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PAGE 4

Schlosser’s Literary History Of The Eighteenth Century
by [?]

Schlosser, however, is right in a graver reflection which he makes upon the prevailing philosophy of Swift, viz., that ‘all his views were directed towards what was immediately beneficial, which is the characteristic of savages.’ This is undeniable. The meanness of Swift’s nature, and his rigid incapacity for dealing with the grandeurs of the human spirit, with religion, with poetry, or even with science, when it rose above the mercenary practical, is absolutely appalling. His own yahoo is not a more abominable one-sided degradation of humanity, than is he himself under this aspect. And, perhaps, it places this incapacity of his in its strongest light, when we recur to the fact of his astonishment at a religious princess refusing to confer a bishoprick upon one that had treated the Trinity, and all the profoundest mysteries of Christianity, not with mere scepticism, or casual sneer, but with set pompous merriment and farcical buffoonery. This dignitary of the church, Dean of the most conspicuous cathedral in Ireland, had, in full canonicals, made himself into a regular mountebank, for the sake of giving fuller effect, by the force of contrast, to the silliest of jests directed against all that was most inalienable from Christianity. Ridiculing such things, could he, in any just sense, be thought a Christian? But, as Schlosser justly remarks, even ridiculing the peculiarities of Luther and Calvin as he did ridicule them, Swift could not be thought other than constitutionally incapable of religion. Even a Pagan philosopher, if made to understand the case, would be incapable of scoffing at any form, natural or casual, simple or distorted, which might be assumed by the most solemn of problems–problems that rest with the weight of worlds upon the human spirit–

‘Fix’d fate, free-will, fore-knowledge absolute.’

the destiny of man, or the relations of man to God. Anger, therefore, Swift might feel, and he felt it [7] to the end of his most wretched life; but what reasonable ground had a man of sense for astonishment— that a princess, who (according to her knowledge) was sincerely pious, should decline to place such a man upon an Episcopal throne? This argues, beyond a doubt, that Swift was in that state of constitutional irreligion, irreligion from a vulgar temperament, which imputes to everybody else its own plebeian feelings. People differed, he fancied, not by more and less religion, but by more and less dissimulations. And, therefore, it seemed to him scandalous that a princess, who must, of course, in her heart regard (in common with himself) all mysteries as solemn masques and mummeries, should pretend in a case of downright serious business, to pump up, out of dry conventional hoaxes, any solid objection to a man of his shining merit. ‘The Trinity,’ for instance, that he viewed as the password, which the knowing ones gave in answer to the challenge of the sentinel; but, as soon as it had obtained admission for the party within the gates of the camp, it was rightly dismissed to oblivion or to laughter. No case so much illustrates Swift’s essential irreligion; since, if he had shared in ordinary human feelings on such subjects, not only he could not have been surprised at his own exclusion from the bench of bishops, after such ribaldries, but originally he would have abstained from them as inevitable bars to clerical promotion, even upon principles of public decorum.

As to the style of Swift, Mr. Schlosser shows himself without sensibility in his objections, as the often hackneyed English reader shows himself without philosophic knowledge of style in his applause. Schlosser thinks the style of Gulliver ‘somewhat dull.’ This shows Schlosser’s presumption in speaking upon a point where he wanted, 1st, original delicacy of tact; and, 2dly, familiar knowledge of English. Gulliver’s style is purposely touched slightly with that dulness of circumstantiality which besets the excellent, but ‘somewhat dull’ race of men–old sea captains. Yet it wears only an aerial tint of dulness; the felicity of this coloring in Swift’s management is, that it never goes the length of wearying, but only of giving a comic air of downright Wapping and Rotherhithe verisimilitude. All men grow dull, and ought to be dull, that live under a solemn sense of eternal danger, one inch only of plank (often worm-eaten) between themselves and the grave; and, also, that see for ever one wilderness of waters–sublime, but (like the wilderness on shore) monotonous. All sublime people, being monotonous, have a tendency to be dull, and sublime things also. Milton and Aeschylus, the sublimest of men, are crossed at times by a shade of dulness. It is their weak side. But as to a sea captain, a regular nor’-nor’-wester, and sou’-sou’-easter, he ought to be kicked out of the room if he is not dull. It is not ‘ship-shape,’ or barely tolerable, that he should be otherwise. Yet, after all, considering what I have stated about Captain Gulliver’s nine voyages crowding into one pocket volume, he cannot really have much abused his professional license for being dull. Indeed, one has to look out an excuse for his being so little dull; which excuse is found in the fact that he had studied three years at a learned university. Captain Gulliver, though a sailor, I would have you to know, was a gownsman of Cambridge: so says Swift, who knew more about the Captain than anybody now-a-days. Cantabs are all horsemen, ergo, Gulliver was fit for any thing, from the wooden shoon of Cambridge up to the Horse Marines.