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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Jonathan Swift to Henry Temple - 1

AN ANSWER TO LORD PALMERSTON'S[1] CIVIL POLITE LETTER. [So endorsed.]


MY LORD,
JAN. 31, 1725-6.
 


I DESIRE you will give yourself the last trouble I shall ever put you to. I do entirely acquit you of any injury or injustice done to Mr. Curtis[2]; and if you had read that passage in my letter a second time, you could not possibly have so ill understood me. The injury and injustice the young man received were from those, who, claiming a title to his chambers, took away his key; and reviled, and threatened to beat him; with a great deal of the like monstrous conduct: whereupon at his request I laid the case before you[3], as it appeared to me. And it would have been very strange, if on account of a trifle, and of a person for whom I have no concern farther than as he was once employed by me, on the character he bears of piety and learning, I should charge you with injury and injustice to him, when I know from himself and Mr. Reading, that you were not answerable for either.

As you state the case of tenant at will, I fully agree, that no law can compel you; but law was not at all in my thoughts.

Now, my lord, if what I writ of injury and injustice, were wholly applied in plain terms to one or two of the college here, whose names were below my remembrance; you will consider how I could deserve an answer in every line full of foul insinuations, open reproaches, jesting flirts, and contumelious terms; and what title you claim to give me such treatment. I own my obligation to sir William Temple for recommending me to the late king, although without success; and for his choice of me to take care of his posthumous writings. But I hope you will not charge my being in his family as an obligation; for I was educated to little purpose, if I had chosen his house on any other motives, than the benefit of his conversation and advice, and the opportunity of pursuing my studies. For, being born to no fortune, I was at his death as much to seek it as ever: and perhaps you will allow, that I was of some use to him. This I will venture to say, that in the time when I had some little credit, I did fifty times more for fifty people, from whom I never received the least service or assistance; yet I should not be pleased to hear a relation of mine reproaching them with ingratitude, although many of them well deserve it. For, thanks to party, I have met in both kingdoms with ingratitude enough.

If I have been ill informed, you have not been much better, that I declared no great regard to your family; for so you express yourself: I never had occasion or opportunity to make use of any such words. The last time I saw you in London, was the last intercourse that I remember to have had with your family. But having always trusted to my own innocence, I was never inquisitive to know my accusers. When I mentioned my loss of interest with you, I did it with concern, and I had no resentment; because I supposed it to arise only from different sentiments in publick matters.

My lord, if my letter were polite, it was against my intention, and I entreat your pardon for it. If I have wit, I will keep it to show when I am angry; which at present I am not: because, although nothing can excuse those intemperate words your pen hath let fall, yet I shall give allowance to a hasty person hurried on by a mistake beyond all rules of decency. If a first minister of state had used me as you have done, he should have heard from me in another Style; because in that case retaliating would be thought a mark of courage. But as your lordship is not in a situation to do me good, nor, I am sure, of a disposition to do me mischief; so I should lose the merit of being bold, because I incurred no danger.

In this point alone we are exactly equal; but in wit and politeness I am as ready to yield to you, as in tides and estate.

I have found out one secret; that although you call me a great wit, you do not think me so; otherwise you would have been cautious to have writ me such a letter.

You conclude with saying, you are ready to ask pardon, where you have offended. Of this I acquit you, because I have not taken the offence; but whether you will acquit yourself, must be left to your conscience and honour.

I have formerly upon occasions been your humble servant in Ireland, and should not refuse to be so still, but you have so useful and excellent a friend in Mr. Reading, that you need no other; and, I hope, my good opinion of him will not lessen yours. I am, my lord

Your most humble servant,


  1. Henry, son of sir John Temple (sir William's brother) was created baron Palmerston March 12, 1722, and was chief remembrancer of his majesty's court of exchequer in Ireland. He died Jan. 10, 1757.
  2. A resident master in Trinity college, whom the dean made one of the four minor canons of St. Patrick's cathedral.
  3. Lord viscount Palmerston hath a right to bestow two handsome chambers in the university of Dublin upon such students as he and his heirs shall think proper, on account of the benefactions of this family toward the college buildings.