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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

IV. Swift

§ 13. Swift’s Irish popularity

Before the Drapier’s letters appeared, Swift was engaged on his most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels: but the book was not finished until early in 1726, when Swift brought the manuscript to London, where it was published in October. Its success was great and immediate. Arbuthnot said that he thought it would have as long a run as John Bunyan, and Gay states that the duchess of Marlborough was in raptures with it on account of the satire on human nature with which it was filled. During Swift’s visit to England he had, however, received the troubling news of Stella’s illness. To one friend in Dublin he wrote, “We have been perfect friends these thirtyfive years; on my advice they both came to Ireland, and have been ever since my constant companions, and the remainder of my life will be a very melancholy scene.” To another friend he said:

  • This was a person of my own rearing and instruction from childhood, who excelled in every good quality that can possibly accomplish a human creature.… Violent friendship is much more lasting and as much engaging as violent love.
  • He returned to Ireland in August; but Stella’s health improved, and, in 1727, he paid another visit to London; but in September she was worse, and again he hurried back to Dublin. On the way, he had been delayed at Holyhead, and, in a diary which he kept “to divert thinking,” he speaks of the suspense he was in about his “dearest friend.” Stella died in January, 1728, after making a will which describes her as “spinster.” In the Character of Mrs. Johnson which Swift began to write on the night of her death, he calls her “the truest, most virtuous and valuable friend that I or perhaps any other person was ever blessed with.” After his death, a lock of her hair was found in his desk in a paper marked “Only a woman’s hair.” Swift was himself so troubled with noises in the ear and deafness that he had no spirit for anything and avoided everybody. He had, as already noticed, been subject to giddiness for many years.