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TO THE LORD-TREASURER OXFORD.
(Written soon after Swift's return to Ireland.. During his sojourn in London, described in theJournal to Stella, the Lord-Treasurer, Harley, who was the head of the Tory party, had shown him great consideration.]
July 1, 1714. My Lord,-When I was with you I have said more than once that I would never allow quality or station made any real dif-. ference between men. Being now absent and forgotten, I have changed my mind: you have a thousand people who can pretend they love you with as much appearance of sincerity as I; so that, according to common justice, I can have but a thousandth part in return of what I give. And this difference is wholly owing to your station. And the misfortune is still the greater, because I always loved you just so much the worse for your station; for in your public capacity you have often angered me to the heart, but, as a private man, never once. So that, if I only look towards myself, I could wish you a private man to-morrow; for I have nothing to ask; at least nothing that you will give, which is the same thing: and then you would see whether I should not with much more willingness attend you in a retirement, whenever you please to give me leave, than ever I did at London or Windsor. From these sentiments I will never write to you, if I can help it otherwise, than as to a private person, or allow myself to have been obliged to you in any other capacity.
The memory of one great instance of your candour and justice I will carry to my grave; that, having been in a manner domestic with you for almost four years, it was never in the power of any public or concealed enemy to make you think ill of me, though malice and envy were often employed to that end. If I live, posterity shall know that and more; which, though you, and somebody that shall be nameless, seem to value less than I could wish, is all the return I can make you.
Will you give me leave to say how I would desire to stand in your memory? As one who was truly sensible of the honour
did him, though he was too proud to be vain upon it; as one who was neither assuming, officious, nor teasing; who never wilfully misrepresented persons or facts to you; nor consulted his passions when he gave a character; and lastly, as one whose indiscretions proceeded altogether from a weak head, and not an ill heart. I will add one thing more, which is the highest compliment I can make, that I never was afraid of offending you, nor am now in any pain for the manner I write to you in. I have said enough; and, like one at your levee, having made my bow, I shrink back into the crowd. I am, &c.
TO LORD BOLINGBROKE.
[Henry St. John, created Viscount Bolingbroke in 1714, was Secretary of State from 1710 to 1714. Upon the accession of George I. he fled to France and was for a while in the service of the Pretender. During Swift's stay in London, the two men had been intimately associated in Tory politics.]
December 19, 1719. My LORD, I first congratulate with you upon growing rich; for I hope our friend's information is true, omne solum diti patria. Euripides makes the queen Jocasta ask her exiled son how he got his victuals: but who ever expected to see you a trader or dealer in stocks? I thought to have seen you where you are, or perhaps nearer; but diis aliter visum. It may be with one's country as with a lady: if she be cruel and ill-natured, and will not receive us, we ought to consider that we are better without her. But in this case we may add, she has neither virtue, honour, nor justice. I have gotten a mezzotinto (for want of a better) of Aristippus, in my drawing-room: the motto at the top is Omnis Aristippum, &c., and at the bottom, Tantâ foedus cum gente ferire, commissum juveni. But since what I heard of Mississippi, I am grown fonder of the former motto. You have heard that Plato followed merchandise three years, to show he knew how to grow rich as well as to be a philosopher: and I guess Plato was then about forty, the period which the Italians prescribe for being wise, in order to be rich at fifty.Senes ut in otia tuta recedant. I have known something of courts and ministers longer than you, who know them so many thousand times better: but I do not remember to have ever heard of or seen one great genius who had long success in the ministry: and recollecting a great many in my memory and acquaintance, those who had the smoothest time were at best men of middling degree in understanding. But if I were to frame a romance of a great minister's life, he should begin it as Aristippus has done, then be sent into exile, and employ his leisure in writing the memoirs of his own administration; then be recalled, invited to resume his share of power, act as far as was decent; at last retire to the country, and be a pattern of hospitality, politeness, wisdom and virtue. Have you not observed that there is a lower kind of discretion and regularity, which seldom fails of raising men to the highest stations, in the court, the church, and the law? It must be
so: for Providence, which designed the world should be governed by many heads, made it a business within the reach of common understandings; while one great genius is hardly found among ten millions. Did you never observe one of your clerks cutting his paper with a blunt ivory knife? did
you ever know the knife to fail going the true way? whereas, if he had used a razor or a penknife, he had odds against him of spoiling a whole sheet. I have twenty times compared the motion of that ivory implement to those talents that thrive best at court. Think upon lord Bacon, Williams, Strafford, Laud, Clarendon, Shaftesbury, the last duke of Buckingham; and of my own acquaintance, the earl of Oxford and yourself; all great geniuses in their several ways; and, if they had not been so great, would have been less unfortunate. I remember but one exception, and that was lord Somers, whose timorous nature, joined with the trade of a common lawyer and the consciousness of a mean extraction, had taught him the regularity of an alderman or gentleman-usher. But of late years I have been refining upon this thought: for I plainly see that fellows of low intellectuals, when they are gotten at the head of affairs, can sally into the highest exorbitancies with much more safety than a man of great talents can make the least step out of the way. Perhaps it is for the same reason