Open main menu

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


YOU may assure yourself, that if you come over this spring, you will find me not only got back into the habits of study, but devoted to that historical task, which you have set me these many years. I am in hopes of some materials which will enable me to work in the whole extent of the plan I propose to myself. If they are not to be had, I must accommodate my plan to this deficiency. In the mean time Pope has given me more trouble than he or I thought of; and you will be surprised to find that I have been partly drawn by him, and partly by myself, to write a pretty large volume upon a very grave and very important subject: that I have ventured to pay no regard whatever to any authority except sacred authority, and that I have ventured to start a thought which must, if it is pushed as successfully as I think it is, render all your metaphysical theology both ridiculous and abominable. There is an expression in one of your letters to me, which makes me believe you will come into my way of thinking on this subject; and yet I am persuaded that divines and freethinkers would both be clamorous against it, if it was to be submitted to their censure, as I do not intend that it shall. The passage I mean, is that, where you say you told Dr. Delany the grand points of Christianity ought to be taken as infallible revelations[1], &c.

It happened that while I was writing this to you, the Dr. came to make me a visit from London, where I heard he was arrived some time ago: he was in haste to return, and is I perceive in great haste to print. He left with me eight Dissertations, a small part, as I understand, of his work, and desired me to peruse, consider, and observe upon them against Monday next, when he will come down again. By what I have read of the two first, I find myself unable to serve him. The principles he reasons upon are begged in a disputation of this sort, and the manner of reasoning is by no means close and conclusive. The sole advice I could give him in conscience would be that which he would take ill and not follow. I will get rid of this task as well as I can, for I esteem the man, and should be sorry to disoblige him where I cannot serve him.

As to retirement, and exercise, your notions are true: the first should not be indulged so much as to render us savage, nor the last neglected so as to impair health. But I know men, who, for fear of being savage, live with all who live with them; and who, to preserve their health, saunter away half their time. Adieu: Pope calls for the paper.

P. S. I hope what goes before will be a strong motive to your coming. God knows if ever I shall see Ireland; I shall never desire it, if you can be got hither, or keep here. Yet I think I shall be, too soon, a freeman. Your recommendations I constantly give to those you mention; though some of them I see but seldom, and am every day more retired. I am less fond of the world, and less curious about it; yet no way out of humour, disappointed, or angry: though in my way I receive as many injuries as my betters; but I do not feel them, therefore I ought not to vex other people, nor even to return injuries. I pass almost all my time at Dawley and at home; my lord (of which I partly take the merit to myself) is as much estranged from politicks as I am. Let philosophy be ever so vain it is less vain now than politicks, and not quite so vain at present as divinity: I know nothing that moves strongly but satire, and those who are ashamed of nothing else, are so of being ridiculous. I fancy if we three were together but for three years, some good might be done even upon this age.

I know you will desire some account of my health: It is as usual, but my spirits rather worse. I write little or nothing. You know I never had either taste or talent for politicks, and the world minds nothing else. I have personal obligations which I will ever preserve, to men of different sides, and I wish nothing so much as publick quiet, except it be my own quiet. I think it a merit, if I can take off any man from grating or satyrical subjects, merely on the score of party: and it is the greatest vanity of my life that I have contributed to turn my lord Bolingbroke to subjects moral, useful, and more worthy his pen. Dr. Delany's book is what I cannot commend so much as dean Berkeley's, though it has many things ingenious in it, and is not deficient in the writing part: but the whole book, though he meant it ad populum, is I think purely ad clerum. Adieu.


  1. The work here alluded to, was the first volume of Dr. Delany's "Revelation examined with Candour," published 1732; a work written in a florid and declamatory style, and with a greater degree of learning and ingenuity, than of sound reason and argument. The same may be said of this author's "Life of King David." The best of his works seems to be his "Reflections on Polygamy." Dr. Delany was an amiable, benevolent, and virtuous man; a character far superiour to that of the ablest controversial writer. His Defence of Revelation is of a very different cast from such solid and masterly works as the bishop of Llandaff's "Apology for the Bible," and archdeacon Paley's "Evidences of Christianity."