"In every Garden four things are necessary to be provided for, Flowers, Fruit, Shade and Water, and whoever lays out a Garden without all these must not pretend it any perfection. The best figure of a Garden is either a Square or an Oblong, and either upon a Flat or a Descent; they have all their beauties, but the best I esteem an Oblong upon a Descent."
Thus Sir William Temple planned his garden at Moor Park, in Surrey, when he decided to retire from public life, and up and down that sloping Oblong we can see him pace with the charming wife whose letters, written when she was Dorothy Osborne, are among the most delightful we possess. As they sat in their Grove they had much to talk about. Dorothy could proudly recall that her father, the Governor of Guernsey, had gallantly held Castle Corbet for King Charles for years during the Civil War. Then there were the days of their courtship, when Temple's comparative poverty stood in the way and Dorothy's determination carried the day. Then came the successive stages of Temple's distinguished career, his successful efforts to form the Triple Alliance, and his arranging of the marriage of 'William and Mary.
As they thus in their quiet retreat recalled these busy years, a little girl, with jet-black hair, regular features, and eyes full of intelligence, played near them among the grass plots bordered with flowers which Sir William had so carefully planned. She was Esther Johnson, an orphan ward of Temple. The child was quick and eager to learn, and now that she was eight years old her guardian proposed that she should have lessons from a young Irishman named Jonathan Swift, whom Temple had engaged as his Secretary.
What did they all think of the tall, raw-boned student when he arrived? He was both shy and proud, at meals no adept with the two-pronged fork which had become common in polite society, and it was not easy to know how to treat one who was always on the defensive and whose large blue eyes could so quickly flash in anger.
From childhood young Swift had had a grievance against fate. It angered him to remember that he had been born in Ireland when his ancestors were all of English stock. It angered him to think that owing to his father's death he was cast on the charity of an uncle. It angered him when that uncle, after giving him a good education at Kilkenny School, could or would do no more. It angered him that for want of something better, he was forced to accept the offer of Temple, to whom he was distantly related.
All through his life Swift was conscious of great and baffled powers, and he had not been long in Temple's house before he discovered that his employer, although courtly and well-read, had far less depth and originality than he. Chafing under bondage, he threw up his situation three times and three times he came back and resumed his work at Moor Park. He hated to be dependent on any man, and often, rushing out, he tried to work off his ill-humour in long walks over the Surrey hills, in rowing, and in riding.
He found time for study on his own account. Temple was interested in the rival claims of classic and modern learning, and his young secretary published his own views in The Battle of the Books. At Moor Park too he wrote The Tale of a Tub.
But his happiest hours were spent in teaching little Esther Johnson. Long years after he recalled the blossoming of her bright intelligence and her growth in grace and beauty. When Temple died and the household was broken up, Esther, or Stella, as Swift called her, was eighteen and he was thirty-two.
During these years he had qualified to enter the Church, but preferment was slow, and all that came to satisfy his ambition was the small living of Larocar near Dublin. The population was so sparse that an average congregation numbered fifteen, and on one occasion, when it numbered one, he began the service with the words, "Dearly beloved Roger, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places".
But he grew fond of Larocar, improved the living, and laid out the little garden in imitation of that at Moor Park. His few duties left him with much leisure, and he stayed often in Dublin where Stella was now living with a companion named Mrs. Dingley.
London drew him like a magnet. His fingers itched to handle the reins of power, and at last the moment came. His chief patron, Harley, won the Queen's favour, and Swift mounted with his friend. For almost three years he was constantly in London, and we have glimpses of him in letters of the period which show him in a position of influence. They depict him bustling about, promising a post to this man and a pension to that, enlisting subscribers for young Mr. Pope's Homer, and trying to protect Addison when the Whigs went out of office, dining every Saturday with Harley and every Sunday with Bolingbroke, and all the time wondering when a permanent position in the Church was to come his way.
But when the Irish mail day came he was always to be seen hurrying down to the St. James's Coffee-house, and anxiously scanning the glass-covered case behind which lay the letters just arrived. Sometimes there was one for him, and he eagerly pocketed it and strode homewards. Sometimes there was none, and everyone who met him wondered why his fierce eyebrows were drawn so frowningly over his disappointed eyes. What happened next can best be described in the words of Mr. Austin Dobson, who has studied the eighteenth century until he knows it like his own.
"A dim light was burning in the back room of a first floor in Bury Street, St. James. There was no fire-place; but in the adjoining parlour, partly visible through the open door, the last embers were dying in a grate from which the larger pieces of coal had been carefully lifted out and ranged in order on the hobs. Across the heavy high-backed chairs in th~ bedroom lay various neatly-folded garments, one of which was the black gown with pudding sleeves commonly worn in public by the eighteenth-century divine, while at the bottom of the bed hung a clerical-looking periwig. In the bed itself and leaning towards a tall wax candle at his side was a gentleman of forty or thereabouts, writing in a very small hand upon a very large sheet of paper, folded, for greater convenience, into one long horizontal slip.
"He had dark, fierce-looking eyebrows, an aquiline nose, full-lidded and rather prominent blue eyes, a firmly-cut handsome mouth, and a wide massive forehead, the extent of which was, for the moment, abnormally exaggerated by the fact that, in the energy of composition, the fur-lined cap he had substituted for his wig had been slightly tilted backward. As his task proceeded his expression altered from time to time, now growing grave and stern, now inexpressibly soft and tender. Occasionally the look almost passed into a kind of grimace, resembling nothing so much as the imitative motion of the lips which one makes in speaking to a pet bird. He continued writing until, in the distance, the step of the watchman, first pausing deliberately, then coming slowly forward for a few paces, was heard in the street below. 'Past twelve o'clock,' came a wheezy cry at the window. 'Paaaaast twelvvve o'clock,' followed the writer, dragging out the letters so as to reproduce the speaker's drawl. After this, he rapidly set down a string of words in what looked like some unknown tongue, ending off with a trail of seeming hieroglyphics, 'Nite, nown deelest sollahs:Nite dee litt MD, Pdfr's MD. Rove Pdfy, poo Pdfr, MD MD MD FW FW FW LELE LELE LELE LELE michar MD.' Then, tucking his paper under his pillow, he popped out the guttering candle, and turning round upon his side with a smile of exceeding sweetness, settled himself to sleep."
Thus every night Swift wrote up the Journal to Stella. Mrs. Dingley must read the closely-written pages and Mrs. Dingley must write the answers, because Stella's eyes were weak. The Journal was written with no idea that it would ever be published, and the men who watched Swift's proud bearing and heard his scathing comments on all things could never have believed that he could have written that "little language" with its intimate code words.
"Yes faith, and when I write to MD I am happy too; it is just as if methinks you were here and I talk to you and tell you where I have been. Well, says you, come Presto, where have you been to-day, come let's hear now. And then I answer," and on he prattles of the day's happenings and the gossip of court and town.
Sometimes we can guess what Stella has been writing to him about.
"Now Madam Stella, what say you? You ride every day. I know that already, sirrah, and if you ride every day for a twelve month, you would be still better and better. O Madam Stella, welcome home. Was it pleasant riding? Did your horse stumble? How often did the man alight to settle your stirrup? Ride nine miles! Faith, you have galloped indeed."
We shall never know the full story of this famous friendship, nor why Swift did not marry the woman he had loved from childhood. He never spoke of her to his friends. He was staying with Pope at Twickenham when the news reached him that she was dying, and leaving his host abruptly he hastened homeward, only to be delayed by a wild storm which kept the ship for nine days at Holyhead. After his own death, many years later, a lock of Stella's hair was found in an envelope on which he had written the cryptic words "Only a woman's hair."
Thenceforward he lived chiefly in Ireland, where he had been promoted to the Deanery of St. Patrick. His own health, never good, became steadily worse, and his mood is best described in terrible words he wrote to Bolingbroke that he would die "in a cage, like a poisoned rat in a hole".
Yet he had much to console him. His writings in The Guardian had an immense influence on political thought, his advocacy of the Irish in the Drapier's Letters won him great popularity in Ireland, and when, in 1726, he brought out Gulliver's Travels anonymously, it at once took the world by storm.
As a young man Swift had saved money eagerly to gain independence, as an old man he saved it no less eagerly to give away. He lived on a third of his income, he gave away a third, and he saved a third in order to found St. Patrick's Hospital after his death. He laid out the first five hundred pounds he gathered in a loan for respectable tradesmen to be repaid in weekly instalments. He supported a band of indigent old women and gave away all the profits of his writing. This generosity must be placed side by side with the bitter satires and savage comments of a most unhappy man. For the last few years of his life his great intellect was hopelessly clouded. He died in 1745, that strange being who was a generous miser, a tender-hearted despot, the author of Gulliver's Travels and of the Journal to Stella.