The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Jonathan Swift to William King - 19


I HAD the honour of a long letter from your grace about a month ago, which I forbore acknowledging sooner, because I have been ever since perpetually tossed between this and London, and partly because there had nothing happened that might make a letter worthy the perusal. It is the opinion of some great persons here, that the words which the house of commons took amiss in your address, might very well bear an application that concerned only my lord Wharton. I find they are against my opinion, that a new parliament should have been called; but all agree it must now be dissolved: but, in short, we are so extremely busy here, that nothing of Ireland is talked on above a day or two; that of the city election I have oftenest heard of; and the proceeding of your court in it, it is thought, might have been wiser. I find your grace seems to be of my opinion, and so I told my lord treasurer. I think your Kilmainham project of an address was a very foolish one, and that for the reason of those who were against it. I hope Ireland will soon be equally convinced with us here, that, if the pretender be in any body's thoughts, it is of those they least dream, and who now are in no condition of doing mischief to any but themselves. As for your convocation, I believe every thing there will terminate in good wishes. You can do nothing now, and will not meet again these two years; and then, I suppose, only to give money, and away. There should, methinks, in the interval, be some proposals considered and agreed upon by the bishops and principal men of the clergy, to have all ready against the next meeting; and even that I despair of, for a thousand reasons too tedious to mention.

My admiring at the odd proceedings of those among the bishops and clergy who are angry with me for getting their first-fruits, was but a form of speech. I cannot sincerely wonder at any proceedings in numbers of men, and especially (I must venture to say so) in Ireland. Meantime, it is a good jest to hear my lord treasurer saying often, before a deal of company, that it was I that got the clergy of Ireland their first-fruits; and generally with this addition, that it was before the duke of Ormond was declared lord lieutenant. His lordship has long designed an answer to the letter he received from the bishops; he has told me ten times, he would do it to morrow. He goes to London this day, but I continue here for a week. I shall refresh his memory, and engage my lord Harley his son to do so too.

I suppose your grace cannot but hear in general of some steps that are making toward a peace. There came out some time ago an account of Mr. Prior's journey to France, pretended to be a translation; it is a pure invention, from the beginning to the end, I will let your grace into the secret of it. The clamours of a party against any peace without Spain, and railing at the ministry as if they designed to ruin us, occasioned that production, out of indignity and contempt, by way of furnishing fools with something to talk of; and it has had a very great effect. Meantime, your grace may count that a peace is going forward very fast. Mr. Prior was actually in France; and there are now two ministers from that court in London, which you may be pretty sure of, if you believe what I tell you, that I supped with them myself in the house where I am now writing, Saturday last: neither do I find it to be a very great secret; for there were two gentlemen more with us beside the inviter. However, I desire your grace to say nothing of it, because it may look like lightness, in me to tell it: Mr. Prior was with us too, but what their names are I cannot tell; for I believe those they passed by when I was there are not their real ones. All matters are agreed between France and us, and very much to the advantage and honour of England; but, I believe, no farther steps will be taken without giving notice to the allies. I do not tell you one syllable, as coming from any great minister; and therefore I do not betray them. But, there are other ways of picking out things in a court; however, I must desire you will not discover any of these little particulars, nor cite me upon any account at all; for, great men may think I tell things from them, although I have them from other hands; in which last case only, I venture to repeat them to one I can confide in, and one at so great a distance as your grace.

I humbly thank your grace for the good opinion you are pleased to have of me, and for your advice which seems to be wholly grounded on it. As to the first, which relates to my fortune, I shall never be able to make myself believed how indifferent I am about it. I sometimes have the pleasure of making that of others; and I fear it is too great a pleasure to be a virtue, at least in me. Perhaps in Ireland, I may not be able to prevent contempt any other way than by making my fortune; but then it is my comfort, that contempt in Ireland will be no sort of mortification to me. When I was last in Ireland, I was above half the time retired to one scurvy acre of ground; and I always left it with regret. I am as well received and known at court, as perhaps any man ever was of my level; I have formerly been the like. I left it then, and will perhaps leave it now (when they please to let me) without any concern, but what a few months will remove. It is my maxim to leave great ministers to do as they please; and if I cannot distinguish myself enough by being useful in such a way as becomes a man of conscience and, honour, I can do no more; for I never will solicit for myself, although I often do for others.

The other part of your grace's advice, to be some way useful to the church and the publick by any talent you are pleased to think I possess, is the only thing for which I should desire some settlement that would make me full master of my time. I have often thought of some subjects, wherein I believe I might succeed: but, my lord, to ask a man floating at sea what he designed to do when he goes on shore, is too hasty a question: let him get there first, and rest and dry himself, and then look about him. I have been pretty well known to several great men in my life; and it was their duty, if they thought I might have been of use, to put me into a capacity for it; but I never yet knew one great man in my life, who was not every day swayed by other motives in distributing his favours, whatever resolutions he had pretended to make to the contrary. I was saying a thing the other day to my lord keeper, which he approved of, and which I believe may be the reason of this: it was, that persons of transcendent merit forced their way in spite of all obstacles; but those whose merit was of a second, third, or fourth rate, were seldom able to do any thing; because the knaves and dunces of the world had all the impudence, assiduity, flattery, and servile compliance divided among them, which kept them perpetually in the way, and engaged every body to be their solicitors. I was asking a great minister, a month ago, how he could possibly happen to pick out a certain person to employ in a commission of discovering abuses, who was the most notorious for the constant practice of the greatest abuses in that very kind, and was very well known not to be at all reformed? He said, he knew all this; but what would I have him to do? I answered, Send any one of your footmen, and command him to choose out the first likely genteel fellow he sees in the streets; for such a one might possibly be honest, but he was sure the other was not, and yet they have employed him.

I promise your grace that this shall be the last sally I shall ever make to a court, and that I will return as soon as I can have leave. I have no great pleasure in my present manner of living, often involved in things that perplex me very much, and which try my patience to the utmost; teased every day by solicitors, who have so little sense as to think I have either credit or inclination to be theirs, although they see I am able to get nothing for myself. But I find I am grown very tedious, and therefore conclude, with the greatest respect, my Lord, &c.