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    An Epistle to Mr. Gay

    by Jonathan Swift
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    [1]

    1731

    How could you, Gay, disgrace the Muse's train, To serve a tasteless court twelve years in vain![2] Fain would I think our female friend [3] sincere, Till Bob,[4] the poet's foe, possess'd her ear. Did female virtue e'er so high ascend, To lose an inch of favour for a friend?

    Say, had the court no better place to choose For triee, than make a dry-nurse of thy Muse? How cheaply had thy liberty been sold, To squire a royal girl of two years old: In leading strings her infant steps to guide, Or with her go-cart amble side by side![5]

    But princely Douglas,[6] and his glorious dame, Advanced thy fortune, and preserved thy fame. Nor will your nobler gifts be misapplied, When o'er your patron's treasure you preside: The world shall own, his choice was wise and just, For sons of Phoebus never break their trust.

    Not love of beauty less the heart inflames Of guardian eunuchs to the sultan's dames, Their passions not more impotent and cold, Than those of poets to the lust of gold. With Paean's purest fire his favourites glow, The dregs will serve to ripen ore below: His meanest work: for, had he thought it fit That wealth should be the appanage of wit, The god of light could ne'er have been so blind To deal it to the worst of human kind.

    But let me now, for I can do it well, Your conduct in this new employ foretell.

    And first: to make my observation right, I place a statesman full before my sight, A bloated minister in all his gear, With shameless visage and perfidious leer: Two rows of teeth arm each devouring jaw, And ostrich-like his all-digesting maw. My fancy drags this monster to my view, To shew the world his chief reverse in you. Of loud unmeaning sounds, a rapid flood Rolls from his mouth in plenteous streams of mud; With these the court and senate-house he plies, Made up of noise, and impudence, and lies.

    Now let me show how Bob and you agree: You serve a potent prince,[7] as well as he. The ducal coffers trusted to your charge, Your honest care may fill, perhaps enlarge: His vassals easy, and the owner blest; They pay a trifle, and enjoy the rest. Not so a nation's revenues are paid; The servant's faults are on the master laid. The people with a sigh their taxes bring, And, cursing Bob, forget to bless the king.

    Next hearken, Gay, to what thy charge requires, With servants, tenants, and the neighbouring squires, Let all domestics feel your gentle sway; Nor bribe, insult, nor flatter, nor betray. Let due reward to merit be allow'd; Nor with your kindred half the palace crowd; Nor think yourself secure in doing wrong, By telling noses [8] with a party strong.

    Be rich; but of your wealth make no parade; At least, before your master's debts are paid; Nor in a palace, built with charge immense, Presume to treat him at his own expense.[9] Each farmer in the neighbourhood can count To what your lawful perquisites amount. The tenants poor, the hardness of the times, Are ill excuses for a servant's crimes. With interest, and a premium paid beside, The master's pressing wants must be supplied; With hasty zeal behold the steward come By his own credit to advance the sum; Who, while th'unrighteous Mammon is his friend, May well conclude his power will never end. A faithful treasurer! what could he do more? He lends my lord what was my lord's before.

    The law so strictly guards the monarch's health, That no physician dares prescribe by stealth: The council sit; approve the doctor's skill; And give advice before he gives the pill. But the state empiric acts a safer part; And, while he poisons, wins the royal heart.

    But how can I describe the ravenous breed? Then let me now by negatives proceed.

    Suppose your lord a trusty servant send On weighty business to some neighbouring friend: Presume not, Gay, unless you serve a drone, To countermand his orders by your own. Should some imperious neighbour sink the boats, And drain the fish-ponds, while your master dotes; Shall he upon the ducal rights intrench, Because he bribed you with a brace of tench?

    Nor from your lord his bad condition hide, To feed his luxury, or soothe his pride. Nor at an under rate his timber sell, And with an oath assure him, all is well; Or swear it rotten, and with humble airs [10] Request it of him, to complete your stairs; Nor, when a mortgage lies on half his lands, Come with a purse of guineas in your hands.

    Have Peter Waters [11] always in your mind; That rogue, of genuine ministerial kind, Can half the peerage by his arts bewitch, Starve twenty lords to make one scoundrel rich: And, when he gravely has undone a score, Is humbly pray'd to ruin twenty more.

    A dext'rous steward, when his tricks are found, Hush-money sends to all the neighbours round; His master, unsuspicious of his pranks, Pays all the cost, and gives the villain thanks. And, should a friend attempt to set him right, His lordship would impute it all to spite; Would love his favourite better than before, And trust his honesty just so much more. Thus families, like realms, with equal fate, Are sunk by premier ministers of state.

    Some, when an heir succeeds, go bodily on, And, as they robb'd the father, rob the son. A knave, who deep embroils his lord's affairs, Will soon grow necessary to his heirs. His policy consists in setting traps, In finding ways and means, and stopping gaps; He knows a thousand tricks whene'er he please, Though not to cure, yet palliate each disease. In either case, an equal chance is run; For, keep or turn him out, my lord's undone. You want a hand to clear a filthy sink; No cleanly workman can endure the stink. A strong dilemma in a desperate case! To act with infamy, or quit the place.

    A bungler thus, who scarce the nail can hit, With driving wrong will make the panel split: Nor dares an abler workman undertake To drive a second, lest the whole should break.

    In every court the parallel will hold; And kings, like private folks, are bought and sold. The ruling rogue, who dreads to be cashler'd, Contrives, as he is hated, to be fear'd; Confounds accounts, perplexes all affairs: For vengeance more embroils, than skill repairs. So robbers, (and their ends are just the same,) To 'scape inquiries, leave the house in flame.

    I knew a brazen minister of state,[12] Who bore for twice ten years the public hate. In every mouth the question most in vogue Was, when will they turn out this odious rogue? A juncture happen'd in his highest pride: While he went robbing on, his master died.[13] We thought there now remain'd no room to doubt; The work is done, the minister must out. The court invited more than one or two: Will you, Sir Spencer?[14] or will you, or you? But not a soul his office durst accept; The subtle knave had all the plunder swept: And, such was then the temper of the times, He owed his preservation to his crimes. The candidates observed his dirty paws; Nor found it difficult to guess the cause: But, when they smelt such foul corruptions round him, Away they fled, and left him as they found him.

    Thus, when a greedy sloven once has thrown His snot into the mess, 'tis all his own.

    [Footnote 1: The Dean having been told by an intimate friend that the Duke of Queensberry had employed Mr. Gay to inspect the accounts and management of his grace's receivers and stewards (which, however, proved to be a mistake), wrote this Epistle to his friend.--H.

    Through the whole piece, under the pretext of instructing Gay in his duty as the duke's auditor of accounts, he satirizes the conduct of Sir Robert Walpole, then Prime Minister.--Scott.]

    [Footnote 2: See the "Libel on Dr. Delany and Lord Carteret," post.]

    [Footnote 3: The Countess of Suffolk.--H.]

    [Footnote 4: Sir Robert Walpole.--Faulkner.]

    [Footnote 5: The post of gentleman-usher to the Princess Louisa was offered to Gay, which he and his friends considered as a great indignity, her royal highness being a mere infant.--Scott.]

    [Footnote 6: The Duke and Duchess of Queensberry.]

    [Footnote 7: A title given to every duke by the heralds.--Faulkner.]

    [Footnote 8: Counting the numbers of a division. A horse dealer's term.--W. E. B.]

    [Footnote 9: Alluding to the magnificence of Houghton, the seat of Sir Robert Walpole, by which he greatly impaired his fortune.

    "What brought Sir Visto's ill-got wealth to waste? Some Demon whispered, 'Visto! have a Taste.'" POPE, Moral Essays, Epist. iv.--W. E. B.]

    [Footnote 10: These lines are thought to allude to some story concerning a vast quantity of mahogany declared rotten, and then applied by somebody to wainscots, stairs, door-cases, etc.--Dublin Edition.]

    [Footnote 11: He hath practised this trade for many years, and still continues it with success; and after he hath ruined one lord, is earnestly solicited to take another.--Dublin Edition.

    Properly Walter, a dexterous and unscrupulous attorney.

    "Wise Peter sees the world's respect for gold, And therefore hopes this nation may be sold." POPE, Moral Essays, Epist. iii.

    And see his character fully displayed in Sir Chas. Hanbury Williams' poem, "Peter and my Lord Quidam," Works, with notes, edit. 1822. Peter was the original of Peter Pounce in Fielding's "Joseph Andrews."--W. E. B.]

    [Footnote 12: Sir Robert Walpole, who was called Sir Robert Brass.]

    [Footnote 13: King George I, who died on the 12th June, 1727.--W. E. B.]

    [Footnote 14: Sir Spencer Compton, Speaker of the House of Commons, afterwards created Earl of Wilmington. George II, on his accession to the throne, intended that Compton should be Prime Minister, but Walpole, through the influence of the queen, retained his place, Compton having confessed "his incapacity to undertake so arduous a task." As Lord Wilmington, he is constantly ridiculed by Sir Chas. Hanbury Williams. See his Works, with notes by Horace Walpole, edit. 1822.--W. E. B.]
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