Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Letter to Swift
By Alexander Pope (16881744)
25th March, 1736.
IF ever I write more epistles in verse, one of them shall be addressed to you. I have long concerted it, and begun it, but I would make what bears your name as finished as my last work ought to be, that is to say, more finished than any of the rest. The subject is large, and will divide into four epistles, which naturally follow the Essay on Man, viz.1. Of the extent and limit of human reason and science. 2. A view of the useful and therefore attainable, and of the un-useful and therefore unattainable arts. 3. Of the nature, ends, application, and use of different capacities. 4. Of the use of learning, of the science of the world and of wit. It will conclude with a satire against the misapplication of all these, exemplified by pictures, characters, and examples.
But alas! the task is great, and non sum qualis eram! My understanding indeed, such as it is, is extended rather than diminished; I see things more in the whole, more consistent, and more clearly deduced from, and related to each other. But what I gain on the side of philosophy, I lose on the side of poetry; the flowers are gone when the fruits begin to ripen, and the fruits perhaps will never ripen perfectly. The climate, under our heaven of a court, is but cold and uncertain; the winds rise, and the winter comes on. I find myself but little disposed to build a new house; I have nothing left but to gather up the reliques of a wreck, and look about me to see how few friends I have left. Pray, whose esteem or admiration should I desire now to procure by my writings? whose friendship or conversation to obtain by them? I am a man of desperate fortunes, that is, a man whose friends are dead; for I never aimed at any other fortune than in friends. As soon as I had sent my last letter, I received a most kind one from you, expressing great pain for my late illness at Mr. Cheseldens. I conclude you were eased of that friendly apprehension in a few days after you had despatched yours, for mine must have reached you there. I wondered a little at your quære who Cheselden was? It shows that the truest merit does not travel any way as on the wings of poetry. He is the most noted and most deserving man in the whole profession of chirurgery, and has saved the lives of thousands by his manner of cutting for the stone. I am now well, or what I must call so.
I have lately seen some writings of Lord Bolingbrokes, since he went to France. Nothing can depress his genius. Whatever befals him, he will still be the greatest man in the world, either in his own time, or with posterity.
Every man you know or care for here enquires of you, and pays you the only devoir he can, that of drinking your health. Here are a race sprung up of young patriots who would animate you. I wish you had any motive to see this kingdom. I could keep you, for I am rich, that is, I have more than I want. I can afford room for yourself and two servants; I have indeed room enough, nothing but myself at home. The kind and hearty housewife is dead! the agreeable and instructive neighbour is gone! Yet my house is enlarged and the gardens extend and flourish, as knowing nothing of the guests they have lost. I have more fruit trees and kitchen-garden than you have any thought of; nay, I have good melons and pine apples of my own growth. I am as much a better gardener as I am a worse poet, than when you saw me; but gardening is near akin to philosophy, for Tully says, Agricultura proxima sapientiæ. For Gods sake, why should not you (that are a step higher than a philosopher, a divine, yet have too much grace and wit to be a bishop) een give all you have to the poor of Ireland (for whom you have already done everything else), so quit the place, and live and die with me! And let Tales animæ concordes be our motto and our epitaph.