Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Letter to the Bishop of Rochester
By Alexander Pope (16881744)
20th November 1717.
MY LORDI am truly obliged by your kind condolence on my fathers death, and the desire you express that I should improve this incident to my advantage. I know your lordships friendship to me is so extensive, that you include in that wish both my spiritual and my temporal advantage; and it is what I owe to that friendship, to open my mind unreservedly to you on this head. It is true, I have lost a parent for whom no gains I could make would be any equivalent. But that was not my only tie; I thank God another still remains (and long may it remain) of the same tender nature. Genetrix est mihi, and excuse me if I say with Euryalus,
A rigid divine may call it a carnal tie, but sure it is a virtuous one. At least I am more certain that it is a duty of nature to preserve a good parents life and happiness than I am of any speculative point whatever.
For she, my lord, would think this separation more grievous than any other, and I, for my part, know as little as poor Euryalus did, of the success of such an adventure; for an adventure it is, and no small one, in spite of the most positive divinity. Whether the change would be to my spiritual advantage, God only knows; this I know, that I mean as well in the religion I now profess, as I can possibly ever do in another. Can a man who thinks so justify a change, even if he thought both equally good? To such an one the part of joining with any one body of Christians might perhaps be easy, but I think it would not be so, to renounce the other.
Your lordship has formerly advised me to read the best controversies between the churches. Shall I tell you a secret? I did so at fourteen years old, for I loved reading, and my father had no other books; there was a collection of all that had been written on both sides in the reign of King James the Second. I wormed my head with them, and the consequence was, that I found myself a Papist and a Protestant by turns, according to the last book I read. I am afraid most seekers are in the same case, and when they stop, they are not so properly converted as outwitted. You see how little glory you would gain by my conversion. And, after all, I verily believe your lordship and I are both of the same religion, if we were thoroughly understood by one another; and that all honest and reasonable Christians would be so, if they did but talk enough together every day, and had nothing to do together, but to serve God, and live in peace with their neighbour.
As to the temporal side of the question, I can have no dispute with you; it is certain, all the beneficial circumstances of life, and all the shining ones, be on the part you would invite me to. But if I could bring myself to fancy, what I think you do but fancy, that I have any talents for active life, I want health for it; and besides it is a real truth, I have less inclination (if possible) than ability. Contemplative life is not only my scene, but it is my habit too. I began my life where most people end theirs, with a disrelish of all that the world calls ambition. I do not know why it is called so, for to me it always seemed to be rather stooping than climbing. I will tell you my politic and religious sentiments in a few words. In my politics I think no further than how to preserve the peace of my life, in any government under which I live; nor in my religion, than to preserve the peace of my conscience in any church with which I communicate. I hope all churches and all governments are so far of God, as they are rightly understood, and rightly administered; and where they are, or may be wrong, I leave to God alone to mend or reform them; which, whenever He does, it must be by greater instruments than I am. I am not a Papist, for I renounce the temporal invasions of the papal power, and detest their arrogated authority over princes and states. I am a Catholic in the strictest sense of the word. If I was born under an absolute prince, I would be a quiet subject; but I thank God I was not. I have a due sense of the excellence of the British constitution. In a word, the things I have always wished to see are not a Roman Catholic, or a French Catholic, or a Spanish Catholic, but a true Catholic; not a king of Whigs, or a king of Tories, but a king of England; which God of his mercy grant his present majesty may be, and all future majesties. You see, my lord, I end like a preacher; that is, Sermo ad Clerum, not ad Populum. Believe me, with infinite obligation and sincere thanks, ever your, etc.