The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Jonathan Swift to Elizabeth Hamilton - 1

NOV. 21, 1712.

WHEN, upon parting with your ladyship, you were pleased to tell me I should find your present at home, natural justice prompted me to resolve, that the first use I made of it should be in paying acknowledgments to my benefactor. But, when I opened the writingtable, which I must now call mine, I found you had neither sent pens, ink, nor paper, sufficient for such an undertaking. But I ought to tell your ladyship in order, that I first got there a much more valuable thing: and I cannot do greater honour to my scrutoire, than to assure your ladyship that your letter is the first thing I have put in it, and shall be the last I will ever take out. I must tell your ladyship, that I am this moment under a very great concern. I was fully convinced that I should write with a new spirit by the influence of the materials you sent me; but it is quite otherwise: I have not a grain of invention, whether out of the confusion which attends us when we strive too much to acquit ourselves, or whether your pens and ink are sullen, and think themselves disgraced, since they have changed their owner. I heartily thank your ladyship, for making me a present that looks like a sort of establishment. I plainly see, by the contrivance, that if you were first minister, it would have been a cathedral. As it is, you have more contributed toward fixing me, than all the ministry together; for it is difficult to travel with this equipage, and it will be impossible to travel or live without it. You have an undoubted title to whatever papers this table shall ever contain (except your letter) and I desire you will please to have another key made for it; that when the court shall think fit to give me a room worth putting it into, your ladyship may come and search it whenever you please.

I beg your ladyship to join in laughing with me, at my unreasonable vanity, when I wished that the motto written about the wax was a description of yourself. But, if I am disappointed in that, your ladyship will be so in all the rest; even this ink will never be able to convey your ladyship's note as it ought. The paper will contain no wonders, but when it mentions you; neither is the seal any otherwise an emblem of my life, than by the deep impression your ladyship has made, which nothing but my death can wear out. By the inscription about the pens, I fear there is some mistake; and that your ladyship did not design them for me. However, I will keep them until you can find the person you intended should have them, and who will be able to dispose of them according to your predictions. I cannot find that the workman you employed and directed, has made the least mistake: but there are four implements wanting. The two first I shall not name, because an odd superstition forbids us to accept them, from our friends; the third is a spunge, which the people long have given so ill a reputation to, that I vow it shall be no gift of your ladyship: the last is a flat ivory instrument, used in folding up of letters, which I insist you must provide.

See, madam, the first fruits this unlucky present of your's has produced. It is but giving a fiddle to a scraper, or a pestle and mortar to an apothecary, or a tory pamphlet to Mrs. Ramsay. Nothing is so great a discouragement to generous persons as the fear of being worried by acknowledgments. Besides, your ladyship is an unsufferable kind of giver, making every present fifty times the value, by the circumstances and manner. And I know people in the world, who would not oblige me so much, at the cost of a thousand pounds, as you have done at that of twenty pounds: which, I must needs tell you, is an unconscionable way of dealing, and whereof, I believe, nobody alive is so guilty as yourself. In short, you deceive my eyes, and corrupt my judgment; nor am I now sure of any thing, but that of being, &c.

  1. This lady had been mistress to king William III.