The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Allen Bathurst to Jonathan Swift - 7

This unsigned letter was originally published as a letter from Lord Allen Bathurst. However, the editors later determined it to be authored by William Pulteney.


BATH, NOV. 22, 1735.

I HAVE been waiting for an opportunity to write to you with safety, because I had a mind to do it with freedom; and particularly to explain to you, what I meant, when I told you some time ago, that I was almost tired with struggling to no purpose against universal corruption. I am now at the Bath, where there are at present many Irish families, and though I have inquired of them all, if any gentleman or servant was returning thither, yet I can hear of none, so that I am forced, if I write at all, to trust my letter by the common post. Nothing is more certain than that this letter will be opened there, the rascals of the office have most infamous directions to do it upon all occasions; but they would every man of them, be turned out, if a letter of mine to you, should escape their intuition. I am thinking what the ministers may get by their peeping; why if I speak my mind very plainly, they may discover two things; one is, that I have a very great regard for you; the other, that I have a very great contempt for them; and in every thing I say or do, still set them at defiance. These things, if they did not know before, they are welcome to find out now; and I am determined in some other points likewise, to speak my mind very plainly to you. You must know then, that when I said I grew weary of contending with corruption, I never meant absolutely to withdraw myself from parliament; perhaps I may not slacken even my personal opposition to the wicked measures of the administration, but really I find my health begins to require some attention, and I labour under a distemper which the long sittings in parliament by no means agree with. When Mr. Faulkner delivered me your former letter (for I have since had one sent me hither by Mr. Pope) I was just got up from my bed, where I had lain the whole night in most excessive torture, with a violent fit of the gravel. I was not able to write you any answer by him, who was to depart in two days, and ever since I have been at this place drinking the waters, in hopes they may be of service to me. Beside this of my ill state of health, I am convinced that our constitution is already gone, and we are idly struggling to maintain, what in truth has been long lost, like some old fools here, with gout and palsies at fourscore years old, drinking the waters in hopes of health again. If this was not our case, and that the people are already in effect slaves, would it have been possible for the same minister, who had projected the excise scheme (before the heats it had occasioned in the nation were well laid) to have chosen a new parliament again exactly to his mind? and though perhaps not altogether so strong in numbers, yet as well disposed in general to his purposes as he could wish. His master, I doubt, is not so well beloved as I could wish he was; the minister, I am sure, is as much hated and detested as ever man was, and yet, I say, a new parliament was chosen of the stamp that was desired, just after having failed in the most odious scheme that ever was projected. After this, what hopes can there ever possibly be of success? Unless it be from confusion, which God forbid I should live to see. In short, the whole nation is so abandoned and corrupt, that the crown can never fail of a majority in both houses of parliament; he makes them all in one house, and he chooses above half in the other. Four and twenty bishops and sixteen Scotch lords, is a terrible weight in one; forty-five from one country, beside the west of England, and all the government boroughs, is a dreadful number in the other. Were his majesty inclined to morrow to declare his body coachman his first minister, it would do just as well, and the wheels of government would move as easily as they do with the sagacious driver, who now sits in the box. Parts and abilities are not in the least wanting to conduct affairs the coachman knows how to feed his cattle, and the other feeds the beasts in his service, and this is all the skill that is necessary in either case. Are not these sufficient difficulties and discouragements, if there were no others; and would any man struggle against corruption, when he knows, that if he is ever near defeating it, those who make use of it, only double the dose, and carry all their points farther, and with a higher hand, than perhaps they at first intended. Beside all this, I have had particular misfortunes and disappointments: I had a very near relation of great abilities, who was my fellow labourer in the publick cause: he is gone; I loved and esteemed him much, and perhaps wished to see him one day serving his country in some honourable station: no man was more capable of doing it, nor had better intentions for the publick service than himself; and I may truly say, that the many mortifications he met with, in ten or twelve years struggling in parliament, was the occasion of his death. I have lost likewise the truest friend, I may almost say servant, that ever man had, in Mr. Merrill[1]; he understood the course of the revenues, and the publick accounts of the kingdom as well, perhaps better, than any man in it, and it is utterly impossible for me to go through the drudgery by myself, which I used to do easily with his assistance, and herein it is that opposition galls the most.

These several matters I have enumerated, you will allow to be some discouragements; but nevertheless, when the time comes, I believe you will find me acting the same part I have ever done, and which I am more satisfied with myself for having done, since my conduct has met with your approbation: and give me leave to return you my sincere thanks for the many kind expressions of your friendship, which I esteem as I ought, and will endeavour to deserve as well as I can. You inquire after Bolingbroke, and when he will return from France. If he had listened to your admonitions and chidings about economy, he need never have gone there; but now I fancy he will scarce return from thence, till an old gentleman, but a very hale one, pleases to die[2]. I have seen several of your letters on frugality to our poor friend John Gay (who needed them not) but true patriotism can have no other foundation. When I see lords of the greatest estates, meanly stooping to take a dirty pension, because they want a little ready money for their extravagancies, I cannot help wishing to see some papers writ by you, that may, if possible, shame them out of it. This is the only thing that can recover our constitution, and restore honesty. I have often thought that if ten or a dozen patriots, who are known to be rich enough to have ten dishes every day for dinner, would invite their friends only to two or three, it might perhaps shame those who cannot afford two, from having constantly ten, and so it would be in every other circumstance of life: but luxury is our ruin. This grave stuff that I have written, looks like preaching, but I may venture to say to you, it is not, for I speak from the sincerity of my heart. We are told a peace is made; if it be true, I am satisfied our ministers did not so much as know of the negotiation; the articles, which are the ostensible ones, are better than could be expected, but I doubt there are some secret ones, that may cost us dear, and I am fully convinced the fear of these will furnish our ministers a pretence for not reducing a single man of our army.

I have just room to tell you a ridiculous story has happened here. In the diocese of Wells the bishop and his chancellor have quarrelled: the consequence has been, the bishop has excommunicated the chancellor, and he in return has excommunicated the two archdeacons. A visitation of the clergy was appointed; the bishop not being able to go himself, directed his archdeacons to visit for him. The chancellor alleges from the constitution of him, this cannot be, and that the bishop can delegate his power to nobody but himself: so that probably all the clergy who attend on the chancellor will be excommunicated by the bishop, and all who obey the orders of the archdeacons will be excommunicated by the chancellor. The bishop in the cathedral, when the sentence of excommunication was going to be read, sent for it, and tore it in the open church; the chancellor afterward affixed it on the church doors. There are a great many more very ridiculous circumstances attending this affair, which I cannot well explain: but upon a reference of the whole to my lord high chancellor, I am told he has declared his opinion in support of his brother chancellor. I am glad I have left no space to put my name to the bottom of my letter; after some things I have said it may be improper, and I am sure it is needless, when I assure you no man can be with more sincerity and regard than I am, your most obedient humble servant.

  1. John Merrill, esq., member of parliament in 1712 for Tregony, and afterward for St. Alban's. He died in December 1734.
  2. Lord Bolingbroke's father, lord St. John.