The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 10/Character of Mrs. Howard





I SHALL say nothing of her wit or beauty, which are allowed by all persons who can judge of either, when they hear or see her. Besides, beauty being transient, and a trifle, cannot justly make part of a character. And I leave others to celebrate her wit, because it will be of no use in that part of her character which I intend to draw. Neither shall I relate any part of her history; farther than that she went, in the prime of her youth, to the court of Hanover with her husband, and became of the bedchamber to the present princess of Wales, living in expectation of the queen's[1] death: upon which event she came over with her mistress, and has ever since continued in her service; where, from the attendance daily paid her by the ministers, and all expectants, she is reckoned much the greatest favourite of the court at Leicesterhouse: a situation which she has long affected to desire that it might not be believed.

There is no politician who more carefully watches the motions and dispositions of things and persons at St. James's, nor can form his language with a more imperceptible dexterity to the present posture of a court, or more early foresee what style may be proper upon any approaching juncture of affairs; whereof she can gather early intelligence without asking it, and often when even those from whom she has it are not sensible that they are giving it to her, but equally with others admire her sagacity. Sir Robert Walpole and she both think they understand each other, and are both equally mistaken.

With persons where she is to manage, she is very dextrous in that point of skill which the French call tâter le pavè; with others, she is a great vindicator of all present proceedings, but in such a manner, as if she were under no concern farther than her own conviction, and wondering how any body can think otherwise. And the danger is, that she may come in time to believe herself; which, under a change of princes, and a great addition of credit, might have bad consequences. She is a most unconscionable dealer; for, in return of a few good words, which she gives to her lords and gentlemen daily waiters before their faces, she gets ten thousand from them behind her back, which are of real service to her character. The credit she has is managed with the utmost thrift; and whenever she employs it, which is very rarely, it is only upon such occasions where she is sure to get much more than she spends. For instance, she would readily press sir Robert Walpole to do some favour for colonel Churchill, or Doddington; the prince, for a mark of grace to Mr. Schutz; and the princess, to be kind to Mrs. Clayton. She sometimes falls into the general mistake of all courtiers, which is that of not suiting her talents to the abilities of others, but thinking those she deals with to have less art than they really possess; so that she may possibly be deceived when she thinks she deceives.

In all offices of life, except those of a courtier, she acts with justice, generosity, and truth. She is ready to do good as a private person, and I would almost think in charity that she will not do harm as a courtier, unless to please those in chief power.

In religion she is at least a latitudinarian, being not an enemy to books written by the freethinkers; and herein she is the more blamable, because she has too much morality to stand in need of them, requiring only a due degree of faith for putting her in the road to salvation. I speak this of her as a private lady, not as a court favourite, for, in the latter capacity, she can show neither faith nor works.

If she had never seen a court, it is not impossible that she might have been a friend.

She abounds in good words, and expressions of good wishes, and will concert a hundred schemes for the service of those whom she would be thought to favour: schemes, that sometimes arise from them, and sometimes from herself; although, at the same time, she very well knows them to be without the least probability of succeeding. But, to do her justice, she never feeds or deceives any person with promises, where she does not at the same time intend a degree of sincerity.

She is, upon the whole, an excellent companion for men of the best accomplishments, who have nothing to desire or expect[2].

What part she may act hereafter in a larger sphere, as lady of the bedchamber to a great q—n (upon supposing the death of his present majesty[3], and of the earl of Suffolk, to whose title her husband succeeds) and in high esteem with a k—g, neither she nor I can foretel. My own opinion is natural and obvious; that her talents as a courtier will spread, enlarge, and multiply to such a degree, that her private virtues, for want of room and time to operate, will be laid up clean (like clothes in a chest) to be used and put on, whenever satiety, or some reverse of fortune, or increase of ill health (to which last she is subject) shall dispose her to retire. In the mean time, it will be her wisdom to take care that they may not be tarnished or moth eaten, for want of airing and turning at least once a year.

  1. Queen Anne.
  2. "I wish I could tell you any agreeable news of what your heart is concerned in; but I have a sort of quarrel with Mrs. H— for not loving herself so well as she does her friends; for those she makes happy, but not herself. There is a sort of sadness about her, which grieves me, and which I have learned by experience, will increase upon an indolent (I will not say an affected) resignation to it. It will dose in men, and much more in women, who have a natural softness which sinks them even when reason does not." Pope, Letters to a Lady, page 76.N.
  3. George the First.