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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > Jonathan Swift Quotes

Jonathan Swift
(30 Nov 1667 - 19 Oct 1745)

Irish satirist and essayist.

Science Quotes by Jonathan Swift (14 quotes)

That was excellently observ'd, say I, when I read a Passage in an Author, where his Opinion agrees with mine. When we differ, there I pronounce him to be mistaken.
— Jonathan Swift
In 'Thoughts On Various Subjects' (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 318.
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[Of the Laputans:] They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the centre of the primary planet exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty one and a half.
— Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 3, 213.
Science quotes on:  |  Diameter (5)  |  Mars (14)  |  Moon (78)  |  Orbit (36)  |  Revolution (34)  |  Satellite (12)  |  Star (132)

All Pretences of foretelling by Astrology, are Deceits; for this manifest Reason, because the Wise and Learned, who can only judge whether there be any Truth in this Science, do all unanimously agree to laugh at and despise it; and none but the poor ignorant Vulgar give it any Credit.
— Jonathan Swift
'An Account of the Death of Mr. Patrige' (1708), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 124.
Science quotes on:  |  Astrology (19)  |  Credit (10)  |  Despise (3)  |  Foretelling (3)  |  Ignorant (7)  |  Judge (14)  |  Laugh (8)  |  Learned (4)  |  Manifest (2)  |  Poor (18)  |  Pretence (2)  |  Reason (173)  |  Science (875)  |  Truth (450)  |  Vulgar (3)  |  Wise (11)

He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put into vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw, inclement summers.
— Jonathan Swift
Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver (1726), Vol. 1, 63.

If the world had but a dozen Arbuthnots I would burn my [Gulliver's] Travels.
Letter to Pope, dated 29 Sep 1725, when Arbuthnot was seriously ill
— Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift, Thomas Sheridan (ed.) John Nichols (ed.) The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, (1808) , Vol. 11, 297-8.
Science quotes on:  |  John Arbuthnot (12)  |  Biography (199)

In the school of political projectors, I was but ill entertained, the professors appearing, in my judgment, wholly out of their senses; which is a scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy people were proposing schemes for persuading monarchs to choose favourites upon the score of their wisdom, capacity, and virtue; of teaching ministers to consult the public good; of rewarding merit, great abilities, and eminent services; of instructing princes to know their true interest, by placing it on the same foundation with that of their people; of choosing for employment persons qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible chimeras, that never entered before into the heart of man to conceive, and confirmed in me the old observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some philosophers have not maintained for truth.
— Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 6, 232.
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Old Men and Comets have been reverenced for the same Reason: their Long Beards, and Pretences to foretel Events.
— Jonathan Swift
Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 317.

That the universe was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, I will no more believe than that the accidental jumbling of the alphabet would fall into a most ingenious treatise of philosophy.
— Jonathan Swift
In 'A Tritical Essay Upon the Faculties of the Mind', collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 174. Also in Jonathan Swift and Temple Scott (ed.), The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift: A Tale of a Tub: the Battle of the Books, and Other Early Works (1897, reprint 1907), Vol. 1, 291 in which the editor footnotes that “this essay is a parody on the pseudo-philosophical essays of the time, in which all sense was lost in the maze of inconsequential quotations. It was written in 1707-8, and the “Miscellanies” of 1711 places its publication in August, 1707.”
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The first drizzling shower is born...
[Then] the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town. ...
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood.
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.
— Jonathan Swift
Poem, 'A Description of a City Shower', first published in the Tatler, No. 238 (17 Oct 1710). Reprinted in Pope and Swift's Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1711, 1721), 225-227. Swift wrote at the time in London that the street surface open gutters (kennels) were the primary means for handling stormwater flows and disposing of every kind of human and animal waste. “Devoted” means overwhelmed. Smithfield was a market with butchers' shops and cattle and sheep pens. St. Sepulchre refers to a church in Holborn. The Holborn Conduit was taken down in 1746. Below Holborn Bridge ran the Fleet Ditch (a stagnant remnant of the former Fleet River after its water supply had been diverted). It was joined by a stream called Snow Hill. Notes printed with the poem collected in Jay Parini, The Wadsworth Anthology Of Poetry (2005), 723-724.
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The greatest Inventions were produced in Times of Ignorance; as the Use of the Compass, Gunpowder, and Printing; and by the dullest Nation, as the Germans.
— Jonathan Swift
In 'Thoughts On Various Subjects' (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 309.
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The sciences are found, like Hercules's oxen, by tracing them backward; and old sciences are unravelled like old stockings, by beginning at the foot.
— Jonathan Swift
The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift (1803), 388.
Science quotes on:  |  Research (360)  |  Science (875)

The Vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an Inch.
So, Naturalists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller Fleas to bite 'em.
And so proceed ad infinitum.
— Jonathan Swift
On Poetry: A Rhapsody (1735), lines 339-44.
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This Academy [at Lagado] is not an entire single Building, but a Continuation of several Houses on both Sides of a Street; which growing waste, was purchased and applied to that Use.
I was received very kindly by the Warden, and went for many Days to the Academy. Every Room hath in it ' one or more Projectors; and I believe I could not be in fewer than five Hundred Rooms.
The first Man I saw was of a meagre Aspect, with sooty Hands and Face, his Hair and Beard long, ragged and singed in several Places. His Clothes, Shirt, and Skin were all of the same Colour. He had been Eight Years upon a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers, which were to be put into Vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the Air in raw inclement Summers. He told me, he did not doubt in Eight Years more, that he should be able to supply the Governor's Gardens with Sunshine at a reasonable Rate; but he complained that his Stock was low, and interested me to give him something as an Encouragement to Ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear Season for Cucumbers. I made him a small Present, for my Lord had furnished me with Money on purpose, because he knew their Practice of begging from all who go to see them.
I saw another at work to calcine Ice into Gunpowder; who likewise shewed me a Treatise he had written concerning the Malleability of Fire, which he intended to publish.
There was a most ingenious Architect who had contrived a new Method for building Houses, by beginning at the Roof, and working downwards to the Foundation; which he justified to me by the life Practice of those two prudent Insects the Bee and the Spider.
In another Apartment I was highly pleased with a Projector, who had found a device of plowing the Ground with Hogs, to save the Charges of Plows, Cattle, and Labour. The Method is this: In an Acre of Ground you bury at six Inches Distance, and eight deep, a quantity of Acorns, Dates, Chestnuts, and other Masts or Vegetables whereof these Animals are fondest; then you drive six Hundred or more of them into the Field, where in a few Days they will root up the whole Ground in search of their Food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their Dung. It is true, upon Experiment they found the Charge and Trouble very great, and they had little or no Crop. However, it is not doubted that this Invention may be capable of great Improvement.
I had hitherto seen only one Side of the Academy, the other being appropriated to the Advancers of speculative Learning.
Some were condensing Air into a dry tangible Substance, by extracting the Nitre, and letting the acqueous or fluid Particles percolate: Others softening Marble for Pillows and Pin-cushions. Another was, by a certain Composition of Gums, Minerals, and Vegetables outwardly applied, to prevent the Growth of Wool upon two young lambs; and he hoped in a reasonable Time to propagate the Breed of naked Sheep all over the Kingdom.
— Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 5, 223.
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This single Stick, which you now behold ingloriously lying in that neglected Corner, I once knew in a flourishing State in a Forest: It was full of Sap, full of Leaves, and full of Boughs: But now, in vain does the busy Art of Man pretend to vie with Nature, by tying that withered Bundle of Twigs to its sapless Trunk: It is at best but the Reverse of what it was; a Tree turned upside down, the Branches on the Earth, and the Root in the Air.
— Jonathan Swift
'A Meditation Upon a Broom-stick: According to The Style and Manner of the Honorable Robert Boyle's Meditations' (1703), collected in 'Thoughts On Various Subjects', The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 55-56.
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Quotes by others about Jonathan Swift (1)

I am almost thanking God that I was never educated, for it seems to me that 999 of those who are so, expensively and laboriously, have lost all before they arrive at my age—& remain like Swift's Stulbruggs—cut and dry for life, making no use of their earlier-gained treasures:—whereas, I seem to be on the threshold of knowledge.
In Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear: the Life of a Wanderer (1969), 22.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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