The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 1/Life of Dr. Swift, Section V
From his return to Ireland to his Death.
Immediately after the decease of the queen, Swift returned to Ireland, where he found things in the highest ferment: the whigs all in triumph, threatening vengeance on the whole body of the desponding tories, as soon as power should come into their hands. However violent the proceedings of the whigs in England might afterward be, their animosity against the opposite party was moderate, in comparison with the hatred which their brethren of Ireland bore to the tories. All the stories fabricated in England by the whigs, of an intention to bring in the pretender by the late ministry, and which were only calculated for the more violent of their party, and the vulgar, were universally and implicitly believed in Ireland. The dreadful and detested days of James II, of which there were still so many living witnesses in that kingdom, and in which the whole body of protestants suffered so much, came fresh into their minds, and raised the utmost abhorrence of all who were supposed to be abettors of such a measure. They were taught to consider the word tory and jacobite, as synonymous terms; and as Swift was known to have been highly in the confidence of the late ministry, he was of course supposed to have been deeply concerned with them in the plot of bringing in the pretender. Being the only one then in Ireland, against whom a charge could be made of having an immediate hand in such a design, he became the chief object upon which the madness of party vented its rage. He was constantly insulted with opprobrious language as he walked the streets, and some of the more violent, used to take up dirt from the kennel to throw at him as he passed along; insomuch, that he was obliged never to go abroad without servants armed to protect his person. Nor was it from the lower class of people only, that he met with such insults; but those of a higher rank, in proportion as they were actuated by the virulence of party, or wished to make a merit to themselves with the governing powers, took all opportunities of treating him with the utmost indignity. Of this I have a strong instance now before me, in a paper drawn up by Swift himself. The title of it is, "The Dean of St. Patrick's Petition to the House of Lords against Lord Blaney:" and on the inside: "To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled."
"Most humbly showeth,
"That your petitioner is advised by his physicians, on account of his health, to go often on horseback; and there being no place, in winter, so convenient for riding, as the strand toward Howth, your petitioner takes all opportunities that his business or the weather will permit, to take that road. That in the last session of parliament, in the midst of winter, as your petitioner was returning from Howth with his two servants, one before, and the other behind him, he was pursued by two gentlemen in a chaise, drawn by two high mettled horses, in so violent a manner, that his servant, who rode behind him, was forced to give way, with the utmost peril of his life: whereupon your petitioner made what speed he could, riding to the right and left above fifty yards to the full extent of the said road; but the two gentlemen driving a light chaise, drawn by fleet horses, and intent upon mischief, turned faster than your petitioner, endeavouring to overthrow him. That by great accident your petitioner got safe to the side of a ditch, where the chaise could not safely pursue; and the two gentlemen stopping their career, your petitioner mildly expostulated with them; whereupon one of the gentlemen said, Damn you, is not the road as free for us as for you? and calling to his servant who rode behind him, said, Tom (or some such name) is the pistol loaden with ball? To which the servant answered, yes, my lord, and gave him the pistol. Your petitioner often said to the gentleman, pray, sir, do not shoot, for my horse is apt to start, by which my life may be endangered. The chaise went forward, and your petitioner took the opportunity to stay behind. Your petitioner is informed, that the person who spoke the words above-mentioned, is of your lordships house, under the style and title of lord Blaney; whom your petitioner remembers to have introduced to Mr. secretary Addison, in the earl of Wharton's government, and to have done him other good offices at that time, because he was represented as a young man of some hopes, and a broken fortune. That the said lord Blaney, as your petitioner is informed, is now in Dublin, and sometimes attends your lordships house. And your petitioner's health still requiring that he should ride, and being confined in winter to go on the same strand, he is forced to inquire from every one he meets, whether the said lord be on the same strand; and to order his servants to carry arms to defend him against the like, or a worse insult, from the said lord, for the consequences of which your petitioner cannot answer.
"Your petitioner is informed by his learned council, that there is no law now in being, which can justify the said lord, under colour of his peerage, to assault any of his majesty's subjects on the king's highway, and put them in fear of their lives, without provocation, which he humbly conceives, that by only happening to ride before the said lord, he could not possibly give.
"Your petitioner, therefore, doth humbly implore your lordships in your great prudence and justice, to provide that he may be permitted to ride with safety on the said strand, or any other of the king's highways, for the recovery of his health, so long as he shall demean himself in a peaceable manner, without being put into continual fears of his life by the force and arms of the said lord Blaney."
But nothing hurt Swift so much, as the many instances of ingratitude he experienced in those who were highly indebted to him, while he was in power. It has been already shown, that he made it a point with the ministry in England, that no man of genius or merit, should be turned out of employment on account of party: the same maxim he extended to Ireland, where he preserved several in their places, who, but for his interposition, would infallibly have lost them. Of this many instances occur in the course of his letters. In one to the archbishop of Dublin, written in 1713, when his influence was at the highest, he says, "I have suffered very much for my tenderness to some persons of that party, which I still preserve; it would be endless to recount to your grace the reproaches that have been made me, on account of your neighbour." And in another, "Neither did I ever fail to interpose in any case of merit or compassion, by which means several persons in England, and some in this kingdom, kept their employments; for I cannot remember my lord Oxford ever refused me a request of that kind." He therefore thought it extremely hard, that after such instances of favour shown to numbers of that party, he should be particularly marked out as the chief object of their resentment: or, as he himself expresses it in the same letter, "If my friendship and conversation were equally shown among those who liked or disapproved the proceedings then at court, and that I was known to be a common friend of all deserving persons of the latter sort, when they were in distress; I cannot but think it hard, that I am not suffered to run quietly among the herd of people, whose opinions unfortunately differ from those which lead to favour and preferment." But Swift, by his great abilities exerted in the cause of the late ministry, had rendered himself so obnoxious to the new men in power, that even to be of his acquaintance, would, in those days, have been a sure bar to promotion. Of this, there is a singular instance communicated to me among other anecdotes taken down at that time by a friend of the dean's. Swift, in the height of party ferment, having some occasion to apply to sir Thomas Southwell, who was one of the commissioners of the revenue, and with whom he had lived on the footing of the greatest intimacy, was much shocked by an answer he made him: "I'll lay you a groat (a usual cant expression of sir Thomas's) Mr. dean, I don't know you." Some years after, when the spirit of party was a good deal abated, sir Thomas, who was then lord Southwell, riding on the strand, and observing the dean on horseback a little before him, lamented to one of his company the ill effects of party; among which he reckoned the loss of that worthy man's acquaintance, meaning the dean: but I'll try, said he, to recover it. When he overtook the dean, he asked him how he did. "I'll lay you a groat, my lord," says Swift, "I don't know you."
In such a situation of affairs, Swift chose the most prudent part, that of retiring wholly from the world, and employing himself chiefly in the care of his deanery, in the discharge of his duty as a clergyman, and arranging his domestick affairs, without once casting his eye toward the publick. In a letter to Pope, dated January 10, 1721, he gives this account of himself: "In a few weeks after the loss of that excellent princess, I came to my station here, where I have continued ever since in the greatest privacy, and utter ignorance of those events which are most commonly talked of in the world. I neither know the names nor number of the family which now reigneth, farther than the prayer book informeth me. I cannot tell who is chancellor, who are secretaries, nor with what nations we are in peace or war. And this manner of life was not taken up out of any sort of affectation, but merely to avoid giving offence, and for fear of provoking party zeal." But though in this Swift acted the part of a philosopher, yet no one could feel more for the distresses of his former friends, and the uncomfortableness of his own situation. In a letter to Pope, June 28, 1715, he says, "You know how well I loved both lord Oxford and Bolingbroke, and how dear the duke of Ormond is to me: and do you imagine I can be easy while their enemies are endeavouring to take off their heads? I nunc, & versus tecum meditare canoros. Do you imagine I can be easy, when I think on the probable consequences of these proceedings, perhaps upon the very peace of the nation, but certainly of the minds of so many hundred thousand good subjects?" And in one to Mr. Gay, he says, "I was three years reconciling myself to the scene, and the business, to which fortune hath condemned me, and stupidity was that I had recourse to." In another to the same, he gives this account of himself: "I would describe to you my way of living, if any method could be called so in this country. I choose my companions among those of least consequence, and most compliance: I read the most trifling books I can find, and when I write, it is upon the most trifling subjects: but riding, walking, and sleeping, take up eighteen of the twenty-four hours. I procrastinate more than I did twenty years ago, and have several things to finish, which I put off to twenty years hence." In this manner did he pass seven years of his life from his arrival in Ireland, little known there as an author, except on account of his political writings, which, in that change of times rendered him an object of general detestation. There had been then no collection made of his works, and his detractors in England had robbed him of the merit of his principal work, The Tale of a Tub, by denying him to be the author. Many calumnies were industriously propagated against him, taken from the writings of the hirelings on the whig side, whereof the number was so great, that Swift in one place says, that there were upward of a thousand papers and pamphlets published against him in the space of a few years. But wrapped in the consciousness of his integrity, he had the fortitude to treat all this with silent contempt. To counterbalance the ill treatment he met with from the publick, he, by degrees, contracted an intimacy with a select few, who had taste to relish the author, and virtue to admire the man. He had also the supreme satisfaction of constantly enjoying the society of the amiable and accomplished Stella, whose conversation, by his own account, was the most engaging of any he had ever met with, either in man or woman. And he found in Dr. Sheridan, that best cordial of life, a bosom friend, to whom he could open himself without restraint, in all humours, and who was peculiarly calculated for the bagatelle, of which Swift at that time professed himself so fond, as the only means of keeping up his spirits in the gloom that surrounded him. He had the pleasure of hearing often from his former friends, whose letters breathed the same cordial affection, and high esteem which they always professed for him. Among this number were lord Bolingbroke, lord Harley, Mr. Addison, Dr. Arbuthnot, Prior, Pope, Lewis, &c. the duchess of Ormond, and lady Bolingbroke. In the year 1715, when lord Oxford was committed to the Tower, Swift wrote pressingly to him that he might be permitted to attend him there. His letter begins thus: "My lord, it may look like an idle or officious thing in me, to give your lordship any interruption under your present circumstances: yet I could never forgive myself, if, after having been treated for several years with the greatest kindness and distinction, by a person of your lordship's virtue, I should omit making you at this time the humblest offers of my poor service and attendance. It is the first time I ever solicited you in my own behalf; and if I am refused, it will be the first request you ever refused me." But lord Oxford, however desirous he might be of the presence of such a friend, whose conversation might contribute more than any thing in the world to soften the rigour of confinement, was too generous to put him to such an inconvenience on that account. Yet immediately on his release from the Tower, he expressed his desire of seeing him in England, if it might be consistent with his affairs; in a letter full of the warmest expressions of friendship and affection.
"August 6, 1717.
"Two years retreat has made me taste the conversation of my dearest friend, with a greater relish than ever, at the time of my being charmed with it in our frequent journies to Windsor. My heart is often with you, but I delayed writing in expectation of giving a perfect answer about my going to Brampton; but the truth is, the warmth of rejoicing in those parts, is so far from abating, that I am persuaded by my friends to go into Cambridgeshire, where you are too just not to believe you will be welcome before any one in the world. The longing your friends have to see you must be submitted to the judgment yourself makes of all circumstances. At present this seems to be a cooler climate, than your island is like to be when they assemble, &c. Our impatience to see you, should not draw you into uneasiness. We long to embrace you, if you find it may be of no inconvenience to yourself.
Lord Bolingbroke's letters during his exile, are not inferiour to lord Oxford's in expressions of the highest regard and friendship. In that of October 23, 1716, are the following passages. "It is a very great truth, that among all the losses which I have sustained, none affected me more sensibly, than that of your company and correspondence; and yet, even now, I should not venture to write to you, did not you provoke me to it. Your letter breathes the same spirit, as your conversation at all times inspired, even when the occasions of practising the severest rules of virtuous fortitude seemed most remote. Adieu, dear friend; may the kindest influence of Heaven be shed upon you. Whether we may ever meet again, that Heaven only knows: if we do, what millions of things shall we have to talk over! In the mean while, believe that nothing sits so near my heart, as my country, and my friends, and that among these, you ever had, and ever shall have, a principal place."
In another letter he says, "I know not whether the love of fame increases as we advance in age; sure I am, that the force of friendship does. I loved you almost twenty years ago; I thought of you as well as I do now; better was beyond the power of conception; or, to avoid an equivoque, beyond the extent of my ideas."
In the year 1717, Swift received a letter from Lewis, giving him an account of the distressed situation of Prior's affairs, and of a design set on foot by his friends to publish his works by subscription, in order to his relief. This gave him an opportunity of exerting that zeal, for which he was so remarkable, whenever the cause of his friend, or distressed merit, called upon him. Upon this occasion he made use of all his influence to so good purpose, that in a few months he sent him such a large list of subscribers, that Prior was astonished at it. His earnestness to serve him, and to give him accounts of his success in his solicitations, appears from the quick succession of letters sent by him on the occasion. Prior, in answer to these, begins his letter of July 30, 1717, thus: "I have the favour of four letters from you, of the 9th, 13th, 16th, and 20th instant," and he concludes his letter thus: "Pray give my service to all friends in general. I think, as you have ordered the matter, you have made the greater part of Ireland list themselves under that number. I do not know how you can recompense them, but by coming over to help me correct the book which I promised them."
What an instance is here of the vicissitudes in human affairs, when a man who had been ambassador plenipotentiary to the court of France, should, in the space of a few years, be reduced to such a sorry expedient (as Swift terms it) to keep him above want!
During this period. Swift's pen seems to have been thrown aside, or employed only in trifles, except two tracts drawn up by him soon after his settlement in Ireland: the one, entitled, "Memoirs relating to that Change which happened in the Queen's Ministry in the Year 1710." Written in October 1714. The other, "An Inquiry into the Behaviour of the Queen's last Ministry, with relation to their Quarrels among themselves, and the Design charged upon them of altering the Succession of the Crown." His view in these was, to lay open all the springs which moved the political machine during that period; and to exonerate the ministry from that heavy charge, so loudly and generally made against them, of a design to bring in the pretender. As he was a man more in the confidence of that ministry, than any other in the world: of a sagacity not easily to be duped; a sincerity incapable of being biassed, and of most undoubted veracity; there was no one living so capable of executing such a task. And when we examine the strength of argument with which he has supported his positions; when we reflect that these tracts were drawn up without any view of their being published till after his death, and therefore could answer no private end, the impartial world will necessarily be of his side. Confident assertions, and loud clamours of a party, unsupported by any proofs, though sought for with all the diligence of persevering malice and revenge; however they may spread for a time through the spirit of faction, will never prevail with an unprejudiced posterity, against conclusive arguments, supported by established facts. To enlighten posterity with regard to those points, for he had no hopes of the present age, was Swift's motive for leaving those pieces behind him, and no doubt his end will be answered.
During almost six years after his return to Ireland, Swift kept his resolution of not meddling at all with publick affairs. He saw with indignation the cruel oppression under which his country laboured, and with the deepest concern, the miserable state to which it was reduced. But as he knew that all efforts to stem the torrent, during the violence of party, would be fruitless, he prudently waited till it had spent its force. In the year 1720, when the ferment seemed to have subsided, he published his first political tract relative to Ireland, entitled, A Proposal for the universal Use of Irish Manufactures. In which he cautiously avoids touching upon party matters, and points out to the people of Ireland, that a great part of their poverty and distress was owing to their own folly, and that the remedy was in their own hands. Of this pamphlet, and the consequences produced from it, he has given the following account in a letter to Pope. "I have written in this kingdom, a discourse to persuade the wretched people to wear their own manufactures, instead of those from England: this treatise soon spread very fast, being agreeable to the sentiments of the whole nation, except of those gentlemen who had employments, or were expectants. Upon which a person in great office here, immediately took the alarm; he sent in haste for the chief justice, and informed him of a seditious, factious, and virulent pamphlet, lately published with a design of setting the two kingdoms at variance; directing at the same time, that the printer should be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. The chief justice has so quick an understanding, that he resolved, if possible, to outdo his orders. The grand juries of the county and city were effectually practised with, to represent the said pamphlet with all aggravating epithets, for which they had thanks sent them from England, and their presentments published, for several weeks, in all the news papers. The printer was seized, and forced to give great bail. After his trial, the jury brought him in not guilty, although they had been culled with the utmost industry: the chief justice sent them back nine times, and kept them eleven hours; until being perfectly tired out, they were forced to leave the matter to the mercy of the judge, by what they call a special verdict. During the trial, the chief justice, among other singularities, laid his hand on his breast, and protested solemnly, that the author's design was to bring in the pretender, although there was not a single syllable of party in the whole treatise; and although it was known that the most eminent of those who professed his own principles, publickly disallowed his proceedings. But the cause being so very odious and unpopular, the trial of the verdict was deferred from one term to another, until upon the duke of Grafton's, the lord lieutenant's arrival, his grace, after mature advice, and permission from England, was pleased to grant a noli prosequi."
From this experiment Swift learned that the embers of party, however concealed under ashes, might be revived with the least breath, and blown into a blaze. He therefore withdrew into his former retirement, after having taken ample vengeance on the chief justice, by exposing him in the most odious colours, and rendering him an object of general detestation. But whatever efforts he used to subdue his indignation at the cruel acts of oppression and injustice under which his country laboured, by confining it within his own breast, yet his heart was constantly corroded with the scenes of misery which surrounded him; and his patriotick spirit, thus confined, proved only as an evil one to torment him. Of the effect which this had on his temper, we have many instances in his letters. Dr. Delany mentions a remarkable one, who calling on him one day, when upon some occasion he seemed in an uncommon state of irritation, being asked by Swift, "Whether the corruptions and villanies of men in power, did not eat his flesh, and exhaust his spirits?" Answered, "that in truth they did not:" he then asked in a fury "why — why — how can you help it? how can you avoid it?" Delany calmly replied, "because I am commanded to the contrary. — "Fret not thyself because of the ungodly."
As no work of his has appeared written during the space of near four years after his publishing the above-mentioned pamphlet, it is highly probable that his leisure hours were wholly employed in writing Gulliver's Travels. In which general satire on the vices, follies, and absurdities of mankind, he gave vent to that spleen, which was in a continual state of irritation from the objects that surrounded him.
In the year 1724, an opportunity offered, which he eagerly embraced, of dispersing those clouds, behind which he had so long been concealed, and of blazing forth in higher lustre than ever. At that time a project was set on foot by one William Wood, an obscure man, which, had it succeeded, would have ended in the total, and perhaps irretrievable ruin of Ireland. A patent was granted to this man, in a most extraordinary manner, for coining halfpence for the use of Ireland, without consulting any mortal of that kingdom, or even giving any previous notice of it to the lord lieutenant. Justly alarmed at the consequences to be apprehended from this, and fired with resentment at the indignity with which they were treated, the parliament, privy council, grand juries, and numerous bodies of the inhabitants throughout the kingdom, sent over strong remonstrances against this proceeding, but all to no purpose. The British minister, who had his own views in promoting this favourite project, determined to support the patent; and being then possessed of the same plenitude of power, with all the insolence of a Turkish vizier, was deaf to the remonstrances of the nation, and resolved to cram the halfpence down their throats. Though to be master of the subject, it will be necessary to read all that Swift has written upon it, yet it may not be amiss here to give a general idea of the case, in an extract from a most masterly address to both houses of parliament drawn up by him on the occasion. "There is one particular, which although I have mentioned more than once in some of my former papers, yet I cannot forbear to repeat, and a little enlarge upon it; because I do not remember to have read or heard of the like, in the history of any age or country; neither do I ever reflect upon it without the utmost astonishment.
"After the unanimous addresses to his sacred majesty against this patent of Wood, from both houses of parliament; and likewise an address from the privy council, to whom, under the chief governors the whole administration is entrusted, the matter is referred to a committee of council in London. Wood and his adherents are heard on one side, and a few volunteers, without any trust or direction from hence. The question, as I remember, chiefly turned upon the want of halfpence in Ireland: witnesses are called on behalf of Wood, of what credit I have formerly shown: upon the issue the patent is found good and legal; all his majesty's officers here, not excepting the military, commanded to be aiding and assisting to make it effectual: the address of both houses of parliament, of the privy council, and of the city of Dublin; the declarations of most counties and corporations through the kingdom, are all together laid aside, as of no weight, consequence, or consideration whatsoever, and the whole kingdom of Ireland nonsuited in default of appearance; as if it were a private cause between John Doe, plaintiff, and Richard Roe, defendant.
"With great respect to those honourable persons, the committee of council in London, I have not understood them to be our governors, counsellors, or judges. Neither did our case turn at all upon the question, whether Ireland wanted halfpence: for there is no doubt but we do want both halfpence, gold, and silver; and we have numberless other wants, and some that we are not so much as allowed to name, although they are peculiar to this nation; to which, no other is subject, whom God hath blessed with religion and laws, or any degree of soil and sunshine: but for what demerits on our side, I am altogether in the dark.
"But I do not remember that our want of halfpence, was either affirmed or denied, in any of our addresses, or declarations against those of Wood. We alleged the fraudulent obtaining and executing of his patent; the baseness of his metal; and the prodigious sum to be coined, which might be increased by stealth, from foreign importation, and his own counterfeits, as well as those at home; whereby we must infallibly lose all our little gold and silver, and all our poor remainder of a very limited and discouraged trade. We urged that the patent was passed without the least reference hither; and without mention of any security given by Wood to receive his own halfpence upon demand, both which are contrary to all former proceedings in the like cases.
"But in the name of God, and of all justice and piety, when the king's majesty was pleased that this patent should pass, is it not to be understood that he conceived, believed, and intended it as a gracious act, for the good and benefit of his subjects, for the advantage of a great and fruitful kingdom; of the most loyal kingdom upon earth, where no hand or voice was ever lifted up against him; a kingdom, where the passage is not three hours from Britain, and a kingdom where the papists have less power and less land than in England? Can it be denied or doubted, that his majesty's ministers understood, and proposed the same end; the good of this nation, when they advised the passing of this patent? Can the person of Wood be otherwise regarded, than as the instrument, the mechanick, the head workman, to prepare his furnace, his fuel, his metal, and his stamps? If I employ a shoeboy, is it in view to his advantage, or to my own convenience? I mention the person of William Wood alone, because no other appears, and we are not to reason upon surmises, neither would it avail, if they had a real foundation.
"Allowing therefore, for we cannot do less, that this patent for the coining of halfpence, was wholly intended by a gracious king, and a wise publick-spirited ministry, for the advantage of Ireland; yet, when the whole kingdom to a man, for whose good the patent was designed, do, upon the maturest consideration, universally join in openly declaring, protesting, addressing, petitioning against these halfpence, as the most ruinous project that ever was set on foot, to complete the slavery and destruction of a poor innocent country: is it, was it, can it, or will it ever be a question, not whether such a kingdom, or William Wood should be a gainer, but whether such a kingdom should be wholly undone, destroyed, sunk, depopulated, made a scene of misery and desolation, for the sake of William Wood? God of his infinite mercy avert this dreadful judgment; and it is our universal wish, that God would put it into your hearts, to be his instrument for so good a work.
"For my own part, who am but one man, of obscure condition, I do solemnly declare, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will suffer the most ignominious and torturing death, rather than submit to receive this accursed coin, or any other that shall be liable to the same objections, until they shall be forced upon me by a law of my own country; and if that shall ever happen, I will transport myself into some foreign land, and eat the bread of poverty among a free people.
"The great ignominy of a whole kingdom's lying so long at mercy under so vile an adversary, is such a deplorable aggravation, that the utmost expressions of shame and rage are too low to set it forth, and therefore I shall leave it to receive such a resentment, as is worthy of a parliament."
Upon the first tidings of the patent's being passed in so extraordinary a manner, Swift took up the pen, and under the feigned character of M. B. drapier, represented all the fatal consequences that would necessarily attend the carrying of it into execution, in so plain and clear a light, as spread a general alarm through all ranks and orders of men throughout the nation.
But as the parliament, the privy council, grand juries, and so many bodies corporate of the kingdom, addressed, remonstrated, and petitioned against it, their fears were at an end, as supposing it impossible that these should not prevail. Yet what was their astonishment to find that all these, and the cry of the whole nation, were treated with the utmost contempt, and a sham inquiry set on foot by a committee of the privy council in England, which ended in sending over orders to all officers under the crown in Ireland, to be aiding and assisting to the utmost of their power in supporting Wood's patent, and giving circulation to his accursed coin. As all persons in office at that time were in the most slavish dependance on the British ministry, there were no hopes but that they would pay implicit obedience to the commands of their masters, especially as they could do it under colour of loyalty, as opposing the patent was called, in the language of those days, flying in the king's face. And if this coin was once received into the publick offices, and issued out to pay the king's troops, the affair was over. To prevent this there was but one way, which was to raise such a spirit in the whole body of the people, as to determine them never to receive one piece of this coin in payment. This he so effectually performed in a series of letters, under the same signature of M. B. drapier, which were universally read over the whole kingdom, that there was scarce an individual to be found, even down to the lowest peasant, except a few placemen, who did not form this resolution. And in order to bind them to it more effectually, in his second letter he drew up the following advertisement. "Whereas one William Wood, hardwareman, now or lately sojourning in the city of London, hath, by many misrepresentations, procured a patent for coining a hundred and eight thousand pounds, in copper halfpence, for this kingdom, which is a sum five times greater than our occasions require: and whereas it is notorious that the said Wood hath coined his halfpence of such base metal, and false weight, that they are at best six parts in seven below the real value: and whereas we have reason to apprehend, that the said Wood may at any time hereafter clandestinely coin as many more halfpence as he pleases: and whereas the said patent neither doth, nor can oblige his majesty's subjects to receive the said halfpence in any payment, but leaves it to their voluntary choice, because by law the subject cannot be obliged to take any money, except gold or silver: and whereas, contrary to the letter and meaning of the said patent, the said Wood hath declared, that every person shall be obliged to take fivepence halfpenny of his coin in every payment: and whereas the house of commons, and privy council have severally addressed his most sacred majesty, representing the ill consequences which the said coinage may have upon this kingdom: and lastly, whereas it is universally agreed that the whole nation to a man, except Mr. Wood and his confederates, are in the utmost apprehensions of the ruinous consequences that must follow from the said coinage; therefore we, whose names are underwritten, being persons of considerable estates in this kingdom, and residers therein, do unanimously resolve aud declare, that we will never receive one farthing or halfpenny of the said Wood's coining; and that we will direct all our tenants to refuse the said coin from any person whatsoever, of which, that they may not be ignorant, we have sent them a copy of this advertisement, to be read to them by our stewards, receivers, &c."
Numbers of these advertisements, signed by a multitude of names, together with the Drapier's Letters, were soon dispersed over the kingdom, and produced such a universal outcry in all ranks of people against this odious project, that the poor tools of power did not dare to attempt any thing in support of it. But the English minister, not at all intimidated by this violent opposition, seemed resolutely bent on carrying the point. With this view he sent over the lord Carteret, lately appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, long before the usual time of the chief governor's going to that kingdom, with directions to assemble the parliament, which had been prorogued to a distant day, soon after his arrival, revoking that prorogation, a thing very unusual. Here he was to try the common methods of securing a majority, in order to get the sanction of the Irish parliament to the measure. On his arrival, a proclamation was published by his excellency and council, offering a reward of three hundred pounds, for discovering the author of the fourth Drapier's Letter. Harding, the printer of that letter, was imprisoned, and a bill of indictment was ordered to be prepared against him. Upon this occasion Swift wrote a short paper, called Seasonable Advice to the Grand Jury, &c. copies of which were distributed to every person of the grand jury the evening before the bill was to be presented, and had such an effect, that the bill was unanimously thrown out. Upon which the same lord chief justice, who had before acted with such violence in a former prosecution of the dean's printer, in a most arbitrary and illegal manner, discharged the jury in a rage. But this proceeding, far from serving the cause which he espoused, only rendered it the more desperate, by exasperating men's minds, already sufficiently provoked. For the next grand jury that was summoned, not content with screening the friends to their country, made a violent attack upon the enemy, by the following strong presentment, drawn up by Swift, at the request of some of the jury.
"The Presentment of the Grand Jury of the County of the City of Dublin.
"Whereas several great quantities of base metal, coined, commonly called Wood's halfpence, have been brought into the port of Dublin and lodged in several houses of this city, with an intention to make them pass clandestinely among his majesty's subjects of this kingdom, notwithstanding the addresses of both houses of parliament, and the privy council, and most of the corporations of this city against the said coin: and whereas his majesty has been graciously pleased to leave his loyal subjects of this kingdom at liberty to take or refuse the said halfpence:
"We the Grand Jury of the county of the city of Dublin, this Michaelmas term 1724, having entirely at heart his majesty's interest, and the welfare of our country; and being thoroughly sensible of the great discouragements which trade hath suffered by the apprehensions of the said coin, whereof we have already felt the dismal effects; and that the currency thereof will inevitably tend to the great diminution of his majesty's revenue, and the ruin of us and our posterity, do present all such persons as have attempted, or shall endeavour by fraud, or otherwise, to impose the said halfpence upon us, contrary to his majesty's most gracious intentions, as enemies to his majesty's government, and to the safety, peace, and welfare of all his majesty's subjects of this kingdom; whose affections have been so eminently distinguished by their zeal to his illustrious family, before his happy accession to the throne, and by their continued loyalty ever since.
"As we do, with all just gratitude, acknowledge the services of all such patriots as have been eminently zealous for the interest of his majesty and this country, in detecting the fraudulent imposition of the said Wood, and preventing the passing of his base coin; so we do, at the same time, declare our abhorrence and detestation of all reflections on his majesty and his government; and that we are ready with our lives and fortunes to defend his most sacred majesty against the pretender, and all his majesty's open and secret enemies, both at home and abroad.
"Given under our hands, &c."
Upon this presentment, followed by several others in the different counties, the affair was looked upon as desperate, and being represented in that light to the minister by lord Carteret, the patent was withdrawn, and the halfpence suppressed.
Never was greater exultation shown upon any occasion than appeared in the whole nation, upon the defeat of this infamous project; the drapier was hailed by the universal voice as the saviour of his country. His name resounded from shore to shore; his effigies was set up in every street; and innumerable bumpers were daily swallowed to his health.
Whoever examines the Drapier's Letters with attention will find, that the great talents of Swift never appeared in a more conspicuous light than on this occasion. He saw that a plan was formed by the British minister to bring his country into the utmost distress. Notwithstanding the apparent opposition given to it by the Irish parliament and privy council, he knew too well the servile disposition of all men in office at that time, and their abject dependance on the minister, to suppose they would continue firm in their opposition, at the certain loss of their places, if he was determined to carry the point. He saw therefore no possible means of preventing the evil, but raising such a spirit in the whole body of the people, as would make them resolve on no account whatsoever to receive this coin. His writings in the character of a drapier were in such plain language, as rendered them perfectly intelligible to the meanest capacities. His arguments were so naturally deduced, and in such an easy series, from simple and evident principles, as carried the fullest conviction to every mind. But as it was necessary to his purpose to rouse the feelings, as well as convince the understandings of mankind; without ever appearing to apply at all to the passions, he raises them to the highest pitch, by seemingly casual strokes here and there interspersed. So that the whole, on a transient view, appeared what it professed to be, the work of an honest shopkeeper, of plain common sense, who started out of his sphere to commence writer, upon a view of the imminent danger with which his country was threatened; and who could not, now and then, in the course of his argument, suppress the honest indignation which rose in his breast, at the unparallelled insolence of power, in treating a great and loyal kingdom with such indignity as would have been thought intolerable, even by the inhabitants of the Isle of Man. Yet plain and simple as these writings seem to be at first view, and such as every common reader would imagine he could produce himself, upon a closer inspection they would be found to be works of the most consummate skill and art; and whoever should attempt to perform the like, would be obliged to say with Horace:
Sudet multum, frustraque laboret
Qidvis speret idem.
I remember to have heard the late Hawkins Browne say, that the Drapier's Letters were the most perfect pieces of oratory ever composed since the days of Demosthenes. And indeed, upon a comparison, there will appear a great similitude between the two writers. They both made use of the plainest words, and such as were in most general use, which they adorned only by a proper and beautiful arrangement of them. They both made choice of the most obvious topicks, which, by the force of genius they placed in a new light. They were equally skilful in the arrangement and closeness of their arguments; equally happy in the choice and brevity of their allusions: each so entirely master of his art, as entirely to conceal the appearance of art, so that they seized on the passions by surprise. Nor were the effects produced by the orations of Demosthenes on the Athenians, though set off with all the advantage of a most powerful elocution, greater than what followed from the silent pen of Swift. For in a nation made up of the most discordant materials, who never before agreed in any one point, he produced such a unanimity, that English and Irish, protestant, presbyterian, and papist, spoke the same language, and had but one voice. There is one advantage indeed which Swift had over Demosthenes, in that admirable vein of wit and humour, peculiar to himself, at which the other often made unsuccesful attempts; and of which, though sparingly, we find some shining instances scattered through those letters. One of which is so excellent, that I am tempted to present the passage to the reader. Where, speaking in the assumed character of the drapier, he says, "I am very sensible that such a work as I have undertaken, might have worthily employed a much better pen: but when a house is attempted to be robbed, it often happens that the weakest in the family, runs first to stop the door. All my assistance, were some informations from an eminent person; whereof I am afraid I have spoiled a few, by endeavouring to make them of a piece with my own productions; and the rest I was not able to manage. I was in the case of David, who could not move in the armour of Saul, and therefore I rather chose to attack this uncircumcised Philistine (Wood I mean) with a sling and a stone. And I may say for Wood's honour, as well as my own, that he resembles in many circumstances, very applicable to the present purpose: for, Goliah had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass, and he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. — In short he was, like Mr. Wood, all over brass, and he defied the armies of the living God. — Goliah's conditions of combat, were likewise the same with those of Wood: if he prevail against us, then shall we be his servants. But if it happens that I prevail over him, I renounce the other part of the condition; he shall never be a servant of mine; for I do not think him fit to be trusted in any honest man's shop."
Nothing showed the generalship of Swift in a higher point of view, during this contest, than his choice of ground both for attack and defence. He well knew of what importance it was to steer clear of party; and that if he had attacked the British minister as the real author, promoter, and abettor of this project, he would immediately have been stigmatized with the name of jacobite, and his writings of course disregarded. He therefore treated the matter all along as if there were no parties concerned but William Wood hardwareman, on the one side; and the whole kingdom of Ireland on the other. Or, as he himself expresses it, it was bellum atque virum, a kingdom on one side, and William Wood on the other. Nay he went farther, and finding that Wood in his several publications had often made use of Mr. Walpole's name, he takes upon him the defence of the latter in several passages of his fourth letter, which he concludes thus: "But I will now demonstrate, beyond all contradiction, that Mr. Walpole is against this project of Mr. Wood, and is an entire friend to Ireland, only by this one invincible argument; that he has the universal opinion of being a wise man, an able minister, and in all his proceedings pursuing the true interest of the king his master: and that as his integrity is above all corruption, so is his fortune above all temptation." By the use of this irony, a double edged weapon, which he knew how to manage with peculiar dexterity, his argument cut both ways. To the bulk of readers it might pass for a real acquittal of Mr. Walpole of the charge brought against him, which would answer one end; and to those of more discernment, it obliquely pointed out the true object of their resentment; but this so guardedly, that it was impossible to make any serious charge against the author of his having such a design.
In the course of these writings, Swift took an opportunity of laying open his political principles, declaring the most zealous attachment to the protestant succession in the house of Hanover, and utter abhorrence of the pretender: by which means he removed the chief prejudice conceived against him, on account of the ill-founded charge of his being a jacobite, and opened the way for that tide of popular favour which afterwards flowed in upon him from all sides.
During the publication of the Drapier's Letters, Swift took great pains to conceal himself from being known as the author. The only persons in the secret were Robert Blakely his butler, whom he employed as his amanuensis, and Dr. Sheridan. As Robert was not the most accurate transcriber, the copies were always delivered by him to the doctor, in order to their being corrected, and fitted for the press; by whom they were conveyed to the printer in such a way, as to prevent a possibility of discovery. It happened that Robert Blakely, the very evening of the day on which the proclamation was issued offering a reward of 300 pounds for discovering the author of the Drapier's Fourth Letter, had staid out later than usual without his master's leave. The dean ordered the door to be locked at the accustomed hour, and shut him out. The next morning the poor fellow appeared before him with marks of great contrition; when Swift would listen to none of his excuses, but abusing him outrageously, bade him strip off his livery, and quit his house that moment. "What — you villain," said he, "is it because I am in your power, you dare take these liberties? Get out of my house you scoundrel, and receive the reward of your treachery." Mrs. Johnson, who was at the deanery, and greatly alarmed at this scene, immediately dispatched a messenger to Dr. Sheridan, to come and try to make up matters. Upon his arrival he found Robert walking about the hall in great agitation, and shedding abundance of tears; inquiring into the cause of this, he was told that his master had just discharged him. The doctor bade him be of good cheer, for he would undertake to pacify the dean, and that he should still be continued in his place. "That is not what vexes me," replied the honest creature; "to be sure I should be very sorry to lose so good a master, but what grieves me to the soul is, that my master should have so bad an opinion of me, as to suppose me capable of betraying him for any reward whatever." When this was told to the dean, struck with the generosity of such a sentiment in one of his low sphere, he immediately pardoned him, and restored him to favour. He also took the first opportunity in his power of rewarding this man for his fidelity. The place of verger to the cathedral soon after becoming vacant, Swift called Robert to him, and asked him if he had any clothes of his own that were not a livery; to which the other replying in the affirmative, he desired him immediately to strip off his livery, and put on those clothes. The poor fellow, quite astonished, begged to know what crime he had committed that he should be discharged — "Well — do as I ordered you," said Swift. When he returned in his new dress, the dean called the other servants into the room, and told them they were no longer to consider him as their fellow-servant Robert, but as Mr. Blakely, verger of St. Patrick's cathedral, which place he had bestowed on him, as a reward for his faithful services. The grateful creature poured forth a thousand blessings on him, and only begged as the greatest favour he could confer on him, that he might still be continued in the same station, without fee or reward, as he was sure no one could give such satisfaction to his master in the discharge of it, as himself. As he was an excellent servant, and was accustomed to all Swift's peculiarities, the proposal could not but be very acceptable to the dean; and Mr. Blakely accordingly continued to officiate in that capacity for some time, as a volunteer, without any of the badges of servitude. But the master was too liberal to accept of the generous proposal made by the servant; for, though he paid him no wages, he took care by handsome presents, to make him a full equivalent.
Another anecdote, relative to these halfpence, was communicated to me by Mr. Hoffsleger, a native of Germany, then a resident merchant of some eminence in Dublin; who was a spectator of the following scene which he described to me. The day after the proclamation was issued out against the drapier, there was a full levee at the castle. The lord lieutenant was going round the circle, when Swift abruptly entered the chamber, and pushing his way through the crowd, never stopped till he got within the circle; where with marks of the highest indignation in his countenance, he addressed the lord lieutenant with the voice of a Stentor, that reechoed through the room, "So, my lord lieutenant, this is a glorious exploit that you performed yesterday, in issuing a proclamation against a poor shopkeeper, whose only crime is an honest endeavour to save his country from ruin. You have given a noble specimen of what this devoted nation is to hope for, from your government. I suppose you expect a statue of copper will be erected to you for this service done to Wood." He then went on for a long time inveighing in the bitterest terms against the patent, and displaying in the strongest colours all the fatal consequences of introducing that execrable coin. The whole assembly were struck mute with wonder at this unprecedented scene. The titled slaves, and vassals of power, felt, and shrunk into their own littleness, in the presence of this man of virtue. He stood supereminent among them, like his own Gulliver amid a circle of Lilliputians. For some time a profound silence ensued. When lord Carteret, who had listened with great composure to the whole speech, made this fine reply, in a line of Virgil's:
Res duræ, & regni novitas me talia cogunt Moliri.
The whole assembly was struck with the beauty of this quotation, and the levee broke up in good humour. Some extolling the magnanimity of Swift to the skies, and all delighted with the ingenuity of the lord lieutenant's answer.
When the patent was withdrawn, and of course all apprehensions about the coin were over, Swift retired to Quilca, a house of Dr. Sheridan's, in a desolate part of the country, where he passed some months in finishing and preparing his Gulliver's Travels for the press. Early in the next year 1726, he set out for England, after an absence from that country of near twelve years. He was received with all demonstrations of joy by his old friends, whose attachment to this incomparable man, seemed rather increased than diminished by absence. — They all expressed the warmest wishes that he would quit Ireland, and settle among them, and several plans were proposed to accomplish the point. Nor was Swift less desirous of returning to his own country, for he always considered it as such, being the country of his forefathers, though he happened, as he himself expresses it, to be dropped in Ireland: nor is it surprising that his heart yearned to pass the remainder of his days among a set of his old friends, who gave such proofs of their unalterable attachment to him, and were, at the same time, in point of talents and genius, the foremost men of the age. But, however ardent their wishes might be, there were little hopes of their being fulfilled, as both he and his friends were obnoxious to those in power. Some expectations were however formed from the favourable reception he met with at Leicester House. The princess of Wales, afterward queen Caroline, set up for a patroness of men of genius, and affected to converse much with all men distinguished for literature and talents. Upon hearing of Swift's arrival in London, she immediately sent to desire to see him. Of this he gives the following account in a letter to lady Betty Germain, 1732-3. — "It is six years last spring since I first went to visit my friends in England, after the queen's death. Her present majesty heard of my arrival, and sent at least nine times to command my attendance, before I would obey her, for several reasons not hard to guess; and among others, because I had heard her character from those who knew her well. At last I went, and she received me very graciously." As Swift was no respecter of persons, and would speak his mind with the same freedom in the face of royalty, as in the most private company, the princess, struck with the novelty of such a character, and highly entertained with his peculiar vein of humour, was never weary of sending for him both in London and Richmond; and Swift, to keep up his consequence, never once attended her but by command. Mrs. Howard, first lady of the bedchamber to the princess, and her chief favourite, was the person who usually sent for him. As she was a lady of fine taste, and uncommon understanding, she soon contracted a high esteem for Swift, which was matured into a friendship, by the frequent opportunities she had of conversing with him in company with Pope and Gay, who were her great favourites. The peculiar marks of distinction shown him both by the princess and her favourite, together with the general discourse of the family at Leicester House, made his friends imagine that the first opportunity would be taken of making a suitable provision for him in England, from that quarter; and he himself, both then, and for some time after, seems to have formed some expectations of that kind, though naturally, and from his frequent disappointments in life, he was far from being of a sanguine disposition.
During his stay in England, his time was passed chiefly between Twickenham and Dawley, with his friends, Pope and Bolingbroke, where he was visited by all the old fraternity. It was then Pope published his volumes of Miscellanies, consisting of some of his own works, and Arbuthnot's, but chiefly of select pieces of Swift's. As this was the first time that any of his works were printed collectively, the sale was immense, and produced a considerable sum to Pope, who had the whole profit, as Swift was at all times above making any pecuniary advantage of his writings. During these transactions, he received several successive accounts of the desperate state of health, to which his dear friend Mrs. Johnson was reduced, and the little hopes there were of her recovery. The distress of mind which he suffered on this occasion, together with a long fit of his old complaint, giddiness and deafness, had so totally disqualified him for society, that he stole away from his host at Twickenham, and retired into private lodgings, with an old relation for his nurse. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered to bear the fatigue of a journey, he set out for Ireland, with the gloomy prospect of receiving the last breath of the person dearest to him in the world. However, before his departure, he took leave of the princess, who was very gracious to him, made apologies for not having some medals ready which she had promised him, and said she would send them to him before Christmas. On his arrival in Dublin, he had the satisfaction to find Mrs. Johnson on the mending hand, and her recovery, though slow, afforded the pleasing prospect of a long continuance to a life so dear to him.
During this visit to London, it was not only at Leicester House, but at St. James's also, that he met with a favourable reception; of which he makes mention in a letter to lady Betty Germain, January 8, 1732-33. "Walpole was at that time very civil to me, and so were all the people in power. He invited me, and some of my friends, to dine with him at Chelsea. After dinner I took an occasion to say, what I had observed of princes and great ministers, that if they heard an ill thing of a private person who expected some favour, although they were afterward convinced that the person was innocent, yet they would never be reconciled. Mr. Walpole knew well enough that I meant Mr. Gay. But he gave it another turn; for he said to some of his friends, and particularly to a lord, a near relation of your's, 'that I had dined with him, and had been making apologies for myself."
April 28, 1726.
"Your lordship having, at my request, obtained for me an hour from sir Robert Walpole; I accordingly attended him yesterday at eight o'clock in the morning, and had somewhat more than an hour's conversation with him. Your lordship was this day pleased to inquire what passed between that great minister and me, to which I gave you some general answers, from whence you said you could comprehend little or nothing.
"I had no other design in desiring to see sir Robert Walpole, than to represent the affairs of Ireland to him in a true light, not only without any view to myself, but to any party whatsoever: and because I understood the affairs of that kingdom tolerably well, and observed the representations he had received, were such as I could not agree to; my principal design was to set him right, not only for the service of Ireland, but likewise of England, and of his own administration.
"I failed very much in my design; for I saw he conceived opinions, from the examples and practices of the present, and some former governours, which I could not reconcile to the notions I had of liberty; a possession always understood by the British nation to be the inheritance of a human creature.
"Sir Robert Walpole was pleased to enlarge very much upon the subject of Ireland, in a manner so alien from what I conceived to be the rights and privileges of a subject of England, that I did not think proper to debate the matter with him so much, as I otherwise might, because I found it would be in vain."
In the remainder of the letter, he enumerates the many intolerable burdens and grievances, under which that country laboured, and concludes it thus:
"I am, &c."
I thought it necessary to lay this matter at large before the publick, because, in consequence of this interview, all the Walpolians, and the whole party of the whigs, gave out, that Swift at that time made a tender of his pen to sir Robert, by whom the offer was rejected; and even to this day I am well informed that some of that family, and their connexions, assert it as a fact. But I would have those gentlemen consider, in the first place, what little credit they do to sir Robert's understanding, in declining the assistance of the first writer of the age, at a time when he was throwing away immense sums upon authors of mean talents. In the next place, it is to be hoped that candour will oblige them to retract what they have said, as so convincing a proof is here produced of the falsehood of the charge. For, it is impossible to suppose that Swift would have made such a representation of the interview, utterly disclaiming all views to himself, and desiring that it might be shown to Walpole, if the other had had it in his power to contradict it, and by so doing render him contemptible in the eyes of his noble friend, as well as of all his adherents. I have a letter before me written at that time to the Rev. Mr. Stopford, then abroad at Paris, (afterward through his means bishop of Cloyne) in which he gives the same account. "I was lately twice with the chief minister; the first time by invitation, and the second, at my desire, for an hour, wherein we differed in every point: but all this made a great noise, and soon got to Ireland. From whence, upon the late death of the bishop of Cloyne, it was said I was offered to succeed, and I received many letters upon it, but there was nothing of truth in it; for I was neither offered, nor would have received, except upon conditions which would never be granted. For I absolutely broke with the chief minister, and have never seen him since. And I lately complained of him to the princess, because I knew she would tell him." I think it is hardly probable that Swift would have complained of him to the princess, if he had such a story to tell of him. His complaint certainly related to Walpole's unjust and impolitick maxims with regard to Ireland, which was the sole subject of their discourse. And it appears that he had often in his conversations with the princess, represented the cruel hardships under which that country groaned, insomuch, that in a letter to lady Suffolk, July 24, 1731, he says, "Her majesty gave me leave, and even commanded me, above five years ago, if I lived until she was queen, to write to her on behalf of Ireland: for the miseries of this kingdom she appeared then to be concerned."
Sir Robert himself never dropped any hint of this to Swift's friends, but in appearance seemed to wish him well. In a letter from Pope to him soon after his departure for Ireland, he tells him, "I had a conference with sir Robert Walpole, who expressed his desire of having seen you again before you left us: he said, he observed a willingness in you to live among us, which I did not deny; but at the same time told him, you had no such design in your coming, which was merely to see a few of those that you loved; but that indeed all those wished it, and particularly lord Peterborow and myself, who wished you loved Ireland less, had you any reason to love England more." Whoever examines all Swift's letters at that time, will find, that he was far from having any ambitious views. His wish was to have a settlement among his friends; and he aimed no higher than to change his preferments in Ireland for any church living near them, that should not be much inferiour in point of income, whether accompanied with any dignity or not. And this method of commuting benefices he chose, to avoid laying himself under any obligations to a party, of whose measures he so utterly disapproved. Of this we have a striking instance in the abovementioned letter, to an intimate friend then abroad, to whom a false representation of his sentiments could have answered no end; where he declares that he would not accept even of a bishoprick, though offered him, except upon conditions, which he was sure would never be granted. In a letter about that time to Mr. Worrall, he expresses himself to the same effect. "As to what you say about promotion, you will find it was given immediately to Maule, as I am told, and I assure you I had no offers, nor would accept them. My behaviour to those in power, hath been directly contrary since I came here." Is it possible to conceive that in this disposition of mind, a man of Swift's character, should wantonly put it in the power of a person whom he knew to be his enemy, to destroy his reputation, and ruin him for ever with his friends? In short, the matter is brought to this issue. It is evident from what has been shown above, that Swift had but two interviews with Walpole, the one in publick, the other in private. To what passed in the former, there were several witnesses; to the latter, no one but themselves. Of what then passed between them, Swift has given a distinct account in a letter to lord Peterborow, which he desires might be shown to Walpole. If Walpole afterward represented any thing in a different light, whose testimony is to be credited? That of a man of long tried integrity, and undoubted veracity, giving an account of a transaction, wherein he sustained a part exactly suitable to his whole character and conduct in life: or that of a wily statesman, who stuck at nothing to answer his ends, charging Swift with a fact, utterly incompatible with his well known wisdom and grandeur of mind, and which must have shown him in the light of a perfect changeling. But it does not appear that Walpole himself ever made any such charge. Nor was it necessary; his end might be better, and more securely answered without it. Hints and innuendoes were sufficient materials for his tools to work upon, and fabricate what stories they pleased, which were industriously propagated with the strongest asseverations of their truth, by all their partisans, and this was one favourite method then in use, of undermining those characters, which they could not openly assault. I have been the longer on this article, because it is the heaviest charge brought against Swift, and such as would at once destroy the integrity of his character: and because there never was any calumny more industriously propagated by the whole body of the whigs, or more generally believed. And this too not among the middling class of mankind, but by persons of high rank and character. Of which I have a remarkable instance now before me, in an anecdote communicated to me by Dr. Clarke, formerly my tutor in the college, among several others collected by him relative to Swift, which is as follows: "When lord Chesterfield was lord lieutenant of Ireland, I was present at his giving an account of Swift, which, from a less creditable author, would be utterly disbelieved. He said, that to his knowledge Swift made an offer of his pen to sir Robert Walpole: that the terms were, his getting a preferment in England, equal to what he had in Ireland; and that sir Robert rejected the offer; which lord Chesterfield said he would not have done, had he been in sir Robert's place. The whole of this transaction seems extremely improbable, particularly what he added, that the person who introduced him was the famous Chartres." Good Heavens! Swift brought by the notorious Chartres to prostitute himself to Walpole, and this asserted as a fact by lord Chesterfield! But his lordship kept very bad company in those days: I have not the least doubt but this story was told him by Chartres, and he considered his brother gambler as a man of honour.
Swift had set out for Ireland in the month of August, and early in the November following appeared Gulliver's Travels. As he had kept a profound silence with regard to this work, nor ever once mentioned it to any of his nearest friends during his stay in England, they were at first in some doubt whether it were his or not: and yet they concluded, as was done on a similar occasion, that it must be aut Erasmi aut Diaboli. They all wrote to him about it, considering it as his, and yet at the same time kept a reserve, as having some reasons to be dubious about it. Gay, in a letter, November 17, 1726, writes to him thus. "About ten days ago a book was published here of the Travels of one Gulliver, which has been the conversation of the whole town ever since: the whole impression sold in a week; and nothing is more diverting than to hear the different opinions people give of it, though all agree in liking it extremely. 'Tis generally said that you are the author, but I am told the bookseller declares he knows not from what hand it came. From the highest to the lowest it is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery. You may see by this you are not much injured by being supposed the author of this piece. If you are, you have disobliged us, and two or three of your best friends, in not giving us the least hint of it. Perhaps I may all this time be talking to you of a book you have never seen, and which has not yet reached Ireland; if it have not, I believe what we have said will be sufficient to recommend it to your reading, and that you will order me to send it to you." In like manner Pope says, "Motte received the copy, he tells me, he knew not from whence, nor from whom, dropped at his house in the dark, from a hackney coach: by computing the time, I found it was after you left England, so for my part I suspend my judgment." This proceeding of Swift's might at first view be considered as one of his whims, but that it was his constant practice in all his former works of consequence, which he sent secretly into the world to make their own way as well as they could, according to their intrinsick merit, without any advantage which they might derive from the author's reputation. Nor was he ever known to put his name to any of his publications, except his letter to lord Oxford about the English language. It is probable he took great pleasure in hearing the various opinions of the world upon his writings, freely delivered before him while he remained unknown; and the doubts of Pope and Gay, occasioned by his profound secrecy on that head, must have given him no small entertainment. However this extraordinary work, bearing the stamp of such an original and uncommon genius, revived his fame in England, after so long an absence, and added new lustre to his reputation.
In his return to Dublin, upon notice that the ship in which he sailed was in the bay, several heads of the different corporations, and principal citizens of Dublin, went out to meet him in a great number of wherries engaged for that purpose, in order to welcome him back. He had the pleasure to find his friend Dr. Sheridan, in company with a number of his intimates, at the side of his ship, ready to receive him into their boat, with the agreeable tidings, that Mrs. Johnson was past all danger. The boats adorned with streamers, and colours, in which were many emblematical devices, made a fine appearance; and thus was the Drapier brought to his landing-place in a kind of triumph, where he was received and welcomed on shore by a multitude of his grateful countrymen, by whom he was conducted to his house amid repeated acclamations, of Long live the Drapier. The bells were all set a ringing, and bonfires kindled in every street. As there never was an instance of such honours being paid to any mortal in that country, of whatever rank or station, Swift must have been a stoick indeed, not to have been highly gratified with these unexpected, unsolicited marks of favour, from his grateful fellow-citizens.
But whatever satisfaction he might have in his newly acquired popularity, and the consequential power it gave him of being of some use to his country; yet the long disgust he had entertained at the management of all publick affairs; the deplorable state of slavery to which the kingdom was reduced; the wretched poverty, and numberless miseries, painted by him so often in strong colours, entailed by this means on the bulk of the natives, and their posterity; had long made him resolve, when opportunity should offer, to change the scene, and breathe a freer air in a land of liberty. His last short visit to his friends served to whet his resolution, and revived the desire which he had of returning to a country, where, as he expresses himself in a letter to Gay, he had passed the best and greatest part of his life, where he had made his friendships, and where he had left his desires. He was at a time of life too, being then in his sixtieth year, which called for retirement, and afflicted with disorders which impaired the vigour of his mind, and gave him frightful apprehensions that the loss of his mental faculties would precede the dissolution of his frame. He had no ambition left, of which we find, even in his prime, he had very little, except that of the noblest kind, arising from a desire of serving the publick, and his friends, without any mixture of self. As his view was to make an exchange of his preferments in Ireland, for something like an equivalent in England, though not fully equal to them in point either of dignity or income, he thought the matter might be easily accomplished with but little interest; and this he had reason to hope would not be wanting, from the many hints he had received, that the princess was very desirous of bringing it to bear. With this view he kept up a correspondence with Mrs. Howard, in which several civilities, in his singular way, passed to the princess. He sent to the former a piece of Irish silk, of a fabrick peculiar to that country, which the princess, as soon as she saw it, seized on for her own use, and desired that more of the same kind might be sent over for the princesses: this commission went to him from Mrs. Howard, telling him at the same time, that she would remit the cost, in what way he should judge safest: but Swift, as he expresses himself in a letter to lady Betty Germain, was too gallant to hear of any offers of payment. He had received several accounts from his friends, that the princess often spoke of him with great regard. Among others, Dr. Arbuthnot says, "I had a great deal of discourse with your friend, her royal highness. She insisted upon your wit, and good conversation. I told her royal highness, that was not what I valued you for, but for being a sincere, honest man, and speaking the truth, when others were afraid of speaking it."
As he had nothing to detain him in Dublin, Mrs. Johnson being to all appearance in a tolerable state of health, he set out for London early in March. But first gave notice to Mrs. Howard of his intended journey. From the following paragraph in this letter, we may judge on what free terms he lived with the princess, and may form some idea of the familiar manner of his conversing with her. "I desire you will order her royal highness to go to Richmond as soon as she can this summer, because she will have the pleasure of my neighbourhood; for I hope to be in London by the middle of March, and I do not love you much when you are there." Accordingly, on his arrival in London, he never saw the princess till she removed to Richmond; of which he gives this account in a letter to Dr. Sheridan, May 13: "I have at last seen the princess twice this week by her own command: she retains her old civility, and I, my old freedom." But Walpole and his party kept no farther measures with him, of which he makes the following mention in the same letter. "I am in high displeasure with Walpole, and his partisans. A great man, who was very kind to me last year, doth not take the least notice of me at the prince's court, and there has not been one of them to see me." Perhaps the consciousness of the base means they used to wound his character, might have occasioned this change in their behaviour. For had the charge laid against him been founded, it would have been a most unaccountable cause of quarrel to Swift on the side of Walpole's partisans, that he had offered his service to that party, though its being rejected, might be a just foundation of resentment on his side.
Swift had for some time formed a design of passing some months in France for the recovery of his health, and was just upon the point of carrying it into execution, when the unexpected news of the king's death made him postpone it. As a total change of measures was expected to follow from this event, more flattering prospects were opened to him, than any he could have in view during the late reign. As the tories, upon the breach between the late king and prince, were well received at Leicester House, it was supposed they would no longer be proscribed as formerly. Swift, in a letter to Dr. Sheridan, June 24, 1727, gives the following view of the state of affairs at that time. "The talk is now for a moderating scheme, wherein nobody shall be used worse or better, for being called whig and tory; and the king hath received both with great equality, showing civilities to several, who are openly known to be the latter. I prevailed with a dozen, that we should go in a line to kiss the king's and queen's hands. We have now done with repining, if we shall be used well, and not baited as formerly; we all agree in it, and if things do not mend, it is not our faults; we have made our offers: if otherwise, we are as we were. It is agreed the ministry will be changed, but the others will have a soft fall; although the king must be excessive generous if he forgives the treatment of some people."
In the midst of this bustle, after viewing the state of things, Swift seems to have had by no means the same sanguine expectations that others of his parly entertained; for he says in a letter to Dr. Sheridan, July 1, 1727. — "Here are a thousand schemes wherein they would have me engaged, which I embraced but coldly, because I like none of them." And having some return of his disorder, he once more resolved for France. But, as he says himself, he was with great vehemence dissuaded from it by certain persons, whom he could not disobey. These were lord Bolingbroke, and Mrs. Howard. The former writes thus to him, in a letter June 24, 1727: "There would not be common sense in your going into France at this juncture, even if you intended to stay there long enough to draw the sole pleasure and profit which I propose you should have in the acquaintance I am ready to give you there. Much less ought you to think of such an unmeaning journey, when the opportunity of quitting Ireland for England is, I believe, fairly before you." Of what passed between him and Mrs. Howard, he gives the following account in a letter to lady Betty Germain: "In a few weeks after the king's death, I found myself not well, and was resolved to take a trip to Paris for my health, having an opportunity of doing it with some advantages and recommendations. But my friends advised me first to consult Mrs. Howard, because as they knew less of courts than I, they were strongly possessed that the promise made me might succeed, since a change was all I desired. I writ to her for her opinion; and particularly conjured her, since I had long done with courts, not to use me like a courtier, but give me her sincere advice, which she did, both in a letter, and to some friends. It was, 'By all means not to go; it would look singular, and perhaps disaffected; and my friends enlarged upon the good intentions of the court toward me'." Upon this Swift gave up his intended journey, and resolved to wait the issue of the present conjuncture; though from his long acquaintance with courts, and frequent disappointments, he put no great confidence in the assurances given him. But he was soon obliged to alter his measures; for being attacked with a long and violent fit of his old complaint, and at the same time receiving alarming accounts from Ireland, that Mrs. Johnson had relapsed, with little hopes of her recovery, he set out for that kingdom, on the first abatement of his illness. Before his departure he took leave of the queen in a polite letter to Mrs. Howard, apologizing for not doing it in person in the following passage: "I am infinitely obliged to you for all your civilities, and shall retain the remembrance of them during my life. I hope you will favour me so far as to present my most humble duty to the queen, and to describe to her majesty my sorrow, that my disorder was of such a nature, as to make me incapable of attending her, as she was pleased to permit me. I shall pass the remainder of my life with the utmost gratitude for her majesty's favours," &c.
On his arrival in Dublin he found Mrs. Johnson in the last stage of a decay, without the smallest hope of her recovery. He had the misery of attending her in this state, and of daily seeing the gradual advances of death during four or five months; and in the month of January he was deprived, as he himself expresses it, of the truest, most virtuous, and valuable friend, that he, or perhaps any other person was ever blessed with. Such a loss at his time of life was irreparable. She had been trained by him from her childhood, and had been his constant companion for five and thirty years, with every merit toward him that it was possible for one human creature to have toward another. His whole plan of life was now changed, and with it all his domestick comforts vanished. The only chance he could have had of enjoying the remainder of his days with any satisfaction, would have been the carrying into execution his proposed removal to England, to live among his old friends; but he soon found that all expectations from that quarter were at an end. In this forlorn state he found himself doomed to pass the remmant of his life in exile, in a country which was one of the last he would have chosen for his abode. But his spirit was too great to give way to despondence; and deprived as he was of the chief comforts which might alleviate the evils attendant on increasing years; disappointed in the only view which could make him look forward with hopes of any satisfaction or enjoyment to himself; he turned his thoughts wholly to the good and happiness of others. With this view he entered more earnestly into a twofold scene of action: one with regard to the publick at large; the other, with respect to private individuals. In the former, out of compassion to the blindness and infatuation of the people, he laid open, in a variety of publications, the chief sources of the distresses and miseries under which that unhappy country laboured; at the same time pointing out the means by which they might be alleviated, or removed. In the latter, he increased his attention to some of the best planned, and best conducted charities, that ever were supported from a private purse. In this respect, there probably was no man in the British dominions, who either gave so much in proportion to his fortune, or disposed of it to such advantage. From the time he was out of debt, after his settlement at the deanery, he divided his income into three equal shares. One of these he appropriated to his own immediate support, and his domestick expenses; which, in those cheap times, with the aid of strict economy, enabled him to live in a manner perfectly agreeable to his own ideas, and not unsuitable to his rank. The second he laid up as a provision against the accidents of life, and ultimately with a view to a charitable foundation at his death. And the third, he constantly disposed of in charities to the poor, and liberalities to the distressed. As he sought out proper objects for this, with great caution and attention, trusting little to the representation of others, but seeing every thing with his own eyes, perhaps no equal sum disposed of in that way was ever productive of so much good. There was one species of charity first struck out by him, which was attended with the greatest benefit to numbers of the lowest class of tradesmen. Soon after he was out of debt, the first five hundred pounds which he could call his own, he lent out to poor industrious tradesmen in small sums of five, and ten pounds, to be repaid weekly, at two or four shillings, without interest. As the sums thus weekly paid in, were lent out again to others at a particular day in each month, this quick circulation doubled the benefit arising from the original sum. In order to ensure this fund from diminution, he laid it down as a rule that none should be partakers of it, who could not give good security for the regular repayment of it in the manner proposed: for it was a maxim with him, that any one known by his neighbours to be an honest, sober, and industrious man, would readily find such security; while the idle and dissolute would by this means be excluded. Nor did they who entered into such securities run any great risk; for if the borrower was not punctual in his weekly payments, immediate notice of it was sent to them, who obliged him to be more punctual for the future. Thus did this fund continue undiminished to the last; and small as the spring was, yet, by continual flowing, it watered and enriched the humble vale through which it ran, still extending and widening its course. I have been well assured from different quarters, that many families in Dublin, now living in great credit, owed the foundation of their fortunes to the sums first borrowed from this fund.
His reputation for wisdom and integrity was so great, that he was consulted by the several corporations in all matters relative to trade, and chosen umpire of any differences among them, nor was there ever any appeal from his sentence. In a city where the police was perhaps on a worse footing than that of any in Europe, he in a great measure supplied the deficiency, by his own personal authority, taking notice of all publick nuisances, and seeing them removed. He assumed the office of censor general, which he rendered as formidable as that of ancient Rome. In short, what by the acknowledged superiority of his talents, his inflexible integrity, and his unwearied endeavours in serving the publick, he obtained such an ascendency over his countrymen, as perhaps no private citizen ever attained in any age or country. He was known over the whole kingdom by the title of The Dean, given to him by way of preeminence, as it were by common consent; and when The Dean was mentioned, it always carried with it the idea of the first and greatest man in the kingdom. The Dean said this; The Dean did that; whatever he said or did was received as infallibly right; with the same degree of implicit credit given to it, as was paid to the Stagyrite of old, or to the modern popes. We may judge of the greatness of his influence, from a passage in a letter of lord Carteret to him, March 24, , who was at that time chief governor of Ireland, "I know by experience how much the city of Dublin thinks itself under your protection; and how strictly they used to obey all orders fulminated from the sovereignty of St. Patrick's." And in the postscript to another of March 24, , he says, "When people ask me how I governed Ireland? I say, that I pleased Dr. Swift."
But great as his popularity was, it was chiefly confined to the middling, and lower class of mankind. To the former of these his chief applications were made, upon a maxim of his own, "That the little virtue left in the world, is chiefly to be found among the middle rank of mankind, who are neither allured out of her paths by ambition, nor driven by poverty."
All of this class he had secured almost to a man. And by the lower ranks, and rabble in general, he was reverenced almost to adoration. They were possessed with an enthusiastick love to his person, to protect which they would readily hazard their lives; yet on his appearance among them, they felt something like a religious awe, as if in the presence of one of a superiour order of beings. At the very sight of him, when engaged in any riotous proceedings, they would instantly fly different ways, like schoolboys at the approach of their master; and he has been often known, with a word, and lifting up his arm, to disperse mobs, that would have stood the brunt of the civil and military power united.
As to the upper class of kingdom; and he considered the members of the house of commons in general, as a set of venal prostitutes, who sacrificed their principles, and betrayed the interests of their country, to gratify their ambition or avarice. With these he lived in a continued state of warfare, making them feel severely the sharp stings of his satire; while they, on the other hand, dreading, and fore hating him more than any man in the world, endeavoured to retaliate on him by every species of obloquy., he looked upon them as incorrigible, and therefore had scarce any intercourse with them. He says himself, that he had little personal acquaintance with any lord spiritual or temporal in the
During this period, his faculties do not seem to have been at all impaired by the near approaches of old age, and his poetical fountain, though not so exuberant as formerly, still flowed in as clear and pure a stream. One of his last pieces, "Verses on his own Death," is perhaps one of the most excellent of his compositions in that way. Nor are two of his other productions, written about the same time, intitled, "An Epistle to a Lady;" and "A Rhapsody on Poetry," inferiour to any of his former pieces. The two last were written chiefly with a view to gratify his resentment to the court, on account of some unworthy treatment he met with from that quarter. We have already seen, by what extraordinary advances on her part, he was allured to pay his attendance on the princess, during his two last visits to England; and the seemingly well founded expectations of his friends, that some marks of royal favour would be shown him, both from the uncommonly good reception he had always met with, and the many assurances given to that effect. But from the time that the princess mounted the throne, all this was forgot. Nor was this productive of any disappointment to Swift, who had been too conversant with courts, not to look upon the most favourable appearances there, with distrust. Accordingly on his last return to Ireland, finding himself so utterly neglected by the queen, as not even to receive some medals which she had promised him, he gave up all hopes of that kind, and remained in a state of perfect indifference with regard to it. But, when he found that his enemies had been busy, instilling into the royal ear many prejudices against him, he entered upon his defence with his usual spirit. Among other artifices employed to lessen him in her majesty's esteem, there were three forged letters delivered to the queen signed with his name, written upon a very absurd subject, and in a very unbecoming style, which she either did, or affected to believe to be genuine. Swift had notice of this from his friend Pope, who procured one of the original letters from the countess of Suffolk, formerly Mrs. Howard, and sent it to him. In his indignant answer to Pope on this occasion, he has the following passages. "As for those three letters you mention, supposed all to be written by me to the queen, on Mrs. Barber's account, especially the letter which bears my name; I can only say, that the apprehensions one may be apt to have of a friend's doing a foolish thing, is an effect of kindness: and God knows who is free from playing the fool some time or other. But in such a degree as to write to the queen, who has used me ill without any cause, and to write in such a manner as the letter you sent me, and in such a style, and to have so much zeal for one almost a stranger, and to make such a description of a woman, as to prefer her before all mankind; and to instance it as one of the greatest grievances of Ireland, that her majesty has not encouraged Mrs. Barber, a woollen draper's wife declined in the world, because she has a knack of versifying; was to suppose, or fear, a folly so transcendent, that no man could be guilty of, who was not fit for Bedlam. You know the letter you sent enclosed is not my hand, and why I should disguise my hand, and yet sign my name, is unaccountable. If the queen had not an inclination to think ill of me, she knows me too well to believe in her own heart that I should be such a coxcomb," &c.
In his letter to Mrs. Howard, then countess of Suffolk, he says, "I find from several instances that I am under the queen's displeasure; and as it is usual among princes, without any manner of reason. I am told, there were three letters sent to her majesty in relation to one Mrs. Barber, who is now in London, and soliciting for a subscription to her poems. It seems, the queen thinks that these letters were written by me; and I scorn to defend myself even to her majesty, grounding my scorn upon the opinion I had of her justice, her taste, and good sense: especially when the last of those letters, whereof I have just received the original from Mr. Pope, was signed with my name: and why I should disguise my hand, which you know very well, and yet write my name, is both ridiculous and unaccountable. I am sensible I owe a great deal of this usage to sir Robert Walpole," &c. In this, as well as many other passages of his letters at that time, we see he attributes the ill offices done him with the queen, chiefly to Walpole; and accordingly he determined to keep no farther measures with him, but gave full scope to his resentment, in those poems, as well as several other pieces published afterward. Upon the first appearance of the two poems, entitled An Epistle to a Lady, and A Rhapsody on Poetry, Walpole was exasperated to the highest degree. The editor, printer, and publishers, were all taken up, and prosecutions commenced against them. As he had full proof that Swift was the author, in his first transport of passion, he determined to get him into his clutches, and wreak his chief vengeance on him. With this view he had ordered a warrant to be made out by the secretary of state, for apprehending Swift, and bringing him over to be tried in London. The messenger was in waiting ready to be dispatched on this errand, when luckily a friend of Walpole's, who was better acquainted with the state of Ireland, and the high veneration in which the dean was held there, accidentally entered, and upon inquiry being informed of his purpose, coolly asked him what army was to accompany the messenger, and whether he had at that time ten thousand men to spare, for he could assure him no less a number would be able to bring the drapier out of the kingdom by force. Upon this Walpole recovered his senses, and luckily for the messenger, as well as himself, dropped the design. For had the poor fellow arrived in Dublin, and attempted to execute his commission, he would most assuredly have been immediately hanged by the mob: and this might have involved the two countries in a contest, which it was by no means the interest of a minister to engage in.
But, whatever gratification it might have been to his ambitious spirit, to see himself raised by the voluntary suffrages of his countrymen, to a rank beyond the power of monarchs to bestow; to find himself considered by all as the first man in the realm; the general object of veneration to all who wished well to their country, and of dread to those who betrayed its interests; yet he was far from being at all satisfied with his situation. The load of oppression under which Ireland groaned, from the tyrannick system of government over that country, established by the false politicks of England; the base corruption of some of the principal natives, who sacrificed the publick interests to their private views; the supineness of others arising from despondency; the general infatuation of the richer sort, in adopting certain modes and customs to the last degree ruinous to their country; together with the miseries of the poor, and the universal face of penury and distress that overspread a kingdom, on which nature had scattered her bounties with a lavish hand, and which properly used, might have rendered it one of the happiest regions in the world: all these acted as perpetual corrosives to the free and generous spirit of Swift, and kept him from possessing his soul in peace. We have many instances in his letters, written at that time, of the violent irritation of his mind on these accounts. In one of them he says, "I find myself disposed every year, or rather every month, to be more angry and revengeful; and my rage is so ignoble, that it descends even to resent the folly and baseness of the enslaved people among whom I live." And in the same letter to lord Bolingbroke, he says, "But you think, as I ought to think, that 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 die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole." In one to Pope, speaking of his letters, he says, "None of them have any thing to do with party, of which you are the clearest of all men, by your religion, and the whole tenour of your life; while I am raging every moment against the corruptions in both kingdoms, especially of this; such is my weakness." And in one to , when he seemed under the dominion of a more than ordinary fit of his spleen, he tells him, that he had just finished his will, in which he had requested that the doctor would attend his body to Holyhead, to see it interred there, for, says he, "I will not lie in a country of slaves." This habit of mind grew upon him immediately after the loss of the amiable Stella, whose lenient hand used to pour the balm of friendship on his wounded spirit. With her vanished all his domestick enjoyments, and of course he turned his thoughts more to publick affairs; in the contemplation of which, he could see nothing but what served to increase the malady. The advances of old age, with all its attendant infirmities; the death of almost all his old friends; the frequent returns of his most dispiriting maladies, deafness and giddiness; and above all, the dreadful apprehensions that he should outlive his understanding, made life such a burden to him, that he had no hope left but in a speedy dissolution, which was the object of his daily prayer to the Almighty.
About the year 1736, his memory was greatly impaired and his other faculties of imagination and intellect decayed, in proportion as the stores from which they were supplied diminished. When the understanding was shaken from its seat, and reason had given up the reins, the irascible passions, which at all times he had found difficult to be kept within due bounds, now raged without control, and made him a torment to himself, and to all who were about him. An unusually long fit of deafness, attended with giddiness, which lasted almost a year, had disqualified him wholly for conversation, and made him lose all relish for society. Conscious of his situation, he was little desirous of seeing any of his old friends and companions, and they were as little solicitous to visit him in that deplorable state. He could now no longer amuse himself with writing; and a resolution he had formed of never wearing spectacles, to which he obstinately adhered, prevented him from reading. Without employment, without amusements of any kind, thus did his time pass heavily along; not one white day in the calendar, not one hour of comfort, nor did even a ray of hope pierce through the gloom. The state of his mind is strongly pictured in a letter to Mrs. Whiteway. "I have been very miserable all night, and to day extremely deaf and full of pain. I am so stupid and confounded, that I cannot express the mortification I am under both in body and mind. All I can say is, that I am not in torture; but I daily and hourly expect it. Pray let me know how your health is, and your family. I hardly understand one word I write. I am sure my days will be very few; few and miserable they must be. I am for those few days,
"If I do not blunder, it is Saturday,
July 26, 1740.
Not long after the date of this letter, his understanding failed to such a degree, that it was found necessary to have guardians legally appointed to take care of his person and estate. This was followed by a fit of lunacy, which continued some months, and then he sunk into a state of idiocy, which lasted to his death. He died October . , 1745
The behaviour of the citizens on this occasion, gave the strongest proof of the deep impression he had made on their minds. Though he had been, for so many years, to all intents and purposes dead to the world, and his departure from that state seemed a thing rather to be wished than deplored, yet no sooner was his death announced, than the citizens gathered from, all quarters, and forced their way in crowds into the house, to pay the last tribute of grief to their departed benefactor. Nothing but lamentations were heard all around the quarter where he lived, as if he had been cut off in the vigour of his years. Happy were they who first got into the chamber where he lay, to procure, by bribes to the servants, locks of his hair, to be handed down as sacred relicks to their posterity. And so eager were numbers to obtain at any price this precious memorial, that in less than an hour, his venerable head was entirely stripped of all its silver ornaments, so that not a hair remained. He was buried in the most private manner, according to directions in his will, in the great aisle of St. Patrick's Cathedral, and by way of monument, a slab of black marble was placed against the wall, on which was engraved the following Latin Epitaph, written by himself:
Hic depositum est corpus
Jonathan Swift, S. T. P.
Hujus Ecclesiæ Cathedralis
Ubi sæva indignatio
Ulterius cor lacerare nequit.
Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili libertatis vindicem.
Obiit anno (1745)
Mensis (Octobris) die (19)
Ætatis anno (78.)
- The following anecdote taken down at the time by the same gentleman who communicated the former to me, will show how cautious Swift was in his behaviour at that juncture, for fear of provoking party zeal, and at the same time afford an instance of his peculiar vein of humour. Among other tyrannical acts of the whigs, in the first parliament of George I, such members of the house of commons as had voted for an address in favour of sir Constantine Phipps, were ordered to beg pardon of the house. This order was generally complied with. Three who refused were taken into custody of the serjeant at arms: sir Pierce Butler, Mr. Matthew Ford, and Mr. Robert Cope. Swift, visiting Cope one day, found Povey the serjeant at arms, who was a perfect stranger to Swift's person, sitting with him. After some conversation, Swift asked Cope whether he did not intend to go out that morning, as it was a fine day. Cope said he could not stir out, he was confined. Swift asked, had he taken physick? Cope said, no, but that he was confined by the parliament, and was then in custody of the serjeant at arms. Swift, with an air of perfect ignorance, and simplicity, inquired the meaning of that, as if he had never heard of a serjeant at arms, or of any such power in the parliament; and soon after took his leave. When he was gone, Povey said it would be well for the church and the kingdom, if the clergy minded state affairs as little as that honest gentleman, who he durst say, was a good parish minister, residing at his living, and minding his own affairs, without troubling his head about those of the publick. Pray what is his name? Swift. Is he any relation of the dean of St. Patrick's? The very man, says Cope. The very man! replied Povey; damn him, he has bit me, and left the room in some confusion.
- In a passage above quoted from his letter to , where he says, "I choose my companions among those of least consequence, and most compliance," we are to understand only such humble friends as were always at his devotion, to be let in, or sent away without ceremony, according as he was in the humour. It was probably this passage, which furnished lord Orrery with an occasion of exercising his usual disposition to depreciate the dean as much as possible, in the following paragraphs: "After the great names, which I have just now mentioned, it is matter of astonishment to find the same person, who had enjoyed the highest and the best conversation, equally delighted with the lowest and the worst; and yet it is certain, from Swift's settlement in Dublin as dean of St. Patrick's, his choice of companions in general, showed him of a very depraved taste."
"From the year 1714, till he appeared in the year 1720, a champion for Ireland against Wood's halfpence, his spirit of politicks and of patriotism was kept almost closely confined within his own breast. Idleness and trifles engrossed too many of his hours: fools and sycophants too much of his conversation."
His answerer, Dr. Delany, fired with indignation at this false charge, replies to him in the following manner:
"My lord, you have been so grossly abused, in the accounts which dictated those two paragraphs to you, that I am almost ashamed to set you right.
"The meanest man I ever heard of his conversing with during that period, was Mr. Worrall, a clergyman, a master of arts, a reader and vicar of his cathedral, and a master of the song. He was nearly of his own standing in the college; a good walker, a man of sense, and a great deal of humour. Mr. Worrall's situation in the church, naturally engaged his attendance upon the dean, every time he went thither: and their walks naturally ended either in the dean's dining with him, or he with the dean. But as the dean was a single man, the former happened more frequently: and this intercourse at last ended in the dean's dining with him, as often as he pleased, at a certain rate, and inviting as many friends as he pleased upon the same terms."
The doctor then proceeds to relate his intimacy with the Grattans, a numerous race of brothers, all in affluent or easy circumstances, a set of men as generally acquainted, and as much beloved, as any one family in the nation. After a particular description of each of these, he proceeds thus: "These, my lord, were men of open hearts, and free spirits: who as little deserved, and as much disdained the character and office of sycophants, as any nobleman of yours, or any nation. And yet these, with their allies, the Jacksons, &c. genteel, agreeable, and well bred men and women, were the companions of many of Swift's easiest and happiest hours: such companions, as no wise man ever wanted, or at least would want, if he could help it; any more than he would his night gown, his couch, or his easy chair."
"Whether the Grattans led Swift, or he them, into the acquaintance of their friends, George Rochfort, and Peter Ludlow, I cannot say. But this I know, that he lived much with those gentlemen, and cultivated their friendship with a very distinguished affection, and esteem; and it is certain, that they well deserved the highest regard and distinction he could pay them.
Quales animæ neque candidiores terra tulit,
Nec queis te magis optasses amicum.
Such souls! more candid never earth produced,
Nor whom you could more wisely wish your friends.
"They were men of fortune, scholars, men of parts, men of humour, men of wit, and men of virtue. Greater companions Swift might have conversed with, but better he neither did, nor could. — Let me add to these another gentleman, for whom the dean had a particular esteem, Matthew Ford, a man of family and fortune; a fine gentleman, and the best lay scholar of his time and nation. These, with the fellows of the college, Dr. Walmsley, Dr. Helsham, Dr. Delany, Mr. Stopford (now bishop of Cloyne) and Dr. Sheridan, among the men; and lady Eustace, Mrs. Moore, lady Betty Rochfort, and Mrs. Ludlow, ladies sufficiently distinguished, of the other sex; were, with Stella, and her friends, Swift's principal acquaintance and companions, during the period you mention, and treat as the era of his infamy.
"I might nention some others of very distinguished characters, who made up, I will not say, that admired, but I can say with truth, that envied society, in which Swift passed his life at that period. But I hope I have already said sufficient to set you right."
- This story is told in a different manner by Mr. Swift, with several improbable circumstances, which have not the least foundation in truth, as I had the account exactly as I have related it immediately from my father.
- Hard fortune, and the newness of my reign, compel me to such measures.
- To make this intelligible, it will be necessary to quote a former passage in that letter; where, speaking of Gay, he says, "He had written a very ingenious book of Fables for the use of her (the princess's) younger son, and she often promised to provide for him. But some time before, there came out a libel against Mr. Walpole, who was informed it was written by Mr. Gay; and although Mr. Walpole owned he was convinced that it was not written by Gay, yet he never would pardon him, but did him a hundred ill offices to the princess."
- Lord Peterborow, in a note to Swift, a little previous to the date of this letter, says, "Sir Robert Walpole, any morning, except Tuesday and Thursday, which are his publick days, about nine in the morning, will be glad to see you at his London house. On Monday, if I see you, I will give you a farther account."
- Of this there was a strong instance given in regard to William Shippen; the honestest man, and truest patriot that then sate in the house. When Walpole found, after repeated trials, that his virtue was proof against all the offers he could make, it was given out by his emissaries, that he privately received a pension from him; and that he was permitted to act the part of a patriot, in order to keep his influence with his party, on certain occasions, that he might be of more effectual service in matters of greater concern. And this report was so industriously spread, and with such confidence, that many gave credit to it during his life. Nor were they undeceived till it was found that, after his death, this worthy man, who had lived with the utmost frugality, left no more behind him than his paternal estate, which was barely sufficient to entitle him to a seat in parliament, and fifty pounds in cash, peculiarly appropriated to the charges of his funeral.
- Swift says, in a letter to lady Betty Germain, that on this occasion he was particularly distinguished by the queen.
- It was generally supposed on the accession of the late king, that sir Robert Walpole would have been turned out of his employments with disgrace, as it was well known that both the prince and princess had retained strong resentments against him, on account of some parts of his behaviour toward them, during the rupture between the two courts. Accordingly on the death of the old king, some immediate proofs were given that such was the intention. Sir Robert was himself the bearer of the tidings, and arriving in the night when the prince was abed, sent to desire an audience, upon business of the utmost consequence, which would admit of no delay. The prince refused to see him, and ordered him to send in his business. Upon which he gave an account of the death of the late king, and said he waited there to receive his majesty's commands. The king still persisted in refusing to see him, and bade him send sir Spencer Compton to him immediately. Sir Robert now plainly saw his downfall had been predetermined, and hastened to sir Spencer with humblest tenders of his service, begging his protection, and earnestly intreating that he would skreen him from farther persecution. When this story had got abroad, the habitation of the last minister became desolate, and the whole tribe of courtiers, as usual, crowded to the levee of the new favourite. Yet, in no long space of time afterward, to the astonishment of the whole world, sir Robert was reinstated in his posts, and appeared in as high favour as ever. Various were the conjectures of the people upon the means employed by him to supplant his competitor, and reinstate himself in full possession of his power, while the true cause of this surprising change remained a secret, and was known only to a very few: nor has it yet been publickly divulged to the world.
Soon after the accession of George the First, it is well known the whigs divided among themselves, and split into two parties in violent opposition to each other. Sunderland, Stanhope, and Cadogan, were the leaders of one side; Townshend, Walpole, Devonshire, and the chancellor, of the other. It happened at that time that the former were victorious; and the discarded party, in resentment, paid their court at Leicester House. Walpole had thought of a particular measure to distress their opponents, which he communicated to the heads of his party: it was approved of, and some of them thought that the prince should be let into it; but Walpole would by no means agree to this, and in his usual coarse way, said, "That the prince would communicate it to his wife, and that fat a—d bitch would divulge the secret." By some means or other the princess was informed of this; and it is to be supposed that the impression which so gross an affront had made on the mind of a woman, and a woman of her rank too, was not easily to be erased. Manet alta mente repostum, &c. After the necessary business upon the new accession had been finished, the affair of the queen's settlement, in case she should outlive the king, came on the carpet. Her majesty expected that it should be at the rate of 100,000l. a year; but sir Spencer Compton would not agree to this, and thought 60,000l. an ample provision, and as much as could be proposed with any prospect of success. While this dispute subsisted, sir Robert Walpole found means to acquaint the queen privately by one of his confidents, that if he were minister, he would undertake to secure to her the settlement she demanded. Upon which the queen sent him back this remarkable answer: "Go tell sir Robert that the fat a—d bitch has forgiven him." He was accordingly, soon after, by the well-known ascendency which the queen had over the king, declared first minister; and sir Spencer Compton removed to the upper house, with the title of earl of Wilmington.
This anecdote was communicated to me by the late Dr. Campbel, who was well known to have pried more into the secret springs of action, and to have had better opportunities of being informed of them, than most men of his time.
- These poems were sent to Mrs. Barber, then in London, by one Pilkington, in order that she might make what advantage she could by the sale of them, being a woman of merit, rather in distressed circumstances. This Pilkington at the same time carried letters of recommendation from Swift to alderman Barber, lord mayor elect, by whom, in consequence of such recommendation, he was appointed city chaplain. Yet this man had the baseness to turn informer against his patron and benefactor, as the author, and Mrs. Barber, as the editor: who thereupon was confined for some time in the house of a king's messenger. But, as upon examination, the gentlemen of the long robe could discover nothing in the poems that could come under the denomination of a libel, or incur any legal punishment, she and the publishers were released, and the prosecution dropped.
- Dr. Young has recorded an instance of this, where he relates, that walking out with Swift and some others about a mile from Dublin, he suddenly missed the dean, who had staid behind the rest of the company. He turned back in order to know the occasion of it; and found Swift at some distance gazing intently at the top of a lofty elm, whose head had been blasted; upon Young's approach he pointed to it, saying, "I shall be like that tree, I shall die first at the top."
- Yea beg a hair of him for memory,
And dying mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.Shakspeare.