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The Friend of Gulliver's 'Cousin'

The year 1970 has marked the tri-centenary of the birth of a remarkable Carmarthenshire man whose half-forgotten story survives only in reference books and the rarely read texts of famous writers. The man was Erasmus Lewis, friend of illustrious figures in literature and politics, who was born at Abercothy in the vale of Towy.

Admitted a king's scholar to Westminster in 1686, he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1690. By the end of the century he had visited Berlin, Hambourg, Hanover, Brussels and Lille before reaching Paris, where he became secretary to the ambassador, the Earl of Manchester, and when the ambassador was recalled in 1701 Lewis remained to wind up affairs. But in the following year he was back in Carmarthenshire, probably working as a schoolmaster; yet within two years he was to be called from obscurity to be a secretary to Robert Harley, later the Earl of Oxford, becoming in time the earl's chief favourite, according to Swift. In 1708 Lewis was appointed secretary at Brussels and afterwards he became under-secretary of state under the Earl of Dartmouth. Later he became a member of Parliament.

Soon after coming to London in 1710 Swift made many references to him in the 'Journal to Stella' and described Lewis as 'a cunning shaver, and very much in Harley's favour'. Even so, Swift frequently consulted him about political pamphlets he was writing and regularly corresponded with him after returning to Ireland. Lewis was well informed on the political intrigues of the times and kept Swift supplied with many stories. Certainly he was a trusted friend of Swift; anxious to preserve anonymity when the second edition of the travels of Samuel Gulliver was being prepared, Swift wrote under an assumed name to his publisher instructing him to get in touch with Erasmus Lewis and adding, 'to the said Mr Lewis I have given full power to treat concerning my cousin Gulliver's book and whatever he and you shall settle I will consent to'.

Lewis was an indispensable part of the literary society of his day and in addition to Swift he enjoyed the friendship of Pope, Prior, Arbuthnot and Gay. According to Arbuthnot, who called him the best of friends, Lewis kept company with the greatest. All agreed on the high value they placed upon his friendship. When Pope died he left him five pounds to buy a ring.

Lewis died in 1754 and was buried with his wife in Westminster Abbey. Although she was a gay person, his wife, who predeceased him in 1736, was for years an invalid, but Lewis, a serious man, tended her with great affection.
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