The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to Elizabeth Germain - 1


JANUARY 8, 1732-3.

ALTHOUGH I have but just received the honour of your ladyship's letter, yet, as things stand, I am determined, against my usual practice, to give you no respite, but to answer it immediately; because you have provoked me with your lady Suffolk. It is six years last spring since I first went to visit my friends in England, after the queen's death. Her present majesty heard of my arrival, and sent at least nine times to command my attendance before I would obey her, for several reasons not hard to guess[1]; and, among others, because I had heard her character from those who knew her well. At last I went, and she received me very graciously. I told her the first time, "That I was informed she loved to see odd persons; and that, having sent for a wild boy from Germany, she had a curiosity to see a wild dean from Ireland." I was not much struck with the honour of being sent for, because I knew the same distinction had been offered to others, with whom it would not give me much pride to be compared. I never went once but upon command; and Mrs. Howard, now lady Suffolk, was usually the person who sent for me, both at Leicester-house and Richmond. Mr. Pope (with whom I lived) and Mr. Gay were then great favourites of Mrs. Howard, especially the latter, who was then one of her led-captains. He had wrote[2] a very ingenious book of fables, for the use of her younger son, and she often promised to provide for him. But some time before, there came out a libel against Mr. Walpole, who was informed it was written by Mr. Gay; and although Mr. Walpole owned he was convinced that it was not written by Gay, yet he never would pardon him, but did him a hundred ill offices to the princess. Walpole was at that time very civil to me, and so were all the people in power. He invited me and some of my friends to dine with him at Chelsea. After dinner, I took an occasion to say, what I had observed of princes and great ministers, "That if they heard an ill thing of a private person, who expected some favour, although they were afterward convinced that the person was innocent, yet they would never be reconciled." Mr. Walpole knew well enough that I meant Mr. Gay. I afterward said the same thing to the princess, with the same intention: and she confessed it a great injustice. But Mr. Walpole gave it another turn: for, he said his friends, and particularly to a lord a near relation of yours, "That I had dined with him, "and had been making apologies for myself:" it seems, for my conduct in her late majesty's reign, in which no man was more innocent; and particularly more officious to do good offices to many of that party which was then out of power, as it is well known. Mrs. Howard was then in great favour, and openly protected Mr. Gay; at least, she saw him often, and professed herself his friend: but Mr. Walpole could hardly be persuaded to let him hold a poor little office for a second year, of commissioner to a lottery. When I took my leave of her highness, on coming hither, she was very gracious; told me, "The medals she had promised me were not ready, but she would send them to me." However, by her commands, I sent her some plaids for herself and the princesses, and was too gallant to hear of any offers of payment. Next spring, I came again to England; was received the same way; and as I had many hints given me that the court at Leicester-fields would endeavour to settle me in England (which I did not much regard) the late king died. I went, by Mrs. Howard's orders, to kiss their new majesties hands, and was particularly distinguished by the queen. In a few weeks, the queen said to Mrs. Howard (alluding to one of Mr. Gay's fables) "that she would take up the Hare;" and bad her to put her in mind, in settling the family, to find some employment for Mr. Gay: but, in the event, it proved only an offer to be a gentleman-usher to a girl of two years oid, which all his friends (and I among the rest) advised him not to accept; and accordingly he excused himself with the utmost respect. This I, and every body else were sure must have been a management of Mr. Walpole. As to myself, in a few weeks after the king's death, I found myself not well; and was resolved to take a step to Paris for my health, having an opportunity of doing it with some advantages and recommendations. But my friends advised me first to consult Mrs. Howard; because, as they knew less of courts than I, they were strongly possessed that the promise made me might succeed, since a change was all I desired. I writ to her for her opinion; and particularly conjured her, "since I had long done with courts, not to use me like a courtier, but give me her sincere advice;" which she did, both in a letter, and to some friends. It was, "by all means not to go: it would look singular, and perhaps disaffected;" and, to my friends, enlarged upon the good intentions of the court toward me. I staid; my health grew worse: I left Mr. Pope's house; went to a private lodging near Hammersmith: and, continuing ill, I writ to Mrs. Howard, with my duty to the queen, took coach for Chester, recovered in my journey, and came over hither: where although I have ever since lived in obscurity, yet I have the misfortune, without any grounds, except misinformation, to lie under her majesty's displeasure, as I have been assured by more than two honourable persons of both sexes; and Mr. Gay is in the same condition. For these reasons, as I did always, so I do still think Mrs. Howard, now my lady Suffolk, to be an absolute courtier. Let her show you the character I writ of her, and whereof no one else has a copy; and I take Mr. Pope and Mr. Gay, who judge more favourably, to be a couple of simpletons. In my answer to the last letter which my lady Suffolk honoured me with, I did, with great civility, discharge her from ever giving herself another trouble of that kind. I have a great esteem for her good sense and taste. She would be an ornament to any court: and I do not in the least pity her for not being a female minister, which I never looked on as an advantageous character to a great and wise lady; of which I could easily produce instances. Mr. Pope, beside his natural and acquired talents, is a gentleman of very extraordinary candour; and is, consequently, apt to be too great a believer of assurances, promises, professions, encouragements, and the like words of course. He asks nothing; and thinks, like a philosopher, that he wants nothing. Mr. Gay is, in all regards, as honest and sincere a man as ever I knew; whereof neither princes nor ministers are either able to judge, or inclined to encourage: which, however, I do not take for so high a reach of politicks as they usually suppose: for, however insignificant wit, learning, and virtue, may be thought in the world, it perhaps would do government no hurt to have a little of them on its side. If you have gone thus far in reading, you are not so wise as I thought you to be; but I will never offend again with so much length. I write only to justify myself. I know you have been always a zealous whig, and so am I to this day: but nature has not given you leave to be virulent. As to myself, I am of the old whig principles, without the modern articles and refinements.

Your ladyship says not one syllable, to inform me whether you approve of what I sent you to be written on the monument[3], nor whether you would have it in Latin or English. I am ever, with true respect and high esteem,

Madam, your ladyship's, &c.

The friend I named, who I was afraid would die, is recovered; and his preferment is by turns in the crown and the primate; but the next vacancy will not be in the crown's disposal.

  1. It should be, "not hard to be guessed."
  2. It should be, "he had written."
  3. In St. Andrew's church, Dublin, to the memory of her sister, lady Penelope Berkeley.