Harley, the nation's great support

by Horace


Horace, Epistle VII, Book I: Imitated and Addressed to the Earl of Oxford
Harley, the nation's great support,
Returning home one day from court
(His mind with public cares possessed,
All Europe's business in his breast)
Observed a parson near Whitehall,
Cheapening old authors on a stall.
The priest was pretty well in case,
And showed some humour in his face;
Looked with an easy, careless mien,
A perfect stranger to the spleen;
Of size that might a pulpit fill,
But more inclining to sit still.
My Lord, who (if a man may say't)
Loves mischief better than his meat,
Was now disposed to crack a jest;
And bid friend Lewis go in quest
(This Lewis is an arrant shaver,
And very much in Harley's favour);
In quest, who might this parson be,
What was his name, of what degree:
If possible, to learn his story,
And whether he were Whig or Tory?

Lewis his patron's humour knows;
Away upon his errand goes;
And quickly did the matter sift,
Found out that it was Dr Swift:
A clergyman of special note,
For shunning those of his own coat;
Which made his brethen of the gown,
Take care betimes to run him down:
No libertine, nor over-nice,
Addicted to no sort of vice;
Went where he pleased, said what he thought;
Not rich, but owed no man a groat.
In state opinions a la mode,
He hated Wharton like a toad;
Had given the faction many a wound,
And libelled all the Junta round;
Kept company with men of wit,
Who often lathered what he writ;
His works were hawked in every street,
But seldom rose above a sheet:
Of late indeed the paper-stamp
Did very much his genius cramp;
And since he could not spend his fire,
He now intended to retire.

Said Harley, 'I desire to know
From his own mouth, if this be so?
Step to the Doctor straight, and say,
I'd have him dine with me today.'
Swift seemed to wonder what he meant,
Nor would believe my Lord had sent;
So never offered once to stir,
But coldly said, 'Your servant, sir.'
'Does he refuse me?', Harley cried.
'He does, with insolence and pride.'

Some few days after, Harley spies
The Doctor fastened by the eyes,
At Charing Cross, among the rout,
Where painted monsters dangle out.
He pulled the string, and stopped his coach,
Beckoning the Doctor to approach.

Swift, who could neither fly nor hide,
Came sneaking to the chariot-side,
And offered many a lame excuse:
He never meant the least abuse--
'My Lord--the honour you designed--
Extremely proud--but I had dined--
I'm sure I never should neglect--
No man alive has more respect . . .'
'Well, I shall think of that no more,
If you'll be sure to come at four.'

The Doctor now obeys the summons,
Likes both his company and commons;
Displays his talent, sits till ten;
Next day invited, comes again:
Soon grows domestic, seldom fails
Either at morning, or at meals;
Comes early, and departeth late:
In short, the gudgeon took the bait.
My Lord would carry on the jest,
And down to Windsor takes his guest.
Swift much admires the place and air,
And longs to be a canon there;
In summer, round the park to ride,
In winter--never to reside.
'A canon! that's a place too mean:
No, Doctor, you shall be a dean;
Two dozen canons round your stall,
And you the tyrant o'er them all:
You need but cross the Irish seas,
To live in plenty, power and ease.'
Poor Swift departs, and, what is worse,
With borrowed money in his purse;
Travels at least a hundred leagues,
And suffers numberless fatigues.

Suppose him, now, a dean complete,
Demurely lolling in his seat;
The silver virge, with decent pride,
Stuck underneath his cushion-side:
Suppose him gone through all vexations,
Patents, instalments, abjurations,
First-fruits and tenths, and chapter-treats,
Dues, payments, fees, demands and--cheats
(The wicked laity's contriving,
To hinder clergymen from thriving),
Now all the Doctor's money's spent,
His tenants wrong him in his rent;
The farmers, spitefully combined,
Force him to take his tithes in kind;
And Parvisol discounts arrears,
By bills for taxes and repairs.

Poor Swift, with all his losses vexed,
Not knowing where to turn him next,
Above a thousand pounds in debt;
Takes horse, and in a mighty fret,
Rides day and night at such a rate,
He soon arrives at Harley's gate;
But was so dirty, pale, and thin,
Old Read would hardly let him in.

Said Harley, 'Welcome, reverend Dean!
What makes your worship look so lean?
Why sure you won't appear in town,
In that old wig and rusty gown?
I doubt your heart is set on pelf
So much, that you neglect yourself.
What! I suppose now stocks are high,
You've some good purchase in your eye;
Or is your money out at use?'--
'Truce, good my Lord, I beg a truce!'
(The Doctor in a passion cried),
'Your raillery is misapplied:
Experience I have dearly bought,
You know I am not worth a groat:
But it's a folly to contest,
When you resolve to have your jest;
And since you now have done your worst,
Pray leave me where you found me first.'

Last updated May 19, 2019