The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 19
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1710.
Sunt quibus in satira videar nimis acer, et ultra
Legem tendere opus: sine nervis altera quicquid
Composui pars esse putat ——
There are to whom too poignant I appear,
Beyond the laws of satire too severe.
My lines are weak, unsinewed, others say,
A man may spin a thousand such a day.
WHEN the printer came last week for his copy, he brought along with him a bundle of those papers, which, in the phrase of whig coffee houses, have swinged off the Examiner; most of which I had never seen or heard of before. I remember some time ago, in one of the Tatlers, to have read a letter, wherein several reasons are assigned for the present corruption and degeneracy of our taste; but I think the writer has omitted the principal one, which I take to be the prejudice of parties. Neither can I excuse either side of this infirmity: I have heard the arrantest drivellers pro and con, commended for their shrewdness, even by men of tolerable judgement; and the best performances exploded as nonsense and stupidity. This indeed may partly be imputed to policy and prudence; but it is chiefly owing to that blindness, which prejudice and passion cast over the understanding: I mention this, because I think it properly within my province in quality of Examiner. And having granted more than is usual for an enemy to do, I must now take leave to say, that so weak a cause, and so ruined a faction, were never provided with pens more resembling their condition, or less suited to their occasions.
Non tali auxillo, nec defensoribus istis,
Tempus eget ———
This is the more to be wondered at, when we consider, they have the full liberty of the press; that they have no other way left to recover themselves; and that they want not men of excellent parts, to set their arguments in the best light they will bear. Now, if two men would argue on both sides with fairness, good sense, and good manners, it would be no ill entertainment to the town, and perhaps be the most effectual means to reconcile us. But I am apt to think, that men of great genius, are hardly brought to prostitute their pens in a very odious cause; which, besides, is more properly undertaken by noise and impudence, by gross railing and scurrility, by calumny and lying, and by little trifling cavils and carpings in the wrong place, which those whifflers use for arguments and answers.
I was well enough pleased with a story of one of these answerers, who, in a paper last week, found many faults with a late calculation of mine. Being, it seems, more deeply learned than his fellows, he was resolved to begin his answer with a Latin verse, as well as other folks. His business was, to look out for something against the Examiner, that would pretend to tax accounts; and turning over Virgil, he had the luck to find these words,
——— fugiant examina taxos:
So down they went, and out they would have come, if one of his unlucky prompters had not hindered it.
I here declare, once for all, that if these people will not be quiet, I shall take the bread out of their mouths, and answer the Examiner myself; which I protest I have never yet done, although I have been often charged with it; neither have those answers been written or published with my privity, as malicious people are pleased to give out; nor do I believe the common whiggish report, that the authors are hired by the ministry, to give my paper a value.
But the friends of this paper have given me more uneasiness with their impatience, than its enemies, by their answers. I heard myself censured last week, by some of the former, for promising to discover the corruptions of the late administration, but never performing any thing. The latter, on the other side, are thundering out their anathemas against me, for discovering so many. I am at a loss how to decide between these contraries, and shall therefore proceed after mv own way, as I have hitherto done; my design being of more importance, than that of writing only to gratify the spleen of one side, or provoke that of the other, although it may occasionally have both effects.
I shall therefore go on to relate some facts, that in my humble opinion were no hindrance to the change of the ministry.
The first I shall mention, was that of introducing certain new phrases into the court style, which had been very seldom, or never made use of in former times. They usually ran in the following terms: "Madam, I cannot serve you while such a one is in employment. I desire, humbly, to resign my commission, if Mr. —— continues secretary of state. I cannot answer that the city will lend money, unless my l—d —— be president of the council. I must beg leave to surrender, except —— has the staff. I must not accept the seals, unless —— comes into the other office." This has been the language of late years from subjects to their prince. Thus they stood upon terms, and must have their conditions to ruin the nation. Nay, this dutiful manner of capitulating had spread so far, that every understrapper began at length to perk up and assume; he expected a regiment; or his son must be a major; or his brother a collector; else he threatened to vote according to his conscience.
Another of their glorious attempts was, the clause intended in the bill for the encouragement of learning, by taking off the obligation upon fellows of colleges, in both universities, to enter upon holy orders: the design of which, as I have heard the undertakers often confess, was, to remove the care of educating youths out of the hands of the clergy, who are apt to infuse into their pupils too great a regard for the church and the monarchy. But there was a farther secret in this clause, which may best be discovered by the first projectors, or at least the garblers of it; and these are known to be Collins and Tindal, in conjunction with a most pious lawyer, their disciple.
What shall we say to their prodigious skill in arithmetick, discovered so constantly in their decision of elections; where they were able to make out by the rule of false, that three were more than three and twenty, and fifteen than fifty? Nay, it was a maxim, which I never heard any of them dispute, that in determining elections they were not to consider, where the right lay, but which of the candidates was likelier to be true to the cause. This they used to illustrate by a very apt and decent similitude, of gaming with a sharper; if you cannot cheat as well as he, you are certainly undone.
Another cast of their politicks was, that of endeavouring to impeach an innocent lady, for no reason imaginable, but her faithful and diligent service to the queen, and the favour her majesty bore to her upon that account, when others had acted contrary in so shameful a manner. What else was the crime? Had she treated her royal mistress with insolence or neglect? Had she enriched herself by a long practice of bribery, and obtained exorbitant grants? Had she engrossed her majesty's favours, without admitting any access but through her means? Had she heaped employments upon herself, her family and dependants? Had she an imperious haughty behaviour? Or, after all, was it a perfect blunder, and mistake of one person for another? I have heard of a man, who lay all night on a rough pavement, and in the morning, wondering what it could possibly be that made him rest so ill, happening to see a feather under him, imputed the uneasiness of his lodging to that. I remember likewise the story of a giant in Rabelais, who used to feed upon windmills; but was unfortunately choked with a small lump of fresh butter, before a warm oven.
And here I cannot but observe, how very refined some people are in their generosity and gratitude. There is a certain great person, (I shall not say of what sex) who for many years past was the constant mark and butt, against which our present malecontents used to discharge their resentment; upon whom they bestowed all the terms of scurrility, that malice, envy, and indignation could invent; whom they publickly accused of every vice, that can possess a human heart; pride, covetousness, ingratitude, oppression, treachery, dissimulation, violence, and fury, all in the highest extremes: but of late they have changed their language on a sudden: that person is now the most faithful and just that ever served a prince; that person, originally differing from them in principles as far as east from west, but, united in practice, and falling together, they are now reconciled, and find twenty resemblances between each other, which they could never discover before. Tanti est, ut placeam tibi perire!
But to return: How could it be longer suffered in a free nation, that all avenues to preferment should be shut up, except a very few; when one or two stood constant sentry, who docked all favours they handed down, or spread a huge invisible net between the prince and subject, through which nothing of value could pass? And here I cannot but admire at one consequence from this management, which is of an extraordinary nature. Generally speaking, princes, who have ill ministers, are apt to suffer in their reputation, as well as in the love of the people; but it was not so with the queen. When the sun is overcast by those clouds he exhales from the earth, we still acknowledge his light and influence, and at last find he can dispel, and drive them down to the horizon. The wisest prince, by the necessity of affairs, the misrepresentations of designing men, or the innocent mistakes even of a good predecessor, may find himself encompassed by a crew of courtiers, whom time, opportunity, and success, have miserably corrupted: and if he can save himself and his people from ruin, under the worst administration, what may not his subjects hope for, when, with their universal applause, he changes hands, and makes use of the best?
Another great objection with me against the late party, was, the cruel tyranny they put upon conscience, by a barbarous inquisition, refusing to admit the least toleration or indulgence. They imposed a hundred tests; but could never be prevailed on to dispense with, or take off, the smallest, or even to admit of occasional conformity; but went on daily (as their apostle Tindal expresses it) narrowing their terms of communion, pronouncing nine parts in ten of the kingdom hereticks, and shutting them out of the pale of their church. These very men, who talk so much of a comprehension in religion among us, how came they to allow so little of it in politicks, which is their sole religion? You shall hear them pretending to bewail the animosities kept up between the church of England and dissenters, where the differences in opinion are so few and inconsiderable; yet, these very sons of moderation, were pleased to excommunicate every man, who disagreed with them in the smallest article of their political creed, or, who refused to receive any new article, how difficult soever to digest, which the leaders imposed at pleasure to serve their own interest.
I will quit this subject for the present, when I have told one story. "There was a great king in Scythia, whose dominions were bounded on the north by the poor mountainous territories of a petty lord, who paid homage, as the king's vassal. The Scythian prime minister, being largely bribed, indirectly obtained his master's consent to suffer this lord to build forts, and provide himself with arms, under pretence of preventing the inroads of the Tartars. This little depending sovereign, finding he was now in a condition to be troublesome, began to insist upon terms, and threatened upon every occasion to unite with the Tartars: upon which the prime minister, who began to be in pain about his head, proposed a match betwixt his master, and the only daughter of this tributary lord, which he had the good luck to bring to pass; and from that time valued himself as author of a most glorious union, which indeed was grown of absolute necessity by his corruption." This passage, cited literally from an old history of Sarmatia, I thought fit to set down, on purpose to perplex little smattering remarkers, and put them upon the hunt for an application.
- These two words of similar sound, 'neither' and 'either,' placed so near each other, produce a cacophony, easily to be avoided, by putting, 'nor,' in the place of 'neither,' as thus — 'Nor can I accuse either side,' &c.
- The lady Masham.