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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/From Jonathan Swift to William Temple - 1

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OCT. 6, 1694.

THAT I might not continue the many troubles I have given you, I have all this while avoided one, which I fear proves necessary at last. I have taken all due methods to be ordained, and one time of ordination is already elapsed since my arrival for effecting it. Two or three bishops, acquaintance of our family, have signified to me and them, that after so long standing in the university, it is admired I have not entered upon something or other, (above half the clergy in this town being my juniors,) and that it being so many years since I left this kingdom, they could not admit me to the ministry without some certificate of my behaviour where I lived; and my lord archbishop of Dublin was pleased to say a great deal of this kind to me yesterday; concluding against all I had to say, that he expected I should have a certificate from your honour of my conduct in your family. The sence I am in, how low I am fallen in your honour's thoughts, has denied me assurance enough to beg this favour, till I find it impossible to avoid: and I entreat your honour to understand, that no person is admitted here to a living, without some knowledge of his abilities for it: which it being reckoned impossible to judge in those who are not ordained, the usual method is to admit men first to some small reader's place, till, by preaching upon occasions, they can value themselves for better preferment. This (without great friends) is so general, that if I were fourscore years old I must go the same way, and should at that age be told, every one must have a beginning. I entreat that your honour will consider this, and will please to send me some certificate of my behaviour during almost three years in your family; wherein I shall stand in need of all your goodness to excuse my many weaknesses and oversights, much more to say any thing to my advantage. The particulars expected of me are what relate to morals and learning, and the reasons of quitting your honour's family, that is, whether the last was occasioned by any ill actions. They are all left entirely to your honour's mercy, though in the first I think I cannot reproach myself any farther than for infirmities.

This is all I dare beg at present from your honour, under circumstances of life not worth your regard: what is left me to wish (next to the health and prosperity of your honour and family) is, that Heaven would one day allow me the opportunity of leaving my acknowledgments at your feet for so many favours I have received; which, whatever effect they have had upon my fortune, shall never fail to have the greatest upon my mind, in approving myself, upon all occasions, your honour's most obedient and most dutiful servant, etc.

I beg my most humble duty and service be presented to my ladies, your honour's lady and sister.

The ordination is appointed by the archbishop by the beginning of November; so that, if your honour will not grant this favour immediately, I fear it will come too late.

  1. This very curious letter was transcribed from the original to sir W. Temple; endorsed by Mr. Temple, "Swift's Penitential Letter;" copied by Dr. Shipman, late fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and rector of Compton near Winchester, who was a relation to sir W. Temple.