The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 25


THURSDAY, JANUARY 25, 1710–11.

Διαλεξαμενοί τινα ἡσυχῇ, τὸ μὲν σῦμπαν ἐπί τε τῇ δυναστείᾳ, καὶ κατὰ τῶν ἐχθροῖν συνώμοσαν.

Summissa quœdam voce collocuti sunt, quorum summa erat de dominatione sibi confirmanda, ac inimicis delendis, conjuratio. They meet, they whisper together, and their whole design is to establish themselves in their ill-gotten power upon the ruin of their enemies.

NOT many days ago I observed a knot of discontented gentlemen, cursing the tories to Hell for their uncharitableness in affirming, that if the late ministry had continued to this time, we should have had neither church nor monarchy left. They are usually so candid, as to call that the opinion of the party, which they hear in a coffee-house, or over a bottle, from some warm young people, whom it is odds but they have provoked to say more than they believed, by some positions as absurd and ridiculous of their own. And so it proved in this very instance: for, asking one of these gentlemen what it was that provoked those he had been disputing with to advance such a paradox; he assured me, in a very calm manner, it was nothing in the world but that himself, and some others of the company, had made it appear, that the design of the present parliament and ministry, was, to bring in popery, arbitrary power, and the pretender: which I take to be an opinion fifty times more improbable, as well as more uncharitable, than what is charged upon the whigs; because I defy our adversaries to produce one single reason for suspecting such designs in the persons now at the helm; whereas I can, upon demand, produce twenty to show, that some late men had strong: views toward a commonwealth, and the alteration of the church.

It is natural indeed, when a storm is over, that has only untiled our houses, and blown down some of our chimnies, to consider what farther mischiefs might have ensued, if it had lasted longer. However, in the present case I am not of the opinion abovementioned. I believe the church and state might have lasted somewhat longer, although the late enemies to both had done their worst. I can hardly conceive, how things would have been so soon ripe for a new revolution. I am convinced that if they had offered to make such large and sudden strides, it must have come to blows; and according to the computation we have now reason to think a right one, I can partly guess what would have been the issue. Besides, we are sure the queen would have interposed, before they came to extremities; and as little as they regarded the regal authority, would have been a check in their career.

But instead of this question. What would have been the consequence, if the late ministry had continued? I will propose another which will be more useful for us to consider; and that is, What may we reasonably expect they will do, if ever they come into power again? This, we know, is the design and endeavour of all those scribbles which daily fly about in their favour; of all the false, insolent, and scandalous libels against the present administration; and of all those engines, set at work to sink the actions and blow up the publick credit. As for those who show their inclinations by writing, there is one consideration, which I wonder does not sometimes affect them: for, how can they forbear having a good opinion of the gentleness and innocence of those, who permit them to employ their pens as they do? It puts me in mind of an insolent, pragmatical orator somewhere in Greece, who railing with great freedom at the chief men in the state, was answered by one, who had been very instrumental in recovering the liberty of the city, that he thanked the gods, they had now arrived to the condition he always wished them in, when every man in that city might securely say what he pleased. I wish these gentlemen would however compare the liberty they take, with what their masters used to give; how many messengers and warrants would have gone out against any who durst have opened their lips, or drawn their pens against the persons and proceedings of their juntoes and cabals? How would their weekly writers have been calling out for prosecution and punishment? We remember, when a poor nickname[1], borrowed from an old play of Ben Jonson, and mentioned in a sermon without any particular applicacation, was made use of as a motive to spur on an impeachment. But after all it must be confessed, they had reasons to be thus severe, which their successors have not: their faults would never endure the light; and to have exposed them sooner would have raised the kingdom against the actors, before the proper time.

But, to come to the subject I have now undertaken, which is, to examine what the consequences would be, upon supposition that the whigs were now restored to their power. I already imagine the present free parliament dissolved, and another of a different epithet met, by the force of money and management. I read immediately a dozen or two of stinging votes against the proceedings of the late ministry. The bill[2] now to be repealed would then be reenacted, and the birthright of an Englishman reduced again to the value of twelve-pence. But, to give the reader a strong imagination of such a scene, let me represent the designs of some men, lately endeavoured and projected, in the form of a paper of votes.


"That a bill be brought in for repealing the sacramental test.

"A petition of Tindal, Collins, Clendon, Coward, and Toland, in behalf of themselves and many hundreds of their disciples, some of whom are members of this honourable house; desiring that leave may be given to bring in a bill for qualifing atheists, deists, and socinians to serve their country in any employment ecclesiastical, civil, or military.


"That leave be given to bring in a bill, according to the prayer of the said petition; and that Mr. Lechmere[3] do prepare and bring in the same.


"That a bill be brought in for removing the education of youth out of the hands of the clergy.

"Another to forbid the clergy preaching certain duties in religion; especially obedience to princes.

"Another to take away the jurisdiction of bishops.

"Another for constituting a general for life; with instructions to the committee, that care may be taken to make the war last as long as the life of the said general.

"A bill of attainder against Charles duke of Shrewsbury[4], John duke of Buckingham, Laurence earl of Rochester, sir Simon Harcourt, knight, Robert Harley and William Shippen, esquires, Abigail Masham, spinster, and others, for high treason against the junto,


"That Sarah duchess of Marlborough has been a most dutiful, just, and grateful servant to her majesty.


"That to advise the dissolution of a whig parliament, or the removal of a whig ministry, was in order to bring in popery and the pretender; and that the said advice was high treason.


"That by the original compact, the government of this realm is by a junto, and a king, or queen; but the administration solely in the junto.


"That a bill be brought in for farther limiting the prerogative.


"That it be a standing order of this house, that the merit of elections be not determined by the number of voices, or right of electors, but by weight; and that one whig shall weigh down ten tories.

"A motion being made, and the question being put, that when a whig is detected of manifest bribery, and his competitor, being a tory, has ten to one a majority, there shall be a new election; it passed in the negative.


"That for a king, or queen of this realm, to read, or examine, a paper brought them to be signed by a junto minister, is arbitrary and illegal, and a violation of the liberties of the people."

These, and the like reformations, would in all probability be the first fruits of the whigs resurrection; and what structures such able artists might In a short time build upon such foundations, I leave others to conjecture. All hopes of a peace cut off; the nation industriously involved in farther debts, to a degree that none would dare undertake the management of affairs, but those whose interest lay in ruining the constitution; I do not see how the wisest prince, under such necessities, could be able to extricate himself. Then as to the church; the bishops would by degrees be dismissed, first from the parliament, next from their revenues, and at last from their office; and the clergy, instead of their idle claim of independency on the state, would be forced to depend for their daily bread on every individual. But what system of future government was designed; whether it were already digested, or would have been left for time and incidents to mature, I shall not now examine. Only upon this occasion I cannot help reflecting on a fact, which it is probable the reader knows as well as myself. There was a picture drawn some time ago, representing five persons, as large as the life, sitting in council together, like a pentarchy; a void space was left for the sixth, which was to have been the queen, to whom they intended that honour; but her majesty having since fallen under their displeasure, they have made a shift to crowd in two better friends in her place, which makes it a complete heptarchy[5]. This piece is now in the country, reserved until better times; and hangs in the hall among the pictures of Cromwell, Bradshaw, Ireton, and some other predecessors.

I must now desire leave to say something to a gentleman who has been pleased to publish a discourse against a paper of mine, relating to the convocation. He promises to set me right without any undue reflections, or indecent language. I suppose he means, in comparison with others who pretend to answer the Examiner. So far he is right; but, if he thinks he has behaved himself as becomes a candid antagonist, I believe he is mistaken. He says in his title page, my representations are unfair, and my reflexions unjust: and his conclusion is yet more severe; where he doubts I and my friends are enraged against the Dutch, because they preserved us from popery and arbitrary power at the Revolution; and since that time from being overrun by the exorbitant power of France, and becoming a prey to the pretender. Because this author seems in general to write with an honest meaning, I would seriously put to him the question, whether he thinks, I and my friends are for popery, arbitrary power, France, and the pretender? I omit other instances of smaller moment, which however do not suit in my opinion with due reflection, or decent language. The fact relating to the convocation came from a good hand; and I do not find this author differs from me in any material circumstance about it. My reflections were no more than what might be obvious to any other gentleman, who had heard of their late proceedings. If the notion be right, which this author gives us of a lower house of convocation, it is a very melancholy one; and to me seems utterly inconsistent with that of a body of men, whom he owns to have a negative: and therefore, since a great majority of the clergy differs from him in several points he advances, I shall rather choose to be of their opinion than his. I fancy when the whole synod met in one house, as this writer affirms, they were upon a better foot with their bishops; and therefore, whether this treatment, so extremely de haut en bas, since their exclusion, be suitable to primitive custom or primitive humility toward brethren, is not my business to inquire. One may allow the divine or apostolick right of episcopacy, and its great superiority over presbyters; and yet dispute the methods of exercising the latter, which, being of human institution, are subject to encroachments and usurpations. I know, every clergyman in a diocese has a great deal of dependence upon his bishop, and owes him canonical obedience: but I was apt to think, that when the whole representative of the clergy met in a synod, they were considered in another light; at least since they are allowed to have a negative. If I am mistaken, I desire to be excused, as talking out of my trade; only there is one thing, wherein I entirely differ from this author: since, in the disputes about privileges, one side must recede; where so very few privileges remain, it is a hundred to one odds, that the encroachments are not on the inferiour clergy's side; and no man can blame them for insisting on the small number that is left. There is one fact, wherein I must take occasion to set this author right: that the person[6], who first moved the queen to remit the first-fruits and tenths to the clergy, was an eminent instrument in the late turn of affairs; and, I am told, has lately prevailed to have the same favour granted for the clergy of Ireland[7].

But I must beg leave to inform this author, that my paper is not intended for the management of controversy; which would be of very little import to most readers, and only mispend time, that I would gladly employ to better purposes. For where it is a man's business to entertain a whole room-full, it is unmannerly to apply himself to a particular person, and turn his back upon the rest of the company.

  1. Volpone was a nickname given to lord treasurer Godolphin.
  2. A bill for a general naturalization.
  3. Mr. Lechmere was one of the managers against Dr. Sacheverell, and summed up the evidence.
  4. Altered afterward to James duke of Ormond.
  5. This heptarchy was the serpent with seven heads, mentioned N° 21, 22.
  6. Earl of Oxford, lord treasurer.
  7. This was done by the authors solicitation. See his letters to archbishop King.