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PAGE 4

Jonathan Swift
by [?]

Perhaps no one who has written of Swift knew him so well as Delany. And this writer, who seems to have possessed a judicial quality far beyond most men, has told us that Swift was moral in conduct to the point of asceticism. His deportment was grave and dignified, and his duties as a priest were always performed with exemplary diligence. He visited the sick, regularly administered the sacraments, and was never known to absent himself from morning prayers.

When Harley was Lord Treasurer, Swift seems to have been on the topmost crest of the wave of popularity. Invitations from nobility flowed in upon him, beautiful women deigned to go in search of his society, royalty recognized him. And yet all this time he was only a country priest with a liking for literature.

Collins tells us that the reason for his popularity is plain: “Swift was one of the kings of the earth. Like Pope Innocent the Third, like Chatham, he was one to whom the world involuntarily pays tribute.”

His will was a will of adamant; his intellect so keen that it impressed every one who approached him; his temper singularly stern, dauntless and haughty. But his wit was never filled with gaiety: he was never known to laugh. Amid the wildest uproar that his sallies caused, he would sit with face austere–unmoved.

Personally, Swift was a gentleman. When he was scurrilous, abusive, ribald, malicious, it was anonymously. Is this to his credit? I should not say so, but if a man is indecent and he hides behind a “nom de plume,” it is at least presumptive proof that he is not dead to shame.

Leslie Stephen tells us that Swift was a Churchman to the backbone. No man who is a “Churchman to the backbone” is ever very pious: the spirit maketh alive, but the letter killeth. One looks in vain for traces of spirituality in the Dean. His sermons are models of churchly commonplace and full of the stock phrases of a formal religion. He never bursts into flame. Yet he most thoroughly and sincerely believed in religion. “I believe in religion, it keeps the masses in check. And then I uphold Christianity because if it is abolished the stability of the Church might be endangered,” he said.

Philip asked the eunuch a needless question when he inquired, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” No one so poorly sexed as Swift can comprehend spiritual truth: spirituality and sexuality are elements that are never separated. Swift was as incapable of spirituality as he was of the “grand passion.”

The Dean had affection; he was a warm friend; he was capable even of a degree of love, but his sexual and spiritual nature was so cold and calculating that he did not hesitate to sacrifice love to churchly ambition.

He argued that the celibacy of the Catholic clergy is a wise expediency. The bachelor physician and the unmarried priest have an influence among gentle womankind, young or old, married or single, that a benedict can never hope for. Why this is so might be difficult to explain, but discerning men know the fact. In truth, when a priest marries he should at once take a new charge, for if he remains with his old flock a goodly number of his “lady parishioners,” in ages varying from seventeen to seventy, will with fierce indignation rend his reputation.

Swift was as wise as a serpent, but not always as harmless as a dove. He was making every effort to secure his miter and crosier: he had many women friends in London and elsewhere who had influence. Rather than run the risk of losing this influence he never acknowledged Stella as his wife. Choosing fame rather than love, he withered at the heart, then died at the top.

The life of every man is a seamless garment–its woof his thoughts, its warp his deeds. When for him the roaring loom of time stops and the thread is broken, foolish people sometimes point to certain spots in the robe and say, “Oh, why did he not leave that out!” not knowing that every action of man is a sequence from off Fate’s spindle.