« VorigeDoorgaan »
sions, 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 passed 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 bad 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 when 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 fifty-nine the pupil of turpitude, and liable to the malignant 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; bis 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 humorous as well as his serious schemes for the promotion of true religion and virtue; his success in soliciting for the first-fruits and twentieths, to the unspeakable benefit of the established church of Ireland: and his felicity (to rate it no higher) in giving occasion to the building of fifty new churches
in London “All this considered, the character of his life will appear
like that of his writings: they will both bear to be re-considered and re-examined with the utmost attention, and always discover new beauties and excellences upon every examination.
"They will bear to be considered as the sun in which the brightness will hide the blemishes; and whenever petulant ignorance, pride, malice, malignity, or envy, interposes to cloud or sully his fame, I take upon me to pronounce, that the eclipse will not last long:
TiTo conclude No man ever deserved better of any country than Swift did of his; a steady, persevering, inflexible friend; a wise, a watchful, and a faithful counsellor; under many severe trials and bitter persecutions, to the manifest hazard both of his liberty and fortune.
"He lived a blessing, he died a benefactor, and his name will ever live an honour, to Ireland.”
In the poetical works of Dr. Swift there is not much upon which the critic can exercise his powers. They are often humorous, almost always light, and have the qualities which recommend such compositions, easiness and gaiety. They are, for the most part, what their author intended. The diction is correct, the numbers are smooth, and the rhymes exact. There seldom occurs a hard-laboured expression or a redundant epithet; all his verses exemplify his own definition of a good style, they consist of proper words in proper places."
To divide this collection into classes, and shew how some pieces are gross and some are trifling, would be to tell the reader what he knows already, and to find faults of which the author could not be ignorant, who certainly wrote often not to his judgment, but his humour.
It was said, in a preface to one of the Irish editions, that Swift had never been known to take a single thought from any writer, ancient or modern. This is not literally true; but perhaps no writer can easily be found that has borrowed so little, or that in all his excellences and all his defects has so well maintained his claim to be considered as original.
BROOME. WILLIAM BROOME was born in Cheshire, as is said, of very mean parents. Of the place of his birth or the first part of his life, I have not been able to gain any intelligence. He was educated upon the foundation at Eton, and was captain of the school a whole year, without any vacancy by which he might have obtained a scholarship at King's College: being by this delay, such as is said to have happened very rarely, superannuated, he was sent to St. John's College by the contributions of his friends, where he obtained a small exhibition.
At this college he lived for some time in the same chamber with the well-known Ford, by whom I have formerly heard him described as a contracted scholar and a mere versifier, unacquainted with life and unskilful in conversation. His addiction to metre was then such, that his companions familiarly called him Poet. When he had opportunities of mingling with mankind, he cleared himself, as Ford likewise owned, from the great part of his scholastic rust.
He appeared early in the world as a translator of the “Iliad” into prose, in conjunction with Ozell and Oldisworth. How the several parts were distributed is not known. This is the translation of which Ozell boasted as superior, in Toland's opinion, to that of Pope: it has long since vanished, and is now in no danger from the critics.
He was introduced to Mr. Pope, who was then visiting Sir John Cotton at Madingley near Cambridge, and gained so much of his esteem, that he was employed, I believe, to make extracts from Eustathius for the notes to the translation of the “Iliad;", and in the volumes of poetry published by Lintot, commonly called "Pope's Miscellanies, many of his early pieces were inserted.
Pope and Broome were to be yet more closely connected. When the success of the “Iliad” gave encouragement to a version of the “Odyssey," Pope, weary of the toil, called Fenton and Broome to his assistance; and, taking only half the work upon himself, divided the other half between his
partners, giving four books to Fenton and eight to Broome. Fenton's books I have enumerated in his life; to the lot of Broome fell the second, sixth, eighth, eleventh, twelfth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-third, together with the burthen of writing all the notes.
Aš this translation is a very important event in poetical Johnson's Lives. II.
history, the reader has a right to know upon what grounds I establish my narration. That the version was not wholly Pope's was always known; he had mentioned the assistance of two friends in his proposals, and at the end of the work some account is given by Broome of their different parts, which however mentions only five books as written by the coadjutors; the fourth and twentieth by Fenton; the sixth, the eleventh, and the eighteenth, by himself; though Pope, in an advertisement prefixed afterwards to a new volume of his works, claimed only twelve. A natural curiosity after the real conduct of so great an undertaking incited me once to inquire of Dr. Warburton, who told me, in his warm language, that he thought the relation given in the note "a lie;" but that he was not able to ascertain the several shares. The intelligence which Dr. Warburton could not afford me I obtained from Mr. Langton, to whom Mr. Spence had imparted it.
The price at which Pore purchased this assistance was three hundred pounds paid to Fenton, and five hundred to Broome, with as many copies as he wanted for his friends, which amounted to one hundred more. The payment made to Fenton I know not but by hearsay; Broome's is very distinctly told by Pope, in the notes to the "Dunciad."
It is evident, that, according to Pope's own estimate, Broome was unkindly treated. If four books could merit three hundred pounds, eight and all the notes, equivalent at least to four, had certainly a right to more than six.
Broome probably considered himself as injured, and there was for some time more than coldness between him and his employer. He always spoke of Pope as too much a lover of money; and Pope pursued him with avowed hostility; for he not only named him disrespectfully in the Dunciad," but quoted him more than once in the Bathos," as a proficient in the "Art of Sinking;” and in his enumeration of the different kinds of poets distinguished for the profound, he reckons Broome among “the parrots who repeat another's words in such a hoarse odd tone as makes them seem their own.' I have been told that they were afterwards reconciled; but I am afraid their peace was without friendship.
He afterwards published a Miscellany of Poems, which is inserted, with corrections, in the late compilation.
He never rose to a very high dignity in the church. He was some time rector of Sturston in Suffolk, where he married