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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 8/On the Death of Dr. Swift

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 8

ON THE DEATH OF DR. SWIFT[1].


Written in November, 1731.


Occasioned by reading the following Maxim in Rochefoucault, "Dans l'adversité de nos meilleurs amis, nous trouvons toujours quelque chose, qui ne nous déplaît pas."

"In the adversity of our best friends, we always find something that does not displease us."


AS Rochefoucault his maxims drew
From nature, I believe them true:
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.
This maxim more than all the rest
Is thought too base for human breast:
"In all distresses of our friends,
We first consult our private ends;
While Nature, kindly bent to ease us,
Points out some circumstance to please us."
If this perhaps your patience move,
Let reason and experience prove.
We all behold with envious eyes
Our equals rais'd above our size.
Who would not at a crowded show
Stand high himself, keep others low?
I love my friend as well as you:
But why should he obstruct my view?
Then let me have the higher post;
Suppose it but an inch at most.
If in a battle you should find
One, whom you love of all mankind,
Had some heroick action done,
A champion kill'd, or trophy won;
Rather than thus be overtop'd,
Would you not wish his laurels crop'd?
Dear honest Ned is in the gout,
Lies rack'd with pain, and you without;
How patiently you hear him groan!
How glad, the case is not your own!
What poet would not grieve to see
His brother write as well as he?
But, rather than they should excel,
Would wish his rivals all in Hell?
Her end when Emulation misses,
She turns to Envy; stings, and hisses?
The strongest friendship yields to pride,
Unless the odds be on our side.
Vain humankind! fantastick race!
Thy various follies who can trace?
Self-love, ambition, envy, pride,
Their empire in our hearts divide.
Give others riches, power, and station,
'Tis all on me a usurpation.
I have no title to aspire;
Yet, when you sink, I seem the higher.
In Pope I cannot read a line,
But with a sigh I wish it mine:
When he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I can do in six;
It gives me such a jealous fit,
I cry, "Pox take him and his wit!"
I grieve to be outdone by Gay
In my own humorous biting way.
Arbuthnot is no more my friend,
Who dares to irony pretend,
Which I was born to introduce,
Refin'd it first, and show'd its use.
St. John, as well as Pulteney, knows
That I had some repute for prose;
And, till they drove me out of date,
Could maul a minister of state.
If they have mortified my pride,
And made me throw my pen aside;
If with such talents Heaven has bless'd 'em,
Have I not reason to detest 'em?
To all my foes, dear Fortune, send
Thy gifts: but never to my friend:
I tamely can endure the first:
But this with envy makes me burst.
Thus much may serve by way of proem;
Proceed we therefore to our poem.
The time is not remote, when I
Must by the course of nature die;
When, I foresee, my special friends
Will try to find their private ends:
And though 'tis hardly understood
Which way my death can do them good,
Yet thus, methinks, I hear them speak;
"See, how the dean begins to break!
Poor gentleman, he droops apace!
You plainly find it in his face.
That old vertigo in his head
Will never leave him, till he's dead.
Besides, his memory decays:
He recollects not what he says;
He cannot call his friends to mind;
Forgets the place where last he din'd;
Plies you with stories o'er and o'er;
He told them fifty times before.
How does he fancy we can sit
To hear his out-of-fashion wit?
But he takes up with younger folks,
Who for his wine will bear his jokes.
Faith! he must make his stories shorter,
Or change his comrades once a quarter:
In half the time he talks them round,
There must another set be found.
"For poetry, he's past his prime:
He takes an hour to find a rhyme;
His fire is out, his wit decay'd,
His fancy sunk, his Muse a jade.
I'd have him throw away his pen; —
But there's no talking to some men!"
And then their tenderness appears
By adding largely to my years:
"He's older than he would be reckon'd,
And well remembers Charles the Second.
He hardly drinks a pint of wine;
And that, I doubt, is no good sign.
His stomach too begins to fail:
Last year we thought him strong and hale;
But now he's quite another thing:
I wish he may hold out till spring!"
They hug themselves, and reason thus:
"It is not yet so bad with us!"
In such a case, they talk in tropes,
And by their fears express their hopes.
Some great misfortune to portend,
No enemy can match a friend.
With all the kindness they profess,
The merit of a lucky guess
(When daily howdyes come of course.
And servants answer "Worse and worse!")
Would please them better, than to tell,
That, "God be prais'd, the dean is well."
Then he, who prophesied the best,
Approves his foresight to the rest:
"You know I always fear'd the worst,
And often told you so at first."
He'd rather choose that I should die,
Than his predictions prove a lie.
Not one foretells I shall recover;
But all agree to give me over.
Yet, should some neighbour feel a pain
just in the parts where I complain;
How[2] many a message would he send!
What hearty prayers that I should mend!
Inquire what regimen I kept;
What gave me ease, and how I slept?
And more lament when I was dead,
Than all the snivellers round my bed.
My good companions, never fear:
For though you may mistake a year,
Though your prognosticks run too fast,
They must be verified at last.
Behold the fatal day arrive!
"How is the dean?" — "He's just alive."
Now the departing prayer is read;
"He hardly breathes" — "The dean is dead."
Before the passingbell begun,
The news through half the town is run.
"O! may we all for death prepare!
What has he left? and who's his heir?
I know no more than what the news is;
'Tis all bequeathed to publick uses.
To publick uses! there's a whim!
What had the publick done for him?
Mere envy, avarice, and pride:
He gave it all — but first he died.
And had the dean, in all the nation,
No worthy friend, no poor relation?
So ready to do strangers good,
Forgetting his own flesh and blood!"
Now Grubstreet wits are all employ'd;
With elegies the town is cloy'd:
Some paragraph in every paper.
To curse the dean, or bless the Drapier,
The doctors, tender of their fame,
Wisely on me lay all the blame.
"We must confess, his case was nice;
But he would never take advice.
Had he been rul'd, for aught appears,
He might have liv'd these twenty years:
For, when we open'd him, we found,
That all his vital parts were sound."
From Dublin soon to London spread,
'Tis told at court, "The dean is dead."
And lady Suffolk[3], in the spleen,
Runs laughing up to tell the queen.
The queen, so gracious, mild, and good,
Cries, "Is he gone! 'tis time he should.
He's dead, you say; then let him rot;
I'm glad the medals[4] were forgot.
I promis'd him, I own; but when?
I only was the princess then:
But now, as consort of the king,
You know, 'tis quite another thing."
Now Chartres, at sir Robert's levee,
Tells with a sneer the tidings heavy:
"Why, if he died without his shoes,"
Cries Bob, "I'm sorry for the news:
O, were the wretch but living still,
And in his place my good friend Will!
Or had a mitre on his head,
Provided Bolingbroke were dead!"
Now Curll his shop from rubbish drains:
Three genuine tomes of Swift's remains!
And then, to make them pass the glibber,
Revis'd by Tibbalds, Moore, and Cibber.
He'll treat me as he does my betters,
Publish my will, my life, my letters;
Revive the libels born to die;
Which Pope must bear, as well as I.
Here shift the scene, to represent
How those I love my death lament.
Poor Pope will grieve a month, and Gay
A week, and Arbuthnot a day.
St. John himself will scarce forbear
To bite his pen, and drop a tear.
The rest will give a shrug, and cry,
"I'm sorry — but we all must die!"
Indifference, clad in Wisdom's guise,
All fortitude of mind supplies:
For how can stony bowels melt
In those who never pity felt!
When we are lash'd, they kiss the rod,
Resigning to the will of God.
The fools, my juniors by a year,
Are tortur'd with suspense and fear;
Who wisely thought my age a screen,
When death approach'd, to stand between:
The screen removed, their hearts are trembling;
They mourn for me without dissembling.
My female friends, whose tender hearts
Have better learn'd to act their parts,
Receive the news in doleful dumps:
"The dean is dead: (Pray what is trumps?)
Then, Lord have mercy on his soul!
(Ladies, I'll venture for the vole.)
Six deans, they say, must bear the pall:
(I wish I knew what king to call.)
Madam, your husband will attend
The funeral of so good a friend.
No, madam, 'tis a shocking sight;
And he's engag'd to-morrow night:
My lady Club will take it ill,
If he should fail her at quadrille.
He lov'd the dean — (I lead a heart,)
But dearest friends, they say, must part.
His time was come; he ran his race;
We hope he's in a better place."
Why do we grieve that friends should die?
No loss more easy to supply.
One year is past; a different scene!
No farther mention of the dean;
Who now, alas! no more is miss'd,
Than if he never did exist.
Where's now the favourite of Apollo?
Departed: — and his works must follow;
Must undergo the common fate;
His kind of wit is out of date.
Some country squire to Lintot goes,
Inquires for Swift in verse and prose.
Says Lintot, "I have heard the name;
He died a year ago." — "The same."
He searches all the shop in vain.
"Sir, you may find them in Duck lane:
I sent them, with a load of books,
Last Monday to the pastry-cook's.
To fancy they could live a year!
I find you're but a stranger here.
The dean was famous in his time,
And had a kind of knack at rhyme.
His way of writing now is past:
The town has got a better taste.
I keep no antiquated stuff;
But spick and span I have enough.
Pray, do but give me leave to show 'em:
Here's Colley Cibber's birthday poem.
This ode you never yet have seen,
By Stephen Duck, upon the Queen.
Then here's a letter finely penn'd
Against the Craftsman and his friend:
It clearly shows that all reflection
On ministers is disaffection.
Next, here's sir Robert's vindication,
And Mr. Henley's last oration.
The hawkers have not got them yet:
Your honour please to buy a set?
Here's Wolston's tracts, the twelfth edition;
'Tis read by every politician:
The country members, when in town,
To all their boroughs send them down;
You never met a thing so smart;
The courtiers have them all by heart;
Those maids of honour, who can read,
Are taught to use them for their creed.
The reverend author's good intention
Has been rewarded with a pension[5]:
He does an honour to his gown,
By bravely running priestcraft down:
He shows, as sure as God's in Gloucester,
That Moses was a grand impostor;
That all his miracles were cheats,
Perform'd as jugglers do their feats:
The church had never such a writer:
A shame he has not got a mitre!"
Suppose me dead; and then suppose
A club assembled at the Rose;
Where, from discourse of this and that,
I grow the subject of their chat.
And while they toss my name about,
With favour some, and some without;
One, quite indifferent in the cause,
My character impartial draws:
"The dean, if we believe report,
Was never ill-received at court.
As for his works in verse and prose,
I own myself no judge of those:
Nor, can I tell what criticks thought 'em;
But this I know, all people bought 'em;
As with a moral view design'd
To cure the vices of mankind:
His vein, ironically grave,
Expos'd the fool, and lash'd the knave.
To steal a hint was never known,
But what he writ was all his own.
"He never thought an honour done him,
Because a duke was proud to own him;
Would rather slip aside, and choose
To talk with wits in dirty shoes;
Despis'd the fools with stars and garters,
So often seen caressing Chartres.
He never courted men in station,
Nor persons held in admiration;
Of no man's greatness was afraid,
Because he sought for no man's aid.
Though trusted long in great affairs,
He gave himself no haughty airs:
Without regarding private ends,
Spent all his credit for his friends:
And only chose the wise and good;
No flatterers; no allies in blood:
But succour'd virtue in distress,
And seldom fail'd of good success;
As numbers in their hearts must own,
Who, but for him, had been unknown[6].
"With princes kept a due decorum;
But never stood in awe before 'em.
He followed David's lesson just;
In princes never put thy trust:
And, would you make him truly sour,
Provoke him with a slave in power.
The Irish senate if you nam'd,
With what impatience he declaim'd!
Fair Liberty was all his cry;
For her he stood prepar'd to die;
For her he boldly stood alone;
For her he oft' exposed his own.
Two kingdoms[7], just as faction led,
Had set a price upon his head;
But not a traitor could be found,
To sell him for six hundred pound.
"Had he but spar'd his tongue and pen,
He might have rose like other men:
But power was never in his thought,
And wealth he valu'd not a groat:
Ingratitude he often found,
And pitied those who meant the wound:
But kept the tenour of his mind,
To merit well of humankind:
Nor made a sacrifice of those
Who still were true, to please his foes.
He labour'd many a fruitless hour,
To reconcile his friends in power;
Saw mischief by a faction brewing,
While they pursu'd each other's ruin.
But finding vain was all his care,
He left the court in mere despair[8].
"And, oh! how short are human schemes!
Here ended all our golden dreams.
What St. John's skill in state affairs,
What Ormond's valour, Oxford's cares,
To save their sinking country lent,
Was all destroyed by one event.
Too soon that precious life was ended,
On which alone our weal depended[9].
When up a dangerous faction starts[10],
With wrath and vengeance in their hearts;
By solemn league and covenant bound,
To ruin, slaughter, and confound;
To turn religion to a fable,
And make the government a Babel;
Pervert the laws, disgrace the gown,
Corrupt the senate, rob the crown;
To sacrifice Old England's glory,
And make her infamous in story:
When such a tempest shook the land,
How could unguarded Virtue stand!
With horrour, grief, despair, the dean
Beheld the dire destructive scene:
His friends in exile, or the Tower,
Himself[11] within the frown of power;
Pursu'd by base envenom'd pens,
Far to the land of saints and fens;
A servile race in folly nurs'd,
Who truckle most, when treated worst.
"By innocence and resolution,
He bore continual persecution;
While numbers to preferment rose,
Whose merits were, to be his foes;
When ev'n his own familiar friends,
Intent upon their private ends,
Like renegadoes now he feels,
Against him lifting up their heels.
"The dean did, by his pen, defeat
An infamous destructive cheat[12];
Taught fools their interest how to know,
And gave them arms to ward the blow.
Envy has own'd it was his doing,
To save that hapless land from ruin;
While they who at the steerage stood,
And reap'd the profit, sought his blood.
"To save them from their evil fate,
In him was held a crime of state.
A wicked monster on the bench[13],
Whose fury blood could never quench;
As vile and profligate a villain,
As modern Scroggs[14], or old Tresilian[15];
Who long all justice had discarded,
Nor fear'd he God, nor man regarded;
Vow'd on the dean his rage to vent,
And make him of his zeal repent:
But Heaven his innocence defends,
The grateful people stand his friends;
Not strains of law, nor judge's frown,
Nor topicks brought to please the crown,
Nor witness hir'd, nor jury pick'd,
Prevail to bring him in convict.
"In exile[16], with a steady heart,
He spent his life's declining part;
Where folly, pride, and faction sway,
Remote from St. John, Pope, and Gay."
"His friendships there, to few confin'd,
Were always of the middling kind;
No fools of rank, a mongrel breed,
Who fain would pass for lords indeed:
Where titles give no right, or power,
And peerage is a wither'd flower;
He would have held it a disgrace,
If such a wretch had known his face.
On rural squires, that kingdom's bane,
He vented oft' his wrath in vain:
******* squires to market brought;
Who sell their souls and **** for nought.
The ******* go joyful back,
To *** the church, their tenants rack,
Go snacks with *******
And keep the peace, to pick up fees:
In every job to have a share,
A gaol or turnpike to repair;
And turn the tax for publick roads,
Commodious to their own abodes.
"Perhaps I may allow the dean
Had too much satire in his vein;
And seem'd determin'd not to starve it,
Because no age could more deserve it.
Yet malice never was his aim;
He lash'd the vice, but spar'd the name.
No individual could resent,
Where thousands equally were meant;
His satire points at no defect,
But what all mortals may correct;
For he abhorr'd that senseless tribe
Who call it humour when they gibe:
He spar'd a hump, or crooked nose,
Whose owners set not up for beaux.
True genuine dulness mov'd his pity,
Unless it offer'd to be witty.
Those who their ignorance confest,
He ne'er offended with a jest;
But laugh'd to hear an idiot quote
A verse from Horace learn'd by rote.
"He knew a hundred pleasing stories,
With all the turns of whigs and tories;
Was cheerful to his dying day;
And friends would let him have his way.
"He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house for fools and mad;
And showed, by one satirick touch,
No nation wanted it so much.
That kingdom he hath left his debtor,
I wish it soon may have a better."

  1. These verses have undergone, perhaps, a stranger revolution than any other part of the dean's writings. A manifestly spurious copy, containing 201 lines, under the title of "The Life and Character of Dr. Swift," appeared at London, in April 1733; of which the dean complained heavily, in a letter to Mr. Pope, dated May 1; and, notwithstanding Swift acknowledged in that Letter he had written "a poem of near 500 lines upon the same maxim of Rochefoucault, and was a long time about it," many readers have supposed (not attending to the circumstance of there being two poems on the subject) that the dean disclaimed the Verses on his own Death. The genuine verses having been committed to the care of the celebrated author of "The Toast;" an edition was printed, in 1738-9, in which more than 100 lines were omitted. Dr. King assigned many judicious reasons (though some of them were merely temporary and prudential) for the mutilations: but they were so far from satisfying Dr. Swift, that a complete edition was immediately printed by Faulkner, with the dean's express permission. The poem, as it now stands in this collection, is agreeable to Mr. Faulkner's copy.
  2. He would send many a message is right: but the question how, seems to destroy the unity or collective nature of the idea; and therefore it ought to have been expressed, if the measure would have allowed it, without the article, in the plural number, how many messages. Lowth.
  3. Mrs. Howard, at one time a favourite with the dean.
  4. Which the dean in vain expected, in return for a small present he had sent to the princess. They were to be sent in four months; but *****, see a letter of Dr. Swift's to the countess of Suffolk, dated Nov. 21, 1730. vol. XII. p. 363.
  5. Wolston is here confounded with Woolaston.
  6. Dr. Delany, in the close of his eighth letter, after having enumerated the friends with whom the dean lived in the greatest intimacy, very handsomely applies this passage to himself.
  7. In 1713, the queen was prevailed with, by an address from the house of lords in England, to publish a proclamation, promising three hundred pounds to discover the author of a pamphlet, called, "The Publick Spirit of the Whigs;" and in Ireland, in the year 1724, lord Carteret, at his first coming into the government, was prevailed on to issue a proclamation for promising the like reward of three hundred pounds to any person who would discover the author of a pamphlet called "The Drapier's Fourth Letter, &c." written against that destructive project of coining halfpence for Ireland; but in neither kingdom was the dean discovered.
  8. Queen Anne's ministry fell to variance from the first year after its commencement: Harcourt the chancellor, and the secretary Bolingbroke, were discontented with the treasurer Oxford, for his too great mildness to the whigs; this quarrel grew higher every day until the queen's death. The dean, who was the only person that endeavoured to reconcile them, found it impossible; and thereupon retired into Berkshire, about ten weeks before that event.
  9. In the height of the quarrel between the ministers, the queen died, Aug. 1, 1714.
  10. On the queen's demise the whigs were restored to power, which they exercised with the utmost rage and revenge; impeached and banished the chief leaders of the church party, and stripped all their adherents of what employments they had.
  11. Upon the queen's death, the dean returned to Dublin: yet numberless libels were written against him in England; he was insulted in the street, and at night was forced to be attended by his servants armed.
  12. Wood, a hardwareman from England, had a patent for coining copper halfpence for Ireland, to the sum of 108000l. which, in the consequence, must have left that kingdom without gold or silver.
  13. Whitshed was then chief justice. He had some years before prosecuted a printer for a pamphlet written by the dean, to persuade the people of Ireland to wear their own manufactures. Whitshed sent the jury down eleven times, and kept them nine hours, until they were forced to bring in a special verdict. He sat afterward on the trial of the printer of the Drapier's fourth letter; but the jury, against all he could say or swear, threw out the bill. All the kingdom took the Drapier's part, except the courtiers, or those who expected places. Whitshed died August 26, 1727, (having a few months before exchanged his place in the king's bench, which he had held ten or twelve years, for the same office in the common pleas): and archbishop Boulter says, his uneasiness upon some affronts he met with helped to shorten his days. These affronts were certainly the satires of the dean and his friends.
  14. Sir William Scroggs, chief justice of the king's bench in the reign of king Charles the Second, was a man of low birth, and raised himself as much by means of his debaucheries, as of his abilities in his profession. He was preferred for professing loyalty; but, Oates's plot coming forward, he exerted himself very much on the side of that informer, though he afterward changed again, and was equally violent against him. For some dirty jobs, which he did to oblige the court, he was impeached in parliament; but the matter never was proceeded upon. While at the bar, he was always necessitous; but, during his preferment, he took care to secure a good fortune for himself, having in that period purchased the manor of Brentwood, in Essex. He afterward died, in Essex street, of a polypus in his heart.
  15. Sir Robert Tresilian was chief justice of England in the time of Richard the Second. He was adviser of many illegal acts in that reign, for which he was impeached, with several other judges and some noblemen, in parliament. Being convicted of the offences he was charged with, he was executed, Feb. 19, 1388.
  16. In Ireland, which he had reason to call a place of exile: to which country nothing could have driven him but the queen's death, who had determined to fix him in England, in spite of the duchess of Somerset, &c.