The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 16/Answer of William Pulteney to Sir Robert Walpole
Right honourable William Pulteney, Esq.
Oct. 15, 1730.
A PAMPHLET was lately sent me, entitled, "A letter from the Right Honourable Sir R. W. to the Right Honourable W. P. Esq; occasioned by the late invectives on the King, her Majesty, and all the royal family." By these initial letters of our names, the world is to understand that you and I must be meant. Although the letter seems to require an answer, yet because it appears to be written rather in the style and manner used by some of your pensioners, than your own, I shall allow you the liberty to think the same of this answer, and leave the publick to determine which of the two actors can better personate their principals. That frigid and fustian way of haranguing wherewith your representer begins, continues, and ends his declamation, I shall leave to the criticks in eloquence and propriety to descant on; because it adds nothing to the weight of your accusations, nor will my defence be one grain the better by exposing its puerilities.
I shall therefore only remark upon this particular, that the frauds and corruptions in most other arts and sciences, as law, physick (I shall proceed no farther) are usually much more plausibly defended, than in that of politicks; whether it be, that, by a kind of fatality, the vindication of a corrupt minister is always left to the management of the meanest and most prostitute writers; or whether it be, that the effects of a wicked or unskilful administration, are more publick, visible, pernicious, and universal: Whereas the mistakes in other sciences are often matters that affect only speculation; or at worst, the bad consequences fall upon few and private persons. A nation is quickly sensible of the miseries it feels, and little comforted by knowing what account it turns to by the wealth, the power, the honours conferred on those who sit at the helm, or the salaries paid to their penmen; while the body of the people is sunk into poverty and despair. A Frenchman in his wooden shoes, may, from the vanity of his nation, and the constitution of that government, conceive some imaginary pleasure in boasting the grandeur of his monarch; in the midst of his own slavery: but a freeborn Englishman, with all his loyalty, can find little satisfaction at a minister overgrown in wealth and power, from the lowest degree of want and contempt; when that power or wealth are drawn from the bowels and blood of the nation, for which every fellow subject is a sufferer, except the great man himself, his family, and his pensioners. I mean such a minister (if there has ever been such a one) whose whole management has been a continued link of ignorance, blunders, and mistakes in every article, beside that of enriching; and aggrrandizing himself.
For these reasons the faults of men, who are most trusted in publick business, are, of all others, the most difficult to be defended. A man may be persuaded into a wrong opinion, wherein he has small concern: but no oratory can have the power over a sober man, against the conviction of his own senses: and therefore, as I take it, the money thrown away on such advocates, might be more prudently spared, and kept in such a minister's own pocket, than lavished in hiring a corporation of pamphleteers to defend his conduct, and prove a kingdom to be flourishing in trade and wealth, which every particular subject (except those few already excepted) can lawfully swear, and by dear experience knows, to be a falsehood.
Give me leave, noble sir, in the way of argument, to suppose this to be your case; could you in good conscience, or moral justice, chide your paper-advocates for their ill success in persuading the world against manifest demonstration? Their miscarriage is owing, alas! to want of matter. Should we allow them to be masters of wit, raillery, or learning, yet the subject would not admit them to exercise their talents; and consequently, they can have no recourse but to impudence, lying, and scurrility.
I must confess, that the author of your letter to me has carried this last qualification to a greater height than any of his fellows: but he has, in my opinion, failed a little in point of politeness from the original which he affects to imitate. If I should say to a prime minister, "Sir, you have sufficiently provided that Dunkirk should be absolutely demolished and never repaired; you took the best advantages of a long and general peace to discharge the immense debts of the nation; you did wonders with the fleet; you made the Spaniards submit to our quiet possession of Gibraltar and Portmahon; you never enriched yourself and family at the expense of the publick." —— Such is the style of your supposed letter; which, however, if I am well informed, by no means comes up to the refinements of a fishwife at Billingsgate. "You never had a bastard by Tom the waterman; you never stole a silver tankard; you were never whipped at the cart's tail."
In the title of your letter, it is said to be "occasioned by the late invectives on the King, her Majesty, and all the Royal Family:" and the whole contents of the paper (stripped from your eloquence) goes on upon a supposition affectedly serious, that their majesties, and the whole royal family, have been lately bitterly and publickly inveighed against, in the most enormous and treasonable manner. Now, being a man, as you well know, altogether out of business, I do sometimes lose an hour in reading a few of those controversial papers upon politicks, which have succeeded for some years past to the polemical tracts between whig and tory: and in this kind of reading (if it may deserve to be so called) although I have been often but little edified, or entertained, yet has it given me occasion to make some observations. First, I have observed, that however men may sincerely agree in all the branches of the low church principle, in a tenderness for dissenters of every kind, in a perfect abhorrence of popery and the pretender, and in the most firm adherence to the protestant succession in the royal house of Hanover; yet plenty of matter may arise to kindle their animosities against each other, from the various infirmities, follies, and vices inherent in mankind.
Secondly, I observed, that although the vulgar reproach, which charges the quarrels between ministers and their opposers, to be only a contention for power between those who are in, and those who would be in if they could: yet, as long as this proceeds no farther than a scuffle of ambition among a few persons, it is only a matter of course, whereby the publick is little affected. But, when corruptions are plain, open, and undisguised, both in their causes and effects, to the hazard of a nation's ruin, and so declared by all the principal persons, and the bulk of the people, those only excepted who are gainers by those corruptions: and when such ministers are forced to fly for shelter to the throne, with a complaint of disaffection to majesty against all who durst dislike their administration: Such a general disposition in the minds of men, cannot, I think, by any rules of reason, be called "the clamour of a few disaffected incendiaries," grasping after power. It is the true voice of the people; which must and will at last be heard, or produce consequences that I dare not mention.
I have observed, thirdly, that among all the offensive printed papers which have come to my hand, whether good or bad, the writers have taken particular pains to celebrate the virtues of our excellent king and queen, even where these were, strictly speaking, no part of the subject; nor can it be properly objected that such a proceeding was only a blind to cover their malice toward you and your assistants; because to affront the king, queen, or the royal family, as it would be directly opposite to the principles that those kind of writers have always professed, so it would destroy the very end they have in pursuit. And it is somewhat remarkable, that those very writers against you, and the regiment you command, are such as most distinguish themselves upon all, or upon no occasions, by their panegyricks on their prince; and as all of them do this without favour or hire, so some of them continue the same practice under the severest prosecution by you and your janizaries.
You seem to know, or at least very strongly to conjecture, who those persons are that give you so much weekly disquiet. Will you dare to assert that any of these are Jacobites, endeavour to alienate the hearts of the people, to defame the prince, and then dethrone him (for these are your expressions) and that I am their patron, their bulwark, their hope, and their refuge? Can you think I will descend to vindicate myself against an aspersion so absurd? God be thanked, we have had many a change of ministry without changing our prince: for, if it had been otherwise, perhaps revolutions might have been more frequent. Heaven forbid that the welfare of a great kingdom, and of a brave people, should be trusted with the thread of a single subject's life; for I suppose it is not yet in your view to entail the ministryship in your family. Thus I hope we may live to see different ministers and different measures, without any danger to the succession in the royal protestant line of Hanover.
You are pleased to advance a topick, which I could never heartily approve of in any party, although they have each in their turn advanced it while they had the superiority. You tell us, it is hard that while every private man shall have the liberty to choose what servants he pleases, the same privilege should be refused to a king. This assertion, crudely understood, can hardly be supported. If by servants be only meant those who are purely menial, who provide for their master's food and clothing, or for the convenience and splendour of his family, the point is not worth debating. But, the bad or good choice of a chancellor, a secretary, an ambassador, a treasurer, and many other officers, is of very high consequence to the whole kingdom: so is likewise that amphibious race of courtiers between servants and ministers; such as the steward, chamberlain, treasurer of the household, and the like, being all of the privy council, and some of the cabinet; who, according to their talents, their principles, and their degree of favour, may be great instruments of good or evil, both to the subject and the prince; so that the parallel is by no means adequate between a prince's court, and a private family. And yet, if an insolent footman be troublesome in the neighbourhood; if he breaks the people's windows, insults their servants, breaks into other folk's houses to pilfer what he can find, although he belong to a duke, and be a favourite in his station, yet those who are injured may, without just offence, complain to his lord, and for want of redress get a warrant to send him to the stocks, to Bridewell, or to Newgate, according to the nature and degree of his delinquencies. Thus the servants of the prince, whether menial or otherwise, if they be of his council, are subject to the inquiries and prosecutions of the great council of the nation, even as far as to capital punishment; and so must ever be in our constitution, till a minister can procure a majority even of that council to shelter him; which I am sure you will allow to be a desperate crisis, under any party of the most plausible denomination.
The only instance you produce, or rather insinuate, to prove the late invectives against the king, queen, and royal family, is drawn from that deduction of the English history published in several papers, by the Craftsman; wherein are shown the bad consequences to the publick, as well as to the prince, from the practices of evil ministers in most reigns, and at several periods, when the throne was filled by wise monarchs, as well as by weak. This deduction, therefore, cannot reasonably give the least offence to a British king, when he shall observe that the greatest and ablest of his predecessors, by their own candour, by a particular juncture of affairs, or by the general infirmity of human nature, have sometimes put too much trust in confident, insinuating, and avaricious ministers.
Wisdom, attended by virtue and a generous nature, is not unapt to be imposed on. Thus Milton describes Uriel, "the sharpest-sighted spirit in Heaven," and "regent of the sun," deceived by the dissimulation and flattery of the devil, for which the poet gives a philosophical reason, but needless here to quote. Is any thing more common, or more useful, than to caution wise men in high stations against putting too much trust in undertaking servants, cringing flatterers, or designing friends? Since the Asiatic custom of governing by prime ministers has prevailed in so many courts of Europe, how careful should every prince be in the choice of the person on whom so great a trust is devolved, whereon depend the safety and welfare of himself and all his subjects! Queen Elizabeth, whose administration is frequently quoted as the best pattern for English princes to follow, could not resist the artifices of the earl of Leicester; who, although universally allowed to be the most ambitious, insolent, and corrupt person of his age, was yet her greatest, and almost her only favourite: (his religion indeed being partly puritan and partly infidel, might have better tallied with present times) yet this wise queen would never suffer the openest enemies of that overgrown lord to be sacrificed to his vengeance; nor durst he charge them with a design of introducing popery, or the Spanish pretender.
How many great families do we all know, whose masters have passed for persons of good abilities, during the whole course of their lives, and yet the greatest part of whose estates have sunk in the hands of their stewards and receivers; their revenues paid them in scanty portions, at large discount, and treble interest, though they did not know it; while the tenants were daily racked, and at the same time accused to their landlords of insolvency. Of this species are such managers, who, like honest Peter Waters, pretend to clear an estate, keep the owner pennyless, and after seven years, leave him five times more in debt, while they sink half a plum into their own pockets.
Those who think themselves concerned, may give you thanks for that gracious liberty you are pleased to allow them of "taking vengeance on the ministers, and there shooting their envenomed arrows." As to myself; I neither owe you vengeance, nor make use of such weapons: but it is your weakness, or ill-fortune, or perhaps the fault of your constitution, to convert wholesome remedies into poison; for you have received better and more frequent instructions than any minister of your age and country, if God had given you the grace to apply them.
I dare promise you the thanks of half the kingdom, if you please to perform the promise you have made of suffering the Craftsman and company, or whatever other infamous wretches and execrable villains you mean, to take their vengeance only on your own sacred ministerial person, without bringing any of your brethren, much less the most remote branch of the royal family, into the debate. This generous offer I suspected from the first; because there were never heard of so many, so unnecessary, and so severe prosecutions as you have promoted during your ministry, in a kingdom where the liberty of the press is so much pretended to be allowed. But, in reading a page or two, I found you thought it proper to explain away your grant; for there you tell us, that "these miscreants" (meaning the writers against you) are to remember that the laws have abundantly less generous, less mild and merciful sentiments" than yourself; and into their secular hands the poor authors must be delivered to fines, prisons, pillories, whippings, and the gallows. Thus your promise of impunity, which began somewhat jesuitically, concludes with the mercy of a Spanish inquisitor.
If it should so happen that I am neither abettor, patron, protector, nor supporter of these imaginary invectives "against the king, her majesty, or any of the royal family," I desire to know what satisfaction I am to get from you, or the creature you employed in writing the libel which I am now answering? It will be no excuse to say, that I differ from you in every particular of your political reason and practice; because that will be to load the best, the soundest, and most numerous part of the kingdom with the denominations you are pleased to bestow upon me, that they are "jacobites, wicked miscreants, infamous wretches, execrable villains, and defamers of the king, queen, and all the royal family," and "guilty of high treason." You cannot know my style; but I can easily know your works, which are performed in the sight of the sun. Your good inclinations are visible; but I begin to doubt the strength of your credit, even at court, that you have not power to make his majesty believe me the person which you represent in your libel; as most infallibly you have often attempted, and in vain, because I must otherwise have found it by the marks of his royal displeasure. However, to be angry with you, to whom I am indebted for the greatest obligation I could possibly receive, would be the highest ingratitude. It is to you I owe that reputation I have acquired for some years past of being a lover of my country and its constitution: to you I owe the libels and scurrilities conferred upon me by the worst of men, and consequently some degree of esteem and friendship from the best. From you I learned the skill of distinguishing between a patriot and plunderer of his country; and from you I hope in time to acquire the knowledge of being a loyal, faithful, and useful servant to the best of princes, king George the Second; and therefore I can conclude, by your example, but with greater truth, that I am not only with humble submission and respect, but with infinite gratitude. Sir, your most obedient and most obliged servant,
- Written by Dr. Swift.