The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Jonathan Swift to Charles Wogan - 1
I RECEIVED your packet at least two months ago, and took all this time not only to consider it maturely myself, but to show it to the few judicious friends I have in this kingdom. We all agreed that the writer was a scholar, a man of genius and of honour. We guessed him to have been born in this country from some passages; but not from the style, which we were surprised to find so correct, in an exile, a soldier, and a native of Ireland. The history of yourself, although part of it be employed in your praise and importance, we did not dislike, because your intention was to be wholly unknown; which circumstance exempts you from any charge of vanity. However, although I am utterly ignorant of present persons and things, I have made a shift, by talking in general with some persons, to find out your name, your employments, and some of your actions, with the addition of such a character as would give full credit to more than you have said (I mean of yourself) in the dedicatory epistle.
You will pardon a natural curiosity on this occasion, especially when I began with so little, that I did not so much as untie the strings of the bag for five days after I received it; concluding it must come from some Irish friar in Spain, filled with monastick speculations, of which I have seen some in my life; little expecting a history, a dedication, a poetical translation of the penitential psalms, latin poems, and the like, and all from a soldier. In these kingdoms, you would be a most unfashionable military man, among troops where the least pretension to learning, or piety, or common morals, would endanger the owner to be cashiered. Although I have no great regard for your trade, from the judgment I make of those who profess it in these kingdoms, yet I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland, who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations; which ought to make the English ashamed of the reproaches they cast on the ignorance, the dulness, and the want of courage, in the Irish natives; those defects, wherever they happen, arising only from the poverty and slavery they suffer from their inhuman neighbours, and the base corrupt spirits of too many of the chief gentry, &c. By such events as these, the very Grecians are grown slavish, ignorant, and superstitious. I do assert, that from several experiments I have made in travelling over both kingdoms, I have found the poor cottagers here, who could speak our language, to have a much better natural taste for good sense, humour, and raillery, than ever I observed among people of the like sort in England. But the millions of oppressions they lie under, the tyranny of their landlords, the ridiculous zeal of their priests, and the general misery of the whole nation, have been enough to damp the best spirits under the sun. I return to your packet.
Two or three poetical friends of mine have read your poems with very good approbation; yet we all agree some corrections may be wanting, and at the same time we are at a loss how to venture on such a work. One gentleman of your own country, name, and family, who could do it best, is a little too lazy; but, however, something shall be done, and submitted to you. I have been only a man of rhimes, and that upon trifles; never having written serious couplets in my life; yet never any without a moral view. However, as an admirer of Milton, I will read yours as a critick, and make objections where I find any thing that should be changed. Your directions about publishing the epistle and the poetry will be a point of some difficulty. They cannot be printed here with the least profit to the author's friends in distress. Dublin booksellers have not the least notion of paying for a copy. Sometimes things are printed here by subscription; but they go on so heavily, that few or none make it turn to account. In London, it is otherwise; but even there the authors must be in vogue, or, if not known, be discovered by the style; or the work must be something that hits the taste of the publick, or what is recommended by the presiding men of genius.
When Milton first published his famous poem, the first edition was very long going off; few either read, liked, or understood it; and it gained ground merely by its merit. Nothing but an uncertain state of my health (caused by a disposition to giddiness, which, although less violent, is more constant) could have prevented my passing this summer into England to see my friends, who hourly have expected me; in that case I could have managed this affair myself, and would have readily consented that my name should have stood at length before your epistle; and by the caprice of the world, that circumstance might have been of use to make the thing known; and consequently better answer the charitable part of your design, by inciting people's curiosity. And in such a case, I would have writ a short acknowledgment of your letter, and published it in the next page after your epistle; but giving you no name, nor confessing my conjecture of it. This scheme I am still upon, as soon as my health permits me to return to England.
As I am conjectured to have generally dealt in raillery and satire, both in prose and verse, if that conjecture be right, although such an opinion has been an absolute bar to my rising in the world; yet that very world must suppose that I followed what I thought to be my talent; and charitable people will suppose I had a design to laugh the follies of mankind out of countenance, and as often to lash the vices out of practice. And then it will be natural to conclude, that I have some partiality for such kind of writing, and favour it in others. I think you acknowledge, that in some time of your life, you turned to the rallying part; but I find at present your genius runs wholly into the grave and sublime; and therefore I find you less indulgent to my way by your dislike of the Beggar's Opera, in the persons particularly of Polly Peachum and Macheath; whereas we think it a very severe satire upon the most pernicious villanies of mankind. And so you are in danger of quarrelling with the sentiments of Mr. Pope, Mr. Gay the author, Dr. Arbuthnot, myself, Dr. Young, and all the brethren whom we own. Dr. Young is the gravest among us, and yet his satires have many mixtures of sharp raillery. At the same time you judge very truly, that the taste of England is infamously corrupted by shoals of wretches who write for their bread; and therefore I had reason to put Mr. Pope on writing the poem, called the Dunciad; and to hale those scoundrels out of their obscurity by telling their names at length, their works, their adventures, sometimes their lodgings, and their lineage; not with A's and B's according to the old way, which would be unknown in a few years.
As to your blank verse, it has too often fallen into the same vile hands of late. One Thomson, a Scotchman, has succeeded the best in that way, in four poems he has writ on the four seasons: yet I am not over fond of them, because they are all description, and nothing is doing; whereas Milton engages me in actions of the highest importance: Modo me Romæ, modo ponit Athenis: and yours on the seven psalms, &c. have some advantages that way.
You see Pope, Gay, and I, use all our endeavours to make folks merry and wise, and profess to have no enemies, except knaves and fools. I confess myself to be exempted from them in one article, which was engaging with a ministry to prevent, if possible, the evils that have overrun the nation, and, my foolish zeal in endeavouring to save this wretched island. Wherein though I succeeded absolutely in one important article; yet even there I lost all hope of favour from those in power here, and disobliged the court of England, and have in twenty years drawn above one thousand scurrilous libels on myself, without any other recompense than the love of the Irish vulgar, and two or three dozen signposts of the drapier in this city, beside those that are scattered in country towns; and even these are half worn out. So that, whatever little genius God has given me, I may justly pretend to have been the worst manager of it to my own advantage of any man upon earth.
Aug. 2.] What I have above written has long lain by me, that I might consider farther: but I have been partly out of order, and partly plagued with a lawsuit of ten years standing, and I doubt very ill closed up, although it concerns two thirds of my little fortune. Think whether such periods of life are proper to encourage poetical or philosophical speculations.
I shall not therefore tire you any longer; but, with great acknowledgment for the distinction you please to show me, desire to be always thought, with great truth and a most particular esteem, sir,
Your most obedient
and obliged servant,
We have sometimes editions printed here of books from England, which I know not whether you are in a way of getting. I will name some below, and if you approve of any, I shall willingly increase your library; they are small, consequently more portable in your marches, and, which is more important, the present will be cheaper for me.
- Mr. Wogan, a gentleman of an ancient and good family in Ireland, sent a present of a cask of Spanish Cassalia wine to the dean, also a green velvet bag, with gold and silk strings, in which were enclosed, a paraphrase on the seven penitential psalms of David, and several original pieces in verse and prose, particularly the adventures of Eugenius; and an Account of the Courtship and Marriage of the Chevalier to the Princess Sobieski, wherein he represents himself to have been a principal negotiator; it was written in the novel style, but a little heavily. His letter to the dean contained also remarks on the Beggar's Opera, in which he censures the taste of the people of England and Ireland; and concluded with paying the dean the compliment of entreating him to correct his writings. The dean receiving them about the time (1732) Mr. Pilkington was coming to London as chaplain to alderman Barber; he put them into Mr Pilkington's hands, to look over at his leisure; but quickly recalled them into his own custody. See Pilkington's Memoirs, vol. III, p. 168. They were afterward in the possession of Deane Swift, esq. This Mr. Wogan was a gentleman of great bravery and courage, and distinguished himself in several battles and sieges. He was appointed, by the chevalier de St. George, in the year 1718, to take the princess Sobieski (granddaughter of the famous James Sobieski, king of Poland, who raised the siege of Vienna), to whom he was married by proxy in Poland: who, in her journey to Rome, was, by order of the imperial court, made a prisoner in Tyrol, and closely confined in the castle of Inspruck for some time, when Mr. Wogan undertook to set her at liberty, and bring her safe to Rome, which he effectually performed, by carrying her through all the guards: for which dangerous and gallant service he was made a Roman knight, an honour that was not conferred on a foreigner for many centuries before. This gentleman soon after went into the service of Spain, where he got a government and other military commands, and distinguished himself in many engagements, being well known all over Europe by the name of chevalier, or sir Charles Wogan.
- Against Wood's copper halfpence.