The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 8/An Epistle to Robert Nugent, Esq. With a Picture of Dr. Swift

AN EPISTLE TO ROBERT NUGENT, Esq.[1]

WITH A PICTURE OF DR. SWIFT.



TO gratify thy long desire
(So Love and Piety require),
From Bindon's[3] colours you may trace
The patriot's venerable face,
The last, O Nugent! which his art
Shall ever to the world impart;
For know, the prime of mortal men,
That matchless monarch of the pen
(Whose labours, like the genial sun,
Shall through revolving ages run,
Yet never, like the sun, decline,
But in their full meridian shine),
That ever-honour'd, envied sage,
So long the wonder of his age,
Who charm'd us with his golden strain,
Is not the shadow of the dean:
He only breathes Bœotian air —
"O! what a falling off was there!"
Hibernia's Helicon is dry,
Invention, Wit, and Humour die;
And what remains against the storm
Of Malice, but an empty form?
The nodding ruins of a pile,
That stood the bulwark of this isle?
In which the sisterhood was fix'd
Of candid Honour, Truth unmix'd,
Imperial Reason, Thought profound,
And Charity, diffusing round
In cheerful rivulets the flow
Of Fortune to the sons of woe?
Such one, my Nugent, was thy Swift,
Endued with each exalted gift.
But lo! the pure æthereal flame
Is darken'd by a misty steam:
The balm exhausted breathes no smell,
The rose is wither'd ere it fell.
That godlike supplement of law,
Which held the wicked world in awe,
And could the tide of faction stem,
Is but a shell without the gem.
Ye sons of genius, who would aim
To build an everlasting fame,
And, in the field of letter'd arts,
Display the trophies of your parts,
To yonder mansion turn aside,
And mortify your growing pride.
Behold the brightest of the race,
And Nature's honour, in disgrace:
With humble resignation own,
That all your talents are a loan;
By Providence advanced for use,
Which you should study to produce.
Reflect, the mental stock, alas!
However current now it pass,
May haply be recall'd from you
Before the grave demands his due.
Then, while your morning star proceeds,
Direct your course to worthy deeds,
In fuller day discharge your debts;
For, when your sun of reason sets,
The night succeeds: and all your schemes
Of glory vanish with your dreams.
Ah! where is now the supple train,
That danc'd attendance on the dean?
Say, where are those facetious folks,
Who shook with laughter at his jokes,
And with attentive rapture hung
On wisdom, dropping from his tongue;
Who look'd with high disdainful pride
On all the busy world beside,
And rated his productions more
Than treasures of Peruvian ore?
Good Christians! they with bended knees
Ingulf'd the wine, but loath the lees,
Averting (so the text commands),
With ardent eyes and upcast hands,
The cup of sorrow from their lips,
And fly, like rats from sinking ships.
While some, who by his friendship rose
To wealth, in concert with his foes
Run counter to their former track,
Like old Actæon's horrid pack
Of yelling mungrils, in requitals
To not on their master's vitals;
And, where they cannot blast his laurels,
Attempt to stigmatize his morals;
Through Scandal's magnifying glass
His foibles view, but virtues pass,
And on the ruins of his fame
Erect an ignominious name.
So vermin foul, of vile extraction,
The spawn of dirt and putrefaction,
The sounder members traverse o'er,
But fix and fatten on a sore.
Hence! peace, ye wretches, who revile
His wit, his humour, and his style;
Since all the monsters which he drew
Were only meant to copy you;
And, if the colours be not fainter,
Arraign yourselves, and not the painter.
But, O! that He, who gave him breath,
Dread arbiter of life and death;
That He, the moving soul of all,
The sleeping spirit would recall,
And crown him with triumphant meeds,
For all his past heroick deeds,
In mansions of unbroken rest,
The bright republick of the bless'd!
Irradiate his benighted mind
With living light of light refin'd;
And these the blank of thought employ
With objects of immortal joy!
Yet, while he drags the sad remains
Of life, slow-creeping through his veins,
Above the views of private ends,
The tributary Muse attends,
To prop his feeble steps, or shed
The pious tear around his bed.
So pilgrims, with devout complaints,
Frequent the graves of martyr'd saints,
Inscribe their worth in artless lines,
And, in their stead, embrace their shrines.

  1. Created baron Nugent and viscount Clare, Dec. 20, 1766.
  2. This elegant tribute of gratitude, as it was written at that dismal period of the dean's life, when all suspicion of flattery must vanish, reflects the highest honour on the ingenious writer, and cannot but be agreeable to the admirers of Dr. Swift.
  3. Samuel Bindon, esq., one of the greatest painters and architects of his time. On account of his age, and some little failure in his sight, he threw aside his pencil soon after the year 1750; and afterward lived to a good old age, greatly beloved and respected by all who had the happiness either of his friendship or acquaintance. He died June 2, 1765.