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ART. VIII.-SWIFT'S LIFE AND WRITINGS.
1. Life of Jon. Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's. By HENRY
CRAIK, M.A. (London, 1882.) 2. Swift : the Mystery of his Life and Love. By JAMES HAY,
Minister of the Parish of Kirn, Author of Johnson's Cha
racteristics, &c. (London, 1891.) 3. Swift's Works. Edited by Sir WALTER SCOTT. 19 vols.
2nd edit. (Edinburgh, 1824.)
THE history of Swift's life presents more than one problem which admits of no definite solution, and it will always have a singular fascination for the least curious reader—the fascination of a paradox. It is strange enough that the child of a needy steward to the Irish Inns of Court should rise to be the intimate of all that was greatest in England, but not stranger than the caprice of fame, which has made Gulliver's Travels familiar to mankind as a story book for children. Swift's life is involved in a web of contradictions. No man ever expressed in plainer language what he had to say, no man ever hated mystery more heartily, no autobiography was ever so complete a revelation of self as the Journal to Stella; yet there is no more baffling pursuit in literature than the attempt to track out the recesses of Swift's mind. Finally, though no man was ever more vigorously hated in his lifetime than was Swift, yet it is probable that Steele or the Duchess of Marlborough would have resented the imputations which latterday criticism has heaped upon his memory.
The fate of his reputation has been chequered as his own. Shortly after his death Lord Orrery published his Remarks, in which he discusses Swift's character with an insufferable condescension. Johnson, in one of the worst of his Lives, tempered an unconcealed aversion with grudging praise; Sir Walter Scctt prefixed to his edition a sketch of Swift that has never been surpassed (though it needs to be supplemented), conceived in a generous, manly, and sensible spirit. Jeffrey, in reviewing it, took Scott to task for his partiality, and launched a diatribe in his most rancorous style against the man whom he stigmatized as a political bravo and self-seeking turncoat. Macaulay, writing with fuller knowledge, outdid Jeffrey in the violence of his language, and unpardonably misrepresented facts, insisting, like Jeffrey, on what he was pleased to style Swift's political apostasy. Thackeray followed with his lecture, from which probably nine people in
ten derive their ideas of Swift's character ; a criticism which, containing, it is true, passages of singular beauty and insight, must, upon the whole, be ranked as one of the most unbalanced judgments ever penned. The tide of public opinion was turned by Mr. Forster's unhappily interrupted work, whose tone suggests panegyric rather than apology. Mr. Leslie Stephen, in his short monograph, writes of his author with a genuine esteem; and Mr. Craik, publishing what must be considered the standard life of Swift, showed an admiration for his character equal to that which none can deny to his genius.
Mr. Hay's book is the latest contribution to the mass of literature which has accumulated round the name and work of Swift. Its avowed object is to vindicate the Dean's character against the attacks of Macaulay, Jeffrey, and Thackeray, whom he oddly enough lumps together as 'three Whig literary lords. Mr. Hay is a very painstaking student, and his work shows close acquaintance not only with his author but with the work of previous writers upon Swift. However, the minister of the parish of Kirn has freely admitted upon page 294 that 'creative geniuses in all ages of the world's history have borrowed from one another '—Swift, Shakespeare, Pope, Dickens, Johnson, Carlyle ; and that he himself 'does not pretend to be immaculate in this respect. Although we do not quite agree with Mr. Hay when he declares that Thackeray was unable to understand Swift, we must attribute to him well-deserved praise for having in several instances proved the falsity of the colours in which the great Victorian satirist represented his greater predecessor ; for instance, on page 187, where he disposes of Thackeray's statement that Swift advised Gay to go into the Church. The misfortune is, that it is inconccivable how people in general should either cease to read Thackeray's lecture or continue to read Mr. Hay's book. We feel kindly towards the minister for his staunch championship and his 'sæva indignatio' against the guilty three, • Whigs all of them'; but we cannot overlook the fact that out of six Latin quotations which occur, four are misprintedgrievously misprinted—a fifth is from Virgil but written as prose ; and the sixth is our old friend 'cui bono?' in the familiar misapprehension of it. We might have forgiven Mr. Hay-considering his nationality-for manifesting a preference for the 'practical wisdom and sententious brevity' of the 'Aphorisms' above all Swift's other work; we might have laughed to find the saying, ‘Half-a-dozen fools are prating in a coffee-house and presently think their own noise about their
ears is made by the world,' headed (in capitals) as EXAGGERATION OF SUBURBAN INTERESTS; but when we see one of Swift's happiest phrases, ‘A nice man is a man of nasty ideas,' labelled as “The Social Favourite,' we parlously suspect Mr. Hay of knowing no English but the tongue, say, of Professor Bain.
We shall have subsequently to advert to Mr. Hay's answer to some of the vexed questions in this history ; for the present we proceed briefly to the main purpose of this article.
Swift's career falls naturally into three parts: a discipleship of thirty-two years which developed in hiin the qualities, moral and intellectual, that characterise his work; sixteen years' activity as an English publicist; and lastly, thirty years passed at the Deanery of St. Patrick's, during which he was absolutely his own master, working for no ends but those he himself selected, and by no other means than his pen alone.
The late Mr. Forster's life covered the first two stages in Swift's history; of his English political career Mr. Leslie Stephen has given a succinct and admirably clear account; it is the especial credit of Mr. Craik to have elaborated an account of Swift's life which contains ample information on almost every stage of it; and he is not to blame if the variety of matter has refused to blend into any dramatic presentment.
Most of the miscellaneous contributions to the study of Swift deal with the problems presented by his private history or his political affinities, somewhat to the neglect of his permanent work in pure literature; the present article is an attempt to sketch in connexion with the periods in Swift's life the literary output of each, only discussing biographical questions where a solution seems to be suggested by his writings.
His training was a most untender one, toughening the fibre of his character, but dwarfing and distorting its soster shoots. Swift never had a home; a loss absolutely immeasurable in its results on a nature like his. He was a posthumous son; and the pressing dread of poverty added to the sorrows of his mother's widowed pregnancy. A child born under such auspices could scarcely have a happy nature; his boyhood was embittered by the grudging charity of relations at whose charge he was educated; and poverty soured his life in college. But poverty taught him the lesson that money means liberty ; a lesson that Irishmen are slow to learn. Nor was Swift an Irishman save by the accident of birth; he came of a Yorkshire stock, and it was the Yorkshireman in him that wrote to Bolingbroke, I have made a
maxim, my lord, that should be writ in letters of diamonds, that a wise man ought to have money in his head but not in his heart.'! There is a less admirable trace of Yorkshire, too, in his brutality of manner and aggressive independence; and no imputation was more fiercely resented by Swift than that of Irish blood. But in Ireland he was born and bred ; in spite of his English associations his wit is racy of the soil. L'accent du pays où l'on est né demeure plus longtemps dans l'esprit que dans le langage,' is a shrewd saying of Rochefoucauld, an authority whom Swift rarely disputed: and indeed Swift's memory and works are the peculiar glory and heritable delight of the people he so scornfully served. In 1688 the Revolution and attendant fears of a Protestant
a massacre drove him to England; and at the age of twenty-one he exchanged poverty for dependence, entering Sir William Temple's household in an almost menial capacity. His ability soon promoted him from a mere clerk to be a sort of literary secretary to his employer; and here he served his apprenticeship to politics in a seclusion that commanded a wide view of the busy world. We learn from himself how Temple displayed for his bcncfit the scamy side of those "jugglers' tricks which we call deep designs and politics ;'2 and under the veteran diplomat's roof Swift met and conversed with the leading men of the day, including even King William himself.
Yet, to his proud and sensitive spirit, dependency was intolerable, and after five years' residence at Moorpark he decided on taking Holy orders. It was a step Swift had early meditated. No candid writer would credit him with a vocation for the pricstly office, but it is monstrous for Thackeray to represent him as 'strangled in his bands. Swift had to choose between the gown and a dependency such as was Gay's lot through life ; he chose the Church, and no man ever acted on a distincter conception of the clerical duties and clerical privileges. He was ordained in 1694, and preferred at once to the prebend of Kilroot, a little seaside parish in the diocese of Connor. Here he passed a year and a half, in which he wrote probably most of the Tale of a Tub; and fell in love with a young lady, one Miss Waring, a selection dictated probably morc by proximity than by the fitness of things. He was refused, and this amongst other reasons may have induced him to accede to Temple's request and return to Moorpark, rather as an equal than as a dependant. Mr. Craik has done good service in clearing up the relations
1 Works, xvii. 252. 2 'Ode to Temple,' Works, xiv. 16.
between Swift and Temple, and has insisted strongly on the advance in Swift's position, secured by the mere fact of his having once shaken himself loose from dependency.
Swift, gladly as it would seem, resumed the old life with its opportunities for study and practice in composition. He had 'writ and burnt and writ again upon all manner of subjects, more than perhaps any man in England,' he tells a correspondent. Some early Pindaric odes escaped the flames, verse more villanous than Cicero's ; he might have been a bishop'si sic omnia dixisset.' But in 1697 the Battle of the Books appeared, not in print but circulated among Temple's coterie ; and already in the fable of the 'Spider and the Bee,' Swift gave evidence of a prose style superior to any that had yet been known in English.
In 1699 Temple died, leaving Swift his literary executor, recompensed for the task by a legacy of 100l. and the profits accruing from the sale of his remains, which amounted to about 500l. The promises of preferment of which Somers, Halifax, Sunderland, and the King himself had not been sparing, proved barren ; till in 1700 Lord Berkeley, going to
; Ireland as viceroy, proposed to Swift to accompany him as chaplain and secretary. At the very outset of his new career a piece of sharp practice deprived him of the secretaryship in favour of one Bushe; and when, in 1701, Lord Berkeley presented him with the joint livings of Laracor and Rathbiggan, worth 2001. a year, Swift neither was nor had any occasion to be grateful. The duties of the post were not sufficient to hinder him from spending nearly half his time in England ; and it was in England that he published anonymously, in 1704, his Tale of a Tub and Battle of the Books, which together form the masterpiece of that apprenticeship to letters which ended with Temple's death.
Many have commented on the late fruitage of Swift's genius ; but the truth is that such work, depending as it does on long experience and minute observation of humanity, could not in the nature of things be produced by a young man. Even between these first satirical works and all his subsequent productions there exists the broad distinction that the former deal with ideas, the latter with actions. The Battle of the Books is a scholar's jeu d'esprit; the Tale of a Tub is a satire of vast range and exuberant vigour, yet it is chiefly the meditative satire of a literary man who reads in history, philosophy, and theology, the record of the follies of mankind. The style too savours more of theory than practice; it is
1 To Rev. John Kendall, February 11, 1691-2; Works, xv. 252.