Jonathan Swift, born in Dublin to English parents, did not originally seem a likely candidate to become a national hero of Ireland. Swift was given “the best possible education in Ireland” and later became a deacon in the tiny parish of Kilroot, which he found “disheartening” – he later moved to London to write for the Tory journal Examiner (Jeffares 16-19).
“Lord Kingscout’s mention of ‘Yahoos’ and ‘Houyhnyms’ is an allusion to Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. The Yahoos are an ape-like race of degraded savages found on a rural island which is a colony of Houyhnhnm Land. The Houyhnhnms are rational horse-like beings who have enslaved the Yahoos as beasts of burden.”
-Star of the Sea, 108
In 1713, Swift was made the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. He “regarded this post as a kind of exile, deeply regretting the distance from his friends in London” (Jeffares 19). In a letter to his friend and fellow writer Alexander Pope, Swift bitterly wrote, “The best and greatest part of my life, until these eight years, I spent in England, there I made my friendships, and there I left my desires.” “I am condemned for ever to another country,” he continued, referring to Ireland (Jeffares 20). Twenty years later, he would still consider “the greatest unhappiness of his life” to be “my banishment to this miserable country” (Jeffares 27).
Nonetheless, Swift began to publish works in defense of Ireland under the pen name M. B. Draper in 1724, including his famed essay “A Modest Proposal.” This work, which Swift wrote to protest the oppression of the Irish people by their English overlords, is still read, studied, and valued today, for it has a great deal of relevance to modern issues of inequality. Almost overnight, he went from a man who deplored the country to “a popular Irish hero” and “patriot” (Jeffares 28). Swift died in 1745 as a national hero of Ireland, but his essays live on, still shockingly and disturbingly relevant.
David Merridith’s reference to the servants “trotting about like Yahoos” (108) serves the purpose of demonstrating that even though he can be respectful of the Irish (as seen in his early relationship with Mary and his care for the tenants), he is at times quite derisive towards those who serve him. The fact that Jonathan Swift is actually condemning England’s colonization of Ireland in Gulliver’s Travels (through the proxy peoples of the Yahoos and their oppressors, the Houyhnhnms) is ironically not understood, it seems, by David Merridith, from his position of power.
Jeffares, A. Norman. "Jonathan Swift." British Writers. Ed. Ian Scott-Kilvert. Vol. 3. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980. 15-37. Print.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
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