Jonathan Swift, writer ‘to the vulgar’

December 18, 2013 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, Home, JEM 200, journalism, journalism education, writers, writing.


Jonathan Swift from an 1850 illustration
Jonathan Swift from an 1850 illustration

John Simon, in a recent review of JONATHAN SWIFT: His Life and His World by Leo Damrosch, says this about Swift, a cleric and most famously the author of Gulliver’s Travels:

His aim in writing as in sermons was to be “understood by the meanest.” Thus he would read his writings aloud to his servants, and when they didn’t understand, rewrite until they did: “I write to the vulgar, more than to the learned.” (quoted from the review)

That’s what we try to teach our journalism students: to write to be “understood by the meanest.” And would that they would rewrite their work until that happens.

The review, A Giant Among Men, ‘Jonathan Swift,’ by Leo Damrosch, appears in the New York Times book review section.


The review gives us another quote from Swift that I particularly like: “We have just religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

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