During the first half of the eighteenth century a James Stephen, the first of the family of whom I have any knowledge, was tenant of a small farm in Aberdeenshire, on the borders of Buchan. He was also engaged in trade, and, though it is stated that smuggler would be too harsh a name to apply to him, he had no insuperable objection to dealing in contraband articles. He was considered to belong to the respectable class, and gave his sons a good education. He had nine children by his wife, Mary Brown. Seven of these were sons, and were said to be the finest young men in the country. Alexander, the eldest, was in business at Glasgow; he died when nearly seventy, after falling into distress. William, the second son, studied medicine, and ultimately settled at St. Christopher's, in the West Indies, where he was both a physician and a planter. He probably began life as a 'surgeon to a Guineaman,' and he afterwards made money by buying 'refuse' (that is, sickly) negroes from slave ships, and, after curing them of their diseases, selling them at an advanced price. He engaged in various speculations, and had made money when he died in 1781, in his fiftieth year. His career, as will be seen, was of great importance to his relations. The other sons all took to trade, but all died before William. The two sisters, Mrs. Nuccoll and Mrs. Calder, married respectably, and lived to a great age. They were able to be of some service to nephews and nieces.

My story is chiefly concerned with the third son, James, born about 1733. After studying law for a short time at Aberdeen, he was sent abroad, when eighteen years old, to Holland, and afterwards to France, with a view to some mercantile business. He was six feet three inches in height, and a man of great muscular power. Family traditions tell of his being attacked by two footpads, and knocking their heads together till they cried for mercy. Another legend asserts that when a friend offered him a pony to carry him home after dinner, he made and won a bet that he would carry the pony. In the year 1752 this young giant was sailing as supercargo of a ship bound from Bordeaux to Scotland, with wine destined, no doubt, to replenish the 'blessed bear of Bradwardine,' and its like. The ship had neared the race of Portland, when a storm arose, and she was driven upon the cliffs of Purbeck Island. James Stephen, with four of the crew, escaped to the rocks, the rest being drowned. Stephen roped his companions to himself, and scaled the rocks in the dark, as Lovel, in the 'Antiquary,' leads the Wardours and Edie Ochiltree up the crags of the Halket Head. Next day, the outcasts were hospitably received by Mr. Milner, Collector of Customs at Poole. Stephen had to remain for some time on the spot to look after the salvage of the cargo. The drowned captain had left some valuable papers in a chest. He appeared in a dream to Stephen, and gave information which led to their recovery. The news that his ghost was on the look-out had, it is said, a wholesome effect in deterring wreckers from interference with the cargo.

The father of Alexander Pope was a London merchant, a devout Catholic, and not improbably a convert to Catholicism. His mother was one of seventeen children of William Turner, of York; one of her sisters was the wife of Cooper, the well-known portrait-painter. Mrs. Cooper was the poet's godmother; she died when he was five years old, leaving to her sister, Mrs. Pope, a "grinding-stone and muller," and their mother's "picture in limning;" and to her nephew, the little Alexander, all her "books, pictures, and medals set in gold or otherwise."

In after-life the poet made some progress in acquiring the art of painting; and the bequest suggests the possibility that the precocious child had already given some indications of artistic taste. Affectionate eyes were certainly on the watch for any symptoms of developing talent. Pope was born on May 21st, 1688—the annus mirabilis which introduced a new political era in England, and was fatal to the hopes of ardent Catholics. About the same time, partly, perhaps, in consequence of the catastrophe, Pope's father retired from business, and settled at Binfield—a village two miles from Wokingham and nine from Windsor. It is near Bracknell, one of Shelley's brief perching places, and in such a region as poets might love, if poetic praises of rustic seclusion are to be taken seriously. To the east were the "forests and green retreats" of Windsor, and the wild heaths of Bagshot, Chobham and Aldershot stretched for miles to the South. Some twelve miles off in that direction, one may remark, lay Moor Park, where the sturdy pedestrian, Swift, was living with Sir W. Temple during great part of Pope's childhood; but it does not appear that his walks ever took him to Pope's neighbourhood, nor did he see, till some years later, the lad with whom he was to form one of the most famous of literary friendships. The little household was presumably a very quiet one, and remained fixed at Binfield for twenty-seven years, till the son had grown to manhood and celebrity. From the earliest period he seems to have been a domestic idol. He was not an only child, for he had a half-sister by his father's side, who must have been considerably older than himself, as her mother died nine years before the poet's birth. But he was the only child of his mother, and his parents concentrated upon him an affection which he returned with touching ardour and persistence. They were both forty-six in the year of his birth. He inherited headaches from his mother, and a crooked figure from his father. A nurse who shared their care, lived with him for many years, and was buried by him, with an affectionate epitaph, in 1725. The family tradition represents him as a sweet-tempered child, and says that he was called the "little nightingale," from the beauty of his voice. As the sickly, solitary, and precocious infant of elderly parents, we may guess that he was not a little spoilt, if only in the technical sense.

If that was a fair judgment, what are we to say to the modern work, which includes thousands of names too obscure for mention in its predecessor? When Mr. Lee speaks of the 'commemorative instinct' as justifying his undertaking, the enemy replies that a very small minority of the names deserve commemoration. To appeal to instinct is to repudiate reason and to justify monomania. Admitting, as we all admit, the importance of keeping alive the leading names in history, what is the use of this long procession of the hopelessly insignificant? Why repeat the familiar formula about the man who was born on such a day, was 'educated at the grammar school of his native town,' graduated in such a year, became fellow of his college, took a living, married, published a volume of sermons which nobody has read for a century or two, and has been during all that time in his churchyard? Can he not be left in peace, side by side with the 'rude forefathers of the hamlet,' who are content to lie beneath their quiet mounds of grass? Is it not almost a mockery to persist in keeping up some faint and flickering image of him aboveground? There is often some good reading to be found in country churchyards; but, on the whole, if one had to choose, one would perhaps rather have the good old timber crosspiece, with 'afflictions sore long time he bore,' than the ambitious monuments where History and its attendant cherubs are eternally poring over the list of the squire's virtues and honours. Why struggle against the inevitable? Better oblivion than a permanent admission that you were thoroughly and hopelessly commonplace. I confess that I sometimes thought as much when I was toiling on my old treadmill, now Mr. Lee's. Much of the work to be done was uninteresting, if not absolutely repulsive. I was often inclined to sympathise with the worthy Simon Browne, a Nonconformist divine of the last century. Poor Browne had received a terrible shock. Some accounts say that he had lost his wife and only son; others that he had 'accidentally strangled a highwayman,'—not, one would think, so painful a catastrophe. Anyhow, his mind became affected; he fancied that his 'spiritual substance' had been annihilated; he was a mere empty shell, a body without a soul; and, under these circumstances, as he tells us, he took to an employment which did not require a soul: he became a dictionary-maker. Still, we should, as he piously adds, 'thank God for everything, and therefore for dictionary-makers.' Though Browne's dictionary was not of the biographical kind, the remark seemed to be painfully applicable. Browne was only giving in other words the pith of Carlyle's constant lamentations when struggling amidst the vast dust-heaps accumulated by Dryasdust and his fellows. Could any good come of these painful toilings among the historical 'kitchen middens'? If here and there you disinter some precious coin, does the rare success repay the endless sifting of the gigantic mounds of shot rubbish? And yet, by degrees, I came to think that there was really a justification for toils not of the most attractive kind. 
Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709. His father, Michael Johnson, was a bookseller, highly respected by the cathedral clergy, and for a time sufficiently prosperous to be a magistrate of the town, and, in the year of his son's birth, sheriff of the county. He opened a bookstall on market-days at neighbouring towns, including Birmingham, which was as yet unable to maintain a separate bookseller. The tradesman often exaggerates the prejudices of the class whose wants he supplies, and Michael Johnson was probably a more devoted High Churchman and Tory than many of the cathedral clergy themselves. He reconciled himself with difficulty to taking the oaths against the exiled dynasty. He was a man of considerable mental and physical power, but tormented by hypochondriacal tendencies. His son inherited a share both of his constitution and of his principles. Long afterwards Samuel associated with his childish days a faint but solemn recollection of a lady in diamonds and long black hood. The lady was Queen Anne, to whom, in compliance with a superstition just dying a natural death, he had been taken by his mother to be touched for the king's evil. The touch was ineffectual. Perhaps, as Boswell suggested, he ought to have been presented to the genuine heirs of the Stuarts in Rome. Disease and superstition had thus stood by his cradle, and they never quitted him during life. The demon of hypochondria was always lying in wait for him, and could be exorcised for a time only by hard work or social excitement. Of this we shall hear enough; but it may be as well to sum up at once some of the physical characteristics which marked him through life and greatly influenced his career.

The disease had scarred and disfigured features otherwise regular and always impressive. It had seriously injured his eyes, entirely destroying, it seems, the sight of one. He could not, it is said, distinguish a friend's face half a yard off, and pictures were to him meaningless patches, in which he could never see the resemblance to their objects. The statement is perhaps exaggerated; for he could see enough to condemn a portrait of himself. He expressed some annoyance when Reynolds had painted him with a pen held close to his eye; and protested that he would not be handed down to posterity as "blinking Sam." It seems that habits of minute attention atoned in some degree for this natural defect. Boswell tells us how Johnson once corrected him as to the precise shape of a mountain; and Mrs. Thrale says that he was a close and exacting critic of ladies' dress, even to the accidental position of a riband. He could even lay down aesthetical canons upon such matters. He reproved her for wearing a dark dress as unsuitable to a "little creature." "What," he asked, "have not all insects gay colours?" His insensibility to music was even more pronounced than his dulness of sight. On hearing it said, in praise of a musical performance, that it was in any case difficult, his feeling comment was, "I wish it had been impossible!"

It is with great pleasure that I address you as president of this Society. Your main purpose, as I understand, is to promote the serious study of political and social problems in a spirit purged from the prejudice and narrowness of mere party conflict. You desire, that is, to promote a scientific investigation of some of the most important topics to which the human mind can devote itself. There is no purpose of which I approve more cordially: yet the very statement suggests a doubt. To speak of science and politics together is almost to suggest irony. And if politics be taken in the ordinary sense; if we think of the discussions by which the immediate fate of measures and of ministries is decided, I should be inclined to think that they belong to a sphere of thought to which scientific thought is hardly applicable, and in which I should be personally an unwarrantable intruder. My friends have sometimes accused me, indeed, of indifference to politics. I confess that I have never been able to follow the details of party warfare with the interest which they excite in some minds: and reasons, needless to indicate, have caused me to stray further and further away from intercourse with the society in which such details excite a predominant—I do not mean to insinuate an excessive—interest. I feel that if I were to suggest any arguments bearing directly upon home rule or disestablishment, I should at once come under that damnatory epithet "academical," which so neatly cuts the ground from under the feet of the political amateur. Moreover, I recognise a good deal of justice in the implied criticism. An active politician who wishes to impress his doctrines upon his countrymen, should have a kind of knowledge to which I can make no pretension. I share the ordinary feelings of awful reverence with which the human bookworm looks up to the man of business. He has faculties which in me are rudimentary, but which I can appreciate by their contrast to my own feebleness. The "knowledge of the world" ascribed to lawyers, to politicians, financiers, and such persons, like the "knowledge of the human heart" so often ascribed to dramatists and novelists, represents, I take it, a very real kind of knowledge; but it is rather an instinct than a set of definite principles; a power of somehow estimating the tendencies and motives of their fellow-creatures in a mass by rule of thumb, rather than by any distinctly assignable logical process; only to be gained by long experience and shrewd observation of men and cities. Such a faculty, as it reaches sound results without employing explicit definitions and syllogisms and inductive processes, sometimes inclines its possessors to look down too contemptuously upon the closet student.
Thomas Swift married Elizabeth Dryden, niece of Sir Erasmus, the grandfather of the poet Dryden. By her he became the father of ten sons and four daughters. In the great rebellion he distinguished himself by a loyalty which was the cause of obvious complacency to his descendant. On one occasion he came to the governor of a town held for the king, and being asked what he could do for his Majesty, laid down his coat as an offering. The governor remarked that his coat was worth little. “Then,” said Swift, “take my waistcoat.” The waistcoat was lined with three hundred broad pieces—a handsome offering from a poor and plundered clergyman. On another occasion he armed a ford, through which rebel cavalry were to pass, by certain pieces of iron with four spikes, so contrived that one spike must always be uppermost (caltrops, in short). Two hundred of the enemy were destroyed by this stratagem. The success of the rebels naturally led to the ruin of this cavalier clergyman; and the record of his calamities forms a conspicuous article in Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy. He died in 1658, before the advent of the better times in which he might have been rewarded for his loyal services. His numerous family had to struggle for a living. The eldest son, Godwin Swift, was a barrister of Gray’s Inn at the time of the Restoration: he was married four times, and three times to women of fortune; his first wife had been related to the Ormond family; and this connexion induced him to seek his fortune in Ireland—a kingdom which at that time suffered, amongst other less endurable grievances, from a deficient supply of lawyers. Godwin Swift was made Attorney-General in the palatinate of Tipperary by the Duke of Ormond. He prospered in his profession, in the subtle parts of which, says his nephew, he was “perhaps a little too dexterous;” and he engaged in various speculations, having at one time what was then the very large income of 3000l. a year. Four brothers accompanied this successful Godwin, and shared to some extent in his prosperity. In January, 1666, one of these, Jonathan, married to Abigail Erick, of Leicester, was appointed to the stewardship of the King’s Inns, Dublin, partly in consideration of the loyalty and suffering of his family. Some fifteen months later, in April, 1667, he died, leaving his widow with an infant daughter, and seven months after her husband’s death, November 30, 1667, she gave birth to Jonathan, the younger, at 7, Hoey’s Court, Dublin.
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