« AnteriorContinua »
SWIFT was descended from an ancient family in Yorkshire, of no small note, and considerable property. He was of the younger branch.* His grandfather, the reverend Thomas Swift, was possessed of a good estate, and was distinguished above any man of his station in life, for his attachment to Charles I. and the sufferings he underwent in support of the royal cause, by which his fortune was entirely ruined. He had ten sons, and three
ughters. Five of his sons went to seek their fortune in Ireland; the fourth of whom, Jonathan, was father to the famous doctor Swift. He had married Mrs. Abigail Erick, descended from an ancient family of that name in Leicestershire, but with little or no fortune. He died young, in about two years after his marriage, seven months before the birth of his only son; and as he was but just beginning the world, left his widow in very distressed circumstances.
* For farther particulars of Swift's family, see his own account in the Appendix. S.
JONATHAN Swift, afterward the celebrated dean of St. Patrick's, was born on the 30th of November, 1667, in Hoey's court, Dublin. When he was but a year old, he was, without the knowledge of his mother or relations, stolen away by his nurse, and carried to Whitehaven* which place she was under a necessity of visiting, on account of the illness of a relation, from whom she expected a legacy; and, as is usual among Irish nurses, she bore such an affection to the child, that she could not think of going without him. There he continued for almost three years; and she took such care of him, that he had learned to spell, and could read any chapter in the Bible before he was five years old.
At the age of six he was sent to the school of Kilkenny ;t and at fourteen admitted into the university of Dublin ; the expense of his education being defrayed by his uncle Godwin Swift, the eldest of the brothers who had settled in Ireland.. He was a lawyer of great eminence, and had made considerable sunis of money, which were for the most part squandered away in idle projects. By means of which, soon after his nephew had entered the college, he found himself involved in
* He retained his affection for Whitehaven to the last, as if it! were his native place; and when one of his friends, who had spent a little time there in 1739, told him in the Spring following, that a merchant from thence, with his son and daughter, were then in Dublin, he invited them to dinner, and showed them many civilities whilst they stayed in that city. N.
+ This school, or college as it is called, of Kilkenny, is a large building erected for that purpose, founded and endowed by the Ormond family. In the school-room Swift's name still remains, as he cut it on the side-board of the seat of his class with his knife, after the custom of boys. And here he said he first learned, soon after he entered the school, these words, which he termed Latino-Anglicè, “Mi dux, et amasti lux.” This species of writing became afterwards one of those whimsical amusements with which he entertained himself as he sunk in years. N.
great difficulties; and being father of a numerous offspring by four wives, he was under a necessity of reducing the stipend allowed to his nephew for his support at the university, as low as possible. The real situation of Godwin's affairs not being then known to the world, and as he was looked upon to be much the, richest of the family, Swift's other relations seemed at that time to think that their aid was not at all necessary ; so that he was obliged to make the best shift he could, with the wretched allowance that his uncle gave him. Thus was one of the most aspiring and liberal minds in the world, early checked and confined, by the narrowness of his circumstances; with this bitter aggravation to a generous spirit, that the small pittance afforded by his uncle, seemed to him, from the manner in which it was given, rather as an alms doled out for charity, than an act of beneficence due from so near a relation; who was supposed by him, as well as by the rest of the world, to be in circumstances that might have afforded a much more liberal stipend, without prejudice to his own family. Under this load did the spirit of Swift groan for the space of near seven years that he resided in the college of Dublin ; which made so deep an impression on him, that he never afterward could think with patience of his uncle Godwin, nor could heartily forgive the neglect shown him during that time by his other relations.
The uneasy situation of mind which a young man of high spirit must have been in, under such circumstances, produced consequences likely to prove destructive of his future fortunes. For, in such a state he could not bear to give the necessary application to some of the more dry parts of the academic studies, for which he had indeed naturally no great relish; but passed his time chiefly in reading books of history and poetry; which were better suited to his taste, and more calcula
ted 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 from 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 logic 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 "legree; 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 fouud no want of any such art; that he could reason very well without it; and that as far as he could observe, they who had made the greatest proficiency in logic, 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
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, 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 gratiâ ; 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 circumstance 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 syllogistic form, together with his answers. 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 lowness of his circumstances would not permit him to keep company of an equal rank with himself, upon an
* Some others of the same class were at the same time admitted in the like manner; namely, Nathanael Jones, John Jones, Michael Vandeleur, and William Brereton. N.