The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Pope to Swift - 29

DEC. 30, 1736.

YOUR very kind letter has made me more melancholy, than almost any thing in this world now can do. For I can bear every thing in it, bad as it is, better than the complaints of my friends. Though others tell me you are in pretty good health, and in good spirits, I find the contrary when you open your mind to me: and indeed it is but a prudent part, to seem not so concerned about others, nor so crazy ourselves as we really are: for we shall neither be beloved or esteemed the more, by one common acquaintance, for any affliction or any infirmity. But to our true friend we may, we must complain, of what (it is a thousand to one) he complains with us; for if we have known him long, he is old, and if he has known the world long, he is out of humour at it. If you have but as much more health than others at your age, as you have more wit and good temper, you shall not have much of my pity: but if you ever live to have less, you shall not have less of my affection. A whole people will rejoice at every year that shall be added to you, of which you have had a late instance in the publick rejoicings on your birthday. I can assure you, something better and greater than high birth and quality, must go toward acquiring those demonstrations of publick esteem and love. I have seen a royal birthday uncelebrated, but by one vile ode, and one hired bonfire. Whatever years may take away from you, they will not take away the general esteem, for your sense, virtue, and charity.

The most melancholy effect of years is that you mention, the catalogue of those we loved and have lost, perpetually increasing. How much that reflection struck me, you will see from the motto I have prefixed to my Book of Letters, which so much against my inclination has been drawn from me. It is from Catullus,

Quo desiderio veteres revocamus amores,
Atque olim amissas flemus amicitias[1]!

I detain this letter till I can find some safe conveyance; innocent as it is, and as all letters of mine must be, of any thing to offend my superiours, except the reverence I bear to true merit and virtue. But I have much reason to fear, those which you have too partially kept in your hands, will get out in some very disagreeable shape, in case of our mortality: and the more reason to fear it, since this last month Curll has obtained from Ireland two letters, (one of lord Bolingbroke, and one of mine, to you, which we wrote in the year 1723) and he has printed them, to the best of my memory, rightly; except one passage concerning Dawley which must have been since inserted, since my lord had not that place at that time. Your answer to that letter he has not got; it has never been out of my custody; for whatever is lent is lost; (wit as well as money) to these needy poetical readers.

The world will certainly be the better for his change of life. He seems, in the whole turn of his letters, to be a settled and principled philosopher, thanking fortune for the tranquillity he has been led into by her aversion, like a man driven by a violent wind, from the sea into a calm harbour. You ask me if I have got any supply of new friends to make up for those that are gone? I think that impossible; for not our friends only, but so much of ourselves is gone by the mere flux and course of years, that were the same friends to be restored to us, we could not be restored to ourselves, to enjoy them. But, as when the continual washing of a river takes away our flowers and plants, it throws weeds and sedges in their room; so the course of time brings us something, as it deprives us of a great deal; and instead of leaving us what we cultivated, and expected to flourish and adorn us, gives us only what is of some little use, by accident. Thus I have acquired, without my seeking, a few chance acquaintance, of young men, who look rather to the past age than the present, and therefore the future may have some hopes of them. If I love them, it is because they honour some of those whom I, and the world, have lost, or are losing. Two or three of them have distinguished themselves in parliament; and you will own in a very uncommon manner, when I tell you it is by their asserting of independency, and contempt of corruption. One or two are linked to me by their love of the same studies and the same authors: but I will own to you, my moral capacity has got so much the better of my poetical, that I have few acquaintance on the latter score, and none without a casting weight on the former. But I find my heart hardened and blunt to new impressions, it will scarce receive or retain affections of yesterday; and those friends who have been dead these twenty years, are more present to me now, than these I see daily. You, dear sir, are one of the former sort to me, in all respects, but that we can, yet, correspond together. I do not know whether it is not more vexatious, to know we are both in one world, without any farther intercourse. Adieu. I can say no more, I feel so much: let me drop into common things. Lord Masham has just married his son. Mr. Lewis has just buried his wife. Lord Oxford wept over your letter in pure kindness. Mrs. B. sighs more for you, than for the loss of youth. She says she will be agreeable many years hence, for she has learned that secret from some receipts of your writing. Adieu.

  1. How pants my heart old friendship to renew!
    How pierc'd with grief old loves decay'd I view!