Jonathan Swift’s library

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Jonathan SwiftJonathan Swift was one of the most renowned authors of his day, well known in literary circles in Great Britain and Ireland, and an encourager of fledgling writers. Throughout his life he loved and collected books, he subscribed to books by other authors and purchased the books of his contemporaries. Students of Swift have shown how his reading profoundly influenced his own writing.

Swift’s library was sold after his death, on 3 February 1746, by his friend and publisher, George Faulkner in Essex Street, and the catalogue gives us an insight into the books he owned. His extensive correspondence, published in multi volume editions, shows the extent of his acquaintance and his literary discussions. At the time of his death his library contained 657 lots, a large library for an individual at the time. However, it is known that Swift also read books borrowed from friends, and read in the libraries of Trinity College and Archbishop Marsh.

As a classically educated clergyman it is no surprise that the library has important holdings of classical literature and religious works. Swift received his education at Kilkenny College where Greek and Latin featured strongly on the curriculum. His degree from Trinity College further emphasised this learning. Swift also spoke and read French, he held 150 volumes in French, representing over 200 authors. He also read Italian and Spanish and he held grammars and dictionaries in both languages.

A Catalogue of Books, The Library of the late Rev. Dr. Swift

An auction catalogue for the sale of Jonathan Swift's library (click to enlarge)

His library shows an important collection of travel literature, including Hakluyt’s Principall navigations (London, 1589) and Collection of voyages by the English nation, and a volume of Voyages and discoveries in South America (London, 1698), which must have been valuable sources for his research when writing Gulliver’s travels. He also held books on financial and economic issues as befitted the author of Drapier’s Letters: John Browne’s Essays on the trade and coin of Ireland (Dublin, 1729) and John Locke’s Tracts relating to money, interest and trade (London, 1696).

Swift was a supporter of Dublin publications and many Dublin editions were present in his library. Swift purchased books written by his friends and correspondents: Thomas Sheridan, William Congreve, Matthew Prior, Voltaire, Alexander Pope, George Berkeley, Archbishop Edward Synge, Laurence Whyte, Archbishop John Stearne, and Joseph Addison

The Swift and Dublin exhibition will run in the Dublin Room at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street until 25 February 2017.

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