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

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 12


APRIL 28th, 1731.

YOUR letter has lain by me without acknowledging it, longer than I intended; not for want of civility, but because I was wholly at a loss what to say: for, as your scheme of thinking, conversing, and living, differs in every point diametrically from mine, so I think myself the most improper person in the world to converse or correspond with you. You would be glad to be thought a proud man, and yet there is not a grain of pride in you: for, you are pleased that people should know you have been acquainted with persons of great names and titles, whereby you confess, that you take it for an honour; which a proud man never does: and besides, you run the hazard of not being believed. You went abroad, and strove to engage yourself in a desperate cause, very much to the damage of your fortune, and might have been to the danger of your life, if there had not been, as it were, a combination of some, who would not give credit to the account you gave of your transactions; and of others, who, either really, or pretending to believe you, have given you out as a dangerous person; of which last notion I once hinted something to you: because, if what you repeated of yourself were true, it was necessary that you had either made your peace, or must have been prosecuted for high treason. The reputation (if there be any) of having been acquainted with princes, and other great persons, arises from its being generally known to others, but never once mentioned by ourselves, if it can possibly be avoided. I say this perfectly for your service; because a universal opinion, among those who know or have heard of you, that you have always practised a direct contrary proceeding, has done you more hurt, than your natural understanding, left to itself, could ever have brought upon you. The world will never allow any man that character which he gives to himself, by openly confessing it to those with whom he converses. Wit, learning, valour, great acquaintance, the esteem of good men, will be known, although we should endeavour to conceal them, however they may pass unrewarded: but, I doubt, our own bare assertions, upon any of those points, will very little avail, except in tempting the hearers to judge directly contrary to what we advance. Therefore, at this season of your life, I should be glad you would act after the common custom of mankind, and have done with thoughts of courts, of ladies, of lords, of politicks, and all dreams of being important in the world. I am glad your country life has taught you Latin, of which you were altogether ignorant when I knew you first; and I am astonished how you came to recover it. Your new friend Horace will teach you many lessons agreeable to what I have said, for which I could refer to a dozen passages in a few minutes. I should be glad to see the house wholly swept of these cobwebs; and that you would take an oath, never to mention a prince or princess, a foreign or domestick lord, an intrigue of state or of love; but suit yourself to the climate and company where your prudence will be to pass the rest of your life. It is not a farthing matter to you what is doing in Europe, more than to every alderman who reads the news in a coffeehouse. If you could resolve to act thus, your understanding is good enough to qualify you for any conversation in this kingdom. Families will receive you without fear or restraint; nor watch to hear you talk in the grand style, laugh when you are gone, and tell it to all their acquaintance. It is a happiness that this quality may, by a man of sense, be as easily shaken off as it is acquired, especially when he has no proper claim to it: for you were not bred to be a man of business; you never were called to any employments at courts; but destined to be a private gentleman, to entertain yourself with country business, and country acquaintance; or, at best, with books of amusement in your own language. It is an uncontrolled truth, that no man ever made an ill figure who understood his own talents, nor a good one who mistook them. I am, &c.