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A Proposal for Correcting..., by Jonathan Swift


Jonathan Swift, A Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and
Ascertaining the English Tongue, in a Letter to the Most
Honourable Robert Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, Lord High
Treasurer of Great Britain, Printed from Benjamin Tooke, at the
Middle Temple Gate, Fleetstreet, 1712


Italics are represented _thus_.
Page numbers are in (here).


Introduction

To the Most Honourable Robert Earl of Oxford, &c.

My Lord,

What I had the Honour of mentioning to Your Lordship some time
ago in Conversation, was not a new Thought, just then started by
Accident or Occasion, but the Result of long Reflection; and I
have been confirmed in my Sentiments by (5) the Opinion of some
very judicious Persons, with whom I consulted. They all agreed,
That noting would be of greater Use towards the Improvement of
Knowledge and Politeness, than some effectual Method for
_Correcting, Enlarging, and Ascertaining our Language; and they
think it a Work very possible to be compassed, under the
Protection of a Prince, the Countenance and Encouragement of a
Ministry, and the Care of Proper Persons chosen for such an
Undertaking. I was glad to find Your Lordship's Answer in so
different a Style, from what hath been commonly made use of on
the like Occasions, for some Years past, _that all such Thoughts
must be deferred to a Time of Peace_: A Topick which some have
carried so far, that they would not have us, by any means, think
of preserving our Civil or Religious Constitution, because we
were (6) engaged in a War abroad. It will be among the
distinguishing Marks of your Ministry, My Lord, that you had the
Genius above all such Regards, and that no reasonable Proposal
for the Honour, the Advantage, or the Ornament of Your Country,
however foreign to Your immediate Office was ever neglected by
You. I confess, the Merit of this Candor and Condescension is
very much lessened, because Your Lordship hardly leaves us room
to offer our good Wishes, removing all our Difficulties, and
supplying all our Wants, faster than the most visionary Projector
can adjust his Schemes. And therefore, My Lord, the Design of
this Paper is not so much to offer You _Ways and Means_, as to
complain of a _Grievance_, the redressing of which is to be Your
own Work, as much as that of paying the _Nation's Debts_, or
opening a Trade into the _South (7) Sea; and though not of such
immediate Benefit as either of these, or any other of Your
glorious Actions, yet perhaps, in future Ages, not less to Your
Honour.

My Lord; I do here in the Name of all the Learned and Polite
Persons of the Nation, complain to your Lordship, as _First
Minister_, the our Language is extremely imperfect; that its
daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily
Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have
chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities; and, that in many
Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar. But lest
Your Lordship should think my Censure to be too severe, I shall
take leave to be more particular. (8)

I Believe Your Lordship will agree with me in the Reason,
Why our Language is less Refined than those of _Italy_, _Spain_,
or _France_. 'Tis plain that the _Latin_ Tongue, in its Purity,
was never in this Island, towards the Conquest of which few or
no Attempts were made till the Time of _Claudius_; neither was
that Language ever so vulgar in _Britain_, as it is known to have
been in _Gaul_ and _Spain_. Further, we find, that the _Roman_
Legions here, were at length all recalled to help their Country
against the _Goths_, and other barbarous Invaders. Mean time, the
_Britains, left to shift for themselves, and daily harassed by
cruel Inroads from the _Picts_, were forced to call in the
_Saxons_ for their Defense; who, consequently, reduced the
greatest Part of the Island to their own Power, drove the
_Britains_ (9) into the most remote and mountainous Parts, and
the rest of the Country, in Customs, Religion, and Language,
became wholly _Saxon_. This I take to be the Reason why there are
more _Latin_ words remaining in the _British_ Tongue, than in the
old _Saxon_; which, excepting some few Variations in the
Orthography, is the same, in most original Words, with our
present _English_, as well as with the _German_, and other
_Northern_ Dialects.

_Edward the Confessor_ having lived long in _France_,
appears to be the first who introduced any mixture of the
_French_ Tongue with the _Saxon_; the Court affecting what the
Prince was fond of, and others taking it up for a Fashion, as it
is now with us. _William the Conqueror_ proceeded much further;
bringing over with him vast (10) numbers of that Nation;
scattering them in every Monastery; giving them great Quantities
of Land, directing all Pleadings to be in that Language, and
endeavouring to make it universal in the Kingdom. This, at least,
is the Opinion generally received. But Your Lordship hath fully
convinced me, that the _French_ Tongue made yet a greater
Progress here under _Harry the Second_, who had large Territories
on that Continent, both from his Father and his Wife, made
frequent Journeys and Expeditions there, and was always attended
with a number of his Countrymen, Retainers at his Court. For
some Centuries after, there was a constant Intercourse between
_France_ and _England_, by the Dominions we possessed there, and
the Conquests we made; so that our Language, between two and
three hundred Years ago, seems to have had a greater mixture with
_French_. than at present; (11) many Words having been afterwards
rejected, and some since the time of _Spencer_; although we have
still retained not a few, which have been long antiquated in
_France_. I could produce several Instances of both kinds, if it
were of any Use or Entertainment.
TO examine into the several Circumstances by which the
Language of a Country may be altered, would force me to enter
into a wide Field. I shall only observe, That the _Latin_, the
_French_, and the _English_, seem to have undergone the same
Fortune. The first, from the Days of _Romulus_ to those of
_Julius Caesar_, suffered perpetual Changes, and by what we meet
in those Authors who occasionally speak on that Subject, as well
as from certain Fragments of old Laws, it is manifest, that the
_Latin_, Three hundred Years before _Tully_, was as (12)
unintelligible in his Time, as the _English_ and _French_ of the
same Period are now; and these two have changed as much since
_William the Conqueror_ (which is but little less than Seven
hundred Years) as the _Latin_ appears to have done in the like
Term. Whether our Language or the _French_ will decline as fast
as the _Roman_ did, is a Question that would perhaps admit more
Debate than it is worth. There were many Reasons for the
Corruptions of the last: As, the Change of their Government into
a Tyranny, which ruined the Study of Eloquence, there being no
further Use of Encouragement for popular Orators: Their giving
not only the Freedom of the City, but Capacity for Employments,
to several Towns in _Gaul_, _Spain_, and _Germany_, and other
distant Parts, as far as _Asia_; which brought a great Number of
(13) forein Pretenders into _Rome_ : The slavish Disposition of
the Senate and the People, by which the Wit and Eloquence of the
Age were wholly turned into Panegyrick, the most barren of all
Subjects: The great Corruption of Manners, and Introduction of
forein Luxury, with forein Terms to express it; with several
others that might be assigned: Not to mention those Invasions
from the _Goths_ and _Vandals_, which are too obvious to insist
on.

THE _Roman_ Language arrived at great Perfection before it
began to decay: And the _French_ for these last Fifty Years hath
been polishing as much as it will bear, and appears to be
declining by the natural Inconstancy of that People, and the
Affection of some late Authors to introduce and multiply _Cant_
Words, (14) which is the most ruinous Corruption in any Language.
_La Bruyere_ a late celebrated Writer among them, makes use of
many hundred new Terms, which are not to be found in any of the
common Dictionaries before his Time. But the _English_ Tongue
is not arrived to such a Degree of Perfection, as to make us
apprehend any Thoughts of its Decay; and if it were once refined
to a certain Standard, perhaps there might be Ways found out to
fix it for ever; or at least till we are invaded and made a
Conquest by some other State; and even then our best Writings
might probably be preserved with Care, and grow into Esteem, and
the Authors have a Chance of Immortality.

BUT without such great Revolutions as these, (to which we
are, (15) I think less subject than Kingdoms upon the Continent)
I see no absolute Necessity why any Language would be perpetually
; for we find many Example to the contrary. From _Homer_ to
_Plutarch_ are above a Thousand Years; so long at least the
Purity of the _Greek_ Tongue may be allow'd to last, and we know
not how far before. The _Grecians_ spread their Colonies round
all the Coasts of _Asia Minor_, even to the _Northern_ Parts,
lying towards the _Euxine_; in every Island of the _Aegean Sea_,
and several others in the _Mediterranean_, where the Language was
preserved entire for many Ages, after they themselves became
Colonies to _Rome_, and till they were over-run by the barbarous
Nations, upon the Fall of that Empire. The _Chinese_ have Books
in their Language above two Thousand Years old, neither have the
frequent Conquests (16) of the _Tartars_ been able to alter it.
The _German, Spanish, and Italian_, have admitted few or no
Changes for some Ages past. The other Languages of _Europe_ I
know nothing of, neither is there any occasion to consider them.

HAVING taken this compass, I return to those Considerations
upon our own Language, which I would humbly offer Your Lordship.
The Period wherein the _English_ Tongue received most
Improvement, I take to commence with the beginning of Queen
_Elizabeth's_ Reign, and to conclude with the Great Rebellion in
Forty Two. 'Tis true, there was a very ill Taste both of Style
and Wit, which prevailed under King _James_ the First, but that
seems to have been corrected in the first Years of his Successor,
who among (17) many other qualifications of an excellent Prince,
was a great Patron of Learning. From the Civil War to this
present Time, I am apt to doubt whether the Corruptions in our
Language have not at least equalled the Refinements of it; and
these Corruptions very few of the best Authors of our Age have
wholly escaped/ During the Usurpation, such and Infusion of
Enthusiastick Jargon prevailed in every Writing, as was not shook
off in many Years after. To this succeeded that Licentiousness
which entered with the _Restoration_, and from infecting our
Religion and Morals, fell to corrupt our Language; which last was
not like to be much improved by those who at that Time made up
the Court of King _Charles_ the Second; either such who had
followed Him in His Banishment, or who had been (18) altogether
conversant in the Dialect of those _Fanatick Times_; or young
Men, who had been educated in the same Company; so that the
_Court_, which used to be the Standard of Propriety and
Correctness of Speech, was then, and, I think, hath ever since
continued the worst School in _England_ for that Accomplishment;
and so will remain, till better Care be taken in the Education
of our your Nobility, that they may set out into the World with
some Foundation of Literature, in order to qualify them for
Patterns of Politeness. The Consequence of this Defect, upon our
Language, may appear from Plays, and other Compositions, written
for Entertainment with the Fifty Years past; filled with a
Secession of affected Phrases, and new, conceited Words, either
borrowed from the current (19) Style of the Court, or from those
who, under the Character of Men of Wit and Pleasure, pretended
to give the Law. Many of these Refinements have already been long
antiquated, and are now hardly intelligible; which is no wonder,
when they were the Product only of Ignorance and Caprice.

I HAVE never known this great Town without one or more
_Dunces_ of Figure, who had Credit enough to give Rise to some
new Word, and propagate it in most Conversations, though it had
neither Humor, nor Significancy. If it struck the present Taste,
it was soon transferred into the Plays and current Scribbles of
the Week, and became an Addition to our Language; while the Men
of Wit and Learning, instead of early obviating such Corruptions,
were too (20) often seduced to imitate and comply with them.

There is another Sett of Men who have contributed very must
to the spoiling of the _English_ Tongue; I mean the Poets, from
the Time of the Restoration. These Gentlemen, although they could
not be insensible how much our Language was already overstocked
with Monosyllables; yet, to same Time and Pains, introduced that
barbarous Custom of abbreviating Words, to fit them to the
Measure of their Verses; and this they have frequently done, so
very injudiciously, as to form such harsh unharmonious Sounds,
that none but a _Northern_ Ear could endure: They have joined the
most obdurate Consonants without one intervening Vowel, only to
shorten a Syllable: And their Taste in time became so (21)
depraved, that what was a first a Poetical License not to be
justified, they made their Choice, alledging, that the Words
pronounced at length, sounded faint and languid. This was a
Pretence to take up the same Custom in Prose; so that most of the
Books we see now a-days, are full of those Manglings and
Abbreviations. Instances of this Abuse are innumerable: What does
Your Lordship think of the Words, _Drudg'd, Disturb'd, Rebuk't,
Fledg'd, and a thousand others, every where to be met in Prose
as well as Verse? Where, by leaving out a Vowel to save a
Syllable, we form so jarring a Sound, and so difficult to utter,
that I have often wondred how it could ever obtain.

ANOTHER Cause (and perhaps borrowed from the former) which
hath contributed not a little (22) to the maiming of our
Language, is a foolish Opinion, advanced of late Years, that we
ought to spell exactly as we speak; which beside the obvious
Inconvenience of utterly destroying our Etymology, would be a
thing we should never see an End of. Not only the several Towns
and Countries of _England_, have a different way of Pronouncing,
but even here in _London_, they clip their Words after one Manner
about the Court, another in the City, and a third in the Suburbs;
and in a few Years, it is probable, will all differ from
themselves, as Fancy or Fashion shall direct: All which reduced
to Writing would entirely confound Orthography. Yet many People
are so fond of this Conceit, that is sometimes a difficult matter
to read modern Books and Pamphlets, where the Words are so
curtailed, and varied from their (23) original Spelling, that
whoever hath been used to plain _English_, will hardly know them
by sight.

SEVERAL young Men at the Universities, terribly possed with
the fear of Pedantry, run into a worse Extream, and think all
Politeness to consist in reading the daily Trash sent down to
them from hence: This they call _knowing the World_, and _reading
Men and Manners_. Thus furnished they come up to Town, reckon
all their Errors for Accomplishments, borrow the newest Sett of
Phrases, and if they take a Pen into their Hands, all the odd
Words they have picked up in a Coffee-House, or a Gaming
Ordinary, are produced as Flowers of Style; and the Orthography
refined to the utmost. To this we owe those monstrous
Productions, which under the Names of _Trips_, _Spies_,
_Amusements_ (24), and other conceited Appellations, have over-
run us for some Years past. To this we owe that strange Race of
Wits, who tell us, they Write to the _Humour of the Age_: And I
wish I could say, these quaint Fopperies were wholly absent from
graver Subjects. In short, I would undertake to shew Your
Lordship several Pieces, where the Beauties of this kind are so
prominent, that with all your Skill in Languages, you could never
be able either to read or understand them.

BUT I am very much mistaken, if many of these false
Refinements among us, do not arise from a Principle which would
quite destroy their Credit, if it were well understood and
considered. For I am afraid, My Lord, that with all the real good
Qualities of our Country, we are naturally not very Polite. (25)
This perpetual Disposition to shorten our Words, by retrenching
the Vowels, is nothing else but a tendency to lapse into the
Barbarity of those _Northern_ Nations from whom we are descended,
and whose Languages labour all under the same Defect. For it is
worthy our Observation, that the _Spaniard_, the _French_, and
the _Italians_, although derived from the same _Northern_
Ancestors with our selves, are, with the utmost Difficulty,
taught to pronounce our Words, which the _Suedes_ and _Danes_,
as well as the _Germans_ and the _Dutch_, attain to with Ease,
because our Syllables resemble theirs in the Roughness and
Frequency of Consonants. Now, as we struggle with an ill Climate
to improve the nobler kinds of Fruit, are at the Expence of Walls
to receive and reverberated the faint Rays of the Sun, and fence
against the _Northern_ (26) Blasts; we sometimes by the help of
a good Soil equal the Production of warmer Countries, who have
no need to be at so much Cost or Care. It is the same thing with
respect to the politer Arts among us; and the same Defect of Heat
which gives a Fierceness to our Natures, may contribute to that
Roughness of our Language, which bears some Analogy to the harsh
Fruit of colder Countries. For I do not reckon that we want a
_Genius_ more than the rest of our Neighbours: But Your Lordship
will be of my Opinion, that we ought to struggle with these
natural Disadvantages as much as we can, and be careful whom we
employ, whenever we design to correct them, which is a Work that
has hitherto been assumed by the least qualified Hands. So that
if the Choice had been left to me, I would rather have (27)
trusted the Refinement of our Language, as far as it relates to
Sound, to the Judgment of the Women, than of illiterate Court-
Fops, half-witted Poets, and University-Boys. For, it is plain
that Women in their manner of corrupting Words, do naturally
discard the Consonants, as we do the Vowels. What I am going to
tell Your Lordship, appears very trifling; that more than once,
where some of both Sexes were in Company, I have persuaded two
or three of each, to take a Pen, and write down a number of
Letters joyned together, just as it came into their Heads, and
upon reading this Gibberish we have found that which the Men had
writ, by the frequent encountering of rough Consonants, to sound
like _High Dutch_; and the other by the Women, like _Italian_,
abounding in Vowels and Liquids. Now, though (28) I would by no
means give Ladies the Trouble of advising us in the Reformation
of our Language; yet I cannot help thinking, that since they have
been left out of all Meetings, except Parties at Play, or where
worse Designs are carried on, our Conversation hath very much
degenerated.

IN order to reform our Language, I conceive, My Lord, that
a free judicious Choice should be made of such Persons, as are
generally allowed to be best qualified for such a Work, without
any regard to Quality, Party, or Profession. These, to a certain
Number at least, should assemble at some appointed Time and
Place, and fix on Rules by which they design to proceed. What
Methods they will take, is not for me to prescribe. Your
Lordship, and (29) other Persons in great Employment, might
please to be of the Number; and I am afraid, such a Society would
want Your Instruction and Example, as much as Your Protection:
For, I have, not without a little Envy, observed of late, the
Style of some great Ministers very much to exceed that of any
other Productions.

THE Persons who are to undertake this Work, will have the
Example of the French before them, to imitate where these have
proceeded right, and to avoid their Mistakes. Besides the
Grammar-part, wherein we are allowed to be very defective, they
will observe many gross Improprieties, which however authorised
by Practice, and grown familiar, ought to be discarded. They will
find many Words that deserve to be utterly thrown (30) out of our
Language, many more to be corrected; and perhaps not a few, long
since antiquated, which ought to be restored, on account of their
Energy and Sound.

BUT what I have most at Heart is, that some Method should
be thought on for _ascertaining_ and _fixing_ our Language for
ever, after such Alterations are made in it as shall be thought
requisite. For I am of Opinion, that it is better a Language
should not be wholly perfect, that it should be perpetually
changing; and we must give over at one Time, or at length
infallibly change for the worse: As the _Romans_ did, when they
began to quit their _Simplicity_ of Style for affected
Refinements; such as we meet in _Tacitus_ and other Authors,
which ended by degrees in many (31) Barbarities, even before the
_Goths_ had invaded _Italy_.

THE Fame our Writers is usually confined to these two
Islands, and it is hard it should be limited in _Time_, as much
as _Place_, by the perpetual Variations of our Speech. It is Your
Lordship's Observation, that if it were not for the _Bible_ and
_Common Prayer Book_ in the vulgar Tongue, we should hardly be
able to understand any Thing that was written among us an hundred
Years ago: Which is certainly true: For those Books being
perpetually read in Churches, have proved a kind of Standard for
Language, especially to the common People. And I doubt whether
the Alterations since introduced, have added much to the Beauty
or Strength of the _English_ Tongue, though they have taken off
a great deal from that _Simplicity_ (32), which is one of the
greatest Perfections in any Language. You, My Lord, who are so
conversant in the Sacred Writings, and so great a Judge of them
in their Original, will agree, that no Translation our Country
ever yet produced, hath come up to that of the _Old and New
Testament_: And by the many beautiful Passages, which I have
often had the Honor to hear Your Lordship cite from thence, I am
persuaded that the Translators of Bible were Masters of an
_English) Style much fitter for that Work, than any we see in our
present Writings, which I take to be owing to the _Simplicity_
that runs through the whole. Then, as to the greatest part of
our _Liturgy_, compiled long before the Translation of the
_Bible_ now in use, and little altered since; there seem to be
in it as great strains of true sublime Eloquence, as are (33) any
where to be found in our Language; which every Man of good Taste
will observe in the _Communion Service_, that of Burial, and
other Parts.

BUT where I say, that I would have our Language, after it
is duly correct, always to last; I do not mean that is should
never by enlarged: Provided, that no Word which a Society shall
give a Sanction to, be afterwards antiquated and exploded, that
they may have liberty to receive whatever new ones they shall
find occasion for: Because then the old Books will yet be always
valuable, according to their intrinsick Worth, and not thrown
aside on account of unintelligible Words and Phrases, which
appear harsh and uncouth, only because they are out of Fashion.
Had the _Roman_ Tongue continued vulgar in that City till this
(34) Time; it would have been absolutely necessary from the
mighty Changes that have been made in Law and Religion; from the
many Terms of Art required in Trade and in War; from the new
Inventions that have happened in the World: From the vast
spreading of Navigation and Commerce, with many other obvious
Circumstances, to have made Great Additions to that Language; yet
the Ancients would still have been read, and understood with
Pleasure and Ease. The _Greek_ Tongue received many Enlargements
between the Time of _Homer_, and that of _Plutarch_, yet the
former Author was probably as well understood in _Trajan's_ Time,
as the latter. What _Horace_ says of _Words going off and
perishing like Leaves, and new ones coming in their Place_, is
a Misfortune he laments, rather than a Thing he approves; But I
cannot see why (35) this should be absolutely necessary, or if
it were, what would have become of his _Monumentum aere
perennuus_.

WRITING by Memory only, as I do at present, I would gladly
keep within my Depth; and therefore shall not enter into further
Particulars. Neither do I pretend more than to shew the
Usefulness of this Design, and to make some general Observations,
leaving the rest to that of Society, which I hope will owe its
Institution and Patronage to Your Lordship. Besides, I would
willingly avoid Repetition, having about a Year ago, communicated
to the Publick, much of what I had to offer upon this Subject,
by the hands of an ingenious Gentleman, who for a long Time did
thrice a Week divert or instruct the Kingdom by his Papers; and
is supposed (36) to pursue the same Design at present under the
Title of _Spectator_. This Author, who hath tried the Force and
Compass of our Language with so much Success, agrees entirely
with me in most of my Sentiments relating to it; so do the
greatest part of the Men of Wit and Learning, whom I have had the
Happiness to converse with; and therefore I imagine that such a
Society would be pretty unanimous in the main Points.

YOUR Lordship must allow, that such a Work as this, brought
to Perfection, would very much contribute to the Glory of Her
Majesty's Reign; which ought to be recorded in Words more durable
than Brass, and such as our Posterity may read a thousand Years
hence, with Pleasure as well as Admiration. I have always
disapproved (37) that false Compliment to Princes, that the most
lasting Monument they can have, is the Hearts of their Subjects.
It is indeed their greatest present Felicity to reign in their
Subjects Hearts; but these are too perishable to preserve their
Memories, which can only be done by the Pens of able and faithful
Historians. And I take it to be Your Lordship's Duty, as _Prime
Minister_, to give order for inspecting our Language, and
rendring it fit to record the History of so great and good a
Princess. Besides, My Lord, as disinterested as You appear to the
World, I am convinced, that no Man is more in the Power of a
prevailing favorite Passion that Your Self; I mean that Desire
of true and lasting Honor, which you have born along with You
through every Stage of Your Life. To this You have often
sacrificed Your Interest, Your (38) Ease and Your Health: For
preserving and encreasing this, you have exposed Your Person to
secret Treachery, and open Violence. There is not perhaps an
Example in History of any Minister, who in so short a time hath
performed so many great Things, and overcome so many great
Difficulties. Now, tho' I am fully convinced, that You fear God,
honor Your QUEEN, and love Your Country, as much as any of Your
Fellow-Subjects; yet I must believe that the Desire of Fame hath
been no inconsiderable Motive to quicken You in the Pursuit of
those Actions which will best deserve it. But at the same time,
I must be so plain as to tell Your Lordship, that if You will not
take some Care to settle our Language, and put it into a state
of Continuance, I cannot promise that Your Memory shall be
preserved above (39) an hundred Years, further than by imperfect
Tradition.

AS barbarous and ignorant as we were in former Centuries,
there was more effectual Care taken by our Ancestors, to preserve
the Memory of Times and Persons, than we find in this Age of
Learning and Politeness, as we are please to call it. The rude
_Latin_ of the _Monks_ is still very intelligible; whereas, had
their Records been delivered down only in the vulgar Tongue, so
barren and so barbarous, so subject to continual succeeding
Changes, they could not now be understood, unless by Antiquaries
who made it their Study to expound them. And we must at this Day
have been content with such poor Abstracts of our _English_
Story, as laborious Men of low Genius would think fit to give us;
(40) And even these in the next Age would be likewise swallowed
up in succeeding Collections. If Things go on at this rate, all
I can promise Your Lordship is, that about two hundred Years
hence, some painful Compiler, who will be at the Trouble of
studying Old Language, may inform the World, that in the Reign
of QUEEN ANNE, Robert Earl of Oxford, a very wise and excellent
Man, was made _High Treasurer_, and saved his Country, which in
those Days was almost ruined by a _Foreign War_, and a _Domestick
Faction_. Thus much he may be able to pick out, and willingly
transfer into his new History, but the rest of Your Character,
which I or any other Writer may now value our selves by drawing,
and the particular Account of the great Things done under Your
Ministry, for which You are already so (41) celebrated in most
Parts of _Europe_, will probably be dropt, on account of the
antiquated Style and Manner they are delivered in.

HOW then shall any Man who hath a Genius for History, equal
to the best of the Ancients, be able to undertake such a Work
with Spirit and Chearfulness, when he considers, that he will be
read with Pleasure but a very few Years, and in an Age or two
shall hardly be understood without an Interpreter? This is like
employing an excellent Statuary to work upon mouldring Stone.
Those who apply their Studies to preserve the Memory of others,
will always have some Concern for their own. And I believe it is
for this Reason, that so few Writers among us, of any
Distinction, have turned their Thoughts to such a discouraging
Employment: For the best _English_ (42) Historian must lie under
this Mortification, that when his style grows antiquated, he will
only be considered as a tedious Relator of Facts; and perhaps
consulted in his turn, among other neglected Authors, to furnish
Materials for some future Collector.

I DOUBT, Your Lordship is but ill entertained with a few
scattered Thoughts, upon a Subject that deserves to be treated
with Ability and Care: However, I must beg leave to add a few
Words more, perhaps not altogether foreign to the same Matter.
I know not whether that which I am going to say, may pass for
Caution, Advice or Reproach, any of which will be justly thought
very improper from one of my Station, to one in Yours. However,
I must venture to affirm that if Genius and Learning be not
encouraged under Your (43) Lordship's Administration, you are the
most inexcusable Person alive. All Your other Virtues, My Lord,
will be defective without this; Your Affability, Candor, and good
Nature; that perpetual agreeableness of Conversation, so
disengaged in the midst of such a Weight of Business and
Opposition; Even Your Justice, Prudence, and Magnanimity, will
shine less bright without it. Your Lordship is universally
allowed to possess a very large Portion in most Parts of
Literature; and to this You owe the cultivating of those many
Virtues, which otherwise would have been less adorned, or in
lower Perfection. Neither can You acquit your self of these
Obligations, without telling the Arts, in their turn, share Your
Influence and Protection: Besides, who knows, but some _true
Genius_ may happen to arise under Your Ministry, _exortus ut
aetherius_ Sol. Every (44) Age migh perhaps produce one or two
of these to adorn it, if they were not sunk under the Censure and
Obloquy of plodding, servile, imitating Pedants. I do not mean
by a true Genius, any bold Writere who breaks through the Rules
of Decency to distinguish himself by the singularity of Opinions;
but one, who upon a deserving Subject, is able to open new
Scenes, and discover a Vein of true and noble thinking, which
never entered into any Imagination before: Every Stroke of whose
Pen, is worth all the Paper blotted by Hundreds of others in the
compass of their Lives. I know, My Lord, Your Friends will offer
in Your Defence, that in Your private Capacity, You never refus'd
Your Purse and Credit to the Service and Support of learned or
ingenious Men; and that ever since You have been in publick
Employment, You have constantly bestowed (45) Your Favours to the
most deserving Persons. But I desire Your Lordship not to be
deceived: We never will admit of these Excuses, nor will allow
Your private Liberality, as great as it is, to attone for Your
excessive publick thrift. But here again, I am afrain most good
Subjects will interpose in Your Defence, by alleging the
desparate Condition You found the Nation in, and the Necessity
there was for so able and faithful a Steward, to retrieve it, if
possible, by the utmost Frugality. We may grant all this, My
Lord; but then, it ought likewise to be considered, that You have
already saved several Millions to the Publick, and that what we
ask, is too inconsiderable to break into any Rules of the
strictest good Husbandry. The _French King_ bestows about half
a dozen Pensions to learned Men in several Parts of _Europe_, and
perhaps a dozen in his whole Kingdom; which, in the whole, (46)
do probably not amount to half the Income of many a private
Commoner in _England_; yet have more contributed to the Glory of
that Prince, than any Million he hath otherwise employed. For
Learning, like all true Merit, is easily satisfied, whilst the
False and Counterfeit is perpetually craving, and never thinks
it hath enough. The smallest Favour given by a Great Prince, as
a Mark of Esteem, to reward the Endowments of the Mind, never
fails to be returned with Praise and Gratitude, and loudly
celebrated to the World. I have known some Years ago, several
Pensions given to particula Persons (how deservedly I shall not
enquire) any one of which, if divided into smaller Parcels, and
distributed by the Crown, to those who might, upon occasion,
distinguish themselves by some extraordinary Production of Wit
or Learning, (47) would be amply sufficient to answer the End.
Or if any such Persons were above Money, (as every great _Genius_
certainly is, with very moderate Conveniences of Life) a Medal,
or some Mark of Distinction, would do full as well.

BUT I forget my Province, and find myself turning Projector
before I am aware; although it be one of the last Characters
under which I should desire to appear before Your Lordship,
especially when I have the Ambition of aspiring to that of being,
with the greatest Respect and Truth,

My Lord,
Your Lordship's
most Obedient, most Obliged,
and most Humble Servant
J. Swift



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