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

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FEBRUARY 14, 1691-2.

SINCE every body pretends to trouble you with their follies, I thought I might claim the privilege of an Englishman, and put in my share among the rest. Being last year in Ireland (from whence I returned about half a year ago[2]), I heard only a loose talk of your society; and believed the design to be only some new folly just suitable to the age, which God knows I little expected ever to produce any thing extraordinary. Since my being in England, having still continued in the country, and much out of company, I had but little advantage of knowing any more, till about two months ago, passing through Oxford, a very learned gentleman first showed me two or three of your volumes, and gave me his account and opinion of you. A while after I came to this place, upon a visit to *****[3] where I have been ever since, and have seen all the four volumes with their supplements; which answering my expectation, the perusal has produced what you find enclosed.

As I have been somewhat inclined to this folly, so I have seldom wanted somebody to flatter me in it. And for the ode enclosed, I have sent it to a person of very great learning and honour, and since to some others, the best of my acquaintance (which I thought very proper, to ensure it for a greater light); and they have all been pleased to tell me, that they are sure it will not be unwelcome, and that I should beg the honour of you to let it be printed before your next volume (which I think is soon to be published); it being so usual before most books of any great value among poets: and before its seeing the world, I submit it wholly to the correction of your pens.

I entreat therefore one of you would descend so far, as to write two or three lines to me of your pleasure upon it: which as I cannot but expect it from gentlemen who have so well shown, upon so many occasions, that greatest character of scholars in being favourable to the ignorant; so, I am sure, nothing at present can more highly oblige me, or make me happier. I am, gentlemen, your ever most humble, and most admiring servant,

  1. This letter is printed in the fourth volume of the Athenian Oracle, ed. 3, p. 111. The ode, which accompanied it, is printed in vol. VII, p. 10. in which the ingenious author refers to a former ode written by him, and addressed to king William when in Ireland. Mr. Deane Swift, in his Essay on the Life of his Kinsman, informs us that this latter piece was also printed in the same publication. It however is not to be found in the last, nor in several other editions of that work; but will be given in the poetical part of this volume, p. 405.
  2. By this expression, and some particulars which follow, it appears that Dr. Swift, on his return from Ireland, did not immediately go back to Moor Park; as, in a letter to Mr. Kendal, dated only three days before this to the Athenian Society, we find he had been but seven weeks with sir William. The intermediate time, from the subject of the letter to Mr. Kendal, appears to have been principally passed with his mother at Leicester, from which place he made Oxford in his way to Moor Park.
  3. His great patron sir William Temple.