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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Pope to Swift - 19

FEB. 16, 1732-3.

IT is indeed impossible to speak on such a subject as the loss of Mr. Gay, to me an irreparable one. But I send you what I intend for the inscription on his tomb, which the duke of Queensberry will set up at Westminster. As to his writings, he left no will, nor spoke a word of them, or any thing else, during his short and precipitate illness, in which I attended him to his last breath. The duke has acted more than the part of a brother to him, and it will be strange if the sisters do not leave his papers totally to his disposal, who will do the same that I would with them. He has managed the comedy (which our poor friend gave to the playhouse the week before his death) to the utmost advantage for his relations; and proposes to do the same with some fables he left finished.

There is nothing of late which I think of more than mortality, and what you mention, of collecting the best monuments we can of our friends, their own images in their writings: for those are the best, when their minds are such as Mr. Gay's was, and as yours is. I am preparing also for my own, and have nothing so much at heart, as to show the silly world that men of wit, or even poets, may be the most moral of mankind. A few loose things sometimes fall from them, by which censorious fools judge as ill of them as possibly they can, for their own comfort: and indeed, when such unguarded and trifling jeux d'esprit have once got abroad, all that prudence or repentance can do, since they cannot be denied, is to put them fairly upon that foot; and teach the publick (as we have done in the preface to the four volumes of Miscellanies) to distinguish betwixt our studies and our idlenesses, our works and our weaknesses. That was the whole end of the last vol. of Miscellanies, without which our former declaration in that preface, "That these volumes contained all that we have ever offended in, that way," would have been discredited. It went indeed to my heart, to omit what you called the libel on Dr. D—— and the best panegyrick on myself, that either my own times or any other could have afforded, or will ever afford to me. The book as you observe was printed in great haste; the cause whereof was, that the booksellers were doing the same, in collecting your pieces, the corn with the chaff; I do not mean that any thing of yours is chaff, but with other wit of Ireland which was so, and the whole in your name. I meant principally to oblige them to separate what you writ seriously from what you writ carelesly; and thought my own weeds might pass for a sort of wild flowers, when bundled up with them.

It was I that sent you those books into Ireland, and so I did my epistle to lord Bathurst even before it was published, and another thing of mine, which is a parody from Horace[1], writ in two mornings. I never took more care in my life of any thing than of the former of these, nor less than of the latter: yet every friend has forced me to print it, though in truth my own single motive was about twenty lines toward the latter end, which you will find out.

I have declined opening to you by letters the whole scheme of my present work, expecting still to do it in a better manner in person: but you will see pretty soon, that the letter to lord Bathurst is a part of it, and you will find a plain connexion between them, if you read them in the order just contrary to that they were published in. I imitate those cunning tradesmen, who show their best silks last: or, (to give you a truer idea, though it sounds too proudly) my works will in one respect be like the works of nature, much more to be liked and understood when considered in the relation they bear with each other, than when ignorantly looked upon one by one; and often, those parts which attract most at first sight, will appear to be not the most, but the least considerable.

I am pleased and flattered by your expression of orna me. The chief pleasure this work can give me is, that I can in it, with propriety, decency, and justice, insert the name and character of every friend I have, and every man that deserves to be loved or adorned. But I smile at your applying that phrase to my visiting you in Ireland; a place where I might have some apprehension (from their extraordinary passion for poetry, and their boundless hospitality) of being adorned to death and buried under the weight of garlands, like one I have read of somewhere or other. My mother lives (which is an answer to that point) and I thank God though her memory be in a manner gone, is yet awake and sensible to me, though scarce to any thing else; which doubles the reason of my attendance, and at the same time sweetens it. I wish (beyond any other wish) you could pass a summer here; I might (too probably) return with you, unless you preferred to see France first, to which country I think you would have a strong invitation. Lord Peterborow has narrowly escaped death, and yet keeps his chamber: he is perpetually speaking in the most affectionate manner of you: he has written you two letters which you never received, and by that has been discouraged from writing more. I can well believe the postoffice may do this, when some letters of his to me have met the same fate, and two of mine to him. Yet let not this discourage you from writing to me, or to him enclosed in the common way, as I do to you: innocent men need fear no detection of their thoughts; and for my part, I would give them free leave to send all I write to Curll if most of what I write was not too silly.

I desire my sincere services to Dr. Delany, who I agree with you is a man every way esteemable: my lord Orrery is a most virtuous and good natured nobleman, whom I should be happy to know. Lord B. received your letter through my hands; it is not to be told you how much he wishes for you: the whole list of persons to whom you sent your services return you theirs, with proper sense of the distinction Your lady friend is semper eadem, and I have written an epistle to her, on that qualification in a female character; which is thought by my chief critick in your absence to be my chef d'oeuvre: but it cannot be printed perfectly, in an age so sore of satire, and so willing to misapply characters.

As to my own health, it is good as usual. I have lain ill seven days of a slight fever (the complaint here) but recovered by gentle sweats, and the care of Dr. Arbuthnot. The play[2] Mr. Gay left succeeds very well; it is another original in its kind. Adieu. God preserve your life, your health, your limbs, your spirits, and your friendships!

  1. Sat. I, lib. 2.
  2. Achilles, an opera.