sit still, and swallow down your Spittle.

If the poor poet gets his share of the satirist’s contempt, he gets a rough
commiseration too. It had happened to Swift. In 1710, he wrote to Stella:
‘I dined to-day at lady Lucy’s, where they ran down my Shower; and said
Sid Hamet was the silliest poem they ever read, and told Prior so, whom
they thought to be the author of it.’22
Swift went through some amusing embarrassments of a related sort over
A Tale of a Tub, whose authorship he did not wish to claim openly, but
which he was mortified to see attributed in part to his cousin Thomas
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 215
Swift. The question of Thomas Swift’s possible role in the writing has been
reopened from time to time, and is outside the scope of the present dis-
cussion, but Jonathan Swift was exercised by contemporary gossip about
the Tale’s authorship.23 Concern about the Tale was variously exacerbated
by Swift’s perception, not unfounded, of the threat this work posed to his
career, and there were often risks of political prosecution, notably with the
Epistle to a Lady and On Poetry.24 Inseparable from these political con-
cerns, however, was Swift’s wary temperamental elusiveness, his habit of
keeping up an ostentatious and often humorous mystification about the
authorship of his anonymous and pseudonymous works, even within the
works themselves, as in both the Tale and Gulliver’s Travels. Misattribu-
tions of authorship, in both directions, continued to exercise Swift until
late in life, and he went on complaining of writings falsely attributed to
him.25 He also professed, playfully or otherwise, to resent, as well as to
court, accurate penetration of his disguises. Only a few years later than
On Poetry, in April to June 1736, an elaborate epistolary pantomime, obvi-
ously charged with security anxieties, was conducted between Swift, Mrs
Whiteway and Thomas Sheridan, on the subject of the Legion Club, Swift
claiming on 24 April to ‘have wrote a very masterly Poem on the Legion-
Club’ and speaking three weeks later of ‘a cursed long Libel . . . on the
Legion-Club . . . the foolish Town imputes it to me’. A further week later
Swift wrote that the poem had been ‘damnably murdered’ by alterations.
Mrs Whiteway and Sheridan maintained a charade that Swift didn’t write
it, with which, continuing the coded banter, Swift sometimes professed to
This is a pattern of mystification and playful deception which is amus-
ingly replayed in Arthur Murphy’s anecdote about Samuel Johnson, silently
attending a conversation in praise of the oratorical eloquence in the Senate
of Magna Lilliputia, as written up in the Gentleman’s Magazine. At the
end, Johnson is reported to have announced: ‘That speech I wrote in a gar-
ret in Exeter-street.’27 Murphy’s accuracy has been questioned, notably by
Birkbeck Hill, but the essential veracity of the anecdote has been accepted
by the recent Yale Editors of the Debates in Parliament, and even Hill
thinks the main facts may be true enough.28 Johnson had an instinctive
fellow-feeling for Swift, grounded in a profound antipathy.29 It would be
strikingly in character if he more or less unwittingly fell into the comic
scenario sketched out in On Poetry: A Rapsody and elsewhere, including
the readiness to identify himself in the role of Grub Street garret-dweller,
in a fictitious composition of Gulliverian derivation, and in a rather less
rejectionist self-implication than Swift’s own.
216 Poetry
Elsewhere in On Poetry, Swift does not sympathise so openly with his
Grub Street hacks. But even where they emerge as unequivocally bad, a
queer unadmitted Swiftian participation enters into the account:
Thro’ ev’ry Alley to be found,
In Garrets high, or under Ground:
And when they join their Pericranies,
Out skips a Book of Miscellanies.

The scurrying vitality with which Swift describes them vividly mirrors their
own busy, disorderly doings, and for that matter the production of books
of miscellanies is not an activity Swift can be said to have been detached
from. We are nowadays used to the idea that Swift’s writing often acquires
exuberance when he is mimicking the unruly. An uppish acerbity is also
quick to assert itself, however, as he shows unruliness settling to a kind of
unnatural ‘order’:
If, on Parnassus’ Top you sit,
You rarely bite, are always bit:
Each Poet of inferior Size
On you shall rail and criticize;
And strive to tear you Limb from Limb,
While others do as much for him.
The Vermin only teaze and pinch
Their Foes superior by an Inch.
So, Nat’ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller Fleas to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum. (329–40)

These lines, and those beginning: ‘In Bulk there are not more Degrees,
From Elephants to Mites in Cheese, Than what a curious Eye may trace In
Creatures of the rhiming Race’ (383 ff.), have similarities with Gay’s ‘The
Elephant and the Bookseller’ (Fable x, 1727), whose theme is that authors
are worse than other animals at preying on each other.
On this disorder, a pattern is, in a way, imposed. The flea-biting and
poet-eating chains proceed in regular gradation. But it is a regularity which
not only stands ‘due Subordination’ (314) on its head, so that the lower eat
the higher, but also proceeds, unchecked and uncheckable, ad infinitum.
The mood is only a slightly jauntier precursor of ‘the Anarchy at Sea,
Where Fishes on each other prey’ of a poem of 1736, ‘On a Printer’s being
sent to Newgate’ (3–4, Poems, iii. 824), discussed later. The disorders of
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 217
Parnassus also occur in Pope. But Pope does not organise them into systems
of ‘anti-order’, so much as subjecting them to the other order of his witty
eloquence and his powers of containment:

The Dog-star rages! Nay ’tis past a doubt,

All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
Fire in each eye, and Papers in each hand,
They rave, recite, and madden round the land.
(Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, 3–6)

The disorders in Pope seem almost created to display the control. Where
Swift might be imagined sitting quizzically and self-mockingly on ‘Par-
nassus’ Top’, the high poet indistinguishable from any ‘Blockhead’ who
might take his place, Pope establishes himself overtly and without under-
cutting, as the eminent poet, flatteringly besieged by a throng of groupies,
enjoying his mock-annoyance as he craves protection from visitors (‘Tye
up the knocker, say I’m sick, I’m dead’, 2), or protests at being blamed for
the idleness of poetry-minded students and the elopement of wives (the
fathers and husbands cursing ‘Wit, and Poetry, and Pope’, 23–6). When
Pope’s writing shows ‘due Subordination’ formulaically reversed, as in the
Dunciad, where bad poets become epic heroes, the reversal itself acquires a
kind of positive grandeur, not only preserving some of the majesty against
which the dunces are played off, but allowing this majesty to rub off on
the dunces. Pope’s dunces are raised to a queer heroic stature, meeting the
poet’s heroic speech at his level, if only as huge nuisances whose massive-
ness and urgency makes them worthy of high eloquence. Swift’s dunces
are allowed to be no more heroic than the poet himself, and Swift’s irony
more readily drops him to their level than raises them to his.
Swift’s lofty poet on ‘Parnassus’ Top’, like the angry scourge earlier in On
Poetry (33 ff.), preserves something of his noble lineaments, complicated not
by burlesque deflation but by a continuous unresolved scepticism about
his own credentials, about the status of poetry (whoever the poet), and
about the dignity of heroic postures. Such scepticism is not evident in
Pope, even in the Dunciad. And to the limited extent that Swift is prepared
positively to indulge the heroic postures, they are never identified, as in
the Dunciad, with the epic. In the mock-panegyric on the King, where
celebration of martial conquest comes up for special disrepute, it is the
historical Alexander the Great (a traditionally accepted real-life example
of evil tyranny) rather than any ‘conqu’ring Hero’ of ancient epic who is
218 Poetry
Confest the conqu’ring Hero stands.
Hydaspes, Indus, and the Ganges,
Dread from his Hand impending Changes.

The corresponding section of Horace’s Epistle to Augustus (Ep. ii. i. 232–70,

especially 245 ff.), of which Swift’s poem is to some extent an ‘imita-
tion’, contains an ironical comparison between Alexander and Augustus.
In Pope’s version of the Epistle to Augustus (1737), 390–1, which is later than
Swift’s poem, the parallel phrase to Swift’s ‘conqu’ring Hero’ is ‘conqu’ring
Chief’. (Horace’s lines speak only of ‘famous men,’ virorum clarorum, ii.
i. 249–50.) Swift’s ‘conqu’ring Hero’ is clearly Alexander, as the rivers in
the second line make clear. The rivers recall Paradise Lost, iii. 436, but
the blowsy cadences invite suspicions of yet another mocking Drydenian
allusion, this time to Alexander’s Feast (1697), a poem Swift also mimicked
in the ‘City Shower’.30 By an odd coincidence, the famous lines by Thomas
Morell in Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus (1747) and Joshua (1748) – ‘See, the
conquering hero comes! Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!’ – which are
later than Swift, repeat one of Dryden’s lines – ‘Sound the Trumpets; beat
the Drums’ – in Alexander’s Feast (50), which was recycled in a song in
Henry Purcell’s Orpheus Britannicus (1698–1702), though the phrasing is
commonplace.31 Handel had also set Dryden’s poem to music (1739). Swift’s
phrase ‘conqu’ring Hero’ was a staple of brassy celebrations of William III,
the Duke of Ormonde, Marlborough and others in the early decades of
the century.32 Morell’s lines were ‘introduced into the later stage versions
of Nathaniel Lee’s The Rival Queens [1677] Act ii, sc. 1’.33
This is perhaps the nearest Swift comes in this poem to a more traditional
mock-heroic, and in it he notably sidesteps any specifically epic allusion.
The contempt for the ‘conqu’ring Hero’ is unmixed, both on stylistic and
moral grounds, but the revered ancient epics are untouched, in the way in
which much loyalist mock-heroic manages to berate the Alexanders and
Caesars whose real-life doings don’t call great poems into question. His-
torical conquerors like Alexander and Caesar were common or convenient
targets for anti-heroic attitudes which sought to bypass mockery of epic
poems by avoiding or attenuating slurs on Homeric or Virgilian heroes.34
Whether Swift was instinctively guarding against an awkward and unac-
knowledged disrespect, or merely displaying his customary reluctance to
lapse into ‘lofty Stile’ even of a reverse or Dunciadic sort, is not clear.
Perhaps both elements were present in subtle combination.
A few lines later in his poem (429 ff.), Swift identifies the Prince of Wales
as ‘our eldest Hope, divine Iülus’; the last line, ‘Late, very late, O, may he
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 219
rule us’, expresses the hope that his reign would be endlessly deferred,
which it was, since he died before his father. Iülus is the alternative name
of Virgil’s Ascanius, son of Aeneas, in his role as ancestor of the Julian race,
from which Julius Caesar was descended, as well as Augustus by adoption.
The Virgilian allusion is here also rapidly deflected to historical rather
than epic figures. A note in the Faulkner edition of Swift’s Works, 1735,
ii. 453, cites part of the famous passage in Aeneid, vi. 789 ff., prophesying
the conquests of Caesar and Augustus, and all the line of Iülus. Another
1735 note identifies an allusion to Horace, Epistles i. xii. 27–8, which refers
to historical Roman conquests. But the real point is the degraded state of
modern monarchs, by comparison with the Augustus of Virgil and Horace
in some three dozen lines intended to follow 410, and cancelled as ‘too
outspoken to risk publication’.35 Augustus is himself not left unscathed by
the association with Alexander, and a cancelled passage in one of several
manuscript versions of the poem in circulation at the time sarcastically
points out after line 482 the lessons you can learn from the Latin poets
Virgil, Martial, Ovid and Lucan:
From them you learn to praise a Hero
Be he Augustus, be he Nero.
Augustus is no Nero, but even Lucan praised Nero, perhaps ironically,
perhaps not, and Swift’s poem, like Pope’s Epistle to Augustus, raises the issue
of poets toadying to monarchs.36 The couplet seems to have survived in a
single copy, now at the University of Michigan, although many manuscript
witnesses survive for the cancelled passages recorded in Poems, ii. 658–9.
The authenticity of this cancelled passage is plausibly in keeping with
the rest of the poem. The juxtaposition of Augustus and Nero proposes
a distinction which nevertheless may not leave Augustus untouched, and
irony has been sensed in the praises of Augustus by even Horace and
Lucan.37 The cancellation of this couplet and several others shows Swift’s
understanding that his own much broader irony in ‘praise’ of a living
monarch was not free of immediate personal danger, however nuanced his
own ‘Augustan’ allegiance may be.
The oddly unresolved blend of lofty denunciation, proud loyalty to ‘Par-
nassus’ Top’, instinctive deflation and self-deflation and self-implication in
the low character and predicament of the Grub Streeters, is a continuously
active ambivalence in the poem, and a source of its vitality. Swift’s writings
thrive on mixed feelings and unresolved tensions. Their urgency comes
precisely from the unavailability of comforting certainties, even about
some ancient loyalties. The poem’s peculiar assurance comes partly from
its whole-hearted mimicry of undignified types. Swift’s own superiority to
220 Poetry
the derided figures is easily implied. But the poet’s simultaneous readiness
to be identified with them bears in its modest way the stamp of his major
prose satires.
There is an aptness in the fact that Swift’s exposure of a radical and
universal human folly in A Tale of a Tub or in Gulliver’s Travels should
be felt in a sense to implicate him, since its radical and universal character
would by definition be questionable if it did not. But a further sense of
self-implication is felt in the sheer inwardness with which Swift mimics the
follies which he parodied. A Tale of a Tub, the first and greatest of Swift’s
major satires on Grub Street as On Poetry: A Rapsody is the last, is also the
most striking example of the virtuosity and the high imaginative pressure
with which Swift was able to imitate the authors he derided. All parody
involves impersonation, and it is arguable that its ubiquity in Swift’s work
springs from a temperamental reluctance to expose himself too openly
in his own person, just as his frequent resort to the obliquities of irony
protected him from the vulnerabilities and the simplifying commitments
of plain statement. But the Tale is in particular a parody of authors who
talk much about themselves, a practice which Swift both disliked in general
and also himself sometimes indulged in. When he did so overtly, the results
were usually awkward in proportion to their overtness. It is in that work,
more than in any other, that Swift emerges in buoyant mastery of the chaos
he exposes, but he achieves that mastery largely by an impersonation of
the chaos. The satirist who displays this mastery is also vividly present, but
the superiority which he earns both by his virtuosity and by his rightness
and good sense is assumed, and not declared. The element of self-mockery
is powerfully evident, but it is a self-mockery protected from self-inflation
and unselfconsciously rendered because it is presented as mockery of others.
It is absorbed in the universal satire without fuss. On Poetry: A Rapsody
shares some of this power, though the poem is less brilliantly and less
totally parodic than the Tale. The fact that it too is largely free from overt
self-disclosure may be a reason for this power.
Harold Williams has said ‘we are closer to Swift in his verse, and in his
letters, than in his prose-writings’ (Poems, i. xlvi). This is true in some
obvious senses. The poems deal more frequently with Swift and his friends,
and they often have a light, informal, manner. But talking about himself
activated a deep temperamental resistance to making himself vulnerable
through intimacy or grandiloquence. In the Verses on the Death, and perhaps
even in the Epistle to a Lady, as in the self-justifying poem Cadenus and
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 221
Vanessa, Swift allows himself to be the subject of his own work in an explicit
and prominent way, rather than in the formally more implicit manner of
On Poetry: A Rapsody. In these poems, his determination not to ‘make
a Figure scurvy’ through the use of a ‘lofty Stile’ sometimes comes into
conflict with self-justifying purposes and the impulse to create a virtuous
or impressive self-image.
The anxiety about making ‘a figure scurvy’ through rhetorical excesses
or unguarded intimacies of praise is not wholly free of its own parade of
confessional fuss. It is kept in check in the Epistle, but hints mincingly at a
willingness to surrender gravitas for a glimpse of self-displaying clownerie.
What cannot be admitted in ‘epistle’ to a ‘lady’ may issue in the self-
luxuriating intimacies of the private correspondence with Stella, in which
may be found extended passages of intimate incoherence, exclamatory and
disjointed in a Shandean way, and some of it approaching the novelistic
prattle of the 1750s and 1760s.
On 14 October 1710, Swift wrote to Stella:

now got into bed, and going to open your little letter: and God send I may
find MD well, and happy, and merry, and that they love Presto as they do
fires. Oh, I won’t open it yet! yes I will! no I won’t; I am going; I can’t stay
till I turn over. What shall I do? My fingers itch; and now I have it in my
left hand; and now I’ll open it this very moment. — I have just got it, and
am cracking the seal, and can’t imagine what’s in it. (JSt, i. 56–7)38

This passage exhibits a range of giggly, flirty, disjointedly ‘spontaneous’

exclamations and teasing mystifications of the kind that look forward
to the novels of the mid-century, which Swift could not have read, but
whose excesses he foretold from the detested features in ‘modern’ authors
of his own day. A Tale of a Tub is a comprehensive parody, in many ways
an advance-parody, of self-cherishing intimacies that Swift thought were
a degradation of civilised writing. The letters to Stella contain remark-
able examples of a manner he would have found unacceptable in pub-
lished works. If such modes of expression were strictly reserved for private
exchanges, they are another sign of Swift’s inward closeness to things he
The irony implicit in the low-pitched chatter of the ‘Doggrel Rhime’
and in a host of local self-undercutting devices turns into a simpering
luxury of self-regard. Sterne has made us familiar with a self-mockery in
which the author’s very pretence of not taking himself seriously is in itself
a way of taking himself seriously and of drawing attention to himself:
to his wit, his perspicacity, his ability to laugh at himself. Swift saw into
222 Poetry
this particularly well. It is a trait which he mocked in A Tale of a Tub
with such thorough and intimate understanding that Sterne later felt able
to throw himself into the Tubbean manner, mimicking Swift’s mimicry
and consciously outfacing Swift with the enhanced solipsistic luxury of an
additional cherished coil of self-mockery. Tristram Shandy (ix. viii) was
pleased to think that his book would ‘swim down the gutter of Time’ with
Swift’s Tale. Sterne had no inhibitions about displaying his self-regard,
and was perfectly willing to cultivate ‘a Figure scurvy’ if that advanced the
opportunities for self-display. Swift lacked the same freedom. Swift’s most
spectacular self-displays reside in dazzling satiric tours de force of which
he is not himself the subject, and the awkwardness which (as I suggested)
often came over his writing when he came to talk about himself is especially
evident when ‘lofty’ or self-justifying claims needed making.
Among the poems about himself which show on an unexpected scale the
pressure of the Shandean impulse, working stubbornly to avoid a ‘figure
scurvy’, while at the same time entertaining an ambition for a loftier self-
portrait, are the Verses on the Death of Doctor Swift. Written by Himself: Nov.
1731 (published 1739, Poems, ii. 551 ff.). Its uncertainties and fluctuations
of tone, including the character of its speakers, are compounded by mys-
tifications of other kinds, the content of its satirical allusions, signposted
blanks and omissions in the text, the circumstances of its publication (both
private and public), and its relation to a shadow-poem, The Life and Gen-
uine Character of Dr. Swift. The latter was published in 1733, before the
Verses, and possibly as a hoax or preemptive self-burlesque, about whose
authorship itself Swift generated some confusing signals. The two poems
have an interlocking and variously tangled textual history, in which others,
notably Pope, played an unedifying part.39
The indirections of tone and register in the Verses are naturally impli-
cated on the question of lofty style. The Verses not only avoid the self-
mythologising rhetoric of its Popeian analogue, the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,
but shrink from the comic psychodrama with which Pope stages himself
as the centre-piece of a malign confederacy of dunces. Such humorous
grandstanding was no more Swift’s style than ringing declarations, and
Swift would have felt it gave him as much of a ‘Figure scurvy’ as lofty styles
themselves. The poem is an attempt to present a noble image of Swift (as
incorruptible author, defender of freedom, national hero) which lacks the
courage of a committed effrontery. The poem is without that open readiness
to eloquent self-apology which is traditionally permitted to, and indeed
expected of, satirists, and which Pope shows in the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 223
and several other related Horatian poems. Swift hides behind the robes of
his ‘impartial’ commentator in a manner in no way analogous to his use
of the ‘old experienc’d Sinner’ of On Poetry: A Rapsody, who remains the
authorial narrator and who as it happens does not have to praise or even talk
much about himself. In the Verses, too, the ‘Doggrel Rhime’ seems aimed
unsuccessfully at toning down the self-panegyric which most readers of the
Verses take the commentator’s speech to be. I sense in this a loss of nerve and
even a certain falsity on Swift’s part which is not on the whole evident in
the otherwise less appealing Sterne. Sterne is to this extent true to his ironic
undercuttings, that he genuinely does not seek to see himself in an exalted
role, just as Pope, in the proud self-projections of the Epistle to Dr. Arbuth-
not, genuinely does. Swift clearly wished the credit both for meriting such
a role and for seeming not to claim it, and the result was a peculiarly trans-
parent half-heartedness on both fronts. Similar embarrassments damage
Cadenus and Vanessa, a poem in which Swift is likewise bent on setting up
a righteous image of himself, though in the domain of private relationships
rather than of public (literary or political) distinction.40 It is worth noting
that, unlike Swift’s, Sterne’s irony is usually free from earnest attempts at
self-exculpation, just as it is free of exalted pretensions to any kind of ‘heroic’
The poem famously begins with La Rochefoucauld’s maxim:
‘In all Distresses of our Friends
We first consult our private Ends,
While Nature kindly bent to ease us,
Points out some Circumstance to please us.’

Swift goes on to exemplify this kind of envy, first generally (a friend

performs a ‘heroic’ deed, but we want to crop his laurels rather than to
feel outdone, etc.), and then as it is found in himself. A self-inculpating
posture is struck early:
In Pope, I cannot read a Line,
But with a Sigh, I wish it mine:
When he can in one Couplet fix
More Sense than I can do in Six . . .

Why must I be outdone by Gay,

In my own hum’rous biting way?
224 Poetry
The coterie-compliments go on to include other friends, and the com-
pliment to Arbuthnot contains his well-known, jokily inscrutable self-
Arbuthnot is no more my Friend,
Who dares to Irony pretend;
Which I was born to introduce,
Refin’d it first, and shew’d its Use. (55–8)

This form of coterie compliment, the convivial solidarity among the

great, the witty, affectionate informality, the eloquence amid familiar and
colloquial talk, belong to a long and distinguished tradition, from the
Renaissance to Yeats. But the example of Yeats perhaps shows what is
lacking here. Yeats could blend eloquence of compliment with wit (and
indeed with witty reservations) in a way that gave full value to both and
undermined neither:
Lionel Johnson comes the first to mind,
That loved his learning better than mankind,
Though courteous to the worst; much falling he
Brooded upon sanctity
Till all his Greek and Latin learning seemed
A long blast upon the horn that brought
A little nearer to his thought
A measureless consummation that he dreamed.41

Yeats is writing from a deep conviction that sublimity, or at least high

tributes, may coexist not only with the affectionate, but with the ridiculous.
Ezra Pound, recounting Mr Verog’s memories of the same Lionel Johnson,
also achieves such a blend, in a drier idiom:
For two hours he talked of Gallifet;
Of Dowson; of the Rhymers’ Club;
Told me how Johnson (Lionel) died
By falling from a high stool in a pub.42

These blends are outside Swift’s range. His sensibility only allowed the
informal, or the ridiculous, to undermine, not reinforce, nor interact on
equal terms with, sublimity – or sublime pretension. In Yeats, the bard
and the joker, or clown, could unite in ways that were temperamentally,
and perhaps culturally, impossible for Swift. Yeats, stalking on ‘through
the terrible novelty of light’, while the ‘great sea-horses bare their teeth
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 225
and laugh at the dawn’, has put on the guise of the mountebank: ‘Malachi
Stilt-Jack am I.’43 The clowns and mountebanks who rise above the crowd
in Swift’s prose and verse, on the other hand, are always degraded creatures,
despite Swift’s feeling at some level that they are instances of a radical folly
which exists in him, as in all mankind. Or perhaps because of this feeling,
he felt the need to keep apart as much as possible the seriously cherished
from the mockingly rejected in the ‘ridiculous tragedy’ of life, ‘which is the
worst kind of composition’.44
And so his mixture of high compliment and easy joke fails to achieve a
just equilibrium. The self-depreciation with which he involves himself in
the universal charge that all men are envious turns in fact into a greater
compliment to himself, than to Pope or Gay: for it shows, coyly, that he
is not envious of his friends, and generously recognises their merit. There
are compliments to friends, Pope, for example, which are freer of this self-
regarding element, where Swift does indulge in genial self-depreciation,
but less heavily and more attractively than in the Verses on the Death,
including ‘Advice to the Grub-street Verse-Writers’ (1726, Poems, ii. 394–
5), ‘Dr. Sw – to Mr. P – e, While he was Writing the Dunciad’ (1727,
Poems, ii. 405–6), and ‘A Pastoral Dialogue between Richmond-Lodge and
Marble-Hill’ (1727, Poems, ii. 407–11). Nor are all Swift’s coterie poems
marred by the intrusive awkwardness found in the Verses. There are many
charming poems involving his literary and other friends (Delany, Sheridan,
Ford and many others).
After the string of ‘compliments,’ the Verses proceed to exemplify La
Rochefoucauld’s dictum by imagining, now that Swift is elderly, how people
are forecasting his death, and how they will react when he dies. They talk
of ‘his out-of-fashion’d Wit’ (92), his faded poetic talents (99 ff.), his failing
health – comforting themselves that ‘“It is not yet so bad with us”’ (116).
When he dies, there will be barbed praise or open malice from both friends
and foes:

Some Paragraph in ev’ry Paper,

To curse the Dean, or bless the Drapier

and even ‘those I love’ will take the news calmly:

Poor Pope will grieve a Month; and Gay

A Week; and Arbuthnott a Day.
226 Poetry
His ‘female Friends’
Receive the News in doleful Dumps,
‘The Dean is dead, (and what is Trumps?)’

and the detailed mimicry of their reaction elicits some characteristically

amusing stylised reportage of trivial society talk (225 ff.). A year later, the
Dean is half-forgotten, his books out of date, while Cibber, Duck and
Henley reign (245 ff.).
For over two hundred lines, these praises and dispraises, often wittily and
tellingly captured, carry on a pretence of wise, light-hearted acknowledge-
ment of the world’s ways, while actually providing Swift with a platform for
talking about himself. It is not simply that an occasion is provided for self-
apology (his achievement as a writer or his services to Ireland), or for
satire of some favourite foes. It is that a formula of transparent but ‘sav-
ing’ obliquity has been found for keeping the focus fondly trained on the
person of the author: not only on what is said about him and by whom
(with all the piquancies inherent in testing the comments against their
imputed source), but on the primary authorial self-consciousness which
suffuses the very nature of the exercise. The result has the strange falsity to
which I have referred. It is Shandean without the Shandean self-acceptance,
claiming impersonal distance while indulging in a feast of self-regard.
Then, at 299 ff., Swift moves in with a bid to set the record straight.
‘Suppose me dead’, and then suppose a quite impartial commentator sum-
ming up ‘My Character’, career and achievement. The note of octosyllabic
levity is maintained, often achieving a low-pitched and slightly mannered
‘As for his Works in Verse and Prose,
‘I own my self no Judge of those:
‘Nor, can I tell what Criticks thought ’em;
‘But, this I know, all People bought ’em.

This pointed banter, however, has a new ‘speaker’ and a new status, promi-
nently advertised by quotation marks at the beginning of every line.45 Some
degree of witty disengagement is still presupposed, which actually permits
some eloquent compliments to flower freely, and these claim an increased
attention. The passage is remembered for the many epigrammatic for-
mulations which have proved so seductive to critics, yielding their pithy
quotability to exercises of affectionate allusion, or providing the titles of
chapters and books:
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 227
‘Expos’d the Fool, and lash’d the Knave . . .

‘But what he writ was all his own . . .

‘Of no Man’s Greatness was afraid . . .

‘Fair LIBERTY was all his Cry;

‘For her he stood prepar’d to die. (316–48)

Many of these claims were true. That is part of Swift’s greatness, as

a writer and as a man. That greatness does not, however, rest on his
readiness to coin the phrases, still less to evade responsibility for them
by ascribing them to an impartial critic, making light of them through
Hudibrastic flippancy, standing aside. On the themes of dedication to
virtue, independence of the ‘great’, or, for that matter, Irish patriotism, we
may prefer the frankly heroic stances of Pope or of Yeats:
Ask you what Provocation I have had?
The strong Antipathy of Good to Bad.

And who unknown defame me, let them be

Scriblers or Peers, alike are Mob to me.46

John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory, thought

All that we did, all that we said or sang
Must come from contact with the soil, from that
Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong.
We three alone in modern times had brought
Everything down to that sole test again,
Dream of the noble and the beggar-man . . .

come to this hallowed place

Where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon;
Ireland’s history in their lineaments trace;
Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.47

Swift dared not risk such things. This gives the praises of his impartial
critic their awkwardness. Some have a Yeatsian eloquence, but no Yeatsian
commitment to it, and an unfocused self-humour gets in the way. Swift’s
most moving direct praise of himself and perhaps his only really Juvenalian
utterance comes not in English verse, but in Latin prose, literally lapidary,
distanced by the impersonal formality of an ancient language, and intended
for posthumous reading – in his epitaph.48 It was Yeats who translated this
228 Poetry
into memorable English lines, ending with ‘he Served human liberty.’49
Yeats’s line recalls ‘Fair LIBERTY was all his Cry’ in the account of Swift’s
impartial commentator, whose force is undercut by that fact. The strength
of the version in ‘Swift’s Epitaph’ is that Yeats, uninhibited in the utterance
of such majesties, Englished it.
Neither Pope nor Yeats felt the need to pretend that they were not
ennobling themselves. It is rightly accepted that their poetic ‘personae’ per-
mitted this, that they were speaking in the robes of priests of the muses. We
are often reminded, or used to be, that Swift was likewise adopting a ‘mask’,
or perhaps several.50 Some readers like to see the impartial commentator as
a persona or even a separate character, who intermittently and in varying
degrees expresses more or less Swiftian positions, but who is separate and
subject to undercutting from Swift’s irony. Another finds several separate
speakers, each of them called Swift, and duly numbered from 1 to 4, a
sterile way to understand the fluid interplay of tones of voice and fictional
devices.51 But these cases are different from the play of traditional rhetorical
roles, and such exercises usually beg the various questions. It is sometimes
assumed that ‘masks’ can be divorced from authors, or that they absolve
an author from responsibility for what he writes, including his adoption
and his specific choice of ‘masks’, and the use to which he puts them. If we
must talk of ‘masks’, we must consider the entire (and often intimate and
awkward) relation of the ‘mask’ to the poet and the poem. The majestic
personae of Pope and of Yeats are frankly adopted in their own name and
release some of these poets’ finest energies, whereas those of Swift’s Verses
on the Death are coyly attributed to another and mainly succeed in turning
Swift in on himself.
I have assumed so far that the impartial commentator speaks only the
truth, or truths that (granted a degree of defensive indirection on Swift’s
part) Swift wants us to take literally. This is not always so. It is hard not
to perceive an element of mock-inflation, and some statements are meant
to be recognised as teasingly untrue. An example is: ‘“To steal a Hint was
never known, But all he writ was all his own”’, 317–18. This resembles
the deadpan foolery of the Tale’s ‘Apology’, protesting that the Author
‘has not borrowed one single Hint from any Writer in the World’ (Tale,
p. 10). The claim to absolute originality is a conventional one.52 Though
not literal, it belongs to an established style of rhetorical defensiveness. But
the tone of the Author’s castigation of his accuser (William Wotton) has
a spirited and tendentious absurdity which places the literal status of the
remark in a disconcerting note of unclarity. The couplet from the Verses
goes a step further, since the second line is taken more or less verbatim from
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 229
Sir John Denham’s poem ‘On Mr. Abraham Cowley’ (1667, 30).53 This is a
private impishness, for knowing readers. It shows Swift doing exactly what
he says he isn’t, in a manner which piquantly anticipates Tristram Shandy
repudiating plagiarism in a plagiarised passage in the opening lines of the
fifth volume of Sterne’s novel.54 And there is a note of deadpan foolery near
the end, beginning at 455: ‘“Perhaps I may allow, the Dean Had too much
Satyr in his Vein”’. In that section, it is claimed, for example, that ‘“Malice
never was his Aim; He lash’d the Vice but spar’d the Name”’; or that ‘“His
Satyr points at no Defect, But what all Mortals may correct”’. The claims
are surprising for one who so often wrote ad hominem, and whose frequent
pretence was that mankind was unmendable.55 Swift certainly wanted satire
to name names. See, for example, his letter of 2 August 1732 to Charles
Wogan (Correspondence, iii. 516). William King, Pope and others who
were much involved with the publication of the London edition of the
poem felt at the time that the claim was ‘not, strictly speaking, a just part
of his character because several persons have been lashed by name’, not
least in the poem itself (William King to Mrs Whiteway, 6 March 1739,
Correspondence, iv. 563). At least one critic has argued that such examples
indicate a sustained undercutting of the entire panegyrick.56 This seems
unlikely. It is almost more probable that, in claims which appear to us most
literally untrue, Swift permitted himself the counter-intuitive pretence that
they were true, or at least (as in the claim about entertaining corrective
expectations or not naming names) felt that they were proper claims for a
satirist to make in a formal apologia.57
By the time we reach the end of the poem, a beautifully poised wry
humour has unmistakably taken over:

‘He gave the little Wealth he had,

‘To build a House for Fools and Mad:
‘And shew’d by one satyric Touch,
‘No Nation wanted it so much:
‘That Kingdom he hath left his Debtor,
‘I wish it soon may have a Better

The perfect modulation of this, its dry generosity and the sting in its
tail, the final quick routine of macabre courtesy, laconically mock-modest,
yet just the sort of thing to say, are very impressive. They confirm that
Swift has not been taking his own solemnity lying down, and encourage
our willingness to see more than the very generalised degree of humorous
undercutting of which we are aware throughout. But the nature, degree and
230 Poetry
direction of this undercutting remain as a whole uncertain and unclear. This
uncertainty differs from those powerful bewilderments which Swift’s great
prose satires induce in the reader, in that it is here without point, a mere
unclarity of focus not wholly in Swift’s control, rather than a purposeful
and unsettling satiric aggression. There is a relation between the two, which
is to be found in that temperamental reluctance to put his emotional cards
on the table which also led to the more formal devices of indirection
and concealment in the poem’s whole structure. In the Tale, Gulliver
and the Modest Proposal, indirection and self-concealment were adapted
to the purposes of a powerful satiric vision. Fiction gave release for the
transformation of huge egocentric pressures into a deeply penetrating, and
painfully self-implicating, imaginative vision of the human lot. Precisely
the same pressures, recognised with whatever unconscious embarrassment,
made him fail when the subject was, officially, himself.
Swift came closest to the grand manner, as well as to direct self-revelation,
in his late, angry poems on Irish affairs. A passage from the Verses on
the Death is typical of this late style, a rare departure from that poem’s
prevailing style of urbane levity and from the level accents of the impartial
obituarist. The speaker looks back to the period after Queen Anne’s death,
when Swift was exiled in Ireland,
‘Pursu’d by base envenom’d Pens,
‘Far to the Land of Slaves and Fens;
‘A servile Race in Folly nurs’d,
‘Who truckle most, when treated worst.

Though this is formally part of the ‘impartial’ obituary, it is without the

self-disengaging archness. It is spoken in the raw accents in which, from the
late 1720s onwards, Swift voices his contemptuous anger about Ireland. It
looks back to the intensely painful exasperations of the Holyhead poems of
1727 (Poems, ii. 420 ff.), and forward to some sombre, at times somewhat
Brechtian, sarcasms like these, of 1736:
Better we all were in our Graves
Than live in Slavery to Slaves,
Worse than the Anarchy at Sea,
Where Fishes on each other prey;
Where ev’ry Trout can make as high Rants
O’er his Inferiors as our Tyrants;
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 231
And swagger while the Coast is clear:
But should a lordly Pike appear,
Away you see the Varlet scud,
Or hide his coward Snout in Mud.
Thus, if a Gudgeon meet a Roach
He dare not venture to approach;
Yet still has Impudence to rise,
And, like Domitian, leap at Flyes.58
These angers differ from Swift’s earlier exploitations of the commonplace
image of big fish eating little fish, the crisp sarcasm of The Bubble (1720,
65–8), about South Sea directors, or the jaunty self-implicating cynicism of
On Poetry, discussed above. Like the Holyhead poems, these lines combine
indignation with an exceptional exposure of private feeling, compounded
in the Holyhead verses by the deep anxiety about Stella. The result is a
more urgent warmth and directness of expression. A similar change takes
place over the years in Swift’s style of invective. The ingenious elabora-
tions of spite of such early political lampoons as ‘The Description of a
Salamander’ (1705, Poems, i. 82 ff.) or ‘A Satirical Elegy on the Death
of a Late Famous General’ (1722, Poems, i. 295 ff.) turn, in the later poems,
to a drumming indignation. The stylised intricacy of the animal formula
in the ‘Salamander’ gives way to the ritualised cataloguing of the animal
imagery of ‘Better we all were in our Graves’, and the polished sarcasms
of both the ‘Salamander’ and the ‘Late Famous General’ turn into the
drumming curses of Traulus (1730, Poems, iii. 794 ff.):
Traulus of amphibious Breed,
Motly Fruit of Mungril Seed:
By the Dam from Lordlings sprung,
By the Sire exhal’d from Dung:
Think on ev’ry Vice in both,
Look on him and see their Growth.
(Part ii, 1–6)

Unlike the bravura of leisurely witty elaboration in the ‘Salamander’, there

is an almost trancelike enumeration, a cantankerous exuberance, whose
force is spellbindingly cumulative:
Let me now the Vices trace,
From his Father’s scoundrel Race,
Who cou’d give the Looby such Airs?
Were they Masons, were they Butchers?
Herald lend the Muse an answer;
From his Atavus and Grandsire;
232 Poetry
This was dext’rous at his Trowel,
That was bred to kill a Cow well:
Hence the greazy clumsy Mien,
In his Dress and Figure seen. (ii. 23–32)

But even here, where the hostility is entirely undisguised and the invective
particularly direct, Swift does not allow us to feel that he is wholly aban-
doned to his indignation. He is playing, with a signposted and headlong
exuberance, at the ancient satirist’s game of the magical curse, of rituals
aimed at rhyming rats or enemies to death. The Traulus poems (1730) and
the Legion Club (1736) recall the drumming incantation of tribal curses,
often self-consciously used by poets in purported invocations of the prim-
itive origins of satire, designed, as Ben Jonson said, at the end of the Poet-
aster, to make the victims ‘hang themselues’, and to ‘Rime ’hem to death,
as they doe Irish rats In drumming tunes’.59 The death-dealing routines
with which Irish bards killed rats or caused blisters (‘blistering attacks’?)
are almost certainly being remembered in Swift’s attack on Traulus (the
Irish politician Lord Allen), with an exuberant excess which is partly a
playful surrender to the genre, and to this extent self-distancing, if not
self-disarming. The primitive curse, from which satire has one of its ear-
liest origins, was widely associated not only with the ancient Greeks, but
(as Swift, along with many others, including Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare,
Jonson, and Swift’s patron William Temple, well knew) very commonly
with the old Irish.60 Indeed, some of the Irish examples (both of descrip-
tion and of imprecation) have the kind of brutal animal imagery Swift
uses in Traulus and elsewhere.61 A sense of the primitive fun of curs-
ing comes through, and of the question-and-answer ritual that often goes
with it, as well as the cheeky pleasures of clumsy rhyming or elegant
acerbity, which signal a more sophisticated poet playing with primitive
In him, tell me which prevail,
Females Vices most, or Male,
What produc’d them, can you tell?
Human Race, or Imps of Hell.
(ii. 53–6)

We may compare this with Pope’s portrait of Sporus (Epistle to Dr. Arbuth-
not, 1735, 305 ff.). The two passages, as it happens, share some memorable
images, their victims being, each in his own way, ‘amphibious’, and also
noxiously rather than grandly Satanic, ‘familiar Toad’ or ‘Imp of Hell’. Both
lampoons combine the exacerbations of an intense hostility, with a certain
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 233
manifest enjoyment of the act of satiric invective. But where Pope’s passage
purrs and crackles with loving exactitudes of spite, Swift’s drums away
with a crude ritual abandon. This is no mere undigested self-expression,
however. Swift’s apparent directness of imprecation is transformed by its
own stylised exaggerations into a semi-fictive universe of denunciation,
with rules and pleasures peculiar to itself. The inventive automatism of
accumulated insult leaves the poet slightly detached from the operation,
most delicately ironic in effect when the verbal fabric is most crudely sim-
ple. This element of comic disengagement contrasts with Pope’s extremely
studied verbal precisions, and their suggestion of a very close and almost
self-absorbed dedication to the attack. The fact affords no consolation to
Lord Allen, Swift’s victim, and hardly reduces Swift’s hostility: but it does
suggest that Swift (no less than Pope) is master of the invective, not its
slave, and that hate can still be fun not in self-enclosed luxuries of spite,
but in an open, vigorous way.
The same is true of The Legion Club (1736, Poems, iii. 827 ff.), an attack
on the Irish House of Commons over a proposal to deprive the Irish
clergy of certain tithes. A series of personal curses on Irish MPs shows
a ritual exuberance similar to that in Traulus. Sir Thomas Prendergast

Tom, Halloo Boy,

Worthy Offspring of a Shoeboy,
Footman, Traytor, vile Seducer,
Perjur’d Rebel, brib’d Accuser.

This is again, in a syncopated rhetoric of primitive imprecation, played for

all it is worth, a high-spirited exercise (part bravura mimicry, part angry
indulgence) in the syncopated rhetoric of a magic chant. The suggestion
of magical ritual is further sustained by a question-and-answer incanta-
tion in which the poet asks the club’s keeper to identify the various MPs,
or in which rhetorical questions call forth a stylised shower of excremen-
tal defilement, – as here (on the subject of MPs Harrison, Dilkes and

Such a Triplet could you tell

Where to find on this Side Hell?
H —, and D —, and C —,
Souse them in their own Ex-crements.
234 Poetry
It is punctuated with strenuous feats of rhyming and perfectly timed slap-
stick defilements. The hyphenation of the last word, if authorial, gives
added signposting of the quality of delightedly rhythmic, ceremonial
This very strong and very angry poem would not have had its formidable
power if Swift had been wholly and literally abandoned to the simple pri-
mary indignation which is at its core. A powerful stylisation, a massive
mechanisation of hatred once again give to the apparent directness a sav-
ing hint of comic disengagement, a suggestion of authorial control and
enjoyment. The poem begins on an almost Audenesque note, with this
picture of the frail individual against the background of a large impersonal
government building:
As I strole the City, oft I
Spy a Building large and lofty.
By the next two lines the speaker, instead of being overwhelmed by the
monolithic institution, has taken its full measure:
Not a Bow-shot from the College,
Half the Globe from Sense and Knowledge.
By the end of the poem, it is the House and its inmates who have been
annihilated by the poet’s rich splendours of abusive performance. The
stream of invective is framed or supported by a Swiftian mock-mythology,
in which the Parliament becomes a Club, a mad-house, and Hell, and in
which some of the most powerful satiric configurations of Swift’s earlier
writings reappear, for the last time. The Club’s name comes from the
unclean spirit in Mark, 5. 9: ‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’ Swift
had already used it of Irish parliamentarians in Traulus (1730, i. 78) and in
a letter to Mrs. Whiteway in 1735.63 Very rapidly, it acquires overtones of
Yahoodom, with its busy dung-ridden quarrelsomeness, its ‘throwing’ of
‘Ordure’ (19), its filthy besetting of the neo-Gulliverian narrator (‘By this
odious Crew beset, I began to rage and fret’, 93–4). Very early, the image
of the mad-house is established. It partakes of the Academy of Modern
Bedlam (Tale, ix) and the School of Political Projectors (Gulliver, iii. vi),
the poet suggesting that the MPs be put:
Each within his proper Cell;
With a Passage left to creep in,
And a Hole above for peeping . . .

While they sit a picking Straws

Let them rave of making Laws;
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 235
While they never hold their Tongue,
Let them dabble in their Dung.
(44 ff.)

At the entrance is a world of Shadows, as though from the Cave of

Spleen, with a customary mixture of allegorised abstractions, and ‘antic
Shapes’ gruesomely visualised:

Poverty, and Grief, and Care,

Causeless Joy, and true Despair;
Discord periwigg’d with Snakes.
(87 ff.)

It is, oddly, in this most overtly low piece of neo-primitive invective,

especially at 83–108, that Swift indulges in one of his rare sustained flights
of Virgilian allusion, drawn attention to in Faulkner’s notes, recalling the
landscape of Aeneid, vi. 264 ff.64 It may be that the energy and exuberance
released by the whole cursing explosion gave Swift a certain heady freedom.
The sheer determined ‘lowness’ of the enterprise carries a guarantee that
no remnants of Virgilian ‘lofty Stile’ would be allowed to rear their heads,
even where Swift was practising a kind of indignant loftiness of his own, a
loftiness based on incandescences of anger (real or simulated or both) rather
than on majesties of style or content. (Perhaps a rare Juvenalian element
also enters, by the same token, into this ostensibly most unmajestic of
But the most important fact about the Virgilian allusion is that it is
a rather special case, in which attention is drawn not to the more self-
evidently ‘heroic’ features of the epic original (to a hero’s noble deeds,
for example, or to the poet’s high style), but to the hellish character of
the Virgilian underworld. This provided Swift with a highly selective epic
model, which could, unlike other Virgilian elements, be adapted by the
satirist without necessarily being turned upside-down or too obviously
reduced from high to low. Throughout the entire poem run insistent
evocations of Hell (Satanic and classical), and from 11 until the closing curse
at 242, the members of the Legion Club are described as Demoniacs or
Satanists: ‘May their God, the Devil confound ’em.’ The various epic hells,
including Milton’s, served Pope in a similar way in the Dunciad, providing
a grim universalising resonance to the infernal regions of modern urban
duncehood or misery, later explored by Shelley, Baudelaire and Eliot. The
Dunciad, as it happens, preserved the epic grandeurs too. The example of
Swift shows that it was not the exigencies of mock-heroic imitation, but
Pope’s own distinctive predisposition to a grand style, that produced the
236 Poetry
great mock-epic he dedicated to Swift and which Swift would never have
Swift’s prevailing style entailed an opposite effect, and for once the epic
model offered parallels that did not, in the normal way or to the usual
extent, require routines of inflation and deflation which courted a Swiftian
lapse into loftiness or risked insulting a lofty original. The gloomy regions
of the Underworld lend themselves to the Satanic darkness of the modern
mad-house as direct rather than upside-down parallels. The associated
ideas of culpability which belong to a non-pagan inferno accrete readily
and without strain. Pope allowed this accretion to make itself felt through
a large-scale evocation of Milton, interposed between the Dunciad and its
classical models, and lending its own additional majesties. The Christian
conception of Hell which, unlike the classical Underworld, is exclusively
associated with sin and damnation, is totally fused into the Dunciad’s
system of epic allusion, creating an eschatological parallel for the modern
hell on earth. Swift’s poem also does this, but has little traffic with Milton.
For him too, as for Pope, Hell is the place of damnation. But he makes
Virgil serve his purpose not by grafting Miltonic associations on to the
Virgilian ones, but by eliminating, as Peter Schakel has said, ‘those parts
[of Virgil] which do not correspond to the Christian Hell’.65 Miltonic (or
Virgilian) majesties, we might add, would have embarrassed him here.
Familiarly, mad and bad are near of kin in The Legion Club. But Swift
has identified this satiric mad-house with the legacy which he himself was
proposing (on compassionate and philanthropic grounds) to bequeath to
the Irish nation. He establishes the connection at the start:
Yet should Swift endow the Schools
For his Lunatics and Fools,
With a Rood or two of Land,
I allow the Pile may stand. (35–8)

The wry joke at the end of the Verses on the Death, with its touch of gruff
affection, gives way to a deeper and more painful blurring of values. But
this blurring also has a defiant exuberance, a teasing readiness to declare
a certain complicity in the badness of the world, whilst standing cheekily
outside the target-area nonetheless. (So too the Yahoo parliamentarians
are described as hurlers of ordure, even as Swift himself is showering
excremental imprecations upon them.)
It is an eloquent confusion, profoundly true to Swift’s satiric tempera-
ment, and to his passionate but always ambiguous commitment to Irish
affairs. Just as a dry joke on Irish folly concludes the Verses on the Death,
‘I the lofty stile decline’ 237
so, after passing through the dark chambers of the Legion Club, this folly
became the subject of what is sometimes thought to be Swift’s last poem of
all. On seeing a new building intended as a magazine for arms and powder,
he is said to have written the following epigram, possibly in 1737:
Behold! a proof of Irish sense!
Here Irish wit is seen!
When nothing’s left, that’s worth defence,
We build a magazine.
(Poems, iii. 843)

The poem’s authenticity is, however, insecure.66

These late poems, then, might in a loose sense be said to belong to a
new mode in which saeva indignatio appears more or less unadorned or
unsubverted by ironies at the expense of its own ‘lofty Stile’. Even here,
the indignations are not the ‘sublime and lofty’ ones of Juvenal’s tragical
satire so much as those of a knowing and sophisticated replay of the low
primitive curse. For the strong raw feelings Swift wanted to express, he at
last found an idiom which released high anger without committing him
to the embarrassments of the more dignified high styles, even in their
parodied form. His habit of undercutting took the form not so much of
subverting his own rhetoric as of indicating that he was playing it for all it
was worth. The knowing playfulness with which he signals his use of ritual
imprecations reinforces (and perhaps even releases) the exuberance of the
exercise instead of qualifying or restraining it.
Play has replaced the old embarrassed coyness, while mimicry flowers
without the self-disengagements of parody. The jokes about Irish folly,
deserving of mad-houses which Swift literally left money to build, or
about ‘Irish sense’ and ‘Irish wit’ building magazines ‘When nothing’s
left, that’s worth defence’, do not serve to deflate the angry denunciations
of Irish madness in the bedlam of The Legion Club or the larger mad-
house of Hibernian life in that poem and elsewhere. They are a low-key
counterpart, not a self-concious ironic guard. Their control of modulated
understatement and their witty sense of absurdity complement rather than
undercut the massive expressions of indignation. They do not (even in
the Verses on the Death, where the best-known of these jokes makes its
appearance in the closing lines) constitute an oblique and coyly defensive
display of self, although they may contain autobiographical disclosures like
the one about Swift’s legacy for the ‘House for Fools and Mad’. A similar
joke is absorbed into the angers of The Legion Club, and is allowed to
crackle testily among them without strain or incongruity (35 ff.). The sense
238 Poetry
of comedy is free of the winking and nudging which are found in some
of the rest of the Verses on the Death and other autobiographical poems.
There is a rough dignity in the late ‘undignified’ poems, Traulus or The
Legion Club, which is lacking in all Swift’s poetic gestures, early and late,
of witty self-awareness or knowing deflation.
chapter 1 0

Savage indignation revisited

Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty

The words of Swift’s famous epitaph first appeared in his will, signed on
3 May 1740, some five years before he died. The will is reprinted in the
Davis edition of the Prose Writings from Faulkner’s text of The Last Will
and Testament, 1745, which, as Davis reports, was usually bound in with
volume viii (1745) of Faulkner’s edition of the Works. The manuscript in
Swift’s own hand was ‘Destroyed by fire.’1 Except for some minor details,
mostly of punctuation, the marble inscription in St. Patrick’s Cathedral
reproduces verbatim the text of the will (see Figure 10.1):
Hic depositum est Corpus
Hujus Ecclesiæ Cathedralis
Ubi sæva Indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit.
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem.

Obiit 19o Die Mensis Octobris

a.d. 1745. Anno Ætatis 780 .2
The Latin is a little eccentric, and this attempt at a literal translation
is necessarily awkward: ‘Here is laid the Body of JONATHAN SWIFT,
S.T.D., Dean of this Cathedral, Where savage indignation can no longer
lacerate his heart. Go, traveller, and imitate, if you can, this strong defender,
to the utmost of his powers, of liberty. He died on the 19th day of October
at the age of 78.’
This epitaph is better known than most such documents. At least two of
its phrases, ‘sæva Indignatio’ and ‘Libertatis Vindicator’, have often been
used to define the character of Swift’s satire, and long usage and frequent
240 Poetry

10.1 Swift’s Epitaph in St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 241
quotation have given it something of the status of a literary work in its
own right. Both W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot engaged with it in important
poems of their own. The character of this engagement, and its relation to
Swift’s own poetic manner, are part of my subject.
The epitaph triggered several memorable writings by Yeats. John Corbet,
a character in his play, The Words upon the Window-Pane (1934), called it
‘the greatest epitaph in history’, adding, ‘It is almost finer in English
than in Latin: “He has gone where fierce indignation can lacerate his
heart no more.”’ This version, recycled in a letter to Dorothy Wellesley
(Yeats seems to have attempted several versions), differs from Yeats’s own
earlier translation, ‘Swift’s Epitaph’ (1931), cited in the Introduction to the

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.4

Neither this, nor any of Yeats’s other poetic invocations of the epitaph,
correspond to the characteristic manner of Swift’s own English poems,
which explicitly ‘decline’ a lofty style and prefer a Horatian levity to the
grandiloquence of Juvenal, with whom (largely because of the epitaph)
Swift is often misguidedly associated.5
One feature of Yeats’s poem is that it raises the temperature of heroic
celebration, in its way already unusually high in Swift himself. For example,
Yeats’s ‘he Served human liberty’ has declarative vibrancy, compared with
Swift’s more neutral ‘strong defender . . . of liberty’, partly because of the
active verb (served), and partly because of the emotive addition of ‘human’,
not in Swift, and possibly a creative adaptation of ‘pro virili’, which in the
Latin means ‘to the utmost of his power’ (pro virili parte). The purely factual
‘Here is laid the body of JONATHAN SWIFT S.T.D.’ becomes Yeats’s
exotic opening line, ‘Swift has sailed into his rest’, which appropriates Swift
into a mythologised Yeatsian ancestry of adventurous seafaring merchants,
including the old skipper who ‘leaped overboard After a ragged hat in
Biscay Bay’, one of the forefathers who endowed the poet with ‘blood That
has not passed through any huckster’s loin’. Another ancestor named in
the same poem, the ‘Introductory Rhymes’ to Responsibilities (1914), was
‘Robert Emmet’s friend’, the Rev. John Yeats, rector of Drumcliff, in whose
church Yeats himself was to be buried. He reappears in Yeats’s own epitaph,
242 Poetry
first published (unlike Swift’s) in the poet’s lifetime, in ‘Under Ben Bulben’
This, too, evokes Swift’s epitaph. Both Yeats’s epitaph poems offer
aggrandised adaptations of the phrase Abi, Viator, ‘go, traveller’. This
conventional address to wayfarers, in the words of Richmond Lattimore,
is found on epitaphs from ‘classical times’, when ‘the dead were buried, for
reasons hygienic or religious or both, outside of cities, and therefore the
great highways became lined with tombs’.6 It is a variant of the injunction
to stay, rather than go: Sta, Siste, Aspice, Cave, Resta. The purpose was to
‘remind those who passed by of mortality’ and to ‘excite’ the remembrance
of ‘such Great Men as were represented on those stately Tombs’.7 The
commonplace character of the formula is reflected, with comic pathos, in
Homais’s brooding over ‘sta viator’ in his feverish search for an inscription
for Emma Bovary at the end of Flaubert’s novel.8
The variant Abi viator is common, often with the injunction to imitate
(Abi, Viator, imitari quem sequeris).9 One recorded form is Abi, viator,
fac simile.10 It is perhaps the most basic and recurrent adjuration to the
traveller, whether he is invited to go, or stay and read, though other forms of
advice, including finding ‘no fault with your own wife’ are found.11 Swift’s
‘Abi’ acquires an imperious touch, partly from the challenge, ‘si poteris’, ‘if
you can’. In his rendering of ‘Swift’s Epitaph’, Yeats escalated this to ‘if you
dare’. In his own epitaph at Drumcliff, which forms the last three lines of
‘Under Ben Bulben’, Yeats added surplus fervour:
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by! 12

In 1948, the words were incised on stone, as prescribed in the poem. The
ancestor was the John Yeats of ‘Introductory Rhymes’.
Yeats’s lines are imperious, down (or up) to the proclamation, in
a published poem, that there should be ‘No marble, no conventional
phrase . . . By his command these words are cut’. This inserts considerable
pomp into the process of renouncing pomp, and constitutes much more
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 243
of a flourish than the ‘Just my name and dates and these lines’ anticipated
in a private letter about two weeks before the poem was completed.13 By
contrast, Swift had insisted that his epitaph should be cut deep in black
marble, and gilded, and had specifically expressed his wish for a marble
monument, though he had stipulated this posthumously public display in
the strict privacy of his will. The instruction was peremptory, but perhaps
more anxiously emphatic than high-handed. It is Yeats’s demand for sim-
plicity, rather than Swift’s prescription for a more elaborate display, that
strikes the greater note of heroic ostentation. Yeats’s refusal of marble, where
Swift had asked for it, palpitates with the same elated grandeur with which
Yeats converted the plain ‘Abi Viator’ into the accents, at once ‘heroic’ and
Romantic, of ‘Horseman, pass by’. That was for Yeats’s own epitaph. In his
version of ‘Swift’s Epitaph’, Yeats removed from ‘Abi Viator’ the imperative
‘Abi’ (‘go’), replacing it with the even more hectoringly imperious vocative,
‘World-besotted traveller’. The offbeat heroics of this phrase, incidentally,
evoke a crazed tourist or pilgrim in a hyperactive drama, not unlike Pope’s
groupies flocking to his villa in the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, with something
of the same animated self-centredness on the part of both poet and subject.
This compounds our sense of the theatricality of Yeats’s phrasing, ‘if you
dare’, in place of Swift’s ‘si poteris’, ‘if you can’.
Yeats had a pronounced sense of the splendours and miseries of being
Swift, to which Swift himself might not have returned a responsive chord:

Swift beating on his breast in sibylline frenzy blind

Because the heart in his blood-sodden breast had dragged him
down into mankind . . .
Saeva Indignatio and the labourer’s hire,
The strength that gives our blood and state magnanimity of its
own desire. (‘Blood and the Moon’, 1928)

Nor is it likely that Swift would have been disposed to take to himself
the image, in ‘Parnell’s Funeral’ (1934), of ‘Jonathan Swift’s dark grove’,
through which Parnell had ‘passed’, plucking ‘bitter wisdom that enriched
his blood’. Such grandly excitable self-dramatisation was even further out-
side the normal range of Swift’s style than the saeva indignatio of Swift’s
own Latin epitaph, or than his high claim to be Libertatis Vindicator. The
grandiloquence of Swift’s epitaph belonged to a lofty style Yeats was readier
to see in Swift than Swift was disposed to display. ‘Beating on his breast’ is
hardly a Swiftian gesture, and there is no ‘sibylline frenzy blind’ in Swift’s
phrase about his ‘lacerated’ heart. The image of Swift’s heart ‘dragged . . .
down into mankind’ suggests a rapture of abasement very similar to that
244 Poetry
imagined for Yeats himself, lying down, at the end of ‘The Circus Animals’
Desertion’ (1939), ‘In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart’. Yeats’s lines
belong to an altogether different register of intensity, part of an impassioned
self-image Yeats projected on to Swift along with an elated misperception
of his political outlook, including the conception of liberty implied in the
Almost four years after Yeats’s death, Swift’s epitaph and the contem-
plation of rage and laceration, relinquished in old age (rather than death),
reappeared, in somewhat ironic circumstances, in the tribute to Yeats in
T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding (1942), when Eliot’s ‘familiar compound ghost’
(95) speaks of ‘the conscious impotence of rage At human folly, and the
laceration Of laughter at what ceases to amuse’ (135–7). We know on his
own testimony that Eliot was thinking of Swift, in association with Yeats,
who has a more extensive presence in the passage, which also evokes the
lecture Eliot had given in 1940, soon after Yeats’s death. The word ‘lac-
eration’ was added late, after John Hayward had drawn attention to the
Latin of Swift’s epitaph and expressly suggested its adoption.15 Eliot’s ‘rage
At human folly’ is less exalted than Yeats’s, closer to the mood of defeated
world-weariness implied in Swift’s epitaph, but perhaps more intimately
confessional. It is more inward-turning than ‘savage indignation’, and is
without the surcharge of intensity of Yeats’s use of ‘saeva Indignatio’ in
‘Blood and the Moon’. In the Latin of the original epitaph, Swift had
himself added ‘saeva’ as an emotive increment to Juvenal’s ‘indignatio’, but
it is the note of elation Yeats gives the phrase which makes its intensities
Eliot’s ‘familiar compound ghost’ includes other poets, but the passage
is extensively concerned with Yeats. It is also a homage to Swift, for whom
Eliot had a great admiration. He thought Book iv of Gulliver’s Travels ‘one
of the greatest triumphs that the human soul has ever achieved’.17 He also
found, in Swift’s satiric quatrains and tetrameters, and the flat couplets of
‘A Description of the Morning’, a powerful model for some of the poems
in Prufrock and other Observations (1917) and Poems (1920). What Eliot
took from Swift’s verses of downbeat social observation is a side of Swift to
which Yeats paid scant attention, when he rebuked Eliot in the Oxford Book
of Modern Verse (1936) for a flatness that some readers might think more
applicable to Swift. He further described Eliot as ‘satirist rather than poet’,
who seldom found the ‘great manner’, and as ‘an Alexander Pope, working
without apparent imagination’. There is a curious disconnect between this
and the fact that it is Swift who studiously avoided the ‘great manner’,
while Pope and Yeats himself both cultivated it. It is not in Pope, but in
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 245
Swift, that one finds the poet describing ‘men and women that get out of
bed or into it from mere habit’,18 an activity, for example, which opens
Swift’s ‘Description of the Morning’, a poem with which Eliot’s ‘Morning
at the Window’ is intriguingly in dialogue.19
Yet it is Swift’s epitaph, alone among his writings, that speaks explicitly
of savage indignation and a lacerated breast, and it is Swift who chose
the phrase saeva indignatio for his own marble memorial. There are few
impassioned defences of freedom in the poems to match the epitaph’s claim
of being Libertatis Vindicator, and there is little display of indignation in
the only lines of verse he ever wrote that approach the form and spirit of
the epitaph, namely the impartial commentator’s obituary towards the end
of the Verses on the Death of Dr Swift:

‘Fair LIBERTY was all his Cry;

‘For her he stood prepared to die;
‘For her he boldly stood alone;
‘For her he oft expos’d his own.
‘Two Kingdoms, just as Faction led,
‘Had set a Price upon his Head;
‘But, not a Traytor cou’d be found,
‘To sell him for Six Hundred Pound.

The opening lines almost seem designed for a memorial tablet, and are
not unYeatsian. There is also no doubt that Swift thought he deserved the
praise, and would consider it a just tribute to his role as the Hibernian
The somewhat less marmoreal lines about the two kingdoms refer, as is
explained in the note in the Faulkner edition of the Verses (1739), to the
two occasions in which a price of £300 was put on the ‘discovery’ of the
author, namely the appearance of The Publick Spirit of the Whigs in 1714
and The Drapier’s Fourth Letter in 1724, a symmetry which establishes that
the defence of ‘Fair LIBERTY’ was not restricted to Irish interests, as a
reader of 1731 or 1739 might assume, but also extended to England, and
was thus more than a matter of Irish patriotism. The earlier episode had
been recalled in 1714, in another autobiographical poem, ‘The Author upon
Himself’, where Swift spoke of ‘a Proclamation spread To fix a Price on
his devoted Head’ (59–60). At the time, Swift enjoyed considerable official
protection, and coyly acknowledged the finessing of the case against him
246 Poetry
by powerful protectors: ‘thus watchful Friends preserve him by a Sleight’.20
But the concession is also a boast of friends in high places, and this hint of
deflation in any case comes only after the affirmation that ‘While Innocent,
he scorns ignoble Flight’ (62, 61). This grandly declarative line teeters
on the brink of a self-inflation through which Swift sometimes signalled
intimations of self-mockery, if only as a defensive guard. Such is the status
of heroic utterance at this period that straight heroic declarations may
acquire a strutting exaggeration which seems close to parody. The words
could easily find themselves at home in a declamatory heroic tragedy of
the sort Fielding was to mock in the Tragedy of Tragedies. In any event, the
poet’s gestures of self-exaltation are oscillating and unwholehearted.
‘The Author upon Himself ’ is a poem of unusually raw feeling, indig-
nant, paying off scores, and withheld from publication until Faulkner’s
edition of the Works (1735). It is unusual also in being in heroic couplets,
a form Swift shrank from, as tending to the ‘lofty Stile’ he avoided, and
also, or so one might infer from some scattered remarks, in deference to
Pope’s mastery of the form. The couplets, even here, are hardly Popeian,
with some informalities and roughnesses of language and metre, and very
little of Pope’s definitional triumphalism.
The ‘Liberty’ Swift said he served was concerned with freeing the Anglo-
Irish colonial establishment from interference by London. It had little to
do with colonial emancipation in the abstract and nothing with demo-
cratic egalitarianism or universal suffrage. Yeats understood at least this
when he said ‘I remember his epitaph and understand that the liberty he
served was that of intellect, not liberty for the masses but for those who
could make it visible.’21 It is possible, as Yeats’s most authoritative biog-
rapher has suggested, that Yeats thought Swift would be sympathetic to
a Mussolinian state.22 Underlying this disconcerting perception is Torchi-
ana’s observation, chiefly borne out in the Introduction to The Words
upon the Window-Pane, that, as Yeats understood Swift, both defended an
older order they saw as giving way to a new, ‘external, sentimental, logical,
democratic, and optimistic Whiggery’.23
Whether Swift himself held such views, and whatever the ideological
nuances of the epitaph’s professed militancy, it is evident that even in the
Verses he has taken care to distance himself. Unlike similar declarations by
Pope or Yeats, the words are spoken not by the author but by an ‘impartial’
commentator, a fact of which the reader is kept unremittingly aware by
the contemporary typographical practice of putting quotation marks at the
beginning of every line. Although the tetrameters of ‘Fair LIBERTY was
all his Cry’ have a declarative glow, they do not fully release their own
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 247
grandeurs, as though Swift would not risk, even through the impartial
speaker, the fervour, or ‘strong driving force’, which Yeats was able to
infuse into short metres.24 Swift’s lines stand out, in a brief but splendid
isolation, in a poem whose general manner is that of a more or less light-
hearted causerie. Their marmoreal affirmations share the same metre as
the protracted badinage of ‘“the Dean is dead, (and what is Trumps?)”’
(228), which pervades the earlier parts of the poem, and whose Hudibrastic
cadences set much of its tone. The extended passage by the obituarist, as
has often been pointed out, is itself full of coy self-undercutting, and coded
jokes like the couplet: ‘“To steal a Hint was never known, But what he
writ was all his own”’ (317–18), which is itself partly lifted from Denham’s
poem, ‘On Mr. Abraham Cowley’ (1667, 29–30).25
Swift was normally and on principle not at home with high talk of any
sort, and made a point of leaving such things to his admired friend Pope,
whose self-celebrating grandiloquence is much closer to Yeats, though
Yeats (perhaps partly for this reason) had a distaste for Pope. It is Yeats who
assumed a not unPopeian arrogant fervour, down to the proud sweep and
cadence of a high pentameter for which Swift admired Pope and which he
shied from emulating. It is not fanciful to think that a Yeatsian couplet
like ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory
was I had such friends’ is closer, in cadence and temper, to the elated
self-assertiveness of Pope’s Epilogue to the Satires than Yeats would want to
admit, or than Swift, who honoured and respected Pope, would consider
Swift’s avoidance of grand manners and Pope’s predilection for them
conceal a likeness between Yeats and Pope, whom Yeats ‘disliked’ (actually
‘loathed’) but was ‘fascinated’ by. Reading Edith Sitwell’s admiring biog-
raphy of Pope in April 1930, Yeats found ‘in Bolingbroke the last pose and
in Swift the last passion of the Renaissance, in Pope whom I dislike an
imitation of both pose and passion’.27 Arguably, there is a shared allure of
pose as well as passion in both Yeats and Pope, which Swift shrank from not
as false, but as likely to misfire. Swift could not easily assume, in his own
name, in defence of that fair liberty his poem says he served, the kind of
ringing statement that came easily to Pope: ‘Yes, the last Pen for Freedom
let me draw, When Truth stands trembling on the edge of Law’ (Epilogue to
the Satires, ii. 248–9). Pope was so far from transferring his self-affirmations
to an invented speaker that he would, in his Imitation of the First Satire of
the Second Book of Horace (1733), redirect to himself compliments Horace
paid to Lucilius. The fervid superbia of the couplet from Pope’s Epilogue,
a poem published the year before Swift’s Verses, has more than a little
248 Poetry
in common with some of Yeats’s impassioned affirmations, and perhaps
more in common with Yeatsian exaltation than with the angry Juvenalian
majesties Pope is actually emulating.
Pope’s critics sometimes speak of the great Imitator of Horace as being
in many ways Juvenalian, whereas the purportedly Juvenalian Swift, who
spoke in the epitaph of his own ‘saeva Indignatio’, would sidestep both
the fervour and the superbia, more than once pinning his satirical flag to
a Horatian mast. In refusing the addressee of An Epistle to a Lady, who
wanted verses ‘in the Heroick Stile’, it is Horace whom he invoked (198–
9), describing the lofty style, whether in panegyric or satire, as ‘against
my natural Vein’ (136), likely to create for him a ‘Figure scurvy’ (219).28
Although indignation against enemies is not disavowed, and he exclaims
that ‘I would hang them if I cou’d’ (170), his plan is not to destroy or
denounce, but to induce discomfiture and alarm. The Epistle is a poem of
deceptively playful badinage, a fact which should not be allowed to obscure
how important it is as a declaration of Swift’s poetic principles, of his deep
temperamental uneasiness with high talk, of his opinion that satirical
‘bastings’ were ineffective, and of the needling aggressiveness reflected in
his view that ‘a little gentle Jerking Sets the Spirits all a working’. This is
represented, correctly or not, as a Horatian urbanity, not at all Juvenalian,
whose lighthearted manner, in Swift’s version of it, is designed to induce
edginess and an undignified readerly panic (198–206).
The impartial commentator was a necessity, since Swift wanted his compli-
ments to be paid, though even that commentator could not speak without
an element of irony as long as he was scripted by Swift himself. An unironic
tribute to Swift along the lines of the Verses was in fact provided by Pope, in
his Epistle to Augustus, not in a mode of defiant affirmation but of respectful
and affectionate sobriety:

Let Ireland tell, how Wit upheld her cause,

Her Trade supported, and supply’d her Laws;
And leave on Swift this grateful verse ingrav’d,
The Rights a Court attack’d, a Poet sav’d.
Behold the hand that wrought a Nation’s cure,
Stretch’d to relieve the Idiot and the Poor,
Proud Vice to brand, or injur’d Worth adorn,
And stretch the Ray to Ages yet unborn.
(Pope, First Epistle of the Second Book
of Horace, Imitated, 1737, 221–8)
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 249
These lines, a dedicated digression from the Horatian original, contain
the gist of the ‘impartial’ obituary, down to the closing remarks about
Swift’s intended bequests, without any of Swift’s self-mockery. A further
ironic symmetry was that the Privy Council considered arresting Pope
for his tribute to Swift’s opposition to Wood’s Halfpence.29 Pope’s words
were published on 25 May 1737. Swift had written to Pope in a letter of 2
December 1736 that ‘my Acquaintance resent that they have not seen my
name at the head’ of one of Pope’s ‘Epistles of Morality’, and evidently felt
a deep desire to be written about publicly in this way.30
Whether or not Pope’s lines were a response to this request, such solici-
tations seem to have been part of a reciprocal habit. Pope had asked Swift
in 1729 to record their friendship in verse, to which Swift’s response was
the passage beginning ‘Hail! happy Pope, whose gen’rous Mind, Detesting
all the Statesmen kind’, in the Libel on Doctor Delany (1730, 71–88), com-
posed in Swift’s informal tetrameters rather than stately couplets.31 Swift
characteristically described them as ‘18 lines relating to your self, in the
most whimsical paper that ever was writ, and which was never intended for
the Publick’, which caused political embarrassment to Pope and therefore
elicited mixed reactions.32
Just as in the later letter to Charles Wogan, where he professed himself
‘only a Man of Rhimes’, who never wrote ‘serious Couplets’, he told Pope he
had been hesitant to celebrate their friendship because of feeling upstaged,
until he remembered Fulke Greville’s epitaph, describing himself as ‘friend
to Sir Philip Sidney’.33 The shadow of the feared ‘Figure scurvy’ hovers
over both declarations. Over and above these ritual reciprocities, Swift’s
repeated requests for an epistle evince an accentuated aspiration for such
a tribute.34 Pope told Swift in March 1736 of his intention, ‘If ever I write
more Epistles in Verse’, to address one to Swift which ‘would make what
bears your name . . . more finished than any of the rest’.35 That intention
was not formally executed. Sterne gave a waggish account:

Orna me, sigh’d Swift to Pope, – unite something of yours to mine to wind
us together in one sheet down to posterity – I will, I will; said Pope – but
you don’t do it enough said Swift – 36

Swift had more than once quoted Cicero’s request ‘to a Friend’ to ‘adorn’
or honour him by a mention.37 Pope evidently showed Swift the passage
from the Epistle to Augustus before publication, to which Swift responded
that the lines ‘are to do me the greatest honour I shall ever receive from
posterity, and will out-weigh the malignity of ten thousand enemies’.38
250 Poetry
The obliquities of self-projection in the Verses, often too elusive to pin
down, are compounded by the device of the disinterested obituarist who
‘My Character impartial draws!’, designed to uncouple Swift from lines
which were after all about himself, and scripted by himself. William King,
entangled in his own dubious role in the textual history of the Verses,
plumed himself on the insight that ‘the latter part of the poem’ as Swift
wrote it ‘might be thought by the public a little vain, if so much were
said of himself by himself’.39 That, he indicated, was felt by ‘The Doctor’s
friends’, including Pope. The idea that Swift, with his deep inhibitions
about making a figure scurvy, would not have anticipated this, and that he
needed the textual protection of his ‘Friends’, seems naı̈vely implausible.
The fact is precisely that he was aware of the risk, and sought to preempt
it by this elusively jokey use of a fictive speaker. This is fully in keeping
with his temperamental defensiveness, and is the natural expression of his
desire simultaneously to see that the mandatory things were said. In the
early years of the PhD era, we, or our teachers, used to bring in ‘the masks
of Jonathan Swift’ to cope with such situations, just as we still issue wise
reminders to our students that Gulliver, or the speaker of A Tale of a Tub,
or the Modest Proposer, is not Swift. One supposes that Swift was spared
any premonition of these nightmares of the classroom. But one might
be justified in regarding them as a collective manifestation of a form of
point-missing he rejoiced to discover in unwary readers, like the often-cited
bishop who opined that Gulliver’s Travels ‘was full of improbable lies, and
for his part, he hardly believed a word of it’.40
The reality is, of course, that yes, the impartial obituarist is not Swift,
just as Gulliver’s Travels is not a true narrative. In this sense, Gulliver and
the Tale-teller and Proposer are variously not Swift, and I suppose we have
to imagine that there may have been a time when some readers had to be
reminded of this. But it is even more important to understand that they
are also not not Swift, in the sense that in every sentence, every rhetorical
feint, every fictional speaker, there is always a Swiftian presence insinuating
itself through that speaker, which may or may not be literally endorsing
what the speaker says, but which cannot be discounted any more than they
can be taken literally or baldly attributed. There is, behind the layers of
fictional detachment, a Swiftian commitment to Gulliver’s misanthropy
to which Yeats responded near the end of his life, when he spoke of (and
indeed associated himself with) the ‘Irish hatred and solitude, the hatred of
human life that made Swift write Gulliver and the epitaph upon his tomb’,
reverting perhaps for the last time in his writings to his own obsession
with Swift’s saeva indignatio.41 The fact that the precise proportion of
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 251
authorial commitment is seldom the same from sentence to sentence, is a
characteristic Swiftian signature, conveying truths through speakers who
are excessive, or foolish, or merely other, in a manner that dissociates the
author in a formal sense while leaving an unmistakable authorial aura.
From what I assume to be Swift’s perspective, you are equally ‘bit’ if you
believe literally what Gulliver says in Book iv, and if you think you can
discount it because in a formal sense he is not Swift. It is one of Swift’s ways
of vexing the world rather than diverting it, doubtless capturing in its net
the explicators and persona advocates of the academy, not least because few
of them are very vexed (I’m not sure they seem very diverted, either). The
truth of masks or personae is that they are themselves as much part of what
is being communicated as the content of their speech, and that the author
himself created the mask as well as scripting the speech. He bears responsi-
bility not only for his overt statements, but for those indirections by which
we do or don’t find directions out, and indeed for the act of indirection
itself. Some words of Kurt Vonnegut, already cited, seem to say it all: ‘We
are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend
to be.’42
The impartial obituarist of the Verses on the Death should not be made
to bear the weight of so much theory. It does not fit the blend of casual
earnestness and cheeky flippancy with which Swift invests the obituarist’s
statement. He is, anyway, as these things go, much closer to his author
than the extravagant narrators of the great prose satires, and what he has to
say in the lines about liberty bears a close relation to how we may assume
Swift would seriously have liked to be spoken of. So the question might
be asked, why invent the obituarist, instead of speaking in his own name.
Of course, the poem imagines Swift to be dead, but he could have scripted
the obituary as a statement of how he would like to be remembered, just as
he did himself compose the epitaph in the Cathedral. The substance itself
of the lines is no more meant to be undercut than the epitaph is, but the
lines are framed in a context of mild but distinct self-mockery, as though
Swift wanted you to think he was not taking himself quite so seriously, as
well as not speaking them ‘himself’ in the first place. The trick deceives no
one, as Swift would know, but it keeps up appearances. In this, he is quite
different from both Yeats and Pope, whose ways of keeping up appearances
were of a different order.
This, it seems to me, defines the distance between the epitaph and
the poems, as well as the intimate connection between them. It helps to
explain the need for the impartial obituarist, reversing Vonnegut’s phrase
about being what we pretend to be, making of Swift in this instance what
252 Poetry
he pretends not to be, an overturning which, like so many such opposites,
is really only a minor adjustment of its counterpart. Even the impartial
obituarist, in his fit of unSwiftian grandeur, is allowed a Swiftian hint of
self-undercutting, fair liberty being merely said to be ‘all his Cry’, as it
were a routine, or a peddling of wares, though he was prepared to die for
her. OED gives a single (roughly contemporary) analogue to Swift’s phrase,
under the word ‘crier’: ‘Simplicity is all their cry’ (1748).43 Swift had a
lively interest in hawkers’ ‘cries’. He wrote with wry gusto about how they
would ‘cry’ a ‘last speech’ from the gallows or a malicious ‘Satyr’, and his
own poems include hawkers’ cries for apples, asparagus, ‘onyons’, oysters,
herrings, and oranges.44 His Examination of Certain Abuses (1732) includes
an account of the mendacity of street cries and their political extensions
(PW, xii. 217–20, 226–31). So it would be surprising if ‘all his Cry’ did not
carry muted intimations of a hawker for liberty staging his show.
The zone of interplay between sublimity and performative showmanship,
the panache of the circus-artist or the principled eloquence of the drunken
sage, is one which Yeats explored more knowingly than Swift, not only in
the beggar poems of various periods, but in the late poems ‘Beautiful Lofty
Things’, ‘High Talk’ and ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’, which belong
to the last two years of his life.
‘High Talk’ (1938), which announces that ‘Processions that lack high
stilts have nothing that catches the eye’, is not written in any of the usual
forms of lofty style found in Yeats’s various evocations of Swift’s epitaph.

Malachi Stilt-Jack am I, whatever I learned has run wild,

From collar to collar, from stilt to stilt, from father to child.
All metaphor, Malachi, stilts and all. A barnacle goose
Far up in the stretches of night; night splits and the dawn breaks loose.
I, through the terrible novelty of light, stalk on, stalk on;
Those great sea-horses bare their teeth and laugh at the dawn.45

Neither the fiery epiphany nor the surreal wildness of this high talk would
be imaginable in Swift, and they are equally outside the range of Pope’s
elevated speech. With the partial exception of ‘Blood and the Moon’, they
differ also from the high talk of Yeats’s evocations of Swift’s epitaph, dis-
cussed earlier. The barnacle-goose is an arctic bird which visits British coasts
in winter. It is a recurrent and eruptive high-point in Yeats’s imagination
as early as the Wanderings of Oisin (1889), and by 1914 is part of the poetry
of his beggars:
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 253
‘And there I’ll . . .
. . . hear amid the garden’s nightly peace,’
Beggar to beggar cried, being frenzy-struck,
‘The wind-blown clamour of the barnacle-geese.’46

This evocation of wild natural forces is part of a Yeatsian sublime, associated

with the ‘wisdom’ of beggars, which is also a ‘frenzy’ not unconnected with
Yeats’s idea of Swift’s saeva indignatio. It is not, however, part of the furniture
of the Swiftian mind, though a secondary association of the barnacle with
confidence tricksters or swindlers, reported in OED and found in Greene
and Dekker (1591, 1608), might not be foreign to Swift, and is germane to
the figure of Malachi in ‘High Talk’.47
The heady hint of exalted charlatanism, which Swift inserted almost as a
defensive tic in his evocation of the hawker’s cry, became for Yeats a matter
of grand declarative display, not without its own diablerie of pretended
self-undermining. The high-handed self-dismissal of Yeats’s concession
that ‘Malachi, stilts and all’ are merely ‘all metaphor’ shows that what
for Swift was an instinctive circumvention of the lofty style turned for
Yeats into a primary form of high expression. Swift was not indifferent
to displays of individual grandeur of the sort listed in Yeats’s ‘Beautiful
Lofty Things’ (1938), almost a companion piece to ‘High Talk’, which
includes among its heroic epiphanies the snapshot of ‘Standish O’Grady
supporting himself between the tables Speaking to a drunken audience
high nonsensical words’.48 Swift compiled a prose list ‘Of those who have
made great Figures in some particular Action or Circumstance of their Lives’,
though Swift did not, in Yeats’s way, mythologise himself and his friends
into it. Swift also characteristically supplied a second list ‘Of those who
have made a mean contemptible Figure’.49 Still less did Swift overtly take on
Malachi Stilt-Jack’s idiom of exalted clownerie, in which the trickster, the
jester, the itinerant confidence-man, are resublimated in a manner we don’t
often meet before the nineteenth century, when, for example, Baudelaire
admired the high-intensity zaniness of a kleptomaniac Punch in an English
Yeats does not seem to have spoken much about Baudelaire, whose
name (along with many others) he seemed unable to spell, though he was
evidently exposed to the climate of his critical ideas, and Baudelaire is
repeatedly mentioned over the years when Yeats was taking notes for A
Vision (1925).51 Though his interest in Baudelaire was limited, Yeats is no
more likely to have escaped a generalised exposure to Baudelaire, still less to
ideas to whose circulation Baudelaire contributed, than any other poet of
254 Poetry
his time. Baudelaire’s famous essay ‘De l’Essence du rire’ (1855) is among the
texts which helped to make familiar the idea that high effects of art could
be generated by performances of slapstick or trickery generally regarded
as demotic or louche. Baudelaire’s appreciation for the way pantomime
handles ‘great disasters and a tumultuous destiny’ with bursts of laughter
and a delirium of dance opens up an imaginative terrain hospitable to the
surges of enchantment of Yeats’s Malachi or his beggars.52
Baudelaire was probing a fault-line in neoclassical taste to which Yeats
was equally unsympathetic. Baudelaire thought of it as specifically French
when he praised the ‘monstrueuses farces’ of English pantomime, a phrase
Voltaire had reprovingly applied to Shakespearean tragedies.53 Baudelaire
identified Voltaire with a characteristically French shrinking from ferocity
and the excessive, though in fact even Voltaire was in some degree drawn
to the dimension of ‘barbaric’ freedom in English art, what Baudelaire
described as an ‘énormité britannique’ seasoned with gore and blasphemous
oaths.54 Some ambivalence about Shakespearean tragedy, and the English
stage in general, was also felt by English writers. Fielding parodied the
multiple slaughters at the end of Shakespeare’s plays, remarking on the way
‘modern Tragedy . . . made Farce with Tragedy unite’.55 The phrase echoed
the not altogether unmixed contempt expressed in Pope’s Dunciad for that
poetic zone where ‘Farce and Epic get a jumbled Race’ (Dunciad i. 70, 1729,
i. 68), a region where Yeats sometimes moved with magnificent freedom.
In Swift such a figure as Baudelaire’s English Pierrot or Punch, with his
thieving habits, would scathingly evoke the mountebank and the stage
itinerant of A Tale of a Tub, or the incompetent poets in On Poetry: A
Rapsody (1733), ‘famed for Numbers soft and smooth, By Lovers spoke in
Punch’s Booth’ and ‘lofty Lines in Smithfield Drols’ (297–300).
The most extended treatment of Punch, or clowns or drolls, in Swift’s
poems is a group of satires of Irish politicians of which the best-known
example is Mad Mullinix and Timothy (1728).56 The principal figure is
Mullinix, ‘a half-crazed beggar’ called Tom Molyneux, ‘who went round
Dublin spouting Tory sentiments’, and who is possibly also Tom in the
attack on Lord Allen in Traulus.57 Mullinix (or Mullinex) appears in a
number of poems, paired with the ‘vehement Whig’ Richard Tighe (alias
In doleful Scenes, that break our heart,
Punch comes, like you, and lets a F—t.
There’s not a Puppet made of Wood,
But what wou’d hang him if they cou’d.
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 255
Swift’s Punch is no Malachi Stilt-Jack stalking high on stilts. His exploit is
clownish farting, not striding through ‘the terrible cruelty of light’ to the
cry of the barnacle-goose and sea-horses laughing at the dawn. Malachi is
the name of the prophet of the last book of the Old Testament, and of an
Irish king and a medieval saint, but it is also that of Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s
Ulysses, who thinks the name is ‘absurd’ but ‘has a Hellenic ring’.59 It occurs
as a name in Yeats’s plays. In the poem, more specifically, Stilt-Jack suggests
a circus performer.60 There is a note of haughty inspired charlatanism in
this self-caricature, well captured in Brian Farrington’s centenary pamphlet
on the poet, which speaks of ‘his pride in his own freakish outrageousness’:
‘the more he mocked himself the more arrogant he became’.61 The poem
is close in date to ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion,’ with its ‘stilted boys’
(published January 1939, but both poems evidently completed in August
and September 1938), and the paradoxical affirmation of ‘High Talk’ in
circus mode is the counterpart or obverse of the exalted abasement of the
rag-and-bone shop, ‘where all the ladders start’.62
Yeats’s ‘High Talk’ is thus different from the ‘lofty Stile’ Swift made
a point of ‘declining’ in the Epistle to a Lady (218), a poem now under-
stood to be close in date to the Mullinix poems, and sharing with them
some revealing features of phrasing and satiric preoccupation. The semi-
playful idea that the satiric victim ought to be hanged (Mullinix, 124,
Epistle, 170), which bursts through the frivolities of slapstick farting and
puppet-show rant, is one such feature. The idiomatic expression (as we still
say someone ‘ought to be shot’) is subject to socially recognised indirec-
tions I have considered at greater length elsewhere.63 We ‘mean’ it, don’t
mean it, and don’t not mean it, so that a residual element of primary
aggression always attaches to the phrase, and may, as much as anything
in Swift’s poems, be thought to approximate (in the form of Swift’s many
death curses on beggars, bankers and others) to the sæva indignatio of the
Mullinix’s remark that Timothy’s fellow politicians ‘wou’d hang him if
they cou’d’ calls to mind Swift’s declaration, in the very act of declining the
lofty style in favour of a lighter Horatian mode of attack on ‘the Nation’s
Representers’, that while their madness makes him merry, and he spends
his rage in a jest, ‘I would hang them if I cou’d’ (Epistle to a Lady, 155–
70).64 In An Epistle to a Lady (1733 but possibly composed in 1728 and thus
roughly contemporary with Mad Mullinix), Swift seems almost pointedly
to be using the same words as Mullinix for what Swift wanted to do to
his enemies.65 In the lines in which Tom says Tim is ‘the Punch to stir up
trouble in; You Wrigle, Fidge, and make a Rout . . . in a perpetual Round,
256 Poetry
To Teize, Perplex, Disturb, Confound’ (138–46), the behaviour of Tim and
his Brother Puppets resembles or mimics what the speaker of the Epistle
wants to achieve when he proposes to apply ‘ALECTO’s Whip, Till they
wriggle, howl, and skip’ (Epistle, 179–80).66
The puppets are thus doing to each other, in a perverse sense, what
Swift’s Epistle intends for the victims of his satire, as the declared result of
the poet’s agenda for vexing the world. The disgusting behaviour attributed
to Timothy’s anti-Jacobite witch-hunt, ‘In every A – you run your Snout, To
find this Damn’d Pretender out’ (25–6), bears more than a little resemblance
to what the satirist proposes to do with ‘the Nation’s Representers’: ‘Let
me, though the Smell be Noisom, Strip their Bums; Let Caleb hoyse ’em’
(Epistle, 156, 177–8). The lines describe with a rare explicitness the intimacy
of satirical confrontation Swift often envisages, close up and not shrinking
from indignities. The rejoicing in discomfiture is a special quality of Swift’s
irony, in both prose and verse. In the later poems on Irish politicians, the
scatological cursing, the language of farts and bums, is put to the service
of a quarrelsome intimacy not dissimilar in some ways to the manner of
Gulliver’s Travels. Though the punitive activity envisaged in the Epistle is
carried out by Caleb D’Anvers, pseudonymous author of the Craftsman,
there is no sense of self-distancing, more a gleeful participation on the
satirist’s part. Such participation as there is in the impartial obituarist of
the Verses on the Death is an altogether less open complicity.
Swift’s hanging velleities in the Epistle are hedged with accents of flip-
pancy or mock-flippancy, like the obituarist’s discourse in the Verses on
the Death, with its boast about fair Liberty, though in the Epistle Swift is
speaking in his own voice rather than by proxy. In Mad Mullinix and Tim-
othy the hanging wish is, as in the Verses, delivered by proxy, and indeed
at two removes. It is spoken by the mad beggar, who is actually reporting
the wishes of a collective third party, many of whom may themselves be
regarded as likely targets of the satire along with Timothy/Tighe. Mullinix
goes on to lecture Tim on how, as ‘Philosophers suppose, The World con-
sists of Puppet-shows’ (133–4), and on how political Dublin accords with the
So at this Booth, which we call Dublin,
Tim thour’t the Punch to stir up trouble in;
You Wrigle, Fidge, and make a Rout
Put all your brother Puppets out,
Run on in a perpetual Round,
To Teize, Perplex, Disturb, Confound,
Intrude with Monkey grin, and clatter
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 257
To interrupt all serious Matter,
Are grown the Nuissance of your Clan,
Who hate and scorn you, to a Man.

Swift’s way of regarding the world as a fairground show is in a lower key than
Yeats’s circus animals, for all that they descend into the foul rag-and-bone
shop, itself a low place claiming a very high talk. In some respects, they are
a satirical version of Yeats’s whirling drunken beggars, who ‘mauled and
bit the whole night through’.67 A closer modernist counterpart to Swift’s
political puppet show might be Jarry’s Ubu roi, one of the inheritors of
Baudelaire’s fascination with English puppet-shows, at whose tumultuous
first night in 1896 Yeats was fascinated and saddened, famously remarking
‘After us the Savage God’. When Yeats recalls Ubu as ‘some kind of King’,
carrying ‘for sceptre a brush of the kind we use to clean a closet’, it is
tempting to think of the tyrannical thug as the bullying reincarnation of
the pickpocket of Baudelaire’s English pantomime, who pockets everything
in sight, including a cleaning-woman’s ‘sponge, broom, tub, and even
Tighe is sometimes called Dick, as well as Timothy. In ‘Tom Mullinex
and Dick’ (not published until 1745), Tom, ‘a Foot-Boy bred and born’, is
described as more or less literate (‘Tom cou’d write and spell his Name’)
while Dick, though of ignominious origins, ‘had seen a College’:69
Dick a Coxcomb, Tom was mad,
And both alike diverting,
Tom was held the merrier lad,
But Dick the best at f – rting.
In this sharp but spirited account, the mad Tom is not only merry, but
‘kind and loving’ and possessed of ‘deep discerning’. The altogether less
attractive Dick is a master of the grosser puppet-show skills. His prowess
in farting is a feature of most poems about Tighe. In the companion
poem ‘Dick’s Variety’ (also published in 1745), ‘Dick can f – rt, and dance
and frisk, No other Monkey half so brisk’ (25–6), also the theme of the
better-known ‘Tim and the Fables’, where Tighe identifies himself with
the engraving of a dandified monkey in Gay’s recently published Fables
(1727).70 Tighe–Tim–Dick is repeatedly portrayed as applying these skills,
unsuccessfully, but with rather desperate merriment, to the puppet-show
of Dublin politics, a recurrent image in these poems.
Mullinix and Timothy may in some ways be assimilated to the wild
beggars of Yeats’s imaginative pantheon. Swift’s beggars have been thought
258 Poetry
to have had a part in shaping Yeats’s Crazy Jane and related figures at a time
when Yeats was reading ‘Swift for months together’, almost exactly two
centuries later. Whatever Yeats believed, Swift was no secret sharer in his
‘Dream of the noble and the beggar-man’.71 Mullinix is nevertheless a truth-
telling street madman, who says things Swift said or would say himself,
when he exposes Timothy’s political posturing and partisan zealotry as
bordering on the clinically mad. This fanatically partisan Whig’s alarmist
ravings about Jacobite plots are ridiculed and detested by his own side, and
are an asset to the Tories Timothy detests. Mullinix says Timothy will only
succeed in attracting attention if he joins Mullinix’s crew of mad beggars,
borrowing Mullinix’s clothes and mimicking his antics (211 ff.). He is told
to adopt their efforts to ‘walk upright’ and reform the age, lash its lewdness,
and behave with political rectitude rather than partisan corruption (251 ff.).
Timothy repents and agrees to join the motley fraternity, acceding to the
classic scenario of the mad beggar as a model of virtue which shows up
the shortcomings of the political establishment. Mad Mullinix here fills
something of the role of Yeats’s wild, clear-sighted, beggars, though his
moral tone is hardly Yeatsian, and it would be hard to sustain in a literal
sense Yeats’s claim that Swift ‘understood that wisdom comes of beggary’.72
All Swift’s comments on beggars, fitter to be rooted from the face of the
earth than cause a tax to be levied for their upkeep in Dublin, would
demonstrate this if nothing else did.73
Nevertheless, Mullinix has a kind of rightness, and his excoriation of
Tighe is conducted in an atmosphere of at least ostensibly good-humoured
geniality. If Swift is not genially disposed towards Tighe, Mullinix and
Timothy seem to share an extra-parliamentary friendship, as of off-duty
politicians enacting the street solidarity of a beggarly fellowship. There is
none of the high-intensity truth-enforcing of Yeats’s Crazy Jane and her
kind, but Timothy accepts Mullinix’s invitation to join the jovial crew in
a harmonious discarding of partisanship which is prepared to call a plague
on both their parties (284).
The poem appeared in the Intelligencer in June–July 1728 and was fol-
lowed a few days later by ‘Tim and the Fables’.74 The latter poem was given
an ironic Introduction, written by Thomas Sheridan, also celebrating the
end of party divisions and a resultant national prosperity.75 In the poem
itself, Tim is said to identify himself with the Monkey in the engraving
that accompanies ‘The Monkey Who Had Seen the World’, No. xiv in
Gay’s recently published Fables (1727), who is portrayed as a hunch-backed
but dandified Punch or Thersites, the ‘hateful hideous Grecian’ identified
in the earlier poem as Timothy’s blood relation (51–2).76 Gay’s monkey has
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 259
learned the depraved ways of human society while serving as a pet to a fine
lady. Having managed to escape, he decides ‘To civilize the monkey weal’
(22) by teaching them ‘to copy human ways’ (59). Gay’s harsh parable is
applied to the progress of a young human hero who, ‘Studious of ev’ry
coxcomb’s airs’, grows up in all the fashionable vices: ‘He drinks, games,
dresses, whores and swears’, and scorns ‘all virtuous arts’, having, like the
monkey, become vicious (63–6).77
The monkey achieved this through the appeal of his ‘embroider’d coat’,
‘dapper periwig’, and ‘flutt’ring shoulder-knot’, much admired by the ‘hairy
sylvans’ of his own tribe (25–34). The image of this in the engraving is what,
in ‘Tim and the Fables’, makes Tim recognise himself in the portrait, and
he is ‘smitten’ with the portrait until he reads Gay’s payoff. In the last four
lines, written by Sheridan, the poet, or Mullinix, tries to calm Tim, in the
idiom of the Caleb of the Epistle to a Lady:
Dear Tim, no more such angry Speeches,
Unbutton and let down your Breeches,
Tare out the Tale, and wipe your A –
I know you love to act a Farce. (35–8)

These last four lines, though written by Sheridan, are very much in the
spirit of Swift’s poem, though Swift later deprecated them as ‘slovenly’,
and spoke of the whole poem as ‘very uncorrect, but against a fellow we
all hated’.78 Sheridan’s ‘wipe your A –’ is exactly in the mode of the Epistle
to a Lady’s proposing to strip the enemy’s bums to let Caleb ‘hoyse’ them
(178) or the Legion Club’s ‘souse them in their own Ex-crements’ (186), not
so much because of the punitive scatology itself, but because of its intimate
physical indignity, the corporal consummation of the assault on morale
envisaged in making them ‘wriggle, howl, and skip’.
Before coming upon the poem’s moral, Tim is delighted with his resem-
blance to the Monkey, and praises the engraver in answerable style with
the usual routines of Punchinello:
The Twist, the Squeeze, the Rump, the Fidge an’ all,
Just as they lookt in the Original.
By – says Tim (and let a F – t)
This Graver understood his Art. (17–20)

The twisting, squeezing and ‘fidging’ replace Gay’s own more conventional
list of antics, drinking, gaming, dressing, whoring, swearing. Swift’s poem
focuses less on Tim’s moral depravity than on his frantic comportment, in
some ways a dandified counterpart to that of Jack in A Tale of a Tub.
260 Poetry
It is possible that in the Mullinix poems Swift had not found language to
express such purposes with the Epistle’s tang of stinging lightheartedness,
using broadly similar terms but in a more heavy-handed idiom of stren-
uous clowning not altogether natural to Swift. Mad Mullinix, of course,
is directed outwards, excoriating an enemy, not describing Swift’s own
satirical practices, though the teasing resemblances, as so often, show the
intricacies of relationship between Swift and the objects of his satire, as
well as between the styles he practises and those he disavows. It is perhaps
only the protective flippancy of the Epistle to a Lady that permitted him to
define his manner so precisely, much as in the Verses on the Death a frame
of badinage permits the emergence of a self-celebration he would otherwise
have found awkward to pass off.
This traffic between Swift and his victim, as well as his speakers, is elabo-
rately evident in the two parts of Traulus (1730), but in a format of invective
which the Epistle is disavowing. In the first of these, the madman Tom,
probably Mullinix again, attacks another of Swift’s bêtes noires, Viscount
Allen, who sought the prosecution of the printer and author of A Libel on
Dr. Delany, and who had denounced in the Privy Council the award of
what Swift described in his will as ‘the Gold Box in which the Freedom
of the City of Dublin was presented to me’. The name Traulus (Greek
Ʈραυλός, ‘lisping’) alludes to Allen’s ‘stut-tut-tut-er’ (47), which gives a
grotesque allure to his ‘sputtering’, ‘slavering’ and ‘barking’ against the
‘Nation-saving’ author of the Drapier’s Letters.79 Tom virulently attacks
this politician, calling him worse than a Bedlamite (23 ff.), a mad dog who
deserves to be shot (35 ff.) and is possessed by the Devil (70 ff.). Tom speaks
with exceptional violence, and the link between Swift and his mad speaker,
a righteously enraged Tory, is, even more than in the case of Gulliver’s mis-
anthropic diatribes, unsettlingly close, even as Swift can formally dissociate
himself from the excessive utterance, what he called ‘Timons Manner’ in
the famous letter to Pope of 29 September 1725.80 But Tom’s closing lines
involve a comparison of Swift with Allen himself. As Ehrenpreis says, the
implication is that Swift himself is mad for ‘wishing to free people who
deserve slavery’, a recurrent theme in Swift’s poems. ‘Thus’, Ehrenpreis
adds, ‘in a typical leap of self-satire, the poet merges with the madman
who has been speaking for him’:81

Yet still the D– on Freedom raves,

His Spirit always strives with slaves.
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 261
’Tis Time at last to spare his Ink,
And let them rot, or hang, or stink.

These petulantly theatrical lines, like most of the death-dealing outbursts

in Swift’s work, are part of a rhetoric of obviously untenable excess, which
is the enabling condition for saying such things at all. Thus Tom’s madness
is not the festive clownery of Mullinix. Like the latter he is enraged because
Traulus, instead of promoting Jacobite scares, makes intemperate attacks
on Swift, and there is a straight man called Robin (Robert Leslie, son of
the non-juror Charles Leslie) who advocates tolerance because Traulus’s
‘Head is crackt’ (6), like Tim’s, by party. Ehrenpreis describes the poem
as ‘a dialogue between a sane man and a lunatic, with Swift’s voice rising
through both parts’.82 Swift has in fact scripted all three speakers so that
the madman who attacks Swift is mirrored by a maddened Dean, ‘raving’
about freedom, who offers the familiar stereotype of the hero satirist crazed
by the world’s depravity.
Mad Tom is a castigator, not a seer. He expresses an old irony that in
a wicked world, only the mad are sane, even when their condition, like
Tom’s or the Modest Proposer’s, is pathological (in the latter case in a moral
even more than a clinical sense). Tom’s madness, like Gulliver’s, enables
Swift to say certain things. The sequel to Traulus, published as ‘the Second
Part’ later the same year, continues the attack on Lord Allen without the
dialogue form.83 It was reissued in 1732 as ‘Thersites: Or, The Lordling’,
presumably without Swift’s authority, but in accord with Mad Mullinix’s
earlier comparison of Timothy with the Homeric character who ‘Was more
abhor’d, and scorn’d by those With whom he serv’d, than by his Foes’ (Mad
Mullinix, 51–4). Similar things had been said about Bentley in the Battle of
the Books, which showed long ago that it was not unSwiftian to associate a
bête noire with the Iliadic rogue.84 The device of the truth-telling beggar is
dropped, and the poem speaks in the poet’s presumed voice. Like Thersites,
Traulus is both ignoble and low born:
TRAULUS of amphibious Breed,
Motly Fruit of Mungril Seed:
By the Dam from Lordlings sprung,
By the Sire exhal’d from Dung.
(ii. 1–4)

This is the idiom of several violently angry late poems on the Irish political
scene of the 1730s, which include ‘On Noisy Tom’ (1736: not Tom Mullinix)
and the most famous of all, the A Character, Panegyric, and Description of
262 Poetry
the Legion Club (1736),85 that extraordinary poem, discussed in the previous
chapter, whose drumming invective evokes a tradition of ritual curses and
satirical magic, of the kind that rhymed rats to death and caused blisters to
erupt in rival poets. It is perhaps here that the indignatio comes closest to
being overtly saeva. Even here, the diablerie of the exercise, the billowing
exuberance of the diatribe, the feeling of outdoing the real magicians in
the force of utterance, is, as in some of Rochester’s imprecations, self-
disarming. What Ben Jonson called the drumming rhymes he himself
claimed to take from the Irish bards, is exuberantly emphasised by Swift
both in the hammering sequence of imprecations and the spirited metrical

H[arrison], and D[ilkes], and C[lements],

Souse them in their own Ex-crements.

The hyphen in ‘Ex-crements,’ discussed earlier, emphasises the ritual char-

acter of the incantation, as well as the sport of indulging it to the limit.
Even in these poems, where Swift comes closest to saeva indignatio, there
are implied quotation marks within quotation marks around every word
and every cadence, so that the terms still cannot be taken at the face value
claimed in the epitaph, and only there.
These reflections may shed light on some peculiarities in the Latin epitaph
itself. For one thing, the word ‘vindicator’ is not recorded in classical Latin.
Vindico, vindicare, means to claim (asserting one’s title), rescue, absolve,
punish and avenge. The noun vindex had the legal sense of one who assumes
liability for the release of, for example, a debtor, and by extension, a defender
or champion, or else a punisher or avenger. Vindicator is ecclesiastical Latin,
meaning avenger.
Swift’s use of vindicator in Latin was immediately recognised as surpris-
ing. The usage was corrected to ‘vindicem’ as early as the London edition
of 1746, whose title page appears somewhat confusingly in front of the
Faulkner text in the Davis edition,87 and which astringently reports in a
footnote: ‘In the Irish Edit. it is VINDICATOREM. But not so, I imag-
ine, from the Dean’s Hand.’ Davis does not accept the emendation, ‘as
Swift seems to have written VINDICATOREM’, the evidence for his view
being mainly that this ‘is what has been cut on the tablet in St. Patrick’s
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 263
cathedral’, an act Swift can, however, safely be absolved from having per-
formed himself. Davis reports that the manuscript, in Swift’s ‘own hand’,
was ‘Destroyed by fire’.88 The ex post facto and somewhat circular reasoning
from the tablet cannot be conclusive. The possibility cannot be ruled out
that the reading ‘vindicatorem’ in the ‘Irish Edit.’ might be the result of a
mistranscription, at any of the stages of transmission, that eventually found
its way to the engraver in 1749. In any process of transferring from paper
to tablet, however, it seems unlikely that anyone would deliberately alter
the correct Latin ‘vindicem’ to an incorrect ‘vindicatorem’.89
A broad but not exhaustive search suggests that ‘vindicem’ was sub-
sequently adopted in a majority of eighteenth-century printings of the
will, as well as by such authorities as Hawkesworth, Thomas Sheridan,
Craik and Temple Scott.90 J. V. Luce’s ‘Note on the composition of Swift’s
epitaph’ castigates Maurice Johnson, who cites the ‘vindicem’ version, for
misquotation, though Johnson was reproducing Temple Scott, then the
authoritative modern edition, since the relevant volume of Davis appeared
six years after Johnson’s article, in 1959.91 It is mainly, though not exclu-
sively, in the Faulkner editions that we find the reading ‘vindicatorem’. The
more classical ‘vindicem’ tends to be adopted by non-Faulkner (including
Dublin) editions.
None of this gives ‘vindicem’ independent, let alone conclusive, tex-
tual authority over ‘vindicatorem’, given the presumptive authority of the
tablet and the special standing of Faulkner’s edition. My non-exhaustive
search suggests a correlation between the Faulkner-associated ‘vindica-
torem’ versions of the will and the tablet, and a group of other readings
for which the ‘vindicem’ versions share a consistent set of alternatives.
Thus the initials S.T.D., for Sacrae Theologiae Doctor, generally occur
in ‘vindicatorem’ versions, whereas the ‘vindicem’ versions generally have
S.T.P., for Sacrae Theologiae Professor. The same is true of several vari-
ants of punctuation and numeralisation.92 Denis Johnston remarked that
‘nobody has yet managed to perform the feat of copying [the epitaph]
down correctly and in full’.93 The tablet is likely to have been transcribed
from Faulkner’s edition. This, like the other published versions, supplied
among other details a date of death that cannot by definition have been
present in the manuscript of the will, not to mention the unlikelihood
that the original will would have been handed to the engraver. As Robert
Mahony has related, Faulkner’s mission to create a monument to Swift
in print and stone did not result in responsibility for erecting the tablet.
This was assumed by the governors of St Patrick’s Hospital, who after
264 Poetry
considering two designs on 27 February 1748, approved one of them for
erection in 1749. The erection of the monument was reported in Faulkner’s
Dublin Journal for 8 August 1749.94 Even with Faulkner apparently out
of the loop, his published text of the will evidently provided that of the
I have no expectation of resolving the question, but if we assume, in
the absence of further evidence, that ‘vindicatorem’ is what Swift wrote, a
number of interesting questions invite attention. How or why would Swift
stoop, for example, to non-classical Latin, and an unusual word, not only
in Latin but even in English? Swift’s Latin was perhaps not outstanding,
though the Trinity College mark of negligenter recorded for his ‘theme’
is by no means a failing grade, perhaps something like a B in today’s
idea of these things, and he received the high mark of bene for Greek
and Latin.95 Orrery thought Swift ‘was not an elegant writer of Latin’,
and found the epitaph ‘scarce intelligible’, but the latter comment sounds
obtuse, or at least captious, and doesn’t in any case refer to ‘vindicatorem’,
or cite any other specific example of incorrectness.96 There has historically
been a hasty predisposition to cast doubt on Swift’s Latin, as when William
Bowyer, about 1740, thought he had detected a false quantity in the Latin
preamble to ‘On His Own Deafness’ (1734, Poems, ii. 673), though the
autograph manuscript in the Huntington Library shows Swift in fact to
have used a metrically correct formulation, the correct word in this case
being ‘verticosus’ rather than ‘vertiginosus’.97 This does not apply to the
questionable ‘vindicatorem’, which on the evidence looks to be authorial,
but it does suggest that Swift might not be careless as alleged. We know
that Swift took considerable care over the wording of his controversial
epitaph for the Duke of Schomberg in 1731, consulting several advisers and
commenting confidently and knowledgeably on nuances of expression.98
Carelessness is possible, in the case of his own epitaph, in what was doubtless
an emotional moment. Swift reports himself in the will to be ‘of sound
Mind, although weak in Body’, repeating this as ‘weak in Body but sound
in Mind’ in the Codicil two days later, an insistence which suggests an
element of febrile self-concern.99
On the other hand, the instructions are meticulous and extremely
emphatic on most matters of detail, notably the exact materials to be
used and place and time of burial, ‘under the Pillar next to the Monument
of Primate Narcissus Marsh, three Days after my Decease, as privately as
possible, and at Twelve o’ Clock at Night: And, that a Black Marble of
[ ] Feet square, and seven Feet from the Ground, fixed to the Wall, may be
erected’ (the one detail left unspecified is the exact size of the tablet).100 The
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 265
directions in the will of Swift’s patron Sir William Temple had prescribed
that ‘a large stone of black marble may be set up against the wall’, without
elaborate micro-management of the location or any insistence that the
inscription should be ‘deeply cut’ into the stone.101 Night-burials were not
uncommon in the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries,
often as a means of avoiding the expense of costly daytime ceremonies, as
when Swift announced, in 1713, that William Harrison was to be buried
‘at ten at night’ to keep costs down.102 But the precision of the mandate
here, ‘three Days after my Decease, as privately as possible, and at Twelve
o’Clock at Night’, is so emphatic that the plotting of privacy acquires a
paradoxically theatrical quality of cloak-and-dagger drama.
Two other monuments in St Patrick’s which Swift orchestrated and for
which he wrote epitaphs were also, as it happens, fraught with various
touches of drama, though not involving privacy. The first, for his servant
Alexander McGee (1722), was erected in defiance of strong opposition
to bestowing such an honour on a humble servant and was written in
English rather than Latin. The other, in 1731, commemorating the Duke of
Schomberg, who was killed at the Boyne, proclaimed in stone what Swift
saw as the shameful refusal of the Duke’s descendants to contribute finan-
cially to the memorial.103 The case of Alexander McGee was remembered
after Swift’s death when Martha Whiteway, Swift’s cousin and the closest
friend of his last years, issued a last-minute plea for Swift’s instructions not
to be taken in an unduly ‘literal sence’. She spoke of ‘the indignation which
the Town have expressed at the manner of burying their Patriot’, adding
that what Swift ‘himself thought decency requisite at a funeral, may be
known by what he did for his honest, trusty, Servant, Alexander McGee’.
She said she herself was willing to contribute from her own legacy if the
expense of a more fitting ceremony could not be met from Swift’s ‘noble’
charitable bequest.104
The emphatic drama of secrecy in the scenario for his own funeral, and
the correspondingly strenuous instructions for the inscription, may or may
not suggest an unlikelihood that he got the wording wrong. If he wanted
the unorthodox word at all, the preoccupation with large letters, deeply
cut, and strongly gilded, might indicate that the exact wording also had an
importance bordering on the obsessional. The first known use of vindicator
in English in any sense, according to the OED, is in William Painter’s
Palace of Pleasure, 1566, where Camillus is described as ‘the vindicator [i.e.
avenger] and deliverer’ of Rome. The English use of ‘vindicate’ in the sense
of justify, uphold or support, as distinct from avenge, or defend in the
legal sense, is first recorded in OED in 1650, in Marvell’s Horatian Ode
266 Poetry
(‘To vindicate his helpless right’ (62), itself an equivocal example). When
Pope announced his intention to ‘vindicate the ways of God to Man’,
however, he was making a claim to outdo Milton in declarative affirmation,
both in the use of ‘vindicate’ rather than ‘justify’ and in the capitalised
singular ‘Man’ (Essay on Man, 1733, i. 16).
It has been suggested that Swift was evoking Dryden’s description of
Juvenal in the ‘Discourse Concerning Satire’ (1693) as ‘a Zealous Vindi-
cator of Roman Liberty’, clearly distinguishable from Painter describing
the avenger Camillus. It has been suggested that Dryden’s use of a Lati-
nate (but non-Latin) word of enhanced English resonance may account
for Swift allowing the form into his own Latin, exploiting this resonance
rather than seeking to compose classical Latin and getting it wrong.105
Such an evocation of Dryden might appear surprising, in view of Swift’s
antipathy to this poet, his ‘cousin’.106 But Dryden’s description occurs in
the well-known comparison between the satiric characters of Horace and
Juvenal, in which Dryden describes Horace as a ‘Temporizing’ poet, which
might work to reinforce the primary object, which was presumably to align
Swift with Juvenal, rather than invoke Dryden.107 This, too, is unusual,
since Swift professed a Horatian levity in preference to Juvenalian diatribes,
going against the grain, notably, of the Epistle to a Lady.
Yet the epitaph does use the phrase saeva indignatio, which picks up
Juvenal’s famous ‘facit indignatio versum’ (i. 79), and adds the adjective
saeva, which Juvenal did not use alongside the noun, as an incremental
intensive, as though bidding to be more Juvenalian than Juvenal, whom he
ostentatiously avoided emulating in his own poems. Juvenal’s indignation
is also not often introspectively directed. He spoke of it as sometimes
uncontainable (i. 30 ff.), but he did not talk about the lacerations to his
heart. It is as though Swift’s phrase were claiming a surplus kinship, upping
the grandiloquence, as Yeats was to do with Swift himself, and adding self-
torment for good measure. The resemblance to his use of ‘vindicator’, if he
took the word from Dryden, is that it is similarly overdetermined. Swift’s
dislike of Dryden would thus be overridden in order to give a vibrant
evocation of Juvenal of a kind he would also be shy of making in his
poems, just as the choice of the non-classical form ‘vindicatorem’ adds a
militant ring which the more correct ‘vindicem’ might not have for English
readers. It is of a piece with the other overdetermined features that attend
the planning of the monument in the will, the choice of black marble, a
hard durable stone that even Yeats was to decline, the insistence on ‘large
Letters, deeply cut, and strongly gilded’.
Swift, Yeats, and the ‘cry’ of liberty 267
All this is surely an extraordinarily emphatic insistence on being
emphatic. Could it be that Swift was here making up for all the reti-
cences and undercuttings of the Verses on the Death and other poems,
finally orchestrated not by a surrogate figure but in his own name? It
evokes Juvenal, but Swift added the adjective for posthumous viewing,
when there could be no worries about making a figure scurvy, and in the
decent obscurity of a learned language, where the risks of self-exposure, or
of a misfired self-exaltation, might no longer apply. It has been suggested
that it was in Latin (including humorous dog Latin) that Swift chose ‘to
express his deepest and most carefully controlled emotions’.108 The issue,
to summarise, may be this: why (and how come) prefer the despised Dry-
den over correct Latin usage in order to achieve an honorific evocation of
Juvenal, whom he usually professes not to resemble anyway and why add
saeva to Juvenal, who does not use this phrase in this form and isn’t given
to referring to lacerating his own heart, any more than Swift did in his
published writings? Could it be that the epitaph was a declaration to pos-
terity made precisely because it seemed to Swift unthinkable in his lifetime
writings, as the lines on ‘Fair LIBERTY’ suggest? Those lines from the
Verses show a compulsion simultaneously to offer and disavow grandeurs
Swift would be justified to think of as his due, and which he may have felt
impelled to store up for himself in the sheltered zone of a future marble
memorial. In the lines from the Verses on the Death, hedged with coyness
and jokerie, and anxieties about a lofty style and figure scurvy, the epitaph,
like the thin man in the fat man’s body, seems to be struggling to get out.
But it took the prospect of death, not just verses upon it, to bring this


1 W. B. Yeats, The Words upon the Window-Pane (performed 1930, first published
1934), in W. B. Yeats, Explorations, ed. Mrs W. B. Yeats, London, Macmillan,
1962, p. 345; VMP, p. 186.
2 SCA, pp. 132, 135.
3 Eliot, VMP, p. 179.
4 Deane Swift, An Essay upon the Life, Writings, and Character, of Dr. Jonathan
Swift, London, 1755, p. 220.
5 Ibid., pp. 218–21.
6 On ‘first intensity’, see T. S. Eliot, ‘The Oxford Jonson’ (as a quality Jonson’s
satire lacked by comparison with Swift’s), The Dial (1928), in SCA, p. 132; and
‘Baudelaire’ (1930), in T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, London, Faber, 1951, p. 426.
Eliot had earlier used the phrase in ‘Reflections on Vers Libre’, New Statesman,
3 March 1917 (reprinted in T. S. Eliot, Selected Prose, ed. Frank Kermode, San
Diego, Harcourt, 1975, p. 35).
7 For an interesting but somewhat intemperate account, by a poet who admired
Swift as a poet, of Pope’s reputation as the product of an ‘academic takeover’,
see James Reeves, The Reputation and Writings of Alexander Pope, London,
Heinemann, 1976.
8 W. B. Yeats, The Words upon the Window-Pane (performed 1930, first pub-
lished 1934), spoken by the character John Corbet, in W. B Yeats, Collected
Plays, London, Macmillan, 1960, p. 602, ‘Swift’s Epitaph’, Yeats’s Poems,
ed. A. Norman Jeffares, London: Macmillan, 1989, p. 361, and see below,
Chapter 10.
9 Correspondence, i. 182, n. 1.
10 Ibid., i. 181–2.
11 Ibid., i. 198.
12 Ibid., i. 104.
13 Ibid., i. 109.
14 Ibid., i. 110.
15 Ibid., i. 111.
16 Ibid., i. 111, Tale, p. 187.
17 Correspondence, i. 324, 380.

Notes to pages 12–22 269
18 Ibid., i. 301–4, 316–18, 323, 327–8.
19 Swift to Francis Grant, 23 March 1734, Correspondence, iii. 730.
20 Correspondence, i. 381, 161, 236, 268, 350, 246.
21 See below, p. 32 and Chapter 1, nn. 50, 51.
22 Correspondence, i. 377.
23 Ibid., i. 380–1.
24 Ibid., i. 378 and n. 2.
25 Ibid., i. 391 and n. 3. On Curll and the Miscellanies, 1711, see Paul Baines and
Pat Rogers, Edmund Curll, Bookseller, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2007, pp. 47,
63–4, 129–30.
26 Correspondence, i. 384–5.
27 Ibid., i. 414–5 and n.; cf. JSt, 5 July 1712, ii. 480.
28 Correspondence, i. 415 n. 1.
29 Swift to (second) Earl of Oxford, 14 June 1737, ibid., iv. 440.
30 Ibid., i. 487 and nn. 1–5.
31 The Importance of the Guardian Considered, in EPW, p. 229; F. R. Leavis, ‘The
Irony of Swift’, in The Common Pursuit, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1962,
p. 76.
32 ‘The Dean and Duke’ (1734), 11–12, Poems, ii. 677–8, and see Complete Poems,
pp. 886–7.
33 See GGG, pp. 205–6, 355 nn. 50–3.
34 Correspondence, i. 375, 416.
35 Ibid., i. 375, 377 n. 5, 367 and n. 3, 388, 394.
36 Shaw to Alfred Douglas, 18 April 1938, cited GGG, p. 205, from Bernard Shaw,
Collected Letters, ed. Dan H. Laurence, 4 vols., New York, Viking, 1985–8, iv.
37 Poems, i. 145–8; Complete Poems, pp. 648–50, 933–4.
38 Poems, i. 191–6; Complete Poems, pp. 670–1.


1 Bernard Shaw, ‘Preface for Politicians’ (1906), in Bernard Shaw, John Bull’s
Other Island: Definitive Text, ed. Dan H. Laurence, Harmondsworth, Penguin,
1984, pp. 9, 10 (hereafter JBOI).
2 Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary (1617), Glasgow, James MacLehose, 1907–8,
4 vols., uncompleted published work (hereafter Itinerary). Additional material
intended for publication includes substantial further comments on Ireland
and survived in manuscript. The Irish Sections of Fynes Moryson’s Unpublished
Itinerary, ed. Graham Kew, Dublin, Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1998,
Foreword, and pp. 3–7, 17 nn. Most of my quotations are from this edition of
the Irish Sections (hereafter Itinerary IS).
3 OCIH, (s.v. ‘Moryson’).
4 Itinerary IS, p. 101.
5 Ibid., pp. 4–5.
6 Ned Ward, London Spy. For the Month of February, 1700, p. 12.
270 Notes to pages 23–26
7 Roddy Doyle, The Commitments (1987), in Roddy Doyle, The Barrytown
Trilogy, New York, Penguin, 1995, p. 13; Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland,
Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 611 and (on Mary
Robinson) p. 579; New York Times, 6 October 1997, p. A10. See GGG,
pp. 219, 222, 359 n. 98, 378 n. 123. On the history of questions of Irish ‘white-
ness’, see Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White, New York, Routledge,
8 Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, p. 259.
9 Robert Mahony, ‘“New Light” Ulster Presbyterianism and the Nationalist
Rhetoric of John Mitchel’, in Lawrence M. Geary, ed., Rebellion and Remem-
brance in Modern Ireland, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2001, p. 148.
10 Arthur Griffith, Preface (1913) to John Mitchel, Jail Journal (1854), Dublin,
M. H. Gill & Son, 1940, pp. xiv–xv.
11 Ibid., pp. x, xiii.
12 Mitchel to Fr. John Kenyon, 1857, cited Mahony, ‘“New Light”’, p. 156, from
William Dillon, Life of John Mitchel, London, 1888, 2 vols., ii. 104; cf. Swift to
Pope, 1 June 1728, on his status as a ‘Patriot’: ‘what I do is owing to perfect rage
and resentment’, and Swift to Earl of Oxford, 14 June 1737, ‘I happened to be
dropped here . . . and to my Sorrow, did not dye, before I came back . . . again’
(Correspondence, iii. 184, iv. 440). For allusions to Swift in Mitchel’s Jail
Journal, see pp. xxix–xxxii, 64, 282, 379.
13 Itinerary IS, p. 107; Camden’s Britannia, Newly Translated into English,
London, 1695, col. 1046; for Camden’s source, see col. 1042; on Irish–English
landowner marriages, see John Morrill, ‘Three Kingdoms and One Com-
monwealth? The Enigma of Mid-Seventeenth-Century Britain and Ireland’,
in Alexander Grant and Keith J. Stringer, eds., Uniting the Kingdom? The
Making of British History, London, Routledge, 1995, p. 175.
14 Itinerary IS, p. 26.
15 Ibid., pp. 49–50.
16 Richard Cox, Hibernia Anglicana: Or, The History of Ireland, London, 1689–
90, 2 vols., i, ‘To the Reader’, sig. b2v –c2v , ‘An Apparatus: or, Introductory
Discourse’, e2r –f1v , l2r –v .
17 Shaw, ‘Preface for Politicians’, pp. 7, 9, 11, 9.
18 Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, pp. 2, 9.
19 Ibid., p. 54.
20 Sir William Petty, ‘Several Miscellany Remarks’, in Sir William Petty, The
Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672), London, 1691, p. 112.
21 Robin Frame, ‘Overlordship and Reaction, c. 1200–c. 1450’, in Grant and
Stringer, eds., Uniting the Kingdom?, p. 65.
22 Andrew Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, Oxford, 2001, pp. 90
n. 5, 91 n. 6; see T. W. Moody’s Introduction to T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin
and F. J. Byrne, eds., A New History of Ireland, iii: Early Modern Ireland,
1534–1691, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991, xlii–lvii. The best recent discussion
of the semantic history and nuances of ‘Anglo-Irish’ in Swift’s time is David
Hayton, The Anglo-Irish Experience, 1680–1730, Woodbridge, Boydell Press,
2012, especially pp. xiii–xvi, 18–48. On the complex interethnic and religious
Notes to pages 26–30 271
groupings, see Joep Leersson, Mere Irish and Fı́or Ghael: Studies in the Idea of
Irish Nationality, Notre Dame University Press, 1997.
23 Itinerary IS, p. 101.
24 Ibid.
25 Francisco de Cuellar, letter to a friend in Spain, 24 September–4 October, 1589,
in Stephen Usherwood, ed., The Great Enterprise: The History of the Spanish
Armada, As Revealed in Contemporary Documents, London, Folio Society, 1978,
pp. 174–92. I owe this reference to the late Harold Love.
26 For Swift’s account of Irish eating habits, see OFCS, pp. 121–44, especially 130–
3 and below, Chapter 2; Archbishop Boulter wrote on 23 November 1728 that
bad harvests in Ulster have ‘made oatmeal, which is their great subsistence,
much dearer’ (cited Intelligencer, p. 205).
27 Paul Langford, Englishness Identified: Manners and Character 1650–1850, Oxford
University Press, 2000, pp. 267–8.
28 See, for example, John Dryden, Dedication to All for Love (1678), CE, xiii. 5–7,
and citations 395 nn. 6:28, 6:34; Matthew Prior, Letter to Monsieur Boileau,
(1704), 191–6; Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism, (1711), 712–18, TE i. 322–
3 and n. 713.
29 Langford, Englishness Identified, p. 268.
30 Ibid., pp. 137 ff.
31 William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words, London, Chatto &
Windus, 1951, p. 98.
32 Itinerary IS, p. 101.
33 Ibid., p. 25.
34 Ibid., pp. 38, 101–2; Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, p. 91, n.7.
35 Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. xxxii; on saeva indignatio, see below, Chapter 10.
36 Bernard Shaw, ‘Preface for Politicians’, (1906), in JBOI, p. 30; James Joyce, A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, (1916), London, Jonathan Cape, 1956,
p. 208.
37 Itinerary IS, v. 102–3, 34.
38 Ibid., p. 105; for Camden, whom Moryson frequently invokes, on Irish sexual
mores, see Camden’s Britannia, cols. 1044–6.
39 Itinerary IS, p. 107.
40 Ibid., pp. 105, 68, 128, n. 174.
41 Ibid., p. 108 and 136, n. 304, citing Camden, col. 1044.
42 Pliny, Natural History, vii. xi. 48; see GGG, pp. 144, 343 n. 162.
43 Rudolf Gottfried, ed., View of the Present State of Ireland (1596), in Edmund
Spenser, Works of Edmund Spenser. A Variorum Edition. Volume 10: Spenser’s
Prose Works (1949), 3rd printing, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1966,
pp. 136–42, 218–24.
44 Sir Richard Cox, Hibernia Anglicana: . . . Part One, London, 1689, ‘To the
Reader’, sig. b2v , ‘Apparatus’, e2r –f1v , l2r –v , discussed by S. J. Connolly,
Divided Kingdom 1630–1800, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 226.
45 See John Gillingham, ‘Foundations of a Disunited Kingdom’, in Grant and
Stringer, eds., Uniting the Kingdom?, pp. 59–60; on the perceived English
superiority over the ‘“Celtic” neighbours’, see pp. 59–62.
272 Notes to pages 31–34
46 Langford, Englishness Identified, pp. 256, 258, citing Sir John Carr, The Stranger
in Ireland: Or, A Tour . . . in the Year 1805, London, 1806, pp. 238, 251; Louisa
Stuart to Louisa Clinton, 23 August 1821, in Hon. James A. Home, ed., Letters
of Lady Louisa Stuart to Miss Louisa Clinton, Edinburgh, David Douglas, 1901,
p. 174.
47 On the French Wars of Religion, see GGG, pp. 24–91 passim; Edmund Burke,
Reflections on the Revolution in France, citing ‘M. de Lally Tollendal’s Second
Letter to a Friend’, in Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, VIII: The French
Revolution 1790–1794, ed. L. G. Mitchell, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989,
p. 124 n. On Gillray and others, see Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolu-
tion (1789–1820), New Haven, Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 24, 200–1, 206,
335, 361–73.
48 Petty, Political Anatomy of Ireland, p. 112. For a concise historical survey of the
jurisdictional complexities of English and Gaelic law in Ireland, see OCIH,
s.v. ‘law and law tracts’, pp. 305–10.
49 On the widely discussed analogy of Indians and Irish, see GGG, especially
pp. 17–91. For an exceptionally acute analysis of the complexities and limita-
tions of the analogy, especially in its later eighteenth-century aspects, see S. J.
Connolly, ‘Tupac Amaru and Captain Right: A Comparative Perspective on
Eighteenth-Century Ireland’, in D. Dickson and C. Ó Gráda, eds., Refigur-
ing Ireland: Essays in Honour of L. M. Cullen, Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2003,
pp. 94–111.
50 Itinerary, iv. 185; cf. the eighteenth-century publication of Fynes Moryson, An
History of Ireland, 2 vols., Dublin, 1785, ii. 359. See GGG, pp. 81, 326, n. 146.
51 Cox, Hibernia Anglicana, ‘Apparatus’, I. sig. e1r .
52 Intelligencer, p. 212; PW, xii. 176.
53 To the Author of those Intelligencers Printed at Dublin . . . Being a Defence of the
Plantations Against the Virulent Aspersions of that Writer, New York, 1733, in
Intelligencer, Appendix K, pp. 276–82, especially 280.
54 Tacitus, Agricola, xxxv–xxxvi, xxiv; see also xviii (GGG, pp. 81, 326, n. 198).
55 Agricola, xi, xxxiii; also xvi.
56 On transportation, see James Kelly, ‘Transportation from Ireland to North
America, 1703–1789’, in Dickson and Ó Gráda, eds., Refiguring Ireland,
pp. 112–35, which includes statistics for the south and north of Ireland.
57 Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, p. 641.
58 PW, ix. 20–2; GGG, pp. 81–2.
59 Edward Said, The Word, the Text, and the Critic, London, Faber, 1984, p. 86.
On Carlyle (and Governor Eyre of Jamaica), see GGG, p. 235.
60 See Chapter 2.
61 Hayton, The Anglo-Irish Experience, p. 35.
62 Frame, ‘Overlordship and Reaction’, pp. 69, 80–1. For some suggestive com-
parisons between the situation of Ulster Unionists and white settlers in Africa
in the twentieth century, see John Turner, ‘Letting Go: The Conservative Party
and the End of the Union with Ireland’, in Grant and Stringer, eds., Uniting
the Kingdom?, p. 265.
Notes to pages 34–41 273
63 For an illustrative anecdote, see the Clarendon Press edition of Jonathan Swift,
Drapier’s Letters, ed. Herbert Davis, Oxford, 1935, pp. 262–3.
64 See Hayton, Anglo-Irish Experience, pp. xiv, xvi, 18, 25–48, passim.
65 J. C. Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, in CSS, p. 163.
66 André Thevet, Singularités de la France Antarctique (1557), Chapter 28, ed.
Frank Lestringant as Le Brésil d’André Thevet, Paris, 1997, p. 123; GGG, pp.
82–3, and, for variant usages about the Irish, and Jews in the American South,
p. 235.
67 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 157, 164.
68 Swift to Pope, 23 June 1737, Correspondence, iv. 445–6.
69 Swift, Fourth Letter, PW, x. 55; JBOI, p. 11.
70 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 152–3, 155.
71 Correspondence, iv. 445, 447, n. 6, citing S. J. Connolly, Religion, Law &
Power, Oxford, 1992, pp. 114–20.
72 Correspondence, iv. 445.
73 G. K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, London, John Lane, 1909, pp. 34–40,
especially 39–40, 35, see also ‘The Opinions of George Bernard Shaw’, The
Review of Reviews, 36 (1907), 96–100, Chesterton’s review of John Bull’s Other
Island and Major Barbara.
74 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, p. 153.
75 E.g. PW, ii. 57; see Claude Rawson, Satire and Sentiment 1660–1830, Cambridge
University Press, 1994, pp. 165–6.
76 Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Writings and Speeches, viii. 106,
77 Langford, Englishness Identified, pp. 256–8, 197–8.
78 Carr, The Stranger in Ireland, p. 251; see also p. 292 on the ‘natural urbanity’
of Irish peasants.
79 Swift to Earl of Oxford, 14 June 1737, Correspondence, iv. 440, cited Beckett,
‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, p. 151.
80 Ibid., p. 152.
81 Correspondence, iv. 440.
82 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 151–2.
83 Swift to Francis Grant, 23 March 1734, Correspondence, iii. 730.
84 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 153, 164.
85 Ibid., p. 160.
86 Ibid., p. 155, 156.
87 A Letter to the Whole People of Ireland, 1724, PW, x. 61–2; Beckett, ‘Swift and
the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 158–9.
88 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 156, 154.
89 See John Morrill, ‘Three Kingdoms’, Uniting the Kingdom?, pp. 174, 174–6,
181–8; also S. J. Connolly, ‘Varieties of Britishness: Ireland, Scotland and Wales
in the Hanoverian State’, in ibid., p. 202.
90 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 157–8; see also Ian McBride,
Introduction to Swift’s Irish Writings to 1725, CWJS, forthcoming.
91 PW, x. 103; GGG, p. 82.
274 Notes to pages 41–46
92 PW, x. 104; see Hayton, Anglo-Irish Experience, pp. 36–7.
93 PW, x. 104.
94 Beckett, CSS, pp. 157–8; Connolly, Divided Kingdom, pp. 227, 295. See also
below, Chapter 2, nn. 80 ff.
95 Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, The Conquest of Ireland, i. xxiii,
ed. and trans. by A. B. Scott and F. X. Martin, Dublin, Royal Irish Academy,
1978, pp. 80–1, 307, n. 122, cited Beckett, CSS, p. 163.
96 S. J. Connolly, Contested Island: Ireland 1460–1630, Oxford, 2012, pp. 371–2;
Divided Kingdom, p. 229.
97 Moody, New History of Ireland, iii. xlii, xliv–xlvii.
98 Ibid., iii. lxii; Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, pp. 163–4.
99 For various perspectives, see Conrad Russell, ‘Composite Monarchies in Early
Modern Europe: The British and Irish Example’, in Grant and Stringer,
eds., Uniting the Kingdom?, p. 133; Morrill, ‘Three Kingdoms’, in ibid.,
p. 187; Connolly, ‘Varieties of Britishness’, in ibid., p. 197; Divided King-
dom, especially pp. 226–9; Hayton, Anglo-Irish Experience, pp. 25–48.
100 Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, p. 164.
101 For an admirable account of some paradoxes of Unionism, see the article
by Alvin Jackson in OCIH, pp. 565–7; on republicans and Presbyterians, see
Mahony, ‘“New Light” Ulster Presbyterianism’, pp. 148–58, especially 151, 155.
102 W. B. Yeats, The Senate Speeches of W.B. Yeats, ed. Donald R. Pearce, London,
Faber, 1961, pp. 99, 89–102.
103 R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life. II: The Arch-Poet 1915–1939, Oxford University
Press, 2003, pp. 298–300, 719 n. 15.
104 See below, Chapter 10.
105 Yeats, Senate Speeches, pp. 89–102; Foster, Arch-Poet, pp. 298–300.
106 Yeats, Senate Speeches, p. 101.
107 Ibid., p. 155.
108 Bernard Shaw, ‘How to Restore Order in Ireland’ (1923), in Dan H. Laurence
and David H. Greene, eds., The Matter with Ireland, New York, Hill and
Wang, 1962, p. 258 (GGG, 222, 260 n. 111).
109 Eamon de Valera, Speeches and Statements by Eamon de Valera 1917–73, ed.
Maurice Moynihan, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1980, p. 232.
110 Mitchel, Jail Journal, pp. xxix–xxx; Griffith, ‘Preface’, p. xiii.
111 Speeches and Statements, p. 230, headnote; Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift:
The Irish Identity, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995, pp. 151, 195 n. 39.
112 ‘Tercentenary of Swift Celebrated. Symposium in T. C. D.’, Irish Times,
26 April 1967; see also the Irish Press and the Irish Independent of the same
113 Mitchel, Jail Journal, pp. xxix–xxx.
114 Kerryman, 22 April 1967, p. 1, col. 3; 29 April, pp. 5, 10, 11; Corkman, 29 April,
pp. 10–11; Irish Independent, 29 April, p. 13.
115 Kerryman, 22 April, p. 1, col. 3.
116 Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow, London, Hutchinson,
1993, p. 650.
Notes to pages 46–54 275
117 ‘Address by President Michael D. Higgins at the Annual Commemoration of
Dean Jonathan Swift, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Sunday, 21st October,
2012’. I am grateful to President Higgins for a copy of this address, and to
Colonel McAndrew for valuable information, courteously provided.


1 On this passage, see Claude Rawson, ‘The Mock Edition Revisited: Swift
to Mailer’, in Paddy Bullard and James McLaverty, eds., Jonathan Swift and
the Eighteenth-Century Book, Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 232–3;
and Claude Rawson, ‘Congreve and Swift’, in Festschrift in Honour of Ronald
Paulson (forthcoming).
2 See the later non-allegorised comparison between Ireland and Scotland in
the Drapier’s last letter, PW, x. 127, 131.
3 Ferguson, pp. 20 ff. Molyneux’s book has been reprinted by the Cadenus
Press, Dublin 1977, with an Introduction by J. G. Simms and an Afterword
by Denis Donoghue.
4 Ferguson, pp. 45–6.
5 Swift was also resentful at the Irish Parliament’s tolerant attitude towards the
Ulster Presbyterians, and concerned to resist recent proposals to establish an
Irish national bank. On these issues, see Ferguson, pp. 48–9, 64 ff.
6 Ferguson, pp. 55–6.
7 See Chapter 1.
8 See Claude Rawson, ‘A Reading of A Modest Proposal’ (1978), in OFCS,
pp. 121–44; and below, pp. 64, 114–16.
9 The Scriptural phrase is from Ecclesiastes, vii. 7.
10 For a different mood of dismissive compassion, see Swift’s famous reference
in the Verses on the Death to the ‘House for Fools and Mad’ (479–82), which
he left money to found (Poems, ii. 572). The relevant portion of Swift’s Will
is at PW, xiii. 150–2.
11 ‘On a Printer’s Being Sent to Newgate’, (1736, 2–4), Poems, iii. 824.
12 For another set of analogies between the savage Irish madness, cannibalism,
and the Grub Street world of A Tale of a Tub, see the discussion of the
Scythians in ‘A Reading of A Modest Proposal’, OFCS, pp. 122–44, also GGG,
pp. 79 ff.
13 On Swift’s treatment of spiders, see further, Rawson, ‘Mock-Edition’,
pp. 239–40.
14 Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, pp. 641–2.
15 See Ferguson, pp. 145–7 and 189–90, and Clayton D. Lein, ‘Jonathan
Swift and the Population of Ireland’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 4 (1975),
431–53, especially 432–4, 449, 452, for examples of the circulation of such
16 Sir William Temple’s essay ‘Upon the Advancement of Trade in Ireland’, a
work undoubtedly known to Swift, rehearses some of the same ironies. It
276 Notes to pages 55–58
notes that Ireland, though full of rich commodities, excellent harbours and
other conditions for prosperity, is in fact poor; makes the point that it has ‘no
vent for any commodity but of wool’; urges the Irish to use ‘native growths
and manufactures’ as far as possible, etc. Temple stated that Ireland’s interests
were, and ought to be, subordinate to England’s (Sir William Temple, Works,
1770, 4 vols., iii. 5–31; see also Ferguson, pp. 11–12, 173 n. 18, and references
in Claude Rawson, ‘A Reading of A Modest Proposal’, in OFCS, pp. 131,
142–3 n. 22, for the influence of Temple’s essay on A Modest Proposal).
17 Sylva Sylvarum: or a Natural History, vi. 556, in Francis Bacon, The Works of
Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis and Douglas Denon
Heath, London, Longmans & Co., 1876, ii. 514–15.
18 Daniel Defoe, A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, London,
1724–6, 3 vols., ii. 29–30.
19 Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record (1912), ed. Z. Najder and J. H. Stape,
Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 21.
20 Francis Bacon, New Atlantis, in Works of Francis Bacon, iii. 158.
21 Compare the passage in the sixth of the Drapier’s Letters (which is signed
‘J.S.’), where Swift scorns the English for their inability to grasp the fact that
Irishmen ‘have human Shapes’ (PW, x. 103–4).
22 See Rawson, ‘A Reading of A Modest Proposal’, pp. 121–44.
23 Irvin Ehrenpreis, ‘Dr. S***t and the Hibernian Patriot’, in Roger McHugh
and Philip Edwards, eds., Jonathan Swift 1667–1967. A Dublin Tercentenary
Tribute, Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1967, p. 33. See also Donald T. Torchiana,
‘Jonathan Swift, the Irish, and the Yahoos: The Case Reconsidered’, Philolog-
ical Quarterly, 54 (1975), 195–212 (special number also published separately as
From Chaucer to Gibbon. Essays in Memory of Curt A. Zimansky, ed. William
Kupersmith, University of Iowa Press, 1975). As Torchiana notes, the resem-
blances between the Yahoos and the savage Irish described in Swift’s Irish
tracts had been remarked on by Sir Charles Firth, ‘The Political Significance of
Gulliver’s Travels’, reprinted in Firth’s Essays Historical and Literary, Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1968, pp. 227 ff. For an unusual view of these resemblances,
which sees Gulliver’s Travels as an anti-slavery tract against the Houyhnhnm
treatment of the Yahoos, symbolising England’s treatment of the Irish, see
Alice Cline Kelly, ‘Swift’s Explorations of Slavery in Houyhnhnmland and
Ireland’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 91 (1976),
24 Ferguson, p. 16.
25 GGG, pp. 231, 362 nn. 133–9.
26 See also the important cancelled passage about Lindalino (Dublin), omitted
from iii. iii, CWJS, pp. 248 n., 742–3.
27 For an account of the crisis and Swift’s role in it, see Ferguson, pp. 83–138,
supplemented by J. M. Treadwell, ‘Swift, William Wood, and the Factual
Basis of Satire’, Journal of British Studies, 15. 2 (Spring, 1976), 76–91. There
is an important annotated edition of the Drapier’s Letters by Herbert Davis,
Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1935, which should be used in addition to Davis’s
Notes to pages 58–72 277
more recent unannotated edition, PW, x (from which all my quotations are
28 See Ferguson, pp. 135–6; and see n. 22 above.
29 Herbert Davis, Introduction to Gulliver’s Travels, in PW, xi. xix–xx.
30 Tale, pp. 169–70.
31 Ibid., pp. 60–7; Cadenus and Vanessa, 39–40, Poems, II. 687, 136; for Irish
politicians, see ‘Tim and the Fables’, ‘Dick’s Variety’, Legion Club, 81–2,
Poems, iii. 782–3, 787–9, 832; see GGG, pp. 93–5, 328 n. 7.
32 Ferguson, pp. 103–4 and n.
33 Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society (1667), ed. Jackson I. Cope and
Harold Whitmore Jones, St Louis, Washington University Press, 1959, p. 113.
34 Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, 309–12, Poems, II. 565; GT, III. ii, PW,
pp. 165–6.
35 PW, ii. 120, x. 104.
36 For a full elaboration of this argument, see GGG.
37 Poems, II. 536, 532.
38 Ferguson, pp. 107, 119.
39 Ibid., p. 98. See also A. Goodwin, ‘Wood’s Halfpence’, English Historical
Review, 51 (1936), 651–2.
40 On this, see Rawson, ‘Mock-Edition’, pp. 244–5, 254.
41 Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, ed. J. Donald Crowley, Oxford University
Press, 1983, pp. 4–5, 8.
42 Ibid., pp. 4–5.
43 For contrary views on Swift and the middle ranks, see Torchiana, ‘Jonathan
Swift, the Irish, and the Yahoos’, p. 203.
44 See Claude Rawson, ‘Fielding “Good” Merchant’, in HF, pp. 228–59.
45 Ferguson, p. 108. The first two letters were addressed, respectively, ‘To the
Shop-Keepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common-People of Ireland’, and
‘To Mr. Harding’ (the printer of the Letters). The famous fourth letter was ‘To
the Whole People of Ireland’, the fifth to Viscount Molesworth, the sixth to
Lord Chancellor Midleton, and the seventh ‘To both Houses of Parliament’.
46 Ferguson, p. 97.
47 Ibid., p. 97.
48 Ibid., pp. 124, 126.
49 Ibid., pp. 128–9.
50 See ibid., pp. 125–8, and the note on Harding in the Clarendon Press edition
of the Drapier’s Letters, p. 201.
51 See below, chapters 9–10, pp. 222–30, 245–52.
52 See Jack G. Gilbert, Jonathan Swift. Romantic and Cynic Moralist, Austin and
London, University of Texas Press, 1966, pp. 62–4.
53 Wood was of humble origins, but became an important man in his native
Wolverhampton, and by the 1720s was a considerable, if shady, figure in
London’s financial and industrial world, and had close and very powerful
political connections. See Treadwell, ‘Swift, William Wood, and the Factual
Basis of Satire’, pp. 76–91. For an account of his later activities and financial
278 Notes to pages 72–77
difficulties, see J. M. Treadwell, ‘William Wood and the Company of Iron-
mongers of Great Britain’, Business History, 16 (1974), 97–112.
54 Introduction to A Compleat Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation
(1738), PW, IV. 122–3.
55 ‘A Discourse to Prove the Antiquity of the English Tongue,’ PW, iv. 231.
56 John Hervey, Lord Hervey’s Memoirs, ed. Romney Sedgwick, London,
William Kimber, 1952, p. 52.
57 See Claude Rawson, ‘Intimacies of Antipathy: Johnson and Swift’, Review of
English Studies, 63 (2011), 279–81.
58 John Arbuthnot, The History of John Bull, ed. Alan W. Bower and Robert A.
Erickson, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976, pp. 12, 101, 17.
59 Ibid., p. lxiii; Richard I. Cook, Jonathan Swift as a Tory Pamphleteer, Seattle,
University of Washington Press, 1967, pp. 136–7.
60 Arbuthnot, John Bull, p. 70.
61 Ibid., pp. 70, 11, 17.
62 Ibid., pp. 29–30.
63 Ibid., pp. lxi, lxxxix, 173–4.
64 Hervey, Memoirs, pp. 52–4.
65 TE, iv. 125 n.
66 On this question, see n. 44 above, for a discussion of the interplay assumed
to exist between moral virtue and social rank in the work of several writers.
67 For some aspects of the phenomenon of authorial voices coloured by tones
that belonged less to the social status of the authors themselves than to that
of their notional readers or patrons, i.e. to the social and cultural context to
which they felt themselves to belong, see W. B. Coley, ‘Notes Toward a “Class
Theory” of Augustan Literature: The Example of Fielding’, in Literary Theory
and Structure. Essays in Honor of William K. Wimsatt, ed. Frank Brady, John
Palmer and Martin Price, New Haven and London, Yale University Press,
1973, pp. 131–50, especially pp. 131–2 and references, p. 148 nn.
68 Pat Rogers, Robinson Crusoe, Unwin Critical Library, London, Boston and
Sydney, George Allen & Unwin, 1979, p. 129.
69 For Gildon’s ‘venal quill’, see Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, 151. The poem contains
Pope’s most celebrated attack on Hervey, 305–33, TE, iv. 107, 117–20. For the
Dunciad on Gildon, see i. 296 and n., iii. 173; on Defoe, i. 103 and n., ii. 147;
on Hervey, i. 298 and iv. 103–4.
70 See below, pp. 102, 280 n. 8.
71 See HF, pp. 85–6.
72 Jonathan Swift, The Works of J. S., D.D., D.S.P.D., Dublin, George Faulkner,
1735, iv. 4. This is not noted as a variant in PW, ii. 281–2. The identifying
note is not found in the editions of the Letter before 1735 which are listed by
73 Pat Rogers, An Introduction to Pope, London, Methuen, 1975, p. 4. Pope,
translating his Homer in May or June 1714, could describe himself with
mock-humility to his learned helper Thomas Parnell as a ‘Hackney Scribler’
Notes to pages 77–92 279
(Alexander Pope, Correspondence, ed. George Sherburn, Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 1956, i. 226).
74 Henry Fielding, Covent-Garden Journal, No. 56, 25 July 1752, ed. Bertrand A.
Goldgar, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988, p. 306.
75 The Tatler, ed. Donald F. Bond, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 3 vols., 1987, ii.
250, cited in Arbuthnot, John Bull, p. lxi (and see p. lxxxix).
76 Ferguson, p. 98.
77 Swift was proud of this, but he could also describe it acidly, as in Prometheus,
A Poem (1724), 21–2: ‘A strange Event! whom Gold incites, To Blood and
Quarrels, Brass unites’ (Poems, i. 345).
78 Davis reports that ‘This passage was quoted as an example of Swift’s violent
methods of rousing opposition to Wood in a letter from Bishop Nicholson
to Archbishop Wake, dated Aug. 21, 1724, describing the growing excitement
in the country’ (Drapier’s Letters, p. 209).
79 An expression of the first view is Denis Donoghue, Jonathan Swift. A Critical
Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 152–3; and of the second,
J. C. Beckett, ‘Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, in CSS, pp. 157–8. For
an energetic recent discussion, see Ian McBride’s Introduction to Swift’s
Irish Writings to 1725, Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift,
80 Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution, London, Panther, 1968, pp. 55,
291–2, 295–7, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, London,
Panther, 1969, pp. 459, 462–3.
81 Mitchel, Jail Journal, pp. xlvii, xxix.
82 On the implications of this, see ‘A Reading of A Modest Proposal’, in OFCS,
pp. 121–44.


1 TS, ix. viii.
2 Tale, pp. 23, 27.
3 Laurence Sterne, ‘The Pulse, Paris’, in A Sentimental Journey through France
and Italy, ed. Gardner D. Stout, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1967,
p. 161; TS, ii. xii, iv. ix.
4 Letter vi, 14 October 1710, Jst, i. 56–7.
5 Letter iii, 21 September 1710; see also Letter ii, 9 September and Letter v,
30 September and 8 October, JSt, i. 25, 8, 35, 48.
6 PW, v. 227–36, discussed below, Chapter 8, pp. 192–3.
7 Letters ii, xix, xlvii, 9 September 1710, 24 March 1711, 31 May 1712, JSt, i. 8,
223, ii. 534.
8 Northrop Frye, ‘Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility’, ELH, 23 (1956),
144–52, especially 145–6.
9 Ibid., pp. 146–8; on Swift and couplets, see below, chapters 8 and 9.
10 Frye, ‘Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility’, pp. 146, 147.
280 Notes to pages 92–102
11 Ibid., p. 146.
12 Letters vi and xix, 14 October 1710, 29 March 1711, Jst, i. 56–7, 227; Tale,
‘Conclusion’, p. 135.
13 Jst, i. 56, 227 nn. Several editions of these letters appeared in London and
Dublin in 1768.
14 See Claude Rawson, ‘The Mock Edition Revisited’, in Paddy Bullard and James
McLaverty, eds., Jonathan Swift and the Eighteenth-Century Book, Cambridge
University Press, 2013, pp. 255–6.
15 JSt, i. 127, 133, 144, 147, 170, 174, 188, 221, ii. 418, passim; Henry Fielding,
Shamela, Letter vi, in Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, Shamela and Occasional
Writings (Wesleyan Edition), ed. Martin C. Battestin, Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 2008, p. 164.
16 See Chapter 8, p. 188. Fielding, Shamela, p. 191; cf. Fielding, Joseph Andrews,
iii. ii, p. 194 (quotations are from the Wesleyan Edition).
17 Swift to Esther Vanhomrigh, 12 August 1720, Correspondence, ii. 343.
18 W. B. Yeats, Per Amica Silentia Lunae, London, Macmillan, 1917, p. 93.
19 Swift to Stella, Letter lix, 13–14 February 1713, Jst, ii. 619–20.

1 John Gay to Swift, 7 (or 17) November 1726, Correspondence, iii. 47–9.
2 Swift to Vanessa, 13 July 1722, to Charles Ford, 22 July 1722, Correspondence,
ii. 424, 428. For Swift’s copies of Hakluyt and Purchas, see Dirk F. Passmann
and Heinz J. Vienken, The Library and Reading of Jonathan Swift, 4 vols.,
Frankfurt, Peter Lang, 2003, ii. 778–83, 1546–51.
3 Swift to Alexander Pope, 17 November 1726, Correspondence, iii. 56.
4 Jeanne K. Welcher, Gulliveriana VII: Visual Imitations of Gulliver’s Travels
1726–1830, Delmar, NY, 1999, p. xxxiii; the frontispiece portrait of Robinson
Crusoe (1719) is, by contrast, crowded with fictional detail (p. 4). Welcher gives
the most extensive account to-date of the frontispiece portraits of Gulliver’s
Travels, pp. xxvi–xxxiii, 1–11 (Figs. 1–2), 143–7 (Figure 46).
5 Janine Barchas, Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century
Novel, Cambridge, 2003, pp. 28, 30.
6 Robert Halsband, ‘Eighteenth-Century Illustrations of Gulliver’s Travels’, in
Hermann J. Real and Heinz J. Vienken, eds., Proceedings of the First Münster
Symposium on Jonathan Swift, Munich, Wilhelm Fink, 1985, p. 84; Peter Wag-
ner, ‘Captain Gulliver and the Pictures’, in Peter Wagner, Reading Iconotexts:
from Swift to the French Revolution, London, 1995, p. 46; Welcher, Gulliveriana
VII, p. 6.
7 Welcher, Gulliveriana VII, pp. 124–9.
8 A Letter Concerning the Sacramental Test (1709), in PW, ii. 115. A reluctance
to mention Defoe by name may or may not lie behind the fact that Robin-
son Crusoe is mentioned three or four times in the Encyclopédie of Diderot
and d’Alembert, while its author’s name does not appear at all: Madeleine
Notes to pages 103–5 281
Descargues, ‘Swift et l’Encyclopédie’, unpublished lecture, University of Valen-
ciennes, 11 March 2004.
9 For Swift on Banbury Saints, see ‘A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical
Operation of the Spirit’ (1704), Tale, pp. 81, 524 n.
10 OED, s.v. ‘Mr, n.’ (Etymology) reports that the word was ‘often written in the
full form master’ until the latter half of the seventeenth century, but that at the
beginning of the eighteenth century ‘Master’ and ‘Mr’ (‘mister’) were already
regarded as distinct words. The pronunciation ‘Mister’ or ‘Myster’ prefixed
to names is recorded in OED, s.v. ‘Mister, n. 2’, as early as 1523. The earliest
OED recording for the verb ‘masturbate’ (1839) is unreliably late. The Latin
verb masturbor and noun masturbator occur in Martial (ix. 41.7, xi. 104.13,
xiv. 203.2). This fact, and the seventeenth-century currency of ‘mastuprate’,
suggest that the alleged pun would not be unintelligible in 1726, though the
usage would seem to have had limited currency. For information on the Latin
forms of this and related terms, see Thomas W. Laqueur, Solitary Sex: A
Cultural History of Masturbation, New York, Zone Books, 2003, pp. 96–110,
442–5 nn. From Burton’s use of the alternative term ‘mastupration’ in 1621,
recorded by OED, which Laqueur oddly refers to as ‘the first English use
of “masturbation”’ (p. 169), the English vocabulary of ‘self-pollution’ in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provides little evidence for wide usage
or familiarity of the term ‘masturbate’ and its derivatives (see Laqueur, Solitary
Sex, pp. 168 ff.).
11 John Arbuthnot to Swift, 5 November 1726, Swift to Pope, 17 November 1726,
Correspondence, iii. 45, 56.
12 For the Partridge affair (1708), and The Last Speech and Dying Words of Ebenezor
Elliston (1722), see PW, ii. 137–70, 193–231, 269–73, ix. 35–41, 363–7.
13 For some enlightening perceptions into the workings of front-matter, and
their bearing on the reliability of the narrator, see Jenny Mezciems,
‘Utopia and “The Thing Which is Not”: More, Swift, and Other Lying
Idealists’, University of Toronto Quarterly, 52 (1982), 40–62, especially 48–
14 For varying accounts, see F. P. Lock, The Politics of Gulliver’s Travels, Oxford,
1980, pp. 66–88, ‘The Text of Gulliver’s Travels’, Modern Language Review,
76 (1981), 513–33; Michael Treadwell, ‘Benjamin Motte, Andrew Tooke, and
Gulliver’s Travels’, in Real and Vienken, eds., Proceedings of the First Münster
Symposium, pp. 287–304, ‘The Text of Gulliver’s Travels, Again’, Swift Studies,
10 (1995), 62–79, especially 74, 78.
15 Swift to William Pulteney, 8 March 1735, in The Correspondence, iv. 67; George
Faulkner, ‘To the Reader’, in Jonathan Swift, The Works of Jonathan Swift,
Dublin, 1763, in PW, xiii. 203.
16 For a recent review of the evidence, see James McLaverty, ‘The Revision of
the First Edition of “Gulliver’s Travels”’, Papers of the Bibliographical Soci-
ety of America, 106 (2012), 5–35, ‘George Faulkner and Swift’s Collected
Works’, in Paddy Bullard and James McLaverty, eds., Jonathan Swift and the
282 Notes to pages 105–13
Eighteenth-Century Book, Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 154–75. For a
contrary perspective on Swift’s role, see Ashley Marshall, ‘The “1735” Faulkner
Edition of Swift’s Works’, Library 14 (2013), 154–98.
17 Herbert Davis, Introduction to PW, xiii. xxxiii–xxxiv; see pp. 179–87 for the
1735 prefaces, and pp. 201–7 for the full text of Faulkner’s ‘To the Reader’.
18 See also Welcher, Gulliveriana VII, pp. 143–7 (Figure 46) on the 1735 portraits.
19 See Barchas, Graphic Design, pp. 31–4, on these differences, some of which,
however, seem to me over-interpreted. See also the somewhat different account
in Herman Teerink and Arthur H. Scouten, A Bibliography of the Writings of
Jonathan Swift, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963, p. 25.
20 Grant Holly, ‘Travel and Translation: Textuality in Gulliver’s Travels’, Criti-
cism, 21 (1979), 134–52, 149.
21 See David Piper, Catalogue of Seventeenth-Century Portraits in the National
Portrait Gallery 1625–1714, Cambridge, 1963, pp. 336–8, pl. 15 (i); Arthur S.
Marks, ‘Seeking an Enduring Image: Rupert Barber, Jonathan Swift, and the
Profile Portrait’, Swift Studies, 16 (2001), 31–82, especially 31–3. Portraits by
Jervas are reproduced in Correspondence, i (pl. 1), ii (pls. 8–9).
22 See W. K. Wimsatt’s magisterial study, The Portraits of Alexander Pope, New
Haven and London, 1965. Such a book could not be written about Swift, but
see the chapter on ‘Painting’ in Joseph McMinn, Jonathan Swift and the Arts,
Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2010, pp. 127–47.
23 Correspondence, ii. 182; Correspondence, ed. Williams, iv. 352; Marks, p. 33 and
nn. The fullest account of portraits of Swift is still Sir Frederick Falkiner, ‘Of
the Portraits, Busts and Engravings of Swift and their Artists’, in Jonathan
Swift, Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Temple Scott, London, George Bell,
1897–1908, xii. 3–56. There is a collection of above two dozen photographs
of portraits of Swift, Stella and Vanessa, in the Library of the Yale Center for
British Art, Jennings Albums, xvi, George i (2), ff. 151–6.
24 Treadwell, ‘Text’, p. 71; Lock, Politics, pp. 68, 70.
25 Correspondence, iii. 693, ii. 661, iv. 67.
26 Ibid., iii. 58–9, 49–50, 54–7 (these letters have slightly different dates in
Williams’s edition of the Correspondence, iii. 185–91).
27 Correspondence, iii. 9–13, 82. On this, see Treadwell, ‘Text’, pp. 71–2; Swift
remained on good terms with Motte despite his apparent indignation over the
corruptions in Gulliver’s Travels – see A. E. Case, Four Essays on Gulliver’s
Travels (1945), Gloucester, MA, 1958, pp. 7–8; Treadwell, ‘Benjamin Motte’,
pp. 300–4.
28 Correspondence, iii. 11; Harold Williams, The Text of Gulliver’s Travels, Cam-
bridge, 1952, pp. 15–19.
29 For some suggestive remarks on this, see Grant Holly, ‘Travel and Translation’,
pp. 138–9.
30 Correspondence, ii. 606.
31 The natural assumption is that the fictional version was written first, since the
letter speaks of the work as completed, but I am allowing for the possibility
of adjustments and afterthoughts before publication a year later.
Notes to pages 113–33 283
32 See below, Chapter 5.
33 Bartolomé de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552),
trans. Nigel Griffin, London, Penguin, 1992, pp. 3–13; Michel de Montaigne,
Essais, iii. vi (1588), Complete Essays, trans.Donald M. Frame (1958), Stanford,
CA, 1992, pp. 694–5; see Claude Rawson, GGG, pp. 17–24.
34 Jonathan Swift, Epistle to a Lady (1733), 218; see also 140, 260, and Cadenus
and Vanessa (1726), 796–7, Poems, ii. 634–8, 711.
35 For some examples, see GGG, pp. 23, 312–13 n. 13.
36 Harold Williams, Introduction, PW, xi. xviii–xix; Ricardo Quintana, Swift:
An Introduction (1955), London, 1962, pp. 146–7.
37 Tale, p. 112.
38 Swift used ‘flayed’ elsewhere to mean anatomical dissection, but this does not
seem a normal usage (it is not recorded as a definition in its own right in OED),
and is a deliberately violent metaphor for what satirical surgeons do (PW, xii.
157–8). In the Tale, the reader’s first encounter with the flayed woman seems
calculated to suggest a painful street scene, only subsequently to be changed
by the extended application to an anatomist’s dissection.
39 Correspondence, ii. 607.
40 Ibid., ii. 627; see GR, pp. 24–5, 157 n. 60; Bolingbroke is referring to a
conversation in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, iii. xxvi. 66–xxviii. 71, where
reason is said to distinguish man from animals, but can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’,
depending on its application.
41 Samuel Butler, Hudibras, i. i. 65, 71–2. See GR, pp. 31–2; the seminal study
of this question is R. S. Crane, ‘The Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos, and the
History of Ideas’, in J. A. Mazzeo, ed., Reason and the Imagination, New York,
Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 231–53.
42 Correspondence, ii. 623.
43 For fuller discussion, see GR, pp. 18–26.
44 André Breton, Anthologie de l’humour noir (1939), rev. edn., Paris, Pauvert,
1966, pp. 9–21, especially 13–14, 19–21.
45 Epistle to a Lady, 219, Poems, ii. 637.
46 William Makepeace Thackeray, English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century,
(1851), in William Makepeace Thackeray, Works, London, Everyman, 1949,
pp. 3–46, especially pp. 28–9, 34–5.


1 Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance, London, 1924,
pp. 129–30.
2 Dick Taylor, Jr., ‘Gulliver’s Pleasing Visions: Self-Deception as Major Theme
in Gulliver’s Travels’, Tulane Studies in English, 12 (1962), 10; Laura Brown,
Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology in Early Eighteenth-Century English Lit-
erature, Ithaca, NY, 1993, p. 176, on ‘the much-neglected Mrs. Gulliver’.
3 See above, pp. 102 ff.
284 Notes to pages 134–48
4 Correspondence, ii. 606.
5 Alexander Pope, The First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace, Imitated (1737),
6 Bickerstaff Papers (1708–9), PW, ii. 137–70, and Appendix material at pp. 193–
231, 269–73; Jonathan Swift, ‘The Last Speech and Dying Words of Ebenezor
Elliston’ (1722), PW, ix. 35–41, and Appendix E, pp. 363–7.
7 Correspondence, iii. 45 (Arbuthnot to Swift, 5 November 1726), 56 (Swift to
Pope, 17 November 1726).
8 See previous chapter. Earlier studies include Grant Holly, ‘Travel and Trans-
lation: Textuality in Gulliver’s Travels’, Criticism, 21 (1979), 134–52; Jenny
Mezciems, ‘Utopia and “the Thing which is not”: More, Swift, and other
Lying Idealists’, UTQ, 52 (1982), 40–62; Richard H. Rodino, ‘“Splendide
Mendax”: Authors, Characters, and Readers in Gulliver’s Travels’, PMLA, 106
(1991), 1054–70; Peter Wagner, ‘Captain Gulliver and the Pictures’, in Peter
Wagner, Reading Iconotexts: From Swift to the French Revolution, London,
1995, pp. 37–73; Jeanne K. Welcher, Gulliveriana VII: Visual Imitations of Gul-
liver’s Travels, 1726–1830, Delmar, NY, Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1999,
pp. xxvi–xxxiii, 1–11, 143–7. Janine Barchas, Graphic Design, Print Culture,
and the Eighteenth-Century Novel, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 28–
9 For further differences between portraits of Gulliver in the octavo and duodec-
imo editions of Works, 1735, see Barchas, Graphic Design, pp. 30–3.
10 Clive Probyn, ‘Jonathan Swift at the Sign of the Drapier’, in Hermann J.
Real and Helgard Stöver-Leidig, eds., Reading Swift: Papers from the Third
Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, Munich, Wilhelm Fink, 1998, pp. 225–
11 On this question, in Montaigne and Swift, see Claude Rawson, ‘“Indians”
and Irish: Montaigne, Swift, and the Cannibal Question’, MLQ, 53 (1992),
299–363, especially 318 ff.; and GGG, pp. 42 ff.
12 Correspondence, ii. 607; Tales, p. 110; Mr. Collins’s Discourse, PW, iv. 36,
13 To Pope, 26 November 1725, Correspondence, ii. 623.
14 Robert C. Elliott, The Literary Persona, University of Chicago Press, 1982,
pp. 129, 124. For the opposite view, see GR, p. 40.
15 Elliot, The Literary Persona, p. 144.
16 Ibid., p. 162.
17 The Second Satire of the Second Book of Horace Paraphrased (1734), 137–8.
18 Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night, Introduction (1966), London, 1981, p. vii.
19 PW, xii. 10; Elliott, Literary Persona, p. 118.
20 Conduct of the Allies, in EPW, p. 49.
21 Ibid., pp. 47, 88.
22 PW, x. 3.
23 John Arbuthnot, The History of John Bull, ed. Alan W. Bower and Robert A.
Erickson, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976, p. 5; G. A. Aitken, The Life and
Notes to pages 148–65 285
Works of John Arbuthnot, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1892, pp. 291 ff., 382 ff.;
Swift, PW, iv. 25–48.
24 PW, iv. 69.
25 Tale, Introduction, p. 43.
26 PW, iv. 29.


1 For a summary of the composition and publication details, and for biograph-
ical information, see Complete Poems, pp. 658–9, 938; and Poems, ii. 683–6.
2 JSt, 1948, ii. 482 (8 February 1712).
3 See Ellen Pollak, The Poetics of Sexual Myth, Chicago, 1985, pp. 128–58; Mar-
garet Anne Doody, ‘Swift among the Women’, Yearbook of English Studies, 18
(1988), especially 75–7.
4 Review of Beggar’s Opera in Intelligencer, No. 3 (1728), Intelligencer, pp. 62–3.
5 Swift to Pope, 29 September 1725, Correspondence, ii. 607.
6 Irvin Ehrenpreis, The Personality of Jonathan Swift, London, 1958, pp. 38–49;
for the change of emphasis, and additional information, see Swift: The Man,
His Works, and the Age. Volume III: Dean Swift, London, 1983, pp. 103–7,
691–5, 695 n. 3.
7 See Complete Poems, pp. 658–9, 938.
8 ‘To Mr. Delany’ (1718), 34, Poems, i. 216.
9 i. xviii (TS, i. 56). Tristram’s dear Jenny recurs from time to time in the novel,
and Tristram is impotent with her in a well-known later episode, vii. xxix (TS,
ii. 624). On the possible autobiographical aspects of the allusions to Jenny, see
TS, iii. 87–8.
10 See Claude Rawson, ‘Intimacies of Antipathy: Johnson and Swift’, Review of
English Studies, 63 (2012), especially 276–80.


1 GGG, pp. 92–182, especially pp. 92–6.
2 Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, ed. Paul Turner, Oxford University Press,
1988, p. 371 n. 7. The episode is discussed in GGG, pp. 92–8.
3 Swift to Vanessa, 12 August 1720, Correspondence, ii. 343.
4 A. Martin Freeman, Vanessa and her Correspondence with Jonathan Swift,
London, Selwyn and Blount, 1921, pp. 121–2 n.; Ehrenpreis, ii. 311.
5 Swift to Vanessa, 12 May 1719, Correspondence, ii. 305.
6 Vanessa to Swift, June 1722, Correspondence, ii. 423.
7 Correspondence, iii. 149; Correspondence, ed. Williams, iii. 257, ii. 428 n. 6.
8 Swift to Vanessa, 13 July, and to Ford, 22 July 1722, Correspondence, ii. 424,
286 Notes to pages 166–72
9 Correspondence, ed. Williams, ii. 428 n. 6; Donald T. Torchiana, ‘Jonathan
Swift, the Irish, and the Yahoos: The Case Reconsidered’, Philological Quar-
terly, 54 (1975), 205 (but see David Woolley in Correspondence, ii. 424 n. 3).
10 The preceding paragraph is an adjusted restatement of GGG, p. 95.
11 C. H. Firth, ‘The Political Significance of Gulliver’s Travels’ (1919), reprinted
in Sir Charles Firth, Essays Historical and Literary, Oxford, Clarendon Press,
1968, pp. 227 ff.
12 Jonathan Swift, The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. F. Elrington Ball,
6 vols., London, G. Bell, 1910–14, iii. 133 n.; Freeman, p. 137 n.; Correspondence,
ed. Williams, ii. 428 n.
13 Ehrenpreis, iii. 442, 380.
14 ‘Passages from Swift’s Correspondence relative to Gulliver’s Travels’ are con-
veniently collected in CWJS, pp. 589–624; see especially pp. 589–90 (GT).
15 Torchiana, ‘Jonathan Swift, the Irish, and the Yahoos’, p. 205.
16 GT, pp. 589–93.
17 Correspondence, ed. Williams, iii. 94 n.
18 Swift to Pope, 29 September and 26 November 1725, Correspondence, ii. 606–7,


1 Swift to Charles Wogan, July–2 August 1732, Correspondence, iii. 515.
2 Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), v. i. 7, ed. D. D. Raphael
and A. L. Macfie, Oxford, 1976, reprinted Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, 1982,
p. 198.
3 William Shenstone to Lady Luxborough, 27 June 1750, William Shenstone,
Letters of William Shenstone, ed. Marjorie Williams, Oxford, Blackwell, 1939,
p. 282.
4 Thraliana, i. 354 (December 1778), ii. 900 (1794); see Claude Rawson, ‘Inti-
macies of Antipathy’, Review of English Studies, 63 (2012), p. 272 n. 22.
5 Samuel Johnson, ‘Swift’, in Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Most Eminent English
Poets (1779–81), ed. Roger Lonsdale, 4 vols., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2006,
§139, iii. 214.
6 His Very Self and Voice: Collected Conversations of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest J.
Lovell, Jr., New York, Macmillan, 1954, p. 268.
7 Edith Sitwell, Alexander Pope (1930), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1948.
8 See Donald M. Berwick, The Reputation of Jonathan Swift, 1781–1882, Philadel-
phia [no publisher], 1941.
9 Ted Hughes to Nick Gammage, 7 April 1995, in Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted
Hughes, ed. Christopher Reid, London, Faber, 2007, pp. 680–1.
10 Ted Hughes to Olwen Hughes, c.1952, in ibid., p. 20.
11 Ted Hughes to Kenneth Baker, 20 November 1988, in ibid., p. 546.
12 T. S. Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, ed. Ronald Schuchard, San
Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1993, p. 179.
13 Johnson, ‘Swift’, §18, iii. 191, 433 n.
Notes to pages 172–82 287
14 Poems, i. 193. Quotations from the poems are identified by line numbers in
the text.
15 Poems, ii. 551–72.
16 Ibid., i. 123–5.
17 Alexander Pope, Pastoral Poetry and An Essay on Criticism, ed. E. Audra and
Aubrey Williams, London, Methuen, 1961, p. 58.
18 W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., The Verbal Icon (1954), New York, Noonday Press, 1958,
p. 157.
19 Ibid., Verbal Icon, p. 160.
20 OED, ‘Heroic couplet’; Royal Prophetess, 1706, Preface.
21 Thomas Warton, History of English Poetry iii (1781), 12, 384.
22 John Dryden, ‘Of Heroick Playes’, prefixed to The Conquerer of Granada
(1672), CE xi. 8; for Dryden’s earlier expressions of this view, see p. 440
n. 8.
23 The opening lines of Charles Cotton’s adaptation (1663?) of Scarron’s ‘travesty’
of Virgil’s ‘arma virumque cano’, ‘Arms and the Man I sing’ (Genuine Poetical
Works of Charles Cotton, 3rd edn., 1734, p. 1).
24 Nicholas Boileau, Le Lutrin (1674), ‘Au Lecteur’, prefixed to first edition.
25 T. S. Eliot, ‘Morning at the Window’, T. S. Eliot, Complete Poems and Plays,
London, Faber and Faber, 1969, p. 27.
26 Ibid., p. 22.
27 On Eliot’s interest in Swift, see OFCS, pp. 154–92.
28 See Claude Rawson, ‘From Epic to Fragment: Reflections on Poetic Change’,
in Gerald Bär and Howard Gaskill, eds., Ossian and National Epic, Frankfurt,
Peter Lang, 2012, pp. 95–112 and ‘The Mock Edition Revisited’, pp. 231–
29 Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, New York, Library of America,
1997, p. 56.
30 W. B. Yeats, Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892–1935 (1936), Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 1947, Introduction, pp. xxi–xxii.
31 Claude Rawson, Satire and Sentiment, Cambridge University Press, 1994,
pp. 74–97.
32 Boileau, Le Lutrin.
33 Poems, iii. 827–39.
34 Derek Mahon, Introduction to Jonathan Swift, Poems, London, Faber and
Faber, 2001, p. ix.
35 Ronald Bottrall, ‘Byron and the Colloquial Tradition in English Poetry’,
Criterion 18 (1939), 204–24.
36 W. H. Auden, Introduction to W. H. Auden, Oxford Book of Light Verse,
Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1938, p. ix.
37 See below, chapters 9 and 10.
38 See Robert C. Elliott, The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art, Princeton
University Press, 1960, pp. 3–48. See below, Chapter 9.
39 Ben Jonson, The Poetaster (1601), ‘To the Reader’ (‘Apologetical Dialogue’),
150–1; Elliott, The Power of Satire, pp. 3–48.
288 Notes to pages 182–97
40 James Reeves, The Reputation and Writings of Alexander Pope, London, Heine-
mann, 1976, p. 56; Jonathan Swift, Selected Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. James
Reeves, London, Heinemann, 1969, p. 12.
41 Poems, iii. 951.
42 Ibid., iii. 952–3.
43 Ibid., iii. 953.
44 Stephen Sondheim, ‘A Little Priest’, from Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber
of Fleet Street (1979), in Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954–1981), New
York, Knopf, 2010, p. 356.
45 See below, Chapter 10.
46 Poems, iii. 772–82; Yeats, ‘The Seven Sages’ (1931). See further, Chapter 10.
47 Jonathan Swift, Essential Writings of Jonathan Swift, ed. Claude Rawson and
Ian Higgins, New York, Norton, 2012, p. 195 n.
48 Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift (1739, written 1731), 228, Poems, ii. 562.
49 T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts,
ed. Valerie Eliot, London, Faber and Faber, 1971, p. 4.
50 Ibid., pp. 13, 127 n. 5.
51 See above, Chapter 3.
52 Poems, i. 68–73, 103–5; Eliot, Complete Poems and Plays, p. 27.
53 Poems, iii. 985–7.
54 See ibid., iii. 985 n. 14, and letters of Swift to Archdeacon Walls, 6 December
1716 and 30 March 1717.
55 Henry Fielding, Shamela, 1741, p. 50.
56 See Ehrenpreis, iii. 62–8.
57 Poems, ii. 683–714.
58 Ibid., ii. 712.
59 See Claude Rawson, ‘Swift, les femmes et l’éducation des femmes’, in
L’Education des femmes en Europe et en Amérique du Nord de la Renaissance à
1848, ed. Guyoone Leduc, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997, pp. 245–65.
60 Prose Writings, ix. 85–94.
61 Poems, ii. 756–8.
62 Ibid., ii. 758 n. 54. For a reproduction of the page and some comments on
this note, see David Womersley, ‘“now deaf 1740”: Entrapment, Foreboding
and Exorcism in Late Swift’, in Politics and Literature, pp. 163–4. On Swift’s
deafness, see Mayhew, pp. 115–30.
63 ‘On the Death of Mrs. Johnson’, PW, v. 227–36, 227.
64 Poems, ii. 524–30, 593–7.
65 Ibid., ii. 584–93. On Huxley and Lawrence, see Claude Rawson, OFCS,
pp. 168, 178, 189 n. 30.
66 Poems, ii. 580–3.
67 Irvin Ehrenpreis, The Personality of Jonathan Swift, Methuen, 1958, pp. 43–6,
Ehrenpreis, iii. 103–7, 691–5; OFCS, pp. 162–3.
68 Selina Hastings, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, New York, Arcade,
2012, pp. 105–10.
69 Poems, ii. 628–38.
70 Auden, Oxford Book of Light Verse, p. x.
Notes to pages 198–207 289

1 Swift to Charles Wogan, 2 August 1732, Correspondence, iii. 515.

2 On the mock edition, and Swift’s exploitation of its resources, see Claude
Rawson, ‘The Mock Edition Revisited: Swift to Mailer’, in Jonathan Swift
and the Eighteenth-Century Book, ed. Paddy Bullard and James McLaverty,
Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 231–67.
3 See also Jonathan Swift, A Hue and Cry After Dismal; Being a Full and True
Account, How a Whig L– –d was taken at Dunkirk (1712), EPW, pp. 195–7.
4 Ehrenpreis, iii. 701.
5 Pope, Epistle to Cobham (1733, 174–209), Epistle to Bathurst (1732, 299–314),
TE, iii. ii. 30–3, 117–19.
6 Swift’s ‘Last Will and Testament’ (1745), PW, xiii. 149, and see below, pp. 239 ff.
Indignatio (without saeva) occurs in Juvenal, Sat. i. 79.
7 Swift to Gay and Duchess of Queensberry, 13 March 1731.
8 Poems, i. 139–40 n.; Swift to Thomas Beach, 12 April 1735, Correspondence, iv.
9 The poem appeared in Tatler, No. 238, 14–17 October 1710. The revised fifth
edition of the Tale was published late in the same year (Ehrenpreis, ii. 338).
10 The passages from Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid which are pertinent to
Swift’s account of the Trojan horse are at ii. 17 ff., 52–69, 306 ff., though it
does not appear that these particular lines of Dryden’s were being followed
in any close verbal detail. For an undoubted larger context of Drydenian and
other allusion in Swift’s poem, see Ehrenpreis, ii. 385 n. For other allusions to
Virgil in Swift’s poems, see the Index to Poems. The only significant Homeric
allusion, among the few recorded in the Index and appearing in a poem, is to
the special case of Thersites, who is also the subject of an extended allusion in
the Battle of the Books (Poems, iii. 775; Tale, pp. 160–1). The peculiar character
of the allusions to Thersites is discussed more fully in Claude Rawson, Satire
and Sentiment 1660–1830, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 40–2, 82–5.
It is significant that the episode from Iliad, ii. 211 ff., was sometimes regarded
as aberrant and beneath heroic dignity.
11 Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), v. i. 6.
12 On Swift’s varied metrical forms, see Rogers’s Introduc