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Ireland, took orders, and settled at Kilroot. He found the solitude of this life so intolerable, however, that he returned in 1696 to Moor Park, and remained there in his former capacity until 1699. At bottom the two men evidently had a sincere respect for each other's character and abilities. Through Temple's influence Swift, in 1692, was enabled to take the degree of M.A. at Oxford. By Temple, also, he was sent as a political emissary to King William III, by that monarch was offered a military commission in a regiment, and was taught how to eat asparagus after the Dutch fashion, which consisted of eating the stalks as well as the heads, a custom which Swift in later years was in the habit of imposing on his guests. On the whole, Swift's years at Moor Park seem to have been not disagreeable nor unprofitable. For long intervals he was the sole occupant of the great house," living alone," as he said, “in state, seeing nobody, and amusing his leisure by watching the revolutions in the kingdom of the rooks.” He utilized the leisure of the situation in reading and in writing. Among other authors he devoured Virgil, Homer, Horace, and Lucretius. His studies, in fact, included everything but theology. His residence at Moor Park continued until 1699, when Sir William died, leaving Swift his literary executor. The editing and publication of Temple's works probably made him several hundred pounds and certainly caused him an enormous amount of trouble in later years.
In 1692, Sir William had written an essay on ancient and modern learning, about which he knew little, and it involved him in a furious controversy with several of the most distinguished scholars of the age. Swift, in 1697, took up arms on behalf of his patron and produced a remarkable composition, which was published in 1704 under the name of the “ Battle of the Books." It is an account in prose of a battle between the ancient and modern books, the style being a mock heroic imitation of Homer's battles. The moderns are completely defeated. The whole book is characterized by infinite spirit.
The “ Battle of the Books" is an expression of the contempt for pedants which is about the only thing that Swift seems to have derived from his course at Trinity College, Dublin. It is still more conspicuous in a far greater satire which he wrote about 1696 and which was published along with “ The Battle of the Books" in 1704. This was
The Tale of a Tub,” which has been called Swift's challenge to pedantry, an attack on shams, and the precursor of Carlyle's “ Sartor Resartus." In it Swift's style reached a degree of perfection which is found nowhere else in his works. It is so good, indeed, that Dr. Johnson, who hated Swift, doubted whether he could have written it. Swift himself toward the end of his life, on re-reading the book, is said to have exclaimed, “ Good God, what a genius I had when I wrote that book!” As far as it can be said to have a theme, it is a sort of defense of the English Church against the Roman Catholics and the Puritans. So effectively did Swift ridicule these sects that the book led to doubts of his orthodoxy and even of his Christianity, and undoubtedly interfered with his promotion in the church.
When Swift left Moor Park in 1699, he was thirty-one years old. In a search for a means of living, he turned again to Ireland, which he hated, and finally succeeded in obtaining a living in Laracor, a village twenty miles from Dublin. The income from this and one or two other small preferments which he obtained, made up about two hundred and thirty pounds a year. As his congregation consisted only of fifteen persons he found abundant leisure to study and intrigue. He seems to have been on good terms with the successive viceroys of Ireland. And when Addison came as secretary to the Lord Lieutenant Wharton, he made his acquaintance, an acquaintance which ripened soon into a fast friendship. Though Dryden, some years before, had said to Swift, “ Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet,” he began at this time to write verses full of spirit and characterized by sincerity and close observation. In the “ Petition of Mrs. Frances Harris," a chambermaid who had lost her purse, he lays bare the workings of the menial intellect with the clearness of a master. “Baucis and Philemon," a humorous travesty of one of Ovid's poems, he produced about the same time. He submitted this piece, as he tells us, to the criticism of Addison, who made him “ blot out four score lines, add four score, and alter four score," though the whole consisted of only 178 verses. The high school student who thinks he can dash off a composition without revision will do well to remember this story.
Laracor, however, was too small to hold Swift. In fact, Ireland was too small. We find him, accordingly, after a while spending most of his time in London. The ostensible reason for this was a mission regarding the revenues of the Irish church, but the real reason, doubtless, his ambition for power, notoriety, and society. For a time we find him associating with the wits of the Whig party, Steele and Addison, and with its patrons of literature, Somers and Halifax, and endeavoring to obtain from them certain concessions for the Irish Church. Swift, however, was singularly unfortunate in gaining from them any preferment for himself or any consideration for his Church, and in consequence we find him, in 1710, joining the Tories, whose leaders, Harley and St. John, admitted him, not indeed into their inner councils, but to their intimacy, which was flattering to his vanity and which carried with it much real power. He rewarded them by writing effectively against the policy of the Whigs. His most famous performance in this connection was a pamphlet of unique power called “The Conduct of the Allies.” His whole life between September 10,
, 1710, to April, 1713, is described in great detail in his “ Journal to Stella,” a series of notes which he sent from London to Miss Esther Johnson in Dublin. One of the most noteworthy evidences of his influence at this period is found in the fact that he solicited and obtained subscriptions aggregating a thousand pounds for a translation of Homer by his young friend, Alexander Pope.
The Whigs were in power until 1710. The Tories were in power from 1710 until the death of Queen Anne in 1714, after which the Whigs enjoyed an almost uninterrupted supremacy until 1760. These dates have a curious correspondence with the literary careers of Swift and Addison. While the Tories were in power, Swift wrote little and Addison much, and vice versa. “The Battle of the Books” and “The Tale of a Tub came out during the first Whig régime, and “ Gulliver's Travels” during the second. Addison's best work, " The Spectator," was written between 1710 and 1714. In 1714, at the death of Queen Anne, Swift's party was not only driven from office, but was practically annihilated. He himself barely escaped the general ruin, having been appointed April 2, 1713, as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. To Dublin, accordingly, he then retired, and in the retirement of his ecclesiastical office he spent practically all of his remaining years.
Swift's exile in Ireland has been compared to Napoleon's exile at St. Helena. He himself described the state of Ireland with a vividness that cannot be surpassed. He says that it had been reduced by English greed to a condition such that not one farmer in the kingdom out of a hundred “could afford shoes or stockings to his children, or to eat flesh or drink anything better than sour milk and water twice in a year; so that the whole country, except the Scotch plantation in the north, is a scene of misery and desolation hardly to be matched on this side Lapland."
In 1720, he published a pamphlet in which he exhorted the Irish to use only Irish manufactures. At this time he applied to Ireland and England the fable of “ Arachne and Pallas.” The latter, indignant at being equalled in spinning, turned Arachne into a spider. England is Pallas. She compels Arachne to spin forever for her benefit. The printer of this pamphlet was prosecuted, but the unpopularity of the prosecution became so great that it was dropped. Four years later a more violent agitation broke out. A patent had been given to a certain William Wood for supplying Ireland with a copper coinage. Many complaints of dishonesty in obtaining the patent had been made, and it was claimed that Wood had been guilty of frauds in his coinage. Probably out of about seventy-four pounds' worth of metal he made four hundred and fifty pounds' worth of halfpence. At all events Swift, in 1724, attacked him in "Drapier's Letters," in which he advised the people to boycott the halfpence. The Letters are full of false reasoning, but are written in such a vein of commonsense with an undercurrent of intense passion that they are undeniably effective. The dauntless front which Swift here showed to the oppressors of his country made him the idol of the Irish. A club was formed in his honor. When he returned from England in 1726, bells were rung, bonfires were lighted, and a guard of honor escorted him to the deanery. Towns voted him their freedom and received him like a prince. When the prime minister spoke of arresting him he was informed that the messenger would require a guard of ten thousand soldiers. A lawyer who had complained because the dean had called him a "booby” lost twelve hundred pounds a year in income. When a great crowd had collected to see an eclipse, Swift sent word to them that the eclipse had been postponed by his orders, and the crowd dispersed. Popular as he was, however, he was unhappy. In a letter to Bolingbroke in 1729 he wrote, “ You think, as I ought to think, that it is time for me to have done with the world; and so I would, if I could get into a better before I was called into the best, and not die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole.” The state of mind to which he here alludes is still further in evidence in the “ Modest Proposal (written in 1729) for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from being a Burden to their parents or Country "the proposal being that they should be turned into articles of food. The latter is one of the most tremendous pieces of satire in existence. It is, in truth, fearful to read even now; but we can sympathize with Swift if we remember that it is an expression of burning indignation against intolerable wrongs.
It is not to be supposed, however, that all of Swift's days were unhappy. At all events, in 1726, he completed and published the most famous of his books; a book which everybody reads even to this day; a book which is equally delightful to children and to adults. “ Gulliver's Travels is a source of endless pleasure to children because of the story which it contains, a source of pleasure to grownups because they find in it a bitter satire upon the shams and weaknesses of mankind. The work is divided into four parts. In the first part, Mr. Lemuel Gulliver makes a voyage in which he is thrown among the Lilliputians, whose stature is to man as one inch is to one foot. In the second part, he goes to Brobdingnag, which is inhabited by a race of giants twelve times as big as men. In the third part, he visits Laputa, where he finds some pedants and projectors whom he unjustly but picturesquely satirizes. Of one of them he says he had been eight years upon a project of extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He also visits the Strulbugs, who are old men that have outlived their usefulness and pleasure in life but are condemned to pass eternity in that condition. In Part Four, he goes to the Houyhnhnms, who have neither vices nor enthu