Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 August 2020
By the time we reach the first half of the 1710s, Swift had become – briefly – a key propagandist for the government. Taking gentle Horace as his model, Swift freely adopted a disparate range of prose and verse, including that of his rival, Richard Steele. In this period Swift deftly experimented with a number of classical sources, often in startling but wholly effective ways. ‘A Description of a City Shower’ and ‘A Description of the Morning’ revisit Virgil by way of Dryden and Donne, among other improbable bedfellows. Like many poets before him, Swift explicitly turned to Ovid (and his chief English imitator, Dryden) when writing ‘Baucis and Philemon’, a raucously mundane British variation on the story made famous in Metamorphoses. Description poetry, irreverent odes and epistles, fantastical fables, repurposed songs, fake prophecies and even a premature elegy: in his mid-career verse Swift covered a wide range of mixed-up genres, many of which had (to his mind) become corrupted by modern poets and commentators, as well as writers in all sorts of other lines of work, from shamming astrologers to political pamphleteers.