Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors][merged small]

J oxarh AN Swift, a person who has carried one species of poetry, that of humorous satire, to a degree never before attained, was, by his parentage, ef English descent, but probably born in Ireland. It is known that his father, also called Jonathan, having married a Leicestershire lady, died at an early age, leaving a daughter, and a posthumous son. His widow, being left in narrow circumstances, was invited by her husband's brother, Godwin, who resided in Dublin, to his house; and there, it is supposed, Jonathan was born, on November 30th, 1667. After passing some time at a school in Kilkenny, he was removed to Trinity College, Dublin, in his 15th year; in which university he spent seven years, and then obtained with difficulty the degree of bachelor of arts, conferred speciali gratia. The circumstance affords sufficient proof of the misapplication of his talents to mathematical pursuits; but he is said to have been at this period engaged eight hours a day in more congenial studies. So profuse are the materials for the life of Swift, that it has become almost a vain attempt to give, in a moderate compass, the events by which he was distinguished from ordinary mortals; and it will therefore be chiefly in his character of a poetical composer that we shall now consider him. He was early domesticated with the celebrated statesman, Sir William Temple, who now lived in retirement at Moor Park; but having made choice of the church as his future destination, on parting in some disagreement from Temple, he went to Ireland, with very moderate expectations, and took orders. A reconciliation with his patron brought him back to Moor Park, where he passed his time in harmony till the death of Sir William, who left him a legacy and his papers. He then accepted an invitation from the Earl of Berkeley, one of the Lords Justices of Ireland, to accompany him thither as chaplain and private secretary; and he continued in the family as long as his lordship remained in that kingdom. Here Swift began to distinguish himself by an incomparable talent of writing humorous verses in the true familiar style, several specimens of which he produced for the amusement of the house. After Lord Berkeley's return to England, Swift went to reside at his living at Laracor, in the diocese of Meath; and here it was that ambition began to take possession of his mind. He thought it proper to increase his consequence by taking the degree of doctor of divinity in an English university; and, for the purpose of forming connections, he paid annual visits to that country. In 1701, he first engaged as a political writer; and, in 1704, he published, though anonymously, his celebrated “Tale of a Tub,” which, while it placed him high as a writer distinguished by wit and humour of a peculiar cast,

brought him under the heavy imputation, from which he was never able entirely to free himself, of being a scoffer against revealed religion. His prospects of advancement in the political career were abortive, till 1710, when the Tories came into power. His connection with this party began in an acquaintance with Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, who introduced him to secretary St. John, afterwards Lord Bolingbroke; and he engaged the confidence of these leaders to such a degree, that he was admitted to their most secret consultations. In all his transactions with them he was most scrupulously attentive to preserve every appearance of being on an equality, and to repress every thing that looked like slight or neglect on their parts; and there probably is not another example of a man of letters who has held his head so high in his association with men in power. This was undoubtedly owing to that constitutional pride and unsubmitting nature which governed all his actions. A bishopric in England was the object at which he aimed, and a vacancy on the bench occurring, he was recommended by his friends in the ministry to the Queen ; but suspicions of his faith, and other prejudices, being raised against him, he was passed over ; and the highest preferment which his patrons could venture to bestow upon him was the deanery of St. Patrick's, in Dublin; to which he was presented in 1713, and in which he continued for life. The death of the Queen put an end to all contests among the Tory ministers; and the change terminated Swift's prospects, and condemned him to an unwilling residence in a country which he always disliked. On his return to Dublin his temper was severely tried by the triumph of the Whigs, who treated him with great indignity; but in length of time, by a proper exercise of his clerical office, by reforms introduced into the chapter of St. Patrick's, and by his bold and able exposures of the abuses practised in the government of Ireland, he rose to the title of King of the Mob in that capital. His conduct with respect to the female sex was not less unaccountable than singular, and certainly does no honour to his memory. Early in life he attached himself to his celebrated Stella, whose real name was Johnson, the daughter of Sir William Temple's steward. Soon after his settlement at Laracor he invited her to Ireland. She came, accompanied by a Mrs. Dingley, and resided near the parsonage when he was at home, and in it when he was absent; nor were they ever known to lodge in the same house, or to see each other without a witness. In 1716, he was privately married to her, but the parties were brought no nearer than before, and the act was attended with no acknowledgment that could gratify the feelings of a woman who had so long devoted herself to him. About the year 1712, he became acquainted, in London, with Miss Esther Vanhomrigh, a young lady of fortune, with a taste for literature, which Swift was fond of cultivating. To her he wrote the longest and most finished of his poems, entitled Cadenus and Vanessa; and her attachment acquired so much strength, that she made him the offer of her hand. Even after his marriage to Stella, Swift kept Miss Vanhomrigh in ignorance of this connection; but a report of it having at length reached her, she took the step of writing a note to Stella, requesting to know if the marriage were real. Stella assured her of the affirmative in her answer, which she enclosed to Swift, and went into the country without seeing him. Swift went immediately to the house of Miss Vanhomrigh, threw Stella's letter on the table, and departed, without speaking a word. She never recovered the shock, and died in 1723. Stella, with her health entirely ruined, languished on till 1728, when she expired. Such was the fate which he prepared for both. Of the poems of Swift, some of the most striking were composed in mature life, after his attainment of his deanery of St. Patrick; and it will be admitted that no one ever gave a more perfect example of the easy familiarity attainable in the English language. His readiness in rhyme is truly astonishing ; the most uncommon associations of sounds coming to him as it were spontaneously, in words seemingly the best adapted to the occasion. That he was capable of high polish and elegance, some of his works sufficiently prove; but the

[blocks in formation]

humorous and sarcastic was his habitual taste, which he frequently indulged beyond the bounds of decorum; a circumstance which renders the task of selection from his works somewhat perplexing. In wit, both in verse and prose, he stands foremost in grave irony, maintained with the most plausible air of serious simplicity, and supported by great minuteness of detail. His “ Gulliver's Travels" are a remarkable exemplification of his powers in this kind, which have rendered the work wonderfully amusing, even to childish readers, whilst the keen satire with which it abounds may gratify the most splenetic misanthropist. In general, however, his style in prose, though held up as a model of clearness, purity, and simplicity, has only the merit of expressing the author's meaning with perfect precision.

Late in life, Swift fell under the fate which he dreaded: the faculties of his mind decayed before those of his body, and he gradually settled into absolute idiocy. A total silence for some months preceded his decease, which took place in October, 1744, when he was in his 78th year. He was interred in St. Patrick's cathedral, under a monument, for which he wrote a Latin epitaph, in which one clause most energetically displays the state of his feelings: — “Ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit.” He bequeathed the greatest part of his property to an hospital for lunatics and idiots,

To show, by one satiric touch,
No nation wanted it so much.

Against our sovereign lady's peace,
Against the statute in that case,
Against her dignity and crown :
Then pray'd an answer, and sat down.
The nymphs with scorn beheld their foes:
When the defendant's counsel rose,
And, what no lawyer ever lack'd,
With impudence own’d all the fact;
But, what the gentlest heart would vex,
Laid all the fault on t'other sex.
That modern love is no such thing
As what those ancient poets sing;
A fire celestial, chaste, refin'd,
Conceiv'd and kindled in the mind;
Which, having found an equal flame,
Unites, and both become the same,
In different breasts together burn,
Together both to ashes turn.
But women now feel no such fire,
And only know the gross desire.
Their passions move in lower spheres,
Where'er caprice or folly steers.
A dog, a parrot, or an ape,
Or some worse brute in human shape,
Ingross the fancies of the fair,
The few soft moments they can spare,

From visits to receive and pay; From scandal, politics, and play; From fans, and flounces, and brocades, From equipage and park-parades, From all the thousand female toys, From every trifle that employs The out or inside of their heads, Between their toilets and their beds. In a dull stream, which moving slow, You hardly see the current flow; If a small breeze obstruct the course, It whirls about, for want of force, And in its narrow circle gathers Nothing but chaff, and straws, and feathers. The current of a female mind Stops thus, and turns with every wind; Thus whirling round together draws Fools, fops, and rakes, for chaff and straws. Hence we conclude, no women's hearts Are won by virtue, wit, and parts: Nor are the men of sense to blame, For breasts incapable of flame; The fault must on the nymphs be plac'd, Grown so corrupted in their taste. The pleader, having spoke his best, Had witness ready to attest, Who fairly could on oath depose, When questions on the fact arose, That every article was true; Nor further these deponents knew : Therefore he humbly would insist, The bill might be with costs dismiss'd. The cause appear'd of so much weight, That Venus, from her judgment-seat, Desir'd them not to talk so loud, Else she must interpose a cloud: For, if the heavenly folk should know These pleadings in the courts below, That mortals here disdain to love, She ne'er could show her face above; For gods, their betters, are too wise To value that which men despise. “And then,” said she, “my son and I Must stroll in air, 'twixt land and sky; Or else, shut out from heaven and earth, Fly to the sea, my place of birth; There live, with daggled mermaids pent, And keep on fish perpetual Lent.” But, since the case appear'd so nice, She thought it best to take advice. The Muses, by their king's permission, Though foes to love, attend the session, And on the right hand took their places In order; on the left, the Graces: To whom she might her doubts propose On all emergencies that rose. The Muses oft' were seen to frown; The Graces half-asham'd look down; And 'twas observ'd there were but few Of either sex among the crew, Whom she or her assessors knew. The goddess soon began to see, Things were not ripe for a decree; And said she must consult her books, The lovers' Fletas, Bractons, Cokes. First to a dapper clerk she beckon'd, To turn to Ovid, book the second; She then referr'd them to a place In Virgil (vide Dido's case:) As for Tibullus's reports, They never pass'd for law in courts:

For Cowley's briefs, and pleas of Waller,
Still their authority was smaller.
There was on both sides much to say:
She 'd hear the cause another day.
And so she did; and then a third
She heard it—there, she kept her word:
But, with rejoinders or replies,
Long bills, and answers stuff'd with lies,
Demur, imparlance, and essoign,
The parties ne'er could issue join :
For sixteen years the cause was spun,
And then stood where it first begun.
Now, gentle Clio, sing or say,
What Venus meant by this delay.
The goddess, much perplex'd in mind
To see her empire thus declin'd,
When first this grand debate arose,
Above her wisdom to compose,
Conceiv'd a project in her head
To work her ends; which, if it sped,
Would show the merits of the cause
Far better than consulting laws.
In a glad hour Lucina's aid
Produc’d on Earth a wondrous maid,
On whom the queen of love was bent
To try a new experiment.
She threw her law-books on the shelf,
And thus debated with herself.
“Since men allege, they ne'er can find
Those beauties in a female mind,
Which raise a flame that will endure
For ever uncorrupt and pure;
If 'tis with reason they complain,
This infant shall restore my reign.
I'll search where eyery virtue dwells,
From courts inclusive down to cells:
What preachers talk, or sages write;
These I will gather and unite,
And represent them to mankind
Collected in that infant's mind.”
This said, she plucks in Heaven's high bowers
A Sprig of amaranthine flowers,
In nectar thrice infuses bays,
Three times refin'd in Titan's rays;
Then calls the Graces to her aid,
And sprinkles thrice the new-born maid:

From whence the tender skin assumes

A sweetness above all perfumes:
From whence a cleanliness remains
Incapable of outward stains:
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;
Where never blush was call'd in aid,
That spurious virtue in a maid,
A virtue but at second-hand;
They blush because they understand.
The Graces next would act their part,
And show'd but little of their art;
Their work was half already done,
The child with native beauty shone;
The outward form no help requir'd :
Each, breathing on her thrice, inspir'd
That gentle, soft, engaging air,
Which in old times adorn'd the fair:
And said, “Vanessa be the name
By which thou shalt be known to fame;
Vanessa, by the gods inroll'd :
Her name on Earth shall not be told."
C c 4

But still the work was not complete; When Venus thought on a deceit, Drawn by her doves, away she flies, And finds out Pallas in the skies. “Dear Pallas, I have been this morn To see a lovely infant born; A boy in yonder isle below, So like my own without his bow, By beauty could your heart be won, You 'd swear it is Apollo's son: But it shall ne'er be said a child So hopeful has by me been spoil'd; I have enough besides to spare, And give him wholly to your care.” Wisdom 's above suspecting wiles: The queen of learning gravely smiles, Down from Olympus comes with joy, Mistakes Vanessa for a boy; Then sows within her tender mind Seeds long unknown to woman-kind; For manly bosoms chiefly fit, The seeds of knowledge, judgment, wit. Her soul was suddenly endued With justice, truth, and fortitude; With honour, which no breath can stain, Which malice must attack in vain; With open heart and bounteous hand. But Pallas here was at a stand ; She knew, in our degenerate days, Bare virtue could not live on praise; That meat must be with money bought: She therefore, upon second thought, Infus’d, yet as it were by stealth, Some small regard for state and wealth; Of which, as she grew up, there staid A tincture in the prudent maid : She manag'd her estate with care, Yet lik'd three footmen to her chair. But lest he should neglect his studies lake a young heir, the thrifty goddess (For fear young master should be spoil'd) Would use him like a younger child; And, after long computing, found 'Twould come to just five thousand pound. The queen of love was pleas'd, and proud, To see Vanessa thus endow'd : She doubted not but such a dame Through every breast would dart a flame; That every rich and lordly swain With pride would drag about her chain; That scholars would forsake their books, To study bright Vanessa's looks: As she advanc'd, that woman-kind Would by her model form their mind, And all their conduct would be try’d By her, as an unerring guide; Offending daughters oft' would hear Vanessa's praise rung in their ear: Miss Betty, when she does a fault, Lets fall her knife, or spills the salt, Will thus be by her mother chid, “'Tis what Vanessa never did :'' “Thus by the nymphs and swains ador'd, My power shall be again restor'd, And happy lovers bless my reign — ” So Venus hop'd, but hop'd in vain. For when in time the martial maid Found out the trick that Venus play'd, She shakes her helm, she knits her brows, And, fir'd with indignation, vows,

To-morrow, ere the setting sun,
She 'd all undo that she had done.
But in the poets we may find
A wholesome law, time out of mind,
Had been confirm'd by fate's decree,
That gods, of whatso'er degree,
Resume not what themselves have given,
Or any brother-god in Heaven;
Which keeps the peace among the gods,
Or they must always be at odds:
And Pallas, if she broke the laws,
Must yield her foe the stronger cause;
A shame to one so much ador'd
For wisdom at Jove's council-board.
Besides, she fear'd the queen of love
Would meet with better friends above.
And though she must with grief reflect,
To see a mortal virgin deck'd
With graces hitherto unknown
To female breasts, except her own;
Yet she would act as best became
A goddess of unspotted fame.
She knew, by augury divine,
Venus would fail in her design :
She study'd well the point, and found
Her foe's conclusions were not sound,
From premises erroneous brought;
And therefore the deduction 's nought,
And must have contrary effects
To what her treacherous foe expects.
In proper season Pallas meets
The queen of love, whom thus she greets:
(For gods, we are by Homer told,
Can in celestial language scold :)
“Perfidious goddess! but in vain
You form'd this project in your brain;
A project for thy talents fit,
With much deceit and little wit.
Thou hast, as thou shalt quickly see,
Deceiv'd thyself, instead of me:
For how can heavenly wisdom prove
An instrument to earthly love?
Know'st thou not yet, that men commence
Thy votaries, for want of sense?
Nor shall Vanessa be the theme
To manage thy abortive scheme:
She'll prove the greatest of thy foes;
And yet I scorn to interpose,
But, using neither skill nor force,
Leave all things to their natural course."
The goddess thus pronounc'd her doom:
When lo! Vanessa in her bloom
Advanc'd, like Atalanta's star,
But rarely seen, and seen from far:
In a new world with caution stept,
Watch'd all the company she kept,
Well knowing, from the books she read,
What dangerous paths young virgins tread:
Would seldom at the park appear,
Nor saw the play-house twice a year;
Yet, not incurious, was inclin'd
To know the converse of mankind.
First issued from perfumers' shops,
A crowd of fashionable fops:
They ask'd her, how she lik'd the play?
Then told the tattle of the day;
A duel fought last night at two,
About a lady — you know who ;
Mention’d a new Italian come
Either from Muscovy or Rome;

Gave hints of who and who's together; Then fell a talking of the weather; Last night was so extremely fine, The ladies walk'd till after mine; Then, in soft voice and speech absurd, With nonsense every second word, With fustian from exploded plays, They celebrate her beauty's praise; Run o'er their cant of stupid lies, And tell the murders of her eyes. With silent scorn Vanessa sat, Scarce listening to their idle chat; Further than sometimes by a frown, When they grew pert, to pull them down. At last she spitefully was bent To try their wisdom's full extent; And said she valued nothing less Than titles, figure, shape, and dress; That merit should be chiefly plac'd In judgment, knowledge, wit, and taste; And these, she offer'd to dispute, Alone distinguish'd man from brute: That present times have no pretence To virtue, in the noble sense By Greeks and Romans understood, To perish for our country's good. She nam'd the ancient heroes round, Explain'd for what they were renown'd; Then spoke with censure or applause Of foreign customs, rites, and laws; Through nature and through art she rang'd, And gracefully her subject chang'd; In vain her hearers had no share In all she spoke, except to stare. Their judgment was, upon the whole, —“That lady is the dullest soul! – " Then tipt their forehead in a jeer, As who should say — “She wants it here! She may be handsome, young, and rich, But none will burn her for a witch 1” A party next of glittering dames, From round the purlieus of St. James, Came early, out of pure good-will, To see the girl in dishabille. Their clamour, 'lighting from their chairs, Grew louder all the way up stairs; At entrance loudest, where they found The room with volumes litter'd round. Vanessa held Montaigne, and read, Whilst Mrs. Susan comb'd her head. They called for tea and chocolate, And fell into their usual chat, Discoursing, with important face, On ribbons, fans, and gloves, and lace; Show'd patterns just from India brought, And gravely ask'd her what she thought, Whether the red or green were best, And what they cost? Vanessa guess'd, As came into her fancy first : Nam'd half the rates, and lik'd the worst. To scandal next—“What awkward thing Was that last Sunday in the ring? I'm sorry Mopsa breaks so fast; I said, her face would never last. Corinna, with that youthful air, Is thirty, and a bit to spare: Her fondness for a certain earl Began when I was but a girl Phyllis, who but a month ago Was marry'd to the Tunbridge-beau,

I saw coquetting t'other night
In public with that odious knight!”
They rally'd next Vanessa's dress:
“That gown was made for old queen Bess.
Dear madam, let me see your head:
Don't you intend to put on red?
A petticoat without a hoop!
Sure, you are not asham'd to stoop!
With handsome garters at your knees,
No matter what a fellow sees.”
Fill'd with disdain, with rage inflam'd,
Both of herself and sex asham'd,
The nymph stood silent out of spite,
Nor would vouchsafe to set them right.
Away the fair detractors went,

And gave by turns their censures vent.

She 's not so handsome in my eyes:
For wit, I wonder, where it lies 1
“She's fair and clean, and that 's the most :
But why proclaim her for a toast 2
A baby face: no life, no airs,
But what she learn'd at country-fairs:
Scarce knows what difference is between
Rich Flanders lace and colberteen.
I'll undertake, my little Nancy
In flounces hath a better fancy!
With all her wit, I would not ask
Her judgment, how to buy a mask.
We begg'd her but to patch her face,
She never hit one proper place;
Which every girl at five years old
Can do as soon as she is told.
I own, that out-of-fashion stuff
Becomes the creature well enough.
The girl might pass, if we could get her
To know the world a little better.”
(To know the world / a modern phrase,
For visits, ombre, balls, and plays.)
Thus, to the world's perpetual shame,
The queen of beauty lost her aim;
Too late with grief she understood,
Pallas had done more harm than good;
For great examples are but vain,
Where ignorance begets disdain.
Both sexes, arm'd with guilt and spite,
Against Vanessa's power unite :
To copy her few nymphs aspir'd;
Her virtues fewer swains admir’d.
So stars beyond a certain height
Give mortals neither heat nor light.
Yet some of either sex, endow'd
With gifts superior to the crowd,
With virtue, knowledge, taste, and wit,
She condescended to admit:
With pleasing arts she could reduce
Men's talents to their proper use:
And with address each genius held
To that wherein it most excell'd ;
Thus making others' wisdom known,
Could please them, and improve her own.
A modest youth said something new;
She plac'd it in the strongest view:
All humble worth she strove to raise;
Would not be prais'd, yet lov'd to praise.
The learned met with free approach,
Although they came not in a coach:
Some clergy too she would allow,
Nor quarrell'd at their awkward bow;
But this was for Cadenus' sake,
A gownman of a different make ;

« AnteriorContinuar »