The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Jonathan Swift to Mrs. Moore - 1


DEC. 7, 1727.

THOUGH I see you seldomer than is agreeable to my inclinations, yet you have no friend in the world, that is more concerned for any thing that can affect your mind, your health, or your fortune; I have always had the highest esteem for your virtue, the greatest value for your conversation, and the truest affection for your person; and therefore cannot but heartily condole with you for the loss of so amiable, and (what is more) so favourite a child. These are the necessary consequences of too strong attachments, by which we are grieving ourselves with the death of those we love, as we must one day grieve those, who love us, with the death of ourselves. For life is a tragedy, wherein we sit as spectators awhile, and then act our own part in it. Self love, as it is the motive to all our actions, so it is the sole cause of our grief. The dear person you lament is by no means an object of pity, either in a moral or religious sense. Philosophy always taught men to despise life, as a most contemptible thing in itself; and religion regards it only as a preparation for a better, which you are taught to be certain that so innocent a person is now in possession of; so that she is an immense gainer, and you and her friends the only losers. Now, under misfortunes of this kind, I know no consolation more effectual to a reasonable person, than to reflect rather upon what is left, than what is lost. She was neither an only child, nor an only daughter. You have three children left, one[1] of them of an age to be useful to his family, and the two others as promising as can be expected from their age; so that according to the general dispensations of God Almighty you have small reason to repine upon that article of life. And religion will tell you, that the true way to preserve them is, not to fix any of them too deep in your heart, which is a weakness that God seldom leaves long unpunished: common observation showing us, that such favourite children are either spoiled by their parents indulgence, or soon taken out of the world; which last is, generally speaking, the lighter punishment of the two.

God, in his wisdom, hath been pleased to load our declining years with many sufferings, with diseases, and decays of nature, with the death of many friends, and the ingratitude of more; sometimes with the loss or diminution of our fortunes, when our infirmities most need them; often with contempt from the world, and always with neglect from it; with the death of our most hopeful or useful children; with a want of relish for all worldly enjoyments; with a general dislike of persons and things: and though all these are very natural effects of increasing years, yet they were intended by the author of our being to wean us gradually from our fondness of life, the nearer we approach toward the end of it. And this is the use you are to make in prudence, as well as in conscience, of all the afflictions you have hitherto undergone, as well as of those which in the course of nature and providence you have reason to expect. May God, who hath endowed you with so many virtues, add strength of mind and reliance upon his mercy in proportion to your present sufferings, as well as those he may think fit to try you with through the remainder of your life?

I fear my present ill disposition both of health and mind has made me but a sorry comforter[2]: however, it will show that no circumstance of life can put you out of my mind, and that I am, with the truest respect, esteem, and friendship,

Dear madam,

your most obedient,

and humble servant,

  1. Charles Devenish, esq.
  2. It was written little more than a month before Mrs. Johnson's death, an event which was then almost daily expected.