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cannot call to mind that I ever heard her make a wrong judgment of persons, books, or affairs. . . . She had a gracefulness, something more than human, in every motion, word, and action. Never was so happy a conjunction of civility, freedom, easiness, and sincerity.
In those days persons in the upper and middle classes were buried at night. On the evening of January 30, Swift wrote:
“ This is the night of the funeral, which my sickness will not suffer me to attend. It is now nine at night, and I am removed into another apartment, that I may not see the light in the church, which is just over against the window of my bed-chamber....
“She was never known to cry out, or discover any fear, in a coach or on horseback, or any uneasiness by those sudden accidents with which most of her sex, either by weakness or affectation, appear so much disordered. . . . She spoke in the most agreeable voice, in the plainest words, never hesitating, except out of modesty before new faces, where she was somewhat reserved; nor, among her nearest friends, ever spoke much at a time. . . . When she was once convinced, by open facts, of any breach of truth or honor in a person of high station, especially in the church, she could not conceal her indignation, nor hear them named without showing her displeasure in her countenance."
The Battle of the Books.-Swift's earliest attempts at literature were in poetry. Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet," is the reputed laconic criticism of Dryden when he read one of Swift's early odes. With this verdict posterity will not disagree, for the best of Swift's verse is far inferior to the best of his prose.
Putting aside those immature writings which almost always precede a striking production by a genius, we may call The Battle of the Books his first work. It is a brilliant satire growing out of a famous controversy started in France by Fontanelle's declaration that the present-day writers were superior to the ancient. The French controversy had spread to England, where Sir William Temple rushed into the lists to do battle for the ancients. The Rev. Mr. Wotton promptly answered the challenge. Temple in his argument had cited Phalaris as an example of the power of the ancients; thereupon the Hon. Charles Boyle of Oxford had promptly republished his edition of the Letters
of Phalaris and in the preface took occasion to write disparagingly of the attainments of Dr. Bentley, the greatest classical scholar of his age. Dr. Bentley then drove Temple from the field by proving that the letters of Phalaris were a forgery.
Swift now rushed into the fray, taking sides with his patron, Temple, but more intent on satirizing the whole conflict than in advancing arguments to establish his cause. He tells us that while the moderns and ancients are drawn up in battle array, they notice a dispute between a spider and a bee. While the books were wrangling, the bee has become ensnared in the spider's web in the library. Æsop is called upon to arbitrate the dispute between the two. The bee, going to nature, stands as the representative of the ancients; the spider, evolving its web from itself, represents the moderns who extract their niceties and pedantries from their inner consciousness. The bee, in answer to the spider's boast that she has built her web with her own hands from the materials from her own body, declares that the result of the spider's toil is but a filthy cobweb, while his own product is universally prized and sought for.
"Whatever we (the ancients) have got has been by infinite labor and research, and ranging through every corner of nature; the difference is that, instead of dirt and poison, we have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light."
In the Homeric battle which follows, Homer, Pindar, and Vergil are the heroic combatants leading the ancients into the fray, while Temple is the gallant captain of the modern forces. In commenting upon Swift's first great success, Leslie Stephen has said:
" Swift has found out that the world is full of humbugs; and goes forth hewing and hacking with superabundant energy, not yet aware that he too may be a fallible being, and still less that the humbugs may some day prove too strong for him.”
A Tale of a Tub. This work, greater as a satire than The Battle of the Books, was published anonymously in 1704, although
it had been written as early as 1697. The title is derived from the sailor's custom of throwing a tub overboard to distract the attention of the whale from the ship, which otherwise it might injure. Likewise, this pamphlet might attract the attention of the fanatics who were attacking learning and religion.
The Tale of a Tub is a clever satire upon the ecclesiasticism that emphasizes the differences in religious belief rather than the essential agreements. “Once upon a time," runs the tale, “there was a man who had three sons by one wife, and all at a birth.” When upon his death-bed, the father calls them to him and tells them that he has bequeathed to each of them a good coat, saying:
“Now you understand that these coats have two virtues contained in them; one is, that with good wearing they will last you fresh and sound as long as you live; the other is, that they will grow in the same proportion with your bodies, lengthening and widening of themselves, so as to be always fit.”
For the first seven years (the first seven centuries of the Christian church) the brothers are faithful to the wishes of the dying father; they keep the coats fresh and sound; but thereafter, following the changing fashions of this world, they alter the form and texture by additions and subtractions, until at last the coats have no resemblance to the originals. Finally Peter quarrels with the two younger brothers, who now plan to run away. And so they ask for “a copy of their father's will, which had now lain neglected time out of mind. Instead of granting this request, Peter called them rogues, traitors, and all the rest of the vile names he could muster up. However, while he was abroad one day upon his projects, the two youngsters watched their opportunity, made a shift to come at the will, and took a copy of it, by which they saw how grossly they had been abused; their fathers having left them equal heirs, and strictly commanded that whatever they got should lie in common between them.”
The two runaway brothers take the name of Martin and Jack (Luther and Calvin), and begin to restore their coats to their original shape and texture. But they cannot agree as to what should be done. Writes Mr. Moriarty:
"Martin pulls off the lace and fringes, but he notices that much of the embroidery is so carefully sewn in, that to cut it all out will ruin the coat. He therefore resolves to let some of it remain. Brother Jack, who is very hot-tempered, tears away at his coat with such fury that the garment is rent from top to toe, whole pieces of the cloth are in many cases torn away, while in certain places fag ends of Peter's old livery still hang on unnoticed. Martin remonstrates, but Jack refuses to listen. He accuses Martin of still hankering after Peter's gew-gaws, renounces his society, and goes his way alone (separation of the Puritans from the Anglican church). The rest of the allegory, which is a little tedious, deals mainly with the history of religion in England after the Reformation. Swift's hatred of the Dissenters is markedly displayed. He dilates on their affected differences from other men; on their habit of cant; on their dislike to church music; and on their defacement, during the Commonwealth, of the statues and paintings in English churches.”
In another section of the work is the passage made famous because in it perhaps lies the germ of the idea which Carlyle afterwards elaborated into Sartor Resartus:
"His worshippers 'held the universe to be a large suit of clothes which invests everything: that the earth is invested by the air; the air is invested by the stars; and the stars are invested by the primum mobile. Look on this globe of earth and you will find it to be a very complete and fashionable dress. What is that which some call land but a fine coat faced with green? or the sea but a waistcoat of water-tabby? ... To conclude from all, what is man himself but a micro-coat, or rather a complete suit of clothes with all its trimmings?''
The Tale of a Tub was published anonymously, but it was not long before Swift was suspected of the authorship. Dr. Johnson, who never appreciated Swift's ability, doubted whether Swift could have written so brilliant a piece of work, and Swift, in his old age, when his powers were failing, said, “Good God, what a genius I had when I wrote that book!” Satiric brilliancy in writing about sacred subjects is a dangerous power, as Swift learned when he found that his efforts for advancement were hindered by the suspicion that the author of A Tale of a Tub was too unorthodox to be favored by ecclesiastical preferment. It is said the Tale of a Tub cost Swift a bishopric.
In London. - About four years of the time between 1700
and 1710 were spent in London. There he became acquainted with Addison, Pope, and Gay, whom he respected, and with the group of so-called wits, men whom he ridiculed. It was during one of these visits to London (1708), that Swift created some amusement by his publication of the Bickerstaff Almanac. John Partridge was an astrologer who had duped his public by the annual publication of an almanac prophesying future events. Swift, under the name of Isaac Bickerstaff, amused himself by publishing a similar almanac in which he predicted the end of Partridge, whose death was to take place on “March 29 next, about eleven at night.” Soon after this date there appeared an account of Partridge's illness and death. Then the friends of Swift published a burlesque denial. By this time Partridge was aroused by the prospect of losing all his custom, so he published a protest in his almanac, declaring that he had not died, but was still alive and in business. To this Swift replied in an elaborate piece of solemn fooling, proving that Partridge must be dead.
During these years, while making acquaintance with men of literary and political standing, Swift naturally was hoping that his ability as a writer would procure an appointment to a more lucrative holding than the one at Laracor. But in June, 1709, we find him still at Laracor. Just before this, on leaving England, he had heard of the probable death of Dr. South, Bishop of Cork, and the holder of a prebend at Westminster. Swift, swallowing his pride, reminded Halifax that he would be highly pleased to become Bishop of Cork, if Dr. South died, and that “The late king promised me a prebend at Westminster, when I petitioned him in pursuance of a recommendation from Sir William Temple." Halifax replied in a highly complimentary manner, but on the death of South promoted another.
In Laracor Swift was discontented. He found there little scope for his restless intellect. He wrote to Dean Sterne:
“I am this minute very busy, being to preach today before an audience of at least fifteen people, most of them gentle, and all simple. I can send you no news; only the employment of my parishioners may, for memory's sake, be reduced under these heads: Mr. Percival is ditching;