Revulsion against chivalry

Jonathan Swift is the least lascivious writer in the English language. (I make such statements after the slightest review of my critical knowledge.) His Journal to Stella, written under the highest condition of intimacy to a woman, should be an inspiration to post-Puritans everywhere. Or to candidates for the priesthood.

I say “post” because in its very shrivelling and shrinking from eros, Puritanism exhibits a lascivious tendency. Old-fashioned, prudish women knew exactly what they were shrinking from, and it was an explosive temptation; and the prudish men were like the old women. Whereas the Dean Swift, and to some extent I assume the Miss Esther Johnson (the behovely “Stella”), could descend into the scatalogical without the least transit of the lubricious realm.

The other side of Swift is frequently forgotten; his unromantic “compassion.” He was perhaps the most generous patron of his Yahoo contemporaries in Ireland, that they had ever seen out of England. He would moreover mix, with these quite unrespectable people, just where they would expect to be found; and he was noticed by them. After his death, the poor of Dublin proposed erecting a statue to Swift, to replace the idol to Marlborough. (Ah, when Ireland was Christian!)

But it was the living Swift’s freedom from “sexuality” that puzzled me upon my first Maundy Thursday as a (conscious) Christian. I was young then, and in the fit of adolescent hetero-sexuality. The Gospels struck me as so wonderfully dry. Christ himself reached, through His Crucifixion, beyond the frame of human explanation, however extravagant. I knew from His words that, “When the dead rise again, there is no marrying or giving in marriage; they are as the angels in heaven are.”

It was a post-Puritan dogma, that He spake.  It separated that teaching from what had always accompanied the promise of paradise, before and after the Christian revelation. There would be no seventy-two virgins waiting.

Heaven, and Hell, are neither of them glib. It is in the approach to Good Friday, after the slow preparation of Lent, that we may begin to grasp this.