Swift and Conversational Culture

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Abstract

Swift often noted his aversion to coffee-house conversation and to tavern talk, to gossip and company, and to being buried in Dublin in the years of his Deanship. Yet the popular myth of a morose, unsociable Swift belies both his engagement with various literary and political clubs in his early career and his participation in collaborative and experimental poetic games in his Dublin circles. This essay considers Swift’s involvement with three clubs in London (the Saturday Club, the Brothers’ Club, and the Scriblerians) and his writings on a number of fictional clubs (the Athenian Society, the Calves-Head Club, and a putative Society for the correction of the English language). While Swift wrote very little of his experience of actual clubs, the latter three, in addition to the Scriblerian Club as an imagined, rather than actual clubs, resulted in a number of defining poems and works in his career. When Swift settled in Dublin, poetry written and exchanged in a number of sociable circles characterised much of his published verse and gave glimpses of the circles and informal clubs which he formed among friends there. Although these poems are often dismissed as ‘trifles’, the essay argues that the poems are crucial for our understandings of ‘conversational culture’ or sociability in Swift’s Dublin.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-30
Number of pages20
JournalEighteenth-Century Ireland
Volume29
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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