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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Jonathan Swift to a Certain Esquire - 1

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 12


JAN. 3, 1729-30.

SEEING your frank on the outside, and your address in the same hand, it was obvious who was the writer. And before I opened it, a worthy friend being with me, I told him the contents of the difference between us: That your tithes being generally worth five or six pounds per annum, and by the terrour of squireship, frighting my agent to take what you graciously thought fit to give, you wronged me of half my due every year: That having held from your father an island worth three pence a year, which I planted and paid two shillings annually for, and being out of possession of the said island seven or eight years, there could not possibly be above four shillings due to you; for which you have thought proper to stop three or four years tithe, at your own rate of two pounds five shillings a year (as I remember) and still continue to stop it, on pretence that the said island was not surrendered to you in form; although you have cut down more plantations of willows and abeles, than would purchase a dozen such islands. I told my friend, "That this talent of squires prevailed very much formerly in the country: That as to yourself, from the badness of your education, against all my advices and endeavours, and from the cast of your nature, as well as another circumstance which I shall not mention, I expected nothing from you that became a gentleman: That I had expostulated this scurvy matter very gently with you: That I conceived this letter was an answer: That from the prerogative of a good estate, however gotten, and the practice of lording over a few Irish wretches, and from the natural want of better thinking, I was sure your answer would be extremely rude and stupid, full of very bad language in all senses: That a bear in a wilderness will as soon fix on a philosopher as on a cottager; and a man wholly void of education, judgment, or distinction of persons, has no regard, in his insolence, but to the passion of fear: and how heartily I wished, that to make you show your humility, your quarrel had rather been with a captain of dragoons, than the dean of St. Patrick's."

All this happened before my opening your letter; which being read, my friend told me, "I was an ill guesser; that you affirmed you despised me only as a clergyman, by your own confession; and that you had reason, because clergymen pretend to learning, wherein you value yourself as what you are an utter stranger to."

I took some pains in providing and advising about your education; but, since you have made so ill use of my rules, I cannot deny, that according to your own principles, your usage of me is just. You are wholly out of my danger: the weapons I use will do you no hurt; and to that which would keep nicer men in awe, you are insensible. A needle against a stone wall can make no impression. Your faculty lies in making bargains: stick to that. Leave your children a better estate than your father left you; as he left you much more than your grandfather left him. Your father and you are much wiser than I, who gave among you fifty years purchase for land, for which I am not to see one farthing. This was intended as an encouragement to a clergyman to reside among you whenever any of your posterity shall be able to distinguish a man from a beast. One thing I desire you will be set right in: I do not despise all squires. It is true, I despise the bulk of them. But pray take notice, that a squire must have some merit before I shall honour him with my contempt; for I do not despise a fly, a maggot, or a mite.

If you send me an answer to this, I shall not read it, but open it before company, and in their presence burn it; for no other reason but the detestation of bad spelling, no grammar, and that pertness which proceeds from ignorance and an invincible want of taste.

I have ordered a copy of this letter to be taken, with an intention to print it, as a mark of my esteem for you; which, however, perhaps I shall not pursue: for I could willingly excuse our two names from standing in the same paper, since I am confident you have as little desire of fame as I have to give it you.

I wish many happy new years to you and your family; and am, with truth,

Your friend and humble servant.

Let me add something serious: That, as it is held an imprudent thing to provoke valour; so, I confess, it was imprudent in me to provoke rudeness: which, as it was my own standing rule never to do, except in cases where I had power to punish it, so my errour proceeded from a better opinion of you than you have thought fit to make good: for, with every fault in your nature, your education, and your understanding, I never imagined you so utterly devoid of knowing some little distinction between persons.