The true love-story of Jonathan Swift-it is a story difficult to tell and strange withal, for Swift was a weird, incomprehensible being. Like Sir William Temple, his patron and master, he was one of those mysterious, unseen human forces which control the destinies of empires. As a politician he made and unmade Ministries at his will; as a satirist he still stands without a rival; and he has immortalised his name both as a Churchman and a man of letters. He was hated by some men, loved by many, and admired by all.
If it is difficult, however, to understand Swift the man, it is a thousand times more difficult to understand Swift the lover. Great men have loved in many different ways, but among them Jonathan Swift is one of the very-few who has ever come within measurable distance of the Platonic ideal.
He was born in Dublin in the year 1667, but not to a dazzling heritage, for Mr. Swift senior died seven months prior to the birth of the child and left his widow without even enough money to defray the expenses of his funeral. An uncle, however, befriended Jonathan, and afforded him a good education, first at Kilkenny School and then at Dublin University. At Dublin, however, he acquired a reputation more for insubordination than for scholarship, and, in 1688, as a young man of twenty-one, he left the University, devoid both of qualifications and inclinations. His mother, who was then living at Leicester, and, apparently, upon the magnificent income of £20 a year, could not do much to help him, but wisely suggested that he should appeal to Sir William Temple for advice as to his future career. Why she sent him to Sir William, the polished cynic, who, from his library chair, was controlling the international intrigues of Europe, has been the subject of fierce controversy among biographers. But, surely, there is one very simple reason, the fact that Mrs. Swift could claim relationship with Lady Temple.
Sir William welcomed Jonathan with kindness, received him into his household, and undertook the task of educating him. Macaulay, however, is most unjust in representing him as Temple's servant; he was not a servant but a pupil, a pupil-secretary. It is true that he was but little in the society of his patron, that the relationship between the two men was strictly formal, but this was inevitable, for what could Sir William Temple,, the most polished and refined gentleman in Europe, and withal a cynic, be expected to have in common with a wild and untrained youth?
But, none the less, Swift resented the inevitable; he was lonely in the Temple household, and, for this reason, was forced to cultivate the friendship of another person who was lonely also. Hester Johnson, whom Swift has immortalised as Stella-the woman to whom he wrote letters which still remain one of the monuments of English literaturewas, at this time, a pretty dark-eyed girl, six years of age, and also a member of the Temple household. The child interested Swift, he liked her, and became her self-appointed tutor. And this was the beginning of a friendship, a friendship between man and woman such as is without a parallel in the history of romance.
In 1695, however, Swift was separated from his youthful idol, for in that year he took Holy Orders, and was presented by Lord Capel with the prebend of Kilroot, near Belfast. A less suitable man Lord Capel could not have chosen, for Swift was a High Churchman and the parishioners, almost without exception, were either Presbyterians or Roman Catholics. He quarrelled with them, therefore, immediately, for they bored him as intensely as they disapproved of him. The result was that, when he found himself branded as the mad parson, and enjoying an income of £100 a year in return for attending to the spiritual welfare of half a dozen persons, he was forced to have recourse to other occupations, and for a man of his temperament there were but two available-writing books and making love. The book he wrote was the "Tale of a Tub," and the lady to whom he made love was a certain Miss Waring.
She was of noble ancestry, the heiress to a considerable fortune, and, it would seem, the only person in the entire neighbourhood who understood him or who sympathised with him in his loneliness. He changed her name to Varina, and wooed her with a sincerity which alone disproves the statements of those who declare that Jonathan Swift was incapable of true passionate affection. In this case, moreover, his love was reciprocated; but Varina was a mercenary young lady and would not think of marrying him until his prospects should improve. Brook interference or delay, however, Swift could not; in spite of all that has been said of him, he was an impetuous, warm-hearted man. It was love for Varina alone that kept him at Kilroot. If that love, therefore, were denied him, he would go and renounce Varina for ever. Hence it was that he sat down to pen as astonishing a love letter as ever has been published.
"Madam," he wrote, "impatience is the most inseparable quality of a lover. . . . I wait your answer with a world of impatience. I desire nothing of your fortune; you shall live where and with whom you please till my affairs are settled to your desire.
"Study for seven years for objections against all this, and, by Heaven, they will at last be more than trifles and put-offs. It is true that you have known sickness longer than you have me, and therefore perhaps are more loth to part with it as an old acquaintance. But listen to what I solemnly protest by all that can be witness to an oath, that, if I leave this kingdom before you are mine, I will endure the utmost indignities of fortune rather than ever return again, though the
King should send me back his deputy. And, if it must be so, preserve yourself in God's name for the next lover who has those qualities you love beyond any of mine, and who will mightily admire you for those advantages which will never share any esteem from me. . . . The love of Varina is of more tragical consequence than her cruelty. Would to God you had treated and scorned me from the beginning. It was your pity opened the first way to my misfortune, and now your love is finishing my ruin. Farewell, madam; and may love make you awhile forget your temper to do me justice. Only remember that if you refuse to be mine you will quickly lose him that has resolved to die as he has lived.-all yours, Jon. Swift."