The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/From Jonathan Swift to Henrietta Howard - 7


WHEN I received your letter I thought it the most unaccountable one I ever saw in my life, and was not able to comprehend three words of it together. The perverseness of your lines astonished me, which tended downward to the right in one page, and upward in the two others. This I thought impossible to be done by any one who did not squint with both eyes; an infirmity I never observed in you. However, one thing I was pleased with, that after you had writ down, you repented, and writ me up again. But I continued four days at a loss for your meaning, till a bookseller sent me the Travels of one captain Gulliver, who proved a very good explainer, although, at the same time, I thought it hard to be forced to read a book of seven hundred pages, in order to understand a letter of fifty lines; especially as those of our faculty are already but too much pestered with commentators. The stuffs you require are making, because the weaver piques himself upon having them in perfection. But he has read Gulliver's book, and has no conception what you mean by returning money; for he has become a proselyte of the Houyhnhnms, whose great principle, if I rightly remember, is benevolence; and, as to myself, I am so highly offended with such a base proposal, that I am determined to complain of you to her royal highness, that you are a mercenary Yahoo, fond of shining pebbles. What have I to do with you or your court, farther than to show the esteem I have for your person, because you happen to deserve it; and my gratitude to her royal highness, who was pleased a little to distinguish me; which, by the way, is the greatest compliment I ever paid, and may probably be the last; for I am not such a prostitute flatterer as Gulliver, whose chief study is to extenuate the vices, and magnify the virtues, of mankind, and perpetually dins our ears with the praises of his country in the midst of corruption, and for that reason alone has found so many readers, and probably will have a pension, which, I suppose, was his chief design in writing. As for his compliments to the ladies, I can easily forgive him, as a natural effect of the devotion which our sex ought always to pay to yours. You need not be in pain about the officers searching or seizing the plaids, for the silk has already paid duty in England, and there is no law against exporting silk manufacture from hence. I am sure the princess and you have got the length of my foot, and sir Robert Walpole says he has the length of my head, so that I need not give you the trouble of sending you either. I shall only tell you in general, that I never had a long head, and for that reason few people have thought it worth while to get the length of my foot. I cannot answer your queries about eggs buttered or poached; but I possess one talent which admirably qualifies me for roasting them; for, as the world, with respect to eggs, is divided into pelters and roasters, it is my unhappiness to be one of the latter, and consequently to be persecuted by the former. I have been five days turning over old books to discover the meaning of those monstrous births you mention. That of the four black rabbits seems to threaten some dark court intrigue, and, perhaps, some change in the administration; for the rabbit is an undermining animal, that loves to walk in the dark. The blackness denotes the bishops, whereof some of the last you have made are persons of such dangerous parts and profound abilities: But rabbits, being clothed in furs, may perhaps glance at the judges. However, the ram, by which is meant the ministry, butting with his two horns, one against the church, and the other against the law, shall obtain the victory. And whereas the birth was a conjunction of ram and yahoo, this is easily explained by the story of Chiron, governor, or, which is the same thing, chief minister to Achilles, who was half man and half brute; which, as Machiavel observes, all good governors of princes ought to be. But I am at the end of my line, and my lines. This is without a cover, to save money, and plain paper, because the gilt is so thin it will discover secrets between us. In a little room for words, I assure you of my being, with truest respect, madam, your most obedient humble servant.

  1. It appears by note 1 in vol. XII, p. 211, that this letter should have been dated "Nov. 17, 1726."