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life. He was an author of no small eminence;
man of clear judgment, and great candour. He quickly discerned the truth from the falsehood; wiped away many of the aspersions that had been thrown on Swift's character; and placed it, so far as he went, in its proper light. But as he had no new materials of his own, and was confined to such only as were contained in former publications, the view he has given of his life is very imperfect; many of the most important articles are omitted, and others still left in a very doubtful state.
The last writer who has given any account of Swift, is Dr. Johnson ; who seems to have undertaken this task, rather from the necessity he was under of taking some notice of him in the course of his Biographical History of the English Poetsthan from choice. He has presented us only with a short abstract of what he found in Dr. Hawkesworth, for which he makes the following apology. “ An account of Dr. Swift has been already collected with great diligence and acuteness, by Dr. Hawkesworth, according to a scheme which I laid before him in the intimacy of our friendship. I cannot therefore be expected to say much of a life, concerning which I had long since communicated my thoughts, to a man capable of dignifying his narration, with so much elegance of language, and force of sentiment.”. Accordingly, he has produced little new on the subject, except some observations of his own, which are far from being favourable to the character of Swift. It is much to be lamented, that a man of his great abilities did not choose to follow his friend Hawkesworth in the paths of just and candid criticism, instead of associating himself with lord Orrery to the band of true critics. Of which body he has shown himself no unworthy member, not on this occasion only, but in the many severe strictures passed on the lives and
writings of some of the greatest geniuses this country has produced ; to the no small indignation of their several admirers, and to the great regret of the doctor's own. As this work is more likely to be generally read than any of the others; both on account of the great reputation of the author, and as it will of course present itself to the eyes of all who shall go through his collection of lives, I shall hereafter take an opportunity of making some comments upon those passages, which tend to depreciate and mis* represent the character of so great a man.
These several publications, which place the life and character of Swift in very different, and often opposite points of light, have occasioned great diversity in the judgments formed of them by the world, according to the different degrees of prejudice, or candour, in their several readers. But as the sale of the first essay on this subject; written by lord Orrery, was infinitely superior to that of all the others put together, the prepossessions in favour of the accounts delivered by him, have, for reasons already assigned, made too deep an impression on the bulk of mankind, to be easily erased. I have before taken notice of the scantiness of his materials, which yet he has not ranged in any regular order; and which consist chiefly of detached facts and unconnected anecdotes, so that there is no appearance of a whole. The portrait he has drawn of him, puts one in mind of certain paintings to be seen at the optician's in St. Paul's church-yard, where we behold some scattered and distorted features, covered with blotches of various colours, so that we cannot discover what it is intended to represent: till by the application of a cylindrical mirror, we are surprised to see start forth a face of the finest proportioned features, and most beautiful complexion. By such an application of the mirror of truth I hope to show Swift in a similar light.
I have long wished for leisure to set about this task, which a life spent in a variety of laborious occupations has hitherto prevented. And even now I am obliged to suspend pursuits of a more advantageous kind with regard to myself in order to accomplish it.* But, reflecting, at this advanced period of life, on the near approaches of old age, which might soon disqualify me from carrying my design into execution, I determined to postpone all other considerations that might stand in the way of an object I have had so much at heart. The love I had to his person, and the reverence in which I was taught, from my earliest days, to hold his character, and with which I had an opportunity of being well acquainted, on account of the long intimacy subsisting between him and my father; and, above all, the means I have in my power of rescuing his good name from the aspersions thrown on it by foul-mouthed calumny, have made me think it an indispensable duty, no longer to delay doing justice to his memory.
From the above acknowledgment of my early prepossessions in his favour, it may be thought that I shall prove not an uprejudiced historian: but, though I am conscious to myself that I shall never be guilty of any wilful misrepresentations, I know too well how little weight all professions of impartiality carry with them on such occasions to trouble the reader with any. I desire no credit to be given to assertions or opinions not supported by the most convincing proofs : which, therefore, in all disputable points, I hope I shall be indulged in producing at full length. And I doubt not but that the display of Swift's true character and conduct in life, though to the
* Mr. Sheridan was paid more by the booksellers for this single life, tha Dr. Johnson received for the whole of his Biography of the English Poets. N.
confusion of his maligners, and disappointment of the envious and malevolent, will give great satisfaction to all good minds; as it is of moment to the general cause of religion and morality to make it appear that the greatest genius of the age was, at the same time, a man of the truest piety, and most exalted virtue.