Imágenes de páginas

it from the cloister of pedantry.” To turn to Dryden after reading the prose of the Elizabethans, is to turn from strained metaphors and Latinized sentence-structure to the direct and idiomatic English of today. “Dryden himself," writes Mr. Barrett Wendell, “had given English prose its most masterly, almost its final, form.” Good examples of his prose are to be found in the many prefaces to his poems and dramas, and in the familiar Essay on Dramatic Poesy.

Last Days. - Dryden was evidently a hard worker all his life, and his last years were no exception. His three sons, all of whom died within ten years after their father's death, held office in the service of the Pope at Rome. His wife lived to 1714, when she died, old and insane. Dryden himself died on the first of May, 1700, and was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Writes Saintsbury:


“It is astonishing when one comes to examine the matter, how vague and shadowy our personal knowledge of Dryden is. A handful of anecdotes, many of them undated and unauthenticated except at third and fourth hand, furnish us with almost all that we do know. That he was fond of fishing, and prided himself upon being a better fisherman than Durfey; that he took a great deal of snuff; and that he did not drink nuch until Addison, in the last years of his life, induced him to do so, almost exhausts the list of such traits which are recorded by others. His ' down look,' his plumpness, his fresh colour are points in which tradition are pretty well supported by the portraits which exist, and by such evidence as can be extracted from the libels against him. The famous picture of him at Will's, which every one repeats, and which Scott has made classical in the Pirate, is very likely true enough to fact, and there is no harm in thinking of Dryden in the great coffee-house, with his chair in the balcony in summer, and by the fire in winter, passing criticisms and paying good-natured compliments on matters literary. . . . Dryden, no doubt, was not austerely virtuous. . . . On the other hand, all trustworthy testimony concurs in praising his amiable and kindly disposition, his freedom from literary arrogance, and his willingness to encourage and assist youthful aspirants in literature. Mercilessly hard as he hit his antagonists, it must be remembered that he was rarely the first to strike.

we shall be safe in saying that, though he was assuredly no saint, there were not so many better men then living than John Dryden.

References Books: Works of Dryden. Ed. by SIR WALTER SCOTT, and revised and corrected

by SAINTSBURY. Poetical Works. Ed. by CHRISTIE. Globe edition of the poets.

Dryden (Lives of the Poets). JOHNSON.

Dryden and his Times. Liv. Age, vol. 45, p. 432.
Dryden and Scott. Evans. Liv. Age, vol. 186, p. 817.
Dryden. LOWELL. No. Amer., vol. 107, p. 186.



WIFT is one of the great figures of the eighteenth century, the

robust product of an age when beauty and romance were renounced in favor of reason and satire. He is a strange man, concerning whose character there is striking diversity of opinion. Taine calls him a "hangman,” Thackeray a “ Yahoo," and Macaulay condemns him as the “apostate politician, the ribald priest, the perjured lover." On the other hand, Carlyle thinks him "the greatest man of that time," and Addison, Swift's contemporary, praises him as “the most agreeable companion, the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age.”

It is easy to misjudge the motives and actions of our neighbor, and at this distance of time it is impossible to judge with fairness and accuracy so strange and contradictory a character as Swift; but we have his numerous writings, and by them he must be estimated. A man cannot escape putting himself into his work. From Swift's writings we gather that his sensitive soul burned with demoniac rage as he beheld a world of injustice. In his anger and disgust he lashed society with his clever wit and biting sarcasm. It is his misfortune that to this scorn of injustice, this hatred of sham, there was not added that sweet sympathy which loves and pities even while it scourges.

Birth.— Jonathan Swift, the father of the author, had gone to Ireland, along with four of his brothers, to retrieve the fortunes which had suffered in the downfall of the royalist's cause. The eldest brother, Godwin, prospered as a barrister in Dublin. Jonathan incurred the family displeasure by marrying Mistress Abigail Eric, the daughter of “a poor but ancient Leicestershire family.” He became Steward of the King's Inn, and in 1667, some months before the birth of his great son, Jonathan Swift,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

he died. Jonathan was born in a house in Hoey's Court, Dublin, on November 30, 1667.

Swift has supplied us with a fragment of an autobiography from which we learn that his infancy was passed in England. He writes in the third person:

“When he was a year old, his nurse, who was a woman of Whitehaven, being under an absolute necessity of seeing one of her relations, who was then extremely sick, and from whom she expected a legacy, and being at the time extremely fond of the infant, stole him on shipboard unknown to his mother and uncle, and carried him with her to Whitehaven, where he continued for almost three years. For, when the matter was discovered, his mother sent orders by all means not to hazard a second voyage till he could be better able to bear it. The nurse was so careful of him that before he returned he had learned to spell, and by the time he was three years old he could read any chapter in the Bible.”

Education. — Left to the care of his uncle Godwin, he was sent to Kilkenny school, the Eton of Ireland. It is remarkable that from this same school came Berkeley, the eminent metaphysician, Congreve, the clever writer of comedy, and Swift, the keen satirist. After remaining at Kilkenny for eight years, he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in April, 1682. Later in life Swift wrote concerning this period of his life that, " by the ill-treatment of his nearest relations, he was so discouraged and sunk in his spirits that he too much neglected his academic studies, for some parts of which he had no great relish by nature, and turned himself to reading history and poetry, so that when the time came for taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts, although he had lived with great regularity and due observance of the statutes, he was stopped of his degree for dulness and insufficiency; and at last hardly admitted in a manner little to his credit, which is called in that college speciali gratia.In other words, Swift's university career was not eminently successful; in the English phrase, he was "plucked,” but was given an extension of time to work out his A.B. degree.

Moor Park. — After receiving his A.B. degree in February, 1685, he remained at Trinity to qualify for the Master's degree. There is evidence that during the next three years he was at times a troublesome student and subjected to discipline. In 1688, the

[ocr errors]

year of the Revolution, Trinity College came under the influence of the Jacobites, and Swift, without having received his Master's degree, went to England to his mother, who was then residing in Leicestershire. His uncle Godwin, having a large family of his own, and embarrassed by losses incurred in foolish speculation, was no longer able to help Swift. One would suppose that Swift, appreciating the many demands made upon his benefactor, would have the kindliest feelings towards his uncle, and yet when in after years he was asked, “Was it not your uncle Godwin who educated you?” “Yes, he gave me the education of a dog." “Then,” fittingly retorted the inquirer, "you have not the gratitude of a dog."

Swift now turned to Sir William Temple for assistance. Sir William was one of the most important personages of his age. He had been a member of Parliament; was minister at Brussels in 1665; negotiated the treaty of the Triple Alliance in 1668; was ambassador at The Hague, 1688-71; formed a plan for a privy council and became a leading member of it, 1679; and had retired from public life, highly respected for integrity, in 1681. At the time of Swift's association with him he was engaged in literary labors.

Sir William had been a friend of Godwin Swift, and Lady Temple was in some way related to Swift's mother. Temple could make good use of an assistant in his literary work, and so when there came a request from the Swift family asking for Temple's influence in procuring an opening for the energies of the young Trinity scholar, Temple wrote back that he would take young Jonathan into his own household in the capacity of private secretary. In 1689 we find the young man of twenty-two domiciled at Moor Park as the secretary of the famous diplomatist and retired scholar. His duties were to read to his patron, copy out the rough drafts of the memoirs Sir William was writing, and keep the accounts. Either because Sir William was pompous and overbearing, or because Swift was unduly sensitive, the lot of the secretary was not a happy one. Swift afterwards complained that he was treated like a schoolboy.

« AnteriorContinuar »