The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 16/A Letter to the King at Arms

A Letter to the King at Arms.

[From a reputed Esquire, One of the Subscribers to the Bank.]

November 18, 1721.

IN a late printed paper, containing some notes and queries upon that list of the subscribers names which was published by order of the commissioners for receiving subscriptions, I find some hints and innuendoes that would seem to insinuate, as if I and some others were only reputed esquires; and our case is referred to you, in your kingly capacity. I desire you will please to let me know the lowest price of a real esquire's coat of arms: and if we can agree, I will give my bond to pay you out of the first interest I receive for my subscription; because things are a little low with me at present, by throwing my whole fortune into the bank, having subscribed for five hundred pounds sterling.

I hope you will not question my pretensions to this title, when I let you know that my godfather was a justice of peace, and I myself have been often a keeper of it. My father was a leader and commander of horse, in which post he rode before the greatest lords of the land; and, in long marches, he alone presided over the baggage, advancing directly before it. My mother kept open house in Dublin, where several hundreds were supported with meat and drink, bought at her own charge, or with her personal credit, until some envious brewers and butchers forced her to retire.

As to myself, I have been for several years a foot-officer; and it was my charge to guard the carriages, behind which I was commanded to stick close, that they might not be attacked in the rear. I have had the honour to be a favourite of several fine ladies; who each of them, at different times, gave me such coloured knots and publick marks of distinction, that every one knew which of them it was to whom I paid my address. They would not go into their coach without me, nor willingly drink unless I gave them the glass with my own hand. They allowed me to call them my mistresses, and owned that title publickly. I have been told, that the true ancient employment of a squire was to carry a knight's shield, painted with his colours and coat of arms. This is what I have witnesses to produce that I have often done; not indeed in a shield, like my predecessors, but that which is full as good, I have carried the colours of a knight upon my coat. I have likewise born the king's arms in my hand, as a mark of authority; and hung them painted before my dwellinghouse, as a mark of my calling: so that I may truly say, his majesty's arms have been my supporters. I have been a strict and constant follower of men of quality. I have diligently pursued the steps of several squires, and am able to behave myself as well as the best of them, whenever there shall be occasion.

I desire it may be no disadvantage to me, that, by the new act of parliament going to pass for preserving the game, I am not yet qualified to keep a greyhound. If this should be the test of squirehood, it will go hard with a great number of my fraternity, as well as myself, who must all be unsquired, because a greyhound will not be allowed to keep us company; and it is well known I have been a companion to his betters. What has a greyhound to do with a squireship? might not I be a real squire, although there was no such thing as a greyhound in the world? Pray tell me, sir, are greyhounds to be from henceforth the supporters of every squire's coat of arms? although I cannot keep a greyhound, may not a greyhound help to keep me? may not I have an order from the governors of the bank to keep a greyhound, with a non obstante to the act of parliament, as well as they have created a bank against the votes of the two houses? but, however, this difficulty will soon be overcome. I am promised 125l. a year for subscribing 500l.; and, of this 500l. I am to pay in only 25l. ready money: the governors will trust me for the rest, and pay themselves out of the interest by 25l. per cent. So that I intend to receive only 40l. a year, to qualify me for keeping my family and a greyhound, and let the remaining 85l. go on till it makes 500l. then 1000l. then 10,000l. then 100,000l. then a million, and so forward. This, I think, is much better (betwixt you and me) than keeping fairs, and buying and selling bullocks; by which I find, from experience, that little is to be gotten in these hard times. I am. Sir,

Your friend, and servant to command,

A. B. Esquire.

Postscript. I hope you will favourably represent my case to the publisher of the paper above-mentioned.

Direct your letter for A. B. Esquire, at ——, in ——; and pray get some parliament-man to frank it, for it will cost a groat postage to this place.