In 1695 Jonathan Swift was ordained as a priest in the Church of Ireland, the Irish branch of the Anglican Church. Swift had been very eager to advance in the Church of England prior to being ordained.
In 1720 Swift began work on Gulliver's Travels. He intended, he says in a letter to his close friend and fellow poet Alexander Pope, "to vex the world, not to divert it."
Swift wrote how British economic policies kept Ireland in a state of underdevelopment and poverty. His writings culminated in "A Modest Proposal" (1729), a satire about selling children to England as a culinary delicacy.
Swift was a shrewd politician. With a couple of pamphlets in 1711, he helped turn the tide of English public opinion against the "Whig" War of Spanish Succession.
Gulliver's Travels is the most famous and popular of Swift's literary works. However, Swift was afraid of the reception Gulliver's Travels would receive, especially in political circles.
Poet Alexander Pope played a large role in the publication of Gulliver's Travels. He arranged Erasmus Lewis to act as the literary agent in negotiating the manuscript.
A Modest Proposal had a very personal stake in Swift's life. During his time as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Swift found himself watching peasants die of starvation. This helped spark what would become the satirical essay.
"The structure and tone of Swift's work is in proper, modest debate format, yet the content is disturbingly violent and dehumanizing. In this way, Swift proposes the ugly places that this faith in reason can lead to as men believe they are thinking rationally."
There is considerable distance between Swift the author and his creation, Gulliver. Gulliver does not trust his audience to reason, but Swift does. Gulliver also supports modern progress, while Swift prefers work done by the “ancient”; the likes of Homer and Aristotle.
Swift originally published Gulliver’s Travels anonymously. He wanted the question of progress between the ancients and the moderns to be spoken by Gulliver.