The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Swift to Pope - 2


AUGUST 30, 1716.

I HAD the favour of yours by Mr. Ford, of whom, before any other question relating to your health, or fortune, or success as a poet, I inquired your principles in the common form, "Is he a whig or a tory?" I am sorry to find they are not so well tallied to the present juncture as I could wish. I always thought the terms of facto and jure had been introduced by the poets, and that possession of any sort in kings was held an unexceptionable title in the courts of Parnassus. If you do not grow a perfect good subject in all its present latitudes, I shall conclude you are become rich, and able to live without dedications to men in power, whereby one great inconvenience will follow, that you and the world and posterity will be utterly ignorant of their virtues. For, either your brethren have miserably deceived us these hundred years past; or power confers virtue, as naturally as five of your popish sacraments do grace. You sleep less, and drink more. But your master Horace was vini somnique benignus:[1] and, as I take it, both are proper for your trade. As to wine, there are a thousand poetical texts to confirm the one; and as to the other, I know, it was anciently the custom to sleep in temples for those who would consult the oracles, "Who dictates to me slumbering[2]," &c.

You are an ill catholick, or a worse geographer, for I can assure you, Ireland is not Paradise, and I appeal even to any Spanish divine, whether addresses were ever made to a friend in Hell or Purgatory. And who are all those enemies you hint at? I can only think of Curll, Gildon, squire Burnet, Blackmore, and a few others, whose fame I have forgot: tools, in my opinion, as necessary for a good writer, as pen, ink and paper. And besides, I would fain know whether every draper does not show you three or four damned pieces of stuff to set off his good one? However, I will grant that one thorough bookselling rogue is better qualified to vex an author, than all his contemporary scribblers in critick or satire, not only by stolen copies of what was incorrect or unfit for the publick, but by downright laying other men's dulness at your door. I had a long design upon the ears of that Curll, when I was in credit; but the rogue would never allow me a fair stroke at them, although my penknife was ready drawn and sharp. I can hardly believe the relation of his being poisoned, although the historian pretends to have been an eyewitness: but I beg pardon, sack might do it, although ratsbane would not. I never saw the thing you mention as falsely imputed to you; but I think the frolicks of merry hours, even when we are guilty, should not be left to the mercy of our best friends, until Curll and his resemblers are hanged.

With submission to the better judgment of you and your friends, I take your project of an employment under the Turks to be idle and unnecessary. Have a little patience, and you will find more merit and encouragement at home, by the same methods. You are ungrateful to your country; quit but your own religion, and ridicule ours, and that will allow you a free choice for any other, or for none at all, and pay you well into the bargain. Therefore pray do not run and disgrace us among the Turks, by telling them you were forced to leave your native home, because we would oblige you to be a christian; whereas we will make it appear to all the world, that we only compelled you to be a whig.

There is a young ingenious quaker in this town who writes verses to his mistress, not very correct, but in a strain purely what a poetical quaker should do, commending her look and habit, &c. It gave me a hint that a set of quaker pastorals might succeed, if our friend Gay[3] could fancy it, and I think it a fruitful subject; pray hear what he says. I believe farther, the pastoral ridicule is not exhausted; and that a porter, footman, or chairman's pastoral might do well. Or what think you of a Newgate pastoral, among the whores and thieves there[4]?

Lastly to conclude, I love you never the worse for seldom writing to you. I am in an obscure scene, where you know neither thing nor person. I can only answer yours, which I promise to do after a sort whenever you think fit to employ me. But I can assure you, the scene and the times have depressed me wonderfully, for I will impute no defect to those two paltry years which have slipped by since I had the happiness to see you. I am with the truest esteem.

Yours, &c.

  1. Indulgent to himself in sleep and wine.
  2. Milton, Paradise Lost, book ix. verse 23. On this passage Dr. Joseph Warton remarks, that "this is the only time Swift ever alludes to Milton; who was of an order of writers very different from what Swift admired and imitated;" an assertion which we shall take a future opportunity of examining. [See vol. XIX. p. vi.]
  3. Gay did write a pastoral of this kind, which is published in his works.
  4. Swift himself wrote one of this kind, "Dermot and Sheelah."