Saturday 30 November 2019

John Toland and Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and John Toland (1670-1722) were two Irishmen whose lives ran almost parallel but mostly, in opposite directions. The fact that they shared a birthday (30 November) is just one of those quaint coincidences. That fact that those birthdays fall today gives us occasion to dwell on the matter further.

With this much in mind, we are reproducing here, an article that appeared earlier this year (19 October, marking the anniversary of Swift's death in 1745) on the website of the John Toland Centenaries Project.

Jonathan Swift has previously been the subject of historical critical appraisal on our own website, as will be noted when you read on:

John Toland and Jonathan Swift

– comparisons and contrasts –

Jonathan Swift, who died on this day in 1745, was a contemporary and compatriot of John Toland with whom he even shared a birthday (30 November) although, Swift was three years older, being born in 1667. Like Toland, his strongly held views earned him a certain reputation for controversy, polemic, satire. Both men ran the gauntlet of political and ecclesiastical authority in their day, for which they both paid a heavy price in terms of how it affected their respective careers and their livelihoods.

Yet, the similarities that one can't help but notice also betray the contrasts that come to the surface as one digs deeper. For, while both men were deeply involved in the politics and public life of the time, it was usually from opposing platforms that they enunciated their views, often having the effect of engulfing them in controversy of one sort or another.

Indeed, Swift was among those who spoke against Toland, in the outcry that ensued from the publication of his seminal work, Christianity not Mysterious, in 1695. He was also among those who called into question Toland's parentage, describing him as a "priest and the son of a priest" in a 'Letter to a Member of the House of Commons of Ireland etc. written on September 3rd 1697' (cited in John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar ... and Heretic by J.N. Duggan)

The price that both men paid included exile although, in opposite directions for, while Toland found himself banished from Ireland, Swift probably felt that he was being banished to the country of his birth, upon finding himself on the wrong side of the fence, politically, in England.

Toland arrived in Dublin sometime prior to the publication of Christianity not Mysterious, after many years studying abroad in Scotland, England, the Netherlands. It is believed that he had hopes of securing a position of some kind in Dublin but, following the furore, it was not even safe for him to remain in Ireland. Thereafter, he spent much of the rest of his life in England (although he was also a regular visitor to the Continent), championing and polemicising on behalf of various Whig causes. This, after all, was the political movement of the day to which he had always been closest.

Swift, on the other hand, started out, politically, as a Whig but, eventually crossed over to the Tories. Hence, while Toland largely welcomed the period of Whig supremacy that followed the ascension of Elector George Louis of Hanover to the British throne (as King George I), for Swift, this was the kiss of death in terms of his own political ambitions.
When he sought a church appointment in England, in reward for his services, the best position his friends could secure for him was that of Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. It seems that Queen Anne had taken a particular dislike to Swift and, made it clear that he would not have received even that position if she could have prevented it. Among other things, she regarded his work, A Tale of a Tub, to be blasphemous. With the return of the Whigs to power in 1715, Swift left England and returned to Ireland, it is said, "in disappointment, a virtual exile [and] to live like a rat in a hole. – from Writing & Literary on the 350th Anniversary of the Birth of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Jonathan Swift, essayist, poet, political pamphleteer and contemporary of John Toland, died on this day in 1745.

– first published Saturday, 19 October 2019 on

Friday 22 November 2019

George Eliot Born On This Day in 1819

Portrait of George Eliot by Frederic William Burton
Sir Frederick Burton
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Ann Evans, the author who would go on to be known by the pen name, George Eliot, was born 200 years ago today, in 1819. Best remembered as a novelist (most notably, for Middlemarch and Silas Marner), she was also produced a substantial body of work through her poetry, journalism and translation.

She was largely self-educated, being a voracious reader in her youth, helped by her having access to the library on the estate (Arbury Hall) where her father worked.
"Because she was not considered physically beautiful, Evans was not thought to have much chance of marriage, and this, coupled with her intelligence, led her father to invest in an education not often afforded women."Wikipedia

Her decision to adopt a male-sounding nom de plume is said to have been down to a combination of personal and professional reasons – e.g. to avoid the gender stereotyping of female authors that she perceived to prevalent at the time but also, to avoid scrutiny of her private life. Though the pair never married, between 1854 and his death in 1878, she was in a relationship with George Henry Lewes, the philosopher and critic. Lewes was already married and their relationship (combined with the fact that they declined to conceal it) was a cause of scandal in the prevailing Victorian climate. However, while public censure may have hindered the couple's access to polite society, it did not dent Eliot's popularity as a novelist, even after she felt obliged to publicly acknowledge her authorship and the true identity of 'George Eliot', against the claims of pretenders.

In public, Eliot was seen as a feminist campaigner. She voiced support for the Union in the American Civil War (said to be "a rare stance in England at the time" – Wikipedia) and also for Home Rule in Ireland.

Her novels are notable for their depictions of the changing face of rural England against the backdrop of rapid, ongoing industrialisation, often from the vantage point of of social outsiders or those suffering under the weight of small-town persecution.

In 2015, her novel, Middlemarch, was voted best British novel by a landslide, in a poll of book critics from around the world, outside of the UK.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza

Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza

– action-packed, adventure-laden Christmas tale for children and young adults –

The just published, Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza delivers an action-packed, adventure-laden Christmas tale for children and young adults that is perfectly paced and doesn't disappoint. More so, it is a book that will be enjoyed by all ages (with special resonances those who are young at heart) for its universal story about childhood and growing up. Some may even detect echoes of J.M. Barrie's timeless classic.

It is the week before Christmas and Sheila O'Reilly is taking care of the house, bossing her brothers around while her parents are away. As she watches her younger brothers get onto the spirit of the season, she wonders if she ever truly enjoyed Christmas when she was a child.

That night, an unannounced visitor with an unexpected request arrives at the house. One way or another, Christmas is never going to be the same again for Sheila and, maybe not for anyone! The dark forces that have gathered are threatening the very spirit of Christmas itself. Sheila, along with her brothers and her newfound friends, must find a way to prevail.

Will Shelia be able to help save Santa or, will it be too late?

Author, D.T. Ihaza was born in Benin City in Nigeria but he has lived in Ireland for more than a decade. He says that he has always had a passion for creative writing. Operation: Save Santa is his first book but, judging by this tour de force, he surely has many more to come.

Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza is published by The Manuscript Publisher and available to buy online, in print and e-book editions – RRP €12.95 (print edition). Further information is available from the publisher's website. It is suitable for readers aged 9 years and up.

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