The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Pope to Swift - 6

DECEMBER 10, 1725.

I FIND myself the better acquainted with you for a long absence, as men are with themselves for a long affliction: Absence does but hold off a friend, to make one see him more truly. I am infinitely more pleased to hear you are coming near us, than at any thing you seem to think in my favour; an opinion which has perhaps been aggrandised by the distance or dulness of Ireland, as objects look larger through a medium of fogs: and yet I am infinitely pleased with that too. I am much the happier for finding (a better thing than our wits) our judgments jump, in the notion that all scribblers should be past by in silence. To vindicate ones self against such nasty slander, is much as wise as it was in your countryman, when the people imputed a stink to him, to prove the contrary by showing his backside. So let Gildon and Philips rest in peace! What Virgil had to do with Mævius[1], that he should wear him upon his sleeve to all eternity, I do not know. I have been the longer upon this, that I may prepare you for the reception both you and your works may possibly meet in England. We your true acquaintance will look upon you as a good man, and love you; others will look upon you as a wit, and hate you. So you know the worst; unless you are as vindicative as Virgil, or the aforesaid Hibernian.

I wish as warmly as you, for an hospital in which to lodge the despisers of the world; only I fear it would be filled wholly like Chelsea, with maimed soldiers, and such as had been disabled in its service. I would rather have those, that out of such generous principles as you and I, despise it, fly in its face, than retire from it. Not that I have much anger against the great, my spleen is at the little rogues of it; it would vex one more to be knocked on the head with a pisspot[2], than by a thunder bolt. As to great oppressors, they are like kites or eagles, one expects mischief from them; but to be squirted to death (as poor Wycherley said to me on his deathbed) by apothecaries apprentices, by the understrappers of undersecretaries to secretaries who were no secretaries this would provoke as dull a dog as Phs himself.

So. much for enemies, now for friends. Mr. L —— thinks all this indiscreet: the Dr. not so; he loves mischief the best of any good natured man in England. Lord B. is above trifling: when he writes of any thing in this world, he is more than mortal; if ever he trifles, it, must be when he turns a divine. Gay is writing tales for prince William: I suppose Mr. Philips will take this very ill, for two reasons; one that he thinks all childish things belong to him, and the other, because he will take it ill to be taught that one may write things to a child, without being childish. What have I more to add? but that lord Oxford desires earnestly to see you: and that many others whom you do not think the worst of, will be gratified by it: none more, be assured, than

Yours, &c.

P. S. Pope and you are very great wits, and I think very indifferent philosophers: If you despised the world as much as you pretend, and perhaps believe, you would not be so angry with it. The founder of your sect[3], that noble original whom you think it so great an honour to resemble, was a slave to the worst part of the world, to the court; and all his big words were the language of a slighted lover, who desired nothing so much as a reconciliation, and feared nothing so much as a rupture. I believe the world has used me as scurvily as most people, and yet I could never find in my heart to be thoroughly angry with the simple, false, capricious thing. I should blush alike, to be discovered fond of the world, or piqued at it. Your definition of animal rationis, instead of the common one animal rationale, will not bear examination; define but reason, and you will see why your distinction is no better than that of the pontiff Cotta, between mala ratio, and bona ratio. But enough of this: make us a visit, and I will subscribe to any side of these important questions which you please. We differ less than you imagine, perhaps, when you wished me banished again: but I am not less true to you and to philosophy in England, than I was in France.

Yours, &c.

  1. Or Pope with Tibbald, Concanen, Smedley, &c.
  2. Here is one of those vulgar and disgusting images, on which our author too much delighted to dwell. Dr. Delany, from his partiality to Swift, is of opinion, that the dean caught his love of gross and filthy objects from Pope. The contrary seems to be the fact. One would think this love contagious; see two passages in the "View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy," Letter II.
  3. Lord Shaftesbury in his Characteristicks, vol. III, p. 23, has given a very different opinion of Seneca, the person here alluded to.