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Swift And Bettesworth

Irish Humour Home

Dean Swift having taken a strong dislike to Sergeant Bettesworth,
revenged himself by the following lines in one of his poems:

So at the bar the booby Bettesworth,
Tho' half-a-crown outpays his sweat's worth,

Who knows in law nor text nor margent,
Calls Singleton his brother sergeant.

The poem was sent to Bettesworth, when he was in company with some of
his friends. He read it aloud, till he had finished the lines relating
to himself. He then flung it down with great violence, trembled and
turned pale. After some pause, his rage for a while depriving him of
utterance, he took out his penknife, and swore he would cut off the
Dean's ears with it. Soon after he went to seek the Dean at his house;
and not finding him at home, followed him to a friend's, where he had an
interview with him. Upon entering the room, Swift desired to know his
commands. Sir, says he, I am Sergeant Bet-tes-worth; in his usual
pompous way of pronouncing his name in three distinct syllables. Of
what regiment, pray? says Swift. O, Mr. Dean, we know your powers of
raillery; you know me well enough, that I am one of his majesty's
sergeants-at-law. What then, sir? Why then, sir, I am come to demand
of you, whether you are the author of this poem (producing it), and the
villanous lines on me? at the same time reading them aloud with great
vehemence of emphasis, and much gesticulation. Sir, said Swift, it
was a piece of advice given me in my early days by Lord Somers, never to
own or disown any writing laid to my charge; because, if I did this in
some cases, whatever I did not disown afterwards would infallibly be
imputed to me as mine. Now, sir, I take this to have been a very wise
maxim, and as such have followed it ever since; and I believe it will
hardly be in the power of all your rhetoric, as great a master as you
are of it, to make me swerve from that rule. Bettesworth replied,
Well, since you will give me no satisfaction in this affair, let me
tell you, that your gown is alone your protection, and then left the

The sergeant continuing to utter violent threats against the Dean, there
was an association formed and signed by all the principal inhabitants of
the neighborhood, to stand by and support their generous benefactor
against any one who should attempt to offer the least injury to his
person or fortune. Besides, the public indignation became so strong
against the sergeant, that although he had made a considerable figure at
the bar, he now lost his business, and was seldom employed in any suit

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