Swift, Satire and the Problem of Whig Regeneration

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Jonathan Swift did not like the Earl of Wharton. In fact, his dislike was visceral. Yet in the Revolution of 1688 and the War of the Two Kings which followed, they shared a party allegiance to the Whigs. With his studies at Trinity College Dublin unable to proceed, Swift left Ireland for England and became personal secretary to the diplomat, Sir William Temple, before returning to enter orders in the Church of Ireland; Wharton was a protagonist in the politics that toppled the Stuart monarch, James II, and wrote the sectarian ballad “Lilliburlero.” Yet if they apparently shared certain ideals in 1688, Swift came to believe that Wharton had betrayed them by the time the politician took up residency in Dublin Castle as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In a series of scurrilous attacks, Swift suggested that Wharton was guilty of a profound misapplication of the tenets of the Stoic system in which he had been reared and which, in 1688, he had exemplified. With bitter irony, Swift admitted that he could “enter on the work [of dismantling Wharton’s reputation] with more chearfulness because I am sure neither to make him angry, nor any way hurt his reputation; a pitch of happiness and security to which his excellency hath arrived, which no philosopher before him could reach” (“A Short Character” 3:178). This essay aims to account for the weight of this assertion, proposing that Swift’s disdain for Wharton was the result of a philosophical difference that splintered the Whig party into Old and Modern factions, and which further accounts for the ad hominem quality to Swift’s unremitting assault on the Earl
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-99
Number of pages17
JournalRestoration Studies in English Literary Culture 1660-1700
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Jonathan Swift
  • Earl of Wharton
  • Whig Regeneration
  • Satire


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