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Mrs. Percival in her kitchen; Mr. Wesley is switching; Mrs. Wesley stitching; Sir Arthur Longford riching – which is a new word for heaping up riches.”
In September, 1710, we find Swift again in London in the midst of political excitment. From 1710 to 1713 Swift enjoyed his greatest prestige. He had been an ardent Whig, but now for various reasons he became an active and influential writer on the side of the Tories. In November, 1710, he took charge of the Examiner, the political organ of the Tories. The Whigs had treated Swift with indifference; he would now show them the folly of their neglecting a man of his attainments. “Rot them for ungrateful dogs, I will make them repent their usage before I leave this place.'
Period of Political Power.— With the supremacy of the Tories, Harley and St. John (Bolingbroke) became the political leaders. While Harley was not a great statesman, he undoubtedly had a wonderful influence upon his contemporaries; that he had some sagacity is evidenced in his recognition of Swift's value and in his success in attaching him to his cause.
Within a few months after Swift's adherence to the new leaders, he had gained more influence than he had ever enjoyed. Nor had Swift become a servile follower to reach this end. When in February, 1711, Harley offered him a fifty-pound note, Swift, refusing to be treated like a hireling, demanded and received an apology. When he dined, as he frequently did, with the select group of leaders, including the Lord Chancellor (Harley) and the Secretary of State (St. John), he permitted no profanity or indecency of conversation.
In return for this intimacy with political greatness Swift devoted his talents to the furtherance of the Tory cause. From November 2, 1710, to June 14, 1711, he contributed to the weekly Examiner. In these articles, which at this distance appear of ordinary merit, he abuses the Whig leaders and pleads for a discontinuance of the war, which he maintains is continued for the benefit of a few avaricious men. His pamphlet, Conduct of the Allies, attempts to show that national interests do not demand the
It was first published on November 27; by the end of January 11,000 copies had been sold. During these months party feeling in England was intense; there were moments when Swift feared the overwhelming defeat of his party, and at one time requested St. John to find him some foreign post where he would be out of danger in the time of the Whigs' triumph. But with the downfall of the Duke of Marlborough, Tory supremacy, for a time at least, was established:
From contemporary records we learn that Swift's influence at this time was tremendous; at this distance it is hard to explain how an obscure "hedge-parson " in a few months could leap into a position of power where his aid was sought for by ministers of state and dukes of the realm. To a man of Swift's temperament such a position was meat and drink. In the height of his power, writes a biographer,
"he has a Napoleonic absence of magnanimity. He likes to relish his triumph: to accept the pettiest as well as the greatest rewards; to flaunt his splendor in the eyes of the servile as well as to enjoy the consciousness of real power. But it would be a great mistake to infer that this ostentatiousness of authority concealed real servility. ... He forced himself upon ministers by self-assertion; and he held them in awe as the lion-tamer keeps down the latent ferocity of the wild beast.”
It is gratifying to note that, imperious as he was in his attitude toward his political superiors, he was most active in helping many worthy men whom he esteemed. “I will favor him as much as I can,” he says of his old schoolfellow, Berkley ; “this I think I am bound to in honor and conscience, to use all my little credit towards helping forward men of worth in the world.”
But what was Swift getting for himself? With all this influence one would suppose that Swift might easily secure one of the best ecclesiastical appointments in the realm; but all he finally secured was the deanery of St. Patrick's, a decided advance over Laracor, but far short of what Swift had expected. There were several drawbacks: he would be obliged to live in Ireland; he would have to pay £1,000 for the house and fees, so that it would be three years before he would be the gainer. He was appointed
on April 23, 1713. A little later he wrote to Miss Vanhomrigh: "I thought I should have died with discontent; and was horribly melancholy while they were installing me; but it begins to wear off and change to dulness.”
In 1714 he was called back to England to aid the declining Tory cause with his trenchant pen. But causes beyond the control of a political pamphleteer were bringing about the downfall of the party to which Swift had dedicated his powers. “The Earl of Oxford,” wrote Bolingbroke to Swift,“ was removed on Tuesday; the queen died on Sunday. What a world is this! and how does fortune banter us.”
Before the end of August he was again in Dublin.
So ends Swift's period of political greatness. There was much in it on which in after years he could look back with pride and satisfaction. He had won political eminence. He had drunk to the full the cup of social homage. But he had also seen a great political party undermined by disunion and destroyed by treachery. He had been drawn into bitter conflict with once-trusted friends. He had seen his own hopes of glory and advancement checked when they were at their apogee; and it was in gloom and bitterness that he entered on his retirement."*
Gulliver's Travels. This wonderful book, Swift's masterpiece in popular estimation, is a brilliant satire on the foibles and weaknesses of humanity. Strange to say, it has always been a popular book for children, who, not seeing beneath the surface, never detect the cynicism which older minds' find. However, it is usually only the first half of the book that appeals to children, and it is that half that is freest from intense cynicism.
It was published anonymously in October, 1726, and had an immediate success, Arbuthnot writing that it was in everybody's hands. The simple, realistic, matter-of-fact manner in which the story was told led some to believe that the author was endeavoring to give an account of what had really occurred. Swift enjoyed telling of an Irish bishop who believed the book was full of improbable lies, and that for his part he hardly believed one word of it. Johnson said, “When you have once thought of big
men and little men, it is easy to do the rest.” True as this may be, Swift was the first to think of it, and the only one who could have done what he did. The moral of the tale may be, as Thackeray calls it,“ horrible, shameful, unmanly, blasphemous,” but the Dean's simplicity and irony have made the Travels “one of the wonderful and unique books of the world's literature."
In the first part Gulliver tells us of his shipwreck in Lilliput, the country in which the inhabitants are six inches high. Their self-important monarch has the rare distinction of being taller than the rest by the breadth of Gulliver's nail. His courtiers are divided into two factions, the High Heels and the Low Heels. The whole land is in excitement over the religious question: “Should eggs be broken at the big end or at the little end ?' One side charges the other with schism. “This, however," comments Gulliver, “is thought to be a mere strain upon the text, for the words are these, that all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end. And which is the convenient, seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man's conscience, or at least in the power of the Chief Magistrate to determine." When we read of his voyage to Lilliput, we exclaim, How trivial many of our human distinctions must appear to the eye of superior intelligence!
In the second part Gulliver takes a voyage to Brobdingnag. Here the men are sixty feet high. He is a pigmy among giants. After questioning Gulliver about the people from whom he came, the king of the Brobdingnagians reaches the conclusion that the bulk of Gulliver's compatriots must be “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."
The third book takes us into Laputa, where philosophers and visionary inventors push their absurdities to the extreme, deceiving and defrauding the simple-minded public. In the Island of Sorcerers Gulliver was able to call up the great men of antiquity; from them he learns that the men of the past whom the world now honors were at heart cowards, fools, sycophants, and atheists. He becomes acquainted with the Struldbrugs, or immortals. In the whole land there were about eleven hundred who by chance are born immortal. At first he cries out, “ Happy nation, where every child has at least a chance for being immortal!” But he soon learns that immortality is a calamity, for the Struldbrugs “ were the most mortifying sight I ever beheld; and the women more horrible than the men.”
In the fourth part the satire becomes most bitter. He is now in the land of the Houyhnhnms, where horses have the superior intelligence, and the Yahoos, brutes with the shape of men, are bestial in morals and manners. Gulliver has some difficulty in explaining to the Houyhnhnms that he is not a Yahoo. The Houyhnhnms are so governed by the highest reason that Gulliver surprises them when he relates some of the customs of his own native land. War is inexplicable.
“ Difference in opinions hath cost many millions of lives; for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh; whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine; * whether whistling be a vice or a virtue; † whether it be better to kiss a post or throw it into the fire; † what is the best color for a coat, whether black, white, red, or gray; § and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty or clean, with many more. Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long continuance, as those occasioned by differences in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent."
Other Writings. -Swift was a prolific pamphleteer. Chief among the publications of this character was the series called the Drapier's Letters, appearing in 1724. William Wood, an English merchant, had received the privilege of coining half-pence for the Irish people, who were greatly in need of small change. Thereupon Swift wrote a "letter to the shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers, and the common people of Ireland concerning the brass half-pence coined by Mr. Wood," and signed it M. B. Drapier. He insisted that ruin was inevitable if the Irish had to use this
* An allusion to the doctrine of transubstantiation.