The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 1/Life of Dr. Swift, Section VI
Private Memoirs of Swift.
HAVING now conducted Swift from his cradle to his grave, and presented to view, in a regular series, the most remarkable scenes of his publick life; I have purposely reserved to this place the greater part of such private memoirs, as were not meant to meet the publick eye, in order that I might arrange them also in an uninterrupted train. Nothing has more excited the curiosity of mankind at all times, than that desire which prevails of prying into the secret actions of great and illustrious characters; arising in some, from a too general spirit of envy, which hopes to find something in their private conduct that may sully the lustre of their publick fame, and so bring them down more to a level with themselves: and in others, of a more candid disposition, that they might form right judgments of their real characters; as too many, like actors in a theatre, only assume one when they appear on the stage of the world, which they put off, together with their robes and plumes, when retired to the dressing room. But as the readers of the former sort, are infinitely more numerous, in order to gratify their taste, as well, perhaps, as their own congenial disposition, the writers of such memoirs are too apt to lean to the malevolent side, and deal rather in the more saleable commodity of obloquy and scandal, high-seasoned to the taste of vitiated palates, than in the milder and more insipid food of truth and panegyrick. Many have been the misrepresentations made of Swift, from this uncharitable spirit; and though most of them have been proved to be such by his defenders, yet there are several still left in a state of doubt and uncertainty, through the want of proper information. Among these there is no article about which the world is still left so much in the dark, as his amours. A subject, which, in one of his singular character, is more likely to excite curiosity than any other. We know there were two ladies, represented by him as the most accomplished of their sex, adorned with all the charms and graces, both of person and mind, that might penetrate the most obdurate breast, whose hearts were wholly devoted to him. We know too that he had a just sense of their value, that he lived on terms of the closest friendship with both, but it does not appear that he ever made a suitable return of love to either.
As his conduct toward these two celebrated ladies, Stella and Vanessa, seems to be wrapped up in the darkest shades of any part of his history, and has given rise to various conjectures, which yet have produced no satisfactory solution of the doubts which it has occasioned; I shall endeavour, by collecting some scattered rays from different parts of his Works, and adding other lights which have come to my knowledge, to disperse the mysterious gloom with which this subject seems to have been enveloped, and put the whole in a clear point of view. In order to this, it will be necessary, in the first place, to form a judgment how Swift stood affected toward the female sex, either from constitution, or reflection. With regard to the former, he seems to have been of a very cold habit, and little spurred on by any impulse of desire: and as to the latter, he appears in the early part of his life to have had little inclination to enter into the married state, and afterward to have had a fixed dislike to it.
His sentiments on this head are fully displayed in the following letter to a kinsman of his, written in the 24th year of his age:
To the Revd. Mr. John Kendall, &c.
"If any thing made me wonder at your letter, it was your almost inviting me to do so in the beginning, which indeed grew less upon knowing the occasion, since it is what I have heard from more than one, in and about Leicestershire. And for the friendship between us, as I suppose yours to be real, so I think it would be proper to imagine mine, until you find any cause to believe it pretended; though I might have some quarrel at you in three or four lines, which are very ill bestowed in complimenting me. And as to that of my great prospects of making my fortune, on which as your kindness only looks on the best side, so my own cold temper, and unconfined humour, is a much greater hindrance than any fear of that which is the subject of your letter. I shall speak plainly to you, that the very ordinary observations I made with going half a mile beyond the University, have taught me experience enough not to think of marriage till I settle my fortune in the world, which I am sure will not be in some years; and even then itself, I am so hard to please, that I suppose I shall put it off to the other world. How all that suits with my behaviour to the woman in hand, you may easily imagine when you know that there is something in me which must be employed; and when I am alone turns all, for want of practice, into speculation and thought; insomuch, that these seven weeks I have been here, I have writ and burnt, and writ again upon all manner of subjects, more than perhaps any man in England. And this is it which a person of great honour in Ireland (who was pleased to stoop so low as to look into my mind) used to tell me, that my mind was like a conjured spirit, that would do mischief if I would not give it employment. It is this humour that makes me so busy, when I am in company, to turn all that way; and since it commonly ends in talk, whether it be love, or conversation, it is all alike. This is so common, that I could remember twenty women in my life, to whom I have behaved myself just the same way; and, I profess, without any other design than that of entertaining myself when I am very idle, or when something goes amiss in my affairs. This I always have done as a man of the world, when I had no design for any thing grave in it, and what I thought at worst a harmless impertinence; but, whenever I begin to take sober resolutions, or, as now, to think of entering into the church, I never found it would be hard to put off this kind of folly at the porch. Besides, perhaps, in so general a conversation among that sex, I might pretend a little to understand where I am when I am going to choose for a wife; and, though the cunning sharper of the town may have a cheat put on him, yet it must be cleanlier carried than this, which you think I am going to top upon myself. And truly, if you knew how metaphysical I am that way, you would little fear I should venture on one who has given so much occasion to tongues: for, though the people is a lying sort of beast (and I think in Leicester above all parts that I was in) yet they seldom talk without some glimpse of a reason, which I declare (so unpardonably jealous I am) to be a sufficient cause for me to hate any woman any farther than a bare acquaintance. Among all the young gentlemen that I have known, who have ruined themselves by marrying (which I assure you is a great number) I have made this general rule, that they are either young, raw, and ignorant scholars, who, for want of knowing company, believe every silk petticoat includes an angel; or else these have been a sort of honest young men, who perhaps are too literal in rather marrying than burning, and entail a misery on themselves and posterity, by an overacting modesty. I think I am very far excluded from listing under either of these heads. I confess I have known one or two men of sense enough, who, inclined to frolicks, have married and ruined themselves out of a maggot; but a thousand houshold thoughts, which always drive matrimony out of my mind whenever it chances to come there, will, I am sure, fright me from that; beside that, I am naturally temperate, and never engaged in the contrary, which usually produces those effects. Your hints at particular stories I do not understand; and having never heard them but so hinted, thought it proper to give you this, to show you how I thank you for your regard of me; and I hope my carriage will be such as that my friends need not be ashamed of the name. I should not have behaved myself after that manner I did in Leicester, if I had not valued my own entertainment, beyond the obloquy of a parcel of very wretched fools, which I solemnly pronounce the inhabitants of Leicester to be, and so I content myself with retaliation. I hope you will forgive this trouble; and so, with my service to your good wife, I am, good cousin,
"Your very affectionate friend and servant,
This letter was an answer to one from Mr. Kendall, in which he informs him of the reports spread at Leicester that he had paid serious addresses there to an unworthy object, and which Swift therefore thought required this explicit answer. Here we see that he had no other idea of gallantry with the sex, than what served for mere amusement; that he had rather a dread of matrimony, and that he had never engaged in illicit amours, from which he claims no merit, but imputes it to his being naturally of a temperate constitution. This ingenuous letter, written at the most vigorous time of life, will serve as a clue to his conduct toward women ever after.
The only instance that appears of his having any serious thoughts of matrimony, was with regard to a miss Waryng, a lady of the North of Ireland, possessed of a moderate fortune. The circumstances of that affair are laid open in the following letter to that lady, written by Swift in the year 1700, when he was in his 33d year:
"I AM extremely concerned at the account you give of your health; for my uncle told me he found you in appearance better than you had been in some years, and I was in hopes you had still continued so. God forbid I should ever be the occasion of creating more troubles to you, as you seem to intimate! The letter you desired me to answer, I have frequently read, and thought I had replied to every part of it that required it; however, since you are pleased to repeat those particulars wherein you desired satisfaction, I shall endeavour to give it you as well as I am able. You would know what gave my temper that sudden turn, as to alter the style of my letters since I last came over. If there has been that alteration you observe, I have told you the cause abundance of times. I had used a thousand endeavours and arguments, to get you from the company and place you are in; both on the account of your health and humour, which I thought were likely to suffer very much in such an air, and before such examples. All I had in answer from you, was nothing but a great deal of arguing, and sometimes in a style so very imperious, as I thought might have been spared, when I reflected how much you had been in the wrong. The other thing you would know is, whether this change of style be owing to the thoughts of a new mistress. I declare, upon the word of a Christian and a gentleman, it is not; neither had I ever thoughts of being married to any other person but yourself. I had ever an opinion that you had a great sweetness of nature and humour; and whatever appeared to the contrary, I looked upon it only as a thing put on as necessary before a lover; but I have since observed in abundance of your letters such marks of a severe indifference, that I began to think it was hardly possible for one of my few good qualities to please you. I never knew any so hard to be worked upon, even in matters where the interest and concern are entirely your own; all which, I say, passed easily while we were in the state of formalities and ceremony; but, since that, there is no other way of accounting for this untractable behaviour in you, but by imputing it to a want of common esteem and friendship for me.
"When I desired an account of your fortune, I had no such design as you pretend to imagine. I have told you many a time, that in England it was in the power of any young fellow of common sense, to get a larger fortune than ever you pretended to. I asked, in order to consider whether it were sufficient, with the help of my poor income, to make one of your humour easy in a married state. I think it comes to almost a hundred pounds a year; and I think at the same time that no young woman in the world, of the same income, would dwindle away their health and life in such a sink, and among such family conversation; neither have all your letters been once able to persuade that you have the least value for me, because you so little regarded what I so often said upon that matter. The dismal account you say I have given of my livings, I can assure you to be a true one; and, since it is a dismal one even in your own opinion, you can best draw consequences from it. The place where Dr. Bolton lived is upon a living which he keeps with the deanery; but the place of residence for that they have given him, is within a mile of a town called Trim, twenty miles from hence; and there is no other way, but to hire a house at Trim, or build one on the spot: the first is hardly to be done, and the other I am too poor to perform at present. For coming down to Belfast, it is what I cannot yet think of, my attendance is so close, and so much required of me; but our government sits very loose, and I believe will change in a few months; whether our part will partake in the change, I know not, though I am very apt to believe it; and then I shall be at leisure for a short journey. But I hope your other friends, more powerful than I, will before that time persuade you from, the place where you are. I desire my service to your mother, in return for her remembrance; but for any other dealings that way, I entreat your pardon; and I think I have more cause to resent your desires of me in that case, than you have to be angry at my refusals. If you like such company and conduct, much good do you with them! My education has been otherwise. My uncle Adam asked me one day in private, as by direction, what my designs were in relation to you, because it might be a hindrance to you if I did not proceed. The answer I gave him (which I suppose he has sent you) was to this effect: 'That I hoped I was no hindrance to you; because the reason you urged against a union with me was drawn from indisposition, which still continued; that you also thought my fortune not sufficient, which is neither at present in a condition to offer you: That, if your health and my fortune were as they ought, I would prefer you above all your sex; but that, in the present condition of both, I thought it was against your opinion, and would certainly make you unhappy: that, had you any other offers which your friends or yourself thought more to your advantage, I should think I were very unjust to be an obstacle in your way.' Now for what concerns my fortune, you have answered it. I desire, therefore, you will let me know if your health be otherwise than it was when you told me the doctors advised you against marriage, as what would certainly hazard your life. Are they or you grown of another opinion in this particular? Are you in a condition to manage domestick affairs, with an income of less (perhaps) than three hundred pounds a year? Have you such an inclination to my person and humour, as to comply with my desires and way of living, and endeavour to make us both as happy as you can? Will you be ready to engage in those methods I shall direct for the improvement of your mind, so as to make us entertaining company for each other, without being miserable when we are neither visiting nor visited? Can you bend your love and esteem and indifference to others the same way as I do mine? Shall I have so much power in your heart, or you so much government of your passions, as to grow in good humour upon my approach, though provoked by a —? Have you so much good nature as to endeavour by soft words to smooth any rugged humour occasioned by the cross accidents of life? Shall the place wherever your husband is thrown, be more welcome than courts and cities without him? In short, these are some of the necessary methods to please men, who, like me, are deep read in the world; and to a person thus made, I should be proud in giving all due returns toward making her happy. These are the questions I have always resolved to propose to her with whom I meant to pass my life; and whenever you can heartily answer them in the affirmative, I shall be blessed to have you in my arms, without regarding whether your person be beautiful, or your fortune large. Cleanliness in the first, and competency in the other, is all I look for. I desire indeed a plentiful revenue, but would rather it should be of my own; though I should not bear from a wife to be reproached for the greatest.
"I have said all I can possibly say in answer to any part of your letter, and in telling you my clear opinion as to matters between us. I singled you out at first from the rest of women; and I expect not to be used like a common lover. When you think fit to send me an answer to this, without ——, I shall then approve myself, by all means you shall command, madam,
"Your most faithful humble servant,
From the contents of this letter, it is apparent, that whatever inclination he might formerly have had to a union with this lady, it was now much changed; and his view in writing it, seems evidently to have been to put an end to the connexion, but in such a way, as that the refusal might come from the lady. For it was impossible to suppose that a woman of any spirit (and from some hints in the letter she seemed to have rather more than came to her share) should not highly resent such an unlover-like epistle, written in so dictatorial a style. And it is highly probable that the little stomach which he at all times had to matrimony, was a stronger motive to breaking off the match, than any of the newly discovered faults laid to her charge. His attachment to this lady was in consequence of a juvenile passion commenced when he was in the college. She was sister to his chamber-fellow Mr. Waryng, and a familiar intercourse naturally followed. It is certain a correspondence had been carried on between them for some time in the style of courtship; but a few years absence cooled the ardour of his flame, which, together with some circumstances alluded to in the above letter, made him wish to put an end to the connexion. I have in my possession a letter of his, which was never yet printed, addressed to the Rev. Mr. Winder, dated from Moor-park, 1698. Wherein some slight mention is made of this affair, and which manifestly shows his indifference at that time, in the following passage: "I remember these letters to Eliza; they were writ in my youth. Pray burn them. You mention a dangerous rival for an absent lover; but I must take my fortune. If the report proceeds, pray inform me." After these we have no memorial remaining of his being attached to any of the fair sex, except Mrs. Johnson and miss Vanhomrigh, known to the world by the celebrated names of Stella, and Vanessa. We have already seen how his acquaintance with Stella commenced at an early period of her life, and the share that he had in training her up to that degree of perfection which she afterward reached. It is no wonder that his admiration of his lovely pupil should increase with her growing perfections, and that it should produce the strongest attachment to one of the finest pieces of nature's workmanship, finished and polished to the height by his own hand. But though his affection for her daily increased, during a long habitude of intercourse with one of the most charming companions in the world, perfectly suited in all points to his taste and humour, yet had it no mixture in it of the passion of love, but was rather the tenderness of a parent to a favourite child:
His conduct might have made him styl'd,
A father, and the nymph his child.
That innocent delight he took
To see the virgin mind her book,
Was but the master's secret joy
In school to hear the finest boy.
Thou, Stella, wert no longer young,
When first for thee my harp I strung;
Without one word of Cupid's darts.
Of killing eyes, or bleeding hearts:
With friendship and esteem possest,
I ne'er admitted love a guest.
Nor was there any thing uncommon in this. We find that even among young people bred up together from childhood, the passion of love seldom appears; and much less likely is it to take place where there is such a disparity of years. It has been already shown what punctilious caution he took to prevent any appearance of that sort, by never conversing with her but in the presence of a third person, which was usually her companion Mrs. Dingley. But not long after her settlement in Ireland, he gave the most unequivocal proof of what his sentiments were with regard to her on that point. It was impossible that so charming an object should long remain without inspiring some of her beholders with love. Accordingly an intimate friend of Swift's, of the name of Tisdal, not undistinguished for learning and wit, was so captivated with the beauties both of her person and mind, that he paid his addresses to her, and made proposals of marriage. The account of this transaction, and the part that Swift bore in it, is set forth at large in the following letter written by him to Tisdal on that subject:
"London, April 20, 1704.
"Yesterday coming from the country I found your letter, which had been four or five days arrived, and by neglect was not forwarded as it ought. You have got three epithets for my former letter, which I believe are all unjust: you say it was unfriendly, unkind, and unaccountable. The two first, I suppose, may pass but for one, saving (as capt. Fluellin says) the phrase is a little variations. I shall therefore answer those two as I can; and for the last, I return it to you again by these presents, assuring you, that there is more unaccountability in your letter's little finger, than in mine's whole body. And one strain I observe in it, which is frequent enough; you talk in a mystical sort of a way, as if you would have me believe I had some great design, and that you had found it out: your phrases are, that my letter had the effect you judge I designed; that you are amazed to reflect on what you judge the cause of it; and wish it may be in your power to love and value me while you live, &c. In answer to all this, I might with good pretence enough talk starchly, and affect ignorance of what you would be at; but my conjecture is, that you think I obstructed your inclinations to please my own, and that my intentions were the same with yours. In answer to all which, I will upon my conscience and honour tell you the naked truth. First, I think I have said to you before, that if my fortunes and humour served me to think of that state, I should certainly, among all persons on earth, make your choice; because I never saw that person whose conversation I entirely valued but hers; this was the utmost I ever gave way to. And, secondly, I must assure you sincerely, that this regard of mine never once entered to be an impediment to you; but I judged it would, perhaps, be a clog to your rising in the world; and I did not conceive you were then rich enough to make yourself and her happy and easy. But that objection is now quite removed by what you have at present; and by the assurances of Eaton's livings. I told you indeed, that your authority was not sufficient to make overtures to the mother, without the daughter's giving me leave under her own or her friend's hand, which, I think, was a right and a prudent step. However, I told the mother immediately, and spoke with all the advantages you deserve. But the objection of your fortune being removed, I declare I have no other; nor shall any consideration of my own misfortune, in losing so good a friend and companion as her, prevail on me against her interest and settlement in the world, since it is held so necessary and convenient a thing for ladies to marry; and that time takes off from the lustre of virgins in all other eyes but mine. I appeal to my letters to herself, whether I was your friend or not in the whole concern; though the part I designed to act in it was purely passive, which is the utmost I will ever do in things of this nature, to avoid all reproach of any ill consequence that may ensue in the variety of worldly accidents. Nay I went so far both to her mother, herself, and, I think, to you, as to say it could not be decently broken; since I supposed the town had got it in their tongues, and therefore I thought it could not miscarry without some disadvantage to the lady's credit. I have always described her to you in a manner different from those who would be discouraging; and must add, that though it hath come in my way to converse with persons of the first rank, and of that sex, more than is usual to men of my level, and of our function; yet I have no where met with a humour, a wit, or conversation so agreeable, a better portion of good sense, or a truer judgment of men and things, I mean here in England; for as to the ladies of Ireland, I am a perfect stranger. As to her fortune, I think you know it already; and, if you resume your designs, and would have farther intelligence, I shall send you a particular account.
"I give you joy of your good fortunes, and envy very much your prudence and temper, and love of peace and settlement, the reverse of which hath been the great uneasiness of my life, and is likely to continue so. And what is the result? En queis consevimus agros! I find nothing but the good words and wishes of a decayed ministry, whose lives and mine will probably wear out before they can serve either my little hopes, or their own ambition. Therefore I am resolved suddenly to retire, like a discontented courtier, and vent myself in study and speculation, till my own humour, or the scene here, shall change."
I have here inserted the whole of this letter, both as it contains a candid display of Swift's sentiments on this occasion, and is a strong confutation of the account given of it by his relation Deane Swift, in his Essay, &c. part of which I shall here transcribe, where speaking of Mr. Tisdal he says — "This gentleman declared his passion, and made her proposals of marriage. Now whether it was artifice in Mrs. Johnson to rouse affections in the adamantine heart of her admired object; or whether it was a reach of policy in Dr. Swift, to acquaint Mrs. Johnson by such indirect means that he had no intention of engaging himself in a married life; or whether in truth there was any kind of artifice used on either side, I protest I am wholly a stranger, &c. — Mrs. Johnson discovered no repugnancy to the match, but still she would be advised by doctor Swift. The doctor, perhaps, loth to be separated from so delightful a companion, threw an obstacle in the way that was not to be surmounted. This gentleman had a benefice in the church of a considerable value, about a hundred miles from Dublin, which required his attendance. Dr. Swift, in order to bring matters to a final issue, made him an overture that he should settle upon his wife a hundred pounds a year for pinmoney. The lover indeed, although extremely captivated with the charms of his mistress, was by no means delighted with this proposal; he desired however that he might have a night's time to consider of it; and the next morning, contrary to expectation, he agreed to the terms. Swift, never at a loss for some uncommon flight of imagination, insisted farther that he should live in Dublin, and keep a coach for his wife. The gentleman had more honour than to promise what he could not perform; the match was accordingly broken off: in a short time after, the doctor's friend married a woman of family, and there was an end of the affair." In what a mean selfish light does this fabricated account place Swift! how different from the genuine one delivered by himself! and that too drawn up by a kinsman, who writ professedly to vindicate his character. But the match was not broken off by any artifice of Swift's, to which he was at all times superiour. The refusal came from Mrs. Johnson herself, who, though she might at first have shown no repugnance to it, probably with a view to sound Swift's sentiments, and bring him to some explanation with regard to her; yet when it came to the point, she could not give up the hope long nourished in her bosom, of being one day united to the object of her virgin heart, and whom she considered as the first of mankind. From that time we do not find that she ever encouraged any other addresses, and her life seemed wholly devoted to him. She passed her days from the year 1703 to 1710, in the most perfect retirement, without any other enjoyment in life but what she found in the pleasure of his society, or in reading. Their mode of living was this: when the doctor was absent on his visits to England, she and her companion took up their residence at his parsonage house at Laracor, in the neighbourhood of Trim, a small town about 20 miles distant from Dublin. When he returned, they either retired to a lodging at Trim, or were hospitably received in the house of Dr. Raymond, vicar of that parish. Swift grew so enamoured of this course of life, that he seemed to wish for nothing more than a continuance of it. The charming society and delightful conversation of the amiable and accomplished Stella, had, by long habitude, become essential to his happiness, and made him lose all relish for every other enjoyment of life, when absent from her. All the more vigorous springs of his mind were relaxed and lost their tone; and even the powerful passions of ambition, and desire of wealth, were wholly absorbed in this truly voluptuous state, wherein was constantly mixed
The feast of reason, and the flow of soul.
A state of true epicurean happiness, and a source of pleasures beyond the conception of the sensualist, which, far from cloying, still increase by enjoyment, and which can only be the portion of the more exalted minds, and refined spirits of this world. It is certain that Swift's soul was so entangled by these charms, of a different kind indeed, but not less powerful than those of Circe, that it was with the utmost reluctance he disengaged himself from them, though but for a short time; nor could any thing but a sense of duty, and a desire of serving the church, make him accept of a commission for that purpose, which occasioned his journey to London in September, 1710. In his first letter to Mrs. Johnson, on his arrival at Chester, he says — "I am perfectly resolved to return as soon as I have done my commission, whether it succeeds or not. I never went to England with so little desire in my life." In the January following he says — "Farewell, dearest beloved MD, and love poor poor Presto, who has not had one happy day since he left you, as hope saved. It is the last sally I shall ever make, but I hope it will turn to some account. I would make MD and me easy, and I never desired more." And in some months after, he expresses his impatience of this long absence in the strongest terms; where addressing himself to Stella, he says — "You say you are not splenetick; but if you be, faith you will break poor Presto's ———, I won't say the rest; but I vow to God, if I could decently come over now, I would, and leave all schemes of politicks and ambition for ever." In the whole course of his letters it appears that not all the homage paid him by the great, the society of the choicest spirits of the age, and the friendship of some of the worthiest characters of both sexes; not the daily increase and spreading of his fame, and the most flattering prospects before him of fortune and preferment, could compensate for the want of that companion, who was the supreme delight of his heart. In the midst of all these he tells her, that his best days here are trash to those which he passed with her. In order to soften in some measure the rigour of absence, he had settled a plan at parting, that they should keep a regular journal, in which they should set down the transactions of the day, and once a fortnight transmit it to each other. The writing and receiving of these constituted the chief pleasure of his life during his residence in England. It was his first employment, when he awoke in the morning; the last, before he closed his eyes at night. He makes frequent mention of the great satisfaction he finds in this kind of intercourse. In his Journal, January 16, 1711, he says — "Presto's at home, God help him, every night from six till bedtime, and has as little enjoyment or pleasure in life at present, as any body in the world, although in full favour with all the ministry. As hope saved, nothing gives Presto any sort of dream of happiness, but a letter now and then from his own dearest MD. I love the expectation of it, and when it does not come, I comfort myself that I have it yet to be happy with. Yes faith, and when I write to MD, I am happy too: it is just, methinks, as if you were here, and I prating to you, and telling you where I have been," &c. And in another place "When I find you are happy or merry there, it makes me so here, and I can hardly imagine you absent when I am reading your letter, or writing to you. No, faith, you are just here upon this little paper, and therefore I see and talk with you every evening constantly, and sometimes in the morning," &c.
This mode of intercourse, during their separation, was adopted by him upon the same cautious principle, by which he regulated his conduct toward her, when he lived in the same place with her. As he had never trusted himself alone with her then, but always conversed with her, as was before observed, in the presence of some third person, so his Journals were constantly addressed to both ladies, and were answered by both in the same letter. Had he entered into a separate correspondence with Mrs. Johnson, it would be hardly possible to avoid coming to some explanation, that must either have ended in an absolute engagement, or put a period to all expectation of that sort: both which, from some maxims laid down by him, it was his business to avoid. In this way of writing too, he might give a loose to all expressions of endearment and tenderness, with which his heart overflowed for one of the objects, without at the same time giving her a right to apply them solely to herself, as they were addressed to both. Accordingly we find, interspersed through the Journal, several passages containing the warmest effusions of affection, which the utmost sensibility of heart could pour forth. Among many others, I shall quote a few of these, as they occur in the early part of his Journal. "And so you kept Presto's little birthday, I warrant: would to God I had been present at the health, rather than here, where I have no manner of pleasure, nothing but eternal business on my hands. I shall grow wise in time, but no more of that: only I say. Amen, with my heart and vitals, that we may never be asunder again, ten days together, while poor Presto lives." "Do as you please, and love poor Presto, that loves MD better than his life, a thousand million of times." "You are welcome as my blood to every farthing I have in the world; and all that grieves me is, I am not richer, for MD's sake, as hope saved." "Farewell, my dearest lives, and delights; I love you better than ever, if possible, as hope saved I do, and ever will. God Almighty bless you ever, and make us happy together; I pray for this twice every day, and I hope God will hear my poor hearty prayers." "I will say no more, but beg you to be easy till fortune takes her course, and to believe that MD's felicity is the great end I aim at in all my pursuits." Though expressions of this sort are in general addressed to both these ladies, yet it is certain that Mrs. Johnson must have considered them as meant only to herself; for the other lady, Mrs. Dingley, was far from meriting any share in Swift's esteem or affection. She was merely one of the common run of women, of a middling understanding, without knowledge or taste; and so entirely selfish, as to be incapable of any sincere friendship, or warm attachment. In short, she was perfectly calculated to answer Swift's purposes in the post she occupied, that of an inseparable companion to Mrs. Johnson: and the narrowness of her circumstances, which consisted only of an annuity of twenty-seven pounds a year, too little to support her without the assistance of a yearly allowance from Swift, kept her in a fixed state of dependence, and conformity to his will. No wonder therefore that Mrs. Johnson always entertained expectations that Swift would offer her his hand, as soon as a sufficient increase of fortune would enable him to do it with prudence. While, on the other hand, Swift cautiously avoided any declaration of that sort, which might be construed into a promise, and left himself at liberty to interpret his strongest expressions of attachment, as proceeding wholly from friendship, and a warmth of pure affection, which had been increasing from her early age, and settled into what might be considered as a parental fondness. To enter thoroughly into the motives of this conduct, we are to recollect that Swift always had in remembrance the imprudent match made by his father, which left his widow and children in so desolate a condition. The miseries he had suffered during a long state of dependence, even to an advanced period of his life, made so deep an impression on his mind, that he determined never to marry, unless his fortune were such, as might enable him to make a suitable provision for his wife, or any offspring he might have by her. As he had no great propensity to the marriage state, on several accounts before mentioned, he found no difficulty in keeping this resolution; yet it is highly probable, at the time of his writing this part of his Journal, he had a distant view of being united sometime or other in the bands of wedlock to Mrs. Johnson, whenever his expected preferment in the church, and sufficient increase of fortune should render it eligible. For, though he might himself have been perfectly content to have passed the rest of his life with her, in the same manner as before, on the pure Platonick system; yet it could not escape his penetration, that she had other views, and felt a passion for him not quite so refined. And the charms of her society had become so essential to his happiness, that rather than run a risk of losing it, he would purchase it even at the price of matrimony, provided it could be done consistently with the unalterable resolution he had laid down.
But while Swift's thoughts were thus employed, and all his views in life tended to this point, as to their centre, an event happened which unhinged his mind, and filled his bosom with a disturbance, which all his philosophy could never calm, and which was the source of much disquiet to him ever after in life. This arose from that all powerful passion, which the greatest heroes, and most renowned sages, have not been able to withstand, I mean, love. Hitherto he had been so much upon his guard against that dangerous passion, that he was invulnerable to all its open attacks, even in the prime of youth; but now in his advanced age, betrayed by the confidence which that inspired, he was taken by surprise. Among the great number of his friends in London, whose doors were always open to him, there was none whose house he so constantly frequented as that of Mrs. Vanhomrigh, which he made use of as if it were his home. This lady had two daughters, the eldest soon became a great favourite of his, as, by his own account, she was possessed of every good quality, and adorned with every accomplishment that could render her one of the most perfect of her sex. As one of the doctor's greatest delights was, to cultivate the minds of youth, particularly females, he took upon himself the office of her preceptor, to direct her in her studies, and instil into her mind the principles of virtue, and seeds of knowledge. Her capacity for learning was such, that she imbibed his instructions faster than he could give them; and her application was so great, that in less than two years, she made such a progress as astonished him. But about that time he discovered a strange alteration in her. She no longer delighted in books, no longer was attentive to his lectures. The frequent instances he perceived of her absence of mind, shewed that her thoughts were roving about something else, which she had more at heart. Upon inquiring into the cause of this, she ingenuously owned her passion for him, and that her whole soul was occupied, not about his precepts, but her preceptor himself. Nothing could have astonished the doctor more, or thrown his mind into such a state of agitation, as an unexpected declaration of that sort. He has given us a lively picture of what passed there on the occasion, in the following lines:
Cadenus felt within him rise
Shame, disappointment, guilt, surprise.
He knew not how to reconcile
Such language with her usual style:
And yet her words were so exprest,
He could not hope she spoke in jest.
His thoughts had wholly been confin'd
To form and cultivate her mind.
He hardly knew, till he was told.
Whether the nymph were young or old:
Had met her in a publick place,
Without distinguishing her face.
Much less could his declining age
Vanessa's earliest thoughts engage:
And if her youth indifference met,
His person must contempt beget.
Or grant her passion be sincere,
How shall his innocence be clear?
Appearances were all so strong.
The world must think him in the wrong;
Who'd say, he made a treacherous use
Of wit, to flatter and seduce:
The town would swear he had betray'd
By magick spells, the harmless maid;
And every beau would have his jokes.
That scholars were like other folks;
And when Platonick flights are over.
The tutor turns a mortal lover;
So tender of the young and fair!
It showed a true paternal care:
Five thousand guineas in her purse!
The doctor might have fancy'd worse.
In his first surprise at her extraordinary declaration, he tried to turn it off by raillery, treating it as a thing spoken only in jest; but when a woman has once broken through the restraint of decorum, the established barrier between the sexes, so far as to begin the attack, she is not easily to be repulsed. She in stronger terms both avowed and justified her passion for him, by such arguments as must be highly flattering to his self-love. Of the impression which these made on him, he gives the following account in the same poem:
Cadenus, to his grief and shame,
Could scarce oppose Vanessa's flame;
And though her arguments were strong.
At least could hardly wish them wrong,
Howe'er it came, he could not tell,
But sure she never talked so well.
His pride began to interpose,
Preferred before a crowd of beaux:
So bright a nymph to come unsought.
Such wonders by his merit wrought;
'Tis merit must with her prevail.
He never knew her judgment fail;
She noted all she ever read,
And had a most discerning head.
'Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery's the food of fools;
Yet, now and then, your men of wit,
Will condescend to pick a bit.
So when Cadenus could not hide,
He chose to justify his pride;
Construing the passion she had shown,
Much to her praise, more to his own.
Nature, in him, had merit plac'd,
In her, a most judicious taste.
Having thus artfully brought over his pride and self-love to her party, and corrupted his judgment by the most flattering arguments, the lady found no difficulty to make a conquest of his now unguarded heart, which, however reluctantly, he was obliged to surrender at discretion. He now for the first time felt what the passion of love was, with all its attendant symptoms, which he had before known only from description, and which he was now enabled to describe himself in the strongest colours:
Love! why do we one passion call,
When 'tis a compound of them all?
Where hot and cold, where sharp and sweet,
In all their equipages meet:
Where pleasures mix'd with pains appear,
Sorrow with joy, and hope with fear.
To his lot indeed there fell a much greater proportion of the bitter ingredients, than of the sweets of love. He might say with Othello,
Oh now for ever
Farewel the tranquil mind, farewel content!
All the pleasing scenes of sober sedate happiness, which he had formed to himself for the rest of his days, in the society of Stella, were now overshadowed and eclipsed by the intervention of a brighter object, which promised pleasures of a more rapturous kind. And yet they were pleasures, which, in his hours of cooler reflection, he could never hope to taste. Any idea of marriage must have appeared, from the great disparity of years, as well as many other reasons, to the last degree preposterous. Besides, though he never had entered into any direct engagement of that sort with Mrs. Johnson, yet by many expressions in his letters before quoted, almost tantamount to an engagement, and his whole conduct toward her, he gave her just grounds to expect, that if ever he did marry, she should be his choice. He could not therefore have given preference to another, without being charged with cruelty and injustice. And as to any illicit commerce between them, he never could have entertained a thought of that, without first sacrificing all the principles of honour, morality, and religion, by which his whole conduct in life had hitherto been governed. In this critical situation, he had but one wise course to take, in order to ensure his future peace, which was to escape the danger by flight, and breaking off all correspondence with the lady. But whether through too great confidence in his strength, or giving way to the irresistible force of her attraction, he remained in the perilous situation of a constant intercourse with her, which daily contributed to fan their mutual flames.
The date of the commencement of this adventure, may be traced almost to a certainty, by examining the latter part of Swift's Journal, in which, from March 1712 to the end, there is a remarkable change in his manner of writing to the two ladies. We no longer find there any of what he called, the little language, the playful sallies of an undisguised heart, to a bosom friend, no more expressions of tenderness, and cordial affection; no repinings at his long continued absence; nor ardent wishes for their speedy meeting again; but on the contrary, we see nothing but a dry Journal continued out of form, made up of trifling incidents, news, or politicks, without any thing in the matter or expression, at all interesting to the parties addressed. And now instead of that eager solicitude to return, which he had formerly so frequently and so earnestly declared, he contents himself with cold excuses for his long continuance in London. And just before his setting out for Ireland, in order to take possession of his deanery, he writ a formal letter of business to Mrs. Dingley, May 16, 1713, in which he makes no mention of Stella, nor expresses the least satisfaction at his near expectation of seeing them again. On his arrival there, instead of the joy and transport, to which he had once looked forward, on being reunited to the object of all his wishes, after so long a separation, the whole scene was changed to cold indifference, or gloomy melancholy. In a letter to miss Vanhomrigh, dated from Laracor, July 8, 1713, he says, "At my first coming, I thought I should have died with discontent; and was horribly melancholy while they were installing me, but it begins to wear off, and change to dulness." Who that read the former part of his Journal to Stella, replete with such ardent wishes for their meeting again never to part more, as the consummation of all his views of happiness in life, could have expected such a change? And who does not now see the true cause of that change?
In this uneasy situation, we may suppose it was not with much reluctance he obeyed the call of his friends, to return immediately to England, in order to make up a new breach between the ministers, which threatened ruin to the party. Though this was the ostensible cause of his sudden departure, yet perhaps there was metal more attractive which drew him over at that time.
Soon after his arrival, he wrote that beautiful poem called Cadenus and Vanessa. His first design in this seems to have been to break off the connexion in the politest manner possible, and put an end to any expectations the lady might have formed of a future union between them. To soften the harshness of a refusal of her proffered hand, the greatest of mortifications to a woman, young, beautiful, and possessed of a good fortune, he painted all her perfections, both of body and mind, in such glowing colours, as must at least have highly gratified her vanity, and shown that he was far from being insensible to her charms, though prudence forbad his yielding to his inclinations. However determined he might be at the commencement of the Poem, he kept his resolution but ill in the prosecution of it. Happy had it been both for him and her, had he concluded it with a denial in such express and peremptory terms, as would have left her no ray of hope: but instead of that, he leaves the whole in a dubious state. She was too sharpsighted not to perceive, that in spite of all the efforts of philosophy, love had taken possession of his heart, and made it rebel against his head. As her passion for him was first inspired by his wit and genius, a poem written in such exquisite taste, of which she was the subject, and where she saw herself drest out in the most flattering colours, was not likely to administer to her cure. On the contrary, it only served to add fresh fuel to the flame. And as his love originally arose from sympathy, it must, from the same cause, increase with the growth of hers.
Meantime the unfortunate Stella languished in absence and neglect. The Journal was not renewed, nor are there any traces remaining of the least correspondence between them, during Swift's whole stay in England: while a continual intercourse was kept up between Vanessa and him. She was the first person he wrote to on his retirement to Letcomb, some time before the queen's death; and the last, on his departure from that place to Ireland. He arrived there in a much more gloomy state of mind than before, as the death of the queen had broke all his measures, and put an end to all future prospects, either for the publick or himself. He has given vent to his melancholy reflections on his situation, in a short poem, written during a fit of illness which had seized him soon after his arrival; of which the following lines make a part:
My state of health none care to learn,
My life is here no soul's concern.
And those with whom I now converse,
Without a tear will tend my hearse.
Some formal visits, looks, and words.
What mere humanity affords,
I meet perhaps from three or four,
From whom I once expected more;
Which, those who tend the sick for pay,
Can act as decently as they.
But no obliging tender friend
To help at my approaching end:
My life is now a burden grown
To others, ere it be my own.
Is it possible to conceive that this could be the case, while he was in the same country with his once adored Stella? But it is probable that resentment at his long neglect, and total change of behaviour toward her, as she was a woman of high spirit, might have fixed her, at that juncture, in a resolution of living separately from him in her country retirement, where the account of his illness might not have reached her. The arrival of Vanessa in Dublin, whose impatient love would not suffer her to stay long behind him, was the source of much inquietude to Swift. There was nothing he seemed to dread more than that his intimacy with her should take wind in Dublin. He had warned her of this in his farewell letter to her from Letcomb, before his departure. "If you are in Ireland when I am there, I shall see you very seldom. It is not a place for any freedom; but it is where every thing is known in a week, and magnified a hundred degrees. These are rigorous laws that must be passed through: but it is probable we may meet in London in winter; or, if not, leave all to fate, that seldom comes to humour our inclinations. I say all this out of the perfect esteem and friendship I have for you." And after her arrival he writes to the same effect. "I received your letter when some company was with me on Saturday night, and it put me in such confusion that I could not tell what to do. This morning a woman who does business for me, told me she heard I was in love with one —— naming you, and twenty particulars; that little master —— and I visited you; and that the archbishop did so; and that you had abundance of wit, &c. I ever feared the tattle of this nasty town, and told you so; and that was the reason I said to you long ago, that I would see you seldom when you were in Ireland; and I must beg you to be easy, if, for some time, I visit you seldomer, and not in so particular a manner. I will see you at the latter end of the week, if possible. These are accidents in life that are necessary, and must be submitted to; and tattle, by the help of discretion, will wear off." But discretion was ill suited to a mind, now under the dominion of an ungovernable passion, and which had no other enjoyment in life, but in the society of the beloved object. She importuned him so with letters, messages, and complaints, that he was obliged to assume a sternness of behaviour to her, and treat her with a rigour quite foreign to his heart. The effect this had on her, is most feelingly set forth in one of her letters, 1714. "You bid me be easy, and you would see me as often as you could. You had better have said, as often as you could get the better of your inclinations so much; or as often as you remembered there was such a one in the world. If you continue to treat me as you do, you will not be made uneasy by me long. It is impossible to describe what I have suffered since I saw you last. I am sure I could have born the rack much better, than those killing, killing words of yours. Sometimes I have resolved to die without seeing you more; but those resolves, to your misfortune, did not last long. For there is something in human nature, that prompts one so to find relief in this world, I must give way to it: and beg you would see me, and speak kindly to me; for I am sure you'd not condemn any one to suffer what I have done, could you but know it. The reason I write to you, is, because I cannot tell it to you should I see you. For when I begin to complain, then you are angry; and there is something in your looks so awful, that it strikes me dumb. O! that you may have but so much regard for me left, that this complaint may touch your soul with pity. I say as little as ever I can; did you but know what I thought, I am sure it would move you to forgive me, and believe, I cannot help telling you this and live."
But whatever uneasiness Vanessa might suffer from this conduct of her lover toward her, poor Stella was still more unhappy. All the fond hopes which she had indulged so many years, the completion of which she had expected upon his preferment, and increase of fortune, were now turned to despair, from the total silence which he observed on that head, and the remarkable change in his behaviour toward her. To the pangs of disappointment, were added the stings of jealousy; for love had made her too inquisitive, not to find out the cause of this alteration in him. There are some passages in the Journal relative to the Vanhomrighs, which show that the seeds of jealousy were early sown in her mind, upon Swift's being so domestick there when in London; and upon Vanessa's arrival in Dublin, it is more than probable she kept a watchful eye upon their motions. The following beautiful verses of hers on that subject, show clearly she was under the dominion of that passion.
O shield me from his rage, celestial Powers!
This tyrant, that embitters all my hours.
Ah love! you've poorly play'd the hero's part;
You conquer'd, but you can't defend my heart.
When first I bent beneath your gentle reign,
I thought this monster banish'd from your train:
But you would raise him to support your throne,
And now he claims your empire as his own.
Or tell me, tyrants, have you both agreed
That where one reigns, the other shall succeed.
Thus oppressed at once by love, jealousy, and disappointment, her spirits sunk, a settled melancholy preyed upon her heart, which with a natural tendency to a decay, impaired her health to such a degree, as to give the most alarming symptoms of an approaching dissolution. Shocked with the apprehension of so fatal an event, whereof he must be conscious to himself he was the cause; and moved with compassion at the state to which he saw her reduced, all Swift's former tenderness and affection for her revived in his breast; and banished every other idea from his mind, but what tended to the preservation of a life so precious. He employed a common friend to both to learn from her the secret cause of that dejection of spirits, which had so visibly preyed upon her health; and to know whether it was by any means in his power to remove it; assuring her that nothing should be wanting on his part, to restore her to that tranquillity of mind, upon which so much of his own happiness depended. Upon this application Mrs. Johnson opened her mind fully to this friend. She told him that from the peculiarity of her circumstances, and the singular connexion she had with Swift for so many years, there had been great room given for the tongue of slander to exert itself. That she had learned to bear with this patiently, as she had reason to expect that all reports of that sort would be effaced by marriage, as soon as Swift should be in circumstances to make her a proposal of that nature. That she now saw with the deepest concern, ever since his promotion, his behaviour toward her had been wholly changed, and a cold indifference had succeeded to the warmest professions of eternal affection. That the necessary consequence would be, an indelible stain fixed upon her character, and the loss of her good name, which was much dearer to her than life. Swift, in answer to this, said, that he had early in life laid down two maxims with regard to matrimony, from which he was determined never to depart. One was, never to marry, unless he was beforehand possessed of a decent provision for a family; another was, unless this should be the case at a time of life when he might reasonably expect to breed up his children, and see them properly entered into the world. With regard to the first article, he was so far from having any thing beforehand, that he was still in debt; and the small preferment he had obtained, to which he had now no hopes of ever receiving any addition, gave him but little prospect of ever accumulating a fortune. And as to the second, he had already passed that period of life, after which it was his fixed resolution never to marry. That of all women upon earth, could he have entered into that state consistently with these principles, she should have been his choice. And as her apprehensions about her character's suffering seemed to weigh the heaviest on her mind, in order to put an end to those, he was ready to go through the ceremony of marriage with her, upon two conditions. The first was, that they should continue to live separately, exactly in the same manner as before: the second, that it should be kept a profound secret from all the world, unless some urgent necessity should call for the discovery. However short of Stella's expectations these conditions might be, yet as she knew the inflexibility of Swift's resolutions, she readily embraced them. And as it is probable that her chief uneasiness arose from jealousy, and the apprehensions she was under that he might be induced to marry miss Vanhomrigh, she would at least have the satisfaction, by this measure, of rendering such a union with her rival impracticable. Accordingly the ceremony was performed without witnesses, and the connubial knot tied in the year 1716, by Dr. Ash, bishop of Clogher, to whom Swift had been a pupil in the college; and who, as I have been informed, was the common friend to both, employed in the above negotiation. But the conditions upon which this union was formed, were punctually fulfilled. She still continued at her lodgings in a distant part of the town, where she received his visits as usual, and returned them at the deanery, in company with her friend Mrs. Dingley. As soon as Swift's finances were in order, he departed from that strict economy which he had observed while he was in debt, and kept two publick days, on which he invited parties of his friends to dinner; where Mrs. Johnson always made one of the circle, though without any distinct character or place from the other guests. The elegance of her manners, the sweetness of her disposition, and brilliancy of her wit, rendered her the general object of admiration to all who were so happy as to have a place in that enviable society. A certain dignity of deportment, which conscious virtue alone can give, and a native modesty which shone forth in all her words and actions, secured her from the busy tongue of slander, nor was the breath of calumny heard to whisper against her. And whatever singularity might appear in this their mode of living, was only considered as one of Swift's peculiarities; who, in many other instances, did not think himself bound to conform to the usual customs of the world. There were indeed many idle reasons assigned by busy curious people, for their not cohabiting, but none that ever glanced at her character.
Having satisfied the scruples of Mrs. Johnson by passing through the ceremony of marriage, whose recovered health and spirits added new charms to that conversation, once his supreme delight, Swift's next care was, to put an end to any hopes Vanessa might still entertain, against which there was now an insuperable bar. With this view he paid her a visit in company with Mr. dean Winter, a gentleman of good fortune, who was her professed admirer, and had made overtures of marriage to her. Nothing could have been a greater mortification to her lovesick mind, than such a visit, as it implied a recommendation of his rival, and an entire renunciation of his own pretensions. She rejected his proposals with disdain, as well as those of every suitor who offered, having centred all her views of happiness in life in the possession of Cadenus. To avoid all importunities of that sort, she retired to a small house on her estate near Celbridge, where, in silence and solitude, she indulged her fatal passion, till it rose almost to a pitch of frenzy. All other ideas but what related to Cadenus, were banished from her mind, and all the faculties of her soul were absorbed in love. She wrote constantly to him in the most passionate style, nor could the coldness of his answers in the least abate her flame. The following letter sent to him from Celbridge, will best paint the state of her mind.
"Tell me sincerely, if you have once wished with earnestness to see me, since I wrote to you: no, so far from that, you have not once pitied me, though I told you I was distressed. Solitude is insupportable to a mind which is not easy. I have worn out my days in sighing, and my nights with watching and thinking of Cadenus, who thinks not of me. How many letters shall I send you before I receive an answer! Can you deny me, in my misery, the only comfort which I can expect at present? O that I could hope to see you here, or that I could go to you! I was born with violent passions, which terminated all in one, that inexpressible passion I have for you. Consider the killing emotions which I feel from your neglect of me; and show some tenderness for me, or I shall lose my senses. Sure you cannot possibly be so much taken up, but you might command a moment to write to me, and force your inclinations to so great a charity. I firmly believe, if I could know your thoughts, (which no creature is capable of guessing at, because never any one living thought like you) I should find you had often, in a rage, wished me religious, hoping then I should have paid my devotions to Heaven: but that would not spare you; for were I an enthusiast, still you'd be the deity I should worship. What marks are there of a deity, but what you are to be known by? You are present every where; your dear image is always before my eyes. Sometimes you strike me with that prodigious awe, I tremble with fear: at other times a charming compassion shines through your countenance, which revives my soul. Is it not more reasonabie to adore a radiant form one has seen, than one only described?"
We may see from this epistle to what a romantick height her passion had arisen. Not the most enthusiastick strains from Eloisa to Abelard, could exceed those of Vanessa to Cadenus. Length of time, instead of diminishing, served only to increase the violence of her passion; and the general coldness of her lover, far from extinguishing the flame, made it blaze forth the more. It must be confessed indeed, that Swift's conduct toward her was far from being consistent. Whatever resolutions he had formed, to try by neglect and ill usage to put an end to that ardour of love, which caused him infinite uneasiness, yet he was seldom able to keep them when in her presence. Whether compassion for the sufferings of an unhappy young woman, whose life was wasting away in misery on his account, operated on his humanity; or whether his own passion for her was too strong for all his philosophy, it is certain he could never muster up resolution enough entirely to break off the connexion, the only possible way by which a cure could be effected. If his coldness, or even rudeness, at times, drove her almost to despair; at others, the kindness of his behaviour, and marks of tenderness, revived her hopes. Or as she more strongly expresses it in her letter, "Sometimes you strike me with that prodigious awe, I tremble with fear; at other times, a charming compassion shines through your countenance, which revives my soul." In this alternate succession of hopes and fears, in this miserable state of suspense, did the wretched Vanessa pass her days till the year 1720, when Swift seemed determined to put an end to an intercourse, the source of so much unhappiness to both. Upon this occasion she wrote him the following letter:
"Believe me it is with the utmost regret that I now complain to you, because I know your good nature such, that you cannot see any human creature miserable, without being sensibly touched. Yet what can I do? I must either unload my heart, and tell you all its griefs, or sink under the inexpressible distress I now suffer, by your prodigious neglect of me. It is now ten long weeks since I saw you; and in all that time, I have never received but one letter from you, and a little note with an excuse. Oh! have you forgot me? You endeavour by severities to force me from you. Nor can I blame you; for, with the utmost distress and confusion, I beheld myself the cause of uneasy reflections to you: yet I cannot comfort you; but here declare, that it is not in the power of art, time, or accident, to lessen the inexpressible passion which I have for Cadenus. Put my passion under the utmost restraint; send me as distant from you as the earth will allow, yet you cannot banish those charming ideas, which will ever stick by me, while I have the use of memory. Nor is the love I bear you only seated in my soul, for there is not a single atom of my frame, that is not blended with it. Therefore do not flatter yourself that separation will ever change my sentiments; for I find myself unquiet in the midst of silence, and my heart is at once pierced with sorrow and love. For Heaven's sake tell me, what has caused this prodigious change in you, which I found of late. If you have the least remains of pity for me left, tell it me tenderly. No — do not tell it so, that it may cause my present death. And do not suffer me to live a life like a languishing death, which is the only life I can lead, if you have lost any of your tenderness for me."
When Swift found that all his endeavours in this way had proved fruitless, and that the love of Vanessa for Cadenus, like that of the faithful Emma to Henry, was proof against all obstacles thrown in its way, he gave way to the feelings of humanity, and dictates of his heart, against which, with no small violence to his inclination, he had so long struggled, and changed his behaviour to that of the kind indulgent friend. His letters breathed sentiments of the greatest tenderness; and in one of July 5, 1721, he makes a declaration of his passion for her in the most explicit terms, as may be seen in the following sentence written in French. Mais soyez assurée, que jamais personne au monde n' a êté aimée, honorée, estimée, adorée, par votre ami, que vous. This declaration seems to have been drawn from him by some desperate state of mind in which he had left her, probably occasioned by her jealousy of Stella. For in the beginning of the same letter, dated from Gallstown, he says, "It was not convenient, hardly possible, to write to you before now, though I had more than ordinary desire to do it, considering the disposition I found you in last, though I hope I left you in a better. Cadenus assures me, he continues to esteem, and love, and value you above all things, and so will do to the end of his life; but at the same time entreats that you would not make yourself or him unhappy by imaginations."
But as this declaration of Swift's was not followed by any overture of marriage, the confession of his passion for her, however pleasing it might be at first, could not long administer much consolation to her, when she saw no prospect of reaping any farther fruit from it. To find herself beloved, and at the same time without hopes of possessing the object of all her wishes, was rather an aggravation than a relief to her misery. After such a confession, she could see no reason for his not making farther advances. Her fortune was at that time sufficient to gratify his utmost wishes, as by the death of her two brothers and sister, the whole property left by her father, which was very considerable, was vested in her. The disproportion in point of age was now not so great, as she was in her 37th year, and the doctor could no longer be charged with having seduced the affections of a young girl. She therefore concluded, that some reports which had just then reached her, of his being married to Mrs. Johnson, were but too well founded, and that this was the real obstacle to their union. Impatient of the torments which this idea gave her, she determined to put an end to all farther suspense, by writing to Mrs. Johnson herself upon this head. Accordingly she sent a short note to her, only requesting to know from her whether she was married to the dean or not. Mrs. Johnson answered her in the affirmative, and then enclosed the note she had received from miss Vanhomrigh to Swift. After which, she immediately went out of town without seeing him, or coming to any explanation, and retired in great resentment to Mr. Ford's country seat at Wood Park. Nothing could possibly have excited Swift's indignation more than this imprudent step taken by miss Vanhomrigh. He knew it must occasion great disturbance to Mrs. Johnson, and give rise to conjectures fatal to her peace. Her abrupt departure, without so much as seeing him, already showed what passed in her mind. Exasperated to the highest degree, he gave way to the first transports of his passion, and immediately rid to Celbridge. He entered the apartment where the unhappy lady was, mute, but with a countenance that spoke the highest resentment. She trembling asked him, would he not sit down? No — He then flung a paper on the table, and immediately returned to his horse. When, on the abatement of her consternation, she had strength to open the paper, she found it contained nothing but her own note to Mrs. Johnson. Despair at once seized her, as if she had seen her death warrant: and such indeed it proved to be. The violent agitation of her mind threw her into a fever, which in a short time put a period to her existence. Swift, on receiving the tidings of her death, immediately took horse and quitted the town, without letting any mortal know to what part of the world he was gone. As he foresaw that this event would give rise to much town talk, he thought it most prudent to keep out of the way, till the first heat of it was over. And having never visited the southern part of the kingdom, he took this opportunity of making a tour there, because having no acquaintance in those parts, he might be a perfect master of his own motions, and in his solitary rambles, give free vent to his grief for the loss of so beloved an object, heightened by the bitter aggravation of knowing himself to be the cause of her death. Two months had elapsed without any news of him, which occasioned no small alarm among his friends; when Dr. Sheridan received a letter from him, to meet him at a certain distance from Dublin.
Before her death, miss Vanhomrigh had cancelled a will made in favour of Swift, and bequeathed her whole fortune to serjeant Marshall, and the famous Dr. Berkeley, whom she appointed her executors. The former was a relation, and the other only an acquaintance, for whose person and character she had the highest esteem. In her last illness she had laid a strong injunction on her executors, that immediately after her decease, they should publish all the letters that passed between Swift and her, together with the poem of Cadenus and Vanessa. Accordingly they were put to the press, and some progress made in the letters, when Dr. Sheridan, getting intelligence of it, and being greatly alarmed lest they might contain something injurious to his friend's character in his absence, applied so effectually to the executors, that the printed copy was cancelled, but the originals still remained in their hands. The poem of Cadenus and Vanessa was however sent abroad into the world, as being supposed to contain nothing prejudicial to either of their characters: though the prying eye of malice, afterward found some hints in it, which, by the help of misconstruction, might furnish food to the appetite for scandal.
In the mean time, Mrs. Johnson continued at Wood Park, where her worthy host exerted all the powers of friendship to calm the disturbance of her mind, now much increased by the publication of that poem. To find there such an amiable portrait drawn of Vanessa, as one possessed of more and greater accomplishments than any of her sex, could not fail to excite her envy; of which a remarkable proof was given in an anecdote recorded by Dr. Delany. At this juncture some gentlemen happened to call at Moor Park, who were not acquainted with Mrs. Johnson's situation. As the newly published poem was then the general subject of conversation, they soon fell upon that topick. One of the gentlemen said, surely that Vanessa must be an extraordinary woman, that could inspire the dean to write so finely upon her. Mrs. Johnson smiled, and answered, that she thought that point not quite so clear; for it was well known the dean could write finely on a broomstick. We must suppose her to have been exceedingly galled, when one of her humane disposition could utter such a sarcasm, and thus exult over the recent ashes of her departed rival.
As there were numbers, through party hatred, and others through envy, who watched every opportunity to calumniate the dean's character, and spread stories to his disadvantage, the publication of this poem afforded room for malice to exert itself, which was greedily embraced. There were some lines in it, which having the worst construction put on them, by a very forced interpretation, might give rise to suspicions injurious to his character, and totally destructive of the lady's. Yet, such is the propensity of mankind to lean to the worse side, especially when any exalted character is thereby to be brought down more to a level with themselves, that this interpretation has been generally received, and the calumny accordingly spread, though perhaps there never was any built upon a more slender foundation, as I shall presently show. The lines alluded to are the following:
But what success Vanessa met,
Is to the world a secret yet:
Whether the nymph, to please her swain,
Talks in a high romantick strain;
Or whether he at last descends,
To act with less seraphick ends;
Or, to compound the business, whether
They temper love and books together;
Must never to mankind be told.
Nor shall the conscious muse unfold.
These lines, considered as detached from the rest, might perhaps admit of such an interpretation; but when the whole scope of the poem is taken in, it is impossible to put a bad one upon them, without giving up all pretensions to common sense, as well as candour. Cadenus is represented as a clergyman of the strictest morals, advanced in life, and who had at all times been proof against any weakness with regard to the fair sex. Vanessa is drawn as the most perfect model of every female perfection, particularly modesty:
From whence that decency of mind,
So lovely in the female kind,
Where not one careless thought intrudes,
Less modest than the speech of prudes.
She is represented as a pattern for all the sex to copy after:
As she advanced, that womankind,
Would, by her model form their mind;
And all their conduct would be try'd
By her, as an unerring guide.
Is it possible to conceive, that when a lady of this character confesses a passion for her reverend tutor, that any thing could be meant by it but virtuous love, to terminate in matrimony? If gallantry had been her object, in the whole race of mankind she could not have made a more preposterous choice; though by one of her refined way of thinking, who considered the beauties of the mind as superiour to all external accomplishments, he might have been preferred to all the world as a husband.
It is impossible there could be any mistake about the kind of love mentioned in this passage, were it not for an expression in the subsequent lines, which might admit of a bad interpretation, by those who do not the true force of words, which has been on many occasions the source of infinite errours among us, from not studying our own language. The expression I mean, is to be found in the last of the following lines:
Or, to compound the business, whether
They temper love and books together,
Must never to mankind be told,
Nor shall the conscious muse unfold.
Here the word conscious, being much oftener used in a bad than a good sense, is apt to mislead the unwary reader, and make him conceive that there was something in the secret dishonourable to the parties if revealed: But upon examining into the proper meaning of this word, we shall find that it has a very different sense when applied to one's self, and when it refers to others. Consciousness, applied to self, is the perception of what passes in a man's own mind; from which proceeds an internal sense of guilt or innocence, by which we either stand acquitted or condemned to ourselves, and is therefore equally capable of a good or bad sense. But when it refers to another person, it has nothing to do with any judgment formed of the rectitude or depravity of the action, it only means that that other person is in the secret, or privy to the transaction, be it good, or be it bad. And consciousness of this sort can never affect the nature of the thing itself:
Thus when the lover writes,
The silent moon shone conscious to our loves.
The word conscious does not at all determine the nature of those loves, whether they were of the chaste or criminal kind, which must be gathered from other circumstances. In like manner, when Cadenus says, "the conscious muse shall not unfold," &c. it can admit or no other meaning, but that the muse, who alone was in the secret, should never disclose it, or tell whether he returned Vanessa's passion or not: and that this passion, if returned, must have been of the purest and most virtuous kind, has, from other circumstances, been already sufficiently proved.
It is evident Cadenus looked upon the declaration made by the lady, in no other light than an overture to marriage; as may be seen in the following couplet, quoted before:
Five thousand guineas in her purse,
The doctor might have fancy 'd worse.
But to put an end to a possibility of conceiving that any insinuation of a contrary nature could have dropped from Swift's pen, it will be sufficient to make it known that the poem was not intended for the publick eye; that it was written solely for the use of Vanessa, upon motives already explained; that the only copy of it in being was in her hands, and in all probability it would never have seen the light, but for the injunction to her executors. It may be asked, if this was the case, and that the poem was intended only for Vanessa's inspection, what occasion was there for these lines to her, who, as well as the muse, must already be conscious how matters stood between them? In answer to this, it is evident that the poem would be incomplete, if there were not some conclusion to the story of Cadenus and Vanessa. The story could possibly terminate only in one of the following ways: either Vanessa, from the arguments and coldness of her philosophick lover, had got the better of her passion, and adopted his platonick system; or Cadenus, after all his resistance, was obliged to yield to the all-conquering power of love; or finding her passion incurable, had broken off all intercourse with her; or that the issue of the affair was still in suspense. As the latter was really the case at the time of writing the poem, it could then have no other conclusion. And those lines which leave matters in a dubious state, seem only calculated to paint the uncertainty of his own mind, and not to leave Vanessa without hope, from that very uncertainty, that she might in time expect a suitable return of love.
But though it should be allowed, from the above state of the case, that at the time of writing this poem, neither of the parties had entertained even an idea of entering into a criminal amour, yet when it is known that he afterward carried on a secret intercourse with the lady during the space of eight or nine years; that he passed many hours alone with a young and charming woman, who loved him to adoration, and for whom he himself was first inspired with the passion of love; it will be hardly credible, that thus circumstanced, they should not, in some unguarded moment, have given way to the frailty of human nature. And yet extraordinary as it may appear, there are many strong reasons to believe that this never was the case. We have already seen on her first going to Ireland, what uncommon pains Swift took to avoid meeting her. Upon which Vanessa writes to him in the following manner: "You once had a maxim, which was to act what was right, and not mind what the world would say. I wish you would keep to it now. Pray what can be wrong in seeing and advising an unhappy young woman? I cannot imagine." Is this the language of guilt, or conscious innocence? In all the letters which passed between them, whose publication was suppressed, as before related, I have been assured by one of her executors, the late judge Marshall, and the same was constantly asserted by the other, bishop Berkeley, that there was no hint of any criminal amour; which could not easily have happened in so long a correspondence, had that been the case. On the contrary, in the few that have seen the light, we find Swift always praising her for her virtues, and recommending to her the improvement of her mind. In his French letter, May 12, 1719, in answer to one of hers written in that language, he says, Et que je suis sot moi de vous répondre en même langage, vous qui êtes incapable d'aucune sottise, si ce n' est l' estime qu'il vous plait d' avoir pour moi: car il n' y a point, de mérite, ni aucun preuve de mon bon goût, de trouver en vous tout ce que la nature a donnée à un mortel; je veux dire, l' honneur, la vertu, le bon sens, l' esprit, le douceur, l' agrément, et la fermeté d' ame. And in another of October 15, 1720, he says, "When I am not so good a correspondent as I could wish, you are not to quarrel, and be governour, but to impute it to my situation, and to conclude infallibly, that I have the same respect and kindness for you I ever professed to have, and shall ever preserve; because you will always merit the utmost that can be given you; especially if you go on to read, and still farther improve your mind, and the talents that nature has given you."
Indeed the most probable solution of this intricate affair is, that Swift, having lived to such an advanced time of life in a state of continence, and a constant habit of suppressing his desires, at last lost the power of gratifying them: a case by no means singular, as more than one instance of the kind has fallen within my knowledge. This will appear the more probable, when we reflect, that in the letter to his kinsman before cited, he acknowledges himself to be naturally of a temperate constitution with regard to women, and that he had never indulged himself in illicit amours. Nor did it ever appear, even from report, that he had any commerce of that kind with any of the sex, which, after the conspicuous figure he made in life, could not fail of being related by some of his companions in his early pleasures, had there been any foundation for it. This alone can account for his singular conduct with regard to the two ladies: for his coldness to Vanessa, and constant endeavours to bring down the ardours of her passion, and lower them to friendship, or a love more of the platonick kind, and for his abstaining from the lawful pleasures of connubial love with Stella. And I think there is one strong argument of his never having entered into any commerce of that sort with Vanessa, that it is hardly credible he should have refrained, in that case, from a similar gratification with Stella, who was possessed of greater personal charms, and was more an object of desire, than the other: especially as the former could not be enjoyed without compunction, and the latter was a pleasure of the purest kind without alloy.
In confirmation of the opinion I have here started, I remember a saying of Swift's, "that he never yet saw the woman, for whose sake he would part with the middle of his bed." A saying, which, I believe, all mankind will judge could come from no person, but one incapable of enjoying the highest and most innocent of all gratifications here below, when sanctified by marriage.
I have dwelt the longer on this point, because much of the moral part of Swift's character depends on it. For if it should be credited that he could take advantage of her weakness to debauch the daughter of a lady, who received him into her family with the affection of a sister, and reposed the same confidence in him as if he were her brother; if it should appear that for several years he carried on a criminal intrigue with her, at the same time that he denied the lawful rites of marriage, due to one of the most amiable of her sex; I am afraid, instead of a pattern of the most perfect morality, he must be given up an instance of uncommon profligacy, and be justly charged with a vice, which, of all others, he most detested, and from which no man ever was more free, I mean hypocrisy.
Though lord Orrery has acquitted him of this charge, upon the same principle that has been here laid down, yet, pro solitâ humanitate sua, he has done it only with a view to place him in a more odious light. As the account he has given of this affair, affords one of the strongest instances of the blindness of malice, and how far, in search of its gratification, it may overshoot itself, I shall here present part of it to the reader, that he may judge, from that specimen, what credit is due to the rest of the author's malevolent remarks on Swift. I shall begin with his extraordinary comments on the following lines in the poem of Cadenus and Vanessa; where in a conversation between them, the author gives the following account of her sentiments, as delivered by her:
She well remember'd, to her cost,
That all his lessons were not lost.
Two maxims she could still produce,
And sad experience taught their use:
"That virtue pleas'd by being shown,
Knows nothing which it dares not own:
Can make us, without fear, disclose
Our inmost secrets to our foes:
That common forms were not design'd
Directors to a noble mind."
Now, said the nymph, to let you see,
My actions with your rules agree;
That I can vulgar forms despise,
And have no secrets to disguise,
I knew, by what you said and writ,
What dangerous things were men of wit;
You caution'd me against their charms,
But never gave me equal arms:
Your lessons found the weakest part,
Aim'd at the head, and reach'd the heart.
Now in these lines, according to the plain and obvious meaning of the words, there are no sentiments which might not have proceeded from the most exalted virtue, and purity of mind. A young lady, described as a perfect pattern of modesty, possessed of
——— that decency of mind,
So lovely in the female kind,
Where not one careless thought intrudes,
Less modest than the speech of prudes,
is here represented as about to disclose her passion for her tutor, which was kindled in her breast by his extraordinary talents, and uncommon virtue. As it was contrary to the received maxims of the world, that a woman should be the first to break her mind on such an occasion, she prepares the way by quoting two maxims of his own which he had taught her; one was, that a mind conscious of innocence, need never be ashamed of disclosing its inmost thoughts: the other, that common forms, invented to keep the vulgar within bounds, might be dispensed with, where a superiour grandeur of soul is shown by breaking through such barriers. Knowing therefore the purity of her love for an object so worthy of it, she is not ashamed to declare it; and looks upon it as a mark of greatness of mind, to be above the common forms of her sex, in being the first to disclose it.
Besides, there were other reasons, which would justify her, even in the opinion of the world, for being the first mover in this case, arising both from disparity of years and fortune; which might discourage Cadenus from paying his addresses, however he might secretly wish to be united to Vanessa.
"Supposing this account to be true, and I own to you my Ham, I can scarce think it otherwise, it is evident that the fair Vanessa had made a surprising progress in the philosophick doctrines, which she had received from her preceptor. His rules were certainly of a most extraordinary kind. He taught her that vice, as soon as it defied shame, was immediately changed into virtue. That vulgar forms were not binding upon certain choice spirits, to whom either the writings, or the persons of men of wit were acceptable. She heard the lesson with attention, and imbibed the philosophy with eagerness. The maxims suited her exalted turn of mind. She imagined if the theory appeared so charming, the practice must be much more delightful. The close connexion of soul and body seemed to require, in the eye of a female philosopher, that each should succeed the other in all pleasurable enjoyments. The former had been sufficiently regaled, why must the latter remain unsatisfied! — Nature 'said Vanessa,' abhors a vacuum, and nature ought always to be obeyed. She communicated these sentiments to her tutor; but he seemed not to comprehend her meaning, not to conceive the distinctio rationis that had taken rise in his own school. He answered her in the nonessential modes. Talked of friendship, of the delights of reason, of gratitude, respect, and esteem. He almost preached upon virtue, and he muttered some indistinct phrases concerning chastity. So unaccountable a conduct in Cadenus, may be thought rather to proceed from defects in nature, than from the scrupulous difficulties of a tender conscience. Such a supposition will still appear more strong, if we recollect the distant manner in which Swift cohabited with Stella; colder, if possible, after, than before she was his wife."
I appeal to the reader whether he ever met in the most stupid, or malicious commentator, such a total perversion of the meaning of words. To show this it its strongest light, let us place the text, and explanation in opposition to each other.
That virtue pleas'd by being shown
That vice, as soon as it defied shame, was immediately changed into virtue.
That common forms were not design'd
That vulgar forms were not binding upon certain choice spirits, to whom either the writings, or the persons of men of wit were acceptable.
According to this account, the man who had been all his life a votary to virtue; whose chief delight it was to instil the best principles into the minds of youth; who had trained the amiable Stella, from her early days, in such a way, as, by the remarker's own description of her, made her a model of perfection; this man, I say, all of a sudden became a proselyte to vice; betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the mother, his particular friend, to corrupt the mind of her innocent daughter, so as to make her lose all sense of shame, and even glory in wickedness. And all this, for what? You will suppose at least that he had fallen desperately in love with her, and having no hopes of marriage, is determined to gratify his passion at any rate, and with this view, tries to erase from her mind all principles of virtue and modesty, which might stand in his way. Quite the contrary. It appears from the remarker's own account, that when he had accomplished his point, and brought her to as high a degree of depravity as he could wish, in order to gratify his desires, he changed his whole system, rejected her proffered love, talked of friendship, reason, gratitude, respect, esteem, and preached upon virtue and chastity. And to account for this inconsistence in his behaviour, he has recourse to defects of nature, and impotence in the dean. Now to suppose that a reverend divine, advanced in life, should lay such a plan to corrupt the mind of his young pupil, without a possibility of any view to self-gratification, and merely to prepare her for prostitution to others, is to charge him with a crime so truly diabolical, as would stamp a blacker stain of infamy even on the character of a Chartres. And yet this is a charge brought by lord Orrery against his friend Swift.
To expatiate farther on the inconsistencies, absurdities, and impurities, rising almost to obscenity, in the passage above quoted, and all that refers to the same subject, would be utterly unnecessary, as they must be obvious to every reader of the least discernment. But I cannot quit this article without endeavouring to wipe away some of the most cruel and groundless aspersions, that have been thrown on the memory of the accomplished, though unfortunate Vanessa. In all the account given by lord Orrery of this lady, he has drawn her character as opposite to that given by Swift, as darkness is to light; and this in such positive and peremptory terms, that every reader must suppose he was well acquainted with her. And yet it is certain he never saw her in his life, nor had any opportunity to get any information about her till many years after her death, as his first visit to Ireland was in the year 1733. Without any other outline before him but what was traced in his own brain, for he does not even pretend to quote any authority for all that he has advanced upon this subject, see what a portrait he has drawn of the celebrated Vanessa:
Vanity makes terrible devastation in a female breast. It batters down all restraints of modesty, and carries away every seed of virtue. Vanessa was excessively vain. The character given of her by Cadenus is fine painting, but, in general, fictitious. She was fond of dress; impatient to be admired; very romantick in her turn of mind; superiour, in her own opinion, to all her sex; full of pertness, gayety, and pride; not without some agreeable accomplishments, but far from being either beautiful or genteel; ambitious, at any rate to be esteemed a wit, and with that view always affecting to keep company with wits; a great reader, and a violent admirer of poetry; happy in the thoughts of being reputed Swift's concubine, but still aiming and intending to be his wife; by nature haughty and disdainful, looking with the pity of contempt upon her inferiours, and with the smiles of self-approbation upon her equals; but upon Dr. Swift with the eyes of love."
Whoever compares this picture, with that drawn for Vanessa in the poem, will hardly conceive it possible that they should both be copies of the same original. In the one, she is represented as a model of perfection, adorned with every grace and virtue that could raise her above her sex: in the other as not possessed of one good quality, either of mind or person, and replete with such foibles, and bad dispositions, as must degrade her to the lowest rank. If it be supposed that the former was a very flattering likeness, and the chief beauties and embellishments there, were only the creatures of a poetick fancy, let us see how far the same painter has kept up a resemblance, in the more correct drawing, and chaste colouring of prose. For this purpose let us have recourse to a letter of his written to her in French, six years after the poem, May 12, , part whereof has been already quoted, and of which the following is a literal translation:
"I make you my compliments on your perfection in the French language. It is necessary to be long acquainted with you, in order to know all your accomplishments: every time, in seeing and hearing you, new ones appear, which before were concealed. I am ashamed to think I know only the Gascon and Patois in comparison of you. There is no objection to be made either to the orthography, propriety, elegance, ease, or spirit of the whole. And what a blockhead am I to answer you in the same language! You, who are incapable of any folly, unless it be the esteem you are pleased to entertain for me: for, it is no merit, nor any proof of my good taste to find out in you all that nature has bestowed on a mortal; that is to say, honour, virtue, good sense, wit, sweetness, agreeableness, and firmness of soul: but by concealing yourself as you do, the world knows you not, and you lose the eulogy of millions. Ever since I have had the honour of knowing you, I have always remarked, that neither in private, nor in general conversation, has one word ever escaped you, which could be better expressed. And I protest, that after making frequently the most severe criticisms, I never have been able to find the least fault, either in your actions, or your words. Coquetry, affectation, prudery, are imperfections which you never knew. And with all this, do you think it possible not to esteem you above the rest of humankind? What beasts in petticoats are the most excellent of those, whom I see dispersed throughout the world in comparison of you! On seeing, or hearing them, I say a hundred times a day, speak not, look not, think not, do nothing like those wretches. What a calamity is it to be the cause of bringing down contempt on so many women, who but for the thoughts of you, would be tolerable enough. But it is time to release you from this trouble, and to bid you adieu. I am, and ever shall remain, with all possible respect, sincerity, and esteem, yours."
Of these two opposite characters, the one, was drawn by a man of the nicest discernment, from whose piercing eye, not the smallest blemish, particularly of female minds, could lie concealed, and whose turn lay much more to satire, than panegyrick; by one, who was intimately acquainted with the lady for whom it was drawn, from her early days, to the time of her death. The other, by a man, who far from having any knowledge of the original, had never so much as seen her person. Can there be the least doubt then which of them is most likely to be the true one? But not to rest upon authority alone, I will now show that there could not have been the least foundation for some of the blackest calummies cast on the character of this unfortunate lady, in the above quoted passage. The author there says, "That she was happy in the thoughts of being reputed Swift's concubine, but still aiming and intending to be his wife." Now we have already seen what uncommon precautions Swift took on her arrival in Dublin, to conceal from the world all the knowledge of his visiting her; so that it became necessary to her to be as secret as possible on that head, as she knew with certainty, that if it once became a town talk, she should never see him more, and that he would at once drop all correspondence with her, which was the only consolation left her, in that distressed state of mind so feelingly set forth in her letters. So that if she had been so thoroughly depraved, as to place any part of her happiness in a publick loss of character, she could not have been gratified in so singular a taste, without parting with the substance for the shadow: for, in the same sentence it is said, "that she still aimed and intended to be his wife." I believe so preposterous a plan of bringing about a marriage with a man of the smallest degree of honour and character in the world, that of the lady's boasting of being his concubine, never entered into the head of any mortal, but that of the noble remarker on Swift's Life. And indeed the assertion is so utterly void of foundation, that all the intercourse between them, either by visits or letters, was carried on in so secret a manner, that not a tittle of it ever transpired during the lady's life time; nor was there the least suspicion of it, till it was at once blazoned to the world, by the publication of the poem. As to the other parts of her character, "her being fond of dress, impatient to be admired, setting up for a wit, and affecting always to keep company with wits," &c. we find the direct reverse of this to be true, as she led a most recluse life, avoiding as much as possible all society, and indulging her unhappy passion in solitude, which gave rise to that passage in Swift's letter before quoted, where he says, — "but by concealing yourself as you do, the world knows you not, and you lose the eulogy of millions."
But his lordship, not satisfied with drawing this odious picture of poor Vanessa, thought there were some finishing strokes still wanting, to render it more deformed; he therefore adds, upon the circumstance of Swift's last interview, in which he broke with her, the following traits: "She had long thrown away the gentle lenitives of virtue, which, upon this occasion, might have proved healing ingredients to so deep, and so dangerous a wound. She had preferred wit to religion; she had utterly destroyed her character, and her conscience; and she was now fallen a prey to the horrour of her own thoughts." Now, if he were giving an account of the most abandoned profligate wretch, that ever disgraced her sex, just ready to expiate her crimes at Tyburn, could he possibly have expressed himself in stronger terms? Let the reader only look over the passage once more, and judge. And what were the crimes committed by the unfortunate Vanessa, to draw down on her so severe a censure. He himself has acquitted her of any criminal commerce with Cadenus, from a supposed impossibility in the nature of things. It never was surmised by any mortal, nor does he himself pretend to insinuate, that ever she engaged in an affair of gallantry with any other. Nay, so little does she seem to have been under the influence of any desires of that sort, that she rejected with disdain all offers of marriage, placing her whole happiness in the single point of her union with Cadenus; to which, it would be absurd to suppose, from his advanced time of life, that sensual gratification could have been a chief motive. It is evident she was possessed with an extraordinary passion for one of the most extraordinary men of the age, in which she persevered many years with unparallelled constancy, and at length could not outlive her disappointment. Is there any thing criminal in this? Is there any thing in the story, which must not raise pity in every breast of the least humanity? And yet see what effect the melancholy catastrophe had upon the obdurate heart of the noble remarker! who winds up her story thus: "Thus perished at Celbridge, under all the agonies of despair, Mrs. Esther Vanhomrigh; a miserable example of an ill spent life, fantastick wit, visionary schemes, and female weakness."
I appeal to the reader, whether he thinks it possible that any venal writer, hired by an enemy for the purpose of defamation, could have drawn any character in terms of more rancorous malignity. Nor do I believe there exists, even in that prostitute tribe, an individual, who, in cold blood, without provocation, or prospect of reward, would set about so odious a task. What motive then could induce this writer to lay aside the nobleman, the gentleman, and the man, to commit an act, which the most hardened assassin of reputations would be ashamed of? Let us suppose, for an instant, that all he has said of this lady is true, was he called upon to the hangman's office, of mangling and embowelling the remains of a deceased criminal? But, on the other hand, when we are sure that he could not himself know the truth of any one assertion he has made; that he does not even hint at any authority of others, on which he could rely; and that he has drawn this character in direct opposition to one given to the same person, by the best and most competent judge in the world; we should be apt to conclude, that the whole must have proceeded from a mind fraught with an uncommon portion of malignity.
But his conduct may be accounted for upon a principle not quite of so black a die. His lordship considered only how he should appear in the light of an author. He had before drawn a fancied picture of Stella, whom also he had never seen, in which he had collected such an assemblage of perfections, from the whole catalogue of female beauties, graces, virtues, and accomplishments, as perhaps never met in any human creature. In his great liberality, among his other qualities bestowed on her, he gave her skill in musick, of which she did not know a note; for she neither sung, nor played on any instrument. As the drawing of this character cost him no small pains, he took the usual method of novelists to set it off, by making that of her rival a direct contrast to it: whose deformity, in its turn, became more conspicuous, when opposed to the beautiful colouring in the other. And in doing this he answered another end, which he never loses sight of throughout his work, that of degrading Swift as much as possible: for, if the characters of those two ladies were justly drawn, nothing could have shown a more depraved taste in Swift, than any preference given to the latter, over the former.
I shall close the history of this unfortunate lady, with two little poems written by her, strongly descriptive of her state of mind, and affording, in some measure, a confirmation of the account I have given of her.
an ODE to SPRING.
Hail, blushing goddess, beauteous Spring,
Who, in thy jocund train, dost bring
Loves and Graces, smiling hours,
Balmy breezes, fragrant fiowers,
Come, with tints of roseate hue,
Nature's faded charms renew.
Yet why should I thy presence hail?
To me no more the breathing gale
Comes fraught with sweets, no more the rose
With such transcendent beauty blows,
As when Cadenus blest the scene,
And shar'd with me those joys serene.
When, unperceiv'd, the lambent fire
Of Friendship kindled new desire;
Still listening to his tuneful tongue,
The truths which angels might have sung,
Divine imprest their gentle sway,
And sweetly stole my soul away.
My guide, instructor, lover, friend,
(Dear names!) in one idea blend;
O! still conjoin'd, your incense rise,
And waft sweet odours to the skies.
an ODE to WISDOM.
O Pallas! I invoke thy aid!
Vouchsafe to hear a wretched maid,
By tender love deprest;
'Tis just that thou should'st heal the smart,
Inflicted by thy subtle art,
And calm my troubled breast.
No random shot from Cupid's bow,
But by thy guidance, soft and slow,
It sunk within my heart;
Thus, Love being arm'd with Wisdom's force,
In vain I try to stop its course,
In vain repel the dart.
O Goddess, break the fatal league,
Let Love, wiih Folly and Intrigue,
More fit associates find!
And thou alone, within my breast,
O! deign to sooth my griefs to rest,
And heal my tortur'd mind.
Immediately after the death of miss Vanhomrigh, as I have already mentioned, Swift made a tour of two months in the southern parts of Ireland: during which, Mrs. Johnson remained at Wood Park; nor did she quit it for some months after his return, probably occasioned by her resentment at the preference given by him to her rival. However, upon her return to Dublin, a reconciliation soon took place. He welcomed her to town in that beautiful poem, called "Stella at Wood Park," in which he indulged his usual vein of raillery, but concludes with a high compliment to Stella:
For though my raillery were true,
A cottage is Wood Park with you.
He had an opportunity not long after of showing that he was sincere in this declaration, as he passed a whole summer with her at Quilca, in as inconvenient a cabin, and as dreary a country as could any where be met with: and yet he often declared that they were some of the happiest hours of his life which he thus passed. They were indeed some of the last in which he had any enjoyment in her society, as she soon after fell into a decline, attended with such symptoms as afforded little prospect of any long continuance of life. The first account of her state being desperate reached Swift in London, as was before related. The following extracts from his letter to Dr. Sheridan on the occasion will best show with what agonies of mind he received it.
"I have yours just now of the 19th, and the account you give me, is nothing but what I have some time expected with the utmost agonies. It was at this time the best office your friendship could do, not to deceive me. I look upon this to be the greatest event that can ever happen to me, but all my preparations will not suffice to make me bear it like a philosopher, nor altogether like a Christian. There has been the most intimate friendship between us from her childhood, and the greatest merit on her side that ever was in one human creature toward another. Nay, if I were now near her, I would not see her; I could not behave myself tolerably, and should redouble her sorrow. Judge in what a temper of mind I write this. The very time I am writing, I conclude the fairest foul in the world has left its body. — Confusion! that I am this moment called down to a visitor, when I am in the country, and not in my power to deny myself. I have passed a very constrained hour, and now return to say I know not what. I have been long weary of the world, and shall for my small remainder of years be weary of life, having for ever lost that conversation, which alone could make it tolerable."
Soon after this, we have seen that he returned to Ireland, where he found the danger over, and was made happy by her recovery. But on his next journey to London in the following year, he was again alarmed with an account of a most dangerous relapse. The effect this had on him will be best described by his own expressions in his letter to Dr. Sheridan.
"I have had your letter of the 19th, and expect, before you read this, to receive another from you, with the most fatal news that can ever come to me, unless I should be put to death for some ignominious crime. I continue very ill with my giddiness and deafness, and I shall be perfectly content if God shall please to call me at this time. I beg, if you have not writ to me before you get this, to tell me no particulars, but the event in general: my weakness, my age, my friendship will bear no more. I do not intend to return to Ireland so soon as I purposed; I would not be there in the midst of grief. Neither my health nor grief will permit me to say more. This stroke was unexpected, and my fears last year were ten times greater."
In a subsequent letter he says, "If I had any tolerable health, I would go this moment to Ireland; yet I think I would not, considering the news I daily expect to hear from you. I have just received yours of August the 24th. I kept it an hour in my pocket, with all the suspense of a man who expected to hear the worst news that fortune could give him, and at the same time was not able to hold up my head. These are perquisites of living long: the last act of life is always a tragedy at best; but it is a bitter aggravation to have one's best friend go before one. I do profess, upon my salvation, that the distressed and desperate condition of our friend, makes life so indifferent to me, who by course of nature have so little left, that I do not think it worth the time to struggle; yet I should think, according to what had been formerly, that I may happen to overcome this disorder; and to what advantage? Why, to see the loss of that person, for whose sake only life was worth preserving. What have I to do in this world? I never was in such agonies as when I received your letter, and had it in my pocket. I am able to hold up my sorry head no longer."
Let any one who understands the language of nature, judge whether the writer of the above passages, had not a heart susceptible of the utmost tenderness and warmth of friendship.
Nor was it to his friend Sheridan alone that he thus opened his heart: I have a letter before me, never published, to Mr. Stopford, then at Paris, dated from Twickenham, July 20, 1726, in which is the following passage: "I fear I shall have more than ordinary reasons to wish you a near neighbour to me in Ireland, and that your company will be more necessary than ever, when I tell you that I never was in so great dejection of spirits. For I lately received a letter from Mr. Worrall, that one of the two oldest and dearest friends I have in the world, is in so desperate a condition of health, as makes me expect every post to hear of her death. It is the younger of the two, with whom I have lived in the greatest friendship for thirty-three years. I know you will share in my trouble, because there were few persons whom I believe you more esteemed. For my part, as I value life very little, so the poor casual remains of it, after such a loss, would be a burden that I must heartily beg God Almighty to enable me to bear: and I think there is not a greater folly than that of entering into too strict and particular a friendship, with the loss of which a man must be absolutely miserable, but especially at an age when it is too late to engage in a new friendship. Besides, that was a person of my own rearing and instructing from childhood, who excelled in every good quality that can possibly accomplish a human creature. They have hitherto written me deceiving letters, but Mr. Worrall has been so just and prudent as to tell me the truth; which, however racking, is better than to be struck on the sudden. Dear James, pardon me. I know not what I am saying, but believe me that violent friendship is much more lasting, and as much engaging, as violent love. Adieu.
"If this accident should happen before I set out, I believe I shall stay this winter in England, where it will be at least easier to find some repose than upon the spot."
However, as she still continued to linger on, dying by slow degrees, he returned to Dublin, as we have before seen, in order to discharge the last melancholy offices of friendship, by smoothing her passage to the grave, and softening the terrours of death with all the comfortable hopes which religion can hold forth. The prayers composed by him on this occasion, are written in as pure a strain of Christian piety, as ever came from an uninspired pen.
A short time before her death a scene passed between the dean and her, an account of which I had from my father, and which I shall relate with reluctance, as it seems to bear more hard on Swift's humanity than any other part of his conduct in life. As she found her final dissolution approach, a few days before it happened, in the presence of Dr. Sheridan, she addressed Swift in the most earnest and pathetick terms to grant her dying request. That as the ceremony of marriage had passed between them, though for sundry considerations they had not cohabited in that state, in order to put it out of the power of slander to be busy with her fame after death, she adjured him by their friendship to let her have the satisfaction of dying at least, though she had not lived, his acknowledged wife. Swift made no reply, but turning on his heel, walked silently out of the room, nor ever saw her afterward during the few days she lived. This behaviour threw Mrs. Johnson into unspeakable agonies, and for a time she sunk under the weight of so cruel a disappointment. But soon after, roused by indignation, she inveighed against his cruelty in the bitterest terms; and sending for a lawyer, made her will, bequeathing her fortune by her own name to charitable uses. This was done in the presence of Dr. Sheridan, whom she appointed one of her executors. Upon this occasion the doctor gave an instance of his disinterested spirit; for when Mrs. Johnson mentioned his name to the lawyer, annexing a very handsome legacy to it, the doctor immediately interposed, and would not suffer it to be put down, saying, that as she disposed of her fortune to such pious uses, he should think he defrauded the charity if he accepted of any part of it. During the few days she lived after this. Dr. Sheridan gave her constant attendance, and was in the chamber when she breathed her last. His grief for her loss was not perhaps inferiour to the dean's. He admired her above all human beings, and loved her with a devotion as pure as that which we would pay to angels. She, on her part, had early singled him out from all the dean's acquaintance, as her confidential friend. There grew up the closest amity between them, which subsisted, without interruption, to the time of her death. During her long illness, he never passed an hour from her which could be spared from business; and his conversation, in the dean's absence, was the chief cordial to support her drooping spirits. Of her great regard for him Swift bears testimony, in the close of one of his letters to him from London, where he says, "I fear while you are reading this, you will be shedding tears at her funeral: she loved you well, and a great share of the little merit I have with you, is owing to her solicitation." No wonder therefore if the doctor's humanity was shocked at the last scene which he saw pass between her and the dean, and which affected him so much, that it was a long time before he could be thoroughly reconciled to him.
Yet on the dean's part it may be said, that he was taken by surprise, and had no reason to expect such an attack at that time. We have already seen the motives which induced him to go through the ceremony, and the conditions upon which it was performed. After several years passed without any consequence from it, or any reason offered for publishing this to the world, it seems to have been agreed between them that the whole should be buried in oblivion, as if no such thing had ever happened. Insomuch, that he had recommended it to her to make her will, and bequeath her fortune to a charitable use which he had pointed out to her. The marriage was evidently a mere matter of form, intended only to satisfy some vain scruples of the lady, without any view to the usual ends of matrimony, and therefore was in fact no marriage at all. To acknowledge her as his wife, when in reality she never had been such, would be to give sanction to a falsehood, and at the same time afford an opportunity to busy tongues to draw a thousand inferences prejudicial to his character. Or, if the real state of the case were known, and it were believed that no consummation ever followed on this marriage, yet he thought it would ill become the character of a dignitary of the church, to have it known to the world that he had made a mockery of so sacred a ceremony, though he might reconcile it to himself upon principles of humanity. Besides, the tongue of scandal had been very busy with his fame in regard to miss Vanhomrigh; and they who could charge him with an illicit amour there, would not fail to aggravate the matter, by showing that he had a wife at the same time. On these considerations he had long resolved that the secret of the ceremony's having passed between them, should never be divulged; and he had all the reason in the world to believe that Mrs. Johnson was in the same sentiments. How anxious he was to guard against any appearance of that sort, we may learn from his letters to Mr. Worrall, written from England at the time her life was despaired of, in which there are the following passages, July 15, 1726. "What you tell me of Mrs. Johnson, I have long expected, with great oppression and heaviness of heart. I have these two months seen through Mrs. Dingley's disguises; and indeed ever since I left you, my heart has been so sunk, that I have not been the same man, nor ever shall be again, but drag on a wretched life, till it shall please God to call me away. I wish it could be brought about that she might make her will. Her intentions are, to leave the interest of all her fortune to her mother and sister, during their lives, and afterward to Dr. Stephens's hospital, to purchase lands for such uses there, as she designs. Think how I am disposed while I write this, and forgive the inconsistencies. I would not for the universe be present at such a trial as that of seeing her depart. She will be among friends, that upon her own account and great worth, will tend her with all possible care, where I should be a trouble to her, and the greatest torment to myself. In case the matter should be desperate, I would have you advise, if they come to town, that they should be lodged in some healthy airy part, and not in the deanery; which besides, you know, cannot but be a very improper thing for that house to breathe her last in.
In another of September 12, 1727, he says, "By Dr. Sheridan's frequent letters, I am, every post, expecting the death of a friend, with whose loss I shall have very little regard for the few years that nature may leave me, I desire to know where my two friends lodge. I gave a caution to Mrs. Brent, that it might not be in domo decani, quoniam hoc minime decet, uti manifestum est: habeo enim malignos qui sinistre hoc interpretabuntur, si eveniat (quod Deus avertat) ut illic moriatur."
Thus predetermined as he was in this point, and satisfied that Mrs. Johnson perfectly acquiesced in it, nothing could have astonished him more than such a proposal. He thought it both unkind and unreasonable in his bosom friend to make such a request; which, if granted, could be of no use to her when dead, and might be the cause of much uneasiness to him the survivor. The pretence she made with regard to her character, he knew could be only a pretence, as no woman living had a more unblemished reputation, being considered by all who knew her as a perfect pattern of modesty to her sex, and so reported in the world. It might therefore be imputed, with probability, to no other cause but vanity; to have her name preserved to future ages as the wife of so extraordinary a man; and he might think himself not bound to gratify a weakness in her, at the expense of procuring much disquiet to himself. And though there was an apparent cruelty in his behaviour on this occasion, yet whoever could have looked into his breast at the time, would probably have found it agitated with as deep a concern at his not being able to comply with her request, as she was at his refusal of it.
A relation of this transaction fully confirms the account I have given of the nature of their union. For, the only unequivocal proof remaining of the ceremony's having passed between them, arises from Mrs. Johnson's declaration of it, in the presence of Dr. Sheridan, at the time above-mentioned. And as the fact has of late been denied, upon the authority of persons so closely connected with the parties, as to give it great weight, I thought it necessary to adduce this indubitable proof of the truth of the account which I have given of that affair.
Upon this occasion, there is one observation to be made much to Swift's honour; which is, that in refusing to acknowledge Mrs. Johnson as his wife, he gave up all pretensions to her fortune, which otherwise must of course have come to him. But he had no view toward any inheritance from her, either as a wife, or a friend. For we find by his letter to Worrall above quoted, that he had long before suggested the idea to her of leaving her fortune to charitable uses, and seems pressing that she should be prevailed on to make her will accordingly. The same disinterested spirit did he show with regard to miss Vanhomrigh, breaking off all connexion with her at a time when he knew she had in her will bequeathed her whole fortune to him, which was very considerable. So that, at this period of his life at least, avarice had laid no hold of him.
Thus have I given a true relation of the nature of Swift's connexion with Mrs. Johnson, and laid open the cause of their never having cohabited after the ceremony of marriage had passed between them. To account for which, so many conjectures have been formed without any foundation. Among these there was one so very absurd, and so utterly impossible to be true, that it is wonderful how it could ever gain any credit; and yet this report was for a long time generally spread and believed. It was asserted, without any shadow of proof, that Mrs. Johnson was a natural daughter of sir William Temple's; and in the same way, that Swift was his son, and that the discovery of this consanguinity, when or how made was never told, was the cause of their not cohabiting. Now to overthrow this, it is only necessary to examine the time of Swift's birth, which was in November 1667, and to show that sir William Temple had been employed as ambassador in the treaty of Nimeguen, two years before, and three years after that date, during which time he resided constantly abroad. And indeed there is good reason to believe that he never so much as saw Swift's mother in his life. This was so clearly shown by Dr. Delany, that any mention of it here might be thought unnecessary, had there not been published since that time a most circumstantial account of that affair, in the Gentleman's Magazine for November 1757, in which the writer pretends to give the whole account of Mrs. Johnson's Life, as well as that of her mother, with such a confident air, and so many minute particulars, as deceived one of the editors of Swift's works into a belief that the account was authentick; insomuch, that he has inserted the whole in the notes upon one of the volumes. How he came to place such implicit confidence in the veracity of an anonymous writer, is strange; but it would be easy to prove, that the whole of this fictitious tale was the invention of some novelist, who had a mind to amuse himself with showing how easily the credulity of mankind is imposed on, by any extraordinary or marvellous story. However, in order to destroy the fabrick, it will be only necessary to say, that the whole was founded upon a fact already proved impossible to be true, which is that Swift was sir William Temple's son. And with respect to Mrs. Johnson, there can be no reason to doubt the authority of Swift's account, who, in the little tract written on her death, has this passage. "She was born at Richmond in Surry, on the 13th day of March in the year 1681. Her father was a younger brother of a good family in Nottinghamshire, her mother of a lower degree; and indeed she had little to boast of her birth."
Having thus developed his conduct, which has hitherto appeared in so mysterious a light to the world, with regard to the two unfortunate ladies, who had placed their affections on an object probably not capable of making a suitable return, or who, at least, had shown himself a perfect platonist in love; I shall now examine his character with regard to the still nobler affection of the human mind, I mean friendship. There have been already many instances given in the course of this work, to show that he had a heart susceptible of the warmest impressions of that sort, but still his friendship was portioned out among numbers; and it seems to have been almost equally shared by Addison, Prior, Arbuthnot, Gay, Pope, lord Oxford, duke of Ormond, lord Peterborow, and many others; but to the perfection of true friendship it is necessary that there should be one particular individual, selected from the rest of mankind, who may be considered as another self, to whom we can unbosom our most secret thoughts, before whom we are not ashamed to lay open our weaknesses and foibles, or, in the expressive phrase, to think aloud. This post was never hitherto occupied by any man; but Swift found no deficiency on that account, as it was amply and more pleasingly supplied by one of the other sex, the incomparable Stella. And to this, in process of time, did Sheridan succeed. His acquaintance with the dean commenced soon after his settlement in Ireland in the following manner. The dean, who had heard much of Sheridan as a man of wit and humour, desired a common friend to bring them together. They passed the day much to their mutual satisfaction; and when the company broke up at night. Swift in his usual ironical way, said, "I invite all here present to dine with me next Thursday, except Mr. Sheridan," but with a look which expressed that the invitation was made wholly on his account. There are certain spirits, concordes animæ, that on the first interview feel an irresistible attraction to each other, and rush into friendship, as some do into love, at first sight; and such was the case between these two men of genius, who had a great similarity both of disposition and talents; and who in a short time became inseparable. This union was forwarded, and afterward cemented by Stella, who gave the doctor the preference to all the dean's other friends. As Swift had passed very little time in Dublin previous to his settling there, he had very few acquaintance except among those of high station; to the promotion of some of whom he had contributed, and did good offices to others, when he was in power; such as the primate, archbishop of Dublin, the lord chancellor Phipps, bishop Sterne, &c.; but as he wished for a society where he could be more at his ease, and indulge his sportive fancy, Sheridan introduced him into a numerous acquaintance of the most distinguished men of those times for talents, erudition, and companionable qualities. As he was allowed to be the first schoolmaster in the kingdom, an intimacy with those fellows of the college, whose acquaintance he chose to cultivate, followed of course; and there happened at that time to be a greater number of learned and ingenious men in that body, than ever had been known before at any given period. An acquaintance naturally commenced with such families of distinction as entrusted their children to his care. Besides, as he was looked upon to be one of the most agreeable companions in the world, his society was much courted by all persons of taste. With a select set of these did Swift pass most of his festive hours for many years; but in the round of entertainments care was always taken to engage Sheridan before a party was fixed, as the dean was never known to be in perfect good humour, but when he was one of the company.
As many of the evening parties were made up of this chosen set in the college, where subjects of literature were often the topicks of conversation, Swift, who could not bear to be considered in an inferiour light by any society into which he had entered, found it necessary to revive his knowledge of Greek and Latin, which in the hurry of politicks and bustle of the world, he had so long neglected. With this view he invited Dr. Sheridan to pass his vacations with him at the deanery, where an apartment was fitted up for him, which ever after went by his name; and assisted by him he went through a complete course of the Greek and Roman classicks. This gave him a full opportunity of seeing the profound knowledge which the doctor had of those languages; and he ever after pronounced him to be the best scholar in Europe. Thus living together frequently in the same house, in a communion of the same studies, and the same amusements, a closer connexion and more intimate union followed, than Swift had ever known with any mortal except Stella. As Sheridan was the most open undisguised man in the world, it did not require much time or penetration to see into his whole character; in which Swift found many things to admire, many things to love, and little to offend. He had the strictest regard to truth, and the highest sense of honour; incapable of dissimulation in the smallest degree; generous to a fault, and charitable in the extreme. Of a proud independent spirit, which would not suffer him to crouch to the great ones of the world for any favour, nor to put on even the appearance of flattery. He had a heart formed for friendship, in which Swift had the first place. It was impossible not to esteem a man possessed of qualities so congenial with his own; but his affection was engaged by those of a less exalted kind, and more pleasing in the general intercourse of life. Sheridan had a lively fancy, and a surprising quickness of invention. He had such a perpetual flow of spirits, such a ready wit, and variety of humour, that I have often heard his acquaintance say, it was impossible for the most splenetick man not to be cheerful in his company. Imagine what a treasure this must be to Swift, in that gloomy state of mind, into which the disappointment of all his views, upon the queen's death, had thrown him; and in which we find from his letters, he continued so many years. Despair of doing any good, had turned his thoughts wholly from publick affairs, which before had engrossed so much of his time: and he was not in a disposition to set about any work that would require much thought, or labour of the brain; he therefore gave himself wholly up to the bagatelle, and to writing nothing but jeux d' esprit; in which no one was better qualified to keep up the ball than Sheridan. For one whole year it was agreed that they should write to each other in verse every day, and were to be upon honour that they would take up no more than five minutes in composing each letter. Numbers of riddles, Anglo-latin letters, and other whims of fancy were produced in the same way. But as these were only intended for private amusement, most of them, when they had served their turn, were committed to the flames. Some few, however, have escaped, and are printed in his works; which may serve to gratify the curiosity of such readers, as may be desirous to have a private peep, as it were, at the fancy of this great genius, when frolicksome and unrestrained she was playing her sportive gambols en déshabillé.
With all these good qualities and pleasing talents. Swift saw some weaknesses and infirmities in his friend, which he in vain endeavoured to cure. However skilled he might be in books, he was a perfect child as to the knowledge of the world. Being wholly void of artifice and design himself, he never suspected any in others; and thus became the dupe of all artful men with whom he had any connexion. As he knew not how to set a true value on money, he had no regard to economy; and his purse was always open to the indigent, without considering whether he could afford it or not. In conversation, his fancy was not always under the direction of discretion, and he frequently gave offence by sudden sallies, without intending it. Swift acted the part of a true friend on these occasions, and was not sparing of his admonitions and advice as opportunities offered; but he found the doctor too opinionated to be guided by the judgment of others, though his own was too weak to restrain his natural propensities. In this case the best service to be done, was, to increase his income in proportion to the largeness of his spirit, as his spirit was not to be confined within the bounds of his income. With this view Swift was indefatigable in his endeavours to promote the flourishing state of his school. He recommended him to all as the ablest master of the age; and published a copy of Latin verses in his praise as such; he descended even at times to act as his usher; and frequently attended at school to hear a class; when the doctor was ill, or absent in the country, he supplied his place; and was always one of the examiners at the publick quarterly examinations. Such attention paid by one of Swift's high character, could not fail of raising the reputation of the school; and accordingly it increased so rapidly, that in a few years the number of scholars far exceeded that of any other seminary ever known in that kingdom. But Swift saw with concern that his expenses kept pace with his income, and increased in the same proportion. Indulging his natural disposition, he made frequent costly entertainments, and on certain days when he was freed from the afternoon attendance on school, his table was open to all bons vivans, jovial companions, &c. And where mirth and good wine circulated so briskly, it is to be supposed there was no lack of guests. Swift saw there was no likelihood of any change in his conduct, while he continued in the same place, and associated with the same sets. In compassion therefore to his young and yearly increasing family, he formed the design of having him removed, upon very advantageous terms, to a distant part of the kingdom, where he would have no such temptation to indulge the extravagance of his disposition. It happened at that time that the schoolmaster of Armagh was in a declining state of health. That school was richly endowed with lands, whose clear rent amounted to four hundred pounds a year, a considerable income in those days, and fully equal to double that sum at present. Swift wrote to a friend in Armagh to send off an express to him instantly on the death of the incumbent. Immediately on the receipt of this, he waited on primate Lindsay (to whose advancement Lindsay himself acknowledges, in one of his letters, Swift had chiefly contributed) saying he had a favour to beg of him. That he was going to turn schoolmaster, and desired he would give him the school of Armagh. It is not vacant, said the primate. Yes, but it is, said Swift, showing him the letter he had received by express. After some raillery from the primate on the dean's turning schoolmaster, Swift at last said, Well, my lord, let me have the disposal of the school, and I'll engage to fill it up to your mind; I mean to place Sheridan in it. The primate consented without hesitation. Swift immediately went to the doctor with the news, who had not the least previous intimation of the affair from the dean. After due acknowledgments of his kindness on this occasion, Sheridan said that he must take some time to consider of it, and that he could not take a step, upon which the whole colour of his future life depended, without consulting his friends. Your friends, said Swift, you will ever be a blockhead as to the world: because they are pleased with your company, and gratify themselves in passing many happy hours with you in social mirth, you suppose them to be your friends. Believe me there is little true friendship in the world; and it is not impossible but the very men who now hug you to their bosoms, may hereafter turn out to be your inveterate enemies. Take my advice; consult none of them; but accept without hesitation of an offer which will secure you a handsome income for life, independent of casualties. Besides, your school will probably flourish as much there as here, as the high reputation you have gained in Dublin will follow you to the north, and secure to you all the boys of that most populous and opulent part of the kingdom.
The doctor still persisted in his resolution of consulting his friends; and at a meeting of them for that purpose, chiefly composed of the fellows of the college, they were unanimously of opinion that he should by no means accept of the proposed offer. They represented to him that his school was in a most flourishing state, and likely to increase daily. That he could not hope to have any thing like the number of pupils in a country town, as in the capital; and his income, even with the addition of the endowment, would probably not be greater. That by residing in Dublin, he might make such powerful connexions, as would raise him to considerable church preferments, all expectation of which he must give up if he buried himself in an obscure corner of the kingdom. By these, and other arguments of the like nature, the doctor was easily persuaded to follow the bent of his inclination. For it must have been with great reluctance that he would have quitted the society of such a number of learned, ingenious, and agreeable men, as then formed the circle of his acquaintance.
The doctor had too much reason afterward to repent of his not having followed Swift's advice, as what he had foretold, in a few years came to pass. Those very men, whom he considered as his best friends, set up another school in opposition to his, which they supported with all their interest, of which the doctor speaks in the following manner in a letter to Swift: "As for my quondam friends, as you style them, quondam them all. It is the most decent way I can curse them; for they lulled me asleep, till they stole my school into the hands of a blockhead, and have driven me toward the latter part of my life to a disagreeable solitude; where I have the misery to reflect upon my folly in making such a perfidious choice, at a time when it was not in my nature to suspect any soul upon earth." In answer to which Swift says — "I own you have too much reason to complain of some friends, who, next to yourself, have done you most hurt; whom I still esteem, and frequent, although I confess I cannot heartily forgive. Yet certainly the case was not merely personal malice to you (although it had the same effects) but a kind of I know not what job, which one of them has often heartily repented."
Nothing could place Swift's friendship in a more conspicuous or disinterested light, than this whole transaction. To have parted with Sheridan at that period of life, when all was gloom about him, when he most wanted such a friend to raise his drooping spirits, and such an associate in the only amusements which he was then capable of relishing, would have been to him like the loss of a limb. Yet when he thought that it was necessary for the interests of the doctor and his family, that he should remove from his settlement in town, to a more advantageous and secure one in the country, he himself planned the scheme of his removal, which was likely to end, with but few intervals, in a separation for life. How different is this from the false representation made of him by lord Orrery. He had said "The affection between Theseus and Pirithous, was not greater than between Swift and Sheridan; but the friendship that cemented the two ancient heroes, probably commenced upon motives very different from those which united the two modern divines." His lordship did not think proper to state what those motives were; and after having drawn Sheridan's character, with as little regard to truth, and in many points, as little resemblance to the original as any of his other portraits, he assigns Swift's close attachment to him to the meanest and most selfish motives; where he says, "In this situation, and with this disposition, Swift fastened upon him as upon a prey, with which he intended to regale himself whenever his appetite should prompt him. Sheridan therefore was kept constantly within his reach; and the only time he was permitted to go beyond the limits of his chain, was, to take possession of a living in the county of Corke, which had been bestowed upon him by the then lord lieutenant of Ireland."
For many years after this fruitless attempt to serve his friend, Swift had it not in his power to promote his interests in any other way, being the most obnoxious of any man living to those who were then in power. But on the appointment of lord Carteret to the government of Ireland, who had been one of his old friends, doctor Sheridan was the first he recommended to his protection. He got him appointed one of his domestick chaplains, with a promise of making a provision for him in the church. Lord Carteret, who was himself an excellent scholar, soon distinguished the doctor's merit in that line, nor was he less pleased with him as a companion, often inviting him to his private parties, and sometimes, laying his state aside, he would steal out from the castle in a hackney chair, to pass the evening at Sheridan's with Swift, and the select set which used to meet there. By the desire of the lord lieutenant, the doctor had one of the tragedies of Sophocles performed by his scholars for his entertainment. Before the day of exhibition lord Carteret appointed a morning to pass with him in reading the play together, in order to refresh his memory after so long an absence from his Greek studies. The doctor was astonished at the facility and accuracy with which he translated this difficult author, having scarce any opportunity of giving him assistance through the whole play. While he was expressing his surprise at this, and admiration at the wonderful knowledge which his lordship showed of the Greek language, lord Carteret, with great candour, told him he would let him into the secret how he came to be so far master of this particular author. He said that when he was envoy in Denmark, he had been for a long time confined to his chamber, partly by illness, and partly by the severity of the weather; and having but few books with him, he had read Sophocles over and over so often, as to be able almost to repeat the whole verbatim, which impressed it ever after indelibly on his memory. This candid confession was certainly the act of an ingenuous mind, above the vanity of gaining a character superiour to its merits; and I believe there are very few who would not have suffered the doctor to go away in the full persuasion, that he was one of the most complete scholars of the age in the whole of the Greek language, and accordingly spread this account of him, seemingly so well founded, to the world.
Not long after this, the lord lieutenant bestowed on the doctor the first living that fell in the gift of government, only as an earnest of future favours; and from the countenance shown him at the castle, it was generally supposed that he might expect in time to rise to some high dignities in the church. But all this fair prospect soon vanished, by a concurrence of some very extraordinary accidents. When he went down to be inducted into his living, he was requested by archdeacon Russel of Cork, to supply his place in the pulpit on the following Sunday. The doctor, who was a very absent man, had forgot his engagement, and was sitting quietly at his lodging en déshabillé, when a message from the parish clerk, who saw no preacher arrive after the service had begun, roused him from his reverie. Redressed himself with all speed, and of two sermons that he had brought with him, took the first that came to his hand, without looking into it. It happened that the first of August in that year fell on that very Sunday; and the first of August being the day on which queen Anne died, was, in that time of party, a day of great celebrity, and much adverted to by the whigs. But this circumstance had not at all occurred to the doctor, who looked on it only as a common Sunday, without considering the day of the month. The text of this led sermon happened to be, "Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof." Such a text on such a day, excited a general murmur through the whole congregation, to the great surprise of the preacher, who was the only person ignorant of the cause; of which he was not informed till after he had descended from the pulpit, when the affair was past remedy. There happened to be present in the church a furious whig, and one of the most violent party-men of the times. He immediately took post for Dublin, where, by his representation of this matter, as Swift has observed in giving an account of this transaction, "Such a clamour was raised by the zeal of one man, of no large dimensions either of body or mind, that we in Dublin could apprehend no less than an invasion by the pretender, who must be landed in the South." Such indeed was the violent clamour raised by the whigs in general, that the lord lieutenant, in order to pacify them, was obliged to order the doctor's name to be struck out of the list of chaplains, and to forbid his appearance at the castle; though he was perfectly satisfied of his innocence, as it appeared that in the whole sermon there was not a syllable relating to government or party, or to the subject of the day; and that he had often preached it before under the same text. And as Swift observes in one of his letters on this subject, "It is indeed against common sense to think that you should choose such a time, when you had received a favour from the lord lieutenant, and had reason to expect more, to discover your disloyalty in the pulpit. But what will that avail? It is safer for a man's interest to blaspheme God, than to be of a party out of power, or even to be thought so; and since the last was the case, how could you imagine that all mouths would not be open when you were received, and in some manner preferred by government, although in a poor way. I tell you there is hardly a whig in Ireland who would allow a potatoe and buttermilk to a reputed tory." Swift's letters on this occasion bear the strongest marks of true friendship, by giving him the best advice how to conduct himself, and letting in some rays of hope, that he should be able to settle matters with the lord lieutenant in London, on his shortly intended visit to that city, and so clear the way for some future favour.
But though, as Swift expresses it, the doctor had thus, by mere chance-medley, shot his own fortune dead with a single text, yet it was the means of his receiving a considerable addition to his fortune, of more intrinsick value than the largest benefice he might have reason to expect. As this proceeded from an act of uncommon generosity, it deserves well to be recorded. Archdeacon Russel, in whose pulpit the sermon was preached, considered himself as instrumental, however accidentally, to the ruin of the doctor's expectations. He was for some time uneasy in his mind on this account, and at last determined to make him a noble compensation. He had a great friendship for the doctor, whom he saw loaded with a numerous offspring, upon a precarious income, while he himself was possessed of a considerable property, and without any family. Urged on by those nice scruples in his mind before mentioned, he thought he could not make a better use of his fortune, than to apply the superfluity of it toward making the doctor easy in his circumstances, and thus enabling him to make a provision for his children. With this view he took a journey to Dublin, in order to make over to him, by an irrevocable deed of gift, the valuable manor of Drumlane in the county of Cavan, a bishop's lease, which at that time produced a clear profit rent of two hundred and fifty pounds per annum. An act of such liberality, and seldom to be parallelled in this degenerate and selfish age, deserves well to be rescued from oblivion; nor could the author of these memoirs, without ingratitude, pass it over in silence.
But unfortunately this noble benefaction did not answer the end proposed by the bountiful donor. The doctor now thought his fortune was made, and set no bounds to his prodigality: with what he possessed before in the county of Cavan, his landed property produced him full four hundred pounds a year; and his school and living eight hundred more. A large income indeed in those days, but not equal to the profuseness of his spirit. He was, as was before observed, the greatest dupe in the world, and a constant prey to all the indigent of his acquaintance, as well as those who were recommended to him by others. Not content with receiving several into his school whom he taught without pay, he had always two or three whom he lodged and boarded in his house gratis; nay some he maintained in clothes and every other necessary, and afterward entered and supported them in the college at his own charge, as if they had been his sons. To his daughters he gave the genteelest education, and dressed them in the most fashionable style. As he was an adept in musick, both in the scientifick and practical part, he had frequent private concerts at his house at no small cost, and the expenses of his table were certainly not diminished by his increase of fortune. While he was going on in this career, his school gradually decreased, from the cause already mentioned, together with some other cooperating circumstances; but as the diminution of his income made no change in his mode of livings it was not long before he had contracted such debts as obliged him to mortgage his lands. He had exchanged his living in the county of Cork, for that of Dunboyne, within a few miles of Dublin; in which he was egregiously outwitted, as the latter fell very short of the income of the former. In this declining state of his affairs, his residence in Dublin grew extremely irksome to him, and being determined to change the scene, he again exchanged his living for the freeschool of Cavan, though to another diminution of his income. All this was done without once consulting the dean, who had long been weary of offering fruitless advice.
When the doctor was preparing to remove to Cavan, a little incident happened which at once showed Swift's great affection for him, and the uncommon tenderness of his heart. He happened to call in just at the time that the workmen were taking down the pictures and other furniture in the parlour: that parlour where for such a number of years he had passed so many happy hours; struck with the sight, he burst into tears, and rushed into a dark closet, where he continued a quarter of an hour before he could compose himself. When it is considered that he was at that time verging on seventy, an age in which the heart generally is callous, and almost dead to the fine affections, there cannot be a stronger confutation of the charge made against him of his want of feeling; as I believe the instances are very rare of persons at that time of life, capable of being so much moved by such an incident.
The doctor had not been long settled at Cavan, when Swift, who at that time knew little comfort in life out of his society, followed, in order to pass the winter with him. I was there at his arrival, and during the whole time of his continuance there. It grieved me much to see such a change in him. His person was quite emaciated, and bore the marks of many more years than had passed over his head. His memory greatly impaired, and his other faculties much on the decline. His temper peevish, fretful, morose, and prone to sudden fits of passion; and yet to me his behaviour was gentle, as it always had been from my early childhood, treating me with partial kindness and attention, as being his godson; often giving me instruction, attended with frequent presents and rewards when I did well. I loved him from my boyish days, and never stood in the least awe before him, as I do not remember ever to have had a cross look, or harsh expression from him. I read to him two or three hours every day during this visit, and often received both pleasure and improvement from the observations he made. His intention was to have passed the whole winter there; but as the doctor was called up to town upon business during the Christmas vacation. Swift found the place desolate without him, and followed him in a few days. During this visit, it appeared by many instances that avarice had then taken possession of him to a great degree. Doctor Sheridan had prevailed on the burgesses of Cavan to meet the dean, in a body, at a place four miles distant from the town to compliment him on his arrival. The doctor told him, in return, he ought to invite them to an entertainment; with which the dean, after some time, though not without manifest reluctance, complied. He gave them a very shabby dinner at the inn, and called for the bill, before the guests had got half enough of wine. He disputed several articles, said there were two bottles of wine more charged than were used, flew into a violent passion, and abused his servants grossly for not keeping better count. The servants ran away, and doctor Sheridan, without speaking a word, went off and left him to himself. This was the manner in which they always treated him, at that time, when he was in one of those fits, for the least opposition, or even the presence of those with whom he was angry, served but to increase his passion almost to frenzy. But when he had time to cool, he always expressed deep concern at his infirmity.
Of the peevishness of his temper at that time, among many other instances, he gave a remarkable one, at the inn of Virginy, his last stage before his arrival at Cavan. In passing to his chamber, he saw the maid employed in scraping a piece of beef, and stopped to ask her, how many maggots she had got out of it. The wench smartly answered, "Not so many as there are in your head." This repartee, which, at another period of his life would have pleased him much, and probably produced half a crown to the maid for her wit, now threw him into a passion, in which he was so weak as to complain of her to her mistress, and insist on her being discharged for her sauciness.
When the burgesses of Cavan went out to meet him, one of them addressed him in a complimentary speech on the occasion, which was but ill delivered, as he had a remarkable thickness of utterance. When he had done, Swift asked him, "Pray, sir, are you the town serjeant?" (a low office, and scarcely above the rank of a common constable) "No, Mr. Dean," answered doctor Sheridan, "that is Mr. Brooks the apothecary, our eldest burgess." "I thought so," said Swift, "for he spoke as if his mouth was full of drugs." How must his disposition have been changed, when the highest civilities that could be shown him, and which formerly were received with the greatest pleasure, and returned with the utmost politeness, now produced nothing but marks of disgust.
From this time all his infirmities increased fast upon him, particularly his avarice, to a high degree. Doctor Sheridan, who still continued to pass great part of his vacations at the deanery, saw many flagrant instances of this, whereof he thought himself bound both by friendship, and a solemn engagement he had entered into, to give him information. This alludes to a conversation that had passed between Swift and doctor Sheridan, as they were riding together on the strand, some years before the doctor left Dublin. The topick happened to be that of old age, which Swift said he found coming fast upon him, and he supposed he should not be exempt from its attendant infirmities. "But there is one vice its usual concomitant, the most detestable of all others, and which therefore I would most endeavour to guard against, I mean avarice: I do not know any way so effectual for this purpose, as to engage some true friend to give me warning when he sees any approaches of that sort, and thus put me upon my guard. This office I expect from you, and hope you will give me a solemn assurance that you will most punctually fulfil it." The doctor very readily entered into the engagement; and now thought himself bound to discharge it. With this view, in one of his vacations passed at the deanery, he set down daily in a journal kept for that purpose, all the instances he could perceive of the dean's parsimony; which in a fortnight arose to a considerable amount. Armed with these proofs, he one day took an opportunity of asking the dean, whether he recollected a discourse which had passed between them on the strand, relative to old age and avarice, and the solemn engagement he had made him enter into upon that occasion. Swift, as one suddenly alarmed, answered with precipitation, "Yes, I remember it very well — Why — do you perceive any thing of that sort in me?" You shall be judge yourself, said the doctor — read over that paper, and see whether it is not high time I should now perform my promise. The dean read over the articles with a countenance in which shame and despondency were blended. When he had done, he leaned his head upon his hand, with his eyes cast on the ground, and remained for some time buried in profound thought; at last he just lifted up his eyes, without changing his posture, and casting a side glance at the doctor, with a most significant look, asked him — "Doctor — "did you never read Gilblas?" alluding to the famous story of a similar conduct of his toward the archbishop, when he was his secretary, which lost him his post. After such a scene, the reader will easily conclude, that the disease was past remedy; and that the doctor, like poor Gilblas, would probably not continue long in favour. Thus was lord Bolingbroke's observation upon a passage in one of Swift's letters fully verified; where he says, he had made a maxim which ought to be written in letters of diamond, "That a wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart." To which his lordship replies, "That a wise man should take care how he lets money get too much into his head, for it would most assuredly descend to the heart, the seat of the passions."
And yet this vice, which daily increased, and made him act grudgingly and sordidly in all other articles of expense, had no effect upon his charities, which were, continued as usual. I had a remarkable instance given me of this by Mrs. Sican, two years after this period, when his avarice was at the height. She had called on him one morning, and upon the usual question being asked of, "What news?" said, a very melancholy affair had happened the night before to an acquaintance of hers, one Mr. Ellis, a cabinet-maker, whose house and goods were destroyed by fire; and as he was a young man just beginning the world, newly married, she was afraid it would prove his ruin, unless he was relieved by charitable contributions. Swift asked what character he bore? She said an exceeding good one, for sobriety, industry, and integrity. The dean then went to his desk, and brought out five broad Portugal pieces, which passed at that time in Dublin for four pounds each, and gave them to her as his subscription.
Dr. Sheridan, finding himself disappointed in all his expectations on his removal, continued at Cavan but little more than two years; when he sold his school and returned to Dublin. While a house was preparing for him, he took up his abode as usual at the deanery, where he was seized with a fit of illness, which confined him for some weeks to his chamber. The dean was not in a condition at that time to afford him any consolation, nor in a disposition of mind to be troubled with a sick guest. A longer fit than usual of his old complaint, had deprived him of all society, and left him a prey to the horrour of his own thoughts. He had long been weary of the world, and all that was in it. He had no prospect of relief but from death, for which he most ardently wished, even when his state was not so bad. For some years before, he never took leave of a friend in an evening, but he constantly added, "Well, God bless you, and I hope I shall never see you again." In this hopeless state, deprived of all the comforts of life, no wonder if he was dead also to the feelings of friendship. When the doctor had sufficiently recovered to be able to go abroad, he was apologising to the dean for the trouble he had given him; saying, "I fear, Mr. Dean, I have been an expensive lodger to you this bout." Upon which Mrs. W——, a relation of the dean's, who then chiefly managed his affairs, and who happened to be present, briskly said, "It is in your power, doctor, easily to remedy this, by removing to another lodging." Swift was silent. The poor doctor was quite thunderstruck. As this lady had always professed great friendship for him, and lay under considerable obligations to him, he quickly saw that this must have been done by Swift's direction; in which he was confirmed by his silence on the occasion. He immediately left the house, in all that anguish of mind, which a heart possessed of the warmest friendship must feel, upon the abrupt breach of one of so long a standing, and so sincere on his part; nor did he ever enter it again. He lived but a short time after this. His friend and physician, Dr. Helsham, foretold the manner, and almost the very time of his death. He said his disorder was a polypus in the heart, which was so far advanced, that it would probably put an end to his existence in a short time, and so suddenly, as to give him no warning of it; and therefore recommended it to him to settle his affairs. The doctor upon this, retired to a house of one of his scholars, Mr. O'Callaghan, at Rathfarnham, three miles from Dublin. In a few days he sent for his friend and namesake, counsellor Sheridan, to draw his will; and when that was done, he seemed cheerful and in good spirits. The counsellor, and a brother of Mr. O'Callaghan's, who had lent him his house, upon being called away to another part of the kingdom, dined with him that day. Soon after dinner, the conversation happened to turn on the weather, and one of them observed, that the wind was easterly. The doctor upon this, said, "Let it blow east, west, north, or south, the immortal soul will take its flight to the destined point." These were the last words he ever spoke, for he immediately sunk back in his chair, and expired without a groan, or the smallest struggle. His friends thought he had fallen asleep, and in that belief retired to the garden, that they might not disturb his repose; but on their return, after an hour's walk, to their great astonishment, they found he was dead. Upon opening the body, doctor Helsham's sagacious prognostick proved to be true, as the polypus in the heart was discovered to be the immediate cause of his death. I know not whether it is worth mentioning, that the surgeon said, he never saw so large a heart in any human body.
It is with reluctance I have dwelt so long on this part of Swift's life; but as many representations of his conduct at that juncture, founded on truth too, had got abroad, much to the disadvantage of his character, I thought it necessary to draw at full length a picture of his state of mind at that time, to show how unreasonable it is to impute faults to the sound and perfect man, which were the natural consequence of the decay of his faculties, the infirmities of age, and cruel disease; by which so total a change was made in him, that scarce any thing of his former self remained. Among the charges against him, none bore more hard than his latter behaviour to Dr. Sheridan, for which I have already accounted. In their whole intercourse, previous to that period, I have shown how sincere a friend he had always proved himself to be; and afterward, when his understanding was gone, and his memory failed, when some former feelings of the heart only remained, I had a strong instance given me by his servant William, how deep an impression the doctor had made there; who told me that when he was in that state, the dean, every day, for a long time, constantly asked him the same question — "William, did you know doctor Sheridan?" "Yes, sir, very well;" — and then, with a heavy sigh, "O! I lost my right hand when I lost him."
- Vicar of Thornton in Leicestershire. Dr. Swift was at this time with sir William Temple, at Sheen.
- Swift makes the following mention of this affair in a letter to Mr. Worrall, written on a particular occasion in the year 1728-9 — "When I went a lad to my mother, after the Revolution, she brought me acquainted with a family, where there was a daughter, with whom I was acquainted. My prudent mother was afraid I should be in love with her; but when I went to London, she married an innkeeper in Loughborough, in that county. This woman (my mistress with a pox) left several children, who are all dead but one daughter, Anne by name," &c.
What follows is immaterial to the present subject.
- MD stands for Stella, and Presto for Swift.
- In answer to a letter which she had sent after him by her servant when he was on the road to Philipstown, he concludes thus: "I have rode a tedious journey to day, and can say no more. Nor shall you know where I am till I come, and then I will see you. A fig for your letters and messages."
- The whole account of this transaction was given me by Mrs. Sican, a lady of uncommon understanding, fine taste, and great goodness of heart: on which account she was a great favourite both with the dean and Mrs. Johnson.
- But rest assured, that no person upon earth has ever been loved, honoured, esteemed, adored by your friend, but yourself.
- "What a blockhead am I to answer you in the same language! you who are incapable of any folly, unless it be the esteem you are pleased to entertain for me: for it is no merit, nor any proof of my good taste, to find out in you all that nature has bestowed on a mortal; that is to say, honour, virtue, good sense, wit, sweetness, agreeableness, and firmness of soul."
- In the deanery house, because this would evidently be very improper, as I have many maligners, who would put a bad interpretation on it, if it should happen (which God forbid!) that she should die there.
- I have been well assured, that the lease produces at this day no less a sum than eight hundred per annum neat profit to the present possessor.
- That he was weary of life, appears in many passages of his letters, and the following anecdote will show how much he wished for death. In the year 1739, three years after his memory had first declined, he had been standing with a clergyman under a very large heavy pierglass, which, just as they had moved to another part of the room, fell down suddenly, and broke to pieces. The clergyman, struck with a sense of the danger they had escaped, turned to Swift, and cried out, "What a mercy it is that we moved the moment we did, for if we had not, we should certainly have been both killed." Swift replied, "Had you been out of the case, I should have been happy to have remained there."
- The story told by a lying biographer, in a work published under the name of Theophilus Cibber, and since transferred into a note on the dean's works, is utterly false. It is there related, that the doctor being in fear of his creditors, had retired for refuge to the deanery, and one evening requesting a bottle of wine, the dean grudgingly answered, "though he had given him a lodging, he had not promised to furnish him with wine;" for the doctor, at that time, did not owe a shilling in the world; having sold a great part of his landed property to pay his debts.