Lewis, Erasmus (DNB00)
LEWIS, ERASMUS (1670–1754), the friend of Swift and Pope, was born at Abercothy, in the vale of Towy, six miles from Carmarthen, on the road towards Llandeilofawr. In 1686 he was admitted a king's scholar at Westminster. In 1690 he was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1693 he graduated B.A. In October 1698 he was in Berlin, with his ‘cousin,’ George Stepney, writing the first of a series of newsletters to John Ellis, M.P. He asked for some government post, and Stepney, in letters to Ellis and the Earl of Macclesfield, supported Lewis's claims (Addit. MSS. 28902 f. 291, 28903 f. 52, &c.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. ii. p. 70). In March 1699 Lewis went to Hamburg, and after visiting Hanover, Brussels, Lille, and other places, reached Paris in the summer. Some time after his arrival, in 1700 or 1701, he became secretary to the English ambassador, the Earl of Manchester, and when the earl was recalled to England in September 1701 he remained behind to wind up affairs. In June 1702 he was in Carmarthen, probably employed as a schoolmaster, and thanked Ellis for favours shown to him in London. In May 1704 Robert Harley made him one of his secretaries (Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 428), and in an anonymous pamphlet, called ‘A Dialogue between Louis le Petite [Lewis] and Harlequin le Grand [Harley],’ Harley is said to have brought Lewis from a country school into his service. In 1708 Lewis was appointed secretary at Brussels (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. i. p. 35), and he was afterwards under-secretary of state under the Earl of Dartmouth and Mr. Bromley.
In September 1710 Swift came to London, and from the 30th of that month constant reference is made in the ‘Journal to Stella’ to Lewis, whom Swift described as ‘a cunning shaver, and very much in Harley's favour,’ in his ‘Horace Imitated’ (bk. i. ep. 7). Swift frequently dined with him, often in company with Prior, Ford, Harley, or St. John. In April 1711 Swift asked Archbishop King to direct letters for him under cover to Lewis, at Lord Dartmouth's office. In December, when the tories feared things were going against them, Lewis talked of nothing but retiring to his estate in Wales; but Lord Oxford declared that he had not ‘the soul of a chicken nor the heart of a mite.’ Meanwhile the negotiations for a peace with France were proceeding, and Swift often consulted Lewis about political pamphlets which he was writing or editing. In October 1712 Lewis was appointed provost-marshal-general of Barbadoes, with power to provide a deputy or deputies to perform the duties. The clause in the patent that the office was to be held ‘during his residence in the said island’ must have been intended to be inoperative (Signet Book, Patents, Publ. Rec. Office).
In January 1713 Lewis ‘had a lie spread on him’ through one Skelton going, by mistake, to another of his name, Henry Lewis, to thank him for despatching a license under the privy seal to enable Skelton to come from France, and in February Swift published ‘A complete Refutation of the Falsehoods alleged against Erasmus Lewis, Esq.’ In May Swift left London for Dublin, and thenceforth frequently corresponded with Lewis. Difficulties were increasing between Lord Oxford and Lord Bolingbroke (St. John), and Lewis urged Swift to return and endeavour to prevent ruin to the party. In November Lewis was chosen M.P. for Lostwithiel, Cornwall. Oxford was dismissed in July, but Bolingbroke's triumph was brought to a speedy end by the queen's death on 1 Aug. and the peaceful accession of George I. Lewis's sympathies were all with his old patron Oxford. Bolingbroke speaks of him as ‘belonging to Lord Oxford,’ and Swift calls him Oxford's ‘chief favourite.’ After Oxford's fall Lewis served him as a kind of steward.
Arbuthnot told Swift in August 1715 that Lewis had ‘gone his progress,’ i.e. probably to Bath and Wales, and that if Swift would revisit them Lewis would furnish him with a collection of new stories far beyond the old ones. Lewis continued to frequent the society of Prior, Arbuthnot, Pope, and Gay, and, according to Arbuthnot, kept company with the greatest, and was ‘principal governor’ in many families. Pope and he stayed together at the house of Lord Bathurst, who, according to Spence, used to call Prior his verseman and Lewis his proseman.
On 1 Oct. 1724, at St. Benet, Paul's Wharf, Lewis married Anne Bateman, a widow of about his own age, fifty-four; her maiden name was Jennings, and her first husband, Thomas Bateman, of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, whom she had married in 1708, had died in 1719. A year later Arbuthnot wrote to Swift: ‘It is worth your while to come to see your old friend Lewis, who is wiser than ever he was, the best of husbands. I am sure I can say, from my own experience, that he is the best of friends.’ For some time previous to this, and until Arbuthnot's death in 1735, Lewis was his near neighbour in Cork Street, Burlington Gardens. In April 1727 the imaginary ‘Richard Sympson,’ writing to his publisher, Benjamin Motte [q. v.], concerning the travels of his ‘cousin, Mr. Samuel Gulliver,’ the second edition of which was just about to appear, desired Motte ‘to go to the house of Erasmus Lewis in Cork Street, behind Burlington House, and let him know you are come from me; for to the said Mr. Lewis I have given full power to treat concerning my cousin Gulliver's book, and whatever he and you shall settle I will consent.’ And to the same sheet there is appended the memorandum: ‘London, May 4th 1727.—I am fully satisfied Erasmus Lewis’ (see Gent. Mag. ii. 1855, pp. 34–6). In 1733 Lewis was a witness to Arbuthnot's will. Pope, writing from Bath, said: ‘Mr. Lewis is a serious man, but Mrs. Lewis is the youngest and gayest lady here.’ Mrs. Lewis was for years an invalid, and her husband attended her most assiduously until her death. She was buried in Westminster Abbey on 25 Nov. 1736.
In 1737 Lewis's sight was failing, but Lord Oxford, the son of his old friend, was as kind to him as Harley had been. He lived quietly in Cork Street with an ‘old maiden niece,’ as Charles Ford calls her, for housekeeper. Pope died in 1744, and left Lewis 5l. to buy a ring. Esther Vanhomrigh, ‘Vanessa,’ left him 25l. for a similar purpose. On 10 Jan. 1754 Lewis died, and was buried on the 15th in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey, his age being given in the funeral book as 83. By his will, made in February 1743, Lewis left 100l. each to Pope, Dr. Mead, and Arbuthnot's daughter Anne, and directed that he was to be buried with his wife, without any monument, except a record of his name and the day of his death. He left 200l. a year for life to his ‘cousin,’ Elizabeth Lewis, spinster, then living with him, and appointed her sole executrix. He mentioned his brothers George and Bernard, his sister Griffies, and cousin Ann. His estates in various Welsh parishes were left to trustees for the use of James Morgan, esq., of Lincoln's Inn, with remainder to his sons. A codicil was added about November 1753. His executrix, Elizabeth Lewis, died in 1762, aged 65. She had considerable property, and was buried with Lewis and his wife.
According to Pope, Lewis was corpulent. Swift, Arbuthnot, Pope, Gay, and Lord Oxford all agree in the high value they placed on his friendship. Lord Oxford speaks of his punctuality, and Arbuthnot of the engaging manner with which he won ladies' money at ombre.
[Pope's Works; Swift's Works; Aitken's Life and Works of Arbuthnot; Chester's Registers of Westminster Abbey; Welch's Alumni Westmonasterienses; Wheatley and Cunningham's London, i. 455; Historical MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. i. p. 35, pt. ii. pp. 70, 91, 92, 101; 11th Rep. pt. v. p. 305; Add. MSS. (Brit. Mus.), 7058, 7077, 15866, 28888, 28893, 28894, 28901–9, 28916.]