11 APRIL 1931, Page 23

The Terrific Dean

Swift. By Carl Van Doren. (Seeker. 10s. 8d.)

I REMEMBER when I was a little boy," Swift once wrote, " I felt a great fish at the end of my line, which I drew up almost to the ground ; but it dropped in, and the disappointment sexes me to this very day, and I believe it was the type of all my future disappointments." Mr. Van Doren quotes this early in his book, and follows the theme through, and in excellent first and last chapters enlarges it with explanations. He sees Swift as ruled by an overwhelming pride, " filled and driven by the sense and need of power." He was the hero of the tragedy that he made, and he was always going forward to meet his tragedy. Like every other writer on Swift, Mr.

an Doren is baffled by his relations with women. The early l'arina episode is perhaps understandable in a very proud man ; but what of Stella and Vanessa ? " Call Stella his wife or be pedantic . . . . Call Vanessa his mistress or be pedantic. One 'ide of Swift looked towards a wife, one towards a mistress. lie maintained between them a singular course, but it was no more singular than his character." He was extraordinary in this as in so much else. There is really not much more to 4.1y, but Mr. Van Doren treats the difficult episodes well and with sympathy : he does not suggest anything very new, but he establishes that side of Swift with skill and judgment.

The portions mentioned above are, though they throw no new light, excellently done, and will be of interest to all readers of Swift ; but it must be confessed that the rest of the book will be a disappointment to admirers of Mr. Van Doren's justly renowned The Poetry of John Dryden. The book is agreeably written, in a style which, except for one or two paragraphs of rhetorical questions, is admirably balanced ; there are also two or three sentences so ungrammatical as to obscure the meaning. But there are two complaints which may justly be made against the book. Firstly, it is not full enough. There is no mention, for instance, of the quarrel with Steele, nor of The Publick Spirit of the Whigs, none of the admirable skit of Prior's journey into France. We are not told enough about the lighter side of Swift's life ; nothing is said about his charming relations with the Berkeley ladies, little about his lighter verse. We are told scarcely anything about his fights with the Archbishop over the affairs of the Cathedral. It is not made clear, as is plain from Professor Nichol Smith's work, that Swift did not want a Bishopric in 1713, and that he very much wanted to be historiographer. We do not get half enough quotations from his works. That there is room for a great deal more than Mr. Van Doren tells Us, even in the compass of one volume, is proved by the brilliant Dean Swift and his Writings, by Mr. G. Moriarty, which, though published forty years ago, is still the best popular book on the subject, and which Mr. Van Doren ignores in his very brief statement of Swift literature at the end of his volume.

The chief complaint, however, is that Mr. Van Doren does not seem to be at home in the politics of the period, and in dealing with Swift it is essential to be intimate with every trick and turn of the furious factions of the time. He has queer notions of Whig and Tory. He is right in saying that Swift was neither, but, aloof from both, contemptuous of the theory of party government, he was first and last a good Churchman ; we are all agreed upon that. His analysis of the situation on p. 100 is curious as well as being out of date (though it is difficult to say exactly what year he is discussing). It is misleading to say that the twelve peers were created because Harley was " insecure in the House of Lords " ; they were created to pass the Treaty of Utrecht. To say as an

explanation of the country's desire for peace that " Finding itself on the dizzy brink of altruism and liberalism, England had shrunk back in a passion for its good old virtues, its stout old order," is not illuminating, if it means anything at all. To call the Elector " Whiggish " is to suppose that he might have been a Jacobite 1 To remark : " The Whigs had been kind to the Dissenters to gain their support in Marlborough's enterprises " is to reveal ignorance both of the Whig personnel and of the history of the party for the last thirty years. Instances could be multiplied. When he comes to speak of Wood's Ha'pence, he is probably right in ascribing the Drapier's motives to a desire to hurt the Government (though a desire to feel his power once more might also have been a motive) ; but to call this currency question, " Walpole's scheme, shabby, cynical, insulting . . . . &c. " is far too shallow. Incidentally, the scheme was Sunderland's.

Perhaps the gravest objection to the book, however, is that it is, apparently, designed for that mythical monster the general reader." There are no notes, no references ; there is no going into questions. For instance, the story of Swift's last meeting with Vanessa is dismissed as mere gossip. It may be so ; but when a story has been accepted by the " general reader " for some two hundred years, even he, poor boneless creature, might like to know the grounds for its rejection. Mr. Van Doren, however, carries this solicitude for the general reader's easily fatigued mind by refusing even the names of Swift's works. He quotes the Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, but does not mention it by name. He tells of some amusing verses by Swift on Godolphin, but does not give the reader a chance to make acquaintance with them by saying that they were called Sid Helmet's Rod. When he quotes " a record, written about October, 1713," why does he not tell us that his extract is from Bishop Kennet's diary ? Why conceal from us that " a cousin " to whom Swift wrote was Mrs. Whiteway ? We might ourselves wish to look up these things. In his bibliographical note Mr. Van Doren tells us that it would be mere ostentation to give his authorities, diaries, letters, special studies, &c. ; and adds : " All such sources have been scrupulously consulted during the period of almost twenty years since the book was first projected." All ? The claim is a large one. And even sup- posing the contents of the book made us confident of the truth of the statement (and has Mr. Van Doren read the un- published letters to Ford ?) we would like our curiosity as to sources to be gratified. Where, for instance, did Mr. Van Doren learn that Harley " was forced to break the white staff of his office " ? How could he be forced to break his staff ? A most unusual thing to do. Godolphin, indeed, broke his in a fit of rage of his dismissal, but it was unlike the phlegmatic Harley to do so. We do not doubt the statement, but we should like to know the authority. There are four charming photographs in the book, but it contains more misprints and slipped letters than would indicate careful proof reading.