Biography of Jonathan Swift. Swift as a publicist.



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in the subject “History of foreign journalism”

On the topic:

“Problematics and Poetics of Jonathan Swift’s Pamphlet” A Modest Proposal “


1st year student

Borisova Alexandra Denisovna

Group 113


Associate Professor Trubitsyna


The content of the work


-Characteristics of English journalism and journalism of the early 18th century

Main part

-Biography of Jonathan Swift

-Swift as publicist

– “Modest offer”: poetics and problems


List of used literature

Introduction. Characteristics of English journalism and journalism at the beginning of the 18th century

We all know from history that the path to free journalism in England was long and difficult. The English Revolution (1642-1660) caused a surge in social thought and became an important milestone in the development of the English press, which in a short time grew both quantitatively and qualitatively. In a revolutionary era, the demand for news increases dramatically, and there are much more important news. An additional stimulus for the progress of English journalism was the actual destruction of censorship. It is true that the Long Parliament attempted to re-introduce it in 1643, but these provisions could not be adopted in their entirety until the establishment of Cromwell’s dictatorship in 1653.

The starting point for the development of journalism can be considered the accession to the throne of William III. In 1702, the first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, was published in London. At first, the content of this and other newspapers that soon came out was limited only to foreign policy news, but soon publications began to appear on the printed arena that also covered the country’s domestic politics. Naturally, they were very popular with the then public, eager to know the truth about what was happening behind the doors of the government. One of the first such publications was Daniel Defoe’s Revue. The Revue came out once a week; the contents of the magazine were articles on the so-called “reform of morals”, materials condemning drunkenness, duels, discussions of state events, stories about the licentiousness of society and the theater. The magazine lasted nine years, until Defoe once again ended up in Newgate prison for one of his pamphlets. The editions that followed him approved the new position of journalism in society as a means of political struggle: it was during this period that many public figures and high-ranking officials began to use journalism as an arena for political polemics.

The real resonance in society was caused by the so-called “Letters of Junius”, which appeared in the newspaper “Public Advertiser” in 1769. They were so talentedly written, so imbued with a revolutionary spirit, and with such courage exposed the deeds of even the most high-ranking persons, that their appearance should have been the beginning of a whole era in the history of English journalism, which, as a result, rose to unprecedented heights. The journal that printed these letters became the most widely circulated in England and became widely known, but even the publisher of the journal did not know the real name of the remarkable publicist who wrote these letters, which were basically directed against the king and his ministers.

But we must not forget about the earlier attempts of British leaders to influence the society of that time by publishing hot pamphlets containing information aimed at the general review of economic and social problems. Satirical journalism was especially widespread, one of the authors of which was Jonathan Swift, whose works will be discussed in this essay.

Biography of Jonathan Swift. Swift as a publicist.

Jonathan Swift – a famous Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, philosopher, poet and public figure – was born on November 30, 1667 in Dublin in a poor Protestant family. His father, a minor judicial official, died before his son was born, leaving the family in distress. In 1686, the future writer graduated from Trinity College, Dublin University, and at the age of 25 he received a master’s degree from Oxford. When, in connection with the civil war, Swift left Ireland for England, he entered the service of a secretary to a wealthy retired diplomat and essayist, William Temple. It was he who first noted the outstanding literary talent of his subordinate and gave him brilliant recommendations; thanks in large part to Temple, Swift began his career, first as a poet.

In 1700 Swift published his first satirical pamphlets. Contemporaries immediately note the peculiarities of his style: bright, uncompromising, Swift never directly imposed his morality on society, leaving the reader the opportunity to draw conclusions from the works himself. In 1704 he published (anonymously, under the same cover) “The Tale of the Barrel” and “The Battle of the Books”; the first of them is provided with a significant subtitle, which can be attributed to the entire work of Swift: “Written for the general improvement of the human race.” The book immediately becomes popular and in the first year comes out in three editions. Note that almost all of Swift’s works were published under various pseudonyms or even anonymously, although his authorship was usually not a secret. Thus, Swift’s popularity in literary circles is growing rapidly, as is his writing prowess. In 1710, the Tories came to power, and Swift joined their camp, although he had previously been a member of the Whig party for a long time. The Tory government handled such a powerful tool as the gift of a political writer, more skillfully than the Whigs, and entrusted him with their journal The Examiner.

The most prominent in the work of the writer and publicist can be considered such works as, for example, “The Clothmaker’s Letters” (1724), where Swift calls for a boycott of English goods. This pamphlet literally made him a national hero of Ireland, although Swift, on the whole, failed to influence the economic pressure on the country from England. In 1726, he wrote the novel Gulliver’s Travels, now known as a children’s fairy tale. However, initially the novel ridiculed the struggle of the English parties, being a topical satirical pamphlet.

“Modest Proposal”: Poetics and Problematics

This pamphlet can be considered truly unique: the author takes on a deliberately businesslike tone and undertakes to talk about things that, from the point of view of the modern reader, look not so much monstrous as rather absurd and incredibly far from reality. Reading Swift’s practical advice on how to save the state from the need to feed thousands of “useless” children by eating them, backed up by the arguments of “educated Americans” and “respectable people”, it is difficult to imagine that some of the writer’s contemporaries took his satire for pure coin.

Swift’s main weapon is original and fully consistent with the traditions of the genre he has chosen: paragraph by paragraph, the author increases the absurdity of the actions he proposes, making his words sound more and more convincing; he literally forces the reader to get up and immediately go to make sure he is right – to try the baby’s meat for himself, to start the “mechanism” that relieves poor mothers of hunger and provides food for the higher strata for a generous table. Swift creates the illusion of a peculiar motivation: each point of the “proposal” is backed up by a “realistic” story: first, a French doctor tells us at what time of the year the meat of babies will literally fall off the shelves, then the “venerable gentleman” suggests that teenagers compensate for the lack of venison, and finally we are completely confronted with the fictional Salmanazr from the island of Formosa, who gives a fascinating story about a plump girl whose crucified body “right from the cross was sold in parts to the first minister of his majesty and other noble court mandarin for four hundred crowns” (“Modest Offer” by J. Swift cf.5) This method of presenting information can also be seen as an attempt to ridicule the naivety and narrow-mindedness of the representatives of the upper class, whose morals were well known to the author. The vice he ridiculed consisted in the fact that many citizens pampered by their position, by virtue of their intellect, were ready to believe in any nonsense, if only it sounded from the lips of a “respectable citizen”.

The image of the society created by Swift, without a second thought eating people, of course, is a grotesque image. This can be most clearly seen in the author’s short comments on his own arguments and calculations: “I agree that these will be somewhat expensive dishes and therefore suitable for landowners who, having already devoured most of the parents, apparently have every right to their offspring. “. (“A Modest Proposal” by J. Swift Sr. 4) “I would still recommend buying children alive, and not cooking them still warm from under the knife, as we roast pigs” (“Modest Proposal” by J. Swift Sr. 6) . In these statements, Swift’s mocking causticity reaches its climax; he himself gets used to the image of a citizen of the cynical society he created, which gives him the right to talk about his orders with everyday casualness. Another technique, also extensively used by Swift, is comparison. It is paradoxical that the more caustic there is in the author’s comparisons of children with cattle, the more sad the real picture seems to us in the case of analysis. It must have been that in the world of the present author, poor children could really surpass the value of yard cattle only in a slaughtered form, and their mothers, in pursuit of a penny, had to compete in “who among them will deliver the fattest child to the market” (“Modest Offer” J. Swift page 7)

Toward the end of the pamphlet, Swift’s main opponent, the British government, clearly emerges. It is as if the writer himself becomes for a moment one of his representatives, and his “proposal” becomes a program for debate. Swift laughs at the legislators, presenting his idea as “something solid and real, requires neither special expenses nor great troubles, is completely within our capabilities and is not fraught with the danger of incurring the wrath of England on us.” In this context, these words, typical of politicians of the time, sound with bitter irony: Swift’s “proposal” would turn out to be no more useful for the country than real laws coming from the government.

It is impossible not to notice that Swift observes a strict composition in his pamphlet. He has an introduction, where he, by the way, describes a completely realistic problem of the time: “crowds of poor women with three, four or six children in rags”, mothers who are unable to feed themselves and their children and therefore sell themselves to Barbados, emphasized the need for reforms to reduce hunger, as well as abortion and infanticide. This is followed by the main part and conclusion, and in the latter one can single out several more important points. First of all, the author makes his pamphlet free from all kinds of attacks, referring to the fact that the parents of the children eaten might themselves want to be eaten in the same way, because “thus they would have avoided a number of misfortunes and poverty” . Another interesting point is that Swift himself refuses to participate in his own project, since “the youngest child is already nine years old, and his wife … is elderly and she will not have any more children.” With this statement of his, he draws a peculiar line under what he wrote, emphasizing the inconsistency of his idea, as well as the real ideas of the government contemporary to him, by refusing to take part in their implementation.


The social and political significance of this pamphlet can be judged from history. After the release of the work, rumors appeared about possible reprisals against the writer, but this did not stop him, forcing him to continue to issue even more caustic and topical pamphlets in order to be able to somehow try to protect Ireland, which is becoming poorer every year under the yoke of England. Based on the foregoing, “A Modest Proposal” is one of the most striking manifestations of the bilious pessimism with which Swift viewed his contemporaries and humanity in general. It is known that the writer rejected the idea of human perfection generally accepted in modern times. From Swift’s point of view, social diseases are inherent in human nature itself and, therefore, are incurable. I think we can agree with the opinion that after the creation of The Modest Proposal, Swift did not see bright changes for Ireland in the near future: his irony becomes too sad, reality seems too hopeless to him.


· “Collection of pamphlets of the XVIII century”, 2000, Bustard. “Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift

· “Introduction to world journalism” G.V. Prutskov

· “Biography and journalistic activity of Jonathan Swift”, Viktor Kozhbakhteev

“History of foreign literature of the 18th century”, Sidorchenko L.

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