« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
period, Steele, &c. He was often at Twickenham for months together, and a frequenter of Button's coffee-house with the other wits of the time. It is not in these places, however, that the deep interest of Swift's life has settled, and, therefore, we cross the Channel to Ireland, and seek his homes there. We have already noticed his brief abode at Kilroot; his next residence was at Laracor, in Meath.
Swift was about thirty-two years of age when he attended Lord Berkeley, one of the Lords Justices of Ireland, to that country as his chaplain and private secretary. Berkeley had promised him the first good church living that fell vacant, but the rich deanery of Derry soon after falling out, he would only sell it to Swift for a thousand pounds. Swift resented this in such a manner, that to prevent making so formidable an enemy, Berkeley gave him the next vacancy, -the rectory of Agher, and the vicarage of Laracor and Rathbeggan. These livings, united, amounted to about 2301. yearly; and the prebend of Dunlavin being added in the year 1700, raised Swift's income to betwixt 350l. and 400l. His manner of taking possession of Laracor, where he resolved to live, was characteristic. He was a great pedestrian, and is said to have walked down incognito to Laracor from Dublin, making doggrel rhymes on the places which he passed through. Many anecdotes are related of this journey. Arriving, he entered the curate's house, demanded his name, and announced himself bluntly "as his master." All was bustle to receive a person of such consequence, who, apparently, was determined to make his consequence felt. The curate's wife was ordered to lay aside the Doctor's clean shirt and stockings, which he carried in his pocket; nor did he relax his airs of domination until he had excited much alarm, which his subsequent friendly conduct to the worthy couple turned into respectful attachment.
These brusqueries of the Dean's were, no doubt, very amusing to himself, and are agreeable enough to read of, but they must have been anything but agreeable to those upon whom they were played off. They betray a want of regard to the feelings of others, and were offences against the best laws of society, which every one who regards the kindly sparing of the feelings of the humble and the modest ought to condemn. However respectful might be the after attachment of this worthy curate and his wife, we may well believe that the first strange rudeness and severity of the dreaded Dean would leave a wound and a terror behind that were not deserved, and that no one ought willingly to inflict. There were cases where folly merited the eccentric chastisement which Swift gave them. The farmer's wife who invited him to dinner, and then spoiled the dinner by repeatedly complaining that it really was too poor for him to sit down to, though the table groaned with good things, deserved, in some degree, the retort,-"Then why did you not get a better? -you knew I was coming; I have a good mind to go away and dine on a red herring." Yet even there, the good-natured country habit of the woman was somewhat too severely punished. She
Swift seemed to settle down at Laracor in good earnest. He found the church and parsonage much neglected and dilapidated, and set about their repairs at once. He was active and regular in the discharge of his clerical duties. He read prayers twice a-week, and preached regularly on Sundays. The prayers were thinly attended, and it was on one of these occasions that Lord Orrery represents him as addressing the clerk, Roger Coxe, as "My dearly beloved Roger." The truth of the anecdote has been disputed, and is said to exist in an old jest-book, printed half-a-century before. This does not, however, render it at all improbable that Swift made use of the jest, especially when we know that Roger was himself a humourist and a joker; as, for instance, when Swift asked Roger why he wore a red waistcoat, and he replied, because he belonged to the church militant.
Swift took much pleasure in his garden at Laracor; converted a rivulet that ran through
it into a regular canal,
time, as on his annual journeys to England, the ladies then took possession of the vicarage, and remained there during his absence. The site of Stella's house is marked on the Ordnance Survey of the county of Meath.
The residence of Swift at Laracor includes a most important portion of his life. It was, at the least, twelve years, as he took possession of his living in 1700, and quitted it for the deanery of St. Patrick in 1713. Here he was fully occupied with the duties of his parish, and the united labours of authorship and politics. Hardly was he settled when he wrote his pamphlet on the Dissensions between the Nobles and Commons of Rome, which applied to the impeachment by the Commons of Lord Somers, Oxford, Halifax, and Portland, on account of their share in the partition treaty. This brought him at once into the intimacy of Somers, Sunderland, and Halifax. Here he soon after published his Tale of a Tub, which had been written at Moorpark. This created a vast sensation, and though
anonymous, like most of Swift's works, was soon known to be his, and his society was eagerly sought by men of the highest distinction both for rank and genius. Amongst the latter, Addison, Steele, Tickell, Philips, and others, at once became his friends. He now made use of his influence with government to obtain the gift of the first-fruits and tenths to the Church of Ireland, which he effected. Besides this boon to the Church at large, he increased the glebe of Laracor from one acre to twenty; and, purchasing the tithes of Effernock, when he was not overburdened with money, settled them for ever on his successors. Here he amused himself with his quizzes upon Partridge the Astrologer, under the title of Isaac Bickerstaff, which almost drove that notorious impostor mad. Here he wrote the celebrated verses on Baucis and Philemon, and other of his poems. Here, in 1710, he made his grand political transit from the Whigs to the Tories, and became the great friend, assistant, and political counsellor of Harley and Bolingbroke; living, during his long sojourns in London, on the most familiar terms with those noblemen, and also with Pope, Gay, and all the more celebrated authors.
Swift's political achievements at this time are a singular subject of contemplation, and show what momentous influence a mere private man may acquire in England by his talents. Here was a country clergyman of an obscure parish in Meath, with a congregation, as he himself said, of "some half-score persons," who yet wielded the destinies of all Europe. It was more by the power of his pen in "The Examiner," and by his counsels and influence, than by any other means, that the Tories were enabled to turn out of office the long triumphant Whigs, and, by the peace of Utrecht, put a stop to the triumphs of Marlborough on the Continent. The vengeance which the Tories took on their adversaries the Whigs on regaining power for a time, in Anne's reign, is, perhaps, the most startling thing in the history of party. The Whigs had steadily pursued the war against Louis the Fourteenth, in which William had been engaged all his life. For nearly half-a-century, that is, from 1667 to 1713, the French monarch had carried on a desperate contest for the destruction of the liberties of Europe. In Spain, in the Netherlands, in Holland, in Italy, and Germany, his generals, Catinat, Luxemburg, Condé, Turenne, Vendome, Villars, Melac, Villeroi, Tallard, &c., &c., had led on the French armies to the most remorseless devastations. To this day, the successive demon deeds of Turenne, Melac, Créqui, and their soldiers, are vividly alive in the hearts and the memories of the peasantry of the Palatinate, where they destroyed nearly every city, chased the inhabitants away, leaving all that beautiful and fertile region a black desert, and throwing the bones of the ancient Germanic emperors out of their graves in the cathedral of Speir, played at bowls with their skulls. To extinguish Protestantism, and to extend the French empire, appeared Louis's two great objects; in which he was supported by all the spiritual power of the king of superstitions, the Pope. Revoking the Edict of Nantes, he committed the most horrible outrages and
destruction on his own Protestant subjects. He hoped, on the subjugation of Holland and the reformed states of Germany, to carry out there the same horrors of religious annihilation. Except in the person of Buonaparte, never has the spirit of conquest, and of political insolence, shown itself in so lawless, determined, and offensive a form as in this ostentatious monarch. William III, before his accession to the British throne, had been the most formidable opponent to his progress. But he had contrived to set his grandson, Philip V, on the throne of Spain, in opposition to the claims of Austria, and, by the fear of the ultimate union of these two great nations under one sceptre, alarmed all Europe. In vain was the united resistance of Austria and Holland, till England sent out its great general, Marlborough. The names of Marlborough, and the Savoyard, Prince Eugene, became as those of the demi-gods in the temple of war; and Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet, arose from their ages of obscurity into Continental pyramids of England's military renown.
But of what avail was all this renown? What was won by it, except the empty glory itself? At the crowning moment-at the hour of otherwise inevitable retribution to the bloody and unprincipled monarch of France, and of recompence to those nations whose blood he had so lavishly shed, and whose surface he had covered with ashes, ruins, and horrors, instead of cities, peaceful villages, and fair fields the Whigs were expelled from office by the Tories, and all the fruits of this long and bitter war were snatched away from us and our allies. To deprive the Whigs of the glory of a successful war, to dash down as abortive all the triumphs of the Whig general, Marlborough, these men rushed into peace, without consulting the allies, and left no results to the great European struggle but the blood which had been shed, and the misery that had been endured. Louis, then eighty-five years of age, and tottering towards the grave, saw himself at once released from the most fearful condition into which his wicked ambition had plunged him—from the most terrible prospect of humiliation and disgrace which could wring such a min He had reduced his kingdom to the last stage of exhaustion, by halfa-century's incessant contest with Europe; by bribing the English monarchs, Charles II, and James II, and many English nobles, to refuse help to the suffering Continent; and by bribing and paying the armies of German princes whom he could induce to become traitors to their nation. His people were fiercely embittered against him; no taxes could be raised; his best generals were defeated on all hands; and a short time would, most probably, have seen Marlborough and Eugene anticipate the allies of our day, by marching directly upon and taking possession of Paris. So sensible of this was Louis, that his haughty tone was totally gone; he ordered his ambassadors to give up Alsace, and even to assist in driving Philip, his own grandson, out of Spain, by privately paying the allies a million of livres monthly for the purpose. The Tories came in at this critical juncture, and all was changed. They offered Louis a most unexpected peace. At once he lifted again his head and his heart:
Alsace remains, to this day, a part of France; Spain has descended to the Bourbon; and the glory of Marlborough is without a single result, except Blenheim House, the dukedom to his family, and sixty-two millions and a half of taxation, which that war cost the English people. The peace of Utrecht roused the indignation of the whole civilized world. Volumes have been written in reprehension of it, and even enlightened conservatives of our time, as Hallam, in his Constitutional History, join in the condemnation.
Yet this mighty change, with all its countless consequences, could be effected, almost wholly, by the simple vicar of a simple Irish parish. It was Swift who helped to plan and carry out this grand scheme of defeat and mortification to the Whigs, who had excited his wrath by withholding from him preferment. It was he, more than all men together, who, in the Examiner, painted the scheme in all his affluence of delusive colours to the nation, and roused the English people, by the cry of English blood and English money wasted on the Continent, to demand immediate peace. While we lament the deed, we must confess the stupendous powers of the man.
But all this could not win him the keenly-coveted bishopric. He could reverse the history of total Europe, he could arrest the victorious arms of Marlborough and Eugene, he could put forth his hand and save France and its proud monarch from just humiliation; but he could not extort from the reluctant queen, even by the combined hands of Oxford and Bolingbroke, the object of his own ambition-a mitre. The Tale of a Tub stood in his way: it was only just in time, that his friends, themselves falling, secured for him the deanery of St. Patrick; to which he retired to act the ostensible patriot by indulging his own private resentment against his enemies and his fate.
Laracor is about two English miles from Trim. It lies in a drearyish sort of farming country, and to Swift, full of ambition, and accustomed to town life, and the stirring politics of the time, with which he was so much mixed up, one would have thought must prove a perfect desert. There is no village there, nor does there appear to have been one. It was a mere church and parsonage, and huts were very likely scattered about here and there, as they are now. The church still stands; one of the old, plain, barn-like structures of this part of the country, with a low belfry. The graveyard is pretty well filled with headstones and tombs, and some that seem to belong to good families. The churchyard is surrounded by a wall and trees, and in a thatched cottage at the gate lives the sexton. He said he had built the house himself; that he was seventy-five or so; and his wife, who had been on the spot fifty years, as old; but that the incumbent, a Mr. Irvine, was eighty-four, and that he was but the third from Swift. Swift held it fifty-five years, the next incumbent nearly as long, and this clergyman thirtysix, or thereabouts. It must, therefore, be a healthy place. The old man complained that all the gentry who used to live near were gone away. His wife used to get 201. at Christmas for Christmas-boxes,