The Journal to Stella, by Jonathan Swift

Letter 55.1

London, Nov. 15, 1712.

Before this comes to your hands, you will have heard of the most terrible accident that hath almost ever happened. This morning, at eight, my man brought me word that the Duke of Hamilton had fought with Lord Mohun,2 and killed him, and was brought home wounded.3 I immediately sent him to the Duke’s house, in St. James’s Square; but the porter could hardly answer for tears, and a great rabble was about the house. In short, they fought at seven this morning. The dog Mohun was killed on the spot; and while4 the Duke was over him, Mohun, shortening his sword, stabbed him in at the shoulder to the heart. The Duke was helped toward the cake-house by the Ring in Hyde Park (where they fought), and died on the grass, before he could reach the house; and was brought home in his coach by eight, while the poor Duchess5 was asleep. Maccartney,6 and one Hamilton,7 were the seconds, who fought likewise, and are both fled. I am told that a footman of Lord Mohun’s stabbed the Duke of Hamilton; and some say Maccartney did so too. Mohun gave the affront, and yet sent the challenge. I am infinitely concerned for the poor Duke, who was a frank, honest, good-natured man. I loved him very well, and I think he loved me better. He had8 the greatest mind in the world to have me go with him to France, but durst not tell it me; and those he did, said I could not be spared, which was true. They have removed the poor Duchess to a lodging in the neighbourhood, where I have been with her two hours, and am just come away. I never saw so melancholy a scene; for indeed all reasons for real grief belong to her; nor is it possible for anybody to be a greater loser in all regards. She has moved my very soul. The lodging was inconvenient, and they would have removed her to another; but I would not suffer it, because it had no room backward, and she must have been tortured with the noise of the Grub Street screamers mention[ing] her husband’s murder to her ears.

I believe you have heard the story of my escape, in opening the bandbox sent to Lord Treasurer.9 The prints have told a thousand lies of it; but at last we gave them a true account of it at length, printed in the evening;10 only I would not suffer them to name me, having been so often named before, and teased to death with questions. I wonder how I came to have so much presence of mind, which is usually not my talent; but so it pleased God, and I saved myself and him; for there was a bullet apiece. A gentleman told me that if I had been killed, the Whigs would have called it a judgment, because the barrels were of inkhorns, with which I had done them so much mischief. There was a pure Grub Street of it, full of lies and inconsistencies.11 I do not like these things at all, and I wish myself more and more among my willows.12 There is a devilish spirit among people, and the Ministry must exert themselves, or sink. Nite dee sollahs, I’ll go seep.13

16. I thought to have finished this yesterday; but was too much disturbed. I sent a letter early this morning to Lady Masham, to beg her to write some comforting words to the poor Duchess. I dined to-[day] with Lady Masham at Kensington, where she is expecting these two months to lie in. She has promised me to get the Queen to write to the Duchess kindly on this occasion; and to-morrow I will beg Lord Treasurer to visit and comfort her. I have been with her two hours again, and find her worse: her violences not so frequent, but her melancholy more formal and settled. She has abundance of wit and spirit; about thirty-three years old; handsome and airy, and seldom spared anybody that gave her the least provocation; by which she had many enemies and few friends. Lady Orkney, her sister-in-law, is come to town on this occasion, and has been to see her, and behaved herself with great humanity. They have been always very ill together, and the poor Duchess could not have patience when people told her I went often to Lady Orkney’s. But I am resolved to make them friends; for the Duchess is now no more the object of envy, and must learn humility from the severest master, Affliction. I design to make the Ministry put out a proclamation (if it can be found proper) against that villain Maccartney. What shall we do with these murderers? I cannot end this letter to-night, and there is no occasion; for I cannot send it till Tuesday, and the crowner’s inquest on the Duke’s body is to be to-morrow, and I shall know more. But what care oo for all this? Iss, poo MD im sorry for poo Pdfr’s14 friends; and this is a very surprising event. ’Tis late, and I’ll go to bed. This looks like journals. Nite.

17. I was to-day at noon with the Duchess of Hamilton again, after I had been with Lady Orkney, and charged her to be kind to her sister in her affliction. The Duchess told me Lady Orkney had been with her, and that she did not treat her as gently as she ought. They hate one another, but I will try to patch it up. I have been drawing up a paragraph for the Postboy, to be out to-morrow, and as malicious as possible, and very proper for Abel Roper,15 the printer of it. I dined at Lord Treasurer’s at six in the evening, which is his usual hour of returning from Windsor: he promises to visit the Duchess to-morrow, and says he has a message to her from the Queen. Thank God. I have stayed till past one with him. So nite deelest MD.16

18. The Committee of Council is to sit this afternoon upon the affair of the Duke of Hamilton’s murder, and I hope a proclamation will be out against Maccartney. I was just now (’tis now noon) with the Duchess, to let her know Lord Treasurer will see her. She is mightily out of order. The jury have not yet brought in their verdict upon the crowner’s inquest. We suspect Maccartney stabbed the Duke while he was fighting. The Queen and Lord Treasurer are in great concern at this event. I dine to-day again with Lord Treasurer; but must send this to the post-office before, because else I shall not have time; he usually keeping me so late. Ben Tooke bid me write to DD to send her certificate, for it is high time it should be sent, he says. Pray make Parvisol write to me, and send me a general account of my affairs; and let him know I shall be over in spring, and that by all means he sells the horses. Prior has kissed the Queen’s hand, and will return to France in a few days, and Lord Strafford to Holland; and now the King of Spain has renounced his pretensions to France, the peace must follow very soon unavoidably. You must no more call Philip, Duke of Anjou, for we now acknowledge him King of Spain. Dr. Pratt tells me you are all mad in Ireland with your playhouse frolics and prologues, and I know not what. The Bishop of Clogher and family are well: they have heard from you, or you from them, lately, I have forgot which: I dined there t’other day, but the Bishop came not till after dinner; and our meat and drink was very so so. Mr. Vedeau17 was with me yesterday, and inquired after you. He was a lieutenant, and is now broke, and upon half-pay. He asked me nothing for himself; but wanted an employment for a friend, who would give a handsome pair of gloves. One Hales sent me up a letter t’other day, which said you lodged in his house, and therefore desired I would get him a civil employment. I would not be within, and have directed my man to give him an answer, that I never open letters brought me by the writers, etc. I was complaining to a lady that I wanted to mend an employment from forty to sixty pounds a year, in the Salt Office, and thought it hard I could not do it. She told me one Mr. Griffin18 should do it. And afterward I met Griffin at her lodgings; and he was, as I found, one I had been acquainted with. I named Filby19 to him, and his abode somewhere near Nantwich. He said frankly he had formerly examined the man, and found he understood very little of his business; but if he heard he mended, he would do what I desired. I will let it rest a while, and then resume it; and if Ppt writes to Filby, she may advise him to diligence, etc. I told Griffin positively I would have it done, if the man mended. This is an account of poo Ppt’s commission to her most humble servant Pdfr. I have a world of writing to finish, and little time; these toads of Ministers are so slow in their helps. This makes me sometimes steal a week from the exactness I used to write to MD. Farewell, dee logues, deelest MD MD MD, . . . FW FW FW ME ME ME Lele.

Smoke the folding of my letters of late.20

1 Addressed to “Mrs. Dingley.” Endorsed “Nov. 26, just come from Portraine”; and “The band-box plot — D: Hamilton’s murther.”

2 Charles Mohun, fifth Baron Mohun, had been twice arraigned of murder, but acquitted; and during his short but turbulent life he had taken part in many duels. Even Burnet could say nothing in his favour.

3 This duel between the Duke of Hamilton (see Letter 27, note 9) and Lord Mohun, who had married nieces of Lord Macclesfield, had its origin in a protracted dispute about some property. The challenge came from Lord Mohun, and the combatants fought like “enraged lions.” Tory writers suggested that the duel was a Whig conspiracy to get rid of the Duke of Hamilton (Examiner, Nov. 20, 1712). The whole subject is discussed from the Whig point of view in Boyer’s Political State for 1712, pp. 297-326.

4 “Will” (MS.).

5 See Letter 27, note 9.

6 George Maccartney (see Letter 11, note 13 and Letter 39, Jan. 22, 1711-12 ) fought at Almanza, Malplaquet, and Douay. After the duel, Maccartney escaped to Holland, but on the accession of George I. he returned to England, and was tried for murder (June 1716), when Colonel Hamilton gave evidence against him. Hamilton’s evidence was discredited, and he found it necessary to sell his commission and leave the country. Maccartney was found guilty as an accessory, and “burnt” in the hand. Within a month he was given an appointment in the army; and promoted to be Lieutenant-General. He died in 1730.

7 Colonel John Hamilton, of the Scots Guards. He surrendered himself, and was tried at the Old Bailey on Dec. 12, 1712, when he was found guilty of manslaughter, on two indictments; and on the following day he was “burnt” in the hand. Hamilton died in October 1716, soon after Maccartney’s trial, from a sudden vomiting of blood.

8 “That” (MS.).

9 The story (as told in the Tory Postboy of Nov. 11 to 13) was that on Nov. 4 a bandbox was sent to the Earl of Oxford by post. When he began to open it he saw a pistol, whereupon a gentleman present [Swift] asked for the box, and opening it, by the window, found powder, nails, etc., so arranged that, if opened in the ordinary way, the whole would have been fired, and two barrels discharged different ways. No doubt a box so packed was received, but whether anything serious was intended, or whether it was a hoax, cannot be said with any certainty. The Earl of Oxford is said to have met allusions to the subject with a smile, and Swift seems to have been annoyed at the reports which were put into circulation.

10 “We have received a more particular account relating to the box sent to the Lord Treasurer, as mentioned in our last, which is as follows,” etc. (Evening News, Nov. 11 to 13, 1712).

11 Either “A Letter to the People, to be left for them at the Booksellers, with a word or two of the Bandbox Plot” (by T. Burnet), 1712, or “An Account of the Duel. . ., with Previous Reflections on Sham Plots” (by A. Boyer), 1712. Swift’s connection with the Bandbox Plot was ridiculed in the Flying Post for Nov. 20 to 22.

12 Cf. Letter 16, Feb. 20, 1710-11.

13 This sentence is partially obliterated.

14 Part of this sentence has been obliterated.

15 See Letter 43, note 39. I have not been able to find a copy of the paper containing Swift’s paragraph.

16 This sentence is partially obliterated.

17 See Letter 12, note 2.

18 Apparently Humphrey Griffith, who was one of the Commissioners of Salt; but Swift gives the name as “Griffin” throughout.

19 See Letter 53, note 13 and Letter 5, note 16.

20 For these shorter letters Swift folded the folio sheet before writing.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00