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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From William Harrison to Jonathan Swift - 1


UTRECHT, DEC. 16, 1712.


YOUR thanks of the 25th of November, sir, came, before their time; the condition of the obligation being, that you should receive twelve shirts, which number shall be completed by the first proper occasion. Your kind letter, however, is extremely seasonable; and (next to a note from the treasury) has proved the most vivifying cordial in the world. If you please to send me now and then as much of the same as will lie upon the top of your pen, I should be contented to take sheets for shirts to the end of the chapter.

Since you are so good as to enter into my affairs, I shall trouble you with a detail of them, as well as of my conduct since I left England; which, in my opinion, you have a right to inspect, and approve or condemn, as you think fit. During my state of probation with the earl of Strafford, it was my endeavour to recommend myself to his excellency rather by fidelity, silence, and an entire submission, than by an affectation to shine in his service: And whatever difficulties, whatever discouragements fell in my way, I think it appears, that they were surmounted in the end; and my advancement followed upon it sooner than I expected; another would say, much sooner than I deserved, which I should easily agree to, were it not, that I flatter myself there is some merit in the behaviour I kept, when the hopes and temptation of being preferred glittered in my eyes. All the world knows upon what footing Mr. Watkins[2] thought himself with my lord Strafford[3]; and though all the world does not know what I am going to tell you, yet Mr. Watkins does on one hand, and my lord Strafford on the other, that all the credit I had with either, was heartily, and without reserve, employed to make matters easy; and to cultivate in my humble station that good understanding, which our court desired should be between them. I had my reasons for this, and such perhaps as flowed from an inclination to promote my own interest. I knew as well as any man living almost, how much Mr. Watkins was valued by my lord Bolingbroke and others. I foresaw the danger of standing in competition with him, if that case should happen: and, to tell you the truth, I did not think myself ripe in regard of interest at home, or of any service I could pretend to have done abroad, to succeed Mr. Watkins in so good an employment. Above all, I protest to you, sir, that if I know my own heart, I am capable of suffering the utmost extremities rather than violate the infinite duty and gratitude I owe my lord Bolingbroke, by doing an ill office to a person honoured with such particular marks of his lordship's esteem. I might add to this, that I really loved Mr. Watkins; and I beg you, sir, to urge him to the proof, whether, my whole behaviour was not such, as might justify the warmest professions I can make of that kind. After all this, how comes it, that he, either in raillery or good earnest, accuses me of having any resentment against him? By word of mouth when he left us, by letters, so long as he allowed me to correspond with him, and by all the people that ever went from Utrecht to Flanders, have I importuned him for the continuance of his friendship; and, perhaps, even in his absence (if he pleases to reflect) given him a very essential proof of mine. If any body has thought it worth their while to sow division between us, I wish he thought it worth his to let me into the secret; and nothing, he may be sure, shall be wanting on my side to defeat a stratagem, which, for aught I know, may end in the starving of his humble servant.

Which leads me naturally to the second thing proposed to be spoken to in my text; namely, my circumstances. For between you and me, sir, I apprehend the treasury will issue out no money on my account, till they know what is due on that of Mr. Watkins. And if he has any pretensions, I have none, that I know of, but what are as precarious to me, as a stiver I gave away but now to a beggar, was to him. Is it possible, that Mr. Watkins can demand the pay of a commission, which is by the queen herself actually superseded, during his absence from his post? Or is it not as plainly said in mine, that I am her majesty's secretary during such his absence, as in his that he was so, while he resided here? If I must be crushed, sir, for God's sake let some reason be alleged for it; or else an ingenuous confession made, that stat pro ratione voluntas. If you can fix Mr. Watkins to any final determination on this subject, you will do me a singular service, and I shall take my measures accordingly. Though I know your power, I cannot help distrusting it on this occasion. Before I conclude, give me leave to put you in mind of beating my thanks into my lord Bolingbroke's ears, for his late generosity, to the end that his lordship may be wearied out of the evil habit he has got, of heaping more obligations and goodness on those he is pleased to favour, than their shoulders are able to bear. For my own part, I have so often thanked his lordship, that I have new no more ways left to turn my thoughts; and beg, if you have any right good compliments neat and fine by you, that you will advance the necessary, and place them, with the other helps you have given me, to my account; which I question not but I shall be able to acknowledge at one and the same time, ad Græcas calendas.

In the mean time, I shall do my best to give you just such hints as you desire by the next post. Though I cannot but think there are some letters in the office, which would serve your turn a good deal better than any thing I can tell you about the people at the Hague. Your access there abundantly prevents my attempting to write you any news from hence. And I assure you, sir, you can write me none from England (however uneasy my circumstances are) which will be so agreeable, as that of your long-expected advancement. It grieves me to the soul, that a person, who has been so instrumental to the raising of me from obscurity and distress, should not be yet set above the power of fortune, and the malice of those enemies your real merit has created. I beg, dear sir, the continuance of your kind care and inspection over me; and that you would in all respects command, reprove, or instruct me, as a father. For I protest to you, sir, I do, and ever shall honour and regard you with the affection of a son.

  1. This letter is indorsed, "Th. Harrison, esq., secretary of the embassy; since dead, the same year." He owed his post of secretary to the British embassy at Utretcht to the recommendation of Dr. Swift, and was eminent for his genius and learning, was educated at Queen's College, in Oxford, where he took the degree of master of arts, December 15, 1705. Mr. Tickell, who was of the same college, in his poem to his excellency the lord privy seal, on the prospect of peace, pays a compliment to his friend Mr. Harrison, in these lines:

    "That much lov'd youth, whom Utrecht's walls confine,
    To Bristol's praises shall his Strafford's join."

    The reader will find some circumstances relating to him and his last sickness in Dr. Swift's letter, or journal, written to Mrs. Dingley, beginning January 25, 1712-13, by which it appears, that Mr. Harrison coming over to England from Utrecht with the barrier treaty, died on February 14, 1712-13. Mr. Jacob, in his lives and characters of all the English poets, vol. I, p. 70, has committed two mistakes, in calling him William instead of Thomas, and in saying, that he died in Holland in 1713. He mentions among Mr. Harrison's works, Woodstock Park, inscribed to the lord chancellor Cowper.

  2. Henry Watkins, esq., late secretary.
  3. Thomas, earl of Strafford, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the States General.