Jonathan Swift

During the years 1660-1780, a literary and intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment swept
through Europe. One significant characteristic of the Enlightenment was the emergence of rationalism.
Rationalism is a theory which states that the exercise of reason, rather than the acceptance of empiricism,
authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the only valid basis for actions and beliefs. Because of this
intense emphasis on reason, the Enlightenment, in England, was referred to as the Age of Reason.
The Age of Reason was a period of British history which idealized rationalism and knowledge.
Through knowledge, the English believed that man could understand the universe, himself, and his
immediate world. Also, the British were concerned with morals and manners through which they could
improve their own conditions. Furthermore, the Age of Reason created a social climate which embraced
intellectual freedom, especially classical education, and relative freedom from prejudice. However, this
movement cast a highly negative light on emotions. In fact, raw emotion was met with disdain and the
expression of passion was deemed the action of a man of inferior intellectual ability.
The British writer who best embodies the key principles of the Age of Reason is Jonathan Swift.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), was an Anglo-Irish satirist and political pamphleteer, considered one of the
greatest masters of English prose and one of the most intense satirists of human folly and pretension. His
many pamphlets, prose, letters, and poetry were all marked by highly effective and economical language
and all epitomized the ideals of the Age of Reason.
Swift\'s masterpiece, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, more popularly titled
Gulliver\'s Travels, was published anonymously in 1726. Soon after publication, it was showered with
praise and was deemed a success. Swift\'s satire was originally intended as an allegorical and acidic attack
on the vanity and hypocrisy of contemporary courts, statesmen, and political parties. In the writing of his
book, however, he incorporated his most intimate reflections on human society. In accordance with the
principles of the Age of Reason, Swift mocks such human failings as pride, selfishness, avarice, and
dishonesty. Gulliver\'s Travels is, therefore, a savagely bitter yet rational work, contemptuously belittling
all humankind in an enlightened fashion. Nonetheless, it is written in such a witty and simple way that it
became and has remained a favorite children\'s book. Swift\'s second famous
work, which typifies the Age of Reason!
\'s culture and attitudes, is A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a
Burden to Their Parents or the Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public. Published in 1729,
A Modest Proposal is an unbelievably cruel and satirical work which suggests that Irish children should be
raised for meat. The tract proceeds in a rational manner, sensibly listing all of the benefits of the scheme,
but slowly reveals Swifts\' biting satire. Swift wrote A Modest Proposal in response to the deplorable living
conditions in Ireland due, primarily, to high British taxes and cruel British landlords.
The sharp works of Jonathan Swift typify the rational, scientific spirit of the Age of Reason. In an
era which celebrates reason and embraces education, both A Modest Proposal and Gulliver\'s Travels clearly
depict the human condition of the time, but do so in an enjoyable satirical manner.