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Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift

by Jonathan Swift
(1667-1745)


Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D.
Occasioned by Reading a Maxim in Rochefoucault, "Dans l'adversitŽ de nos meilleurs amis nous trouvons quelque chose, qui ne nous deplaist pas."
Written by Himself, November 1731

As Rochefoucault his maxims drew
From nature, I believe 'em true:
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.
This maxim more than all the rest
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."
If this perhaps your patience move,
Let reason and experience prove.
We all behold with envious eyes,
Our equal raised above our size.
Who would not at a crowded show
Stand high himself, keep others low?
I love my friend as well as you,
But would not have him stop my view.
Then let me have the higher post;
I ask but for an inch at most.
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,
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!
What poet would not grieve to see,
His brethren write as well as he?
But rather than they should excel,
He'd wish his rivals all in hell.
Her end when Emulation misses,
She turns to envy, stings and hisses:
The strongest friendship yields to pride
Unless the odds be on our side.
Vain humankind! fantastic race!
Thy various follies who can trace?
Self-love, ambition, envy, pride,
Their empire in our hearts divide:
Give others riches, power, and station,
'Tis all on me an usurpation.
I have no title to aspire,
Yet, when you sink, I seem the higher.
In Pope I cannot read a line,
But with a sigh I wish it mine:
But when he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I can do in six,
It gives me such a jealous fit,
I cry, "Pox take him and his wit!"
Why must I be outdone by Gay
In my own humorous biting way?
Arbuthnot is no more my friend,
Who dares to irony pretend;
Which I was born to introduce,
Refined it first, and shewed its use.
St. John, as well as Pulteney, knows
That I had some repute for prose
And, till they drove me out of date,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 heav'n hath blessed 'em,
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.
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
Will try to find their private ends.
Though it is hardly understood
Which way my death can do them good,
Yet thus, methinks, I hear 'em speak:
"See, how the Dean begins to break!
Poor gentleman, he droops apace:
You plainly find it in his face.
That old vertigo in his head
Will never leave him till he's dead.
Besides, his memory decays;
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.
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,
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:
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
By adding largely to my years:
"He's older than he would be reckoned
And well remembers Charles the Second.
He hardly drinks a pint of wine,
And that, I doubt, is no good sign.
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."
Then hug themselves, and reason thus:
"It is not ye 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.
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 'em better that to tell
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."
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 neighbor feel a pain
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,
And more lament when I was dead
Than all the snivelers around my bed.
My good companions, never fear:
For though you may mistake a year,
Though your prognostics run too fast,
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."
Before the passing bell begun,
The news through half the town has 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;
'Tis all bequeathed to public uses."
"To public use! A perfect whim!
What had the public done for him?
Mere envy, avarice, and pride!
He gave it all: but first he died.
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;
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:
"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
That all his vital parts were sound."
From Dublin soon to London spread,
'Tis told at court, "The Dean is dead."*
Kind Lady Suffolk,* in the spleen,
Runs laughing up to tell the Queen.
The Queen, so gracious, mild, and good,
Cries, "Is he gone"? 'Tis time he should.
He's dead, you say; why, let him rot:
I'm glad the medals were forgot.*
I promised him, I own; but when?
I only was a Princess then;
But now as consort of a king,
You know, 'tis quite a different thing."
Now, Chartres,* at Sir Robert's levee,
Tells with a sneer the tidings heavy:
"Why, is he dead without his shoes?"
Cries Bob,* "I'm sorry for the news:
Oh, were the wretch but living still,
And in his place my good friend Will!*
Or had a miter on his head,
Provided Bolingbroke* were dead!"
Now Curll* his shop from rubbish drains:
Three genuine tomes of <i>Swift's Remains!</i>
And then, to make them pass the glibber,
Revised by Tibbalds, Moore, and Cibber.*
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
How those I love my death lament.
Poor Pope will 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.
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
In those who never pity felt?
When <i>we</i> are lashed, <i>they</i> kiss the rod,
Resigning to the will of God.
The fools, my juniors by a year,
Are tortured with suspense and fear,
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
Have better learned to act their parts,
Receive the news in doleful dumps:
"The Dean is dead (and what is trumps?)"
"Then Lord have mercy on his soul.
(Ladies, I'll venture for the vole.)"
"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,
And he's engaged tomorrow night:
My Lady Club would take it ill,
If he should fail her at quadrille.
He loved the Dean-- (I lead a heart)--
But dearest friends, they say, must part.
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:
No further mention of the Dean,
Who now, alas! no more is missed
Than if he never did exist.
Where's now this favorite of Apollo?
Departed--and his works must follow,
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;
He died a year ago." "The same."
He searches all his 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.
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 for rhyme;
His way of writing now is past:
The town hath 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's Colley Cibber's birthday poem.
This ode you never yet have seen
By Stephen Duck, upon the Queen.
Then here'a letter, finely penned,
Against the Craftsman and his friend:
It clearly shows that all reflection
On ministers is disaffection.
Next, here's Sir Robert's Vindication,*
And Mr. Henley's last oration:*
The hawkers have not got 'em yet:
Your Honor please to buy a set?
"Here's Woolston'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:
The courtiers have them all by heart;
Those maids of honor who can read
Are taught to use them for their Creed.
The reverend author's good intention
Hath been rewarded with a pension.
He doth an honor to his gown
By bravely running priestcraft down.
He shows as sure as God's in Gloucester
That Jesus was a grand imposter;
That all his miracles were cheats,
Performed as jugglers do their feats.
The Church had never such a writer:
A shame he hath not got a miter!"
Suppose me dead, and then suppose
A club assembled at the Rose,
Where, from discourse of this and that,
I grow the subject of their chat.
And while they toss my name about,
With favor some, and some without,
One quite indifferent in the cause
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;
Nor can I tell what critics thought 'em:
But this I know, all people bought 'em,
As with a moral view designed
To cure the vices of mankind.
His vein, ironically grave,
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 honor done him
Because a duke was proud to own him;
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,
Nor persons had 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;
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 succored virtue in distress
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;
He followed David's lesson just:
'In princes never put they trust';
And, would you make him truly sour,
Provoke him with a slave in power.
The Irish Senate if you named,
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.
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,
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;
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 labored many a fruitless hour
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.
"And, oh! how short are human schemes!
Here ended all our golden dreams.
What St. John's skill in state affairs,
What Ormonde's valor, Oxford's cares,
To save their sinking country lent,
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,
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,
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?
"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, envenomed pens,
Far to the land of slaves and fens--*
A servile race, in folly nursed,
Who truckle most when treated worst.
"By innocence and resolution
He bore continual persecution,
While numbers to preferment rose
Whose merits were to be his foes;
When even his own familiar friends,
Intent upon their private ends,
Like renagadoes now he feels
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.
Envy hath 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
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 Tressilian,*
Who long all justice had 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.
The grateful people stand his friends:
Nor strains of law, nor judge's frown,
Nor topics brought to please the crown,
Nor witness hired, nor jury picked,
Prevail to bring him in convict.
"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 friendship there, to few confined,
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,
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:
Biennial squires, to market brought,
Who sell their souls and votes for naught;
The nation stripped, go joyful back
To rob the church, their tenants rack;
Go snacks with rogues and rapparees,
And keep the peace to pick up fees;
In every job to have a share,
A jail or barrack to repair;
And turn the tax for public roads
Commodious to their own abodes.
"Perhaps I may allow the Dean
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.
No individual could resent
Where thousands equally were meant.
His satire points at no defect
But what all mortals may correct;
For he abhorred that senseless tribe
Who call it humor when they jibe.
He spared a hump, or crooked nose,
Whose owners set not up for beaux.
True genuine dullness moved his pity,
Unless it offered to be witty.
Those who their ignorance confessed
He ne'er offended with a jest;
But laughed to hear an idiot quote
A verse from Horace learned by rote.
"He knew an hundred pleasant stories,
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 for fools and mad,
And shewed by one satiric touch
No nation wanted it so much:
That kingdom he hath left his debtor:
I wish it soon may have a better."


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