17 New Year’s Resolutions from Jonathan Swift

In 1699, at the age of 32, the famous writer compiled 17 personal resolutions in a list he called, “When I come to be old.”

Charles Jervas, “Jonathan Swift,” 1710
Charles Jervas, “Jonathan Swift,” 1710 (photo: Public Domain)

You remember Jonathan Swift from your high school English class: He penned Gulliver’s Travels and that classic satirical essay A Modest Proposal, in which he suggested that the poor should sell their children as food for the rich — thereby at once eliminating two social problems: hunger, and children living in economic hardship.

The Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, poet and cleric who served as Dean of Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral wrote prolifically. In A Tale of a Tub, which he wrote in 1699 at the age of 32, Swift compiled a list of 17 Resolutions, or aspirations for his future, which he titled, “When I come to be old.” His list focused on admirable traits he hoped to acquire or strengthen: wisdom, humility, patience and justice. His spelling is odd, to be sure, but most of his resolutions are admirable. Only one resolution, “Not to be fond of Children,” caused me to raise my eyebrows.

Maybe this will give you some good ideas as you consider your resolutions for 2021. Happy New Year!

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When I come to be old. 1699.

  • Not to marry a young Woman.
  • Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
  • Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
  • Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
  • Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
  • Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
  • Not to be covetous.
  • Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
  • Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
  • Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
  • Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
  • To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
  • Not to talk much, nor of my self.
  • Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
  • Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
  • Not to be positive or opiniative.
  • Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none