« AnteriorContinua »
And he seems indeed to have been then under the immediate guidance of Providence; for, hopeless as the end of such a journey might at that time have appeared, it proved in fact the means of all his future greatness.
After a residence of some months with his mother, he laid before her the uncomfortableness of his present situation, and the gloominess of his future prospects; requesting her advice what course he should pursue. She clearly saw that her son's case required the assistance of some powerful friend, and the unfortunate can seldom number such among their acquaintance. She recollected, however, that Sir William Temple's lady was her relation; and that there had been a long intimacy between Sir John Temple, father to Sir William, and the family of the Swifts in Ireland ; she knew also that a cousin german of her son’s, the Reverend Thomas Swift, had been chaplain to Sir William Temple, and had been provided for by him in the church, on the score of family connexions. She recommended it therefore to her son to go to Sir William, and make his case known to him.
However grating such an application might be to the proud spirit of Swift, yet, as it was his only resource, he followed his mother's advice, and soon afterwards presented himself to Sir William Temple at Sheen,* re
* Moor Park having been purchased by Sir William Temple in 1686, he resided there when Swift came to him in 1688. At the Revolution, which happened about the end of that year, Moor Park growing unsafe, by lying in the way of both armies, Sir William came back to the house which he had given up to his son at Sheen ; and, in the end of 1689, again retired to Moor Park. On a review of these dates, it will be seen that, in the two years which Swift passed with Sir William Temple, he resided first at Moor Park; then at Sheen, where he had the honour of familiarly conversing with King William; and afterwards at Moor Park again, where his majesty likewise visited Sir William. See the Life prefixed to Sir William Temple's Works. N.
questing his advice and assistance. Sir William was a man of too much goodness and humanity, not to take compassion on a young man born an orphan, without fortune, distressed from his cradle, and without friends or interest to push him forward in life; who at the same time had a double claim to his favour, as related by blood to a wife for whom he had the highest honour and affection ; and as the offspring of a family with whom his father had lived in the closest ties of friendship. He accordingly received him cheerfully into his house, and treated him with that hospitable kindness which family connexions, and, what was still more to a generous mind, his unfortunate situation demanded of him. But yet we do not find, for a long time, that his kindness to him was increased from motives of personal regard, on a nearer acquaintance with him. It is probable that Sir William early sounded his depth of knowledge, and examined into the progress he had made in his studies; which was far from being so great as might have been expected from his course of education and time of life. The first good office that Sir William could do him, therefore, was to put him into a course of reading, in order that he might redeem lost time. Accordingly we find that Swift, during his residence with Sir William, applied himself with great assiduity to his studies; in which, for the space of eight years, he was employed, by his own account, at least eight hours a day, with but few intermissions. The first of these was occasioned by an illness, which he attributed to a surfeit of fruit, that brought on a coldness of stomach, and giddiness of head, which pursued him more or less during the remainder of his life. Aftertwo years residence at Moor Park, to which place he had removed with Sir William when the troubles were ended, his state of health was so bad, that he was advised by physicians to try the effects of his native air toward restoring it. In pursuance of this advice he revisited Ireland; but finding himself growing worse there, he soon returned to Moor Park; where, upon the abatement of his illness, he renewed his application to his studies.
It does not appear that Sir William Temple knew any thing of the value of his young guest, till about this time; and Swift himself says that it was then he began. to grow into some confidence with him.
The little pro gress Swist had made in learning at his first arrival at Sheen, must have given Sir William but a mean opinion of his capacity; and the few things which he wrote during his first two years residence with him, could have given him no very high idea of his genius. For Swift had at that time so far mistaken his talents, that he tried his strength only in Pindaric odes; in which, though there appeared some vigour of mind, and efforts of an uncommon genius, yet it was apparent that it was vigour improperly exerted, and the efforts of a genius misapplied. The sentiments were strained and crowded; and the numbers irregular and harsh.* How then shall we account for the sudden change of Sir William's sentiments toward him ? It could not be on account of his progress in literature, for he had
had time enough to stand highly in the opinion of so distinguished a scholar as Sir William was on that score. And indeed, with all his assiduity, it is probable that he had not then so far recovered lost time, as, to be master of the learning which his standing required. The most probable conjecture is, that Swift had, at his leisure, revised and corrected his “ Tale of a Tub,” which was sketched out by him in the college, as was before mentioned, and now
* A few of these Odes, as being the first that have appeared of his poetical writings, are placed at the head of his Poems, in the tenth volume of this edition, N.
first showed it to Sir William. A work, bearing such a stamp of original genius, must, in a man of Sir William Temple's delicate taste, and nice discernment, have at once raised the author into a high place in his esteem, and made him look upon him afterward with very different eyes. Accordingly we find that, about this period, he trusted him with matters of great importance. He introduced him to King William, and suffered him to be present at some of their conferences.* He employed him in a commission of consequence to the king,t when he was unable to attend him himself, which required dexterity, and knowledge in the history of England. And above all, he consulted him constantly, and employed him in the revisal and correction of his own works.
In this situation Swift continued, still applying closely to his studies till the year 1692, when he went to Oxford in order to take his master's degree : to which he was admitted on the fifth of July, 1692.
* Sir William had been ambassador and mediator of a general peace at Nimeguen, before the Revolution. In this character he contracted a close intiinacy with the Prince of Orange; who, after he had ascended the English throne, frequently visited him at Sheen, and took his advice in affairs of the utmost importance. Sir William being then lame of the gout, substituted Swift to attend his majesty in his walks round the gardens; who admitted him to such familiarity, that he showed him how to cut asparagus in the Dutch fashion; and once offered to inake him a captain of horse. But Swift appears to have fixed his mind very early on an ecclesiastical life; and it is therefore probable that, upon declining this offer, he obtained a promise of preferment in the church; for in a letter to his uncle William, dated 1692, he says, “I am not to take orders till the king gives me a prebend." S.
+ It appears that Swift had access to King William's ear at other times, beside that of his residence at Moor Park; for, in his letter concerning the repeal of the Sacramental Test, written in 1708, he says thus:
I remember, when I was last in England, I told the King, that the highest Tories we had with us (in Ireland) would make tolerable Whigs there (in England).” Now it is certain that Swift was often in England froin the death of Sir William Temple to 1708. N.
From his delaying so long to take this degree, it may be concluded that Swift was determined to prepare himself for it in such a way, as might do him credit in the eyes of the university, in order to wipe off the disgrace of the former. And we may judge that his progress in academic studies had been very small, when it required four years application before he thought himself qualified to appear at Oxford with that view. Nor can there be any other reason assigned for his not having done it sooner, as he was of sufficient standing to have applied for his master's degree in the first year of his residence at Moor Park. From the satisfaction he expresses at the behaviour of the university of Oxford, and the civilities he met with there, it is probable that he was not undistinguished as a scholar; and that he found the first end he proposed by his studies, fully answered.
From Oxford he paid a visit to his mother, and then returned to Moor Park. Not with a design of continuing there, for he now wanted to enter into the world; but in expectation of getting some preferment by means of Sir William's interest with the king, which he had promised to exert in his behalf, and had already indeed obtained an assurance of that sort from his majesty. But Swift at this time entertained some suspicion, that Sir William was not so forward on the occasion as he could wish; and the reason he assigned for it was, that sir William was apprehensive Swift would leave him, and upon some accounts, he thought him a little necessary to him.* Swift was indeed by this time become very necessary to a man in the decline of life, generally in an ill state of health, and often tortured with the most excruciating disorders.
The loss of such a companion as Swift, after such a long domestic intimacy, would have
* Thus Swift expresses himself in a letter to his uncle William, dated Moor Park, Nov. 29, 1692. 8.