The principal scenes of residence of Dean Swift lie in Ireland. Johnson, in his life of the dean, makes it doubtful whether he was really an Englishman or an Irishman by birth. He says: "Jonathan Swift was, according to an account said to be written by himself, the son of Jonathan Swift, an attorney, and was born at Dublin on St. Andrew's day, 1667; according to his own report, as delivered by Pope to Spence, he was born at Leicester, the son of a clergyman, who was minister of a parish in Herefordshire. During his life the place of his birth was undetermined. He was contented to he called an Irishman by the Irish, but would occasionally call himself an Englishman. The question may, without much regret, be left in the obscurity in which he delighted to involve it."
There has long ceased to he any obscurity about the matter. His relations, justly proud of the connexion, have set that fully in the light which Swift himself characteristically wrapped in mystification. He was of an English family, originally of Yorkshire, but his grandfather Thomas Swift was vicar of Goodrich in Herefordshire. Taking an active part with Charles I. against the Parliament, he was expelled from his living: yet he died at Goodrich and was buried under the altar there. The account of the plundering of his parsonage by the Parliament army, given in the appendix to Scott's life of the dean, is so lively a description of such an affair that I will transcribe it:—
"When the Earl of Stamford was in Herefordshire, in October 1642, and pillaged all that kept faith and allegiance to the king, information was given to Mrs. Swift, wife of Thomas Swift, parson of Goodrich, that her house was designed to be plundered. To prevent so great a danger, she instantly repaired to Hereford, where the earl then was, some ten miles from her own home, to petition him that no violence might be offered to her house or goods. He most nobly, and according to the goodness of his disposition, threw the petition away, and swore no small oaths that she should be plundered to-morrow. The good gentlewoman, being out of hope to prevail, and seeing that there was no good to be done by petitioning him, speeds home as fast as she could, and that night removes as much of her goods as the shortness of the time would permit. Next morning, to make good the Earl of Stamford's word, Captain Kirle's troop, consisting of seventy horse and thirty foot, which were hangers on — birds of prey, came to Mr. Swift's house. There they took away all his provision of victuals, corn, household stuff, which was not conveyed away. They empty his beds, and fill the ticks with malt; they rob him of his cart and six horses, and make this part of their theft the means to convey away the rest. Mrs. Swift, much affrighted to see such a sight as this, thought it best to save herself though she lost her goods; therefore taking up a young child in her arms, began to secure herself by flight; which one of the troopers perceiving, he commanded her to stay, or, holding his pistol to her breast, threatened to shoot her dead. She, good woman, fearing death whether she went or returned, at last, shunning that death which was next unto her, she retires back to her house, where she saw herself undone, and yet durst not oppose, or ask why they did so. Having thus rifled the house and gone, next morning early she goes again to Hereford, and there again petitions the earl to show some compassion to her and her ten children, and that he would be pleased to cause her horses and some part of her goods to be restored to her. The good earl was so far from granting her petition that he would not vouchsafe so much as to read it. When she could not prevail herself, she makes use of the mediation of friends. These have the repulse also, his lordship remaining inexorable, without any inclination to mercy. At last, hoping that all men's hearts were not adamant relentless, she leaves the earl, and makes her addresses to Captain Kirle, who, upon her earnest entreaty, grants her a protection for what was left; but for restitution there was no hope of that. This protection cost her no less than thirty shillings. It seems paper and ink are dear in those parts. And now, thinking herself secure in his protection, she returns home, in hope that what was left she might enjoy in peace and quietness. She had not been long at home but Captain Kirle sends her word, that if it pleased her she might buy four of her own six horses again, assuring her by her father's servant and tenant, that she should not fear being plundered any more by the Earl of Stamford's forces, while they were in those parts. Encouraged by these promises, she was content to buy her own, and deposited eight pounds ten shillings for four of her horses. And now conceiving the storm to be blown over, and all danger past, and placing much confidence in her purchased protection, she causes all her goods secured in her neighbours' houses to be brought home; and since it could not be better, rejoiced that she had not lost all. She had not enjoyed these thoughts long, but Captain Kirle sent unto her for some vessels of cyder, whereof having tasted, but not liking it, since he could not have drink for himself he would have provender for his horses, and therefore, instead of cyder, he demands ten bushels of oats. Mrs. Swift, seeing that the denial might give some ground for a quarrel, sent him word that he husband had not two bushels of oats in a year for tythes, nor did they grow any on their glebe, both of which were most true. Yet, to show how willing she was, to her power, to comply with him, that the messengers might not return empty, she sent him forty shillings to buy oats. Suddenly after, the captain of Goodridge castle sends to Mr. Swift's house for victual and corn. Mrs. Swift instantly shows him her protection. He, to answer show with show, shows her his warrant; and so without any regard to her protection, seizeth upon that provision which was in the house, together with the cyder which Captain Kirle had refused. Hereupon Mrs. Swift writes to Captain Kirle, complaining of this injury, and the affront done to him in slighting his protection; but before the messenger could return with an answer to her letter, some from the castle come a second time to plunder the house, and they did what they came for. Presently after comes a letter from Captain Kirle in answer to Mrs. Swift's, that the Earl of Stamford did by no means approve of the injuries done to her, and withal, by word of mouth, sends to her for more oats. She, perceiving that as long as she gave they would never leave asking, resolved to be drilled no more. The return not answering expectation, on the third of December, Captain Kirle's lieutenant, attended by a considerable number of dragoons, comes to Mr. Swift's house, and demands entrance; but the doors being kept shut against them, and not being able to force them, they broke down two iron bars in a stone window, and so, with swords drawn and pistols cocked, they enter the house. Being entered, they take all Master Swift's and his wife's apparel, his books and his children's clothes, they being in bed; and these poor children that hung by their clothes, unwilling to part with them, they swung them about until, their hold-fast failing, they dashed them against the walls. They took away all his servants' clothes, and made so clean work with one that they left him not a shirt to cover his nakedness. There was one of the children, an infant, lying in the cradle; they robbed that, and left not the poor soul a rag to defend it from the cold. They took away all the iron, pewter, and brass; and a very fair cupboard of glasses, which they could not carry away, they broke to pieces; and the four horses lately redeemed are with them lawful prize again, and nothing left of all the goods but a few stools, for his wife, children and servants to sit down and bemoan their distressed condition. Having taken away all, and being gone, Mrs. Swift in compassion to her poor infant in the cradle, took it up, almost starved with cold, and wrapped it in a petticoat, which she took off from herself; and now hoped, that having nothing to lose would be a better protection for their persons than that which they purchased of Captain Kirle for thirty shillings. But as if Job's messenger would never make an end, her three maidservants, whom they in the castle had compelled to carry the poultry to the castle, return and tell their mistress, that they in the castle said they had a warrant to seize upon Mrs. Swift and bring her into the castle, and that they would make her three maid-servants wait on her there, and added things not fit for them to speak nor us to write. Hereupon Mrs. Swift fled to the place where her husband, for fear of the rebels, had withdrawn himself. She had not been gone two hours, but they come from the castle, and bring with them three teams to carry away what was before designed for plunder, but wanted means of conveyance. When they came there was a batch of bread hot in the oven. This they seize on; her children on their knees entreat but for one loaf, and at last with much importunity, obtained it; but before the children had eaten it, they took even that one loaf away, and left them destitute of a morsel of bread amongst ten children. Ransacking every corner of the house, that nothing might be left behind, they find a small pewter dish in which the dry-nurse had put pap to feed the poor infant, the mother who gave it suck being fled to save her life. This they seize on too. The nurse entreats for God's sake, that they would spare that, pleading that in the mother's absence it was all the substance which was or could be provided to sustain the life of the child, that 'knew not the right hand from the left,' a motive which prevailed with God himself, though justly incensed against Nineveh.
"Master Swift's eldest son, a youth, seeing this barbarous cruelty, demanded of them a reason for this so hard usage. They replied that his father was a traitor to the king and parliament, and added, that they would keep them so short, that they would eat the very flesh from their arms; and to make good their word, they threaten the miller, that, if he ground any corn for these children, they would grind him in his own mill; and not contented with this, they go to Mr. Swift's next neighbour, whose daughter was his servant, and take him prisoner: they examine him on oath what goods of Mr. Swift's he had in his custody. He professing that he had none, they charge him to take his daughter away from Mr. Swift's service, or else they threaten to plunder him; and to make sure work, they make him give them security to obey all their commands. Terrified with this, the neighbours stand afar off, and pity the distressed condition of these persecuted children, but dare not come or send to their relief. By this means the children and servants had no sustenance, hardly any thing to cover them, from Friday, six o'clock at night, until Saturday, twelve at night, until at last, the neighbours, moved with the lamentable cries and complaints of the children and servants, one of the neighbours, overlooking all difficulties, and showing that he durst be charitable, in despite of these monsters, ventured in, and brought them some provision. And if the world would know what it was that so exasperated these rebels against this gentleman, the Earl of Stamford, a man that is not bound to give an account of all his actions, gave two reasons for it. First, because he had bought arms, and conveyed them into Monmouthshire, which, under his lordship's good favour, was not so; and, secondly, because not long before, he preached a sermon in Rosse, upon that text, 'Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's,' in which his lordship said he had spoken treason in endeavouring to give Caesar more than his due. These two crimes cost Mr. Swift no less than £300."
With the memory of such things as these in the family, there need be no wonder at the dean's decided tendency to toryism. His father and three uncles, that is four out of ten sons, and three or four daughters of the persecuted clergyman, fled to Ireland, where the eldest son, Godwin Swift, a barrister, married a relative of the Marchioness of Ormond, and was made, by the Marquis of Ormond, his attorney-general in the palatinate of Tipperary. This Godwin married the co-heiress of Admiral Deane; the second son, a daughter of Sir William Davenant. Another was Mr. Dryden Swift, so called after his mother, who was a Dryden, and a near relation of the poet's. Thus Swift was of good family and alliance. He was the only son of Jonathan Swift, the eighth son of Thomas Swift, the vicar of Goodrich, who was so plundered. His mother was Abigail Erick, of Leicestershire, descended from the most ancient family of the Ericks, who derive their lineage from Erick the Forester, a great commander, who raised an army to oppose the invasion of William the Conqueror, by whom he was vanquished, but afterwards employed to command that prince's forces. In his old age he retired to his house in Leicestershire, where his family has continued ever since, has produced many eminent men, and is still represented by the Heyricks of Leicester town, and the Herricks of Beaumanor.
Swift's father was a solicitor, and steward to the Society of the King's Inn, Dublin; but he died before Swift was born, and left his mother in such poverty, that she was not able to defray the expenses of her husband's funeral. He was born on the 30th of November, 1667, St. Andrew's day, in a small house now called No. 7, in Hoey's-court, Dublin, which is still pointed out by the inhabitants of that quarter, and by the antiquity of its appearance, seems to vindicate the truth of the tradition. Here a circumstance occurred to him as singular as the case of his father, who as a child in the cradle, had his clothes stripped from him by the troopers of Captain Kirle. His nurse was a woman of Whitehaven, and being obliged to go thither, in order to see a dying relative from whom she expected a legacy, out of sheer affection for the child, she stole on shipboard, unknown to his mother and uncle, and carried him with her to Whitehaven, where he continued for almost three years. For when the matter was discovered, his mother sent orders by all means not to hazard a second voyage till he could better bear it. The nurse was so careful of him, that before he returned he had learned to spell, and by the time that he was five years old, he could read any chapter in the Bible.
After his return to Ireland, he was sent, at six years old, to Kilkenny school, and thence, at fourteen, he was transferred to the university at Dublin. At Kilkenny, it is said that his name is still shown to strangers at the school, cut, boy fashion, upon his desk or form. At the university, like Goldsmith, he was more addicted to general reading and poetry, than to the classics and mathematics. He was poor, and the sense of his poverty on his proud spirit made him reckless, and almost desperate. He got into dissipation to drown his mortification. Between the 14th of November 1685, and the 8th of October 1687, he incurred no less than seventy penalties for nonattendance at chapel, for neglecting lectures, for being absent at the evening roll-call, and for town-haunting, the academical phrase for absence from college without licence. These brought censures, suspension of his degree; and on his part, satirical sallies against the college authorities. He finally received his degree of bachelor of arts by special grace, that is, not by his own fair acquisition. His uncles, Godwin, and after his death, Dryden, had borne the cost of his education; his mother had gone over to her native Leicester and friends, and on obtaining his degree he passed over to England to her. His mother was related to the wife of Sir William Temple, and through her Swift was received into Sir William's house as his private secretary. This brings us to the first home which Jonathan Swift may almost be said to have had.
Sir William, according to some authorities, was residing at this time at Sheen, near Richmond, according to others, he had retired to his favourite residence of Moorpark, near Farnham, in Surrey. Whichever place it was originally, it soon became Moorpark. Here William III. used to visit Temple, and here, as at Sheen, it was that the Dutch monarch, as is related as a most important fact, taught Swift to cut asparagus the Dutch way. The fact is Dutch and economical, and worthy to be known to all gardeners, and all other people who undertake this useful operation. It consists in cutting with a short and circular stroke, not with a wide sweeping one. In the first ease you cut off only the head of asparagus you want, in the other you most probably cut off half a dozen heads that have not yet appeared above the soil. Still, this was only half the advantage derived from the royal gardener; he taught Swift how to eat the asparagus when cut; and Swift used always to tell his guests, that King William eat the stalks as well as the heads. If he taught him how to make them eatable, it is a great pity that the secret is lost. William is said also to have offered Swift a troop of horse, which might naturally arise out of their cutting horseradish for dinner at the same time, though of this the biographers do not inform us. Certain it is, that Swift must have become a great favourite with William, or have thought so, for though he respectfully declined becoming a trooper, he gave the king to understand that he had no objection to become a canon; and the king, as Swift wrote his uncle, desired him not to take orders till he gave him a prebend. Such was the opinion entertained by both Sir William Temple and Swift, of his standing in the monarch's estimation, that he was employed by Sir William, who was himself laid up with the gout, to lay before the king reasons why his majesty ought to assent to the bill for triennial parliaments. Swift could strengthen Sir William's opinion by several arguments drawn from English history, but all his arguments had no effect on William III, who knew how to cut triennial parliaments as cleverly as asparagus. This was Swift's first dip into politics, and though he said it helped to cure him of vanity, it did not of addicting himself to the same unsatisfactory pursuit in after life.
Swift's residence at Moorpark is marked by all the characteristics of his after life, and by two of those events which are mixed up with its great mystery, and which brought after them its melancholy ending. He was so morose, bitter, and satirical, that Mr. Temple, nephew to Sir William, stated, that Sir William for a long time very much disliked him "for his ill qualities, nor would allow him to sit down at table with him." Though related to Lady Temple, Sir William had engaged him only in the capacity of reader and amanuensis, at a salary of £20 a year and his board, and looked upon him as "a young fellow taken into a low office who was inclined to forget himself." We can well believe that the proud and unbending spirit, which through life never deserted Swift, made him feel that he was thus regarded, and excited his most hostile and disagreeable qualities. He was also very defective in his education, and the consciousness of this in a towering spirit like Swift's, while it mortified him, could not make him humble. Yet his better qualities at length prevailed. He took to study; was commended by Sir William; and this on his part induced a more respectful deportment towards Sir William, whose fine mind and noble character no one could better estimate than Swift, and it ended, notwithstanding an occasional jar, and a parting at one time, with Swift's becoming the most zealous, attentive, and affectionate friend of Sir William, who admitted him to his most entire and cordial confidence.
The whole period of Swift's residence at Moorpark was two years. During this time, he went for awhile to Oxford to take his degree, and he was absent twice in Ireland; once a few months on account of his health, and the second time, when Swift, anxious for some means of independence, and Temple only offering him an employment worth a hundred a year in the office of the rolls in Ireland, they parted with mutual displeasure. Swift then went to Ireland, where, the heat of their difference having abated on both sides, through Sir William's influence he obtained the prebend of Kilroot in the diocese of Connor, worth about a hundred pounds a year. To this small living he retired, and assumed the character of a country clergyman. But this life of obscurity and seclusion was not likely long to suit the reckless, aspiring nature of Swift. He sighed to return to the intellectual pleasures and persons who resorted to Moorpark, and Sir William had not the less sensibly felt the absence of Swift, than Swift the absence of Moorpark. He returned within the year, and was welcomed back with warmth and respect, and thenceforward stood in a new position. With his abrupt departure from Kilroot two very different stories have been connected; one which, if true, would sink his character for ever; the other, which has never been questioned, evidencing the noblest qualities in that character. The first of these stories is that he attempted violence on the daughter of a farmer, one of his parishioners. Of this it is enough to quote the words of Sir Walter Scott, which, after giving the particulars of the refutation of this calumny, are: — "It is sufficient for Swift's vindication to observe, that he returned to Kilroot after his resignation, and inducted his successor in face of the church and of the public; that he returned to Sir William Temple with as fair a character as when he left him; that during all his public life in England and Ireland, when he was the butt of a whole faction, this charge was never heard of; that when adduced so many years after his death, it was unsupported by ought but sturdy and general averment; and that the chief propagator of the calumny first retracted his assertions, and finally died insane."
That there might be something on which this charge was founded is by no means improbable, and that Swift, as alleged, was brought before a magistrate of the name of Dobbs, for it is confessed that in his youth he was of a dissipated habit, and it is far more likely that these habits induced that constitutional affection with giddiness, deafness, and ultimate insanity, which made his future life wretched, than that it was owing to eating an over quantity of stone-fruit. In this point of view the life of Swift presents a deep moral lesson, for no man, if that were the case, ever drew down upon himself a severer chastisement. But as regards this particular fact, it could by possibility be nothing so flagrant as was endeavoured to be propagated by the report. The second statement one is unwilling to weaken, because in itself it is so beautiful; yet in the dean's life there are so many proofs of his making professions of patriotism and generosity to cover and screen his private purposes, that one is equally tempted to suspect a certain share of policy. The fact is thus stated:—
"In an excursion from his habitation, he met with a clergyman, with whom he formed an acquaintance, which proved him to be learned, modest, well-principled, the father of eight children, and a curate at the rate of forty pounds a year. Without explaining his purpose, Swift borrowed this gentleman's black mare — having no horse of his own — rode to Dublin, resigned the prebend of Kilroot, and obtained a grant of it for this new friend. When he gave the presentation to the poor clergyman, he kept his eyes steadily fixed on the old man's face, which at first only expressed pleasure at finding himself preferred to a living; but when he found that it was that of his benefactor, who had resigned in his favour, his joy assumed so touching an expression of surprise and gratitude, that Swift, himself deeply affected, declared he had never experienced so much pleasure as at that moment. The poor clergyman, at Swift's departure, pressed upon him the black mare, which he did not choose to hurt him by refusing; and thus mounted for the first time on a horse of his own, with fourscore pounds in his purse, Swift again rode to Dublin, and there embarked for England, and resumed his situation at Moorpark, as Sir William Temple's confidential secretary."
The incident is a charming one, and we may admit the facts as regards the clergyman to be fully true, and that the pleasure of Swift must have been great in having the opportunity of thus making a good man happy; but in order to place the transaction on its probably correct basis, we must not forget that Swift was confessedly already most thoroughly weary of the obscurity of Kilroot, and longing for return to Moorpark. This takes a good deal of the romance out of it. Without, therefore, astonishing ourselves at the unworldly generosity of a young man abandoning his own chance in life to serve a poor and meritorious man, we may suppose to the full that Swift was glad to do the good man such a service while it jumped with his own wishes. No man was more clear-sighted than Swift as to the consequences of such things; and none could better estimate the wide difference in the mode of doing the thing, between saying, "Well, I am tired of this stupid place, I must away again to England, but I'll try to get the living for you," and leaving the high merit of such a personal sacrifice to be attributed to him. In any way it was rich in consequences. He left behind a family made happy; grateful hearts, and tongues that would sound his praises through the country; and what a prestige with which to return to Moorpark! He came back like a hero of romance. That, judging by the after life of the dean, is probably the true view of the affair. He did a good deed, and he took care that it presented to the public its best side.
These ten years of life at Moorpark, which ended only with the death of Sir William Temple, were every way a most important portion of Swift's life. Here he laid at once the foundation of his fame and his wretchedness. Here with books, leisure, and as much solitude as he pleased; with the conversation of Sir William Temple and the most distinguished literati of the age who visited him; Swift in so auspicious an atmosphere not only thought and studied much, but wrote a vast deal, as it were to practise his pen for great future efforts when he felt his mind and his knowledge had reached a sufficient maturity. He informs his friend, Mr. Kendall, that he had "written, and burned, and written again upon all manner of subjects, more than perhaps any man in England." He wrote Pindaric Odes; translated from the classics; and exercised his powers of satire till he could confidently to himself predict the force of that "hate to fools" which he afterwards assumed as his principal characteristic. Besides this, he was deeply engaged in assisting Sir William in the controversy on the superiority of ancient or modern learning, in which Temple, Boyle, Wotton, and Bentley were all involved. This occasioned Swift's Battle of the Books, though it was not printed till some years afterwards. Here also he wrote his famous Tale of a Tub, which more than any other cause stopped effectually the path of his ambition towards a bishopric. Though not known avowedly as an author, Swift was now well known as a man of great ability to many literary men, and was on terms of particular friendship with Congreve.
But his literary pursuits here had not so completely engrossed him as to prevent his engaging in what, in any other man, would have been termed more tender ones; in Swift they must take some other name, be that what it may. The history of his conduct, too, with regard to every woman to whom he paid particular court, is the most extraordinary thing in all literary research; there have been several ways of accounting for it, into which it is not my intention to descend; let the causes have been what they may, they stamp his character for intense selfishness beyond all possibility of palliation. If Swift felt himself disqualified for entering into matrimonial relations from whatever cause or motive, as it is evident he did, he should have conducted himself towards women of taste and feeling accordingly; but, on the contrary, he never, in any instance, seems to have put the slightest check on himself in this respect. He paid them the most marked attentions; in some instances he wooed, with all the appearances of passion, and proposed marriage with the most eager importunity; he saw one after another respond to his warmth, and then he coolly backed out, or entered into such a tantalizing and mysterious position — where the woman had to sacrifice everything, peace of mind being destroyed, and character put into utmost jeopardy — as wore their very hearts and lives out. He played with women as a cat does with mice. So that they were kept fast bound within his toils, cut off from all the better prospects of life, sacrificed as victims to his need of their society, he cared nothing. He was alarmed and agitated almost to madness by the fear of losing them, yet this was a purely selfish feeling; he took no measures to set their hearts at rest; he placed them in such circumstances that he could not do it; to satisfy one he must immolate another. Some of the finest and most charming women of the age were thus kept, as it were, with a string round their hearts, by which he could pluck and torture them at pleasure; and keep them walking for ever over the burning ploughshares of agonizing uncertainties, and the world's oblique glances. There is nothing which can ever reclaim Swift's memory, in this respect, from the most thorough contempt and indignation of every manly mind.
Every instance of what are called love-affairs, in which Swift was concerned, presents the same features, even under the softened effect of the colouring of his most laudatory biographer, Sir Walter Scott. While Swift was at Leicester, his mother was afraid of his forming an imprudent attachment to a young woman there; at which Swift, knowing himself pretty well, only laughed. His flirtations, he represented, were only "opportunities of amusement;" a "sort of insignificant gallantry which he used towards the girl in question;" a "habit to be laid aside whenever he took sober resolutions, and which, should he enter the church, he should not find it hard to lay down at the porch." This is base language, and that of Scott is hardly better. He says — "it is probably to a habit, at first indulged only from vanity or for the sake of amusement, that we are to trace the well-known circumstances which embittered his life, and impaired his reputation."
And is this all? Are habits of indulging vanity, and of amusing oneself with the affections and the happiness of others, to be thus coolly talked of? "Circumstances which embittered his life, and impaired his reputation," indeed! Swift had the greatest right to embitter his own life, and impair his own reputation, if he pleased, but that is not the question; it was because he most recklessly, for the indulgence of his vanity and his self-love, embittered the lives of those who listened to him, and impaired their reputations, that he was culpable in proportion to his brilliant powers, and placed himself thereby in the category of heartless villains. These are severe words; but I have always felt, and still cannot avoid feeling, that their application to Swift is most just and necessary. Perhaps no instance of mere meanness was ever more striking than that shown in his second courtship. The lady in this case was not a simple country girl, but was Jane Waryng, the sister of an ancient college companion; to this young lady, in his affected pastoral style, he had given the name of Varina. Let it be remembered that this was in Ireland, while he was bearing the name, and performing the functions, of a clergyman. His suit for this lady was continued for four or five years with all the appearances and protestations of the deepest attachment; he proposed marriage in the most unequivocal terms. The young lady does not seem to have responded very cordially to his advances, for a long time, in fact, till that very response put a speedy end to the disgraceful farce. When she did agree to accept him and his offer, "he seemed," says Scott, "to have been a little startled by her sudden offer of capitulation." He then assumed quite another tone; — let Scott's own language relate what he did: "Swift charged Varina with want of affection, and indifference; stated his own income in a most dismal point of view, yet intimated that he might well pretend to a better fortune than she was possessed of! He was so far from retaining his former opinion as to the effects of a happy union, that he inquired whether the physicians had got over some scruples they appeared to entertain on the subject of her health. (He had made this delicate health before a plea for entreating her to put herself under his care.) Lastly, he demanded peremptorily to know whether she would undertake to manage their domestic affairs with an income of rather less than three hundred pounds a year; whether she would engage to follow the methods he should point out for the improvement of her mind; whether she could bend all her affections to the same direction which he should give his own, and so govern her passions, however justly provoked, as at all times to resume her good humour at his approach; and, finally, whether she could account the place where he resided more welcome than courts and cities without him? These premises agreed, as indispensable to please those who, like himself, 'were deeply read in the world,' he intimates his willingness to wed her, though without personal beauty or large fortune."
This language requires no comment; it is the vile shuffle of a contemptible fellow, who, taken at his word, then bullies and insults to get off again.
The next victim of this wretched man was Esther Johnson, the Stella of this strange history. This young lady was the daughter of the steward of Sir William Temple at Moorpark; she was fatherless when Swift commenced his designs upon her; her father died soon after her birth, and her mother and sister resided in the house at Moorpark, and were treated with particular regard and esteem by the family. Miss Esther Johnson, who was much younger than Swift, was beautiful, lively, and amiable. Swift devoted himself to her as her teacher, and under advantage of his daily office and position, engaged her young affections most absolutely. So completely was it understood by her that they were to be married when Swift's income warranted it, that on the death of Temple, and Swift's preferment to the living of Laracor in Ireland, she was induced by him to come over and fix her residence in Trim near him, under the protection of a lady of middle age, Mrs. Dingley. The story is too well known to be minutely followed; Swift acquired such complete mastery over her, that he kept her near him and at his command the greater part of his life, but would neither marry her nor allow her to marry any one else, though she had excellent offers. It was not till many years afterwards, when this state of dependence, uncertainty, and arbitrary selfishness had nearly worn her to the death; and when these were aggravated by fears for her reputation, and then by the appearance of a rival on the scene, that she extorted from him a marriage, which was still kept a profound secret, unacknowledged, and which left her just in the position she was in before, that of a mere companion in presence of a third party, when he chose. The rival just mentioned, was a Miss Vanhomrigh, the daughter of a widow lady, whose house he frequented during his life in London. This young lady, to whom he, on his uniform plan, which tended to prevent unpleasant claims by the evidence of letters, gave the name of Vanessa, as he termed himself Cadenus, was high-spirited and accomplished. When Swift, in his usual manner, had for a long time paid every marked attention to Miss Vanhomrigh, and was regarded both by herself and the whole family as an acknowledged lover, yet never came to plain terms, the young lady came boldly to them herself. The gay deceiver was thunderstruck: he had for years been living in the most intimate state of confidence with Stella, as her affianced lover; she had all the claims of honour and affection upon him that a wife could have; for, though maintaining the strictest propriety of life under the closest care of Mrs. Dingley, she was devoting her time, her thoughts, the very flower of her life, and the hazard of her good name, to his social happiness. This plain dealing therefore, on the part of Vanessa, was an embarrassing blow. "We cannot doubt," says Scott, "that he actually felt" the shame, disappointment, guilt, surprise, "expressed in his celebrated poem, though he had not the courage to take the open and manly course of avowing those engagements with Stella, or other impediments, which prevented his accepting the hand and fortune of her rival."
The fox in fact was taken in his wiles. He had got more on his hands than with all his cunning he knew how to manage. His selfish tyranny had been able to control, and put off poor Stella, but Vanessa was a different kind of subject, and put the wretched shuffler into great alarm and anxiety. He retired to Ireland; but this did not mend the matter, it tended rather to make it worse; for Miss Vanhomrigh had property there, and speedily announced to the guilty dean her presence in Dublin. He was now in as pretty a fix as one could wish such a double-dealer to be. "The claims of Stella," says Scott, "were preferable in point of date, and to a man of honour and good faith, in every respect inimitable. She had resigned her country, her friends, and even hazarded her character, in hope of one day being united to Swift. But if Stella had made the greater sacrifice, Vanessa was the more important victim. She had youth, fortune, fashion; all the acquired accomplishments and information in which Stella was deficient; possessed at least as much wit, and certainly higher powers of imagination. She had, besides, enjoyed the advantage of having in a manner compelled Swift to hear and reply to the language of passion. There was in her case no Mrs. Dingley, no convenient third party, whose presence in society and community in correspondence necessarily imposed upon both a restraint, convenient perhaps to Swift, but highly unfavourable to Stella."
The consequences were such as might be expected. Swift endeavoured to temporize and amuse Miss Vanhomrigh, and to get her to return to England, but in vain. She never ceased to press, to her, the important question, and to keep him in what he used to call "a quickset hedge." She importuned him with complaints of cruelty and neglect, and it was obvious that any decisive measure to break this acquaintance would be attended with some such tragic consequence, as, though late, at length concluded their story. He was thus compelled to assume a demeanour of kindness and affection to Vanessa, which, of course, soon was reported to Stella, and began to produce in her the most fatal symptoms. Her heart was wrung by fears and jealousies; her health gave way; and Swift was compelled to a private marriage, in order not to clog his conscience with her murder. The conditions of this marriage were, that it should continue a strict secret from the public, and that they should continue to live separately, and in the same guarded manner as before. The grand business of his life now was to soothe and wheedle Vanessa, and to play the hypocrite lover to her while he was the husband of another woman; a fine situation for a clergyman and a dean! This, we may believe, with. a woman of Miss Vanhomrigh's temperament was no easy task. His next plan was to try to get rid of her by inducing her to marry some one else, and for this purpose he presented to her Dean Winter, a gentleman of character and fortune, and Dr. Price, afterwards Archbishop of Cashel. It was in vain; she rejected such offers peremptorily, and at length, as if to hide her vexation and seek repose in nature, she retired to Marley Abbey, her house and property near Celbridge. But the dreams of love and jealousy pursued her thither with only the more force. She heard whispers of Stella being actually the wife of Swift, and she determined to know the truth. For this purpose she wrote at once to Stella, and put the plain question to her. The result of this was rapid and startling. In a few days she saw the Dean descend from his horse at her gate, and advance to her door dark and fierce as a thunder-cloud. He entered, threw down a letter upon the table before her, and with a look black as night, stalked out again without a word, mounted and rode away. As soon as Miss Vanhomrigh recovered in some degree from her terror and amazement, she took up the letter, opened it, and found it her own to Stella!
Stella herself confirmed the fatal truth by a candid avowal, and Miss Vanhomrigh sank under the shock. For eight years, trusting probably to the promises of Swift, and the apparently failing health of Stella, she had maintained the unequal contest with her deep-rooted passion and Swift's mysterious conduct, but this revelation of his villainy was her death. However, she lived only to revoke in haste her will, which had been made in favour of Swift, and to leave her fortune to Mr. Marshall, afterwards one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Ireland, and Dr. Berkeley, the celebrated philosopher, and afterwards Bishop of Cloyne; and to command the publication of all the letters which had passed between Swift and herself, as well as the celebrated poem of Cadenus and Vanessa.
Stella died in 1727-8, having borne the secret and corroding suffering of the position imposed by the selfishness of Swift for upwards of thirty years. Mrs. Whiteway, a lady who was on terms of great intimacy with Swift, and spent much time at the deanery of St. Patrick's, stated that when Stella was on her death-bed she expostulated with Swift on his having kept their marriage unnecessarily secret, and expressed her fear that it might leave a stain on her reputation, to which Swift replied, "Well, my dear, if you wish it, it shall be owned." Stella replied, "It is too late!"
Scott says, "he received this report of Mrs. Whiteway with pleasure, as vindicating the dean from the charge of cold-blooded and hard-hearted cruelty to the unfortunate Stella, when on the verge of existence." How does it vindicate him from any such charge? The avowal was never made by him; and so dubious was the very fact of the marriage left, as far as any act of Swift's was concerned, that its very existence has since been strenuously denied, especially by Mr. Monck Mason in his History of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The simple truth is, that the whole of Swift's conduct to Stella for thirty-three years was a piece of "cold-blooded and hard-hearted cruelty," which admits of no defence. Such was the treatment which all ladies who manifested an attachment to Swift received at his hands; is it any wonder that such a man went mad?
These circumstances have given a singular character to the biography of Swift; the letters of Stella and Vanessa, which have been published, convert it by their passion and heart-eloquence into a species of romance; in which, however, Swift himself plays the part of a very clever, witty and domineering, but certainly not attractive hero. Moorpark will always possess a interest connected with Stella. It was amid its pleasant groves that, young, beautiful, and confiding, she indulged with Swift in those dreams of after life, which he was so bitterly to falsify. There is a cavern about three quarters of a mile from the mansion called Mother Ludlam's Hole, which the country tradition represents as having been a frequent resort of Swift and Stella in their walks. It lies half-way down the side of the hill, covered with wood towards the southern extremity of the park. It seems to have been hewn out of the sandstone rock, and to have increased considerably in its dimensions since it was described by Grose. The greatest height of this excavation may be about twelve feet, and its breadth twenty, but at the distance of about thirty feet from the entrance it becomes so low and narrow as to be passable only by a person crawling on his hands and knees. From the bottom of the cave issues a small, clear stream, and two stone benches have been placed for the accommodation of visitors. The gloom and uncertain depth of the grotto, the sound of the water, and the beauty of the surrounding solitary scene, surveyed through the dark arched entrance, shagged with weeds and the roots of trees, give the spot an impressive effect. Grose gives a jocose account of the origin of the name of the cave. Old Mother Ludlam, he tells us, was a white witch, one who neither killed hogs, rode on broomsticks, nor made children vomit nails and crooked pins, but on the contrary did all the good she could. That the country people, when in want of any article, say a frying-pan or a spade, would come to the cave at midnight, and turning three times round, would three times say, "Pray, good Mother Ludlam, lend me such a thing and I will return it within two days." The next morning on going there again, the article would be found laid at the entrance of the cave. At length the borrower of a large cauldron was not punctual in returning it, which so irritated the good mother, that when it did come she refused to take it in again, and in course of time it was conveyed away to Waverley Abbey, and, at the dissolution of the monasteries, was deposited in Frensham church. From the hour of the non appearance of the cauldron, however, at its proper time, Mother Ludlam never would lend the slightest thing.
The resorts and residences of Swift in London, during his life there, have no very peculiar interest. He frequented freely the houses of the great political characters with whom he was connected. His immediate friends were Harley, Bolingbroke, Godolphin. He was a frequent attendant at Leicester-house, the court of the Prince of Wales, afterwards George II. He was on the most familiar terms with all the literati, Gay, Pope, Addison, and for a considerable period, Steele, etc. He was often at Twickenham for months together, and Button's coffeehouse was the constant resort of the wits of the time, amongst whom he played a very conspicuous part. It is not in these places, however, that the deep interest of Swift's life has settled, and, therefore, we pass at once across the channel to Ireland, and seek his homes there. We have already noticed his brief abode at Kilroot; his next residence was at Laracor, in Meath.
Swift was about thirty-two years of age when he attended Lord Berkeley, one of the Lords Justices of Ireland, to that country as his chaplain and private secretary. Berkeley had promised him the first good church living that fell vacant, but the rich deanery of Derry soon after falling out, he would only sell it to Swift for a thousand pounds. Swift resented this in such a manner, that to prevent making so formidable an enemy, he gave him the next vacancy, — the rectory of Agher, and the vicarage of Laracor and Rathbeggan. These livings, united, amounted to about £230 yearly; and the prebend of Dunlavin being added in the year 1700, raised Swift's income to betwixt £350 and £400. His manner of taking possession of Laracor, where he resolved to live, was characteristic. He was a great walker, and he is said to have walked down incognito to Laracor from Dublin, making doggrel rhymes on the places which he passed through. Many anecdotes are related of this journey. Arriving, he entered the curate's house, demanded his name, and announced himself bluntly "as his master." All was bustle to receive a person of such consequence, who, apparently, was determined to make his consequence felt. The curate's wife was ordered to lay aside the doctor's clean shirt and stockings, which he carried in his pocket; nor did Swift relax his airs of domination until he had excited much alarm, which his subsequent and friendly conduct to the worthy couple turned into respectful attachment.
These brusqueries of the dean's were, no doubt, very amusing to himself, and are agreeable enough to read of, but they must have been anything but agreeable to those upon whom they were played off. They betray a want of regard to the feelings of others, and were, every one of them, offences against the best laws of society, which every one who regards the kindly sparing of the feelings of the humble and the modest ought to condemn. However respectful might be the after attachment of this worthy curate and his wife, we may well believe that the first strange rudeness and severity of the dreaded dean would leave a wound and a terror behind that were not deserved, and that no one ought willingly to inflict. There were cases where folly merited the eccentric chastisement which Swift gave them. The farmer's wife who invited him to dinner, and then spoiled the dinner by repeatedly complaining that it really was too poor for him to sit down to, though the table groaned with good things, deserved, in some degree, the retort, — "Then why did you not get a better? — you knew I was coming; I have a good mind to go away and dine on a red herring." Yet even there, the good-natured country habit of the woman was somewhat too severely punished. She meant well.
Swift seemed to settle down at Laracor in good earnest. He found the church and parsonage much neglected and dilapidated, and set about their repairs at once. He was active and regular in the discharge of his clerical duties. He read prayers twice a week, and preached regularly on Sundays. The prayers were thinly attended, and it was on one of these occasions that Lord Orrery represents him as addressing the clerk, Roger Coxe, as "My dearly beloved Roger." The truth of the anecdote has been disputed, and is said to exist in an old jest-book, printed half a century before. This does not, however, render it at all improbable that Swift did not make use of the jest, especially when we know that Roger was himself a humourist and a joker; as, for instance, when Swift asked Roger why he wore a red waistcoat, and he replied, because he belonged to the church militant.
Swift took much pleasure in his garden at Laracor; converted a rivulet that ran through it into a regular canal, and planted on its banks avenues of willows. As soon as he was settled, Stella, and her companion Mrs. Dingley, came over and settled down too. They had a house near the gate of Knightsbrook, the old residence of the Percivals, almost half a mile from Swift's house, where they lived when Swift was at Laracor, or were the guests of the hospitable vicar of Trim, Dr. Raymond. Whenever Swift left Laracor for a time, as on his annual journeys to England, the ladies then took possession of the vicarage of Laracor, and remained there during his absence. The site of Stella's house is marked on the Ordnance Survey of the county of Meath.
The residence of Swift at Laracor includes a most important portion of his life, it was, at the least, twelve years, as he took possession of his living in 1700, and quitted it for the deanery of St. Patrick in 1713. Here he was fully occupied with the duties of his parish, and the united labours of authorship and politics. Hardly was he settled when he wrote his pamphlet on the Dissensions between the Nobles and Commons of Rome, which applied to the impeachment by the Commons of Lords Somers, Oxford, Halifax, and Portland, on account of their share in the partition treaty. This brought him at once into the intimacy of Somers, Sunderland, and Halifax. Here he soon after published his Tale of a Tub, which had been written at Moorpark. This created a vast sensation, and though anonymous, like most of Swift's works, was soon known to be his, and his society was eagerly sought by men of the highest distinction both for rank and genius. Amongst the latter, Addison, Steele, Tickell, Philips, and others, at once became his friends. He now made use of his influence with government to obtain the gift of the first-fruits and tenths to the Church of Ireland, which he effected. Besides this boon to the Church at large, he increased the glebe of Laracor from one acre to twenty; and purchasing the tithes of Effernock, when he was not overburdened with money, settled them for ever on his successors. Here he amused himself with his quizzes upon Partridge the Astrologer, under the title of Isaac Bickerstaff, which almost drove that notorious impostor mad. Here he wrote the celebrated verses on Baucis and Philemon, and other of his poems. Here, in 1710, he made his grand political transit from the Whigs to the Tories, and became the great friend, assistant, and political counsellor of Harley and Bolingbroke; living, during his long sojourns in London, on the most familiar terms with those noblemen, and also with Pope, Gay, and all the more celebrated authors.
It is a singular subject of contemplation, and shows what momentous influence a mere private man may acquire in England by his talents, — that of Swift's political achievements at this time. Here was a country clergyman of an obscure parish in Meath, with a congregation, as he himself said, of "some half-score persons," who yet wielded the destinies of all Europe. It was more by the power of his pen in The Examiner, and by his counsels and influence, than by any other means, that the Tories were enabled to turn out of office the long triumphant Whigs, and, by the peace of Utrecht, put a stop to the triumphs of Marlborough on the continent. The vengeance which the Tories took on their adversaries the Whigs on regaining power for a time, in Anne's reign, is, perhaps, the most startling thing in the history of party. The Whigs had steadily pursued the war against Louis the Fourteenth, in which William had been engaged all his life. For nearly half a century, that is, from 1667 to 1713, had that French monarch driven on a desperate contest for the destruction of the liberties of Europe. In Spain, in the Netherlands, in Holland, in Italy and Germany, had his generals, Catinat, Luxemburg, Conde, Turenne, Vendome, Villars, Melac, Villcroi, Tallard, etc. etc., led on the French armies to the most remorseless devastations. To this day, the successive demon deeds of Turenne, Melac, Crequi, and their soldiers, are vividly alive in the hearts and the memories of the peasantry of the Palatinate, where they destroyed nearly every city, chased the inhabitants away, leaving all that beautiful and fertile region a black desert, and throwing the bones of the ancient Germanic emperors out of their graves in the cathedral of Speir, played at bowls with their sculls. To extinguish Protestantism, and to extend the French empire, appeared Louis's two great objects; in which he was supported by all the spiritual power of the king of superstitions, the Pope. Revoking the Edict of Nantes, he committed the most horrible outrages and destruction on his own Protestant subjects. He hoped, on the subjugation of Holland and the reformed states of Germany, to carry out there the same horrors of religious annihilation. Except in the person of Buonaparte, never has the spirit of conquest, and of political insolence, shown itself in so lawless, determined, and offensive a form as in this ostentatious monarch. William III, before his accession to the British throne, had been the most formidable opponent to his progress. But he had contrived to set his grandson, Philip V, on the throne of Spain, in opposition to the claims of Austria, and, by the fear of the ultimate union of these two great nations under one sceptre, alarmed all Europe. In vain was the united resistance of Austria and Holland, till England sent out its great general, Marlborough: and the names of Marlborough, and the Savoyard, Prince Eugene, became as those of the demi-gods in the temple of war; and Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet, arose from their ages of obscurity into continental pyramids of England's military renown.
But of what avail was all this renown? What was won by it, except the empty glory itself? At the crowning moment — at the hour of otherwise inevitable retribution to the bloody and unprincipled monarch of France, and of recompense to those nations whose blood he had so lavishly shed, and whose surface he had covered with ashes, ruins, and horrors, instead of cities, peaceful villages, and fair fields — the Whigs were expelled from office by the Tories, and all the fruits of this long and bitter war were snatched away from us and our allies. To deprive the Whigs of the glory of a successful war, to dash down as abortive all the triumphs of the Whig general, Marlborough, these men rushed into peace, without consulting the allies, and left no results to the great European struggle but the blood which had been shed, and the misery that had been endured. Louis, then eighty-five years of age, and tottering towards the grave, saw himself at once released from the most terrible condition into which his wicked ambition had plunged him — from the most terrible prospect of humiliation and disgrace which could wring such a mind. He had reduced his kingdom to the last stage of exhaustion, by half a century's incessant contest with Europe; by bribing the English monarchs, Charles II. and James II. and many English nobles, to refuse help to the suffering continent; and by bribing and paying the armies of German princes whom he could induce to become traitors to their nation. His people were fiercely embittered against him; no taxes could be raised; his best generals were defeated on all hands, and a short time would, most probably, have seen Marlborough and Eugene anticipate the allies of our day, by marching directly upon and taking possession of Paris. So sensible of this was Louis, that his haughty tone was totally gone; he ordered his ambassadors to give up Alsace, and even to assist in driving Philip, his own grandson, out of Spain, by privately paying the allies a million of livres monthly for the purpose. The Tories came in at this critical juncture, and all was changed. They offered Louis a most unexpected peace. At once he lifted again his head and his heart: Alsace remains, to this day, a part of France; Spain has descended to the Bourbon; and the glory of Marlborough is without a single result, except Blenheim House, the dukedom to his family, and sixty-two millions and a half of taxation, which that war cost the English people. The peace of Utrecht roused the indignation of the whole civilised world. Volumes have been written in reprehension of it, and even enlightened conservatives of our time, as Hallam in his Constitutional History, join in the condemnation.
Yet this mighty change, with all its countless consequences, could be effected, almost wholly, by the simple vicar of a simple Irish parish. It was Swift who helped to plan and carry out this grand scheme of defeat and mortification to the Whigs, who had excited his wrath by withholding from him preferment. It was he, more than all men together, who, in the Examiner, painted the scheme in all his affluence of delusive colours to the nation, and roused the English people, by the cry of English blood and English money wasted on the continent, to demand immediate peace. While we lament the deed, we must confess the stupendous powers of the man.
But all this could not win him the keenly coveted bishopric. He could reverse the history of total Europe, he could arrest the victorious arms of Marlborough and Eugene, he could put forth his hand and save France and its proud monarch from just humiliation; but he could not extort from the reluctant queen, even by the combined hands of Oxford and Bolingbroke, the object of his own ambition — a mitre. The Tale of a Tub stood in his way; it was only just in time, that his friends, themselves falling, secured for him the deanery of St. Patrick's; to which he retired to act the ostensible patriot by indulging his own private resentment against his enemies and his fate.
Laracor is about two English miles from Trim. It lies in a drearyish sort of farming country, and to Swift, full of ambition, and accustomed to town life, and the stirring politics of the time, with which he was so much mixed up, one would have thought must prove a perfect desert. There is no village there, nor does there appear to have been one. It was a mere church and parsonage, and huts were very likely scattered about here and there, as they are now. The church still stands; one of the old, plain, barn-like structures of this part of the country, with a low belfrey. The graveyard is pretty well filled with headstones and tombs, and some that seem to belong to good families. The churchyard is surrounded by a wall and trees, and in a thatched cottage at the gate lives the sexton. He said he had built the house himself: that he was seventy-five or so; and his wife, who had been on the spot fifty years, as old; but that the incumbent, a Mr. Irvine, was eighty-four, and that he was but the third from Swift. Swift held it fifty-five years, the next incumbent nearly as long, and this clergyman thirty-six, or thereabouts. It must, therefore, be a healthy place. The old man complained that all the gentry who used to live near were gone away. His wife used to get £20 at Christmas, for Christmas-boxes, "and now she does not get even a cup o' tay. Poor creature! and she so fond of the tay!"
Like his house at Dublin, Swift's house here is gone. There remains only one tall, thick ruin of a wall. — "What is that?" I asked of a man at a cottage door, close by. "It's been there from the time of the Dane," said he. For a moment I imagined he meant the Danes; but soon recollected myself. Close to it, at the side of the high road, is a clear spring, under some bushes, and margined with great stones, which they call "the Dane's cellar," and "the Dane's well." Swift has not lost his popularity yet with the people. "He was a very good man to the poor," say they. "He was a fine bright man." This, however, is all the remains of his place here. The present vicar has built himself a good house in the fields, nearer to Trim; and not only the dean's house is all gone except this piece of wall, but his holly hedge, his willows, and cherry trees have vanished. A common Irish hut now stands in what was his garden. The canal may still be traced, but the river walk is now a marsh.
Trim, where Stella lived when Swift was at Laracor, though the county town of Meath, is now little more than a large village. It bears, however, all the marks of its ancient importance. The ruins all about it on the banks of the Boyne, are most extensive. They are those of a great palace, a castle, a cathedral, and other buildings. It is a great haunt for antiquarians, and not far distant from it is Tara, with its hill, the seat of ancient kings. As you leave the town to go to Laracor, you come at the town-end to a lofty column in honour of Wellington, who was born at Dangan Castle, a few miles beyond Laracor. The way to Laracor then lies along a fiattish country, with a few huts here and there by the wayside. On your left, as you approach Laracor, runs an old ruinous wall, with tall trees within it, as having once formed a park. The first object, connected with Swift, which arrests your attention, is the ruin of his house, with its spring, which lies on the right hand of the road; and on the left side of the road, perhaps a hundred yards further, stands the church in its enclosure.
From Laracor, Swift's remove was to Dublin, where he spent the remainder of his life. Here the deanery has been quite removed, and a modern house occupies its place. The old cathedral of St. Patrick is a great object collected with his memory here. Though wearing a very ancient look, St. Patrick's was rebuilt after its destruction in 1362, and its present spire was added only in 1750. In size and proportion the cathedral is fine. It is three hundred feet long, and eighty broad. It cannot boast much of its architecture, but contains several monuments of distinguished men; amongst them, those of Swift and Curran. These two are busts. Aloft in the nave hang the banners of the knights of St. Patrick; and again in the choir hang newly emblazoned banners of the knights; and over the stalls which belong to the knights are fixed gilt helmets, and by each stall hangs the knight's sword. The whole fabric is now undergoing repair, and not before it was needed. Of course, the monuments of highest interest here, are those of Swift and Stella. These occupy two contiguous pillars on the south side of the nave. They consist of two plain slabs of marble, in memory of the dean and Mrs. Johnson, — Stella. The inscription on the dean's slab is expressive "of that habit of mind which his own disappointments and the oppressions of his country had produced." It was written by himself.
Hic depositum est corpus
JONATHAN SWIFT, S.T.D.
Hujus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Ubi saeva indignatio
Cor lascerare nequit.
Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili
Obiit 19th die mensis Octobris,
A.D. 1745. Anno Aetatis 78.
Over this monument has been placed his bust in marble, sculptured by Cunningham, and esteemed a good likeness. It was the gift of T. T. Faulkner, Esq., nephew and successor to Alderman George Faulkner, Swift's bookseller, and the original publisher of most of his works. The inscription over his amiable and much-injured wife is as follows: — "Underneath lie the mortal remains of Mrs. Hester Johnson, better known to the world by the name of STELLA, under which she is celebrated in the writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift, dean of this cathedral. She was a person of extraordinary endowments and accomplishments of body, mind, and behaviour, justly admired and respected by all who knew her, on account of her many eminent virtues, as well as for her great natural and acquired perfections. She died January 27th 1727-8, in the forty-sixth year of her age, and by her will bequeathed one thousand pounds towards the support of a chaplain to the hospital founded in this city by Dr. Steevens."
In an obscure corner, near the southern entrance, is a small tablet of white marble with the following inscription: — "Here lieth the body of Alexander M'Gee, servant to Doctor Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's. His grateful master caused this monument to be erected in memory of his discretion, fidelity, and diligence in that humble station. Obiit Mar. 24, 1721-2. Aetatis 29."
There are other monuments, ancient and modern, in the cathedral worthy of notice, but this is all that concerns our present subject. How little, indeed, seems to remain in evidence of Swift where he lived so many years, and played so conspicuous a part. The hospital for the insane, which he founded, is perhaps his most genuine monument. It still flourishes. The sum which was made over by the dean's executors for this purpose, was £7,720. This has been augmented by parliamentary grants and voluntary donations, and is capable of accommodating upwards of a hundred pauper patients, besides nearly an equal number of paying ones.
At the deanery house, there is an excellent portrait of Swift by Bindon. Another by Bindon, and said to be one of the best likenesses of him, is in the possession of Dr. Hill, of Dublin; and there is a third, at Howth Castle. But nothing can to the visitor fill up the vacuum made by the destruction of the house in which he lived. We want to see where the author of the Drapier's Letters, and of Gulliver's Travels, lived. Where he conversed with Stella and Mrs. Whiteway, and joked with Sheridan and Delany, and where he finally sank into moody melancholy, and died.
Of all the lives of Swift which have been written, it would be difficult to say whether Dr. Johnson's or Sir Walter Scott's is the most one-sided. Johnson's is like that of a man who had a personal pique, and Scott's is that of a regular pleader. In his admiration of his author he seems unconsciously to take all that comes as excellent and right, and slurs over acts and principles in Swift, which in another he would denounce as most disgraceful. When we recollect that Swift was bitterly disappointed in his ambition of a mitre, and that he retired to Ireland to brood not only over this, but over the utter wreck of his political patrons and party, the impartial reader finds it difficult to concede to him so much the praise of real patriotism, as of personal resentment. He was ready to lay hold on anything that could at once annoy government, and enhance his own popularity. In all relations of life, an intense selfishness was his great characteristic, if we except this in his character of author: there he certainly displayed a great indifference to pecuniary profit; and was not only a staunch friend to his literary associates, but allowed them to reap that profit by his writings which he would not reap himself. But in all other respects his selfishness is strikingly prominent. He did not hesitate to sacrifice man or woman for the promotion of his comfort or his ambition. We have spoken of his treatment of women, we may take a specimen of his treatment of men. In the celebrated case of Wood, the patentee, and the Drapier's Letters, nothing could be more recklessly unjust than his conduct, or more hollow than his pretences. He wanted a cause of annoyance to Walpole, and against the government generally. Government had given a contract to Wood to coin a certain quantity of halfpence for Ireland, and this he seized hold on. He represented Wood as a low ironmonger, an adventurer; his halfpence as vile in quality, and deficient in weight; and the whole as a nuisance, which would rob Ireland of its gold, and enrich England at its expense. Now Scott himself is obliged to admit that the whole of this was false. Wood, instead of the mere ironmonger on whom he heaped all the charges and epithets of villainy and baseness that he could, even to that of a "wood-louse," was a highly respectable iron-master of Wolverhampton. His coinage, on this outcry being raised by Swift, was submitted by government to Sir Isaac Newton, to be assayed; when it was reported by Sir Isaac to be better than bargain; and is admitted by Scott to have been better than Ireland had been in the habit of having; and in fact, he says, a very handsome coinage. So far from an evil to Ireland, Scott admits, as is very obvious, that it was one of the best things Ireland could have, a sufficient stock of coin. But the ignorant population once possessed with the idea of imposition, grew outrageous, and flung the coinage into the Liffey, and Swift chuckled to himself over the success of his scheme, and the acquisition of the reputation of a patriot. In the mean time he had inflicted a real injury on his infatuated fellow countrymen, and a loss of £60,000 on his innocent victim, Wood. Scott says that Wood was indemnified by a grant of £ 3000 yearly, for twelve years. The simple fact I believe to be, that though granted it was never paid; — Wood, who had nine sons, lost by this transaction the fortune that should have provided for them. One of these sons was afterwards the introducer of platina into England. The real facts respecting Wood's coinage may be found in "Ruding's Annals of Coinage."
There is another point in which Swift's biographers and critics have been far too lenient towards him. Wonderful as is his talent, and admirable as his wit, these are dreadfully defiled by his coarseness and filthiness of ideas. Wit has no necessary connexion with disgusting imagery; and in attempting to excuse Swift, his admirers have laid the charge upon the times. But Swift out-Herods the times and his cotemporaries. In them may be found occasional smuttiness, but the filthy taint seemed to pervade the whole of Swift's mind, and his vilest parts are inextricably woven with the texture of his composition, as in Gulliver's Travels. There is nothing so singular as that almost all writers speak of the wit of Swift, and of Rabelais, without, as it regards the latter, once warning the reader against the mass of most revolting obscenity which loads almost every page of the Frenchman. Even Rogers, moral and refined in his own writings, talks of "laughing with Rabelais in his easy chair," but he never seems to reflect that far the greater portion of readers would have to blush and quit his company in disgust. It is fitting that in an age of moral refinement, youthful readers should at least be made aware that the wit that is praised is combined with obscenity or grossness that cannot be too emphatically condemned.
Amongst the places connected with the history of Swift's life; the residence of Miss Vanhomrigh — Vanessa — is one of the most interesting. The account of it procured by Scott, was this "Marley Abbey, near Celbridge, where Miss Vanhomrigh resided, is built much in the form of a real cloister, especially in its external appearance. An aged man, upwards of ninety by his own account, showed the grounds to my correspondent. He was the son of Miss Vanhomrigh's gardener, and used to work with his father in the garden when a boy. He remembered the unfortunate Vanessa well, and his account of her corresponded with the usual description of her person, especially as to her embonpoint. He said she went seldom abroad, and saw little company; her constant amusement was reading, or walking in the garden. Yet, according to this authority, her society was courted by several families in the neighbourhood, who visited her, notwithstanding her seldom returning that attention; and he added, that her manners interested every one who knew her. But she avoided company, and was always melancholy, save when Dean Swift was there, and then she seemed happy. The garden was to an uncommon degree crowded with laurels. The old man said, that when Miss Vanhomrigh expected the dean, she always planted with her own hand a laurel or two against his arrival. He showed her favourite seat, still called Vanessa's bower. Three or four trees and some laurels indicate the spot. They had formerly, according to the old man's information, been trained into a close arbour. There were two seats and a rude table within the bower, the opening of which commanded a view of the Liffey, which had a romantic effect, and there was a small cascade that murmured at some distance. In this sequestered spot, according to the old gardener's account, the dean and Vanessa used often to sit, with books and writing materials on the table before them. Vanessa, besides musing over her unhappy attachment, had, during her residence in this solitude, the care of nursing the declining health of her younger sister, who at length died about 1720. This event, as it left her alone in the world, seems to have increased the energy of her fatal passion for Swift, while he, on the contrary, saw room for still greater reserve, when her situation became that of a solitary female, without the society or countenance of a female relation."
Marley Abbey, Vanessa's house, is now the residence of Mr. Henry Grattan, M.P.
In D'Alton's History of the County of Dublin, p. 344, there is an account of the present state of Delville, the residence of Dr. Delany.