Page images

me, though you supped so much before your usual time only to spare my pocket ? '-No, we had rather talk with you

than drink with you.—' But if you had supped with me, as in all reason you ought to have done, you must then have drunk with me.—A bottle of wine, two shillings—two and two is four, and one is five : just two-and-six-pence a-piece. There, Pope, there's half a crown for


and there's another for you, Sir; for I won't save any thing by you, I am determined.'—This was all said and done with his usual seriousness on such occasions; and, in spite of every thing we could say to the contrary, he actually obliged us to take the money."

In the intercourse of familiar life, he indulged his disposition to petulance and sarcasm, and thought himself injured if the licentiousness of his raillery, the freedom of his censures, or the petulance of his frolicks, was resented or repressed. He predominated over his companions with very high ascendency, and probably would bear none over whom he could not predominate. To give him advice was, in the style of his friend Delany, to venture to speak to him. This customary superiority soon grew too delicate for truth ; and Swift, with all his penetration, allowed himself to be delighted with low flattery.

On all common occasions, he habitually affects a style of arrogance, and dictates rather than persuades. This authoritative and magisterial language he expected to be received as his peculiar mode of jocularity ; but he apparently flattered his own arrogance by an assumed imperiousness, in which he was ironical only to the resentful, and to the submissive sufficiently serious.

He told stories with great felicity, and delighted in doing what he knew himself to do well. He was therefore captivated by the respectful silence of a steady listener, and told the same tales too often.

He did not, however, claim the right of talking alone;

for it was his rule, when he had spoken a minute, to give room by a pause for any other speaker. Of time, on all occasions, he was an exact computer, and knew the minutes required to every common operation. It

may be justly supposed that there was in his conversation, what appears so frequently in his Letters, an affectation of familiarity with the Great, an ambition of momentary equality sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul. But a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away. He that encroaches on another's diguity, puts himself in his power; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension.

Of Swift's general habits of thinking if his Letters can be supposed to afford any evidence, he was not a man to be either loved or envied. He seems to have wasted life in discontent, by the rage of neglected pride, and the languishment of unsatisfied desire. He is querulous and fastidious, arrogant and malignant; he scarcely speaks of himself but with indignant lamentations, or of others but with insolent superiority when he is gay, and with angry contempt when he is gloomy. From the Letters that pass between him and Pope it might be inferred that they, with Arbuthnot and Gay, had engrossed all the understanding and virtue of mankind, that their merits filled the world ; or that there was no hope of more. They shew the age involved in darkness, and shade the picture with sullen emulation.

When the Queen's death drove him into Ireland, he might be allowed to regret for a time the interception of . his views, the extinction of his hopes, and his ejection from

[ocr errors]

gay scenes, important employment, and splendid friendships ; but when time had enabled reason to prevail over vexation, the complaints, which at first were natural, became ridiculous because they were useless. But querulousness was now grown habitual, and he cried out when he probably had ceased to feel. His reiterated wailings persuaded Bolingbroke that he was really willing to quit his deanery for an English parish ; and Bolingbroke procured an exchange, which was rejected, and Swift still retained the pleasure of complaining.

The greatest difficulty that occurs, in analysing his character, is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took : delight in revolving ideas, from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust. The ideas of pleasure, even when criminal, may solicit the imagination; but what has disease, deformity, and filth, upon which the thoughts can be allured to dwell? Delany is willing to think that Swift's mind was not much tainted with this gross corruption before his long visit to Pope. He does not consider how he degrades his hero, by making him at fifty-nine the ad pupil of turpitude, and liable to the malignant influence of go an ascendant mind. But the truth is, that Gulliver had described his Yahoo: before the visit, and he that had le formed those images had nothing filthy to learn.

I have here given the character of Swift as he exhibits de himself to my perception ;' but now let another be heard, who knew him better; Dr. Delany, after long acquaintance, describes him to Lord Orrery in these terms:

“My Lord, when you consider Swift's singular, peculiar pet and most variegated vein of wit, always rightly intended

pos (although not always so rightly directed), delightful in

pro many instances, and salutary, even where it is most offensive; when you consider his strict truth, his fortitude in

just See Boswell on Johnson's prejudice against Swift, and various by readings in this Life. Boswell's Johnson, vol. iv. pp. 23, 24.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]




[ocr errors]

resisting oppression and arbitrary power; his fidelity in friendship, his sincere love and zeal for religion, his uprightness in making right resolutions, and his steadiness in adhering to them ; his care of his church, its choir, its economy, and its income; his attention to all those that preached in his cathedral, in order to their amendment in

pronunciation and style; as also his remarkable attention ro

to the interest of his successors, preferably to his own present emoluments; invincible patriotism, even to a country

which he did not love ;' his very various, well-devised, 23. well-judged, and extensive charities, throughout his life, web and his whole fortune (to say nothing of his wife's) con

I veyed to the same Christian purposes at his death ; chari. ed ties from which he could enjoy no honour, advantage or

satisfaction of any kind in this world. When you consider his ironical and humorous, as well as his serious schemes,

for the promotion of true religion and virtue; his success ar

in soliciting for the First Fruits and Twentieths, to the unter speakable benefit of the established Church of Ireland; he and his felicity (to rate it no higher) in giving occasion to of the building of fifty new churches in London.

“ All this considered, the character of his life will appear ad like that of his writings; they will both bear to be re

considered and re-examined with the utmost attention, and its always discover new beauties and excellences upon every d. examination.

They will bear to be considered as the sun, in which the brightness will hide the blemishes; and whenever ar petulant ignorance, pride, malice, malignity, or envy, intered poses to cloud or sully his fame, I will take upon me to in pronounce that the eclipse will not last long.

i Swift was not an Irishman, but he had an overmastering sense of in

justice, and therefore he took up the cause of Ireland, though attached by education and sympathies to a very small fraction of the people.H. S. FAGAN.



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“To conclude—no man ever deserved better of any country than Swift did of his. A steady, persevering, inflexible friend; a wise, a watchful, and a faithful counsellor, under many severe trials and bitter persecutions, to the manifest hazard both of his liberty and fortune.

“He lived a blessing, he died a benefactor, and his name will ever live an honour to Ireland.”


In the Poetical Works of Dr. Swift there is not much upon which the critick can exercise his powers. They are often humorous, almost always light, and have the qualities which recommend such compositions, easiness and gaiety. They are, for the most part what their author intended. The diction is correct, the numbers are smooth, and the rhymes exact. There seldom occurs a hard-laboured expression, or a redundant epithet; all his verses exemplify his own definition of a good style, they consist of proper words in proper places.

To divide this Collection into classes, and shew how some pieces are gross, and some are trifling, would be to tell the reader what he knows already, and to find faults of which the author could not be ignorant, who certainly wrote often not his judgement, but his humour.

It was said, in a Preface to one of the Irish editions, that Swift had never been known to take a single thought from any writer, ancient or modern. This is not literally true; but perhaps no writer can easily be found that has borrowed so little, or that in all his excellences and all his defects has so well maintained his claim to be considered as original.

1 Delany's Observations, 8vo, 1754, p. 291.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »