« PreviousContinue »
What means this heaviness that hangs upon me 1
JONATHAN SWIFT. JONATHAN SWIFT, one of the most remarkable men of the age, was born in Dublin in 1667. His father was steward to the society of the King's Inns, but died in great poverty before the birth of his distinguished son. Swift was supported by his uncle and the circumstances of want and dependence with
If I forsake thee
Cato. Thy virtues, prince, if I foresee aright,
Portius. I hope my father does not recommend
Cato. Farewell, my friends ! if there be any of you
[Pointing to his dead son.
Act V.-Scene I.
which he was early familiar, seem to have sunk deep 'Tis the divinity that stirs within us ;
in his haughty soul. Born a posthumous child, 'Tis heaven itself that points out an hereafter,
says Sir Walter Scott, "and bred up an object of And intimates eternity to man.
charity, he early adopted the custom of observing Eternity! thou pleasing, dreadful thought !
his birth-day as a term, not of joy, but of sorrow, Through what variety of untried being,
and of reading, when it annually recurred, the Through what new scenes and changes must we pass ? striking passage of Scripture in which Job laments The wide, th' unbounded prospect, lies before me; and execrates the day upon which it was said in But shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.
his father's house “that a man-child was born." ' Here will I hold. If there's a power above us, Swift was sent to Trinity college, Dublin, which he (And that there is, all nature cries aloud
left in his twenty-first year, and was received into Through all her works), he must delight in virtue; the house of Sir William Temple, a distant relation And that which he delights in must be happy. of his mother. Here Swift met King William, and But when I or where ? This world was made for indulged hopes of preferment, which were never reaCæsar.
lised. In 1692 he repaired to Oxford, for the purI'm weary of conjectures. This must end them. pose of taking his degree of M.A., and shortly after
[Laying his hand on his sword. obtaining this distinction he resolved to quit the Thus am I doubly arm'à : my death and life, establishment of Temple and take orders in the My bane and antidote are both before me:
Irish church. He procured the prebend of Kilroot, This in a moment brings me to an end ;
in the diocese of Connor, but was soon disgusted But this informs me I shall never die.
with the life of an obscure country clergyman with The soul, secured in her existence, smiles
an income of £100 a-year. He returned to MoorAt the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
park, the house of Sir William Temple, and threw The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
up his living at Kilroot. Temple died in 1699, and Grow dim with age, and nature sink in years; the poet was glad to accompany Lord Berkeley to But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
Ireland in the capacity of chaplain. From this Unhurt amidst the wars of elements,
nobleman he obtained the rectory of Aghar, and The wrecks of matter, and the crush of worlds. the vicarages of Laracor and Rathveggan; to which
was afterwards added the prebend of Dunlavin, But books, and time, and state affairs,
In school to hear the finest boy. In 1701, Swift became a political writer on the The tragedy continued to deepen as it approached side of the Whigs, and on his visits to England, he the close. Eight years had Vanessa nursed in soliassociated with. Addison, Steele, and Arbuthnot. In tude the hopeless attachment. At length she wrote 1710, conceiving that he was neglected by the mi- to Stella, to ascertain the nature of the connexion nistry, he quarreled with the Whigs, and united with between her and Swift; the latter obtained the fatal Harley and the Tory administration. He was re- letter, and rode instantly to Marley abbey, the received with open arms. 'I stand with the new sidence of the unhappy Vanessa. * As he entered people,' he writes to Stella, 'ten times better than the apartment,' to adopt the picturesque language ever I did with the old, and forty times more of Scott in recording the scene, the sternness of his caressed.' He carried with him shining weapons countenance, which was peculiarly formed to express for party warfare -- irresistible and unscrupulous the stronger passions, struck the unfortunate Vanessa satire, steady hate, and a dauntless spirit. From with such terror, that she could scarce ask whether his new allies, he received, in 1713, the deanery of he would not sit down. He answered by flinging a St Patrick's. During his residence in England, he letter on the table; and instantly leaving the house, had engaged the affections of another young lady, mounted his horse, and returned to Dublin. When Esther Vanhomrigh, who, under the name of Vanessa opened the packet, she only found her own Vanessa, rivalled Stella in poetical celebrity, and in letter to Stella. It was her death-warrant. She personal misfortune. After the death of her father, sunk at once under the disappointment of the delayed this young lady and her sister retired to Ireland, yet cherished hopes which had so long sickened her where their father had left a small property near heart, and beneath the unrestrained wrath of him Dublin. Human nature has, perhaps, never before for whose sake she had indulged them. How long or since presented the spectacle of a man of such she survived this last interview is uncertain, but transcendent powers as Swift involved in such a the time does not seem to have exceeded a few pitiable labyrinth of the affections. His pride or
weeks.'* ambition led him to postpone indefinitely his mar
Even Stella, though ultimately united to Swift, riage with Stella, to whom he was early attached. dropped into the grave without any public recogniThough, he said, he loved her better than his life a
tion of the tie; they were married in secrecy in the thousand millions of times," he kept her hanging garden of the deanery, when on her part all but life on in a state of hope deferred, injurious alike to her had faded away. The fair sufferers were deeply peace and her reputation. Did he fear the scorn avenged. But let us adopt the only charitableand laughter of the world, if he should marry the perhaps the just-interpretation of Swift's conduet; obscure daughter of Sir William Temple's steward? | the malady which at length overwhelmed his reason He dared not afterwards, with manly sincerity, de might then have been lurking in his frame; the clare his situation to Vanessa, when this second heart might have felt its ravages before the intel. victim avowed her passion. He was flattered that
A comparison of dates proves that it was a girl of eighteen, of beauty and accomplishments, some years before Vanessa's death that the scene sighed for a gown of forty-four,' and he did not occurred which has been related by Young. the stop to weigh the consequences. The removal of author of the Night Thoughts.' Swift was walking Vanessa to Ireland, as Stella had gone before, to be with some friends in the neighbourhood of Dublin. near the presence of Swift-her irrepressible passion, Perceiving he did not follow us,' says Young, “I which no coldness or neglect could extinguish-her life of deep seclusion, only chequered by the occa- * The talents of Vanessa may be seen from her letters to sional visits of Swift, each of which she commemo- Swift. They are further evinced in the following Ode to rated by planting with her own hand a laurel in the Spring, in which she alludes to her unhappy attachment:garden where they met — her agonizing remon
Hail, blushing goddess, beauteous Spring! strances, when all her devotion and her offerings
Who in thy jocund train dost bring had failed, are touching beyond expression.
Loves and graces-smiling hours • The reason I write to you,' she says, “is because
Balmy breezes-fragrant flowers; I cannot tell it to you, should I see you. For when
Come, with tints of roseate hue, I begin to complain, then you are angry; and there Nature's faded charms renew! is something in your looks so awful, that it strikes
Yet why should I thy presence bail? me dumb. O! that you may have but so much re
To me no more the breathing gale gard for me left, that this complaint may touch
Comes fraught with sweets, no more the rose your soul with pity. I say as little as ever I can.
With such transcendent beauty blows, Did you but know what I thought, I am sure it
As when Cadenus blest the scene,
And shared with me those joys serene. would move you to forgive me, and believe that I
When, unperceived, the lambent fire cannot help telling you this, and live.'
Of friendship kindled new desire ; To a being thus agitated and engrossed with the
Still listening to his tuneful tongue, strongest passion, how poor, low cruel, must have
The truths which angels might have sung, seemed the return of Swift!
Divine imprest their gentle sway,
And sweetly stole my soul away. Cadenus, common forms apart,
My guide, instructor, lover, friend, In every scene had kept his heart;
Dear names, in one idea blend ; Had sighed and languished, vowed and writ,
Oh! still conjoined, your incense rise, For pastime, or to show his wit;
And waft sweet odours to the skies!
went back, and found him fixed as a statue, and artists were perfect painters. He never attempted
I've often wished that I had clear
Well, now I have all this and more,
If I ne'er got or lost a groat
Something in verse as true as prose.
Tomb of Swift in Dublin cathedral. Drapier's Letters and other works gave him unbounded popularity. His wish to serve Ireland was content to lash the frivolities of the age, and to deone of his ruling passions ; yet it was something like pict its absurdities. In his too faithful representathe instinct of the inferior animals towards their tions, there is much to condemn and much to admire. offspring; waywardness, contempt, and abuse were who has not felt the truth and humour of his City strangely mingled with affectionate attachment and Shower, and his description of Morning? Or the ardent zeal. Kisses and curses were alternately on liveliness of his Grand Question Debated, in which his lips. Ireland, however, gave Swift her whole the knight, his lady, and the chambermaid, are so heart-he was more than king of the rabble. After admirably drawn? His most ambitious flight is his various attacks of deafness and giddiness, his temper Rhapsody on Poetry, and even this is pitched in a became ungovernable, and his reason gave way. pretty low key. Its best lines are easily remembered: Truly and beautifully has Scott said, 'the stage
Not empire to the rising sun, darkened ere the curtain fell.' Swift's almost total By valour, conduct, fortune won ; zilence during the last three years of his life (for the Not highest wisdom in debates last year he spoke not a word) appals and overawes For framing laws to govern states ; the imagination. He died on the 19th of October Not skill in sciences profound, 1745, and was interred in St Patrick's cathedral, So large to grasp the circle round, amidst the tears and prayers of his countrymen.
Such heavenly influence require, His fortune, amounting to about £10,000, he left
As how to strike the Muses' lyre. chiefly to found a lunatic asylum in Dublin, which Not beggar's brat on bulk begot, he had long meditated.
Not bastard of a pedler Scot,
Not boy brought up to cleaning shoes,
The spawn of Bridewell or the stews,
Not infants dropt, the spurious pledges
Of gipsies littering under hedges,
Are so disqualified by fate
To rise in church, or law, or state, be the chief corner-stones of Swift's fame. The
As he whom Phoebus in his ire purity of his prose style renders it a model of Eng
Hath blasted with poetic fire. lish composition. He could wither with his irony Swift's verses on his own death are the finest and invective; excite to mirth with his wit and in- example of his peculiar poetical vein. He predicts vention; transport as with wonder at his marvellous what his friends will say of his illness, his death, powers of grotesque and ludicrous combination, his and his reputation, varying the style and the topics knowledge of human nature (piercing quite through to suit each of the parties. The versification is easy the deeds of men), and his matchless power of feign- and flowing, with nothing but the most familiar and ing reality, and assuming at pleasure different cha- commonplace expressions. There are some little racters and situations in life. He is often disgust-touches of homely pathos, which are felt like trickingly coarse and gross in his style and subjects; but ling tears, and the effect of the piece altogether is his grossness is always repulsive, not seductive. electrical : it carries with it the strongest convicSwift's poetry is perfect, exactly as the old Dutch 1 tion of its sincerity and truth ; and we see and feel (especially as years creep on) how faithful a depicter Laocoon struck the outside with his spear, of human nature, in its frailty and weakness, was And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear. the misanthropic dean of St Patrick's.
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go: [4 Description of the Morning.]
Filths of all hues and odours seem to tell
What street they sailed from by their sight and smell. Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach They, as each torrent drives, with rapid force, Appearing showed the ruddy morn's approach. From Smithfield or St 'Pulchre's shape their course, The slipshod 'prentice from his master's door
And in huge confluence joined at Snowhill ridge, Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor. Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge. Now Moll had whirled her mop with dexterous airs, Sweepings from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood, Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud, The youth with broomy stumps began to trace Dead cats, and turnip-tops, come tumbling down the The kennel's edge, where wheels had worn the place. flood. The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep, Till drown'd in shriller notes of chimney-sweep:
Baucis and Philemon. Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet; And brick-dust Moll had screamed through half the (Imitated from the Eighth Book of Ovid.-Written about the street.
year 1708.) The turnkey now his flock returning sees, Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees;
In ancient times, as story tells, The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands,
The saints would often leave their cells, And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.
And stroll about, but hide their quality,
To try good people's hospitality. [A Description of a City Shower.]
It happened on a winter night
(As authors of the legend write), Careful observers may foretell the hour
Î'wo brother hermits, saints by trade, (By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower.
Taking their tour in masquerade, While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Disguised in tattered habits, went Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
To a small village down in Kent; Returning home at night, you'll find the sink
Where, in the strollers' canting strain, Strike your offended sense with double stink.
They begged from door to door in vain; If you be wise, then go not far to dine;
Tried every tone might pity win, You'll spend in coach-hire more than save in wine. But not a soul would let them in. A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Our wandering saints in woful state, Old aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage :
Treated at this ungodly rate, Sauntering in coffee-house is Dulman seen;
Having through all the village past, He damns the climate, and complains of spleen.
To a small cottage came at last, Meanwhile the south, rising with dabbled wings, Where dwelt a good old honest yeoman, A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
Called in the neighbourhood Philemon, That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
Who kindly did the saints invite And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
In his poor hut to pass the night. Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
And then the hospitable sire While the first drizzling shower is borne aslope;
Bid Goody Baucis mend the fire, Such is that sprinkling, which some careless quean While he from out the chimney took Flirts on you from her mop-but not so clean :
A flitch of bacon off the hook, You fly, invoke the gods ; then turning, stop
And freely from the fattest side
Cut out large slices to be fried ;
Filled a large jug up to the brink,
And saw it fairly twice go round; 'Twas doubtful which was rain, and which was dust. Yet (what was wonderful) they found Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
'Twas still replenished to the top, When dust and rain at once his coat invade?
As if they ne'er had touched a drop. Sole coat, where dust cemented by the rain
The good old couple were amazed, Erects the nap, and leaves a cloudy stain !
And often on each other gazed : Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down, For both were frighted to the heart, Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
And just began to cry— What art ?' To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Then softly turned aside to view, Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
Whether the lights were burning blue.
Told them their calling and their errant:
No hurt shall come to you or yours;
But, for that pack of churlish boors, Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs,
Not fit to live on Christian ground, Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
They and their houses shall be drowned : Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While you shall see your cottage rise, While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits ;
And grow a church before your eyes. And ever and anon with frightful din
They scarce had spoke, when fair and soft, The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
The roof began to mount aloft; So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Aloft rose every beam and rafter, Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed
The heavy wall climbed slowly after. (Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
The chimney widened, and grew higher, instead of paying chairmen, run them through),
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was boist,
A wooden jack, which had almost
The groaning chair was seen to crawl,
The porringers, that in a row
The ballads pasted on the wall,
A bedstead of the antique mode,
The cottage, by such feats as these,
Against dissenters would repine,
Thus having furbished up a parson,
Thus, happy in their change of life, Were several years the man and wife: When on a day, which proved their last, Discoursing o'er old stories past, They went by chance, amidst their talk, To the churchyard to fetch a walk; When Baucis hastily cried out, My dear, I see your forehead sprout ! Sprout, quoth the man, what's this you tell us ! I hope you don't believe me jealous ? But yet, methinks, I feel it true; And really yours is budding tooNay- -now I cannot stir my foot; It feels as if 'twere taking root.
Description would but tire my Muse;
Old Goodman Dobson, of the green,
[Verses on his own Death.]
This maxim more than all the rest
In all distresses of our friends We first consult our private ends; While nature, kindly bent to ease us, Points out some circumstance to please us.'
If this perhaps your patience move,
We all behold with envious eyes