He was discreet even in his letters, and at this time he had much occasion for writing, for, now that he had embarked upon a great political career, he was often in London. Indeed, his letters-the celebrated "Journal" to Stella-were always the letters of a friend, never of a lover, and were consistently addressed both to Mrs. Dingley and to Stella.
It is, moreover, in his letters, not his actions, that a great man reveals to posterity his character. It is to Swift's letters, therefore, that one must look to find the few true glimpses that are to be seen of that inscrutable mortal, as the man whom, in spite of his idiosyncrasies, a woman understood and loved.
Swift's "Good Angel"
When at the zenith of his greatness Swift appeared in the political firmament like a dangerous comet. Men watched its progress with fear and apprehension; he seemed omnipotent. Under the Harley administration, it has been asserted in " The Times," "Swift was the Government; Swift was Queen, Lords, and Commons. There was tremendous work to do, and Swift did it all." But it was at this time, when he was bending the wills of strong men at his pleasure, that he revealed himself to Stella in all his childish simplicity. "Oh, that we were at Laracor this fine day !" he wrote to her. "The willows begin to peep, and the quicks to bud. My dream is out. I was dreaming last night that I ate ripe cherries. And now they begin to catch the pikes and will shortly the trouts. Pox on these Ministers ! And I would fain know whether the floods were ever so high as to get over the holly bank or the river walk. If so, then all my pikes are gone; but I hope not. Here is a world of business, but I must go to sleep. I am drowsy, and so good-night."
This is the Swift whom Stella knew. This is he whose friendship she valued more than the love of other men, even when she realised that for more than friendship she could never hope. This she knew even in 1704, when a man named Tisdal sought her hand, and Swift encouraged his suit, at any rate in that he took no steps to oppose it. He was careful not to impose himself as an obstacle in the way of Stella's happiness; because he would not marry her she should not be debarred from matrimony.
Indeed, he acted as the girl's guardian in the matter; made careful inquiries as to Tisdal's income and prospects, and, in reply to a jealous question, assured the lover that he himself had no intention ever of marrying her. Had no intention ever of marrying her ! Knowledge of this must have come as a sorry blow to Stella, but she did not waver in her loyalty; she loved Swift truly, and, since love demanded it, gladly sacrificed desires. Some men have pitied Stella, others have admired her; but is she deserving either of pity or of admiration? As Swift's " good angel, his other self," had she not some cause for happiness and pride? And as such she remained till death.
In 1711, however, while in London, Swift fell the victim to the charm also of another woman, a certain Miss Esther Vanhomrigh, to whom later he gave the more euphonious name, Vanessa. She lived with her mother in a house in Bury Street, St. James's, and it was here that Swift first met her, for Mrs. Vanhomrigh's drawing-room was the centre of a distinguished social circle. Esther was at this time barely twenty years of age and ravishingly beautiful, but there was a morbid trait in her character, and, although her mind was richly stocked with book-learning, she was astonishingly ignorant of the world.
The girl, however, attracted Swift immediately, and he desired sincerely to form with her, as he had with Stella, that intellectual companionship which he regarded as the most perfect relationship which could exist between the sexes. A wiser mother than Mrs. Vanhomrigh would have recognised at the outset the danger and the folly of such a friendship, and would have smothered it. A wiser man than Swift, moreover, would have foreseen the inevitable and only possible ending, would have realised that Vanessa was not a Stella, and would have avoided the miseries of the future. But Swift, poor, blind, mistaken egoist, failed to understand that it was impossible for a woman, as passionate and wildly romantic as was Vanessa, to stifle her emotions, and to subordinate her inclinations entirely to her will.
And thus this ill-omened friendship was allowed to ripen unimpeded, and, while on the man's side it ripened into adoration, on the woman's side it ripened into love. And then, when already it was too late, Swift realised the tragic truth. In vain he implored Vanessa to recall her love; in vain he assured her that he could never marry. She heeded neither his advice nor supplications, and even the poem which he wrote, entitled " Cadenus and Vanessa," failed to show her how hopeless was her passion. The truth is that Vanessa loved as rarely women love; love consumed her self-respect and pride, and she, who should have been the wooed one, wooed ardently herself.
Swift was in despair; try as he would he could not escape her importunity. In 1713, however, he was appointed Dean of Dublin, and he rejoiced at the appointment, if only because he hoped that separation would enable the passion of this love-sick maid gradually to subside. But hope deceived him, for Vanessa wrote to him persistently, and, whether he ignored her communications or sent in reply short, courteous notes, letter followed letter in quick succession, and each was filled with desperate entreaties.
In 1714, moreover, a new trouble arose. Mrs. Vanhomrigh died, and, to Swift's horror, Vanessa announced her intention of leaving England and of settling in Dublin. This was terrible; it was imperative that something should be done to deter her from her purpose. Accordingly, the dean wrote to tell her that, if she should come to Ireland, he could see her only very seldom. " It is not a place," he declared, "for any freedom, but it is where everything is known in a week and magnified a hundred degrees."