The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/A Panegyrical Epistle to Mr. T. Snow

While this work is included within The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift and is not attributed to anyone other than Jonathan Swift, it may have been written by another member of the Scriblerus Club. The club, which was founded in 1714, included Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, Henry St John, and Thomas Parnell.

A

PANEGYRICAL EPISTLE

TO

MR. THOMAS SNOW,

GOLDSMITH, 'NEAR TEMPLE BAR;

Occasioned by his buying and selling the third South Sea Subscriptions, taken in by the Directors at One Thousand per cent[1].

DISDAIN not, Snow, my humble verse to hear,
Stick thy black pen awhile behind thy ear.
Whether thy counter shine with sums untold,
And thy wide-grasping hand grows black with gold;
Whether thy mien erect, and sable locks,
In crowds of brokers over awe the stocks;
Suspend the worldly business of the day,
And, to enrich thy mind, attend my lay.
O thou, whose penetrative wisdom found
The South Sea rocks and shelves, where thousands drown'd!
When credit sunk, and commerce gasping lay,
Thou stood'st: no bill was sent unpaid away.
When not a guinea chink'd on Martin's[2] boards,
And Atwill's[2] self was drain'd of all his hoards,
Thou stood'st; an Indian king in size and hue!
Thy unexhausted shop was our Peru.
Why did 'Change alley waste thy precious hours
Among the fools who gap'd for golden show'rs?
No wonder, if we find some poets there,
Who live on fancy, and can feed on air;
No wonder, they were caught by South Sea schemes,
Who ne'er enjoy'd a guinea, but in dreams;
No wonder, they their third subscriptions sold
For millions of imaginary gold;

No wonder that their fancies wild can frame
Strange reasons, that a thing is still the same,
Tho' chang'd throughout in substance and in name.

But you (whose judgment scorns poetick flights)
With contracts furnish boys for paper kites.
Let vulture Hopkins stretch his rusty throat,
Who ruins thousands for a single groat:
I know thou scorn'st his mean, his sordid mind;
Nor with ideal debts wouldst plague mankind.
Madmen alone their empty dreams pursue,
And still believe the fleeting vision true;
They sell the treasures which their slumbers get,
Then wake, and fancy all the world in debt.
If to instruct thee all my reasons fail,
Yet be diverted by this moral tale.
Through fam'd Moorfields extends a spacious seat,
Where mortals of exalted wit retreat;
Where, wrapt in contemplation and in straw,
The wiser few from the mad world withdraw.
There in full opulence a banker dwelt,
Who all the joys and pangs of riches felt:
His sideboard glitter'd with imagin'd plate,
And his proud fancy held a vast estate.
As on a time he pass'd the vacant hours
In raising piles of straw and twisted bow'rs,
A poet enter'd, of the neighbouring cell,
And with fix'd eye observ'd the structure well:
A sharpen'd skew'r 'cross his bare shoulders bound
A tatter'd rug, which dragg'd upon the ground.
The banker cried, "Behold my castle walls,
My statues, gardens, fountains, and canals,
With land of more than twenty acres round!
All these I sell thee for ten thousand pound."
The bard with wonder the cheap purchase saw,
So sign'd the contract (as ordains the law).
The banker's brain was cool'd: the mist grew clear;
The visionary scene was lost in air.
He now the vanish'd prospect understood,
And fear'd the fancied bargain was not good:
Yet loth the sum entire should be destroy'd,
"Give me a penny, and thy contract's void."
The startled bard with eye indignant frown'd;
"Shall I, ye gods," he cries, "my debts compound!"
So saying, from his rug the skew'r he takes,
And on the stick ten equal notches makes;
With just resentment flings it on the ground;
"There, take my tally of ten thousand pound[3]."


  1. In the year 1720, the South Sea company, under pretence of paying the publick debt, obtained an act of parliament for enlarging their capital, by taking into it all the debts of the nation, incurred before the year 1716, amounting to 31,664,551l. Part of this sum was subscribed into their capital at three subscriptions: the first at 300l. per cent, the second at 400l., and a third at 1000l. Such was the infatuation of the time, that these subscriptions were bought and sold at exorbitant premiums; so that 100l. South Sea stock, subscribed at 1000l. was sold for 1200l. in Exchange alley.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Names of eminent goldsmiths.
  3. Charles II, having borrowed a considerable sum, gave tallies, as a security for the repayment; but, soon after shutting up the Exchequer, these tallies were as much reduced from their original value, as the South Sea had exceeded it.