Page images

bear-garden at Cavan; and pity his decorous dinners with Delaney; and note the sign of a disappointed life in his one solace, to write to his English friends and bemoan his fate.

So comes the last sad scene, when the disease that had tormented him through life overcame the till then indomitable will, and the mind that for half a century had known no rest,—that had guided an empire and guarded a stricken land, that had delighted and terrified men with its power and humour and vengeful scorn,-at last found sleep; the torch that had shone with scathing brilliancy upon the dark corners of the earth flickered and died out. In every phase and each relation, Swift stands alone and companionless in his unique personality. We feel the tragedy of his lonely life in the midst of its busiest engagements. We feel that, loved as he was by some, and feared and respected by most, he was without an equal to understand him and enter into his heart, that he knew it and had steeled himself to live a life of soli

tude in the midst of a crowd. "No public and private life was more sad and proud;" none was ever more affecting. To realize Swift's life is to know human nature in its sternest, gloomiest, most rebellious, most mysterious moods. But to realize it fully is beyond the power of any but a Swift.





[ocr errors]

The Author's Apology, prefixed to the 5th edition, states that "the greatest part of the Tale "was finished about thirteen years since, 1696, which is eight years before it was published. The author was then young, his invention at the height, and his reading fresh in his head. By the assistance of some thinking, and much conversation, he had endeavoured to strip himself of as many real prejudices as he could. Thus prepared, he thought the numerous and gross corruptions in religion and learning might furnish matter for a satire that would be useful and diverting. He resolved to proceed in a manner that should be altogether new, the world having been already too long nauseated with endless repetitions upon every subject. The abuses of religion he proposed to set forth in the allegory of the coats and the three brothers, which was to make up the body of the discourse those in learning he chose to introduce by way of digressions." The title was derived, according to the Author's Preface, from a custom seamen use "when they meet a whale, to throw him out an empty tub by way of amusement, to divert him from laying violent hands upon the ship." Such a whale is Hobbes's Leviathan, "which tosses and plays with all schemes of religion and government," and to divert Hobbes's kindred from tossing and sporting with the commonwealth Swift flings them his treatise until such time as a more complete engine of defence shall be set up. The Tale is outwardly a narrative of the career of three brothers, Peter, Martin, and Jack, who represent respectively the Roman Church, the Reformed or Anglican Church, and Protestant Dissent; but the history of their adventures and the diverse modes in which they contrive to interpret their father's will, the New Testament, in accordance with their own desires, and to accommodate the miraculous coats, Christianity, which he had bequeathed to them to the varying fashions of each season, fills but a third of the treatise, and even here the satire reaches much further than ecclesiastical divisions and scholastic hairsplittings. In the several digressions the story is wholly set aside, and the author allows his humour to play unfettered upon cant and hypocrisy of all kinds. Of the eleven sections which, together with sundry prefaces and dedications, and a conclusion, make up the work, the Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh, alone are occupied with the allegory of the three brothers the remaining seven are digressions, though not all so styled, "on critics," "in the modern kind," "in praise of digressions," on the Eolists, or pretenders to immediate inspiration, who derive all things from wind, " on madness," etc. The epistle to Prince Posterity, and Sections I., VII., and IX., together with passages from II. and X., are here selected to represent the work: but there is hardly a line that can well be spared from Swift's masterpiece.







HERE present your highness with the fruits of a very few leisure hours, stolen from the short intervals of a world of business, and of an employment quite alien from such amusements as this: the poor production of that refuse of time which has lain heavy upon my hands during a long prorogation of parliament, a great dearth of foreign news, and a tedious fit of rainy weather; for which and other reasons, it cannot choose extremely to deserve such a patronage as that of your highness, whose numberless virtues, in so few years, make the world look upon you as the future example to all princes for although your highness is hardly got clear of infancy, yet has the universal learned world already resolved upon appealing to your future dictates with the lowest and most resigned submission; fate having decreed you sole arbiter of the productions of human wit in this polite and most accomplished age. Methinks, the number of appellants were enough to shock and startle any judge of a genius less unlimited

than yours but, in order to prevent such glorious trials, the person, it seems, to whose care the education of your highness is committed, has resolved, as I am told, to keep you in almost a universal ignorance of our studies, which it is your inherent birthright to inspect.

It is amazing to me that this person should have the assurance, in the face of the sun, to go about persuading your highness that our age is almost wholly illiterate, and has hardly produced one writer upon any subject. I know very well, that when your highness shall come to riper years, and have gone through the learning of antiquity, you will be too curious to neglect inquiring into the authors of the very age before you and to think that this insolent, in the account he is preparing for your view, designs to reduce them to a number so insignificant as I am ashamed to mention; it moves my zeal and my spleen for the honour and interest of our vast flourishing body, as well as of myself, for whom, I know by long experience, he has professed, and still continues, a peculiar malice.

It is not unlikely that, when your highness will one day peruse what I am now writing, you may be ready to expostulate with your governor upon the credit of what I here affirm, and command him to show you some of our productions. To which he will answer, (for I am well informed of his designs,) by asking your highness, where they are? and what has become of them? and pretend it a demonstration that there never were any, because they are not then to be found. Not to be found! who has mislaid them? are they sunk in the abyss of things? It is certain that in their own nature they were light enough to swim upon

« PreviousContinue »