The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/An Account of the Poisoning of Edmund Curll
A FULL AND TRUE
OF A HORRID AND BARBAROUS
REVENGE BY POISON,
ON THE BODY OF
MR. EDMUND CURLL,
WITH A FAITHFUL COPY OF HIS
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.
PUBLISHED BY AN EYEWITNESS.
HISTORY furnishes us with examples of many satirical authors, who have fallen sacrifices to revenge, but not of any booksellers, that I know of, except the unfortunate subject of the following paper; I mean Mr. Edmund Curll, at the Bible and Dial in Fleet street, who was yesterday poisoned by Mr. Pope, after having lived many years an instance of the mild temper of the British nation.
Every body knows, that the said Mr. Edmund Curll on Monday the 26th instant published a satirical piece, entitled Court Poems, in the preface whereof they were attributed to a lady of quality, Mr. Pope, or Mr. Gay; by which indiscreet method, though he had escaped one revenge, there were still two behind in reserve.
Now on the Wednesday ensuing, between the hours of ten and eleven, Mr. Lintot a neighbouring bookseller desired a conference with Mr. Curll about settiing a titlepage, inviting him at the same time to take a whet together. Mr. Pope, who is not the only instance how persons of bright parts may be carried away by the instigation of the devil, found means to convey himself into the same room under pretence of business with Mr. Lintot, who, it seems, is the printer of his Homer. This gentleman with a seeming coolness reprimanded Mr. Curll for wrongfully ascribing to him the aforesaid poems: he excused himself by declaring, that one of his authors (Mr. Oldmixon by name) gave the copies to the press, and wrote the preface. Upon this Mr. Pope, being to all appearance reconciled, very civilly drank a glass of sack to Mr. Curll, which he as civilly pledged; and though the liquor in colour and taste differed not from common sack, yet was it plain by the pangs this unhappy stationer felt soon after, that some poisonous drug had been secretly infused therein.
About eleven o'clock he went home, where his wife observing his colour change, said, "Are you not sick, my dear?" He replied, "Bloody sick;" and incontinently fell a vomiting and straining in an uncommon and unnatural manner, the contents of his vomiting being as green as grass. His wife had been just reading a book of her husband's printing concerning Jane Whenham, the famous witch of Hertford, and her mind misgave her, that he was bewitched; but he soon let her know, that he suspected poison, and recounted to her, between the intervals of his yawnings and retchings, every circumstance of his interview with Mr. Pope.
Mr. Lintot in the mean time coming in, was extremely affrighted at the sudden alteration he observed in him: "Brother Curll," says he, "I fear you have got the vomiting distemper; which I have heard, kills in half an hour. This comes from your not following my advice, to drink old hock in a morning as I do, and abstain from sack." Mr. Curll replied in a moving tone, "Your author's sack, I fear, has done my business." "Z—ds," says Mr. Lintot, "my author! — Why did not you drink old hock?" Notwithstanding which rough remonstrance, he did in the most friendly manner press him to take warm water; but Mr. Curll did with great obstinacy refuse it: which made Mr. Lintot infer, that he chose to die, as thinking to recover greater damages.
All this time the symptoms increased violently, with acute pains in the lower belly. "Brother Lintot," says he, "I perceive my last hour approaching; do me the friendly office to call my partner, Mr. Pemberton, that we may settle our worldly affairs." Mr Lintot, like a kind neighbour, was hastening out of the room, while Mr. Curll raved aloud in this manner: "If I survive this, I will be revenged on Tonson; it was he first detected me as the printer of these poems, and I will reprint these very poems in his name." His wife admonished him not to think of revenge, but to take care of his stock and his soul: and in the same instant Mr. Lintot, whose goodness can never be enough applauded, returned with Mr. Pemberton. After some tears jointly shed by these humane booksellers, Mr. Curll being, as he said, in his perfect senses, though in great bodily pain, immediately proceeded to make a verbal will, Mrs. Curll having first put on his nightcap, in the following manner:
GENTLEMEN, in the first place, I do sincerely pray forgiveness for those indirect methods I have pursued in inventing new titles to old books, putting authors names to things they never saw, publishing private quarrels for publick entertainment; all which I hope will be pardoned, as being done to get an honest livelihood.
I do also heartily beg pardon of all persons of honour, lords spiritual and temporal, gentry, burgesses, and commonalty, to whose abuse I have any or every way contributed by my publications: particularly, I hope it will be considered, that if I have vilified his grace the duke of Marlborough, I have likewise aspersed the late duke of Ormond; if I have abused the honourable Mr. Walpole, I have also libelled the lord Bolingbroke: so that I have preserved that equality and impartiality, which becomes an honest man in times of faction and division.
I call my conscience to witness, that many of these things, which may seem malicious, were done out of charity; I having made it wholly my business to print for poor disconsolate authors, whom all other booksellers refuse. Only God bless sir Richard Blackmore! you know he takes no copy-money.
The second collection of poems, which I groundlessly called Mr. Prior's, will sell for nothing, and has not yet paid the charge of the advertisements, which I was obliged to publish against him: therefore you may as well suppress the edition, and beg that gentleman's pardon in the name of a dying Christian.
I protest I have no animosity to Mr. Rowe, having printed part of Callipædia, and an incorrect edition of his poems without his leave in quarto. Mr. Gildon's Rehearsal, or Bays the younger, did more harm to me than to Mr. Rowe; though upon the faith of an honest man, I paid him double for abusing both him and Mr. Pope.
Heaven pardon me for publishing the Trials of Sodomy in an Elzevir letter! but I humbly hope, my printing sir Richard Blackmore's Essays will atone for them. I beg that you will take what remains of these last (which is near the whole impression, presents excepted) and let my poor widow, have in exchange the sole property of the copy of madam Mascranny.
[Here Mr. Pemberton interrupted, and would by no means consent to this article, about which some dispute might have arisen unbecoming a dying person, if Mr. Lintot had not interposed, and Mr. Curll vomited.]
[What this poor unfortunate man spoke afterward, was so indistinct, and in such broken accents (being perpetually interrupted by vomitings) that the reader is entreated to excuse the confusion and imperfection of this account.]
The Case of Impotence was my best support all the last long vacation.
For the copies of noblemen's and bishops Last Wills and Testaments, I solemnly declare, I printed them not with any purpose of defamation: but merely as I thought those copies lawfully purchased from Doctors Commons, at one shilling apiece. Our trade in wills turning to small account, we may divide them blindfold.
For Mr. Manwaring's Life I ask Mrs. Oldfield's pardon: neither his nor my lord Halifax's lives, though they were of service to their country, were of any to me: but I was resolved, since I could not print their works while they lived, to print their lives after they were dead.
While he was speaking these words Mr. Oldmixon entered, "Ah! Mr. Oldmixon," said poor Mr. Curll, "to what a condition have your works reduced me! I die a martyr to that unlucky preface. However, in these my last moments I will be just to all men; you shall have your third share of the Court Poems, as was stipulated. When I am dead, where will you find another bookseller? Your Protestant Packet might have supported you, had you writ a little less scurrilously; there is a mean in all things."
Here Mr. Lintot interrupted, "Why not find another bookseller, brother Curll?" and then took Mr. Oldmixon aside and whispered him: "Sir, as soon as Curll is dead, I shall be glad to talk with you over a pint at the Devil."
Mr. Curll now turning to Mr. Pemberton, told him, he had several taking titlepages, that only wanted treatises to be wrote to them; and earnestly desired, that when they were written, his heirs might have some share of the profit of them.
After he had said this, he fell into horrible gripings, upon which Mr. Lintot advised him to repeat the Lord's Prayer. He desired his wife to step into the shop for a Common Prayer-book, and read it by the help of a candle without hesitation. He closed the book, fetched a groan, and recommended to Mrs. Curll to give forty shillings to the poor of the parish of St. Dunstan's, and a week's wages advance to each of his gentlemen-authors, with some small gratuity in particular to Mrs. Centlivre.
The poor man continued for some hours with all his disconsolate family about him in tears, expecting his final dissolution; when of a sudden he was surprisingly relieved by a plentiful fetid stool, which obliged them all to retire out of the room. Notwithstanding, it is judged by sir Richard Blackmore, that the poison is still latent in his body, and will infallibly destroy him by slow degrees in less than a month. It is to be hoped, the other enemies of this wretched stationer will not farther pursue their revenge, or shorten this short period of his miserable life.