The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 16
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1710.
I WILL employ this present paper upon a subject, which of late has very much affected me, which I have considered with a good deal of application, and made several inquiries about among those persons, who, I thought, were best able to inform me; and if I deliver my sentiments with some freedom, I hope it will be forgiven, while I accompany it with that tenderness, which so nice a point requires.
I said in a former paper, (Number 13) that one specious objection to the late removals at court, was, the fear of giving uneasiness to a general, who has been long successful abroad; and accordingly, the common clamour of tongues and pens for some months past has run against the baseness, the inconstancy, and ingratitude of the whole kingdom to the duke of Marlborough, in return of the most eminent services, that ever were performed by a subject, to his country; not to be equalled in history: and then, to be sure, some bitter stroke of detraction against Alexander and Cæsar, who never did us the least injury. Besides, the people who read Plutarch, come upon us with parallels drawn from the Greeks and Romans, who ungratefully dealt with I know not how many of their most deserving generals; while the profounder politicians, have seen pamphlets, where Tacitus and Machiavel have beea quoted to show the danger of too resplendent a merit. If a stranger should hear these serious outcries of ingratitude against our general without knowing the particulars, he would be apt to inquire, where was his tomb, or whether he was allowed Christian burial? not doubting but we had put him to some ignominious death. Or has he been tried for his life, and very narrowly escaped? has he been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors? has the prince seized on his estate, and left him to starve? has he been hooted at, as he passed the streets, by an ungrateful rabble? have neither honours, offices, nor grants been conferred on him or his family? have not he and they been barbarously stripped of them all? have not he and his forces been ill paid abroad? and does not the prince, by a scanty limited commission, hinder him from pursuing his own methods in the conduct of the war? has he no power at all of disposing of commissions as he pleases? is he not severely used by the ministry or parliament, who yearly call him to a strict account? has the senate ever thanked him for good success, and have they not always publickly censured him for the least miscarriage? — Will the accusers of the nation join issue upon any of these particulars, or tell us in what point our damnable sin of ingratitude lies? — Why, it is plain and clear; for while he is commanding abroad, the queen dissolves her parliament, and changes her ministry at home; in which universal calamity, no less than two persons allied by marriage to die general, have lost their places. Whence came this wonderful sympathy between the civil and military powers? Will the troops in Flanders refuse to fight unless they can have their own lord-keeper, their own lord-president of the council, their own parliament? In a kingdom where the people are free, how came they to be so fond of having their counsels under the influence of their army, or those that lead it? who, in all well instituted states, had no commerce with the civil power, farther than to receive their orders, and obey them without reserve.
When a general is not so popular, either in his army or at home, as one might expect from a long course of success; it may perhaps be ascribed to his wisdom, or perhaps to his complexion. The possession of some one quality, or defect in some other, will extremely damp the people's favour, as well as the love of the soldiers. Besides, this is not an age to produce favourites of the people, while we live under a queen, who engrosses all our love and all our veneration; and where the only way, for a great general or minister, to acquire any degree of subordinate affection from the publick, must be, by all marks of the most entire submission and respect, to her sacred person and commands; otherwise, no pretence of great services, either in the field or the cabinet, will be able to skreen them from universal hatred.
But the late ministry was closely joined to the general by friendship, interest, alliance, inclination, and opinion; which cannot be affirmed of the present: and the ingratitude of the nation lies in the people's joining as one man to wish, that such a ministry should be changed. Is it not at the same time notorious to the whole kingdom, that nothing but a tender regard to the general, was able to preserve that ministry so long, until neither God nor man could suffer their continuance? Yet, in the highest ferment of things, we heard few or no reflexions upon this great commander; but all seemed unanimous in wishing he might still be at the head of the confederate forces; only at the same time, in case he were resolved to resign, they chose rather to turn their thoughts somewhere else, than throw up all in despair. And this I cannot but add, in defence of the people, with regard to the person we are speaking of, that in the high station he has been for many years past, his real defects (as nothing human is without them) have, in a detracting age, been very sparingly mentioned either in libels or conversation, and all successes very freely and universally applauded.
There is an active and a passive ingratitude: applying both to this occasion, we may say, the first is, when a prince or people returns good services with cruelty or ill-usage; the other is, when good services are not at all, or very meanly rewarded. We have already spoken of the former; let us therefore in the second place examine how the services of our general have been rewarded; and whether, upon that article, either prince or people, have been guilty of ingratitude?
Those are the most valuable rewards, which are given to us from the certain knowledge of the donor, that they fit our temper best: I shall therefore say nothing of the title of duke, or the garter, which the queen bestowed upon the general in the beginning of her reign; but I shall come to more substantial instances, and mention nothing, which has not been given in the face of the world. The lands of Woodstock may, I believe, be reckoned worth 40,000l.; on the building of Blenheim castle 200,000l. have been already expended, although it be not yet near finished; the grant of 5000l. per annum on the post office is richly worth 100,000l. his principality in Germany may be computed at 30,0000l. pictures, jewels, and other gifts from foreign princes, 60,000l. the grant at the Pall-mall, the rangership, &c. for want of more certain knowledge, may be called 10,000l. his own and his duchess's employments at five years value, reckoning only the known and avowed salaries, are very low rated at 100,000l. Here is a good deal above half a million of money; and, I dare say, those who are loudest with the clamour of ingratitude, will readily own, that all this is but a trifle, in comparison of what is untold.
The reason of my stating this account, is only to convince the world, that we are not quite so ungrateful either as the Greeks or the Romans; and in order to adjust the matter with all fairness, I shall confine myself to the latter, who were much more generous of the two. A victorious general of Rome, in the height of that empire, having entirely subdued his enemies, was rewarded with the larger triumph, and perhaps a statue in the Forum, a bull for a sacrifice, an embroidered garment to appear in, a crown of laurel, a monumental trophy with inscriptions; sometimes five hundred or a thousand copper coins were struck on occasion of the victory, which, doing honour to the general, we will place to his account; and lastly, sometimes, although not very frequently, a triumphal arch. These are all the rewards, that I can call to mind, which a victorious general received, after his return from the most glorious expedition; having conquered some great kingdom, brought the king himself, his family, and nobles, to adorn the triumph, in chains; and made the kingdom, either a Roman province, or at best, a poor depending state, in humble alliance to that empire. Now, of all these rewards, I find but two which were of real profit to the general; the laurel crown, made and sent him at the charge of the publick, and the embroidered garment; but I cannot find, whether this last was paid for by the senate or the general: however we will take the more favourable opinion; and in all the rest admit the whole expense, as if it were ready money in the general's pocket. Now, according to these computations on both sides, we will draw up two fair accounts; the one, of Roman gratitude; and the other of British ingratitude; and set them together in balance.
A Bill of Roman Gratitude.
|Imprim.||£. s. d.|
|For frankincense and earthen pots to burn it in||4 10 0|
|A bull for sacrifice||8 0 0|
|An embroidered garment||50 0 0|
|A crown of laurel||0 0 2|
|A statue||100 0 0|
|A trophy||80 0 0|
|A thousand copper medals, value half-pence a-piece||2 1 8|
|A triumphal arch||500 0 0|
|A triumphal car, valued as a modern coach||100 0 0|
|Casual charges at the triumph||150 0 0|
|994 11 10|
A Bill of British Ingratitude.
|Pictures, jewels, &c.||60,000|
|Pall-mall grant, &c.||10,000|
So that, upon the whole, we are not yet quite so bad at worst, as the Romans were at best. And I doubt, those who raise this hideous cry of ingratitude, may be mightily mistaken in the consequence they propose from such complaints. I remember a saying of Seneca, Multos ingratos invenimus, plures facimus; we find many ungrateful persons in the world, but we make more, by setting too high a rate upon our pretensions, and undervaluing the rewards we receive. When unreasonable bills are brought in, they ought to be taxed, or cut off in the middle. Where there have been long accounts between two persons, I have known one of them perpetually making large demands, and pressing for payment; who, when the accounts were cast up on both sides, was found to be debtor for some hundreds. I am thinking, if a proclamation were issued out for every man to send in his bill of merits, and the lowest price he set them at; what a pretty sum it would amount to, and how many such islands as this, must be sold to pay them. I form my judgment from the practice of those, who sometimes happen to pay themselves; and I dare affirm, would not be so unjust as to take a farthing more than they think is due to their deserts. I will instance only in one article: a lady of my acquaintance appropriated twenty-six pounds a year out of her allowance, for certain uses, which her woman received, and was to pay to the lady or her order, as it was called for. But after eight years it appeared, upon the strictest calculation, that the woman had paid but four pounds a year, and sunk two and twenty for her own pocket. It is but supposing, instead of twenty-six pounds, twenty-six thousand; and by that you may judge, what the pretensions of modern merit are, where it happens to be its own paymaster.
- By this mode of expression may be meant the general's ingratitude, not that of the nation; instead of against, the word should have been toward; as thus, 'If a stranger should hear these furious outcries of ingratitude toward our general,' &c.
- It should be — "in humble alliance with that empire." We say — allied to — but, in alliance with.
- Supposed queen Anne.
- The matter was this: At the queen's accession to the government, she used to lament to me, that, the crown being impoverished by former grants, she wanted the power her predecessors had enjoyed to reward faithful servants; and she desired me to take out of the privy purse 2000l. a year, in order to purchase for my advantage. — As her majesty was so good to provide for my children, and as the offices I enjoyed by her favour brought me in more than I wanted — I constantly declined it till the time — she was pleased to dismiss me from her service. Then indeed — I sent the queen one of her own letters, in which she had pressed me to take the 2000l. a year; and I wrote at the same time to ask her majesty whether she would allow me to charge in the privy purse accounts, which I was to send her, that yearly sum from the time of the offer, amounting to 18,000l. Her majesty was pleased to answer, I might charge it. This therefore I did. Account of the Conduct of the dowager Duchess of Marlborough, p. 294, 295.