Open main menu

The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 18/Letter from Jonathan Swift to Varina Waryng - 1

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 18


APRIL 29, 1696.

IMPATIENCE is the most inseparable quality of a lover, and indeed of every person who is in pursuit of a design whereon he conceives his greatest happiness or misery to depend. It is the same thing in war, in courts, and in common business. Every one who hunts after pleasure, or fame, or fortune, is still restless and uneasy till he has hunted down his game: and all this is not only very natural, but something reasonable too; for a violent desire is little better than a distemper, and therefore men are not to blame in looking after a cure. I find myself hugely infected with this malady, and am easily vain enough to believe it has some very good reasons to excuse it. For indeed, in my case, there are some circumstances which will admit pardon for more than ordinary disquiets. That dearest object upon which all my prospect of happiness entirely depends, is in perpetual danger to be removed for ever from my sight. Varina’s life is daily wasting; and though one just and honourable action could furnish health to her, and unspeakable happiness to us both, yet some power that repines at human felicity has that influence to hold her continually doating upon her cruelty, and me upon the cause of it. This fully convinces me of what we are told, that the miseries of man's life are all beaten out on his own anvil. Why was I so foolish to put my hopes and fears into the power or management of another? Liberty is doubtless the most valuable blessing of life; yet we are fond to fling it away on those who have been these 5000 years using us ill. Philosophy advises to keep our desires and prospects of happiness as much as we can in our own breasts, and independent of any thing without. He that sends them abroad is likely to have as little quiet as a merchant whose stock depends upon winds, and waves, and pirates, or upon the words and faith of creditors, every whit as dangerous and inconstant as the other.

I am a villain if I have not been poring this half hour over the paper merely for want of something to say to you: or is it rather that I have so much to say to you, that I know not where to begin, though at last its all very likely to be arrant repetition?

Two strangers, a poet and a beggar, went to cuffs yesterday in this town, which minded me heartily to curse both employments. However, I am glad to see those two trades fall out, because I always heard they had been constant cronies: but what was best of all, the poet got the better, and kicked the gentleman beggar out of doors. This was of great comfort to me, till I heard the victor himself was a most abominable bad rhymer, and as mere a vagabond beggar as the other, which is a very great offence to me; for starving is much too honourable for a blockhead. I read some of his verses printed in praise of my lady Donegall, by which he has plainly proved that Fortune has injured him, and that he is dunce enough to be worth five thousand pounds a year. It is a pity he has not also the qualifications to recommend himself to your sex. I dare engage no ladies would hold him long in suspense with their unkindness: one settlement of separate maintenance, well engrossed, would have more charms than all the wit or passion of a thousand letters. And I will maintain it, any man had better have a poor angel to his rival than the devil himself if he was rich.

You now have had time enough to consider my last letter, and to form your own resolutions upon it. I wait your answer with a world of impatience; and if you think fit I should attend you before my journey, I am ready to do it. My lady Donegall tells me that it is feared my lord deputy will not live many days; and if that be so, it is possible I may take shipping from hence, otherwise I shall set out on Monday fortnight for Dublin, and, after one visit of leave to his excellency, hasten to England: and how far you will stretch the point of your unreasonable scruples to keep me here, will depend upon the strength of the love you pretend for me. In short, madam, I am once more offered the advantage to have the same acquaintance with greatness that I formerly enjoyed, and with better prospect of interest. I here solemnly offer to forego it all for your sake. I desire nothing of your fortune; you shall live where and with whom you please till my affairs are settled to your desire: and in the mean time I will push my advancement with all the eagerness and courage imaginable, and do not doubt to succeed.

Study seven years for objections against all this, and by Heaven they will at last be no more than trifles and putoffs. It is true you have known sickness longer than you have me, and therefore perhaps you are more loath to part with it as an older acquaintance: But listen to what I here solemnly protest, by all that can be witness to an oath, that if I leave this kingdom before you are mine, I will endure the utmost indignities of fortune rather than ever return again, though the king would send me back his deputy. And if it must be so, preserve yourself, in God's name, for the next lover who has those qualities you love so much beyond any of mine, and who will highly admire you for those advantages which shall never share any esteem from me. Would to Heaven you were but a while sensible of the thoughts into which my present distractions plunge me: they hale me a thousand ways, and I am not able to bear them. It is so, by Heaven: The love of Varina is of more tragical consequence than her cruelty. Would to God you had treated and scorned me from the beginning. It was your pity opened the first way to my misfortune; and now your love is finishing my ruin: and it is so then. In one fortnight I must take eternal farewell of Varina; and (I wonder) will she weep at parting, a little to justify her poor pretences of some affection to me? and will my friends still continue reproaching me for the want of gallantry, and neglecting a close siege? How comes it that they all wish us married together, they knowing my circumstances and yours extremely well, and I am sure love you too much, if it be only for my sake, to wish you any thing that might cross your interest or your happiness? Surely, Varina, you have but a very mean opinion of the joys that accompany a true, honourable, unlimited love; yet either nature and our ancestors have highly deceived us, or else all other sublunary things are dross in comparison. Is it possible you can be yet insensible to the prospect of a rapture and delight so innocent and exalted? Trust me, Varina, Heaven has given us nothing else worth the loss of a thought. Ambition, high appearances, friends, and fortune, are all tasteless and insipid when they come in competition; yet millions of such glorious minutes are we perpetually losing, for ever losing, irrecoverably losing, to gratify empty forms and wrong notions, and affected coldnesses and peevish humour. These are the unhappy incumbrances which we who are distinguished from the vulgar do fondly create to torment ourselves. The only felicity permitted to human life we clog with tedious circumstances and barbarous formality. By Heaven, Varina, you are more experienced, and have less virgin innocence than I. Would not your conduct make one think you were highly skilled in all the little politick methods of intrigue. Love, with the gall of too much discretion, is a thousand times worse than with none at all. It is a peculiar part of nature which art debauches, but cannot improve. We have all of us the seeds of it implanted in ourselves, and they require no helps from courts or fortune to cultivate and improve them. To resist the violence of our inclinations in the beginning, is a train of selfdenial that may have some pretences to set up for a virtue: but when they are grounded at first upon reason, when they have taken firm root and grown up to a height, it is folly folly as well as injustice, to withstand their dictates; for this passion has a property peculiar to itself, to be most commendable in its extremes; and it is as possible to err in the excess of piety as of love.

These are the rules I have long followed with you, Varina; and had you pleased to imitate them, we should both have been infinitely happy. The little disguises, and affected contradictions of your sex, were all (to say the truth) infinitely beneath persons of your pride and mine; paltry maxims that they are, calculated for the rabble of humanity. O, Varina, how imagination leads me beyond myself and all my sorrows! It is sunk, and a thousand graves lie open! No, madam, I will give you no more of my unhappy temper though I derive it all from you.

Farewell, madam; and may love make you a while forget your temper to do me justice. Only remember, that if you still refuse to be mine, you will quickly lose him that has resolved to die as he has lived,

All yours, JON. SWIFT.

I have here sent you Mr. Fletcher's letter, wherein I hope I do not injure generosity or break trust, since the contents are purely my own concern. If you will pardon the ill hand and spelling, the reason and sense of it you will find very well and proper.

  1. Sister to Mr. Waryng, Swift's chamber-fellow at college. See Sheridan's Life of Swift, vol. I, p. 283. This letter was first printed in Mr. George Monck Berkeley's Literary Relicks, 1789. A second letter to Miss Waryng, May 4, 1700, has already appeared in vol. I, p. 278. Three other letters, directed to her at Belfast, are existing; though we are unable to give more than their dates; December 20, 1695, from Dublin; June 29, 1696, and August 28, 1697, from Moor Park.