The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/Certificate to a Discarded Servant


DEANERY HOUSE, JAN. 9, 1739-40.

WHEREAS the bearer served me the space of one year, during which time he was an idler and a drunkard; I then discharged him as such; but how far his having been five years at sea may have mended his manners, I leave to the penetration of those who may hereafter choose to employ him.

  1. The history of this singular certificate is thus related by Mrs. Pilkington, vol. III, p. 78: "Dean Swift discharged a servant, only for rejecting the petition of a poor old woman; she was very ancient, and, on a cold morning, sat at the deanery steps a considerable time, during which the dean saw her through a window, and no doubt commiserated her desolate condition. His footman happened to come to the door; and the poor creature besought him, in a piteous tone, to give that paper to his reverence. The servant read it; and told her, with infinite scorn, "His master had something else to mind than her petition." "What is that you say, fellow?" said the dean, looking out at the window. "Come up here." The man tremblingly obeyed him. He also desired the poor woman to come before him, made her sit down, and ordered her some bread and wine. After which, he turned to the man, and said, "At what time, sir, did I order you to open a paper directed to me, or to refuse a letter from any one? Hark ye, sirrah, you have been admonished by me, for drunkenness, idling, and other faults; but, since I have discovered your inhuman disposition, I must dismiss you from my service: so pull off my clothes, take your wages, and let me hear no more of you." The fellow did so; and, having vainly solicited a discharge, was compelled to go to sea, where he continued five years; at the end of which time, finding that life far different from the ease and luxury of his former occupation, he returned, and, humbly confessing in a petition to the dean his former manifold crimes, assured him of his sincere reformation, which the dangers he had undergone at sea had happily wrought; and begged the dean would give him some sort of discharge, since the honour of having lived with him would certainly procure him a place. Accordingly the dean called for pen, ink, and paper; and gave him a dismission, with which and no other fortune, he set out for London. Among others, he applied to me, who had known him at his late master's; and produced his certificate; which, for its singularity, I transcribed. I advised him to go to Mr. Pope, who, on seeing the dean's handwriting, which he well knew, told the man, "If he could produce any credible person, who could attest that he was the servant the dean meant, be would hire him." On this occasion he applied to me; and I gave him a letter to Mr. Pope, assuring him, that I knew the man to have been footman to the dean. Upon this, Mr. Pope took him into his service; in which he continued till the death of his master.