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Mr. Thackeray rises into a greater refinement of distinction, into a graver sympathy with his subject, than is his wont. He dwells like a true lover of “letters” (somewhat different this from a lover of literature) on the fascinations of Pope's correspondence; and after a flourish of praise in its behalf something pompous, but, we doubt not, sincere—falls into a homelier tune which is holy and charming.
We can point to Mr. Thackeray's appreciation of Sterne with entire approval. “Yorick” was, indeed, a fair subject for a denunciatory sermon, addressed to the sentimentalists of Vanity Fair,—and its morals, and his want of morals, are not spared by our preacher.With Goldsmith Mr. Thackeray's series closes. The author of the 'Vicar' is genially and tenderly handled. But it has been his fate, after death, to be loved by all who have commemorated him with uncommon ardour, indulgence and unanimity.—To conclude:—none will read these Lectures, whether in agreement or in difference, without looking forward to the announcement of some future series from their shrewd and suggestive discourser.
THE ENGLISH HUMOURISTS OF THE
In treating of the English Humourists of the past age, it is of the men and of their lives, rather than of their books, that I ask permission to speak to you; and in doing so, you are aware that 5 I cannot hope to entertain you with a merely hu
or facetious story. Harlequin without his mask is known to present a very sober countenance, and was himself, the story goes, the melan
choly patient whom the doctor advised to go and 10 see Harlequin t-a man full of cares and per
plexities like the rest of us, whose Self must always be serious to him, under whatever mask or disguise or uniform he presents it to the public. And as all of you here must needs be
think 15 of your own past and present, you will not look to
* The notes to these lectures were chiefly written by James Hannay. A few corrections and additions, chiefly due to later investigations, are now inserted; for which the publishers have to thank Mr. Austin Dobson, Mr. Sidney Lee, and Mr. L. Stephen.
† The anecdote is frequently told of our performer John Rich (1682 ?-1761), who first introduced pantomimes, and himself acted Harlequin.
find, in the histories of those whose lives and feelings I am going to try and describe to you, a story that is otherwise than serious, and often very sad. If Humour only meant laughter, you would scarcely feel more interest about humourous writers 5 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, 10 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, imposture—your tenderness for the 15 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, 20 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 has gone-and yesterday's preacher becomes the text for to-day's ser-25 mon.
Of English parents, and of a good English family of clergymen,* Swift was born in Dublin in 1667,
* He was from a younger branch of the Swifts of Yorkshire. His grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Swift, vicar of Goodrich, in 30 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
seven months 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 diffi5 culty, 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 1694, and the next year took orders in Dub10 lin. 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 15 Laracor. Hither he invited Esther Johnson,* Tem
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 20 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,
“ Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet," was the phrase of Dryden to his kinsman, which remained alive in a memory tenacious of
such matters. 30
*“ 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. [The statement that Esther Johnson was Temple's natural
daughter, was first made by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for 35 1767. who also. asserted that Swift was Temple’s natural son; and
that a discovery of their relationship was the secret of Swift's mel40
ancholy. The statement about Swift is inconsistent with known dates. The story about Esther may be true, but it depends mainly upon late and anonymous evidence.]