Jonathan Swift’s first three full-length biographers – the Earl of Orrery, Deane Swift, and the younger Thomas Sheridan – were all young men when they met Swift, and in preparing for their publications were able to learn very little about Swift’s first thirty years. Consequently, they frequently drew ill-founded inferences about Swift’s early years, which later biographers have too often taken for facts, and which in turn too often have been used to explain and interpret Swift’s later works. As we move forward in Swift biography and criticism, we should be more conscious than we have been of how fragile these inferences are when we are tempted to lean on them.

in Reading Swift