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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/To Mr. Delany

To Mr. DELANY, Nov. 10, 1718.


TO you, whose virtues, I must own
With shame, I have too lately known;
To you, by art and nature taught
To be the man I long have sought,
Had not ill Fate, perverse and blind,
Plac'd you in life too far behind:
Or, what I should repine at more,
Plac'd me in life too far before:
To you the Muse this verse bestows,
Which might as well have been in prose;
No thought, no fancy, no sublime,
But simple topicks told in rhyme.
Talents for conversation fit
Are humour, breeding, sense, and wit:
The last, as boundless as the wind,
Is well conceived, though not defin'd:
For, sure, by wit is chiefly meant
Applying well what we invent.
What humour is, not all the tribe
Of logickmongers can describe;
Here nature only acts her part,
Unhelp'd by practice, books, or art:
For wit and humour differ quite;
That gives surprise, and this delight.
Humour is odd, grotesque, and wild,
Only by affectation spoil'd:
'Tis never by invention got,
Men have it when they know it not.
Our conversation to refine.
Humour and wit must both combine:
From both we learn to rally well,
Wherein sometimes the French excel;
Voiture, in various lights, displays
That irony which turns to praise:
His genius first found out the rule
For an obliging ridicule:
He flatters with peculiar air
The brave, the witty, and the fair:
And fools would fancy he intends
A satire, where he most commends.
But, as a poor pretending beau,
Because he fain would make a show,
Nor can arrive at silver lace,
Takes up with copper in the place:
So the pert dunces of mankind,
Whene'er they would be thought refin'd,
As if the difference lay abstruse
'Twixt raillery and gross abuse;
To show their parts, will scold and rail,
Like porters o'er a pot of ale.
Such is that clan of boisterous bears,
Always together by the ears;
Shrewd fellows and arch wags, a tribe
That meet for nothing but a gibe;
Who first run one another down,
And then fall foul on all the town;
Skill'd in the horselaugh and dry rub,
And call'd by excellence The Club.
I mean your Butler, Dawson, Car,
All special friends, and always jar.
The mettled and the vicious steed
Differ as little in their breed;
Nay, Voiture is as like Tom Leigh,
As rudeness is to repartee.
If what you said I wish unspoke,
'Twill not suffice it was a joke:
Reproach not, though in jest, a friend
For those defects he cannot mend;
His lineage, calling, shape, or sense,
If nam'd with scorn, gives just offence.
What use in life to make men fret,
Part in worse humour than they met?
Thus all society is lost,
Men laugh at one another's cost;
And half the company is teaz'd,
That came together to be pleas'd:
For all buffoons have most in view
To please themselves, by vexing you.
You wonder now to see me write
So gravely on a subject light;
Some part of what I here design
Regards a friend[1] of yours and mine;
Who, neither void of sense nor wit,
Yet seldom judges what is fit,
But sallies oft beyond his bounds,
And takes unmeasurable rounds.
When jests are carried on too far,
And the loud laugh begins the war,
You keep your countenance for shame,
Yet still you think your friend to blame:
For, though men cry they love a jest,
'Tis but when others stand the test;
And (would you have their meaning known)
They love a jest that is their own.
You must, although the point be nice,
Bestow your friend some good advice:
One hint from you will set him right,
And teach him how to be polite.
Bid him, like you, observe with care,
Whom to be hard on, whom to spare;
Nor indistinctly to suppose
All subjects like Dan Jackson's nose[2].
To study the obliging jest,
By reading those who teach it best;
For prose I recommend Voiture's,
For verse (I speak my judgment) yours.
He'll find the secret out from thence,
To rhyme all day without offence;
And I no more shall then accuse
The flirts of his ill-manner'd Muse.
If he be guilty, you must mend him;
If he be innocent, defend him.

  1. Dr. Sheridan.
  2. Which was afterward the subject of several poems by Dr. Swift and others.