The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/Memoirs of P. P. Parish Clerk

While this work is included within The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift and is not attributed to anyone other than Jonathan Swift, it may have been written by another member of the Scriblerus Club. The club, which was founded in 1714, included Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, Henry St John, and Thomas Parnell.




The original of the following extraordinary treatise consisted of two large volumes in folio; which might justly be entitled, "The Importance of a Man to himself:" but, as it can be of very little use to any body besides, I have contented myself to give only this short abstract of it, as a taste of the true spirit of memoir-writers.

IN the name of the Lord. Amen. I P. P., by the grace of God, clerk of this parish, writeth this history.

Ever since I arrived at the age of discretion, I had a call to take upon me the function of a parish-clerk: and to that end, it seemed unto me meet and profitable to associate myself with the parish-clerks of this land; such I mean as were right worthy in their calling, men of a clear and sweet voice, and of becoming gravity.

Now it came to pass, that I was born in the year of our Lord Anno Domini 1655, the year wherein our worthy benefactor esquire Bret did add one bell to the ring of this parish. So that it hath been wittily said, "that one and the same day did give to this our church two rare gifts, its great bell and its clerk."

Even when I was at school, my mistress did ever extol me above the rest of the youth, in that I had a laudable voice. And it was furthermore observed, that I took a kindly affection unto that black letter, in which our Bibles are printed. Yea, often did I exercise myself in singing godly ballads, such as the Lady and Death, the Children in the Wood, and Chevy-chace; and not like other children, in lewd and trivial ditties. Moreover, while I was a boy, I always adventured to lead the psalm next after master William Harris, my predecessor, who (it must be confessed to the glory of God) was a most excellent parish-clerk in that his day.

Yet be it acknowledged, that at the age of sixteen I became a company-keeper, being led into idle conversation by my extraordinary love to ringing; insomuch that in a short time I was acquainted with every set of bells in the whole country: neither could I be prevailed upon to absent myself from wakes, being called thereunto by the harmony of the steeple. While I was in these societies, I gave myself up to unspiritual pastimes, such as wrestling, dancing, and cudgel-playing; so that I often returned to my father's house with a broken pate. I had my head broken at Milton by Thomas Wyat, as we played a bout or two for a hat, that was edged with silver galloon; but in the year following I broke the head of Henry Stubbs, and obtained a hat not inferiour to the former. At Yelverton I encountered George Cummins, weaver, and behold my head was broken a second time! At the wake of Waybrook I engaged William Simkins, tanner, when lo, thus was my head broken a third time, and much blood trickled therefrom. But I administered to my comfort, saying within myself, "what man is there, howsoever dextrous in any craft, who is for aye on his guard?" A week after I had a base-born child laid unto me; for in the days of my youth I was looked upon as a follower of venereal fantasies: thus was I led into sin by the comeliness of Susanna Smith, who first tempted me and then put me to shame; for indeed she was a maiden of a seducing eye, and pleasant feature. I humbled myself before the justice, I acknowledged my crime to our curate, and to do away mine offences and make her some atonement, was joined to her in holy wedlock on the sabbath day following.

How often do those things which seem unto us misfortunes, redound to our advantage! for the minister (who had long looked on Susanna as the most lovely of his parishioners) liked so well of my demeanour, that he recommended me to the honour of being his clerk, which was then become vacant by the decease of good master William Harris.

[Here ends the first chapter; after which follow fifty or sixty pages of his amours in general, and that particular one with Susanna his present wife; but I proceed to chapter the ninth.]

No sooner was I elected into mine office, but I laid aside the powdered gallantries of my youth, and became a new man. I considered myself as in some wise of ecclesiastical dignity, since by wearing a band, which is no small part of the ornament of our clergy, might not unworthily be deemed, as it were, a shred of the linen vestment of Aaron.

Thou mayest conceive, O reader, with what concern I perceived the eyes of the congregation fixed upon me, when I first took my place at the feet of the priest. When I raised the psalm, how did my voice quaver for fear; and when I arrayed the shoulders of the minister with the surplice, how did my joints tremble under me! I said within myself, "remember, Paul, thou standest before men of high worship, the wise Mr. justice Freeman, the grave Mr. justice Thomson, the good lady Jones, and the two virtuous gentlewomen her daughters; nay the great sir Thomas Truby, knight and baronet, and my young master the esquire, who shall one day be lord of this manor." Notwithstanding which, it was my good hap to acquit myself to the good liking of the whole congregation; but the Lord forbid I should glory therein.

[The next chapter contains an account how he discharged the several duties of his office; in particular he insists on the following:]

I was determined to reform the manifold corruptions and abuses, which had crept into the church. First, I was especially severe in whipping forth dogs from the temple, excepting the lapdog of the good widow Howard, a sober dog which yelped not, nor was there offence in his mouth.

Secondly, I did even proceed to moroseness, though sore against my heart, unto poor babes, in tearing from them the half-eaten apples, which they privily munched at church. But verily it pitied me, for I remembered the days of my youth.

Thirdly, With the sweat of my own hands, I did make plain and smooth the dogs ears throughout our great Bible.

Fourthly, the pews and benches, which were formerly swept but once in three years, I caused every Saturday to be swept with a besom and trimmed.

Fifthly and lastly, I caused the surplice to be neatly darned, washed, and laid in fresh lavender (yea, and sometimes to be sprinkled with rose-water) and I had great laud and praise from all the neighbouring clergy, forasmuch as no parish kept the minister in cleaner linen.

[Notwithstanding these his publick cares, in the eleventh chapter he informs us, he did not neglect his usual occupations as a handycraftsman.]

Shoes, saith he, did I make (and if intreated, mend) with good approbation, faces also did I shave, and I clipped the hair. Chirurgery also I practised in the worming of dogs; but to bleed adventured I not, except the poor. Upon this my twofold profession there passed among men a merry tale, delectable enough to be rehearsed; how that being overtaken in liquor one Saturday evening, I shaved the priest with Spanish blacking for shoes instead of a washball, and with lamp-black powdered his peruke. But these were sayings of men, delighting in their own conceits more than in the truth. For it is well known, that great was my skill in these my crafts; yea, I once had the honour of trimming sir Thomas himself without fetching blood. Farthermore, I was sought unto to geld the lady Frances her spaniel, which was wont to go astray: he was called Toby, that is to say Tobias. And thirdly, I was entrusted with a gorgeous pair of shoes of the said lady to set a heelpiece thereon; and I received such praise therefore, that it was said all over the parish, I should be recommended unto the king to mend shoes for his majesty: whom God preserve! Amen.

[The rest of this chapter I purposely omit, for it must be owned, that when he speaks as a shoemaker he is very absurd. He talks of Moses pulling off his shoes, of tanning the hides of the bulls of Basan, of Simon the tanner, &c. and takes up four or five pages to prove, that when the apostles were instructed to travel without shoes, the precept did not extend to their successors.]

[The next relates how he discovered a thief with a Bible and key, and experimented verses of the psalms, that had cured agues.]

[I pass over many others, which inform us of parish affairs only, such as of the succession of curates; a list of the weekly texts; what psalms he chose on proper occasions; and what children were born and buried: the last of which articles he concludes thus:]

That the shame of women may not endure, I speak not of bastards; neither will I name the mothers, although thereby I might delight many grave women of the parish: even her who hath done penance in the sheet will I not mention, forasmuch as the church hath been witness of her disgrace: let the father, who hath made due composition with the churchwardens to conceal his infirmity, rest in peace; my pen shall not bewray him, for I also have sinned.

[The next chapter contains what he calls a great revolution in the church, part of which I transcribe.]

Now was the long expected time arrived, when the psalms of king David should be hymned unto the same tunes, to which he played them upon his harp; so was I informed by my singing-master, a man right cunning in psalmody. Now was our over-abundant quaver and trilling done away, and in lieu thereof was instituted the sol-fa, in such guise as is sung in his majesty's chapel. We had London singing-masters sent into every parish, like unto excisemen; and I also was ordained to adjoin myself unto them, though an unworthy disciple, in order to instruct my fellow parishioners in this new manner of worship. What though they accused me of humming through the nostril as a sackbut; yet would I not forego that harmony, it having been agreed by the worthy parish-clerks of London still to preserve the same. I tutored the young men and maidens to tune their voices as it were a psaltery, and the church on the Sunday was filled with these new hallelujahs.

[Then follow full seventy chapters, containing an exact detail of the lawsuits of the parson and his parishioners concerning tithes, and near a hundred pages left blank with an earnest desire that the history might be completed by any of his successors, in whose time these suits should be ended.]

[The next contains an account of the briefs read in the church, and the sums collected upon each. For the reparation of nine churches, collected at nine several times, 2 s. and 7 d. ¾. For fifty families ruined by fire, 1 s. ½. For an inundation, a king Charles's groat, given by lady Frances, &c.]

[In the next he laments the disuse of wedding-sermons, and celebrates the benefits arising from those at funerals, concluding with these words: Ah! let not the relations of the deceased grudge the small expense of a hatband, a pair of gloves, and ten shillings, from the satisfaction they are sure to receive from a pious divine, that their father, brother, or bosom wife are certainly in Heaven.]

[In another he draws a panegyrick on one Mrs, Margaret Wilkins; but, after great encomiums, concludes, that notwithstanding all, she was an unprofitable vessel, being a barren woman, and never once having furnished God's church with a christening.]

[We find in another chapter, how he was much staggered in his belief, and disturbed in his conscience by an Oxford scholar, who had proved to him by logick, that animals might have rational, nay, immortal souls; but how he was again comforted with the reflection, that if so, they might be allowed christian burial, and greatly augment the fees of the parish.]

[In the two following chapters he is overpowered with vanity. We are told, how he was constantly admitted to all the feasts and banquets of the church officers, and the speeches he there made for the good of the parish. How he gave hints to young clergymen to preach; but above all, how he gave a text for the 30th of January, which occasioned a most excellent sermon, the merits of which he takes entirely to himself. He gives an account of a conference he had with the vicar concerning the use of texts. Let a preacher (says he) consider the assembly before whom he preacheth, and unto them adapt his text. Micah the 3d and 11th affordeth good matter for courtiers and court-serving men. "The heads of the land judge for reward, and the people thereof judge for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money; yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, is not the Lord among us?" Were the first minister to point out a preacher before the house of commons, would not he be wise to make choice of these words? "give, and it shall be given unto ye." Or before the lords, "giving no offence that the ministry be not blamed, 2 Cor. vi. 3." Or praising the warm zeal of an administration, "who maketh his ministers a flaming fire, Psal. civ. 4." We omit many others of his texts as too tedious.]

[From this period the style of the book rises extremely. Before the next chapter was pasted the effigies of Dr. Sacheverell, and I found the opposite page all on a foam with politicks.]

We are now (says he) arrived at that celebrated year, in which the church of England was tried in the person of Dr. Sacheverell. I had ever the interest of our high-church at heart, neither would I at any season mingle myself in the societies of fanaticks, whom I from my infancy abhorred more than the heathen or gentile. It was in these days I bethought myself, that much profit might accrue unto our parish, and even unto the nation, could there be assembled together a number of chosen men of the right spirit, who might argue, refine, and define, upon high and great matters. Unto this purpose I did institute a weekly assembly of divers worthy men, at the Rose and Crown alehouse, over whom myself (though unworthy) did preside. Yea, I did read to them the Post-boy of Mr. Roper, and the written letter of Mr. Dyer, upon which we communed afterward among ourselves.

Our society was composed of the following persons: Robert Jenkins, farrier; Amos Turner, collar-maker; George Pilcocks, late exciseman; Thomas White, wheelwright; and myself. First, of the first, Robert Jenkins.

He was a man of bright parts and shrewd conceit, for he never shoed a horse of a whig or a fanatick, but he lamed him sorely.

Amos Turner, a worthy person, rightly esteemed among us for his sufferings, in that he had been honoured in the stocks for wearing an oaken bough.

George Piicocks, a sufferer also; of zealous and laudable freedom of speech, insomuch that his occupation had been taken from him.

Thomas White, of good repute likewise, for that his uncle by the mother's side had formerly been servitor at Maudlin college, where the glorious Sacheverell was educated.

Now were the eyes of all the parish upon these our weekly councils. In a short space the minister came among us; he spake concerning us and our councils to a multitude of other ministers at the visitation, and they spake thereof unto the ministers at London, so that even the bishops heard and marvelled thereat. Moreover, sir Thomas, member of parliament, spake of the same unto other members of parliament, who spake thereof unto the peers of the realm. Lo! thus did our counsels enter into the hearts of our generals and our lawgivers; and from henceforth, even as we devised, thus did they.

[After this, the book is turned on a sudden from, his own life to a history of all the publick transactions of Europe, compiled from the newspapers of those times. I could not comprehend the meaning of this, till I perceived at last, to my no small astonishment, that all the measures of the four last years of the queen, together with the peace at Utrecht, which have been usually attributed to the earl of Oxford, duke of Ormond, lords Harcourt and Bolingbroke, and other great men, do here most plainly appear to have been wholly owing to Robert Jenkins, Amos Turner, George Pilcocks, Thomas White, but above all, P. P.

The reader may be sure I was very inquisitive after this extraordinary writer, whose work I have here abstracted. I took a journey into the country on purpose: but could not find the least trace of him: till by accident I met an old clergyman, who said he could not be positive, but thought it might be one Paul Philips, who had been dead about twelve years. And upon inquiry, all we could learn of that person from the neighbourhood, was that he had been taken notice of for swallowing loaches, and remembered by some people by a black and white cur with one ear, that constantly followed him.]

[In the church-yard I read his epitaph, said to be written by himself.]

O reader, if that thou canst read,
Look down upon this stone;
Do all we can, death is a man
That never spareth none.