« AnteriorContinua »
While the matter was in agitation, he thus writes to Stella, on the 7th of the March following: “I write by this post to the dean, but it is not above two lines; and one enclosed to you is not above three lines; and in that one enclosed to the dean, which he must not have, but on condition of burning it immediately after reading, and that before your eyes; for there are some things in it I would not have liable to accidents. You shall only know in general, that it is an account of what I have done to serve him, in his pretensions on these vacancies, &c. but he must not know that you know so much.”
It is evident from some of the above quotations, that Swift was far from having any cordial regard for Sterne, and that he had thought himself, on some occasions, to have been ill treated by him. Nothing therefore can in my opinion account for his obstinate perseverance in making him a bishop, in spite of all the world, as he himself expresses it, but the sacredness of an engagement.
Whatever ill opinion Swift had formed of Sterne before, was thoroughly confirmed by his very ungrateful behaviour to him, immediately after he had made him a bishop. In his Journal of May 16, he writes thus : “ Your new bishop acts very ungratefully. I cannot say so bad of him as he deserves. I begged, by the same post his warrant and mine went over, that he would leave those livings to my disposal. I shall write this post to him, to let him know how ill I take it."*
* Swift had afterward cause to complain farther of his ingratitude, where he says to him in a letter, dated 1753: “But trying to forget all former treatments, I came, like others, to your house, and since you were a bishop, have once or twice recommended persons to you, who were no relations or friends of mine, but merely for their general good character; which availed so little that those very persons had the greatest share of your neglect.” S.
As the brightest and most important part of Swift's life passed during the four last years of 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 Swist, 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 Letcombe, 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 queen's death, on the 27th of July, 1714. One of Lord Bolingbroke's first objects, up-on getting into power, was to secure Swift to his interest.
* From whom it came into the possession of Mr. Faulkner. N.
He got Lady Masham to write to him, in the most pressing terms, on the 29th, to return immediately to town. And on the 30th he meant to despatch Barber to him, 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 morning. You may easily imagine the confusion we are all in on this sad occasion.
I had set out yesterday to wait on you, but for this sad accident; and should have brought letters to Lord Bolingbroke and Lady Masham, to have prevented your going. He said twenty things 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. “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
* A nickname for Lord Oxford. S.
the charge of the treasurer, who, for three weeks together, was teasing and vexing her without intermission, 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 diffi. culties to struggle 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 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 understanding 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) entreating, 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 invariably pursued, with respect
* The queen. S.
to those of the public. 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.
. “If I tell my dear friend the value I put upon his undeserved friendship, it will look like suspecting you or myself. Though I have had no power since the twentyfifth of July, 1713, I believe now, as a private man, I may prevail to renew your licence of absence, conditionally you will be present with me; for to-morrow morning I shall be a private person. When I have settled my domestic 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.
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 may be seen by his