Essays on Swift and his Contemporaries in Honour of Hermann J. Real
Edited By Kirsten Juhas, Patrick Müller and Mascha Hansen
YEATS,SWIFT,AND IRELAND’S CONTESTED EIGHTEENTH CENTURY Daniel Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to Germany, Berlin
YEATS, SWIFT, AND IRELAND’S CONTESTED EIGHTEENTH CENTURY Daniel Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to Germany, Berlin Swift’s Epitaph Swift has sailed into his rest; Savage indignation there Cannot lacerate his breast. Imitate him if you dare, World-besotted traveller; he Served human liberty. W. B. Yeats Visits to the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, and its magnificent Ehrenpreis Centre for Swift Studies, as well as inspiring conversations with Professor Hermann Real, have served to rekindle an interest in the life and works of Jonathan Swift. This has prompted me to reflect on Swift’s Irish identity and to compare this with the position of our great twentieth-century writers, and especially W. B. Yeats, for whom Swift became something of a literary and political icon during the 1920s and 30s, when the poet’s dis- illusionment with what he saw as the failings of independent Ireland drove him towards an idiosyncratic brand of aristocratic nationalism founded on a deep admiration for the Anglo-Irish tradition of the eighteenth century. To reflect on Yeats’s fascination with Swift is to delve into Ireland’s con- tested eighteenth century. The leading historian of Anglo-Ireland has written that the course of Irish history makes it difficult to assess the eighteenth century fairly … For many Irishmen, perhaps for most, the eighteenth century is a kind of hiatus in the life of the nation, a valley of humiliation between the failure of national aspirations in the Jacobite war and their revival more than a hundred years later.1 Yet for Yeats, the eighteenth century...
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