The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to l'abbé des Fontaines - 1 (Translation)
IT is above a month since I received your letter of the 4th of July; but the copy of the second edition of your translation is not yet come to hand. I have read the preface to the first; and give me leave to tell you, that I was very much surprised to find, that at the same time you mentioned the country in which I was born, you also took notice of me by name, as the author of that book, though I have had the misfortune of incurring the displeasure of some of our ministers by it, and never acknowledged it as mine. Your behaviour however, in this respect, though somewhat exceptionable, shall not prevent me from doing you justice. The generality of translators are very lavish of their praises on such works as they undertake to render into their own language, imagining perhaps that their reputation depends in some measure on that of the authors, whom they have thought proper to translate. But you were sensible of your own abilities, which rendered all such precautions needless. Capable of mending a bad book, an enterprise more difficult than to write a good one, you have ventured to publish the translation of a work, which you affirm to abound with nonsense, puerilities, &c. We think with you, that nations do not always agree in taste; but are inclined to believe, that good taste is the same, where-ever there are men of wit, judgment, and learning. Therefore, if the travels of Gulliver are calculated only for the British islands, that voyager must certainly be reckoned a paltry writer. The same vices and follies prevail in all countries, at least in all the civilized parts of Europe: and an author, who would sit down to write only for a single town, a province, a kingdom, or even a century, so far from deserving to be translated, does not deserve to be read.
This Gulliver's adherents, who are very numerous here, maintain that his book will last as long as our language, because he does not derive his merit from certain modes of expression or thought, but from a series of observations on the imperfections, follies and vices of mankind.
You may very well judge, that the people I have been speaking of do not approve of your criticisms; and you will doubtless be surprised, when I inform you, that they regard this sea surgeon as a grave author, who never departs from his character, and who uses no foreign embellishment, never pretends to set up for a wit, but is satisfied with giving the publick a plain and simple narrative of the adventures that befel him, and of the things he saw and heard in the course of his voyages.
With regard ro the article relating to lord Carteret, without waiting for any information whence you borrowed your intelligence, I shall take the liberty to tell you, that you have written only one half of the truth; and that this real, or supposed drapier, has saved Ireland, by spiriting up the whole nation to oppose a project, by which a certain number of individuals would have been enriched at the publick expense.
A series of accidents have intervened, which will prevent my going to France at present, and I am now too old to hope for any future opportunity. I am sensible that this is a great loss to me. The only consolation that remains, is to think that I shall be the better able to bear that spot of ground, to which fortune has condemned me. I am, &c.