« PreviousContinue »
IN the following abstract of English history, we see little or nothing of Swift's peculiar genius. It is neither composed with much depth of observation, nor with a bias to the establishment of any political theory, being merely a compendious view of historical facts, abridged from the ancient chronicles, without much inquiry into their truth or accuracy, and without any philosophical views concerning their causes or consequences. But if the history itself wants point and peculiarity, the dedication exhibits enough of both. Count Gyllenborg, it must be remembered, had been ambassador from Sweden, during the halcyon days of Oxford's ministry. Upon the accession of George I., he became the active agent of his master Charles XII. in preparing a general insurrection of the Jacobites in England and Scotland, to be seconded by that adventurous monarch, at the head of an invading army of 12,000 men. The conspiracy being discovered, Count Gyllenborg was arrested and sent out of Britain. It was only three years after these circumstances had taken place, that Swift inscribed to him a historical work of importance, expressing, at the same time, his resolution to have dedicated it to Charles himself had he been alive, and insinuating by a very bitter and ironical parenthesis, his contempt for the monarch who then occupied the English throne. It will remain for the reader to conjecture whether Swift disbelieved the conspiracy, whether he desired its success, or whether he had only a general disposition to make common cause with all who were in opposition to the existing powers, without minutely inquiring upon what principle their enmity was founded. According as the reader shall adopt his creed, he will find it easy to fill up the blank at the end of the dedication.
COUNT DE GYLLENBORG.
Dublin, in Ireland, Nov. 2, 1719. T is now about sixteen years since I first entertained the design of writing a History of England, from the beginning of William Rufus, to the end of Queen Elizabeth; such a History, I mean, as appears to be most wanted by foreigners, and gentlemen of our own country; not a voluminous work, nor properly an abridgement, but an exact relation of the most important affairs and events, without any regard to the rest. My intention was to inscribe it to the king, your late master, for whose great virtues I had ever the highest veneration, as I shall continue to bear to his memory. I confess it is with some disdain that I observe great authors descending to write any dedications at all; and, for my own part, when I looked round on all the princes of Europe, I could think of none who might deserve that distinction from me beside the king your master; (for I say nothing of his present Britannic majesty, to whose person and character I am an utter stranger, and likely to continue so;) neither can I be suspected of flattery on this point, since it was
some years after that I had the honour of an invitation to his court before you were employed as his minister in England, which I heartily repent that I did not accept; whereby, as you can be my witness, I might have avoided some years' uneasiness, and vexation, during the last four years of our late excellent queen, as well as a long melancholy prospect since, in a most obscure, disagreeable country, and among a most profligate and abandoned people.
I was diverted from pursuing this History, partly by the extreme difficulty, but chiefly by the indignation I conceived at the proceedings of a faction which then prevailed; and the papers lay neglected in my cabinet until you saw me in England; when you know how far I was engaged in thoughts and business of another kind. Upon her majesty's lamented death, I returned to my station in this kingdom; since which time, there is not a northern curate among you who has lived more obscure than myself, or a greater stranger to the commonest transactions of the world. It is but very lately that I found the following papers, which I had almost forgotten. I publish them now for two reasons; first, for an encouragement to those who have more youth,* and leisure, and good temper than I, toward pursuing the work as far as it was intended by me, or as much farther as they please; the second reason is, to have an opportunity of declaring the profound respect I have for the memory of your royal master, and the sincere regard and friendship I bear to yourself; for I must bring to your mind. how proud I was to distinguish you among all the foreign ministers with whom I had the honour to be acquainted. I am a witness of the zeal you showed, not only for the honour and interest of your master,
*The author was then in his fifty-second year.-D. S.
but for the advantage of the Protestant religion in Germany, and how knowingly and feelingly you often spoke to me on that subject. We all loved you, as possessed of every quality that could adorn an English gentleman, and esteemed you as a faithful subject to your prince, and an able negotiator; neither shall any reverse of fortune have power to lessen you either in my friendship or esteem: and I must take leave to assure you farther, that my affection toward persons has not been at all diminished by the frown of power upon them. Those whom you and I once thought great and good men continue still so in my eyes and heart; only with a ******
HISTORY OF ENGLAND,
FROM THE INVASION OF IT BY JULIUS CÆSAR,
HE most ancient account we have of Britain is, that the island was full of inhabitants, divided into several petty kingdoms, as most nations of the world appear to have been at first. The bodies of the Britons were painted with a skycoloured blue, either as a ornament, or else for terror to their enemies. In their religion they were heathens, as all the world was before Christ, except the Jews.
Their priests were called druids: these lived in hollow trees, and committed not their mysteries to writing, but delivered them down by tradition, whereby they were in time wholly lost.
The Britons had wives in common, so many to a particular tribe or society; and the children were in common to that society.
About fifty years before Christ, Julius Cæsar, first Roman emperor, having conquered Gaul, or France,