Page images

niggard and grudging manner, which was never forgiven by the distinguished object of his reluctant bounty. Four marriages, however, had provided Uncle Godwin with fifteen children, and he left at his death a crippled estate, altogether inadequate for

his survivors.

Swift says of himself that

'By the ill-treatment of his nearest relations [meaning chiefly Uncle Godwin], he was so discouraged and sunk in his spirit, that he too much neglected his academic studies, for some parts of which he had no great relish by nature, and turned himself to reading history and poetry; so that when the time came for taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts, although he had lived with great regularity and due observance of the statutes, he was stopped of his degree for dulness and insufficiency; and at last hardly admitted, in a manner little to his credit, which is called in that college [Trinity College, Dublin] speciali gratiá, on the 15th February, 1685, with four more on the same footing.'

'These autobiographical records,' observes Mr. Forster, 'show not only the sense of worldly disadvantage that even during childhood and at school marred his enjoyment and chilled exertion, but the temperament which at a later time fitted him as little to receive obligation as to endure dependence.'

[ocr errors]

'Dr. Barrett [we still quote Mr. Forster] taxes all his energies to establish that after his bachelorship Swift became reckless of hall or lecture-room, violent and quarrelsome, a stranger to the chapel, a lounger in the town, and for ever falling under fine or censure. Walter Scott not inaptly remembered, when he came to this picture by Barrett, how Johnson described his Oxford life to Boswell. 'Ah, sir, I was mad and violent. It was bitterness that they mistook for frolic. I was miserably poor, and thought to fight my way by my literature and my wit; so I disregarded all power and all authority." But there was a written sentence of Johnson more nobly applicable both to Swift and to himself, when, in the Life of the Dean, he said that the years of labour by which studies had been retrieved which were alleged to have been recklessly or negligently lost, "afforded useful admonition and powerful encouragement to men whose abilities have been made for a time useless by their passions or pleasures, and who, having lost one part of life in idleness, are tempted to throw away the remainder in despair."'

Swift's mother, notwithstanding the indiscreet' marriage, at which the black drop in her son's blood, when tinging his thoughts, made him repine chiefly because it had brought himself into being, appears always to have been regarded by that son with affection and admiration. 'Character, humour, uprightness, and independence,' says Mr. Forster, are in all the traditions respecting her.' During her life, which lasted twenty


two years after he left College, Swift rarely missed visiting her once a year at least at Leicester, where she had finally fixed her home-travelling by waggon or on foot in his poorer, by coach in his more opulent days. In his earlier journeys to and from that place when, seeing written over a door 'Lodgings for a penny,' he would hire a bed, giving an additional sixpence for clean sheets-he had opportunities of observing the ways and speech of the common people, which must have much helped to form his popular style and turn of thought.


Swift,' says Mr. Forster, 'was little more than two months past his twenty-first birthday, when Tyrconnel let loose the Celtic population on the English settlers in Dublin; and quitting the College with a crowd of other fugitives, he found his way to his mother's house in England.' His visit to Leicester on this occasion lasted some months, and his watchful parent became alarmed on his account because of the daughters of Heth'-one Betty Jones in particular, who afterwards married 'a rogue of an innkeeper' at Loughborough.

[ocr errors]


Hardly had he escaped this Betty Jones,' says Mr. Forster, 'when there began to be talk of another; and long before the " months" passed which he describes as the duration of this visit to Leicester, his mother must have been convinced of the truth of what her son already had been told by a person of great honour in Ireland," who was "pleased to stoop so low as to look into my mind; and used to tell me that it was like a conjured spirit, that would do mischief if I would not give it employment.'

[ocr errors]

Under these circumstances, it was his mother's suggestion that he should apply to Sir William Temple. Lady Temple was a relation of hers, and was still living when Swift's application for admission to Sir William Temple's house and patronage was made and received favourably.

'He joined,' says Mr. Forster, 'the retired statesman at Moor Park, near Farnham, before the close of 1689, and continued with him, not without intervals of absence, until just before Lady Temple's death in 1694. These five years are to be regarded as the first residence with Temple.'

Swift's great intellectual development, especially in the direction of politics, may be dated from the period of his two protracted sojourns under the roof of a veteran statesman of such experience and capacity as Temple. We ourselves have no doubt that Swift's moral character, so far as still pliable, must also have been improved by having set before him so accomplished a model of qualities which he could not but respect, albeit he could not emulate-his own natural temper being not less restless and ambitious than Temple's was the reverse.

If the pen of Swift, at a later period, inflicted the first defeat of Marlborough in the battle-field of English public opinion; if the pen of Swift first taught Ireland to adventure resurrection,' and commenced and carried to a triumphant issue the first successful Irish agitation, the school in which he learned to wield such a pen was Temple's house at Moor Park.

'Every judicious reader,' says Lord Macaulay, 'must be struck by the peculiarities which distinguish Swift's political tracts from all similar works produced by mere men of letters. Let any person compare, for example, the Conduct of the Allies, or the Letter to the October Club, with Johnson's "False Alarm," or 66 Taxation no Tyranny," and he will be at once struck by the difference of which we speak. He may possibly think Johnson a greater man than Swift. He may possibly prefer Johnson's style to Swift's. But he will at once acknowledge that Johnson writes like a man who has never been out of his study. Swift writes like a man who has passed his whole life in the midst of public business. It is impossible to doubt that the superiority of Swift is to be, in a great measure, attributed to his long and close connection with Temple.'*


It is curious to remark that the man whose pen so powerfully and effectively contributed to bring to a most lame and impotent conclusion' that great European league against Francethe foundations of which had been first laid by Temple-was Temple's political pupil. It is not too much to say that the long struggle with Louis XIV., in which the dauntless persistency of William of Orange engaged England and Europe -which was carried on with such triumphant success by Marlborough, and closed, if not too soon, yet too regardlessly of national and European interests, by Harley and St. John, at the Peace of Utrecht-might have been averted at the outset by honest adherence, on the part of England, to the policy of the Triple Alliance, concluded by Temple between England, Holland, and Sweden, in 1668. De Witt, the other wise. and honest man employed in forming that alliance, relied on the continued adherence of England to its objects and policy, because he relied on England continuing to see her own interest in them. What he did not know, or, at any rate, did not sufficiently take into account, was that the Lady England had then a Lord, whom the most frivolous and adulterous counter-interest too easily seduced at any time from that of his lawful spouse. The temptress France came with gold in her hand-with Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans (sister of Charles II.), for emissary, who opened her batteries against

*Macaulay's 'Essays,' vol. iii. p. 96.


[ocr errors]

the Anglo-Dutch alliance by unmerciful ridicule of the insular cut of English vests. Without notice-without pretext or provocation-Charles and his shameless councillors of the Cabal' rushed at once from alliance with Holland, in resistance to the encroachments of France, to war on Holland, in improvised alliance with France. The suddenness of the witch-brewed hurricane threw the Dutch Republic on its beam-ends, and precipitated a revolution in its federal democracy in favour of Orange and fatal to De Witt, as a similar revolution in the preceding generation had been to Barneveldt. But the storm of perfidiously-planned hostilities against Holland subsided as suddenly as it had risen. She sought refuge in brave despair, and found succour in fresh alliances. The sole permanent product of the shamelessly treacherous league between Charles and Louis was the life-long direction of the policy of William of Orange in antagonism to France. And the sole result which the Grand Monarque reaped at last from the costly and corrupt purchase of two English monarchs was the accession, by grace of Revolution, of a third and true monarch, whose policy prepared-if it left for another reign to consummate-the most crushing overthrows the arms of France had sustained since Crecy and Agincourt.

[ocr errors]

Lord Macaulay, who, while doing full justice to Temple's intrepid and patriotic diplomacy, seemed, in his Essay on Temple,' to have got tired of hearing Aristides always called The Just,' describes him in that essay as having 'transferred to the new settlement after the Revolution the same languid sort of loyalty which he had felt for his former master'-Charles II. How, may we ask, could any honest man have felt more for such a master than a very languid sort of loyalty? In spite,'

The Duchess of Orleans, according to the author or authors of the 'Character of a Trimmer' (of which lively and telling political tract the credit of authorship is divided between Sir William Coventry and the Marquis of Halifax), was a very welcome guest here; and her own charms and dexterity, joined with other advantages, that might help her persuasions, gave her such an ascendant, that she could hardly fail of success. One of the preliminaries of her treaty, though a trivial thing in itself, yet was considerable in the consequence, as very small circumstances often are in relation to the government of the world. About this time a general humour, in opposition to France, had made us throw off their fashion, and put on vests, that we might look more like a distinct people, and not be under the servility of imitation, which ever pays a greater deference to the original than is consistent with the equality all independent nations should pretend to. France did not like this small beginning of ill-humour, at least of emulation, wisely considering that it is a natural introduction first to make the world their apes, that they may be afterwards their slaves. It was thought that one of the instructions Madam brought along with her was to laugh us out of these vests, which she performed so effectually, that in a moment, like so many footmen who had quitted their masters' livery, we all took it again, and returned to our old service.'


the great historian goes on to say, ' of the most pressing solicitations, he refused to become Secretary of State. The refusal evidently proceeded only from the dislike of trouble and danger.' Might it not have partly proceeded from Temple's sixty years, well told, and his gout? Lord Macaulay himself states that William was in the habit of consulting Temple in his Surrey retreat on all political emergencies. On one important occasion, the King having sent to ask his opinion on the Triennial Bill, which he was very reluctant to pass, Temple's confidential secretary, Jonathan Swift, had the honour to be made the mouthpiece of the veteran statesman's prudent counsel to the monarch.

'The sequel,' says Mr. Forster, 'may be told by Swift himself. What had weighed heavily with William was that Charles I. had passed such a Bill. But Swift explained that Charles's ruin was not owing to his passing a Bill which did not hinder him from dissolving any Parliament, but to the passing another Bill which put it out of his power to dissolve the Parliament then in being without its own consent. "Mr. Swift, who was well versed in English history [here the autobiography is quoted], gave the King a short account of the matter, and a more large one to the Earl of Portland, but all in vain ; for the King, by ill-advisers, was prevailed upon to refuse passing the Bill. This was the first time that Mr. Swift had ever any converse with courts, and he told his friends it was the first incident that helped to cure him of vanity." One may guess from this, the confidence in himself with which the young scholar had stepped into the closet of the King.'

When Swift first became an inmate at Moor Park, Esther Johnson (Stella) was living there under the same roof with her mother, whom Macaulay degrades into a waiting-woman, and whom Scott and Mr. Forster describe as a governess or companion of Temple's sister, Lady Giffard, with whom she continued in that connection till the death of Temple. Esther Johnson was then a little girl in a pinafore. I knew her,' says Swift, 'f 'from six years old, and had some share in her education, by directing what books she should read, and perpetually instructing her in the principles of honour and virtue, from which she never swerved in any one action or moment of her life.' Contrast this simple statement, placed in a perfectly clear light by Mr. Forster, with the following broad caricature by Lord Macaulay :

'An eccentric, uncouth, disagreeable young Irishman, who had narrowly escaped plucking at Dublin, attended Sir William as an amanuensis for board and 201. a-year, dined at the second table, wrote bad verses in praise of his employer, and made love to a very pretty, dark-eyed young girl who waited on Lady Giffard.'

Vol. 141.-No. 281.



« PreviousContinue »