Lot Number 54
Year Published
Place Printed
Printed By
Description PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN. SWIFT, JONATHAN. SEVEN AUTOGRAPH LETTERS SIGNED, TO THE DUKE OF DORSET on Church of Ireland business, one letter recommending his friend Dr Thomas Sheridan as schoolmaster in Cavan ("...The Doctor is the most learned Person I know in this Kingdom, and the best school-master here in the memory of Man, having an excellent taste in all parts of Literature..."), another asking Dorset not to confer the benefice of Louth to Dr Whitcombe, his son's tutor, the remainder mostly making requests for the preferment of specific individuals (Michael Aldrich, John Jackson, and Marmaduke Phillips), contemporary docketing, 16 pages, 4to, Dublin, 20 April 1732 to 14 October 1736, fold tears to three letters professionally restored, some light spotting, remains of guards
Comments The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift: Volume IV, 1732-36, ed. Harold Williams (Oxford, 1965), pp. 12-13, 284-87, 309-10, 323-24, 448-50, 480-82, 533 "...To put a great Man in mind of rewarding Virtue and Merit, is indeed not often after the usual course of proceeding..." The most substantial Swift letters to have appeared at auction in many decades, these letters reveal Swift's engagement with patronage, the great motor of eighteenth century politics. These letters were written when Swift was in his sixties, some twenty years after his return to Dublin and appointment at Dean of St Patrick's. At this time he was both the unquestioned leading figure of literary Dublin and, through his position as dean, a man of some public prominence. He was also beginning to suffer from the ill-health that would be such a terrible blight of his last years ("...I should have waited on your grace, and should have taken the Priviledge of staying my usuall thirteen Minutes if I had not been prevented by the return of an old disorder in my Head, for which I have been forced to confine my self to the Precepts of my Physicians...", 30 December 1735) Swift's correspondent in these letters was Lionel Sackville, Duke of Dorset (1688-1765), who was between 1730 and 1737 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (see lot 13). This was not simply a professional relationship: Swift mentions more than once in these letters that "I had the honor to be known to you from your early youth". This connection came through Lady Betty Germain who was Swift's life-long friend and Dorset's cousin, and who spent much of her long widowhood at Dorset's residence of Knole in Kent. He may have known Dorset since childhood but the two men were politically far apart. Dorset was the representative of Walpole's whig government, whilst Swift was a lifelong tory, and a vociferous opponent of Dorset's failed attempt to revoke the Test that excluded Presbyterians from public office. Swift makes little attempt in these letters to disguise his low estimation of Dorset's judgement. He writes, for example, that: "I protest in the presence of God, that I never moved any thing to your Grace, which I did not think would be for your service, and acceptable to those whom you appear most to value, and who have the greatest Veneration to you", clearly implying that he does not share the high regard Dorset places on these unnamed underlings. It can safely be said that flattering the powerful did not come naturally to Swift. Although he well understood the importance of gaining preferment, his patronage letters strike a decidedly unusual tone and there are many flashes of the great satirist's inimitable prose style in these letters (one supplicant is in need of a position because of "the miserable Condition of this unfortunate Kingdom"). In one letter Swift writes wittily about how Dorset has rejected his requests by out-manoeuvring him in conversation ("...I have ventured once or twice (at most) to drop hints in favour of some very deserving Gentlemen ... But I easily found by your generall answers, that, although I have been an old Courtier, you knew how to silence me by changing the Subject...", 30 December 1735). Swift's sharp pen and refusal to flatter, combined with his clear understanding of the political situation in Ireland, mean that these letters provide fascinating and unusually frank assessments about why an individual might be suitable for a position. He writes with genuine and unmistakable warmth about his close friend and fellow-satirist Thomas Sheridan, but other letters have a tendency to expose the mechanics of patronage that most such letters left hidden behind the rhetoric of benefaction. He requests that a position in Kinsale be granted to Michael Aldridge, the son of a Dublin alderman by explaining that Aldridge's powerful connections to the Grattan family make it impossible for Dorset to refuse him. Although this is a piece of comic exaggeration (the Grattans were among Swift's closest friends), it mirrors exactly the sort of considerations that silently determined patronage requests: "...Dr Helsham hath ordred me to write to your Grace in behalf of one Alderman Aldrich; who is master of the Dublin Barrack, and is as high a Whig, and more at your Devotion that I could perhaps wish him to be. And yet he is a very honest Gentleman, and, what is more important, a near relation of the Grattans, who in your Grace's absence are Governors of all Ireland ... They consist of an Alderman, whom you are to find Lord Mayor at Michaelmas next; Of a Doctr who kills or Cures half the City, of two Parsons my subjects as Prebendaryes, who rule the other half, and of a vagrant Brother who governs the North. They are all Brethren, and your Army of twelve thousand soldiers are not able to stand against them..."
Estimated Price GBP 40,000.00 - 60,000.00
( USD 67,200.00 - 100,800.00 )
Actual Price GBP 49,250.00 ( USD 75,845.00 )



Auction House Sothebys
Auction Name English Literature, History and Children's Books and Illustrations
Sale Number #L12404
Auction Date July 10, 2012 - July 10, 2012
Book Images