The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 10/An Account of the Court of Japan






REGOGE[1] was the thirty-fourth emperor of Japan, and began his reign in the year 341 of the Christian era, succeeding to Nena[2], a princess who governed with great felicity.

There had been a revolution in that empire about twenty-six years before, which made some breaches in the hereditary line; and Regoge, successor to Nena, although of the royal family, was a distant relation.

There were two violent parties in the empire, which began in the time of the revolution above mentioned; and at the death of the empress Nena, were in the highest degree of animosity, each charging the other with a design of introducing new Gods, and changing the civil constitution. The names of these two parties were Husiges and Yortes[3]. The latter were those whom Nena the late empress most favoured toward the end of her reign, and by whose advice she governed.

The Husige faction, enraged at their loss of power, made private applications to Regoge, during the life of the empress; which prevailed so far, that upon her death, the new emperor wholly disgraced the Yortes, and employed only the Husiges in all his affairs. The Japanese author highly blames his imperial majesty's proceeding in this affair; because it was allowed on all hands, that he had then a happy opportunity of reconciling parties for ever, by a moderating scheme. But he, on the contrary, began his reign by openly disgracing the principal and most popular Yortes, some of which had been chiefly instrumental in raising him to the throne. By this mistaken step, he occasioned a rebellion: which, although it were soon quelled by some very surprising turns of fortune; yet the fear, whether real or pretended, of new attempts, engaged him in such immense charges, that instead of clearing any part of that prodigious debt, left on his kingdom by the former war, which might have been done, by any tolerable management, in twelve years of the most profound peace, he left his empire loaded with a vast addition to the old encumbrance.

This prince, before he succeeded to the empire of Japan, was king of Tedsu, a dominion seated on the continent, to the west side of Japan. Tedsu was the place of his birth, and more beloved by him than his new empire; for there he spent some months almost every year, and thither was supposed to have conveyed great sums of money, saved out of his imperial revenues.

There were two maritime towns of great importance bordering upon Tedsu: of these he purchased a litigated title; and to support it, was forced not only to entrench deeply on his Japanese revenues, but to engage in alliances very dangerous to the Japanese empire.

Japan was at that time a limited monarchy, which, some authors are of opinion, was introduced there by a detachment from the numerous army of Brennus, who ravaged a great part of Asia; and those of them who fixed in Japan, left behind them that kind of military institution, which the northern people in ensuing ages carried through most parts of Europe; the generals becoming kings, the great officers a senate of nobles, with a representative from every centenary of private soldiers; and in the assent of the majority in these two bodies, confirmed by the general, the legislature consisted.

I need not farther explain a matter so universally known; but return to my subject.

The Husige faction, by a gross piece of negligence in the Yortes, had so far insinuated themselves and their opinions into the favour of Regoge, before he came to the empire, that this prince firmly believed them to be his only true friends, and the others his mortal enemies. By this opinion he governed all the actions of his reign.

The emperor died suddenly, in his journey to Tedsu; where, according to his usual custom, he was going to pass the summer.

This prince, during his whole reign, continued an absolute stranger to the language, the manners, the laws, and the religion of Japan; and passing his whole time among old mistresses, or a few privadoes, left the whole management of the empire in the hands of a minister, upon the condition of being made easy in his personal revenues, and the management of parties in the senate. His last minister[4], who governed in the most arbitrary manner for several years; he was thought to hate more than he did any other person in Japan, except his only son, the heir to the empire. The dislike he bore to the former was, because the minister, under pretence that he could not govern the senate without disposing of employments among them, would not suffer his master to oblige one single person, but disposed of all to his own relations and dependents. But, as to that continued and virulent hatred he bore to the prince his son, from the beginnirig of his reign to his death, the historian has not accounted for it, farther than by various conjectures, which do not deserve to be related.

The minister above mentioned was of a family not contemptible, had been early a senator, and from his youth a mortal enemy to the Yortes. He had been formerly disgraced in the senate, for some frauds in the management of a publick trust. He was perfectly skilled, by long practice in the senatorial forms; and dextrous in the purchasing of votes, from those who could find their accounts better in complying with his measures, than they could probably lose by any tax that might be charged on the kingdom. He seemed to fail, in point of policy, by not concealing his gettings; never scrupling openly to lay out vast sums of money in paintings, buildings, and purchasing estates; when it was known that upon his first coming into business, upon the death of the empress Nena, his fortune was but inconsiderable. He had the most boldness, and the least magnanimity that ever any mortal was endowed with. By enriching his relations, friends, and dependents, in a most exorbitant manner, he was weak enough to imagine that he had provided a support against an evil day. He had the best among all false appearances of courage; which was, a most unlimited assurance, whereby he would swagger the boldest man into a dread of his power; but had not the smallest portion of magnanimity, growing jealous, and disgracing every man, who was known to bear the least civility to those he disliked. He had some small smattering in books, but no manner of politeness: nor, in his whole life, was ever known to advance any one person, upon the score of wit, learning, or abilities for business. The whole system of his ministry was corruption; and he never gave bribe or pension, without frankly telling the receivers what he expected from them, and threatening them to put an end to his bounty, if they failed to comply in every circumstance.

A few months before the emperor's death, there was a design concerted between some eminent persons of both parties, whom the desperate state of the empire had united, to accuse the minister at the first meeting of a new-chosen senate, which was then to assemble according to the laws of that empire. And in was believed, that the vast expense he must be at, in choosing an assembly proper for his purpose, added to the low state of the treasury, the increasing number of pensioners, the great discontent of the people, and the personal hatred of the emperor, would, if well laid open in the senate, be of weight enough to sink the minister, when it should appear to his very pensioners and creatures, that he could not supply them much longer.

While this scheme was in agitation, an account came of the emperor's death; and the prince his son[5], with universal joy, mounted the throne of Japan.

The new emperor had always lived a private life, during the reign of his father; who, in his annual absence, never trusted him more than once with the reins of government, which he held so evenly, that he became too popular, to be confided in any more. He was thought not unfavourable to the Yortes, at least not altogether to approve the virulence, wherewith his father proceeded against them; and therefore, immediately upon his succession, the principal persons of that denomination came, in several bodies, to kiss the hem of his garment; whom he received with great courtesy, and some of them with particular marks of distinction.

The prince, during the reign of his father, having not been trusted with any publick charge, employed his leisure in learning the language, the religion, the customs, and disposition, of the Japanese; wherein he received great information, among others, from Nomtoc[6], master of his finances, and president of the senate, who secretly hated Lelop-Aw, the minister; and likewise from Ramneh[7], a most eminent senator, who, despairing to do any good with the father, had, with great industry, skill, and decency, used his endeavours to instil good principles into the young prince.

Upon the news of the former emperor's death, a grand council was summoned of course, where little passed beside directing the ceremony of proclaiming the successor. But, in some days after, the new emperor, having consulted with those persons in whom he could chiefly confide, and maturely considered in his own mind the present state of his affairs, as well as the disposition of his people, convoked another assembly of his council; wherein, after some time spent in general business, suitable to the present emergency, he directed Lelop-Aw to give him, in as short terms as he conveniently could, an account of the nation's debts, of his management in the senate, and his negotiations with foreign courts: which that minister having delivered, according to his usual manner, with much assurance and little satisfaction, the emperor desired to be fully satisfied in the following particulars.

Whether the vast expense of choosing such members into the senate, as would be content to do the publick business, were absolutely necessary.

Whether those members, thus chosen in, would cross and impede the necessary course of affairs, unless they were supplied with great sums of money and continued pensions?

Whether the same corruption and peverseness were to be expected from the nobles?

Whether the empire of Japan were in so low a condition, that the imperial envoys at foreign courts must be forced to purchase alliances, or prevent a war, by immense bribes given to the ministers of all the neighbouring princes?

Why the debts of the empire were so prodigiously advanced, in a peace of twelve years at home and abroad?

Whether the Yortes were universally enemies to the religion and laws of the empire, and to the imperial family now reigning.

Whether those persons, whose revenues consist in lands, do not give surer pledges of fidelity to the publick, and are more interested in the welfare of the empire, than others, whose fortunes consist only in money?

And because Lelop-Aw, for several years past, had engrossed the whole administration, the emperor signified, that from him alone he expected an answer.

This minister, who had sagacity enough to cultivate an interest in the young prince's family, during the late emperor's life, received early intelligence from one of his emissaries, of what was intended at the council, and had sufficient time to frame as plausible an answer, as his cause and conduct would allow. However, having desired a few minutes to put his thoughts in order, he delivered them in the following manner:


"Upon this short unexpected warning, to answer your imperial majesty's queries, I should be wholly at a loss, in your majesty's august presence, and that of this most noble assembly, if I were armed with a weaker defence than my own loyalty and integrity, and the prosperous success of my endeavours.

"It is well known, that the death of the empress Nena, happened in a most miraculous juncture; and that if she had lived two months longer, your illustrious family would have been deprived of your right; and we should have seen an usurper upon your throne, who would have wholly changed the constitution of this empire, both civil and sacred; and, although that empress died in a most opportune season, yet the peaceable entrance of your majesty's father, was effected by a continual series of miracles. The truth of this appears, by that unnatural rebellion which the Yortes raised, without the least provocation, in the first year of the late emperor's reign; which may be sufficient to convince your majesty, that every soul of that denomination, was, is, and will be for ever, a favourer of the pretender, a mortal enemy to your illustrious family, and an introducer of new gods into the empire. Upon this foundation was built the whole conduct of our affairs: and since a great majority of the kingdom, was at that time reckoned to favour the Yortes faction, who, in the regular course of elections, must certainly have been chosen members of the senate then to be convoked; it was necessary, by the force of money, to influence elections in such a manner, that your majesty's father might have a sufficient number, to weigh down the scale on his side, and thereby carry on those measures, which could only secure him and his family in the possession of the empire. To support this original plan, I came into the service; but, the members of the senate knowing themselves every day more necessary, upon the choosing of a new senate, I found the charges to increase; and that after they were chosen, they insisted upon an increase of their pensions; because they well knew, that the work could not be carried on without them: and I was more general in my donatives, because I thought it was more for the honour of the crown, that every vote should pass without a division; and that when a debate was proposed, it should immediately be quashed by putting the question.

"Sir, The date of the present senate is expired, and your imperial majesty is now to convoke a new one; which, I confess, will be somewhat more expensive than the last, because the Yortes, from your favourable reception, have begun to reassume a spirit, whereof the country had some intelligence; and we know, the majority of the people, without proper management, would be still in that fatal interest. However, I dare undertake, with the charge only of four hundred thousand sprangs[8], to return as great a majority of senators of the true stamp, as your majesty can desire. As to the sums of money paid in foreign courts, I hope, in some years, to ease the nation of them, when we and our neighbours come to a good understanding. However, I will be bold to say, they are cheaper than a war, where your majesty is to be a principal.

"The pensions indeed to senators and other persons, must needs increase, from the restiveness of some, and scrupulous nature of others; and the new members, who are unpractised, must have better encouragement. However, I dare undertake to bring the eventual charge within eight hundred thousand sprangs. But, to make this easy, there shall be new funds raised, of which I have several schemes ready, without taxing bread or flesh, which shall be reserved to more pressing occasions.

"Your majesty knows, it is the laudable custom of all Eastern princes, to leave the whole management of affairs, both civil and military, to their visirs.

"The appointments for your family and private purse, shall exceed those of your predecessors: you shall be at no trouble, farther than to appear sometimes in council, and leave the rest to me: you shall hear no clamour or complaints: your senate shall, upon occasion, declare you the best of princes, the father of your country, the arbiter of Asia, the defender of the oppressed, and the delight of mankind.

"Sir, Hear not those who would, most falsely, impiously, and maliciously, insinuate that your government can be carried on, without that wholesome necessary expedient, of sharing the publick revenue with your faithful deserving senators. This, I know, my enemies are pleased to call bribery and corruption. Be it so: but I insist, that without this bribery and corruption, the wheels of government will not turn; or at least will be apt to take fire, like other wheels, unless they be greased at proper times. If an angel from Heaven should descend, to govern this empire, upon any other scheme than what our enemies call corruption, he must return from whence he came, and leave the work undone.

"Sir, It is well known we are a trading nation, and consequently cannot thrive in a bargain, where nothing is to be gained. The poor electors, who run from their shops or the plough, for the service of their country; are they not to be considered for their labour and their loyalty? The candidates, who, with the hazard of their persons, the loss of their characters, and the ruin of their fortunes, are preferred to the senate, in a country where they are strangers, before the very lords of the soil; are they not to be rewarded for their zeal to your majesty's service, and qualified to live in your metropolis, as becomes the lustre of their stations?

"Sir, If I have given great numbers of the most profitable employments, among my own relations and nearest allies, it was not out of any partiality; but because I know them best, and can best depend upon them. I have been at the pains to mould and cultivate their opinions. Abler heads might probably have been found; but they would not be equally under my direction. A huntsman who has the absolute command of his dogs, will hunt more effectually, than with a better pack, to whose manner and cry he is a stranger.

"Sir, Upon the whole, I will appeal to all those who best knew your royal father, whether that blessed monarch had ever one anxious thought for the publick, or disappointment, or uneasiness, or want of money for all his occasions, during the time of my administration? And how happy the people confessed themselves to be, under such a king, I leave to their own numerous addresses; which all politicians will allow, to be the most infallible proof, how any nation stands affected to their sovereign."

Lelop-Aw, having ended his speech, and struck his forehead thrice against the table, as the custom is in Japan, sat down with great complacency of mind, and much applause of his adherents, as might be observed by their countenances and their whispers. But the emperor's behaviour was remarkable; for, during the whole harangue, he appeared equally attentive and uneasy. After a short pause, his majesty commanded that some other counsellor should deliver his thoughts, either to confirm or object against what had been spoken by Lelop-Aw.