Jonathan Swift

“A Description of the Morning”

Today is Jonathan Swift‘s birthday (1667-1745)

Frye in “The Imaginative and the Imaginary”:

The eighteenth century was the period in which this view of the imagination struggled with, and was finally defeated by, an opposed conception which came to power in the Romantic movement.  At the beginning of the century we have Swift, for whom established authority in church and state was the only thing in human life strong enough to restrain the desperately irrational soul of man.  In his day the conception of “melancholy” was out of fashion, but another ancient medical notion of “spirits” or “vapours” rising from the loins into the head was still going strong.  For Swift, or at least for the purposes of Swift’s satire, all behavior that breaks down society is caused by an uprush either of digestive disturbances or of sexual excitement into the head.  Swift’s chief target is the left-wing Protestantism which in the seventeenth century had carried religious melancholy to the point of replacing the authority of the church with private judgment and had made a virtue even of political rebellion.  But he finds the same phenomena in the political tyrant who substitutes his own will for the social contract, or the poet who allows his emotions to take precedence over communication.  “The very same principle,” he says, “that influences a bully to break the windows of a whore who has jilted him, naturally stirs up a great prince to raise mighty armies, and dream of nothing but sieges, battles and victories.”  (CW 21, 430)

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