1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Jonathan Swift

John Aikin, in Letters to a Young Lady (1806) 64-65.



The diction of Swift is the most complete example of colloquial ease that verse affords. In aiming at this manner, other writers are apt to run into quaintness and oddity; but in Swift not a word or phrase occurs which does not belong to the natural style of free conversation. It is true, this freedom is often indecorous, and would at the present day be scarcely hazarded by any one who kept good company, still less by a clergyman. Yet he has known how to make distinctions; and while many of his satirical and humorous pieces are grossly tainted with indelicacies, some of his best and longest compositions are void of any thing that can justly offend. It is evident, indeed, that Swift, though destitute of genius for the sublimer parts of poetry, was sufficiently capable of elegance, had he not preferred indulging his vein for sarcastic wit. No one could compliment more delicately when he chose it, as no one was a better judge of proprieties of behaviour, and the graces of the female character.