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-Mrs. Frances Harris's Petition


This, the most humorous example of vers de societe in the English language, well illustrates the position of a parson in a family of distinction at that period.--W. E. B.

To their Excellencies the Lords Justices of Ireland,[1]
  The humble petition of Frances Harris,
Who must starve and die a maid if it miscarries;
Humbly sheweth, that I went to warm myself in Lady Betty's[2] chamber,
  because I was cold;
And I had in a purse seven pounds, four shillings, and sixpence,
  (besides farthings) in money and gold;
So because I had been buying things for my lady last night,
I was resolved to tell my money, to see if it was right.

Now, you must know, because my trunk has a very bad lock, Therefore all the money I have, which, God knows, is a very small stock, I keep in my pocket, ty'd about my middle, next my smock.

So when I went to put up my purse, as God would have it, my smock was unript, And instead of putting it into my pocket, down it slipt; Then the bell rung, and I went down to put my lady to bed; And, God knows, I thought my money was as safe as my maidenhead. So, when I came up again, I found my pocket feel very light; But when I search'd, and miss'd my purse, Lord! I thought I should have sunk outright.

"Lord! madam," says Mary, "how d'ye do?"--"Indeed," says I, "never worse: But pray, Mary, can you tell what I have done with my purse?" "Lord help me!" says Mary, "I never stirr'd out of this place!" "Nay," said I, "I had it in Lady Betty's chamber, that's a plain case." So Mary got me to bed, and cover'd me up warm: However, she stole away my garters, that I might do myself no harm. So I tumbled and toss'd all night, as you may very well think, But hardly ever set my eyes together, or slept a wink. So I was a-dream'd, methought, that I went and search'd the folks round, And in a corner of Mrs. Duke's[3] box, ty'd in a rag, the money was found.

So next morning we told Whittle,[4] and he fell a swearing: Then my dame Wadgar[5] came, and she, you know, is thick of hearing.

"Dame," said I, as loud as I could bawl, "do you know what a loss I have had?" "Nay," says she, "my Lord Colway's[6] folks are all very sad: For my Lord Dromedary[7] comes a Tuesday without fail." "Pugh!" said I, "but that's not the business that I ail." Says Cary,[8] says he, "I have been a servant this five and twenty years come spring, And in all the places I lived I never heard of such a thing."

"Yes," says the steward,[9] "I remember when I was at my Lord Shrewsbury's, Such a thing as this happen'd, just about the time of gooseberries." So I went to the party suspected, and I found her full of grief: (Now, you must know, of all things in the world I hate a thief:) However, I was resolved to bring the discourse slily about:

"Mrs. Duke," said I, "here's an ugly accident has happened out: 'Tis not that I value the money three skips of a louse:[10] But the thing I stand upon is the credit of the house. 'Tis true, seven pounds, four shillings, and sixpence makes a great hole in my wages:

Besides, as they say, service is no inheritance in these ages. Now, Mrs. Duke, you know, and everybody understands, That though 'tis hard to judge, yet money can't go without hands." "The devil take me!" said she, (blessing herself,) "if ever I saw't!"

So she roar'd like a bedlam, as thof I had call'd her all to naught. So, you know, what could I say to her any more? I e'en left her, and came away as wise as I was before. Well; but then they would have had me gone to the cunning man:

"No," said I, "'tis the same thing, the chaplain[11] will be here anon." So the Chaplain came in. Now the servants say he is my sweetheart, Because he's always in my chamber, and I always take his part. So, as the devil would have it, before I was aware, out I blunder'd, "Parson" said I, "can you cast a nativity, when a body's plunder'd?"

(Now you must know, he hates to be called Parson, like the devil!) "Truly," says he, "Mrs. Nab, it might become you to be more civil; If your money be gone, as a learned Divine says,[12] d'ye see, You are no text for my handling; so take that from me: I was never taken for a Conjurer before, I'd have you to know."

"Lord!" said I, "don't be angry, I am sure I never thought you so; You know I honour the cloth; I design to be a Parson's wife; I never took one in your coat for a conjurer in all my life."

With that he twisted his girdle at me like a rope, as who should say, "Now you may go hang yourself for me!" and so went away. Well: I thought I should have swoon'd. "Lord!" said I, "what shall I do? I have lost my money, and shall lose my true love too!" Then my lord call'd me: "Harry,"[13] said my lord, "don't cry; I'll give you something toward thy loss." "And," says my lady, "so will I."

Oh! but, said I, what if, after all, the Chaplain won't come to? For that, he said (an't please your Excellencies), I must petition you.

The premisses tenderly consider'd, I desire your Excellencies' protection, And that I may have a share in next Sunday's collection; And, over and above, that I may have your Excellencies' letter, With an order for the Chaplain aforesaid, or, instead of him, a better: And then your poor petitioner, both night and day, Or the Chaplain (for 'tis his trade,[14]) as in duty bound, shall ever pray.

[Footnote 1: The Earl of Berkeley and the Earl of Galway.]

[Footnote 2: Lady Betty Berkeley, afterwards Germaine.]

[Footnote 3: Wife to one of the footmen.]

[Footnote 4: The Earl of Berkeley's valet.]

[Footnote 5: The old deaf housekeeper.]

[Footnote 6: Galway.]

[Footnote 7: The Earl of Drogheda, who, with the primate, was to succeed the two earls, then lords justices of Ireland.]

[Footnote 8: Clerk of the kitchen.]

[Footnote 9: Ferris; whom the poet terms in his Journal to Stella, 21st Dec., 1710, a "beast," and a "Scoundrel dog." See "Prose Works," ii, p. 79--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 10: A usual saying of hers.--Swift.]

[Footnote 11: Swift.]

[Footnote 12: Dr. Bolton, one of the chaplains.--Faulkner.]

[Footnote 13: A cant word of Lord and Lady Berkeley to Mrs. Harris.]

[Footnote 14: Swift elsewhere terms his own calling a trade. See his letter to Pope, 29th Sept., 1725, cited in Introduction to Gulliver, "Prose Works," vol. viii, p. xxv.--W. E. B.]

Jonathan Swift

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