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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.
“ Dr. Swift has an odd, blunt way, that is mistaken 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 all 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 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, we had rather talk with you than drink with you.'—
• But, if you had supped with me, as in all reason you ought to have done, you must then have drunk with me.-- A bottle of wine, two shillings—two and two is four, and one is five : just two and six-pence apiece. 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 determined.'—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, an 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 ánother'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, with Arbuthnot and Gay, had engrossed all the understanding and virtue of mankind; that their merits filled the world ; or that there was no hope of more. They shew the age involved in darkness, and shade the picture with sullen emulation.
When the queen’s death drove him into Ireland, he might be allowed to regret for a time the interception of his views, the extinction of his hopes, and his ejection from gay scenes, important employment, and splendid friendships ; but when time had enabled reason to prevail over vexation, the complaints which at first were natural, became ridiculous because they were useless. But querulousness was now grown habitual, and he cried out when he probably had ceased to feel. His reiterated wailings persuaded Bolingbroke that he was really willing to quit his deanery for an English parish; and Bolingbroke procured an exchange, which was rejected; and Swift still retained the pleasure of complaining.
The greatest difficulty that occurs, in analysing his character, is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took delight in revolving ideas, from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust. The ideas of pleasure, even whien criminal, may solicit the imagination ; but what has disease, deformity, and filth, upon which the thoughts can be allured to dwell ? Delany is willing to think that Swift's mind was not much tainted with this gross corruption before his long visit to Pope. He does not consider how he degrades his hero, by making him at fiftynine the pupil of turpitude, and liable to the malig
nant influence of an ascendant mind. But the truth is that Gulliver had described his Yahoos before the visit ; and he that had formed those images had nothing filthy to learn.
I have here given the character of Swift as he exhibits himself to my perception; but now let another · be heard who knew him better. Dr. Delany, after
long acquaintance, describes him to Lord Orrery in these terms :
“ My Lord, when you consider Swift's singular, peculiar, and most variegated vein of wit, always intended rightly, although not always so rightly directed ; delightful in many instances, and salutary even where it is most offensive: when you consider his strict truth, his fortitude in resisting oppression and arbitrary power; his fidelity in friendship; his sincere love and zeal for religion ; his uprightness in making right resolutions, and his steadiness in adhering to them; his care of his church, its choir, its economy, and its income; his attention to all those that preached in his cathedral, in order to their amendment in pronunciation and style; as also his remarkable attention to the interest of his successors, preferably to his own present emoluments; his invincible patriotism, even to a country which he did not love; his very various, well-devised, well-judged, and extensive charities, throughout his life; and his whole fortune (to say nothing of his wife's) conveyed to the same Christian purposes at his death; charities, from which he could enjoy no honour, advantage, or satisfaction of any kind in this world; when you consider his ironical and