Page images
PDF

ing so delightful that he can’t leave it, he proceeds to recommend, in place of venison for squires’ tables, “the bodies of young lads and maidens not exceeding fourteen or under twelve.” Amiable humorist 1 laughing castigator of morals | There was a process well known and practised in the Dean's gay days : when a lout entered the coffee-house, the wags proceeded to what they called “roasting" him. This is roasting a subject with a vengeance. The Dean had a native genius for it. As the “Almanach des Gourmands" says, On nait rôtiseur. And it was not merely by the sarcastic method that Swift exposed the unreasonableness of loving and having children. In Gulliver, the folly of love and marriage is urged by #. arguments and advice. In the famous Lilliputian kingdom, Swift speaks with approval of the practice of instantly removing children from their parents and educating them by the State; and amongst his favorite horses, a pair of foals are stated to be the very utmost a well-regulated * couple would permit themselves. In fact, our great satirist was of opinion that conjugal love was unadvisable, and illustrated the theory by his own practice and example — God help him — which made him about the most wretched being in God’s world.* The grave and logical conduct of an absurd proposition, as exemplified in the cannibal proposal just mentioned, is our author's constant method through all his works of humor. Given a country of people six inches or sixty feet high, and by the mere process of the logic, a thousand wonderful absurdities are evolved, at so many stages of the calculation. Turning to the first minister who waited behind him with a white staff near as tall as the mainmast of the “Royal Sovereign,” the King of Brobdingnag observes how contemptible a thing * “My health is somewhat mended,

but at best I have an ill head and an aching heart,”— In May, 1719.

human grandeur is, as represented by such a contemptible little creature as Gulliver. “The Emperor of Lilliput's features are strong and masculine” (what a surprising humor there is in this description 1)—“The Emperor's features,” Gulliver says, “are strong and masculine, with an Austrian lip, an arched nose, his complexion olive, his countenance erect, his body and limbs well proportioned, and his deportment majestic. He is taller by the "breadth of my nail than any of his court, which alone is enough to strike an awe into beholders.” What a surprising humor there is in these descriptions ! How noble the satire is here ! How just and honest! How perfect the image ' Mr. Macaulay has quoted the charming lines of the poet, where the king of the pygmies is measured by the same standard. We have all read in Milton of the spear that was like “the mast of some tall admiral,” but these images are surely likely to come to the comic poet originally. The subject is before him. He is turning it in a thousand ways. He is full of it. The figure suggests itself naturally to him, and comes out of his subject, as in that wonderful passage, when Gulliver's box having been dropped by the eagle into the sea, and Gulliver having been received into the ship's cabin, he calls upon the crew to bring the box into the cabin, and put it on the table, the cabin being only a quarter the size of the box. It is the veracity of the blunder which is so admirable. Had a man come from such a country as Brobdingnag he would have blundered SO. But the best stroke of humor, if there be a best in that abounding book, is that where Gulliver, in the unpronounceable country, describes his parting from his master the horse.* * Perhaps the most melancholy satire in the whole of the dreadful book, is the description of the very old people in the “Voyage to Laputa.” At Lugnag, Gul

liver'hears of some persons, who never die, called the Struldbrugs, and express

ing a wish to become acquainted with men “I took,” he says, “a second leave of my master, but as I was going to

who must have so much learning and experience, his colloquist describes the Struldbrugs to him. “He said: They commonly acted like mortals, till about thirty years old, after which, by degrees, they grew melancholy • and dejected, increasing in both till they came to fourscore. This he learned from their own confession: for otherwise there not being above two or three of that species born in an age, they were too few to form a general observation by. When they came to fourscore, which is reckoned the extremity of living in this country, they had not, only all the follies and infirmities of other old men, but many more which arose from the prospect of never dying. They were not only opinionative, peevish, covetous, morose, vain, talkative, but incapable of friendship, and dead to all natural affection, which never descended below their grandchildren. Envy and impotent desires are the prevailing passions. But those objects against which their envy seems principally directed, are the vices of the younger sort and the deaths of the old. By reflecting on the former, they find themselves cut off from all possibility of pleasure; and whenever they see a funeral, they lament, and repent that others have gone to a harbor of rest, to which they themselves never can hope to arrive. They have no remembrance of any thing but what they learned and observed in their youth and middle age, and even that is very imperfect. And for the truth or particulars of any fact, it is safer to depend on common tradition than upon their best recollections. The least miserable among them appear to be those who turn to dotage, and entirely lose their memories; these meet with more pity and assistance, because they want many bad qualities which abound in others. “If a Struldbrug happened to marry

one of his own kind, the marriage is dis-,

solved of course, by the courtesy of the kingdom, as soon as the younger of the two comes to be fourscore. For the law thinks it to be a reasonable indulgence that those who are condemned, without any fault of their own, to a perpetual continuance in the world, should not have their misery doubled by the load of a wife. “As soon as they have completed the term of eighty years, they are looked on as dead in law; their heirs immediately succeed to their estates, only a small pittance is reserved for their support; and the poor ones are maintained at the public charge. After that period they are held incapable of any employment of trust or profit, they cannot purchase lands or take leases, neither are they allowed to be

prostrate myself to kiss his hoof, he did me the honor to raise it gently to my mouth. I am not ignorant how much I have been censured for mentioning this last particular. "Detractors are pleased to think it improbable that so illustrious a person should descend to give so great a mark of distinction to a creature so inferior as I. Neither am I ignorant how apt some travellers are to boast of extraordinary favors they have received. But if these censurers were better acquainted with the noble and courteous disposition of the Houyhnhmms they would soon change their opinion.” The surprise here, the audacity of circumstantial evidence, the astounding gravity of the speaker, who is not ignorant how o he has been censured, the nature of the favor conferred, and the respectful exultation at the receiptofit, are surely complete; it is truth topsy-turvy, entirely logical and absurd. As for the humor and conduct of this famous fable, I suppose there is no person who reads but must admire; as for the moral, I think it horrible, shameful, unmanly, blasphemous; and giant and great as this }. is, I say we should hoot him. Some of this audience mayn't have read the last part of Gulliver, and to such I would recall the advice of the venerable Mr. Punch to persons about to marry, and say “Don’t.” When Gulliver first lands among the Yahoos, the naked howling wretches clamber up trees and assault him, and he describes himself as “almost stifled with the filth which fell about him.” The reader of the fourth part of “Gulliver's Travels" is like the hero himself in this instance. It is Yahoo language: a monster gibbering shrieks, and gnashing imprecations against mankind-tearing down all shreds of modesty, past all sense of manliness and shame; filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene.

witnesses in any cause, either civil or criminal, not even for the decision of meers and bounds. “At ninety they lose their teeth and hair; they have at that age no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue, without increasing or diminishing. In talking, they forget the common appellation of things, and the names of persons, even of those who are their nearest friends and relatives. For the same reason, they can never amuse themselves with reading, because their memory will not serve to carry them from the beginning of a sentence to the end; and by this defect they are deprived of the only entertainment whereof they might otherwise be capable. “The language of this country o; always on the flux, the Struldbrugs o one age do not understand those of another; neither are they able, after two hundred years, to hold any conversation (further than by a few general words) with their neighbors, the mortals; and thus they lie under the disadvantage of living likeforeigners in their own country. “This was the account given me of the Struldbrugs, as near as I can remember. I afterwards saw five or six of different ages, the youngest not above two hundred years old, who were brought to me several times by some of my friends; but although they were told ‘that I was a great traveller, and had seen all the world,” they had not the least curiosity to ask me a single question; only desired I would give them slumskudask, or a token of remembrance; which is a modest way of begging, to avoid the law, that strictly forbids it, because they are provided for by the public, although indeed with a very scanty allowance. “They are despised and hated by all sorts of people; when one of them is born, it is reckoned ominous, and their birth is recorded very particularly; so that you may know their age by consulting the register, which, however, has not been kept above a thousand years past, or at least has been destroyed by time or public disturbances. But the usual way of computing how old they are, is by asking them what kings or great persons they can remember, and then consulting history; for infallibly the last prince in their mind did not begin his reign after they were fourscore years old. “They were the most mortifying sight I ever beheld, and the women more horrible than the men; besides the usual deformities in extreme old age, they acquired an additional ghastliness, in proportion to

their number of years, which is not to be described; and among half a dozen, I soon distinguished which was the eldest, although there was not above a century or two between them.”—Gulliver's Travels.

And dreadful it is to think that Swift knew the tendency of his creed — the fatal rock towards which his logic desperately drifted. That last part of “Gulliver” is only a consequence of what has gone before; and the worthlessness of all mankind, the pettiness, cruelty, pride, imbecility, the general vanity, the foolish pretension, the mock greatness, the pompous dulness, the mean aims, the base successes — all these were present to him; it was with the din of these curses of the world, blasphemies against heaven, shrieking in his ears, that he began to write his dreadful allegory—of which the meaning is that man is utterly wicked, desperate, and imbecile, and his passions are so monstrous, and his boasted powers so mean, that he is and deserves to be the slave of brutes, and ignorance is better than his vaunted reason. What had this man done? what secret remorse was rankling at his heart # what fever was boiling in him, that he should see all the world blood-shot? We view the world with our own eyes, each of us; and we make from within us the world we see. A weary heart gets no gladness out of sunshine; a selfish man is sceptical about friendship, as a man with no ear doesn’t care for music. A frightful self-consciousness it must have been, which looked on mankind so darkly through those keen eyes of Swift.

A remarkable story is told by Scott, of Delany, who interrupted Archbishop King and Swift in a conversation which left the prelate in tears, and from which Swift rushed away with marks of strong terror and agitation in his countenance, upon which the Archbishop said to Delany, “You have just met the most unhappy man on earth; but on the subject of his wretchedness you must never ask a question.”

The most unhappy man on earth; —Miserrimus — what a character of him 1 And at this time all the great wits of England had been at his feet. All Ireland had shouted after him, and worshipped him as a liberator, a saviour, the greatest Irish patriot and citizen. Dean Drapier Bickerstaff Gulliver—the most famous statesmen, and the greatest poets of his day, had applauded him, and done him homage; and at this time, writing over to Bolingbroke from Ireland, he says, “It is time for me to have done with the world, and so I would if I could get into a better before I was called into the best, and not to die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole.” We have spoken about the men, and Swift's behavior to them ; and now it behooves us not to forget that there are certain other persons in the creation who had rather intimate relations with the great Dean.* Two women whom he loved and injured are known by every reader of books so familiarly, that if we had seen them, or if they had been relatives of our own, we scarcely could have known them better. Who hasn't in

* The name of Warina has been thrown into the shade by those of the famous Stella and Vanessa; but she had a story of her own to tell about the blue eyes of oung Jonathan. One may o that, the 3. of Swift's Life opens atW. aces kept by these blighted flowers! Varina must have a paragraph. She was a Miss Jane Waryng, sister to a college chum of his. In 1696, when Swift was nineteen years old, we find him writing a love-letter to her, beginning, 4. P. is the most inseparable quality of a lover.” But absence made a great difference in his feelings; so, four years afterwards, the tone is changed. He writes again, a very curious letter, offering to marry her, and putting the offer in such a way that nobody could possibly accept it. After dwelling on his poverty, &c., he says, conditionally, “I shall be blessed to have you in my arms, without regarding whether your person be beautiful, or your fortune large. Cleanliness in the first, . gompetency in the second, is all I ask or The editors do not tell us what became of Varina in life. One would be glad to know that she met with some worthy #. and lived long enough to see her ittle boys laughing over Lilliput, without any arrière pensée of a sad character about the great Dean'

grief, your sweet martyrdom.

his mind an image of Stella? Who does not love her ? Fair and tender creature: pure and affectionate heart 1 Boots it to you, now that you have been at rest for a hundred and twenty years, not divided in death from the cold heart which caused yours, whilst it beat, such faithful pangs of love and grief— boots it to you now, that the whole world loves and deplores you? Scarce any man, I believe, ever thought of that grave, that did not cast a flower of pity on it, and write over it a sweet epitaph. Gentle lady, so lovely, so loving, so unhappy you have had countless champions; millions of manly hearts mourning for you. From generation to generation we take up the fond tradition of your beauty: we watch and follow your tragedy, your bright morning love and purity, your constancy, your We know your legend by heart. You are one of the saints of English story.

And if Stella's love and innocence are charming to contemplate, I will say that in spite of ill-usage, in spite of drawbacks, in spite of mysterious separation and union, of hope delayed and sickened heart—in the teeth of Vanessa, and that little episodical aberration which plunged Swift into such woful pitfalls and quagmires of amorous perplexity—in spite of the verdicts of most women, I believe, who, as far as my experience and conversation go, generally take Vanessa's part in the controversy — in spite of the tears which Swift caused Stella to shed, and the rocks and the barriers which fate and temper interposed, and which prevented the pure course of that true love from running smoothly — the brightest part of Swift's story, the pure star in that dark and tempestuous life of Swift's, is his love for Hester Johnson. It has been my business, professionally of course, to go through a deal of sentimental reading in my time, and to acquaint myself with love-making, as it has been described in various languages, and at various ages of the world; and I know of nothing more manly, more tender, more exquisitely touching, than some of these brief notes, written in what Swift calls “his little language” in his journal to Stella." He writes to her night and morning often. He never sends away a letter to her but he begins a new one on the same day. He can't bear to let go her kind little hand, as it were. He knows that she is thinking of him, and longing for him far away in Dublin yonder. He takes her letters from under his pillow and talks to them, familiarly, paternally, with fond epithets and pretty caresses—as he would to the sweet and artless creature who loved him. “Stay,” he writes one morning—it is the 14th of December, 1710 – “Stay, I will answer some of your letter this morning in bed. Let me see. Come and appear, little letter! Here I am, says he, and what say you to Stella this morning fresh and fasting 4 And can Stella read this writing without hurting her dear eyes?” he goes on, after more kind prattle and fond whispering. The dear eyes shine clearly upon him then — the good angel of his life is with him and blessing him. Ah, it was a hard fate that wrung from them so many tears, and stabbed pitilessly that pure and tender bosom. A hard fate: but would she have changed it ! I have heard a woman say that she would have taken Swift's cruelty to have had his tenderness. He had a sort of worship for her whilst

* A sentimental Champollion might find a good deal of matter for his art, in expounding the symbols of the “Little Language.” Usually, Stella is “M.D.,” tout sometimes her companion Mrs. Dingley, is included in it. Swift is “Presto; ” also P. D. F. R. We have “Good-night, M. D.; Night, M. D.; Little, M. D.; Stellakins; Pretty Stella: Dear, roguish, impudent, pretty M. D.” Every now and then he breaks into rhyme, as —

“I wish you both a merry new year,
Roast-beef, minced-pies, and good strong
beer
And me a share of your good cheer,
That I was there, as you were here,
And you are a little saucy dear.”

he wounded her. He speaks of her after she is gone; of her wit, of her kindness, of her grace, of her beauty, with a simple love and reverence that are indescribably touching; in contemplation of her goodness his hard heart melts into pathos; his cold rhyme kindles and glows into poetry, and he falls down on his knees, so to speak, before the angel whose life he had embittered, confesses his own wretchedness and unworthiness, and adores her with cries of remorse and love : — “When on my sickly couch I lay, Impatient both of flight and day, And groaning in unmanly strains, Called every power to ease my pains, Then Stella ran to my relief, With cheerful face and inward grief, And though by heaven’s severe decree She suffers hourly more than me, No cruel master could require From slaves employed for daily hire, What Stella, by her friendship warmed, With vigor and delight performed. Now, with a soft and silent tread Unheard she moves about my bed: § sinking spirits now supplies ith cordials in her hands and eyes. Best patron of true friends ! beware; You pay too dearly for your care If, while your tenderness secures My life, it must endanger yours: For such a fool was never found Who pulled a palace to the ground, Only to have the ruins made Materials for a house decayed.”

One little triumph Stella had in her life — one dear little piece of injustice was performed in her favor, for which I confess, for my part, I can’t h; thanking fate and the Dean. That other person was sacrificed to her — that — that young woman, who lived five doors from Dr. Swift's lodgings in Bury Street, and who flattered him, and made love to him in such an outrageous manner —Vanessa was thrown over.

Swift did not keep Stella's letters to him in reply to those he wrote to her.”

* The following passages are from a paper begun by Swift on the evening of the day of her death, Jan. 28, 1727-8:

“She was sickly from her childhood, until about the age of fifteen; but then she grew into perfect health, and was looked upon as one of the most beautiful,

« PreviousContinue »