Open main menu

The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Pope to Swift - 28


AUG. 17, 1736.


I FIND, though I have less experience than you, the truth of what you told me some time ago, that increase of years makes men more talkative but less writative; to that degree, that I now write no letters but of plain business, or plain how-d'yes, to those few I am forced to correspond with, either out of necessity, or love, and I grow laconick even beyond laconicism; for sometimes I return only yes, or no, to questionary or petitionary epistles of half a yard long. You and lord Bolingbroke are the only men to whom I write, and always in folio. You are indeed almost the only men I know, who either can write in this age, or whose writings will reach the next: others are mere mortals. Whatever failings such men may have, a respect is due to them, as luminaries whose exaltation renders their motion a little irregular, or rather causes it to seem so to others. I am afraid to censure any thing I hear of dean Swift, because I hear it only from mortals, blind and dull: and you should be cautious of censuring any action or motion of lord B. because you hear it only from shallow, envious, or malicious reporters. What you writ to me about him I find to my great scandal repeated in one of yours to —— Whatever you might hint to me, was this for the prophane? the thing, if true, should be concealed; but it is I assure you absolutely untrue, in every circumstance. He has fixed in a very agreeable retirement near Fontainbleau, and makes it his whole business vacare literis. But tell me the truth, were you not angry at his omitting to write to you so long? I may, for I hear from him seldomer than from you, that is twice or thrice a year at most. Can you possibly think he can neglect you, or disregard you? if you catch yourself at thinking such nonsense, your parts are decayed. For believe me, great geniuses must and do esteem one another, and I question if any others can esteem or comprehend uncommon merit. Others only guess at that merit, or see glimmerings of their minds: a genius has the intuitive faculty: therefore imagine what you will, you cannot be so sure of any man's esteem as of his. If I can think that neither he nor you despise me, it is a greater honour to me by far, and will be thought so by posterity, than if all the house of lords writ commendatory verses upon me, the commons ordered me to print my works, the universities gave me publick thanks, and the king, queen, and prince crowned me with laurel. You are a very ignorant man: you do not know the figure his name and yours will make hereafter: I do, and will preserve all the memorials I can, that I was of your intimacy; longo, sed proximus, intervallo. I will not quarrel with the present age; it has done enough for me, in making and keeping you two my friends. Do not you be too angry at it, and let not him be too angry at it; it has done, and can do, neither of you any manner of harm, as long as it has not, and cannot burn your works: while those subsist, you will both appear the greatest men of the time, in spite of princes and ministers; and the wisest, in spite of all the little errours you may please to commit.


Adieu. May better health attend you, than I fear you possess; may but as good health attend you always as mine is at present; tolerable, when an easy mind is joined with it.