The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 13/From Jonathan Swift to Lionel Sackville - 2

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JAN. 14, 1734-5.

I AM assured, that your grace will have several representations of an affair relating to the university here, from some very considerable persons in this kingdom. However, I could not refuse the application made me by a very worthy person of that society, who was commissioned by some principal members of the body to desire my good offices to your grace; because they believed you thought me an honest man, and because I had the honour to be known to you from your early youth. The matter of their request related wholly to a dreadful apprehension they lie under, of Dr. [John] Whetcombe's endeavour to procure a dispensation for holding his fellowship along with that church preferment bestowed on him by your grace[1]. The person sent to me on this message gave me a written paper, containing the reasons why they hope your grace will not be prevailed upon to grant such a dispensation. I presume to send you an abstract of these reasons; because I may boldly assure your grace, that party or faction have not the least concern in the whole affair; and as to myself, it happens that I am an entire stranger to Dr. Whetcombe.

It is alleged, "That this preferment given to the doctor consists of a very large parish, worth near six hundred pounds a year, in a very fine country, thirty miles from Dublin; that it abounds very much with papists, and consequently a most important cure, requiring the rector's residence, beside some other assistant; which, being so rich, it might well afford.

"That, as to such dispensations, they find in their college books but three or four instances since the revolution, and these in cases very different from the present: for those few livings which had dispensations to be held with a fellowship were sinecures of small value, not sufficient to induce a fellow to leave his college; and, in the body of those dispensations, is inserted a reason for granting them, That they were such livings as could be no hindrance in the discharge of a fellow's duty.

"That dispensations are very hurtful to their society; because they put a stop to the succession of fellowships, and thereby give a check to that emulation, industry, and improvement in learning, which the hopes of gaining a fellowship will best incite young students with.

"That, if this dispensation should take place, it may prove a precedent for the like practice in future times; which will be very injurious to the society, by encouraging fellows to apply for dispensations, when they have interest enough to get preferments, by which the senior fellows will be settled in the college for life; and thus, for want of a succession any other way than by death or marriage, all encouragement to young diligent students will be wholly lost.

"That a junior fellowship is of very small value, and to arrive at it requires good sense, as well as long and close study; to which young students are only encouraged by hopes of succeeding, in a reasonable time, to be one of the seven seniors; which hopes will be quite cut off, when those seniors are perpetuated by dispensations.

"That the fellows, at their admittance into their fellowships, take a solemn oath, never to accept of any church preferment above a certain value, and distance from Dublin, as long as they continue fellows: to which oath the accepting of a dispensation by Dr. Whetcombe is directly contrary, in both particulars of value and distance.

"That, at this time, there is a set of very hopeful young men, in long and close study, to stand for the first vacant fellowship, who will be altogether discouraged, and drop their endeavours in the pursuit of learning, by being disappointed in their hopes of Dr. Whetcombe's leaving the college, and opening a way for one of them to succeed in a fellowship."

These, my lord, are the sum of the reasons brought me by a very worthy person, a fellow of that college, and recommended by some of the most deserving in that body; and I have shortened them as much as I could.

I shall only trouble your grace with one or two of my own remarks upon this subject.

The university, and in some sense the whole kingdom, are full of acknowledgment for the honour your grace has done them, in trusting the care of one of your sons[2] to be educated in the college of Dublin which hopes to be always in your grace's favour: and by your influence, while you govern here, as well as the credit you will always deserve at court, will ever desire to be protected in their rights.

Your grace will please to know, that a fellowship in this university differs much, in some very important circumstances, from most of those in either of the universities in England.

My lord George will tell your grace, that a fellowship here is obtained with great difficulty, by the number of candidates, the strict examination in many branches of learning, and the regularity of life and manners. It is also disposed of with much solemnity: the examiners take an oath at the altar, to give their vote according to their consciences.

The university is patron of some church preferments, which are offered to the several fellows downward to the lowest in holy orders.

I beg your grace to consider, that there being very little trade here, there is no encouragement for gentlemen to breed their sons to merchandise: that not many great employments, in church or law, fall to the share of persons born here: that the last resource of younger sons is to the church; where, if well befriended, they may chance to rise to some reasonable spiritual maintenance: although we do not want instances of some clergymen, well born and of good reputation, who have been and still are curates, for thirty years; which has been a great discouragement to others, who have no other means left to provide for their children.

Your grace will not want opportunities, while you continue in this government, and by your most deserved favour with his majesty, to make Dr. Whetcombe easier in his preferment, by some addition that no person or society can have the least pretence to complain of. And I humbly beg your grace, out of the high veneration I bear to your person and virtues, that you will please to let Dr. Whetcombe content himself for a while with that rich preferment (one of the best in the kingdom) until it shall lie in your way farther to promote him to his own content. If, upon his admittance to his fellowship, he took an oath never to accept a church living thus circumstantiated, and hold it with his fellowship, it will be thought hardly reconcilable to conscience, to receive a dispensation.

I humbly entreat your grace to forgive this long trouble I have given you; wherein I have no sort of interest, except that which proceeds from an earnest desire that your grace may continue, as you have begun from your youth, without incurring the least censure from the world, or giving the least cause of discontent to any deserving person, I am, &c.

  1. He had a higher preferment Dec. 23 following, being raised to the united sees of Clonfert and Kilmarduagh. He was translated to the archbishoprick of Cashel, Aug. 25, 1752; and died in 1754.
  2. Lord George, his grace's third son. His lordship was under the tuition of Dr. Whetcombe and Mr. Molloy, the one a senior, the other a junior, fellow of Trinity College, Dublin.