Jonathan Swift and the Age of Compromise

By Kathleen Williams | Go to book overview

Chapter I
THE NEED FOR COMPROMISE

Jonathan Swift has perhaps always been to some degree an enigmatic figure. For generations of readers, his character and the details of his private life have provided a fascinating and probably insoluble problem. Legend and controversy have proliferated about the figure of the "mad parson," the '"ribald priestand per jured lover," and they are with us still. In his own lifetime, opinions differed as to Swift's character and intentions, and as opinions differed, passions rose. Swift was always capable of arousing extremes of affection or dislike, and he seems, moreover, to have been one of those rare and striking persons whose slightest actions or sayings have a vividness which makes them significant. Avidly seized upon by his biographers, these assume a legendary or prophetic quality, and are made the key to his whole personality and work. "I shall be like that tree, I shall die at the top," "and no die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole" -- such comments as these, some not quite serious, all natural and humane enough when read in their context and in relation to the circumstances in which their author found himself at the time, have inspired detailed descriptions of a tortured, self-centered misanthrope Or, on the other hand, the mood of self-confidence displayed in Bishop Kenneth's brilliant, malicious sketch of Swift showing off a little in the Queen's antechamber at Windsor can between as expressing his overbearing arrogance. A man like this doomed to legendary significance, can be allowed no ordinary flippancy, no careless exaggeration or ingenious wit, in his private life or letters. He is forced into a consistency which properly belongs only to the creatures of cur imagination, and of the many Jonathan Swifts offered us by the biographers not a few have been of that order. Yet when we read the letters and the Journal to Stella we meet a man who is after all very like ourselves: ambitious, self-doubting, sometimes despondent and sometimes assertive and cheerful, and all these only in the common degree, although he has been ill served by that capacity for the memor-

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Jonathan Swift and the Age of Compromise
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents *
  • Chapter I - The Need for Compromise 1
  • Chapter II - The Ordering Mind 19
  • Chapter III - Reason and Virtue 43
  • Chapter IV - The Treasure of Baseness in Man 64
  • Chapter V - The Individual and the State 91
  • Chapter VI - Giddy Circumstance 118
  • Chapter VII - Animal Rationis Capax 154
  • Conclusion 210
  • Notes 219
  • Index 235
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