|At Temple's House|
|Battle Of The Books|
|Defending The Whigs|
|The Tale Of A Tub|
|Tories In Power|
|Journal To Stella|
|Conduct Of The Allies|
|St. Patricks Deanery|
|Fall Of The Tories|
|Swift And Ireland|
JONATHAN SWIFT was born on the 30th of November, 1667, at a house in Hoey's Court, close to the Castle, in Dublin. His mother was then a widow, her husband having died, leaving her in very poor estate, in the spring of that year. His father, also named Jonathan, was the seventh or eighth son of the Rev. Thomas Swift, Vicar of Goodrich, near Ross. The Dean of 5t. Patrick's was ever more proud of this grandfather than of any other of his name. The Vicar was descended from a Yorkshire family of the name of Swifte, one of which stock is commemorated in a sixteenth-century brass still existing in the church of Rotherham. A branch of this Yorkshire family had migrated to Kent, and from this branch was descended the Vicar of Goodrich. Born in 1595, he had married Elizabeth Dryden, of Northamptonshire, niece to John Dryden's grandfather, and by her had a large family. He was not only Vicar, but a considerable landowner near Goodrich; and the house which he built to contain his large family— and which fully merits the Dean's description of it as denoting 'the builder to have been somewhat whimsical and singular'— is still standing. As the date over the door attests, it was built in 1636, and very soon after that date the Vicar was involved in troubles that effectually broke his fortunes. The Dean's father was born in 1640, and when he was still an infant the troubles of the Civil War began. The Vicar was not of a sort to hold aloof from the struggle. He became an ardent and pronounced Royalist, was down on the Parliamentarian lists as a delinquent, carried arms to supply the Royal strongholds, and had to defend his own house — fifty times, so it is said, plundered from roof-tree to cellar — against the Roundhead marauders. His family were treated with violence; he was imprisoned; his living sequestrated; his cattle carried off; his property plundered or forfeited. Still clinging pertinaciously to the Royal cause, he carried all the money he could gather, quilted in his waistcoat, as an offering to the King, even when all was lost at Naseby. When the war ceased he was liberated, and apparently left unmolested. But his property was lost; and when he died, in 1658, he left his large family to seek their fortunes as best they might.
The eldest son, Godwin Swift, who had been trained as a lawyer in England, went to Ireland, where, in the settlement of landed estates after the disturbances of the Civil War, there was much work for a lawyer to do. He rose rapidly, partly by an abundant practice and partly by more than one profitable marriage. He became a wealthy man, and his success attracted others of his brothers to follow his steps to Ireland. Amongst these was his younger brother Jonathan, who, however, was without his brother's prudence and business capacity. He married, while yet very young, Abigail Erick, the dowerless daughter of an old Leicestershire family, and secured a moderate post, as Steward of the King's Inn, Dublin. First, a daughter was born to the young couple; and then, in the spring of 1667, the young lawyer left his wife (then in expectation of a second child) a widow. This second child was Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's, born on 30th Nov. 1667.
The widow was left without resources of her own, and she and her children depended largely on the bounty of the successful elder brother, Godwin; yet the house in which her son was born was not so poor as to suggest that she was left uncared for or neglected. But the boy was destined for a time to live beyond the reach of his uncle's charity. His nurse, having to pay a visit to a dying relative at Whitehaven, took the infant with her, and kept him there until he was more than three years of age. There he learned to read: and he was fond, in later years, of dwelling on this early visit to England, as he thought it took away something of what he held to be the stigma of his Irish birth. When he came back to Dublin, it was only to spend a short time with his mother: two years later he was sent by his uncle to Kilkenny School, and there, with William Congreve for his school-fellow, he remained until, at fourteen, he was entered as a pensioner at Trinity College, Dublin. Justly or unjustly, Swift retained a bitter recollection of his boyhood and of the niggardly charity doled out by his uncle Godwin. It would not be fair to accept Swift's reminiscences, darkened by his natural misanthropy, as a certain gauge of his uncle's conduct. Swift treated his own past with little complacency of memory, and the severe judgment which he passed on himself perhaps tinctured his judgment of others. Naturally Swift rebelled against the somewhat slavish routine which then governed the College studies. But the extent of his rebellion against rule is matter of doubt — wearied, perhaps, with the common talk of early genius emancipating itself by the force of its own superiority from rule, he was wont to set down his College career in. plain terms as that of a dunce. The stories of his rebellion against rule are probably as exaggerated as those of his dullness. A copy of the College roll for Easter 1685, recording the doings of the undergraduates, has been preserved. Swift did 'badly' in Physics: 'creditably' in Greek and Latin: 'carelessly' in his Theme. Strictly, such a result might have delayed his degree for a year; but 'by a special grace,' — which appears, indeed, to have been of ordinary occurrence — this strict rule was not enforced, and Swift proceeded to his degree in 1685. His College career was not recalled by him with more pleasure than his school days. The ordinary curriculum probably failed to attract him, and the pursuit of subjects for which he had no liking may possibly have left an after-impression of natural dullness: but the full gloom of his reminiscences must be ascribed to a sense of his dependence upon the charity of an uncle, who may have administered his assistance without that delicacy which was necessary in one who patronized a spirit such as Swift's.
When he had taken his degree, Swift, still unsettled as to his future course in life, pursued his reading, until the source even of such charity as he had enjoyed, became dry. Godwin Swift had apparently allowed his ambition to carry him too far: he indulged in speculation; his fortune dwindled, and with it his faculties; he sank into insanity, and died in 1688. Some help still continued to reach Swift from his cousin Willoughby, the son of Godwin, who had sought fortune abroad: but dependence had taught him thrift, and from this time Swift determined to depend upon no one, and to use those faculties, whose extent, nature and proper application were problems yet unsolved, to gain for himself some means of livelihood.
The troublesome events that followed the Revolution in Ireland made it needful for Swift to seek his fortune beyond her shores, and his own inclination doubtless prompted him in the same direction. His mother was now settled in Leicester, and to her, from whom he had been so long parted, and who continued to be the object of his tenderest love, the young graduate, brooding over real or imagined wrongs, dominated by passions, and stirred by a genius over which he had yet gained no mastery, now came at the age of one and twenty. He says himself of this period of his life, that
' a person of great honour in Ireland (who was pleased to stoop so low as to look into my mind) used to tell me that my mind was like a conjured spirit, that would do mischief if I did not give it employment.'
It is curious to see the half sarcasm in Swift's reference, even at this period, to 'persons of great honour': but whoever his Mentor was, he gave a judgment which Swift's life proved only too true.
At Temple's House
Leicester had no attraction for him, beyond the company of his mother; and even had it not been so, a livelihood must be sought elsewhere. Sir William Temple's wife was a kinswoman of Mistress Abigail Swift: to him, therefore, application for employment was made, and made with success, and before the close of 1689 Swift became an inmate of Temple's house at Sheen. The dramatic contrast between the master and dependant has afforded subject for many pictures of impressive force. Temple, the astute diplomatist, the wary politician, tempering his statesmanship by something of the doctrinaire and something of the cynic; spending his honourable retirement in the elegant pursuits of literature and landscape gardening, and employing his high social position, and the confidence and friendship of the great, to enhance the grace of his literary patronage; a god to his own circle, and respected beyond it, was scarcely the sort of man who could have made a master after Swift's own heart. But any irksomeness in the relation seems only to have broken out occasionally, and (in spite of the half-jocular reminiscence, 'Faith, he spoilt a fine gentleman!') Swift looked back on his residence at Moor Park (the house near Farnham in Surrey which Sir William Temple bad recently acquired, and where he soon took up his abode) as fairly pleasant. At first, Swift's position was humble enough: he acted as amanuensis, and kept the household accounts.
But there was one in that circle whose name was to be linked with that of Swift in one of the saddest tales by which the annals of literary history have stirred and attracted human sympathy. In a small house in the grounds of Moor Park, there lived a Mistress Johnson, widow of a confidential servant of Sir William Temple's. She had two young daughters: and of these the elder was Esther Johnson, then eight years of age, who in her name of Stella represents to posterity the most romantic and yet the most tragic thread that runs through the life of Swift. Even in this earlier residence at Moor Park, which lasted only a year, and when Swift, 'a raw and inexperienced youth,' perhaps imagined slights and injuries which were not intended, the child seems to have attracted his attention. But either Temple was too pompous and self-satisfied to be endured, or Swift's temper was too moody to be tolerated, and this early residence soon came to an end. Swift returned for a time to Ireland; found no opening there; came back to Leicester, and remained for a time in his mother's house, and at last, after an absence of a year and a half, again took up his residence with Sir William Temple in the autumn of 1691. This time Swift's position was much improved. Both patron and dependant had doubtless come to know one another better, and to respect one another more By Temple's help he became a graduate of Oxford: and, in his own words,
'growing into some confidence, he was often trusted with affairs of great importance.'
It was now that he saw more of the society which Moor Park could show, and his opportunities even brought him into contact with William III. The king, he tells us, taught him, in some hour of easy intercourse, how 'to cut asparagus after the Dutch fashion': and he was privileged on one occasion to expound to William's mind, unaccustomed to the intricacies of the English constitution, the expediency of withdrawing his veto from the Triennial Bill. It was this intercourse with the great 'that helped,' as Swift tells us, 'to cure him of vanity.'
Swift's Early Poems
But at this time in his life, Swift was also cultivating the literary faculty in a way that has a curious interest for us. ' He writ and burnt, and writ again,' he informs a friend, 'upon all manner of subjects, more than perhaps any man in England.' His reading, too, was wide and discursive, and he had abundant leisure for it. But the strangest feature of his literary activity was his being caught by the infection of a fashionable freak of taste. That 'Pindaric art' of Cowley's, which sank into oblivion within a generation after Cowley's death, was now attracting many imitators. After his example, the most obscure form of Greek poetry, the merits of which are of all others the most difficult for a modern to appreciate, was adopted as a model: and in Dr. Johnson's words, 'all the boys and girls caught the pleasing fancy, and they who could do nothing else could write like Pindar.' Swift followed the prevailing fashion, and, with the encouragement of his patron, he wrote Pindarics on Archbishop Sancroft's non-juring fidelity, in honour of Sir William Temple, and to the Athenian Society— a pedantic gathering of projectors in the sphere of social science, the idea of which had taken rise in the whimsical brain of one John Dunton, a half-mad publisher, whose principal business in life was 'to think or perform something out of the beaten road,' and whose many escapades in literature and politics form altogether one of the strangest pictures in a strange age. But curious as was this passing episode in Swift's literary career, these Pindaric poems are not to be passed over by any one who would trace the growth of his genius. The satire, the brooding melancholy, the abhorrence of the 'lumber of the schools,' the contempt for 'the wily shafts of state, the juggler's tricks' — are all there as in his later writings. But they are mixed up with a constant obscurity of expression as well as of thought, with a painful effort after metaphysical involvement, with a recurrence of pedantic conceits by way of metaphor, which are all strangely in contrast with Swift's later manner.
Such were the early poetic attempts which Swift, eventually the most masculine and luminous of English authors, now submitted, according to the common story, to the criticism of his kinsman Dryden, then in the plenitude of his literary dictatorship. The prophetic rebuff by which they were received, 'Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet,' was never forgotten nor forgiven by Swift.
With these early efforts we may join such occasional poems as he addressed to the king, to Congreve, and to Sir William Temple on his recovery from illness. Not one of them is without a biographical interest, or without some revelation of the development of Swift's literary genius, and no collection professing to be representative of Swift's works can omit all specimens of these. They illustrate, above all, the deep melancholy which never left him even in the most busy scenes of his life, and which had its root and groundwork in mood and character, and derived strength and confirmation in a congenital malady from which he suffered. This was caused by a structural malformation near the brain, that dulled his hearing, produced fits of giddiness and uncontrollable depression, and eventually overcame his reason. But as yet its attacks were only intermittent: and soon his genius was led into more practical and congenial lines, by the necessity of bestirring himself to make his way in larger scenes than those of Moor Park.
But Moor Park had already done much for him. It had removed him from Ireland which he cordially hated, and from that dependence on the bounty of others which had tried his spirit. It had given him leisure and opportunity for study on the lines which his own taste dictated. But more than all, it had brought him into close contact with men who had played, or were still playing, great parts in history, and had thus at once stimulated his interest in affairs, and occasionally fed his sarcastic humour. The contrast between the greatness of the interests involved, and the smallness of many of those to whom the nation's welfare was entrusted, was first impressed upon him now, and never afterwards left him. To this early acquaintance with the practical working of State affairs Macaulay has rightly ascribed much of the vivid interest which marks off Swift's from all other political pamphlets.
But his future career was still undecided. An offer from the king of a captaincy of dragoons, had suggested one choice which would certainly have led to strange results had Swift closed with it. Sir William Temple offered a small post connected with his own sinecure office of the Rolls at Dublin. That offer was declined, as probably it was expected to be: but the fact of its having been made cleared away a scruple which Swift had conceived against entering the Church merely as a source of livelihood which could be earned in no other career. He had early turned his thoughts in this direction, and the obtaining of a degree at Oxford probably confirmed the wish. The king had given him some hopes of Church preferment, as he did not incline to a military life; and the non-fulfilment of these hopes caused him acute disappointment some years later. It was in 1694 that his choice was made: and after another visit to his mother at Leicester, he crossed to Dublin, in some anger at what he conceived to be Temple's backwardness in rewarding his services. Before ordination, he found himself obliged, however, to apply to Temple for a certificate of good conduct during the years which had passed since he took his degree. The humble letter in which this certificate was asked for was one which it must have cost Swift a bitter pang to write; but the request was promptly granted, and on 25th October, 1694, Swift was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Kildare, and proceeded to priest's orders on the 13th of January, 1695/4. In the same month he was presented by Lord Capel to the prebend of Kilroot near Belfast. The Irish Church, when he entered her ranks, was in a condition far from flourishing: the Church of a minority, if she was able to triumph in the abasement of her Roman Catholic rival, she was yet taught to feel that by English politicians she was expected to play the part of a submissive instrument of party supremacy, which paid as little regard to her own rights as it did to the feelings and interests of the Irish race.
His own living was a poor one, and the fact that it was placed in a district where Presbyterianism was in the ascendant, did not improve it in the eyes of Swift. The scene was a poor contrast to what he had been used to at Moor Park, and it did not detain him long. In May, 1696, he entrusted the duties to a substitute, and returned once more to his old home with Temple. Swift had now acquired a profession and an independence, poor as it was. The months of retirement at Kilroot had enabled him to take a measure of his own powers. On this third visit to Moor Park, he came no longer as the humble servitor, but as a friend, associated with his patron in literary pursuits and controversies, and prepared to engage the attention of the world by achievements more unique and remarkable than the Pindaric verses in which he had poured out the gloom of an unsettled and restless spirit.
Battle Of The Books
By this time Swift had written the Tale of a Tub: but this was not to be his first contribution to the prose literature of the day. He began to mix more directly in politics: and the first statesman to whom he attached himself was the veteran plotter Sunderland, then tottering to his fall. But Swift had other designs on foot: and to pursue these, he resigned altogether the living at Kilroot, which he had held for little more than a year. Before long he was to be attracted into the arena of political controversy. But now chance threw in his way an opportunity for intervening in a literary affray which exactly suited his taste. The famous struggle between the Ancients and Moderns will be dealt with more fully in another part of this volume. At present it is enough to say that Sir William Temple had found himself, by an unlucky allusion in one of his elegant but inexact essays, involved in the thickest of the fray, as a supporter of the claims of the Ancients. The combatants on the other side were numerous, and at their head stood one so well equipped for the fight as Bentley. To meet such a doughty champion of the Moderns, with his own weapons, was given to no one then living in England. But Swift could force the battle into other lines. He could discard details, and draw it into the wider arena of human interest, where his wide-reaching humour could have free play. It was this he did, when he appeared as Temple's champion in the Battle of the Books — the one enduring and immortal fragment that survives to call attention to the once so hotly contested battle-field. At this period the tract — for it is little more — was written: but as yet it was only handed about amongst Temple's literary friends, and did not come before the public until a later day.
On the 27th of January, 1699/98, Sir William Temple died, and one period of Swift's life closed. Temple's will appointed Swift to the rather irksome post of his literary executor, a post specially thankless when the remains have been rated by the testator at a higher value than that which the world is disposed to attach to them. This was notably the case with Temple's works.
Swift had now to find other patrons, or to make his way alone. The expectations of preferment from the king were disappointed; and, in the want of anything better, Swift accepted the post of Secretary to Lord Berkeley, then proceeding to the government of Ireland. He had conceived that this appointment would lead to more: but disappointment followed disappointment, and Swift was at length compelled to accept the joint livings of Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan in Meath, which yielded him, in all, an income of some £200 a year. He continued, however, to form one of Lord Berkeley's household, and by more than one jeu d'esprit in his most playful manner, he proves that disappointment did not prevent this residence being a time of cheerfulness. 'Parson Swift' was the chartered satirist of the company, and retained, in much later years, the intimacy with the family which was then established. Before he returned with Lord Berkeley to England, in 1701, Swift took the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
Defending The Whigs
Just at this moment, a violent struggle was in progress between the Whigs and the Tories. Jealousy of William's Dutch favourites, of the King's attachment to his native country, and the prospect of England's being involved in foreign war for the sake of that country, had inflamed the popular feeling to such an extent as to give the Tories, then in opposition, an admirable opportunity for attack upon the Whig ministers. In February 1701/0 an election had given the Tories a decisive majority in the Commons. A violent attack upon William's Partition Treaty followed, and an impeachment was resolved upon against Lord Somers, the Earl of Portland, the Earl of Orfard, and Lord Halifax. They were the statesmen of the Whig party who stood highest in character, in ability, and in personal attachment to the King: and the blow struck at them was in reality aimed at William, and was inspired by not a little Jaco bite intent. The situation was now at its worst, and none could foretell to what extravagances party rancour might proceed. At this juncture Swift arrived. His first direct intervention in political strife was as the anonymous author of a tract, On the Dissensions at Athens and Rome, which drew a parallel between the existing state of things and some of the violent outbursts by which the Athenians and the Romans made wreck of their liberties.
The Tory triumph was short-lived. The acknowledgment of the Pretender by Louis XIV roused all the Anti-Catholic fervour of the nation. William found himself once more hailed as the Saviour of the People. He could safely appeal to the polling booths: and a new election in November 1701, made that party triumphant whose leaders Swift had likened to the loftiest characters in Athenian and Roman history. His authorship, at first doubtful, and then, it would appear, generally recognised, secured for Swift friends of power in the dominant faction, and he might reasonably have cherished the hope of rapid and secure advancement.
Swift returned to his home in Ireland in the autumn of 1701 and it marks his sense that Ireland was, for some years at least, to be his permanent abiding-place, that, by his persuasion, Esther Johnson, and her companion, Rebecca Dingley, came over to Ireland to reside in his neighbourhood, and to continue that bond of untiring and unselfish affection which was to link the name of Stella for ever with that of Swift, in a tie that was not less close than it was mysterious.
The church and vicarage of Laracor, which now became Swift's home, were situated about a mile and a half from the prosperous town of Trim, in West Meath. There was little in the neighbourhood to attract Swift, and his congregation numbered only about half-a-score 'most gentle and all simple,' as he has himself described them. The great majority of the humbler classes were Roman Catholics, but Swift felt no such bitter feelings, against them as the Presbyterians about Kilroot, aggressive in the confidence of Whig support, had inspired in him. A few friends, such as Dr. Raymond of Trim, formed, with Esther Johnson and her companion, his circle of acquaintance. He busied himself with improvements in his garden and his fish canal— which perhaps recalled to him the associations of Moor Park: but the scene was scarcely such as could afford employment to a temperament like his. He was back in England on another visit in the spring of 1702, to find that, with the accession of Queen Anne, the Tories had recovered power. Interest therefore combined with Swift's own inclinations to make him sit lightly towards his short-lived alliance with the Whigs. The Whigs had offended him by their scarcely concealed opposition to the Church claims; the Tories satisfied him by their abundant concessions to these claims, which Swift felt it part of his duty as a clergyman at all times to maintain. There was not, indeed, as yet, any formal breach between him and the Whig party, who showed him abundance of civility. But Swift speaks bitterly of the excess of party feeling: and such bitterness was with Swift, as it commonly is with other men, symptomatic of a decline in party allegiance.
The Tale Of A Tub
It was during a visit to London, in 1704, that Swift gave to the public a volume containing not only the Battle of the Books, which had already been handed about amongst Temple's friends, but another work destined to make a greater mark in literature and to have a greater influence upon his own future — the Tale of a Tub. It was the first work in which Swift's genius had full play, and in which the enormous sweep of his satire is conspicuous. This is not the place for a minute description of the book: but it is enough for the biographer of Swift to point out that the allegory of the three brothers, who typify the three modern forms of Christianity, forms a small part of the whole. The satire is really directed against the foibles of humanity as a whole— foibles which reappear in each new age and under various guises, and which make pride ridiculous even at the moment when it is most convinced of its own superiority to the weakness which it readily detects in others. It shows in perfection Swift's marvellous power of sustained satire, overwhelming in its contempt at once the more obvious follies and the wit that would fain despise these follies. Those who aspire to fame, and those who are its arbiters; those who miss and those who attain it; the dull and the stupid, as well as the Witwoulds who look down upon them; the sceptics and the fanatics— all are alike brought to the bar of judgment, and dismissed with a sentence whose severity is merged in its scathing contempt— even as in his own verses on the Day of Judgment, Swift pictures Jove as dismissing the crowd of sinners from the judgment-seat, with a sneer at the absurdity which could suppose that Jove would trouble himself to damn such a sorry crowd.
The Tale of a Tub, which appeared in 1704, could scarcely fail to attract attention; and Swift soon found that his audience was a large one. The wider range of the satire could scarcely, in any age, attract popular attention. But it is one of the peculiarities of Swift's satire that its more obvious points have made it popular even with those who could scarcely be expected to grasp its whole meaning. So it is that the Travels of Gulliver — the bitterest satire ever penned upon human nature— has become the companion of children in every succeeding age: and so, in 1704, those who were blind to the deeper allusions and the more savage cynicism of the Tale of a Tub, were attracted by the more salient and obvious parallels which he drew. The story of Peter, Martin and Jack, is droll enough in itself, but poor when it is compared with the digressions: yet it attracted a popular audience and became current in the mouths of men. Unfortunately for Swift, it was just the part of his work which was most calculated to give offence. Those who saw the most solemn truths of religion treated as a jest, were not likely to have their regard for Swift as a clergyman increased, and Swift's worldly prospects suffered from the belief in his authorship which soon became widely spread. It was a part of that trait in Swift's character— his strange callousness to the feelings of other men— that led him here to offend, almost unconsciously, the deepest religious feeling, just as it allowed him, in another sphere, to stain his works with a coarseness, which is all the more noisome because it is absolutely apathetic.
The book, appeared anonymously, and in some quarters the authorship was held as doubtful. But such doubts did not prevail very long, or very widely, and their renewal in later years, by Dr. Johnson in a casual conversation, serves rather as an instance of literary paradox than as an expression of deliberate judgment. It is clear that very soon after its publication, Swift was credited with the book, and its authorship, according to a very probable story, injured his prospects of promotion in the Church. Swift was always indignant at the charge of irreverence brought against him. He was probably unconscious of the offence contained in that part of his book which had drawn the charge upon him: but, be that as it may, he no doubt hesitated to put forward too decisively his claims to the authorship of a work which had acquired such a reputation.
Meanwhile, in the political world, changes were going on which were destined greatly to affect Swift's relations to the Whig party. Toryism was losing its influence: the Government, under the influence of Godolphin and Marlborough, was gradually becoming more Whiggish in character. In England the Tories had failed to carry the Bill against Occasional Conformity, which was intended to increase the influence of the Church; in Ireland, the Whig influence was dominant, and there also the Church was made to suffer. The Ministry were strengthened by the renown of Marlborough's victories, and the new election of 1705 gave them a strong majority. But the struggle between the two parties turned now chiefly on those privileges of the Church of which Swift was a consistent defender.
Previous ties, and the uncertainty of the future, might prevent him for the time from breaking his party connexion: but undoubtedly by this time the elements of a breach were present. As yet, however, there was no such alienation as rendered Swift's intercourse with his Whig friends impossible: he was on terms of the closest intimacy with Addison and Congreve, and the advice of the former was frequently followed in those lighter pieces, such as the poem of Baucis and Philemon, which now came from his pen. No man had less of the irritable vanity of authorship, which resents criticism, than Swift.
As the Ministry became more strong, their Whig leanings became more pronounced, and their attitude of hostility to the High Church party was more declared. In 1707, the Earl of Pembroke, whose attitude is most clearly shown by the fact that he was the patron of Locke, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; and though Swift remained on friendly terms with the Castle, he must have been offended by the policy which promised the abolition of tests because they were irksome to the Presbyterians. At the close of the same year, Swift went to England on a mission to secure certain pecuniary benefits to his Church: but however civilly he was received, he found that the mission advanced little under the auspices of a Whig government. His irritation was increased by his failure to secure the appointment of the Bishopric of Waterford; and Swift, however magnanimous in his surrender of literary fame, was almost morbidly bitter on the subject of his own neglect in the way of ecclesiastical preferment.
Just as his personal grounds for irritation were strongest, the Whig attitude of the Government became more pronounced. The alarm of an invasion on behalf of the Pretender enabled them to cast off all disguise. The Ministry was purged of Tories; and in the shuffle of offices, Lord Wharton, whose principles were notoriously adverse to the Church, and whose character was that of a professed libertine, was appointed to succeed Pembroke as Governor of Ireland. That the Test was to be abolished was sufficiently distasteful to Swift, but that this was to be accomplished by one whose life was openly scan dalous, increased his wrath.
In December, 1708, he wrote the Letter on the Sacramental Test, which really amounted to a declaration of war against the Whigs. It is the first of those tracts in which Swift's skill in political controversy was fully displayed. There are three other tracts, belonging to the same period in his life, which all show the same attitude of anger towards that complacent and superficial latitudinarianism which he now identified with the Whigs and with their ecclesiastical allies. These are the Argument against Abolishing Christianity, the Project for the Advancement of Religion, and the Sentiments of a Church of England Man.
It was at this juncture in Swift's life that the Government, whose supremacy was already a good deal shaken by the tediousness of a war that seemed to be pursued much more for the interests of the Allies than for that of England, gave an advantage to their opponents by a signal act of folly. Dr. Sacheverell, of St. Saviour's, Southwark, who had already obtained a certain notoriety as a preacher of somewhat tawdry eloquence, delivered a sermon on the 15th of November, 1709, before the Lord Mayor, in which he reflected, in no obscure terms, upon the Ministry, and especially upon Godolphin. He boldly attacked them as insidious foes of the Church, and called upon the nation to rally to its defence. The ferment which the sermon created, when printed, would soon have been forgotten had not the Ministers determined to give Sacheverell the gratuitous advertisement of prosecution. His trial became the centre of all interest: and the preacher became the object of an adulation which he certainly in no way merited, but which served as a rallying-point for all the friends of the Church. Marlborough's ambition, and his wife's overweening pride, had alienated the Queen, and her feelings now coincided with the change in the attitude of the populace. In despair of any other policy, the Ministers became still more eager in prosecuting the war, and more decided in resisting any overtures for peace. Swift returned to England in September, 1710, to find that Godolphin was dismissed and Parliament on the eve of dissolution, and that the staunch Tory, Robert Harley, was named Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Tories In Power
At first the Whigs, as he says himself, were 'ravished to see him', and received him with every appearance of civility. But Swift valued little these professions of 'declining courtiers.' The Tories were making overtures; 'he could make his fortune,' as they hinted, 'if he pleased': 'but,' he adds, 'I do not understand them— or rather— I do understand them'. Conviction, interest, and personal irritation all moved him one way: and that way was soon chosen. On the 4th of October, 1710, he was 'brought privately to Mr. Harley, who received him with the greatest respect and kindness imaginable.' Swift was not impervious to the flattery of men in high station, however much his real inferiors: and at this interview the die was cast. Swift entered upon his task as the chief defender of the Queen's new Ministers.
The change involved no surrender of principle. Swift's early associations had led him naturally towards the Whigs: but his temperament never allowed him to have any close sympathy with them. His Irish experience had developed the lack of sympathy into positive dislike. The neglect of his petition on behalf of the Irish Church gave him ground for umbrage, and personal ingratitude, or what he deemed to be such, had embittered this feeling. Accidental circumstances brought to Swift, at this moment, a tempting opportunity for change: and he responded to the overtures of Harley with no thought that any sacrifice of conscience or of independence was involved therein.
He was speedily plunged deep in the business of defence. The Ministry, as he himself expressed it, 'stood upon a narrow isthmus.' They were attacked with natural rancour by the Whigs: but the tide of Tory feeling, exaggerated in its strength, was in itself an equal danger. It might easily carry them upon quicksands where they would be wrecked. Swift had, therefore, not only to meet the attacks of the defeated foe, but to moderate the enthusiasm of unwise adherents. He saw the chief hope of the Ministry to lie in the formation of a national party, midway between extremes, and appealing to the broad sympathies of the people. The Church and her defence was to be a rallying cry: but this was to be strengthened by the protection of national welfare, by the encouragement of the landed interest, and by consistent opposition to the monied class which was thriving on the national debt, and which Swift represented as rejoicing in the continuance of a war which it was England's best policy to bring to a close. He maintained the fight in the pages of the Examiner, a paper to which he continued to write from November, 1710, to June of the next year. During that period the paper became the chief political organ of the day. The successful fight which Swift maintained tided the Ministry over the critical period when they were still new to power: and the gratitude due to such a defender made Swift the chosen intimate and confidential adviser of Harley, St. John, and the Lord Chancellor, Harcourt.
Accident confirmed the success which Swift's pen had done so much to secure. A foreign adventurer, named Guiscard, who had intrigued alternately with French and English, and whose profligate life had brought him into some contact with St. John, had obtained, through the influence of the new Secretary of State, a pension from the Crown. It was insufficient, however, to extricate him from overwhelming money difficulties: and, beginning again his course of political intrigue, he was arrested on a suspicion of treason. Driven to frenzy, the poor wretch, during his examination before the Privy Council, attacked and wounded Harley. The wound and its consequences to Harley's health were sufficiently serious to produce an illness of some duration: and although the incident had no possible political bearing, it was enough to increase Harley's popularity, and to establish more securely that success which the Ministry had, by Swift's help, already attained. It bound Swift to Harley by the new tie of solicitude for one by whom he had been kindly treated and for whom he had done much: and Swift became even more closely identified with the Ministry than he had hitherto been.
Harley 'had grown,' as Swift puts it, 'by persecutions, turnings out, and stabbings: His influence was now, to all appearance, supreme: he was created Earl of Oxford, and immediately afterwards was named Lord Treasurer. His powers as a statesman were very limited, and scarcely extended beyond the art of political intrigue and the adroit management of party. He was hesitating in action, and confused in thought: but Swift valued him partly from his personal kindness to himself, and partly as the opponent of those against whom he was now feeling the utmost bitterness. Often as he was forced to chafe at lost opportunities, and at the intrusion of petty motives into great affairs, Swift never visited upon his patron, either in word or in action, the provocation he felt.
It is hard to say whether the world has gained or lost more by Swift's engrossment, during three or four years, in the conduct of affairs. Undoubtedly it prevented the exercise of his genius in its most characteristic employment: and none of his greatest works dates from this time. But on the other hand, it enormously developed his knowledge of the world and of human motives: it sharpened his sarcastic incisiveness and extended his grasp of all forms of human baseness and folly: and it may be doubted whether Gulliver could ever have been written had Swift not for some years stood where he commanded a view, at once comprehensive and minute, into the mechanism of public affairs. It is most certain that the Drapier letters, which have, by their living force, kept alive the memory of an obscure and unimportant episode of Irish politics, would have lost half their raciness had they not been inspired by the sting of party feeling which the experience of these four years of Queen Anne's reign had left rankling in Swift's mind.
Journal To Stella
But in the course of this period, Swift has left one monument, which he would not himself have recognised as of any literary value, but which the world, most assuredly, will never allow to die. This is the journal to Stella: a continuous series of letters in which he depicts, for her who, in all his busy and bustling surroundings, ever occupied the place closest to his heart, the scenes in which he moved. Half the charm of the journal lies in its absolute ease and unconsciousness of effort; in the humour alternately playful and sarcastic, in the pathos and the anger, in the fierce self-assertion which would not conceal itself, in the fidelity which made his genius the willing servant of smaller men who played the part of his patrons— in a word, in all those varying traits which reflect Swift's character so exactly, and which let us see him at once in his pride, and in his tenderness, in his power, and in his weakness. We see him as the confidant of ministers, and the dispenser of patronage: as the frequenter of the Court, and the companion of the great, and, again, as the boon companion of the victors and the vanquished in the world of letters; as the friend of Addison, of Congreve, of Atterbury, of Arbuthnot, of Pope; as the protector of Parnell and others more obscure who had fallen into misfortune: and as the fierce combatant, who enjoyed recounting his triumphs to the one listener, so far removed, for whom all that affected him was the first interest of life.
The struggle which the Ministry were maintaining now turned on one absorbing question, that of Peace or War. The conduct of the war had not only carried on the traditions which the Whigs had received from William III, but had also shed lustre on that party by the victories of Marlborough. But these victories had, of late, been less conspicuous, and it was difficult to see how English interests were any longer involved in maintaining the cause of an aspirant to the Spanish throne whose claims were opposed by the voice of almost all the Spaniards, and whose accession would disturb the balance of power almost as seriously as that of Philip, the member of the Bourbon family whom we had spent so mach treasure and so many lives to keep from a throne to which he was called by preponderating national feeling in the Spanish peninsula. The monied classes appeared to find their advantage in the war, and in the large extension it was giving to the national debt: but the landed classes found no profit to themselves in pursuing a contest in which the interests of our allies seemed to be so much more involved than our own. Much national feeling thus supported the Tory Ministers in their wish to bring to an end a war which was their inheritance from their predecessors, which was troublesome and costly, and the continuance of which would weigh in favour of the Whigs.
Conduct Of The Allies
In the autumn of 1711 there appeared the most important contribution to the controversy which was now dividing the nation, on the subject of Peace or War. This was Swift's Conduct of the Allies. It was the most powerful political tract which he had yet written: and little as it is burdened with facts or statistics, it is clear that Swift had made abundant and careful use of the official documents which had been placed at his command. These gave to the pamphlet much of its strength and telling force: but its chief quality is the unrelenting indignation with which it is inspired, and which is al the more telling from the rapidity with which it was written. Its first note is struck when he appeals from the 'Echo of the London Coffee-house' to the 'Voice of the Nation.! 'We have been principals,' he says, 'when we ought to have been auxiliaries: we have fought where we ought not, and have abstained where our interests were at stake: we have allowed those allies, who charge us with deserting them, to be false to every engagement made with us. We have persevered, until we lie under the burden of fifty millions of debt. We have gained victories, which have brought to us nothing but barren renown, and now we are expiring "of a hundred good symptoms."' The blind prosecution of a war that cost us much, but brought us nothing, he ascribes to the rapacious greed of Marlborough: to the grasping of the monied classes, to the anxiety of the Whig clique to cling to emolument and office. 'We, the Tories, are the faithful steward, resolved to put an end to the thoughtless extravagance of a young heir, whose folly had been encouraged, until now, by venal agents.' The suspicions of a plot in favour of Marlborough, to which popular credence was given, helped Swift in pressing home his points. But the Ministry was weak in the House of Lords; and there very serious opposition had to be met. Swift was almost ready to despair. But Oxford maintained his outward coolness, and events seemed to justify it. The unpopularity of Marlborough increased: and on the 30th of December he was deprived of his appointments. The creation of new peers secured for the Ministers a majority in the House of Lords, and Swift and those whom he supported breathed more freely in the downfall of their most formidable enemy.
The negotiations for peace now proceeded more rapidly; and as the crisis approached, the bitterness of party feeling, in which Swift was deeply involved, continued to increase. Baffled in the struggle, the Whigs sought to prove that the peace was only a convenient cloak for such concessions to France as might bring about a Jacobite restoration. So far as Swift, at least, was concerned, any thought of such a restoration was entirely imaginary: but he repudiated what was untrue so far as he was personally concerned, with too much confidence as regarded some of the Ministers. Whatever change may have come over Swift's party allegiance, he had not lessened by one jot his attachment to the Protestant succession. But Jacobite intentions were certainly not absent from the minds of some amongst his political and literary friends: and Swift's fierce repudiation argues rather his ignorance of some of their designs, than any absolute knowledge that these designs were not cherished.
The Deanery Of St. Patrick's
At length, in April, 1713, the Peace of Utrecht was signed. For the moment all seemed favourable for the Ministry. Swift had borne the burden and heat of the day. Like many men so employed, he found the chief triumph reaped by others, and he had only the somewhat barren satisfaction of being treated with distinction and deference by those whose battle he had fought. He had used his influence in many acts of kindness to struggling brother-authors. In the midst of his hardest and most exciting efforts he had cherished friendships that had sweetened his life: above all he had kept up an unbroken intercourse with the lonely home at Trim, where she who remained closest to his heart was staying. Now that the struggle was over, Swift was anxious to shake off the dust of the turmoil, and return to Stella: and he justly claimed that reward, in the form of clerical promotion, to which he felt that he was entitled. He was growing contemptuous of the empty civilities of ministers; 'more of your lining, and less of your dining,' he grumbles, in the journal. But he found that influences were at work against him, and had prejudiced him in the mind of the Queen. He now pressed for a decision, and threatened his immediate departure for Ireland, if his claims were not met. Some preferments were vacant, and it was clear that, now or never, the Ministers must pay their debt. The vacillation continued for some days: the Lord Treasurer pretended an earnestness which was perhaps not quite sincere, and Swift's vexation almost overcame his attachment to his patron. It was not until the 23rd of April, that the warrant for his appointment to the Deanery of St. Patrick's, which has become inseparably linked with his name, was signed.
It is idle to blame Swift for this imperious claim of ecclesiastical preferment as a reward for his services as political henchman. To set up a severe standard of scrupulosity in such matters is to mistake the whole feeling of the time. Swift, with a delicacy of feeling which in his time was almost singular, had refused to enter the Church as a mere resort for a livelihood. But once he had joined her ranks, pride, as well as self-interest, impelled him to demand a share in such prizes as she had to give. When engaged in the duties of his profession, he performed them with strict fidelity and scrupulous care. In later years he spent time and thought and money in endeavours to raise the position of the poor by whom his deanery was surrounded. His attachment to the Church was thorough and sincere. But he fought for her as a faithful soldier, not as a missionary inspired by pious zeal. He did not look upon his calling as separating him from the ordinary interests and aims of his fellow-men. He neither professed nor felt any overpowering motive of self-sacrifice, or any call to conceive his duties as requiring an abnegation of all but religious motives, which, however respectable when sincere, may sometimes, in more modern days, be assumed with more of conventionality than sincerity.
Swift set out for his new post with no great alacrity. Just before his departure he was exasperated by an ill-tempered and absurd attack made upon him by Steele. The reward which had fallen to him was less than he deemed due to his deserts: and he by no means relished the thought of spending his days in Ireland, when English preferment seemed to be within his grasp. But he had at least the satisfaction of soon knowing that he was sorely missed. The Ministry were again in difficulties. Oxford and Bolingbroke (St. John had now been created Viscount Bolingbroke) had fallen out. The terms of the Treaty of Peace were fiercely assailed in Parliament. The mainstay of the Ministry in the press had been Swift, and without him they were perplexed. Their summons was anxious and eager: 'You must make all possible haste: we want you extremely: So wrote Erasmus Lewis, the faithful official who had supplied the defects of business method and care so marked in Oxford; and Swift, on this entreaty, returned to England in September, just on the eve of an election where the battle of the Ministers and their opponents was to be fought out. The Tories stood upon their loyalty to Church and Crown, upon the blessings of peace, and upon the cheap commodities which their Commercial Treaty had made possible: the Whigs murmured of betrayal to France, burned effigies of the Pope, the, Devil, and the Pretender, recalled the victories of Marlborough, and appealed to the selfishness of the monied class, whose interest in the funds, they asserted, was threatened, so long as the Ministry remained in office. The result gave a large majority to the Tories, and Swift's pen was now brought in to confirm the victory. Steele was the first to feel the edge of his weapon. In order to inflame men's minds against the Ministers, Steele wrote a pamphlet on The Importance of Dunkirk, in which he professed to expose the treachery which had enabled the French king to elude the terms of the Treaty by which he was required to destroy the fortifications of that town. Swift answered in a tract called the Importance of the Guardian, which paid off his scores against Steele: and a reply from Steele, in the Crisis, drew from Swift by far the greatest monument of the fray, in the Public Spirit of the Whigs.
But however Swift might maintain the struggle, the clouds were gathering round the prospect of his friends. The health of the Queen was precarious, and the Ministers seemed to have lost all clear and definite policy. Their dissensions were becoming more and more bitter. Vexed and dispirited, Swift retired, first to Berkshire, and then to Ireland. He was tired to death, so he says, 'of Courts and Ministers'; but what oppressed him was not only the ruin impending over the cause for which he had striven, but also the thought that he was now parting, perhaps for life, from those with whom he had held most pleasant converse. He writes to Arbuthnot, whose wit, humour, and practical philosophy brought him closest to Swift's heart, in a strain of bitter grief. 'Writing to you much would make me stark mad. Judge his condition who has nothing to keep him from being miserable but endeavouring to forget those for whom he has the greatest value, love, and friendship. . . . Adieu, and love me half so well as I do you.'
The Fall Of The Tories
Swift's prognostications of failure were soon realized. The quarrel between Oxford and Bolingbroke became more and more violent: and at length Bolingbroke succeeded in driving his rival from power. His own triumph was short-lived. The Lord Treasurer resigned on the 27th of July, 1714. But on the 1st of August the Queen died, having, with her dying breath, committed the Treasurer's staff to the Duke of Shrewsbury. The hopes of the Tories were shattered at one blow: and with the Hanoverian succession the Whig party entered upon a lease of power that lasted for more than a generation.
With the fall of his friends a crisis in Swift's life was reached. For four years he had been absorbed in party struggles, which had torn him from all the work for which his genius was uniquely fitted. The result had been no satisfaction to himself: he was involved in constant and harassing contentions, which he often despised, and his efforts had brought him little even of outward reward. But, hard as these four years had been, and bitterly as he spoke of the retrospect, they had done much to ripen his genius. His had been a strange experience. With a spirit morbidly gloomy and wayward, and a saturnine humour that spared not even his own deeper feelings or higher aspirations, it was impossible for Swift to pursue one constant aim, or to follow one single path. Powers such as his would certainly have carried him far in worldly success on any chosen career: but the mood and humour that wrapped these powers in their own cloak, and covered them with their own gloom and waywardness, forbade him any such beaten track. Now, having reached middle age, he had passed through successive phases which had indeed ripened his genius by their very variety, but which had also confirmed the waywardness which made that genius work in paths that were not those of other men. Nurtured in dependence he had caught from that hated experience a will that was stubborn even to tyranny. Having employed his earliest thoughts with brooding over metaphysical problems and endeavouring to pierce into the hidden meaning of things, he had thrown this pursuit aside after producing a few involved and amorphous verses, and the memory of these early broodings only gave edge to his satire on the vanity of human speculation, and added a special feature to his humour in that occasional travesty of philosophical thought, which he handles so lightly, but which gives a meaning so deep to the scorn with which he regards all human things. In the Tale of a Tub he had indulged the full exuberance of his genius, but powerful as had been its attraction, the result upon his readers had been that of doubt and wonder and distrust, rather than cordial admiration. He spent no time or thought over measuring his powers or nursing his genius, but threw himself, with the eagerness of one who sought a new outlet, into the troubled waters of politics. His early life with Sir William Temple had given him some insight into affairs: and to take an active and leading part therein seemed to stifle his broodings, and to give that rest which his spirit could find only in constant employment. Angrily as he viewed these later years, when he looked back upon the fruitlessness of his efforts, it may be doubted whether for Swift himself they were not the happiest of his life. The rush of business; the sense of influence; the excitement of constant intercourse with men who, for good or ill, were making history; the ardour of the fight; and, perhaps more than all, the close and intimate meetings with those whose genius he felt most akin to his own, such as Arbuthnot and Pope— all these made Swift less morbid during these years than at any period of his life. We may grudge the time stolen from the special exercise of gifts which are unique in all our literature: we may doubt the wisdom of the part Swift played, or we may differ from the judgment which he formed upon the affairs of the time. But we cannot deny that his experience then not only developed a new side of a genius whose variety has been rarely equalled, but also contributed some brightness to a life which was for the most part steeped in gloom.
Swift And Ireland
Henceforward Swift's home was Ireland: and where he did not take all humanity for his theme, it was in the affairs of Ireland that he found material for his pen. From the first he looked forward to this banishment— for such it was to his mind — as in all probability permanent. The prospect plunged him in deep gloom, and the reception with which he met did not tend to lighten that gloom. He was suspected, as all those are apt to be who were the close adherents of a fallen ministry. In Ireland the Whigs had a strong body of followers: and these were ready to involve Swift in the charge of Jacobitism which was now brought against the members of Queen Anne's last ministry. He was made the mark for all sorts of ribaldry and insult, and found few sympathisers in his bitter opposition to the new administration. But as time went on the prospect became brighter: Swift's interests were again aroused: and, above all, the action of the Government drove many to sympathise with Swift who had before stood aloof from him.
The evils under which Ireland suffered— evils in part economical, but aggravated, if not caused, by centuries of English misgovernment— were now becoming ever more and more acute. With her landlords absent, spending their rents in England, and grinding their tenants through merciless agents; with her offices filled, so far as the drawing of emoluments was concerned, by absentees; with her commerce crippled by unjust restrictions imposed by the English Parliament; torn by religious divisions which separated the nation into the hostile camps of the persecuted Roman Catholics who hated the dominant Church, and of an Established Church which was forced to wear a political livery; — with masses of her population sunk in depths of poverty that were seed-beds of crime— Ireland presented a picture of misery and misgovernment that gave point to the denunciations of all who sought to attack the English administration. Hatred of the Whigs was undoubtedly Swift's first motive for becoming the champion of Ireland. But the conduct of the Whigs soon made the part of the Irish patriot coincide exactly with that of the bitter opponent of the Whig ministry: and it gave union and compactness to parties which before had been separated and suspicious of one another. It was in 1720 that this united Irish party was first formed, not as a political organisation, but under the stress of indignation which the wrongs inflicted by England had produced. Swift's first contribution to the battle for Irish rights was his pamphlet, A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures. It gave voice to the bitter feeling of the hardship done to Ireland by the unjust restrictions placed on her commerce by English greed and selfishness. As a means of reprisal Swift proposes to refuse anything that comes from England. Every product of England is to be burned when it reaches Ireland, except her people and her coals. On this theme he enlarges with a concentrated strength of sarcasm and invective that transcends all his previous political pamphlets. Swift was not now writing as the spokesman of a triumphant party, but was giving voice to the wrongs of the country where he had found refuge as a banished and denounced man. The bitterness of personal feeling was added to the keenness of the political partisan: and the indignation inherent in Swift against all forms of oppression gave additional force to his pen.
The Whig Government were unaccustomed to such vigour from a country where habit had made them think their influence to be invulnerable; and they were foolish enough to strike at the author through the printer of the tract. The Chief Justice Whiteshed, an obedient Whig partisan, presided when the bill was presented against the printer: and when the Grand jury hesitated to find a true bill, he overcame their scruples. At the trial the jury refused to convict, and even Whiteshed's bullying failed to conquer their stubbornness. The Government attempted to renew the prosecution, but were at length compelled to desist.
The Drapier Letters
Swift had now entered on a new chapter in his life, and found a work which revived his powers, and for a time dispelled his gloom. He became the centre of an Irish party— if that may rightly be called so, which really was a party formed by those Englishmen who had permanent settlements in Ireland, as against those who knew, or were interested in, her solely as the source of their own salaries, or as a means of increasing the influence of their own party by favour or by patronage dispensed at her cost. But that party soon became stronger, and acquired popular support, even from those lower classes amongst whom it roused the instinct of national feeling, little as they were concerned with the struggles of English faction. The opportunity was given by the folly and corruption of the English Government. A patent for the issue of a copper coinage was given to one William Wood, in 1722. Its extent and conditions were not justified by anything in the state of Irish currency, and it was accompanied by every circumstance which could kindle national prejudice against it. Wood was to make a large profit: and besides all the usual blackmail levied by the officials of the day, a bribe of no less than £10,000 was to be paid by him to the King's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal. Neither the Lord Lieutenant, nor the Irish Privy Council, nor the Irish Parliament, was consulted on the subject; and an outburst of popular indignation made inquiry necessary. While this was being conducted with what was only a show of business, Swift made himself the mouthpiece of the popular anger. In the character of M. B. Drapier, a shopman of Dublin, he published a letter to the Irish people, magnifying the scandal of the transaction, and picturing its probable results: and boldly calling on them to resist a stretch of the prerogative in which the King's name was only used by those who were as false to his service as they were indifferent to the rights of Ireland. A second and a third letter followed, making an even more vigorous claim for Irish independence: and in 1724, he addressed 'To the Whole People of Ireland' a fourth letter, which called on Ireland to wrench her independence from the hands of a government rotten with corruption. The fiction of a 'depending kingdom' must be cast aside. With Wood's patent must also disappear the whole system of deception, and dishonesty, and callous indifference to the wishes or the welfare of Ireland, of which the Patent granted to Wood was only one trifling example. Wood was almost forgotten in the fury of Swift's attack upon the English Government and all that it represented.
The nation was now stirred to its depths, and what had at first been an agitation of a small clique of English origin, was swelled into a popular revolt against the whole theory of Ireland's position upon which the Whig Government seemed resolved to proceed. It shows the enormous power of Swift's satire, that he, English himself by all but the accident of his place of birth, hating Ireland and longing to quit her shores, the adherent of a Church which was that of a trifling minority, and speaking for a small (although influential) class, gathered to his side the whole national instinct of the Irish mob, Catholic as well as Protestant, and inspired in the English Government so much dread of armed rebellion, that they felt themselves compelled once more to proceed against his printer. But again Whiteshed's attempts to serve the cause of his masters were foiled. The bill was thrown out; the city celebrated the triumph of their hero: he who had been a few years before received in Dublin with jeers and insults, became the object of unquestioning worship. The Government found themselves defeated and discredited. Wood's half-pence were withdrawn: the prosecution was abandoned: and the retreat was arranged with as little loss of dignity as might be. Walpole, however, though defeated for the moment, abandoned none of his plans. The government of Ireland was still to be in the hands of his most obedient partisans. All was to be arranged with the sole end of promoting English influence. The Church was to be made the tool and sign of subjection. Its rivals were to be encouraged, in order that it might attain no dangerous influence in the nation. The very notion of the independency of the kingdom, which had shewn such threatening power of asserting itself, was to be steadily and surely undermined. For this purpose Dr. Hugh Boulter, the Bishop of Bristol, was made Primate of Ireland: and for nineteen years — covering more than all the years of Swift's active work — this obedient henchman of Walpole exercised all his ingenuity and his industry in promoting the influence of English agents, and in killing at the root that spirit which Swift had galvanized into a momentary show of energy.
But Swift, before this Irish struggle closed, was turning his thoughts to England. He had now composed the larger portion of his next great work: and he was longing to share in the literary projects of such friends as Pope, Bolingbroke, Gay, and Arbuthnot. In March, 1726, he returned to the old circle. Bolingbroke was back from his banishment: Pope was at the height of his fame, and just about to issue the Dunciad: Gay was meditating the Beggar's Opera: and Arbuthnot was scheming the plan of a joint and wide-reaching satire which was to be published under the name of Scriblerus. Swift's spirits revived with the welcome which greeted him. He was soon engaged with all the literary projects of his friends: and Gulliver's Travels, over which he had spent some of the years of his banishment, was prepared for publication. His visit lasted but a short time: he left in August of the same year: and in November, Gulliver appeared. In its range the widest of all his works, in its humour one of the most playful, and in its deeper points of satire the most profoundly melancholy, it represents Swift at the height of his power and in the plenitude of his experience. It was greeted by such a burst of applause as had attended no other of Swift's works, and the misgivings which he had felt as to the continuance of his powers were quickly dispelled. But old age and ill-health were creeping upon him. He had found little satisfaction in any renewal of his old relation with English politics. Fears of increasing illness and of mental failure could not be dispelled, and were deepening his constitutional melancholy. The health of Stella was causing him acute anxiety: and he felt himself unfit for the old intercourse with the wits, that had been so full of zest for him before. He returned once more to England in April, 1727: and in September of that year he quitted her shores for the last time, and finally settled in that country which was his by birth, for whose rights he did such yeoman service, but whose soil he continued to the end to hate so bitterly. To him Ireland was ever a place of banishment: and to end his days there was 'to die like a poisoned rat in a hole.'
The remaining facts of Swift's life are easily given in outline. His return to Ireland was soon followed by the death of Stella, which cut off the chief source of comfort to his life. Henceforward the decline in the interests and ties that bound him to the world was rapid. He interfered no further in English politics, except to send occasional words of sympathy to the leaders of opposition, and to greet the rising star of Pulteney, who was Walpole's chief opponent, as one 'who had preserved the spirit of liberty,' and 'had resisted the corruption of politics.' But in Ireland, broken as he was, he occupied a position that was unique, and that might well have satisfied his pride. He was the acknowledged leader of a party that might fairly claim to be national, although it had originated in the discontent felt by a comparatively small class, against a class that was still smaller. He continued to publish pamphlets on the wrongs of Ireland: and while others were probing her ills, and discussing remedies, Swift gave the impulse to national feeling, and kept its bitterness alive against the little English garrison commanded by Archbishop Boulter. His pamphlets on the state of Ireland culminated in that most widely known tract, A modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from being a burden to their Parents in the Country, which, in its concentrated humour, cynicism, and pity, is singularly characteristic of Swift. He found time and strength also for some vigorous blows on behalf of his Church: and it was in 1736, while he was engaged on a poem satirising the Irish Parliament (which had interfered with her privileges) under the name of the 'Legion Club,' that his illness, in its final and most crushing form, overtook him. A few years more of almost unbroken gloom were left to Swift: but his state at last fell into one of utter helplessness and isolation, interrupted by fits of frenzy and, violence, and by attacks of terrible agony of pain. Finally he sank into absolute mental apathy: and death released him only on the 19th of October, 1745.
We have thus glanced at the chief phases of Swift's life: his early days of penury and dependence: his service with Sir William Temple, leading him, as his position in the household advanced, into close contact with great affairs. We have seen him in early days with powers undiscovered and uncontrolled, devoting himself to a species of poetry as obscure in thought as it was involved in expression. His earliest success as a writer was obtained while he was a member of the Whig party: but that party offended him by neglect of his Church, and he plunged into the vortex of political controversy as the avowed and trusty ally of the Tory Government. On the fall of that Government he retired to the Deanery, which had been given him as the reward for his political service: and arriving in Ireland as a discredited partisan, he soon recovered his position, and became the idol of the people, and the undisputed leader of a national party. He returned to the company of his old literary associates for two short visits, and during these he produced the most sweeping of his satires, in the Travels of Gulliver: and finally his life closed in Ireland, where he was looked upon as the foremost assertor of her wrongs. He had in his time played many parts. The fierce controversialist, the merciless satirist, the gloomy cynic, had another side to his character, which has given it an undying interest in the dramatic contrast of light and shade. To his friends he was a centre of attraction. The fierce anger of the fight could always be laid aside for the light playfulness of humour, and for the warmth of a sympathetic affection. Lonely, disappointed, weighed down by his consuming scorn for much that he saw around him, he yet clung to the love of his friends, and was almost blind to their faults. Chiefly under the influence of a self-torturing cynicism, he had darkened his own life by involving his chief affection in mystery; but to two women he had nevertheless been the very centre of their life, and to one of these he was bound by a tie of old and faithful affection which was broken only by death. Over Hester Vanhomrigh, as over Esther Johnson, he had gained an overpowering influence as guide, philosopher, and friend. But while Vanessa, as he playfully called the former, unwilling to efface herself, and mistaking their relations, became the object of Swift's anger and contempt, so Stella, accepting the mysterious limits placed upon their union by Swift, and content to live only for what love he had to give her, earned his profound respect and friendship, and by her death left him a lonely and comfortless man. His relations to his literary and political friends were the more close and cordial, because he had himself so little of those small jealousies that are apt to pervade such circles. He could bear with the petty vanity of Pope; he clung to Addison in spite of party differences; encouraged the helplessness of Gay; and condoned the ostentation and insincerity that marred the brilliancy of Bolingbroke. Imperious in his attitude towards his fellow-men, disdainful of human foibles, he yet forgot his harshness and his scorn in his love of those who were his chosen friends.
In Swift's attitude towards religion there is much that is characteristic of his age, but not a little that is peculiar to himself. In his hatred of avowed scepticism, in his intolerance of all that would lessen the influence of the established religion as a system of police, in his angry repudiation of all charges of freethinking, Swift was partly true to his own conviction, but partly also reflected what was one of the chief traits of the religious apathy of his time. In some respects his position, in this regard, is not very different from that assumed by those whom posterity has justly agreed to reckon as typical free thinkers— by Bolingbroke, by Pope, by Chesterfield. But Swift did not accompany it, as they did, by a dallying with tenets subversive of the fundamental positions of Christianity. The notion of his duty, as a faithful servant of his own Church, doubtless helped to maintain Swift's rigid adherence to her principles, and his conviction of the social dangers of scepticism gave sincerity to his defence of these principles: but the real motive of his refusal to admit any tampering with accepted religious tenets lay much deeper, and had its foundation in his contempt for his fellow-creatures. The narrow range of human knowledge, the scanty power of discerning truth, the slight influence which truth ever had in determining human action, or in withstanding human passions,— all these made him treat religious speculation as a species of morbid vanity, and made him find in accepted dogma, if not the real key to the problems of life, at least one which might serve the sorry crew, who were eager for any new or schismatical doctrine, as a means of satisfying their whims or flattering their self-conceit. The weapon of Swift's orthodoxy is always ridicule, never exhortation. Because the religion of our fathers is not good enough for the fools of to-day, are we to change every year or month, to suit each new caprice? This is, in effect, his argument against any scheme of 'Comprehension,' the watchword so dear to the latitudinarians of his day. But while in certain aspects this contemptuous and impatient dogmatism, which scorned even to listen to doubts or to waste time on speculation, brought Swift near to the affected and formal orthodoxy of those whom I have named, yet there was another side, on which his religious feeling was far different from theirs. It had the sincerity of a mind, earnest alike in its hatreds, its loves, its sympathies, and its gloom. Only on rare occasions does he suffer it to be seen; and when, in his own life's experience, he seems to turn to it, it is as to something which brought him no soothing or gentle influence, but rather a spirit of deepened melancholy, and a stronger sense of the mysterious sadness of that 'ridiculous tragedy,' to which he was accustomed to compare human life.
And something of this many-sidedness, and of these vivid contrasts, in personal character, appears also in the literary genius of Swift. As a literary artist, he is consummate in his skill: yet no man probably ever attended less to rules of art. His charm chiefly lies in the absolute ease with which he could create by words the very mood — humorous or grave, gay or cynical, profoundly misanthropic or playful and tender— in which he desired to place his reader. By some of the most competent of critics, his prose has been held to be the perfection of English style; not certainly because of its finish or elaboration; not because it is without inaccuracy and minor incorrectness; but because it is so absolutely clear and direct, and moves with such perfection of unstudied and inimitable ease. His works occupy a place altogether unique in our own, or any other literature. They fall into line with no one order of creative genius. But their chief literary interest lies in this, that whatever the subject of which they treat, whatever the special manner of that treatment, they all show that highest power of genius as applied to literary creation, which makes written language the absolute slave of the thought and mood that have to be conveyed, reflecting their slightest variation, and repeating, without apparent effort, the most subtle of their passing phases. To the student of literature, the gradual development of his genius, from his obscure and uncouth Pindarics, to the resistless flow of his Legion Club, and from the somewhat stilted periods of the Dissensions at Athens and Rome, to the unstudied simplicity of Gulliver, will afford, at each turn, new subject of interest, and new illustrations of the matchless power over words which Swift, in his maturity, attained.
In the following selections, therefore, the object has been not to exclude any characteristic phase of Swift's style. If we are to appreciate Swift, it is impossible to confine ourselves to those works which mark his genius at its highest, and the later ease of his style, or which deal with subjects of most enduring interest. We must see from what that ease and flexibility, which became his characteristics, gradually emerged: we must watch him in his most careless mood, and we must observe how his genius has preserved a living interest for pamphlets of which the occasion is forgotten and uncared for. In the introductory prefaces, it is hoped that enough information is given to place the student in possession of the outlines of the subject of which each work treats, and the circumstances in which it was composed. In the notes, it has been my aim to supply some of that necessary commentary which has scarcely yet been attempted in any edition of Swift. The absence of such a commentary has certainly marred the common appreciation of his genius. Men have learned a few typical phrases from his works; they have been attracted by the more obvious bursts of satire; they have singled out the passages which appeal to all time. But they have failed to follow the course of the satire line by line; to trace its movement and advance; and to identify the special reference, to some now-forgotten incident, which gives to it appropriateness and force. So far as the specimens here given are concerned, I have sought to make their more careful reading possible to the student who may not have time or opportunity to trace such allusions for himself.