Swift, Theophilus (1746–1815), writer, was born probably in Herefordshire, England, in 1746, son of Deane Swift and his wife and cousin, Mary Harrison. Deane Swift (1707–83), author, was the son of Deane Swift (d. 1714) of Reper's Rest, near Dublin, and his wife Elizabeth, and grandson of Godwin Swift, uncle of Jonathan Swift (qv). The latter had an enormous influence on Deane Swift's life and it is no exaggeration to say that he directed the course of it and gave it the renown that is the basis for this biographical entry. The celebrated author first took notice of his young cousin in 1725 when he labelled him ‘a puppy who so behaved himself as to forfeit all regard or pity’ (Williams, iii, 59), a remark possibly motivated by Deane's failure to pursue his studies properly in TCD, which he entered (1724) but from which he never graduated. Jonathan Swift subsequently relented and lent fairly considerable sums (£2,000) against the mortgage of Deane's estate of 865 acres in Castlerickard, near Trim, Co. Meath. He was probably also instrumental in persuading Deane to continue his studies at St Mary's Hall, Oxford, since that was the college of Swift's great friend William King (1685–1763). Deane graduated BA in 1736 after being characterised by King as ‘a modest, sober, ingenious young man’ (ibid., v, 54), but he did not become a clergyman as was his original intention and later claimed that his cousin had embittered him against the profession. He returned instead to Dublin.
His marriage in July 1739 to Mary Harrison strengthened his ties to Jonathan Swift, as she was the daughter of Mrs Whiteway, Swift's cousin, close friend, and legatee. The young married couple were frequent visitors to the ageing Swift, who was increasingly irascible. Deane Swift benefited from the association when he obtained from his mother-in-law forty of the letters of the Journal to Stella, which he edited in 1766–8, and he had much valuable material when he came to write An essay on the life and writings and character of Dr Jonathan Swift (1755). His chief concern in this book was to defend his cousin and the family name from Lord Orrery's scurrilous defamations in Remarks on the life and writings of Dr Jonathan Swift (1751) and this he did this by presenting a whitewashed picture of Swift at Moor Park and an interpretation of Gulliver's travels as a religious, moral tract. He was also responsible for vols xv, xvi, xxii, and xxiii in the large octavo 1769 edition of Swift's works, containing the bulk of Swift's correspondence. He died in Worcester on 12 July 1783, having moved to a small paternal estate he inherited at Goodrich, Herefordshire, some time in the 1740s. A discontented and impecunious man, he regretted always that he had not followed his mother's advice to go the bar but had allowed Swift to ‘buoy up his tender mind with notions of a more exalted nature . . . and a contempt of logic’ (Ehrenpreis, iv, 905).
Theophilus was also educated at St Mary's Hall, Oxford, graduating BA in 1767. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1774 and after practising for a few years settled in Ireland on inheriting the estate of Castlerickard, Trim, on his father's death (1783). He lived in Dublin and published a number of long poems of indifferent quality including The gamblers (1777), The temple of folly (1787), The female parliament (1789), and The monster at large (1791). However, he became notorious not for his creative work but for his eccentricities and pamphleteering. His friend Jonah Barrington (qv) described him as ‘a professed and extravagant loyalist. He was bald-headed, pale, slender, and active – with gray eyes and a considerable squint: an excellent classical scholar, and versed likewise in modern literature and belles lettres. He saw one thing whimsically, many things erroneously, and nothing like another person’ (Barrington, 160). In 1789 he wrote an account of a recent duel between the duke of York and Col. Lennox (later duke of Richmond), in which he accused Lennox of trying to assassinate royalty. This resulted in a duel between Swift and Lennox, which took place in a field near Uxbridge Road, London, on 3 July 1789. Swift was wounded and immediately issued A letter to the king on the conduct of Col. Lennox. The following year he rose to the defence of a London florist, charged with murdering young girls, in A vindication of Renwick Williams, commonly called the Monster (1790). In 1794 came his most notorious reckoning. Annoyed by his son's lack of academic success, he wrote Animadversions on the fellows of Trinity College (1794), a verse pamphlet which charged certain fellows with breaking their vow of celibacy. Defended by Barrington, he was nevertheless sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment for libel. However, one of the fellows, Robert Burrowes (d. 1841), later dean of Cork, replied too forcefully to the pamphlet and was himself sentenced to six months' imprisonment. According to Barrington, the two men shared the same cell in Newgate. Swift later held an angry correspondence, which was published in 1811, with the Rev. Dr Dobbin, whose daughter had accepted his promise of marriage and then cried off. He died in Dublin in September 1815, and was survived by two sons, Deane Swift (qv), and Edmund Lewes Lenthal Swift (qv), both of whom continued the family literary tradition.