[ocr errors]


Tut life, writings, and character of Swift, have successively employed the researches, exercised the kridures, and exhausted the praises of Mrs. Pilkington, the Earl of Orrery, Deane Swift, Esq. Dr. Delany, Dr. Hawkesworth, Dr. Johnson, and George-Monk Berkeley, Esq. Their several public cations, which place his character in very different, and often opposite points of light, have occasioned great diversity in the judgments formed of them by the world, according to the different degrees of prejudice or candour in their several readers. On an attentive perusal, it will be found, that the narrations of Lord Orrery, Dr. Hawkesworth, Dr. Johnson, and Mr. Sheridan, entitle them to the aclusive appellation, of his biographers. Dr. Delany, Mr. Swift, Mr. Berkeley, and Mrs. Pilking, ton, come under a different description. The three former must be considered as his apologists, and the latter as a retailer of entertaining anecdotes. These are the several sources from which the facts fated in the present account are chiefly derived. Some particulars of his early life are taken from the Ane.doies of the Family of Swift, a fragment, written by himself, which now exists in his own hand-writing, in the Univerlity Library of Dublin.

Jonathan Swift was, according to the account written by himself, the son of Mr. Jonathan Swift, an attorney, and was born in Hoey’s-Court, in the parish of St. Werburgh, Dublin, on the zoth of November, 1667. He was descended from a younger branch of an ancient family of that name in Yorkshire. · His grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Swift, was Vicar of Goodrich in Herefordshire, and married Elizabeth Dryden, aunt of the great poet, by whom he had ten sons and three or four daughters. He died in 1658; and, of his sons, fix survived him, Godwin, Thomas, Dryden, WilLiam, Jonathan, and Adam.

Thomas was bred at Oxford, and took orders: he married the eldest daughter of Davenant, and left an only son, Thomas, who died rector of Puttenham in Surrey, May 1752, in the 87th year of his age. Godwin studied the law, in the Inner-Temple, and was called to the bar before the Restoration. He had four wives, one of whom was à relation to the old Marchioness of Ormond; and, upon that account, the old Duke of Ormond made him his Attorney-General, in the palatinate of Tipperary. He left several children, who obtained estates. William, Dryden, Jonathan, and Adam, were attorneys, who all lived and died in Ireland; but none of them left male iffue except Jonathan, the father of Swift.

Jonathan, at the age of twenty-three, married Abigail Erick, descended from an ancient family of that name in Leicestershire, but with little or no fortune. He died young, in about two years after his marriage, feven weeks before the birth of his only son ; and, as he was but jud beginning the world, left his widow and an infant daughter to the care of his brother Godwin.

When Swift was a year old, his nurse, who was a native of Whitehaven, finding it neceffary to visit a fick relation, and being extremely fond of the infant, stole him on shipboard, unknown to his mother and uncle, and carried him with her to Whitehaven, where he continued for almost three years; for, when the matter was discovered, his mother sent orders not to hazard a second voyage till he should be better able to bear it. The nurse was fo careful of him, that, before he rea turned, he had learned to spell, and, before he was five years old, he could read any chapter in the Bible.

His mother, about two years after his father's death, quitted the family of his uncle Godwin, and retired to Leicester, where she was chiefly by presents and contributions from her relations,

The infancy of Swift passed without any marks of distinction. At the age of six he was sent to the School of Kilkenny, and, at fourteen, admitted into the University of Dublin. The expence of his education was defrayed by his uncle Godwin, who, having a numerous offspring, by four wives, was under the neceflity of reducing his allowance as low as poshble.

His other relations seemed at that time to think that their aslistance was not necessary, so that he was obliged to make the best shift he could with the fniall pittance afforded by his uncle; who was supposed by him, as well as by the rest of the world, to be in circumstances that might have afforded a much more liberal allowance, without prejudice to his own family. This fupposition made so deep an imprellion on him, that he never afterwards could think with patience of his uncle Godwin, nor could heartily forgive the neglect shown him during that time by his other relations.

During his residence at College, he lived with great regularity and due observance of the statutes ; but he was so discouraged and funk in his fpirits, by the ill treatment of his relations, that he could not bear to give the necessary application to the more dry parts of the academic studies, for which he had indeed naturally no great relish; and pafled his time chiefly in reading books of history and powtry, which were better suited to his talte, and more calculated to relieve the troubles of his mind. 3consequence of this, when the time came for his taking the degree of Bachelor of Arts, he was Hopped, as he himself expresies it, “ for dulness and insufäciency,” and at last hardly admitted, in a manner little to his credit, as it was inforted in the College register thai he obtained it speriali gratia, by special favour; where it still remains upon record.

He remained in the College near three years after this disgrace, not through choice, but necessity, little known or regarded. By scholars he was eleemed a blockhead; and, as the lowness of his circumstances would not permit him to keep company of an equal rank, upon an equal footing, ha fccrned to associate with those of a lower class, or to be obliged to those of a higher.

Shame, however, had its proper effe& in producing reformation ; for he resolved, from that time, to study eight hours a-day, and he continued his indusry for seven years, with what improvement is generally known.

At this time the force of his genius broke out, in the first rude draugat of the Tale of a Tuh, write ten by him at the age of nineteen, though communicated to nobody but his chamber-fellow Mr. Waryng, the brother of the lady who received his juvenile addrefles, and with whom he corresponued with all the romantic ardour attending a firfe pasion, under the whimsical name of Harina.

soon after, his uncle Godwin was seized with a lethargy, and the broken state of his affairs was made public. He now loft even the poor support that he had before; but his uncle William supplied the place of Godwin to him, though not in a more liberal way, which could not be expected from his circumftances, yet with so much better a grace as engaged his gratitude afterwards.

His cousin Willoughby Swift, eldest son of his upcie Godwin, hearing of his father's unhappy çircumstances, and reflecting that Swift's deftitute fituation demanded immediate relief, sent him a present of a larger sum than ever he had been master of before.

This was the fu ít time that his disposition was tried with regard to the management of money; and he faid, that the reflection of his constant sufferings through the want of it, made him nurse it so well, that he was never afterwards without some in his purse.

In 1688, when he was about one-and-twenty, he went to consult his mother, who lived at Leiceft: 5, about the future course of his life; and, by her dire dion, solicited the advice and patronago of Sir William Temple, who had married one of her relations, and whole father, Sir Jolin Temple, Master of the Rolls in Ireland, had lived in great familiarity of friendship with his uncle Godwin, by whom he had been till that time maintained.

Sir William Temple, who then refided at Shene, received him cheerfully into his house, and treated him with that hospitable kindness to which family connections and his unfortunate situation gave him a double claim. On a nearer acquaintance, his kindness to him was increased from motives of personal regard, and he took upon him the direction and superintendence of his studies, in which he found his progress was far from being so great as might have been expected from his course of education and time of life,

During his residence at Shene, he became known to King William, who sometimes visited Sir William Temple when he was disabled by the gowns and, being attended by Swist in the garden, howed him how to cut asparagus in the Dutch way. King William expresfed his kindness to Swift by offering to make him a Captain of Horse; but Swift appears to have fixed his mind very early on an ecclefiaftical life; and, it is therefore probable, that, upon declining this offer, he obtained a promise of preserment in the church, for, in a letter to his uncle William, dated 1692, he says, “ i ain not to take orders till the King gives me a Prebend."

When Sir William Temple removed to Moor-Park, after the seulement of the government, he took Swist with him, and detained him two years, as his friend and domestic companion.

Being much opprested by an illness which he contra&ed in Ireland by a surfeit of fruit, that brought on a coldness of stomach and giddiness, with deafness, he was advised to try his native air, and went to Ireland ; but, înding himfe" growing worse there, he foon returned ta Moor-Park, where he continued his studies, upon the abatement of his illness, which, with irregular intermissions, pursued him through life, and at last fent him to the grave deprived of reafon.

He thought exercise of great neceflity, and used to run up and down a hill, about half a mile from the house, every two hours, and the distance backwards and forwards, in about six minutes.

He now stood high in Sir William Temple's esteem, though he had written nothing that could give him a very high idea of his genius, except the Tale of a Tub, which he revised and corrected about this time, and probably showed to his patron.

He tried his strength only in Pindaric Odes to the King, to Sir William Temple, and to the “ Athenian Society," in which, though there appeared some vigour of mind, and efforts of an uncommon genius, yet it was apparent that it was vigour improperly exerted, and the efforts of a genius misapplied. The sentiments were strained and crowded, and the numbers irregular and harsh.

When Sir William Temple was consulted by the Earl of Portland about the expedience of complying with a bill then depending for making parliaments triennial, he sent Swift to Kensington with the whole account in writing, to convince the King and the Earl that the proposal involved nothing dangerous to royal power. But the predetermination of the king made his arguments, and his art of displaying them, totally ineffettual; and the meafure was rejeéted.

The consequence of this wrong step in his Majesty, he observes, was very unhappy ; for although it be held a part of the King's prerogative to refuse passing a bill, yet the learned in the law think otherwise, from that exprelon used at the coronation, wherein the Prince obligcth himself to consent to all laws, quas vulgus elegerit.

In this fituation Swift continued, itill applying close to his studies, till 1692, when he went to Oxford to tike his degree of Master of Arts. In the testimonial which he produced from the University of Dublin, the words of disgrace were omitted, probably by the influence of his uncle William. He was admitted ad eundem, June 14. and took his Master's degree July 5th 1692 ; with such reception and regard as fully contented him.

From Oxford he returned to Moor-Park, where he remained two years longer, in expectation of getting some preserment through Sir William Temple’s interest with the King, which he had prowiled to exert in his favour; and, in this time, he affifted him in the revisal and correction of his writings, and added the digrifions to the Tale of a Tub.

At length, quite wearied out with fruit less expectation, he determined to Icave Sir William Temple, and to take his chance in the world. When this resolution was made known to Sir William, he received it with ardent marks of displeasure ; but, that he might feem to fulfil his promise, he offered him an employment then vacant, in the office of the rolls in Ireland, of about 100 l. a-year. Swift, with great readiness and spirit, replied, “ that fince he had now an opportunity of living without being driven into the church for a maintenance, he was resolved to go to Ireland to take holy orders;" and so he went away in discontent.

While he lived at Moor-Park, he used to pay his mother at Leicester an yearly visit. He travelled on foot, unless the violence of the weather drove him into a waggon; he dined at obscure alehouses, among pedlars and oftlers; and at night, he would go to a penny lodging, where he protered clean sheets for fixpence. This practice some have ascribed to avaric?, and others, perhaps with more probability, to his degre of furveying human life through all its varieties.

He went over to Ireland, and was ordained in September 1624. He had at first no higher views in the church than the Chaplain!hip to the Factory at Lifbon; but being recommended to Lord Capel, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, he obtained the Prebend of Kilroot, in the diocese of Connor, of about 100 l. a-year.

Soon after, upon receiving a letter from Sir William Temple, with an invitation to Moor-Park, he reigned his living to a poor curate who had only 401. a-year, for the maintenance of a very numerous family of children, and returned to England.

The circumstances attending this act of benevolence are well described by Mr. Sheridas); and the following reflection on the “ exquisite pleasure" which it afforded the heart of Swift, is lingularly happy, both for the thought and the expression : “ Nor is this to be wondered at, lince it was the firti opportunity he ever had of letting loose that fpirit of generosity and benevolence, whose greatDess and vigour, when punt up in his own breast by poverty and dependence, served only as an evil Spuit to torment him."

[ocr errors]

The editor of the late edition of the « Tatler,” has ascribed his leaving Kilroot to no lefs a crime than an attempt to commit a rape. This ridiculous charge is refuted by Mr. Berkeley, with a mixture of contempt and indignation which it well deserves. It has also been contradicted in the “ Gentleman's Magazine,” by the person on whose authority it was rested; and is too palpably absurd to be credited, even by those who may meet with the accusation without seeing the defence.

He arrived at Moor-Park, in 1695, with fourscore pounds in his pocket, after somewhat more than a year's absence. The infirmities of Sir William Temple made him more necessary than ever; and having, perhaps, equally repented their feparation, they lived on together with mutual satisfaction. In the four years that passed between his return and Sir William Temple's death, he was fully and usefully employed. He took upon himself the office of Preceptor to his niece, teaching her English, and directing her in a proper course of reading. At the same time, Miss Johnson, daughter of his steward, afterwards so well known by the name of Stella, partook of the benefit of the same infruction. She was at that time about fourteen years of age, beautiful in her person, and possessed of such fine talents as made Swift take great delight in cultivating and improving her mind. At this time too he wrote the Battle of the Books, in honour of his great and learned friend.

In 1699, Sir William Temple died, and left a legacy, with his manuscripts, to Swift; for whos he had obtained from King William a promise of the first prebend that should be vacant at Westminster or Canterbury.

Upon the death of his patron, he removed to London, and soon after dedicated to the King the posthumous works with which he was intrused; but neither the dedication, nor a memorial which he thought proper to present, revived in King William the remembrance of his promise. He attended the court a while, but foon found his solicitations hopeless. He exonerated the King so far as to say often that he believed the memorial was never received.

He therefore readily accepted of an offer made to him by the Earl of Berkeley to accompany him into Ireland as his Chaplain and Private Secretary; but after having done the business of secretary till their arrival at Dublin, he then found that one Bush had persuaded his Lordship that a Clergyman was not a proper secretary, and had obtained the office for himself.

He revenged himself by a severe copy of verses against the governor and his new made fecretary, which were everywhere handed about, to their 10 small mortification.

Lord Berkeley had soon after the disposal of the Deanery of Derry, and Swift expected to obtain it; but by the fecretary's being secured by a bribe of 1000 l. it was bestowed on another; and Swift was dismissed with the Rectory of Agher, and the Vicarages of Laracor and Rathbeggan, in the diocese of Meath, which, together, did not equal half the value of the deanery.

He continued fill in his office of Chaplain to Lord Berkeley, from the respect which he had for his Lady, whose virtues he has celebrated in the introduction to the Project for tbe Advancement of Religion.

About this time, his true humorous vein in poetry began to display itself in several little pieces, written for the entertaininent of Lord Berkeley's family, particularly that incomparable piece of low humour, called The bumble Petition of Mrs. Frances Harris, &c.

When Lord Berkeley quitted the government of Ireland, Swift went to reside on his living at Laracot, where he read prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and performed all the qfices of his profession with great decency and exactness.

Soon after his settlement at Laracor, he invited to Ireland his lovely pupil Miss Johnson, to whom Sir William Temple, in consideration of her father's faithful services, had left 1000 l. With her came a lady of the name of Dingley, who was related to the Temple family, and whose whole fortune was an annuity of 27 1. With these ladies he passed his hours of relaxation, and to them he opened his bosom; but they never refided in the fame house. They lived at the parsonage when He was away, and when he returned, removed to a lodging, or to the house of Dr. Raymond, a neighbouring clergyman, at Trim.

Miss Johnson was then eighteen, and, hy his own account, had the most and finest accomplishments of any person he had ever known of either sex. Yet he studiously avoided the appearance of any tender attachment to her, and never saw or conversed with her but in the presence of some third person.

Whatever inclination he might formerly have had to matrimony; it was now much changed. A

« ForrigeFortsett »