Monday, July 21, 2014

Mortal open secrets written down

   Thus, in the choice of a
   Devil, it hath been the
   usual Method of Mankind,
   to single out some being,
   either in Act, of in Vi-
   sion, which was in most
   Antipathy to the God they
   had framed.. For I think
   it one of the greatest,
   and best of human Actions
   to remove Prejudices, and
   place Things in their tru-
   est and fairest Light..

   In the 18th Century this
   language went public, in
   an outpouring of satiric
   contests; its brilliants
   simmered somewhat merci-
   lessly, a mode unfortun-
   ately more imitable than
   their means. As Jonathan
   Swift retreated to Let-
   combe, his close allies
   looked in, to cheer him
   up: Dr Arbuthnot, Alex-
   ander Pope, a few others.

   Arbuthnot was attending
   the dying Queen, Pope
   was translating Homer,
   and Swift was readying
   an abdication to Dublin.
   They were losing a hard
   political struggle to-
   gether, but the language
   kept their relics close,
   almost as its conscience.

Never repeat that melancholy tender word, that you will endeavour to forget me. I am sure I can never forget you, till I meet with (what is impossible) another whose conversation I can delight so much in as Dr Swift's: and yet that is the smallest thing I ought to value you for. That hearty sincere friendship, that plain and open ingenuity, in all your commerce, is what I am sure I can never find in another, alas. I shall want often a faithful monitor, one that would vindicate me behind my back and tell me my faults to my face. God knows I write this with tears in my eyes.

Jonathan Swift
A Tale of a Tub
op. cit.

Arbuthnot to Swift
  August, 1714

Leo Damrosch

Jonathan Swift
  His Life and His World
Yale University Press, 2013©

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