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- The Journal to Stella - 1/106 -


With preface, introduction and notes by George A. Aitken.

[Numbers thus [5] refer to the Notes at the end, which are arranged by "Introduction" or by "Letter 'number'".]


The history of the publication of the Journal to Stella is somewhat curious. On Swift's death twenty-five of the letters, forming the closing portion of the series, fell into the hands of Dr. Lyon, a clergyman who had been in charge of Swift for some years. The letters passed to a man named Wilkes, who sold them for publication. They accordingly appeared in 1766 in the tenth volume of Dr. Hawkesworth's quarto edition of Swift's works; but the editor made many changes in the text, including a suppression of most of the "little language." The publishers, however, fortunately for us, were public-spirited enough to give the manuscripts (with one exception) to the British Museum, where, after many years, they were examined by John Forster, who printed in his unfinished "Life of Swift" numerous passages from the originals, showing the manner in which the text had been tampered with by Hawkesworth. Swift himself, too, in his later years, obliterated many words and sentences in the letters, and Forster was able to restore not a few of these omissions. His zeal, however, sometimes led him to make guesses at words which are quite undecipherable. Besides Forster's work, I have had the benefit of the careful collation made by Mr. Ryland for his edition of 1897. Where these authorities differ I have usually found myself in agreement with Mr. Ryland, but I have felt justified in accepting some of Forster's readings which were rejected by him as uncertain; and the examination of the manuscripts has enabled me to make some additions and corrections of my own. Swift's writing is extremely small, and abounds in abbreviations. The difficulty of arriving at the true reading is therefore considerable, apart from the erasures.

The remainder of the Journal, consisting of the first forty letters, was published in 1768 by Deane Swift, Dr. Swift's second cousin. These letters had been given to Mrs. Whiteway in 1788, and by her to her son-in-law, Deane Swift. The originals have been lost, with the exception of the first, which, by some accident, is in the British Museum; but it is evident that Deane Swift took even greater liberties with the text than Hawkesworth. He substituted for "Ppt" the word "Stella," a name which Swift seems not to have used until some years later; he adopted the name "Presto" for Swift, and in other ways tried to give a greater literary finish to the letters. The whole of the correspondence was first brought together, under the title of the "Journal to Stella", in Sheridan's edition of 1784.

Previous editions of the Journal have been but slightly annotated. Swift's letters abound with allusions to people of all classes with whom he came in contact in London, and to others known to Esther Johnson in Ireland; and a large proportion of these persons have been passed over in discreet silence by Sir Walter Scott and others. The task of the annotator has, of course, been made easier of late years by the publication of contemporary journals and letters, and of useful works of reference dealing with Parliament, the Army, the Church, the Civil Service, and the like, besides the invaluable Dictionary of National Biography. I have also been assisted by a collection of MS. notes kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. Thomas Seccombe. I have aimed at brevity and relevance, but it is hoped that the reader will find all the information that is necessary. Here and there a name has baffled research, but I have been able to give definite particulars of a very large number of people-- noblemen and ladies in society in London or Dublin, Members of Parliament, doctors, clergymen, Government officials, and others who have hitherto been but names to the reader of the Journal. I have corrected a good many errors in the older notes, but in dealing with so large a number of persons, some of whom it is difficult to identify, I cannot hope that I myself have escaped pitfalls.

G. A. A.


When Swift began to write the letters known as the Journal to Stella, he was forty-two years of age, and Esther Johnson twenty-nine. Perhaps the most useful introduction to the correspondence will be a brief setting forth of what is known of their friendship from Stella's childhood, the more specially as the question has been obscured by many assertions and theories resting on a very slender basis of fact.

Jonathan Swift, born in 1667 after his father's death, was educated by his uncle Godwin, and after a not very successful career at Trinity College, Dublin, went to stay with his mother, Abigail Erick, at Leicester. Mrs. Swift feared that her son would fall in love with a girl named Betty Jones, but, as Swift told a friend, he had had experience enough "not to think of marriage till I settle my fortune in the world, which I am sure will not be in some years; and even then, I am so hard to please that I suppose I shall put it off to the other world." Soon afterwards an opening for Swift presented itself. Sir William Temple, now living in retirement at Moor Park, near Farnham, had been, like his father, Master of the Irish Rolls, and had thus become acquainted with Swift's uncle Godwin. Moreover, Lady Temple was related to Mrs. Swift, as Lord Orrery tells us. Thanks to these facts, the application to Sir William Temple was successful, and Swift went to live at Moor Park before the end of 1689. There he read to Temple, wrote for him, and kept his accounts, and growing into confidence with his employer, "was often trusted with matters of great importance." The story--afterwards improved upon by Lord Macaulay--that Swift received only 20 pounds and his board, and was not allowed to sit at table with his master, is wholly untrustworthy. Within three years of their first intercourse, Temple had introduced his secretary to William the Third, and sent him to London to urge the King to consent to a bill for triennial Parliaments.

When Swift took up his residence at Moor Park he found there a little girl of eight, daughter of a merchant named Edward Johnson, who had died young. Swift says that Esther Johnson was born on March 18, 1681; in the parish register of Richmond,[1] which shows that she was baptized on March 20, 1680-81, her name is given as Hester; but she signed her will "Esther," the name by which she was always known. Swift says, "Her father was a younger brother of a good family in Nottinghamshire, her mother of a lower degree; and indeed she had little to boast in her birth." Mrs. Johnson had two children, Esther and Ann, and lived at Moor Park as companion to Lady Giffard, Temple's widowed sister. Another member of the household, afterwards to be Esther's constant companion, was Rebecca Dingley, a relative of the Temple family.[2] She was a year or two older than Swift.

The lonely young man of twenty-two was both playfellow and teacher of the delicate child of eight. How he taught her to write has been charmingly brought before us in the painting exhibited by Miss Dicksee at the Royal Academy a few years ago; he advised her what books to read, and instructed her, as he says, "in the principles of honour and virtue, from which she never swerved in any one action or moment of her life."

By 1694 Swift had grown tired of his position, and finding that Temple, who valued his services, was slow in finding him preferment, he left Moor Park in order to carry out his resolve to go into the Church. He was ordained, and obtained the prebend of Kilroot, near Belfast, where he carried on a flirtation with a Miss Waring, whom he called Varina. But in May 1696 Temple made proposals which induced Swift to return to Moor Park, where he was employed in preparing Temple's memoirs and correspondence for publication, and in supporting the side taken by Temple in the Letters of Phalaris controversy by writing The Battle of the Books, which was, however, not published until 1704. On his return to Temple's house, Swift found his old playmate grown from a sickly child into a girl of fifteen, in perfect health. She came, he says, to be "looked upon as one of the most beautiful, graceful, and agreeable young women in London, only a little too fat. Her hair was blacker than a raven, and every feature of her face in perfection."

On his death in January 1699, Temple left a will,[3] dated 1694, directing the payment of 20 pounds each, with half a year's wages, to Bridget Johnson "and all my other servants"; and leaving a lease of some land in Monistown, County Wicklow, to Esther Johnson, "servant to my sister Giffard." By a codicil of February 1698, Temple left 100 pounds to "Mr. Jonathan Swift, now living with me." It may be added that by her will of 1722, proved in the following year, Lady Giffard gave 20 pounds to Mrs. Moss--Mrs. Bridget Johnson, who had married Richard Mose or Moss, Lady Giffard's steward. The will proceeds: "To Mrs. Hester (sic) Johnson I give 10 pounds, with the 100 pounds I put into the Exchequer for her life and my own, and declare the 100 pounds to be hers which I am told is there in my name upon the survivorship, and for which she has constantly sent over her certificate and received the interest. I give her besides my two little silver candlesticks."

Temple left in Swift's hands the task of publishing his posthumous works, a duty which afterwards led to a quarrel with Lady Giffard and other members of the family. Many years later Swift told Lord Palmerston that he stopped at Moor Park solely for the benefit of Temple's conversation and advice, and the opportunity of pursuing his studies. At Temple's death he was "as far to seek as ever." In the summer of 1699, however, he was offered and accepted the post of secretary and chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley, one of the Lords Justices, but when he reached Ireland he found that the secretaryship had been given to another. He soon, however, obtained the living of Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan, and the prebend of Dunlavin in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. The total value of these preferments was about 230 pounds a year, an income which Miss Waring seems to have thought enough to justify him in marrying. Swift's reply to the lady whom he had "singled out at first from the rest of women" could only have been written with the intention of breaking off the connection, and accordingly we hear no more of poor Varina.

At Laracor, a mile or two from Trim, and twenty miles from Dublin, Swift ministered to a congregation of about fifteen persons, and had abundant leisure for cultivating his garden, making a canal (after the Dutch fashion of Moor Park), planting willows, and rebuilding the vicarage. As chaplain to Lord Berkeley, he spent much of his time in Dublin. He was on intimate terms with Lady Berkeley and her daughters, one of whom is best known by her married name of Lady Betty Germaine; and through them he had access to the fashionable society of Dublin. When Lord Berkeley returned to England in April 1701, Swift, after taking his Doctor's degree at Dublin, went with him, and soon afterwards published, anonymously, a political pamphlet, A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome. When he returned to Ireland in September he was accompanied by Stella--to give Esther Johnson the name by which she is best known--and her friend Mrs. Dingley. Stella's fortune was about 1500 pounds, and the property Temple had left her was in County Wicklow. Swift, very much for his "own satisfaction, who had few friends or acquaintance in Ireland," persuaded Stella--now twenty years old--that living was cheaper there than in England, and that a better return was obtainable on money. The ladies took his advice, and made Ireland their home. At first they felt themselves strangers in Dublin; "the adventure looked so like a frolic," Swift says, "the censure held for some time as if there were a secret history in such a removal: which however soon blew off by her excellent conduct." Swift took every step that was possible to avoid scandal. When he was away, the ladies occupied his rooms; when he returned, they went into their own lodgings. When he was absent, they often stopped at the vicarage at Laracor, but if he were there, they moved to Trim, where they visited the vicar, Dr. Raymond, or lived in lodgings in the town or neighbourhood. Swift was never with Stella except in the presence of a third person, and in 1726 he said that he had not seen her in a morning "these dozen years, except once or twice in a journey."

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