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As the brightest and most important part of Swift's life passed during the four last
queen Anne, when his faculties were all in full vigour, and occasions for displaying them arose adequate to their greatness; I shall omit no circumstance, which may serve to delineate the features and limbs of his mind (if I may be allowed the expression) before disease and age had impaired the bloom of the one, and the strength and agility of the other. To have a perfect portrait and just likeness of a friend, had we our choice of time, we should certainly prefer that period of his life, when he was in his prime, to that of his decay. There have been already given many instances of such a nobleness of mind, such a disinterested spirit in Swift, as are rarely to be found in the annals of history. Yet the part which he acted by his friend Oxford, about the time of the queen’s death, exhibits those qualities in a higher point of view, than ever they had appeared in before. It has been already mentioned, that, finding all his endeavours to reconcile his great friends useless, he had retired to Letcomb, in order to make one effort more to compel them to unite for their common interest, by the publication of his “ Free
Thoughts,” &c. Lord Bolingbroke, to whom this piece was shown by Barber, contrived to have the printing of it deferred, as he was then just upon the point of accomplishing his long concerted plan, of turning out lord Oxford, and stepping into his place. This was effected just four days before the Vol.I.
queen's death, on the 27th of July, 1714. One of lord Bolingbroke's first objects, upon getting into power, was to secure Sivift to his interest. Ile got lady Masham to write to him, in the most pressing terms, on the 29th, to return immediately to town. And on the zoth, he meant to dispatch Barber to hiin, with letters from himself and lady Masham for the same purpose. Which is thus related by Barber, in his letter of July 31, past six at night. “ I am heartily sorry I should be the messenger of
so ill news, as to tell you the queen is dead or dying: if alive, 'tis said she can't live till munn
ing. You may easily imagine the confusion ue “ are all in on this sad occasion. I had set out yes
terday to wait on you, but for this sad accident; “ and should have brought letters from lord Boling“ broke and lady Masham, to have prevented your going.--He said twenty things in
in your favour, “ and commanded me to bring you up, whatever “ was the consequence.” It was chiefly through the influence of lady Masham, who was then at the height of favour with the queen, and had openly quarrelled with the treasurer, that he was turned out of his employment, and Bolingbroke appointed minister in his room. Nothing can show, in a stronger light, the great consequence of Swift in all state : affairs at that time, than lady Masham's letter to
him on this occasion. Which, on that account, I shall here present entire to the reader.
Lady MASHAM to Dr. Swift.
My good friend,
July 29, 1714. “I own it looks unkind in me, not to thank
you all this time, for your sincere kind letter; but “ I was resolved to stay till I could tell you, the queen “ had so far got the better of the Dragon *, as to take “ her power out of his hands. He has been the most
ungrateful man to her, and to all his best friends, “ that ever was born. I cannot have so much time
now to write all my mind, because my dear mistress “ is not well; and I think I may lay her illness to “the charge of the treasurer, who, for three weeks
together, was teasing and vexing her without in“termission, and she could not get rid of him till
Tuesday last. I must put you in mind of one passage
in your letter to me, which is, I pray God " to send you wise and faithful friends to advise you at “ this time, when there are so great difficulties to strug
gle with. That is very plain and true ; therefore “ will you, who have gone through so much, and "taken more pains than any body, and given wise “advice, if that wretched man had had sense enough, " and honesty to have taken it) I say will you leave
us, and go into Ireland ? No, it is impossible; your goodness is still the same, your charity and
compassion for this poor lady #, who has been “barbarously used, won't let you do it. I know " you take delight to help the distressed ; and there
• A nickname for lord Oxford.
“ cannot be a greater object than this good lady, “ who deserves pity. Pray, dear friend, stay here, “ and don't believe us all alike, to throw away
good advice, and despise every body's understand
ing but their own. I could say a great deal upon “the subject, but I must go to her, for she is not “ well. This comes to you by a safe hand, so that “ neither of us need be in any pain about it.
My lord and brother are in the country. My sister and girls are your humble servants.”
So warm and pressing a letter, from one who made, and unmade ministers (for it was to her lord Oxford owed his advancement, as well as his disgrace) intreating, nay, in a manner imploring him to come and be their chief counsellor and director, in their new plan of administration; might have opened the most inviting prospects to Swift, of gratifying his utmost ambition with regard to his own interests; and at the same time, of accomplishing the plan which he had invariably pursued, with respect to those of the publick. But to a man of his delicate sense of honour, there was an insuperable bar in the way to prevent his embracing so flattering an offer. He had two days before received the following letter from lord Oxford, upon his losing the staff.
The Earl of OXFORD to Dr. SWIFT.
“ If I tell my dear friend the value I put upon “his undeserved friendship, it will look like sus
pecting you or myself. Though I have had no
power since the twenty-fifth of July 1713, I believe “ now, as a private man, I may prevail to renew your
“ licence of absence, conditionally you will be pre“ sent with me ; for to morrow morning I shall be “ a private person.
When I have settled my do“ mestick affairs here, I go to Wimple; thence, • alone, to Herefordshire. If I have not tired you “ tête à tête, fling away so much time upon one, who “ loves you. And I believe, in the mass of souls,
ours were placed near each other. I send you an “ imitation of Dryden, as I went to Kensington.
« To serve with love,
“ And shed your blood,
“ Tis fatal to be good." In these two letters, there were two roads opened to Swift. One, leading to preferment, power, and all that his most ambitious hopes could aspire after. The other to the melancholy cell of a disgraced minister, abandoned by an ungrateful world. Where he might have the satisfaction of affording him in his distress, that sovereign balm of consolation, which can only be administered by a sincere friend. Swift hesitated not a moment in his choice of the alternative, as inay be seen by his letter to miss Vanhomrigh, written soon after his receipt of the other two.
Dr. Swift to Miss VANHOMRIGH.
“ Who told you I was going to Bath? No such thing. But poor lord Oxford desires I will go “ with him to Herefordshire ; and I only expect