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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Jonathan Swift to John Gay and Catherine Hyde - 2


DUBLIN, APRIL 13, 1731.

YOUR situation is an odd one; the duchess is your treasurer, and Mr. Pope tells me you are the duke's. And I had gone a good way in some verses on that occasion, prescribing lessons to direct your conduct, in a negative way, not to do so and so, &c. like other treasurers; how to deal with servants, tenants, or neighbouring squires, which I take to be courtiers, parliaments, and princes in alliance, and so the parallel goes on, but grows too long to please me: I prove that poets are the fittest persons to be treasurers and managers to great persons, from their virtue, and contempt of money, &c. —— Pray, why did you not get a new heel to your shoe? unless you would make your court at St. James's by affecting to imitate the prince of Lilliput. —— But the rest of your letter being wholly taken up in a very bad character of the duchess, I shall say no more to you, but apply myself to her grace.


SINCE Mr. Gay affirms that you love to have your own way, and since I have the same perfection; I will settle that matter immediately, to prevent those ill consequences he apprehends. Your grace shall have your own way, in all places except your own house, and the domains about it. There and there only, I expect to have mine, so that you have all the world to reign in, bating only two or three hundred acres, and two or three houses in town or country. I will likewise, out of my special grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion, allow you to be in the right against all humankind, except myself, and to be never in the wrong but when you differ from me. You shall have a greater privilege in the third article of speaking your mind; which I shall graciously allow you now and then to do even to myself, and only rebuke you when it does not please me.

Madam, I am now got as far as your grace's letter, which having not read this fortnight (having been out of town, and not daring to trust myself with the carriage of it) the presumptuous manner in which you begin had slipped out of my memory. But I forgive you to the seventeenth line, where you begin to banish me for ever, by demanding me to answer all the good character some partial friends have given me. Madam, I have lived sixteen years in Ireland, with only an intermission of two summers in England; and consequently am fifty years older than I was at the queen's death, and fifty thousand times duller, and fifty million times more peevish, perverse, and morose; so that under these disadvantages I can only pretend to excel all your other acquaintance about some twenty bars length. Pray, madam, have you a clear voice? and will you let me sit at your left hand at least within three of you, for of two bad ears, my right is the best? My groom tells me that he likes your park, but your house is too little. Can the parson of the parish play at backgammon, and hold his tongue? is any one of your women a good nurse, if I should fancy myself sick for four and twenty hours? how many days will you maintain me and my equipage? When these preliminaries are settled, I must be very poor, very sick, or dead, or to the last degree unfortunate, if I do not attend you at Amesbury. For, I profess, you are the first lady that ever I desired to see, since the first of August 1714[1], and I have forgot the date when that desire grew strong upon me, but I know I was not then in England, else I would have gone on foot for that happiness as far as to your house in Scotland. But I can soon recollect the time, by asking some ladies here the month, the day, and the hour when I began to endure their company? which however I think was a sign of my ill judgment, for I do not perceive they mend in any thing but envying or admiring your grace. I dislike nothing in your letter but an affected apology for bad writing, bad spelling, and a bad pen, which you pretend Mr. Gay found fault with; wherein you affront Mr. Gay, you affront me, and you affront yourself. False spelling is only excusable in a chambermaid, for I would not pardon it in any of your waiting women. Pray God preserve your grace and family, and give me leave to expect that you will be so just to remember me among those who have the greatest regard for virtue, goodness, prudence, courage and generosity; after which you must conclude that I am with the greatest respect and gratitude, madam, your grace's most obedient and most humble servant, &c.


I have just got yours of February 24, with a postscript by Mr. Pope. I am in great concern for him; I find Mr. Pope dictated to you the first part, and with great difficulty some days after added the rest. I see his weakness by his handwriting. How much does his philosophy exceed mine? I could not bear to see him: I will write to him soon.

  1. The day on which queen Anne died, when all his hopes of more preferment were lost.