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On the publication of a new edition of Swift's works, the proprietors applied to Dr. Hawkesworth to write his Life. He was an author of no small eminence ; a 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 Poets, than 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 cominunicated my thoughts, to a man capa" ble of dignifying his narration, with so much ele
gance 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 criticks. Of which body he has shown himself no unworthy inember, 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 misrepresent 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 superiour 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 cer
tain paintings to be seen at the optician's in St. Paul's churchyard, 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 simi
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 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 foulmouthed 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 unprejudiced historian: but, though I am conscious to myself that I shall never be
mily 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.
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 fix he was sent to the school of Kilkenny; 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 las yer of great eminence, and had made considerable sans of money, which were for the must pat squandered away in idle projects. By means of trich, soon after his nephew had entered the college, be found himself involved in great difficulties; and being father of a numerous otpring 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 academick studies, for which he had indeed naturally no C3