Open main menu

The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to Lionel Sackville - 1


JAN. 1733-4.

IT has been my great misfortune, that, since your grace's return to this kingdom, I have not been able to attend you as my duty and gratitude for your favours, as well as the honour of having been so many years known to you, obliged me to do. I have been pursued by two old disorders, a giddiness and deafness, which used to leave me in three or four weeks, but now have continued four months. Thus I am put under a necessity to write what I would rather have chosen to say in your grace's presence.

On Monday last week, toward evening, there came to the deanery one Mr. Bettesworth; who, being told by the servants that I was gone to a friend's house, went thither to inquire for me, and was admitted into the street parlour. I left my company in the back room, and went to him. He began with asking me, "Whether I were the author of certain verses, wherein he was reflected on[1]." The singularity of the man, in his countenance, manner, action, style, and tone of voice, made me call to mind that I had once seen him, about two or three years ago, at Mr. Ludlow's countryhouse. But I could not recollect his name; and of what calling he might be I had never heard. I therefore desired to know who and what he was? said, "I heard of some such verses, but knew no more." He then signified to me, "That he was a serjeant at law, and a member of parliament." After which, he repeated the lines that concerned him with great emphasis; said, "I was mistaken in one thing; for he assured me he was no booby; but owned himself to be a coxcomb." However, that being a point of controversy wherein I had no concern, I let it drop. As to the verses, he insisted, "That, by his taste, and skill in poetry, he was as sure I writ them as if he had seen them fall from my pen." . But I found the chief weight of his argument lay upon two words that rhymed to his name, which he knew could come from none but me. He then told me, "That, since I would not own the verses, and that since he could not get satisfaction by any course of law, he would get it by his pen, and show the world what a man I was." When he began to grow over warm and eloquent, I called in the gentleman of the house, from the room adjoining; and the serjeant, going on with less turbulence, went away. He had a footman in the hall during all his talk, who was to have opened the door for one or more fellows, as he has since reported: and likewise, that he had a sharp knife in his pocket, ready to stab or maim me. But the master and mistress of the house, who knew his character, and could hear every word from the room they were in, had prepared a sufficient defence in such a case, as they afterward told me. He has since related, to five hundred persons of all ranks, above five hundred falsehoods of this conversation, of my fears and his own brutalities, against all probability as well as fact; and some of them, as I have been assured, even in the presence of your grace. His meanings and his movements were indeed peevish enough, but his words were not. He threatened me with nothing but his pen, yet owned he had no pretence to wit. And indeed I am heartily glad, for his own sake, that he proceeded no farther; for, the least uproar would have called his nearest neighbours[2], first to my assistance, and next, to the manifest danger of his life: and I would not willingly have even a dog killed upon my account. Ever since, he has amused himself with declaring, in all companies, especially before bishops, and lords, and members of parliament, his resolutions for vengeance, and the several manners by which he will put it in execution.

It is only to the advice of some judicious friends that your grace owes the trouble of this letter: for, though I may be dispirited enough by sickness and years, yet I have little reason to apprehend any danger from that man; and those who seem to have most regard for my safety, are no more apprehensive than myself, especially such as best know his character: for, his very enemies, and even his ridiculers, who are, of the two, by far the greater number, allow him to be a peaceable man in all things, except his words, his rhetorical actions, his looks, and his hatred to the clergy; which however are all known, by abundance of experience, to be perfectly harmless; and particularly as to the clergy. I do not doubt but, if he will be so good as to continue stedfast in his principles and practices, he may at proper junctures contribute very much to the honour and interests of that reverend body, as well as employ and improve the wit of many young gentlemen in the city, the university, and the rest of the kingdom.

What I have said to your grace is only meant as a poor endeavour to preserve myself in your good opinion, and in the continuance of your favour. I am, with the highest respect, &c.

  1. These verses are printed in Vol. VIII of this collection. They occasioned a very good poem, called "Bettesworth's Exultations, in Dunken's Poems," Vol. II, p. 266.
  2. Dr. Swift was then at the Rev. Mr. Worrall's house, which happened to be within three or four doors of Mr. Bettesworth's.