The works of Jonathan Swift in prose and verse so mutually illustrate each other, that it was deemed indispensable, as a complement to the standard edition of the Prose Works, to issue a revised edition of the Poems, freed from the errors which had been allowed to creep into the text, and illustrated with fuller explanatory notes. My first care, therefore, in preparing the Poems for publication, was to collate them with the earliest and best editions available, and this I have done.
But, thanks to the diligence of the late John Forster, to whom every lover of Swift must confess the very greatest obligation, I have been able to do much more. I have been able to enrich this edition with some pieces not hitherto brought to light--notably, the original version of "Baucis and Philemon," in addition to the version hitherto printed; the original version of the poem on "Vanbrugh's House"; the verses entitled "May Fair"; and numerous variations and corrections of the texts of nearly all the principal poems, due to Forster's collation of them with the transcripts made by Stella, which were found by him at Narford formerly the seat of Swift's friend, Sir Andrew Fountaine--see Forster's "Life of Swift," of which, unfortunately, he lived to publish only the first volume. From Swift's own copy of the "Miscellanies in Prose and Verse," 1727-32, with notes in his own handwriting, sold at auction last year, I was able to make several corrections of the poems contained in those four volumes, which serve to show how Swift laboured his works, and revised and improved them whenever he had an opportunity of doing so. It is a mistake to suppose that he was indifferent to literary fame: on the contrary, he kept some of his works in manuscript for years in order to perfect them for publication, of which "The Tale of a Tub," "Gulliver's Travels," and the "Verses on his own Death" are examples.
I am indebted to Miss Wilmot-Chetwode, of Wordbrooke, for the loan of a manuscript volume, from which I obtained some various readings. By the advice of Mr. Elrington Ball, I applied to the librarians of Trinity College and of the National Library, and from the latter I received a number of pieces; but I found that the harvest had already been reaped so fully, that there was nothing left to glean which could with certainty be ascribed to Swift. On the whole, I believe that this edition of the Poems will be found as complete as it is now possible to make it.
In the arrangement of the poems, I have adopted nearly the same order as in the Aldine edition, for the pieces seem to fall naturally into those divisions; but with this difference, that I have placed the pieces in their chronological order in each division. With regard to the notes in illustration of the text, many of them in the Dublin editions were evidently written by Swift, especially the notes to the "Verses on his own Death." And as to the notes of previous editors, I have retained them so far as they were useful and correct: but to many of them I have made additions or alterations wherever, on reference to the authorities cited, or to other works, correction became necessary. For my own notes, I can only say that I have sought to make them concise, appropriate to the text, and, above all, accurate.
Swift and the educated men of his time thought in the classics, and his poems, as well as those of his friends, abound with allusions to the Greek and Roman authors, especially to the latter. I have given all the references, and except in the imitations and paraphrases of so familiar a writer as Horace, I have appended the Latin text. Moreover, Swift was, like Sterne, very fond of curious and recondite reading, in which it is not always easy to track him without some research; but I believe that I have not failed to illustrate any matter that required elucidation.
W. E. B.
Dr. Johnson, in his "Life of Swift," after citing with approval Delany's character of him, as he describes him to Lord Orrery, proceeds to say: "In the poetical works there is not much upon which the critic can exercise his powers. They are often humorous, almost always light, and have the qualities which recommend such compositions, easiness and gaiety. They are, for the most part, what their author intended. The diction is correct, the numbers are smooth, and the rhymes exact. There seldom occurs a hard laboured expression or a redundant epithet; all his verses exemplify his own definition of a good style--they consist of 'proper words in proper places.'"
Of his earliest poems it is needless to say more than that if nothing better had been written by him than those Pindaric Pieces, after the manner of Cowley--then so much in vogue--the remark of Dryden, "Cousin Swift, you will never be a Poet," would have been fully justified. But conventional praise and compliments were foreign to his nature, for his strongest characteristic was his intense sincerity. He says of himself that about that time he had writ and burnt and writ again upon all manner of subjects more than perhaps any man in England; and it is certainly remarkable that in so doing his true genius was not sooner developed, for it was not till he became chaplain in Lord Berkeley's household that his satirical humour was first displayed--at least in verse--in "Mrs. Frances Harris' Petition."--His great prose satires, "The Tale of a Tub," and "Gulliver's Travels," though planned, were reserved to a later time.--In other forms of poetry he soon afterwards greatly excelled, and the title of poet cannot be refused to the author of "Baucis and Philemon"; the verses on "The Death of Dr. Swift"; the "Rhapsody on Poetry"; "Cadenus and Vanessa"; "The Legion Club"; and most of the poems addressed to Stella, all of which pieces exhibit harmony, invention, and imagination.
Swift has been unduly censured for the coarseness of his language upon Certain topics; but very little of this appears in his earlier poems, and what there is, was in accordance with the taste of the period, which never hesitated to call a spade a spade, due in part to the reaction from the Puritanism of the preceding age, and in part to the outspeaking frankness which disdained hypocrisy. It is shown in Dryden, Pope, Prior, of the last of whom Johnson said that no lady objected to have his poems in her library; still more in the dramatists of that time, whom Charles Lamb has so humorously defended, and in the plays of Mrs. Aphra Behn, who, as Pope says, "fairly puts all characters to bed." But whatever coarseness there may be in some of Swift's poems, such as "The Lady's Dressing Room," and a few other pieces, there is nothing licentious, nothing which excites to lewdness; on the contrary, such pieces create simply a feeling of repulsion. No one, after reading the "Beautiful young Nymph going to bed," or "Strephon and Chloe," would desire any personal acquaintance with the ladies, but there is a moral in these pieces, and the latter poem concludes with excellent matrimonial advice. The coarseness of some of his later writings must be ascribed to his misanthropical hatred of the "animal called man," as expressed in his famous letter to Pope of September 1725, aggravated as it was by his exile from the friends he loved to a land he hated, and by the reception he met with there, about which he speaks very freely in his notes to the "Verses on his own Death."
On the morning of Swift's installation as Dean, the following scurrilous lines by Smedley, Dean of Clogher, were affixed to the doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral:
To-day this Temple gets a Dean Of parts and fame uncommon, Us'd both to pray and to prophane, To serve both God and mammon. When Wharton reign'd a Whig he was; When Pembroke--that's dispute, Sir; In Oxford's time, what Oxford pleased, Non-con, or Jack, or Neuter. This place he got by wit and rhime, And many ways most odd, And might a Bishop be in time, Did he believe in God. Look down, St. Patrick, look, we pray, On thine own church and steeple; Convert thy Dean on this great day, Or else God help the people. And now, whene'er his Deanship dies, Upon his stone be graven, A man of God here buried lies, Who never thought of heaven.
It was by these lines that Smedley earned for himself a niche in "The Dunciad." For Swift's retaliation, see the poems relating to Smedley at the end of the first volume, and in volume ii, at p. 124, note.
This bitterness of spirit reached its height in "Gulliver's Travels," surely the severest of all satires upon humanity, and writ, as he tells us, not to divert, but to vex the world; and ultimately, in the fierce attack upon the Irish Parliament in the poem entitled "The Legion Club," dictated by his hatred of tyranny and oppression, and his consequent passion for exhibiting human nature in its most degraded aspect.
But, notwithstanding his misanthropical feelings towards mankind in general, and his "scorn of fools by fools mistook for pride," there never existed a warmer or sincerer friend to those whom he loved--witness the regard in which he was held by Oxford, Bolingbroke, Pope, Gay, Arbuthnot, and Congreve, and his readiness to assist those who needed his help, without thought of party or politics. Although, in some of his poems, Swift rather severely exposed the follies and frailties of the fair sex, as in "The Furniture of a Woman's Mind," and "The Journal of a Modern Lady," he loved the companionship of beautiful and accomplished women, amongst whom he could count some of his dearest and truest friends; but
He loved to be bitter at
A lady illiterate;
and therefore delighted in giving them literary instruction, most notably in the cases of Stella and Vanessa, whose relations with him arose entirely from the tuition in letters which they received from him. Again, when on a visit at Sir Arthur Acheson's, he insisted upon making Lady Acheson read such books as he thought fit to advise, and in the doggerel verses entitled "My Lady's Lamentation," she is supposed to resent his "very imperious" manner of instruction:
No book for delight Must come in my sight; But instead of new plays, Dull Bacon's Essays, And pore every day on That nasty Pantheon.
As a contrast to his imperiousness, there is an affectionate simplicity in the fancy names he used to bestow upon his female friends. Sir William Temple's wife, Dorothea, became Dorinda; Esther Johnson, Stella; Hester Vanhomrigh, Vanessa; Lady Winchelsea, Ardelia; while to Lady Acheson he gave the nicknames of Skinnybonia, Snipe, and Lean. But all was taken by them in good part; for his rather dictatorial ways were softened by the fascinating geniality and humour which he knew so well how to employ when he used to "deafen them with puns and rhyme."
Into the vexed question of the relations between Swift and Stella I do not purpose to enter further than to record my conviction that she was never more to him than "the dearest friend that ever man had." The suggestion of a concealed marriage is so inconsistent with their whole conduct to each other from first to last, that if there had been such a marriage, instead of Swift having been, as he was, a man of intense sincerity, he must be held to have been a most consummate hypocrite. In my opinion, Churton Collins settled this question in his essays on Swift, first published in the "Quarterly Review," 1881 and 1882. Swift's relation with Vanessa is the saddest episode in his life. The story is amply told in his poem, "Cadenus and Vanessa," and in the letters which passed between them: how the pupil became infatuated with her tutor; how the tutor endeavoured to dispel her passion, but in vain, by reason; and how, at last, she died from love for the man who was unable to give love in return. That Swift ought, as soon as Hester disclosed her passion for him, at once to have broken off the intimacy, must be conceded; but how many men possessed of his kindness of heart would have had the courage to have acted otherwise than he did? Swift seems, in fact, to have been constitutionally incapable of the passion of love, for he says, himself, that he had never met the woman he wished to marry. His annual tributes to Stella on her birthdays express the strongest regard and esteem, but he "ne'er admitted love a guest," and he had been so long used to this Platonic affection, that he had come to regard women as friends, but never as lovers. Stella, on her part, had the same feeling, for she never expressed the least discontent at her position, or ever regarded Swift otherwise than as her tutor, her counsellor, her friend. In her verses to him on his birthday, 1721, she says:
Long be the day that gave you birth Sacred to friendship, wit, and mirth; Late dying may you cast a shred Of your rich mantle o'er my head; To bear with dignity my sorrow One day alone, then die tomorrow.
Stella naturally expected to survive Swift, but it was not to be. She died in the evening of the 28th January 1727-8; and on the same night he began the affecting piece, "On the Death of Mrs. Johnson." (See "Prose Works," vol. xi.)
With the death of Stella, Swift's real happiness ended, and he became more and more possessed by the melancholy which too often accompanies the broadest humour, and which, in his case, was constitutional. It was, no doubt, to relieve it, that he resorted to the composition of the doggerel verses, epigrams, riddles, and trifles exchanged betwixt himself and Sheridan, which induced Orrery's remark that "Swift composing Riddles is Titian painting draught-boards;" on which Delany observes that "a Riddle may be as fine painting as any other in the world. It requires as strong an imagination, as fine colouring, and as exact a proportion and keeping as any other historical painting"; and he instances "Pethox the Great," and should also have alluded to the more learned example--"Louisa to Strephon."
On Orrery's seventh Letter, Delany says that if some of the "coin is base," it is the fine impression and polish which adds value to it, and cites the saying of another nobleman, that "there is indeed some stuff in it, but it is Swift's stuff." It has been said that Swift has never taken a thought from any writer ancient or modern. This is not literally true, but the instances are not many, and in my notes I have pointed out the lines snatched from Milton, Denham, Butler--the last evidently a great favourite.
It seems necessary to state shortly the causes of Swift not having obtained higher preferment. Besides that Queen Anne would never be reconciled to the author of the "Tale of a Tub"--the true purport of which was so ill-understood by her--he made an irreconcilable enemy of her friend, the Duchess of Somerset, by his lampoon entitled "The Windsor Prophecy." But Swift seldom allowed prudence to restrain his wit and humour, and admits of himself that he "had too much satire in his vein"; and that "a genius in the reverend gown must ever keep its owner down"; and says further:
Humour and mirth had place in all he writ;
He reconciled divinity and wit.
But that was what his enemies could not do.
Whatever the excellences and defects of the poems, Swift has erected, not only by his works, but by his benevolence and his charities, a monumentum aere perennius, and his writings in prose and verse will continue to afford instruction and delight when the malevolence of Jeffrey, the misrepresentations of Macaulay, and the sneers and false statements of Thackeray shall have been forgotten.
Sorry, no summary available yet.