Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Age of Enlightenment, Broomsticks, Jonathan Swift


Broomsticks have a history of making their way into Jonathan Swift's works. One might recall that such is the object of Peter's theologico-interpretive rantings in A Tale of a Tub, in which "after some pause the Brother so often mentioned for his Erudition, who was very skill'd in Criticisms, had found in a certain Author, which he said should be nameless, that the same Word which in the Will is called Fringe, does also signify Broom-stick." More conspicuously, said object is also at the heart of A Meditation upon a Broomstick, an amusing opuscule whose full title, A Meditation upon a Broomstick, According to the Style and Manner of the Honourable Robert Boyle's Meditations (1710), immediately points to its relation to its pretext, Robert Boyle's Occasional Reflections upon Several Subjects(1665). While we must leave it to psychoanalysts to tell us what this particular choice of object reveals

about the intricacies of Swift's psyche, it has been suggested that in the case of A Meditation, Swift took his cue from Boyle's reference to his Occasional Reflections as "loose sticks" bundled up into "faggots" and from one of his meditations on an "Instructive Tree" alluding to the vine and branches ofJohn 15:1-6. Another interpretation has to do with the date of composition: though some confusion, not to say obfuscation, long prevailed as to the exact date of the composition of Swift's Meditation, there is reason to believe that he wrote the work in May 1704, which would "link the impetus and the imagery" to A Tale.