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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: Swift to St John - 1

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 14


DUBLIN, MARCH 21, 1729.


YOU tell me you have not quitted the design of collecting, writing, &c. This is the answer of every sinner who defers his repentance. I wish Mr. Pope were as great an urger as I, who long for nothing more than to see truth under your hands, laying all detraction in the dust I find myself disposed every year, or rather every month, to be more angry and revengeful; and my rage is so ignoble, that it descends even to resent the folly and baseness of the enslaved people among whom I live. I knew an old lord in Leicestershire who amused himself with mending pitchforks and spades for his tenants gratis. Yet I have higher ideas left, if I were nearer to objects on which I might employ them; and contemning my private fortune, would gladly cross the channel and stand by, while my betters were driving the boars out of the garden, if there be any probable expectation of such an endeavour. When I was of your age I often thought of death, but now after a dozen years more, it is never out of my mind, and terrifies me less. I conclude that Providence has ordered our fears to decrease with our spirits; and yet I love la bagatelle better than ever: for finding it troublesome to read at night, and the company here growing tasteless, I am always writing bad prose, or worse verses, either of rage or raillery, whereof some few escape to give offence, or mirth, and the rest are burnt.

They print some Irish trash in London, and charge it on me, which you will clear me of to my friends, for all are spurious except one paper[1], for which Mr. Pope very lately chid me. I remember your lordship used to say, that a few good speakers would in time carry any point that was right; and that the common method of a majority, by calllng to the question, would never hold long when reason was on the other side. Whether politicks do not change, like gaming, by the invention of new tricks, I am ignorant: but I believe in your time you would never, as a minister, have suffered an act to pass through the H. of C——s, only because you were sure of a majority in the H. of Ls, to throw it out; because it would be unpopular, and consequently a loss of reputation. Yet this we are told has been the case in the qualification bill relating to pensioners. It should seem to me, that corruption, like avarice, has no bounds. I had opportunities to know the proceedings of your ministry better than any other man of my rank; and having not much to do, I have often compared it with these last sixteen years of a profound peace all over Europe, and we running seven millions in debt. I am forced to play at small game, to set the beasts here a madding, merely for want of better game. Tentanda via est qua me quoque possim[2] &c. The Devil take those politicks, where a dunce might govern for a dozen years together. I will come in person to England, if I am provoked, and send for the dictator from the plough. I disdain to say, O mihi præteritos but cruda deo viridisque senectus[3]. Pray my lord how are the gardens? have you taken down the mount, and removed the yew hedges? have you not bad weather for the spring corn? has Mr. Pope gone farther in his ethick poems? and is the head land sown with wheat? and what says Polybius? and how does my lord St. John? which last question is very material to me, because I love burgundy, and riding between Twickenham and Dawley. I built a wall five years ago, and when the masons played the knaves, nothing delighted me so much as to stand by while my servants threw down what was amiss. I have likewise seen a monkey overthrow all the dishes and plates in a kitchen, merely for the pleasure of seeing them tumble, and hearing the clatter they made in their fall. I wish you would invite me to such another entertainment; but you think as I ought to think, that it is time for me to have done with the world; and so I would, if I could get into a better, before I was called into the best, and not die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole. I wonder you are not ashamed to let me pine away in this kingdom while you are out of power.

I come from looking over the mélange[4] above-written, and declare it to be a true copy of my present disposition, which must needs please you since nothing was ever more displeasing to myself. I desire you to present my most humble respects to my lady.




  1. Entitled, "A Libel on Dr. Delany, and a certain great Lord."
  2. New ways I must attempt, my grovelling name
    To raise aloft, and wing my flight to fame.
  3. O could I turn to that fair prime again!
    ———— yet in his years are seen
    A manly vigour, and autumnal green.
  4. Medley.