Swift: Wikis


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Common Swift, Apus apus
Note wing shape different from swallows
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Apodidae
Hartert, 1897

Nearly 20, see text.

The swifts are a family, Apodidae, of highly aerial birds. They are superficially similar to swallows but are actually not closely related to passerine species at all; swifts are in the separate order Apodiformes, which they share with the hummingbirds. The treeswifts are closely related to the true swifts, but form a separate family, the Hemiprocnidae.

The resemblances between swifts and swallows are due to convergent evolution reflecting similar life styles based on catching insects in flight.

The family scientific name comes from the Ancient Greek απους, apous, meaning "without feet", since swifts have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead on vertical surfaces. The tradition of depicting swifts without feet continued into the Middle Ages, as seen in the heraldic martlet.



Swifts are the most aerial of birds. Larger species, such as White-throated Needletail, are amongst the fastest flyers in the animal kingdom. Even the common swift (Apus apus) cruises at 5 to 14 m per second and is capable of 60 m per second for short bursts. In a single year the common swift can cover at least 200,000km.[1] One group, the Swiftlets or Cave Swiftlets have developed a form of echolocation for navigating through dark cave systems where they roost.[2] One species, Aerodramus papuensis has recently been discovered to use this navigation at night outside its cave roost also.

Swifts have a worldwide distribution in arctic and temperate areas, but like swallows and martins, the swifts of temperate regions are strongly migratory and winter in the tropics. Some species can survive short periods of cold weather by entering torpor, a state similar to hibernation[2].

Many have a characteristic shape, with a short forked tail and very long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang. The flight of some species is characterised by a distinctive "flicking" action quite different from swallows. Swifts range in size from the Pygmy Swiftlet (Collocalia troglodytes), which weighs 5.4 g and measures 9 cm (3.7 inches) long, to the Purple Needletail (Hirundapus celebensis), which weighs 184 g (6.5 oz) and measures 25 cm (10 inches) long[2].

The nest of many species is glued to a vertical surface with saliva, and the genus Aerodramus use only that substance, which is the basis for bird's nest soup. The eggs hatch after 19 to 23 days, and the young leave the nest after a further six to eight weeks. Both parents assist in raising the young[2].

Systematics and evolution

Swifts and treeswifts have long been considered to be relatives of the hummingbirds, a judgement corroborated by the discovery of the Jungornithidae, which were apparently swift-like hummingbird relatives, and of primitive hummingbirds such as Eurotrochilus. Traditional taxonomies place the hummingbird family (Trochilidae) in the same order as the swifts; the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy places them in a new order, Trochiliformes, which forms a superorder with the swifts and treeswifts (and no other birds).

The taxonomy of the swifts is in general complicated, with genus and species boundaries widely disputed, especially amongst the swiftlets. Analysis of behavior and vocalizations is complicated by common parallel evolution, while analyses of different morphological traits and of various DNA sequences have yielded equivocal and partly contradictory results (Thomassen et al., 2005).

The Apodiformes diversified during the Eocene, at the end of which the extant families were present; fossil genera are known from all over temperate Europe, between today's Denmark and France, such as the primitive Scaniacypselus (Early - Middle Eocene) and the more modern Procypseloides (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene - Early Miocene). A prehistoric genus sometimes assigned to the swifts, Primapus (Early Eocene of England), might also be a more distant ancestor.

Taxonomic list of Apodidae

Tribe Cypseloidini

Tribe Collocalini - swiftlets

Tribe Chaeturini - needletails

Tribe Apodini - typical swifts


  1. ^ Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  2. ^ a b c d Collins, Charles T. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph. ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 134–136. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.  
  • Chantler, Phil & Driessens, Gerald (2000): Swifts : a guide to the swifts and treeswifts of the world. Pica Press, Mountfield, East Sussex. ISBN 1-873403-83-6
  • Thomassen, Henri A.; Tex, Robert-Jan; de Bakker, Merijn A.G. & Povel, G. David E. (2005): Phylogenetic relationships amongst swifts and swiftlets: A multi locus approach. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37(1): 264-277. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.05.010 (HTML abstract)

External links

Jonathan Swift
File:Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas
Born 30 November 1667(1667-11-30)
Dublin, Ireland1
Died 19 October 1745 (aged 77)
Pen name M.B. Drapier, Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff
Occupation Satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, priest
Language English
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Notable work(s) Gulliver's Travels
A Modest Proposal
A Tale of a Tub
Drapier's Letters

Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish[1] satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

He is remembered for works such as Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub. Swift is probably the foremost prose satirist in the English language, and is less well known for his poetry. Swift originally published all of his works under pseudonyms—such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M.B. Drapier—or anonymously. He is also known for being a master of two styles of satire: the Horatian and Juvenalian styles.




Jonathan Swift was born at No. 7, Hoey's Court, Dublin, and was the second child and only son of Jonathan Swift (a second cousin of John Dryden) and wife Abigail Erick (or Herrick), paternal grandson of Thomas Swift and wife Elizabeth Dryden, daughter of Nicholas Dryden (brother of Sir Erasmus Dryden, 1st Baronet Dryden) and wife Mary Emyley. His father was Irish born and his mother was the sister of the vicar of Frisby-on-the-Wreake, England. Swift arrived seven months after his father's untimely death. Most of the facts of Swift's early life are obscure, confused and sometimes contradictory. It is widely believed that his mother returned to England when Jonathan was still very young, then leaving him to be raised by his father's family. His uncle Godwin took primary responsibility for the young Jonathan, sending him with one of his cousins to Kilkenny College (also attended by the philosopher George Berkeley).

In 1682 he attended Dublin University (Trinity College, Dublin), receiving his B.A. in 1686. Swift was studying for his Master's degree when political troubles in Ireland surrounding the Glorious Revolution forced him to leave for England in 1688, where his mother helped him get a position as secretary and personal assistant of Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Farnham. Temple was an English diplomat who, having arranged the Triple Alliance of 1668, retired from public service to his country estate to tend his gardens and write his memoirs. Gaining the confidence of his employer, Swift "was often trusted with matters of great importance."[cite this quote] Within three years of their acquaintance, Temple had introduced his secretary to William III, and sent him to London to urge the King to consent to a bill for triennial Parliaments.

When Swift took up his residence at Moor Park, he met Esther Johnson, then 8 years old, the fatherless daughter of one of the household servants. Swift acted as her tutor and mentor, giving her the nickname "Stella", and the two maintained a close but ambiguous relationship for the rest of Esther's life.

Swift left Temple in 1690 for Ireland because of his health, but returned to Moor Park the following year. The illness, fits of vertigo or giddiness—now known to be Ménière's disease—would continue to plague Swift throughout his life. During this second stay with Temple, Swift received his M.A. from Hertford College, Oxford in 1692. Then, apparently despairing of gaining a better position through Temple's patronage, Swift left Moor Park to become an ordained priest in the Established Church of Ireland and in 1694 he was appointed to the prebend of Kilroot in the Diocese of Connor, with his parish located at Kilroot, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim.

Swift appears to have been miserable in his new position, being isolated in a small, remote community far from the centres of power and influence. While at Kilroot, however, Swift may well have become romantically involved with Jane Waring. A letter from him survives, offering to remain if she would marry him and promising to leave and never return to Ireland if she refused. She presumably refused, because Swift left his post and returned to England and Temple's service at Moor Park in 1696, and he remained there until Temple's death. There he was employed in helping to prepare Temple's memoirs and correspondence for publication. During this time Swift wrote The Battle of the Books, a satire responding to critics of Temple's Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1690). Battle was however not published until 1704.

On January 27, 1699 Temple died. Swift stayed on briefly in England to complete the editing of Temple's memoirs, and perhaps in the hope that recognition of his work might earn him a suitable position in England. However, Swift's work made enemies of some of Temple's family and friends who objected to indiscretions included in the memoirs. His next move was to approach King William directly, based on his imagined connection through Temple and a belief that he had been promised a position. This failed so miserably that he accepted the lesser post of secretary and chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley, one of the Lords Justices of Ireland. However, when he reached Ireland he found that the secretaryship had already been given to another. But he soon obtained the living of Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan, and the prebend of Dunlavin in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

At Laracor, a mile or two from Trim, County Meath, and twenty miles (32 km) from Dublin, Swift ministered to a congregation of about fifteen people, and had abundant leisure for cultivating his garden, making a canal (after the Dutch fashion of Moor Park), planting willows, and rebuilding the vicarage. As chaplain to Lord Berkeley, he spent much of his time in Dublin and traveled to London frequently over the next ten years. In 1701, Swift published, anonymously, a political pamphlet, A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome.


In February 1702, Swift received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College, Dublin. That spring he traveled to England and returned to Ireland in October, accompanied by Esther Johnson—now twenty years old—and his friend Rebecca Dingley, another member of William Temple's household. There is a great mystery and controversy over Swift's relationship with Esther Johnson nicknamed "Stella". Many[who?] hold that they were secretly married in 1716.

During his visits to England in these years Swift published A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books (1704) and began to gain a reputation as a writer. This led to close, lifelong friendships with Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot, forming the core of the Martinus Scriblerus Club (founded in 1713).

Swift became increasingly active politically in these years. From 1707 to 1709 and again in 1710, Swift was in London, unsuccessfully urging upon the Whig administration of Lord Godolphin the claims of the Irish clergy to the First-Fruits and Twentieths ("Queen Anne's Bounty"), which brought in about £2,500 a year, already granted to their brethren in England. He found the opposition Tory leadership more sympathetic to his cause and Swift was recruited to support their cause as editor of the Examiner when they came to power in 1710. In 1711, Swift published the political pamphlet "The Conduct of the Allies," attacking the Whig government for its inability to end the prolonged war with France. The incoming Tory government conducted secret (and illegal) negotiations with France, resulting in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ending the War of the Spanish Succession.

Swift was part of the inner circle of the Tory government, and often acted as mediator between Henry St. John (Viscount Bolingbroke) the secretary of state for foreign affairs (1710–15) and Robert Harley (Earl of Oxford) lord treasurer and prime minister (1711–1714). Swift recorded his experiences and thoughts during this difficult time in a long series of letters to Esther Johnson, later collected and published as The Journal to Stella. The animosity between the two Tory leaders eventually led to the dismissal of Harley in 1714. With the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I that year, the Whigs returned to power and the Tory leaders were tried for treason for conducting secret negotiations with France.

Also during these years in London, Swift became acquainted with the Vanhomrigh family and became involved with one of the daughters, Esther, yet another fatherless young woman and another ambiguous relationship to confuse Swift's biographers. Swift furnished Esther with the nickname "Vanessa" and she features as one of the main characters in his poem Cadenus and Vanessa. The poem and their correspondence suggests that Esther was infatuated with Swift, and that he may have reciprocated her affections, only to regret this and then try to break off the relationship. Esther followed Swift to Ireland in 1714, where there appears to have been a confrontation, possibly involving Esther Johnson. Esther Vanhomrigh died in 1723 at the age of 35. Another lady with whom he had a close but less intense relationship was Anne Long, a toast of the Kit-Cat Club.


File:St. Patrick's Cathedral Swift
Bust in St. Patrick's Cathedral

Before the fall of the Tory government, Swift hoped that his services would be rewarded with a church appointment in England. However, Queen Anne appeared to have taken a dislike to Swift and thwarted these efforts. The best position his friends could secure for him was the Deanery of St. Patrick's, Dublin. With the return of the Whigs, Swift's best move was to leave England and he returned to Ireland in disappointment, a virtual exile, to live "like a rat in a hole".

Once in Ireland, however, Swift began to turn his pamphleteering skills in support of Irish causes, producing some of his most memorable works: Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720), Drapier's Letters (1724), and A Modest Proposal (1729), earning him the status of an Irish patriot.

Also during these years, he began writing his masterpiece, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, better known as Gulliver's Travels. Much of the material reflects his political experiences of the preceding decade. For instance, the episode in which the giant Gulliver puts out the Lilliputian palace fire by urinating on it can be seen as a metaphor for the Tories' illegal peace treaty; having done a good thing in an unfortunate manner. In 1726 he paid a long-deferred visit to London, taking with him the manuscript of Gulliver's Travels. During his visit he stayed with his old friends Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot and John Gay, who helped him arrange for the anonymous publication of his book. First published in November 1726, it was an immediate hit, with a total of three printings that year and another in early 1727. French, German, and Dutch translations appeared in 1727, and pirated copies were printed in Ireland.

Swift returned to England one more time in 1727 and stayed with Alexander Pope once again. The visit was cut short when Swift received word that Esther Johnson was dying and rushed back home to be with her. On 28 January 1728, Esther Johnson died; Swift had prayed at her bedside, even composing prayers for her comfort. Swift could not bear to be present at the end, but on the night of her death he began to write his The Death of Mrs. Johnson. He was too ill to attend the funeral at St. Patrick's. Many years later, a lock of hair, assumed to be Esther Johnson's, was found in his desk, wrapped in a paper bearing the words, "Only a woman's hair."

[[File:|thumb|left|150px|Swift's death mask]] Death became a frequent feature in Swift's life from this point. In 1731 he wrote Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, his own obituary published in 1739. In 1732, his good friend and collaborator John Gay died. In 1735, John Arbuthnot, another friend from his days in London, died. In 1738 Swift began to show signs of illness, and in 1742 he appears to have suffered a stroke, losing the ability to speak and realizing his worst fears of becoming mentally disabled. ("I shall be like that tree," he once said, "I shall die at the top.") To protect him from unscrupulous hangers on, who had begun to prey on the great man, his closest companions had him declared of "unsound mind and memory." However, it was long believed by many that Swift was really insane at this point. In his book Literature and Western Man, author J.B. Priestley even cites the final chapters of Gulliver's Travels as proof of Swift's approaching "insanity".

In part VIII of his series, The Story of Civilization, Will Durant describes the final years of Swift's life as such:

"Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to take care of his affairs and watch lest in his outbursts of violence he should do himself harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye. He went a whole year without uttering a word."[2]

In 1744, Alexander Pope died. Then, on October 19, 1745, Swift died. After being laid out in public view for the people of Dublin to pay their last respects, he was buried in his own cathedral by Esther Johnson's side, in accordance with his wishes. The bulk of his fortune (twelve thousand pounds) was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill, originally known as St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles, which opened in 1757, and which still exists as a psychiatric hospital.


Text extracted from the introduction to The Journal to Stella by George A. Aitken and from other sources)

Jonathan Swift wrote his own epitaph:

Hic depositum est Corpus
Hujus Ecclesiæ Cathedralis
Ubi sæva Indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit,
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem.
Obiit 19º Die Mensis Octobris
A.D. 1745 Anno Ætatis 78º.

The literal translation of which is: "Here is laid the Body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, Dean of this Cathedral Church, where fierce Indignation can no longer injure the Heart. Go forth, Voyager, and copy, if you can, this vigorous (to the best of his ability) Champion of Liberty. He died on the 19th Day of the Month of October, A.D. 1745, in the 78th Year of his Age."

William Butler Yeats poetically translated it from the Latin as:

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty.


Swift was a prolific writer, notable for his satires. The most recent collection of his prose works (Herbert Davis, ed. Basil Blackwell, 1965-) comprises fourteen volumes. A recent edition of his complete poetry (Pat Rodges, ed. Penguin, 1983) is 953 pages long. One edition of his correspondence (David Woolley, ed. P. Lang, 1999) fills three volumes.

Major prose works

File:Jonathan Swift - Project Gutenberg eText
Jonathan Swift at the Deanery of St. Patrick's, illus. from 1905 Temple Scott edition of Works
The title page to Swift's 1735 Works, depicting the author in the Dean's chair, receiving the thanks of Ireland. The Horatian motto reads, Exegi Monumentum Ære perennius, "I have completed a monument more lasting than brass." The 'brass' is a pun, for Wood's half-pence (alloyed with brass) is scattered at his feet. Cherubim award Swift a poet's laurel.

Swift's first major prose work, A Tale of a Tub, demonstrates many of the themes and stylistic techniques he would employ in his later work. It is at once wildly playful and funny while being pointed and harshly critical of its targets. In its main thread, the Tale recounts the exploits of three sons, representing the main threads of Christianity, who receive a bequest from their father of a coat each, with the added instructions to make no alterations whatsoever. However, the sons soon find that their coats have fallen out of current fashion, and begin to look for loopholes in their father's will that will let them make the needed alterations. As each finds his own means of getting around their father's admonition, they struggle with each other for power and dominance. Inserted into this story, in alternating chapters, the narrator includes a series of whimsical "digressions" on various subjects.

In 1690, Sir William Temple, Swift's patron, published An Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning a defense of classical writing (see Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns) holding up the Epistles of Phalaris as an example. William Wotton responded to Temple with Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1694) showing that the Epistles were a later forgery. A response by the supporters of the Ancients was then made by Charles Boyle (later the 4th Earl of Orrery and father of Swift's first biographer). A further retort on the Modern side came from Richard Bentley, one of the pre-eminent scholars of the day, in his essay Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1699). However, the final words on the topic belong to Swift in his Battle of the Books (1697, published 1704) in which he makes a humorous defense on behalf of Temple and the cause of the Ancients.

In 1708, a cobbler named John Partridge published a popular almanac of astrological predictions. Because Partridge falsely determined the deaths of several church officials, Swift attacked Partridge in Predictions For The Ensuing Year by Isaac Bickerstaff, a parody predicting that Partridge would die on March 29. Swift followed up with a pamphlet issued on March 30 claiming that Partridge had in fact died, which was widely believed despite Partridge's statements to the contrary.

Drapier's Letters (1724) was a series of pamphlets against the monopoly granted by the English government to William Wood to provide the Irish with copper coinage. It was widely believed that Wood would need to flood Ireland with debased coinage in order make a profit. In these "letters" Swift posed as a shop-keeper—a draper—in order to criticize the plan. Swift's writing was so effective in undermining opinion in the project that a reward was offered by the government to anyone disclosing the true identity of the author. Though hardly a secret (on returning to Dublin after one of his trips to England, Swift was greeted with a banner, "Welcome Home, Drapier") no one turned Swift in. The government eventually resorted to hiring none other than Sir Isaac Newton to certify the soundness of Wood's coinage to counter Swift's accusations. In "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift" (1739) Swift recalled this as one of his best achievements.

Gulliver's Travels, a large portion of which Swift wrote at Woodbrook House in County Laois, was published in 1726. It is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, the Travels was published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon and later a sea captain. Some of the correspondence between printer Benj. Motte and Gulliver's also-fictional cousin negotiating the book's publication has survived. Though it has often been mistakenly thought of and published in bowdlerized form as a children's book, it is a great and sophisticated satire of human nature based on Swift's experience of his times. Gulliver's Travels is an anatomy of human nature, a sardonic looking-glass, often criticized for its apparent misanthropy. It asks its readers to refute it, to deny that it has adequately characterized human nature and society. Each of the four books—recounting four voyages to mostly-fictional exotic lands—has a different theme, but all are attempts to deflate human pride. Critics hail the work as a satiric reflection on the shortcomings of Enlightenment thought.

In 1729, Swift published A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public, a satire in which the narrator, with intentionally grotesque logic, recommends that Ireland's poor escape their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich: ”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food...” Following the satirical form, he introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by deriding them:
Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients...taxing our absentees...using [nothing] except what is of our own growth and manufacture...rejecting...foreign luxury...introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance...learning to love our country...quitting our animosities and factions...teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants....Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

According to other sources,[citation needed] Richard Steele uses the personae of Isaac Bickerstaff and was the one who wrote about the "death" of John Partridge and published it in The Spectator, not Jonathan Swift.*

Essays, tracts, pamphlets, periodicals

File:CBI - Series B - Ten pound
Swift as depicted on the Irish £10 banknote, issued 1976–1993.


File:International Mag Jonathan
An 1850 illustration of Swift

Correspondence, personal writings

  • "When I Come to Be Old" – Swift's resolutions. (1699): Full text: JaffeBros
  • The Journal to Stella (1710–1713): Full text (presented as daily entries): The Journal to Stella; Extracts: OurCivilisation.com;
  • Letters:
  • 'The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, D.D'. Edited by David Woolley. In four volumes, plus index volume. Frankfurt am Main ; New York : P. Lang, c1999-c2007.

Sermons, prayers



John Ruskin named him as one of the three people in history who were the most influential for him.[3]


  1. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Anglo-Irish author, who was the foremost prose satirist in the English language".
  2. ^ "The Story of Civilization", V.8., 362.
  3. ^ John Ruskin: Sesame and Lillies

Biographical sources

  • Samuel Johnson's "Life of Swift": JaffeBros. From his Lives of the Poets.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray's influential vitriolic biography: JaffeBros. From his English Humourists of The Eighteenth Century.
  • Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire: A Study of Satiric Technique, 1953, Cambridge: Harvard U P,
  • Jae Num Lee "Swift and Scatological Satire", 1971, University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 0826301967 jstor review
  • Lee, Jae Num. "Scatology in Continental Satirical Writings from Aristophanes to Rabelais" and "English Scatological Writings from Skelton to Pope." Swift and Scatological Satire. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1971. 7–22; 23–53.
  • Susan Gubar "The Female Monster in Augustan Satire" Signs, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1977), pp. 380–394
  • Many other sources are listed here.

See also

External links

E-texts of works


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Jonathan Swift article)

From Wikiquote

Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style.

Jonathan Swift (30 November 166719 October 1745) was an Irish writer and satirist. Swift is probably the foremost prose satirist in the English language, although he is also well known for his poetry and essays.



  • When I behold this I sighed, and said within myself, "Surely mortal man is a broomstick!" Nature sent him into the world strong and lusty, in a thriving condition, wearing his own hair on his head, the proper branches of this reasoning vegetable, till the axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs, and left him a withered trunk; he then flies to art, and puts on a periwig, valuing himself upon an unnatural bundle of hairs, all covered with powder, that never grew on his head; but now should this our broomstick pretend to enter the scene, proud of those birchen spoils it never bore, and all covered with dust, through the sweepings of the finest lady's chamber, we should be apt to ridicule and despise its vanity. Partial judges that we are of our own excellencies, and other men's defaults!
    • Meditation on a Broomstick (1703-1710)
  • There are certain common privileges of a writer, the benefit whereof, I hope, there will be no reason to doubt; particularly, that where I am not understood, it shall be concluded, that something very useful and profound is couched underneath; and again, that whatever word or sentence is printed in a different character, shall be judged to contain something extraordinary either or wit of sublime."
  • I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very numerous of late; and I know very well the judicious world is resolved to list me in that number. I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with writers as with wells - a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the deepest, provided any water be there: and often when there is nothing in the world at the bottom besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and a-half under-ground, it shall pass, however, for wondrous deep upon no wiser reason than because it is wondrous dark.
  • Books, the children of the brain.
    • A Tale of a Tub, Sec. 1 (1704)
  • Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.
    • The Battle of the Books, preface (1704)
  • Instead of dirt and poison we have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.
    • The Battle of the Books, preface (1704)
  • Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
    • A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind (1707)
  • There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy.
    • A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind (1707)
  • There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake, though all the World sees them to be in downright nonsense.
    • The Tatler No. 63 (September 1709)
  • And surely one of the best rules in conversation is, never to say a thing which any of the company can reasonably wish had been left unsaid…
    • Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation (1709)
  • 'Tis very warm weather when one's in bed.
    • Journal to Stella (November 8, 1710)
  • We are so fond of one another, because our ailments are the same.
    • Journal to Stella (February 1, 1711)
  • I love good creditable acquaintance; I love to be the worst of the company.
    • Journal to Stella (May 17, 1711)
  • …one enemy can do more hurt, than ten friends can do good.
    • Journal to Stella (30 June, 1711)
  • But nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches, as to conceive how others can be in want.
    • A Preface to the Bishop of Sarum's Introduction to the Third Volume of the History of the Reformation of the Church of England (8 December, 1713)
  • 'Tis an old maxim in the schools,
    That flattery's the food of fools;
    Yet now and then your men of wit
    Will condescend to take a bit.
    • Cadenus and Vanessa (1713)
  • Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style.
    • Letter to a Young Clergyman (January 9, 1720)
  • ...reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired...
    • Letter to a Young Clergyman (January 9, 1720), on proving Christianity to freethinkers
  • If Heaven had looked upon riches to be a valuable thing, it would not have given them to such a scoundrel.
  • So weak thou art, that fools thy power despise;
    And yet so strong, thou triumph'st o'er the wise.
    • To Love
      • found in Miss Vanhom­righ's desk after her death, in Swift's hand­writing
  • For, in reason, all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery: but in fact, eleven men well armed will certainly subdue one single man in his shirt.
  • Libertas et natale solum:
    Fine words! I wonder where you stole 'em.
    • Verses Occasioned by Whitshed's Motto on his Coach (1724)
      • Whitshed was a chief justice enraged by The Drapier's Letters
  • A set of phrases learnt by rote;
    A passion for a scarlet coat;
    When at a play to laugh, or cry,
    Yet cannot tell the reason why:
    Never to hold her tongue a minute;
    While all she prates has nothing in it.
    • The Furniture of a Woman's Mind (1727)
  • For conversation well endued;
    She calls it witty to be rude;
    And, placing raillery in railing,
    Will tell aloud your greatest failing.
    • The Furniture of a Woman's Mind (1727)
  • Those dreams that on the silent night intrude, and with false flitting shapes our minds delude ... are mere productions of the brain. And fools consult interpreters in vain.
    • On Dreams (1727)
  • This evil fortune, which generally attends extraordinary men in the management of great affairs, has been imputed to divers causes, that need not be here set down, when so obvious a one occurs, if what a certain writer observes be true, that when a great genius appears in the world the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
    • Essay on the Fates of Clergymen (1728)
  • I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
  • A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.
  • Yet malice never was his aim;
    He lashed the vice but spared the name.
    No individual could resent,
    Where thousands equally were meant.
    His satire points at no defect
    But what all mortals may correct;
    For he abhorred that senseless tribe
    Who call it humor when they gibe.
    • Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, l. 459 (1731)
  • Hobbes clearly proves that every creature
    Lives in a state of war by nature.
    • On Poetry: A Rhapsody (1733)
  • So, naturalists observe, a flea
    Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
    And these have smaller still to bit 'em;
    And so proceed ad infinitum.
    Thus every poet, in his kind,
    Is bit by him that comes behind.
    • On Poetry: A Rhapsody (1733)
  • Conversation is but carving!
    Give no more to every guest
    Than he's able to digest.
    Give him always of the prime,
    And but little at a time.
    Carve to all but just enough,
    Let them neither starve nor stuff,
    And that you may have your due,
    Let your neighbor carve for you.
    • Conversation
  • Under an oak, in stormy weather,
    I joined this rogue and whore together;
    And none but he who rules the thunder
    Can put this rogue and whore asunder.
    • Marriage Certificate. From the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, James Sutherland, ed. (1975), no. 77
  • Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred in the company.
    • A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding (1754, published posthumously)
  • Pedantry is properly the over-rating of any kind of knowledge we pretend to.
    • A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding
  • Pride, ill nature, and want of sense, are the three great sources of ill manners.
    • A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding
  • I can discover no political evil in suffering bullies, sharpers, and rakes, to rid the world of each other by a method of their own; where the law hath not been able to find an expedient.
    • A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding
  • Nothing is so great an instance of ill manners as flattery. If you flatter all the company, you please none; if you flatter only one or two, you affront the rest.
    • Hints on Good Manners
  • It is impossible that any thing so natural, so necessary, and so universal as death, should ever have been designed by Providence as an evil to mankind.
    • Thoughts on Religion (1765, published posthumously)
  • I shall be like that tree; I shall die from the top.
    • Predicting that he would go senile.[1]
  • Ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit
    • Translation: Where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more.
    • Epitaph. Inscribed on Swift's grave, St. Patrick's, Dublin.

Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies (1711-1726)

  • We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
  • Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old.
  • A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.
  • Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.
  • What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not we are told expressly: that they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.
  • The Stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.
  • The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.
  • The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.
  • Positiveness is a good quality for preachers and orators, because he that would obtrude his thoughts and reasons upon a multitude, will convince others the more, as he appears convinced himself.
  • Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions, and consequently of no use to a good king or a good ministry; for which reason Courts are so overrun with politics.
  • Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.
  • Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold, which the owner knows not of.
  • Ambition often puts men upon doing the meanest offices; so climbing is performed in the same posture with creeping.
  • Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
  • Invention is the talent of youth, and judgment of age…
  • I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
  • No wise man ever wished to be younger.

Gulliver's Travels (1726)

  • He (the Emperor) is taller by almost the breadth of my nail, than any of his court, which alone is enough to strike an awe into the beholders.
    • Voyage to Lilliput, Ch. 2
  • I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.
    • Voyage to Brobdingnag, Ch. 6
  • And he gave it for his opinion, that whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.
    • Voyage to Brobdingnag, Ch. 6
  • He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.
    • Voyage to Laputa, Ch. 5
  • I said the thing which was not. (For they have no word in their language to express lying or falsehood.)
    • Voyage to Houyhnhnms, Ch. 3
  • Poor Nations are hungry, and rich Nations are proud, and Pride and Hunger will ever be at Variance.
    • Voyage to Houyhnhnms, Ch. 5
  • A soldier is a Yahoo (man) hired to kill in cold blood as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.
    • Voyage to Houyhnhnms, Ch. 5
  • I told him...that we ate when we were not hungry, and drank without the provocation of thirst.
    • Voyage to Houyhnhnms, Ch. 6

Polite Conversation (1738?)

Dialogue 1

  • The sight of you is good for sore eyes.
  • 'Tis as cheap sitting as standing.
  • I hate nobody: I am in charity with the world.
  • I won't quarrel with my bread and butter.
  • She's no chicken; she's on the wrong side of thirty, if she be a day.
  • She wears her clothes, as if they were thrown on her with a pitchfork.
  • …promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.

Dialogue 2

  • He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.
  • That's as well said, as if I had said it myself.
  • Fingers were made before forks, and hands before knives.
  • She has more goodness in her little finger, than he has in his whole body.
  • Lord, I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing!
  • The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.
  • May you live all the days of your life.
  • I always love to begin a journey on Sundays, because I shall have the prayers of the church to preserve all that travel by land, or water.
  • I thought you and he were hand-in-glove.
  • Better belly burst than good liquor be lost.
    • Earlier proverb, quoted in James Howell's English Proverbs (1659)
      • Better belly burst than good drink lost.

Dialogue 3

  • She watches him, as a cat would watch a mouse.
  • She pays him in his own coin.
  • There was all the world and his wife.


  • You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come;
    Knock as you please, there's nobody at home.
    • On a Dull Writer, reported in John Hawkesworth, The Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D., Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin (1754), p. 265. Alternately attributed to Alexander Pope by Bartlett's Quotations, 10th Edition (1919). Compare: "His wit invites you by his looks to come, But when you knock, it never is at home", William Cowper, Conversation, line 303.


  • There is, indeed, no wild beast more to be dreaded than a communicative man having nothing to communicate.
    • Christian Nestell Bovee, Intuitions and Summaries of Thought
  • As love without esteem is volatile and capricious; esteem without love is languid and cold.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SWIFT, a bird so called from the extreme speed of its flight, which apparently exceeds that of any other British species, the Hirundo apus of Linnaeus and Cypselus apus or murarius of modern ornithologists. Swifts were formerly associated with swallows (q.v.) in classification, but whilst the latter are true Passeres, it is now established that swifts are Coraciiform birds (see Birds) and the sub-order Cypseli has been formed to include them and their nearest allies, the humming-birds. The four toes are all directed forwards, whereas in the Passeres the hallux is directed backwards and by opposing the other three makes the foot a grasping organ. In the swifts, moreover, the middle and outer digits have only three joints and the metatarsi and even the toes may be feathered. Swifts are divided into three sub-families: Macropteryginae, the true swifts, of tropical Asia, which form a nest gummed by saliva to branches of trees; Chaeturinae, building in rocks or houses, and with an almost world-wide range: it includes Chaetura palagica, the "chimney-swallow" of the United States, Collocalia fuciphaga which obtained its specific name from the erroneous idea that its edible nests were formed by partly digested seaweed; Cypselinae, also world-wide and containing Cypselus apus, the common European swift. All the swifts are migratory. Well known as a summer visitor throughout the greater part of Europe, the swift is one of the latest to return from Africa, and its stay in the country of its birth is of the shortest, for it generally disappears from England very early in August, though occasionally to be seen for even two months later.

The swift commonly chooses its nesting-place in holes under the eaves of buildings, but a crevice in the face of a quarry, or even a hollow tree, will serve it with the accommodation it requires. This, indeed, is not much, since every natural function except sleep, oviposition and incubation, is performed on the wing, and the easy evolutions of this bird in the air, where it remains for hours together, are the admiration of all who witness them. Though considerably larger than a swallow, it can be recognized at a distance less by its size than by its peculiar shape. The head scarcely projects from the anterior outline of the pointed wings, which form an almost continuous curve, at right angles to which extend the body and tail, resembling the handle of the crescentic cutting-knife used in several trades, while the wings represent the blade. The mode of flight of the two birds is also unlike, that of the swift being much more steady, and, rapid as it is, ordinarily free from jerks. The whole plumage, except a greyish white patch under the chin, is a sooty black, but glossy above. Though its actual breeding-places are by no means numerous, its extraordinary speed and discursive habits make the swift widely distributed; and throughout England scarcely a summer's day passes without its being seen in most places. A larger species, C. melba or C. alpinus, with the lower parts dusky white, which has its home in many of the mountainous parts of central and southern Europe, has several times been observed in Britain, and two examples of a species of a very distinct genus Chaetura, which has its home in northern Asia, but regularly emigrates thence to Australia, have been obtained in England (Proc. Zool. Soc., 1880, p. I).

Among other peculiarities the swifts, as long ago described (probably from John Hunter's notes) by Sir E. Home (Phil. Trans. 1817, pp. 332 et seq., pl. xvi.), are remarkable for the development of their salivary glands, the secretions of which serve in most species to glue together the materials of which the nests are composed, and in the species of the genus Collocalia form almost the whole substance of the structure. These are the "edible" nests so eagerly sought by Chinese epicures as an ingredient for soup. These remarkable nests consist essentially of mucus, secreted by the salivary glands above mentioned, which dries and looks like isinglass. Their marketable value depends on their colour and purity, for they are often intermixed with feathers and other foreign substances. The swifts that construct these "edible" nests form a genus Collocalia, with many species; but they inhabit chiefly the islands of the Indian Ocean from the north of Madagascar eastward, as well as many of the tropical islands of the Pacific so far as the Marquesas - one species occurring in the hill-country of India. They breed in caves, to which they resort in great numbers, and occupy them jointly and yet alternately with bats - the mammals being the lodgers by day and the birds by night. (A.N.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also swift, and SWIFT


Proper noun




  1. A surname, originally a nickname for a swift or quick person.

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