When the life of a person, whose wit and genius railed him to an eminence among writers of the first class, is written by one of uncommon abilities: — One possess'd of the power (as Shakespear says) of looking quite thro' the deeds of men; we are furnished with one of the highest entertainments a man can enjoy: — Such an author also presents us with a true picture of human nature, which affords us the most ample instruction: — He discerns the passions which play about the heart and while he is astonished with the high efforts of genius, is at the same time enabled to observe nature as it really is, and how distant from perfection mankind are in this world, even in the most refined state of humanity. Such an intellectual feast they enjoy, who peruse the life of this great author, drawn by the masterly and impartial hand of lord Orrery. We there discern the greatness and weakness of Dean Swift; we discover the patriot, the genus, and the humourist; the peevish master, the ambitious statesman, the implacable enemy, and the warm friend. His mixed qualities and imperfections are there candidly marked: His errors and virtues are to strongly represented, that while we reflect upon his virtues, we forget he had to many failings; and when we consider his errors, we are disposed to think he had fewer virtues. With such candour and impartiality has lord Orrery drawn the portrait of Swift and, as every biographer ought to do, has shewn us the man as he really was.
Upon this account given by his lordship, is the following chiefly built: It shall be our business to take notice of the most remarkable passages of the life of Swift; to omit no incidents that can be found concerning him, and as our propos'd bounds will not suffer us to enlarge, we shall endeavour to display, with as much conciseness as possible, those particulars which may be most entertaining to the reader.
He was born in Dublin, November the 30th, 1667, and was carried into England soon alter his birth, by his nurse, who being obliged to cross the sea, and having a nurse's fondness for the child at her breast, convey'd him ship-board without the knowledge of his mother or relations, and kept him with her at Whitehaven in Cumberland, during her residence about three-years in that place. This extraordinary event made his return seem as if he had been transplanted to Ireland, rather than that he owed his original existence to that soil. But perhaps he tacitly hoped to inspire different nations with a contention for his birth; at least in his angry moods, when he was peevish and provoked at the ingratitude of Ireland, he was frequently heard to say, "I am not of this vile country, I am an Englishman." Such an assertion tho' meant figuratively, was often received literally; and the report was still farther propagated by Mr. Pope, who in one of his letters has this expression "Tho' one, or two of our friends are gone, since you saw your native county, there remain a few." But doctor Swift, in his cooler hours, never denied his country: On the contrary he frequently mentioned, and pointed out, the house where he was born.
The other suggestion concerning the illegitimacy of his birth, is equally false. Sir William Temple was employed as minister abroad, from the year 1665, to the year 1670; first at Brussels, and afterwards at the Hague, as appears by his correspondence with the earl of Arlington, and other ministers of state. So that Dr. Swift's mother, who never crossed the sea, except from England to Ireland, was out of all possibility of a personal correspondence with Sir William Temple, till some years after her son's birth. Dr. Swift's ancestors were persons of decent and reputable characters. His grand-father was the Revd. Mr. Thomas Swift, vicar of Goodridge, near Ross in Herefordshire. He enjoyed a paternal estate in that county, which is still in possession of his great-grandson, Dean Swift, Esq; He died in the year 1658, leaving five sons, Godwin, Thomas, Dryden, Jonathan, and Adam.
Two of them only, Godwin and Jonathan, left sons. Jonathan married Mrs. Abigail Erick of Leicestershire, by whom he had one daughter and a son. The daughter was born in the first year of Mr. Swift's marriage; but he lived not to see the birth of his son, who was born two months after his death, and became afterwards the famous Dean of St. Patrick's.
The greatest part of Mr. Jonathan Swift's income had depended upon agencies, and other employments of that kind; so that most of his fortune perished with him, and the remainder being the only support that his widow could enjoy, the care, tuition, and expence of her two children devolved upon her husband's elder brother, Mr. Godwin Swift, who voluntarily became their guardian, and supplied the loss which they had sustained in a father.
The faculties of the mind appear and shine forth at different ages in different men. The infancy of Dr. Swift pass'd on without any marks of distinction. At six years old he was sent to school at Kilkenny, and about eight years afterwards he was entered a student of Trinity-College in Dublin. He lived there in perfect regularity, and under an entire obedience to the statutes; but the moroseness of his temper rendered him very unacceptable to his companions, so that he was little regarded, and less beloved, nor were the academical exercises agreeable to his genius. He held logic and metaphysics in the utmost contempt; and he scarce considered mathematics, and natural philosophy, unless to turn them into ridicule. The studies which he followed were history and poetry. In these he made a great progress, but to all other branches of science, he had given to very little application, that when he appeared as a candidate for the degree of batchelor of arts, he was let aside on account of insufficiency.
"This, says lord Orrery, is a surprising incident in his life, but it is undoubtedly true; and even at last he obtained his admission Speciali Gratia. A phrase which in that university carries with it the utmost marks of reproach. It is a kind of dishonourable degree, and the record of it (notwithstanding Swift's present established character throughout the learned world) must forever remain against him in the academical register at Dublin."
The more early disappointments happen in life, the deeper impression they make upon the heart. Swift was full of indignation at the treatment he received in Dublin and therefore resolved to pursue his studies at Oxford. However, that he might be admitted Ad Eundem, he was obliged to carry with him the testimonium of his degree. The expression Speciali Gratia is so peculiar to the university of Dublin, that when Mr. Swift exhibited his testimonium at Oxford, the members or the English university concluded, that the words Speciali Gratia must signify a degree conferred in reward of extraordinary diligence and learning. It is natural to imagine that he did not try to undeceive them; he was entered in Hart-Hall, now Hartford-College, where he resided till he took his degree of master of arts in the year 1691.
Dr. Swift's uncle, on whom he had placed his chief dependence, dying in the Revolution year, he was supported chiefly by the bounty of Sir William Temple, to whose lady he was a distant relation. Acts of generosity seldom meet with their just applause. Sir William Temple's friendship was immediately construed to proceed from a consciousness that he was the real father of Mr. Swift, otherwise it was thought impossible he could be so uncommonly munificent to a young man, so distantly related to his wife.
"I am not quite certain, (says his noble Biographer) that Swift himself did not acquiesce in the calumny; perhaps like Alexander, he thought the natural fun of Jupiter would appear greater than the legitimate son of Philip."
As soon as Swift quitted the university, he lived with Sir William Temple as his friend, and domestic companion. When he had been about two years in the family of his patron, he contracted a very long, and dangerous illness, by eating an immoderate quantity of fruit. To this surfeit he used to describe the giddiness in his head, which, with intermissions sometimes of a longer, and sometimes of a shorter continuance, pursued him till it seemed to compleat its conquest, by rendering him the exact image of one of his own STRULDBRUGGS, a miserable spectacle, devoid of every appearance of human nature, except the outward form.
After Swift had sufficiently recovered to travel, he went into Ireland to try the effects of his native air; and he found so much benefit by the journey, that pursuant to his own inclinations he soon returned into England, and was again most affectionately received by Sir William Temple, whose house was now at Sheen, where he was often visited by King William. Here Swift had frequent opportunities of conversing with that prince; in some of which conversations the king offered to make him a captain of horse: An offer, which in his splenetic dispositions, he always seemed sorry to have refused; but at that time he had resolved within his own mind to take orders, and during his whole life his resolutions, like the decrees of fate, were immoveable. Thus determined, he again went over to Ireland, and immediately inlisted himself under the banner of the church. He was recommended to lord Capel, then Lord-Deputy, who gave him, the first vacancy, a prebend, of which the income was about a hundred pounds a year.
Swift soon grew weary of a preferment, which to a man of his ambition was far from being sufficiently considerable. He resigned his prebend in favour of a friend, and being sick of solitude he returned to Sheen, where he lived domestically as usual, till the death of Sir William Temple; who besides a legacy in money, left to him the care and trust of publishing his posthumous works.
During Swift's residence with Sir William Temple he became intimately acquainted with a lady, whom he has distinguished, and often celebrated, under the name of Stella. The real name of this lady was Johnson. She was the daughter of Sir William Temple's steward; and the concealed but undoubted wife of doctor Swift. Sir William Temple bequeathed her in his will £1000 as an acknowledgment of her father's faithful services. In the year 1716 she was married to doctor Swift, by doctor Ashe, then bishop of Clogher.
The reader must observe, there was a long interval between the commencement of his acquaintance with Stella; and the time of making her his wife, for which (as it appears he was fond of her from the beginning of their intimacy) no other cause can be assigned, but that the same unaccountable humour, which had so long detained him from marrying, prevented him from acknowledging her after she was his wife.
"Stella (says lord Orrery) was a most amiable woman both in mind and person: She had an elevated understanding, with all the delicacy, and softness of her own sex. Her voice, however sweet in itself, was still rendered more harmonious by what she said. Her wit was poignant without severity: Her manners were humane, polite, easy and unreserved. — Wherever she came, she attracted attention and esteem. As virtue was her guide in morality, sincerity was her guide in religion. She was constant, but not ostentatious in her devotions: She was remarkably prudent in her conversation: She had great skill in music; and was perfectly well versed its all the lesser arts that employ a lady's leisure. Her wit allowed her a fund of perpetual chearfulness within proper limits. She exactly answered the description of Penelope in Homer.
A woman, loveliest of the lovely kind,
In body perfect, and compleat in mind."
Such was this amiable lady, yet, with all these advantages, she could never prevail on Dr. Swift to acknowledge her openly as his wife. A great genius must tread in unbeaten paths, and deviate from the common road of life; otherwise a diamond of so much lustre might have been publickly produced, although it had been fixed within the collet of matrimony: But that which diminished the value of this inestimable jewel in Swift's eye was the servile state of her father.
Ambition and pride, the predominant principles which directed all the actions of Swift, conquered reason and justice; and the vanity of boasting such a wife was suppressed by the greater vanity of keeping free from a low alliance. Dr. Swift and Mrs. Johnson continued the fame oeconomy of life after marriage, which they had pursued before it. They lived in separate houses; nothing appeared in their behaviour inconsistent in their decorum, and beyond the limits of platonic love. However unaccountable this renunciation of marriage rites might appear to the world, it certainty arose, not from any consciousness of a too near consanguinity between him and Mrs. Johnson, although the general voice of fame was willing to make them both the natural children of Sir William Temple. Dr. Swift, (says lord Orrery) was not of that opinion, for the same false pride which induced him to deny the legitimate daughter of an obscure servant, might have prompted him to own the natural daughter of Sir William Temple.
It is natural to imagine, that a woman of Stella's delicacy must repine at such an extraordinary situation. The outward honours she received are as frequently bestowed upon a mistress as a wife; she was absolutely virtuous, and was yet obliged to submit to all the appearances of vice. Inward anxiety affected by degrees the calmness of her mind, and the strength of her body. She died towards the end of January 1727, absolutely destroy'd by the peculiarity of her fate; a fate which perhaps she could not have incurred by an alliance with any other person in the world.
Upon the death of Sir William Temple, Swift came to London, and took the earliest opportunity of delivering a petition to King William, under the claim of a promise made by his majesty to Sir William Temple, that Mr. Swift should have the first vacancy which might happen among the prebends of Westminster or Canterbury. But this promise was either totally forgotten, or the petition which Mr. Swift presented was drowned amidst the clamour of more urgent addresses. From this first disappointment may be dated that bitterness towards kings and courtiers, which is to be found so universally dispersed throughout his works.
After a long and fruitless attendance at Whitehall, Swift reluctantly gave up all thoughts of a settlement in England: Pride prevented him from remaining longer in a state of fertility and contempt. He complied therefore with an invitation from the earl of Berkley (appointed one of the Lords Justices in Ireland) to attend him as his chaplain, and private secretary. — Lord Berkley landed near Waterford, and Mr. Swift acted as secretary during the whole journey to Dublin. But another of lord Berkley's attendants, whose name was Bush, had by this time insinuated himself into the earl's favour, and had whispered to his lordship, that the post of secretary was not proper for a clergyman, to whom only church preferments could be suitable or advantageous. Lord Berkley listened perhaps too attentively to these insinuations, and making some slight apology to Mr. Swift, divested him of that office, and bestowed it upon Mr. Bush.
Here again was another disappointment, and a fresh object of indignation. The treatment was thought injurious, and Swift expressed his sensibility of it in a short but satyrical copy of verse, intitled the Discovery. However, during the government of the Earls of Berkley and Galway, who were jointly Lords Justices of Ireland, two livings, Laracor and Rathbeggan, were given to Mr. Swift. The first of these rectories was worth about 200, and the latter about £60 a year; and they were the only church preferments which he enjoyed till he was appointed Dean of St. Patrick's, in the year 1713.
Lord Orrery gives the following instances of his humour and of his pride.
As soon as he had taken possession of his two livings, he went to reside at Laracor, and gave public notice to his parishioners, that he would read prayers on every Wednesday and Friday. Upon the subsequent Wednesday the bell was rung, and the rector attended in his desk, when after having sat some time, and finding the congregation to consist only of himself and his clerk Roger, he began with great composure and gravity; but with a turn peculiar to himself. "Dearly beloved Roger, the scripture moveth you and me in sundry places, &c." And then proceeded regularly thro' the whole service. This trifling circumstance serves to shew, that he could not resist a vein of humour, whenever he had an opportunity of exerting it.
The following is the instance of his pride. While Swift was chaplain to lord Berkley, his only sister, by the consent and approbation of her uncle and relations, was married to a man in trade, whose fortune, character, and situation were esteemed by all her friends, and suitable to her in every respect. But the marriage was intirely disagreeable to her brother. It seemed to interrupt those ambitious views he had long since formed: He grew outraged at the thoughts of being brother-in law to a tradesman. He utterly refused all reconciliation with his sister; nor would he even listen to the entreaties of his mother, who came over to Ireland under the strongest hopes of pacifying his anger; having in every other instance found him a dutiful and obedient son: But his pride was not to be conquered, and Mrs. Swift finding her son inflexible, hastened back to Leicester, where she continued till her death.
During his mother's life time, he scarce ever failed to pay her an annual visit. But his manner of travelling was as singular as any other of his actions. He often went in a waggon, but more frequently walked from Holyhead to Leicester, London, or any other part of England. He generally chose to dine with waggoners, ostlers, and persons of that rank; and he used to lye at night in houses where he found written over the door, Lodgings for a Penny. He delighted in scenes of low life. The vulgar dialect was not only a fund of humour for him; but seems to have been acceptable to his nature, as appears from the many filthy ideas, and indecent expressions found throughout his works.
A strict residence in a country place was not in the least suitable to the restless temper of Swift. He was perpetually making excursions not only to Dublin, and other places in Ireland, but likewise to London; so rambling a disposition occasioned to him a considerable loss. The rich deanery of Derry became vacant at this time, and was intended for him by lord Berkley, if Dr. King, then bishop of Derry, and afterwards archbishop of Dublin, had not interposed; entreating with great earnestness, that the deanery might be given to some gave and elderly divine, rather than to so young a man; "because (added the bishop) the situation of Derry is in the midst of Presbyterians, and I should be glad of a clergyman, who might be of assistance to me. I have no objection to Mr. Swift. I know him to be a sprightly ingenious young man; but instead of residing, I dare lay he will be eternally flying backwards and forwards to London; and therefore I entreat that he may be provided for in some other place."
Swift was accordingly set aside on account of youth, and from the year 1702, to the change of the ministry in the year 1710, few circumstances of his life can be found sufficiently material to be inserted here. From this last period, 'till the death of Queen Anne, we find him fighting on the side of the Tories, and maintaining their cause in pamphlets, poems, and weekly papers. In one of his letters to Mr. Pope he has this expression, "I have conversed, in some freedom, with more ministers of state, of all parties, than usually happens to men of my level; and, I confess, in their capacity as ministers I look upon them as a race of people, whose acquaintance no man would court otherwise, than on the score of vanity and ambition." A man always appears of more consequence to himself, than he is in reality to any other person. Such, perhaps, was the case of Dr. Swift. He knew how useful he was to the administration in general; and in one of his letters he mentions, that the place of historiographer was intended for him; but in this particular he flattered himself; at least, he remained without any preferment 'till the year 1713, when be was made dean of St. Patrick's. In point of power and revenue, such a deanery might be esteemed no inconsiderable promotion; but to an ambitious mind, whose perpetual view was a settlement in England, a dignity in any other country must appear only a profitable and an honourable kind of banishment. It is very probable, that the temper of Swift might occasion his English friends to with him promoted at a distance. His spirit was ever untractable. The motions of his genius were often irregular. He assumed more of the air of a patron, than of a friend. He affected rather to dictate than advise. He was elated with the appearance of enjoying ministerial confidence. He enjoyed the shadow indeed, but the substance was detained from him. He was employed, not entrusted and at the lame time he imagined himself a subtle diver, who dextrously shot down into the profoundest regions of politics, he was suffered only to sound the shallows nearest the shore, and was scarce admitted to descend below the froth at the top. Swift was one of those strange kind of Tories, who lord Bolingbroke, in his letter to Sir William Wyndham, calls the Whimsicals, that is, they were Tories attach'd to the Hanoverian succession. This kind of Tory is so incongruous a creature, that it is a wonder ever such a one existed. Mrs. Pilkington informs us, that Swift had written A Defence of the last Ministers of Queen Anne, from an intention of restoring the Pretender, which Mr. Pope advised him to destroy, as not one word of it was true. Bolingbroke, by far the most accomplished man in that ministry (for Oxford was, in comparison of him, a statesman of no compass) certainly aimed at the restoration of the exiled family, however he might disguise to some people his real intentions, under the masque of being a Hanovenan Tory. This serves to corroborate the observation which lord Orrery makes of Swift: "that he was employed, not trusted, &c."
By reflexions of this sort, says lord Orrery, we may account for his disappointment of a English bishopric. A disappointment, which, he imagined, he owed to a joint application, made against him to the Queen, by Dr. Sharp, archbishop of York, and by a lady of the highest rank and character. Archbishop Sharpe, according to Swift's account, had represented him to the Queen as a person, who was no Christian; the great lady had supported the assertion, and the Queen, upon such assurances, had given away the bishopric, contrary to her Majesty's intentions. Swift kept himself, indeed, within some tolerable bounds when he spoke of the Queen; but his indignation knew no limits when he mentioned the archbishop, or the lady.
Most people are fond of a settlement in their native country, but Swift had not much reason to rejoice in the land where his lot had fallen; for upon his arrival in Ireland to take possession of the deanery, he found the violence of party raging in that kingdom to the highest degree. The common people were taught to consider him as a Jacobite, and they proceeded so far in their detestation, as to throw stones and dirt at him as he puffed thro' the streets. The chapter of St. Patrick's, like the rest of the kingdom, received him with great reluctance. They opposed him in every point he proposed. They avoided him as a pestilence, and resisted him as an invader and an enemy to his country. Such was his first reception, as dean of St. Patrick's. Fewer talents, and less firmness must have yielded to so outrageous an opposition. He had seen enough of human nature to be convinced that the passions of low, self-interested minds ebb and flow continually, they love they know not whom, they hate they know not why. They are captivated by words, guided by names, and governed by accidents. But to shew the strange revolutions in this world, Dr. Swift, who was now the detestation of the Irish rabble, lived to be afterwards the most absolute monarch over them, that ever governed men. His first step was to reduce to reason and obedience his revd. brethren the chapter of St. Patrick's; in which he succeeded so perfectly, and so speedily, that, in a short time after his arrival, not one member in that body offered to contradict him, even in trifles: on the contrary, they held him in the highest respect and veneration, to that he sat in the Chapter-House, like Jupiter in the Synod of the Gods.
In the beginning of the year 1714 Swift returned to England. He found his great friends, who sat in the seat of power, much disunited among themselves. He saw the Queen declining in her health, and distressed in her situation; while faction was exerting itself, and gathering new strength every day. He exerted the utmost of his skill to unite the ministers, and to cement the apertures of the state: but he found his pains fruitless, his arguments unavailing, and his endeavours, like the stone of Sisyphus, rolling back upon himself. He retired to a friend's house in Berkshire, where he remained 'till the Queen died. So fatal an event terminated all his views in England, and made him return as fast as possible to his deanery in Ireland, oppressed with grief and discontent. His hopes in England were now crushed for ever. As Swift was well known to have been attached to the Queen's last ministry, he met with several indignities from the populace, and, indeed, was equally abused by persons of all ranks and denominations. Such a treatment soured his temper, confined his acquaintance, and added bitterness to his stile.
From the year 1714, 'till he appeared in the year 1720 a champion for Ireland, against Wood's halfpence, his spirit of politics and patriotism was kept almost closely confined within his own breast. Idleness and trifles engrossed too many of his leisure hours; fools and sycophants too much of his conversation. His attendance upon the public service of the church was regular and uninterrupted; and indeed regularity was peculiar to all his actions, even in the meerest trifles. His hours of walking and reading never varied. His motions were guided by his watch, which was so constantly held in his hand or placed before him on the table, that he seldom deviated many minutes in the revolution of his exercises and employments. In the year 1720 he began to reassume, in some degree, the character of a political writer. A small pamphlet in defence of the Irish Manufactures was his first essay in Ireland in that kind of writing, and to that pamphlet he owed the turn of the popular tide in his favour. It was entitled, A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture in Clothes and Furniture of Houses, &c. utterly rejecting and renouncing every thing wearable that comes from England. This proposal immediately raised a very violent flame. The Printer was prosecuted, and the prosecution had the same effect, which generally attends those kind of measures. It added fuel to flame. But his greatest enemies must confess, that the pamphlet is written in the stile of a man who had the good of his country nearest his heart, who few her errors, and wished to correct them; who felt her oppressions, and wished to relieve them; and who had a desire to rouze and awaken an indolent nation from a lethargic disposition, that might prove fatal to her constitution. This temporary opposition but increased the stream of his popularity. He was now looked upon in a new light, and was distinguished by the title of THE DEAN, and so high a degree of popularity did he attain, as to become an arbitrator, in disputes of property, amongst his neighbours; nor did any man dare to appeal from his opinion, or murmur at his decrees.
But the popular affection, which the dean had hitherto acquired, may be said not to have been universal, 'till the publication of the Drapier's Letters, which made all ranks, and all professions unanimous in his applause. The occasion of those letters was, a scarcity of copper coin in Ireland, to so great a degree, that, for some time past, the chief manufacturers throughout the kingdom were obliged to pay their workmen in pieces of tin, or in other tokens of suppositious value. Such a method was very disadvantageous to the lower parts of traffic, and was in general an impediment to the commerce of the state. To remedy this evil, the late King granted a patent to one Wood, to coin, during the term of fourteen years, farthings and halfpence in England, for the use of Ireland, to the value of a certain sum specified. These halfpence and farthings were to be received by those persons, who would voluntarily accept them. But the patent was thought to be of such dangerous consequence to the public, and of such exorbitant advantage to the patentee, that the dean, under the character of M. B. Drapier, wrote a Letter to the People, warning them not to accept Wood's halfpence and farthings, as current coin. This first letter was succeeded by several others to the same purpose, all which are inserted in his works.
At the sound of the Drapier's trumpet, a spirit arose among the people. Persons of all ranks, parties and denominations, were convinced that the admission of Wood's copper must prove fatal to the commonwealth. The Papist, the Fanatic, the Tory, the Whig, all listed themselves volunteers, under the banner of the Drapier, and were all equally zealous to serve the common cause. Much heat, and many fiery speeches against the administration were the consequence of this union nor had the flames been allayed, notwithstanding threats and proclamations, had not the coin been totally suppressed, and Wood withdrawn his patent. The name of Augustus was not bestowed upon Octavius Caesar with more universal approbation, than the name of the Drapier was bestowed upon the dean. He had no sooner assumed his new cognomen, than he became the idol of the people of Ireland, to a degree of devotion, that in the most superstitious country, scarce any idol ever obtained. Libations to his health were poured out as frequent as to the immortal memory of King William. His effigies was painted in every street in Dublin. Acclamations and vows for his prosperity attended his footsteps wherever he passed. He was consulted in all points relating to domestic policy in general, and to the trade of Ireland in particular; but he was more immediately looked upon as the legislator of the Weavers, who frequently came in a body, consisting of 40 or 50 chiefs of their trade, to receive his advice in settling the rates of their manufactures, and the wages of their journeymen. He received their address with less majesty than sternness, and ranging his subjects in a circle round his parlour, spoke as copiously, and with as little difficulty and hesitation, to the several points in which they supplicated his assistance, as if trade had been the only study and employment of his life. When elections were depending for the city of Dublin, many Corporations refused to declare themselves, 'till they had consulted his sentiments and inclinations, which were punctually followed with equal chearfulness and submission.
In this state of power, and popular admiration, he remained 'till he lost his senses; a loss which he seemed to foresee, and prophetically lamented to many of his friends. The total deprivation of his senses came upon him by degrees. In the year 1736 he was seized with a violent fit of giddiness; he was at that time writing a satirical poem, called The Legion Club; but he found the effects of his giddiness so dreadful, that he left the poem unfinished, and never afterwards attempted a composition, either in verse or prose. However, his conversation still remained the same, lively and severe, but his memory gradually grew worse and worse, and as that decreased, he grew every day more fretful and impatient. In the year 1741, his friends found his passions so violent and ungovernable, his memory to decayed, and his reason so depraved, that they took the utmost precautions to keep all strangers from approaching him; for, 'till then, he had not appeared totally incapable of conversation. But early in the year 1742, the small remains of his understanding became entirely confused, and the violence of his rage increased absolutely to a degree of madness. In this miserable state he seemed to be appointed the first inhabitant of his own Hospital; especially as from an outrageous lunatic, he sunk afterwards to a quiet speechless ideot, and dragged out the remainder of his life in that helpless situation. He died towards the latter end of October 1745. The manner of his death was easy, without the least pang, or convulsion; even the rattling of his throat was scarce sufficient to give an alarm to his attendants, 'till within some very little time before he expired. A man in possession of his reason would have wished for such a kind dissolution; but Swift was totally insensible of happiness, or pain. He had not even the power or expression of a child, appearing for some years before his death, reserved only as an example to mortify human pride, and to reverse that fine description of human nature, which is given us by the inimitable Shakespear. "What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a God! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!" Swift's friends often heard him lament the state of childhood and idiotism, to which some of the greatest men of this nation were reduced before their death. He mentioned, as examples within his own time, the duke of Marlborough and lord Somers; and when he cited these melancholy instances, it was always with a heavy sigh, and with gestures that shewed great uneasiness, as if he felt an impulse of what was to happen to him before he died. He left behind him about twelve thousand pounds, inclusive of the specific legacies mentioned in his will, and which may be computed at the sum of twelve hundred pounds, so that the remaining ten thousand eight hundred pounds, is entirely applicable to the Hospital for Idiots and Lunatics; an establishment remarkably generous, as those who receive the benefit, must for ever remain ignorant of their benefactor.
Lord Orerry has observed, that a propension to jocularity and humour is apparent in the last works of Swift. His Will, like all his other writings, is drawn up in his own peculiar manner. Even in so serious a composition, he cannot help indulging himself in leaving legacies, that carry with them an air of raillery and jest. He disposes of his three best hats (his best, his second best, and his third best beaver) with an ironical solemnity, that renders the bequests ridiculous. He bequeaths, "To Mr. John Grattan a silver-box, to keep in it the tobacco which the said John usually chewed, called pigtail." But his legacy to Mr. Robert Grattan, is still more extraordinary. "Item, I bequeath to the Revd. Mr. Robert Grattan, Prebendary of St. Audeon's, my strong box, on condition of his giving the sole use of the said box to his brother, Dr. James Grattan, during the life of the said Doctor, who hath more occasion for it."
These are so many last expressions of his turn, and way of thinking, and no doubt the persons thus distinguished looked upon these instances as affectionate memorials of his friendship, and tokens of the jocose manner, in which he had treated them during his life-time.
With regard to Dean Swift's poetical character, the reader will take the following sketch of it in the words of Lord Orrery. "The poetical performances of Swift (says he) ought to be considered as occasional poems, written either to pleasure, or to vex some particular persons. We must not suppose them designed for posterity; if he had cultivated his genius that way, he must certainly have excelled, especially in satire. We fee fine sketches in several of his pieces but he seems more desirous to inform and strengthen his mind, than to indulge the luxuriancy of his imagination. He chuses to discover, and correct errors in the works of others, rather than to illustrate, and add beauties of his own. Like a skilful artist, he is fond of probing wounds to their depth, and of enlarging them to open view. He aims to be severely useful, rather than politely engaging; and as he was either not formed, nor would take pains to excel in poetry, he became in some measure superior to it; and assumed more the air, and manner of a critic than a poet." Thus far his lordship in his VIth letter, but in his IXth, he adds, when speaking of the Second Volume of Swift's Works, "He had the nicest ear; he is remarkably chaste, and delicate in his rhimes. A bad rhime appeared to him one of the capital sins of poetry."
The Dean's poem on his celebrated Vanessa, is number'd among the best of his poetical pieces. Of this lady it will be proper to give some account, as she was a character as singular as Swift himself.
Vanessa's real name was Esther Vanhomrich. She was one of the daughters of Bartholomew Vanhomrich, a Dutch merchant of Amsterdam; who upon the Revolution went into Ireland, and was appointed by king William a commissioner of the revenue. The Dutch merchant, by parsimony and prudence, had collected a fortune of about £16,000. He bequeathed an equal division of it to his wife, and his four children, of which two were sons, and two were daughters. The sons after the death of their father travelled abroad: The eldest died beyond sea; and the youngest surviving his brother only a short time, the whole patrimony fell to his two sisters, Esther and Mary.
With this encrease of wealth, and with heads and hearts elated by affluence, and unrestrained by fore-sight or discretion, the widow Vanhomrich, and her two daughters, quitted their native country for the more elegant pleasures of the English court. During their residence at London, they lived in a course of prodigality, that stretched itself far beyond the limits of their income, and reduced them to great distress, in the midst of which the mother died, and the two daughters hastened in all secresy back to Ireland, beginning their journey on a Sunday, to avoid the interruption of creditors. Within two years after their arrival in Ireland, Mary the youngest sister died, and the small remains of the shipwreck'd fortune center'd in Vanessa.
Vanity makes terrible devastations in a female breast: Vanessa was excessively vain. She was fond of dress; impatient to be admired very romantic in her turn of mind; superior in her own opinion to all her sex; full of pertness, gaiety, and pride; not without some agreeable accomplishments, but far from being either beautiful or genteel: Ambitious at any rate to be esteemed a wit; and with that view always affecting to keep company with wits; a great reader, and a violent admirer of poetry; happy in the thoughts of being reputed Swift's concubine; but still aiming to be his wife. By nature haughty and disdainful, looking with contempt upon her inferiors and with the smiles of self-approbation upon her equals; but upon Dr. Swift, with the eyes of love: Her love was no doubt founded in vanity.
Though Vanessa had exerted all the arts of her sex, to intangle Swift in matrimony; she was yet unsuccessful. She had lost her reputation, and the narrowness of her income, and coldness of her lover contributed to make her miserable, and to increase the phrensical disposition of her mind. In this melancholly situation she remained several years, during which time Cadenus (Swift) visited her frequently. She often press'd him to marry her: His answers were rather turns of wit, than positive denials till at last being unable to sustain the weight of misery any longer, she wrote a very tender epistle to him, insisting peremptorily upon a serious answer, and an immediate acceptance, or absolute refusal of her as his wife. His reply was delivered by his own hand. He brought it with him when he made his final visit; and throwing down the letter upon the table with great passion, hastened back to his house, carrying in his countenance the frown of anger, and indignation. Vanessa did not survive many days the letter delivered to her by Swift, but during that short interval she was sufficiently composed, to cancel a will made in his favour, and to make another, wherein the left her fortune (which by a long retirement was in some measure retrieved) to her two executors, Dr. Berkley the late lord bishop of Cloyne, and Mr. Marshal one of the king's Serjeants at law. Thus perished under all the agonies of despair, Mrs. Esther Vanhomrich; a miserable example of an ill-spent life, fantastic wit, visionary schemes, and female weakness.
It is strange that vanity should have so great a prevalence in the female breast, and yet it is certain that to this principle it was owing, that Swift's house was often a seraglio of very virtuous women, who attended him from morning till night, with an obedience, an awe, and an assiduity that are seldom paid to the richest, or the most powerful lovers. These ladies had no doubt a pride in being thought the companions of Swift; but the hours which were spent in his company could not be very pleasant, as his sternness and authority were continually exerted to keep them in awe.
Lord Orrery has informed us, that Swift took every opportunity to expose and ridicule Dryden, for which he imagines there must have been some affront given by that great man to Swift. In this particular we can satisfy the reader from authentic information.
When Swift was a young man, and not so well acquainted with the world as he afterwards became, he wrote some Pindaric Odes, in this Species of composition he succeeded ill; sublimity and fire, the indispensable requisites in a Pindaric Ode not being his talent. As Mr. Dryden was Swift's kinsman, these odes were shewn to him for his approbation, who laid to him with an unreserved freedom, and in the candour or a friend, "Cousin Swift, turn your thoughts tome other way, for nature has never formed you for a Pindaric poet."
Though what Dryden observed, might in some measure be true, and Swift perhaps was conscious that he had not abilities to succeed in that species of writing; yet this honest dissuasive of his kinsman he never forgave. The remembrance of it soured his temper, and heated his passions, whenever Dryden's name was mention'd.
We shall now take a view of Swift in his moral life, the distinction he has obtained in the literary world having rendered all illustrations of his genius needless.
Lord Orrery, throughout his excellent work, from which we have drawn our account of Swift, with his usual marks of candour, has displayed his moral character. In many particulars, the picture he draws of the Dean resembles the portrait of the same person as drawn by Mrs. Pilkington.
"I have beheld him (says his lordship) in all humours and dispositions, and I have formed various speculations from the several weaknesses to which I observed him liable. His capacity, and strength of mind, were undoubtedly equal to any task whatsoever. His pride, his spirit, or his ambition (call it by what name you please) was boundless; but his views were checked in his younger years, and the anxiety of that disappointment had a sensible effect upon all his actions. He was sour and severe, but not absolutely ill-natur'd. He was sociable only to particular friends, and to them only at particular hours. He knew politeness more than he practised it. He was a mixture of avarice and generosity; the former was frequently prevalent, the latter seldom appeared unless excited by compassion. He was open to adulation, and would not, or could not, distinguish between low flattery and just applause. His abilities rendered him superior to envy. He was undisguised, and perfectly sincere. I am induced to think that he entered into orders, more from some private and fixed resolution, than from absolute choice: Be that as it may, he performed the duties of the church with great punctuality, and a decent degree of devotion. He read prayers, rather in a strong nervous voice, than in a graceful manner; and although he has been often accused of irreligion, nothing of that kind appeared in his conversation or behaviour. His cast of mind induced him to think and speak more of politics than religion. His perpetual views were directed towards power; and his chief aim was to be removed to England: But when he found himself entirely disappointed, he turned his thoughts to opposition, and became the Patron of Ireland."
Mrs. Pilkington has represented him as a tyrant in his family, and has discovered in him a violent propension to be absolute in every company where he was. This disposition, no doubt, made him more feared than loved; but as he had the most unbounded vanity to gratify, he was pleased with the servility and awe with which inferiors approached him. He may be resembled to an eastern monarch, who takes delight in surveying his slaves, trembling at his approach, and kneeling with reverence at his feet.
Had Swift been born to regal honours, he would doubtless have bent the necks of his people to the yoke: As a subject, he was restless and turbulent; and though as lord Orrery says, he was above corruption, yet that virtue was certainly founded on his pride, which disdained every measure, and spurned every effort in which he himself was not the principal.
He was certainly charitable, though it had an unlucky mixture of ostentation in it. One particular act of his charity (not mentioned, except by Mrs. Pilkington, in any account of him yet published) is well worthy of remembrance, praise, and imitation; — He appropriated the sum of five-hundred pounds intirely to the use of poor tradesmen and handicraftsmen, whose honesty and industry, he thought merited assistance, and encouragement: This he lent to them in small loans, as their exigencies required, without any interest; and they repaid him at so much per week, or month, as their different circumstances best enabled them. — To the wealthy let us say—
"Abi tu et fac similiter."