Varina's answer no man save Swift has seen. It would seem, however, that, unmoved by her lover's extraordinary appeal, still she hesitated, and that, in consequence, Swift was cast into the depths of despair. At any rate, he was determined to abide by his decision; pride demanded that he should. Accordingly, he made preparations to leave Kilroot as soon as possible.
Fate encouraged him in his purpose, for on the following afternoon, while walking, he chanced to meet with the curate of a neighbouring village, a man named Wender, whom he knew slightly, and who was striving to bring up a large family on an income of negligible proportions. Suddenly, Swift was seized with an inspiration. Without a word of explanation, he borrowed the astonished curate's horse, mounted it, and rode away-rode hard and without stopping, until, at last, he reined in the wearied animal before Lord Capel's door. There he resigned his living, imploring the patron to nominate Wender in his stead, and forthwith left Ireland to seek a reconciliation with Sir William Temple.
A Conditional Lover
Many years elapsed-indeed, he had held numerous positions, and, eventually, in 1703, had become Rector of Laracor-before Varina again crossed his path. She was still unmarried, but he was now a man of substance and position. In fact, he was eligible, and, in Varina's eyes, now worthy to be considered as a husband. Accordingly, she wrote accusing him of fickleness, but implying that, in spite of all, her love for him had never wavered, and that she was willing now to offer him her heart and fortune. During the past eight years, however, Swift's strange character had developed greatly, and in his devotion to Stella he had found a substitute which compensated more than adequately for the loss of a love which once had been very dear to him.
The charge of fickleness, however, he repudiated warmly. He assured Varina that she was the only woman whom he had ever wished to marry, and that never, even for a moment, had he entertained thoughts of being wedded to another. He declared, moreover, that he was still willing to marry her, but that now he could not do so unconditionally. He proceeded then to impose conditions, and the conditions which he imposed were, as Thackeray had declared, conditions which " no young woman with a spark of pride could comply with." But perhaps this was Swift's intention; perhaps he relied upon this spark of pride to relieve him from his distasteful obligations. Biographers have criticised his letter to Varina seriously. But surely this treatment is not justified, for it could not have been Swift the lover, but Swift the satirist, the humorist, who asked his would-be bride the following questions:
"Are you in a condition to manage domestic affairs with an income of perhaps less than three hundred a year?
"Have you an inclination to make us both as happy as you can?
"Will you be ready to engage in those methods I shall give you, to the improvement of your mind, so as to make us entertaining company for each other, without being miserable when we are neither visiting nor visited?"
At any rate, whatever may have been Swift's intentions, Varina's love did not survive the test. Henceforth we hear of her no more.
But what of Stella? In 1695, when Swift left Kil-root and sought a reconciliation with Sir William Temple, he found Stella a girl fifteen years of age, "one of the most beautiful and graceful, agreeable young women in London, only a little too fat." Her hair, he declared, "was blacker than a raven, and every feature of her face in perfection." As a child Stella had interested him; now, as she stood on the verge of womanhood, she interested him a thousand-fold more. Although still Sir William Temple's secretary, Swift was now becoming a man of note; his reputation was rising rapidly, and, as his reputation increased, so also did his friendship with Stella. She became to him an intellectual companion, a somebody in whose society he could discard all his cares and worries. In short, she was his friend.
His one true experiment in love had failed. He now tried another experiment, a more dangerous experiment. He strove to demonstrate that it was possible for man and woman to exist on terms of the closest intimacy
Hester Johnson, whom Dean Swift has immortalised as
" Stella," the woman with whom he formed a romantic friendship which fulfilled the Platonic ideal without being influenced in any way by thoughts of love. To the man the experiment was not so difficult as it was to the woman. Swift had known Stella as a child, and as a child he still regarded her, but Stella was now standing upon the threshold of womanhood. She loved Swift dearly, she had given him all of her love, and in return pined for his. It was not easy for her to suppress her nature.
This story, therefore, might have had a very different ending, had not an event occurred which necessitated a temporary separation. In 1699 Temple died. ' He died," wrote Swift, "on January 27, at one o'clock in the morning, and with him all that was good and great." Separation, however, although it may have calmed the rising tide of love, could not loose the bond of friendship which existed between Swift and Stella. Stella had become indispensable to Swift, and thus it was that, when he found himself established at Laracor, he persuaded her and Mrs. Dingley, her companion, to leave England and to find a home near his in Ireland.
This action on the part of Swift has been gravely censured by his critics. It was certainly unwise, for it gave opportunity to scandal. Gossip could not be appeased, but sought remorselessly to solve the mystery of the relationship between the rector and the girl over whom he had no apparent claim to the rights of guardianship. Swift, however, did all he could to prevent himself from compromising Stella, whose good name was to him a very precious trust. He lodged the ladies in a separate house, and saw his friend but rarely save in the presence of her chaperon.