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scarcely feel more interest about humourous writers than about the private life of poor Harlequin just mentioned, who possesses in common with these the power of making you laugh.
But the men regarding whose lives and stories your kind presence here shows that you have curiosity and sympathy, appeal to a great number of our other faculties, besides our mere sense of ridicule. The humourous writer professes to awaken and direct your love, your pity, your kindness—your scorn for untruth, pretension, impostureyour tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the unhappy. To the best of his means and ability he comments on all the ordinary actions and passions of life almost. He takes upon himself to be the week-day preacher, so to speak. Accordingly, as he finds, and speaks, and feels the truth best, we regard him, esteem him—sometimes love him. And, as his business is to mark other people's lives and peculiarities, we moralise upon his life when he is gone -and yesterday's preacher becomes the text for to-day's
Of English parents, and of a good English family of clergymen,' Swift was born in Dublin in 1667, seven months
i He was from a younger branch of the Swifts of Yorkshire. His grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Swift, Vicar of Goodrich, in Herefordshire, suffered for his loyalty in Charles I.'s time. That gentleman married Elizabeth Dryden, a member of the family of the poet. Sir Walter Scott gives, with his characteristic minuteness in such points, the exact relationship between these famous men.
Swift was “the son of Dryden's second cousin." Swift, too, was the enemy of Dryden's reputation. Witness the “ Battle of the Books :"_" The difference was greatest among the horse,” says he of the moderns, “where every private trooper pretended to the command, from Tasso and Milton to Dryden and Withers.” And in “Poetry, a Rhapsody,” he advises the poetaster to
“Read all the Prefaces of Dryden,
For these our critics much confide in,
after the death of his father, who had come to practise there as a lawyer. The boy went to school at Kilkenny, and afterwards to Trinity College, Dublin, where he got a degree with difficulty, and was wild, and witty, and poor. In 1688, by the recommendation of his mother, Swift was received into the family of Sir William Temple, who had known Mrs. Swift in Ireland. He left his patron in 1693, and the next year took orders in Dublin. But he threw up the small Irish preferment which he got, and returned to Temple, in whose family he remained until Sir William's death in 1699. His hopes of advancement in England failing, Swift returned to Ireland, and took the living of Lara
Hither he invited Hester Johnson, Temple's natural daughter, with whom he had contracted a tender friend. ship, while they were both dependants of Temple’s. And with an occasional visit to England, Swift now passed nine
years at home.
In 1709 he came to England, and, with a brief visit to Ireland, during which he took possession of his deanery of St. Patrick, he now passed five years in England, taking the most distinguished part in the political transactions which terminated with the death of Queen Anne. After her death, his party disgraced, and his hopes of ambition over, Swift returned to Dublin, where he remained twelve years. In this time he wrote the famous “ Drapier's Let.
Though merely writ, at first, for filling,
To raise the volume's price a shilling.” “Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet,” was the phrase of Dryden to his kins man, which remained alive in a memory tenacious of such matters.
1 “Miss Hetty” she was called in the family, where her face, and her dress, and Sir William's treatment of her, all made the real fact about her birth plain enough Sir William left her a thousand pounds.
ters” and “ Gulliver's Travels." He married Hester Johnson, Stella, and buried Esther Vanhomrigh, Vanessa, who had followed him to Ireland from London, where she had contracted a violent passion for him. In 1726 and 1727 Swift was in England, which he quitted for the last time on hearing of his wife's illness. Stella died in January, 1728, and Swift not until 1745, having passed the last five of the seventy-eight years of his life, with an impaired intellect and keepers to watch him.'
You know, of course, that Swift has had many biographers; his life has been told by the kindest and most goodnatured of men, Scott, who admires but cannot bring himself to love him, and by stout old Johnson, who, forced to
Sometimes, during his mental affliction, he continued walking about the house for many consecutive hours; sometimes he remained in a kind of torpor. At times, he would seem to struggle to bring into distinct consciousness, and shape into expression, the intellect that lay smothering under gloomy obstruction in him. A pierglass falling by accident, nearly fell on him. He said, he wished it had! He once repeated, slowly, several times, “I am what I am.” The last thing he wrote was an epigram on the building of a magazine for arms and stores, which was pointed out to him as he went abroad during his mental disease :
Behold a proof of Irish sense :
Here Irish wit is seen;
They build a magazine ! Besides these famous books of Scott's and Johnson's, there is a copious “Life” by Thomas Sheridan (Dr. Johnson's “Sherry'), father of Richard Brinsley, and son of that good-natured, clever, Irish, Dr. Thomas Sheridan, Swift's intimate, who lost his chaplaincy by so unluckily choosing for a text on the king's birthday, “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof!” Not to mention less important works, there is also the “Remarks on the Life and writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift,” by that polite and dignified writer, the Earl of Orrery. His lordship is said to have striven for literary renown, chiefly that he might make up for the slight passed on him by his father, who left his library away from him. It is to be feared that the ink he used to wash out that stain only made it look bigger. He had, however, known Swift, and corresponded with people who knew him. His work (which appeared in 1751) pro
admit him into the company of poets, receives the famous Irishman, and takes off his hat to him with a bow of surly recognition, scans him from head to foot, and passes over te the other side of the street. Dr. Wilde of Dublin,' who has written a most interesting volume on the closing years of Swift's life, calls Johnson "the most malignant of his biographers :" it is not easy for an English critic to please Irishmen-perhaps to try and please them. And yet Johnson truly admires Swift: Johnson does not quarrel with Swift's change of politics, or doubt his sincerity of religion: about the famous Stella and Vanessa controversy the Doctor does not bear very hardly on Swift. But he could not give the Dean that honest hand of his; the stout old man puts it into his breast, and moves off from him.'
Would we have liked to live with him? That is a question which, in dealing with these people's works, and thinking of their lives and peculiarities, every reader of biographies must put to himself. Would you have liked to be a
voked a good deal of controversy, calling out, among other brochures, the interesting “ Observations on Lord Orrery's Remarks,” &c. of Dr. Delany.
i Dr. Wilde's book was written on the occasion of the remains of Swift and Stella being brought to the light of day-a thing which happened in 1835, when certain works going on in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, afforded an opportunity of their being examined. One hears with surprise of these skulls “going the rounds” of houses, and being made the objects of dilettante curiosity. The larynx of Swift was actually carried off! Phrenologists had a low opinion of his intellect, from the ob servations they took.
Dr. Wilde traces the symptoms of ill health in Swift, as detailed in his writings from time to time. He observes, likewise, that the skull gave evidence of diseased action" of the brain during life-such as would be produced by an increasing tend ency to “cerebral congestion.”
3 “He [Dr. Johnson) seemed to me to have an unaccountable prejudice against Swift ; for I once took the liberty to ask him if Swift had personally offended him, and he told me he had not.”—BOSWELL'S Tour to the Hebrides.
friend of the great Dean? I should like to have been Shakspeare's shoeblack-just to have lived in his house, just to have worshipped him—to have run on his errands, and seen that sweet serene face. I should like, as a young man, to have lived on Fielding's stair-case in the Temple, and after helping him up to bed perhaps, and opening his door with his latch-key, to have shaken hands with him in the morning, and heard him talk and crack jokes over his breakfast and his mug of small beer. Who would not give something to pass a night at the club with Johnson, and Goldsmith, and James Boswell, Esq., of Auchinleck ? The charm of Addison's companionship and conversation has passed to us by fond tradition-but Swift? If you had been hiş inferior in parts (and that, with a great respect for all persons present, I fear is only very likely), his equal in mere social station, he would have bullied, scorned, and insulted you; if, undeterred by his great reputation, you had met him like a man, he would have quailed before you,
1 Few men, to be sure, dared this experiment, but yet their success was encouraging. One gentleman made a point of asking the Dean, whether his uncle Godwin had not given him his education. Swift, who hated that subject cordially, and, indeed, cared little for his kindred, said, sternly, “Yes; he gave me the education of a dog.” “Then, sir,” cried the other, striking his fist on the table, "you have not the gratitude of a dog !"
Other occasions there were when a bold face gave the Dean pause, even after his Irish almost-royal position was established. But he brought himself into greater danger on a certain occasion, and the amusing circumstances may be once more repeated here. He had unsparingly lashed the notable Dublin lawyer, Mr. Serjeant Bettesworth
“So, at the bar, the booby Bettesworth,
Though half-a-crown out-pays his sweat's worth,
Calls Singleton his brother-serjeant !" The Serjeant, it is said, swore to have his life. He presented himself at the deanery. The Dean asked his name. “Sir, I am Serjeant Bett-es-worth."