« PreviousContinue »
he form of the writer of such a letter as this, which is there publicly exposed :
MADAM,—I have been considering the account you gave me of your eldest daughter's conveying herself out of your house, and taking all her cloaths with her, determining to get herself out of your Protection. I have been assured that there is a man in the case, and that she hath been enticed by some servant of yours to run into the arms of some beggarly rascal who would pass for a Gentleman of fortune. Altho' such an action in a daughter whom you have used so well can deserve no pardon, yet I would have you leave her without excuse. Send to her to come home. If she refuse, send a second and a third time, and if she still refuseth, Let her know in plain terms that you will never have the least correspondence with her, and when she is ruined, as will certainly be the case, that you will never see her, nor give or leave her or her children (if she shall have any) a morsel of bread.—Let her know you have given her fair warning, and if she will run into destruction with her eyes open, against common sense and the opinion of all rational people, she hath none to blame but herself ; And that she must not expect to move your compassion some years hence with the cryes of half a dozen children at your door for want of bread. Let this and whatever else you think proper be writ to her in your own hand, and let your letter be given her before witnesses, and keep a copy of it to produce when there is occasion ; And shew the copy you keep to any acquaintance who may be willing to see it. And let whoever pleaseth see this Letter of mine as the best advice I can give you. For you are to suppose that you never had such a daughter, and that her children will have no more title to your charity than the bratts and bastards of any other common beggar. This is all I think necessary to say upon so disagreeable a SubjectSo I conclude, Madam,
Your most obedient servt.
JONATH. SWIFT Deanery House, Jul. 12th, 1733.
To Mrs. Swanton, St. Peter's Street.''
Nothing can wholly efface the impression such a letter makes on the mind ; yet it cannot be too strongly urged that it misrepresents the writer. To begin with, it is a piece of advice not volunteered, but solicited ; secondly, and this is far more important, it related to a subject on which Swift's views bordered on insanity. The best commentary on it, however, is a letter written in March of the next year, unfortunately much too long to quote, where Swift, with
1 This letter, given in 1831 to the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, by Lieutenant-Colonel Dwyer, of Dawson Court, Blackrock, is here printed (we believe for the first time) by the kind permission of the Board of Trinity College. VOL. XXXIII.--NO. LXVI.
admirable tact and kindliness, pleads for a lad of one-andtwenty who had been turned adrift by his parents for early misconduct, and wrote to Swift, though a perfect stranger to him, asking his mediation. The circumstances of the two cases point strikingly to Swift's general censorship of morals, which was a principal part of his activity up till the collapse in 1740, when the brain disease mastered him completely, and furious insanity set in, succeeded by
'The staring eye, glazed o'er with sapless days,
The set gray life and apathetic end.' It is a pleasure to turn from this record of decay and dissolution to glance briefly at the wonderful correspondence which fills the years of Swift's Irish residence. Swift's own letters are the best of the collection; he is cleverer than Bolingbroke, and as sympathetic as Arbuthnot. It is odd that no one has edited a selection of them, which might be of unsurpassed interest. Swift was a staunch friend ; with each gap in the circle a fibre seems to be torn out of his heart. Of the men of his own age his friendship seems to have been strongest for Harley and Arbuthnot; to Arbuthnot alone of his English acquaintance does he show his feeling at the loss of Stella. With these two the tie was one of likeness ; there is no noisy protestation of affection between them, but there is no more touching passage in the whole correspondence than that where Arbuthnot in 1714 replies to Swift's 'tender melancholy word that you will endeavour to forget me.'? The quiet stoicism with which Arbuthnot foretold his own end was Swift's ideal ; indeed Swift himself was 'more an ancient Roman than a Dean.'
Very different is the friendship Swift felt for Pope, the noble love that men passing their prime feel sometimes for youths who might have been their sons. He is in love with Pope's genius, which in its intellectual perfection realized to the full Swift's conception of genius. Pope's moral defects he overlooks with a lover's partiality, heightening, loverlike, his real qualities, and he has a lover's compassionate tenderness for the bodily infirmities of that puny frame. In such affections the elder man gives most. Few men could have maintained such a literary partnership with Pope as did Swift; perhaps no one else, for no one else was ever so careless of the profits of literature and so free from literary jealousy and touchiness. They have come down to us, as 1 Works, xviii. 285.
2 Works, xvi. 197.
they wished it, hand in hand, dominating their age, curiously summing up in themselves the tendencies of a somewhat sapless and unsympathetic literature. Probably Pope has ten readers now for one student of his friend; yet there is a mystery of sorrow and of greatness associated with the name of Swift and wholly peculiar to it. He is nearer to us; among the yards of empty antithesis that cover the walls of St. Patrick's, his epitaph speaks to us in an unmistakable accent; something of the spell of that magical personality thrills in it and commands our attention, carrying to our souls the conviction that the words are neither lightly spoken nor lightly to be regarded. In his sincerity lies the secret of Swift's greatness.
ART. IX.-ENGLAND IN THE EIGHTEENTH
CENTURY. England and the English in the Eighteenth Century. Chapters
in the Social History of the Timcs. By WILLIAM
CONNOR SYDNEY. (London, 1891.) THE writer of these volumes has collected a considerable amount of information about a period which, for various causes, has of late years attracted a large share of attention. He has not only consulted the standard authors, grave and gay, in prose and in poetry, in history and in fiction, but he has ransacked the newspapers and magazines of the period, the very names of some of which are well-nigh forgotten. His object
. is to show that the good old times' were in reality very bad old times; that in every department of life, social and political, physical and mental, secular and religious, the eighteenth century was immeasurably inferior to the nineteenth. The picture is drawn in the gloomiest colours, unrelieved by any ray of light. As he looks back upon that bygone time he can only cry with Milton's Samson :
* Dark, dark, dark, irrecoverably dark.' The whole century from beginning to end is, in his view, rotten to the core.
It is curious to contrast Mr. Connor Sydney's estimate with that of another writer who described the same period at the beginning of the present century (1803). Mr. Miller recapitulates his Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century thus :
• There have been periods in which particular studies were more cultivated ; but it may be asserted with confidence that in no period of the same extent since the Creation has a mass of improvement so large, diversified, and rich been presented to view. În no period have the various branches of science, art, and letters received, at the same time, such liberal accessions of light and refinement, and been made so remarkably to illustrate and enlarge each other. Never did the inquirer stand at the confluence of so many streams of knowledge as at the close of the eighteenth century.... The last century may with peculiar propriety be styled the Age of Taste and Refinement; and also the Age of Infidel Philosophy, and the Age of Christian Science. It is worthy of remark that, among the professions denominated learned, the clerical profession may be considered as having furnished as many, if not more, authors of distinction than any other. And if we join to the clergy those lay-authors who have been no less eminent as Christians than as scholars, the predominance of learning and talents on the side of Religion will appear too great to admit of any comparison. Those, therefore, who have witnessed the close of the century under review, have indeed reason to congratulate themselves as an highly-favoured generation. ... They have seen a larger portion of human society enlightened, polished, and comfortable than ever before greeted the eye of benevolence,' &c.
How completely Mr. Connor Sydney differs in his estimate will appear in the sequel. And he certainly has much to say for his view of the case. In spite of its panegyrists, the eighteenth century surely was, on the whole, a coarse and worldly age; the improvements which have taken place in every sphere are very remarkable; and we are quite inclined to agree with what Mr. Sydney implies, viz. that the turn of the tide synchronized approximately with the dawn of the new century. There is also another fact worthy of notice. When the National Church was fast asleep, the state of the national life in all its phases was bad ; when the Church woke up, matters began to improve, and have gone on improving from that day to this. It will be seen that we have dated this awakening of the Church earlier than is usually done ; and we have done this advisedly, for we believe that during the whole of the nineteenth century the Church has been doing honest work in one shape or another; and the results are to be seen in the very different state of things at the commencement and towards the close of that period. Just as if you want to know whether a child or a tree is growing, you must not look at it and expect to see visible signs of its growth, but must compare its stature now with what it was some years ago, so it is with a church or a nation. Judged by immediate results, earnest workers may often seem to be beating the air ; the effects of their work can only be estimated by comparing periods separated from one another by a wide, but not too wide, interval. The England of 1891 may not present any perceptible improvement when compared with the England of 1881; but compare it with the England of 1800, and you will be startled by the marvellous change for good. Compare, on the other hand, 1800 with 1714, and we are not sure (pace Mr. Miller) whether the advantage would not in many respects lie with the earlier period.
By enabling us to make comparison between two periods the writer of these volumes has done good work through his industrious investigations, and we thank him for it. But we are bound to add that his book greatly needs to be balanced by counter-statements. For, all through, he assumes the attitude, not of a judge, but of an advocate. In his nervous anxiety to point the moral that people should be thankful that their lot is cast in the nineteenth and not in the eighteenth century, he has certainly ignored all that may fairly be urged per contra ; and as in the interests of the truth, and especially of the truth about our own Church, it is well to do justice to the times of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, it may be useful to bring out some redeeming features to which our author seems to have resolutely shut his eyes.
We may pass lightly over the material and social shortcomings on which Mr. Sydney lays much stress. It may be granted that in the days before Macadam the high roads and the by roads, the town streets and the village lanes were alike intolerable. Mr. Sydney is fond of quoting Cowper ; he might have fortified his remarks on this point by referring to the delightful jeu d'esprit :
I sing of a journey to Clifton
We would have perform'd if we could,
Sle sla slud,
Stuck in the mud,
Oh, it is pretty to wade through a flood. And so on. It may be granted that it is more comfortable, cheap, and expeditious to travel, say, from London to York by a Great Northern express than by the old stage waggon or even the flying coach ;' and that the chance of meeting Dick Turpin on the way would not enhance the pleasures of the journey. It may be granted that the modern policeman is an improvement upon the ancient dilapidated watchman as a guardian of the public safety ; that a modern house is a more commodious, if less picturesque, residence than an