The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/From Jonathan Swift to Francis Atterbury - 5
TO BISHOP ATTERBURY.
SOME persons of distinction, lately come from England, and not unknown to your lordship, have made me extremely pleased and proud, by telling me that your lordship was so generous as to defend me against an idle story that passed in relation to a letter of mine to the archbishop of Dublin. I have corresponded for many years with his grace, though we generally differed in politicks, and therefore our letters had often a good mixture of controversy. I confess likewise that I have been his grace's advocate, where he had not many others. About nine months ago I writ a letter to him in London (for in my little station it is convenient there should be some commerce between us); and in a short time after I had notice from several friends, that a passage in my letter was shown to several persons, and a consequence drawn from thence, that I was wholly gone over to other principles more in fashion, and wherein I might better find my account. I neglected this report, as thinking it might soon die; but found it gathered strength, and spread to Oxford and this kingdom; and some gentlemen, who lately arrived here, assured me they had met it a hundred times, with all the circumstances of disadvantage that are usually tacked to such stories by the great candour of mankind. It should seem as if I were somebody of importance; and if so, I should think the wishes not only of my friends, but of my party, might dispose them rather to believe me innocent, than condemn me unheard. Upon the first intelligence I had of this affair, I made a shift to recollect the only passage in that letter which could be any way liable to misinterpretation.
I told the archbishop — "we had an account of a set of people in London, who were erecting a new church, upon the maxim that every thing was void, since the revolution, in the church as well as the state — that all priests must be reordained, bishops again consecrated, and in like manner of the rest — that I knew not what there was in it of truth — that it was impossible such a scheme should ever pass — and that I believed if the court, upon this occasion, would show some good will to the church, discourage those who ill treated the clergy, &c., it would be the most popular thing they could think of."
I keep no copies of letters; but this, I am confident, was the substance of what I wrote; and that every other line in the letter which mentioned publick affairs would have atoned for this, if it had been a crime, as I think it was not in that juncture, whatever may be my opinion at present; for, I confess, my thoughts change every week, like those of a man in an incurable consumption, who daily finds himself more and more decay.
The trouble I now give your lordship is an ill return to your goodness in defending me; but it is the usual reward of goodness, and therefore you must be content. In the mean time, I am in a hopeful situation, torn to pieces by pamphleteers and libellers on that side the water, and by the whole body of the ruling party on this; against which all the obscurity I live in will not defend me. Since I came first to this kingdom, it has been the constant advice of all my church friends, that I should be more cautious. To oppose me in every thing relating to my station, is made a merit in my chapter; and I shall probably live to make some bishops as poor, as Luther made many rich.
I profess to your lordship, that what I have been writing is only with regard to the good opinion of your lordship, and of a very few others with whom you will think it of any consequence to an honest man that he should be set right. I am sorry that those who call themselves churchmen should be industrious to have it thought that their number is lessened, even by so inconsiderable a one as myself. But I am sufficiently recompensed, that your lordship knows me best, to whom I am so ambitious to be best known. God be thanked, I have but a few to satisfy. The bulk of my censurers are strangers, or ill judges, or worse than either; and if they will not obey your orders to correct their sentiments of me, they will meet their punishment in your lordship's disapprobation; which I would not incur for all their good words put together, and printed in twelve volumes folio.
I am, with great respect, my lord,
your lordship's most dutiful
and most humble servant,