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great relish; but passed his time chiefly in reading books of history and poetry; which were better suited to his taste, and more calculated to relieve the troubles of his mind. In consequence of this, when the time came for his taking the degree of bachelor of arts, he was stopped, as he himself expresses it, for dullness and insufficiency. It is to be supposed that the word dullness was on this occasion used by Swift jocosely, as the cause assigned for stopping any person of a degree, is answering badly in any branch of literature appointed for that particular examination; which does not necessarily imply dullness, as it may as well proceed from idleness. But in Swift's case it was rather to be imputed to contumacy, than either the one or the other. For the fact is, there was one branch of the examination, on which the greatest stress was laid in those days, in which he could not be said to answer badly, for he did not attempt to answer at all. This account I had froin his own lips. He told me that he had made many efforts, upon his entering the college, to read some of the old treatises on legick writ by Smeglesius, Keckermannus, Burgersdicius, &c. and that he never had patience to go through three pages of any of them, he was so disgusted at the stupidity of the work. When he was urged by his tutor to make himself master of this branch, then in high estimation, and held essentially necessary to the taking of a degree; Swift asked him, what it was he was to learn from those books? His tutor told him, the art of reasoning. Swift said that he found no want of any such art; that he could reason very well without it; and that as far as he could observe, they who liad made the greatest proficiency in logick, had, instead of the art of reasoning, acquired the art of wrangling; and instead of clearing up obscurities, had learned how to perplex matters that were clear enough before. For his own part, he was contented with that portion of reason which God had given him, and he would leave it to time and experience to strengthen and direct it properly ; nor would he run the risk of having it warped or falsely biassed, by any system of rules laid down by such stupid writers; of the bad effects of which he had but too many examples before his eyes, in those reckoned the most acute logicians. And accordingly he made a firm resolution that he never would read any of those books. Which he so pertinaciously adhered to, that though he was stopped of his degree the first time of sitting for it, on account of his not answering in that branch, he went into the hall a second time, as ill prepared in that respect as before ; and would also have been stopped a second time, on the same account, if the interest of his friends, who well knew the inflexibility of his temper, had not stepped in, and obtained it for him ; though in a manner little to his credit, as it was inserted in the college registry, that he obtained it Speciali gratia, by special favour; where it still remains upon record.
In going through the usual forms of disputation for his degree, he told me he was utterly unacquainted even with the logical terms, and answered the arguments of his opponents in his own manner, which the proctor put into proper form. There was one circuinstance in the account which he gave of this, that surprised me with regard to his memory;
for he told me the several questions on which he disputed, and repeated all the arguments used by his opponents in syllogistick for.n, together with his
He remained in the college near three years after this, not through choice, but necessity; little known or regarded. By scholars he was esteemed a blockhead; and as the low ness of his circumstances would not permit him to keep company of an equal rank with himself, upon an equal footing, he scorned to take up with those of a lower c.ass, or to be obliged to those of a higher. He lived therefore much alone, and his time was employed in pursuing his course of reading in history and poetry, then very unfashionable studies for an academick; or in gloomy meditations on his unhappy circumstances. Yet under this heavy pressure, the force of his genius broke out, in the first rude draught of the Tale of a Tub, written by him at the age of nineteen, though communicated to nobody but his chamber fellow Mr. Waryng; who, after the publication of the book, made no scruple to declare that he had read the first sketch of it in Swift's handwriting, when he was of
Soon after this, his uncle Godwin was seized with a lethargy, which rendered him incapable of business; and then it was that the broken state of his affairs was made publick. Swift now lost even the poor support that he had before ; but his uncle William supplied the place of Godwin to him, though not in a more enlarged way, which could not be expected from his circumstances; yet with so much better a grace, as somewhat lightened the burden of dependance, and engaged Swift's gratitude after
ward, ward, who distinguished him by the title of the best of his relations. He had no expectation however of receiving any thing more from him than what was absolutely necessary for his support ; and his chief hopes now for any thing beyond that, rested in his cousin Willoughby Swift, eldest son of his uncle Godwin, a considerable merchant at Lisbon. Nor was he disappointed in his expectations. For, soon after the account of his father's unhappy situation had reached Willoughby Swift at Lisbon, he, reflecting that his cousin Jonathan's destitute condition demanded immediate relief, sent him a present of a larger sum than ever Jonathan had been master of in his life before. This supply arrived at a critical juncture; when Swift, without a penny in his purse, was despondingly looking out of his chamber window, to gape away the time, and happened to cast his eye upon a seafaring man, who seemed to be making inquiries after somebody's chambers. The thought immediately came into Swift's head, that this might be some master of a vessel who was the bearer of a present to him from his cousin at Lisbon. He saw him enter the building with pleasing expectation, and soon after heard a rap at his door, which he eagerly opening, was accosted by the sailor with,—“ Is your name Jonathan Swift?” “ Yes!” “Why then I have something for
you from master Willoughby Swift of Lisbon.” He then drew out a large leathern bag, and poured out the contents, which were silver cobs, upon the table. Swift, enraptured at the sight, in the first transports of his heart, pushed over a large number of them, without reckoning, to the sailor, as a reward for his trouble ; but the honest tar declined taking any, saying that he would do more than that for good master Willoughby. This was the first time that Swift's disposition was tried with regard to the management of money; and he said that the reflection of his constant sufferings through the want of it, made him husband it so well, that he was never afterward without some in his purse. .
Soon after this, upon the breaking out of the war in Ireland, Swift determined to leave that kingdom, and to visit his mother at Leicester, in order to consult with her upon his future plan of life.
Such was the opening of this great man's life; and from such a beginning, who could at that time have imagined that such mighty things were to ensue? He was now in his one and twentieth year ; unqualified for any profession but that of the church; in which he had no prospect of succeeding from interest; and the disgraceful manner of his taking his degree, was a strong bar to any hopes on the score of merit. He had made no advances in any of the useful studies necessary to put a young man forward in the world; the recluseness of his life had rendered him little known; and a temper naturally splenetick, soured by the misery of his situation, did not qualify him much for making personal friends. How unpromising were the prospects of such a man, just entering into the world, under such circumstances! and yet it is to those very circumstances, probably, that the world owes, a Swift ; to the want of money, want of learning, want of friends. Whoever is acquainted at all with the life and writings of Swift, nust see that he had an uncommon share of spirit and fire in his constitution. Such as, had it not been kept under during the heat of youth,