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The Rapier Wit of Jonathan Swift — Penned in 7 Incredibly Scarce Letters

Few writers have reached the continuing level of fame as Jonathan Swift, the foremost Irish satirist whose works, from Gulliver’s Travels to A Modest Proposal, continue to be taught as required college curriculum around the world.

Jonathan Swift

The 18th century was fraught with religious tension — few writers could express those sentiments with such biting articulation as Jonathan Swift. Less is known of his private life — of his continuing struggles with mental illness some ascribe to a stroke suffered.

We here at Nate D. Sanders have recently had a rare window into the author’s private life as we are currently auctioning 7 incredibly scarce letters written by Jonathan Swift.

Jonathan Swift

via FamousAuthors

Jonathan Swift

Gulliver & the Lilliputians via theDailyBail

The 7 letters range in topic, most written as the Dean of  St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest church in Ireland — where his grave and memorable self-written epitaph can still be seen in the cathedral.

This letter we are auctioning was datelined by Jonathan Swift from the Deanry-house in Dublin, 14 October 1736, just two years before becoming debilitated by mental illness — in a struggle that plagued him for life.

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

An earlier December 1935 ALS desribes his mental deterioration while serving as Dean of St. Patrick’s, though still not public knowledge — “…I should have…[visited longer]…if I had not been prevented by the return of an old disorder in my Head…”

He begins to confess in this letter that he had been experiencing symptoms and was under doctors’ care. (Historical records cite 1742 as the year he was declared of unsound mind by a Commission of Lunacy, and specify 1738 as the date Swift began exhibiting dementia-like behaviors.)

Jonathan Swift

The following 1732 ALS being auctioned was written shortly after he penned his own obituary, “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift.”

Jonathan Swift

This 1736 letter signed describes his own perceived mortality, a topic that he explores at great length, particularly as his mental illness worsened: “…considering my years and Infirmityes, I cannot reasonably expect ever to see you again…”

Jonathan Swift

Another 1735 ALS speaks more to the politics of the time, shrouded in his witticisms he became canonized for as he describes various Irish gentlemen — “…[he] is as high a Whig and more…And yet he is a very honest Gentleman…a Doctor who kills or cures half the city…”

Jonathan Swift

We’ve gleaned a fascinating insight into the complicated man from these incredibly scarce letters — check out the all 7 in our current auction and see Jonathan Swift’s sense of self, of satire and wit, penned in his own hand.

As Jonathan Swift said himself, “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

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