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This celebrated parody is said by Mr Sheridan, to have been composed upon the following occasion.
"In the yearly visits which Swift made to London, during his stay there he passed much of his time at Lord Berkeley's, officiating as chaplain to the family, and attending Lady Berkeley in her private devotions; after which the doctor, by her desire, used to read to her some moral or religious discourse. The Countess had at this time taken a great liking to Mr Boyle's Meditations, and was determined to go through them in that manner; but as Swift had by no means the same relish for that kind of writing which her ladyship had, he soon grew weary of the task; and a whim coming into his head, resolved to get rid of it in a way which might occasion some sport in the family; for which they had as high a relish as himself. The next time he was employed in reading one of these Meditations, he took an opportunity of conveying away the book, and dexterously inserted a leaf, on which he had written his own Meditations on a Broomstick; after which he took care to have the book restored to its proper place, and in his next attendance on my lady, when he was desired to proceed to the next Meditation, Swift opened upon the place where the leaf had been inserted, and with great composure read the title, "A Meditation on a Broomstick." Lady Berkeley, a little surprised at the oddity of the title, stopped him, repeating the words, "A Meditation on a Broomstick! What a strange subject! But there is no knowing what useful lessons of instruction this wonderful man may draw from things apparently the most trivial. Pray let us hear what he says upon it." Swift then, with an inflexible gravity of countenance, proceeded to read the Meditation, in the same solemn tone which he had used in delivering the former. Lady Berkeley, not at all suspecting a trick, in the fullness of her prepossession, was every now and then, during the reading of it, expressing her admiration of this extraordinary man, who could draw such fine moral reflections from so contemptible a subject; with which, though Swift must have been inwardly not a little tickled, yet he preserved a most perfect composure of features, so that she had not the least room to suspect any deceit. Soon after, some company coming in, Swift pretended business, and withdrew, foreseeing what was to follow. Lady Berkeley, full of the subject, soon entered upon the praises of those heavenly Meditations of Mr Boyle. "But," said she, "the doctor has been just reading one to me, which has surprised me more than all the rest." One of the company asked which of the Meditations she meant? She answered directly, in the
simplicity of her heart, "I mean, that excellent Meditation upon a Broomstick." The company looked at each other with some surprise, and could scarce refrain from laughing. But they all agreed that they had never heard of such a meditation before. Upon my word," said my lady," there it is, look into that book, and convince yourselves." One of them opened the book, and found it there indeed, but in Swift's handwriting; upon which a general burst of laughter ensued: and my lady, when the first surprise was over, enjoyed the joke as much as any of them; saying, "What a vile trick has that rogue played me! But it is his way, he never baulks his humour in any thing." The affair ended in a great deal of harmless mirth, and Swift, you may be sure, was not asked to proceed any farther into the Meditations."
Whoever has read the vapid and metaphorical flourishes of this once celebrated moralist (only equalled in the flowery pages of Harvey's Meditations,) will find, in the pretended violation of Mr Boyle's dignity, a pedantic and affected sytle, justly exposed to the ridicule of the world,
A MEDITATION UPON A BROOMSTICK.
THIS HIS single stick, which you now behold in glori ously lying in that neglected corner, I once knew in a flourishing state in a forest: it was full of sap, full of leaves, and full of boughs: but now, in vain does the busy art of man pretend to vie with nature, by tying that withered bundle of twigs to its sapless trunk: it is now, at best, but the reverse of what it was, a tree turned upside down, the branches on the earth, and the root in the air; it is now handled by every dirty wench, condemned to do her drudgery, and by a capricious kind of fate, destined to make other things clean, and be nasty itself: at length, worn to the stumps in the service of the maids, it is either thrown out of doors, or condemned to the last use, of kindling a fire. When I beheld this, I sighed, and said within myself, Surely man is a Broomstick! nature sent him into the world strong and lusty, in a thri ving condition, wearing his own hair on his head, the proper branches of this reasoning vegetable, until the axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs, and left him a withered trunk: he then flies to art, and puts on a periwig, valuing himself upon an unnatural bundle of hairs (all covered with powder) that never grew on his head; but now, should this our broomstick pretend to enter the scene, proud of those birchen spoils it
never bore, and all covered with dust, though the sweepings of the finest lady's chamber, we should be apt to ridicule and despise its vanity. Partial judges that we are of our own excellencies, and other men's defaults!
But a broomstick, perhaps you will say, emblem of a tree standing on its head; and pray what is man, but a topsyturvy creature, his animal faculties perpetually mounted on his rational, his head where his heels should be, grovelling on the earth! and yet, with all his faults, he sets up to be a universal reformer and corrector of abuses, a remover of grievances, rakes into every slut's corner of nature, bringing hidden corruption to the light, and raises a mighty dust where there was none before; sharing deeply all the while in the very same pollutions he pretends to sweep away: his last days are spent in slavery to women, and generally the least deserving; till worn out to the stumps, like his brother besom, he is either kicked out of doors, or made use of to kindle flames for others to warm themselves by.