Imake no claim to a full understanding of Swift, nor have I sought for a clue to the problems of his character. How far do we under-stand our friends, and how far do they understand us? Do we always understand ourselves? How, then, can we hope to understand a man whom we know from writings in which he generally wears a mask, and from contradictory accounts by observers whom he puzzled? ‘Dr. Swift’, said Pope, ‘has an odd blunt way, that is mistaken, by strangers, for ill-nature. — ’Tis so odd that there’s no describing it but by facts.’ The distance of two hundred years cannot give us a better chance of not mistaking him. But these are days of bold biography. When we find a lengthy study written round a single impression, we suspect that the old theory of the Ruling Passion has returned in a new guise:
The clue once found, unravels all the rest,
The prospect clears, and each man stands confest.
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© Macmillan & Co. Ltd. 1967