1784 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Jonathan Swift

Thomas Sheridan, in Life of Dean Swift (1784); Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 3:199-200.



Though the greatness of Swift's talents was known to many in private life, and his company and conversation much sought after and admired, yet was his name hitherto little known in the republic of letters. The only pieces which he had then published, were The Battle of the Books, and The Contests and Dissensions in Athens and Rome, and both without a name. Nor was he personally known to any of the wits of the age, excepting Mr. Congreve, and one or two more, with whom he had contracted an acquaintance at Sir William Temple's. The knot of wits used at this time to assemble at Button's coffee-house: and I had a singular account of Swift's first appearance there from Ambrose Philips, who was one of Mr. Addison's little senate. He said that they had for several successive days observed a strange clergyman come into the coffeehouse, who seemed utterly unacquainted with any of those who frequented it; and whose custom it was to lay his hat down on a table, and walk backward and forward at a good pace for half an hour or an hour, without speaking to any mortal, or seeming in the least to attend to anything that was going forward there. He then used to take up his hat, pay his money at the bar, and walk away without opening his lips. After having observed this singular behaviour for some time, they concluded him to be out of his senses; and the name that he went by among them, was that of "the mad parson." This made them more than usually attentive to his motions; and one evening, as Mr. Addison and the rest were observing him, the saw him cast his eyes several times on a gentleman in boots, who seemed to be just come out of the country, and at last advanced towards him as intending to address him. They were all eager to hear what this dumb mad parson had to say, and immediately quitted their seats to get near him. Swift went up to the country gentleman, and in a very abrupt manner, without any previous salute, asked him, "Pray, sir, do you remember any good weather in the world?" The country gentleman, after staring a little at the singularity of his manner, and the oddity of the question, answered, "Yes, sir, I thank God I remember a great deal of good weather in my time." — "That is more," said Swift, "then I can say; I never remember any weather that was not too hot, or too cold; too wet or too dry; but however God Almighty contrive it, at the end of the year 'tis all very well." Upon saying this, he took up his hat, and without uttering a syllable more, or taking the least notice of all those who had been spectators of this odd scene staring after him, and still more confirmed in the opinion of his being mad.