The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century/Swift
THE ENGLISH HUMOURISTS
LECTURE THE FIRST.
In treating of the English humourists of the past age, it is of the men and of their lives, rather than of their books, that I ask permission to speak to you; and in doing so, you are aware that I cannot hope to entertain you with a merely humourous or facetious story. Harlequin without his mask is known to present a very sober countenance, and was himself, the story goes, the melancholy patient whom the Doctor advised to go and see Harlequin—a man full of cares and perplexities like the rest of us, whose Self must always be serious to him, under whatever mask, or disguise, or uniform he presents it to the public. And as all of you here must needs be grave when you think of your own past and present, you will not look to find, in the histories of those whose lives and feelings I am going to try and describe to you, a story that is otherwise than serious, and often very sad. If Humour only meant laughter, you would scarcely feel more interest about humourous writers than about the private life of poor Harlequin just mentioned, who possesses in common with these the power of making you laugh. But the men regarding whose lives and stories your kind presence here shows that you have curiosity and sympathy, appeal to a great number of our other faculties, besides our mere sense of ridicule. The humourous writer professes to awaken and direct your love, your pity, your kindness—your scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture—your tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the unhappy. To the best of his means and ability he comments on all the ordinary actions and passions of life almost. He takes upon himself to be the week-day preacher, so to speak. Accordingly, as he finds, and speaks, and feels the truth best, we regard him, esteem him—sometimes love him. And, as his business is to mark other people's lives and peculiarities, we moralise upon his life when he is gone—and yesterday's preacher becomes the text for to-day's sermon,
Of English parents, and of a good English family of clergymen, Swift was born in Dublin in 1667, seven months after the death of his father, who had come to practise there as a lawyer. 'The boy went to school at Kilkenny, and afterwards to Trinity College, Dublin, where he got a degree with difficulty, and was wild, and witty, and poor. In 1688, by the recommendation of his mother, Swift was received into the family of Sir William Temple, who had known Mrs. Swift in Ireland. He left his patron in 1693, and the next year took orders in Dublin. But he threw up the small Irish preferment which he got, and returned to Temple, in whose family he remained until Sir William's death in 1699. His hopes of advancement in England failing, Swift returned to Ireland, and took the living of Laracor. Hither he invited Hester Johnson, Temple's natural daughter, with whom he had contracted a tender friendship, while they were both dependants of Temple's. And with an occasional visit to England, Swift now passed nine years at home.
In 1709 he came to England, and, with a brief visit to Ireland, during which he took possession of his deanery of St. Patrick, he now passed five years in England, taking the most distinguished part in the political transactions which terminated with the death of Queen Anne. After her death, his party disgraced, and his hopes of ambition over, Swift returned to Dublin, where he remained twelve years. In this time he wrote the famous "Drapier's Letters" and "Gulliver's Travels." He married Hester Johnson, Stella, and buried Esther Vanhomrigh, Vanessa, who had followed him to Ireland from London, where she had contracted a violent passion for him. In 1726 and 1727 Swift was in England, which he quitted for the last time on hearing of his wife's illness. Stella died in January, 1728, and Swift not until 1745, having passed the last five of the seventy-eight years of his life, with an impaired intellect and keepers to watch him.
You know, of course, that Swift has had many biographers; his life has been told by the kindest and most good-natured of men, Scott, who admires but can't bring himself to love him; and by stout old Johnson, who, forced to admit him into the company of poets, receives the famous Irishman, and takes off his hat to him with a bow of surly recognition, scans him from head to foot, and passes over to the other side of the street. Dr. Wilde of Dublin, who has written a most interesting volume on the closing years of Swift's life, calls Johnson "the most malignant of his biographers:" it is not easy for an English critic to please Irishmen—perhaps to try and please them. And yet Johnson truly admires Swift: Johnson does not quarrel with Swift's change of politics, or doubt his sincerity of religion: about the famous Stella and Vanessa controversy the Doctor does not bear very hardly on Swift. But he could not give the Dean that honest hand of his; the stout old man puts it into his breast, and moves off from him.
Would we have liked to live with him? That is a question which, in dealing with these people's works, and thinking of their lives and peculiarities, every reader of biographies must put to himself. Would you have liked to be a friend of the great Dean? I should like to have been Shakspeare's shoeblack—just to have lived in his house, just to have worshipped him—to have run on his errands, and seen that sweet serene face. I should like, as a young man, to have lived on Fielding's stair-case in the Temple, and after helping him up to bed perhaps, and opening his door with his latch-key, to have shaken hands with him in the morning, and heard him talk and crack jokes over his breakfast and his mug of small beer. Who would not give something to pass a night at the club with Johnson, and Goldsmith, and James Boswell, Esq., of Auchinleck? The charm of Addison's companionship and conversation has passed to us by fond tradition——but Swift? If you had been his inferior in parts (and that, with a great respect for all persons present, I fear is only very likely), his equal in mere social station, he would have bullied, scorned, and insulted you; if, undeterred by his great reputation, you had met him like a man, he would have quailed before you, and not had the pluck to reply, and gone home, and years after written a foul epigram about you—watched for you in a sewer, and come out to assail you with a coward's blow and a dirty bludgeon. If you had been a lord with a blue riband, who flattered his vanity, or could help is ambition, he would have been the most delightful company in the world. He would have been so manly, so sarcastic, so bright, odd, and original, that you might think he had no object in view but the indulgence of his humour, and that he was the most reckless, simple creature in the world. How he would have torn your enemies to pieces for you! and made fun of the Opposition! His servility was so boisterous that it looked like independence; he would have done your errands, but with the air of patronising you, and after fighting your battles masked in the street or the press, would have kept on his hat before your wife and daughters in the drawing-room, content to take that sort of pay for his tremendous services as a bravo.
He says as much himself in one of his letters to Bolingbroke:—"All my endeavours to distinguish myself were only for want of a great title and fortune, that I might be used like a lord by those who have an opinion of my parts; whether right or wrong is no great matter. And so the reputation of wit and great learning does the office of a blue riband or a coach and six."
Could there be a greater candour? It is an outlaw, who says, "These are my brains; with these I'll win titles and compete with fortune. These are my bullets; these I'll turn into gold;" and he hears the sound of coaches and six, takes the road like Macheath, and makes society stand and deliver. They are all on their knees before him. Down go my lord bishop's apron, and his Grace's blue riband, and my lady's brocade petticoat in the mud. He eases the one of a living, the other of a patent place, the third of a little snug post about the Court, and gives them over to followers of his own. The great prize has not come yet. The coach with the mitre and crosier in it, which he intends to have for his share, has been delayed on the way from St. James's; and he waits and waits until nightfall, when his runners come and tell him that the coach has taken a different road, and escaped him. So he fires his pistols into the air with a curse, and rides away into his own country.
Swift's seems to me to be as good a name to point a moral or adorn a tale of ambition, as any hero's that ever lived and failed. But we must remember that the
morality was lax,—that other gentlemen besides himself took the road in his day,—that public society was in a strange disordered condition, and the State was ravaged by other condottieri. The Boyne was being fought and won, and lost—the bells rung in William's victory, in the very same tone with which they would have pealed for James's. Men were loose upon politics, and to shift for themselves. They, as well as old
beliefs and institutions, had lost their moorings and gone adrift in the storm. As in the South Sea Bubble almost everybody gambled; as in the Railway mania—not many centuries ago—almost every one took his unlucky share; a man of that time, of the vast talents and ambition of Swift, could scarce do otherwise than grasp at his prize, and make his spring at his opportunity. His bitterness, his scorn, his rage, his subsequent misanthropy, are ascribed by some panegyrists to a deliberate conviction of mankind's unworthiness, and a desire to amend them by castigating. His youth was bitter, as that of a great genius bound down by ignoble ties, and powerless in a mean dependence; his age was bitter, like that of a great genius that had fought the battle and nearly won it, and lost it, and thought of it afterwards writhing in a lonely exile. A man may attribute to the gods, if he likes, what is caused by his own fury, or disappointment, or self-will. What public man—what statesman projecting a coup— what king determined on an invasion of his neighbour— what satirist meditating an onslaught on society or an individual, can't give a pretext for his move? There was a French general the other day who proposed to march into this country and put it to sack and pillage, in revenge for humanity outraged by our conduct at Copenhagen,—there is always some excuse for men of the aggressive turn. They are of their nature warlike, predatory, eager for fight, plunder, dominion.
As fierce a beak and talon as ever struck—as strong a wing as ever beat, belonged to Swift. I am glad, for one, that fate wrested the prey out of his claws, and cut his wings and chained him. One can gaze, and not without awe and pity, at the lonely eagle chained behind the bars.
That Swift was born at No. 7, Hoey's-court, Dublin, on the 30th November, 1667, is a certain fact, of which nobody will deny the sister island the honour and glory; but, it seems to me, he was no more an Irishman than a man born of English parents at Calcutta is a Hindoo. Goldsmith was an Irishman and always an Irishman: Steele was an Irishman, and always an Irishman: Swift's heart was English and in England, his habits English, his logic eminently English; his statement is elaborately simple; he shuns tropes and metaphors, and uses his ideas and words with a wise thrift and economy, as he used his money; with which he could be generous and splendid upon great occasions, but which he husbanded when there was no need to spend it. He never indulges in needless extravagance of rhetoric, lavish epithets, profuse imagery. He lays his opinion before you with a grave simplicity and a perfect neatness. Dreading ridicule too, as a man of his humour—above all an Englishman of his humour—certainly would, he is afraid to use the poetical power which he really possessed; one often fancies in reading him that he dares not be eloquent when he might; that he does not speak above his voice, as it were, and the tone of society.
His initiation into politics, his knowledge of business, his knowledge of polite life, his acquaintance with literature even, which he could not have pursued very sedulously during that reckless career at Dublin, Swift got under the roof of Sir William Temple. He was fond of telling in after life what quantities of books he devoured there, and how King William taught him to cut asparagus in the Dutch fashion. It was at Shene and at Moor Park, with a salary of twenty pounds and a dinner at the upper servants' table, that this great and lonely Swift passed a ten years' apprenticeship—wore a cassock that was only not a livery—bent down a knee as proud as Lucifer's to supplicate my lady's good graces, or run on his honour's errands. It was here, as he was writing at Temple's table, or following his patron's walk, that he saw and heard the men who had governed the great world—measured himself with them, looking up from his silent corner, gauged their brains, weighed their wits, turned them, and tried them, and marked them. Ah! what platitudes he must have heard! what feeble jokes! what pompous commonplaces! what small men they must have seemed under those enormous periwigs, to the swarthy, uncouth, silent Irish secretary, I wonder whether it ever struck Temple that that Irishman was his master? I suppose that dismal conviction did not present itself under the ambrosial wig, or Temple could never have lived with Swift. Swift sickened, rebelled, left the service,—ate humble pie and came back again; and so for ten years went on, gathering learning, swallowing scorn, and submitting with a stealthy rage to his fortune.
Temple's style is the perfection of practised and easy good-breeding. If he does not penetrate very deeply into a subject, he professes a very gentlemanly acquaintance with it; if he makes rather a parade of Latin, it was the custom of his day, as it was the custom for a gentleman to envelope his head in a periwig and his hands in lace ruffles. If he wears buckles and square-toed shoes, he steps in them with a consummate grace, and you never hear their creak, or find them treading upon any lady's train or any rival's heels in the Court crowd. When that grows too hot or too agitated for him, he politely leaves it. He retires to his retreat of Shene or Moor Park; and lets the King's party, and the Prince of Orange's party battle it out among themselves. He reveres the sovereign, (and no man perhaps ever testified to his loyalty by so elegant a bow:) he admires the Prince of Orange; but there is one person whose ease and comfort he loves more than all the princes in Christendom, and that valuable member of society is himself, Gulielmus Temple, Baronettus. One sees him in his retreat; between his study-chair and his tulip beds, clipping his apricots and pruning his essays,— the statesman, the ambassador no more; but the philosopher, the Epicurean, the fine gentleman and courtier at St. James's as at Shene; where in place of kings and fair ladies, he pays his court to the Ciceronian majesty; or walks a minuet with the Epic Muse; or dallies by the south wall with the ruddy nymph of gardens.
Temple seems to have received and exacted a prodigious deal of veneration from his household, and to have been coaxed, and warmed, and cuddled by the people round about him, as delicately as any of the plants which he loved. When he fell ill in 1693, the household was aghast at his indisposition; mild Dorothea his wife, the best companion of the best of men—
"Mild Dorothea, peaceful, wise, and great,
Trembling beheld the doubtful hand of fate."
As for Dorinda, his sister,—
"Those who would grief describe, might come and trace
Its watery footsteps in Dorinda's face.
To see her weep, joy every face forsook,
And grief flung sables on each menial look.
The humble tribe mourned for the quickening soul,
That furnished life and spirit through the whole."
Isn't that line in which grief is described as putting the menials into a mourning livery, a fine image? One of the menials wrote it, who did not like that Temple livery nor those twenty-pound wages. Cannot one fancy the uncouth young servitor, with downcast eyes, books and papers in hand, following at his Honour's heels in the garden walk; or taking his Honour's orders as he stands by the great chair, where Sir William has the gout, and his feet all blistered with moxa? When Sir William has the gout or scolds it must be hard work at the second table; the Irish secretary owned as much afterwards: and when he came to dinner, how he must have lashed and growled and torn the household with his gibes and scorn! What would the steward say about the pride of them Irish schollards—and this one had got no great credit even at his Irish college, if the truth were known—and what a contempt his excellency's own gentleman must have had for Parson Teague from Dublin. (The valets and chaplains were always at war. It is hard to say which Swift thought the more contemptible.) And what must have
been the sadness, the sadness and terror, of the housekeeper's little daughter with the curling black ringlets and the sweet smiling face, when the secretary who teaches her to read and write, and whom she loves and reverences above all things—above mother, above mild Dorothea, above that tremendous Sir William in his square-toes and periwig,—when Mr. Swift comes down from his master with rage in his heart, and has not a kind word even for little Hester Johnson?
Perhaps for the Irish secretary, his Excellency's condescension was even more cruel than his frowns. Sir William would perpetually quote Latin and the ancient classics à propos of his gardens and his Dutch statues and plates bandes, and talk about Epicurus and Diogenes Laertius, Julius Cæsar, Semiramis, and the gardens of the Hesperides, Mæcenas, Strabo describing Jericho, and the Assyrian kings. A propos of beans, he would mention Pythagoras's precept to abstain from beans, and that this precept probably meant that wise men should abstain from public affairs. He is a placid Epicurean; he is a Pythagorean philosopher; he is a wise man—that is the deduction. Does not Swift think so? One can imagine the downcast eyes lifted up for a moment, and the flash of scorn which they emit. Swift's eyes were as azure as the heavens; Pope says nobly (as everything Pope said and thought of his friend was good and noble), "His eyes are as azure as the heavens, and have a charming archness in them." And one person in that household, that pompous stately kindly Moor Park, saw heaven no where else.
But the Temple amenities and solemnities did not agree with Swift. He was half-killed with a surfeit of Shene pippins; and in a garden-seat which he devised for himself at Moor Park, and where he devoured greedily the stock of books within his reach, he caught a vertigo and deafness which punished and tormented him through life. He could not bear the place or the servitude. Even in that poem of courtly condolence, from which we have quoted a few lines of mock melancholy, he breaks out of the funereal procession with a mad shriek, as it were, and rushes away crying his own grief, cursing his own fate, foreboding madness, and forsaken by fortune, and even hope.
I don't know anything more melancholy than the letter to Temple, in which, after having broke from his bondage, the poor wretch crouches piteously towards his cage again, and deprecates his master's anger. He asks for testimonials for orders. "The particulars required of me are what relate to morals and learning; and the reasons of quitting your Honour's family—that is whether the last was occasioned by any ill action. They are left entirely to your Honour's mercy, though in the first I think I cannot reproach myself for anything further than for infirmities. This is all I dare at present beg from your Honour, under circumstances of life not worth your regard: what is left me to wish (next to the health and prosperity of your Honour and family) is that Heaven would one day allow me the opportunity of leaving my acknowledgments at your feet. I beg my most humble duty and service be presented to my ladies, your Honour's lady and sister."—Can prostration fall deeper? could a slave bow lower?
Twenty years afterwards Bishop Kennet, describing the same man, says, "Dr. Swift came into the coffee-house and had a bow from everybody but me. When I came to the antechamber [at Court] to wait before prayers, Dr. Swift was the principal man of talk and business. He was soliciting the Earl of Arran to speak to his brother, the Duke of Ormond, to get a place for a clergyman. He was promising Mr. Thorold to undertake, with my Lord Treasurer, that he should obtain a salary of 2001. per annum as member of the English Church at Rotterdam. He stopped F. Gwynne, Esq., going in to the Queen with the red bag, and told him aloud, he had something to say to him from my Lord Treasurer. He took out his gold watch, and telling the time of day, complained that it was very late. A gentleman said he was too fast. 'How can I help it,' says the doctor, 'if the courtiers give me a watch that won't go right?' Then he instructed a young nobleman, that the best poet in England was Mr. Pope (a Papist), who had begun a translation of Homer into English, for which he would have them all subscribe; 'For,' says he, 'he shall not begin to print till I have a thousand guineas for him.' Lord Treasurer, after leaving the Queen, came through the room beckoning Dr. Swift to follow him,—both went off just before prayers." There's a little malice in the Bishop's "just before prayers."
This picture of the great Dean seems a true one, and is harsh, though not altogether unpleasant. He was doing good, and to deserving men too, in the midst of these intrigues and triumphs. His journals and a thousand aneedotes of him relate his kind acts and rough manners. His hand was constantly stretched out to relieve an honest man—he was cautious about his money, but ready.—If you were in a strait would you like such a benefactor? I think I would rather have had a potato and a friendly word from Goldsmith than have been beholden to the Dean for a guinea and a dinner. He insulted a man as he served him, made women cry, guests look foolish, bullied unlucky friends, and flung his benefactions into poor men's faces. No; the Dean was no Irishman—no Irishman ever gave but with a kind word and a kind heart.
It is told, as if it were to Swift's credit, that the Dean of St. Patrick's performed his family devotions every morning regularly, but with such secresy, that the guests in his house were never in the least aware of the ceremony. There was no need surely why a church dignitary should assemble his family privily in a crypt, and as if he was afraid of heathen persecution. But I think the world was right, and the bishops who advised Queen Anne, when they counselled her not to appoint the author of the "Tale of a Tub" to a bishopric, gave perfectly good advice. The man who wrote the arguments and illustrations in that wild book, could not but be aware what must be the sequel of the propositions which he laid down. The boon companion of Pope and Bolingbroke, who chose these as the friends of his life, and the recipients of his confidence and affection, must have heard many an argument, and joined in many a conversation over Pope's port, or St. John's Burgundy, which would not bear to be repeated at other men's boards.
I know of few things more conclusive as to the sincerity of Swift's religion than his advice to poor John Gay to turn clergyman, and look out for a seat on the Bench. Gay, the author of the " Beggar's Opera' — Gay, the wildest of the wits about town—it was this man that Jonathan Swift advised to take orders—to invest in a cassock and bands—just as he advised him to husband his shillings and put his thousand pounds out at interest. The Queen, and the bishops, and the world, were right in mistrusting the religion of that man.
I am not here, of course, to speak of any man's religious views, except in so far as they influence his literary character, his life, his humour. The most notorious sinners of all those fellow-mortals whom it is our business to discuss—Harry Fielding and Dick Steele, were especially loud, and I believe really fervent, in their expressions of belief; they belaboured freethinkers, and stoned imaginary atheists on all sorts of occasions, going out of their way to bawl their own creed, and persecute their neighbour's, and if they sinned and stumbled, as they constantly did with debt, with drink, with all sorts of bad behaviour, they got up on their knees, and cried "Peccavi" with a most sonorous orthodoxy. Yes; poor Harry Fielding and poor Dick Steele were trusty and undoubting Church of England men; they abhorred Popery, Atheism, and wooden shoes, and idolatries in general; and hiccupped Church and State with fervour.
But Swift? His mind had had a different schooling, and possessed a very different logical power. He was not bred up in a tipsy guard-room, and did not learn to reason in a Covent Garden tavern. He could conduct an argument from beginning to end. He could see forward with a fatal clearness. In his old age, looking at the "Tale of a Tub," when he said, "Good God, what a genius I had when I wrote that book!" I think he was admiring not the genius, but the consequences to which the genius had brought him—a vast genius, a magnificent genius, a genius wonderfully bright, and dazzling, and strong,—to seize, to know, to see, to flash upon falsehood and scorch it into perdition, to penetrate into the hidden motives, and expose the black thoughts of men,—an awful, an evil spirit.
Ah, man! you, educated in Epicurean Temple's library, you whose friends were Pope and St. John—what made you to swear to fatal vows, and bind yourself to a life-long hypocrisy before the Heaven which you adored with such real wonder, humility, and reverence? For Swift's was a reverent, was a pious spirit—for Swift could love and could pray. Through the storms and tempests of his furious mind, the stars of religion and love break out in the blue, shining serenely, though hidden by the driving clouds and the maddened hurricane of his life.
It is my belief that he suffered frightfully from the consciousness of his own scepticism, and that he had bent his pride so far down as to put his apostasy out to hire. The paper left behind him, called "Thoughts on Religion," is merely a set of excuses for not professing disbelief. He says of his sermons that he preached pamphlets: they have scarce a Christian characteristic; they might be preached from the steps of a synagogue, or the floor of a mosque, or the box of a coffee-house almost. There is little or no cant—he is too great and too proud for that; and, in so far as the badness of his sermons goes, he is honest. But having put that cassock on, it poisoned him: he was strangled in his bands. He goes through life, tearing, like a man possessed with a devil. Like Abudah in the Arabian story, he is always looking out for the Fury, and knows that the night will come and the inevitable hag with it. What a night, my God, it was! what a lonely rage and long agony—what a vulture that tore the heart of that giant! It is awful to think of the great sufferings of this great man. Through life he always seems alone, somehow. Goethe was so. I can't fancy Shakspeare otherwise. The giants must live apart. The kings can have no company. But this man suffered so; and deserved so to suffer. One hardly reads anywhere of such a pain.
The "sæva indignatio" of which he spoke as lacerating his heart, and which he dares to inscribe on his tombstone—as if the wretch who lay under that stone waiting God's judgment had a right to be angry—breaks out from him in a thousand pages of his writing, and tears and rends him. Against men in office, he having been overthrown; against men in England, he having lost his chance of preferment there, the furious exile never fails to rage and curse. Is it fair to call the famous "Drapier's Letters" patriotism? They are master-pieces of dreadful humour and invective: they are reasoned logically enough too, but the proposition is as monstrous and fabulous as the Lilliputian island. It is not that the grievance is so great, but there is his enemy—the assault is wonderful for its activity and terrible rage. It is Samson, with a bone in his hand, rushing on his enemies and felling them: one admires not the cause so much as the strength, the anger, the fury of the champion. As is the case with madmen, certain subjects provoke him, and awaken his fits of wrath. Marriage is one of these; in a hundred passages in his writings he rages against it; rages against children—an object of constant satire, even more contemptible in his eyes than a lord's chaplain, is a poor curate with a large family. The idea of this luckless paternity never fails to bring down from him gibes and foul language. Could Dick Steele, or Goldsmith, or Fielding, in his most reckless moment of satire, have written anything like the Dean's famous "modest proposal" for eating children? Not one of these but melts at the thoughts of childhood, fondles and caresses it. Mr. Dean has no such softness, and enters the nursery with the tread and gaiety of an ogre. "I have been assured," says he in the "Modest Proposal," "by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child, well-nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make, no doubt it will equally serve in a ragout." And taking up this pretty joke, as his way is, he argues it with perfect gravity and logic. He turns and twists this subject in a score of different ways: he hashes it; and he serves it up cold; and he garnishes it; and relishes it always. He describes the little animal as "dropped from its dam," advising that the mother should let it suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render it plump and fat for a good table! "A child," says his reverence, "will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind-quarter will make a reasonable dish," and so on; and, the subject being so delightful that he can't leave it—he proceeds to recommend, in place of venison for squires' tables, "the bodies of young lads and maidens not exceeding fourteen nor under twelve." Amiable humourist! laughing castigator of morals! There was a process well known and practised in the Dean's gay days: when a lout entered the coffee-house, the wags proceeded to what they called "roasting" him. This is roasting a subject with a vengeance. The Dean had a native genius for it. As the "Almanach des Gourmands" says, On naît rôtisseur.
And it was not merely by the sarcastic method that Swift exposed the unreasonableness of loving and having children. In Gulliver, the folly of love and marriage is urged by grayer arguments and advice. In the famous Lilliputian kingdom, Swift speaks with approval of the practice of instantly removing children from their parents and educating them by the State; and amongst his favourite horses, a pair of foals are stated to be the very utmost a well-regulated equine couple would permit themselves. In fact, our great satirist was of opinion that conjugal love was unadvisable, and illustrated the theory by his own practice and example—God help him—which made him about the most wretched being in God's world.
The grave and logical conduct of an absurd proposition, as exemplified in the cannibal proposal just mentioned, is our author's constant method through all his works of humour, Given a country of people six inches or sixty feet high, and by the mere process of the logic, a thousand wonderful absurdities are evolved, at so many stages of the calculation. Turning to the first minister who waited behind him with a white staff near as tall as the mainmast of the "Royal Sovereign," the king of Brobdingnag observes how contemptible a thing human grandeur is, as represented by such a contemptible little creature as Gulliver. "The Emperor of Lilliput's features are strong and masculine (what a surprising humour there is in this description!)—the Emperor's features,' Gulliver says, "are strong and masculine, with an Austrian lip, an arched nose, his complexion olive, his countenance erect, his body and limbs well-proportioned, and his deportment majestic. He is taller by the breadth of my nail than any of his court, which alone is enough to strike an awe into beholders."
What a surprising humour there is in these descriptions! How noble the satire is here! how just and honest! How perfect the image! Mr. Macaulay has quoted the charming lines of the poet, where the king of the pigmies is measured by the same standard. We have all read in Milton of the spear that was like "the mast of some tall amiral," but these images are surely likely to come to the comic poet originally. The subject is before him. He is turning it in a thousand ways. He is full of it. The figure suggests itself naturally to him, and comes out of his subject, as in that wonderful passage, when Gulliver's box haying been dropped by the eagle into the sea, and Gulliver having been received into the ship's cabin, he calls upon the crew to bring the box into the cabin, and put it on the table, the cabin being only a quarter the size of the box. It is the veracity of the blunder which is so admirable. Had a man come from such a country as Brobdingnag he would have blundered so.
But the best stroke of humour, if there be a best in that abounding book, is that where Gulliver, in the unpronounceable country describes his parting from his master the horse. "I took," he says, "a second leave of my master, but as I was going to prostrate myself to kiss his hoof, he did me the honour to raise it gently to my mouth. I am not ignorant how much I have been censured for mentioning this last particular. Detractors are pleased to think it improbable that so illustrious a person should descend to give so great a mark of distinction to a creature so inferior as I. Neither am I ignorant how apt some travellers are to boast of extraordinary favours they have received. But if these censurers were better acquainted with the noble and courteous disposition of the Houyhnhnms they would soon change their opinion."
The surprise here, the audacity of circumstantial evidence, the astounding gravity of the speaker, who is not ignorant how much he has been censured, the nature of the favour conferred, and the respectful exultation at the receipt of it, are surely complete; it is truth topsy-turvy, entirely logical and absurd.
As for the humour and conduct of this famous fable, I suppose there is no person who reads but must admire; as for the moral, I think it horrible, shameful, unmanly, blasphemous; and giant and great as this Dean is, I say we should hoot him. Some of this audience mayn't have read the last part of Gulliver, and to such I would recal the advice of the venerable Mr. Punch to persons about to marry, and say "Don't." When Gulliver first lands among the Yahoos, the naked howling wretches clamber up trees and assault him, and he describes himself as "almost stifled with the filth which fell about him." The reader of the fourth part of Gulliver's Travels is like the hero himself in this instance. It is Yahoo language; a monster gibbering shrieks, and gnashing imprecations against mankind,—tearing down all shreds of modesty, past all sense of manliness and shame; filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene.
And dreadful it is to think that Swift knew the tendency of his creed—the fatal rocks towards which his logic desperately drifted. That last part of Gulliver is only a consequence of what has gone before; and the worthlessness of all mankind, the pettiness, cruelty, pride, imbecility, the general vanity, the foolish pretension, the mock greatness, the pompous dulness, the mean aims, the base successes,—all these were present to him; it was with the din of these curses of the world, blasphemies against Heaven, shrieking in his ears, that he began to write his dreadful allegory,—of which the meaning is that man is utterly wicked, desperate, and imbecile, and his passions are so monstrous, and his boasted powers so mean, that he is and deserves to be the slave of brutes, and ignorance is better than his vaunted reason, What had this man done? what secret remorse was rankling at his heart? what fever was boiling in him, that he should see all the world blood-shot? We view the world with our own eyes, each of us; and we make from within us the world we see. A weary heart gets no gladness out of sunshine; a selfish man is sceptical about friendship, as a man with no ear doesn't care for music. A frightful self-consciousness it must have been, which looked on mankind so darkly through those keen eyes of Swift.
A remarkable story is told by Scott, of Delany, who interrupted Archbishop King and Swift in a conversation which left the prelate in tears, and from which Swift rushed away with marks of strong terror and agitation in his countenance, upon which the archbishop said to Delany, "You have just met the most unhappy man on earth; but on the subject of his wretchedness you must never ask a question."
The most unhappy man on earth;—Miserrimus—what a character of him! And at this time all the great wits of England had been at his feet. All Ireland had shouted after him, and worshipped as a liberator, a saviour, the greatest Irish patriot and citizen. Dean Drapier Bickerstaff Gulliver—the most famous statesmen, and the greatest poets of his day, had applauded him, and done him homage, and at this time writing over to Bolingbroke, from Ireland, he says, "It is time for me to have done with the world, and so I would if I could get into a better before I was called into the best, and not to die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole."
We have spoken about the men, and Swift's behaviour to them; and now it behoves us not to forget that there are certain other persons in the creation who had rather intimate relations with the great Dean. Two women whom he loved and injured are known by every reader of books so familiarly that if we had seen them, or if they had been relatives of our own, we scarcely could have known them better. Who hasn't in his mind an image of Stella? Who does not love her? Fair and tender creature: pure and affectionate heart! Boots it to you now that you have been at rest for a hundred and twenty years, not divided in death from the cold heart which caused yours, whilst it beat, such faithful pangs of love and grief—boots it to you now, that the whole world loves and deplores you? Scarce any man, I believe, ever thought of that grave, that did not cast a flower of pity on it, and write over it a sweet epitaph. Gentle lady!—so lovely, so loving, so unhappy. You have had countless champions, millions of manly hearts mourning for you. From generation to generation we take up the fond tradition of your beauty; we watch and follow your tragedy, your bright morning love and purity, your constancy, your grief, your sweet martyrdom. We know your legend by heart. You are one of the saints of English story.
And if Stella's love and innocence is charming to contemplate, I will say that in spite of ill-usage, in spite of drawbacks, in spite of mysterious separation and union, of hope delayed and sickened heart—in the teeth of Vanessa, and that little episodical aberration which plunged Swift into such woeful pitfalls and quagmires of amorous perplexity—in spite of the verdicts of most women, I believe, who, as far as my experience and conversation goes, generally take Vanessa's part in the controversy—in spite of the tears which Swift caused Stella to shed, and the rocks and barriers which fate and temper interposed, and which prevented the pure course of that true love from running smoothly; the brightest part of Swift's story, the pure star in that dark and tempestuous life of Swift's, is his love for Hester Johnson. It has been my business, professionally of course, to go through a deal of sentimental reading in my time, and to acquaint myself with love-making, as it has been described in various languages, and at various ages of the world; and I know of nothing more manly, more tender, more exquisitely touching, than some of these brief notes, written in what Swift calls "his little language" in his journal to Stella. He writes to her night and morning often. He never sends away a letter to her but he begins a new one on the same day. He can't bear to let go her kind little hand as it were. He knows that she is thinking of him, and longing for him far away in Dublin yonder. He takes her letters from under his pillow and talks to them, familiarly, paternally, with fond epithets and pretty caresses—as he would to the sweet and artless creature who loved him. "Stay," he writes one morning—it is the 14th of December, 1710—"Stay, I will answer some of your letter this morning in bed—let me see. Come and appear little letter! Here I am says he, and what say you to Stella this morning fresh and fasting? And can Stella read this writing without hurting her dear eyes?" he goes on, after more kind prattle and fond whispering. The dear eyes shine clearly upon him then—the good angel of his life is with him and blessing him. Ah, it was a hard fate that wrung from them so many tears, and stabbed pitilessly that pure and tender bosom. A hard fate: but would she have changed it? I have heard a woman say that she would have taken Swift's cruelty to have had his tenderness. He had a sort of worship for her whilst he wounded her. He speaks of her after she is gone; of her wit, of her kindness, of her grace, of her beauty, with a simple love and reverence that are indescribably touching; in contemplation of her goodness his hard heart melts into pathos: his cold rhyme kindles and glows into poetry, and he falls down on his knees, so to speak, before the angel, whose life he had embittered, confesses his own wretchedness and unworthiness, and adores her with cries of remorse and love:—
"When on my sickly couch I lay,
Impatient both of night and day,
And groaning in womanly strains,
Called every power to ease my pains,
Then Stella ran to my relief,
With cheerful face and inward grief,
And though by Heaven's severe decree
She suffers hourly more than me,
No cruel master could require
From slaves employed for daily hire,
What Stella, by her friendship warmed,
With vigour and delight performed.
Now, with a soft and silent tread,
Unheard she moves about my bed:
My sinking spirits now supplies
With cordials in her hands and eyes.
Best pattern of true friends! beware;
You pay too dearly for your care
If, while your tenderness secures
My life, it must endanger yours:
For such a fool was never found
Who pulled a palace to the ground,
Only to have the ruins made
Materials for a house decayed."
One little triumph Stella had in her life—one dear little piece of injustice was performed in her favour, for which I confess, for my part, I can't help thanking fate and the Dean. That other person was sacrificed to her—that—that young woman, who lived five doors from Dr. Swift's lodgings in Bury-street, and who flattered him, and made love to him in such an outrageous manner—Vanessa was thrown over.
Swift did not keep Stella's letters to him in reply to those he wrote to her. He kept Bolingbroke's, and Pope's, and Harley's, and Peterborough's: but Stella, "very carefully," the Lives say, kept Swift's. Of course: that is the way of the world: and so we cannot tell what her style was, or of what sort were the little letters which the Doctor placed there at night, and bade to appear from under his pillow of a morning. But in Letter IV. of that famous collection he describes his lodging in Bury-street, where he has the first floor, a dining-room and bed-chamber, at eight shillings a-week; and in Letter VI. he says "he has visited a lady just come to town," whose name somehow is not mentioned; and in Letter VIII. he enters a query of Stella's—"What do you mean 'that boards near me, that I dine with now and then?' What the deuce! You know whom I have dined with every day since I left you, better than I do." Of course she does. Of course Swift has not the slightest idea of what she means. But in a few letters more it turns out that the Doctor has been to dine "gravely" with a Mrs. Vanhomrigh: then that he has been to "his neighbour:" then that he has been unwell, and means to dine for the whole week with his neighbour! Stella was quite right in her previsions. She saw from the very first hint what was going to happen; and scented Vanessa in the air. The rival is at the Dean's feet. The pupil and teacher are reading together, and drinking tea together, and going to prayers together, and learning Latin together, and conjugating amo, amas, amavi together. The little language is over for poor Stella. By the rule of grammar and the course of conjugation, doesn't amavi come after amo and amas?
The loves of Cadenus and Vanessa you may peruse in Cadenus's own poem on the subject, and in poor Vanessa's vehement expostulatory verses and letters to him, she adores him, implores him, admires him, thinks him something god-like, and only prays to be admitted to lie at his feet. As they are bringing him home from church, those divine feet of Dr. Swift's are found pretty often in Vanessa's parlour. He likes to be admired and adored. He finds Miss Vanhomrigh to be a woman of great taste and spirit, and beauty and wit, and a fortune too. He sees her every day; he does not tell Stella about the business: until the impetuous Vanessa becomes too fond of him, until the doctor is quite frightened by the young woman's ardour, and confounded by her warmth. He wanted to marry neither of them—that I believe was the truth; but if he had not married Stella, Vanessa would have had him in spite of himself. When he went back to Ireland, his Ariadne, not content to remain in her isle, pursued the fugitive Dean. In vain he protested, he vowed, he soothed and bullied; the news of the Dean's marriage with Stella at last came to her, and it killed her—she died of that passion.
And when she died, and Stella heard that Swift had written beautifully regarding her, "that doesn't surprise me," said Mrs. Stella, "for we all know the Dean could write beautifully about a broomstick." A woman—a true woman! Would you have had one of them forgive the other?
In a note in his biography, Scott says that his friend Dr. Tuke, of Dublin, has a lock of Stella's hair, enclosed in a paper by Swift, on which are written in the Dean's hand, the words: "Only a woman's hair." An instance, says Scott, of the Dean's desire to veil his feelings under the mask of cynical indifference.
See the various notions of critics! Do those words indicate indifference or an attempt to hide feeling? Did you ever hear or read four words more pathetic? Only a woman's hair, only love, only fidelity, only purity, innocence, beauty; only the tenderest heart in the world stricken and wounded, and passed away now out of reach of pangs of hope deferred, love insulted, and pitiless desertion;—only that lock of hair left: and memory and remorse, for the guilty, lonely wretch, shuddering over the grave of his victim.
And yet to have had so much love, he must have given some. Treasures of wit and wisdom and tenderness, too, must that man have had locked up in the caverns of his gloomy heart, and shown fitfully to one or two whom he took in there. But it was not good to visit that place. People did not remain there long, and suffered for having been there. He shrank away from all affections sooner or later. Stella and Vanessa both died near him, and away from him. He had not heart enough to see them die. He broke from his fastest friend, Sheridan; he slunk away from his fondest admirer, Pope. His laugh jars on one's ear after seven score years. He was always alone—alone and gnashing in the darkness, except when Stella's sweet smile came and shone upon him. When that went, silence and utter night closed over him. An immense genius: an awful downfall and ruin. So great a man he seems to me, that thinking of him is like thinking of an empire falling. We have other great names to mention—none I think, however, so great or so gloomy.
- The anecdote is frequently told of our performer, Rich.
- He was from a younger branch of the Swifts of Yorkshire. His grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Swift, Vicar of Goodrich, in Herefordshire, suffered for his loyalty in Charles I.'s time. That gentleman married Elizabeth Dryden, a member of the family of the poet. Sir Walter Scott gives, with his characteristic minuteness in such points, the exact relationship between these famous men. Swift was "the son of Dryden's second cousin." Swift, too, was the enemy of Dryden's reputation, Witness the "Battle of the Books:"—"The difference was greatest among the horse," says he of the moderns, "where every private trooper pretended to the command, from Tasso and Milton to Dryden and Withers." And in "Poetry, a Rhapsody," he advises the poetaster to—
"Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet," was the phrase of Dryden to his kinsman, which remained alive in a memory tenacious of such matters.
- "Miss Hetty" she was called in the family—where her face, and her dress, and Sir William's treatment of her—all made the real fact about her birth plain enough. Sir William left her a thousand pounds.
- Sometimes, during his mental affliction, he continued walking about the house for many consecutive hours; sometimes he remained in a kind of torpor. At times, he would seem to struggle to bring into distinct consciousness and shape into expression, the intellect that lay smothering under gloomy obstruction in him. A pier-glass falling by accident, nearly fell on him. He said, he wished it had! He once repeated, slowly, several times, "I am what I am." The last thing he wrote was an epigram on the building of a magazine for arms and stores, which was pointed out to him as he went abroad during his mental disease:—
Behold a proof of Irish sense:
Here Irish wit is seen;
When nothing's left that's worth defence,
They build a magazine!
- Besides these famous books of Scott's and Johnson's, there is a copious "Life" by Thomas Sheridan (Dr. Johnson's "Sherry"), father of Richard Brinsley, and son of that good-natured, clever, Irish, Dr. Thomas Sheridan, Swift's intimate, who lost his chaplaincy by so unluckily choosing for a text on the king's birthday, "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof!" Not to mention less important works, there is also the "Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift," by that polite and dignified writer, the Earl of Orrery. His lordship is said to have striven for literary renown, chiefly that he might make up for the slight passed on him by his father, who left his library away from him. It is to be feared that the ink he used to wash out that stain only made it look bigger. He had, however, known Swift, and corresponded with people who knew him. His work (which appeared in 1751) provoked a good deal of controversy, calling out, among other brochures, the interesting "Observations on Lord Orrery's Remarks," &c. of Dr. Delany.
- Dr. Wilde's book was written on the occasion of the remains of Swift and Stella being brought to the light of day—a thing which happened in 1835, when certain works going on in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, afforded an opportunity of their being examined. One hears with surprise of these skulls "going the rounds" of houses, and being made the objects of dilettante curiosity. The larynx of Swift was actually carried off! Phrenologists had a low opinion of his intellect, from the observations they took.
Dr. Wilde traces the symptoms of ill-health in Swift, as detailed in his writings from time to time. He observes, likewise, that the skull gave evidence of "diseased action" of the brain during life—such as would be produced by an increasing tendency to "cerebral congestion."
- "He [Dr. Johnson] seemed to me to have an unaccountable prejudice against Swift; for I once took the liberty to ask him if Swift had personally offended him, and he told me he had not."—Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides.
- Few men, to be sure, dared this experiment, but yet their success was encouraging. One gentleman made a point of asking the Dean, whether his uncle Godwin had not given him his education. Swift, who hated that subject cordially, and, indeed, cared little for his kindred, said, sternly, "Yes; he gave me the education of a dog." "Then, sir," cried the other, striking his fist on the table, "you have not the gratitude of a dog!"
Other occasions there were when a bold face gave the Dean pause, even after his Trish almost-royal position was established. But he brought himself into greater danger on a certain occasion and the amusing circumstances may be once more repeated here. He had unsparingly lashed the notable Dublin lawyer, Mr. Serjeant Bettesworth—
"So, at the bar, the booby Bettesworth,
Though half-a-crown out-pays his sweat's worth,
Who knows in law nor text nor margent,
Calls Singleton his brother-serjeant!"
The Serjeant, it is said, swore to have his life. He presented himself at the deanery. The Dean asked his name. "Sir, I am Serjeant Bett-es-worth."
"In what regiment, pray?" asked Swift.
A guard of volunteers formed themselves to defend the Dean this time.
- "But, my Hamilton, I will never hide the freedom of my sentiments from you. I am much inclined to believe that the temper of my friend Swift might occasion his English friends to wish him happily and properly promoted at a distance. His spirit, for I would give it the proper name, was ever untractable. The motions of his genius were often irregular. He assumed more the air of a patron than of a friend. He affected rather to dictate than advise."—Orrery.
- . . . . "An anecdote which, though only told by Mrs. Pilkington, is well attested, bears, that the last time he was in London he went to dine with the Earl of Burlington, who was but newly married. The Earl, it is supposed, being willing to have a little diversion, did not introduce him to his lady, nor mention his name. After dinner, said the Dean, 'Lady Burlington, I hear you can sing; sing me a song.' The lady looked on this unceremonious manner of asking a favour with distaste, and positively refused. He said 'She should sing, or he would make her. Why, madam, I suppose you take me for one of your poor English hedge-parsons; sing when I bid you.' As the Earl did nothing but laugh at this freedom, the lady was so vexed that she burst into tears and retired. His first compliment to her when he saw her again was, 'Pray, madam, are you as proud and ill-natured now as when I saw you last?' To which she answered with great good-humour, 'No, Mr. Dean, I'll sing for you if you please.' From which time he conceived a great esteem for her."—Scott's Life.
. . . . "He had not the least tincture of vanity in his conversation. He was, perhaps, as he said himself, too proud to be vain. When he was polite, it was in a manner entirely his own. In his friendships he was constant and undisguised. He was the same in his enmities."—Orrery.
- "I make no figure but at court, where I affect to turn from a lord to the meanest of my acquaintances."—Journal to Stella.
"I am plagued with bad authors, verse and prose, who send me their books and poems, the vilest I ever saw; but I have given their names to my man, never to let them see me."—Journal to Stella.
The following curious paragraph illustrates the life of a courtier:—
"Did I ever tell you that the Lord Treasurer hears ill with the left ear just as I do ?. . . . . .I dare not tell him that I am so, sir; for fear he should think that I counterfeited to make my court!"—Journal to Stella.
- The war of pamphlets was carried on fiercely on one side and the other: and the Whig attacks made the ministry Swift served very sore. Bolingbroke laid hold of several of the Opposition pamphleteers, and bewails their "factiousness" in the following letter:
Bolingbroke to the Earl of Strafford.
"Whitehall, July 23rd, 1712.
"It is a melancholy consideration that the laws of our country are too weak to punish effectually those factious scribblers, who presume to blacken the brightest characters, and to give even scurrilous language to those who are in the first degrees of honour. This, my lord, among others, is a symptom of the decayed condition of our government, and serves to show how fatally we mistake licentiousness for liberty. All I could do was to take up Hart, the printer, to send him to Newgate, and to bind him over upon bail to be prosecuted; this I have done, and if I can arrive at legal proof against the author Ridpath, he shall have the same treatment."
Swift was not behind his illustrious friend in this virtuous indignation. In the history of the four last years of the Queen, the Dean speaks in the most edifying manner of the licentiousness of the press and the abusive language of the other party:
"It must be acknowledged that the bad practices of printers have been such as to deserve the severest animadversion from the public. . . . . . . The adverse party, full of rage and leisure since their fall, and unanimous in their cause, employ a set of writers by subscription who are well versed in all the topics of defamation and have a style and genius levelled to the generality of their readers. . . . . . . However, the mischiefs of the press were too exorbitant to be cured by such a remedy as a tax upon small papers, and a bill for a much more effectual regulation of it was brought into the House of Commons, but so late in the session that there was no time to pass it, for there always appeared an unwillingness to cramp overmuch the liberty of the press,"
But to a clause in the proposed bill, that the names of authors should be set to every printed book, pamphlet, or paper, his reverence objects altogether, for, says he, "beside the objection to this clause from the practice of pious men, who, in publishing excellent writings for the service of religion, have chosen, out of an humble Christian spirit, to conceal their names; it is certain that all persons of true genius or knowledge have an invincible modesty and suspicion of themselves upon their first sending their thoughts into the world."
This "invincible modesty" was no doubt the sole reason which induced the Dean to keep the secret of the "Drapier's Letters," and a hundred humble Christian works of which he was the author. As for the Opposition, the Doctor was for dealing severely with them: he writes to Stella:—
Journal. Letter XIX.
"London, March 25th, 1710-11.
". . . . . . We have let Guiscard be buried at last, after showing him pickled in a trough this fortnight for twopence a piece; and the fellow that showed would point to his body and say, 'See, gentlemen, this is the wound that was given him by his Grace the Duke of Ormond;' and, 'This is the wound, &c.; and then the show was over, and another set of rabble came in. 'Tis hard that our laws would not suffer us to hang his body in chains, because he was not tried; and in the eye of the law every man is innocent till then." ******
Journal. Letter XXVII.
"London, July 25th, 1711.
"I was this afternoon with Mr. Secretary at his office, and helped to hinder a man of his pardon, who is condemned for a rape. The Under Secretary was willing to save hin; but I told the Secretary he could not pardon him without a favourable report from the Judge; besides, he was a fiddler, and consequently a rogue, and deserved hanging for something else, and so le shall swing."
- It was his constant practice to keep his birth-day as a day of mourning.
- "These devils of Grub-street rogues, that write the Flying-Post and Medley in one paper, will not be quiet. They are always mauling Lord Treasurer, Lord Bolingbroke, and me. We have the dog under prosecution, but Bolingbroke is not active enough: but I hope to swinge him. He is a Scotch rogue, one Ridpath. They get out upon bail, and write on. We take them again, and get fresh bail; so it goes round."—Journal to Stella.
- Swift was by no means inclined to forget such considerations; and his English birth makes its mark, strikingly enough, every now and then in his writings. Thus in a letter to Pope (Scott's Swift, vol, xix. p. 97), he says—
"We have had your volume of letters . . . . Some of those who highly value you, and a few who knew you personally, are grieved to find you make no distinction between the English gentry of this kingdom, and the savage old Irish (who are only the vulgar, and some gentlemen who live in the Irish parts of the kingdom); but the English colonies, who are three parts in four, are much more civilized than many counties in England, and speak better English, and are much better bred."
And again, in the fourth Drapier's Letter, we have the following:—
"A short paper, printed at Bristol, and reprinted here, reports Mr. Wood to say 'that he wonders at the impudence and insolence of the Irish, in refusing his coin.' When by the way, it is the true English people of Ireland who refuse it, although we take it for granted that the Irish will do so too whenever they are asked."—Scott's Swift, vol. iv. p. 143.
He goes further, in a good-humoured satirical paper, "On Barbarous Denominations in Ireland," where (after abusing, as he was wont, the Scotch cadence, as well as expression) he advances to the "Irish brogue," and speaking of the "censure" which it brings down, says:—
"And what is yet worse, it is too well known that the bad consequence of this opinion affects those among us who are not the least liable to such reproaches farther than the misfortune of being born in Ireland, although of English parents, and whose education has been chiefly in that kingdom."—Ibid, vol. vii. p. 149.
But, indeed, if we are to make anything of Race at all, we must call that man an Englishman whose father comes from an old Yorkshire family, and his mother from an old Leicestershire one!
- "The style of his conversation was very much of a piece with that of his writings, concise and clear and strong. Being one day at a Sheriff's feast, who amongst other toasts called out to him, 'Mr. Dean, The trade of Ireland!' He answered quick: 'Sir, I drink no memories!'. . . . . .
"Happening to be in company with a petulant young man who prided himself on saying pert things . . . and who cried out—'You must know, Mr. Dean, that I set up for a wit?' 'Do you so,' says the Dean, 'take my advice, and sit down again!'
"At another time, being in company, where a lady whisking her long train [long trains were then in fashion] swept down a fine fiddle and broke it; Swift cried out—
"Mantua væ miseræ nimium vicina Cremonæ!"
—Dr. Delany. Observations upon Lord Orrery's "Remarks, &c." in Swift. London, 1754.
- "Don't you remember how I used to be in pain when Sir William Temple would look cold and out of humour for three or four days, and I used to suspect a hundred reasons? I have plucked up my spirits since then, faith; he spoiled a fine gentleman."—Journal to Stella.
- . . . "The Epicureans were more intelligible in their notion, and fortunate in their expression, when they placed a man's happiness in the tranquillity of his mind and indolence of body; for while we are composed of both, I doubt both must have a share in the good or ill we feel. As men of several languages say the same things in very different words, so in several ages, countries, constitutions of laws and religion, the same thing seems to be meant by very different expressions; what is called by the Stoics apathy, or dispassion; by the sceptics, indisturbance; by the Molinists, quietism; by common men, peace of conscience,—seems all to mean but great. For this reason Epicurus passed his life wholly in his garden: there he studied, there he exercised, there he taught his philosophy; and, indeed, no other sort of abode seems to contribute so much to both the tranquillity of mind and indolence of body, which he made his chief ends. The sweetness of the air, the pleasantness of smell, the verdure of plants, the cleanness and lightness of food, the exercise of working or walking; but, above all, the exemption from cares and solicitude, seem equally to favour and improve both contemplation and health, the enjoyment of sense and imagination, and thereby the quiet and ease both of the body and mind. . . . . . Where Paradise was has been much debated, and little agreed; but what sort of place is meant by it may perhaps easier be conjectured. It seems to have been a Persian word, since Xenophon and other Greek authors mention it, as what was much in use and delight among the kings of those eastern countries. Strabo describing Jericho: 'Ibi est palmetum, cui immixtae sunt etiam aliae stirpes hortenses, locus ferax palmis abundans, spatio stadiorum centum, totus irriguus, ibi est Regis Balsami paradisus,'"—Essay on Gardens.
In the same famous essay Temple speaks of a friend, whose conduct and prudence he characteristically admires.
. . . . "I thought it very prudent in a gentleman of my friends in Staffordshire, who is a great lover of his garden, to pretend no higher, though his soil be good enough, than to the perfection of plums; and in those (by bestowing south walls upon them) he has very well succeeded, which he could never have done in attempts upon peaches and grapes; and a good plum is certainly better than an ill peach."
Swift's Thoughts on Hanging.
(Directions to Servants.)
"To grow old in the office of a footman, is the highest of all indignities; therefore, when you find years coming on without hopes of a place at court, a command in the army, a succession to the stewardship, an employment in the revenue (which two last you cannot obtain without reading and writing), or running away with your master's niece or daughter, I directly advise you to go upon the road, which is the only post of honour left you: there you will meet many of your old comrades, and live a short life and a merry one, and making a figure at your exit, wherein I will give you some instructions.
"The last advice I give you relates to your behaviour when you are going to be hanged; which, either for robbing your master, for house-breaking, or going upon the highway, or in a drunken quarrel by killing the first man you meet, may very probably be your lot, and is owing to one of these three qualities: either a love of good fellowship, a generosity of mind, or too much vivacity of spirits. Your good behaviour on this article will concern your whole community: deny the fact with all solemnity of imprecations: a hundred of your brethren, if they can be admitted, will attend about the bar, and be ready upon demand to give you a character before the Court; let nothing prevail on you to confess, but the promise of a pardon for discovering your comrades: but I suppose all this to be in vain; for if you escape now, your fate will be the same another day, Get a speech to be written by the best author of Newgate: some of your kind wenches will provide you with a holland shirt and white cap, crowned with a crimson or black ribbon: take leave cheerfully of all your friends in Newgate; mount the cart with courage; fall on your knees; lift up your eyes; hold a book in your hands, although you cannot read a word; deny the fact at the gallows; kiss and forgive the hangman, and so farewell; you shall be buried in pomp at the charge of the fraternity: the surgeon shall not touch a limb of you; and your fame shall continue until a successor of equal renown succeeds in your place. . . . . . ."
- "He continued in Sir William Temple's house till the death of that great man,"—Anecdotes of the Family of Swift, by the Dean.
"It has since pleased God to take this great and good person to himself."—Preface to Temple's Works.
On all public occasions, Swift speaks of Sir William in the same tone. But the reader will better understand how acutely he remembered the indignities he suffered in his household, from the subjoined extracts from the Journal to Stella:—
"I called at Mr. Secretary the other day, to see what the d—— ailed him on Sunday; I made him a very proper speech; told him I observed he was much out of temper, that I did not expect he would tell me the cause, but would be glad to see he was in better; and one thing I warned him of—never to appear cold to me, for I would not be treated like a schoolboy; that I had felt too much of that in my life already" (meaning Sir William Temple), &c. &c.—Journal to Stella.
"I am thinking what a veneration we used to have for Sir William Temple because he might have been sccretary of state at fifty; and here is a young fellow hardly thirty in that employment."—Ibid.
"The Secretary is as easy with me as Mr. Addison was. I have often thought what a splutter Sir William Temple makes about being Secretary of State,"—Ibid.
"Lord Treasurer has had an ugly fit of the rheumatism, but is now quite well. I was playing at one-and-thirty with him and his family the other night. He gave us all twelvepence apiece to begin with; it put me in mind of Sir William Temple."—Ibid.
"I thought I saw Jack Temple [nephew to Sir William,] and his wife pass by me to-day in their coach; but I took no notice of them, I am glad I have wholly shaken off that family."—S. to S., Sept. 1710.
- "Swift must be allowed," says Dr. Johnson, "for a time, to have dictated the political opinions of the English nation."
A conversation on the Dean's pamphlets excited one of the Doctor's liveliest sallies. "One, in particular, praised his 'Conduct of the Allies.'—Johnson: 'Sir, his 'Conduct of the Allies' is a performance of very little ability. . . . . . . Why, sir, Tom Davies might have written the 'Conduct of the Allies!'"—Boswell's Life of Johnson.
- "Whenever ho fell into the company of any person for the first time, it was his custom to try their tempers and disposition by some abrupt question that bore the appearance of rudeness. If this were well taken, and answered with good humour, he afterwards made amends by his civilities. But if he saw any marks of resentment, from alarmed pride, vanity, or conceit, he dropped all further intercourse with the party. This will be illustrated by an anecdote of that sort related by Mrs. Pilkington. After supper, the Dean having decanted a bottle of wine, poured what remained into a glass, and seeing it was muddy, presented it to Mr. Pilkington to drink it. 'For,' said he, 'I always keep some poor parson to drink the foul wine for me." Mr. Pilkington, entering into his humour, thanked him, and told him 'he did not know the difference, but was glad to get a glass at any rate.' 'Why then,' said the Dean, 'you shan't, for I'll drink it myself. Why,——take you, you are wiser than a paltry curate whom I asked to dine with me a few days ago; for upon my making the same speech to him, he said, he did not understand such usage, and so walked off without his dinner. By the same token, I told the gentleman who recommended him to me, that the fellow was a blockhead, and I had done with him."—Sheridan's Life of Swift.
from the archbishop of cashell.
"Cashell, May 31st, 1735.
"I have been so unfortunate in all my contests of late, that I am resolved to have no more, especially where I am likely to be overmatched; and as I have some reason to hope what is past will be forgotten, I confess I did endeavour in my last to put the best colour I could think of upon a very bad cause, My friends judge right of my idleness; but, in reality, it has hitherto proceeded from a hurry and confusion, arising from a thousand unlucky unforeseen accidents rather than mere sloth. I have but one troublesome affair now upon my hands, which, by the help of the prime serjeant, I hope soon to get rid of; and then you shall see me a true Irish bishop, Sir James Ware has made a very useful collection of the memorable actions of my predecessors. He tells me, they were born in such a town of England or Ireland; were consecrated such a year; and, if not translated, were buried in the Cathedral church, either on the north or south side. Whence I conclude, that a good bishop has nothing more to do than to eat, drink, grow fat, rich, and die; which laudable example I propose for the remainder of my life to follow; for to tell you the truth, I have for these four or five years past met with so much treachery, baseness, and ingratitude among mankind, that I can hardly think it incumbent on any man to endeavour to do good to so perverse a generation.
"I am truly concerned at the account you give me of your health. Without doubt a southern ramble will prove the best remedy you can take to recover your flesh; and I do not know, except in one stage, where you can choose a road so suited to your circumstances, as from Dublin hither. You have to Kilkenny a turnpike and good inns, at every ten or twelve miles end. From Kilkenny hither is twenty long miles, bad road, and no inns at all: but I have an expedient for you. At the foot of a very high hill, just midway, there lives in a neat thatched cabin, a parson, who is not poor; his wife is allowed to be the best little woman in the world. Her chickens are the fattest, and her ale the best in all the country. Besides, the parson has a little cellar of his own, of which he keeps the key, where he always has a hogshead of the best wine that can be got, in bottles well corked, upon their side; and he cleans, and pulls out the cork better, I think, than Robin. Here I design to meet you with a coach; if you be tired, you shall stay all night; if not, after dinner we will set out about four, and be at Cashell by nine; and by going through fields and by-ways, which the parson will show us, we shall escape all the rocky and stony roads that lie between this place and that, which are certainly very bad. I hope you will be so kind as to let me know a post or two before you set out, the very day you will be at Kilkenny, that I may have all things prepared for you. It may be, if you ask him, Cope will come: he will do nothing for me. Therefore, depending upon your positive promise, I shall add no more arguments to persuade you, and am, with the greatest truth, your most faithful and obedient servant,
- "Mr. Swift lived with him [Sir William Temple] some time, but resolving to settle himself in some way of living, was inclined to take orders. However, although his fortune was very small, he had a scruple of entering into the Church merely for support."—Anecdotes of the Family of Swift, by the Dean.
- "Dr. Swift had a natural severity of face, which even his smiles could never soften, or his utmost gaiety render placid and serene; but when that sternness of visage was increased by rage, it is scarce possible to imagine looks or features that carried in them more terror and austerity."—Orrery.
"London, April 10th, 1713.
- "My health is somewhat mended, but at best I have an ill head and an aching heart,"—In May, 1719.
- Perhaps the most melancholy satire in the whole of the dreadful book, is the description of the very old people in the Voyage to Laputa. At Lugnag, Gulliver hears of some persons who never die, called the Struldbrugs, and expressing a wish to become acquainted with men who must have so much learning and experience, his colloquist describes the Struldbrugs to him.
"He said, They commonly acted like mortals, till about thirty years old, after which, by degrees, they grew melancholy and dejected, increasing in both till they came to fourscore. This he learned from their own confession: for otherwise there not being above two or three of that species born in an age, they were too few to form a general observation by. When they come to fourscore years, which is reckoned the extremity of living in this country, they had not only all the follies and infirmities of other old men, but many more, which arose from the prospect of never dying. They were not only opinionative, peevish, covetous, morose, vain, talkative, but incapable of friendship, and dead to all natural affection, which never descended below their grandchildren. Envy and impotent desires are their prevailing passions. But those objects against which their envy seems principally directed, are the vices of the younger sort and the deaths of the old. By reflecting on the former, they find themselves cut off from all possibility of pleasure; and whenever they see a funeral, they lament and repent that others are gone to a harbour of rest, to which they themselves never can hope to arrive. They have no remembrance of anything but what they learned and observed in their youth and middle age, and even that is very imperfect. And for the truth or particulars of any fact, it is safer to depend on common tradition than upon their best recollections. The least miserable among them appear to be those who turn to dotage, and entirely lose their memories; these meet with more pity and assistance, because they want many bad qualities which abound in others.
"If a Struldbrug happened to marry one of his own kind, the marriage is dissolved of course, by the courtesy of the kingdom, as soon as the younger of the two comes to be fourscore. For the law thinks it to be a reasonable indulgence that those who are condemned, without any fault of their own, to a perpetual continuance in the world, should not have their misery doubled by the load of a wife.
"As soon as they have completed the term of eighty years, they are looked on as dead in law; their heirs immediately succeed to their estates, only a small pittance is reserved for their support; and the poor ones are maintained at the public charge. After that period, they are held incapable of any employment of trust or profit, they cannot purchase lands or take leases, neither are they allowed to be witnesses in any cause, either civil or criminal, not even for the decision of meers and bounds.
"At ninety they lose their teeth and hair; they have at that age no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue, without increasing or diminishing. In talking, they forget the common appellation of things, and the names of persons, even of those who are their nearest friends and relatives. For the same reason, they can never amuse themselves with reading, because their memory will not serve to carry them from the beginning of a sentence to the end; and by this defect they are deprived of the only entertainment whereof they might otherwise be capable.
"The language of this country being always on the flux, the Struldbrugs of one age do not understand those of another; neither are they able, after two hundred years, to hold any conversation (further than by a few general words) with their neighbours, the mortals; and thus they lie under the disadvantage of living like foreigners in their own country. "This was the account given me of the Struldbrugs, as near as I can remember. I afterwards saw five or six of different ages, the youngest not above two hundred years old, who were brought to me several times by some of my friends; but although they were told 'that I was a great traveller, and had seen all the world,' they had not the least curiosity to ask me a single question; only desired I would give them slumskudask, or a token of remembrance; which is a modest way of begging, to avoid the law that strictly forbids it, because they are provided for by the public, although indeed with a very scanty allowance.
"They are despised and hated by all sorts of people; when one of them is born, it is reckoned ominous, and their birth is recorded very particularly; so that you may know their age by consulting the register, which, however, has not been kept above a thousand years past, or at least has been destroyed by time or public disturbances. But the usual way of computing how old they are, is, by asking them what kings or great persons they can remember, and then consulting history; for infallibly the last prince in their mind did not begin his reign after they were fourscore years old.
"They were the most mortifying sight I ever beheld, and the women more horrible than the men; besides the usual deformities in extreme old age, they acquired an additional ghastliness, in proportion to their number of years, which is not to be described; and among half a dozen, I soon distinguished which was the eldest, although there was not above a century or two between them."—Gulliver's Travels.
- The name of Varina has been thrown into the shade by those of the famous Stella and Vanessa; but she had a story of her own to tell about the blue eyes of young Jonathan. One may say that the book of Swift's Life opens at places kept by these blighted flowers! Varina must have a paragraph.
She was a Miss Jane Waryng, sister to a college chum of his. In 1696, when Swift was nineteen years old, we find him writing a love-letter to her, beginning, "Impatience is the most inseparable quality of a lover." But absence made a great difference in his feelings; so, four years afterwards, the tone is changed. He writes again, a very curious letter, offering to marry her, and putting the offer in such a way that nobody could possibly accept it.
After dwelling on his poverty, &c., he says, conditionally, "I shall be blessed to have you in my arms, without regarding whether your person be beautiful, or your fortune large. Cleanliness in the first, and competency in the second, is all I ask for!"
The editors do not tell us what became of Varina in life. One would be glad to know that she met with some worthy partner, and lived long enough to see her little boys laughing over Lilliput, without any arrière pensée of a sad character about the great Dean!
- A sentimental Champollion might find a good deal of matter for his art, in expounding the symbols of the "Little Language." Usually, Stella is "M.D." but sometimes her companion, Mrs. Dingley, is included in it. Swift is "Presto;" also P.D.F.R. We have "Goodnight, M.D.; Night, M.D.; Little M.D.; Stellakins; Pretty Stella; Dear roguish, impudent, pretty M.D.!" Every nowand then he breaks into rhyme, as—
"I wish you both a merry new year,
Roast beef, minced-pies, and good strong beer,
And me a share of your good cheer,
That I was there, as you were here,
And you are a little saucy dear."
- The following passages are from a paper begun by Swift on the evening of the day of her death, Jan. 28, 1727-8:
"She was sickly from her childhood, until about the age of fifteen; but then she grew into perfect health, and was looked upon as one of the most beautiful, graceful, and agreeable young women in London—only a little too fat. Her hair was blacker than a raven, and every feature of her face in perfection.
. . . ."Properly speaking"—he goes on with a calmness which, under the circumstances, is terrible—"she has been dying six months!". . . . .
"Never was any of her sex born with better gifts of the mind, or who more improved them by reading and conversation. . . . . . All of us who had the happiness of her friendship agreed unanimously that in an afternoon's or evening's conversation she never failed before we parted of delivering the best thing that was said in the company. Some of us have written down several of her sayings, or what the French call bons mots, wherein she excelled beyond belief."
The specimens on record, however, in the Dean's paper called "Bons Mots de Stella," scarcely bear out this last part of the panegyric. But the following prove her wit:
"A gentleman, who had been very silly and pert in her company, at last began to grieve at remembering the loss of a child lately dead. A bishop sitting by comforted him—that he should be easy, because 'the child was gone to heaven.' 'No, my lord,' said she; 'that is it which most grieves him, because he is sure never to see his child there.'
"When she was extremely ill, her physician said, 'Madam, you are near the bottom of the hill, but we will endeavour to get you up again,' She answered, 'Doctor, I fear I shall be out of breath before I get up to the top.'
"A very dirty clergyman of her acquaintance, who affected smartness and repartees, was asked by some of the company how his nails came to be so dirty. He was at a loss; but she solved the difficulty, by saying, 'the Doctor's nails grew dirty by scratching himself.'
"A quaker apothecary sent her a vial, corked; it had a broad brim, and a label of paper about its neck. 'What is that'—said she—'my apothecary's son!' The ridiculous resemblance, and the suddenness of the question, set us all a-laughing."—Swift's Works, Scott's Ed. vol. ix, 295-6.
- "I am so hot and lazy after my morning's walk, that I loitered at Mrs. Vanhomrigh's, where my best gown and periwig was, and out of mere listlessness dine there, very often; so I did to-day."—Journal to Stella.
Mrs. Vanhomrigh, "Vanessa's" mother, was the widow of a Dutch merchant who held lucrative appointments in King William's time. The family settled in London in 1709, and had a house in Bury-street, St. James's—a street made notable by such residents as Swift and Steele; and, in our own time, Moore and Crabbe.
- "Vanessa was excessively vain. The character given of her by Cadenus is fine painting, but in general fictitious. She was fond of dress; impatient to be admired; very romantic in her turn of mind; superior, in her own opinion, to all her sex; full of pertness, gaiety, and pride; not without some agreeable accomplishments, but far from being either beautiful or genteel; . . . . . happy in the thoughts of being reported Swift's concubine, but still aiming and intending to be his wife."—Lord Orrery.
- "You bid me be easy, and you would see me as often as you could. You had better have said, as often as you can get the better of your inclinations so much; or as often as you remember there was such a one in the world. If you continue to treat me as you do, you will not be made uneasy by me long. It is impossible to describe what I have suffered since I saw you last: I am sure I could have borne the rack much better than those killing, killing words of yours. Some- times I have resolved to die without seeing you more; but those resolves, to your misfortune, did not last long; for there is something in human nature that prompts one so to find relief in this world I must give way to it, and beg you would see me, and speak kindly to me; for I am sure you'd not condemn any one to suffer what I have done, could you but know it. The reason I write to you is, because I cannot tell it to you, should I see you; for when I begin to complain, then you are angry, and there is something in your looks so awful that it strikes me dumb. Oh that you may have but so much regard for me left that this complaint may touch your soul with pity. I say as little as ever I can; did you but know what I thought, I am sure it would move you to forgive me; and believe I cannot help telling you this and live."—Vanessa. (M. 1714.)
- "If we consider Swift's behaviour, so far only as it relates to women, we shall find that he looked upon them rather as busts than as whole figures."—Orrery.
"You must have smiled to have found his house a constant seraglio of very virtuous women, who attended him from morning to night."—Orrery.
A correspondent of Sir Walter Scott's furnished him with the materials on which to found the following interesting passage about Vanessa—after she had retired to cherish her passion in retreat:—
"Marley Abbey, near Celbridge, where Miss Vanhomrigh resided, is built much in the form of a real cloister, especially in its external appearance. An aged man (upwards of ninety, by his own account) showed the grounds to my correspondent. He was the son of Mrs. Vanhomrigh's gardener, and used to work with his father in the garden while a boy. He remembered the unfortunate Vanessa well; and his account of her corresponded with the usual description of her person, especially as to her embonpoint. He said she went seldom abroad, and saw little company: her constant amusement was reading, or walking in the garden. . . . . . She avoided company, and was always melancholy, save when Dean Swift was there, and then she seemed happy. The garden was to an uncommon degree crowded with laurels. The old man said that when Miss Vanhomrigh expected the Dean she always planted with her own hand a laurel or two against his arrival. He showed her favourite seat, still called 'Vanessa's bower.' Three or four trees and some laurels indicate the spot. . . . . . There were two seats and a rude table within the bower, the opening of which commanded a view of the Liffey. . . . . . In this sequestered spot, according to the old gardener's account, the Dean and Vanessa used often to sit, with books and writing materials on the table before them."—Scott's Swift, vol. i. pp. 246-7.
. . . . "But Miss Vanhomrigh, irritated at the situation in which she found herself, determined on bringing to a crisis those expectations of a union with the object of her affections—to the hope of which she had clung amid every vicissitude of his conduct towards her. The most probable bar was his undefined connection with Mrs. Johnson, which, as it must have been perfectly known to her, had, doubtless, long elicited her secret jealousy, although only a single hint to that purpose is to be found in their correspondence, and that so early as 1713, when she writes to him—then in Ireland—'If you are very happy, it is ill-natured of you not to tell me so, except 'tis what is inconsistent with mine.' Her silence and patience under this state of uncertainty for no less than eight years, must have been partly owing to her awe for Swift, and partly, perhaps, to the weak state of her rival's health, which, from year to year, seemed to announce speedy dissolution. At length, however, Vanessa's impatience prevailed, and she ventured on the decisive step of writing to Mrs. Johnson herself, requesting to know the nature of that connection. Stella, in reply, informed her of her marriage with the Dean; and full of the highest resentment against Swift for having given another female such a right in him as Miss Vanhomrigh's inquiries implied, she sent to him her rival's letter of interrogatories, and, without seeing him, or awaiting his reply, retired to the house of Mr. Ford, near Dublin. Every reader knows the consequence. Swift, in one of those paroxysms of fury to which he was liable, both from temper and disease, rode instantly to Marley Abbey. As he entered the apartment, the sternness of his countenance, which was peculiarly formed to express the fiercer passions, struck the unfortunate Vanessa with such terror that she could scarce ask whether he would not sit down. He answered by flinging a letter on the table, and, instantly leaving the house, remounted his horse, and returned to Dublin. When Vanessa opened the packet, she only found her own letter to Stella. It was her death warrant. She sunk at once under the disappointment of the delayed, yet cherished hopes which had so long sickened her heart, and beneath the unrestrained wrath of him for whose sake she had indulged them. How long she survived the last interview is uncertain, but the time does not seem to have exceeded a few weeks."—Scott.
- "M. Swift est Rabelais dans son bon sens, et vivant en bonne compagnie. Il n'a pas, á la verite, la gaité du premier, mais il a toute la finesse, la raison, le choix, le bon goût qui manquent à notre curé de Meudon. Ses vers sont d'un goût singulier, et presque inimitable; la bonne plaisanterie est son partage en vers et en prose; mais pour le bien en tendre il faut faire un petit voyage dans son pays."—Voltaire, Lettres sur les Anglais, Let. 22.