The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to John Boyle - 2


DUBLIN, AUG. 20, 1733.

I LATELY received a letter from Mrs. Barber, wherein she desires my opinion about dedicating her poems to your lordship; and seems in pain to know how far she may be allowed to draw your character, which is a right claimed by all dedicators: and she thinks this the more incumbent on her, from the surprising instances of your generosity and favour that she has already received, and which she has been so unfashionable to publish wherever she goes. This makes her apprehend, that all she can say to your lordship's advantage, will be interpreted as the mere effect of flattery, under the style and title of gratitude.

I sent her word, that I could be of no service to her upon this article: yet I confess, my lord, that all those who are thoroughly acquainted with her, will impute her encomiums to a sincere, but overflowing spirit of thankfulness, as well as to he humble opinion she has of herself. Although the world in general may possibly continue in its visual sentiments, and list her in the common herd of dedicators.

Therefore, upon the most mature deliberation, I concluded that the office of setting out your lordship's character, will not come properly from her pen, for her own reasons; I mean the great favours you have already conferred on her: and God forbid, that your character should not have a much stronger support. You are hourly gaining the love, esteem, and respect of wise and good men: and in due time, if Mrs. Barber can have but a little patience, you will bring them all over, in both kingdoms, to a man: I confess the number is not great; but that is not your lordship's fault, and therefore, in reason, you ought to be contented.

I guess the topicks she intends to insist on; your learning, your genius, your affability, generosity, the love you bear to your native country, and your compassion for this: the goodness of your nature, your humility, modesty, and condescension; your most agreeable conversation, suited to all tempers, conditions, and understandings: perhaps she may be so weak as to add the regularity of your life; that you believe a God and Providence; that you are a firm christian, according to the doctrine of the church established in both kingdoms.

These, and other topicks, I imagine Mrs. Barber designs to insist on, in the dedication of her poems to your lordship; but I think she will better show her prudence by omitting them all. And yet, my lord, I cannot disapprove of her ambition, so justly placed in the choice of a patron; and at the same time declare my opinion, that she deserves your protection on account of her wit and good sense, as well as of her humility, her gratitude, and many other virtues. I have read most of her poems; and believe your lordship will observe, that they generally contain something new and useful, tending to the reproof of some vice or folly, or recommending some virtue. She never writes on a subject with general unconnected topicks, but always with a scheme and method driving to some particular end; wherein many writers in verse, and of some distinction, are so often known to fail. In short, she seems to have a true poetical genius, better cultivated than could well be expected, either from her sex, or the scene she has acted in, as the wife of a citizen: yet I am assured, that no woman was ever more useful to her husband in the way of his business[1]. Poetry has only been her favourite amusement; for which she has one qualification, that I wish all good poets possessed a share of, I mean, that she is ready to take advice, and submit to have her verses corrected by those who are generally allowed to be the best judges.

I have, at her entreaty, suffered her to take a copy of this letter, and given her the liberty to make it publick: for which I ought to desire your lordship's pardon: but she was of opinion it might do her some service, and therefore I complied. I am, my lord, with the truest esteem and respect, your lordship's most obedient servant,

  1. Her husband was a woollendraper.