One may accept Dr. Garnett’s theory with a somewhat altered conclusion. It is not true, as a matter of recorded fact, that Swift was incapable of passion, for when a boy at college he was sought out by various young women, and he sought them out in turn. His fiery letter to Miss Waring points to the same conclusion. When Esther Johnson began to love him he was heart-free, yet unable, because of his straitened means, to marry. But Esther Johnson always appealed more to his reason, his friendship, and his comfort, than to his love, using the word in its material, physical sense. This love was stirred in him by Vanessa. Yet when he met Vanessa he had already gone too far with Esther Johnson to break the bond which had so long united them, nor could he think of a life without her, for she was to him his other self.
At the same time, his more romantic association with Vanessa roused those instincts which he had scarcely known himself to be possessed of. His position was, therefore, most embarrassing. He hoped to end it when he left London and returned to Ireland; but fate was unkind to him in this, because Vanessa followed him. He lacked the will to be frank with her, and thus he stood a wretched, halting victim of his own dual nature.
He was a clergyman, and at heart religious. He had also a sense of honor, and both of these traits compelled him to remain true to Esther Johnson. The terrible outbreak which brought about Vanessa’s death was probably the wild frenzy of a tortured soul. It recalls the picture of some fierce animal brought at last to bay, and venting its own anguish upon any object that is within reach of its fangs and claws.
No matter how the story may be told, it makes one shiver, for it is a tragedy in which the three participants all meet their doom— one crushed by a lightning-bolt of unreasoning anger, the other wasting away through hope deferred; while the man whom the world will always hold responsible was himself destined to end his years blind and sleepless, bequeathing his fortune to a madhouse, and saying, with his last muttered breath:
“I am a fool!”
A great deal has been said and written in favor of early marriage; and, in a general way, early marriage may be an admirable thing. Young men and young women who have no special gift of imagination, and who have practically reached their full mental development at twenty-one or twenty-two—or earlier, even in their teens—may marry safely; because they are already what they will be. They are not going to experience any growth upward and outward. Passing years simply bring them more closely together, until they have settled down into a sort of domestic unity, by which they think alike, act alike, and even gradually come to look alike.
But early wedlock spells tragedy to the man or the woman of genius. In their teens they have only begun to grow. What they will be ten years hence, no one can prophesy. Therefore, to mate so early in life is to insure almost certain storm and stress, and, in the end, domestic wreckage.