Page images

The right hand above it is to be at liberty to do anything upon occasion. Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the utripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places is able at the first view of a man's plaid to guess the place of his residence.

When they travel on foot, the plaid is tied on the breast with a bodkin of bone or wood-just as the spina wore by the Germans, according to the description of c. Tacitus. The plaid is tied round the middle with a leather belt. It is pleated from the belt to the knee very nicely. This dress for foot-men is found much easier and lighter than breeches or trews.

The plaid (for women) being pleated all round, was tied with a belt below the breast; the belt was of leather, and several pieces of silver intermixed with the leather like a chain. The lower end of the belt has a piece of plate about eight inches long and three in breadth, curiously engraven; the end of which was adorned with fine stones or pieces of red coral. They wore sleeves of scarlet cloth, closed at the end as men's vests, with gold lace round 'em, having plate buttons set with fine stones. The head-dress was a fine kerchief of linen strait about the head, hanging down the back taper-wise. A large lock of hair hangs down their cheeks above the breast, the lower end tied with a knot of ribands.

JONATHAN SWIFT. The most powerful and original prose writer of this period was the celebrated Dean of St Patrick's. We have already noticed his poetry, which formed only a sort of interlude in the strangely mingled drama of his life. None of his works were written for mere fare or solitary gratification. His restless and insatiate ambition prompted him to wield his pen as a means of advancing his interests, or expressing his personal feelings, caprices, or resentment. In a letter to Bolingbroke, Swift says: 'All my endeavours, from a boy, to distinguish myself, were only for want of a great title and fortune, that I might be used like a lord by those who have an opinion of my parts -whether right or wrong, it is no great matter; and so the reputation of wit or great learning does the office of a blue ribbon, or of a coach and six horses.' This was but a poor and sordid ambition, and it is surprising that it bore such fruit. The first work of any importance by Swift was a political tract, written in 1701, to vindicate the Whig patriots, Somers, Halifax, and Portland, who had been impeached by the House of Commons.'

The author was then of the ripe age of thirty-four ; for Swift, unlike his friend Pope, came but slowly to the maturity of his powers. The treatise was entitled 'A Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions between the Nobles and Commons of Athens and Rome. It is plainly written, without irony or eloquence. One ser tence—the last in the fourth chapter-closes with a fine simile. “Although,' he says, 'most revolutions of government in Greece and Rome began with the tyranny of the people, yet they generally concluded in that of a single person: so that an usurping populace is its own dupe; a mere underworker, and a purchaser in trust for some single tyrant, whose state and power they advance to their own ruin, with as blind an instinct as those worms that die with weaving magnificent habits for beings of a superior nature to their own.' Swift's next work was his ‘ Battle of the Books, written to support his patron, Sir William

Temple, in his dispute as to the relative merits of ancient and modern learning. The Battle of the Books' exbibits all the characteristics of Swift's style, its personal satire, and strong racy humour. These qualities were further displayed in his 'Tale of a Tub,' written about the same time, and first published in 1704. The object of his powerful satire was here of a higher cast; it was to ridicule the Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, with a view of exalting the High Church of England party, and to expose what he considered to be the corruptions of the Church of Rome and the fanaticism of the Dissenters. He begins in the old story-telling way: ‘Once upon a time there was a man who had three sons. Those sons he names Peter (the Church of Rome), Martin (the Church of England), and Jack (tbe Presbyterians or Protestant Dissenters generally), who was sometimes called Knocking Jack (or John Knox). Their father died while they were young, and upon his death-bed, calling the lads, he spoke to them thus: Sons, because I have purchased no estate nor was born to any, I have long considered of some good legacies to leave you, and at last, with much care, I have provided each of you with a good coat.' Under this homely figure is signified the Christian religion. With good wearing,' he continues, “the coats will last you as long as you live, and will grow in the same proportion as your bodies, lengthening and widening of themselves, so as to be always fit.' They were not to add to or diminish from their coats one thread. After a time, however, they got tired of their plainness, and wished to become gay and fashionable. The father's will (the Bible) was misinterpreted and twisted word by word, and letter by letter, to suit their purpose; shoulder-knots, lace, and embroidery were added to their coats, and the will was at length locked up and utterly disregarded. Peter then lorded it over his brothers, claiming the supremacy, insisting upon being called Father Peter and Lord Peter; a violent rupture ensued, and a series of scenes and adventures are related in which Swift allegorises, as we may say, the most sacred doctrines and the various sects of the Christian religion. It was obvious that this was treading on very dangerous ground. The ludicrous ideas and associations called up by such grotesque fancies, striking analogy, and broad satire in connection with religion, inevitably tended to lower the respect due to revelation, and many persons considered the work to be a covert attack upon Christianity. This opinion was instilled into the mind of Queen Anne. The work established Swist's fame for all time coming, but condemned him to an Irish deanery for life. Whenever a nitre came in sight and seemed within his reach, the witty buffooneries of Lord Peter and his brothers were projected before the queen, and the golden prize was withdrawn.

In 1708 appeared Swift's 'Sentiments of a Church of England Man in Respect to Religion and Government,' his ‘Letters on the Sacramental Test,' • Arguments against the Abolition of Christianity,' and ' Predictions for the year 1708,' by Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. This last brochure had immense popularity. It was a satire on an almanacmaker and astrologer named Partridge. Swift's first prediction related to Partridge. I have consulted,' he said, the star of his nativity, and find he will infallibly die upon the 29th of March next, of a raging fever.' In a subsequent paper, Swift proposed to give an account of the accomplishment of the prediction. Partridge was naturally very indignant. He advertised his existence: ‘Blessed be God, he, John Partridge, was still living and in health, and all were knaves who reported otherwise.' Swift and his friends were ready with replies and rejoinders, and the affair amused the town for a season. Some political tracts followed, the most conspicuous of which are—the · Conduct of the Allies,' published in 1712 (and which had immense influence on public opinion), and the Public Spirit of the Whigs,' in 1714. The latter incensed the Duke of Argyle and other peers so much, that a proclamation offering a reward of £300 was issued for the discovery of the author. In 1713, Swift was rewarded with the deanery of St. Patrick's in Dublin ; and the destruction of all hopes of further preferment followed soon after, on the accession of the House of Hanover to the throne, and the return of the Whigs to power.

Swift withdrew to Ireland, a disappointed man, full of bitterness. His feelings partly found vent in several works which he published on national subjects, and which rendered him exceedingly popular in Ireland—'A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures' (1720), and " Letiers by M. B. Drapier' against Wood's patent for supplying Ireland with a copper coinage (1724). There was a scarcity of copper coin in Ireland, and Wood, an English owner of mines, obtained a patent right to coin farthings and halfpence to the amount of £108,000. The grant was made to Wood without consulting the Irish government; the disposal of the patent had, in the first instance, been given by Lord Sunderland to the Duchess of Kendal, the king's mistress, and the duchess, it was said, had sold it to Wood for £12,000. All this wounded deeply the pride and patriotism of the Irish nation, and Swift attacked the scheme with all his might. He contended that Wood's metal was base: “If a hatter sells a dozen of bats for 5s. apiece, which amounts to £3, and receives the payment in Wood's coin, he receives only the value of five shillings ! In reality, the coinage was excellent, better than the English, and nobody in Ireland would have been obliged to take more than fivepence-halfpenny in copper; but the feeling against England was strong, and wrought up to a pitch of fury by Swift, who, after heaping every epithet of contempt and execration upon Wood, touched upon the higher question of the royal prerogative. It was unjust to bind the people of Ireland by the laws of a parliament in which they were unrepresented "The remedy,' he added, “is wholly in your own hands-by the laws of God, of nature, of nations, and of your country, you are and ought to be as free a people as your brethren in England.' The government had to bow to the storm. The patent was withdrawn, and Swift was as much the idol of the Irish as Mirabeau was afterwards the idol of the French. In 1726 appeared “Gulliver's Travels,' the most original and extraordinary of all Swift's productions.

A few of his friends--Pope, Bolingbroke, Gay, and Arbuthnote were in the secret as to the authorship of this satirical romance; but it puzzled the world in no ordinary degree, and this uncertainty tended to increase the interest and attraction of the work.* While courtiers and politicians recognised in the adventures of Gulliver many satirical allusions to the court and politics of England-to Walpole, Bolingbroke, the Prince of Wales, the two contending parties in the state, and various matters of secret history—the great mass of ordinary readers saw and felt only the wonder and fascination of the narrative. The appearance, occupations, wars, and pursuits of the tiny Lilliputians—the gigantic Brobdingnagians—the fearful, misanthropic picture of the Yahoos—with the philosophic researches at Laputa-all possessed novelty and attraction for the mere unlearned reader, who was alternately agitated with emotions of surprise, delight, astonishment, pity, and reprobation. All parties seem now agreed in the opinion that the interest of the work diminishes as it proceeds; that Lilliput is delightful and picturesque, the gatire just sufficient to give an exquisite flavour or seasoning to the body of the narrative; that Brobdingnag is wonderful, monstrous, but softened by the character of Glumdalclitch, and abounding in excellent political and moral observations; that the voyage to Laputa is ingenious, but somewhat tedious, and absurd as a satire on phil. osophers and mathematiciaris; and that the voyage to the Houylınhums is a gross libel on human nature, and disgusting from its physical indelicacy. We need not point out the inimitable touches of description and satire in ‘Gulliver'-the High Heels and Low Heels, the Big-endians and Little-endians; the photograph, as we may call it, of the emperor of Lilliput, with his Austrian lip and arched nose, and who was almost the breadth of one's nail taller than any of his court, which struck an awe into his beholders ; and the fine incident of Gulliver's watch, which the Lilliputians thouglit was the god he worshipped, for he seldon did anything without consulting it.

The charm of Swift's style, so simple, pure, and unaffected, and the apparent earnestness and sincerity with which he dwells on the most improbable circumstances, are displayed in full perfection in 'Gulliver,' which was the most carefully finished of all his works. Some tracts on ecclesiastical questions, and the best of his poetry,

Swift's most intinducted by Erasmus I

nin publisher. Motte, for

* The negotiation for its publication was conducted by Erasmus Lewis, secretary to the Earl of Oxiord, and one of Swift's most intimate friends. Lewis sold the copyright to the publisher, Motte, for £200. We have seen the original documents, which were then in the possession of the Rev. C. Bathurst Woodman, Edgebaston, near Birmingham. Sir Walter Scott states that Swift made a present of the copyright to Pope, but the state. ment is unsupported by evidence. In an unpublished letter to Motte, Swift states that he derived no advantage from the Miscellanies, published in conjunction with Pope, Arbuthnot, and Gay.

were afterwards produced. His other prose works were— A History of the Four Last Years of Queen Anne'-not published till long after his death ; ‘Polite Conversation,' a happy satire on the frivolities of fashionable life; and · Directions for Servants,' a fragment which also appeared after his death, and on which he bestowed considerable pains. It exemplifies the habit of minute observation which distinguished Swift, and which sometimes rendered him no very agreeable inmate of a house. Two other prose works are better knownthe ‘Journal to Stella,' and the “Modest Proposal for preventing the Poor in Ireland from being burdensome, and for making them beneficial.' The former was not intended to be printed. It consists of a series of letters written to Esther Johnson during Swift's residence in London, from September 1710 until June 1713. All the petty details of his daily lite are recorded for the gratification of his Stella, or 'star that dweli apart.' He tells her where he goes, whom he meets, where he dines, what he spends, what satires he writes, &c. His journal is his last occupation at night, and often the first in the morning by candle-light. 'I cannot go to bed without a word to them (Stella and Mrs. Dingley); I cannot put out my candle till I bid them goodnight.' He had what he called “the little language,' a sort of cipher as to names, but the journal itself is in the ordinary long-hand, and is as voluminous as a three-volume novel. It is a strange but fascinating medley, containing many coarse things-oaths, nasty jests, wild gallies of fancy, and brief outbursts of tenderness. The Modest Proposal' shocked many persons. The scheme is, that the children of the Irish poor should be sold and eaten as food ! 'I have been as. sured,' he says, 'by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

He goes gravely into calculations on the subject : at a year old, an infant would weigh about twenty-eight pounds; it would make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dined alone, the fore or hind quarter would make a reasonable dish, and, seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter. 'I grant,' he adds, 'this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children. The grave irony of the ‘Modest Proposal' is crowned, as it were, by the closing declaration, that the author is perfectly disinterested, having no children or expectation by which he could get a pevny by the scheme! Even in these days of babyfarming, Swift's satire is rather too strong for modern taste, but it is a production of extraordinary power and ingenuity. Various editions of Swift's works have been published; the best and most complete is that by Sir Walter Scott, in nineteen volumes (1814). Swift's

« PreviousContinue »