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-An Epistle upon an Epistle



As Jove will not attend on less,
When things of more importance press:
You can't, grave sir, believe it hard,
That you, a low Hibernian bard,
Should cool your heels a while, and wait
Unanswer'd at your patron's gate;
And would my lord vouchsafe to grant
This one poor humble boon I want,
Free leave to play his secretary,
As Falstaff acted old king Harry;[1]
I'd tell of yours in rhyme and print,
Folks shrug, and cry, "There's nothing in't."
And, after several readings over,
It shines most in the marble cover.

How could so fine a taste dispense
With mean degrees of wit and sense?
Nor will my lord so far beguile
The wise and learned of our isle;
To make it pass upon the nation,
By dint of his sole approbation.
The task is arduous, patrons find,
To warp the sense of all mankind:
Who think your Muse must first aspire,
Ere he advance the doctor higher.

You've cause to say he meant you well:
That you are thankful, who can tell?
For still you're short (which grieves your spirit)
Of his intent: you mean your merit.

Ah! quanto rectius, tu adepte,
Qui nil moliris tarn inepte
Smedley,[3] thou Jonathan of Clogher,
"When thou thy humble lay dost offer
To Grafton's grace, with grateful heart,
Thy thanks and verse devoid of art:
Content with what his bounty gave,
No larger income dost thou crave."

But you must have cascades, and all
Ierne's lake, for your canal,
Your vistoes, barges, and (a pox on
All pride!) our speaker for your coxon:[4]
It's pity that he can't bestow you
Twelve commoners in caps to row you.
Thus Edgar proud, in days of yore,[5]
Held monarchs labouring at the oar;
And, as he pass'd, so swell'd the Dee,
Enraged, as Ern would do at thee.

How different is this from Smedley!
(His name is up, he may in bed lie)
"Who only asks some pretty cure,
In wholesome soil and ether pure:
The garden stored with artless flowers,
In either angle shady bowers:
No gay parterre with costly green
Must in the ambient hedge be seen;
But Nature freely takes her course,
Nor fears from him ungrateful force:
No shears to check her sprouting vigour,
Or shape the yews to antic figure."

But you, forsooth, your all must squander
On that poor spot, call'd Dell-ville, yonder;
And when you've been at vast expenses
In whims, parterres, canals, and fences,
Your assets fail, and cash is wanting;
Nor farther buildings, farther planting:
No wonder, when you raise and level,
Think this wall low, and that wall bevel.
Here a convenient box you found,
Which you demolish'd to the ground:
Then built, then took up with your arbour,
And set the house to Rupert Barber.
You sprang an arch which, in a scurvy
Humour, you tumbled topsy-turvy.
You change a circle to a square,
Then to a circle as you were:
Who can imagine whence the fund is,
That you quadrata change rotundis?

To Fame a temple you erect,
A Flora does the dome protect;
Mounts, walks, on high; and in a hollow
You place the Muses and Apollo;
There shining 'midst his train, to grace
Your whimsical poetic place.

These stories were of old design'd
As fables: but you have refined
The poets mythologic dreams,
To real Muses, gods, and streams.
Who would not swear, when you contrive thus,
That you're Don Quixote redivivus?
Beneath, a dry canal there lies,
Which only Winter's rain supplies.
O! couldst thou, by some magic spell,
Hither convey St. Patrick's well![6]
Here may it reassume its stream,
And take a greater Patrick's name!

If your expenses rise so high;
What income can your wants supply?
Yet still you fancy you inherit
A fund of such superior merit,
That you can't fail of more provision,
All by my lady's kind decision.
For, the more livings you can fish up,
You think you'll sooner be a bishop:
That could not be my lord's intent,
Nor can it answer the event.
Most think what has been heap'd on you
To other sort of folk was due:
Rewards too great for your flim-flams,
Epistles, riddles, epigrams.

Though now your depth must not be sounded,
The time was, when you'd have compounded
For less than Charley Grattan's school!
Five hundred pound a-year's no fool!
Take this advice then from your friend,
To your ambition put an end,
Be frugal, Pat: pay what you owe,
Before you build and you bestow.
Be modest, nor address your betters
With begging, vain, familiar letters.

A passage may be found,[7] I've heard,
In some old Greek or Latian bard,
Which says, "Would crows in silence eat
Their offals, or their better meat,
Their generous feeders not provoking
By loud and inharmonious croaking,
They might, unhurt by Envy's claws,
Live on, and stuff to boot their maws."

[Footnote 1: "King Henry the Fourth," Part I, Act ii, Scene 4.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 2: Adapted from Hor., "Epist. ad Pisones," 140.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 3: See the "Petition to the Duke of Grafton," post, p. 345.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 4: Alluding to Dr. Delany's ambitious choice of fixing in the island of the Lake of Erin, where Sir
Ralph Gore had a villa.--Scott.]

[Footnote 5: When residing at Chester, he obliged eight of his tributary princes to row him in a barge upon
the Dee. Hume's "History of England," vol. i, p. 106.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 6: Which had suddenly dried up. See post, vol. ii, "Verses on the sudden drying up of
St. Patrick's Well, near Trinity College, Dublin."--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 7: Hor., "Epist.," lib. I, xvii, 50.

"Sed tacitus pasci si corvus posset, haberet
Plus dapis, et rixae multo minus invidiaeque."

I append the original, for the sake of Swift's very free rendering.--W. E. B.]

Jonathan Swift

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