Slike strani
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

time of his political controversies," he could only preach pamphlets." This censure of himself, if judgment be made from those sermons which have been printed, was unreasonably severe.

The suspicions of his irreligion proceeded in a great measure from his dread of hypocrisy; instead of wishing to seem better, he delighted in seeming worse than he was. He went in London to early prayers, lest he should be seen at church; he read prayers to his servants every morning with such dexterous secrecy, that Dr. Delany was six months in his house before he knew it. He was not only careful to hide the good which he did, but willingly incurred the suspicion of evil which he did not. He forgot what himself had formerly asserted, that hypocrisy is less mischievous than open impiety. Dr. Delany, with all his zeal for his honour, has justly condemned this part of his character.

The person of Swift had not many recommendations. He had a kind of muddy complexion, which, though he washed himself with oriental scrupulosity, did not look clear. He had a countenance sour and severe, which he seldom softened by any appearance of gaiety. He stubbornly resisted any tendency to laughter.

To his domesticks he was naturally rough; and a man of a rigorous temper, with that vigilance of minute attention which his works discover, must have been a master that few could bear. That he was disposed to do his servants good, on important occasions, is no great mitigation; benefaction can be but rare, and tyrannick peevishness is perpetual. He did not spare the servants of others. Once,

when he dined alone with the Earl of Orrery, he said of one that waited in the room," That man "has, since we sat to the table, committed fifteen "faults." What the faults were, Lord Orrery, from whom I had the story, had not been attentive enough to discover. My number may perhaps not be exact.

In his œconomy he practised a peculiar and offensive parsimony, without disguise or apology. The practice of saving being once necessary, became habitual, and grew first ridiculous, and at last detestable. But his avarice, though it might exclude pleasure, was never suffered to encroach upon his virtue. He was frugal by inclination, but liberal by principle; and if the purpose to which he destined his little accumulations be remembered, with his distribution of occasional charity, it will perhaps appear, that he only liked one mode of expence better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give. He did not grow rich by injuring his successors, but left both Laracor and the Deanery more valuable than he found them.-With all this talk of his covetousness and generosity, it should be remembered, that he was never rich. The revenue of his Deanery was not much more than seven hundred a year.

His beneficence was not graced with tenderness or civility; he relieved without pity, and assisted without kindness; so that those who were fed by him could hardly love him.

He made a rule to himself to give but one piece at a time, and therefore always stored his pocket with coins of different value.

Whatever he did, he seemed willing to do in a manner peculiar to himself, without sufficiently considering, that singularity, as it implies a contempt of the general practice, is a kind of defiance which justly provokes the hostility of ridicule; he, therefore, who indulges peculiar habits, is worse than others, if he be not better.

Of his humour, a story told by Pope* may afford a specimen.

66

66

[ocr errors]

"Dr. Swift has an odd, blunt way, that is mis"taken by strangers for ill-nature.-'Tis so odd, "that there's no describing it but by facts. I'll tell "you one that first comes into my head. One evening, Gay and I went to see him: you know how 'intimately we were all acquainted. On our coming "in, Heyday, gentlemen (says the Doctor), what's "the meaning of this visit? How came you to "leave the great Lords that you are so fond of, to "come hither to see a poor Dean!'- Because we "would rather see you than any of them.'- Ay, "any one that did not know so well as I do might "believe you. But since you are come, I must get "some supper for you, I suppose.'- No, Doctor, "we have supped already.'-'Supped already? that's impossible! why, 'tis not eight o'clock yet. That's

་་

66

[ocr errors]

very strange; but if you had not supped, I must "have got something for you.-Let me see, what "should I have had? A couple of lobsters; ay, "that would have done very well; two shillings"tarts, a shilling: but you will drink a glass of "wine with me, though you supped so much before "your usual time only to spare my pocket?'- No,

[blocks in formation]

"we had rather talk with you than drink with you.' "But if you had supped with me, as in all rea"son you ought to have done, you must then have "drank with me.-A bottle of wine, two shillings "-two and two is four, and one is five; just two "and six-pence a-piece. There, Pope, there's half "a crown for you, and there's another for you, Sir; " for I won't save any thing by you, I am deter"mined.'—This was all said and done with his "usual seriousness on such occasions; and, in spite "of every thing we could say to the contrary, he "actually obliged us to take the money.”

.

In the intercourse of familiar life, he indulged his disposition to petulance and sarcasm, and thought himself injured if the licentiousness of his raillery, the freedom of his censures, or the petulance of his frolicks, was resented or repressed. He predominated over his companions with very high ascendency, and probably would bear none over whom he could not predominate. To give him advice was, in the style of his friend Delany, "to venture to speak to "him." This customary superiority soon grew too delicate for truth; and Swift, with all his penetration, allowed himself to be delighted with low flattery.

:

On all common occasions, he habitually affects a style of arrogance, and dictates rather than persuades. This authoritative and magisterial language he expected to be received as his peculiar mode of jocularity: but he apparently flattered his own arrogance by an assumed imperiousness, in which he was ironical only to the resentful, and to the submissive sufficiently serious.

He told stories with great felicity, and delighted in doing what he knew himself to do well; he was

therefore captivated by the respectful silence of a steady listener, and told the same tales too often.

He did not, however, claim the right of talking alone; for it was his rule, when he had spoken a minute, to give room by a pause for any other speaker. Of time, on all occasions, he was an exact computer, and knew the minutes required to every common operation..

It may be justly supposed that there was in his conversation, what appears so frequently in his Letters, an affectation of familiarity with the Great, and ambition of momentary equality sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul. But a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away. He that encroaches on another's dignity, puts himself in his power; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension.

Of Swift's general habits of thinking, if his Letters can be supposed to afford any evidence, he was not a man to be either loved or envied. He seems to have wasted life in discontent, by the rage of neglected pride, and the languishment of unsatisfied desire. He is querulous and fastidious, arrogant and malignant; he scarcely speaks of himself but with indignant lamentations, or of others but with insolent superiority when he is gay, and with angry contempt when he is gloomy. From the Letters that pass between him and Pope it might be inferred that they,

« PrejšnjaNaprej »