The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 14/Letter: St John to Swift - 1

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I AM not so lazy as Pope, and therefore you must not expect from me the same indulgence to laziness; in defending his own cause he pleads yours, and becomes your advocate while he appeals to you as his judge: You will do the same on your part; and I, and the rest of your common friends, shall have great justice to expect from two such righteous tribunals: You resemble perfectly the two alehousekeepers in Holland, who were at the same time burgomasters of the town, and taxed one another's bills alternately. I declare beforehand I will not stand to the award; my title to your friendship is good, and wants neither deeds nor waitings to confirm it; but annual acknowledgments at least are necessary to preserve it: and I begin to suspect, by your defrauding me of them, that you hope in time to dispute it, and to urge prescription against me. I would not say one word to you about myself (since it is a subject on which you appear to have no curiosity) were it not to try how far the contrast between Pope's fortune and manner of life, and mine, may be carried.

I have been, then, infinitely more uniform, and less dissipated, than when you knew me and cared for me. That love which I used to scatter with some profusion among the female kind, has been these many years devoted to one object. A great many misfortunes (for so they are called, though sometimes very improperly) and a retirement from the world, have made that just and nice discrimination between my acquaintance and my friends, which we have seldom sagacity enough to make for ourselves: those insects of various hues, which used to hum and buz about me while I stood in the sunshine, have disappeared since I lived in the shade. No man comes to a hermitage but for the sake of the hermit; a few philosophical friends come often to mine, and they are such as you would be glad to live with, if a dull climate and duller company have not altered you extremely from what you were nine years ago.

The hoarse voice of party was never heard in this quiet place; gazettes and pamphlets are banished from it, and if the lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff be admitted, this distinction is owing to some strokes, by which it is judged that this illustrious philosopher, had (like the Indian Fohu, the Grecian Pythagoras, the Persian Zoroaster, and others his precursors among the Zabians, Magians, and the Egyptian seers) both his outward and his inward doctrine, and that he was of no side at the bottom. When I am there, I forget I ever was of any party myself; nay, I am often so happily absorbed by the abstracted reason of things, that I am ready to imagine there never was any such monster as party. Alas, I am soon awakened from that pleasing dream by the Greek and Roman historians, by Guicciardin, by Machiavel, and Thuanus; for I have vowed to read no history of our own country, till that body of it which you promise to finish, appears.

I am under no apprehensions that a glut of study and retirement should cast me back into the hurry of the world; on the contrary, the single regret which I ever feel, is, that I fell so late into this course of life; my philosophy grows confirmed by habit, and if you and I meet again, I will extort this approbation from you. Fam non consilio bonus, sed more eo-perductus, ut non tantum recte facere possim, sed nisi recte facere non possim[2]. The little incivilities I have met with from opposite sets of people, have been so far from rendering me violent or sour to any, that I think myself obliged to them all: some have cured me of my fears, by showing me how impotent the malice of the world is; others have cured me of my hopes, by showing how precarious popular friendships are; all have cured me of surprise. In driving me out of party, they have driven me out of cursed company; and in stripping me of titles, and rank, and estate, and such trinkets, which every man that will, may spare, they have given me that which no man can be happy without.

Reflection and habit have rendered the world so indifferent to me, that I am neither afflicted nor rejoiced, angry nor pleased, at what happens in it, any farther than personal friendships interest me in the affairs of it, and this principle extends my cares but a little way. Perfect tranquillity is the general tenour of my life: good digestions, serene weather, and some other mechanick springs, wind me above it now and then, but I never fall below it; I am sometimes gay, but I am never sad; I have gained new friends, and have lost some old ones; my acquisitions of this kind give me a good deal of pleasure, because they have not been made lightly. I know no vows so solemn as those of friendship, and therefore a pretty long noviciate of acquaintance should methinks precede them; my losses of this kind give me but little trouble, I contributed nothing to them, and a friend who breaks with me unjustly, is not worth preserving. As soon as I leave this town (which will be in a few days) I shall fall back into that course of life, which keeps knaves and fools at a great distance from me: I have an aversion to them both, but in the ordinary course of life, I think I can bear the sensible knave, better than the fool: One must, indeed, with the former, be in some or other of the attitudes of those wooden men whom I have seen before a sword cutler's shop in Germany; but even in these constrained postures, the witty rascal will divert me: and he that diverts me does me a great deal of good, and lays me under an obligation to him, which I am not obliged to pay in another coin: the fool obliges me to be almost as much upon my guard as the knave, and he makes me no amends; he numbs me like the torpor, or he teases me like the fly. This is the picture of an old friend, and more like him than that will be which you once asked, and which he will send you, if you continue still to desire it Adieu, dear Swift, with all thy faults I love thee entirely; make an effort, and love me on with all mine.

  1. This letter was printed at the end of the quarto edition very faultily (as for instance, Arabians for Zabians, Egyptian Seres for seers, &c.) occasioned by its being taken from Curll's stolen copy only: the original having been since recovered among Dr. Swift's papers, it is now correctly printed. This Note is taken from the Dublin edition.
  2. I am now good, not upon principle only, but by long habit am come to that pass, that I not only can act rightly, but it is out of my power to act otherwise.