The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Henry St. John to Jonathan Swift - 10

JULY 28, 1721.

I NEVER was so angry in all my life, as I was with you last week, on the receipt of your letter of the 19th of June. The extreme pleasure it gave me takes away all the excuses, which I had invented for your long neglect. I design to return my humble thanks to those men of eminent gratitude and integrity, the weavers and the judges, and earnestly to entreat them, instead of tossing you in the person of your proxy, who had need to have iron ribs to endure all the drubbings you will procure him, to toss you in your proper person, the next time you offend, by going about to talk sense or to do good to the rabble. Is it possible, that one of your age and profession should be ignorant, that this monstrous beast has passions to be moved, but no reason to be appealed to; and that plain truth will influence half a score men at most in a nation, or an age, while mystery will lead millions by the nose?

Dear Jonathan, since you cannot resolve to write as you preach, what publick authority allows, what councils and senates have decided to be orthodox, instead of what private opinion suggests, leave off instructing the citizens of Dublin. Believe me, there is more pleasure, and more merit too, in cultivating friendship, than in taking care of the state. Fools and knaves are generally best fitted for the last; and none but men of sense and virtue are capable of the other. How comes it then to pass, that you, who have sense, though you have wit, and virtue, though you have kept bad company in your time, should be so surprised that I continue to write to you, and expect to hear from you, after seven years absence?

Anni prædantur euntes, say you; and time will lop off my luxuriant branches: perhaps it will be so. But I have put the pruninghook into a hand, which works hard to leave the other as little to do of that kind as may be. Some superfluous twigs are every day cut; and as they lessen in number, the bough, which bears the golden fruit of friendship, shoots, swells, and spreads.

Our friend told you what he heard, and what was commonly said, when he told you that I had taken the fancy of growing rich. If I could have resolved to think two minutes a day about stocks, to flatter Law[1] half an hour a week, or to have any obligation to people I neither loved nor valued, certain it is that I might have gained immensely. But not caring to follow the many bright examples of these kinds, which France furnished, and which England sent us over, I turned the little money I had of my own, without being let into any secret, very negligently: and if I have secured enough to content me, it is because I was soon contented. I am sorry to hear you confess, that the love of money has got into your head. Take care, or it will, ere long, sink into your heart, the proper seat of passions. Plato, whom you cite, looked upon riches, and the other advantages of fortune, to be desirable; but he declared, as you have read in Diogenes Laertius; Ea etsi non affluerint, nihilominus tamen beatum fore sapientem. You may think it, perhaps, hard to reconcile his two journies into Sicily with this maxim, especially since he got fourscore talents of the tyrant. But I can assure you, that he went to the elder Dionysius only to buy books, and to the younger only to borrow a piece of ground, and a number of men, women, and children, to try his Utopia. Aristippus was in Sicily at the same time; and there passed some billingsgate between these reverend persons. This philosopher had a much stronger fancy to grow rich than Plato: he flattered, he cracked jests and danced over a stick to get some of the Sicilian gold; but still even he took care, sibi res, non se rebus submittere. And I remember, with great edification, how he reproved one of his catechumens, who blushed, and shrunk back, when his master showed him the way to the bawdy house. Non ingredi turpe est, sed egredi non posse turpe est. The conclusion of all this is; un honnête homme ought to have cent mille livres de rente, if you please; but a wise man will be happy with the hundredth part. Let us not refuse riches, when they offer themselves; but let us give them no room in our heads or our hearts. Let us enjoy wealth, without suffering it to become necessary to us. And, to finish with one of Seneca's quaint sentences; "Let us place it so, that fortune may take it without tearing it from us." The passage you mention does follow that, which I quoted to you, and the advice is good. Solon thought so; nay, he went farther: and you remember the reason he gave for sitting in the council of Pisistratus, whom he had done his utmost to oppose; and who, by the way, proved a very good prince. But the epistle is not writ by Cicero, as you seem to think. It is, if I mistake not, an epistle of Dolabella to him. Cato, you say, would not be of the same mind. Cato is a most venerable name, and Dolabella was but a scoundrel with wit and valour; and yet there is better sense, nay, there is more virtue, in what Dolabella advises, than in the conduct of Cato. I must own my weakness to you. This Cato, so sung by Lucan in every page, and so much better sung by Virgil in half a line, strikes me with no great respect. When I see him painted in all the glorious colours which eloquence furnishes, I call to mind that image of him, which Tully gives in one of his letters to Atticus, or to somebody else; where he says, that having a mind to keep a debate from coming on in the senate, they made Cato rise to speak, and that he talked till the hour of proposing matters was over. Tully insinuates, that they often made this use of him. Does not the moving picture shift? Do you not behold Clarke of Taunton Dean, in the gown of a Roman senator, sending out the members to piss? The censor used sharp medicines; but, in his time, the patient had strength to bear them. The second Cato inherited this receipt without his skill; and like a true quack, he gave the remedy, because it was his only one, though it was too late. He hastened the patient's death: he not only hastened it, he made it more convulsive snd painful.

The condition of your wretched country is worse than you represent it to be. The healthful Indian follows his master, who died of sickness, to the grave; but I much doubt, whether those charitable legislators exact the same, when the master is a lunatick, and cuts his own throat. I mourn over Ireland with all my heart, but I pity you more. In reading your letter, I feel your pulse; and I judge of your distemper as surely by the figures into which you cast your ink, as the learned doctor, at the hand and urinal[2], could do, if he pored over your water. You are really in a very bad way. You say your memory declines: I believe it does, since you forget your friends, and since repeated importunity can hardly draw a token of remembrance from you. There are bad airs for the mind, as well as the body: and what do you imagine, that Plato, since you have set me upon quoting him (who thanked Heaven, that he was not a Bœotian) would have said of the ultima Thule? Shake off your laziness, ramble over hither, and spend some months in a kinder climate. You will be in danger of meeting but one plague here, and you will leave many behind you. Here you will come among people, who lead a life singular enough to hit your humour; so near the world, as to have all its conveniencies; so far from the world, as to be strangers to all its inconveniencies; wanting nothing which goes to the ease and happiness of life; embarrassed by nothing which is cumbersome. I dare almost venture to say, that you will like us better than the persons you live with, and that we shall be able to make you retrograde (that I may use a canonical simile) as the sun did on the dial of Hezekiah, and begin anew the twelve years which you complain are gone. We will restore to you the nigros angusto fronte capillos; and with them, the dulce loqui, the ridere decorum, et inter vina fugam Cynaræ mœrere protervæ. Hæc est vita solutorum miserâ ambitione gravique, and not yours.

I was going to finish with my sheet of paper; but having bethought myself, that you deserve some more punishment, and calling all my anger against you to my aid, I resolve, since I am this morning in the humour of scribbling, to make my letter at least as long as one of your sermons; and, if you do not mend, my next shall be as long as one of Dr. Manton's[3], who taught my youth to yawn, and prepared me to be a high churchman, that I might never hear him read, nor read him more.

You must know, that I am as busy about my hermitage, which is between the Chateau and the Maison Bourgeoise, as if I was to pass my life in it: and if I could see you now and then, I should be willing enough to do so. I have in my wood the biggest and the clearest spring perhaps in Europe, which forms, before it leaves the park, a more beautiful river than any which flows in Greek or Latin verse. I have a thousand projects about this spring, and among others, one, which will employ some marble. Now marble, you know, makes one think of inscriptions: and if you will correct this, which I have not yet committed to paper, it shall be graved, and help to fill the tablebooks of Spons and Missons[4] yet to come.

Propter fidem adversus Reginam, et Partes,
Intemeratè servatam,
Propter operam in pace generali conciliandâ
Strenuè saltern navatam,
Impotentiâ vesanæ factionis
Solum vertere coactus,
Hîc ad aquæ lene caput sacræ
Injuste exulat,
Dulce vivit,
H. De B. An. &c.

Ob were better than propter, but ob operam would never please the ear. In a proper place, before the front of the house, which I have new built, I have a mind to inscribe this piece of patchwork.

Si resipiscat patria, in patriam rediturus;
Si non resipiscat, ubivis melius quam inter
Tales civis futurus,
Hanc villam instauro et exorno:
Hinc, velut ex portu, alienos casus
Et fortunæ ludum insolentem
Cernere suave est.
Hic, mortem nec appetens nec timens
Innocuis deliciis,
Doctâ quiete,
Felicis animi immotâ tranquillitate,
Hic mihi vivam quod superest aut exilii,
Aut ævi.

If in a year's time you should find leisure to write to me, send me some mottoes for groves, and streams, and fine prospects, and retreat, and contempt of grandeur, &c. I have one for my greenhouse, and one for an alley, which leads to my apartment, which are happy enough. The first is Hic ver assiduum, atque alienis mensibus æstas. The other is, —— fallentis semita vitæ.

You see I amuse myself de la bagatelle as much as you; but here lies the difference; your bagatelle leads to something better; as fiddlers flourish carelesly, before they play a fine air. But mine begins, proceeds, and ends in bagatelle.

Adieu: it is happy for you that my hand is tired.

I will take care that you shall have my picture, and I am simple enough to be obliged to you for asking for it. If you do not write to me soon, I hope it will fall down as soon as you have it, and break your head.

  1. The projector of the Mississippi scheme in France, which produced the South Sea scheme here, and of whose very interesting history a good account may be seen in the History of Leicestershire, vol. III, p. 487.
  2. The sign of a noted quack in those days.
  3. Thomas Manton, D. D., who had been ejected from the rectory of Covent Garden, for nonconformity, after the restoration. He was a voluminous writer in divinity, and published a large folio volume of sermons on the 119th psalm.
  4. James Spon, M. D., and Maximilian Misson, were two eminent travellers, who have published their travels; in which are inserted many inscriptions.