Page images
PDF
EPUB

And where could a young man have found such a director and assistant in fitting him for the performance of these several parts, as sir William Temple; who was himself one of the finest writers, one of the ablest statesmen, and the truest lover of his country, that had been produced in that, or perhaps in any other age?

It was from the frequent revisal of that great man's works, under his own inspection, that Swift acquired his first lights with regard to propriety and purity of style, which he was afterward allowed to carry to a greater degree of perfection than any English writer whatsoever. The high opinion he entertained of sir William's works in this respect, was known to me from the following circumstance. When I was an undergraduate in the college, he recommended it to me to lay aside some portion of time every day for the study of English; and when I asked him what authors he would advise me to read, he immediately replied, sir William Temple; not, said he, his latter works, written during or after his long residence abroad, for his style became then somewhat corrupted by the introduction of newfangled foreign words and phrases, which he fell into by conversing and writing so much in foreign languages; but such of his works as were written before his going ambassador to Nimeguen. And after him, added he, I do not know any writer in our language that I would recommend to you as a model. I had upon this occasion a fair opportunity of paying him a just compliment; but I knew his detestation of any thing that carried the appearance of flattery with it, too well, to make mention of his own works to him.

With respect to politicks, it must be allowed that there was no man of that age better qualified than sir William Temple, not only to instruct Swift in the general system of politicks pursued in the several states of Europe, but likewise to lay open to him all the arcana of state, all the most secret springs of action, with regard to publick affairs, both foreign and domestick, during his time; in which he himself had born so principal a part : and with regard to patriotism, sir William Temple must be allowed to have been the most shining example of that noblest of virtues, produced in that age; as he passed all the vigorous part of his life in the most indefatigable endeavours for the good of his country, upon the most disinterested principles ; never having received any reward, nor seeming solicitous about any, for a long series of the most important services rendered to his king and country, often at his own expense; and at last nobly declining the highest station to which a subject could be raised, when offered to him, as it was at a time of life, when he found the vigour of his mind so far abated, that he did not think himself equal to the arduous employment of first minister. And with respect to private virtue, there could not have been a more illustrious example placed before the eyes of a young man, than that of an old courtier, who during the dissolute reign of Charles II had singly at court maintained his integrity unshaken, and his morals untainted.

Under the direction of such a tutor, such a guide, under the influence of such an example ; how happily was the most dangerous season of life passed in

studious

studious retirement, far from the dangers and temptations of a corrupt world.

When we reflect that Swift was first brought up in the school of adversity (who though she be a severe mistress, yet does she generaily make the best scholars) and that he was thence removed to another lyceum, where presided a sage, in whom were blended Socratic wisdom, stoical virtue, and Epicurean elegance; we must allow his lot to have been most happily cast for forming a great and distinguished character in life. Nor did he fail to answer the high expectation that might be raised of a young man endowed by nature with uncommon talents, which were improved to the utmost by a singular felicity of situation, into which fortune had thrown him.

Let us now accompany Swift into the world, from entering into which he was happily detained till his thirty-first year. His mind was now stored with variety of useful knowledge ; his understanding had arrived at its utmost maturity and strength; his fancy was in its prime ; and his heart, long filled with the noblest affections toward God, and toward man, 'swelled with impatience for proper opportunities of discharging his duty to both. With such abilities, and such dispositions, behold him now entering on the great stage of the world, to perform the character allotted to him in the drama of life, that of an able, bold, and unwearied champion, in the cause of religion, liberty, and virtue.

SECTION II.

From the Death of Sir WILLIAM TEMPLE to the

Time of his Introduction to Lord OXFORD.

UPON the death of sir William Temple, Swift immediately removed to London; where his first care was to discharge the trust reposed in him, that of publishing a correct edition of sir William Temple's works; which he effected as speedily as possible, and presented them to king William, with a short dedication written by himself, as publisher. He thought he could not pay a more acceptable compliment to the king, than by dedicating to him the posthumous works of a man, for whom, from his earliest days, when prince of Orange, he had professed the highest friendship and esteem ; and with whom he lived, after his arrival at the crown of England, on the most intimate footing; frequently visiting sir William in his retreat, after he had found his endeavours vain to draw him out of it, by the tempting offer of making him his first minister. There was another reason too, which must have made the publication of these works peculiarly acceptable to the king; which was, that some of the most important transactions mentioned in those writings, were relative to himself; and many personal anecdotes with regard to tim, were now brought to light, which could have been disclosed by no one but sir William, and which put the character of that truly heroick prince in a high point of view. On these accounts Swift thought that such a dedication was not only the politest method of reminding the king of his promise made to sir William Temple in his behalf, but the likeliest means of having it speedily carried into execution. However, as he did not find the event answer his expectation, he applied to that monarch by memorial.

But after waiting some time, he found that his memorial had produced no better effect than his dedication. He therefore readily accepted of an of fer made to him by lord Berkeley, then appointed one of the lords justices of Ireland, to attend him to that kingdom, in the double capacity of chaplain, and private secretary.

This total neglect of his promise, made in consequence of a last, and it may be called a dying request, of his particular friend, seems to bear not a little hard on the character of king William. But it is to be observed that Swift was the most unfit man in the world to solicit a point of that sort in due form, without which nothing is to be done at court. He thought that his showing himself there, or at most the dedication of sir William's works, was all that was necessary to be done on his part, And with regard to the memorial, he himself exonerated king William so far, as to say often that he believed it never was received. For he put it into the hands of a certain nobleman, who professed great regard to him, and offered to present it to the king, and second it with all his might; but Swift had afterward reason to believe that he had sunk it, and said not a word of the matter. Vol. I.

E

Swift

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »