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But the infirmities of Templc made a companion like Swift 80 necessary, that he invited him back, with a promise to procure him English preferment in exchange for the prebend, which he desired him to resign. With this request Swift quickly complied, having perhaps equally repented their separation, and they lived on together with mutual satisfaction; and, in the four years that passed between his return and Temple’s death, it is probable that he wrote the “Tale of a Tub" and the “Battle of the Books."
Swift began early to think, or to hope, that he was a poet, and wrote Pindaric odes to Temple, to the King, and to the Athenian Society, a knot of obscure men, who published a periodical pamphlet of answers to questions, sent, or supposed to be sent, by letters. I have been told that Dryden, having perused these verses, said, “Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet; " and that this denunciation was the motive of Swift's perpetual malevolence to Dryden.
In 1699. Temple died, and left a legacy with his manuscripts to Swift, for whom he had obtained, from King William, a promise of the first prebend that should be vacant at Westminster or Canterbury.
That this promise might not be forgotten, Swift dedicated to the King the posthumous works with which he was intrusted: but neither the dedication, nor tenderness for the man whom he once had treated with confidence and fondness, revived in King William the remembrance of his promise. Swift awhile attended the court: but soon found his solicitations hopeless.
He was then invited by the Earl of Berkeley to accompany him into Ireland, as a private secretary; but, after having done the business till their arrival at Dublin, he then found that one Bush had persuaded the Earl that a clergyman was not a proper secretary, and had obtained the office for himself. In a man like Swift, such circumvention and inconstancy must have excited violent indignation.
But he had yet more to suffer. Lord Berkeley had the disposal of the deanery of Derry, and Swift expected to obtain it; but, by the secretary's influence, supposed to have been secured by a bribe, it was bestowed on somebody else; and Swift was dismissed with the livings of Laracor and Rathbeggin in the diocese of Meath, which together did not equal half the value of the deanery.
At Laracor he increased the parochial duty by reading prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and performed all the offices of his profession with great decency and exactness.
Soon after his settlement at Laracor, he invited to Ireland the unfortunate Stella, a young woman whose name was Johnson, the daughter of the steward of Sir William Temple, who, in consideration of her father's virtues, left her a thousand pounds. With her came Mrs. Dingley, whose whole fortune was twenty-seven pounds a year for her life. With these ladies he passed his hours of relaxation, and to them he opened his bosom: but they never resided in the same house, nor did he see either without a witness. They lived at the Parsonage, when Swift was away; and, when he returned, removed to a lodging, or to the house of a neighbouring clergyman.
Swift was not one of those minds which amaze the world with early pregnancy: his first work, except his few poetical essays, was the “Dissentions in Athens and Rome," published (1701) in his thirty-fourth year. After its appearance, paying à visit to some bishop, he heard mention made of the new pamphlet that Burnet' had written, replete with political knowledge. When he seemed to doubt Burnet's right to the work, he was told by the Bishop, that he was "a young man;" and, still persisting to doubt, that he was “a very positive young man.
Three years afterwards (1704) was published "The Tale of a Tub:” of this book charity may be persuaded to think that it might be written by a man of a peculiar character without ill intention; but it is certainly of dangerous example. That Swift was its author, though it be universally believed, was never owned by himself, nor very well proved by any evidence; but no other claimant can be produced, and he did not deny it when Archbishop Sharpe and the Duchess of Somerset, by shewing it to the Queen, debarred him from a bishoprick.
When this wild work first raised the attention of the public, Sacheverell, meeting Smalridge, tried to flatter him, by seeming to think him the author; but Smalridge answered with indignation, “Not all that you and I have in the world, nor all that ever we shall have, should hire me to write the "Tale of a Tub.'
The digressions relating to Wotton and Bentley must be confessed to discover want of knowledge or want of integrity;
he did not understand the two controversies, or he willingly misrepresented them. But wit can stand its ground against truth only a little while. The honours due to learning have been justly distributed by the decision of posterity.
"The Battle of the Books" is so like the “Combat des Livres," which the same question concerning the ancients and moderns had produced in France, that the improbability of such a coincidence of thoughts without communication is not, in my opinion, balanced by the anonymous protestation prefixed, in which all knowledge of the French book is peremptorily disowned.
For some time after, Swift was probably employed in solitary study, gaining the qualifications requisite for future eminence. How often he visited England, and with what diligence he attended his parishes, I know not. It was not till about four years afterwards that he became a professed author; and then one year (1708) produced “The Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man;" the ridicule of Astrology under the name of “Bickerstaff;" the “Argument against abolishing Christianity;" and the Defence of the “Sacramental Test."
"The Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man" is written with great coolness, moderation, ease, and perspicuity. The “Argument against abolishing Christianity” is a very happy and judicious irony. One passage in it deserves to be selected:
"If Christianity were once abolished, how could the freethinkers, the strong reasoners, and the men of profound learn, ing, be able to find another subject so calculated, in all points, whereon to display their abilities? What wonderful productions of wit should we be deprived of from those, whose genius, by continual practice, hath been wholly turned upon raillery and invectives against religion, and would therefore never be able to shine, or distinguish themselves, upon any other subject? We are daily complaining of the great decline of wit among us, and would take away the greatest, perhaps the only, topic we have left. Who would ever have suspected Asgill for a wit, or Toland for a philosopher, if the inexhaustible stock of Christianity had not been at hand to provide them with materials? What other subject, through all art or nature, could have produced Tindal for a profound author, or furnished him with readers? It is the wise choice of the sub
ject that alone adorns and distinguishes the writer. For had a hundred such pens as these been employed on the side of religion, they would have immediately bunk into silence and oblivion.”
The reasonableness of a Test is not hard to be proved; but, perhaps it must be allowed, that the proper test has not been chosen. The attention paid to the papers published under the
name of "Bickerstaff," induced Steele, when he projected "The Tatler,” to assume an appellation which had already gained possession of the reader's notice.
In the year following he wrote a "Project for the Advancement of Religion," addressed to Lady Berkeley; by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was advanced to his benefices. To this project, which is formed with great purity of intention, and displayed with sprightliness and elegance, it can only be objected, that, like many projects, it is, if not generally impracticable, yet evidently hopeless, as it supposes more zeal, concord, and perseverance, thân a view of mankind gives reason for expecting.
He wrote likewise this year “A Vindication of Bickerstaff;” and an explanation of “An Ancient Prophecy," part written after the facts, and the rest never completed, but well planned to excite amazement.
Soon after began the busy and important part of Swift's life. He was employed (1710) by the Primate of Ireland to solicit the Queen for å remission of the first-fruits and twentieth parts to the Irish clergy. With this purpose he had recourse to Mr. Harley, to whom he was mentioned as a man neglected and oppressed by the last ministry, because he had refused to co-operate with some of their schemes. What he had refused has never been told; what he had suffered was,
suppose, the exclusion from a bishoprick by the remonstrances of Sharpe, whom he describes as “the harmless tool of others' hate," and whom he represents as afterwards “suing for pardon.”
Harley's designs and situation were such as made him glad of an auxiliary so well qualified for his service; he thero fore soon admitted him to familiarity, whether ever to confidence some have made a doubt; but it would have been difficult to excite his zeal without persuading him that he was trusted, and not very easy to delude him by false persuasions.
He was certainly admitted to those meetings in which the
first hints and original plan of action are supposed to have been formed; and was one of the sixteen ministers, or agents of the ministry, who met weekly at each other's houses, and were united by the name of “Brothers.”
Being not immediately considered as an obdurate tory, he conversed indiscriminately with all the wits, and was yet the friend of Steele; who, in the "Tatler," which began in April, 1709, confesses the advantage of his conversation, and mentions something contributed by him to his paper. But he was now immerging, into political controversy; for the year 1710 produced "The Examiner," of which Swift wrote thirty-three papers. In argument he may be allowed to have the advantage; for where a wide system of conduct, and the whole of a public character, is laid open to inquiry, the accuser having the choice of facts, must be very unskilful if he does not prevail; but, with regard to wit, I am afraid none of Swift's papers will be found equal to those by which Addison opposed him.
He wrote in the year 1711, a "Letter to the October Club,” a number of tory gentlemen sent from the country to parliament, who formed themselves into a club, to the number of about a hundred, and met to animate the zeal, and raise the expectations, of each other. They thought, with great reason, that the ministers were losing opportunities; that sufficient use was not made of the ardour of the nation; they called loudly for more changes and stronger efforts; and demanded the punishment of part, and the dismission of the rest, of those whom they considered as public robbers.
Their eagerness was not gratified by the Queen, or by Harley. The Queen was probably slow because she was afraid; and Harley was slow, because he was doubtful; he was a tory only by necessity, or for convenience; and, when he had power in his hands, had no settled purpose for which he should employ it; forced to gratify to a certain degree the tories who supported him, but unwilling to make his reconcilement to the whigs utterly desperate, he corresponded at once with the two expectants of the Crown, and kept, as has been observed, the succession undetermined. Not knowing what to do, he did nothing; and, with the fate of a double dealer, at last he lost his power, but kept his enemies.
Swift seems to have concurred in opinion with the “October Club;" but it was not in his power to quicken the tardiness of