Jonathan Swift quotes on literature and learning

Jonathan Swift quote. Image copyright Ireland Calling
Jonathan Swift quote. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Jonathan Swift was a man of great learning, having a master’s degree and a doctorate. However, he never flaunted his knowledge and disliked those who strayed into pretentiousness and pomposity when trying to display their intellect.

He was scathing of those who wrote and spoke at great length without saying anything, especially critics, and those who tried to appear deep by being obscure.

Cartoon illustration of shamrocks. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Words are but wind; and learning is nothing but words; ergo, learning is nothing but wind.
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As learned commentators view
In Homer more than Homer knew.
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Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.
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Jonathan Swift quote. Unjustly poets we asperse; Truth shines the brighter, clad in verse: And all the fictions they pursue, Do but insinuate what is true. Image copyright Ireland Calling
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Whatever the poets pretend, it is plain they give immortality to none but themselves; it is Homer and Virgil we reverence and admire, not Achilles and Aeneas.
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When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
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Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style.

Jonathan Swift quote. Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style. Image copyright Ireland Calling

There are certain common privileges of a writer, the benefit whereof, I hope, there will be no reason to doubt; particularly, that where I am not understood, it shall be concluded, that something very useful and profound is couched underneath; and again, that whatever word or sentence is printed in a different character, shall be judged to contain something extraordinary either of wit or sublime.
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‘That was excellently observed’, say I, when I read a passage by an author, where his opinion agrees with mine. When we differ, there I pronounce him to be mistaken.
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Books, the children of the brain.
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Jonathan Swift quote. Just get the right syllable in the proper place. Image copyright Ireland Calling
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I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very numerous of late; and I know very well the judicious world is resolved to list me in that number. I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with writers as with wells – a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the deepest, provided any water be there: and often when there is nothing in the world at the bottom besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and a-half under-ground, it shall pass, however, for wondrous deep upon no wiser reason than because it is wondrous dark.
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Fine words! I wonder where you stole them.
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So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bit ’em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.

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