The Dispensary (7th ed)/Preface
INCE this following Poem in a manner stole into the World, I cou'd not be surpriz'd to find it uncorrect: Tho' I can no more say I was a Stranger to its coming abroad, than that I approv'd of the Publisher's Precipitation in doing it: For a Hurry in the Execution, generally produces a Leisure in Reflection; so when we run the fastest, we stumble the oftnest. However, the Errors of the Printer have not been greater than the Candour of the Reader: and if I cou'd but say the same of the Defects of the Author, he'd need no Justification against the Cavils of some Furious Criticks, who, I am sure, wou'd have been better pleas'd if they had met with more Faults.
Their Grand Objection is, That the Fury Disease is an improper Machine to recite Characters, and recommend the Example of present Writers: But tho' I had the Authority of some Greek and Latin Poets, upon parallel Instances, to justifie the Design; yet, that I might not introduce any thing that seem'd inconsistent or hard, I started this Objection my self, to a Gentleman very remarkable in this sort of Criticism, who wou'd by no means allow that the Contrivance was forc'd, or the Conduct incongruous.
Disease is represented a Fury as well as Envy: She is imagin'd to be forc'd by an Incantation from her Recess; and to be reveng'd on the Exorcist, mortifies him with an Introduction of several Persons eminent in an Accomplishment He has made some Advances in.
Nor is the Compliment less to any Great Genius mention'd there; since a very Fiend, who naturally repines at any Excellency, is forc'd to confess how happily They've all succeeded.
Their next Objection is, That I have imitated the Lutrin of Monsieur Boileau. I must own I am proud of the Imputation; unless their Quarrel be, That I have not done it enough: But he that will give himself the trouble of examining, will find I have copy'd him in nothing but in two or three Lines in the Complaint of Molesse, Canto II. and in one in his First Canto; the Sense of which Line is entirely his, and I cou'd wish it were not the only good One in mine.
I have spoke to the most material Objections I have heard of, and shall tell these Gentlemen, That for ev'ry Fault they pretend to find in this Poem, I'll undertake to shew them two. One of these curious Persons does me the Honour to say, He approves of the Conclusion of it; but I suppose 'tis upon no other Reason, but because 'tis the Conclusion. However, I shou'd not be much concern'd not to be thought Excellent in an Amusement I have very little practis'd hitherto, nor perhaps ever shall again.
Reputation of this sort is very hard to be got, and very easie to be lost; its Pursuit is painful, and its Possession unfruitful: Nor had I ever attempted any thing in this kind, 'till finding the Animosities among the Members of the College of Physicians increasing daily (notwithstanding the frequent Exhortations of our Worthy President to the contrary) I was persuaded to attempt something of this Nature, and to endeavour to Railly some of our disaffected Members into a sense of their Duty, who have hitherto most obstinately oppos'd all manner of Union; and have continu'd so unreasonably refractory, that 'twas thought fit by the College, to reinforce the Observance of the Statutes by a Bond, which some of them wou'd not comply with, tho' none of 'em had refus'd the Ceremony of the customary Oath; like some that will trust their Wives with any Body, but their Mony with none. I was sorry to find there cou'd be any Constitution that was not to be cur'd without Poison, and that there shou'd be a Prospect of effecting it by a less grateful Method than Reason and Persuasion.
The Original of this Difference has been of some standing, tho' it did not break out to Fury and Excess 'till the time of Erecting the Dispensary, being an Apartment in the College set up for the Relief of the Sick Poor, and manag'd ever since with an Integrity and Disinterest suitable to so Charitable a Design.
If any Person wou'd be more fully inform'd about the Particulars of so Pious a Work, I refer him to a Treatise set forth by the Authority of the President and Censors, in the Year 97. 'Tis call'd A short Account of the Proceedings of the College of Physicians, London, in relation to the Sick Poor. The Reader may there not only be inform'd of the Rise and Progress of this so Publick an Undertaking, but also of the Concurrence and Encouragement it met with from the most, as well as the most Ancient Members of the Society, notwithstanding the vigorous Opposition of a few Men, who thought it their Interest to defeat so laudable a Design.
The Intention of this Preface is not to persuade Mankind to enter into our Quarrels, but to vindicate the Author from being censur'd of taking any indecent Liberty with a Faculty he has the Honour to be a Member of. If the Satyr may appear directed at any particular Person, 'tis at such only as are presum'd to be engag'd in Dishonourable Confederacies for mean and mercenary Ends, against the Dignity of their own Profession. But if there be no such, then these Characters are but imaginary, and by consequence ought to give no Body Offence.
The Description of the Battel is grounded upon a Feud that happen'd in the Dispensary, betwixt a Member of the College with his Retinue, and some of the Servants that attended there to dispense the Medicines; and is so far real: tho' the Poetical Relation be fictitious. I hope no Body will think the Author too undecently reflecting thro' the whole, who being too liable to Faults himself, ought to be less severe upon the Miscarriages of others.
There is a Character in this trivial Performance, which the Town, I find, applies to a particular Person: 'Tis a Reflection which I shou'd be sorry shou'd give Offence; being no more than what may be said of any Physician remarkable for much Practice. The killing of numbers of Patients is so trite a piece of Raillery, that it ought not to make the least Impression either upon the Reader, or the Person 'tis apply'd to; being one that I think in my Conscience a very able Physician, as well as a Gentleman of extraordinary Learning. If I am hard upon any one, 'tis my Reader: But some Worthy Gentlemen, as remarkable for their Humanity as their Extraordinary Parts, have taken care to make him amends for it, by prefixing something of their own.
I confess those Ingenious Gentlemen have done me a great Honour; but while they design an imaginary Panegyrick upon me, They have made a real one upon Themselves; and by saying how much this small Performance exceeds some others, They convince the World how far it falls short of Theirs.