Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/299

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287
A NOTE ON FORSTER'S SWIFT.

Mudie and Smith, and that the information he furnished was accurately gauged to their ignorance. It is queer to think of our so-called educated classes needing formal introductions to these works, and then read how a gardener's lad of eleven, trudging in blue smock frock, with red garters tied under his knees, from Farnham to Kew, spent his last threepence at Richmond on the Tale of a Tub, and records: "It delighted me beyond description, and produced what I have always considered a sort of birth of intellect. I read on until it was dark without any thought of supper or bed." He slept where he had been reading, in a field by a haystack, and goes on to say of his wonderful threepenny book: "I carried it about with me wherever I went, and when I—at about twenty years old— lost it in a box that fell overboard in the Bay of Fundy in North America, the loss gave me greater pain than I have since felt at losing thousands of pounds." But this rustic was William Cobbett, the only man since Swift who has known how to write in prose for the masses with something of the same irresistible directness and vigour.

Too strong and terrible for Thackeray and Macaulay, Swift is much more so for the average middle-class John Bull, who, while among the bravest of the brave in many respects, is one of the most timorous of mortals face to face with disagreeable truths, truths that perturb his eupeptic comfort, truths hostile to his easy old-fashioned way of thinking without thought, especially if these truths affront his fat inertia in religious, moral, or social questions.[1]

  1. Elsewhere I had written on the same occasion: "To our mind, for sheer strength and veracity of intellect, Swift is unsurpassed, and scarcely- equalled, in the whole range of English writers, rich as the greatest of these are in energy and sincerity. He was much too strong and veracious even for such men as Johnson, Macaulay, and Thackeray; Scott alone of his biographers was genial and large-minded enough to appreciate him, and Scott had not the time to hunt out and sift the necessary documents. As for the