The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 1/Advertisement

A D V E R T I S E M E N T.

IN presenting to the publick a new edition of the Works of so well known and popular a writer as Dr. Swift, it would be equally unjust and invidious to withhold the preliminary observations of men high in esteem for critical sagacity, who on former occasions have not disdained to undertake the office of ushering the dean's writings into the world. These, therefore, will be found collected into one point of view at the beginning of the second volume.

From a large accumulation of useful materials (to which the present editor had contributed no inconsiderable share, and to which in 1779 he annexed a copious index to the dean's works, and a chronological list of the epistolary correspondence) a regular edition in seventeen volumes was in 1784 compiled by the late Mr. Sheridan; who prefixed an excellent life of the dean, which no man was better qualified than himself to undertake, and which renders it unnecessary to enter farther on that subject, than merely to observe, in the words of a late worthy friend[1], that, "if we deduct somewhat from report, which is apt to add to the oddities of men of note, the greatest part of his conduct may be accounted for by the common operations of human nature — 'Choler,' lord Bacon observes, 'puts men on action; when it grows adust, it turns to melancholy.' In Swift, that humour seems to have been predominant; governed, however, even in his younger days, by a fund of good sense, and an early experience of the world. He was thrown, luckily, in the prime of life, into the family of a great personage, where he had the happiness of an interview with a monarch; from whence he had reasonable hopes of satisfying his towering ambition. But he found them followed by nothing but disappointment. In a course of years, honours seemed a second time to make their court to him. He came into favour with a prime minister under another reign, even when different principles prevailed from those which guided his former patron; a rare felicity! which, however, in the event, served only to convince him, that he was banished to Ireland for life, and that all hopes were cut off of his rising, even there, any higher than the deanery. What would one of his parts and wit do in such a situation, but drop mankind as much as possible, especially the higher class of it, which to a man of humour is naturally a restraint; where, at best, as he observes, the only difference is, to have two candles on the table instead of one? What, I say, would such a one do, but cultivate an acquaintance with those who were disappointed like himself? what but write compliments on ladies, lampoons on men in power, sarcasms on human nature, trifle away life between whim and resentment, just as the bile arose or subsided? He had sense, and I believe religion, enough to keep him from vice; and, from a consciousness of his integrity, was less solicitous about the appearances of virtue, or even decency, which is often the counterfeit of it. The patriot principle, which he had imbibed in queen Anne's reign, lurked at the bottom of his heart; which, as it was more active in those those days than since, sometimes roused him to defend the church, and Ireland his asylum, against any encroachments. — View him now in his decline. Passions decay, and the lamp of life and reason grows dim. It is the fate of many, I may say most geniuses, who have secluded themselves from the world, to lose their senses in their old age; especially those who have worn them out in thought and application. Providence, perhaps, has therefore ordained, that the eyes, the inlets of knowledge, should be impaired, before the understanding, the repository of it, is decayed; that the defects of the former may protract the latter. Few of us are enough sensible how much the conjugal tie, and the several connexions which follow from it, how much even domestick troubles, when surmountable, are the physick of the soul; which, at the same time that they quicken the senses, preserve them too."

Not wishing to trouble the publick with any more last words of Dr. Swift; the editor contented himself with writing in the margin of his own books such particulars as occurred relative either to the dean, or to his writings; a circumstance which now enables him to supply several matters which had escaped Mr. Sheridan's observation, and to elucidate some passages which were left unexplained[2]. Careful, however, not to interfere with the general arrangement of the last edition; what has been done to the seventeen volumes, though attended with no small labour, it is useless to the general reader to point out. To the critical collator, it would be superfluous.

For the principal part of the contents of the eighteenth and nineteenth volumes, the Editor is alone responsible. The authority on which the miscellaneous tracts are adopted is in general given; and the articles in the Epistolary Correspondence sufficiently speak for themselves, and need no apology. Some of these are now first printed from the originals; and "Letters written by wise men," says an experienced writer, "are of all the works of men, in my judgment, the best[3]."

One advantage at least this edition possesses: a complete general Index, compiled by a Gentleman to whom the revision of the whole work at the press has been consigned by the proprietors, and whose kind attention has much facilitated the labours of the editor.

For the critical notes the reader is almost wholly indebted to the late Mr. Sheridan. Those which are historical are selected from the former publications of lord Orrery, Dr. Delany, Dr. Hawkesworth, Deane Swift, esq., Mr. Bowyer, Dr. Birch, Mr. Faulkner, and the present editor.

  1. Mr. Bowyer, the justly celebrated printer.
  2. Neither Mr. Sheridan, nor any other of the dean's biographers, has noticed, that he once possessed the prebend of Dunlavin; see vol. XI, pp. 76, 259.
  3. Bacon, de Augment. Scientiarum.