The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Jonathan Swift to Dr. Tisdall - 1


LONDON, DEC. 16, 1703.

I PUT great violence on myself, in abstaining all this while from treating you with politicks. I wish you had been here for ten days, during the highest and warmest reign of party and faction, that I ever knew or read of, upon the bill against occasional conformity, which, two days ago, was, upon the first reading, rejected by the lords. It was so universal, that I observed the dogs in the streets much more contumelious and quarrelsome than usual; and the very night before the bill went up, a committee of whig and tory cats, had a very warm and loud debate, upon the roof of our house. But why should we wonder at that, when the very ladies are split asunder into high church and low, and out of zeal for religion, have hardly time to say their prayers? The masks will have a crown more from any man of the other party, and count it a high point of merit to a member, who will not vote on their side. For the rest, the whole body of the clergy, with a great majority of the house of commons, were violent for this bill. As great a majority of the lords, among whom, all the bishops, but four, were against it: the court and the rabble (as extremes often agree) were trimmers. I would be glad to know men's thoughts of it in Ireland: for myself, I am much at a loss, though I was mightily urged by some great people to publish my opinion. I cannot but think (if mens highest assurances are to be believed) that several, who were against this bill, do love the church, and do hate or despise presbytery. I put it close to my lord Peterborough just as the bill was going up, who assured me in the most solemn manner, that if he had the least suspicion, the rejecting this bill would hurt the church, or do kindness to the dissenters, he would lose his right hand rather than speak against it. The like profession I had from the bishop of Salisbury, my lord Somers, and some others; so that I know not what to think, and therefore shall think no more; and you will forgive my saying so much on a matter, that all our heads have been so full of, to a degree, that while it was on the anvil, nothing else was the subject of conversation. I shall return in two months, in spite of my heart. I have here the best friends in nature, only want that little circumstance of favour and power; but nothing is so civil as a cast courtier. Pray let the ladies know I had their letter, and will answer it soon; and that I obeyed Mrs. Johnson's commands, and waited on her mother, and other friend. You may add, if you please, that they advise her clearly to be governed by her friends there about the renewing her lease, and she may have her mortgage taken up here whenever she pleases, for the payment of her fine: and that we have a project for putting out her money in a certain lady's hands for annuities, if the parliament goes on with them, and she likes it.

I'll teach you a way to outwit Mrs. Johnson: it is a new fashioned way of being witty, and they call it a bite. You must ask a bantering question, or tell some damned lie in a serious manner, and then she will answer or speak as if you were in earnest: and then cry you, madam, there's a bite. I would not have you undervalue this, for it is the constant amusement in court, and every where else among the great people; and I let you know it, in order to have it obtain among you, and teach you a new refinement.