The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/Farther Account of the Condition of Edmund Curll

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ON THE 28th of MARCH.

To be published Weekly.

London, printed and sold by all the Publishers, Mercuries, and Hawkers, within the Bills of Mortality. 1716.

THE publick is already acquainted with the manner of Mr. Curll's empoisonment by a faithful, though unpolite historian of Grub street. I am but the continuer of his history; yet I hope a due distinction will be made between an undignified scribbler of a sheet and a half, and the author of a threepenny stitched book, like myself.

"Wit," says sir Richard Blackmore[1], "proceeds from a concurrence of regular and exalted ferments, and an affluence of animal spirits rectified and refined to a degree of purity." On the contrary, when the ingenious particles rise with the vital liquor, they produce an abstraction of the rational part of the soul, which we commonly call madness. The verity of this hypothesis is justified by the symptoms, with which the unfortunate Edmund Curll bookseller has been afflicted, ever since his swallowing the poison at the Swan tavern in Fleet street. For though the neck of his retort, which carries up the animal spirits to the head, is of an extraordinary length; yet the said animal spirits rise muddy, being contaminated with the inflammable particles of this uncommon poison.

The symptoms of his departure from his usual temper of mind were at first only speaking civilly to his customers, singeing a pig with a new purchased libel, and refusing two-and-nine-pence for sir Richard Blackmore's Essays.

As the poor man's frenzy increased, he began to void his excrements in his bed, read Rochester's bawdy Poems to his wife, gave Oldmixon a slap on the chops, and would have kissed Mr. Pemberton's a— by violence.

But at last he came to such a pass, that he would dine upon nothing but copper-plates, took a clyster for a whipt syllabub, and made Mr. Lintot eat a suppository for a radish with bread and butter.

We leave it to every tender wife to imagine, how sorely all this afflicted poor Mrs. Curll: at first she privately put a bill into several churches, desiring the prayers of the congregation for a wretched stationer distempered in mind. But when she was sadly convinced, that his misfortune was publick to all the world, she writ the following letter to her good neighbour Mr. Lintot.

A true Copy of Mrs. Curll's Letter to Mr. Lintot.


"YOU and all the neighbours know too well the frenzy, with which my poor man is visited. I never perceived he was out of himself, till that melancholy day, that he thought he was poisoned in a glass of sack; upon this he ran vomiting all over the house, nay, in the new-washed dining-room. Alas! this is the greatest adversity, that ever befel my poor man, since he lost one testicle at school by the bite of a black boar. Good Lord! if he should die, where should I dispose of the stock? unless Mr. Pemberton or you would help a distressed widow: for God knows, he never published any books that lasted above a week, so that if we wanted daily books, we wanted daily bread. I can write no more, for I hear the rap of Mr. Curll's ivory-headed cane upon the counter. —— Pray recommend me to your pastrycook, who furnishes you yearly with tarts in exchange for your paper, for Mr. Curll has disobliged ours since his fits came upon him; — before that, we generally lived upon baked meats. — He is coming in, and I have but just time to put his son out of the way, for fear of mischief: so wishing you a merry Easter, I remain your

"Most humble servant,

"P. S. As to the report of my poor husband's stealing o'calf, it is really groundless, for he always binds in sheep."

But return we to Mr. Curll, who all Wednesday continued outrageously mad. On Thursday he had a lucid interval, that enabled him to send a general summons to all his authors. There was but one porter, who could perform this office, to whom he gave the following bill of directions, where to find them. This bill, together with Mrs. Curll's original letter, lie at Mr. Lintot's shop to be perused by the curious.

Instructions to a Porter how to find Mr. Curll's Authors.

"AT a tallow-chandler's in Petty France, half way under the blind arch: ask for the historian.

"At the Bedstead and Bolster, a musick-house in Moorfields, two translators in a bed together.

"At the Hercules and Still in Vinegar yard, a schoolmaster with carbuncles on his nose.

"At a blacksmith's shop in the Friers, a pindarick writer in red stockings.

"In the Calendar-mill-room at Exeter-change, a composer of meditations.

"At the three Tobacco-pipes in Dog and Bitch yard, one that has been a parson, he wears a blue camblet coat trimmed with black: my best writer against revealed religion.

"At Mr. Summers, a thief catcher's, in Lewkner's lane, the man who wrote against the impiety of Mr. Rowe's plays.

"At the Farthing-pye-house in Tooting fields, the young man, who is writing my new pastorals.

"At the laundress's, at the Hole in the Wall in Cursitor's alley, up three pair of stairs, the author of my Church History, — if his flux be over — you may also speak to the gentleman, who lies by him in the flock bed, my index-maker.

"The cook's wife[2] in Buckingham court; bid her bring along with her the similes, that were lent her for her next new play.

"Call at Budge row for the gentleman, you used to go to in the cockloft; I have taken away the ladder, but his landlady has it in keeping.

"I don't much care if you ask at the Mint for the old beetlebrowed critick, and the purblind poet at the alley over against St. Andrew's, Holborn. But this as you have time."

All these gentlemen appeared at the hour appointed in Mr. Curll's dining-room, two excepted; one of whom was the gentleman in the cockloft, his landlady being out of the way, and the Gradus ad Parnassum taken down; the other happened to be too closely watched by the bailiffs.

They no sooner entered the room, but all of them showed in their behaviour some suspicion of each other; some turning away their heads with an air of contempt: others squinting with a leer, that showed at once fear and indignation, each with a haggard abstracted mien, the lively picture of scorn, solitude, and short commons. So when a keeper feeds his hungry charge of vultures, panthers, and of Libyan leopards, each eyes his fellow with a fiery glare: high hung, the bloody liver tempts their maw. Or as a housewife stands before her pales, surrounded by her geese; they fight, they hiss, they cackle, beat their wings, and down is scattered as the winter's snow, for a poor grain of oat, or tare, or barley. Such looks shot through the room transverse, oblique, direct; such was the stir and din, till Curll thus spoke (but without rising from his closestool:)

"Whores and authors must be paid beforehand to put them in good humour; therefore here is half a crown apiece for you to drink your own healths, and confusion to Mr. Addison and all other successful writers.

"Ah gentlemen! what have I not done, what have I not suffered, rather than the world should be deprived of your lucubrations; I have taken involuntary purges, I have been vomited, three times have I been caned, once was I hunted, twice was my head broke by a grenadier, twice was I tossed in a blanket; I have had boxes on the ear, slaps on the chops; I have been frighted, pumped, kicked, slandered, and beshitten. I hope, gentlemen, you are all convinced, that this author of Mr. Lintot's could mean nothing else but starving you, by poisoning me. It remains for us to conult the best and speediest method of revenge."

He had scarce done speaking, but the historian proposed a history of his life. The Exeter-exchange-gentlemen was for penning articles of his faith. Some pretty smart pindarick, says the red-stocking poet, would effectually do his business. But the indexmaker said, there was nothing like an index to his Homer.

After several debates, they came to the following resolutions:

"Resolved, That every member of this society, according to his several abilities, shall contribute some way or other to the defamation of Mr. Pope.

"Resolved, That toward the libelling of the said Pope, there be a sum employed not exceeding six pounds sixteen shillings and nine-pence (not including advertisements.)

"Resolved, that Mr. Dennis make an affidavit before Mr. justice Tully, that in Mr. Pope's Homer there are several passages contrary to the established rules of our sublime.

"Resolved, That he has on purpose, in several passages, perverted the true ancient heathen sense of Homer, for the more effectual propagation of the popish religion.

"Resolved, That the printing of Homer's Battles at this juncture has been the occasion of all the disturbances of this kingdom.

"Ordered, That Mr. Barnivelt[3] be invited to be a member of this society, in order to make farther discoveries.

"Resolved, That a number of effective erratas be raised out of Pope's Homer (not exceeding 1746) and that every gentleman, who shall send in one errour, for his encouragement shall have the whole works of this society gratis.

"Resolved, that a sum not exceeding ten shillings and sixpence be distributed among the members of the society for coffee and tobacco, in order to enable them the more effectually to defame him in coffeehouses.

"Resolved, That toward the farther lessening the character of the said Pope, some persons be deputed to abuse him at ladies tea-tables, and that in consideration our authors are not well dressed enough, Mr. C—y and Mr. Ke—l be deputed for that service.

"Resolved, That a ballad be made against Mr. Pope, and that Mr. Oldmixon[4], Mr. Gildon[5], and Mrs. Centlivre[6], do prepare and bring in the same.

"Resolved, That above all, some effectual ways and means be found to increase the joint stock of the reputation of this society, which at present is exceeding low, and to give their works the greater currency; whether by raising the denomination of the said works by counterfeit titlepages, or mixing a greater quantity of the fine metal of other authors with the alloy of this society.

"Resolved, that no member of this society for the future mix stout in his ale in a morning, and that Mr. B—— remove from the Hercules and Still.

"Resolved, that all our members (except the cook's wife) be provided with a sufficient quantity of the vivifying drops, or Byfield's sal volatile.

" Resolved, That sir Richard Blackmore[7] be appointed to endow this society with a large quantity of regular and exalted ferments, in order to enliven their cold sentiments (being his true receipt to make wits)."

These resoludons being taken, the assembly was ready to break up, but they took so near a part in Mr. Curll's afflictions, that none of them could leave him without giving him some advice to reinstate him in his health.

Mr. Gildon was of opinion, That in order to drive a pope out of his belly, he should get the mummy of some deceased moderator of the general assembly in Scotland to be taken inwardly as an effectual antidote against antichrist; but Mr. Oldmixon did conceive, that the liver of the person who administered the poison, boiled in broth, would be a more certain cure.

While the company were expecting the thanks of Mr. Curll for these demonstrations of their zeal, a whole pile of sir Richard's Essays on a sudden fell on his head; the shock of which in an instant brought back his delirium. He immediately rose up, overturned the closestool, and beshit the Essays (which may probably occasion a second edition) then without putting up his breeches, in a most furious tone he thus broke out to his books, which his distempered imagination represented to him as alive, coming down from their shelves fluttering their leaves, and flapping their covers at him.

Now G—d damn all folios, quartoes, octavoes, and duodecimoes! ungrateful varlets that you are, who have so long taken up my house without paying for your lodging! Are you not the beggarly brood of fumbling journeymen; born in garrets among lice and cobwebs, nursed up on gray pease, bullock's liver, and porters ale? —— Was not the first light you saw, the farthing candle I paid for? Did you not come before your time into dirty sheets of brown paper? — And have I not clothed you in double royal, lodged you handsomely on decent shelves, laced your backs with gold, equipped you with splendid titles, and sent you into the world with the names of persons of quality? Must I be always plagued with you? Why flutter ye your leaves and flap your covers at me? Damn ye all, ye wolves in sheep's clothing; rags ye were, and to rags ye shall return. Why hold you forth your texts to me, ye paltry sermons? — Why cry ye, at every word to me, ye bawdy poems? — To my shop at Tunbridge ye shall go, by G—, and thence be drawn like the rest of your predecessors, bit by bit, to the passage-house; for in this present emotion of my bowels, how do I compassionate those, who have great need, and nothing to wipe their breech with?

Having said this, and at the same time recollecting that his own was yet unwiped, he abated of his fury, and with great gravity applied to that function the unfinished sheets of the conduct of the earl of Nottingham.

  1. Blackmore's Essays, vol. ii.
  2. Mrs. Centlivre.
  3. The Key to the Lock, a pamphlet written by Mr. Pope, in which the Rape of the Lock was with great solemnity proved to be a political libel, was published in the name of Esdras Barnivelt, apothecary.
  4. Oldmixon was all his life a party writer for hire: and after having falsified Daniel's Chronicle in many places, he charged three eminent persons with falsifying lord Clarendon's History, which was disproved by Dr. Atterbury bishop of Rochester, the only survivor of them.
  5. Gildon, a writer of criticisms and libels, who abused Mr. Pope in several pamphlets and books printed by Curll.
  6. Mrs Susannah Centlivre, wife of Mr. Centlivre, yeoman of the mouth to his majesty, wrote a song before she was seven years old, and many plays: she wrote also a ballad against Mr. Pope's Homer, before he began it.
  7. Sir Richard Blackmore, in his Essays, vol. ii, p. 270, accused Mr. Pope in very high and sober terms, of prophaneness and immorality, on the mere report of Curll, that he was author of a travesty on the first psalm.