The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 18/A Modest Inquiry into the Reasons of the Joy
REASONS OF THE JOY
A CERTAIN SET OF PEOPLE,
SPREADING OF A REPORT
HER MAJESTY'S DEATH.
FIRST PUBLISHED, FEB. 4, 1713-14.
MODEST INQUIRY, ETC.
THAT this inquiry is made by a private person, and not by her majesty's attorney general; and that such notorious offenders have met only with an expostulation, instead of an indictment; will at once be an everlasting proof of the lenity of the government, and of the unprovoked and groundless barbarity of such a proceeding. Amid the pious intercessions of her majesty's dutiful subjects at the throne of grace, for her health and recovery; that others of them should receive the news of her death with joy, and spread it with industry, will hardly appear probable to any, except to those who have been witnesses of such vile practices, not only in her majesty's capital city, but in several other places of the kingdom; not only near Charing cross, but at some other market crosses: that their passion on such an occasion should prove too unruly even for the caution demanded in the belief of news still uncertain, for the severity of the laws, and for the common decency that is due to the fall even of the greatest enemy: that not only those who were sharers of the common blessings of her mild government, but such as had been warmed by its kinder influences; not only those who owed their honour, their riches, and other superfluities, but even the necessaries of life to her bounty; such as ate her bread, wore her raiment, and were protected under the shelter of her roof; should not be able for a moment to stifle their eager and impatient ingratitude: that this behaviour should not only appear in those vile and detestable places which are dedicated to faction and disorder; but that it should infect her majesty's palaces and chapels (where the accustomed devotion for her health and prosperity was derided): these, I say, are facts that might demand a full proof, could I not appeal to their own consciences, and the uncontestable evidence of credible persons.
I will, for once, suppose some foreigner, unacquainted with our temper and affairs, to be disturbed in his walks by some of the revels at Charing cross upon this occasion, or by chance to stumble into a neighbouring coffeehouse: would not his curiosity prompt him to address himself to the company, after the following manner?
"Gentlemen, Though I am no Englishman, I rejoice as much at the fall of a tyrant as any of you. Surely this queen Anne exceeded both Nero and Caligula in acts of cruelty. May I beg you to relate to me some particulars? As for you, gentlemen, who express such unusual joy, no doubt but there are at this time multitudes of your relations and friends in prison; who were to be executed the next day, if this lucky accident had not prevented it."
Give me leave to imagine some poor disconsolate honest gentleman, at the same time, accidentally among them, thus answering this foreigner: "Alas! sir, this good queen, whom they now report to be dead, during a reign of twelve years, never shed one drop of blood for any misdemeanours against herself."
For. Well, sir, allowing what you have said to be true; may not the late administration have been rendered merciful by the indulgence of those entrusted with the execution of the laws; and yet, the queen, of whom we are speaking, have been in her own nature a wicked and cruel person?
Gent. Alas I sir, quite the contrary; this excellent queen was the greatest pattern of all princely and christian virtues that ever adorned a throne; just, patient, firm, devout, charitable, affable, compassionate, the sincerest friend, the kindest mistress, the best wife!
For. Perhaps she was of a different religion; inclined to popery, which has been for many years held in the utmost detestation in this country.
Gent. Sir, this pious princess, as she was early educated in the religion of her country; so, amid a court corrupted both in principles and manners, she gave constant proofs of her unshaken perseverance in it; and, by her unblemished life, proved as great an ornament to the church of which she was a member, as she was a steady professor of its doctrine, and constant frequenter of its devotions. To the protestant religion she sacrificed her most tender interests. Where is that boasted patriot, who acted a more generous part for the good of his country in the most perilous times? And, since Providence set the crown upon her head, in what single instance has she departed from those maxims?
For. I confess, then, I am at a loss to find out the cause of so great an exultation for the death of so excellent a princess: but it has sometimes happened, by the connivance of good monarchs, that their people have been oppressed; and that perhaps might be your case in the late reign.
Gent. So much otherwise, that no annals can produce a reign freer from oppression. Our gracious queen "never accepted the persons of the wicked, nor overthrew the righteous in judgment. Whose ox or whose ass did she take? She was always ready to relieve, but never to oppress, the poor, the fatherless, and the afflicted. Her heart was not lifted up above her brethren; nor did she turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left." Her compassionate mind pitied even those countries which suffered by the power of her victorious arms. Where are the least effects of the pride and cruelty of queen Anne to be discovered? So impossible is it to brand her government with any instance of severity, that perhaps it may be more justly censured for excess of clemency; a clemency, the continuance whereof had once brought her into the utmost distress, till that tender regard, which she had always shown for the liberties of her subjects, taught them in return to struggle as hard for the liberty of their sovereign; even for that common right of all mankind, the liberty of choosing her own servants.
For. Give me leave to make another supposition. Princes sometimes turn liberality into profusion, squander their treasure, and empoverish their people. May nothing of this kind be laid to the charge of the deceased queen?
Gent. You cannot but have heard, that, when she came to the crown, she found a dangerous war prepared for her, in which it pleased God to bless her with unexpected success. When the purposes seemed to be answered for which it was undertaken, she thought fit to stop the vital streams of the blood and treasure of her people, and to put a period to a war, that now served only to gratify the covetousness or ambition of those she was confederated with, as well as the vast designs of a faction at home; and, with peace, to endeavour to settle such a commerce as might in some measure reimburse her subjects of the vast treasure they had expended. Alas! here is her crime: touching those points she "is now called in question" by those gentlemen. As for her own expenses, I wish they had reached as far as the necessaries and conveniences of life, which, some can testify, she has often denied herself, that she might have to give to those who were in want. If ever her liberality exceeded its just bounds, it was to a set of men who would now use the riches they enjoy by her bounty, to insult her. Devotion and business were all the pleasures of her life: when she had any relaxation from the latter, it was only by some painful attack of the gout. The cares of government, no doubt, had prejudiced her constitution: but monsters sure are they, that can rejoice for the loss of a life worn out in their own service. I hope you will have the goodness to believe there are but few of us who deserve this infamous character. The bulk of her subjects, and many good christians besides in other parts of the world, are, no doubt, daily offering up their ardent prayers and vows for the preservation of so precious a life.
For. From what you have said, I readily condemn the unseasonable joy of those gentlemen: but mankind are governed by their interests. You Englishmen seldom disguise your passions. A monarch may have a thousand good qualities; but particular men, who do not feel the benign influence of them, may be tempted, perhaps, to wish for a change.
Gent. Give me leave to whisper you: That man of quality, whom you see in such an ecstacy, enjoys by her majesty's bounty one of the most advantageous places of the kingdom. — That other gentleman's coach, that stands there at the door, was bought with her majesty's money. — The laced coat, the hat and feather, that officer wears, were purchased with her pay; and you see her arms on his gorget. — This noble person's relations have been brought from the lowest degree of gentlemen, and surfeited with riches and honours, by her majesty: so that she may truly complain; "She has nourished and brought up children, but they have rebelled against her."
For. Truly, sir, I am amazed at what you say; and yet there appears so much candour and confidence in your assertions, that I can hardly suspect the truth of them. I have travelled through many a desolate country, and heard the groans of many an afflicted people, who would have thought themselves blessed, if the united virtues of this lady had been parcelled out among all their governors. Those virtues of princes that most dazzle the eyes of mankind, are often dearly paid for by their people, who are forced to purchase them a place in the annals of fame at the dear price of their blood and treasure: and I believe they would seldom find fault with them for being peaceably inclined. I am a stranger; and, in such a disorderly night as this, may meet with some affront: so must bid you farewell; hoping you will find this melancholy news contradicted.
I may appeal to any impartial reader, whether there is any thing forced or unnatural in this dialogue; and then desire him to pass his judgment upon the proceedings of those who rejoiced at her death. But to return to my inquiry.
The circumstances of queen Elizabeth much resemble those of her present majesty; with this difference, that queen Elizabeth was forced upon many great and remarkable pieces of severity, from which it has pleased God to free her present majesty; I hope, as a particular blessing upon her reign, and indulgence to her merciful temper. Though there were many factions at that time, both of the papists and puritans, to neither of which she gave much quarter, so that her very life was often conspired against by many sets of villains among the papists; though she had no posterity to revenge her quarrels, but, on the contrary, her ministry had most reason to be afraid of the vengeance of the successor; yet she carried the respect and duty of her subjects with her even to the grave. By the wise and close management of her ministry, her being sick of the smallpox at Hampton Court was concealed from the people till she was almost well. Had they known it, it would have been the constant subject of their devotions, as every little disorder of hers was. Whether from the fear of punishment, a regard to decency, love to their country, or the sense of their duty and allegiance, which were not extinguished in those days; none of those multitudes, which had suffered great hardships, durst mutter, or ever dreamed of showing the least malice or insolence to her, even in her old age, and the very last scene of her life: and yet she was a true friend to peace, it being her constant maxim, "That it was more glorious to prevent a war by wisdom, than to finish it by victories." When she had a mind to break off in the middle of a successful war, in which she was engaged against a more formidable power, and a more hopeful candidate for universal monarchy, than any that has since appeared; a war that was managed without the help of destructive funds, and large issues of English treasures to foreign states; a war that was carried on with the proper force of the nation, viz. their fleets, and rather served to bring in great quantities of bullion, than to carry it out: I say, when she had a mind to make peace, I do not hear that every little retailer of politicks presumed to tell her, that it was not yet time to lay down her arms; that Spain was not yet sufficiently reduced; that the balance of Europe was not perfectly settled. Indeed, her captain general for that war seemed to reason at the council board with too much warmth for the continuance of it; but I do not hear that her lord treasurer was disgraced for advertising him at that time, "that the bloodthirsty man should not live half his days;" a prophecy but too truly verified. When she resolved to bring down the haughty spirit of that great man, I do not read that many people soothed him in his ambitious projects; except his flatterers, Blunt and Cuffe, to whom he spoke these remarkable word, upon the scaffold, "Ask pardon of God and the queen; for you were the persons that chiefly provoked me to this disloyalty." And happy had it been for him, had he hearkened to the lord keeper, who advised him to submit to the queen his sovereign, and to remember that passage of Seneca: "If the law punish one who is guilty, he must submit to justice; if one who is innocent, he must submit to fortune."
I do not find one single address from either House of Parliament, advising queen Elizabeth to vest her captain general in the Low Countries with more power. On the contrary, it is recorded to her lasting honour, That she wrote to him, "to allay his aspirings; that she admired how a man whom she had raised out of the dust should so contemptuously violate her commands;" desiring the States to devest him of that absolute authority, to which she had set such bounds as he should not pass.
When this prudent queen had demanded and obtained from the Dutch the town of Flushing, castle of Ramekins, and the isle of Brill, to be surrendered to her as cautionary for repayment of the sums she might expend in their service; I do not find any Englishman at that time pleading the cause of the distressed provinces (which then indeed was allowed to be a proper style), complaining of the narrowness of their frontier, and remonstrating against this as a hard bargain: nor do I remember that her successor was thanked by the nation for giving up those cautionary towns, which she thought as safe in her own hands as in those of the best of her allies.
This excellent queen was sometimes, indeed, attacked with pamphlets; particularly by one, entitled "The Gulf wherein England will be swallowed by the French Marriage:" for which, Stubs and Page (the one the author, the other the disperser) lost each their right hand. And, to show that men in those days had both a sense of their duty and their guilt; when Stubs had his right hand cut off, he immediately uncovered his head with the other, and cryed, "God save the queen!" I never read that, during the time of the execution, they were protected by a mob of chimneysweepers hired by their partisans.
What cause shall we then assign of this tumultuous and excessive joy of the party: their industry to spread, and their eagerness to believe, what they so much wished? Were all the glories and blessings of queen Anne's reign so soon to be forgotten? Were their protestations of loyalty and affection nothing else but petitions for preferment? or did they proceed only from the fear of Newgate and Tyburn? Might not all her cares and labours that (in her circumstances) could have no other end but the welfare of her people, have deserved one pitying tear? Could not even (allowing their own supposition) her mistaken zeal for restoring the peace and commerce of her subjects, her tenderness to their exhausted purses, and her care to transmit their liberties safe to posterity, plead for one relenting thought? Might not some regard have been paid to her personal virtues, and to the rare example she has left behind her, of the constant practice of all christian duties amid the grandeur and temptations of a court? No! All these things, it seems, were to be the subject of mirth, ridicule, and of the songs of drunkards; and the death of the noble, the pious, the fortunate queen Anne, our countrywoman, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, was to be celebrated as a festival of joy!
And is the death then of this excellent princess become so absolutely necessary at this time for the welfare of her people? I should rather imagine, even allowing their fears and jealousies to be well founded, that some degrees of prudence, temper, and tenderness for their fellow-subjects, might induce them to reason after the following manner.
"That it is good to put an evil day far off; that none can be more terrible than that which brings confusion, disorder, and perhaps a civil war; that Providence may find a way to disappoint our fears. It is possible the spirit of faction may abate, and that even these formidable enemies of the succession may vanish, or return to a sense of their duty and danger: that France may fall under the government of a minor, and have business enough at home; nay, it is possible, the pretender himself may die before her present majesty: and, considering the changeable condition of British affairs, it is not improbable that the whigs may recover their credit both at court and in the country; and then to be sure all things must go well. Nay, who can tell but that the successors may think it their interest to be kings of Britain, rather than kings of the whigs?" All or any one of those things are fully as probable as that the queen, lords, and commons, should agree to alter the present establishment; and much more so than that her present majesty should devest herself of her crown and dignity in favour of a popish successor. Let her live then; and let us still hope, that Providence, which has honoured her to be the instrument of great blessings as well to Europe as her own people, may continue to do so still. How short and obscure are the views of mankind, when they look into futurity! We are at least as often obliged to Providence for denying, as for granting, what we most earnestly desire. Out of respect to my country, I would fain believe the number of such miscreants to be but few. What would all the rest of the world think of us else? Would not they look upon us as the most ungrateful, factious, fickle race of mortals under the sun? Histories are full of the dismal effects of the government of tyrannical princes, and of their fatal ends; and they are justly set up as beacons, to warn others of the same rank from the rocks and shelves whereon they have split. But are there no memoirs of the undutifulness of subjects, and the fatal consequences of their factious and ungovernable tempers? I am afraid, the general current of history will inform us, that tyrannical princes have been more punctually obeyed than the good and the merciful. Princes read history, as well as subjects. They are quick sighted enough to make inferences to justify, what they are but too much inclined to, the undue exercise of their power. "Is it not plain," say they, "that monarchs too often suffer by their indulgence? that the rigorous exercise of power is the only foundation of obedience? To what purpose then is it to court the fallacious breath of the changeable multitude?" I am afraid too many of them reason after this manner; and that the tyranny of bad princes is often founded upon the misbehaviour of subjects to good ones. Let such, therefore, consider what misery their factious and disobedient temper may bring upon their posterity, not only from the direct influence and tendency of it, but also by the appointment of divine Providence.
For shame, then, let us not verify the description which the ambassador made of us; who, being desired by his master to give a character of the English nation, as a full answer to his demand, presented him with a medal; on the one side of which the English monarch was pictured as a lion, and all his people about him like lambs; and, on the reverse, the monarch like a lamb, and all the people like lions.
Let us proceed now to guess at the source of this unseasonable exultation. I begin with the common cant of the whole party, the fear of a popish successor and popery. The loss of the duke of Gloucester, and the want of hopes of posterity from her present majesty, are misfortunes never enough to be lamented: but is it not a very ungenerous way of proceeding, instead of comforting and supporting their prince under this calamity, to insult and despise her for it? to multiply their affronts and indignities, because she wants posterity, who might possibly revenge them? May such ignoble and base sentiments be far from the thoughts of every truehearted Briton! and may He, who has commanded us "not to add affliction to the afflicted," never avenge such inhuman and unjust dealings! But still I am to seek how the fear of a popish successor should operate in joy for the death of a protestant possessor! This appears no less unaccountable than other parts of their system of politicks; a short view of which seems to be this:
That the protestant succession is in the utmost danger.
For this end, the successor must be persuaded that those are his mortal enemies; and the ministry, on the other hand, must be told, that he is coming to hang them all up.
That they hope the ministry are firm friends to the pretender; that they ought to be so, having no other game to play; and that they should be sorry to find them otherwise inclined.
That, at this moment, the queen is expiring; and the guards gone down as far as Dover to meet the pretender. Now rejoice, all truehearted whigs, at the happy prospect of the glorious scene that discloses itself for Great Britain!
From these premises, I think, it will be very hard for the most sagacious man alive to infer, which of three things is most in favour with these gentlemen who are so transported; viz. whether the protestant successor, the pretender, or confusion? I think so far is plain, that either their suspicion of the danger of the protestant succession is counterfeit, or that they are for one of the other. And indeed what can one gather from their mad and extravagant discourse, but that it is all grimace? "Popery is breaking in like a torrent. Mass will be quickly said in churches. Clergymen's wives are taking their last leave of their husbands," &c. Good God! that ever I should live to see the protestant cause abandoned by a queen (who has sacrificed for the sake of it what was perhaps dearer than her life,) by the nobility, clergy, and gentry, of the nation; and the sole defence of it left to Ridpath, Dick Steele, and their associates, with the apostles of Young Man's coffeehouse! Before I leave this head, I would desire these gentlemen, who are constantly making such malicious insinuations against men of honour and probity, to remember, the oath of abjuration (what they so often quote, and what every honest man will keep) contains faith and true allegiance to their present sovereign, in as strong terms as the renunciation of the pretender; and that he, who violates the first part of the oath, gives but a small security for his observation of the latter, unless they think that which was last swallowed must be always uppermost.
Another cause of their joy upon the spreading of this false news is, their discontent at the peace. And in this indeed the queen has reason to rejoice, that has no enemies but such as are enemies to peace. But is not the hopes of a new war an admirable subject for joy, a most endearing token of their love to the successor, and one of their new methods of keeping up his interest, to represent him to the people as bringing over war in his train? It is foreign to my present purpose to enter into a full discussion of this subject: but the quarrelling with the peace, because it is not exactly to our mind, seems as if one that had put out a great fire should be sued by the neighbourhood for some lost goods, or damaged houses; which happened, say they, by his making too much haste. Let me advise them in general, not to disrelish blessings because they may want some ingredients, which their extravagant and sickly appetites seem to demand; to leave some part of the government of the world to its Maker, and not to believe that he is confined to the narrow maxims of every whimsical politician; not to think it impossible, that the same powers that have restored the balance of Europe, in opposition to so great a force, are able to preserve it; and that we have no reason to be in such mighty dread of a nation now impoverished and dispirited (and probably in the eve of a long minority, with all the confusion that attends it,) whom we have humbled in all its pomp and glory.
May I presume to descend from those high topicks, and to suppose that the sublime and publick spirit of these patriots may have a little alloy of a baser passion; and that self-interest had some share in this extraordinary festival? Far be it from me to deny them the due use of so humane a passion! Let the hopes of seeing better days produce a secret satisfaction: but may they not be so affected, without being brutal and barbarous? They might have enjoyed the pleasant prospect of the approaching favours of the new monarch, without insulting the ashes of the dead. May that reign be glorious and happy! But I shall always believe, that insulting the memory of her present majesty will be understood as an ill compliment to her successor. The fatal event of her death, it is true, put an end to their allegiance; but not to the obligations to decency and gratitude. I have heard that allegiance and protection are reciprocal; but never that allegiance and preferment were so. If this principle be admitted, we need go no farther for the list of her majesty's good subjects, than Chamberlayne's "Present State of Britain." But even in this particular the rejoicing party have of all mankind the least reason to complain, whose present insolence and pride are the creatures of her majesty's bounty and indulgence; who have no other grievance, that I know of, than, when they have "taken our cloak, that we will not give them our coat also." And even under this ministry, the opposite party, who are loud in their complaints and reviling against it, may appear, upon a right computation, to have their quota of all the offices of the kingdom. Let them for once show their modesty, and not grudge the nation the little that is left; and since they have so great a share in possession, and think themselves sure of all in reversion, suffer the poor tories to hold their part during the period of the queen's life.
There remains still another cause, which I am afraid operates as strongly as any of those already mentioned: it is a common observation, that the offended party often forgives; but the offending party seldom. It is one of the corrupt sentiments of the heart of man, to hate one the more for having used them ill; and to wish those out of the way, who, we believe, ought in justice to revenge the injuries we have done them. I leave the application to themselves.
Thus, I think, I have briefly enumerated the causes of their joy; viz.
A prospect of a new foreign war.
A fair chance for a civil war.
The expectation of the monopoly of the government.
The hopes of having the tories all hanged: and,
Their consciousnes that they ought to be so themselves.
At the same time, far be it from me to charge all who are called by the name of whigs with such villanous inclinations and designs; among whom, I know, there are many worthy and excellent persons. I would not willingly be guilty of a breach of charity, which I could wish all parties were possessed of in a greater measure. I would have every body, who is conscious of his guilt in any of the forementioned particulars, to reflect seriously upon what I have hinted at; both those who "cursed the queen in their heart," and those who "cursed her" in the open streets; but, of all others, their guilt is of the deepest die, who have personal obligations to her majesty. For my part, it was with the utmost detestation that I observed some, who owed much to his late majesty king William, treat his memory with scorn and indifference. Gratitude, as much despised and disused as it is, will ever continue to be a reputable virtue, as long as mankind live in society; nay, even if they should return to the woods.
The melancholy occasion of her majesty's sickness had this in common with other ill accidents; that some advantage could be made of it, in discovering the impotent malice and factious purposes of some, who would otherwise have been more cautious in disguising their inclinations, till they believed they might discover them with safety, and thereby make a merit with the more abandoned part of their faction. God be thanked, her majesty wants not those faithful subjects, who will defend both her person and reputation against the felonious attempts of such impious wretches, and who would serve her in the last moments of her life with as much fidelity and zeal, as if she had twenty sons and daughters to inherit after her. Her times are in the hands of that Almighty Being whose minister she is, and in whom she comfortably puts her trust; who will not shorten the period of her life one moment, for all the impatient curiosity of those people who are daily inquiring, "When will she die?" So long as they keep off their hands, let them wish as much as they think fit: and, when it shall please God to give her the happy change of an earthly for a heavenly crown, let this be written upon her tomb: "That, in compassion to the miseries of Europe, and the sufferings of her own subjects, after a bloody and expensive war, which had lasted twenty years, she concluded a peace: and, that she might transmit the liberties of her people safe to posterity, she disbanded her army: by which glorious achievement, she acquired the hatred of a faction, who were fond of war, that they might plunder their fellow subjects at pleasure; and of an army, that they might do this with impunity."
- On the 24th of December, 1713, the queen was taken with an ague, of which her majesty had two fits. It was immediately reported "that a dangerous illness had seized the queen at Windsor; and that, during the consternation under it, the lord treasurer who had held no correspondence with Lambeth for above two years, wrote a letter to the archbishop, giving an account of the dubious state of her majesty's health, and promising farther information as occasion should require; and that his grace returned an answer in writing, expressing his affection and duty to the queen, and his prayers for her full and perfect recovery, and his hopes that she might be soon able to return to London, for the better satisfaction of the minds of the people." See "The Wisdom of looking backward, 1715," p. 326. — The Examiner, on the 8th of January following, took up the matter in a jocular manner, by way of laughing at the whigs; and heavily incensed that party, as appears by Abel Boyer's account of it in the Political State.
- This transaction is related very circumstantially in Howell's Letters, p. 32.
- John Stubs, of Lincoln's Inn, gent., a most rigid puritan, author of "A Discovery of a gaping Gulf for England by another French Marriage, if the Lord forbid not the Banns, by letting her Majesty Queen Elizabeth see the Sin, &c. thereof;" printed 1579, 8vo. See Cambden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth, under the year 1581. Wood says, that Thomas Cartwright, the Coryphæus of the puritans of his time, was supposed to have been concerned in writing this pamphlet.
- We do not recollect to what ambassador this story is applicable.
- It is a very remarkable circumstance that the publick funds rose considerably on the report of the queen's death, and immediately sunk again on her recovery. Stocks rose in like manner when her majesty's decease actually happened. See Mr. Ford's Letter, of August 5, 1714, vol. XI, p. 395.