Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

284

THE TALE OF A TUB."

black shadow of final insanity cast a gloom, and see how the sad story of Swift's attachments comes to a close. Stella he seems to have loved deeply, but not so well that he could bend his gigantic ambition to a public marriage with her. By-and-by, before he became Dean of St. Patrick's in Dublin, a girl named Esther Vanhomrigh fell in love with him, and was encouraged by the flattered savage, who wrote poems in her praise. This lady was the unhappy Vanessa of his verse. The two hearts, thus moved with a strange tenderness for one who had little of the amiable in his nature, were kept dangling round him by the cruel genius, like silly moths round a lamp, until one after the other they were burned to ashes. It is said that Swift and Stella were secretly married in the Deanery garden; but the unfeeling man would not avow the union to the world, and she sank at last into the grave of sorrow.

The death of Temple in 1699 sent Swift to Ireland as the chaplain of Lord Berkeley. He soon became rector of Agher, and vicar of Laracor and Rathbeggan in Meath. But in his thirty-fourth

year he took his place in the ranks of political penmen 1701 by writing a pamphlet on the Whig side. His pen was A.D. the lever, by which he meant to raise Jonathan Swift to

the pinnacle of clerical or political greatness. It certainly won for him the adoration of a country, and one of the highest niches in the temple of our literature; but it could not raise a mitre to his head, and he crushed it in his angry grasp till it began to drop nothing but gall. One of his three great works was the extraordinary Tale of a

Tub; which was published, according to the author's state1704 ment, in order to divert the followers of Hobbes, author

of the Leviathan, from injuring the vessel of the State,

just as sailors were wont to fling out a tub in order to turn aside a whale from his threatened dash upon their ship. The Leviathan, he says, “ tosses and plays with all schemes of religion and government, whereof many are hollow, and dry, and empty, and noisy, and wooden, and given to rotation." Three brothers-Peter, Martin, and Jack-receive from their dying father

A.D.

THE “ DRAPIER LETTERS."

285

coats, which, if carefully kept clean, will last them all their lives. As the fashions change, they add to the simple coat shoulderknots, gold lace, silver fringes, embroidery of Indian figures, twisting the meaning of their father's will so as to give a seeming sanction to these innovations. Peter (evidently the apostle of that name, here taken to represent the Roman Catholic Church) locks up the will, assumes the style of a lord, and wears his coat proudly, as it is. His brothers, stealing a copy of the document, leave the great house, and begin to reform their coats. Martin (Luther) goes to work cautiously in stripping off the adornments, and leaves some of the embroidery alone lest he may injure the cloth. But Jack (Calvin) in his hot zeal plucks off all at once, and in so doing splits the seans, and tears away great pieces of the coat. Thus does Swift depict the corruptions of early Christianity, and the results of the Reformation, in a satire of uncommon power and strange, mad drollery. His sympathies are all with Martin, and Peter gets off better than Jack.

Disappointed in his hopes of preferment, Swift deserted from the Whig ranks, and soon his shot began to plough through the lines he had left. We cannot attempt to name the bitter and caustic pamphlets that were hurled by the renegade against his former friends. But his new allies dared not make a bishop of the man who had written the “Tale of a Tub." The Deanery of St. Patrick's, Dublin, received in 1713, was 1713 the utmost they could do for him. And a short time afterwards the Tory government fell, leaving no resource to the disappointed Dean but to hide himself and his baffled hopes in Dublin. To a great and troubled spirit, such as Swift's, exile from the centre of conflict was a doom little better than burial alive.

For about six years he lived quietly, but not contentedly, in Dublin, employing his pen on various subjects. Then the rage against England, which had been festering in his heart through all these years, burst out. A pamphlet appeared advocating strongly the use of Irish manufactures in Ireland ;-undoubtedly a laudable work, if we could forget that it sprang more from hatred to England

A.D.

286

A GREY-HAIRED MADMAN.

than love to Ireland. It took the fancy of the Irish people, -a fancy which was kindled into flames of enthusiastic admiration, when the same pen produced in a Dublin newspaper a series of Letters signed M. B. Drapier, in which the Irish were warned

against exchanging their gold and silver for the bad half1724 pence and farthings of Wolverhampton Wood, who had A.D. obtained a patent empowering him to coin £180,000

worth of copper for circulation in Ireland. No one would take the bad money; all attempts to bring the writer to trial were unsuccessful, though everybody knew that the Drapier and the Dean were the same man. Swift became the idol of the nation, possessed of unbounded influence over the rabble. “If,” said he to an archbishop who blamed him for kindling a riotous flame, “if I had lifted up my finger, they would have torn you to pieces."

Who has not read Gulliver's Travels ? and what young reader has not been startled to learn, when its fascinating pages were devoured, that it is a great political and social satire, filled with the mad freaks of a furious, fantastic, and cankered genius. Greatness and wisdom mark every page of the wonderful fiction ; but

such greatness and wisdom are often the attributes of a 1726 fiend. The dwarfs of Lilliput, the giants of Brobdignag,

the philosophers of Laputa, the magicians of Glubbdubdrib,

afford much amusement, although we can never get entirely rid of the harsh and iron laugh of the narrator, whose mockery chills us as we read. Of the last voyage we may shortly say, that none but a bad man could have imagined its events, and none but impure minds can enjoy such revolting pictures. Hatred of men has

never, in any age or land, so polluted the current of a literature as when Swift committed to paper his foul and monstrous conception of the Yahoo. The strange, wild book, published anonymously in 1726, had great success, and was read by high and low.

Long ago, sitting over his books on a garden-seat at Moor Park, he had caught a giddiness and deafness, which afflicted him at intervals through all his life. The attacks became more frequent

A.D.

SPECIMEN OF SWIFT'S PROSE.

287

after Stella's death. His temper, always sullen, grew ferocious. Yet he continued to write until 1736. Avarice and his savage moods thinned the circle of his visitors by quick degrees; and, when deafness shut him out from the world of human talk, his mind, flung in upon itself, darkened into madness.

What a terrific picture ! the lonely grey-haired lunatic hurrying for ten hours a day up and down his gloomy chamber, as if it were a cage and he a chained wild beast; never sitting even to eat, but devouring, as he walked, the plateful of cut meat which his keeper left for him at meal-time. Such were Swift's last sad days. Stella was well avenged. After three years of almost total silence, he died in October 1745. A pile of black marble marks his burial-place in St. Patrick's; but a more striking monument of the wrecked and wretched genius stands in one of Dublin streets-Swift's Hospital for idiots and incurable madmen, for the building and endowment of which he bequeathed nearly all his fortune.

Swift's fame rests on his pure and powerful prose. He seems to have hated foreign words as he hated men, and has given us such nervous, bare, unadorned, genuine English, as we get from no other pen. But he wrote verses too-coarse, strong, and graphic. Morning, The City Shower, a Rhapsody on Poetry, and Verses on my Own Death are amongst his best poetic compositions.

GULLIVER'S BOATING IN BROBDIGNAG.

The queen, who often used to hear me talk of my sea-voyages, and took all occasions to divert me when I was melancholy, asked me whether I understood how to handle a sail or an oar, and whether a little exercise of rowing might not be convenient for my health. I answered, that I understood both very well; for although my proper employment had been to be surgeon or doctor to the ship, yet often upon a pinch I was forced to work like a common mariner. But I could not see how this could be done in their country, where the smallest wherry was equal to a first-rate man-of-war among us, and such a boat as I could manage would never live in any of their rivers. Her majesty said, if I would contrive a boat, her own joiner should make it, and she would provide a place for me to sail in. The fellow was an ingenious workman, and, by my instructions, in ten days finished a pleasure-boat, with all its tackling, able conveniently to hold eight Europeans. When it was finished, the queen was so delighted, that she ran with it in her lap to the king, who ordered it to be put in a cistern full of water with me in it by way of trial; where I could not manage my two sculls,

288

SPECIMEN OF SWIFT'S PROSE.

or little oars, for want of room. But the queen had before contrived another project. She ordered the joiner to make a wooden trough of three hundred feet long, fifty broad, and eight deep, which being well pitched, to prevent leaking, was placed on the floor along the wall in an outer room of the palace. It had a cock near the bottom to let out the water, when it began to grow stale ; and two servants could easily fill it in half an hour, Here I often used to row for my own diversion, as well as that of the queen and her ladies, who thought themselves well entertained with my skill and agility. Sometimes I would put up my sail, and then my business was only to steer, while the ladies gave me a gale with their fans; and when they were weary, some of the pages would blow my sail forward with their breath, while I showed my art by steering starboard or larboard, as I pleased. When I had done, Glumdalclitch always carried back my boat into her closet, and hung it on a nail to dry.

« ElőzőTovább »