The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Swift to Pope - 4

DUBLIN, SEPT. 20, 1723.

RETURNING from a summer expedition of four months on account of my health, I found a letter from you, with an appendix longer than yours from lord Bolingbroke. I believe there is not a more miserable malady than an unwillingness to write letters to our best friends, and a man might be philosopher enough in finding out reasons for it. One thing is clear, that it shows a mighty difference betwixt friendship and love, for a lover (as I have heard) is always scribbling to his mistress. If I could permit myself to believe what your civility makes you say, that I am still remembered by my friends in England, I am in the right to keep myself here —— Non sum qualis eram[1]. I left you in a period of life when one year does more execution than three at yours, to which if you add the dulness of air, and of the people, it will make a terrible sum. I have no very strong faith in your pretenders to retirement, you are not of an age for it, nor have gone through either good or bad fortune enough to go into a corner, and form conclusions de contemptu mundi & fuga sæculi[2], unless a poet grows weary of too much applause, as ministers do of too much weight of business.

Your happiness is greater than your merit, in choosing your favourites so indifferently among either party: this you owe partly to your education, and partly to your genius employing you in an art in which faction has nothing to do, for I suppose Virgil and Horace are equally read by whigs and tories. You have no more to do with the constitution of church and state, than a christian at Constantinople; and you are so much the wiser and the happier, because both parties will approve your poetry, as long as you are known to be of neither.

Your notions of friendship are new to me[3]: I believe every man is born with his quantum, and he cannot give to one without robbing another. I very well know to whom I would give the first places in my friendship, but they are not in the way: I am condemned to another scene, and therefore I distribute it in pennyworths to those about me, and who displease me least; and should do the same to my fellow prisoners, if I were condemned to jail. I can likewise tolerate knaves much better than fools, because their knavery does me no hurt in the commerce I have met with them, which however I own is more dangerous, though not so troublesome, as that of fools. I have often endeavoured to establish a friendship among all men of genius, and would fain have it done; they are seldom above three or four contemporaries, and if they would be united would drive the world before them. I think it was so among the poets in the time of Augustus: but envy, and party, and pride, have hindered it among us. I do not include the subalterns, of which you are seldom without a large tribe. Under the name of poets and scribblers, I suppose you mean the fools you are content to see sometimes, when they happen to be modest; which was not frequent among them while I was in the world.

I would describe to you my way of living, if any method could be called so in this country. I choose my companions among those of least consequence and most compliance: I read the most trifling books I can find, and whenever I write, it is upon the most trifling subjects: but riding, walking, and sleeping take up eighteen of the twenty-four hours. I procrastinate more than I did twenty years ago, and have several things to finish which I put off to twenty years hence; Hæc est vita solutorum, &c. I send you the compliments of a friend of yours, who has passed four months this summer with two grave acquaintance at his country house, without ever once going to Dublin, which is but eight miles distant; yet when he returns to London, I will engage you shall find him as deep in the court of requests, the park, the operas, and the coffeehouse, as any man there. I am now with him for a few days.

You must remember me with great affection to Dr. Arbuthnot, Mr. Congreve, and Gay —— I think there are no more eodem tertios between you and me, except Mr. Jervas, to whose house I address this, for want of knowing where you live: for it was not clear from your last whether you lodge with lord Peterborow, or he with you!

I am ever, &c.

  1. I am not what I was.
  2. Concerning the contempt of the world, and retirement from publick business.
  3. Yet they are the Christian notions.