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Johnathan Swift

Although born and educated in Ireland, Jonathan Swift , 1667-1745, spent much of his life in England. He was taken on at Moor Park, Surrey, by Sir William Temple, whose father had been head of the Irish bar and a friend to the Swifts. While at Moor Park, Swift worked as an assistant to Sir William, he also tutored Esther Johnson (or 'Stella'), the daughter of Temple's sister, and developed his poetical and satirical writing.

When Sir William, his patron, died in 1699, Swift returned to Dublin, where he obtained the deanery of St Patrick's Cathedral. He continued, however, to make regular trips to London. Although most famous perhaps for 'Gulliver's Travels', written later in his life, 'Journal to Stella' is also considered an enduring work. It is a collection of letters, written every day, to Esther Johnson who had grown into a beautiful and intelligent woman. At Swift's behest, she and a companion moved to Ireland, and the letters are those he sent to her from London. While full of detail and playfulness, the diary-letters also trace his move away from Whig policies and a growing alliance with the Tory party.

Christmas Day 1710

Pray, young women, if I write so much as this every day, how will this paper hold a fortnight’s work, and answer one of yours into the bargain? You never think of this, but let me go on like a simpleton. I wish you a merry Christmas, and many, many a one with poor Presto at some pretty place. I was at church to-day by eight, and received the Sacrament, and came home by ten; then went to Court at two: it was a Collar-day, that is, when the Knights of the Garter wear their collars; but the Queen stayed so late at Sacrament, that I came back, and dined with my neighbour Ford, because all people dine at home on this day.

This is likewise a Collar-day all over England in every house, at least where there is BRAWN: that’s very well.—I tell you a good pun; a fellow hard by pretends to cure agues, and has set out a sign, and spells it EGOES; a gentleman and I observing it, he said, “How does that fellow pretend to cure AGUES?” I said I did not know; but I was sure it was not by a SPELL. That is admirable.

And so you asked the Bishop about that pun of Lord Stawel’s brother. Bite! Have I caught you, young women? Must you pretend to ask after roguish puns, and Latin ones too? Oh but you smoked me, and did not ask the Bishop. Oh but you are a fool, and you did. I met Vedeau again at Court to-day, and I observed he had a sword on; I fancy he was broke, and has got a commission, but I never asked him. Vedeau I think his name is, yet Parvisol’s man is Vedel, that is true. Bank Stock will fall like stock-fish by this bad news, and two days ago I could have got twelve pounds by my bargain; but I do not intend to sell, and in time it will rise.

It is odd that my Lord Peterborow foretold this loss two months ago, one night at Mr. Harley’s, when I was there; he bid us count upon it, that Stanhope would lose Spain before Christmas; that he would venture his head upon it, and gave us reasons; and though Mr. Harley argued the contrary, he still held to his opinion. I was telling my Lord Angelsea this at Court this morning; and a gentleman by said he had heard my Lord Peterborow affirm the same thing. I have heard wise folks say, “An ill tongue may do much.” And ’tis an odd saying, “Once I guessed right, And I got credit by’t; Thrice I guessed wrong, And I kept my credit on.” No, it is you are sorry, not I. Pardon all this, for the sake of a poor creature I had so much friendship for.

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