Page images

all his merits towards him, and that he left him in the high road to preferment *.

Before we accompany Swift into the world, let us review the manner of his paffing his life, from the time that we stopped to furvey him on his way to Leicester, when, forlorn and hopelefs as his condition was, the unfeen hand of Providence was guiding him to the means of all his future greatnefs, in placing him under the hospitable roof of Sir William Temple. However bounteous nature had been, in beftowing on Swift extraordinary talents, yet were they of fuch a kind, as required much time and application to bring them to perfection, and fit them to anfwer their deftined ends. He had miffed the ufual feafon of cultivating those talents, but at the fame time he had efcaped the danger of their being perverted and mifapplied. His mind had not been ftrait-laced into that fashionable shape which feemed most beautiful to the eyes of pedantry, but was fuffered to reach its full growth according to the course of nature. Thus did it attain an unusual fize, vigour, and eafe. He did not enter seriously upon his ftudies till his understanding was mature; thus all that he read was to fome useful end, nor was his memory charged with thofe important trifles, about which the fcholaftic world is generally fo busy. He read the claffics at a time when he could penetrate into their profoundest depths, and enrich himself with the fpoils of their hidden treasures; not at the usual season of boyishness, when the weak fight can be regaled only

* Such was the love and attention which Swift shewed to this great' man, that in his laft illness he kept a daily register of the variations which appeared in his conftitution, from July 1, 1698, to the 27th of the January following; when he concludes with this note, "He died at one o'clock in the morning, and with him all that was great and good among men.'

C 4


with fuch flowery beauties as are pointed out to it on the surface. Thinking for himself as a man, he soon faw that no science was fo valuable to man, as that of human nature. He judged that the best way to obtain a general knowledge of that, was from hiftory; and a more particular view of it, from ftudying mankind. He could not poffibly have been better fituated than at Moor-Park, to have made obfervations on the higher and more refined life; and he ftudiously fought all opportunities during his little excurfions and journies, to make himself acquainted with low life; often preferring the conveyance of waggons, and their inns, to thofe of coaches. Scenes of middling life must, of course, often fall into his way; and where, to a boundlefs curiofity, there was added from nature an uncommon penetration, it is no wonder he became fuch an adept in the knowledge of man, and of the world. A fcience effentially neceffary to him to make that figure which he afterwards did in life.

His fituation at Sir William Temple's was indeed in every refpect the happieft that could have been chofen, to prepare this great genius for the complicated part he was to act in the world. Swift was to figure as a Writer, as a Politician, as a Patriot. And where could a young man have found fuch a director and affiftant in fitting him for the performance of these several parts, as Sir William Temple; who was himself one of the fineft writers, one of the ableft ftatesmen, and the trueft lover of his country, that had been produced in that, or perhaps in any other age?

It was from the frequent revifal of that great man's works, under his own infpection, that Swift acquired his firft lights with regard to propriety and purity of style, which he was afterwards allowed to carry to a greater degree of perfection than any English writer whatfo,

whatsoever. The high opinion he entertained of Sir William's Works in this refpect, was known to me from the following circumftance. When I was an undergraduate in the College, he recommended it to me to lay aside fome portion of time every day for the study of English; and when I afk'd him what authors he would advise me to read, he immediately replied, Sir William Temple; not, faid he, his latter Works, written during or after his long refidence abroad, for his style became then fomewhat corrupted by the introduction of newfangled foreign words and phrafes, which he fell into by converfing and writing fo much in foreign languages; but fuch of his Works as were written before his going Ambaffador to Nimeguen. And after him, added he, I do not know any writer in our language that I would recommend to you as a model. I had upon this occafion a fair opportunity of paying him a just compliment; but I knew his deteftation of any thing that carried the appearance of flattery with it, too well, to make mention of his own Works to him.

With respect to Politicks, it must be allowed that there was no man of that age better qualified than Sir William Temple, not only to inftruct Swift in the general system of Politicks purfued in the feveral States of Europe, but likewife to lay open to him all the arcana of ftate, all the moft fecret fprings of action, with regard to public affairs, both foreign and domeftic, during his time; in which he himself had borne fo principal a part: and with regard to Patriotifin, Sir William Temple must be allowed to have been the most fhining example of that nobleft of virtues, produced in that age; as he paffed all the vigorous part of his life in the most indefatigable endeavours for the good of his country, upon the most difinterested principles;

never having received any reward, nor feeming folicitous about any, for a long feries of the moft important fervices rendered to his King and Country, often at his own expence ; and at last nobly declining the highest ftation to which a fubject could be raised, when offered to him, as it was at a time of life, when he found the vigour of his mind so far abated, that he did not think himself equal to the arduous employment of first Minifter. And with refpect to private virtue, there could not have been a more illuftrious example placed before the eyes of a young man, than that of an old Courtier, who during the diffolute reign of CharlesII. had fingly at Court maintained his integrity unshaken, and his morals untainted.

Under the direction of fuch a tutor, fuch a guide, under the influence of fuch an example; how happily was the most dangerous feafon of life paffed in ftudious retirement, far from the dangers and temptations of a corrupt world.

When we reflect that Swift was firft brought up in the fchool of Adverfity, (who though fhe be a fevere miftrefs, yet does the generally make the best scholars) and that he was thence removed to another Lyceum, where prefided a fage, in whom were blended Socratic wifdom, Stoical virtue, and Epicurean elegance; we must allow his lot to have been moft happily caft for forming a great and diftinguifhed character in life. Nor did he fail to anfwer the high expectation that might be raised of a young man endowed by nature with uncommon talents, which were improved to the utmost by a fingular felicity of fituation, into which fortune had thrown him.

Let us now accompany Swift into the world, from entering into which he was happily detained till his thirty-first year. His mind was now ftored with va



[ocr errors]

riety of useful knowledge; his understanding had arrived at its utmoft maturity and ftrength; his fancy was in its prime; and his heart, long filled with the nobleft affections towards God, and towards man, fwelled with impatience for proper opportunities of difcharging his duty to both. With fuch abilities, and such dispositions, behold him now entering on the great ftage of the world, to perform the character allotted to him in the drama of life, that of an able, bold, and unwearied champion, in the cause of religion, liberty, and virtue,


From the Death of Sir WILLIAM TEMPLE to the Time of bis Introduction to Lord OXFORD.

UPON the death of Sir William Temple, Swift immediately removed to London; where his first care was to discharge the truft repofed in him, that of publishing a correct edition of Sir William Temple's Works; which he effected as fpeedily as poffible, and prefented them to King William, with a fhort 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 pofthumous works of a man, for whom, from his earliest days, when Prince of Orange, he had profeffed the highest friendship and esteem; and with whom he lived, after his arrival at the Crown of England, on the moft intimate footing; frequently vifiting 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 Minifter. There was another reason too, which must have made the publication of these works peculiarly acceptable to the King; which


« PreviousContinue »