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


IT has been the observation of travellers (as I have been frequently told) that in all the countries they have seen, they never met with fewer publick charitable foundations than in this kingdom.

Private charities, no doubt, will have their reward; but publick are great incitements: and good examples often draw others on, though grudgingly; and so a good work be done, no matter who are the workmen.

When I was lord mayor, I saw some miserable lunaticks exposed, to the hazard of others, as well as themselves. I had six strong cells made at the workhouse for the most outrageous, which were soon filled; and by degrees, in a short time, those few drew upon us the solicitations of many, till by the time the old corporation ceased, we had, in that house, forty and upward. The door being opened, interest soon made way to let in the foolish, and such like, as mad folks. These grew a needless charge upon us, and had that course gone on, by this time the house had been filled with such. The new corporation got rid of most of these by death, or the care of friends, and came to a resolution not to admit any such for the future; and the first denial was to a request of the earl of Kildare, which put a full stop to farther applications. As I take it, there are at this time a number of objects which require assistance; and probably many may be restored, if proper care could be taken of them. There is no publick place for their reception, nor private undertakers, as about London. Friends and relations here would pay the charge of their support and attendance, if there were a place for securing such lunaticks.

I own to you, I was for some time averse to our having a publick Bedlam, apprehending we should be overloaded with numbers, under the name of mad. Nay, I was apprehensive our case would soon be like that in England; wives and husbands trying who could first get the other to Bedlam. Many, who were next heirs to estates, would try their skill to render the possessor disordered, and get them confined, and soon run them into real madness. Such like consequences I dreaded, and therefore have been silent on the subject till of late. Now I am convinced that regard should be had to those under such dismal circumstances; and I have heard the primate and others express their concern for them; and no doubt but very sufficient subscriptions may be had to set this needful work on foot. I should think it would be a pleasure to any one, that has any intention this way, to see something done in their lifetime, rather than leave it to the conduct of posterity. I would not consent to the proceeding on such a work in the manner I have seen our poor-house, and Dr. Stevens's hospital, viz. to have so expensive a foundation laid, that the expense of the building should require such a sum, and so long a time to finish, as will take up half an age.

My scheme for such an undertaking should be much to this effect:

First, I would have a spot of ground fixed on, that should be in a good open air, free from the neighbourhood of houses; for the cries and exclamations of the outrageous would reach a great way, and ought not to disturb neighbours: which was what you did not think of, when you mentioned a spot in a close place, almost in the heart of the city. There are many places, in the outskirts of the city, I can name, very proper.

Next to the fixing of a proper spot, I would, when that is secured, (which should be a good space) have it well enclosed with a high wall, the cost of all which must be known. Then I would have the cells at the Royal Hospital Infirmary, lately made for mad people, be examined, how convenient, and in all points they are adapted to the purpose, with the cost of these cells, which I take to be six or eight. Then I would proceed to the very needful house for the master and the proper servants. Then another building, to which there should be a piazza for a stone gallery, for walking dry; and out of that several lodging cells for such as are not outrageous, but melancholy, &c. This may be of such a size that it may be enlarged in length, or by a return; and overhead the same sort of a gallery, with little rooms, or cells, opening the doors into the gallery; for, by intervals, the objects affected may be permitted to walk at times in the galleries. This is according to the custom of London. Annexed to the master's house must be the kitchen and offices.

This proceeding may be so contrived, as to be enlarged from time to time, as there shall be a fund, and occasion to require additions. There is no necessity for any plans or architects; but any ordinary capacities may contrive those enlargements. Perhaps there may appear some well disposed persons who will say, they will make this enlargement, and so others; and, by such helps, they may be sufficiently done to answer all purposes.

It comes just now into my head, that there is a very proper spot, which I think the chapter of St. Patrick set to one Lee, a bricklayer, or builder. It lies back of Aungier street east, comes out of York street, down a place called the Dunghill, runs down to the end of King street, facing William street; at the north end of which some alms houses are built by Dowling and others. Also there stands, to the front of the street, a large stone building, called an alms house, made by Mrs. Mercer; though, by the by, I hear she is weary of her project, and does little in supplying that house, or endowing it. Perhaps the ground may be easily come at from Lee's heirs; and, by your application, I know not but Mrs. Mercer may give her house up to promote so good a work. This will go a good way, and being followed by subscriptions, a great and speedy progress may be made, in which I will readily join my interest and labour. If that spot fails we will pitch upon another. Whatsoever may be your future intentions do not deny me the consideration of the good your appearance and help may now do. I would not make a step in this affair, if it shall not be agreed, that all matters, which require the consent by votes, shall be determined by the method of a balloting box, that no great folks, or their speeches, should carry what they please, by their method of scoring upon paper, and seeing who marks, &c. too much practised.

If there be nothing in this paper worth your attention, you know how to dispose of it. You have the thoughts of your assured humble servant.