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humanarum, the “ridiculous tragedy” of lise,- and is as applicable to the follies and hypocrisies of the present day, as it was to the days of Wharton and Walpole. Man seen at Lilliput through the wrong end of a telescope is as fruitful of instructive humour as he was when Gulliver was first published ; the contrasts between the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos have as terrible a meaning now as then; the mocking laughter of the Tub and the Books rings as scornfully now as ever it did in the opening of the eighteenth century. Swift's satire is as enduring as our language, and will in turn delight and chill and terrify mankind so long as books have power.
There is something in this satire that is alone and without exact parallel in literature. It is always in terrible earnest. We smile with Thackeray, for we feel that the humourist is ridiculing himself as much as anybody, and is laughing with us while he pretends to anathematize. With Swift it is no laughing matter. He hates and loathes the meannesses and unrealities of life with the fervour of a prophet of old; he denounces them with the Burden of Moab. Weakness and de. ception do not amuse but enrage him ; he does not pity the feeble race that descends to shams and subterfuge, he despises it heartily. His whole heart is filled with unspeakable contempt for “the animal called man," and all his writings give utterance to his disgust.
But he did not sneer for the sake of sneering ; he showed the right while he scarified the wrong; he did not paint that loathsome picture of the Yahoos without a fellow portrait of the “Great Virtues of the Houyhnhnms,” or satirize the vices of his country without contrasting the excellence of the government of Biob
dingnag. Swift was the Carlyle of his time, but with twice Carlyle's breadth and a thousand times his intel. lectual keenness. The “ Philosophy of Clothes” is Swift's, as Sartor allows, and the general tenor of the two men's jeremiads is singularly parallel. Carlyle has a certain Teutonic idealism and romance which Swift hardly shows; nevertheless Swift had his standards as well as his Scottish successor. Each despises “the animal called man,” and each loves his Peter or Jack,his Sterling or Arbuthnot. “If there were but a dozen Arbuthnots in the world,” wrote Swift, “I would burn my Travels." Each had the same belief in great men, and the same distrust of the multitude "mostly fools." Each lacked that broad sympathy which belongs to the very greatest natures, and each accordingly fell into that slough of gloomy despairing misanthropy, from which only wide sympathies can save those whose eyes are "quick to see offences." But the defects are integral parts of the character. You cannot pour the vials of wrath upon the world if you are able to see its better side; sympathy destroys the power of denunciation, and the lash will be laid on with a tremulous hand if the whipper is full of compassion for the whipped. The character that strikes cannot be joined to the heart that pities, or the blows will fall feebly and miss their aim. The highest natures may combine the sword that smites with the balm that heals,
-as Shakspere did, -but it will be at the sacrifice of the sword's edge. Swift did not possess this highest nature; he could love and pity on occasion, but his mission was to scourge, and like most executioners he grew hardened to his work. It is the too common fate of the schoolmaster.
The terrible earnestness of Swift's wrath, the saeva indignatio of his own epitaph, gives him a peculiar power. Lighter satire amuses us ; we enjoy the wit and discernment of the writer, and join in his pleasant half-malicious laugh. But Swift's satire goes home to us; we feel that he sees into the realities of things, and that the shams and canting impostures he exposes are real and hateful things which still destroy the honesty and truth of life. With Swift as with Carlyle the detestation of falsehood and hypocrisy was the one ruling idea, and the vehemence with which they de. nounced the pettinesses and shams of life carries us away. It is difficult to turn from either of these earnest haters of wrong and falsehood to the half-hearted criticisms of the generality, without a feeling of con. tempt. I remember, when I had read Sartor Resartus for the first time, taking up a volume of essays by a very distinguished critic of these days, whom I had frequently read with keen pleasure ; and Ainging it incontinently away.
The bathos was too precipitate. It is the same with Swift. He towers above other men by the scathing force and passion of his indignation, by the terrible, perhaps exaggerated, earnestness which underlies his lightest travesties.'
His earnestness is reflected in his style. No English is so pointed and so direct as Swift's. Every sentence is a keen knife that cuts straight to the core ; there is no hesitation or swerving; there is never a word wasted. His sentences follow one another logically and equably, in the order dictated by the subject, without any apparent regard for the graces of expression, nor even, sometimes, for the ordinary rules of gram
He wrote rapidly, as the thoughts seized him,
nor "ever leaned his head upon his left hand to study what he should write next." Yet Swift's prose is never ungainly ; it is simple and clear and direct, absolutely free from affectation or "curious care,” never seeking mere rhetorical effects; but it is not the less polished to a smooth and brilliant surface ;-not the polish of elaboration, but the fine chiselled surface that marks a mind that thought clearly and exactly.
If, as Mr. Matthew Arnold says, uniformity, regularity, precision, balance,” be the best names for the essentials of good prose, these qualities are conspicuous in Swift's English. But precision is the quality that strikes one as more salient in his style than perhaps in any other English prose. His words always say precisely what he means, neither more nor less; and that after all is the end of language with one who has something to say. If he can say exactly what he means, without rhetorical exaggeration or bald insufficiency, he writes well; if he can do all this, and also make his sentences glitter like burnished daggers, he is a master of prose style. In all this Swift stands supreme : there is more graceful language, more glowing, more imaginative, but none more masculine, straightforward, and expressive of the precise idea of the writer. A safer model of style cannot be found in the whole range of English literature.
But there is another quality in Swist as characteristic as his incisive style or his cynical satire, and this is his extraordinary power of detailed realization of purely fictitious images. It is this that gives, not only his narrative, but his illustrations, his “proposals,” and “schemes,” their lifelike probability. As Mr. Leslie Stephen has put it, “Swist's peculiarity is in the curious sobriety of fancy which leads him to keep in his most daring flights upon the confines of the possible. In the imaginary travels of Lucian and Rabelais, with which Gulliver is generally compared, we frankly take leave of the real world altogether. We are treated with arbitrary and monstrous combinations, which may be amusing, but which do not challenge even a semblance of belief. In Gulliver this is so little the case that it can hardly be said in strictness that the fundamental assumptions are even impossible. Why should there not be creatures in human form with whom, as in Lilliput, one of our inches represents a foot, or, as in Brobdingnag, one of our feet represents an inch ? the assumption is so modest that we are presented, it may be said, with a definite and soluble problem. We have not, as in other fictitious worlds, to deal with a state of things in which the imagination is bewildered, but with one in which it is agreeably stimulated. We have certainly to consider an extremely exceptional case, but one to which all the ordinary laws of human nature are still strictly applicable. Imagine giants and dwarfs as tall as a house or as low as a footstool, and let us see what comes of it. That is a plain, almost mathematical problem ; and we can therefore judge his success and receive pleasure from the ingenuity and verisimilitude of his creations.
"When we have once thought of big men and little men,' said Johnson, perversely enough, 'it is easy to do the rest.' The first step might, perhaps, seem in this case to be the easiest, yet nobody ever thought of it before Swift, and nobody has ever had similar good fortune since. There is no other fictitious world the deni.