Savage indignation

Because I visited Dublin for the first time this summer, and paid my respects to Jonathan Swift at St. Patrick’s, I’m re-reading Gulliver’s Travels again. I’m not much of a re-reader; Gulliver is one of very few books I’ve read perhaps a dozen times, always with the same sense of delight, and gratitude, and regret that I will never meet this wonderful man.

Swift’s epitaph is there in the cathedral he presided over, above his grave. In Latin:

Hic depositum est Corpus
 IONATHAN SWIFT S.T.D.

Hujus Ecclesiæ Cathedralis Decani,

Ubi sæva Indignatio

Ulterius
Cor lacerare nequit,
Abi Viator

Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili

Libertatis Vindicatorem.


You might gloss it in modern English like this: “The body of Jonathan Swift, Dean of this Cathedral, lies here, in a place where his own savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart. Go, traveler, and imitate if you can this man who championed liberty with all his strength.”

Queen Anne hated him; the Victorians hated him; people who take themselves too seriously always hate him, as the disease hates the cure. For my money, he was the greatest Irishman who ever lived. And savage indignation made him funny.