Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/294

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282
A NOTE ON FORSTER'S SWIFT.

labour could effect he has effected, sparing no trouble to master and state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and this thoroughness of patient workmanship is so rare and precious in our current literature, that we might well for its sake condone far more serious deficiencies than we find here. With the work finished in the style of this volume, we should have, if not the classic Life of Swift, at any rate abundant and well-tested materials for such a Life, stored up and arranged with workmanlike skill and care. I must not omit to mention two things for which students will be grateful; a full index, and marginal notes of all the leading matters in the text.

In his Preface Mr. Forster states:—

"The rule of measuring what is knowable of a famous man by the inverse ratio of what has been said about him, is applicable to Swift in a marked degree. Few men who have been talked about so much are known so little. . . . Swift's later time, when he was governing Ireland as well as his deanery, and the world was filled with the fame of Gulliver, is broadly and intelligibly written. But as to all the rest, his life is a work unfinished, to which no one has brought the minute examination indispensably required, where the whole of a career has to be considered to get at the proper comprehension of single parts of it. The writers accepted as authorities for the obscurer portion are found to be practically worthless, and the defect is not supplied by the later and greater biographers. Johnson did him no kind of justice because of his too little liking for him; and Scott, with much hearty liking as well as a generous admiration, had too much other work to do. Thus, notwithstanding noble passages in both memoirs, and Scott's pervading tone of healthy, manly wisdom, it is left to an inferior hand to attempt to complete the tribute begun by those distinguished men."