Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

2

[ocr errors]

same year produced the “ Examiner,” 1 of which Swift wrote thirty-three papers. In argument he may be allowed to have the advantage; for where a wide system of conduct, and the whole of a publick character, is laid open to enquiry, the accuser having the choice of facts, must be very unskilful if he does not prevail : but with regard to wit, I am afraid none of Swift's papers will be found equal to those by which Addison opposed him.”

Early in the next year he published a “ Proposal for correcting, improving, and ascertaining the English

, Tongue,"3 in a Letter to the Earl of Oxford ; written without much knowledge of the general nature of language, and without any accurate enquiry into the history of other tongues. The certainty and stability which, contrary to all experience, he thinks attainable, he proposes to secure by instituting an academy ; 4 the decrees of which every man would have been willing, and many would have been proud to disobey, and which, being renewed by successive elections, would in a short time have differed from itself.

He wrote the same year a “ Letter to the October Club,”

[ocr errors]

a

4

5

taste and a corrupt style; aiming to restore “ that simplicity which is the best and truest ornament of most things in human life.”

i Swift's first. Examiner bore date, November 2nd, 1710, and his last bir was the 46th number, issued June 14th, 1711. In these weekly papers that Swift may be said to have created the " leading article," for they supplied in the Tory ministers with the arguments they would have used if they had had the wit to think of them.

2 Mr. Forster shows that Addison and Swift never met in political conAlict, as Addison had laid down the Whig Examiner three weeks before Swift commenced. Forster, p. 329. 3 This was the only one of his many writings to which Swift put his

S. S. vol. ix. pp. 137-159. 4 See Lord Roscommon's design for an English Academy, and Johnson's remarks on the French and Italian Academies. Vid. supr. vol. i.

name.

[ocr errors]

P. 235,

• Scott describes this club as a society of about two hundred members of parliament, chiefly landed men and warm Tories. They met at the

[ocr errors]

a number of Tory Gentlemen sent from the country to Parliament, who formed themselves into a club, to the number of about a hundred, and met to animate the zeal and raise the expectations of each other. They thought, with great reason, that the Ministers were losing opportunities; that sufficient use was not made of the ardour of the nation ; they called loudly for more changes, and stronger efforts;

and demanded the punishment of part, and the dismission of 10 the rest, of those whom they considered as publick robbers.

Their eagerness was not gratified by the Queen, or by Harley. The Queen was probably slow because she was afraid, and Harley was slow because he was doubtful ; he was a tory only by necessity, or for convenience; and when he had power in his hands, had no settled purpose for which he should employ it; forced to gratify to a certain degree the Tories who supported him, but unwilling to

make his reconcilement to the Whigs utterly desperate, he I corresponded at once with the two expectants of the Crown,

and kept, as has been observed, the succession undeb." termined. Not knowing what to do, he did nothing; and

with the fate of a double-dealer, at last he lost his power, but kept his enemies.

Swift seems to have concurred in opinion with the October Club; but it was not in his power to quicken the bred tardiness of Harley, whom he stimulated as much as bid he could, but with little effect. He that knows not

whither to go, is in no haste to move. Harley, who was

perhaps not quick by nature, became yet more slow by Fort

irresolution; and was content to hear that dilatoriness

TETS

his

Bell Tavern in King Street, Westminster, and consulted chiefly upon the

means of compelling ministers to make, what has been called in our days, i. a clean sweep of the Whigs from all places of post and power, and

to bring some members of the late administration to public trial. Swift rs said of this letter to Stella, February 1st, 1712, “ 'Tis finely written, I he assure you.” S. S. vol. iv. pp. 81-98. Forster, p. 358.

1

lamented as natural, which he applauded in himself as politick.

Without the Tories, however, nothing could be done ; and as they were not to be gratified, they must be appeased; and the conduct of the Minister, if it could not be vindicated, was to be plausibly excused.

Swift now attained the zenith of his political importance: he published (1712) the “ Conduct of the Allies," ten days before the Parliament assembled. The purpose was to persuade the nation to a peace; and never had any writer more success. The people, who had been amused with bonfires and triumphal processions, and looked with idolatry on the General and his friends, who, as they thought had made England the arbitress of nations, were confounded between shame and rage, when they found that mines had been exhausted, and millions destroyed, to secure the Dutch or aggrandize the emperor, without any advantage to ourselves; that we had been bribing our neighbours to fight their own quarrel ; and that amongst our enemies we might number our allies.

That is now no longer doubted, of which the nation was then first informed, that the war was unnecessarily protracted to fill the pockets of Marlborough; and that it would have been continued without end, if he could have continued his annual plunder. But Swift, I suppose, did

Ι not yet know what he has since written, that a commission was drawn which would have appointed him General for life, had it not become ineffectual by the resolution of Lord Cowper, who refused the seal.

Whatever is received, say the schools, is received in proportion to the recipient. The power of a political treatise depends much upon the disposition of the people; the

1 S. S. vol. iv. pp. 300-381.

2 Careful but unsuccessful search makes it probable that this apparent quotation gives the sense but not the words of Aristotle.

2

nation was then combustible, and a spark set it on fire. It is boasted, that between November and January eleven thousand were sold ; a great number at that time, when we were not yet a nation of readers.? To its propagation certainly no agency of power or influence was wanting. It furnished arguments for conversation, speeches for debate, and materials for parliamentary resolutions.

Yet, surely, whoever surveys this wonder-working pamphlet with cool perusal, will confess that its efficacy was supplied by the passions of its readers; that it operates by the mere weight of facts, with very little assistance from the hand that produced them.

This year (1712) he published his “ Reflections on the Barrier Treaty, which carries on the design of his “ Conduct of the Allies,” and shews how little regard in that negotiation had been shewn to the interest of England, and how much of the conquered country had been demanded by the Dutch.

This 3. was followed by “Remarks on the Bishop of Sarum's Introduction to his third Volume of the History of the Reformation;" ' a pamphlet which Burnet published as an alarm, to warn the nation of the approach of Popery. Swift, who seems to have disliked the Bishop with something more than political aversion, treats him like one whom he is glad of an opportunity to insult.

Swift, being now the declared favourite and supposed confidant of the Tory Ministry, was treated by all that depended on the Court with the respect which dependents know how to pay. He soon began to feel part of the misery of greatness; he that could say he knew him, considered himself as having fortune in his power. Commis

" 3

1 Scott states that this pamphlet was published November 27th, 1711. On the 30th, the second edition was published, a third upon the 2nd, and a fourth upon the 6th December following. 2 S. S. vol. iv. pp. 382-423.

3 Ibid. pp. 187-189.

1

sions, solicitations, remonstrances, crowded about him ; he was expected to do every man's business, to procure employment for one, and to retain it for another. In assisting those who addressed him, he represents himself as suffi. ciently diligent; and desires to have others believe, what he probably believed himself, that by his interposition many Whigs of merit, and among them Addison and Congreve, were continued in their places. But every man of known influence has so many petitions which he cannot grant, that he must necessarily offend more than he gratifies, because the preference given to one affords all the rest a reason for complaint. When I give away a place, said Lewis XIV. I make an hundred discontented, and one ungrateful.

Much has been said of the equality and independence which he preserved in his conversation with the Ministers, of the frankness of his remonstrances, and the familiarity of his friendship. In accounts of this kind a few single incidents are set against the general tenour of behaviour. No man, however, can pay a more servile tribute to the Great, than by suffering his liberty in their presence to aggrandize him in his own esteem. Between different ranks of the community there is necessarily some distance : he who is called by his superior to pass the interval, may properly accept the invitation; but petulance and obtrusion are rarely produced by magnanimity; nor have often any nobler cause than the pride of importance, and the malice of inferiority. He who knows himself necessary may set,

| In his History of the Four last Years of the Queen. This history, which Swift himself termed “the best work he had ever written,” and on which he bestowed more than ordinary labour, was laid aside upon the accession of George I. In 1736, the author again intended to make it public; but the prudential fears of his friends probably interfered to prevent its then seeing the light. In 1758, a nameless editor of opposite political principles gave the volume to the press, with a preface, in which he severely censures its scope and tendency. S. S. vol. v. pp. 1-231.

a

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »