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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to William Fitzherbert - 1

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 13


MARCH 19, 1734-5.

I HAD, some days ago, a very long letter from a young gentleman whom I never saw; but, by the name subscribed, I found it came from a younger son of yours, I suppose your second. He lays before me, in a very particular manner, the forlorn condition he is in, by the severities of you and your lady, his mother. He freely owns his boyish follies, when he was first brought up to town, at fourteen years old; but he appeals to Dr. Sheridan for the improvement he made in the doctor's school, and to his tutor for his behaviour in the college, where he took his degree with particular credit, being made one of the moderators of his class; by which it appears that he passed for one of the four best scholars in it. His letter contains four large pages in folio, and written in a very small hand; where he gives a history of his life, from the age of fourteen to the present time. It is written with so much spirit, nature, and good sense, as well as appearance of truth, that having first razed out the writer's name, I have shown it to several gentlemen, my friends, of great worth, learning, and taste; who all agree in my opinion of the letter, and think it a pity that so hopeful a youth should not have proper encouragement, unless he has some very disagreeable faults, whereof they and I are ignorant. When I had written thus far, Dr. Sheridan came to see me: I read your son's letter to him, and he was equally pleased with it, and justified the progress the young man had made in his school. I went this evening to visit a lady, who has a very great esteem and friendship for you and Mrs. *****: she told me, "That the young man's great fault was, too much pertness and conceit of himself, which he often showed in your house, and even among company;" which, I own, is a very bad quality in any young man, and is not easily cured: yet, I think, if I had a son, who had understanding, wit, and humour, to write such a letter, I could not find in my heart to cast him off, but try what good advice and maturer years would do toward amendment; and in the mean time, give him no cause to complain of wanting convenient food, lodging, and raiment. He lays the whole weight of his letter to me upon the truth of the facts, and is contented to stand or fall by them. If he be a liar, he is into the bargain an unpardonable fool; and his good natural, as well as acquired parts, shall be an aggravation to me, to render him more odious. I hear he is turned of one and twenty years; and what he alleges seems to be true, that he is not yet put into any way of living, either by law, physick, or divinity; although, in his letter, he pretends to have studied the first, on your promise to send him to the Temple; but, your mind altering, and you rather choosing to send him to Leyden, he applied himself to study physick, and made some progress in it: but, for many months, he has heard nothing more from you; so that now he is in utter despair, loaden with the hatred of both his parents, and lodges in a garret in William street, with only the liberty to dine at your house, and no farther care taken of him.

Sir, although I have seldom been in your company, it is many years since I had the honour of being known to you; and I always thought, as well as heard, that you were a gentleman of great honour, truth, knowledge, modesty, good nature, and candour. As to your lady, I never saw her but once, and then but for a few minutes: she has the character of being a very polite and accomplished person; and therefore, very probably, her son's rough, overweening, forward behaviour, among company with her, without that due deference which only can recommend youth, may be very disgustful to her. Your son desires me, in his letter, to apply to some friends who have most credit with you, that you will please to put him into some way of life; and he wishes that those friends would be so generous to join in contributing some allowance to support him at Leyden. I think, it would have been well if he had been sent to sea in the proper time, or had now a commission in the army. Yet, if he were the original writer of that letter sent to me under his name, I confess myself so very partial, as to be extremely sorry if he should not deserve and acquire the favour of you and your lady: in which case, any parents might be forgiven for being proud of such a son. I have no acquaintance with his tutor, Dr. King; but, if I can learn from those who have, I shall be glad to hear that he confirms the character of the young man's good parts and learning, as Dr. Sheridan has done.

I entreat your pardon for this long letter, and for offering to interfere in a domestick point, where I have no information but from one side: but I can faithfully assure you, that my regard is altogether for the service and ease of you and your lady, and family. I have always thought that a happy genius is seldom without some bent toward virtue, and therefore deserves some indulgence. Most of the great villains I have known (which were not a small number) have been brutes in their understandings, as well as their actions.

But I have already run out my paper, as well as your patience. I shall therefore conclude with the sincere profession of being, with great esteem and truth, sir,

Your most obedient and

most humble servant.