Page images
PDF
EPUB

11.—ZIMRI (THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM).
Some of their chiefs were princes of the land;
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand,
A man so various that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome : *
Stiff in opinions,* always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long ;
But in the course of one revolving moon
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.*
Blest madman, who could every hour employ,
With something new to wish or to enjoy!
Railing and praising were his usual themes,
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes :
So over-violent or over-civil
That every man with him was god or devil.
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggared by fools whom still he found too late,

3. various: that is, of such diverse zation of this same Buckingtastes and talents.

ham : 4. one = one person ; epitome, an “Or just as gay at council in a ring abridgment, a compendium.

Of mimicked statesmen and their merry king." 8. buffoon. This trait is amplified by 17. still he found too late : that is, ever

Pope in a brilliant characteri he found out too late.

LITERARY ANALYSIS.-6. Was everything, etc. How is this general or abstract statement carried out and emphasized by specification in subsequent lines ?

8. Was chemist, etc. What pairs of nouns contrast with each other? What is the effect?

12. Supply the ellipsis in this line.

13. over-violent ... over-civil. How is each conception carried out in the next line?

15. Transpose this line into the prose order. 16. Observe the terrible sting in this line.

He had his jest, and they had his estate.
He laughed himself from court; then sought relief
By forming parties, but could ne'er be chief :
For, spite of him, the weight of business fell
On Absalom and wise Achitophel;
Thus wicked but in will, of means bereft,
He left not faction, but of that was left.

22. Absalom, the Duke of Monmouth, son of Charles II.

LITERARY ANALYSIS.—18. He had his jest, etc. What is the figure? (See Def. 18.)

Dryden, in his Essay on Satire, says: “How easy it is to call rogue and villain, and that wittily! but how hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a knave without using any of these opprobrious names ! There is a vast difference between the slovenly butchering of a man and the fineness of stroke that separates the head from the body, and leaves it standing in its place. ... The character of Zimri, in my Absalom and Achitophel, is, in my opinion, worth the whole poem. It is not bloody, but it is ridiculous enough."

Show, in any point, the application of this remuk to the characterization of Buckingham.

[merged small][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

CHARACTERIZATION BY LORD JEFFREY' 1. The distinguishing feature of Swift's writings is the force and the vehemence of the invective in which they abound—the copiousness, the steadiness, the perseverance, and the dexterity

· Critical and Miscellaneous Essays by Lord Jeffrey.

with which abuse and ridicule are showered upon the adversary. This, we think, was, beyond all doubt, Swift's great talent, and the weapon by which he made himself formidable. He was, without exception, the greatest and most efficient libeller that ever exercised the trade ; and possessed in an eminent degree all the qualifications which it requires—a clear head, a cold heart, a vindictive temper, no admiration of noble qualities, no sympathy with suffering, not much conscience, not much consistency, a ready wit, a sarcastic humor, a thorough knowledge of the baser parts of human nature, and a complete familiarity with everything that is low, homely, and familiar in language.

2. These were his gifts, and he soon felt for what ends they were given. Almost all his works are libels-generally upon individuals, sometimes upon sects and parties, sometimes upon human nature. Whatever be his end, however, personal abusedirect, vehement, unsparing invective—is his means. It is his sword and his shield, his panoply and his chariot of war. In all his writings, accordingly, there is nothing to raise or exalt our notions of human nature, but everything to vilify and degrade.

3. Though a great polemic, he makes no use of general principles, nor ever enlarges his views to a wide or comprehensive conclusion. Everything is particular with him, and, for the most part, strictly personal. To make amends, however, we do think him quite without a competitor in personalities. With a quick and sagacious spirit, and a bold and popular manner, he joins an exact knowledge of all the strong and the weak parts of every cause he has to manage ; and, without the least restraint from delicacy, either of taste or of feeling, he seems always to think the most effectual blows the most advisable, and no advantage unlawful that is likely to be successful for the moment. Disregarding all laws of polished hostility, he uses at one and the same moment his sword and his poisoned dagger, his hands and his teeth, and his envenomed breath-and does not even scruple, upon occasion, to imitate his own Yahoos, by discharging on his unhappy victims a shower of filth from which neither courage nor dexterity can afford any protection.

4. The Voyages of Captain Lemuel Gulliver is indisputably his greatest work. The idea of making fictitious travels the vehicle of satire as well as of amusement is at least as old as Lucian, but has never been carried into execution with such success, spirit, and originality as in this celebrated performance. The brevity, the minuteness, the homeliness, the unbroken seriousness of the narrative, all give a character of truth and simplicity to the work, which at once palliates the extravagance of the picture, and enhances the effect of those weighty reflections and cutting severities in which it abounds. Yet, though it is probable enough that without those touches of satire and observation the work would have appeared childish and preposterous, we are persuaded that it pleases chiefly by the novelty and vivacity of the extraordinary pictures it presents, and the entertainment we receive from following the fortunes of the traveller in his several extraordinary adventures. The greater part of the wisdom and satire, at least, appears to us to be extremely vulgar and commonplace; and we have no idea that they could possibly appear either impressive or entertaining if presented without these accompaniments.

5. Of Swift's style, it has been usual to speak with great, and, we think, exaggerated, praise. It is less mellow than Dryden's, less elegant than Pope's or Addison's, less free and noble than Lord Bolingbroke's, and utterly without the glow and loftiness which belonged to our earlier masters. It is radically a low and homely style—without grace, and without affectation, and chiefly remarkable for a great choice and profusion of common words and expressions. Other writers who have used a plain and direct style have been for the most part jejune and limited in their diction, and generally give us an impression of the poverty as well as the tameness of their language ; but Swift, without ever trespassing into figured or poetical expressions, or even employing a word that can be called fine or pedantic, has a prodigious variety of good set phrases always at his command, and displays a sort of homely richness, like the plenty of an old English dinner, or the wardrobe of a wealthy burgess.

6. In humor and in irony, and in the talent of debasing and defiling what he hated, we join with all the world in thinking the Dean of St. Patrick's without a rival. His humor, though sufficiently marked and peculiar, is not to be easily defined. The nearest description we can give of it would make it consist in

« PreviousContinue »