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-To Mr. Delany

[1] OCT. 10, 1718


To you whose virtues, I must own With shame, I have too lately known; To you, by art and nature taught To be the man I long have sought, Had not ill Fate, perverse and blind, Placed you in life too far behind: Or, what I should repine at more, Placed me in life too far before: To you the Muse this verse bestows, Which might as well have been in prose; No thought, no fancy, no sublime, But simple topics told in rhyme.

Three gifts for conversation fit Are humour, raillery, and wit: The last, as boundless as the wind, Is well conceived, though not defined; For, sure by wit is only meant Applying what we first invent. What humour is, not all the tribe Of logic-mongers can describe; Here only nature acts her part, Unhelp'd by practice, books, or art: For wit and humour differ quite; That gives surprise, and this delight, Humour is odd, grotesque, and wild, Only by affectation spoil'd; 'Tis never by invention got, Men have it when they know it not.

Our conversation to refine, True humour must with wit combine: From both we learn to rally well, Wherein French writers most excel; [2]Voiture, in various lights, displays That irony which turns to praise: His genius first found out the rule For an obliging ridicule: He flatters with peculiar air The brave, the witty, and the fair: And fools would fancy he intends A satire where he most commends.

But as a poor pretending beau, Because he fain would make a show, Nor can afford to buy gold lace, Takes up with copper in the place: So the pert dunces of mankind, Whene'er they would be thought refined, Because the diff'rence lies abstruse 'Twixt raillery and gross abuse, To show their parts will scold and rail, Like porters o'er a pot of ale.

Such is that clan of boisterous bears, Always together by the ears; Shrewd fellows and arch wags, a tribe That meet for nothing but to gibe; Who first run one another down, And then fall foul on all the town; Skill'd in the horse-laugh and dry rub, And call'd by excellence The Club. I mean your butler, Dawson, Car, All special friends, and always jar.

The mettled and the vicious steed Do not more differ in their breed, Nay, Voiture is as like Tom Leigh, As rudeness is to repartee.

If what you said I wish unspoke, 'Twill not suffice it was a joke: Reproach not, though in jest, a friend For those defects he cannot mend; His lineage, calling, shape, or sense, If named with scorn, gives just offence.

What use in life to make men fret, Part in worse humour than they met? Thus all society is lost, Men laugh at one another's cost: And half the company is teazed That came together to be pleased: For all buffoons have most in view To please themselves by vexing you.

When jests are carried on too far, And the loud laugh begins the war, You keep your countenance for shame, Yet still you think your friend to blame; For though men cry they love a jest, 'Tis but when others stand the test; And (would you have their meaning known) They love a jest when 'tis their own.

You wonder now to see me write So gravely where the subject's light; Some part of what I here design Regards a friend[3] of yours and mine; Who full of humour, fire, and wit, Not always judges what is fit, But loves to take prodigious rounds, And sometimes walks beyond his bounds, You must, although the point be nice, Venture to give him some advice; Few hints from you will set him right, And teach him how to be polite. Bid him like you, observe with care, Whom to be hard on, whom to spare; Nor indiscreetly to suppose All subjects like Dan Jackson's[4] nose. To study the obliging jest, By reading those who teach it best; For prose I recommend Voiture's, For verse (I speak my judgment) yours. He'll find the secret out from thence, To rhyme all day without offence; And I no more shall then accuse The flirts of his ill-manner'd Muse.

If he be guilty, you must mend him;
If he be innocent, defend him.

[Footnote 1: The Rev. Patrick Delany, one of Swift's most valued friends, born about 1685. When Lord Carteret became Lord Lieutenant, Swift urged Delany's claims to preferment, and he was appointed Chancellor of St. Patrick's. He appears to have been warm-hearted and impetuous, and too hospitable for his means. He died at Bath, 1768.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 2: Famous as poet and letter writer, born 1598, died 1648.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 3: Dr. Sheridan.]

[Footnote 4: Mentioned in "The Country Life," as one of that lively party, post, p. 137.--W. E. B.]

Jonathan Swift

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