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OTWITHSTANDING the several attempts to gratify the curiosity of the world, in delineating the Life and Character of the immortal Swift, yet liitherto little satisfactory has been produced on that subject. The different, and often opposite lights in which he has been shown by the several writers, have occasioned an equal diversity of judgments in their several readers, according to their various prepossessions; and even the most candid are too often left in a state of doubt, through the want of having the truth laid before them supported by sufficient proofs.
Perhaps there never was a man whose true character has been so little known, or whose conduct at all times, even from his first setting out in life, has been so misrepresented to the world, as his. This was owing to several causes, which will be laid open in the following work. But the chief source of all the erroneous opinions entertained of hin, arose from Swift himself, on account of some singularities in his character, which at all times exposed him to the shafts of envy and malice, while he employed no other shield in his defence, but that of conscious integrity.
He had, early in life, from causes to be hereafter explained, imbibed such a strong hatred to hypoB 3
crisy, that he fell into the opposite extreme; and no mortal ever took more pains to display his good qualities, and appear in the best light to the world, than he did to conceal his, or even to put on the semblance of their contraries.
This humour affected his whole conduct, as well in the more important duties, as in the common offices of life.
Though a man of great piety, and true religion, yet he carefully shunned all ostentation of it: as an instance of which, it is well known that during his residence in London, not being called upon by any duty to officiate publickly in his clerical capacity, he was seldom seen at church at the usual hours that pretenders to religion show themselves there ; but he was a constant attendant on early prayers, and a frequent partaker of early sacraments.
Though generous and charitable in his nature to the highest degree, he seemed to part with money so reluctantly, and spoke so much about economy, that he passed for avaricious, and hardhearted.
His very civilities bore the appearance of rudeness, and his finest compliments were conveyed under the disguise of satire.
Lord Bolingbroke, who knew him well, in two words, summed up his character in this respect, by saying, that Swift was a hypocrite reversed.
In short, he always appeared to the world in a mask, which he never took off but in the company of his most intimate friends : and as the world can judge only by appearances, no wonder they were so much mistaken in the ideas formed of him. When we consider that the time in which he
made the chief figure in life, was a season wherein faction raged with the greatest violence; that he was looked upon as the principal champion of the tory cause, and therefore was the common butt at which all the writers on the whig side levelled their shafts ; there will be no occasion to wonder, that out of the many calumnies poured out against him, some of them should stick. These were indeed so numerous, that we are told by himself, that in the space of not many years, upward of a thousand pamphlets and papers were written professedly against him; to which he never deigned to give an answer, nor endeavoured to wipe off any aspersion thrown on him. Thus by the former part of his character, just laid open, he afforded his enemies sufficient groundwork on which to raise what superstructure of calumny they pleased, and as no defence was made, it was daily suffered to increase. For he had very unwisely laid it down as a maxim, “ To act uprightly, and pay no regard to the opinion of the
Thus, while he was admired, esteemed, beloved, beyond any man of his time, by his particular friends, not only on account of his superiour talents, but his preeminence in every kind of virtue ; he was envied, feared, and hated by his enemies, who consisted of a whole virulent faction to a man. And when we take in the general appetite for scandal, and the spirit of envy in the bulk of mankind, which delights in the humiliation of an exalted character,
• Miss Vanhomrigh, in one of her letters to him, has the following passage. “ You once had a maxim, which was
-To act “ what was right, and not mind what the world would say."
we shall not be surprised, that even among his own party, he found few advocates to vindicate his fame; and that he had no other support in this torrent of abuse, but the consciousness of his own rectitude, and the unalterable attachment of his intimate friends: among which number he could count such as were most eminent in those days, both for talents and virtue.
In this state Swift continued till the death of the queen; admired by all as a genius, detested by most as a man. All the world now knows, upon that event, with what implacable malice the whigs pursued their antagonists, as soon as they had got all power into their hands. This spirit raged still more violently in Ireland, than in England; the effects of which Swift sensibly felt on retiring to his deanery. The ill name he had obtained in London, followed him to Dublin; where he was the object of general hatred for some years. But when, in process of time, his true character came to be known, and his exemplary conduct gave the lie to the gross misrepresentations that had been made of him ; when his spirit of patriotism broke forth into action, and saved his country from threatened ruin; when it was seen that the great object of his life was to promote publick good; that in the discharge of all moral and religious duties, he had no superiour; in the choice and extent of his charities, perhaps no equal; he obtained such a degree of publick favour, as no man in that country had ever reached. Praise was united to his name, admiration and affection to his person ; and this just tribute was ever after paid to him during his life, and to his memory after his decease ; till a certain au
thor arose, bent upon sullying his fair fame, who, opening the channels of calumny, long covered over by time, and raking in them with a friendly industry, once more brought their foul contents to light. Nor was it an enemy that did this, but one who professed himself Swift's friend, and who was, during his lifetime, his greatest flatterer ; I mean John earl of Orrery.
The cruel manner in which he has treated the memory of his friend Swift, as his lordship in the course of the work often affects to call him, had something so surprising in it, that people were at a loss how to account for it, except by supposing it to proceed from some uncommon degree of malevolence in his lordship's nature. But though he cannot be wholly cleared from an imputation of that sort, yet I ain persuaded that his chief motive to it was not quite of so black a die. His father had, in bis will, bequeathed his library from him ; and this circumstance made the world conclude that he looked upon his son as a blockhead. This stung the young man to the quick; and we may see how deep an impression it made on him, by the account he gives of it in one of his letters to his son. It seems to have been the chief object of his life afterward, to wipe away this stigma, and convince the world of the injustice done him, by publishing some work that might do him credit as a writer. Conscious of his want of genius to produce any thing original, he applied himself diligentiy to a translation of Pliny's Letters; but he was so long about this task, and put it into so many hands to correct it, that Melmoth's excellent translation of the same work, slipped into the world before his, and forestalled this avenue to