Page images
PDF
EPUB

What means this heaviness that hangs upon me 1
This lethargy that creeps through all my senses ?
Nature oppress’d, and harass'd out with care,
Sinks down to rest. This once I'll favour her,
That my awaken'd soul may take her flight,
Renew'd in all her strength, and fresh with life,
An offering fit for heaven. Let guilt or fear
Disturb man's rest : Cato knows neither of them;
Indifferent in his choice to sleep or die.

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

Juba.

If I forsake thee
Whilst I have life, may heaven abandon Juba!

Cato. Thy virtues, prince, if I foresee aright,
Will one day make thee great ; at Rome, hereafter,
'Twill be no crime to bave been Cato's friend.
Portius, draw near ! My son, thou oft has seen
Thy sire engaged in a corrupted state,
Wrestling with rice and faction : now thou seest me
Spent, overpower'd, despairing of success :
Let me advise thee to retreat betimes
To thy paternal seat, the Sabine field,
Where the great Censor toiled with his own hands,
And all our frugal ancestors were blest
In humble virtues and a rural life.
There live retired ; pray for the peace of Rome;
Content thyself to be obscurely good.
When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
The post of honour is a private station.

Portius. I hope my father does not recommend
A life to Portius that he scorns himself.

Cato. Farewell, my friends ! if there be any of you
Who dare not trust the victor's clemency,
Know, there are ships prepared by my command
(Their sails already opening to the winds)
That shall convey you to the wish'd-for port.
Is there aught else, my friends, I can do for you?
The conqueror draws near. Once more farewell !
If e'er we meet hereafter, we shall meet
In happier climes, and on a safer shore,
Where Cæsar never shall approach us more.

[Pointing to his dead son.
There the brave youth, with love of virtue fired,
Who greatly in his country's cause expired,
Shall know he conquer’d. The firm patriot there
(Who made the welfare of mankind his care),
Though still, by faction, vice, and fortune crost,
Shall find the generous labour was not lost.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

Jonat: Swift.

[ocr errors]

Act V.-Scene I.
(Cato, alone, sitting in a thoughtful posture : in his hand
Plato's book on the Immortality of the Soul. A drawn sword
on the table by him.]
It must be so—Plato, thou reason'st well !-
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality ?
Or whence this secret dread, and inward horror,
Of falling into nought? why shrinks the soul
Back on herself, and startles at destruction ?

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

35

was afterwards added the prebend of Dunlavin, But books, and time, and state affairs,
making his income only about £200 per annum. Had spoiled his fashionable airs ;
At Moorpark, Swift had contracted an intimacy He now could praise, esteem, approve,
with Miss Hester Johnson, daughter of Sir William But understood not what was love:
Temple's steward, and, on his settlement in Ireland, His conduct might have made him styled
this lady, accompanied by another female of middle A father, and the nymph his child.
age, went to reside in his neighbourhood. Her future That innocent delight he took
life was intimately connected with that of Swift, To see the virgin mind her book,
and he has immortalised her under the name of Was but the master's secret joy
Stella.

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

lect.

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!

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

went back, and found him fixed as a statue, and artists were perfect painters. He never attempted
earnestly gazing upward at a noble elm, which in to rise above this 'visible diurnal sphere.' He is
its uppermost branches was much decayed. Point-
ing at it, he said, “I shall be like that tree; I shall
die at the top."' The same presentiment finds ex-
pression in his exquisite imitation of Horace (book
li. satire 6.), made in conjunction with Pope:-

I've often wished that I had clear
For life six hundred pounds a-year,
A handsome house to lodge a friend,
A river at my garden's end,
A terrace-walk, and half a rood
Of land, set out to plant a wood.

Well, now I have all this and more,
I ask not to increase my store;
But here a grievance seems to lie,
All this is mine but till I die;
I can't but think ’twoull sound more clever,
To me and to my heirs for ever.

If I ne'er got or lost a groat
By any trick or any fault;
And if I pray by reason's rules,
And not like forty other fools,
As thus, ' Vouchsafe, oh gracious Maker!
To grant me this and 'tother acre;
Or if it be thy will and pleasure,
Direct my plough to find a treasure !'
But only what my station fits,
And to be kept in my right wits;
Preserve, Almnighty Providence !
Just what you gave me, competence,
And let me in these shades compose

Something in verse as true as prose.
Swift was at first disliked in Ireland, but the

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,
He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house for fools and mad,

The spawn of Bridewell or the stews,

Not infants dropt, the spurious pledges
And showed, by one satiric touch,

Of gipsies littering under hedges,
No nation wanted it so much.

Are so disqualified by fate
Gulliver's Travels and the Tale of a Tub must ever

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.

[graphic]

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
To rail ; she, singing, still whirls on her mop.

Cut out large slices to be fried ;
Not yet the dust had shunned the unequal strife, Then stepped aside to fetch them drink,
But, aided by the wind, fought still for life,

Filled a large jug up to the brink,
And wafted with its foe by violent gust,

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.
The Templar spruce, while every spout's a-broach, The gentle pilgrims, soon aware on't,
Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.

Told them their calling and their errant:
The tucked-up sempstress walks with hasty strides, Good folks, you need not be afraid,
While streams run down her oiled umbrella's sides. We are but saints, the hermits said;
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,

No hurt shall come to you or yours;
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.

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.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The kettle to the top was boist,
And there stood fastened to a joist;
But with the up-side down, to show
Its inclination for below :
In vain; for some superior force,
Applied at bottom, stops its course;
Doomed ever in suspense to dwell,
'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.

A wooden jack, which had almost
Lost by disuse the art to roast,
A sudden alteration feels,
Increased by new intestine wheels :
And, what exalts the wonder more,
The number made the motion slower;
The filer, which, thought 't had leaden feet,
Turned round so quick, you scarce could see't.
Now, slackened by some secret power,
Can hardly move an inch an hour.
The jack and chimney, near allied,
Had never left each other's side:
The chimney to a steeple grown,
The jack would not be left alone ;
But, up against the steeple reared,
Became a clock, and still adhered :
And still its love to household cares,
By a shrill voice at noon, declares;
Warning the cook-maid not to burn
That roast meat, which it cannot turn.

The groaning chair was seen to crawl,
Like a huge snail, half up the wall;
There stuck aloft in public view,
And, with small change, a pulpit grew.

The porringers, that in a row
Hung high, and made a glittering show,
To a less noble substance changed,
Were now but leathern buckets ranged.

The ballads pasted on the wall,
Of Joan of France, and English Moll,
Fair Rosamond, and Robin Hood,
The Little Children in the Wood,
Now seemed to look abundance better,
Improved in picture, size, and letter;
And high in obder placed, describe
The heraldry of every tribe.

A bedstead of the antique mode,
Compact of timber many a load;
Such as our grandsires wont to use,
Was metamorphosed into pews ;
Which still their ancient nature keep,
By lodging folks disposed to sleep.

The cottage, by such feats as these,
Grown to a church by just degrees;
The hermits then desire their host
To ask for what he fancied most.
Philemon, having paused a while,
Returned them thanks in homely style;
Then said, my house is grown so fine,
Methinks I still would call it mine :
I'm old, and fain would live at ease;
Make me the parson, if you please.
He spoke, and presently he feels
His grazier's coat fall down his heels :
He sees, yet hardly can believe,
About each arm a pudding sleeve :
His waistcoat to a cassock grew,
And both assumed a sable hue;
But being old, continued just
As threadbare and as full of dust.
His talk was now of tithes and dues ;
Could smoke his pipe, and read the news :
Knew how to preach old sermons next,
Vamped in the preface and the text :
At christenings well could act his part,
And had the service all by heart:
Wished women might have children fast,
And thought whose sow had farrowed last :

Against dissenters would repine,
And stood up firm for right divine :
Found his head filled with many a system,
But classic authorshe ne'er missed them.

Thus having furbished up a parson,
Dame Baucis next they played their farce on :
Instead of home-spun coifs, were seen
Good pinners, edged with Colberteen :
Her petticoat, transformed apace,
Became black satin flounced with lace.
Plain Goody would no longer down ;
'Twas Madam, in her grogram gown.
Philemon was in great surprise,
And hardly could believe his eyes :
Amazed to see her look so prim;
And she admired as much at him.

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;
In short, they both were turned to yews.

Old Goodman Dobson, of the green,
Remembers he the trees hath seen ;
He'll talk of them from noon to night,
And goes with folks to show the sight;
On Sundays, after evening prayer,
He gathers all the parish there;
Points out the place of either yew,
Here Baucis, there Philemon grew.
"Till once a parson of our town,
To mend his barn, cut Baucis down;
At which, 'tis hard to be believed,
How much the other tree was grieved ;
Grew scrubby, died a-top, was stunted;
So the next parson stubbed and burnt it.

a

[Verses on his own Death.]
As Rochefoucault his maxims drew
From nature, I believe them true :
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.

This maxim more than all the rest
Is thought too base for human breast :

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,
Let reason and experience prove.

We all behold with envious eyes
Our equal raised above our size.
I love my friend as well as you ;
But why should he obstruct my view ?
Then let me have the higher post;
Suppose it but an inch at most.
If in a battle you should find
One whom you love of all mankind,
Had some heroic action done,
A champion killed, or trophy won;
Rather than thus be overtopt,
Would you not wish his laurels cropt?
Dear honest Ned is in the gout,
Lies racked with pain, and you without:

549

a

« PreviousContinue »