Intimations of Mortality and Immortality, 1729–45

  • Ann Cline Kelly


With the publication of “A Libel on Dr. Delany” (1729), Swift entered a new phase in his self-mythologizing. Nearing the last decade of the biblical three score and ten allotment of years, Swift appeared to become very conscious about making sure his mark on the world would endure. His focus on himself as a subject is evident during the 1730s in the number of references in his poems to Dean, Drapier, and Swift1 as well as the appearance of Swift’s name on his title pages. In his last years, Swift devised dramatic self-representations that would imprint his life, character, and works on history in indelible ink. His strategy was paradoxical. On the one hand, Swift elicited the sounding of the gold trumpet, by emphasizing his identities as the brave Drapier, the conscientious dean, the great author, and the noble benefactor of his city. On the other hand, he escalated the scandals about himself to a new level, with shocks that would bring forth the blasts of the brass trumpet. In this regard, Swift’s print-constructed character in the 1730s was radically different from that of the 1720s. His indirect criticism of the Crown and the ruling class bloomed into open contempt; his offensive imagery became nauseatingly graphic; his rudeness, especially to women, verged toward degradation; once merely ungodly, now he seemed positively satanic; his jaundiced view of human nature sank to misanthropy; his interest in the underclass took a perverse turn; and his eccentricities began to look like madness.


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  1. 1.
    A Concordance to the Poems of Jonathan Swift cites approximately 120 uses of the word “Dean” during the period 1729–40; 20 for variations of the word “Drapier”; and 20 for variations of the word “Swift.” In each case, there is a marked increase in the appearance of those terms in poetry written or published before 1730. A Concordance to the Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. Michael Shinagel (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1972). The concordance includes all the poems in Harold Williams’ edition, which means some were not published during the periods in which they were written or never published at all. In the poems Swift did publish, though, the focus on himself as a character is evident.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    James Woolley, “Commentary in Mist’s and Fog’s,” Appendix D, (pp. 236–244) in [Jonathan Swift and Thomas Sheridan], The Intelligencer, ed. James Woolley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 236–7.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    This folktale was recorded by the Irish Folklore Commission, and may have originated with Thomas Sheridan, who inserts it in his life of Swift. For a discussion of Swift as a character in Irish folklore, see Mackie L. Jarrell, “‘Jack and the Dane’: Swift Traditions in Ireland,” Fair liberty was All his Cry: A Tercentenary Tribute to Jonathan Swift 1667–1745, ed. A. Norman Jeffares (London: MacMillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1967), 311–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 18.
    Barry Slepian, “George Faulkner’s Dublin Journal and Jonathan Swift,” Pennsylvania Library Chronicle, 31 (1965), 98.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    Sheridan’s biography portrays the confrontation of Swift and Bettesworth, complete with dialogue, an account about whose accuracy Ehrenpreis and others have expressed doubts.” Luis R. Gamez, in “Richard Bettesworth’s Insult and ‘The Yahoo Overthrow’” (Swift Studies 12 [1997: 80–4]), defends the truth of Sheridan’s report. Walter Scott, on the authority of Theophilus Swift, tells a story in which Swift was struggling to find a rhyme for Bettesworth when he was interrupted by a porter demanding payment: “The fellow’s demand being considered as exorbitant [by Swift], he wiped his forehead, saying, with the humour of a low Irishman, ‘Oh! your reverence, my sweat’s worth half a crown.’ The Dean instantly caught at the words, ‘Ay, that it is,—there’s half a crown for you.’” Walter Scott, Life, 1:385–90. A biography published in Ireland targeted to young adults, discusses the incident and provides an illustration of a bloody-thirsty Bettesworth reading Swift’s poem with a knife in his hand.Google Scholar
  6. Mary Moriarty and Catherine Sweeney, Jonathan Swift: The Man Who Wrote Gulliver, O’Brien Junior Biography Library, Number 5 (Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 1990), 64.Google Scholar
  7. 40.
    “The Excremental Vision,” now a widely used term, is the title of a chapter in John Middleton Murry’s Jonathan Swift, A Critical Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954).Google Scholar
  8. 43.
    [Lady Mary Wortley Montague], “The Dean’s Provocation For Writing the Lady’s Dressing Room,” (London, 1734), reprinted in Robert Halsband, “‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ Explicated by a Contemporary,” in The Augustan Milieu: Essay Presented to Louis A. Landa, eds. Henry Knight Miller et al. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1970), 225–231, 228–9. Other imaginative re-visionings of Swift’s poem are “The Gentleman’s Study In Answer to the Lady’s Dressing-Room” (London and Dublin, 1732) and “Caelia’s Revenge. … Being an Answer to the Lady’s Dressing-Room (London, 1741).Google Scholar
  9. 44.
    See W. A. Speck, “Politicians, Peers, and Publication by Subscription 1700–1750 in Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England, ed. Isabel Rivers, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982, 47–68.Google Scholar

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© Ann Cline Kelly 2002

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