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THE TALE OF A TUB."
The vicar of Laracor was on his road to forty. What wonder that even in Laracor the former should receive an offer of marriage, and that the latter, wayward and inconsistent from first to last, should deny another the happiness he had resolved never to enjoy himself ? Esther found a lover whom Swift repulsed, to the infinite joy of the devoted girl, whose fate was already linked for good or evil to that of her teacher and friend.
Obscurity and idleness were not for Swift. Love, that gradually consumed the unoccupied girl, was not even this man's recreation. Impatient of banishment, he went to London, and mixed with the wits of the age. Addison, Steele, and Arbuthnot became his friends, and he quickly proved himself worthy of their intimacy by the publication, in 1704, of his Tale of a Tub. The success of the work, given to the world anonymously, was decisive. Its singular merit obtained for its author everlasting renown, and effectually prevented his rising to the highest dignity in the very church which his book laboured to exalt. None but an inspired madman would have attempted to do honour to religion in a spirit which none but the infidel could heartily approve.
Politicians are not squeamish. The Whigs could see no fault in raillery and wit that might serve temporal interests with greater advantage than they had advanced interests ecclesiastical; and the friends of the Revolution welcomed so rare an adherent to their principles. With an affected ardour that subsequent events proved to be as premature as it was hollow, Swift's pen was put in harness for his allies, and worked vigorously enough until 1709, when, having assisted Steele in the establishment of the Tatler, the vicar of Laracor returned to Ireland and to the duties of a rural pastor. Not to remain, however! A change suddenly came over the spirit of the nation. Sacheverell was about to pull down by a single sermon all the popularity that Marlborough and his friends had built up by their glorious campaigns. Swift had waited in vain for promotion from the Whigs, and his suspicions were aroused when the Lord Lieutenant unexpectedly began to caress him. Escaping the damage which the marked attentions of the old government might do him with the new, Swift started for England in 1710, in order to survey the turning of the political wheel with his own eyes, and to try his fortune in the game. The progress of events was rapid. Swift reached London on the 9th of September; on the 1st of October he had already written a lampoon upon an ancient associate ! and on the 4th he was presented to Harley, the new minister.
The career of Swift from this moment, and so long as the government of Harley lasted, was magnificent and mighty. Had he not been crotchetty from his very boyhood, his head would have been turned now. Swift reigned. Swift was the government; Swift was Queen, Lords, and Commons. There was tremendous work to do, and Swift did it all. The Tories had thrown out the Whigs, and had brought in a government in their place quite as Whiggish to do Tory work. To moderate the wishes of the people, if not to blind their eyes, was the preliminary and essential work of the ministry. They could not perform it themselves. Swift undertook and accomplished it. He had intellect and courage enough for that, and
BITTER INVECTIVES AGAINST THE WHIGS.
more. Moreover, he had vehement passions to gratify, and they might all partake of the glory of his success; he was proud, and his pride revelled in authority; he was ambitious, and his ambition could attain no higher pitch than it found at the right hand of the prime minister; he was revengeful, and revenge could wish no sweeter gratification than the contortions of the great who had neglected genius and desert, when they looked to them for advancement, and obtained nothing but cold neglect.' Swift, single-handed, fought the Whigs. For seven months he conducted a periodical paper, in which he mercilessly assailed, as none but himself could attack, all who were odious to the government, and distasteful to himself; not an individual was spared whose sufferings could add to the tranquillity and permanence of the Government. Resistance was in vain; it was attempted, but invariably with one effect—the first wound grazed, the second killed,
The public were in ecstacies. The laughers were all on the side of the satirist, and how vast a portion of the community these are, needs not be said. But it was not in the Examiner alone that Swift offered up his victims at the shrine of universal mirth. He could write verses for the rough heart of a nation to chuckle over and delight in. Personalities to-day fly wide of the mark; then they went right home. The habits, the foibles, the moral and physical imperfections of humanity, were all fair game, provided the shaft were dipped with gall as well as venom. Short poems, longer pamphlets,—whatever could help the Government and cover their foes with ridicule and scorn, Swift poured upon the town with an industry and skill that set eulogy at defiance. And because they did defy praise, Jonathan Swift never asked and was ever too grand to accept it.
But he claimed much more. His disordered yet exquisite intellect acknowledged no superiority. He asked no thanks for his labour, he disdained pecuniary reward for his matchless and incalculable services—he did not care for fame, but he imperiously demanded to be treated by the greatest as an equal. Mr. Harley offered him money, and he quarrelled with the minister for his boldness. “ If we let these great ministers," he said, "pretend too much there will be no governing them.” The same minister desired to make Swift his chaplain. One mistake was as great as the other. “My Lord Oxford, by a second hand, proposed my being his chaplain, which I, by a second hand, refused. I will be no man's chaplain alive." The assumption of the man was more than regal. At a later period of his life he drew up a list of his friends, ranking them respectively under the heads, “ Ungrateful,” “Grateful,” “ Indifferent,” and “ Doubtful.” Pope appears among the grateful, Queen Caroline among the ungrateful. The audacity of these distinctions is very edifying. What autocrat is here for whose mere countenance the whole world is to bow down and be “grateful!"
It is due to Swift's imperiousness, however, to state that, once acknowledged as an equal, he was prepared to make every sacrifice that could be looked for in a friend. Concede his position, and for fortune or disgrace he was equally prepared. Harley and Bolingbroke, quick to discern the weakness, called
INFLUENCE WITH THE GOVERNMENT.
their invulnerable ally by his Christian name, but stopped short of conferring upon him any benefit whatever. The neglect made no difference to the haughty scribe, who contented himself with pulling down the barriers that had been impertinently set up to separate him from rank and worldly greatness. But, if Swift shrank from the treatment of a client, he performed no part so willingly as that of a patron. He took literature under his wing, and compelled the government to do it homage. He quarrelled with Steele when he deserted the Whigs, and pursued his former friend with unflinching sarcasm and banter, but at his request Steele was maintained by the government in an office of which he was about to be deprived. Congreve was a Whig, but Swift insisted that he should find honour at the hands of the Tories, and Harley honoured him accordingly. Swift introduced Gay to Lord Bolingbroke, and secured that nobleman's weighty patronage for the poet. Rowe was recommended for office, Pope for aid. The wellto-do, by Swift's personal interest, found respect, the indigent, money, for the mitigation of their pains. At Court, at Swift's instigation, the Lord Treasurer made the first advances to men of letters, and by the act made tacit confession of the power which Swift so liberally exercised for the advantage of everybody but himself. But what worldly distinction, in truth, could add to the importance of a personage who made it a point for a Duke to pay him the first visit, and who, on one occasion, publicly sent the Prime Minister into the House of Commons, to call out the First Secretary of State, whom Swift wished to inform that he would not dine with him if he meant to dine late?