Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/833

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811
DEAN SWIFT'S DISEASE.

Swift, indeed, complains bitterly of the impairment, as if memory were gone, and in his declining years of age and sickness it may have been a dull function compared with the brilliant faculty he once possessed. But clearly the memory was still serviceable which enabled him to compose, with wonderful vivacity, even such poetry as that outburst against political and social corruption—"The Legion Club"—which Jeffrey thinks "deserving of attention as the most thoroughly animated, fierce, and energetic of all Swift's metrical compositions; and though the animation be altogether of a ferocious character, and seems occasionally to verge upon absolute insanity, there is still a force and a terror about it which redeems it from ridicule, and makes us shudder at the sort of demoniacal inspiration with which the malison is vented." This poem, written in 1736, was his last work; its appreciation by his most hostile critic will show how little he suffered from loss of any mental faculty when he wrote it. That disease and grief had made him irritable and passionate, and often desponding, is clear enough from his correspondence and the accounts of him which have come down to us; but that there was any failure of mind this "Legion Club" fully disproves; and, if fiercely expressed hatred is any evidence that an author is on the verge of insanity, Jeffrey must have been curiously insensible to the testimony he was bearing against his own soundness of mind in his criticism of the greater master of his own art.

Between 1736, when Swift wrote "The Legion Club," and 1741, when the outbreak of insanity really took place, there can be no doubt that he passed through a period of great wretchedness and depression—he was "miserably ill." He had lost to a great extent two of his senses, for he was deaf and his eye-sight failed; his dearest friends had died before him, and his public sympathies were constantly outraged.

In 1738 he wrote to Alderman Barker: "I have for almost three years past been only the shadow of my former self, with years of sickness and rage against all public proceedings, especially in this miserably oppressed country. I have entirely lost my memory, except when it is aroused by perpetual subjects of vexation."

Two years later he wrote the following pathetic letter to his old friend Mrs. Whiteway:

"I have been very miserable all night, and to-day extremely deaf and full of pain. I am so stupid and confounded that I can not express the mortification I am under, both of body and mind. All I can say is that I am not in torture, but I daily and hourly expect it. Pray let me know how your health is, and your family. I hardly understand one word I write. I am sure my days will be very few; few and miserable they must be. I am for these few days yours entirely, J. Swift.

"If I do not blunder it is Saturday."