Freya Johnston at Literary Review:
‘Would we have liked to live with him?’ asked Thackeray, contemplating Swift, a question he immediately ducked by supplying a long list of other writers with whom we might prefer to spend our time. Samuel Johnson, similarly recoiling from the evidence of Swift’s character as manifested in his works, thought him ‘a man of rigorous temper’, whose ‘vigilance of minute attention’ must have made him unbearable. Even his best friends, on whose testimony Johnson relied, depicted him as cold, frugal, petulant and severe.
None of this would have surprised the man himself. In his autobiographical ‘Verses on the Death of Dr Swift’ (1731), he imagined widespread indifference to his demise and posthumous distortions of his name. The poem gives neither his vilest enemies nor his closest friends much credit for the sincerity or persistence of their feelings. Instead, it is the public Swift who endures, the man who unmasked cheats and frauds, who stood up for the financial and constitutional independence of Ireland, and who left his money
To build a House for Fools and Mad:
And shew’d by one satiric Touch,
No Nation wanted it so much:
That Kingdom he hath left his Debtor,
I wish it soon may have a Better.