« PreviousContinue »
the ancient authors evidently appears from the ftrength of his fentiments, and the claffic correctnefs of his ftyle.
His attendance upon the public fervice of the church was regular and uninterrupted. And indeed regularity was peculiar to him in all his actions, even in the greateft trifles. His hours of walking and reading never varied. His motions were guided by his watch, which was fo conftantly held in his hand, or placed before him upon his table, that he feldom deviated many minutes, in the daily revolution of his exercifes and employments.
From Mr. DEANE SWIFT.
The character of Dr. Swift is fo exceedingly ftrange, various and perplexed, that it can never be drawn up with any degree of accuracy. I fhall, however, remark fome few particulars, without venturing to attempt the delineation of a character, which hath entirely baffled all endeavours hitherto made, either by friends or enemies.
Swift's natural temper feems to have been a miracu Jous compound of the placid and the fevere. The pla cid frequently bad the fuperiority in his breaft; and the fevere in its turn, when excited by the follies and corruptions of human kind, as frequently, the predomi
He was, by nature, of a fpirit wonderfully exalted. His pride, if pride it must be called, was of a turn peculiar to himself. His whole deportment was of a piece. He would not have ftooped to converfe with the greateft monarch in Europe, upon any terms lower than equality.
He knew to a point the refpect that was due to him; which he took care to exact without any fort of abatements. It will appear from the following inftance, with what quickness he refented any failure in good manners. An English clergyman, appointed a Bishop in Ireland fent his fervant one morning to the Dean, to beg the favour of him to order St. Patrick's cathedral to be got ready against the next Sunday for his confecration. The Doctor would by no means grant his request; but faid, He would order the church to be in readiness against the Sunday following. When the fervant was gone, the Doctor
Doctor told a friend, then with him, that he could as well have had the church ready against the next, as a gainst the following Sunday: but, faid he, my reafon for refuling to grant that gentleman's request was, because he ought to have come himfelf, and not fent his fervant to me upon fuch a meffage.
Neither could he endure to be treated with any fort of familiarity, or that any man living (his three or four old acquaintances in England only excepted) fhould rank himself in the number of his friends. A young perfon of quality, upon fome occafion or other, once ventured to addrefs Dr. Swift in the ftyle of Dear Swift, and call himself the Doctor's friend. When the Dean opened his letter, which was defigned as a compliment, his indignation took inftant fire. Dear Swift! faid he; what montrous familiarity is here! But when he found the letterwriter had called himself his friend, he was out of all parience. 66 My friend my friend!" faid he; "pifh, pha; my friend! But" (faid he, recollecting himfelf)- "he is a Lord, and fo let it pass.”
Swift's fpirit was formed with a strong reluctance to fubmiffion of any kind; and particularly he paid no regard to the monitions of his friends and physicians, who had frequently admonished him of his over-exercise. This was not owing to his being weary of life. It was from an old fettled principle, confirmed and rivetted in his mind, when he was in the height of his glory, and the meridian of his life: A principle, indeed, which he maintains, or at least endeavours to maintain, with infinite wit and humour, in a letter to Mrs. Johnson, Nov. 3, 1711, who had advised him to take phyfic upon the fall of the leaf. "A fig," (faith he)," Madam, "for your phyfician. If I grow worfe, I will; other"wife I will trust to temperance and exercise. Your "fall of a leaf? What care I when the leaves fall? I am "forry to fee them fall with all my heart; but why "should I take phyfic becaufe leaves fall off from trees?' "That won't hinder them from falling. If a man falls “off a horse, must take physic for that? This arguing. "makes you mad; but it is true right reason, not to› "be difputed."
He was not only above all tincture of envy in his com
pofition; but his talents were fo great, that he was to tally fuperior to the emulation of all inferior wits. They every one of them bowed down to him as to the viceroy of Apollo.
The dæmon of malice was also a stranger to his heart: and well it might; for if at any time he was attacked with injurious treatment, he never fmothered his revenge, like a way-laying coward, until a fafer opportunity; but, like a brave and generous fpirit, knocked down his adverfary directly on the spot.
The common vices and foibles of human-kind he lashed with great feverity, in order to restrain their influence, and, if it were poffible, to hinder the contagion from spreading in the community; yet ftill without making examples of particular perfons. But flaves to party, and traitors to the public intereft, he exposed without mercy to the derifion of the world. It may be thought perhaps, that private animofity frequently gave an edge to his fatire. I cannot tell but in fome cafes it might. But then it fhould be con fidered, that Dr. Swift never looked upon himself in the character of a private perfon. He knew, that a patriot, like an Afiatic prince, must make himself dreaded. If he be once foiled, his power is at an end. And, without controverfy, dominion, abfolute dominion, he had refolved to poffefs over the minds of men, especially over the minds of his countrymen; and accordingly he did poffefs it.
Swift was certainly a man of great ambition, though he denies it in his writings. But his ambition, ever directed by the rules of honour, was of a noble, exalted ftrain, worthy to be cherished in the breast of an angel. [vol. 8. p. 119.]
In his private character, he was a man of fine addrefs, and perfectly well bred. He knew to a point all the modes and variations of complaifance and politeness. And yet his manners were not framed like thofe of any other mortal; but,, corrected by general obfervation, and adapted to his own peculiar turn of genius, they fhone forth, always enlivened more or lefs with fome fpirit of dominion, in a blaze of politenefs, fo inimitably and fo determinately his own, that in effect they feemed to be the refult of pure nature, uncopied from any the brightest or the fairest original.
Swift talked a great deal in all companies, without ingroffing the converfation to himself, [above, p. cviii.]. In the character of a tete à tete companion, he rather excelled himfelf. Few that are equal to him in that refpect, perhaps none that are his fuperiors, can be found upon earth. He was by no means in the class with thofe who pour down their eloquence like a torrent, driving all before it. Far from any defires of that fort, he equally loved to speak, and loved to hearken. Like Falstaff, he not only had wit himself, but frequently was the cause of wit in others. However, that universal reverence which was paid to his great abilities, frequently ftruck a damp on the fpirits of those who were not perfectly well acquainted with him: an effect of modesty, which however did not always happen to be construed to their advantage, unless in the cafe of very young people. For when fuch perfons were gone, if none but his intimates were prefent, he would exprefs himself with fome degree of emotion, and cry, Such a one, I have heard, is a very great man; or, Such a one, they fay, has abundance of learning; or, Such a one, I have been told, has an excellent understanding; but God deliver. me from fuch companions!
If we confider Swift as a Divine and a Chriftian, we fhall find him, although not fo grave, yet at least as perfect, as the most famous of his contemporaries. His firft fetting out in the world may be thought fomewhat fingerlar, in this profane, hypocritical, corrupted age. We are affured from his own accounts, that his ideas of religion were fo extremely delicate, that he could not but entertain fome fcruple, notwithstanding his fortune was very small, of entering into the church merely for fupport; although it is plain, that he had early feparated himfelf to the work of the ministry. He was of a genius thoroughly well-adapted for the improvement of any congregation whatever, his arguments being always clear, cogent, and fatisfactory. But furely thofe improved, extenfive abilities, which rendered him at once the delight and the admiration of the world, were never defigned by his Creator to be confined within the narrow limits of any parish or diocese.
In his private character as a man of religion, he ap
pears to have been a great and fhining example of Chriftian faith and morals. In himfelf, he was chafte, fober, and temperate. I remember he once told me occasionally, that he never had been drunk in his life. In his general behaviour, he was open, free, difengaged, and chearful. In his dealings with the world, he was honeft and fincere. In relieving the poor and the diftreffed, he was liberal to profufion; if denying himfelf, and throwing upon the waters above a third part of his income, will intitle him to the character of being exceedingly generous. With regard to his faith, he was truly orthodox. Moreover, he was regular, exceedingly regular, in all his duties to God, efpecially in attending the public worship; yet ftill without any parade or colour of oftentation. But to crown his whole character as a man of religion, and to fhew how much he detefted that fatanical vice of hypocrify, I fhall tranfcribe a paragraph from a fermon of his, not yet published, On the excellency of the Chriftian religion, oppofed to Heathen philofophy." Chriftian wif "don (faith he) is without partiality. It is not cal"culated for this or that nation or people, but the whole "race of mankind; not to the philofophical schemes, "which were narrow and confined, adapted to their pe"culiar towns, governments or fects; but in every na❝tion, he that feareth God, and worketh righteouf"nefs, is accepted with him. Lastly, it is without hy"pocrify it appears to be what it really is: it is all of "a-piece. By the doctrines of the gospel, we are fo "far from being allowed to publifh to the world, thofe "virtues we have not, that we are commanded to hide ❝even from ourfelves thofe we really have, and not,
to let our right hand know what our left hand does; "unlike feveral branches of the Heathen wifdom, "which pretended to teach infenfibility and indiffe "rence, magnanimity and contempt of life, while "at the fame time, in other parts, it belied its own "doctrines."
Several other particulars in Swift's character, and va rious anecdotes concerning him, will be found in the notes throughout all the eight volumes, particularly in the Criticifins prefixed to vols I. 6. and 8.