The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/Of the Circumcision of Edmund Curll
AVARICE (as sir Richard, in the third page of his Essays, has elegantly observed) is an inordinate impulse of the soul, toward the amassing or heaping together a superfluity of wealth, without the least regard of applying it to its proper uses.
And how the mind of man is possessed with this vice, may be seen every day both in the city and suburbs thereof. It has been always esteemed by Plato, Puffendorf, and Socrates, as the darling vice of old age: but now our young men are turned usurers and stockjobbers; and, instead of lusting after the real wives and daughters of our rich citizens, they covet nothing but their money and estates. Strange change of vice! when the concupiscence of youth is converted into the covetousness of age, and those appetites are now become venal, which should be venereal.
In the first place, let us show you how many of the ancient worthies and heroes of antiquity, have been undone and ruined by this deadly sin of avarice.
I shall take the liberty to begin with Brutus, that noble Roman. Does not Ætian inform us, that he received fifty broad pieces for the assassination of that renowned emperor Julius Cæsar, who fell a sacrifice to the Jews, as sir Edmund Bury Godfrey did to the papists?
Did not Themistocles let the Goths and Vandals into Carthage for a sum of money, where they barbarously put out the other eye of the famous Hannibal? as Herodotus has it in his ninth book upon the Roman medals.
Even the great Cato (as the late Mr. Addison has very well observed) though otherwise a gentleman of good sense, was not unsullied by this pecuniary contagion; for he sold Athens to Artaxerxes Longimanus for a hundred rix-dollars, which in our money will amount to two talents and thirty sestertii, according to Mr. Demoivre's calculation. See Hesiod in his seventh chapter of Feasts and Festivals.
Actuated by the same diabolical spirit of gain, Sylla the Roman consul shot Alcibiades the senator with a pistol, and robbed him of several bank bills and 'chequer notes to an immense value; for which he came to an untimely end, and was denied christian burial. Hence comes the proverb incidat in Syllam.
To come near to our own times, and give you one modern instance, though well known and often quoted by historians, viz. Echard, Dionysius Halicarnasseus, Virgil, Horace, and others. 'Tis that, I mean, of the famous Godfrey of Bulloigne, one of the great heroes of the holy war, who robbed Cleopatra queen of Egypt of a diamond necklace, earrings, and a Tompion's gold watch (which was given her by Mark Anthony) all these things were found in Godfrey's breeches pocket, when he was killed at the siege of Damascus.
Who then can wonder, after so many great and illustrious examples, that Mr. Edmund Curll the stationer should renounce the Christian religion for the mammon of unrighteousness, and barter his precious faith for the filthy prospect of lucre in the present fluctuation of stocks?
It having been observed to Mr. Curll by some of his ingenious authors (who I fear are not overcharged with any religion) what immense sums the Jews had got by bubbles, &c. he immediately turned his mind from the business, in which he was educated, but thrived little, and resolved to quit his shop for 'Change alley. Whereupon falling into company with the Jews at their club at the sign of the Cross in Cornhill, they began to tamper with him upon the most important points of the Christian faith, which he for some time zealously, and like a good Christian obstinately defended. They promised him Paradise, and many other advantages hereafter, but he artfully insinuated, that he was more inclinable to listen to present gain. They took the hint, and promised him, that immediately upon his conversion to their persuasion he should become as rich as a Jew.
They made use likewise of several other arguments; to wit,
This Mr. Curll at first strenuously denied, for indeed he thought them Roman catholicks, and so far was he from giving way to their temptations, that to convince them of his Christianity he called for a pork griskin.
They now promised, if he would poison his wife, and give up his griskin, that he should marry the rich Ben Meymon's only daughter. This made some impression on him.
They then talked to him in the Hebrew tongue, which he not understanding, it was observed, had very great weight with him.
They now, perceiving that his godliness was only gain, desisted from all other arguments, and attacked him on his weak side, namely that of avarice.
Upon which John Mendez offered him an eighth of an advantageous bargain for the Apostles creed, which he readily and wickedly renounced.
Sir Gideon Lopez tempted him with forty pound subscription in Ram's bubble; for which he was content to give up the four Evangelists, and he was now completed a perfect Jew, all but black-pudding and circumcision; for both of which he would have been glad to have had a dispensation.
But on the 17th of March, Mr. Curll (unknown to his wife) came to the tavern aforesaid. At his entrance into the room he perceived a meagre man with a sallow countenance, a black forky beard, and long vestment. In his right hand he held a large pair of shears, and in his left a redhot searing-iron. At sight of this, Mr. Curll's heart trembled within him, and fain would he retire; but he was prevented by six Jews, who laid hands upon him, and unbuttoning his breeches threw him upon the table, a pale pitiful spectacle.
He now entreated them in the most moving tone of voice to dispense with that unmanly ceremonial, which if they would consent to, he faithfully promised, that he would eat a quarter of paschal lamb with them the next Sunday following.
All these protestations availed him nothing, for they threatened him, that all contracts and bargains should be void, unless he would submit to bear all the outward and visible signs of Judaism.
Our apostate hearing this stretched himself upon his back, spread his legs, and waited for the operation: but when he saw the high-priest take up the cleft stick, he roared most unmercifully, and swore several Christian oaths, for which the Jews rebuked him.
The savour of the effluvia, that issued from him, convinced the old Levite and all his assistants, that he needed no present purgation, wherefore without farther anointing him he proceeded in his office; when by an unfortunate jerk upward of the impatient victim, he lost five times as much as ever Jew did before.
They, finding that he was too much circumcised, which by the levitical law is worse than not being circumcised at all, refused to stand to any of their contracts: wherefore they cast him forth from their synagogue: and he now remains a most piteous, woeful, and miserable sight at the sign of the Old Testament and Dial in Fleet street; his wife (poor woman) is at this hour lamenting over him, wringing her hands and tearing her hair; for the barbarous Jews still keep, and expose at Jonathan's and Garraway's, the memorial of her loss, and her husband's indignity.
(To save the stamp.)
"KEEP us, we beseech thee, from the hands of such barbarous and cruel Jews, who albeit they abhor the blood of black-puddings, yet thirst they vehemently after the blood of white ones. And that we may avoid such-like calamities, may all good and well-disposed Christians be warned by this unhappy wretch's woeful example, to abominate the heinous sin of avarice, which sooner or later will draw them into the cruel clutches of satan, papists, Jews, and stockjobbers. Amen."
- Bubble was a name given to all the extravagant projects, for which subscriptions were raised, and negotiated at vast premiums in 'Change alley, in the year 1720. A name, which alluded to their production by the ferment of the South sea, and not to their splendour, emptiness, and inutility: for it did not become a name of reproach in this case, till time completed the metaphor, and the bubble broke.
- Bulls and bears. He who sells that of which he is not possessed is proverbially said "to sell the skin before he has caught the bear." It was the practice of stock-jobbers in the year 1720, to enter into contract for transferring S. S. stock at a future time for a certain price; but he who contracted to sell had frequently no stock to transfer, nor did he who bought intend to receive any in consequence of his bargain: the seller was therefore called a bear, in allusion to the proverb; and the buyer a bull, perhaps only as a similar distinction. The contract was merely a wager to be determined by the rise or fall of stock; if it rose, the seller paid the difference to the buyer proportioned to the sum determined by the same computation to the seller.
- All Forms of Prayer and Thanksgiving, Books of Devotion, &c. being excepted in the statute of 12 Anne (1712) charging pamphlets and papers contained in half a sheet with one halfpenny, and every such paper, being one whole sheet, with a stamp-duty of one penny for every copy.