Essay: Pope and Swift: Satirists

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[. . .] " Lest one think that Swift is being too cruel to the men mentioned, who were truly his friends "Swift, in fact, records sharply enough his own selfishness in the very opening lines of this poem; and if... Swift can savage the selfishness even of his friends, he can commend their selflessness" (Fischer 1970, 423).

Also, Swift suggests that there will be sheer indifference to his death in general "The rest will give a Shrug and cry, / I'm sorry; but we all must dye" (Swift, 211-212). Furthermore, different groups of his friends, such as junior colleagues and the women he knew, are seen to be generally indifferent toward his death: Why do we grieve that Friends should dye? / No Loss more easy to supply. / One Year is past; a different Scene; / No further mention of the Dean" (Swift, 243-246).

Toward the end of Swift's poem, the speakers now discuss Swift's career as a satirist, that "the Dean / Had too much Satyr in his Vein; / And seem'd determin'd not to starve it, / Because no Age could more deserve it" and the speakers quickly admit that "Malice never was his Aim; / He lash'd the Vice but spar'd the Name" (Swift, 455-460). This clear description of Swift's satire and motive behind it is interesting because, while Swift (through the speakers) argues that his contemporaries deserved his railing more than any other, he assures readers that malice was never his aim. He seems concerned about how his legacy would be viewed by others. This amiable motive does not stifle his satire, for in a scathing closing, Swift gives the real reason behind him leaving his inheritance to the support of a mental institution: "He gave the little Wealth he had, / To build a House for Fools and Mad: / And shew'd by one satyric Touch, / No Nation wanted it so much" which is to suggest that Swift's England needed a madhouse because of all the foolishness in it that he had to chide with his satire when still alive (Swift, 479-482). In Pope's Epistle, satire is not discussed directly. Instead, it is used to bring indirect insults against many of his contemporaries, such as "Sporus," named by Pope to refer to "for Lord Hervey… a former friend of Pope, who was rumored to be bisexual" (Lynch 2012).

Satirizing about plagiarism

Further into the poem, Swift, through the persona of the speakers, begins to defend the quality of his work, saying, "Nor, can I tell what Criticks thought 'em; / But, this I know, all People bought 'em" (Swift, 312-313). The speakers also uphold the integrity of his work, insisting that he never plagiarized, but that "To steal a Hint was never known, / But what he writ was all his own" (Swift, 317-318). Pope goes further than Swift by accusing one of his contemporaries of plagiarism, when he alludes to "Ambrose Philips" who "translated a book called the Persian Tales," by saying "The Bard whom pilfer'd Pastorals renown, / Who turns a Persian Tale for half a crown, / Just writes to make his barrenness appear, / And strains, from hard-bound brains, eight lines a year: / He, who still wanting, though he lives on theft, / Steals much, spends little, yet has nothing left" (Lynch 2012; Pope, 179-184). According to Lynch (2012) "half a crown was the usual charge for a prostitute;" so Pope is not only calling Phillips' work plagiarized, but also cheap.

It is more than apparent after reading both Swift's and Pope's poems that the authors regarded themselves as epic satirist heroes (Deutsch 1993, 1). I agree with the ethos of their tone because, looking back form the 21st century, Pope and Swift were true literary talents who suffered much undeserved criticism from the fakes and hacks that made up many of their contemporaries.


Deutsch, Helen. (1993). The "truest copies" and the "mean original:" pope, deformity, and the poetics of self-exposure. Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1. 1-26.

Fischer, J. Irwin. (1970) How to Die: Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift. The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 84. 422-441.

Jonathan Swift. (2012, May 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:34, May 10, 2012, from… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Pope and Swift: Satirists.  (2012, May 10).  Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

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"Pope and Swift: Satirists."  10 May 2012.  Web.  18 July 2019. <>.

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"Pope and Swift: Satirists."  May 10, 2012.  Accessed July 18, 2019.