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The suspicions of his irreligion proceeded in a great measure from his dread of hypocrisy ; instead of wishing to seem better, he delighted in seeming worse than he was. He went in London to early prayers, lest he should be seen at church; he read prayers to his servants every morning with such dexterous secrecy, that Dr. Delany was six months in his house before he knew it. He was not only careful to hide the good which he did, but willingly incurred the suspicion of evil which he did not. He forgot what himself had formerly asserted, that hypocrisy is less mischievous than open impiety. Dr. Delany, with all his zeal for his honour, has justly condemned this part of his character.
The person of Swift had not many recommendations. He had a kind of muddy complexion, which, though he washed himself with oriental scrupulosity, did not look clear. He had a countenance sour and severe, which he seldoon softened by any appearance of gaiety. He stubbornly resisted any tendency to laughter.
To his domesticks he was naturally rough ; and a man of a rigorous temper, with that vigilance of minute attention which his works discover, must have been a master that few could bear. That he was disposed to do his servants good, on important occasions, is no great mitigation ; benefaction can be but rare, and tyrannick peevishness is perpetual. He did not spare the servants of others. Once, when he dined alone with the Earl of Orrery, he said, of one that waited in the rooin, “ That man has, since we
sat to the table, committed fifteen faults.” What the faults were, Lord Orrery, from whom I heard the story, had not been attentive enough to discover. My number may perhaps not be exact.
In his oeconomy he practised a peculiar and offensive parsimony, without disguise or apology. The practice of saving being once necessary, became habitual, and grew first ridiculous, and at last detestable. But his avarice, though it might exclude pleasure, was never suffered to encroach upon his virtue. He was frugal by inclination, but liberal by principle ; and if the purpose to which he destined his little accumulations be remembered, with his distribution of occasional charity, it will perhaps appear that he only liked one mode of expence better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give. He did not grow rich by injuring his successors, but left both Laracor and the Deanery more valuable than he found them. With all this talk of his coverousness and generosity, it should be remembered that he was never rich. The revenue of his Deanery was not much more than seven hundred a year.
His beneficence was not graced with tenderness or civility; he relieved without pity, and assisted without kindness; so that those who were fed by him could hardly love him.
He made a rule to himself to give but one piece at a time, and therefore always stored his pockets with coins of different value. VOL.I.
Whatever he did, he seemed willing to do in a manner peculiar to him. self, without sufficiently considering that singularity, as it implies a contempt of the general practice, is a kind of defiance which justly provokes the hostility of ridicule ; he therefore who indulges peculiar habits is worse than others, if he be not better.
Of his humour, a story told by Pope* may afford a specimen.
“ Dr. Swift has an odd, blunt way, that is mistaken, by strangers, for “ ill nature.— 'Tis so odd, that there's no describing it but by facts. I'll “ tell you one that first comes into my head. One evening Gay and I went " to see him : you know how intimately we were all acquainted. On our “ coming in, “Heyday, gentlemen, (says the Doctor) what's the meaning “ of this visit? How came you to leave the great Lords, that you are so
fond of, to come hither to see a poor Dean'— Because we would rather
see you than any of them.'-'Ay, any one that did not know so well as I “ do, might believe you. But since you are come, I must get some sup
suppose.' 'No, Doctor, we have supped already,“ Supped already? that's impossible ! why, 'tis not 'eight o'clock yet. “ That's very strange ; but, if you had not supped, I must have got “ something for you. Let me see, what should I have had ? A couple of " lobsters ; ay, that would have done very well ; two shillings-tarts, 2 « shilling: but you will drink a glass of wine with me, though you sup“ ped so much before your usual time only to spare my pocket ?'- No, " we had rather talk with you than drink with you.'-' But if you had s sopped with me, as in all reason you ought to have done, you must 6. then have drunk with me. A bottle of wine, two shillings-two and “ two is four, and one is five: just two-and-six-pence a piece. There, “ Pope, there's half a crown for you, and there's another for you, Sir; “ for I won't save any thing by you, I am determined.'- This was all said “ and done with his usual seriousness on such occasions, and in spite of “ every thing we could say to the contrary, he actually obliged us to take « the money."
In the intercourse of familiar life, he indulged his disposition to petulance and sarcasm, and thought himself injured if the licentiousness of his raillery, the freedom of his censures, or the petulance of his frolicks, was resented or repressed. He predominated over his companions with very high ascendency, and probably would bear none over whom he could not predominate. To give him advice was, in the style of his friend Delany,
to venture to speak ļo him.”. This customary superiority soon grew too delicate for truth; and Swift with all his penetration, allowed himself to be delighted with low flattery.
On all common occasions,' he habitually affects a style of arrogance, and dictates rather than persuades. This authoritative and magisterial lan
guage he expected to be received as his peculiar mode of jocularity : but he apparently flattered his own'arrogance by an assumed imperiousness, in which he was ironical only to the resentful, and to the submissive sufficiently serious.
He told stories with great felicity, and delighted in doing what he knew himself to do well; he was therefore captivated by the respectful silence of a steady listener, and told the same tales too often.
He did not, however, claim the right of talking alone; for it was his rule, when he had spoken a minute, to give room by a pause for any other speaker. Of time, on all occasions, he was an exact computer, and knew the minutes required to every common operation.
It may be justly supposed that there was in his conversation, what apo pears so frequently in his Letters, an affectation of familiarity with the Great, an ambition of momentary equality sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed'greatness of soul. But a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away. He that encroaches on another's dignity, puts himself in his power : he is either repelled with helpless in dignity, or endured by clemency and condescension.
Of Swift's general habits of thinking, if his Letters can be supposed to afford any evidence, he was not a man to be either loved or envied. He seems to have wasted life in discontent, by the rage of neglected pride, and the languishment of unsatisfied desire. He is querulous and fastidious, arrogant and malignant ; he scarcely speaks of himself but with indignant lamentations, or of others but with insolent superiority when he is gay, and with angry contempt when he is gloomy. From the Letters that pass between him and Pope it might be inferred that they, with Arhuthnot and Gay, had engrossed all the understanding and virtue of mankind; that their meríts filled the world; or that there was no hope of more. They shew the age involved in darkness, and shade the picture with sullen. emulation.
When the Queen's death drove him into Ireland, he might be allowed to regret for a tinie the interception of his views, the extinction of his hopes, and his ejection from gay scenes, important employment, and splendid friendships ; but when time had enabled reason to prevail over vexation, the complaints, which at first were natural, became ridiculous because they were useless. But querulousness was now grown habitual, and he cried out when he probably had ceased to feel. His reiterated wailings pero suaded Bolingbroke that he was really willing to quit his deanery for an English parish ; and Bolingbroke procured an exchange, which was rejected, and Swift still retained the pleasure of complaining. 3R2
The greatest difficulty that occurs, in analysing his character, is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took delight in revolving ideas, from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust. The ideas of pleasure, even when criminal, may solicit the imagination; but what has disease, deformity, and filth, upon which the thoughts can be allured to dwell? Delany is willing to think that Swift's mind was not much tainted with this gross corruption before his long visit to Pope. He does not consider how he degrades his hero, by making him at fifty-nine the pupil of turpitude, and liable to the malignant influence of an ascendant mind. But the truth is, that Gulliver had described his Yahoos before the visit; and he that had formed those images had nothing filthy to learn.
I have here given the character of Swift as he exhibits himself to my perception : but now let another be heard who knew him better. Dr. DeIany, after long acquaintance, describes himn to Lord Orrery in these
“ My Lord, when you consider Swift's singular, peculiar, and most vari
egated vein of wit, always rightly intended (although not always so rightly “ directed), delightful in many instances, and salutary even where it is “ most offensive; when you consider his strict truth, his fortitude in re
sisting oppression and arbitrary power; his fidelity in friendship, his sin“ cere love and zeal for religion, his uprightness in making right resolu« tions, and his steadiness in adhering to them; his care of his church, its “ choir, its æconomy, and its income ; his attention to all those that
preached in his cathedral, in order to their amendment in pronunciation " and style , as also his remarkable attention to the interest of his succes
sors, preferably to his own present emoluments; bis invincible patriotism, “even to a country which he did not love; his very various, well-devised,
weil-judged, and extensive charities, throughout his life, and his whole “fortune (to say nothing of his wife's) conveyed to the same christian pur“poses at his death; charities, from which he could enjoy no honour, ad
vantage, or satisfaction of any kind in this world; when you consider “his ironical and humorous, as well as his serious schemes, for the pronio“tion of true religion and virtue; his success in soliciting for the First “ Fruits and Twentieths, to the unspeakable benefit of the established “ Church of Ireland; and his felicity (to rate it no higher) in giving occa"sion to the building of fity new churches in London.
“ All this considered, the character of his life will appear like that of his “ writings; they will both bear to be re-considered and re-examined with “ the utmost attention, and always discover new beauties and excellencies « upon every examination.
They will bear to be considered as the sun, in which the brightness “ will hide the blemishes; and whenever petulant ignorance, pride, ma: “ lice, malignity, or envy, interposes to cloud or sully his fame, I will ** take upon me to pronounce that the eclipse will not last long.
« To conclude-no man ever deserved better of his country than Swift “ did of his. A steady, persevering, inflexible friend; a wise, a watch“ ful, and a faithful counsellor, under many severe trials and bitter perse« cutions, to the manifest hazard both of his liberty and fortune. " He lived a blessing, he died a benefactor, and his name will ever live
honour to Ireland."
IN the poetical works of Dr. Swift there is not much upon which the critick can exercise his powers. They are often humourous, almost always light, and have the qualities which recommend such compositions, easiness and gaiety. They are, for the most part, what their author intended. The diction is correct, the numbers are smooth, and the rhymes exact. There seldom occurs a hard-laboured expression, or a redundant epithet; all his verses exemplify his own definition of a good style, they consist of “proper “ words in proper places.”
To divide this collection into classes, and shew how some pieces are gross, and some are trifling, would be to tell the reader what he knows already, and to find faults of which the author could not be ignorant, who certainly wrote not often to his judgment, but his humour.
It was said, in a Preface to one of the Irish editions, that Swift had never been known to take a single thought from any writer, ancient or modern. This is not literally true; but perhaps no writer can easily be found that has borrowed so little, or that in all his excellencies and all his defects has so well maintained his claim to be considered as original.