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A CRITICISM on these MISCELLANIES.
THE poetical performances of Dr-Swift ought to be confiderparticular persons. We must not suppose them designed for pofterity. If he had cultivated his genius in that way, he must certainly have excelled, especially in fatire. We see fine sketches in several of his pieces: but he seems more desirous to inform and strengthen his mind, than to indulge the luxuriancy of his imagination. He chufes to discover and correct errors in the works of others, rather than to illustrate and add beauties to his own. Like a tkilful artist he is fond of probing wounds to their depth, and of enlarging them to open view. He prefers caustics, which erode proud flesh, to softer balsamics, which give more immediate ease. He aims to be severely useful, rather than politely engaging: and, as he was either not formed, or would not take pains to excel in poetry, he became in some measuri superior to it; and assumed more the air and manners of a critic, than of a poet. Had he liv ved in the same age with Horace, he would have approached nearer to him, than any other poet : and if we may make an allowance for the different course of study, and different form of government, to which each of these great men were subject, we may ob. serve, in several instances, a strong resemblance between them. Both poets are equally distinguished for wit and humour. Each displays a peculiar felicity in diction. But, of the two, Horace is the more elegant and delicate : while he condemns, he pleases. Swift takes pleasure in giving pain. The dissimilitude of their tempers might be owing to the different turns in their fortune. Swift carly formed large views of ambition, and was disappointed. Horace, from an exiled low state, rofe into affluence, and enjoyed the favour and friendship of Augustus. Each poet was the delight of the principal persons of his age. Cum magnis vixisse, was not more applicable to Horace, than to Swift. They both were temperate; both were frugal; and both were of the same Epicurean taste, Horace had his Lydia, Swift had his Vanessa. Horace had bis Mecænas and his Agrippa; Swift had his Oxford and his Boling. broke. Horace had his Virgil, Swift had his Pope.
Swift, who had the nicest ear, is remarkably chaste and delicate in his rhymes. A bad rhyme appeared to him one of the capital sins in poetry; and yet it is a sin into which some of our greatest poets have fallen; Dryden frequently, Pope fometimes. The former was imbarraffed with a wife and family, and was often under such neceffitous circumstances, as to be obliged to publish, or to want subGistence. The latter was in a less confined, and in a much more ea. fy situation. He was naturally judicious, and uncommonly atten. .tive to maintain the dignity of his character. Altho’his body was weak, his mind was equal to the weight of his laurel crown ; and VOL. VI.
he wore it not only with ease, but majesty. Take him as a poct, we shall not see his like again.
The Dean kept company with many of the fair sex; but they were rather his amusement ihan his admiration. He trified away many hours in their conversation, he filled many pages in their praise, and, by the power of his head, he gained the character of a lover, without the least assistance from his heart. To this par. ticular kind of pride, supported by the bent of his genius, and joined by the excessive coldness of his nature, Vanessa owed the suin of her reputation; and from the same causes, Stella remained an unacknowledged wife. If we consider Swift's behaviour, so far only as it relates to women, we shall find, that he looked upon them rather as busts, than as whole figures. In his panegyrical descriptions, he has seldom descended lower than the centre of their hearts; or if ever he has designed a compleat statue, it has been generally cast in a dirty, or in a disagreeable mould: as if Atatuary had not conceived, or had not experienced that justness of proportion, that delicacy of limb, and those pleasing and graceful attitudes which have constituted the sex to be the most beautiful part of the creation. If you review his several poems to Stella, you will find them fuller of affection than desire, and more expressive of friendlip than of love. For example,
Thu, STELLA, wert no longer young,
I neer admitted love a guest. Most of the poems which are absolutely addressed to Stella, or which describe her in a variety of attitudes, turn upon her age: a kind of excuse perhaps for Swift's want of love.
It is impossible for me to pass a very minute comment upon the various poems wrote by Swift. They are not only mingled improperly, in point of dates and subjects; but many, very many of them, are temporary, trifling, and I had almost said puerile. Several of them are personal, and consequently scarce amusing; or at least they leave a very small impression upon our minds. Such indeed as are likely to draw your attention, are exquisite, and so peculiarly his own, that whoever has dared to imitate him in these, or in any of his works, has constantly failed in the attempt. Upon a general view of his poetry, we shall find him, as in his other performances, an uncommon, surprising, heteroclite genius; luxusious in his fancy, lively in his ideas, humorous in his descriptions, and bitter, exceeding bitter, in his satire. The restlessness of his imagination, and the disappointment of his ambition, have both contributed to hinder him from undertaking any poetical work of length or importance. His wit was sufficient to every labour: no flight could have wearied the strength of his pinions : perhaps, if the extenlive views of bis naturc had been fully satisfied, his airy
motions had been more regular, and less sudden. But he now appears like an eagle that is sometimes chained; and at that particular time, for want of nobler and more proper food, diverts his confinement, and appeases his hunger, by destroying the gnats, butterflies, and other wretched insects that unluckily happen to buz or futter within his reach,
While I have been reading over his poems, I have considered him as an Egyptian hieroglyphic; which tho' it had an unnatural, and frequently an indecent appearance, yet it. always contained fome secret marks of wisdom, and sometimes of deep morality. The subjects of his poems are often nauseous, and the perform: ances beautifully disagreeable.
The lady's dressing-room has been universally condemned, as der ficient in point of delicacy, even to the highest degree. The best apology that can be made in its favour,.is to suppose, that the aúthor exhibited his Celia in the most hideous colours he could finds left le might be mistaken as a goddess, when she was only a mortal. External beauty is very alluring to youth and inexperience ; and Swift, by pulling off the borrowed plumes of his harpy, discovers at once a frightful bird of prey, and by making her offensive, renders her less dangerous and inviting. Such, I hope, was his design. " But let his views and motives have been ever so bene. ficial, his general want of delicacy and decorum must not hope even to find the shadow of an excuse; for it is impossible not to own, that he too frequently forgets that politeness and tenderness of manners, which are undoubtedly due to human kind. From bis early and repeated disappointments, he became a milanthrope. If his mind had been more equal and content, I am willing to believe, that he would have viewed the works of nature with a more benign aspect. And perhaps, under a less constant rotation of anxiety, he might have preserved his senses to the last scene of Life, and might have enjoyed that calm exit from the stage, for : which his friend Horace so earnestly, supplicates Apollo.
Frui paratis et valido mihi,
Degere, nec cithara carentem. His pride was so great as scarce to admit any body to the least Share of his friendlip, except such who could amuse him, or such who could do him honour. To these two different clailes we owe many of his poems. His companions and humble foHowers find themselves immortalized by the insertion of their names in ad. dresses to Stella, or in other miscellaneous pieces, written in an easy, altho' not in a careless manner. His more exalted friends, whose stations and characters did him honour, are treated in a different style : and you will perceive a real dignity, and a most delicate kind of wit, in all his poems to Lord Oxford, Lord Peterhorow, Lord Carteret (now Earl of Granville), Mr Pulteney (now Earl of Bath); and I think I may particularly add, in a
poem to the Countess of Winchelsea (under the name of Ardelia), and another to Mrs Biddy Floyd. These names abetted him in his pursuit of fame. They reflected back the glory which he gave. But still I cannot recolled one poem, nay scarce a couplet, to his noble patron Lord Bolingbroke. In that instance he has been as filent, as Virgil has been to Horace ; and yet he certainly had not a grain of envy in his composition.
I think I can discern a third kind of ftyle in his poems addressed to Mr Pog Mr Gay, Dr Delany, and Dr Young. When he writes to them, there is a mixture of ease, dignity, familiarity, and affection. They were his intimate friends, whom he loved sincere. ly, and whom he wished to accompany into the poetical regions of eternity
As to the poem called Death and Daphne; I recollect an odd in. cident relating to that nymph. Swift, soon after our acquaintance, introduced me to her, as to one of his female favourites. I had scarce been half an hour in her company, before she asked me, if I bad seen the Dean's poem upon Death and Daphne? As I told her I had not, the immediately unlocked a cabinet, and bringing out the manuscript, read it to me with a seeming satisfaction, of which at that time I doubted the sincerity. While she was reading, the Dean was perpetually correcting her for bad pronunciation, and for pla. cing a wrong emphasis upon particular words. As soon as she had gone thro' the composition, the assured me smilingly, that the portrait of Daphne was drawn for herself. I begged to be excused from believing it, and protested that I could not see one feature that had the least resemblance. But the Dean immediately burit into a fit of laughter ; " You fancy,” says he, “ that you are ve" sy polite; but you are much mistaken. That lady had rather « be a Daphne drawn by me, than a Sacharissa by any other pen
cil.” She confirmed what he had said with great earnestness; so that I had no other method of retrieving my error, than by whispering in her ear, as I was conducting her down stairs to dinner, that indeed I found
Her hand as dry and cold as lead. You see the command which Swift had over all his females; and you
would have smiled to have found his house a constant se. raglio of very virtuous women, who attended him from morning till night, with an obedience, an awe, and an affiduity, that arc feldom paid to the richest, or the most powerful lovers; no, not even to the Grand Signior himself.
To thefe ladies Swift owed the publication of many pieces, which ought never to have been delivered to the press. He communicated every composition as soon as finished, to his female fé. nate; who not only passed their judgment on the performance, but constantly asked, and almost as constantly obtained, a copy of it. You cannot be surprised, that it was immediately afterwards feen in print; and when printed, became a part of his works. He lived much at home, and was continually writing, when alone.
Not any of his senators prefirmed to approach him, when he figo nified his pleasure to remain in private, and without interruption. His nightgown and flippers were not easier put on or off, than his attendants. No prince ever met with more flattery to his ow: person, or more devotion to his own mandates. This desporic power not oply blinded him, bur gave a loose to passions that ought to have been kept under a proper restraint. I am sorry to say, thaç whole nations are sometimes sacrificed to his resentment: for refections of that fort appear to me the least justifiable of any kind. of satire. You will read his acerrima with indignation, and his mie puriæ with regret.
Yet I must add, that since he has descended so low as to write, and still so much lower as to print riddles, he is : excellent even in that kind of versification. The lines are finooth, er, the expressions are neater, and the thought is closer pursueden than in any other riddle-writer whatever. But Swift composing riddles, is Titian painting draught-boards; which must have been inexcusable, while there remained a signpost-painter in the world,
As to the two Latin poems, An epistle to Dr Sheridan, and, À description of the rocks at Carbery in Ireland; the Dean was extreme ly solicitous, that they should be printed among his works: and what is no less true than amazing, he allumed to himself more vanity upon these two Latin poems, than upon many of his bests English performances. It is said, that Milton in his own judgement preferred the Paradise Regained to the Paradise Lost. There possibly might be found some excuse for such a preference; but in Swift's case there can he none. He understood the Latin language. perfeâly well, and he read it constantly; but he was no Latin poet. And if the Carberie rupes, and the Epiftola ad Thomam Sheridan, had been the produce of any other author, they mutta have undergone a severe censure from Dr Swift.
The two poems, intitled, The life and genuine charakter of Dr Swift, and, Verses on the death of Dr Swift, &c. are poems of
great wit and humour. The first was artfully published by Dr Swift in a manner so different from those rules of poetry to which he confined himself, that he hoped the public might naistake it for a spusious or uncorrect copy, stolen by memory from his original poem. He took great pleasure in this supposition: and I believe it answered his expectation. One of his strictest rules in poetry was to avoid triplets. What can have given rise to so nice a peculiarity, is difficult to determine. It might be owing only to a singular turn of thinking. But the reason which he publicly afligned, seemed not so much against the pra&ice itself, as against the poets who indulged themlelves in that manner of writing : ". A custom (ac
cording to the Dean's opinion) introduced by laziness, continued
by ignorance, and established by false taste." With deference to so great a critic, it is a custom that has frequently been purfued with remarkable success. Mr Dryden abounds in triplets; and in some of his most elegant poems, the third concluding verse forms the finest climax in the whole piece. Mr Waller, the fän. ther of all flowing poetry, has generally reserved the niceft point of wit to his criplicate line. And, upon an impartial inquiry, it