History, Literature

Occasional Quote of the Day: Swift and Sure

‘For,’ said he, ‘as flourishing a Condition as we may appear to be in to Foreigners, we labour under two mighty Evils: a violent Faction at home, and the Danger of an Invasion, by a most potent Enemy, from abroad. As to the first, you are to understand, that for about seventy Moons past there have been two struggling Parties in this Empire, under the names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan, from the high and low Heels on their Shoes, by which they distinguish themselves. It is alledged, indeed, that the high Heels are most agreeable to our ancient Constitution: But, however this be, his Majesty has determined to make use only of low Heels in the Administration of the Government, and all Offices in the Gift of the Crown, as you cannot but observe; and particularly, that his Majesty’s Imperial Heels are lower at least by a Drurr than any of his Court (Drurr is a measure about the fourteenth Part of an Inch). The Animosities between these two Parties run so high, that they will neither eat, nor drink, nor talk with each other. We compute the Tramecksan, or High-Heels, to exceed us in number; but the Power is wholly on our side. We apprehend his Imperial Highness, the Heir to the Crown, to have some tendency towards the High-Heels; at least we can plainly discover that one of his Heels is higher than the other, which gives him a Hobble in his Gait.’” — Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels.

Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667, just two months after the death of his father. His family was poor, and he was raised in Ireland by his wealthy uncle, who paid for Swift’s schooling, intending him to follow his uncle’s footsteps into the legal profession. But fate had something else in mind for the young scholar, and a few years after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 put William and Mary on the throne, Swift moved to England to work as private secretary to Sir William Temple. Over the next decade and a half, he pursued a peripatetic career, moving back and forth between Ireland and England, becoming an ordained Anglican priest, and starting to write. He also met Esther Johnson, a housekeeper’s daughter who was fifteen years younger than Swift, and who would become the love of his life.

By the first decade of the eighteenth century, Swift was publishing his early parody pieces, much to the dismay of the Church of England which did not find them amusing or instructive at all, and when the Tories fell from power in 1713, Swift moved back to Ireland as the dean of St. Patrick’s cathedral. It was during this time of his life that Swift wrote his most famous work, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, known more familiarly as Gulliver’s Travels. The book exhibited the same biting wit, clever parody, and anti-establishment tone of his earlier works, and so very quickly became a best-seller, as it has been ever since.

Esther Johnson died in 1728, and as Swift’s life progressed, and as more of his friends died, he became obsessed with death, and quite mentally unbalanced. It’s possible he suffered all his life from Meniere’s Disease, an inner-ear affliction that leaves its sufferers dizzy and nauseous, but as he grew older he became more and more disturbed. His last years were sad and painful, and he died two-hundred-seventy-five years ago this month, on October 19, 1745. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried next to Esther Johnson in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and the bequest of his wealth founded St Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles, which opened in his memory in 1757, and which still exists as a psychiatric hospital today. As Swift himself wrote:

*Details of Swift’s life were taken from the biography and wikipedia websites.

Leave a Reply