1713 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Jonathan Swift

Alexander Pope to Jonathan Swift, 8 December 1713; Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, ed. John Nichols (1801) 11:300-04.



BINFIELD, DEC. 8, 1713.

SIR,

Not to trouble you at present with a recital of all my obligations to you, I shall only mention two things, which I take particularly kind of you: your, desire that I should write to you, and your proposal of giving me twenty guineas to change my religion which last you must give me leave to make the subject of this letter.

Sure no clergyman ever offered so much out of his own purse for the sake of any religion. It is almost as many pieces of gold, as an Apostle could get of silver, from the priests of old, on a much more valuable consideration. I believe it will be better worth my while to propose a change of my faith by subscription, than a translation of Homer. And, to convince you how well disposed I am to the reformation, I shall be content, if you can prevail with my lord treasurer and the ministry to rise to the same sum each of them, on this pious account, as my lord Halifax has done on the profane one. I am afraid there is no being at once a poet and a good christian; and I am very much straitened between the two, while the whigs seem willing to contribute as much to continue me the one, as you would to make me the other. But, if you can move every man in the government, who has above ten thousand pounds year, to subscribe as much as yourself, I shall become a convert, as most men do, when the Lord turns it to my interest. I know they have the truth of religion so much at heart, that they would, certainly give more to have one good subject translated from popery to the church of England, than twenty Heathenish authors out of any unknown tongue into ours. I therefore commission you, Mr. dean, with full authority to transact this affair in my name, and to propose as follows. First, that as to the head of our church, the pope, I may engage to renounce his power, whensoever I shall receive any particular indulgences from the head of your church, the queen.

As to communion in one kind, I shall also promise to change it for communion in both, as soon as the ministry will allow me.

For invocations to saints, mine shall be turned to dedications to sinners, when I shall find the great ones of this world, as willing to do me any good, as I believe those of the other are.

You see I shall not be obstinate in the main points; but there is one article I must reserve, and which you seemed not unwilling to allow me, prayer for the dead. There are people to whose souls I wish as well as to my own; and I must crave leave, humbly to lay before them, that, though the subscriptions abovementioned will suffice for myself, there are necessary perquisites and additions, which I must demand on the score of this charitable article. It is also to be considered, that the greater part of those, whose souls I am most concerned for, were unfortunately hereticks, schismaticks, poets, painters, or persons of such lives and manners, as few or no churches are willing to save. The, expense will therefore be the greater, to make an effectual provision for the said souls.

Old Dryden, though a roman catholick, was a poet; and it is revealed in the visions of some ancient saints, that no poet was ever saved under some hundreds of masses. I cannot set his delivery from purgatory at less than fifty pounds sterling.

Walsh was not only a socinian, but (what you will own is harder to be saved) a whig. He cannot modestly be rated at less than a hundred.

L'Estrange, being a tory, we compute him but at twenty pounds; which I hope no friend of the party, can deny to give, to keep him from damning in the next life, considering they never gave him sixpence to keep him from starving in this.

All this together amounts to one hundred and seventy pounds.

In the next place, I must desire you to represent, that there are several of my friends yet living, whom I design, God willing, to outlive, in consideration of legacies; out of which it is doctrine in the reformed church, that not a farthing shall be allowed, to save their souls who gave them.

There is one * * * who will die within these few months; with * * * * * * * one Mr. Jervas, who hath grievously offended, in making the likeness of almost all things in Heaven above and earth below. And one Mr. Gay, an unhappy youth, who writes pastorals during the time of divine service; whose case is the more deplorable, as he hath miserably lavished away all that silver he should have reserved for his soul's health, in buttons and loops for his coat.

I cannot pretend to have these people honestly saved under some hundred pounds, whether you consider the difficulty of such a work, or the extreme love and tenderness I bear them; which will infallibly make me push this charity as far as I am able.

There is but one more whose salvation I insist upon and then I have done: but indeed it may prove of so much greater charge than all the rest, that I will only lay the case before you and the ministry, and leave to their prudence and generosity what sum they shall think fit to bestow upon it.

The person I mean is Dr. Swift; a dignified clergyman, but one, who, by his own confession, has composed more libels than sermons. If it be true, what I have heard often affirmed by innocent people, "That too much wit is dangerous to salvation;" this unfortunate gentleman must certainly be damned to all eternity. But I hope his long experience in the world, and frequent conversation with great men, will cause him (as it has some others) to have less and less wit every day. Be it as it will, I should not think my own soul deserved to be saved, if I did not endeavour to save his; for I have all the obligations in nature to him. He has brought me into better company than I cared for, made the merrier when I was sick than I had a mind to be, and put me upon making poems on purpose that he might alter them, &c.

I once thought I could never have discharged my debt to his kindness; but have lately been informed, to my unspeakable comfort, that I have more than paid it all. For monsieur de Montaigne has assured me, "That the person who receives a benefit obliges the giver:" for, since the chief endeavour of one friend is to do good to the other, he who administers both the matter and occasion, is the man who is liberal. At this rate it is impossible Dr. Swift should be ever out of my debt, as matters stand already; and, for the future, he may expect daily more obligations from

His most faithful,

affectionate humble servant,

A. POPE.

I have finished the Rape of the Lock; but I believe I may stay here till Christmas, without hindrance of business.