Another three excellent lectures yesterday as part of the Trim Swift Festival. Part of the pleasure in attending these is not knowing much about the topic but feeling that you are in the hands of an expert, full of enthusiasm and knowledge anxious to share that enthusiasm and knowledge but keen to keep you interested and even amused.
The attendance is a mixture of academics who are keen to learn but also keen to question and even challenge and the laity, including me, who are aware of Swift and his works but are in no sense experts.
Greg Lynall of the University of Liverpool spoke on Swift's Satiric Alchemy. He dealt particularly with A Tale of a Tub arguing that Swift used the methods of the alchemists in generating far fetched interpretations and hidden meanings of texts to satirise the writings of the hacks of his day. He also satirises the growing phenomenon on encyclopaedias of condensed knowledge which are used by these hacks to lend an air of authority to their scribblings. He asked what Swift would have said about Wikipedia?
Professor Hermann J. Real, director of the Ehrenpreis Centre for Swift Studies at Westfalische Wilhelms-Universitat, Munster spoke on The Dean and the Lord Chancellor: or, Swift Saving his Bacon. The Bacon referred to is Francis Bacon, author of such foundational texts as The Advancement of Learning, Novum Organum and the utopian fantasy New Atlantis. The lecture discussed the influence of Bacon on Swift's writing in general and on the third voyage of Gulliver's Travels - The voyage to Laputa - in particular. This section of the Travels is the one most criticised at the time of publication and since. He made the case that the description of the School of Languages in Lapuda was a satire on efforts of followers of Bacon to reform the English language.
Finally Dr Frank Ferguson, of the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies, University of Ulster spoke on Swift and Leinster - Scots. He gave examples of various texts from the time of Swift mostly written in Dublin in the Scots dialect which have relevance to Swift. These included a pastoral elegy on the death of Jonathan Swift. Frank Ferguson has edited Ulster Scots Writing: An Anthology, (Four Courts Press, 2008).
That's the academic programme over. The general effect is to locate Swift firmly in his age, responding to the political, linguistic, religious and philosophical complexions of his time through mediums which were commonly used at the time - satire, polemic, poetry and pamphleteering. He comes out of the weekend more human, more real and more lovable though I definitely wouldn't like to cross him.
The other thing of course is the desire to read all his works straight away and the commentaries of course. Oh dear, Heaney just finished, I've started on Milton so Jonathan has to wait in line - he won't like that!
Picture is of Festival Academic Director James Ward introducing Greg Lynall.