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A NOBLE LORD,
ON OCCASION OF SOME LIBELS WRITTEN AND PROPAGATED
AT COURT, IN THE YEAR 1732-3.
Nov. 30, 1733. Your Lordship’s epistle has been published some days, but I had not the pleasure and pain of seeing it till yesterday: Pain to think your Lordship should attack me at all; Pleasure, to find that you can attack me so weakly. As I want not the humility, to think myself in every way but one your inferior, it
This Letter (which was first printed in the Year 1733) bears the same place in our Author's prose that the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot does in his poetry. They are both Apologetical, repelling the libellous slanders on his Reputation : with this difference, that the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, his friend, was chiefly directed against Grub-street Writers, and this letter to the Noble Lord, his enemy, against Court Scribblers. For the rest, they are both Masterpieces in their kinds; That in verse, more grave, moral, and sublime; This in prose, more lively, critical, and pointed; but equally conducive to what he had most at heart, the vindication of his moral Character: the only thing he thought worth his care in literary altercations; and the first thing he would expect from the good offices of a surviving Friend. W.
Intitled, An Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton-Court, Aug. 28, 1733, and printed the November following for J. Roberts. Fol. W.
seems but reasonable that I should take the only method either of self-defence or retaliation, that is left me against a person of your quality and power. And as by your choice of this weapon, your pen, you generously (and modestly too, no doubt) meant to put yourself upon a level with me; I will as soon believe that your Lordship would give a wound to a man unarmed, as that you would deny me the use of it in my own defence.
I presume you will allow me to take the same liberty in my answer to so candid, polite, and ingenious, a Nobleman, which your Lordship took in yours, to so grave, religious, and respectable, a clergymano: As you answered his Latin in English, permit me to answer your Verse in Prose. And though your Lordship’s reasons for not writing in Latin might be stronger than mine for not writing in Verse, yet I may plead Two good ones, for this conduct: the one that I want the talent of spinning a thousand lines in a Day* (which, I think, is as much Time as this subject deserves), and the other, that I take your Lordship’s Verse to be as much Prose as this letter. But no doubt it was your choice, in writing to a friend, to renounce all the pomp of Poetry, and give us this excellent model of the familiar.
When I consider the great difference betwixt the rank your Lordship holds in the World, and the rank which your writings are like to hold in the learned world, I presume that distinction of style is but ne
* Dr. S.
His Lordship spins a thousand in a day.-Epist. p. 6.
cessary, which you will see observed through this letter. When I speak of you, my Lord, it will be with all the deference due to the inequality which Fortune has made between you and myself: but when I speak of your writings, my Lord, I must, I can do nothing but trifle.
I should be obliged indeed to lessen this Respect, if all the Nobility (and especially the elder brothers) are but so many hereditary fools', if the privilege of Lords be to want brainso, if noblemen can hardly write or read”, if all their business is but to dress and votes, and all their employment in court, to tell lies, flatter in public, slander in private, be false to each other, and follow nothing but self-interest. Bless me, my Lord, what an account is this you give of them? and what would have been said of me, had I immolated, in this manner, the whole body of the Nobility, at the stall of a well-fed Prebendary?
Were it the mere Excess of your Lordship’s Wit, that carried you thus triumphantly over all the bounds of decency, I might consider your Lordship on your Pegasus, as a sprightly hunter on a mettled horse;
* That to good blood by old prescriptive rules,
Gives right hereditary to be Fools.
But recollect the privilege of Lords.
For England's sake wish all could do the same.
The growth of each, few truths, and many lies :
and while you were trampling down all our works, patiently suffer the injury, in pure admiration of the Noble Sport. But should the case be quite otherwise, should your Lordship be only like a Boy that is run away with; and run away with by a Very Foal; really common charity, as well as respect for a noble family, would oblige me to stop your career, and to help you down from this Pegasus.
Surely the little praise of a Writer should be a thing below your ambition: You, who are no sooner born, but in the lap of the Graces; no sooner at school, but in the arms of the Muses; no sooner in the World, but you practise all the skill of it; no sooner in the Court, but you possessed all the art of it! Unrivall’d as you are, in making a figure, and in making a speech, methinks, my Lord, you may well give up the poor talent of turning a Distich. And why this fondness for Poetry? Prose admits of the two excellences you most admire, Diction and Fiction : It admits of the talents you chiefly possess, a most fertile invention, and most florid expression; it is with prose, nay the plainest prose, that you best could teach our nobility to vote, which you justly observe, is half at least of their business': And give me leave to prophesy, it is to your talent in prose, and not in verse, to your speaking, not your writing, to your art at court, not your art of poetry, that your Lordship must owe your future figure in the world.
My Lord, whatever you imagine, this is the advice of a Friend, and one who remembers he formerly had the honour of some profession of Friendship
All their business is to dress, and vote.
from you: Whatever was his real share in it, whether small or great, yet as your Lordship could never have had the least Loss by continuing it, or the least Interest by withdrawing it; the misfortune of losing it, I fear, must have been owing to his own deficiency or neglect. But as to any actual fault which deserved to forfeit it in such a degree, he protests he is to this day guiltless and ignorant. It could at most be but a fault of omission ; but indeed by omissions, men of your Lordship’s uncommon merit may sometimes think themselves so injured, as to be capable of an inclination to injure another; who, though very much below their quality, may be above the injury.
I never heard of the least displeasure you had conceived against me, till I was told that an imitation I had made of ? Horace had offended some persons, and among them your Lordship. I could not have apprehended that a few general strokes about a Lord scribbling carelesslys, a Pimp, or a Spy at Court, a Sharper in a gilded chariot, &c. that these, I say, should be ever applied as they have been, by any malice but that which is the greatest in the world, the Malice of Ill people to themselves.
Your Lordship so well knows (and the whole Court and Town through your means so well know), how far the resentment was carried upon that imagination, not only in the Nature of the Libel* you propagated against me, but in the extraordinary manner,
2 The first Satire of the second Book, printed in 1732.
3 He should have added, that he called this Nobleman, who scribbled so carelessly, Lord Fanny.
* Verses to the Imitator of Horace, afterward printed by J. Roberts, 1732, Fol.