The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Thomas Carte to Jonathan Swift - 1


AUGUST 11, 1736.

HAVING at last, after a long application and in the midst of sharp rheumatick pains, the effects of a sedentary life, finished my History of the Life of the first Duke of Ormond, and of the Affairs of Ireland in his Time, I here send you a copy of that work, of which I beg your acceptance. I have endeavoured to follow the instructions you gave me, and hope I have done so in some measure. If it have your approbation in any degree, it will be so much to my satisfaction.

It hath been a long subject of complaint in England, that no history has yet been wrote of it upon authentick and proper materials; and even those who have taken notice of the military actions of our ancestors, have yet left the civil history of the kingdom (the most instructive of any) untouched, for want of a proper knowledge of the antiquities, usages, laws and construction of this nation. Rapin de Thoiras, the last writer, was a foreigner, utterly ignorant in these respects; and, writing his history abroad, had no means of clearing up any difficulties that he met with therein. He made, indeed, some use of Rymer's Fœdera; but his ignorance of our customs suffered him to fall into gross mistakes, for want of understanding the phraseology of acts, which have reference to our particular customs. Besides, Rymer's collection contains only such treaties as were enrolled in the Tower, or in the rolls of chancery: he knew nothing of such as were enrolled in the exchequer, and of the publick treaties with foreign princes enrolled in this latter office. I have now a list of above four hundred by me. Rymer never made use of that vast collection of materials for an English history, which is preserved in the Cotton library: nor ever consulted any journal of our privy council, whenever he refers to any, still quoting bishop Burnet for his author. He never read the rolls of parliament, nor any journal of either house, where the chief affairs within the nation are transacted; and did not so much as know there was such a place as the paper office, where all the letters of the English ambassadors abroad, and all the despatches of our secretaries of state at home, from the time of Edward the fourth to the revolution (since which the secretaries have generally carried away their papers) are kept in a good method, and with great regularity; so that he wanted likewise the best materials for an account of our foreign affairs. These defects have made several of our nobility and gentry desire a new history to be wrote, in which the abovementioned, and other materials as authentick as they, may be made use of. They have proposed it to me, and my objections regarding the vastness of the expense as well as labour, that, to satisfy myself, I must have all materials by me, not only copies out of our records, journals, &c. in England; but even copies of negotiations of foreign ambassadors at this court (e. g. of the French; all the negotiations and letters of which, for two hundred years past, I know where to have copied) they have proposed a subscription of a thousand a year, for as many years as the work will require, to defray this expense. The subscription is begun, and will (I believe) be completed this winter; and then that work will employ all my time. One advantage I already find from the very talk of this design, having been offered several collections and memoirs of particular persons, considerable in their time, which I did not know were in being, and which would else no part of them ever see the light: and the manner of the history's being carried on, will probably make every body open their stores.

This is one reason, among many others, which makes me very desirous of having your judgment of the work I have now published, and that you would point out to me such faults as I would fain correct in my designed work. It will be a very particular favour to a person who is, with the greatest esteem and respect, sir, your very obliged and obedient servant,

Mr. Awnshaw's, in Red Lion court, in Fleet street, London.