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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Anthony Henley to Jonathan Swift - 3

Εῦδαιμονεῖν καὶ Εὐπράτλειν


IT is reported of the famous Regiomontanus, that he framed an eagle so artfully of a certain wood, that upon the approach of the emperor Maximilian to the opulent city of Nuremberg, it took wing, and flew out of the gates to meet him, and (as my author has it) appeared as though alive. Give me leave to attribute this excellent invention to the vehement desire he had to entertain his master with something extraordinary, and to say with the poet,

Amor addidit alas.

I am trying a like experiment, whether I cannot make this composition of old rags, galls, and vitriol, fly to Dublin; and if (as the moving lion, which was composed by an Italian chymist, and opened his breast, and showed the imperial arms painted on its heart) this could disclose itself, and discover to you the high esteem and affection I have for you, I should attain my end; and not only sacrifice a hecatomb, but cry out, with extatick Archimedes, εὔρηκα.

I should not have presumed to imagine, that you would deign to cast an eye on any thing proceeding from so mean a hand as mine, had I not been encouraged by that character of candour and sweetness of temper, for which you are so justly celebrated and esteemed by all good men, as the deliciæ humani generis; and I make no question, but, like your predecessor, an emperor again, you reckon every day as lost, in which you have not an opportunity of doing some act of beneficence. I was moreover emboldened by the adage, which does not stick to affirm, that one of the most despicable of animals may look upon the greatest of queens; as it has been proved to a demonstration by a late most judicious author, whom (as I take it) you have vouchsafed to immortalize by your learned lucubrations[1]. And as proverbs are the wisdom of a nation, so I take the naturalizing such a quantity of very expressive ones, as we did by the act of union, to be one of the considerablest advantages we shall reap from it: and I do not question but the nation will be the wiser for the future.

But I have digressed too far, and therefore resume my thread. I know my own unworthiness to deserve your favour; but let this attempt pass on any account for some merit.

In magnis voluisse sat est.

And though all cannot be sprightly like F—d, wise like T——rs, agreeable like B——th, polite like P——r——de, or, to sum up all, though there be but one phœnix, and one lepidissimus homuncio, T—p—m; yet since a cup of cold water was not an unacceptable present to a thirsty emperor, I may flatter myself, that this tender of my services (how mean soever) may not be contemned; and, though I fall from my great attempt,

Spero trovar pieta non che perdono,

as that mellifluous ornament of Italy, Franciscus Petrarcha, sweetly has it.

Mr. Crowder I have often heard affirm, and the fine thinkers of all ages have constantly held, that much good may be attained by reading of history. And Dr. Sloane is of opinion, that modern travels are very behoveful toward forming the mind, and enlarging the thoughts of the curious part of mankind.

Give me leave to speak a little from both these topicks.

In the Roman triumphs, which were doubtless the most august spectacles that were ever seen, it was the constant custom, that the publick executioner should be behind the conqueror, to remind him (says my author) from time to time, that these honours were transitory, and could not secure him from the severity of the laws.

Col. Morrison of the guards [he lives next door to Tart-Hall] his father was in Virginia, and being like to be starved, the company had recourse to a learned master of arts; his name was Venter, he advised them to eat one another pour passer le tems, and to begin with a fat cook-maid. She had certainly gone to pot, had not a ship arrived just in the nick with a quantity of pork, which appeased their hunger, and saved the wench's bacon.

To apply these; Did you never (when rioting in the costly dainties of my lord high admiral's[2] table, when the polytasted wine excited jovial thoughts, and banished serious reflections) forget your frail mortal condition? Or when, at another time, you have wiped the point of a knife, or perhaps with a little spoon taken some Attick salt out of Mrs. F—'s cadenat; and, as the poet sings,

Qui sedens ad versus identidem ——
Spectat et audit.

Did you not think yourself par Deo? Pray God you did not; pray God you did not think yourself superare divos.

Confess the truth, doctor, you did; confess it, and repent of it, if it be not too late: but alas! I fear it is.

And now, methinks, I look down into that bog all flaming with bonnyclabber and usquebaugh; and hear you gnashing your teeth and crying, Oh! what would I give now for a glass of that small beer, I used to say was sour! or a pinch of that snuff, which I used to say was the cursed'st stuff in the world; and borrow as much as would lie on a shilling the minute after. Oh! what would I give to have had a monitor in those moments to have put me in mind of the sword hanging by a twine-thread over my head, and to have cried in a voice as loud as S—th—ll's, Memento, doctor, quia Hibernus es, et in Hiberniam reverteris.

Every man in the midst of his pleasures should remember the Roman executioner: and I have been assured, that had it not been for the unfortunate loss of his royal highness the prince[3], sir Charles Duncomb[4] would have revived that useful ceremony, which might be very properly introduced in the lord mayor's cavalcade.

I would, not be mistaken either in what has gone before, or in that which is to follow, as if I took you to be a bellygod, an Apicius, or him that wished his neck as long as a crane's, that he might have the greater pleasure in swallowing. No, dear doctor, far be it from me to think you Epicuri de grege porcum. I know indeed you are helluo, but 'tis librorum, as the learned Dr. Accepted Frewen, some time archbishop of York, was; and ingenii, as the quaint Dr. Offspring Blackall, now bishop of Exeter, is. Therefore let us return to the use which may be made of modern travels, and apply Mr. Morrison's to your condition.

You are now cast on an inhospitable island; no mathematical figures on the sand, no vestigia hominum to be seen; perhaps at this very time reduced to one single barrel of damaged biscuit, and short allowance even of salt water. What's to be done? Another in your condition would look about; perhaps he might find some potatoes; or get an old piece of iron, and make a harpoon, and if he found Higgon sleeping near the shore, strike him and eat him. The western islanders of Scotland say, 'tis good meat, and his train oil, bottled till it mantles, is a delicious beverage, if the inhabitants of Lapland are to be credited.

But this I know is too gross a pabulum for one, who (as the chameleon lives on air) has always hitherto lived on wit; and whose friends (God be thanked) design he should continue to do so, and on nothing else. Therefore I would advise you to fall upon old Joan; eat, do I live to bid thee; eat Addison[5]: and when you have eat every body else, eat my lord lieutenant[6] [he is something lean] God help the while; and though it will, for aught I know, be treason, there will be nobody left to hang you, unless you should think fit to do yourself that favour; which if you should, pray don't write me word of it, because I should be very sorry to hear of any ill that should happen to you, as being with a profound veneration, one of the greatest of your admirers,

T. B. or any other two letters you like better.

Pray direct your answer to me, at the Serjeant's Head in Cornwall; or at Mr. Sentiment's, a potty carrier, in Common Garden, in the Phhs.

  1. The lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, in the Tatler.
  2. Thomas, earl of Pembroke.
  3. Of Denmark, who died October 28, 1708.
  4. Lord mayor of London, in 1708.
  5. Then secretary to the earl of Wharton, lord lieutenant of Ireland.
  6. Earl of Wharton.