When Swift first met her, Esther Johnson was only eight years old; and part of his duties at Moor Park consisted in giving her what was then an unusual education for a girl. She was, however, still a child, and nothing serious could have passed between the raw youth and this little girl who learned the lessons that he imposed upon her.
Such acquaintance as they had was rudely broken off. Temple, a man of high position, treated Swift with an urbane condescension which drove the young man’s independent soul into a frenzy. He returned to Ireland, where he was ordained a clergyman, and received a small parish at Kilroot, near Belfast.
It was here that the love-note was first seriously heard in the discordant music of Swift’s career. A college friend of his named Waring had a sister who was about the age of Swift, and whom he met quite frequently at Kilroot. Not very much is known of this episode, but there is evidence that Swift fell in love with the girl, whom he rather romantically called “Varina.”
This cannot be called a serious love-affair. Swift was lonely, and Jane Waring was probably the only girl of refinement who lived near Kilroot. Furthermore, she had inherited a small fortune, while Swift was miserably poor, and had nothing to offer except the shadowy prospect of future advancement in England. He was definitely refused by her; and it was this, perhaps, that led him to resolve on going back to England and making his peace with Sir William Temple.
On leaving, Swift wrote a passionate letter to Miss Waring—the only true love-letter that remains to us of their correspondence. He protests that he does not want Varina’s fortune, and that he will wait until he is in a position to marry her on equal terms. There is a smoldering flame of jealousy running through the letter. Swift charges her with being cold, affected, and willing to flirt with persons who are quite beneath her.
Varina played no important part in Swift’s larger life thereafter; but something must be said of this affair in order to show, first of all, that Swift’s love for her was due only to proximity, and that when he ceased to feel it he could be not only hard, but harsh. His fiery spirit must have made a deep impression on Miss Waring; for though she at the time refused him, she afterward remembered him, and tried to renew their old relations. Indeed, no sooner had Swift been made rector of a larger parish, than Varina let him know that she had changed her mind, and was ready to marry him; but by this time Swift had lost all interest in her. He wrote an answer which even his truest admirers have called brutal.
“Yes,” he said in substance, “I will marry you, though you have treated me vilely, and though you are living in a sort of social sink. I am still poor, though you probably think otherwise. However, I will marry you on certain conditions. First, you must be educated, so that you can entertain me. Next, you must put up with all my whims and likes and dislikes. Then you must live wherever I please. On these terms I will take you, without reference to your looks or to your income. As to the first, cleanliness is all that I require; as to the second, I only ask that it be enough.”