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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/From Jonathan Swift to Henry Temple - 3



JAN. 29, 1725-6.

I DESIRE you will give yourself the last trouble I shall ever put you to; I mean of reading this letter. I do entirely acquit you of any injury or injustice done to Mr. Curtis, and if you had read that passage relating to his bad usage a second time, you could not possibly have so ill understood me. The injury and injustice he received were from those who claimed a title to his chambers, took away his key, reviled and threatened to beat him, with a great deal more of the like brutal conduct. Whereupon at his request I laid the case before you, as it appeared to me. And it would have been very strange if on account of a trifle, and of a person for whom I have no concern farther than as he was employed by me on the character he bears of piety and learning; I should charge you with injury and injustice to him, when I knew from himself, and Mr. Reading, that you were not answerable for either.

As you state the case of tenant at will, it is certain no law can compel you; but to say the truth, I then had not law in my thoughts.

Now, if what I writ of injury and injustice were wholly applied in plain terms to one or two of the college here, whose names were below my remembrance, you will consider how I could deserve an answer in every line, full of foul invectives, open reproaches, jesting flirts, and contumelious terms, and what title you have to give me such contumelious treatment who never did you the least injury, or received the least obligation from you. I own myself indebted to sir William Temple, for recommending me to the late king, although without success, and for his choice of me to take care of his posthumous writings. But, I hope you will not charge my living in his family as an obligation, for I was educated to little purpose if I retired to his house, on any other motives than the benefit of his conversation and advice, and the opportunity of pursuing my studies. For, being born to no fortune, I was at his death as far to seek as ever, and perhaps you will allow that I was of some use to him. This I will venture to say, that in the time when I had some little credit I did fifty times more for fifty people, from whom I never received the least service or assistance. Yet I should not be pleased to hear a relation of mine reproaching them for ingratitude, although many of them well deserve it; for, thanks to party, I have met in both kingdoms with ingratitude enough.

If I have been ill informed in what you mention of Mr. Stanton, you have not been much better, that I declared no regard to the family (as you express it) was a restraint to me. I never had the least occasion to use any such words. The last time I saw you in London was the last intercourse I ever had with the family. But having always trusted to my own innocence, I shall not be inquisitive to know my accusers.

When I mentioned my loss of interest with you I did it with concern, but I had no resentment, because I supposed it only to arise from different sentiments in publick matters.

My lord, if my letter were polite, it was against my intentions, and I desire your pardon for it; if I have wit, I will keep it to show when I am angry, which at present I am not; because, though nothing can excuse those intemperate words your pen has let fall, yet I shall give allowance to a hasty person hurried on by a mistake beyond all rules of decency. If a first minister of state had used me as you have done, he should have heard from me in another style, because in that case retaliating would be thought a mark of courage: But as your lordship is not in a situation to do me good, nor I am sure of a disposition to do me mischief, so I should lose the merit of being bold, because I could incur no danger, if I gave myself a liberty which your ill usage seemed to demand. In this point alone we are exactly equal, but in wit and politeness I am ready to yield to you, as much as I do in titles and estate.

I have found out one secret, that although you call me a great wit, you do not think me so, otherwise you would have been too cautious to have writ me such a letter.

You conclude with saying you are ready to ask pardon where you have offended. Of this I acquit you, because I have not taken the offence, but whether you will acquit yourself, must be left to your conscience and honour.

I have formerly upon occasion been your humble servant in Ireland, and should not refuse to be so still, but you have so useful and excellent a friend in Mr. Reading, that you need no other, and I hope my good opinion of him will not lessen yours.

I am, my lord,
your most humble servant,

  1. This letter is already printed in vol. XII, p. 175, from Swift's rough draught, which he has dated Jan. 31, and endorsed, "An answer to lord Palmerston's civil polite letter." But the editor having been favoured by the present lord Palmerston with the loan of the original, in which are several material alterations, it is here reprinted. The noble lord, to whom it was addressed, has written on the back of it, "Not answered."