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

Now, on the other hand, you, common-place reader, that (as an old tradition) believe Swift’s style to be a model of excellence, hereafter I shall say a word to you, drawn from deeper principles. At present I content myself with these three propositions, which overthrow if you can;–

1. That the merit, which justly you ascribe to Swift, is vernacularity; he never forgets his mother-tongue in exotic forms, unless we may call Irish exotic; for Hibernicisms he certainly has. This merit, however, is exhibited–not, as you fancy, in a graceful artlessness, but in a coarse inartificiality. To be artless, and to be inartificial, are very different things; as different as being natural and being gross; as different as being simple and being homely.

2. That whatever, meantime, be the particular sort of excellence, or the value of the excellence, in the style of Swift, he had it in common with multitudes beside of that age. De Foe wrote a style for all the world the same as to kind and degree of excellence, only pure from Hibernicisms. So did every honest skipper [Dampier was something more] who had occasion to record his voyages in this world of storms. So did many a hundred of religious writers. And what wonder should there be in this, when the main qualification for such a style was plain good sense, natural feeling, unpretendingness, some little scholarly practice in putting together the clockwork of sentences, so as to avoid mechanical awkwardness of construction, but above all the advantage of a subject, such in its nature as instinctively to reject ornament, lest it should draw off attention from itself? Such subjects are common; but grand impassioned subjects insist upon a different treatment; and there it is that the true difficulties of style commence.

3. [Which partly is suggested by the last remark.] That nearly all the blockheads with whom I have at any time had the pleasure of conversing upon the subject of style (and pardon me for saying that men of the most sense are apt, upon two subjects, viz., poetry and style, to talk most like blockheads), have invariably regarded Swift’s style not as if relatively good [i.e. given a proper subject], but as if absolutely good–good unconditionally, no matter what the subject. Now, my friend, suppose the case, that the Dean had been required to write a pendant for Sir Walter Raleigh’s immortal apostrophe to Death, or to many passages that I will select in Sir Thomas Brown’s ‘Religio Medici,’ and his ‘Urn-burial,’ or to Jeremy Taylor’s inaugural sections of his ‘Holy Living and Dying,’ do you know what would have happened? Are you aware what sort of ridiculous figure your poor bald Jonathan would have cut? About the same that would be cut by a forlorn scullion or waiter from a greasy eating-house at Rotterdam, if suddenly called away in vision to act as seneschal to the festival of Belshazzar the king, before a thousand of his lords.

Schlosser, after saying any thing right and true (and he really did say the true thing about Swift’s essential irreligion), usually becomes exhausted, like a boa-constrictor after eating his half-yearly dinner. The boa gathers himself up, it is to be hoped for a long fit of dyspepsy, in which the horns and hoofs that he has swallowed may chance to avenge the poor goat that owned them. Schlosser, on the other hand, retires into a corner, for the purpose of obstinately talking nonsense, until the gong sounds again for a slight refection of sense. Accordingly he likens Swift, before he has done with him, to whom? I might safely allow the reader three years for guessing, if the greatest of wagers were depending between us. He likens him to Kotzebue, in the first place. How faithful the resemblance! How exactly Swift reminds you of Count Benyowski in Siberia, and of Mrs. Haller moping her eyes in the ‘Stranger!’ One really is puzzled to say, according to the negro’s logic, whether Mrs. Haller is more like the Dean of St. Patrick’s, or the Dean more like Mrs. Haller. Anyhow, the likeness is prodigious, if it is not quite reciprocal. The other terminus of the comparison is Wieland. Now there is some shadow of a resemblance there. For Wieland had a touch of the comico-cynical in his nature; and it is notorious that he was often called the German Voltaire, which argues some tiger-monkey grin that traversed his features at intervals. Wieland’s malice, however, was far more playful and genial than Swift’s; something of this is shown in his romance of ‘Idris,’ and oftentimes in his prose. But what the world knows Wieland by is his ‘Oberon.’ Now in this gay, musical romance of Sir Huon and his enchanted horn, with its gleams of voluptuousness, is there a possibility that any suggestion of a scowling face like Swift’s should cross the festal scenes?