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LXXXIX. From Dr Swift. Of his declining ftate of health.
A prayer ufed by the Dean for Mrs Johnson in her last sickness,
LETTERS to and from Dr SWIFT.
A CRITICISM on thefe LETTERS.
THis His volume contains Swift's epiftolary correfpondence. It is an acknowledged observation, that no part of an author's writings gives a greater infight into his natural disposition than his letters, efpecially when written with freedom and fincerity. Swift's epiftles, and the answers of his friends, afford materials to form conjectures upon the different characters, not only of the Dean, but of his cor refpondents. The reader is probably become acquainted with Dr Swift, from the account of his life in the first volume; but the manners and opinions of those persons with whom he corresponded, are in every respect fo blended with his own, as not to be eafily feparaand in fuch a kind of united view, they will mutually reflect light upon each other.
To a young gentleman juft entering into the world, the subject may prove of particular importance; as it may guide him, not only in the choice of his correfpondents, but in his manner of writing to them.
The freedom of the prefs is to be watched and defended with the most jealous eye. It is one of the chief articles of that great charter of liberty to which the people of England are intitled. But as no human inftitution can be perfect, even this branch of liberty has its excrescencies that might be pruned. I mean, particularly, that licence which of late has too much prevailed, of publifhing epiftolary corre fpondences. Such a fashion, for I know not what elfe to call it, is extremely pernicious. At prefent, it fatisfies the curiofity of the public; but for the future, it will tend to restrain that unfufpicious openness, which is the principal delight of writing to our friends. I am forry to fay by experience, that the letters which contain the most fincere, and perhaps hafty obfervations, upon perfons, times, and circumstances, are often referved as treafures, and hoarded up as mifers hoard gold; like which, they lie concealed in cabinets and strong boxes for fome time, till chancing to fall into the hands of an extravagant heir, or an injudicious executor, they are not only brought into light, but difperfed and expofed, fo as to become the property of the whole world. A young man therefore, when he gives his opinion upon any important fubject, fhould confider it well, before he commit his thoughts to paper. He fhould exprefs himself with dif fidence, preferve a prudent restraint over the fallies of wit and hu mour, and be cautious in all declarations of friendship; as the very common offers of civility are too often explained into undefigned engagements.
I own I find myself under no fmall difficulty in difcuffing Swift's letters. General criticifms will be attended with obfcurity; and it would be tedious to confider them in their exact order. I fhall endeavour therefore to take a review only of what feems to deferve the reader's attention. The correspondence between Dr Swift and Mr VOL. VIII,
Pope had commenced in a very early part of Mr Pope's life, and was carried on, with fearce any interruption, from the death of Q. Anne. If we may judge of Mr Pope from his works, his chief aim was to be efteemed a man of virtue. His letters are written in that style. His last volumes are all of the moral kind. He has avoided trifles, and confequently has efcaped a rock which has proved very injurious to Swift's reputation. He had given his imagination full scope, and yet has preferved a perpetual guard upon his conduct. The contitution of his body and mind might early incline him to habits of caution and referve. The treatment which he met afterwards from an innumerable tribe of adverfaries, confirmed thofe habits, and made him flower than the Dean in pronouncing his judgment upon perfons and things. His profe writings are little lefs harmonious than his verfe and his voice in common converfation was fo naturally mufical, that I remember honeft Tom Southerne ufed always to call him the little nightingale. His manners were delicate, eafy, and engaging, and he treated his friends with a politeness that charmed, and a generofity that was much to his honour. Every guest was made happy within his doors. Pleafure dwelt under his roof, and elegance prefided at his table. Dr Swift was of a different difpofition. To his domeftics he was paffionate and churlish; to his equals and fuperiors rather an entertaining than a defirable companion. He told a story in an admirable manner: his fentences were short and perfpicuous, his obfervations were piercing. He had feen the great world, and had profited much by his experience. He had not the least tincture of vanity in his converfation. He was perhaps, as he faid himself, too proud to be vain. When he was polite, it was in a manner entirely his own. In his friendships he was conftant and undifguifed. He was the fame in his enmities. He generally spoke as he thought in all companies, and at all times. I remember to have heard, that he dined once at a Lord Mayor's feast in Dublin, and was attacked and teafed by an opulent, boisterous, half-intoxicated 'fquire, who happened to fit next him: he bore the awkward raillery for some time, and then on a fudden called out in a loud voice to the Mayor, "My Lord, here is one of your bears at my fhoulder; he has been worrying me this half-hour; I defire you will order him to be taken off." In thefe laft particulars he differed widely from his friend Pope, who could fifle refentment, and wait with patience till a more diftant, and perhaps a more feasonable hour of revenge. But notwithstanding the diffimilitude of mind and manners, which was apparent between these two great men, yet the fame fort of friendship feems. to have fubfifted between them as between Virgil and Horace. The mu tual affection of the two English poets appears throughout their works. And therefore in this place I cannot avoid taking notice of a report ve ry industriously spread, and not without fome degree of fuccefs, "That the friendfrip between Pope and Swift was not fo firm and perfect at the latter end, as at the beginning of their lives." On Dr Swift's fide, I am certain it ever remained unalterable: nor did it appear lefs fervent on the fide of Mr Pope. Their letters are the bent evidence to determine the doubt. In one of Swift's latest letters to me, not long before he was loft to all human comforts, he fays,
"When you fee my dear friend Pope, tell him, I will answer his let"ter foon; I love him above all the rest of mankind." In my long correfpondence with Mr Pope, I fearce received the leaft billet om him, without the kindeft mention of Dr Swift, and the tenderest an xiety for his fate of health. Judge by the following paragraph s.July 12. 1737. "My Lord, The pleasure you gave me in acquainting me of the Dean's better health, is one fo truly great, as "6 might content even your own humanity: and whatever my fincere "opinion and refpect of your Lordship prompts me to wish from your hands for myfelf, your love for him makes me as happy. "Would to God my weight added to yours, could turn his inclina"tions to this fide, that I might live to enjoy him here through your means, and flatter myself it was partly through my own! But "this, I fear, will never be the cafe; and I think it more probable, "his attraction will draw me on the other fide, which, I protest, nothing less than a probability of dying at fea, confidering the "weak frame of my breaft, would have hindered me from, two years paft. In short, whenever I think of him, it is with the ve"xation of all impotent paffions, that carry us out of ourselves, only "to spoil our quiet, and make us return to a refignation, which is "the most melancholy of all virtues." -April 2. 1738. "I "write by the fame poft that I received your very obliging and "humane letter. The confideration you fhew towards me, in the "just apprehenfion that any news of the Dean's condition might a "larm me, is most kind and generous. The very last post I writ "to him a long letter, little fufpecting him in that dangerous cir" cumftance. I was fo far from fearing his health, that I was propofing fchemes, and hoping poffibilities for our meeting once more in this world. I am weary of it; and fhall have one reafon more, and one of the ftrongest that nature can give me, (even "when she is shaking my weak frame to pieces), to be willing to "leave this world, when our dear friend is on the edge of the other. "Yet I hope, I would fain hope, he may yet hover a while on the brink " of it, to preferve to this wretched age a relic and example of the "laft."- -Twitnam, Nov. 7. "When you get to Dublin, (whi"ther I direct this, fuppofing you will fee our dear friend as foon as poffible), pray put the Dean in mind of me, and tell him I hope "he received my laft. Tell him how dearly I love, and how great"ly I honour him; how greatly I reflect on every teftimony of his "friendship; how much I refolve to give the best I can of my esteem "for him to pofterity; and affure him, the world has nothing in it "I admire fo much, nothing the lofs of which I should regret fo "much, as his genius and his virtues."
My excufe, for I ftand in need of none, by having inferted thofe fcraps of letters, is my real defire of convincing the reader, that the affection of Swift and Pope fubfifted as entire and uninterrupted as their friends could wifh, or their enemies regret. It must be owned, that we as feldom fee a mutual attachment between poets, as between statesmen. “True friendship," as Tully obferves, "proceeds from a reciprocal esteem, and a virtuous refemblance of manners, When fuch is the bafis, the variety in certain tenets and opinions is