But Swift was by no means all bad, and his great services to Ireland are still deservedly recognized by that devoted people. He really laid the foundation for their prosperity and may be said to have created constitutional liberty for them.
It is, however, as a wit and a writer that Swift is now chiefly famous. Many are the stories told of his readiness in repartee, his bright sallies in conversation, and of his skill in quick and caustic rhyming. It is said that one day, when traveling in the south of Ireland, he stopped to give his horse water at a brook which crossed the road; a gentleman of the neighborhood halted for the same purpose, and saluted him, a courtesy which was politely returned. They parted, but the gentleman, struck by the dean’s figure, sent his servant to inquire who the man was. The messenger rode up to the dean and said, “Please, sir, master would be obliged if you would tell him who you are.”
“Willingly,” replied the dean. “Tell your master I am the person that bowed to him when we were giving our horses water at the brook yonder.”
[Illustration: JONATHAN SWIFT 1667-1745]
Swift’s interests lay rather with the common people than with the Irish aristocracy, who, he thought, were arrant “grafters.” Of one in particular he said,
“So great was his bounty—
He erected a bridge—at the expense of the county.”
The last thing Swift wrote was an epigram. It was in almost the final lucid interval between periods of insanity that he was riding in the park with his physician. As they drove along, Swift saw, for the first time, a building that had recently been put up.
“What is that?” he inquired.
“That,” said the physician, “is the new magazine in which are stored arms and powder for the defence of the city.”
“Oh!” said the dean, pulling out his notebook. “Let me take an item of that; this is worth remarking: ‘My tablets!’ as Hamlet says, ’my tablets! Memory put down that.’” Then he scribbled the following lines, the last he ever penned:
“Behold a proof of Irish sense!
Here Irish wit is seen!
When nothing’s left that’s worth defence,
We build a magazine.”
With the exception of Gulliver’s Travels, very little that Dean Swift wrote is now read by anyone but students.
Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726 and without any allusion to the real author, though many knew that the work must have come from the pen of Dean Swift. Though the dean was habitually secretive in what he did, he had some reason for not wishing to say in public that he had written so bitter a satire on the government and on mankind.