The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Henry St. John to Jonathan Swift - 9

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MARCH, 17, 1719.


I HAVE not these several years tasted so sensible a pleasure, as your letters of the 6th of January and 6th of February gave me; and I know enough of the tenderness of your heart, to be assured, that the letter I am writing will produce much the same effect on you. I feel my own pleasure, and I feel your's. The truest reflection, and at the same time, the bitterest satire, which can be made on the present age, is this; that to think as you think, will make a man pass for romantick. Sincerity, constancy, tenderness, are rarely to be found. They are so much out of use, that the man of mode imagines them to be out of nature. We meet with few friends; the greatest part of those who pass for such, are, properly speaking, nothing more than acquaintance; and no wonder, since Tully's maxim is certainly true, that friendship can subsist non nisi inter bonos. At that age of life, when there is balm in the blood, and that confidence in the mind, which the innocency of our own heart inspires, and the experience of other men's destroys, I was apt to confound my acquaintance and my friends together. I never doubted but that I had a numerous cohort of the latter. I expected, if ever I fell into misfortune, to have as many, and as remarkable instances of friendship to produce, as the Scythian, in one of Lucian's Dialogues, draws from his nation. Into these misfortunes I have fallen. Thus far my propitious stars have not disappointed my expectations. The rest have almost entirely failed me. The fire of my adversity has purged the mass of my acquaintance; and the separation made, I discover, on one side, a handful of friends; but on the other, a legion of enemies, at least of strangers. Happily this fiery trial has had an effect on me, which makes me some amends. I have found less resources in other people, and more in myself, than I expected. I make good, at this hour the motto which I took nine years ago, when I was weak enough to list again under the conduct of a man[1], of whom nature meant to make a spy, or, at most, a captain of miners; and whom fortune, in one of her whimsical moods, made a general.

I enjoy, at this hour, with very tolerable health, great tranquillity of mind. You will, I am sure, hear this with satisfaction; and sure it is, that I tell it you without the least affectation. I live, my friend, in a narrower circle than ever; but I think in a larger. When I look back on what is past, I observe a multitude of errours, but no crimes. I have been far from following the advice which Cælius gave to Cicero; Id melius statuere quod tutius sit: and I think, may say to myself what Dolabella says in one of his letters to the same Cicero: Satisfactum est jam a te, vel officio, vel familiaritati: satisfactum etiam partibus, et ei reipublicæ, quam tu probabas. Reliquum est, ubi nunc est respublica: ibi simus potius, quàm, dum illam veterem sequamur, simus in nullâ. What my memory has furnished on this head (for I have neither books nor papers here concerning home affairs) is writ with great truth, and with as much clearness as I could give it. If ever we meet, you will, perhaps, not think two or three hours absolutely thrown away in reading it. One thing I will venture to assure you of beforehand, which is, that you will think I never deserved more to be commended, than while I was the most blamed; and, that you will pronounce the brightest part of my character to be that, which has been disguised by the nature of things, misrepresented by the malice of men, and which is still behind a cloud. In what is past, therefore, I find no great source of uneasiness. As to the present, my fortune is extremely reduced; but my desires are still more so. Nothing is more certain than this truth, that all our wants, beyond those which a very moderate income will supply, are purely imaginary; and that his happiness is greater, and better assured, who brings his mind up to a temper of not feeling them, than his who feels them, and has wherewithal to supply them.

"—— Vides, quæ maxima credis
Esse mala, exiguum censum, turpemque repulsam,
Quanto devites, &c."

Hor. epist. i. lib. 1.


Which I paraphrased thus, not long ago, in my postchaise:


Survey mankind, observe what risks they run,
What fancy'd ills, thro' real dangers, shun;
Those fancy'd ills, so dreadful to the great,
A lost election, or impair'd estate.
Observe the merchant, who, intent on gain,
Affronts the terrours of the Indian main;
Tho' storms arise, and broken rocks appear,
He flies from poverty, knows no other fear.
Vain men! who might arrive, with toil far less,
By smoother paths, at greater happiness.

For 'tis superiour bliss, not to desire
That trifling good, which fondly you admire,
Possess precarious, and too dear acquire.
What hackney gladiator can you find,

By whom the Olympick crown would be declin'd?
Who, rather than that glorious palm to seize,
With safety combat, and prevail with ease,
Would choose on some inglorious stage to tread,
And, fighting, stroll from wake to wake for bread?


As to what is to happen, I am not anxious about it: on which subject I have twenty fine quotations at the end of my pen; but, I think, it is better to own frankly to you, that upon a principle (which I have long established) we are a great deal more mechanical than our vanity will give us leave to allow; I have familiarized the worst prospects to my sight; and, by staring want, solitude, neglect and the rest of that train in the face, I have disarmed them of their terrours. I have heard of somebody, who, while he was in the Tower, used, every morning, to lie down on the block, and so act over his last scene.

Nothing disturbs me, but the uncertainty of my situation, which the zeal of a few friends, and the inveteracy of a great many enemies, entertain. The more prepared I am to pass the remainder of my life in exile, the more sensibly shall I feel the pleasure of returning to you, if his majesty's unconditional favour (the offers of which prevented even my wishes) proves at last effectual. I cannot apply to myself, as you bid me do;


Non tibi parvum
Ingenium, non incultum est,


and what follows; and, if ever we live in the same country together, you shall not apply to me,


Quod si
’'Frigida curarum fomenta relinquere posses.


I have writ to you, before I was aware of it, a long letter. The pleasure of breaking so long a silence transports me; and your sentiment is a sufficient excuse. It is not so easy to find one for talking so much about myself; but I shall want none with you upon this score. Adieu.

This letter will get safe to London; and from thence, I hope, the friend, to whom I recommend it, will find means of conveying it to you. — For God's sake, no more apologies for your quotations, unless you mean, by accusing yourself, to correct me.

There never was a better application than your's, of the story of Pierochole. Things are come to that pass, the storks will never come, and they must be porters all their lives. They are something worse; for I had rather be a porter than a tool: I would sooner lend out my back to hire, than my name. They are at this time the instruments of a saucy gardener, who has got a gold cross on his stomach, and a red cap on his head.

A poor gentleman, who puts me often in mind of one of Scandal's pictures in Congreve's play of Love for Love, where a soldier is represented with his heart where his head should be, and no head at all, is the conductor of this doughty enterprise; which will end in making their cause a little more desperate than it is. Again, adieu.

Let me hear from you by the same conveyance, that brings you this. I am in pain about your health. From the 6th of January to the 16th of February is a long course of illness.