Swift's Switch: The Intricacies of Turning Tory

Steven Scott

Abstract


Jonathan Swift is widely recognized as a major writer in English. His Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub, and "A Modest Proposal," in particular, are masterpieces of political satire. Swift was never a politician in his own right, but the politics of his writing and his role as a politically committed priest in the Irish Anglican Church made him important nonetheless as a political and historical figure. In fact, for a time in the early eighteenth century, Swift truly became a part of English politics, first by negotiating with the English government on the part of the Irish Church, and then by beginning to write political propaganda for the Tory regime then in power. Near the end of 1710, Jonathan Swift changed his political allegiance from Whig to Tory. This paper discusses the four major explanations that have been advanced regarding Swift's "switch," and suggests that none of the four is adequate, though all of them contain elements of what is likely to have happened. It suggests, further, that Swift's switch was at least as much a result of the changing nature of political parties and the party system as inconsistency on Swift's part.

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