The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 1/Life of Dr. Swift, Section II

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From the Death of Sir William Temple to the Time of his Introduction to Lord Oxford.

UPON the death of sir William Temple, Swift immediately removed to London; where his first care was to discharge the trust reposed in him, that of publishing a correct edition of sir William Temple's works; which he effected as speedily as possible, and presented them to king William, with a short dedication written by himself, as publisher. He thought he could not pay a more acceptable compliment to the king, than by dedicating to him the posthumous works of a man, for whom, from his earliest days, when prince of Orange, he had professed the highest friendship and esteem; and with whom he lived, after his arrival at the crown of England, on the most intimate footing; frequently visiting sir William in his retreat, after he had found his endeavours vain to draw him out of it, by the tempting offer of making him his first minister. There was another reason too, which must have made the publication of these works peculiarly acceptable to the king; which was, that some of the most important transactions mentioned in those writings, were relative to himself; and many personal anecdotes with regard to him, were now brought to light, which could have been disclosed by no one but sir William, and which put the character of that truly heroick prince in a high point of view. On these accounts Swift thought that such a dedication was not only the politest method of reminding the king of his promise made to sir William Temple in his behalf, but the likeliest means of having it speedily carried into execution. However, as he did not find the event answer his expectation, he applied to that monarch by memorial.

But after waiting some time, he found that his memorial had produced no better effect than his dedication. He therefore readily accepted of an offer made to him by lord Berkeley, then appointed one of the lords justices of Ireland, to attend him to that kingdom, in the double capacity of chaplain, and private secretary.

This total neglect of his promise, made in consequence of a last, and it may be called a dying request, of his particular friend, seems to bear not a little hard on the character of king William. But it is to be observed that Swift was the most unfit man in the world to solicit a point of that sort in due form, without which nothing is to be done at court. He thought that his showing himself there, or at most the dedication of sir William's works, was all that was necessary to be done on his part. And with regard to the memorial, he himself exonerated king William so far, as to say often that he believed it never was received. For he put it into the hands of a certain nobleman, who professed great regard to him, and offered to present it to the king, and second it with all his might; but Swift had afterward reason to believe that he had sunk it, and said not a word of the matter.

Swift acted as secretary to lord Berkeley, till they arrived at Dublin; when he was supplanted in that office by one Bush, who had by some means ingratiated himself with my lord; and representing the office of secretary as an improper one for a clergyman, he was appointed in Swift's room. Lord Berkeley making the best apology to him that he could, and at the same time promising to make him amends, by bestowing on him the first good church preferment that should fall in his gift. Swift was not a man to be treated in this manner with impunity. Accordingly, he gave free scope to his resentment, in a severe copy of verses, which placed the governor and his new-made secretary in a most ridiculous point of light, and which was every where handed about to their no small mortification. Soon after this the rich deanery of Derry became vacant, and as it was the earl of Berkeley's turn to present to it, Swift applied to him for it upon the strength of his promise. Lord Berkeley said, that Bush had been beforehand with him, and had got the promise of it for another. Upon seeing Swift's indignation rise at this, my lord, who began to be in no small fear of him, said that the matter might still be settled if he would talk with Bush. Swift immediately found out the secretary, who very frankly told him that he was to get a thousand pound for it, and if he would lay down the money, he should have the preference. To which Swift, enraged to the utmost degree, at an offer which he considered as the highest insult, and done evidently with lord Berkeley's participation, made no other answer but this; "God confound you both for a couple of scoundrels." With these words he immediately quitted the room, and turned his back on the castle, determined to appear there no more. But lord Berkeley was too conscious of the ill treatment he had given him, and too fearful of the resentment of an exasperated genius, not to endeavour to pacify him. He therefore immediately presented him with the rectory of Agher, and the vicarages of Laracor and Rath-beggan, then vacant in the diocese of Meath. Though these livings united did not make up a third of the deanery in value, and though from the large promises which had been made him, he had reason to expect much greater preferment, yet, considering the specimens already given of the performance of those promises, Swift thought it most prudent to accept of those livings, dropping all future expectations from that quarter. Nor did he afterward estrange himself from lord Berkeley's family, but continued still in his office of chaplain; to which he seems to have been chiefly induced, from the great honour and respect which he had for his excellent lady: whose virtues he has celebrated in so masterly a manner, in the Introduction to the Project for the Advancement of Religion.

From this behaviour to lord Berkeley, we may judge how little Swift was qualified to rise at court, in the usual way of obtaining preferment; and we may estimate the greatness of his spirit, by the degree of resentment shown to the man, in consequence of ill treatment, upon whom all his hopes of preferment then rested.

It was at this time that Swift's true humorous vein in poetry began to display itself, in several little pieces, written for the private entertainment of lord Berkeley's family; among which was that incomparable piece of low humour, called The humble Petition of Mrs. Frances Harris, &c.

When lord Berkeley quitted the government of Ireland, Swift went to reside on his living at Laracor; where he lived for some time in the constant and strict discharge of his duty.

It was about this time that Mrs. Johnson (the afterward celebrated Stella) arrived in Ireland, accompanied by another lady of the name of Dingley, who was related to the family of the Temples. Sir William Temple had bequeathed to Mrs. Johnson a legacy of a thousand pounds, in consideration of her father's faithful services, and her own rising merits. After sir William's death, she lived for some time with Mrs. Dingley, a lady who had but a small annuity to support her. In this situation Swift advised his lovely pupil to settle in Ireland, as the interest of money was at that time ten per cent in that kingdom; and considering the cheapness of provisions, her income there would afford her a genteel support, instead of a mere subsistence in England: for the same reason also he recommended it to Mrs. Dingley to accompany her. This proposal was very agreeable to both the ladies. To the latter, as she had scarce a sufficient income to subsist on in England, though managed with the utmost frugality; to the former, that she might be near her tutor, whose lessons, however they might dwell on her memory, had sunk still deeper into her heart. These ladies, soon after their arrival, took a lodging at Trim, a village near Laracor, which was the place of Swift's residence. The conversation of this amiable woman, who, by his own account, had the most and finest accomplishments of any person he had ever known of either sex, contributed not a little to sweeten his retirement, which otherwise must soon have become burdensome to so active a spirit. But though Stella's beauty was at that time arrayed in all the pride of blooming eighteen, yet it is certain that he never dropped the least hint that might induce her to consider him in the light of a lover. In his whole deportment he still maintained the character of a tutor, a guardian, and a friend; but he so studiously avoided the appearance of any other attachment to her, that he never saw, or conversed with her, but in the, presence of some third person. The truth is, that Swift, at that time, knew not what the passion of love was; his fondness for Stella was only that of an affectionate parent to a favourite child; and he had long entertained a dislike to matrimony. He seems to have been under the dominion of a still more powerful passion, that of ambition: a passion which, from his boyish days, had taken strong hold of his mind, and never afterward forsook him, till all hopes of its being farther gratified had failed.

Urged by this restless spirit, he every year paid a visit to England, absenting himself for some months from the duties of his parish, and the charming conversation of the amiable Stella, in hopes of finding some favourable opportunity of distinguishing himself, and pushing his fortune in the world. His first visit to London, from the time he had taken possession of his living, was in the year 1701. At which time he found the publick in a ferment, occasioned by the impeachment of the earls of Portland and Orford, lord Somers, and lord Halifax, by the house of commons. Upon this occasion Swift wrote and published his first political tract, entitled, A Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions in Athens and Rome. In which he displayed great knowledge in ancient history, as well as skill in the English constitution, and the state of parties. The author of this piece concealed his name with the greatest precaution, nor was he at that time personally known to any of the nobles, in whose favour it seems to have been written; and indeed, from the spirit of the piece itself, we may see that Swift was induced to write it from other motives than such as were private and personal. As no one understood the English constitution better, so no one loved it more, or would have gone greater lengths to preserve it, than Swift. He saw clearly that the balance, upon the due preservation of which the very life of our constitution depends, had been for some time in a fluctuating state, and that the popular scale was likely to preponderate. All the horrours of anarchy, and the detested times of a Cromwell, came fresh into his mind. He therefore thought it his duty to lay before the publick the fatal consequences of the encroachments then making by the commons upon the other two branches of the legislature; which he executed in a most masterly manner, with great force of argument, assisted by the most striking examples of other states in similar circumstances; and at the same time in a style and method so perspicuous, as to render the whole clear to common capacities. Another reason for supposing that Swift wrote this wholly from a principle of duty, is, that the author deals throughout in generals, excepting only one oblique compliment to the four lords who were impeached by the commons, which at the same time served to strengthen his general argument. The truth is, Swift, at that time, was of no party; he sided with the whigs merely because he thought the tories were carrying matters too far, and by the violence of their proceedings were likely to overturn that happy balance in our state, so lately settled by the glorious revolution; to which there was not a faster friend in England than himself. However it is certain that it remained for some time a profound secret to the world, who the author of that admirable piece was. And the first discovery made of it, was by Swift himself, upon the following occasion. After his return to Ireland, he happened to fall into company with bishop Sheridan, where this much talked of pamphlet became the topick of conversation. The bishop insisted that it was written by bishop Burnet, and that there was not another man living equal to it. Swift maintained the contrary; at first by arguments drawn from difference of style, manner, &c. and afterward upon being urged, said, that to his certain knowledge it was not written by Burnet. Then pray, said the bishop, who writ it? Swift answered, my lord, I writ it. As this was the only instance in his life that Swift was ever known to have owned directly any piece as his, it is to be supposed that the confession was drawn from him by the heat of argument.

Early in the ensuing spring, king William died; and Swift, on his next visit to London, found queen Anne upon the throne. It was generally thought, upon this event, that the tory party would have had the ascendant; but, contrary to all expectation, the whigs had manned matters so well, as to get entirely into the queen's confidence, and to have the whole administration of affairs in their hands. Swift's friends were now in power, and the whigs in general, knowing him to be the author of the Discourse on the Contests, &c. considered themselves as much obliged to him, and looked upon him as fast to their party. The chiefs accordingly applied to him for his assistance in the measures which they were taking; and there is no doubt that he had now a fair opening for gratifying his ambition to the utmost, only by joining heartily with them, and exalting his talents on their side. But great as his ambition was, he would not have purchased its highest gratifications at the expense of his principles; nor would all the wealth and honours of the realm, accumulated, have tempted him to act contrary to the conviction of his mind. Upon examining into their new political system, which varied in many points from that of the old whigs, he considered several of their measures as of a dangerous tendency to the constitution. Notwithstanding therefore, both his interest and personal attachments were of their side, he declined all overtures made to him by the heads of the whiggish party, and after some time determined to have no concern in their affairs. This conduct in Swift was so unexpected, for they had all along counted upon him as a sure man, that it met with the same sort of resentment from the whigs, as if he had deserted their party, and gone over to the enemy; though Swift, in reality, so little liked the proceedings of either, that for several years he kept himself entirely a neutral, without meddling in any shape in politicks.

The chief reason that made him decline any connexion with the whigs at that time, was, their open profession of low church principles; and under the specious name of toleration, their encouragement of fanaticks and sectarists of all kinds to join them. But what above all most shocked him, was, their inviting all deists, freethinkers, atheists, jews, and infidels, to be of their party, under pretence of moderation, and allowing a general liberty of conscience. As Swift was in his heart a man of true religion, he could not have born, even in his private character, to have mixed with such a motley crew. But when we consider his principles in his political capacity, that he looked upon the church of England, as by law established, to be the main pillar of our newly erected constitution, he could not, consistently with the character of a good citizen, join with those who considered it more as an ornament, than a support to the edifice; who could therefore look on with composure while they saw it undermining, or even open the gate to a blind multitude, to try, like Sampson, their strength against it, and consider it only as sport. With such a party, neither his religious nor political principles would suffer him to join; and with regard to the tories, as is usual in the violence of factions, they had run into opposite extremes, equally dangerous to the state. He has fully given us his own sentiments upon the state of parties in those times, in these words: "Now, because it is a point of difficulty to choose an exact middle between two ill extremes; it may be worth inquiring in the present case, which of these a wise and good man would rather seem to avoid: taking therefore their own good and ill characters of each other, with due abatements, and allowances for partiality and passion; I should think, that in order to preserve the constitution entire in the church and state, whoever has a true value for both, would be sure to avoid the extremes of whig, for the sake of the former; and the extremes of tory, on account of the latter."

This was a maxim, which, however well founded, was not likely to influence the opinion of many, amid the violence of party rage; however, as Swift was firmly persuaded of the truth of it, it was by that principle he governed his conduct, though on that account he stood almost alone.

Finding therefore that he could be of no use to the publick in his political capacity, while things remained in the same state, he turned his thoughts wholly to other matters. He resided for the greatest part of the year at his living, in the performance of his parochial duties, in which, no one could be more exact; and once a year he paid a visit to his mother at Leicester, passing some time also in London, to take a view of the state of things, and watching some favourable crisis.

During this period, Swift's pen was hardly ever employed, except in writing sermons; and he does not seem to have indulged himself even in any sallies of fancy, for some years, excepting only the Meditation on a Broomstick, and the Tritical Essay on the Faculties of the Mind, both written in the year 1703. As Swift has been much censured for writing the former of these pieces, on account of the ridicule contained in it of the style and manner of so great and pious a man as Mr. Boyle, it may not be improper here to relate an anecdote[1] which I had from undoubtedly good authority, with regard to the occasion of writing that piece, and which will in a great measure exonerate Swift from the charge brought against him on that account. In the yearly visits which he made to London, during his stay there, he passed much of his time at lord Berkeley's, officiating as chaplain to the family, and attending lady Berkeley in her private devotions. After which, the doctor, by her desire, used to read to her some moral or religious discourse. The countess had at this time taken a great liking to Mr. Boyle's Meditations, and was determined to go through them in that manner; but as Swift had by no means the same relish for that kind of writing which her ladyship had, he soon grew weary of the task; and a whim coming into his head, resolved to get rid of it in a way which might occasion some sport in the family; for which they had as high a relish as himself. The next time he was employed in reading one of these Meditations, he took an opportunity of conveying away the book, and dexterously inserted a leaf, on which he had written his own Meditation on a Broomstick; after which, he took care to have the book restored to its proper place, and in his next attendance on my lady, when he was desired to proceed to the next Meditation, Swift opened upon the place where the leaf had been inserted, and with great composure of countenance read the title, "A Meditation on a Broomstick." Lady Berkeley, a little surprised at the oddity of the title, stopped him, repeating the words, " A Meditation on a Broomstick!" bless me what a strange subject! But there is no knowing what useful lessons of instruction this wonderful man may draw, from things apparently the most trivial. Pray let us hear what he says upon it. Swift then, with an inflexible gravity of countenance, proceeded to read the Meditatation, in the same solemn tone which he had used in delivering the former. Lady Berkeley, not at all suspecting a trick, in the fulness of her prepossession, was every now and then, during the reading of it, expressing her admiration of this extraordinary man, who could draw such fine moral reflections from so contemptible a subject; with which, though Swift must have been inwardly not a little tickled, yet he preserved a most perfect composure of features, so that she had not the least room to suspect any deceit. Soon after, some company coming in, Swift pretended business, and withdrew, foreseeing what was to follow. Lady Berkeley, full of the subject, soon entered upon the praises of those heavenly Meditations of Mr. Boyle. But, said she, the doctor has been just reading one to me, which has surprised me more than all the rest. One of the company asked which of the Meditations she meant. She answered directly, in the simplicity of her heart, I mean that excellent Meditation on a Broomstick. The company locked at each other with some surprise, and could scarce refrain from laughing. But they all agreed that they had never heard of such a Meditation before. Upon my word, said my lady, there it is, look into that book, and convince yourselves. One of them opened the book, and found it there indeed, but in Swift's handwriting; upon which a general burst of laughter ensued; and my lady, when the first surprise was over, enjoyed the joke as much as any of them; saying, what a vile trick has that rogue played me! But it is his way, he never balks his humour in any thing. The affair ended in a great deal of harmless mirth, and Swift, you may be sure, was not asked to proceed any farther in the Meditations. Thus we see that his original intention in writing this piece, was not to ridicule the great Robert Royle, but only to furnish occasion for a great deal of innocent mirth on lady Berkeley's enthusiasm, and simplicity of heart; and at the same time to get rid of the disagreeable task of reading to her writings which were not at all to his taste. And that it afterward got out into the world, was owing to the eagerness of those who were acquainted with the Berkeley family, to procure Copies of a piece of such exquisite humour. This was the case indeed in almost all the small things afterward written by Swift, scarce any of which were published by himself, but stole into the world in that way.

Though the greatness of Swift's talents was known to many in private life, and his company and conversation much sought after and admired, yet was his name hitherto little known in the republick of letters. The only pieces which he had then published, were the Battle of the Books, and the Contests and Dissensions in Athens and Rome, and both without a name. Nor was he personally known to any of the wits of the age, excepting Mr. Congreve, and one or two more, with whom he had contracted an acquaintance at sir William Temple's. The knot of wits used at this time to assemble at Button's coffeehouse; and I had a singular account of Swift's first appearance there from Ambrose Philips, who was one of Mr. Addison's little senate. He said that they had for several successive days observed a strange clergyman come into the coffeehouse, who seemed utterly unacquainted with any of those who frequented it; and whose custom it was to lay his hat down on a table, and walk backward and forward at a good pace for half an hour or an hour, without speaking to any mortal, or seeming in the least to attend to any thing that was going forward there. He then used to take up his hat, pay his money at the bar, and walk away without opening his lips. After having observed this singular behaviour for some time, they concluded him to be out of his senses; and the name that he went by among them, was that of the mad parson. This made them more than usually attentive to his motions; and one evening, as Mr. Addison and the rest were observing him, they saw him cast his eyes several times on a gentleman in boots, who seemed to be just come out of the country, and at last advance toward him as intending to address him. They were all eager to hear what this dumb, mad parson, had to say, and immediately quitted their seats to get near him. Swift went up to the country gentleman, and in a very abrupt manner, without any previous salute, asked him, "Pray, sir, do you remember any good weather in the world?" The country gentleman, after staring a little at the singularity of his manner, and the oddity of the question, answered, "Yes, sir, I thank God, I remember a great deal of good weather in my time." "That is more," said Swift, "than I can say; I never remember any weather that was not too hot, or too cold; too wet, or too dry; but, however God Almighty contrives it, at the end of the year tis all very well." Upon saying this, he took up his hat, and without uttering a syllable more, or taking the least notice of any one, walked out of the coffeehouse; leaving all those who had been spectators of this odd scene staring after him, and still more confirmed in the opinion of his being mad. There is another anecdote recorded of him, of what passed between him and doctor Arbuthnot in the same coffeehouse. The doctor had been scribbling a letter in great haste, which was much blotted; and seeing this odd parson near him, with a design to play upon him, said, "Pray, sir, have you any sand about you?" "No," replied Swift, "but I have the gravel, and if you will give me your letter I'll p-ss upon it." Thus singularly commenced an acquaintance between those two great wits, which afterward ripened into the closest friendship. After these adventures they saw him no more at Button's, till The Tale of a Tub had made its appearance in the world, when, in the person of the author of that inimitable performance, they recognized their mad parson. This piece was first published in the following year 1704; and though without a name, yet the curiosity excited by the appearance of such a wonderful piece of original composition, could not fail of finding out the author, especially as not only the bookseller knew him, but as the manuscript had at different times been shown to several of sir William Temple's relations, and most intimate friends. When it is considered that Swift had kept this piece by him eight years, after it had been, by his own confession, completely finished, before he gave it to the world; we must stand astonished at such a piece of self-denial, as this must seem, in a young man, ambitious of distinction, and eager after fame; and wonder what could be his motive for not publishing it sooner. But the truth is, Swift set but little value on his talents as a writer, either at that time, or during the whole course of his life, farther than as they might contribute to advance some nobler ends, which he had always in view. Unsolicitous therefore about fame merely literary, or the reputation of an author, he could with the most perfect sang froid lock up this admirable piece in his desk, and wait, with the most philosophick patience, for a favourable season to produce it, when it might answer some more important purpose. After the time he had given the last finishing to it, the violence of parties ran so high for some years, and their disputes were carried on with such animosity, that he did not think the publick in a temper fit to receive the work, so as to produce the effects which he proposed from it. But as the rage of party began to cool at that time, and the opposition from the tories grew daily more feeble, as the power of the whigs increased; and as a firm establishment of the whig interest seemed to threaten, upon their principles, an entire disregard to, and neglect of all religion; Swift thought this a proper juncture to revive the topick of religion, and to show the excellency of the established church, over its two rivals, in a new way, adapted to common capacities, with regard to the understanding; and calculated to make way to the heart, through the pleasure which it afforded to the fancy. And without some artifice of that sort, it would have been impossible to have gained any attention at all to the topick of religion. People were quite wearied out with the continual repetition of the same dull arguments; or sore, on account of the ill temper with which the disputes were carried on, and the ill blood which they occasioned. The bulk of mankind were therefore in a fit disposition to fall in with the principle of moderation held out by the whigs, but as it was easy to see from some of their political measures, that moderation was not the point at which they intended to stop; but that an indifference with regard to any form of religion was likely to ensue, in consequence of some of their tenets; Swift thought it high time that the attention of the people toward the security of the established church should be roused, that they might be guarded against the undermining artifices of its enemies, secretly carried on under covert of her pretended friends; who in their hearts were little solicitous about her interests, being wholly absorbed in worldly pursuits. And surely nothing could be contrived better to answer this end, than to make religion once more a general topick of conversation; but of such conversation as no longer excited the disagreeable and malevolent passions, but gave rise to cheerfulness and mirth. Stripped of the frightful mask with which her face had been covered by bigotry and enthusiasm, and adorned with all the graces of the comick muse, she became a welcome guest in all companies. The beauty of the church of England, by a plain and well conducted allegory, adapted to all capacities, was shown, in the most obvious light, by the characters of simplicity and moderation, which are the true marks of christianity, in opposition to the pageantry, superstition, and tyranny of the church of Rome, on the one hand; and the spleen, hypocrisy, and enthusiasm of Calvinism, on the other. This had been often done before in a serious way, but it was the new manner of treating the subject that produced the great effect. While the English divines had for more than a century been engaged in a constant state of warfare with their antagonists, and attacked them with serious reasoning, and vehemence of argumentation, their antagonists were always considered as powerful and formidable; and though often foiled, were never looked upon as subdued. While these different religions were rendered odious or terrible to the imaginations of people, the very feelings of that hatred and fear, were accompanied with the ideas of danger and power in the objects which excited them, and of course gave them a consequence. But the instant they were rendered ridiculous, they became contemptible, and their whole power vanished; nor was there ever a stronger instance of the truth of Horace's rule,

Ridiculum acri
Fortius & melius magnas plerumque secat res;

than in the effects produced by the Tale of a Tub, with regard to the weakening of the powers of popery and fanaticism in this country. Effects not merely temporary, but which, with their cause, are likely to last, as long as the English language shall be read.

After the publication of this work. Swift wrote nothing of consequence for three or four years, during which time his acquaintance was much sought after by all persons of taste and genius. There was, particularly, a very close connexion formed between Mr. Addison[2] and him, which ended in a sincere and lasting friendship, at least on Swift's part. Addison's companionable qualities were known but to a few, as an invincible bashfulness kept him for the most part silent in mixed companies; but Swift used to say of him, that his conversation in a téte a téte, was the most agreeable he had ever known in any one; and that in the many hours which he passed with him in that way, neither of them ever wished for the coming in of a third person.

In the beginning of the year 1708, Swift started forth from his state of inactivity, and published several pieces upon religious and political subjects, as also in the humourous way. That which regarded religion chiefly, was, An Argument against abolishing Christianity; in which he pursues the same humourous method, which was so successfully followed in the Tale of a Tub. Perhaps there never was a richer vein of irony than runs through that whole piece; nor could any thing be better calculated to second the general impression made by the Tale of a Tub. It is certain, that Swift thought the state of the church in great danger, notwithstanding any vote of parliament to the contrary; and this chiefly from a sort of lethargick disorder, which had in general seized those who ought to have been its watchful guardians. To rouse them from this state, he found tickling to be more effectual than lashing; and that the best way to keep them wakeful, was to make them laugh.

It was at this juncture too he chose to publish his political principles. Swift had been hitherto always classed among the whigs, as the only political tract of his which had been published was in their favour, and as his chief connexions were among that body. And he himself had adopted the name in a [3] Copy of Verses to the Honourable Mrs. Finch. And indeed with respect to government, there could not be a stauncher whig than he was upon the old principles of whiggism, as set forth by him; but he was an utter enemy to some new ones adopted by that party, in order to enlarge their bottom, and which evidently tended to republicanism. And as to their maxims with regard to religion, he widely differed from them. As these were made an essential part of the character of a whig at that time, he could not be said to be of their body. The truth is, that Swift was a man of too much integrity to belong to either party, while they were both so much in the wrong. This he himself declared in the opening of the political tract printed at this time, entitled, "The Sentiments of a Church of England Man, with respect to Religion and Government;" which begins with these words: "Whoever has examined the conduct and proceedings of both parties for some years past, whether in or out of power, cannot well conceive it possible to go far toward the extremes of either, without offering some violence to his integrity or understanding." His motive for publishing this tract at that juncture, he has given in the following words: "When the two parties, that divide the whole commonwealth, come once to a rupture, without any hopes left of forming a third with better principles to balance the others; it seems every man's duty to choose one of the two sides, although he cannot entirely approve of either; and all pretences to neutrality are justly exploded by both, being too stale and obvious; only intending the safety and ease of a few individuals, while the publick is embroiled. This was the opinion and practice of the latter Cato, whom I esteem to have been the wisest and the best of all the Romans. But before things proceed to open violence, the truest service a private man may hope to do his country, is, by unbiassing his mind as much as possible, and then endeavouring to moderate between the rival powers; which must needs be owned a fair proceeding with the world; because it is, of all others, the least consistent with the common design of making a fortune, by the merit of an opinion."

Swift, from several circumstances at that time, apprehended that the parties would speedily come to an open rupture; he therefore thought it the duty of a good citizen to endeavour to form a third party out of the more moderate of each, that should serve as a check upon the violence of both. With this view, he represents the extremes of both parties, and the evil consequences likely to ensue from each, in the strongest light; at the same time he clearly shows that the moderate of both hardly differed in any material point, and were kept asunder only by the odious distinction of a name. He set down in this piece such a just, political, and religious creed, so far as related to any connexion between church and state, as every honest subject of the church of England must at once assent to. And indeed if it were in the nature of things, that a party could have been formed upon principles of moderation, good sense, and publick spirit, his scheme would have taken place, from the masterly manner in which it was proposed. His design was, to engage all those of both parties, who wished well to the established church, to unite together under the denomination of church of England men, instead of the odious terms of high and low church, calculated to keep up animosity; and by so doing, to leave the more violent of both parties, whose numbers would in that case be much reduced, exposed to the world in their true colours, merely by being singled out in the different herds of their associates. In that case, there were few whigs, so lost to all sense of shame, as would choose to be one of a handful of English protestants, at the head of a numerous body of sectaries of all kinds, infidels and atheists; as there would be few tories who would wish to appear leaders of papists and Jacobites only. Under the name of church of England man, none of those enemies to our constitution could have listed; whereas under the vague names of whig and tory, persons of all denominations and principles were enrolled without scruple by both, merely to increase their numbers, and swell the cry. This project, for the uniting of parties, seems to have taken strong possession of Swift, and not to have quitted him for some time, as we find he mentions it in a [4] letter to colonel Hunter, in the beginning of the following year. However, if this design failed, he was determined, whenever matters should come to an open rupture between the parties, not to remain neutral; but to choose that side, which, upon the whole, should appear to him the best, according to the maxim before laid down. In order therefore to render himself of the greater consequence, he seems to have exerted himself this year in the display of his various talents. Beside the two admirable tracts before mentioned, he published, "A Letter from a Member of the House of Commons in Ireland, to a Member of the House of Commons in England, concerning the Sacramental Test." As he always kept a watchful eye upon the motions of the presbyterians, the intention of this piece was, not only to frustrate their attempt to get the test act repealed in Ireland, but also to alarm the people in England, by showing that their design was deeper laid, and that the carrying of it first in that country, was only intended as a precedent for doing the same here. In the humourous way, he wrote also in this year those admirable papers on Partridge the almanack maker, which appeared under the name of Isaac Bickerstaff, esq.; and in poetry, An Elegy on the supposed Death of Partridge; the Story of Baucis and Philemon; and two copies of verses on Vanbrugh's house[5]. So wide a display of such different talents; such knowledge in political affairs; so much good sense and strength of reasoning, joined to so pure and masterly a style; and above all, so much wit, and such uncommon powers of ridicule, could not fail of raising prognosticks, that he would prove the most able and formidable champion living, of that party whose cause he should espouse. The whigs therefore, who had hitherto neglected him, as considering him in the light of a half brother, began now to dread, and consequently to pay him great court. Their apprehensions were quickened by the narrow escape which they just then had of being turned out of power, by the intrigues of Mr. Harley; which had very nearly taken place then, in the manner they did two years afterward. No solicitations or promises were wanting, on their parts, to engage Swift on their side; but they found him a man of stubborn integrity; nor could any temptation prevail on him to go the lengths which they wanted. Failing in this, their next wish was to send him out of the way, in some honourable post. That of secretary to an intended embassy to the court of Vienna, was first designed for him; but that project going off, there was a scheme on foot to make him bishop of Virginia, with a power to ordain priests and deacons, and a general authority over all the clergy in the American colonies. There could not have been a stronger bait thrown out to Swift than this; as it would gratify his ambition, by a most extensive power, in the very sphere where he most wished to have it, in the church; as religion was always nearest his heart. Accordingly we find that he was very earnest in the pursuit of that point; but, unfortunately for the interests of religion in America, and as unfortunately for the whiggish ministry, notwithstanding their promises, that it should be done, the design fell to the ground, and Swift remained in the same state: remained on the spot, filled with resentment at their treatment of him, and determined to wreak his vengeance on them, when opportunity should serve, which was not now far distant.

Early in the following year, Swift published that admirable piece, called, A Project for the Advancement of Religion. In which, after enumerating all the corruptions and depravities of the age, he shows that the chief source of them was the neglect, or contempt of religion, which so generally prevailed. Though at first view this pamphlet seemed to have no other drift, but to lay down a very rational scheme for a general reformation of manners, yet upon a closer examination it will appear to have been a very strong, though covert attack, upon the power of the whigs. It could not have escaped a man of Swift's penetration, that the queen had been a long time wavering in her sentiments, and that she was then meditating that change in the ministry, which some time afterward took place. To confirm her in this intention, and to hasten the execution of it, appears, from the whole tenour of the pamphlet, to have been the main object he had in view, in publishing it at that time. For though it seems designed for the use of the world in general, and is particularly addressed to the countess of Berkeley, yet that it was chiefly calculated for the queen's perusal, appears from this; that the whole execution of his project depended upon the impression which it might make upon her mind; and the only means of reformation proposed, were such as were altogether in her own power. At setting out, he says; "Now, as universal and deep rooted as these corruptions appear to be, I am utterly deceived, if an effectual remedy might not be applied to most of them; neither am I now upon a wild speculative project, but such a one as may be easily put in execution. For, while the prerogative of giving all employments continues in the crown, either immediately, or by subordination; it is in the power of the prince to make piety and virtue become the fashion of the age, if, at the same time, he would make them necessary qualifications for favour and preferment." He then proceeds to show the necessity of her majesty's exerting her authority in this way, by a very free observation, couched under one of the finest compliments that ever was penned: "It is clear from present experience, that the bare example of the best prince, will not have any mighty influence where the age is very corrupt. For, when was there ever a better prince on the throne than the present queen? I do not talk of her talent for government, her love of the people, or any other qualities that are purely regal; but her piety, charity, temperance, conjugal love, and whatever other virtues do best adorn a private life; wherein, without question, or flattery, she has no superiour: yet, neither will it be satire or peevish invective to affirm, that infidelity and vice are not much diminished since her coming to the crown; nor will, in all probability, until more effectual remedies be provided."

The chief remedy he proposes, is, "To bring religion into countenance, and encourage those who, from the hope of future reward, and dread of future punishment, will be moved to act with justice and integrity. This is not to be accomplished in any other way than by introducing religion as much as possible, to be the turn and fashion of the age, which only lies in the power of the administration; the prince, with utmost strictness, regulating the court, the ministry, and other persons in great employment; and these, by their example and authority, reforming all who have dependence on them."

Having expatiated on this topick, and shown how easily such a design might be carried into execution, if the queen would only form such a determination, he proceeds to enforce his arguments by conscientious motives; which were likely to have the strongest effects upon one of such a truly religious turn as the queen was. After having just mentioned some points of reformation, in which the aid of the legislature might be found necessary, he says, "But this is beside my present design, which was only to show what degree of reformation is in the power of the queen, without interposition of the legislature; and which her majesty is, without question, obliged in conscience to endeavour by her authority, as much as she does by her practice."

And in another place he still more forcibly urges arguments of the same nature: "The present queen is a prince of as many and great virtues, as ever filled a throne: how would it brighten her character to the present, and after ages, if she would exert her utmost authority to instil some share of those virtues into her people, which they are too degenerate to learn, only from her example. And, be it spoke with all the veneration possible for so excellent a sovereign; her best endeavours in this weighty affair, are a most important part of her duty, as well as of her interest, and her honour."

Nothing could have been better contrived to work upon the queen's disposition, than the whole of this tract. In which the author first shows that all the corruptions and wickedness of the times, arose from irreligion: he shows that it is in her majesty's power alone, without other aid, to restore religion to its true lustre and force, and to make it have a general influence on the manners and conduct of her people: and then he urges the strongest motives, of honour, of interest, and of duty, to induce her to enter upon the immediate exercise of that power. And to render what he offered upon that head more forcible, it was apparently written by some disinterested hand, from no other principle but a due regard to religion and morality. For the author artfully suppressed all mention of party: and yet, upon a closer examination, it would appear, that nothing could be more directly, though covertly, aimed at the destruction of the power of the whigs. For, the first step proposed to render the design effectual, was, that the queen should employ none in her ministry, or in any offices about her person, but such as had the cause of religion at heart: now this was in effect to say, that she must begin with turning out the whigs, or low church party, who in general professed either an indifference to, or contempt of religion; and choose her officers from among the tories, or high church party, with whom the support of the interests of religion was the first and most generally avowed principle.

After the publication of this piece, Swift went to Ireland, where he remained till the revolution in the ministry took place, which happened in the following year; when Mr. Harley, and Mr. St. John, the heads of the tory party in the house of commons, were appointed to fill the chief offices; the former, that of chancellor of the exchequer, the latter, that of principal secretary of state. During this interval, Swift passed much of his time with Mr. Addison, who had gone over to Ireland as first secretary to the earl of Wharton, then lord lieutenant of that kingdom. By this means he had an opportunity of being an eye witness of the corrupt administration of affairs in that kingdom, under that lord's government, which he afterwards exposed to the world in such strong and odious colours. Had Swift been intent only on his own promotion, it is probable that he might easily have obtained preferment in Ireland at that juncture, on account of his great intimacy with the secretary; but he would have scorned to pay court to a viceroy of such a character, or even to have accepted any favour at his hands. Upon the change of affairs at court, when a new ministry was appointed, Swift was requested by the bishops of Ireland to take upon him the charge of soliciting a remission of the first fruits, and twentieth parts, to the clergy of that kingdom. It was not without great reluctance that he accepted of this office, for reasons hereafter to be assigned: but his regard to the interests of the church, outweighed all other considerations, and he accordingly set out for England as soon as his credentials were ready.

  1. This anecdote came from lady Betty Germaine, daughter of lady Berkeley, and was communicated to me by the late lady Lambert, an intimate of lady Betty's.
  2. In 1705, Mr. Addison made a present of his book of Travels to Dr. Swift, in the blank leaf of which he wrote the following words:

    To Dr. Jonathan Swift,
    The most agreeable companion,
    The truest friend,
    And the greatest genius of his age,
    This Book is presented by his
    Most humble servant,
    The AUTHOR.

  3. And last, my vengeance to complete,
    May you descend to take renown,
    Prevail'd on by the thing you hate,
    A whig, and one who wears a gown.
  4. I amuse myself sometimes with writing verses to Mrs. Finch, and sometimes with projects for the uniting of parties, which I perfect over night, and burn in the morning.

    Swift's first letter to col. Hunter.

  5. It appears from a memorandum in Swift's handwriting, that he had an intention this year to publish a volume of his works, consisting of the following articles: October, 1708.

    Subjects for a Volume.

    Discourse on Athens and Rome.
    Bickerstaff's Predictions.
    Elegy on Partridge.
    Letter to Bishop of K.
    Harris's Petition.
    Baucis and Philemon.
    Vanbrugh's House.
    The Salamander.
    Epigram on Mrs. Floyd.
    Meditation on a Broomstick.
    Sentiments of a Church of England Man.
    Reasons against abolishing Christianity.
    Essay on Conversation.
    Conjectures on the Thoughts of Posterity about me.
    On the present Taste of Reading.
    Apology for the Tale, &c.
    Part of an Answer to Tindal.
    History of Van's House.
    Apollo outwitted.
    To Ardelia.
    Project for Reformation of Manners.
    A Lady's Tablebook.
    Tritical Essay.