Saturday, July 4, 2009

Trim Swift Festival - Academic Programme

This was the first day of the Trim Swift Festival and I attended all three academic lectures. How wonderful to have nothing more pressing to do than to attend and listen to three knowledgeable speakers on different esoteric aspects of the Dean's work and career.

The first lecture by Richard Holmes from the Department of English, University of Bristol, was entitled: Why did James Arbuckle write "A Panegyric on Dean Swift"? This is a satire on Swift which was long considered (and still is by some) to have been penned by Swift himself as a "self-satire".

James Arbuckle
, born a Presbyterian in Belfast, educated at Glasgow University, moved to Dublin under the patronage of the radical Whig Viscount Molesworth. Arbuckle was clearly identified as a political opponent of Swift in a series of lampoons from Swift's circle. He then wrote this poem "A Panegyric . . . " a more severe attack on Swift.

Holmes talk gave an insight into cultural conflict between the Whig/Anglican viewpoint to which Swift belonged and the Presbyterian/Tory party which Arbuckle espoused. This gave a great sense of Swift not being an isolated figure but one of a whole coterie of writers, politicians and thinkers of the time who disputed, debated and insulted each other about fundamentals of religion and philosophy.

Richard Holmes was the 2008 British Association of Irish Studies Postgraduate Essay Prize winner for his essay ‘James Arbuckle: A Polite Critique of Swift’.

The second lecture was by the festival's academic director Dr. James Ward of the University of Ulster, Coleraine on the wonderful topic: Jonathan Swift and the Value of Rubbish. He quoted many examples of Swift's listings of rubbish, litter, waste including this one from The Lady's Dressing Room:

Now listen while he next produces
The various Combs for various Uses,
Fill'd up with Dirt so closely fixt,
No Brush could force a way betwixt.
A Paste of Composition rare,
Sweat, Dandriff, Powder, Lead and Hair;

The final lecture on this first day was by Professor Robert Mahony, the author of Jonathan Swift: The Irish Identity. He was director of the Centre for Irish Studies at the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. and he spoke on Swift and the Irish Colonial Project. He explained the intricacies of Swift's attitude to the relation between England and Ireland.

He considered himself English not Irish, and Mahony argued that Swift was in fact always a supporter of the colonial project of having Ireland "thoroughly subdued and reduced to Obedience of the Crowne of England" and that such an understanding is well supported by an examination of two texts especially: Swift's Abstract of The History of England (c. 1703), and Gulliver's Travels.

Now to work on my own little piece of satire for Sunday night. Dr James Ward is chairman of the judging panel. What rhymes with Rubbish?


BarbaraS said...

Sounds like a very knowledgable day was had. Interesting to see Swift so well contextualised in his colonial setting too. We tend to view his works in isolation sometimes.

Good luck with the satire for Sunday - don't be so harsh on yourselves and have good fun!

Michael Farry said...

Thanks Barbara.