I HAVE been assured by a very knowing American of my Acquaintance in London; that a young healthy Child, well nursed, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and, I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragout…“—from “A Modest Proposal”
If you are going to buy one book of Swift’s in addition to the Travels, this Penguin miscellany gives you the best bang for your buck: superbly annotated and supplemented by both a glossary and a biographical dictionary (all such addenda amounting to 100pp of the 400 page length of this book), it moreover gives an admirable view of the arc of Swift’s development as a writer of prose, both serious and satirical. What’s more, if you find this volume agreeable to your tastes or interests, the Oxford Major Works largely focuses on other texts, repeating relatively few of the selections herein.
In spite of Swift’s Olympian, clear, yet flawless and even (at times) approachable style, and despite his addiction to the periodic sentence, the subject-matter is rooted in its time and place and is thus never easy-going (though the notes do help). You would be well-served, then, in reading this alongside the majesterial, infinitely well-informed biography of the Man by John Stubbs Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel (2016), which never reduces these essays (etc.) to either history or biography, but gives you just the right amount of context to wake them from their centuries-long slumber.
Of particular note are the famous title essay (obviously), the “Bickerstaff Papers” (wherein dude takes on the fake news of the pop astrologer, to hilarious effect), and the “Directions to Servants” (which perceptively satirizes both sides of that Depeche Mode song, “Master and Servant”, with granular specificity)—and the excerpts from his letters to his best friend, Esther Johnson, the “Journal to Stella”, which I am now going to have to find a used copy of, to read in its entirety.