Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
 
On the Death of Dr. Swift
By Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
 
AS 1 Rochefoucault his maxims drew
From nature, I believe them true;
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.
  This maxim more than all the rest        5
Is thought too base for human breast:
‘In all distresses of our friends,
We first consult our private ends;
While nature, kindly bent to ease us,
Points out some circumstance to please us.’        10
  If this perhaps your patience move,
Let reason and experience prove.
We all behold with envious eyes
Our equals raised above our size.
Who would not at a crowded show        15
Stand high himself, keep others low?
I love my friend as well as you:
But why should he obstruct my view?
Then let me have the higher post:
Suppose it but an inch at most.        20
If in a battle you should find
One whom you love of all mankind,
Had some heroic action done,
A champion killed, or trophy won;
Rather than thus be overtopped        25
Would you not wish his laurels cropped?
Dear honest Ned is in the gout,
Lies racked with pain, and you without:
How patiently you hear him groan!
How glad the case is not your own!        30
  What poet would not grieve to see
His brother write as well as he?
But rather than they should excel,
Would wish his rivals all in hell?
  Her end when Emulation misses,        35
She turns to Envy, stings and hisses:
The strongest friendship yields to pride,
Unless the odds be on our side.
Vain human kind! fantastic race!
Thy various follies who can trace?        40
Self-love, ambition, envy, pride,
Their empire in our hearts divide.
Give others riches, power, and station,
’Tis all on me a usurpation.
I have no title to aspire;        45
Yet, when you sink, I seem the higher.
In Pope I cannot read a line,
But with a sigh I wish it mine;
When he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I can do in six;        50
It gives me such a jealous fit,
I cry, ‘Pox take him and his wit!’
I grieve to be outdone by Gay
In my own humorous biting way.
Arbuthnot is no more my friend,        55
Who dares to irony pretend,
Which I was born to introduce,
Refined it first, and showed its use.
St. John, 2 as well as Pultney, 3 knows
That I had some repute for prose;        60
And, till they drove me out of date,
Could maul a minister of state.
If they have mortified my pride,
And made me throw my pen aside:
If with such talents Heaven has blessed ’em,        65
Have I not reason to detest ’em?
  To all my foes, dear Fortune, send
Thy gifts—but never to my friend;
I tamely can endure the first,
But this with envy makes me burst.        70
  Thus much may serve by way of proem:
Proceed we therefore to our poem.
  The time is not remote, when I
Must by the course of nature die;
When, I foresee, my special friends        75
Will try to find their private ends:
And, though ’tis hardly understood
Which way my death can do them good,
Yet thus, methinks, I hear them speak:
‘See how the Dean begins to break!        80
Poor gentleman, he droops apace!
You plainly see it in his face.
That old vertigo 4 in his head
Will never leave him till he’s dead.
Besides, his memory decays:        85
He recollects not what he says;
He cannot call his friends to mind;
Forgets the place where last he dined;
Plies you with stories o’er and o’er;
He told them fifty times before.        90
How does he fancy we can sit
To hear his out-of-fashion wit?
But he takes up with younger folks,
Who for his wine will bear his jokes.
Faith! he must make his stories shorter,        95
Or change his comrades once a quarter:
In half the time he talks them round,
There must another set be found.
  ‘For poetry he’s past his prime:
He takes an hour to find a rhyme;        100
His fire is out, his wit decayed,
His fancy sunk, his Muse a jade.
I’d have him throw away his pen;—
But there’s no talking to some men!’
  And then their tenderness appears,        105
By adding largely to my years;
‘He’s older than he would be reckon’d,
And well remembers Charles the Second.
He hardly drinks a pint of wine;
And that, I doubt, is no good sign.        110
His stomach too begins to fail:
Last year we thought him strong and hale;
But now he’s quite another thing:
I wish he may hold out till Spring.’
They hug themselves, and reason thus:        115
‘It is not yet so bad with us!’
  In such a case they talk in tropes,
And by their fears express their hopes.
Some great misfortune to portend,
No enemy can match a friend.        120
With all the kindness they profess,
The merit of a lucky guess
(When daily how d’ye’s come of course,
And servants answer, ‘Worse and worse!’)
Would please them better, than to tell,        125
That, ‘God be praised, the Dean is well.’
Then he, who prophesied the best,
Approves his foresight to the rest:
‘You know I always feared the worst,
And often told you so at first.’        130
He’d rather choose that I should die,
Than his prediction prove a lie.
Not one foretells I shall recover,
But all agree to give me over.
  Yet, should some neighbour feel a pain        135
Just in the parts where I complain,
How many a message would he send!
What hearty prayers that I should mend!
Inquire what regimen I kept;
What gave me ease, and how I slept?        140
And more lament when I was dead,
Than all the snivellers round my bed.
  My good companions, never fear:
For though you may mistake a year,
Though your prognostics run too fast,        145
They must be verified at last.
  Behold the fatal day arrive!
‘How is the Dean?’—‘He’s just alive.’
Now the departing prayer is read;
‘He hardly breathes.’—‘The Dean is dead.’        150
  Before the passing bell begun,
The news through half the town is run.
‘O may we all for death prepare!
What has he left? and who’s his heir?’—
‘I know no more than what the news is,        155
’Tis all bequeathed to public uses.’
‘To public uses! there’s a whim!
What had the public done for him?
Mere envy, avarice, and pride:
He gave it all—but first he died.        160
And had the Dean, in all the nation,
No worthy friend, no poor relation?
So ready to do strangers good,
Forgetting his own flesh and blood.’
  Now, Grub Street wits are all employed;        165
With elegies the town is cloyed:
Some paragraph in every paper
To curse the Dean, or bless the Drapier.
  The doctors, tender of their fame,
Wisely on me lay all the blame:        170
‘We must confess, his case was nice—
But he would never take advice.
Had he been ruled, for aught appears,
He might have lived these twenty years;
For, when we opened him, we found,        175
That all his vital parts were sound.’
  From Dublin soon to London spread,
’Tis told at court, ‘The Dean is dead.’
And Lady Suffolk, 5 in the spleen,
Runs laughing up to tell the Queen.        180
The Queen, so gracious, mild, and good,
Cries, ‘Is he gone! ’tis time he should.
He’s dead, you say; then let him rot,
I’m glad the medals were forgot. 6
I promised him, I own—but when?        185
I only was the Princess then;
But now, as consort of the King,
You know, ’tis quite another thing.’
Now Chartres, 7 at Sir Robert’s levee,
Tells with a sneer the tidings heavy:        190
‘Why, if he died without his shoes,’
Cries Bob, ‘I’m sorry for the news.
O were the wretch but living still,
And in his place my good friend Will!
Or had a mitre on his head,        195
Provided Bolingbroke were dead!’
Now Curll his shop from rubbish drains:
Three genuine tomes of Swift’s remains!
And then to make them pass the glibber,
Revised by Tibbalds, Moore, and Cibber.        200
He’ll treat me as he does my betters,
Publish my will, my life, my letters;
Revive the libels born to die,
Which Pope must bear, as well as I.
  Here shift the scene, to represent        205
How those I love my death lament.
Poor Pope would grieve a month, and Gay
A week, and Arbuthnot a day.
  St. John himself will scarce forbear
To bite his pen, and drop a tear.        210
The rest will give a shrug, and cry,
‘I’m sorry—but we all must die.’
  Indifference, clad in Wisdom’s guise,
All fortitude of mind supplies:
For how can stony bowels melt        215
In those who never pity felt!
When we are lash’d, they kiss the rod,
Resigning to the will of God.
  The fools, my juniors by a year,
Are tortured with suspense and fear;        220
Who wisely thought my age a screen,
When death approached, to stand between:
The screen removed, their hearts are trembling—
They mourn for me without dissembling.
  My female friends, whose tender hearts        225
Have better learned to act their parts,
Receive the news in doleful dumps.
‘The Dean is dead: (Pray what is trumps?)
Then, Lord have mercy on his soul.
(Ladies, I’ll venture for the vole.)        230
Six deans, they say, must bear the pall:
(I wish I knew what king to call.)
Madam, your husband will attend
The funeral of so good a friend.
No, madam, ’tis a shocking sight,        235
And he’s engaged to-morrow night.
My Lady Club will take it ill,
If he should fail at her quadrille.
He loved the Dean—(I lead a heart,)
But dearest friends, they say, must part.        240
His time was come: he ran his race;
We hope he’s in a better place.’
  Why do we grieve that friends should die?
No loss more easy to supply.
One year is past—a different scene—        245
No further mention of the Dean:
Who now, alas! no more is miss’d,
Than if he never did exist.
Where’s now this favourite of Apollo?
Departed—and his works must follow:        250
Must undergo the common fate;
His kind of wit is out of date.
  Some country squire to Lintot goes,
Inquires for ‘Swift in Verse and Prose.’
Says Lintot, ‘I have heard the name;        255
He died a year ago.’—‘The same.’
He searches all the shop in vain?
‘Sir, you may find them in Duck-lane;
I sent them with a load of books,
Last Monday to the pastry-cook’s.        260
To fancy they could live a year!
I find you’re but a stranger here.
The Dean was famous in his time,
And had a kind of knack at rhyme.
His way of writing now is past;        265
The town has got a better taste;
I keep no antiquated stuff,
But spick and span I have enough.
Pray do but give me leave to show ’em,
Here Colley Cibber’s birth-day poem.        270
This ode you never yet have seen,
By Stephen Duck, upon the Queen.
Then here’s a letter finely penn’d
Against the Craftsman and his friend;
It clearly shows that all reflection        275
On ministers is disaffection.
Next, here’s Sir Robert’s vindication,
And Mr. Henley’s last oration.
The hawkers have not got them yet—
Your honour please to buy a set?        280
  Here’s Wolston’s tracts, the twelfth edition,
’Tis read by every politician;
The country members, when in town,
To all their boroughs send them down;
You never met a thing so smart;        285
The courtiers have them all by heart:
Those maids of honour who can read,
Are taught to use them for their creed.
The reverend author’s good intention
Has been rewarded with a pension.        290
He does an honour to his gown,
By bravely running priestcraft down;
He shows, as sure as God’s in Gloucester,
That Moses was a grand imposter;
That all his miracles were cheats,        295
Performed as jugglers do their feats;
The church had never such a writer,
A shame he has not got a mitre!’
  Suppose me dead, and then suppose
A club assembled at the Rose,        300
Where, from discourse of this and that,
I grow the subject of their chat.
And while they toss my name about,
With favour some, and some without,
One, quite indifferent in the cause,        305
My character impartial draws.
  ‘The Dean, if we believe report,
Was never ill-received at Court.
As for his works in verse and prose,
I own myself no judge of those;        310
Nor can I tell what critics thought ’em—
But this I know, all people bought ’em.
As with a moral view design’d
To cure the vices of mankind,
His vein, ironically grave,        315
Exposed the fool, and lashed the knave.
To steal a hint was never known,
But what he writ was all his own.
  He never thought an honour done him
Because a duke was proud to own him;        320
Would rather slip aside and choose
To talk with wits in dirty shoes;
Despised the fools with stars and garters,
So often seen caressing Chartres.
He never courted men in station,        325
Nor persons held in admiration;
Of no man’s greatness was afraid,
Because he sought for no man’s aid.
Though trusted long in great affairs,
He gave himself no haughty airs;        330
Without regarding private ends,
Spent all his credit for his friends;
And only chose the wise and good—
No flatterers: no allies in blood;
But succour’d virtue in distress,        335
And seldom failed of good success;
As numbers in their hearts must own,
Who, but for him, had been unknown.
  With princes kept a due decorum,
But never stood in awe before ’em.        340
He followed David’s lesson just—
In princes never put thy trust:
And would you make him truly sour,
Provoke him with a slave in power.
The Irish senate if you named,        345
With what impatience he declaimed!
Fair LIBERTY was all his cry,
For her he stood prepared to die;
For her he boldly stood alone;
For her he oft exposed his own.        350
Two kingdoms, just as faction led,
Had set a price upon his head;
But not a traitor could be found,
To sell him for six hundred pound.
  ‘Had he but spared his tongue and pen,        355
He might have rose like other men;
But power was never in his thought,
And wealth he valued not a groat;
Ingratitude he often found,
And pitied those who meant the wound;        360
But kept the tenor of his mind,
To merit well of human kind;
Nor made a sacrifice of those
Who still were true, to please his foes.
He laboured many a fruitful hour,        365
To reconcile his friends in power;
Saw mischief by a faction brewing,
While they pursued each other’s ruin.
But finding vain was all his care,
He left the Court in mere despair.        370
  ‘And, oh! how short are human schemes!
Here ended all our golden dreams.
What St. John’s skill in state affairs,
What Ormond’s valour, Oxford’s cares,
To save their sinking country lent,        375
Was all destroyed by one event.
Too soon that precious life was ended,
On which alone our weal depended.
When up a dangerous faction starts,
With wrath and vengeance in their hearts,        380
By solemn league and covenant bound,
To ruin, slaughter, and confound:
To turn religion to a fable,
And make the government a Babel;
Pervert the laws, disgrace the gown,        385
Corrupt the senate, rob the crown;
To sacrifice old England’s glory,
And make her infamous in story:
When such a tempest shook the land,
How could unguarded Virtue stand!        390
With horror, grief, despair, the Dean
Beheld the dire destructive scene:
His friends in exile, or the tower,
Himself within the frown of power;
Pursued by base envenom’d pens,        395
Far to the land of saints and fens;
A servile race in folly nursed,
Who truckle most, when treated worst.
  ‘By innocence and resolution,
He bore continual persecution,        400
While numbers to preferment rose,
Whose merits were, to be his foes;
When e’en his own familiar friends,
Intent upon their private ends,
Like renegadoes now he feels,        405
Against him lifting up their heels.
  ‘The Dean did, by his pen, defeat
An infamous destructive cheat;
Taught fools their interest how to know,
And gave them arms to ward the blow.        410
Envy has owned it was his doing,
To save that hapless land from ruin;
While they who at the steerage stood,
And reaped the profit, sought his blood.
  ‘To save them from their evil fate,        415
In him was held a crime of state.
A wicked monster on the bench,
Whose fury blood could never quench,
As vile and profligate a villain,
As modern Scroggs, or old Tresilian:        420
Who long all justice has discarded,
Nor feared he God, nor man regarded;
Vowed on the Dean his rage to vent,
And make him of his zeal repent;
But Heaven his innocence defends,        425
The grateful people stand his friends;
Not strains of law, nor judge’s frown,
Nor topics brought to please the crown,
Nor witness hired, nor jury pick’d,
Prevail to bring him in convict.        430
  ‘In exile, with a steady heart,
He spent his life’s declining part;
Where folly, pride, and faction sway,
Remote from St. John, Pope, and Gay.
His friendships there, to few confined,        435
Were always of the middling kind;
No fools of rank, a mongrel breed,
Who fain would pass for lords indeed:
Where titles give no right or power,
And peerage is a withered flower;        440
He would have held it a disgrace,
If such a wretch had known his face.
On rural squires, that kingdom’s bane,
He vented oft his wrath in vain;
… squires to market brought,        445
Who sell their souls and … for nought.
The … go joyful back,
The … the church their teanants rack,
Go snacks with …
And keep the peace to pick up fees;        450
In every job to have a share,
A gaol or turnpike to repair;
And turn the tax for public roads,
Commodious to their own abodes.
  ‘Perhaps I may allow the Dean        455
Had too much satire in his vein;
And seemed determined not to starve it,
Because no age could more deserve it.
Yet malice never was his aim;
He lashed the vice, but spared the name;        460
No individual could resent,
Where thousands equally were meant;
His satire points at no defect,
But what all mortals may correct;
For he abhorr’d that senseless tribe        465
Who call it humour when they gibe:
He spared a hump, or crooked nose,
Whose owners set not up for beaux.
True genuine dulness moved his pity,
Unless it offered to be witty.        470
Those who their ignorance confess’d,
He ne’er offended with a jest;
But laughed to hear an idiot quote
A verse from Horace learn’d by rote.
  ‘He knew a hundred pleasing stories,        475
With all the turns of Whigs and Tories:
Was cheerful to his dying day,
And friends would let him have his way.
  ‘He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house 8 for fools and mad;        480
And showed by one satiric touch,
No nation wanted it so much.
That kingdom he had left his debtor,
I wish it soon may have a better.’
 
Note 1. The poem was occasioned by Swift’s reading the following Maxim in Rochefoucault: “Dans l’adversité de nos meilleurs amis, nous trouvons toujours quelque chose, qui ne nous deplait pas.” [back]
Note 2. St. John: Lord Bolingbroke. [back]
Note 3. Pulteney: William Pulteney, Earl of Bath. [back]
Note 4. Old vertigo, disease from which Swift suffered all his life, and which eventually culminated in the madness of his latter years. [back]
Note 5. Lady Suffolk: mistress of George II. [back]
Note 6. The medals were forgot: the Queen when Princess of Wales, had promised Swift a present of medals, but never kept it. [back]
Note 7. Chartres: Francis Charteris, a notorious scoundrel of the time. [back]
Note 8. To build a house: Swift left his money to endow an asylum for the insane in Dublin. [back]
 
 
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