The Mind and Art of Jonathan Swift

By Ricardo Quintana | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

'. . . I DESIRE YOU will look upon me as a man worn with years, and sunk by public as well as personal vexations. I have entirely lost my memory, uncapable of conversation by a cruel deafness, which has lasted almost a year, and I despair of any cure.' Thus Swift to Pope in August 1738. He was sinking rapidly under the weight of manifold afflictions and he knew it. He knew also that before death came he must pass through twilight into darkness, but until the last light went out he would assert, alone and in silence, his own individual existence as something different from the shadows striving to obliterate it. Death he did not fear; it was the loss of moral consciousness preceding death that he revolted against.

It was on 12 August 1742, in answer to a petition by two of his friends, that a commission de lunatico inquirendo was issued.1 On 17 August the commissioners found him of unsound mind and memory, not capable of taking care of his person or fortune. Guardians were accordingly appointed and his person was entrusted to the care of the Reverend John Lyon. But behind the imbecile countenance, twisted by a stroke of palsy, a mind still glimmered. Swift's last recorded words are those mentioned by Deane Swift in a letter to Lord Orrery of 4 April 1744: 'This puts me in mind of what he said about five days ago. He endeavoured several times to speak to his servant -- now and then he calls him by his name -- at last, not finding words to express what he would be at, after some uneasiness, he said, "I am a fool."' The will of iron and the superb pride still triumphed over the shadows.

Swift died 19 October 1745, being then in his seventy- eighth year. He was buried on the night of the twenty- second in St. Patrick's Cathedral, not far from Stella.

If Swift is not the greatest of the Augustans, he is beyond question the most compelling. It is in respect of the man himself that judgments must differ most sharply, but whether

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