Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

that Swift was ever known to have owned directly any piece as his, it is to be supposed that the confession was drawn from him by the heat of argument.

Early in the ensuing spring, King William died; and Swift, on his next visit to London, found Queen Anne upon the throne. It was generally thought, upon this event, that the tory party would have had the ascendent; but, contrary to all expectation, the whigs had managed matters so well, as to get entirely into the queen's confidence, and to have the whole administration of affairs in their hands. Swift's friends were now in power; and the whigs in general, knowing him to be the author of the Discourse on the Contests, &c. considered themselves as much obliged to him, and looked upon him as fast to their party. The chiefs accordingly applied to him for his assistance in the measures which they were taking; and there is no doubt but he had now a fair opening for gratifying his ambition to the utmost, only by joining heartily with them, and exerting his talents on their side. But great as his ambition was, he would not have purchased its highest gratifications at the expense of his principles; nor would all the wealth and honours of the realm, accumulated, have tempted him to act contrary to the conviction of his mind. Upon examining into their new political system, which varied in many points from that of the old whigs, he considered several of their measures as of a dangerous tendency to the constitution. Notwithstanding, therefore, both his interest and personal attachments were of their side, he declined all overtures made to him by the heads of the whiggish party, and after some time determined to have no concern in their affairs. This conduct in Swift was so unexpected, for they had all along counted upon him as a sure man, that it met with the same sort of resentment from the whigs, as if he had deserted their party, and gone over to the enemy;

though Swift, in reality, so little liked the proceedings of either, that for several years he kept himself entirely a neutral, without meddling in any shape in politics.

The chief reason that made him decline any connexion with the whigs at that time, was, their open profession of low church principles; and under the specious name of toleration, their encouragement of fanatics and sectaries of all kinds to join them. But what above all most shocked him, was, their inviting all Deists, Freethinkers, Atheists, Jews, and Infidels, to be of their par; ty, under pretence of moderation, and allowing a general liberty of conscience. As Swift was in his heart a man of true religion, he could not have borne, even in his private character, to have mixed with such a motley crew. But when we consider his principles in his political capacity, that he looked upon the church of England, as by law established, to be the main pillar of our newly erected constitution, he could not, consistently with the character of a good citizen, join with those who considered it more as an ornament, than a support to the edifice; who could therefore look on with compo sure while they saw it undermining, or even open the gate to a blind multitude, to try, like Sampson, their strength against it, and consider it only as sport. With such a party, neither his religious nor political principles would suffer him to join; and with regard to the tories, as is usual in the violence of factions, they had run into opposite extremes, equally dangerous to the state. He has fully given us his own sentiments upon the state of parties in those times, in these words: "Now, because it is a point of difficulty to choose an exact middle between two ill extremes; it may be worth inquiring in the present case, which of these a wise and good man would rather seem to avoid taking therefore their own good and ill characters of each other, with due abatements,

and allowances for partiality and passion; I should think, that in order to preserve the constitution entire in the church and state, whoever has a true value for both, would be sure to avoid the extremes of whig, for the sake of the former; and the extremes of tory, on account of the latter."

This was a maxim, which, however well founded, was not likely to influence the opinion of many, amid the violence of party rage; however, as Swift was firmly persuaded of the truth of it, it was by that principle he governed his conduct, though on that account he stood almost alone.

Finding therefore that he could be of no use to the public in his political capacity, while things remained in the same state, he turned his thoughts wholly to other matters. He resided for the greatest part of the year at his living, in the performance of his parochial duties, in which no one could be more exact; and once a year he paid a visit to his mother at Leicester, passing some time also in London, to take a view of the state of things, and watching some favourable crisis.

During this period, Swift's pen was hardly ever employed, except in writing sermons; and he does not seem to have indulged himself even in any sallies of fancy, for some years, excepting only the "Meditation on a Broomstick," and the "Tritical Essay on the Faculties of the Mind," both written in the year 1703. As Swift has been much censured for writing the former of these pieces, on account of the ridicule contained in it of the style and manner of so great and pious a man as Mr. Boyle, it may not be improper here to relate an anecdote which I had from undoubtedly good authority, with regard to the occasion of writing that piece, and which will in a great measure exonerate Swift from the charge

brought against him on that account.* In the yearly visits which he made to London, during his stay there, he passed much of his time at Lord Berkeley's, officiating as chaplain to the family, and attending Lady Berkeley in her private devotions. After which, the doctor, by her desire, used to read to her some moral or religious discourse. The countess had at this time taken a great liking to Mr. Boyle's Meditations, and was determined to go through them in that manner; but as Swift had by no means the same relish for that kind of writing which her ladyship had, he soon grew weary of the task; and a whim coming into his head, resolved to get rid of it in a way which might occasion some sport in the family; for which they had as high a relish as himself. The next time he was employed in reading one of these Meditations, he took an opportunity of conveying away the book, and dexterously inserted a leaf, on which he had written his own "Meditation on a Broomstick," after which, he took care to have the book restored to its proper place, and in his next attendance on my lady, when he was desired to proceed to the next Meditation, Swift opened upon the place where the leaf had been inserted, and with great composure of countenance read the title, "A Meditation on a Broomstick." Lady Berkeley, a little surprised at the oddity of the title, stopped him, repeating the words, "A Meditation on a Broomstick! Bless me, what a strange subject! But there is no knowing what useful lessons of instruction this wonderful man may draw, from things apparently the most trivial. Pray let us hear what he says upon it." Swift then, with an inflexible gravity of countenance, proceeded to read the Meditation, in the

*This anecdote came from Lady Betty Germain, daughter of La dy Berkeley; and was communicated to me by the late Lady Lambert, an intimate of Lady Betty's. S.

same solemn tone which he had used in delivering the former. Lady Berkeley, not at all suspecting a trick, in the fulness of her prepossession, was every now and then, during the reading of it, expressing her admiration of this extraordinary man, who could draw such fine moral reflections from so contemptible a subject; with which, though Swift must have been inwardly not a litthe tickled, yet he preserved a most perfect composure of features, so that she had not the least room to suspect any deceit. Soon after, some company coming in, Swift pretended business, and withdrew, foreseeing what was to follow. Lady Berkeley, full of the subject, soon entered upon the praises of those heavenly Meditations of Mr. Boyle. "But," said she," the doctor has been just reading one to me, which has surprised me more than all the rest." One of the company asked which of the Meditations she meant. She answered directly, in the simplicity of her heart," I mean, that excellent Meditation on a Broomstick." The company looked at each other with some surprise, and could scarce refrain from laughing. But they all agreed that they had never heard of such a Meditation before. "Upon my 'word," said my lady, "there it is, look into that book, and convince yourselves." One of them opened the book, and found it there indeed, but in Swift's handwriting; upon which a general burst of laughter ensued; and my lady, when the first surprise was over, enjoyed the joke as much as any of them; saying, "What a vile trick has that rogue played me! But it is his way, he never balks his humour in any thing." The affair ended in a great deal of harmless mirth, and Swift, you may be sure, was not asked to proceed any farther in the Meditations. Thus we see that his original intention in writing this piece, was not to ridicule the great Robert Boyle, but only to furnish occasion for

« AnteriorContinua »