Satires and Personal Writings

Satires and Personal Writings

Satires and Personal Writings

Satires and Personal Writings

Excerpt

While walking with Swift one day in the country, Pope ventured the opinion that chance reflections are often as important as laboured syllogisms, the extemporized 'aside' more to the point than the prepared declamation. Acting upon this theory they produced some of the best pages of their joint Miscellanies--pages in which trifles are illumined with the fire of genius.

To Swift this employment of his wit, in conversation and in writing, was ever congenial. In his old age he wrote, 'I love la Bagatelle better than ever'. Trivia was his patron saint, and Lilliput his refuge from the Yahoo. Pregnant with humour as are Gulliver and A Tale of a Tub, the reader who knows Swift only through his extended and completed satires is in danger of missing the human comedy laid bare in a hundred brief sketches drawn in a merrier mood. Satirical tracts dashed off in haste and published unsigned and unrevised, ideas for later use caught on the wing and assembled incongruously in a common-place book as Thoughts on Various Subjects, titles and plots suggested to fellow writers in a letter or over a cup of coffee, bear witness to a gaiety and fertility of imagination which has been overlooked or discarded as inconvenient by the makers of the myth of a pathological misanthrope. The Swift who enlivened the company of Stella, Arbuthnot, Addison, Gay, and Pope is the Swift for modern readers, rather than the monster described by Thackeray, the bloodless rationalist depicted by Leslie Stephen, or the 'neurotic', the exhumed 'skull', and the 'tiger' of more recent biographers. Swift did indeed live a frustrated life, but the intellectual diver-

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