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


DEC. 25, 1723.


NEVER letter came more opportunely than your last. The gout had made me a second visit, and several persons were congratulating with me on the good effect of the waters, which had determined my former illness to a distemper so desirable. My toe pained me; these compliments tired me; and I would have taken my fever again to give the gout to all the company. At that instant your letter was delivered to me, it cleared my brow, diverted my ill humour, and at least made me forget my pain. I told the persons, who were sitting round my bed, and who testified some surprise at so sudden a change, that this powerful epistle came from Ireland; at which, to say the truth, I did not observe that their surprise diminished. But the dullest fellow among them, who was a priest (for that happens to be the case sometimes in this country), told the others, that Ireland formerly had been called insula sanctorum: that by the acquaintance he had at the Irish college, he made no doubt of her deserving still the same appellation: and that they might be sure the three pages were filled with matière d' èdification, et matière de consolation, which he hoped I would be so good as to communicate to them. A learned rosicrusian of my acquaintance, who is a fool of as much knowledge and as much wit as ever I knew in my life, smiled at the doctor's simplicity; observed, that the effect was too sudden for a cause so heavy in its operations; said a great many extravagant things about natural and theurgick magick; and informed us, that though the sages who deal in occult sciences have been laughed out of some countries, and driven out of others, yet there are, to his knowledge, many of them in Ireland. I stopped these guessers, and others who were perhaps ready, by assuring them, that my correspondent was neither a saint nor a conjurer. They asked me, what he was then? I answered, that they should know it from yourself; and opening your letter, I read to them in French the character which you draw of yourself. Particular parts of it were approved or condemned by every one, as every one's own habits induced him to judge; but they all agreed, that my correspondent stood in need of more sleep, more victuals, less ale, and better company. I defended you the best I could; and, bad as the cause was, I found means to have the last word, which in disputes you know is the capital point. The truth is, however, that I convinced no body, not even the weakest of the company, that is, myself.

I flatter my friendship for you with the hopes, that you are really in the case, in which you say, that our friend Pope seems to be; and that you do not know your own character. Or did you mean to amuse yourself, like that famous painter, who, instead of copying nature, tried in one of his designs, how far it was possible to depart from his original? Whatever your intention was, I will not be brought in among those friends, whose misfortunes have given you an habitual sourness. I declare to you once for all, that I am not unhappy, and that I never shall be so, unless I sink under some physical evil. Retrench therefore the proportion of peevishness, which you set to my account. You might for several other reasons retrench the proportions, which you set to the account of others, and so leave yourself without peevishness, or without excuse. I lament, and have always lamented, your being placed in Ireland; but you are worse than peevish, you are unjust, when you say, that it was either not in the power or will of a ministry to place you in England. Write minister, friend Jonathan, and scrape out the words, either power or; after which the passage will run as well, and be comformable to the truth of things. I know but one man[2] who had power at that time, and that wretched man had neither the will nor the skill to make a good use of it. We talk of characters; match me that, if you can, among all the odd phenomena which have appeared in the moral world. I have not a Tacitus by me; but I believe, that I remember your quotation, and as a mark that I hit right, I make no comment upon it. As you describe your publick spirit, it seems to me to be a disease, as well as your peevishness. Your proposals for reforming the state are admirable; and your schemes concise. With respect to your humble servant, you judge better than you did in a letter I received from you about four years ago. You seemed at that time not so afraid of the nightingale's falling into the serpent's mouth. This reflection made me recollect, that I writ you at that time a long epistle in metre. After rummaging among my papers, I found it, and send it with my letter: it will serve to entertain you the first fast-day. I depend on the fidelity of your friendship, that it shall fall under no eye but your own. Adieu.

I read in English, (for she understands it) to a certain lady, the passage of your letter, which relates to her. The Latin I most generously concealed. She desires you to receive the compliments of one, who is so far from being equal to fifty others of her sex, that she never found herself equal to any one of them. She says, that she has neither youth nor beauty, but that she hopes on the long and intimate acquaintance she has had with you, when you meet, if that ever happen, to cast such a mist before your eyes, that you shall not perceive she wants either of them.

  1. This letter appears to have been written from France, though lord Bolingbroke had come over to England in the latter end of June this year, in order to plead his pardon, which had passed the seals on the 28th of May.
  2. Lord Oxford.