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Scott's Meaviv in Weise. II.
Stella and Vinessa,
also in dees.
domesnil " loves of the lovely." and in
Pichler / 112, 130
IN the life and character of this extraordinary man and incomparable English classic, some points occur of so delicate and doubtful a nature, that a diversity of opinion must be expected always to exist respecting them; and some of such painful and unhappy interest, that they never can be dwelt upon without reluctance and regret. But of his singular genius, his transcendant talents, and his varied attainments, no question can be entertained; and by the apparently incongruous combination, which pervades his writings and his conduct, of sound good sense with piercing wit and whimsical eccentricity, he nas transmitted to succeeding times more ample stores, both of instruction and amusement, than any other literary man of his age. The influence he exercised over his own times, by the unrivalled brilliancy of his powers, his masterly comprehension of the great interests then at stake, in the fierce struggle of irreconcilable parties, to both of which his principles were in part opposed, and the dexterity with which, in his caustic satires, he held up to public view their respective errors, have scarcely been estimated at their real value. His was a mind that belonged less to a party than to mankind; endowed with a firmness and a pride that prompted him in every situation to maintain an independent attitude. Supported by these feelings, he attained the highest eminence to which an individual in the ranks of private life can aspire, as the counsellor of the first ministers of state, and the strenuous supporter of the rights and interests of his fellow-men-and without them it is impossible that he could have acquired that political ascendancy which he undoubtedly enjoyed, or won that popular renown which rewarded his zealous and unwearied exertions for the peace, freedom, and religion of his country.
LIFE AND WORKS OF JONATHAN SWIFT,
D.D. AND DEAN OF SAINT PATRICK'S, DUBLIN.
The leading characteristics of this great man's mind are strikingly manifested throughout his works in the astonishing efforts which he made to show mankind the causes of their corruption and degradation, and to teach the people in what consisted their weakness and their strength; in the grief and indignation with which he beheld their sufferings; and in the benevolence with which he sought to inspire them with a firm confidence in their means of ultimate emancipation. It is not surprising that a man of Swift's lofty wisdom, exact knowledge of human nature, and keen political sagacity, should have despised the extremes of party, and yet at the same time, by his surpassing wit and talents, should have extorted the admiration and homage of men of all ranks and all opinions. The most celebrated men of their age, poets and politicians-Bolingbroke and Oxford, Pope, Addison, and Arbuthnot-freely acknowledged the superiority of that master intellect which possessed so merited a power, so strange and fascinating an influence, in directing at once the destinies of a ministry and a people, the fortunes of his private friends, or a revolution in the public mind. It is perhaps the proudest triumph of his genius that the best and greatest men have borne the strongest testimony to his merits and to the extent of his political and literary fame. The language in which he is addressed by the most
distinguished persons in every class, the learned and the witty, the great and the noble, the fashionable and the gay, carries sufficient evidence of the many estimable and engaging qualities by which such general affection and respect must have been attracted and secured.
But the happier period of his life, the splendid reign of a brilliant intellect, during which he reaped the abundant harvest of his celebrity and worth, basking in the smiles of that favour which he so much coveted, and making it his delight to honour and promote his friends, of whatever party they might be, was destined to have but too brief an existence. His day of life grew dark almost before its noon. The morning had risen amidst lowering clouds, through which the beams of his genius broke slowly, till they reached their meridian power; and his evening went down with an eclipse so dark as strongly to impress on the mind the frail tenure of those great endowments which not even the loftiest genius or the purest moral worth can permanently ensure to their possessor.
Jonathan Swift was descended from an ancient and highly respectable family of the same name in Yorkshire; of which the elder branch, in the person of Barnham Swift, acquired titles of nobility, dating the 20th March, 1627, as the viscounts Carlingford, &c.; but Barnham dying without issue, they again became extinct in the same generation. The younger branch was represented by the rev. Thos. Swift, vicar of Goodrich and proprietor of a small estate in Herefordshire, eminently distinguished in his day for his chivalric loyalty and attachment to the cause of Charles I., in which he is stated to have suffered more than any person of his condition in England. For this devotion, almost to martyrdom (and complete martyrdom of estate), his memory was greatly revered by his celebrated grandson, who contemplated writing a regular memoir of this doughty loyalist, assisted by his friend doctor John Lyon;a and from this circumstance it is not improbable that the stern unflinching spirit of the clergyman had its effect in exciting the lofty magnanimity and courage so conspicuous in his descendant, and perhaps in determining his choice of a profession. There are the same traits of daring in both-the fidelity and resolution which constitute the martyr; for we are told that this loyal parson was plundered by the roundheads no less than six-and-thirty times, yet contrived to secrete 300 broad pieces of gold, with which he made his escape to Ragland castle and presented them to the governor; an action, says his great descendant, which must be allowed to be the more extraordinary as it was performed by a private clergyman, with a very numerous family, of small estate, who had been often plundered and was deprived of his livings in the church. Also, in his Journal to Stella (Letter 42), Swift expresses the
As appeared from a memorandum, labelled by Swift, with his own hand, "Memoirs of my grandfather, Thomas Swift, by Mr. Lyon, April, 1738," The portion compiled consisted of an account of the sufferings of the family in the royal cause, &c
"Anecdotes of the Family of Swift," MS., T. C. D., written by Jonathan Swift, D. S. P. D.
strong interest he felt in all that related to his stouthearted predecessor's family. "O, pray, now I think of it, be so kind to step to my aunt and take notice of my great-grandfather's picture; you know he has a ring on his finger with a seal of an anchor and a dolphin about it; but I think there is besides at the bottom of the picture the same coat of arms quartered with another which I suppose was my greatgrandmother's. If this be so, it is a stronger argument than the seal. And pray see whether you think that coat of arms was drawn at the same time with the picture, or whether it be of a later hand; and ask my aunt what she knows about it. But perhaps there is no such coat of arms on the picture, and I only dreamt it. My reason is because I would ask some herald here whether I should choose that coat or one in Guillim's large folio of heraldry, where my uncle Godwin is named with another coat of arms of three stags. This is sad stuff to write, so good night, MD.” What is more, Swift raised a monument to his bold ancestor's memory, and also presented a cup to the church of Goodrich or Gotheridge. He had a drawing made of the monument, which he forwarded to obtain the opinion of his friend Mrs. Howard, who, having shown it to Pope, returned it with the following humorous lines written by that accomplished wit. The paper is endorsed in Swift's hand, "Model of a monument for my grandfather, with Mr. Pope's roguery:”—
This bold church militant married Elizabeth Dryden, sister to the father of John Dryden the poet. By this lady he had no fewer than ten sons and four daughters; and, dying in 1658, was succeeded by his eldest son Godwin, then a barrister of Gray'sinn, who, by his matrimonial connexion with the noble family of Ormond, was subsequently raised to the attorney-generalship of the palatinate of Tipperary. This successful beginning induced other members of the family to follow him to Ireland, and among these four brothers was Jonathan Swift, the father of the celebrated dean. He also had been brought up to the law, and doubtless would have acquired a handsome independence; but, with the fatality which seemed to be prepared for his great but unfortunate son, even before his birth, he was cut off within two years after his marriage, in April 1667. His widow (of a Leicestershire family named Erick) was thus left with an only daughter, and pregnant of another child, with a slender provision not exceeding twenty pounds a-year, purchased during her husband's lifetime in England. It was necessary that the elder brother Godwin should do something to increase this stipend; but owing to an unhappy disposition for speculation (another name, according to Swift, for indolence and avarice) he did as little as he could, and she gave birth to this posthumous child, under no pleasing or promising circumstances, about seven months after her husband's death and thus inauspiciously was ushered into the world the celebrated dean of St. Patrick's, on the 30th of November, 1667, at the house No. 7, Hoey's-court, Dublin.
One of the first events of this great man's history seemed to partake of the strangeness and vicissitudes which marked his subsequent fortunes, for when only a year old he was spirited away-not by fairies, but by his English nurse, a native of Whitehaven,
who, out of strong affection, without the knowledge even of his mother, conveyed the young Jonathan to England, whither she was summoned by a dying relative.a So attached was she to her charge, that she taught him to spell even at three years old, and at five he was able to read any chapter in the bible. It was not till his sixth year that the little Jonathan was reconducted to Ireland, his mother having preferred that he should remain in England to the risk of another voyage. Almost immediately on his return he was sent by his uncle Godwin to the school of Kilkenny, where he remained eight years, and was admitted on the 24th of April, 1682, a pensioner in the university of Dublin, with the advantage however of being placed under the judicious tuition of Dr. St. George Ashe, afterwards bishop of Dromore.
The first proof, perhaps, given by the celebrated dean of his sterling wit and strong sense was the decided repugnance he evinced for the scholastic learning then so much in fashion, and still abounding with so many absurdities retained from the old collegiate system of education. The under-graduate course especially was then confined almost wholly to the works of the Stagirite, or those of his commentators, including the sophistic jargon of Burgerdiscius, Smiglecius, and their followers. We are not surprised that such studies were little congenial with that love of undisguised truth, and that clear bold assertion of it in its naked strength and majesty, which formed so striking a feature in Swift's character. His refusal to sully his mind and pervert his intellect by entering such absurd and thorny labyrinths showed that he possessed an understanding as well as genius in advance of the age in which he lived, and which distinguished him in all the memorable events and trying junctures of his future life. But how easily he could have mastered Kechermannus, and shone, no mean star, in the old logical treatises, appeared by his repetition of the logical queries propounded to him (says Sheridan) many years afterwards; and yet, to crown the solemn jest of the collegiate doctors, the most truly profound logician and close arguer of his times was stopped on first presenting himself, as he humorously expresses it, "for dulness and insufficiency," and of course failed to take his degree of bachelor of arts. To have been condemned for contumacy would have come perhaps nearer to the mark; for, according to his own account, he was so disgusted at the stupidity of the scholastic treatises that he never had patience to go through three pages of any of them. At the first public examination he refused to reply to the senseless jargon propounded to him; and when urged by his tutor to make himself master of this special branch of metaphysic science, he is stated to
have inquired what it was he was to learn from those books?"The art of reasoning, to be sure," was the answer; on which Swift observed that he found no want of any such art; that he could reason without it; and that, as far as he could observe, it had the effect of teaching men to wrangle rather than to reason; and, instead of clearing up obscurities, seemed to perplex matters that were in themselves sufficiently clear. It was his wish to employ the reason which God had given him, which he would leave to time and experience to strengthen and direct, nor run the risk of having it warped or falsely biassed by any system of rules so arbitrarily and absurdly laid down. He considered his objections founded on truth and principle, resolutely adhered to them, and devoted his time to history Swift has oddly observed that he was brought over to England by his nurse in a band-box, &c. &c. &c.
and poetry; yet to pass muster he so far mastered the terms, that when he went into the hall a second time he passed his examination; but, it is recorded, only through the influence of his friends. It was inserted in the college register that he obtained his degree speciali gratiá; a circumstance which, in reference to his unfortunate position in other respects, must have secretly excited his anger and contempt, more particularly if we consider that his reading was at this time extensive and various, and that he had already sketched out his first masterly and inimitable production of "The Tale of a Tub." It was most probably in this mood that the refractory student-who finally showed how easily he could master collegiate sophistries-lent his aid to a production entitled the "Tripos," a satirical piece, delivered in a speech at a common court in the university of Dublin, July 11, 1688, by Mr. John Jones, but attributed by Richardson and Dr. Barrett to Swift's own pen. Scott however hazards the more probable opinion that only a few satirical strokes were inserted to enliven the dulness of Jones's tirade, or his duller companion's wit; and it has certainly not that vehement and sustained power of invective so remarkable in Swift's earlier satirical effusions, and most of any, in that splendid emanation of wit which stands without equal or rival in our language.
The three following years Swift passed at college, rather from necessity than from choice, under very depressing circumstances, dependent on the small precarious bounty of his uncle, little known, it has been observed, and less regarded. By collegiate sophists and pedagogues he was in fact looked upon as a blockhead;a and it would seem that he returned the compliment with interest, and, by his own admission, inserted in "The Tale of a Tub," was meditating at the very time "An Account of the Kingdom of Absurdities." This design, like "The Tale of a Tub," he may probably have communicated to the authors of the "Tripos," and to other refractory students who had wit enough to enter into his views of the existing routine of scholastic education. It was shown, it is said, to his friend Mr. Waryng (though this is denied by the able Mr. Mason), among the few whose society he appears at this time to have cared to cultivate, and who were evidently under the collegiate ban-not for any open disorders, as was erroneously alleged, but for their too keen observation and satirical disposition; the
The wise collegians, perhaps, regarded the rude inscription of his name in schoolboy fashion upon his form, and still shown to strangers, as an additional proof of his want of logic. bSome amusing instances are given by Mr. Mason of the efforts made by Swift's enemies to deprive him of the honour of writing the Tale of a Tub"-not excepting Johnson and the dean's little parson cousin, of whom he says "I should be glad to see how far the foolish impudence of a dunce could go;" and challenges any person to prove his claim to three lines in the whole book:-"Let him step forth and tell his name and titles; upon which the bookseller shall have orders to prefix them to the next edition, and the claimant shall from henceforward be acknowledged the undisputed author." The late William Hazlitt's remarks on this production are very excellent:-"The Tale of a Tub" is one of the most masterly compositions in the language, whether for thought, wit, or style. It is so capital and undeniable a proof of the author's talents, that Dr. Johnson, who did not like Swift, would not allow that he wrote it. It is hard that the same performance should stand in the way of a man's promotion to a bishopric as wanting gravity, and at the same time be denied to be his as having too much wit. It is a pity the doctor did not find out some graver author for whom he feit a critical kindness, on whom to father this splendid but unacknowledged production." (Lecture vi., delivered at the Surrey Institution.)
It is well known that Johnson in his private conversation frequently insinuated that Swift was not the author. "I doubt," he says, "if the Tale of a Tub' was his; it has so much more thinking, more knowledge, more power, more colour, than any of the works which are indisputably his: if it was his, I shall only say he was 'impar sibi.'" ("Tour to the Hebrides.")
indulgence of which led to the frequent suspension of some, and to the expulsion of others.
Few situations in life can be imagined more painful than that of Swift about this period-smarting under supposed humiliations-stern, high-minded— beginning to be conscious of his own vast expansive talents, original genius, and inimitable wit, as already manifested in his first satirical outbreaks. The narrowness of his circumstances was such as to forbid his joining the society of those equal to him in birth and family; and the proud student, scorning every kind of obligation from the higher, with a magnanimous principle declined to associate with those of an inferior grade. Hence he lived much alone; and it is curious to observe how, from the opening of his splendid career, every circumstance seems to have combined to foster and develop the peculiar genius and the stern unflinching rectitude of character which impressed the proudest ministers of state and his greatest adversaries with a deference amounting to awe. It would appear as if every fresh obstacle, every great disappointment, served only to strengthen the native vigour and powers of his extraordinary mind; and to fit him for the exercise of those irresistible qualities which influenced the fate of nations, gave peace and security to Great Britain after a long and calamitous war, and first emancipated Ireland from the bitter curse of slavery, in teaching her how successfully to resist her oppressHad not this truly great man-distinguished even more for his knowledge of mankind, and his vast talents to comprehend every question connected with the interests of humanity and civil polity, than for his original genius-been thus early debarred the advantages attending birth and fortune possessed by his ancestors, received the niggardly support of a distressed relative, and been thrown early upon the resources of his own mind, the world might long have wanted the entertainment,-England the advantage and the honour,-and Ireland the political regeneration,-which they have derived from the wondrous powers of the calumniated dean of St. Patrick's. It is evident from his own words, as well as from every circumstance in his future career, that the events of his early life had remarkable influence upon his future success and celebrity; for, while a poor and distressed student, interested in courting the approbation of his tutor and the masters of the college, he had sufficient veneration for truth and the love of sound philosophy and learning, to scorn to load his lofty mind and vigorous intellect with the falsifying and exploded doctrines of the schools. It was this pertinacious love of truth and integrity which, in the opinion of his early and best biographers, did him so much honour; instead of being-as stated by Johnson and his abject followers, who felt obscured by superior powers and influence of genius like the dean's a source of ignominy and disgrace.
The death of Swift's uncle Godwin, of a family disorder, it is stated-the loss of speech, and lethargy, very similar to that which carried off the illustrious dean-and the discovery of his embarrassed affairs, left the poor student unprovided for, deprived at once of the allowance which his misguided and unfortunate uncle could ill afford. His known hatred to schemes and projects was derived, or at least strengthened, by the misfortunes of the elder branch of his family, and a humorous anecdote is related that, when an old sea-captain once told the dean that he had discovered the longitude, he was advised to take care that he did not get out of his latitude, and to take example by his uncle and so many others, whose fate, if he did not look to it, would be the old captain's. In fact the sterling good sense and worldly knowledge of the future dean could
never hear the merits of this hopeful head of the family descanted upon with any patience; he justly considered that he had weakly brought discredit and disgrace upon the humbler branches of his own name and family, if not consigned them to hopeless obscurity and poverty by his follies. It is no wonder that he never loved or could bear the mention of one with whom his early humiliation and sufferings were so closely associated; and those who have experienced the strange depressing power and the heartfelt torture of misfortune, doomed to receive a scanty and stinted allowance from the hands of distant relatives-perhaps themselves hardly less distressed-can conceive the nature of the torments which racked the bosom of the high and independent minded Swift. So painful indeed was the retrospect, that he sought to fly "wide as the poles asunder" from all recurrence to family relations; they were the nightmare on the otherwise peaceful slumbers of his youth, on his hopes, his future happiness, and perhaps the amenity of his genius; for in the noonday of his brilliant powers no one was more eulogised, even by his most powerful enemies, for his good nature, courtesy, and obliging disposition. Yet unfortunately so early in life was the finer feeling of gratitude benumbed, that the grand wisdom and mighty heart which would have regenerated and embraced the world, in the spirit of beneficence which dictated his writings, (when rightly interpreted and understood,) were arrested at the source, and, like a wound bleeding inwardly, gave no sign of the pain and suffering to the eye. In the words of a great poet he might truly have exclaimed, under the distressing circumstances by which he was surrounded, often a prey to gloomy meditations, to grief, indignation, and regret, when joined in his solitary chamber by the few eccentric or refractory spirits who sought for its own sake the wit and social charm gleaming through the mental gloom
"When from the heart where sorrow sits
Her dusky shadow mounts too high, And on the changing aspect flits
And clouds the brow or fills the eye;
Heed not that gloom which soon shall sink,-
Yet there can be little doubt it was only by this ordeal of dependence, self-control, and unavoidable submission to circumstances, that Swift attained some of those qualities which raised him to an intellectual eminence from which he directed the policy of the ablest statesmen of his day, arrested the tide of public opinion, stripped the most popular Whigs, even Marlborough, of their hard-won power, and swayed the heart and passions of "the fierce democracy" to attain the particular object which he had in view.
The sense of his forlorn condition at this period was in some measure removed by the manner in which his uncle, William Swift, supplied the place of a guardian after the death of Godwin. The assistance he received was conferred with a better grace, and is said to have so far called forth the young student's acknowledgments as to obtain for him the title of the best of his relations. Yet the stipend was not increased though he had attained his twentieth year, and being barely adequate to support existence, he naturally turned his thoughts with some anxiety to his cousin Willoughby, the eldest son of Godwin Swift, then engaged in mercantile business at Lisbon. He appears to have been kindly disposed; nor was Swift's reliance upon his friendship misplaced, for no sooner was the merchant aware of his father's death than he sent by a trusty hand a sum to his
cousin considerably larger than he had ever behield at one time. It could not have arrived more seasonably: the lonely student, without a penny, was gazing wistfully from his chamber window, when soon his eye was attracted by the garb of a sea-faring man, who by his manner seemed to be making inquiries for some particular chamber. The thought instantly flashed across his mind that it might be for him; he saw him enter the building, and soon had the joy of hearing a rap at the door and beholding a packet in the man's hand. "Is your name Jonathan Swift?" was the first inquiry. "Yes, it is." "Then I have something for you from master Swift at Lisbon," at the same time displaying a large leathern bag, and pouring out the silver contents upon the table. Swift in the first transports of his joy pushed a number towards the sailor; but the honest tar refused to take any, declaring at the same time "that he would do more than that for good master Willoughby." This was the first time that Swift's disposition with regard to money manifested itself; and if we reflect upon the straits to which he was sometimes reduced at college, there was both good feeling and generosity in his offer so liberally to reward the conveyer of glad tidings, and assuredly nothing to countenance the charges of a mean or covetous disposition advanced by lord Orrery and other envious maligners of his just fame. At the same time he himself observed of this special favour of an all-wise Providence, that, instead of elating him, the reflection of his constant sufferings through the want of money made him husband the gift so well that he was never afterwards without something in his purse.
Before accompanying the lonely and intractable student into the world it will be proper, if not interesting, to notice several other little calumnies which, commencing with the microscopic powers of lord Orrery, time and envious malice have magnified through the darkened glass of the sour and evildreading Johnson, who invariably most grudges his praise to the best and greatest characters, with a bold assertion and authority which warped even the clear vision and fair-judging criticism of sir W. Scott. Nearly all these charges are given upon the presumed evidence of the college records, which not one of these writers seems to have examined; and the entire account of scholastic insubordination, and of the degradation and punishments to which Swift was subjected, confessedly rests upon an inference drawn by the ingenious Dr. Barrett after a presumed examination of the college registers. Upon such a supposition, so eagerly adopted, was the absurd question first raised, and the mighty, heinous, yet illfounded charges brought against the collegiate character and conduct of Swift, put into a formal statement, which even if fully substantiated ought assuredly to be considered less disgraceful than it is amusing. As a fair specimen of the whole, it is gravely asserted that no record of penal infliction occurs until a special grace for the degree of bachelor of arts conferred on him on the 18th of February, 1685-6; and yet the terms speciali gratiá are, in the opinion of an ingenious correspondent of sir W. Scott, only those frequently made use of upon the formal admission of able candidates before the usual term; and so would vanish the "penal infliction," were it not made much more ludicrously penal and repeated many times over-with the exception of Dr. Sheridan, who says not a word of humiliation, disgrace, or kneeling for pardon before the junior dean -by Swift's numerous biographers. It will at least not be unentertaining, if not edifying, to present both sides of the question and leave it to the reader to draw his own inference, like Dr. Barrett, simply re