The Irony of Swift

  • F. R. Leavis


Swift is a great English writer. For opening with this truism I have a reason: I wish to discuss Swift’s writings — to examine what they are; and they are (as the extant commentary bears witness) of such a kind that it is peculiarly difficult to discuss them with-out shifting the focus of discussion to the kind of man that Swift was. What is most interesting in them does not so clearly belong to the realm of things made and detached that literary criticism, which has certainly not the less its duties towards Swift, can easily avoid turning — unawares, and that is, degenerating — into something else. In the attempt to say what makes these writings so remarkable, reference to the man who wrote is indeed necessary; but there are distinctions. For instance, one may (it appears), having offered to discuss the nature and import of Swift’s satire, find oneself countering imputations of misanthropy with the argument that Swift earned the love of Pope, Arbuthnot, Gay, several other men and two women: this should not be found necessary by the literary critic. But the irrelevancies of Thackeray and of his castigator, the late Charles Whibley — irrelevancies not merely from the point of view of literary criticism — are too gross to need placarding; more insidious deviations are possible.


Literary Criticism Emotional Intensity Modest Proposal Snowy Mountain Unpredictable Movement 
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© Macmillan & Co. Ltd. 1967

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  • F. R. Leavis

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