The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 13
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 1710.
—— longa est injuria, longæ
Ambages; sed summa sequar fastigia rerum.
The tale is intricate, perplex'd, and long:
Hear then, in short, the story of her wrong.
IT is a practice I have generally followed, to converse in equal freedom with the deserving men of both parties; and it was never without some contempt, that I have observed persons wholly out of employment, affect to do otherwise. I doubted, whether any man could owe so much to the side he was of, although he were retained by it; but without some great point of interest, either in possession or prospect, I thought it was the mark of a low and narrow spirit.
It is hard that for some weeks past, I have been forced, in my own defence, to follow a proceeding that I have so much condemned in others. But several of my acquaintance among the declining party, are grown so insufferably peevish and splenetic, profess such violent apprehensions for the publick, and represent the state of things in such formidable ideas, that I find myself disposed to share in their afflictions; although I know them to be groundless and imaginary, or, which is worse, purely affected. To offer them comfort one by one, would be not only an endless, but a disobliging task. Some of them, I am convinced, would be less melancholy, if there were more occasion. I shall therefore, instead of hearkening to farther complaints, employ some part of this paper for the future, in letting such men see, that their natural, or acquired fears, are ill-founded, and their artificial ones, as ill-intended; that all our present inconveniences, are the consequence of the very counsels they so much admire, which would still have increased, if those had continued; and that neither our constitution in church or state, could probably have been long preserved, without such methods, as have been already taken.
The late revolutions at court, have given room to some specious objections, which I have heard repeated by well-meaning men, just as they had taken them up on the credit of others, who have worse designs. They wonder, the Queen would choose to change her ministry at this juncture, and thereby give uneasiness to a general, who hath been so long successful abroad, and might think himself injured, if the entire ministry were not of his own nomination; that there were few complaints of any consequence against the late men in power, and none at all in parliament, which, on the contrary, passed votes in favour of the chief minister; that if her majesty had a mind to introduce the other party, it would have been more seasonable after a peace, which now we have made desperate, by spiriting the French, who rejoice in these changes, and by the fall of our credit, which unqualifies us for carrying on the war; that the parliament, so untimely dissolved, had been diligent in their supplies, and dutiful in their behaviour; that one consequence of these changes appears already, in the fall of the stocks; that we may soon expect more and worse; and lastly, that all this naturally tends to break the settlement of the crown, and call over the Pretender.
These, and the like notions, are plentifully scattered abroad by the malice of a ruined party, to render the Queen and her administration odious, and to inflame the nation. And these are what, upon occasion, I shall endeavour to overthrow, by discovering the falshood and absurdity of them.
It is a great unhappiness when, in a government constituted like ours, it should be so brought about, that the continuance of a war must be for the interest of vast numbers (civil, as well as military) who otherwise would have been as unknown as their original. I think our present condition of affairs is admirably described by two verses in Lucan:
Hinc usura vorax, avidumque in tempore fœnus,
Hinc concussa fides, et multis utile bellum:
which, without any great force upon the words, may be thus translated:
Hence, are derived those exorbitant interests and annuities; hence, those large discounts for advance and prompt payment; hence, publick credit is shaken; and hence, great numbers find their profit in prolonging the war.
It is odd, that among a free trading people, as we call ourselves, there should so many be found to close in with those counsels, who have been ever averse from all overtures towards a peace: but yet there is no great mystery in the matter. Let any man observe the equipages in this town, he shall find the greater number of those who make a figure, to be a species of men quite different from any that were ever known before the Revolution; consisting either of generals and colonels, or of those, whose whole fortunes lie in funds and stocks; so that power, which according to the old maxim was used to follow land, is now gone over to money; and the country gentleman is in the condition of a young heir, out of whose estate a scrivener receives half the rents for interest, and has a mortgage on the whole; and is therefore always ready to feed his vices and extravagances, while there is any thing left. So that, if the war continue some years longer, a landed man will be little better than a farmer of a rack-rent to the army, and to the public funds.
It may perhaps be worth inquiring, from what beginnings, and by what steps, we have been brought into this desperate condition: and in search of this, we must run up as high as the Revolution.
Most of the nobility and gentry, who invited over the prince of Orange, or attended him in his expedition, were true lovers of their country, and its constitution in church and state; and were brought to yield to those breaches in the succession of the crown, out of a regard to the necessity of the kingdom, and the safety of the people, which did, and could only, make them lawful; but without intention of drawing such a practice into precedent, or making it a standing measure by which to proceed in all times to come: and therefore we find their counsels ever tended to keep things, as much as possible, in the old course. But soon after an under set of men, who had nothing to lose, and had neither born the burden nor heat of the day, found means to whisper in the king's ear, that the principles of loyalty in the church of England, were wholly inconsistent with the Revolution. Hence began the early practice of caressing the dissenters, reviling the universities, as maintainers of arbitrary power, and reproaching the clergy with the doctrines of divine right, passive obedience, and non-resistance. At the same time, in order to fasten wealthy people to the new government, they proposed those pernicious expedients of borrowing money by vast premiums, and at extortionate interest: a practice as old as Eumenes, one of Alexander's captains, who, setting up for himself after the death of his master, persuaded his principal officers to lend him great sums, after which they were forced to follow him for their own security.
This introduced a number of new dextrous men into business and credit. It was argued, that the war could not last above two or three campaigns; and that it was easier for the subjects to raise a fund for paying interest, than to tax them annually to the full expense of the war. Several persons, who had small or encumbered estates, sold them, and turned their money into those funds, to great advantage: merchants, as well as other monied men, finding trade was dangerous, pursued the same method. But the war continuing, and growing more expensive, taxes were increased, and funds multiplied every year, till they have arrived at the monstrous height we now behold them; and that, which was at first a corruption, is at last grown necessary, and what every good subject must now fall in with, although he may be allowed to wish it might soon have an end; because it is with a kingdom, as with a private fortune, where every new incumbrance adds a double weight. By this means the wealth of a nation, that used to be reckoned by the value of land, is now computed by the rise and fall of stocks: and although the foundation of credit be still the same, and upon a bottom that can never be shaken, and although all interest be duly paid by the publick; yet, through the contrivance and cunning of stock-jobbers, there has been brought in such a complication of knavery and cozenage, such a mystery of iniquity, and such an unintelligible jargon of terms to involve it in, as were never known in any other age or country in the world. I have heard it affirmed, by persons skilled in these calculations, that if the funds appropriated to the payment of interest and annuities, were added to the yearly taxes, and the four-shilling aid strictly exacted in all counties of the kingdom, it would very near, if not fully, supply the occasions of the war, at least such a part as, in the opinion of very able persons, had been at that time prudent not to exceed. For I make it a question, whether any wise prince or state, in the continuance of a war, which was not purely defensive, or immediately at his own door, did ever propose that his expense should perpetually exceed, what he was able to impose annually upon his subjects. Neither, if the war last many years longer, do I see how the next generation will be able to begin another; which, in the course of human affairs, and according to the various interests and ambition of princes, may be as necessary for them, as it has been for us. And if our fathers had left us deeply involved, as we are likely to leave our children, I appeal to any man, what sort of figure we should have been able to make these twenty years past. Besides, neither our enemies, nor allies, are upon the same foot with us in this particular. France and Holland, our nearest neighbours, and the farthest engaged, will much sooner recover themselves after a war: the first, by the absolute power of the prince, who, being master of the lives and fortunes of his subjects, will quickly find expedients to pay his debts; and so will the other, by their prudent administration, the greatness of their trade, their wonderful parsimony, the willingness of their people to undergo all kind of taxes, and their justice in applying, as well as collecting them. But above all we are to consider, that France and Holland fight on the continent, either upon or near their own territories, and the greatest part of the money circulates among themselves; whereas ours crosses the sea, either to Flanders, Spain, or Portugal; and every penny of it, whether in species or returns, is so much lost to the nation for ever.
Upon these considerations alone, it was the most prudent course imaginable in the Queen, to lay hold of the disposition of the people for changing the parliamient and ministry at this juncture, and extricating herself as soon as possible out of the pupillage of those, who found their accounts only in perpetuating the war. Neither have we the least reason to doubt, but the ensuing parliament will assist her Majesty with the utmost vigour, until her enemies again be brought to sue for peace, and again offer such terms as will make it both honourable and lasting; only with this difference, that the ministry perhaps will not again refuse them.
Audiet pugnas, vitio parentum
Rara, Juventus.Hor. Book I. Ode 2.