October 24, 2017
Jonathan Swift, Dublin's ChildOn this day in 1667, Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin. The exact location seems pregnant with significance: a few blocks this way was St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Swift would be Dean; much closer that way, almost his backyard, was Dublin Castle, representing the Englishness he would both covet and skewer; the specific address, his uncle's home at 7 Hoey's Court, almost perfect for perhaps the most famous scoffer in literature.
Swift's parents also seem to have been given portentous roles, or non-roles. His father died seven months before Swift was born. His mother left him in the care of his nurse at the age of one; with or without permission, she took him to live with her relatives in England, while the mother went to live with her own English family. The mother briefly reappeared and then permanently disappeared, passing the care-giving on to the Dublin Swifts. Whether all this truly gave Swift the detachment he needed for satire -- or, as some say, the maladjustment that would turn to misanthropy, scatology, etc. -- it seems to have given him dinner table material for a lifetime. His early adventures with the nurse, wrote Swift's nephew and early biographer, "gave occasion to many ludicrous whims and extravagances in the gaiety of his conversation," all turned in a semi-miraculous, Tristram Shandy direction. Something of all this is in Gulliver's second, near-fatal childhood among the giant Brobdingnagians:
To build a house for fools and mad;
And show'd by one satiric touch,
No nation wanted it so much.
That kingdom he hath left his debtor,
I wish it soon may have a better.
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