The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/Annus Mirabilis
EFFECTS OF THE APPROACHING
CONJUNCTION OF THE
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
I SUPPOSE every body is sufficiently apprised of, and duly prepared for, the famous conjunction to be celebrated the 29th of this instant December 1722, foretold by all the sages of antiquity under the name of the annus mirabilis, or the metamorphostical conjunction: a word which denotes the mutual transformation of sexes (the effect of that configuration of the celestial bodies) the human males being to be turned into females, and the human females into males.
The Egyptians have represented this great transformation by several significant hieroglyphics, particularly one very remarkable. There are carved upon an obelisk, a barber and a midwife; the barber delivers his razor to the midwife, and she her swaddling-clothes to the barber. Accordingly Thales Milesius (who, like the rest of his countrymen, borrowed his learning from the Egyptians) after having computed the time of this famous conjunction, "then," says he, "shall men and women mutually exchange the pangs of shaving and childbearing."
Anaximander modestly describes this metamorphosis in mathematical terms, "then," says he, "shall the negative quantity of the women be turned into positive, their — into + (i. e.) their minus into plus."
Plato not only speaks of this great change, but describes all the preparations toward it. "Long before the bodily transformation (says he) nature shall begin the most difficult part of her work, by changing the ideas and inclinations of the two sexes: men shall turn effeminate, and women manly; wives shall domineer, and husbands obey; ladies shall ride a horseback, dressed like cavaliers; princes and nobles appear in nightrails and petticoats; men shall squeak upon theatres with female voices, and women corrupt virgins; lords shall knot and cut paper: and even the northern people, ἀρσένα κυπριν ὀρινεῖν." A phrase (which for modesty's sake I forbear to translate) which denotes a vice too frequent among us.
That the ministry foresaw this great change, is plain from the calico act; whereby it is now become the occupation of the women all over England, to convert their useless female habits into beds, window-curtains, chairs, and joint-stools; undressing themselves (as it were) before their transformation.
The philosophy of this transformation will not seem surprising to people, who search into the bottom of things. Madame Bourignon, a devout French lady, has shown us, how man was at first created male and female in one individual, having the faculty of propagation within himself; a circumstance necessary to the state of innocence, wherein a man's happiness was not to depend upon the caprice of another. It was not till after he had made a faux pas, that he had his female mate. Many such transformations of individuals have been well attested; particularly one by Montaigne, and another by the late bishop of Salisbury. From all which it appears, that this system of male and female has already undergone, and may hereafcer suffer, several alterations. Every smatterer in anatomy knows, that a woman is but an introverted man; a new fusion and flatus will turn the hollow bottom of a bottle into a convexity; but I forbear for the sake of my modest men-readers, who are in a few days to be virgins.
In some subjects the smallest alterations will do: some men are sufficiently spread about the hips, and contrived with that female softness, that they want only the negative quantity to make them buxom wenches; and there are women who are, as it were, already the èbauche of a good sturdy man. If nature could be puzzled, it will be how to bestow the redundant matter of the exuberant bubbies that now appear about town, or how to roll out the short dapper fellows into well-sized women.
This great conjunction will begin to operate on Saturday the 29th instant. Accordingly about eight at night, as Senezino shall begin at the opera, Si videte, he shall be observed to make an unusual motion; upon which the audience will be affected with a red suffusion over their countenance: and because a strong succussion of the muscles of the belly is necessary toward performing this great operation, both sexes will be thrown into a profuse involuntary laughter. Then, to use the modest terms of Anaximander, "shall negative quantity be turned into positive, &c." Time never beheld, nor will it ever assemble, such a number of untouched virgins within those walls! but alas! such will be the impatience and curiosity of people to act in their new capacity, that many of them will be completed men and women that very night. To prevent the disorders that may happen upon this occasion, is the chief design of this paper.
Gentlemen have begun already to make use of this conjunction to compass their filthy purposes. They tell the ladies, forsooth, that it is only parting with a perishable commodity, hardly of so much value as a callico under-petticoat; since, like its mistress, it will be useless in the form it is now in. If the ladies have no regard to the dishonour and immorality of the action, I desire they will consider, that nature, who never destroys her own productions, will exempt bigbellied women till the time of their lying in; so that not to be transformed, will be the same as to be pregnant. If they do not think it worth while to defend a fortress, that is to be demolished in a few days, let them reflect, that it will be a melancholy thing nine months hence to be brought to bed of a bastard; a posthumous bastard, as it were, to which the quondam father can be no more than a dry nurse.
This wonderful transformation is the instrument of nature to balance matters between the sexes. The cruelty of scornful mistresses shall be returned; the slighted maid shall grow into an imperious gallant, and reward her undoer with a big belly, and a bastard.
It is hardly possible to imagine the revolutions, that this wonderful phenomenon will occasion over the face of the earth. I long impatiently to see the proceedings of the parliament of Paris, as to the title of succession to the crown; this being a case not provided for by the salique law. There will be no preventing disorders among friars and monks; for certainly vows of chastity do not bind, but under the sex in which they were made. The same will hold good with marriages, though I think it will be a scandal among protestants for husbands and wives to part, since there remains still a possibility to perform the debitum conjugale, by the husband being femme couverte. I submit it to the judgment of the gentlemen of the long robe, whether this transformation does not discharge all suits of rapes.
The pope must undergo a new groping, but the false prophet Mahomet has contrived matters well for his successors; for as the grand signior has now a great many fine women, he will then have as many fine young gentlemen, at his devotion.
These are surprising scenes; but I beg leave to affirm, that the solemn operations of nature are subjects of contemplation, not of ridicule. Therefore I make it my earnest request to the merry fellows and giggling girls about town, that they would not put themselves in a high twitter, when they go to visit a general lying in of his first child; his officers serving as midwives, nurses, and rockers dispensing caudle; or if they behold the reverend prelates dressing the heads and airing the linen at court; I beg they will remember that these offices must be filled with people of the greatest regularity, and best characters. For the same reason I am sorry, that a certain prelate, who, notwithstanding his confinement, still preserves his healthy, cheerful countenance, cannot come in time to be a nurse at court.
I likewise earnestly intreat the maids of honour, (then ensigns and captains of the guards) that at their first setting out they have some regard to their former station; and do not run wild through all the infamous houses about town: that the present grooms of the bed-chamber (then maids of honour) would not eat chalk and lime in their green-sickness : and in general, that the men would remember they are become retromingent, and not by inadvertency lift up against walls and posts.
Petticoats will not be burdensome to the clergy; but balls and assemblies will be indecent for some time.
As for you, coquettes, bawds, and chambermaids (the future ministers, plenipotentiaries, and cabinet-counsellors to the princes of the earth) manage the great intrigues that will be committed to your charge, with your usual secrecy and conduct: and the affairs of your masters will go better than ever.
O ye exchange women! (our right worshipful representatives that are to be) be not so griping in the sale of your ware as your predecessors, but consider that the nation, like a spendthrift heir, has run out: be likewise a little more continent in your tongues than you are at present, else the length of debates will spoil your dinners.
You housewifely good women who now preside over the confectionary (henceforth commissioners of the treasury) be so good as to dispense the sugar-plumbs of the government with a more impartial and frugal hand.
Ye prudes and censorious old maids (the hopes of the bench) exert but your usual talent of finding faults, and the laws will be strictly executed; only I would not have you proceed upon such slender evidences as you have done hitherto.
It is from you, eloquent oyster-merchants of Billingsgate, (just ready to be called to the bar, and quoifed like your sister serjeants) that we expect the shortening the time, and lessening the expences of lawsuits; for I think you are observed to bring your debates to a short issue; and even custom will restrain you from taking the oyster, and leaving only the shell to your client.
O ye physicians! who in the figure of old women are to clean the tripe in the markets, scour it as effectually as you have done that of your patients, and the town will fare most deliciously on Saturdays.
I cannot but congratulate human nature upon this happy transformation: the only expedient left to restore the liberties and tranquillity of mankind. This is so evident, that it is almost an affront to common sense to insist upon the proof: if there can be any such stupid creature as to doubt it, I desire he will make but the following obvious reflection. There are in Europe alone, at present, about a million of sturdy fellows, under the denomination of standing forces, with arms in their hands: that those are masters of the lives, liberties, and fortunes of all the rest, I believe no body will deny. It is no less true in fact, that reams of paper, and above a square mile of skins of vellum have been employed to no purpose to settle peace among those sons of violence. Pray who is he that will say unto them, "go and disband yourselves?" but lo! by this transformation it is done at once, and the halcyon days of publick tranquillity return; for neither the military temper nor discipline can taint the soft sex for a whole age to come: bellaque matribus invisa, wars odious to mothers, will not grow immediately palatable in their paternal state.
Nor will the influence of this transformation be less in family tranquillity than it is in national. Great faults will be amended, and frailties forgiven on both sides. A wife, who has been disturbed with late hours, and choked with the hautgout of a sot, will remember her sufferings, and avoid the temptations; and will for the same reasons indulge her mate, in his female capacity, in some passions, which she is sensible from experience are natural to the sex; such as vanity, fine clothes, being admired, &c. And how tenderly must she use her mate under the breeding qualms and labour-pains which she hath felt herself? In short, all unreasonable demands upon husbands must cease, because they are already satisfied, from natural experience, that they are impossible.
That the ladies may govern the affairs of the world, and the gentlemen those of their household, better than either of them have hitherto done, is the hearty desire of
Their most sincere well-wisher,
- Sketch, rough draught, or essay.
- In December 1722.