The Central Bank of Ireland have officially launched (30th November) their latest silver crown coin which is in recognition of the 350th anniversary of the birth of satirist and poet Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), whose wit and outlook on life in Ireland during his lifetime is remembered from his many works and essays. He is best remembered as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, an adventure story involving several voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, which was first published in 1726. Swift is also widely remembered as having authored “A Modest Proposal,” a satirical commentary which focused on the conditions of poor children in early 18th century Ireland. Swift was appointed to the deanery of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin in 1713, a position he held until his death in 1745.
Given its full title of “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick,” his tongue-in-cheek proposal, in effect, was to fatten up these undernourished children and feed them to Ireland’s rich landowners. Such was the acute problem in the country with the unequal distribution of wealth between the landed gentry and those who worked on the land as indentured servants, which often resulted in children being raised in such conditions which saw them die in infancy. Swift’s tongue-in-cheek proposal, by selling poor children as food for wealthy families, explained in satirical terms how this would solve all of Ireland’s problems from domestic abuse to poverty.
The coin was befittingly launched at Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral where the poet was buried more than 272 years ago. Assisting in the launch were two of Dublin’s youngsters who were today’s representatives of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” as well as to his novel Gulliver’s Travels, which chronicles the journey of Lemuel Gulliver and his contact with Lilliputians. The backdrop of the launch was the splendour of the Cathedral who still fondly remembers Swift as Dean from 1713 until his death.
The Proof quality coin is produced in Germany by the Mayer Mint GmbH on behalf of the Central Bank of Ireland. The obverse side of the coin is designed by Polish artist Sebastian Mikolajczak, the victorious candidate in an open design competition, and illustrates the national symbol of Ireland, the harp, along with the word EIRE to the left of the harp and the year of issue, 2017, seen to the right.
The reverse side depicts the legs and shoes of Gulliver standing on an opened book, Gulliver’s Travels.
The coin’s mintage is very low and is expected to sell steadily during the holiday period. It is encapsulated and housed in a presentation case along with a numbered certificate of authenticity. For additional information on this and other coins issued by the Central Bank of Ireland, please visit the bank’s dedicated website.
A Mind of Irony Punctuated with Reason for the Times: The life of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Born on the 30th November 1667 in Dublin, Ireland, Jonathan Swift was the second child and only son of Jonathan Swift Sr. and his wife Abigail Erick. His father, and family beforehand, were natives of Herefordshire in England. His father accompanied his brothers to Ireland to earn their living in law after the destruction of their family’s estate during the English Civil War, as their father supported the royalist cause. Swift, however, spent much of his early adult life in England before returning to Dublin to serve as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin for the last 30 years of his life. It was during this time in his life when he would write most of his greatest works which he would be best remembered for. As the author of A Tale Of A Tub (1704), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and “A Modest Proposal” (1729), Swift is widely acknowledged as the greatest prose satirist in the history of English literature. Ironically, he wrote much of his best work anonymously or under several pseudonyms.
Swift’s father died just months before he was born and, as a result, his mother returned to England shortly after giving birth where she left Jonathan in the care of his uncle in Dublin. It was perhaps inevitable that young Jonathan would look to make his mark in the literary world since Swift’s extended family had several interesting and very impressive literary connections. His grandmother, Elizabeth (née Dryden) Swift, was the niece of Sir Erasmus Dryden, who was the grandfather of the poet John Dryden. The same grandmother’s aunt, Katherine (née Throckmorton) Dryden, was a first cousin of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Walter Raleigh — the famed explorer and favourite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I. His great-great-grandmother, Margaret (née Godwin) Swift, was the sister of Francis Godwin, author of The Man in the Moone, which influenced parts of Swift’s own stories of Gulliver’s Travels.
His uncle, Thomas Swift, married a daughter of the poet and playwright Sir William Davenant, who was a godson of William Shakespeare. It was this uncle who served as Swift’s guardian and benefactor and who sent him to Trinity College Dublin, at the age of 14, where he earned his B.A. and at the same time befriended writer William Congreve. Swift also studied for his M.A. before the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which brought to the English throne Princess Mary, daughter of King James II, and her husband, the Dutch Prince Willem of Orange, jointly as King William III and Queen Mary II. This great change would compel Jonathan to move to England, where his mother found a secretarial position for him under the revered English statesman, Sir William Temple. For the next ten years, Swift worked in Surrey’s Moor Park as the secretary to Britain’s foremost diplomat and where he would go on to eventually earn an M.A. from Hart Hall, Oxford University, in 1692 and eventually, a doctorate degree in divinity from Trinity College Dublin in 1702.
During his Moor Park years, Swift met the daughter of Temple’s housekeeper, a girl just eight-years-old named Esther Johnson. When they first met, she was 15 years Swift’s junior. Despite the age gap, they would eventually become lovers for the rest of their lives. Swift gave her the nickname “Stella” and when she became of age, they maintained a close but ambiguous relationship, which lasted until Johnson’s death. It had been rumoured that they married in 1716 and that Swift kept a lock of Johnson’s hair in his possession at all times.
Swift’s poetry has been described over the centuries as having a relationship either by interconnections with, or by reactions against, the poetry of his contemporaries and predecessors. It is likely that Swift was most likely influenced in particular by the Restoration writers John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and Samuel Butler (who shared Swift’s proclivity for octosyllabic verses). He may have also acquired his prowess for satire from the Renaissance poets John Donne and Sir Philip Sidney. Aside from these lesser influences of his contemporaries, during an era which did not necessarily value originality above other virtues, his poetic contribution was indeed strikingly original and has stood the test of time in terms of meaning and definition.
In 1704, Swift anonymously released A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books, and although widely popular with the masses, it was harshly disapproved of by the Church of England. Ostensibly, it criticised religion, but Swift meant it as a parody of pride, not worship. Notwithstanding, his writings earned him notoriety as well as a reputation for satire and in some cases insult in London. With the rise of the Conservative Party, who formed the government in 1710, Swift was asked to become editor of The Examiner, their official newspaper. With this new position, he became fully immersed in the political landscape and began writing some of the most cutting and well-known political pamphlets of the day, including “The Conduct of the Allies,” which was an attack on the Whigs — the leading opposition party. As he was privy to the inner circle of the Conservative government, Swift revealed his private thoughts and feelings in a steady stream of letters to his beloved Stella, which would later be published as “The Journal to Stella.”
Before the fall of the Tory government, which occurred with the arrival of Prince-elector George of Hannover, who succeeded Queen Anne in 1714, Swift hoped that his services would be rewarded with a church appointment in England. However, Queen Anne, of whom it could be said was a bitter enemy, had appeared to have taken a dislike to Swift and thwarted these efforts by making it clear that Swift would not have received the preferment if she could have prevented it. Her dislike of Swift had been attributed to A Tale of a Tub, which she thought blasphemous, but may have been compounded by “The Windsor Prophecy” where Swift, with a surprising lack of tact, advised the Queen on which of her bedchamber ladies she should and should not trust. With the return of the Whigs, the best position his friends and supporters could secure for him was the deanery of St. Patrick’s, which, was not in the Queen’s realm of a gift. His best option at that time was to leave England and return to Ireland.
It was after Swift’s return to Ireland that he penned what the literary world is most familiar with as Gulliver’s Travels, or its full name Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. The work is both a satire on human nature and a classic of English literature. He himself claimed that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels “to vex the world rather than divert it,” and it could be said that he achieved his goals as the book became popular as soon as it was published. The travel begins with a short preamble in which Lemuel Gulliver, the pseudonym of Swift, gives a brief outline of his life and history before his voyages.
In what may be perhaps what he is well remembered for, “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick,” commonly referred to as “A Modest Proposal,” was published in 1729. This work was a Juvenalian satirical essay of exaggeration and parody where Swift suggested that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole, or figure of speech, mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as the British policy toward the Irish in general. The primary target of Swift’s satire was the rationalism of modern economics and the growth of rationalistic modes of thinking in modern life at the expense of more traditional human values.
Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients — Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound, Of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture. . .
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. . .
In 1742, Swift suffered a stroke which left him unable to speak and aside from his lack of vocal communication, he was realising his worst fears of becoming mentally disabled. On the 19 October 1745, Swift died at the age of almost 80-years-old. He was buried in his own cathedral next to Esther Johnson in accordance with his wishes. The bulk of his fortune of £12,000 was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill, originally known as the “St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles,” which opened in 1757 and still exists today as “St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services.”
As tribute to Jonathan Swift, the Central Bank of Ireland included a portrait of him on their new series of Punt bank notes which were issued from 1971. The purple ten-pound had a portrait of Dean Jonathan Swift positioned to the right side on the front. The background contains a reproduction of the coat of arms of Dublin from a city council resolution against a letter by Swift from April 1735. The note entered circulation in 1976 until it was replaced with a new series in 1993 and ultimately with the euro single currency in 2002.