The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 16/Remarks on Dr. Gibbs's Psalms


On "The first Fifteen Psalms of David translated into[2] Lyric Verse. Proposed as an Essay supplying the Perspicuity and Coherence according to the Modern Art of Poetry; not known to have been attempted before[3] in any Language, With a Preface, containing some Observations of the great and general Defectives of[4] the present Version in Greek, Latin, and English; by Dr. [James] Gibbs[5]. London, printed by J. Mathews, for J. Bartley, over-against Gray's-Inn, in Holborn, 1701."


Comparing the different state of the righteous and the wicked, both in this and the next world.

THRICE happy he that doth refuse
With impious [2] sinners to combine;
Who ne'er their wicked way pursues,
And does the sinners seat [3] decline.


[1] I warn the reader that this is a lie, both here and all over this book; for these are not the Psalms of David, but of Dr. Gibbs.

[2] But, I suppose, with pious sinners a man may combine safely enough.

[3] What part of speech is it?


But still to learn and to obey
The law of God is his delight,
In that employ himself all day,
And reads and thinks thereon at [1] night.

For as a tree, whose spreading root
By some prolifick stream is fed
Produces [2] fair and lively fruit,
And numerous boughs adorn its head;

Whose very [3] leaves, tho' storms descend,
In lively verdure still appear:
Such blessings always shall attend
The man that does the Lord revere.


[1] A man must have some time to sleep: so that I will change this verse thus:
"And thinks and dreams thereon all night."

[2] Look ye, you must thin the boughs at the top, or your fruit will be neither fair nor timely.

[3] Why, what other part of a tree appears in a lively verdure, beside the leaves? Read,
These very leaves on which you spend
Your woeful stuff, may serve for squibs:
Such blessings always shall attend
The madrigals of Dr. Gibbs.

The above may serve for a tolerable specimen of Swift's remarks. The whole should be given, if it were possible to make them intelligible without copying the version which is ridiculed; a labour for which our readers would scarcely thank us. A few detached stanzas, however, with the dean's notes on them, shall be transcribed.


Why do the heathen nations rise,
And in mad tumults join!
Confederate kings vain plots [1] devise
Against the Almighty's reign!

But those that do thy laws refuse,
In pieces thou shalt break;
[2] And with an iron sceptre bruise
The disobedient [3] neck.

Ye earthly kings, the caution hear,
Ye rules, learn the fame [4];
Serve God with reverence, and with fear [5]
His joyful praise proclaim.


[1] I don't believe that ever kings entered into plots and confederacies against the reign of God Almighty.

[2] After a man is broken in pieces, it is no great matter to have his neck bruised.

[3] Neak.

[4] Rulers must learn it, but kings may only hear it.

[5] Very proper, to make a joyful proclamation with fear.


[1] For should the madness of his foes
Th' avenging God incense,
Happy are they that can repose
In him their confidence [2].

No fears shall then my soul depress[6],
Though thus my enemies increase:
[3] And therefore now arise, O Lord[6],
And graciously thy help afford.

And thus [4] to grant a sure defence
Belongs to God's [5] omnipotence.


[1] For should the foes of David's ape Provoke his gray-goose quills, Happy are they that can escape The vengeance of his pills.

[2] Admirably reasoned and connected!

[3] He desires God's help because he is not afraid of his enemies; others, I think, usually desire it when they are afraid.

[4] The doctor has a mighty affection for the particle thus: he uses it four times in this (the 3d) Psalm, and 100 times in other places; and always wrong.

[5 That is as much as to say, hat he that can do all things can defend a man; which I take to be an undoubted truth.


But you, my frail [6] malicious foes.
Who do my power despise,
Vainly how long will ye oppose,
And [7] falsely calumnize!

Since those alone the Lord has blest
Who do from sin refrain,
He therefore grants what I request [8],
And hears when I [9] complain.

Then shall my soul with more divine
And solid joys abound;
Than they with stores of corn and wine,
Those earthly riches, crown 'd [10].


[6] Are they malicious out of frailty, or frail out of malice?

[7] That is, they say false things falsely. — I will discover the doctor's secret of making coherence and connexions in the Psalms, that he brags of in his title and preface: he lays violent hands on certain particles (such as and, when, since, for, but, thus, so, &c.) and presses them to his service on all occasions, sore against their wills, and without any regard whether the sense will admit them or not.

[8] It is plain the doctor never requested to be a poet.

[9] If your requests be granted, why do you complain?

[10] I have heard of a crown or garland of corn; but a crown of wine is new, and can hardly be explained, unless we suppose the wine to be in icicles.


And thus confiding, Lord, in thee,
I take my calm repose [1];
For thou each night protectest me,
From all my [2] treacherous foes.

Thy heavy hand restrain;
[3] With mercy, Lord, correct:
Do not ([4] as if in high disdain)
My helpless soul reject.


[1] And yet, to show I tell no fibs,
Thou hast left me in thrall
To Hopkins eke, and doctor Gibbs
The vilest rogue of all.

[2] Ay, and open foes too; or his repose would not be very calm.

[3] Thy heavy hand restrain;
Have mercy, Dr. Gibbs:
Do not, I pray thee, paper stain
With rhymes retail'd in dribbs.

[4] That bit is a most glorious botch.


For how shall I sustain
[5] Those ills which now I bear?
My vitals are consum'd with pain,
[6] My soul oppress'd with care!

Lord, I have pray'd in [7] vain,
So long, so much opprest;
My very [8] cries increase my pain,
And tears prevent my rest:

These do my sight impair,
And flowing eyes decay;
While to my enemies I fear
Thus [9] to become a prey.


[5] The squeaking of a hoggrel.

[6] To listen to thy doggrel.

[7] The doctor must mean himself; for, I hope, David never thought so.

[8] Then he is a dunce for crying.

[9] That is, he is afraid of becoming a prey to his enemies while his eyes are sore.


If I've not spar'd him, though he's grown
My causeless [1] enemy;
Then let my life and fortune [2] crown
Become to him a prey.

But, Lord, thy kind assistance [3] lend;
Arise in my defence:
According to thy laws [4] contend
For injur'd innocence.

That all the nations that oppose
May then confess thy power;
Therefore assist my righteous cause,
That they may thee adore:


[1] If he be grown his causeless enemy, he is no longer guiltless.

[2] He gives a thing before he has it, and gives it to him that has it already; for Saul is the person meant.

[3] But why lend? does he design to return it back when he has done with it?

[4] Profane rascal! he makes it a struggle and contention between God and the wicked.


For equal judgment, Lord, to thee,
The nations [1] all submit;
Be therefore [2) merciful to me,
And my just soul acquit [3].

Thus, by God's gracious providence [4],
I'm still preserv'd secure,
Who all the good and just defends
With a resistless [5] power.


[1] Yet, in the very verse berore, he talks of nations that oppose.

[2] Because all nations submit to God, therefore God must be merciful to Dr. Gibbs.

[3] Of what?
Poor David never could acquit
A criminal like thee,
Against his Psalms who could commit
Such wicked poetry.

[4] Observe the connexion.

[5] That's right, doctor; but there will be no contending, as you desired a while ago.

'Tis wonderful that Providence
Should save thee from the halter,
Who hast in numbers without sense
Burlesqu'd the holy Psalter.


All men he does with justice view,
And their iniquity
With direful vengeance can pursue.
Or patiently [6] pass by.

Lo! now th' inflictions [7] they design'd
By others to be born,
Even all the mischiefs [8] in their mind,
Do on themselves return.

O'er all the birds that mount the air,
And fish that in the floods appear (9].


[6] That is no great mark of viewing them with justice. God has wiser ends for passing by his vengeance on the wicked, you profane dunce!

[7] Ay, but what sort of things are these inflictions?

[8] If the mischiefs be in their mind, what need they return on themselves? are they not there already?

[9] Those, I think, are not very many: they are good fish when they are caught, but till then we have no great sway over them.


Confounded at the sight of thee,
My foes are put to flight [1).
Thus thou, great God of equity,
Dost still assert my right [2].

But God eternally remains,
[3] Fixt in his throne on high,
And to the world from thence ordains
[4] Impartial equity.


[1] The doctor is mistaken; for, when people are confounded, they cannot fly.

[2] Against Sternhold and Hopkins.

[3] That is false and prophane; God is not fixed any where.

[4] Did any body ever hear of partial equity?


And thus consider still, O Lord,
The justice of my cause;
Who often hast my life [1] restor'd
From death's devouring jaws.

And from the barbarous [2] paths they tread,
No acts of Providence
Can e'er oblige them to recede,
Or stop [3] their bold offence.


[1] Nothing is restored, but what has been taken away; so that he has been often raised from the dead, if this be true.

[2] The author should first have premised what sort of paths were properly barbarous. I suppose they must be very deep or dirty, or very rugged and stony; both which I myself have heard travellers call barbarous roads.

[3] Which is the way to stop an offence? would you have it stopt like a bottle, or a thief?


And on their impious heads will pour
Of snares [4] and flames a dismal shower;
And this their bitter cup shall be
[5] To drink to all eternity.

[6] But they were all perverted grown,
Polluted all with blood;
And other impious crimes: not one
Was either just [7] or good.


[4] A shower of snares on a man's head would do wonderful execution. However, I errant it is a scurvy thing enough to swallow them.

[5] To taste the doctor's poetry.

[6] But they were all perverted grown,
In spite of Dr. Gibbs's blood:
Of all his impious strains not one
Was either just or good.

[7] For a man, it seems, may be good, and not just.


Are they so stupid [8] then, said [9] God,
Who thus my [1] saints devour!
These [2] crimes have they not understood,
Nor thought upon my power.

[3] O, that his aid we now might have
From Sion's holy hill,
That God the captive just would save,
And glad all Israel!


[8] The fault was not that they devoured saints, but that they were stupid. Q. Whether stupidity makes men devour saints, or devouring saints makes a man stupid? I believe the latter, because they may be apt to lie heavy on one's stomach.

[9] Clod.

[1] Strains.

[2] Chimes.

[3] And O that e'ery parish clerk,
Who hums what Brady cribs
From Hopkins, would attend this work,
And glad the heart with Gibbs.


All those that lead a life like this
Shall reign in everlasting bliss [9].


[9] And so the doctor now
may kiss ———!


F iddling
I mpudent
N auseous
I lliterate
S coundrel Scot

At the end of the MS. is the following note.

"The above was written from the manuscript mentioned in the first page, now in the hands of Nicholas Coyne, esq. being the only copy in the kingdom of Ireland; he having purchased the original, and afterward generously given it to his friend Dr. Dunkin, finding the doctor extremely uneasy at the disappointment the earl of Chesterfield was like to meet with, as he had promised the earl to attend the auction, and procure it for him at any price; and is now transcribed by Neale Molloy, esq. of Dublin, by the favour of the said Nicholas Coyne his brother in law, and sent by him to his kinsman and dear friend Charles Molloy of London, esquire.

Dublin, May 26, 1748."

  1. By a memorandum on the first page it appears that these Remarks were thought valuable by one who must be allowed to have been of no inconsiderable rank both as a poet and a humourist: "The following manuscript was literally copied from the printed original, found in the library of Dr. J. Swift, dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin. The marginal notes and parodies were written by the dean's own hand, except such as are distinguished with this mark (φ), with which I am only chargeable. Witness my hand, this 25th day of February, 1745. William Dunkin. "N.B. The original was by me presented to his excellency Philp Dormer Stanhope earl of Chesterfield, lord lieutenant general and general governor of Ireland. W. D."
  2. Bagpipe. Swift.
  3. Nor I hope ever will again. Swift.
  4. this and Swift.
  5. Sternholdides. Swift.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Deprease, Loard, Scoticè.