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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

§ 2. Residences with Sir William Temple

In 1688, Swift’s uncle Godwin died, having lost his fortune, and Swift realised that he must not depend on any one but himself. The revolution brought trouble for Ireland, and the young man joined his mother at Leicester and looked about for employment. After a time, an opportunity came from Sir William Temple, who was now living in retirement at Moor park, near Farnham. Temple’s father had been a friend of Godwin Swift; he had himself known the Swifts in Ireland; and Lady Temple was a connection of Swift’s mother. A man of cultivation and refinement, and a renowned diplomatist, Temple was in need of someone to assist him in his literary work, and Swift was chosen. Temple is said to have treated him entirely as a dependent; but it must be remembered that, at this time, Swift was an untrained youth of twenty-two, and the distance between him and “a person of quality” like Temple would inevitably be great, especially in those days.

In later years, Swift spoke somewhat disparagingly of Temple, saying that he had felt too much what it was to be treated like a schoolboy. Temple sometimes seemed out of humour for three or four days, while Swift suspected a hundred reasons. In 1690, his patron sent Swift with a letter of introduction to Sir Robert Southwell, secretary of state in Ireland, in the hope that he would find Swift a post or procure for him a fellowship at Trinity college. The letter said that Swift knew Latin and Greek and a little French; that he wrote a good hand, and was honest and intelligent. Nothing came of this recommendation, and Swift was soon back at Moor park. Temple procured for him the M.A. degree at Oxford and recommended him to William III. “He thinks me a little necessary to him,” wrote Swift. In 1693, he was sent by Temple to represent to the king the necessity of triennial parliaments; but the king was not convinced. The first publication of anything by Swift appears to have been in February, 1691–2, when he printed in the fifth supplement to The Athenian Mercury, a curious forerunner of Notes and Queries, a “Letter to the Athenian Society,” enclosing a Pindaric ode, in which he referred to his “young and almost vergin muse.” In 1694, Swift parted from Temple, disappointed at the failure of his patron to make any definite provision for him; and, in October, he was ordained deacon, and priest in the following January. He found it necessary to ask Temple for testimonials, and Temple went further than he was asked, and obtained for Swift the prebend of Kilroot. Swift, however, soon tired of Ireland; and, in 1696, he was once more at Moor park. In the meantime, he had had a love affair with a Miss Jane Waring, whom he addressed as Varina; but he represented to her that he was not in a position to marry. He remained with Temple until that statesman’s death in 1699. Lady Temple had died in 1694, and Temple found his secretary more and more useful. Swift was learning much in many directions. He read classical and historical works in the library; he heard of public affairs and of the experiences of his patron; he had opportunities of studying the way of servants in great houses; and he formed the lasting affection of his life.