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-A Libel




Deluded mortals, whom the great
Choose for companions tête-à-tête;
Who at their dinners, en famille,
Get leave to sit whene'er you will;
Then boasting tell us where you dined,
And how his lordship was so kind;
How many pleasant things he spoke;
And how you laugh'd at every joke:
Swear he's a most facetious man;
That you and he are cup and can;
You travel with a heavy load,
And quite mistake preferment's road.

Suppose my lord and you alone; Hint the least interest of your own, His visage drops, he knits his brow, He cannot talk of business now: Or, mention but a vacant post, He'll turn it off with "Name your toast:" Nor could the nicest artist paint A countenance with more constraint.

For, as their appetites to quench, Lords keep a pimp to bring a wench; So men of wit are but a kind Of panders to a vicious mind Who proper objects must provide To gratify their lust of pride, When, wearied with intrigues of state, They find an idle hour to prate. Then, shall you dare to ask a place, You forfeit all your patron's grace, And disappoint the sole design, For which he summon'd you to dine.

Thus Congreve spent in writing plays, And one poor office, half his days: While Montague,[1] who claim'd the station To be Maecenas of the nation, For poets open table kept, But ne'er consider'd where they slept: Himself as rich as fifty Jews, Was easy, though they wanted shoes; And crazy Congreve scarce could spare A shilling to discharge his chair: Till prudence taught him to appeal From Paean's fire to party zeal; Not owing to his happy vein The fortunes of his later scene, Took proper principles to thrive: And so might every dunce alive.[2]

Thus Steele, who own'd what others writ, And flourish'd by imputed wit, From perils of a hundred jails, Withdrew to starve, and die in Wales.

Thus Gay, the hare with many friends, Twice seven long years the court attends: Who, under tales conveying truth, To virtue form'd a princely youth:[3] Who paid his courtship with the crowd, As far as modest pride allow'd; Rejects a servile usher's place, And leaves St. James's in disgrace.[4]

Thus Addison, by lords carest, Was left in foreign lands distrest; Forgot at home, became for hire A travelling tutor to a squire: But wisely left the Muses' hill, To business shaped the poet's quill, Let all his barren laurels fade, Took up himself the courtier's trade, And, grown a minister of state, Saw poets at his levee wait.[5]

Hail, happy Pope! whose generous mind Detesting all the statesman kind, Contemning courts, at courts unseen, Refused the visits of a queen. A soul with every virtue fraught, By sages, priests, or poets taught; Whose filial piety excels Whatever Grecian story tells;[6] A genius for all stations fit, Whose meanest talent is his wit: His heart too great, though fortune little, To lick a rascal statesman's spittle: Appealing to the nation's taste, Above the reach of want is placed: By Homer dead was taught to thrive, Which Homer never could alive; And sits aloft on Pindus' head, Despising slaves that cringe for bread.

True politicians only pay For solid work, but not for play: Nor ever choose to work with tools Forged up in colleges and schools, Consider how much more is due To all their journeymen than you: At table you can Horace quote; They at a pinch can bribe a vote: You show your skill in Grecian story; But they can manage Whig and Tory; You, as a critic, are so curious To find a verse in Virgil spurious; But they can smoke the deep designs, When Bolingbroke with Pulteney dines.

Besides, your patron may upbraid ye, That you have got a place already; An office for your talents fit, To flatter, carve, and show your wit; To snuff the lights and stir the fire, And get a dinner for your hire. What claim have you to place or pension? He overpays in condescension.

But, reverend doctor, you we know Could never condescend so low; The viceroy, whom you now attend, Would, if he durst, be more your friend; Nor will in you those gifts despise, By which himself was taught to rise: When he has virtue to retire, He'll grieve he did not raise you higher, And place you in a better station, Although it might have pleased the nation.

This may be true--submitting still To Walpole's more than royal will; And what condition can be worse? He comes to drain a beggar's purse; He comes to tie our chains on faster, And show us England is our master: Caressing knaves, and dunces wooing, To make them work their own undoing. What has he else to bait his traps, Or bring his vermin in, but scraps? The offals of a church distrest; A hungry vicarage at best; Or some remote inferior post, With forty pounds a-year at most?

But here again you interpose-- Your favourite lord is none of those Who owe their virtues to their stations, And characters to dedications: For, keep him in, or turn him out, His learning none will call in doubt; His learning, though a poet said it Before a play, would lose no credit; Nor Pope would dare deny him wit, Although to praise it Philips writ. I own he hates an action base, His virtues battling with his place: Nor wants a nice discerning spirit Betwixt a true and spurious merit; Can sometimes drop a voter's claim, And give up party to his fame. I do the most that friendship can; I hate the viceroy, love the man.

But you, who, till your fortune's made, Must be a sweetener by your trade, Should swear he never meant us ill; We suffer sore against his will; That, if we could but see his heart, He would have chose a milder part: We rather should lament his case, Who must obey, or lose his place.

Since this reflection slipt your pen, Insert it when you write again; And, to illustrate it, produce This simile for his excuse:

"So, to destroy a guilty land An [7]angel sent by Heaven's command, While he obeys Almighty will, Perhaps may feel compassion still; And wish the task had been assign'd To spirits of less gentle kind."

But I, in politics grown old, Whose thoughts are of a different mould, Who from my soul sincerely hate Both kings and ministers of state; Who look on courts with stricter eyes To see the seeds of vice arise; Can lend you an allusion fitter, Though flattering knaves may call it bitter; Which, if you durst but give it place, Would show you many a statesman's face: Fresh from the tripod of Apollo, I had it in the words that follow: Take notice to avoid offence, I here except his excellence:

"So, to effect his monarch's ends, From hell a viceroy devil ascends; His budget with corruptions cramm'd, The contributions of the damn'd; Which with unsparing hand he strews Through courts and senates as he goes; And then at Beelzebub's black hall, Complains his budget was too small."

Your simile may better shine In verse, but there is truth in mine. For no imaginable things Can differ more than gods and kings: And statesmen, by ten thousand odds, Are angels just as kings are gods.

[Footnote 1: Earl of Halifax; see Johnson's "Life of Montague."--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 2: The whole of this paragraph is unjust both to Halifax and Congreve; for immediately after the production of Congreve's first play, "The Old Bachelor," Halifax gave him a place in the Pipe Office, and another in the Customs, of L600 a year. Ultimately he had at least four sinecure appointments which together afforded him some L1,200 a year. See Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," edit. Cunningham.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 3: William, Duke of Cumberland, son to George II, "The Butcher."]

[Footnote 4: See ante, p. 215, note.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 5: See Johnson's "Life of Addison."--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 6: See "Prologue to the Satires," 390 to the end.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 7: "So when an angel by divine command," etc. ADDISON'S Campaign.]

Jonathan Swift

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