Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Dedication: to the Right Honourable John Lord Somers
By Jonathan Swift (16671745)
From The Tale of a Tub
MY LORDAlthough the author has written a large dedication, yet that being addressed to a prince, whom I am never likely to have the honour of being known to; a person besides, as far as I can observe, not at all regarded, or thought on by any of our present writers; and being wholly free from that slavery which booksellers usually lie under to the caprice of authors; I think it a wise piece of presumption to inscribe these papers to your lordship, and to implore your lordships protection of them. God and your lordship know their faults and their merits; for, as to my own particular, I am altogether a stranger to the matter; and though everybody else should be equally ignorant, I do not fear the sale of the book, at all the worse, upon that score. Your lordships name on the front in capital letters will at any time get off one edition; neither would I desire any other help to grow an alderman, than a patent for the sole privilege of dedicating to your lordship.
I should now, in right of a dedicator, give your lordship a list of your own virtues, and, at the same time, be very unwilling to offend your modesty; but chiefly, I should celebrate your liberality towards men of great parts and small fortunes, and give you broad hints that I mean myself. And I was just going on, in the usual method, to peruse a hundred or two of dedications, and transcribe an abstract to be applied to your lordship; but I was diverted by a certain accident, for, upon the covers of these papers, I casually observed written in large letters the two following words, DETUR DIGNISSIMO; which, for aught I knew, might contain some important meaning. But it unluckily fell out, that none of the authors I employed understood Latin (though I have them often in pay to translate out of that language), I was therefore compelled to have a recourse to the curate of our parish, who Englished it thus, Let it be given to the worthiest: and his comment was, that the author meant his work should be dedicated to the sublimest genius of the age for wit, learning, judgment, eloquence, and wisdom. I called at a poets chamber (who works for my shop) in an alley hard by, showed him the translation, and desired his opinion, who it was that the author could mean: he told me, after some consideration, that vanity was a thing he abhorred; but, by the description, he thought himself to be the person aimed at; and, at the same time, he very kindly offered his own assistance gratis towards penning a dedication to himself. I desired him, however, to give a second guess: Why, then, said he, it must be I, or my Lord Somers. From thence I went to several other wits of my acquaintance, with no small hazard and weariness to my person from a prodigious number of dark, winding stairs; but found them all in the same story, both of your lordship and themselves. Now, your lordship is to understand, that this proceeding was not of my own invention; for I have somewhere heard it is a maxim, that those to whom everybody allows the second place, have an undoubted title to the first.
This infallibly convinced me, that your lordship was the person intended by the author. But, being very unacquainted in the style and form of dedications, I employed those wits aforesaid to furnish me with hints and materials, towards a panegyric upon your lordships virtues.
In two days they brought me ten sheets of paper, filled up on every side. They swore to me, that they had ransacked whatever could be found in the characters of Socrates, Aristides, Epaminondas, Cato, Tully, Atticus, and other hard names, which I cannot now recollect. However, I have reason to believe, they imposed upon my ignorance; because, when I came to read over their collections, there was not a syllable there, but what I and everybody else knew as well as themselves; therefore I grievously suspect a cheat, and that these authors of mine stole and subscribed every word from the universal report of mankind. So that I look upon myself as fifty shillings out of pocket, to no manner of purpose.
If, by altering the title, I could make the same materials serve for another dedication (as my betters have done), it would help to make up my loss; but I have made several persons dip here and there in those papers, and before they read three lines, they have all assured me plainly, that they cannot possibly be applied to any person besides your lordship.
I expected, indeed, to have heard of your lordships bravery at the head of an army; of your undaunted courage in mounting a breach, or scaling a wall; or, to have had your pedigree traced in a lineal descent from the house of Austria; or, of your wonderful talent at dress and dancing; or, your profound knowledge in algebra, metaphysics, and the oriental tongues. But to ply the world with an old beaten story of your wit, and eloquence, and learning, and wisdom, and justice, and politeness, and candour, and evenness of temper in all scenes of life; of that great discernment in discovering, and readiness in favouring deserving men; with forty other common topics; I confess, I have neither conscience nor countenance to do it. Because there is no virtue, either of a public or private life, which some circumstances of your own have not often produced upon the stage of the world; and those few, which, for want of occasions to exert them, might otherwise have passed unseen, or unobserved, by your friends, your enemies have at length brought to light.
It is true, I should be very loth, the bright example of your lordships virtues should be lost to after ages, both for their sake and your own; but chiefly because they will be so very necessary to adorn the history of a late reign; and that is another reason why I would forbear to make a recital of them here; because I have been told by wise men, that, as dedications have run for some years past, a good historian will not be apt to have recourse thither in search of characters.
There is one point, wherein I think we dedicators would do well to change our measures; I mean, instead of running on so far upon the praise of our patrons liberality, to spend a word or two in admiring their patience. I can put no greater compliment on your lordships, than by giving you so ample an occasion to exercise it at present.Though perhaps I shall not be apt to reckon much merit to your lordship upon that score, who having been formerly used to tedious harangues, and sometimes to as little purpose, will be the readier to pardon this; especially, when it is offered by one, who is, with all respect and veneration,my lord, your lordships most obedient, and most faithful servant,