The Social and Political Ideas of Some English Thinkers of the Augustan Age, A. D. 1650-1750: A Series of Lectures Delivered at King's College, University of London, during the Session 1927-28

By F. J. C. Hearnshaw | Go to book overview
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VIII
JONATHAN SWIFT

JONATHAN SWIFT is to many so thoroughly objectionable a person that it is difficult to discuss his social and political ideas with that judicial calm which such a subject deserves, and especially so since his critics have ranged themselves into two parties: on the one side Dr Johnson, Macaulay, and Thackeray denouncing the man; on the other those who instinctively feel that anyone attacked by Dr Johnson, Macaulay, and Thackeray must necessarily have possessed many amiable qualities. Even his greatest admirers adopt a tone of apology or rhetorical eulogy. Had he written detachedly his personal character would have been unimportant, but, as Sir Leslie Stephen puts it, "no writer has ever been more thoroughly original than Swift, for his writings are simply himself," with the result that almost every one of his actions can be interpreted in different ways. While his admirers hold that the Drapier's Letters are the sæua indignatio of an honest man who hated a job, De Quincey went so far as to say that: "Of all Swift villainies for the sake of popularity, and still more for the sake of wielding his popularity vindictively, none is so scandalous as this."

Yet from the first Swift was thwarted. Indeed, even before he was born he had a grudge against his parents: his father's marriage, as he grumbled in his brief autobiography, was

very indiscreet; for his wife brought her husband little or no fortune, and his death happening so suddenly before he could make a sufficient establishment for his family, his son (not then born) hath been often heard to say, that he felt the consequences of that marriage not only through the whole course of his education, but during the greatest part of his life.1

But it was Swift's habit to regard himself as that far-off event toward which the whole divine creation had hitherto moved.

____________________
1
Printed in Sir Henry Craik Life of Jonathan Swift, vol. ii.

-189-

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