The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to Thomas Beach - 1
AFTER the fate of all Poets, you are no favourite of Fortune; for your letter of March 31 did not come to my hands till two days after sir William Fownes's death; who, having been long afflicted with the stone and other disorders, besides great old age, died about nine days ago. If he had recovered, I should have certainly waited on him with your poem, and recommended it and the author very heartily to his favour. I have seen fewer good panegyricks than any other sort of writing, especially in verse, and therefore I much approve the method you have taken; I mean, that of describing a person who possesseth every virtue, and rather waving that sir William Fownes was in your thoughts, than that your picture was like in every part. He had indeed a very good natural understanding, nor wanted a talent for poetry; but his education denied him learning, for he knew no other language except his own; yet he was a man of taste and humour, as well as a wise and useful citizen, as appeared by some little treatise for regulating the government of this city; and I often wished his advice had been taken. I read your poem several times, and showed it to three or four judicious friends, who all approved it, but agreed with me, that it wanted some corrections. Upon which I took a number of lines, which are in all 299, the odd number being occasioned by what they call a triplet, which was a vicious way of rhyming, wherewith Dryden abounded, and was imitated by all the bad versifiers in Charles the Second's reign. Dryden, though my near relation, is one I have often blamed as well as pitied. He was poor, and in great haste to finish his plays, because by them he chiefly supported his family, and this made him so very uncorrect; he likewise brought in the Alexandrine verse at the end of his triplets. I was so angry at these corruptions, that about twenty-four years ago I banished them all by one triplet, with the Alexandrine, upon a very ridiculous subject. I absolutely did prevail with Mr. Pope, and Gay, and Dr. Young, and one or two more, to reject them. Mr. Pope never used them till he translated Homer, which was too long a work to be so very exact in; and I think in one or two of his last poems he has, out of laziness, done the same thing, though very seldom. I now proceed to what I would have corrected in your poem. Line 6, for han't, read want; I abhor those han'ts and won'ts, &c. they are detestable in verse as well as prose. L. 46, for whilst, put while. L. 83, derives, I doubt, there is no verb deponent, but always active. L. 106, "If Noll usurps, or James;" Noll is too much a cant word for a grave poem; and as to James, he was a weak bigotted papist, desirous, like all kings, of absolute power, but not properly a tyrant. P. 109. And midst harsh and rough, the elision unluckily placed. L. 115, 116. I cannot suffer an ill rhyme, such as seen and scene; (I forgot the triplet in L. 108, which I wish were clipped of one of its three wings;) and L. 110, to Glory, I wish it were in Glory. L. 118. Does. This word should be avoided, as a mere expletive. L. 155. Does. The same fault. L. 161. The Ingrate. This verse is not right measure, but sounds very ill. L. 201. Cheerful, &c. This verse wants a verb, as are, or some other. 204. Does. L. 217, for pervade it should be pervades. L. 218, and grows, Quere, is not or more proper? L. 278, Cuzzoni fam'd. This is an expletive, not a proper epithet. L. 289, That dares. The word that, as it is placed, spoils the whole line, and is not proper, for the right word should be who. L. 294, Reascend. I know not the reason for this word. Why not rather ascend? I slipped, L. 290, Than, I suppose you only meant then. You will do right to read over your poem carefully, and observe where there be any more oversights of the same kind with those I have noted, and to be corrected; which you can do better than any other person. A friend can only see what is amiss, but the writer can mend it more easily. All you desire in relation to sir W. F. is at an end by his death; otherwise I should gladly have performed it in the best and most effectual manner I was able. As to the publishing it here, I utterly differ from you. No printer in this beggarly town, and enslaved starving kingdom, would print it without being paid his full charge of his labour, nor would be able to sell two dozen unless he could afford it for a penny, I would rather advise you to have it published in London by Motte or Lintot, or any other bookseller there who deals in poetry. It would bear a shilling price; but, as I presume you are not much known as a poet in that great city, you should get some person of consequence to recommend it.
As to what things are printed here on supposition they were mine, the thing was done directly against my inclinations, out of the disdain I had of their being published in so obscure and wretched a country. But I would have been well enough satisfied if the booksellers in London could have agreed among themselves to print them there; and I believe they now repent they did not, because every printer there hath a property in their copy; and what things are supposed to be mine belonged to several booksellers, who might have shared equally, according to what copies they held. I have been called away till evening: however, my paper could afford me but little more room if I had staid. I am, with true esteem, sir,
Your most humble servant,
- Mr. Thomas Beach, the person to whom his letter is addressed, was a wine merchant at Wrexham, in Denbighshire. He was a man of learning, of great humanity, of an easy fortune, and was much respected. He published in the year 1737, in 4to, "Eugenio, or Virtuous and happy Life," a poem inscribed to Mr. Pope; a work, by no means destitute of poetical merit. He is said by some to have entertained very blamable notions in religion; but this appears rather to be conjecture than a well established fact. It is certain he was at times grievously afflicted with a very terrible disorder in his head, to which his friends ascribed his melancholy catastrophe. On the 17th of May, 1737, soon after the publication of his poem, he cut his throat with such shocking resolution, that it was reported his head was almost severed from his body.
- The poem which Mr. Beach sent was that he afterward published under the title of Eugenio; and, from a perusal of it, we find he adopted every one of the dean's hints and corrections. Even the triplet is discarded, and the poem now consists of three hundred lines.
- See the concluding lines of the Description of a City Shower.