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JOHN KAY The Hypocrisy of Jonathan Swift: Swift's Project Reconsidered Swift's Project for the Advancement of Religion has been the subject of much critical discussion in recent years, more indeed than its intrinsic literary value would seem to merit. Undoubtedly the main interest of critics has been less in the work itself than in what it might reveal of Swift, the man, for, at its face value, the Project offers the modern reader a grim and humourless moralist in place of the dazzling ironist he had come to admire. Not surprisingly, Swift's champions have set out to convert this ugly duckling into an acceptably satirical swan. The work does indeed contain enough tantalizing hints of irony to encourage one in this direction, and the ascription of the authorship to a 'Person of Quality' might well lead one to believe that Swift is engaged in creating a persona. Unfortunately, no satirical reading of the work has been convincing . The most elaborate attempt to discover a persona in the Project, that of Leland D. Peterson, has been justly criticized as making impossible demands on the work's rhetorical structure.' Still, the hints of irony remain, and it is probably the greatest obstacle to a full acceptance ofirvin Ehrenpreis's interpretation of the Project that he gives no account of them. Ehrenpreis rejects any attempt to discover a persona in the work. In his view, the grim and humourless moralist is not the figment of Swift's imagination, but the dark side of his personality. In Swift's best work, Ehrenpreis argues, this censorious earnestness is controlled and subverted by his comic genius, but in the Project it breaks loose, and all Swift's Catonian fantasies are given rein.2The Project is the waste land when the Rabelaisian spirit has fled. Convincing as it is, Ehrenpreis's reading has not laid the ghost of the persona theory deciSively to rest. As I have said, it leaves the hints of irony unexplained. Moreover, granted the validity of the Jekyll-and-Hyde view of Swift's personality, one must still wonder how the ugly side blunders so clumsily into the Project when it is so finely controlled in the contemporary Argument. If there is an answer to these questions, and to the general question of Swift's seriousness in advocating hypocrisy as an acceptable social norm, it is only to be found, I suggest, through a re-examination of the Project in the light of the context in which it was written. As a starting point I should like to establish a clearer understanding of the early eighteenth-century attitude to hypocrisy.3 This is not such a UTQ, Volume XLIV, Number 3, Spring 1975 214 JOHN KAY cut-and-dried affair as it may at first appear, for, although the broad Christian denunciation of hypocrisy is apparent everywhere in eighteenth-century literature, many eminent and respectable churchmen found that the turbulent conditions which marked the reigns of William, and Anne, called for unusual compromises. This first came to my attention in the sermons of Archbishop Sharp. In view of the common suggestion that Swift may have written the Project to influence the Archbishop in his favour, it seemed important to ask whether Sharp was likely to have found its sentiments acceptable. Most of Sharp's comments on hypocrisy are, as one might expect, outright condemnation. But in reviewing the alarming decline of religion in the age, he was led to make the following comment. As will readily be seen it offers a very close parallel to the sentiments of the Project. Far am I here (rom commending the late times when a great many made a great Appearance of Religion, and yet acted upon such principles as were contrary to all religion. And far am I either from giving the least Countenance either to such kinds of principles or to such kinds of actions. But this Iam afraid is true, that ourZeal for the outward service of God, and the publick profession of religion, is much abated, and that we are not so strict in these matters as we ought to be, nor as we have been.... Hypocrisy and Profaneness, I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 213-223
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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