The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 26



Ea autem est gloria, laus recte factorum, magnorumque in rempublicam meritorum: quœ cum optimi cujusque, tum etiam multitudinis, testimonio comprobatur.
That is real honour and true praise for glorious actions to a meritorious state, when they gain the commendation and esteem of the great, and, at the same time, the love and approbation of the common people.

I AM thinking what a mighty advantage it is to be entertained as a writer to a ruined cause. I remember a fanatic preacher, who was inclined to come into the church, and take orders; but upon mature thoughts, was diverted from that design, when he considered, that the collections of the godly were a much heartier and readier penny, than he could get by wrangling for tithes. He certainly had reason; and the two cases are parallel. If you write in defence of a fallen party, you are maintained by contribution, as a necessary person: you have little more to do than to carp and cavil at those who hold the pen on the other side; you are sure to be celebrated and caressed by all your party, to a man: you may affirm and deny what you please without truth or probability, since it is but loss of time to contradict you. Besides, commiseration is often on your side; and you have a pretence to be thought honest and disinterested for adhering to friends in distress: after which, if your friends ever happen to turn up again, you have a strong fund of merit toward making your fortune. Then, you never fail to be well furnished with materials, every one bringing in his quota, and falsehood being naturally more plentiful than truth: not to mention the wonderful delight of libelling men in power, and hugging yourself in a corner with mighty satisfaction for what you have done.

It is quite otherwise with us, who engage as volunteers in the service of a flourishing ministry, in full credit with the queen, and beloved by the people; because they have no sinister ends or dangerous designs; but pursue with steadiness and resolution the true interest of both. Upon which account they little want or desire our assistance; and we may write till the world is weary of residing, without having our pretences allowed, either to a place or a pension: besides, we are refused the common benefit of the party, to have our works cried up of course: the readers of our own side being as ungentle, and hard to please, as if we writ against them: and our papers never make their way in the world, but barely in proportion to their merit. The design of their labours who write on the conquered side, is likewise of greater importance than ours: they are like cordials for dying men, which must be repeated; whereas ours are, in the Scripture phrase, but meat for babes: at least, all I can pretend, is to undeceive the ignorant, and those at a distance; but their task is to keep up the sinking spirits of a whole party.

After such reflections, I cannot be angry with those gentlemen for perpetually writing against me; it furnishes them largely with topicks, and is besides their proper business: neither is it affectation, or altogether scorn, that I do not reply. But as things are, we both act suitable[1] to our several provinces; mine is, by laying open some corruptions in the late management, to set those that are ignorant right in their opinions of persons and things: it is theirs, to cover with fig-leaves all the faults of their friends, as well as they can. When I have produced my facts, and offered my arguments, I have nothing farther to advance; it is their office to deny, and disprove; and then let the world decide. If I were as they, my chief endeavour should certainly be to batter down the Examiner; therefore I cannot but approve their design. Besides, they have another reason for barking incessantly at this paper: they have in their prints, openly taxed a most ingenious person as author of it; one who is in great, and very deserved reputation with the world, both on account of his poetical works, and his talents for publick business. They were wise enough to consider what a sanction it would give their performances, to fall under the animadversion of such a pen; and therefore used all the forms of provocation commonly practised by little obscure pedants, who are fond of distinguishing themselves by the fame of an adversary. So nice a taste have these judicious criticks in pretending to discover an author by his style, and manner of thinking! not to mention the justice and candour of exhausting all the stale topicks of scurrility in reviling a paper, and then flinging at a venture the whole load upon one who is entirely innocent; and whose greatest fault, perhaps, is too much gentleness toward a party, from whose leaders he has received quite contrary treatment.

The concern I have for the ease and reputation of so deserving a gentleman, has at length forced me, much against my interest and inclination, to let these angry people know, who is not the author of the Examiner. For I observed the opinion began to spread; and I chose rather to sacrifice the honour I received by it, than let injudicious people entitle him to a performance, that perhaps he might have reason to be ashamed of: still faithfully promising never to disturb those worthy advocates; but suffer them in quiet to roar on at the Examiner, if they or their party find any ease in it; as physicians say there is to people in torment, such as men in the gout, or women in labour.

However, I must acknowledge myself indebted to them for one hint, which I shall now pursue, although in a different manner. Since the fall of the late ministry, I have seen many papers filled with their encomiums; I conceive, in imitation of those who write the lives of famous men, where after their deaths immediately follow their characters. When I saw the poor virtues thus dealt at random, I thought the disposers had flung their names, like valentines into a hat, to be drawn as fortune pleased, by the junto and their friends. There Crassus drew liberality and gratitude; Fulvia, humility and gentleness; Clodius, piety and justice: Gracchus, loyalty to his prince; Cinna, love of his country and constitution; and so of the rest. Or, to quit this allegory, I have often seen of late, the whole set of discarded statesmen, celebrated by their judicious hirelings, for those very qualities which their admirers owned they chiefly wanted. Did these heroes put off and lock up their virtues, when they came into employment; and have they now resumed them, since their dismissions? If they wore them, I am sure it was under their greatness, and without ever once convincing the world of their visibility or influence.

But, why should not the present ministry find a pen to praise them as well as the last? This is what I shall now undertake; and it may be more impartial in me, from whom they have deserved so little. I have, without being called, served them half a year in quality of champion; and, by help of the queen, and a majority of nine in ten of the kingdom, have been able to protect them against a routed cabal of hated politicians, with a dozen of scribblers at their head: yet, so far have they been from rewarding me suitably to my deserts, that to this day they never so much as sent to the printer to inquire who I was; although I have known a time and ministry, where a person of half my merit and consideration, would have had fifty promises; and, in the mean time, a pension settled on him, whereof the first quarter should be honestly paid. Therefore my resentments shall so far prevail, that in praising those who are now at the head of affairs, I shall at the same time take notice of their defects.

Was any man more eminent in his profession than the present lord keeper[2], or more distinguished by his eloquence and great abilities in the house of commons? and will not his enemies allow him to be fully equal to the great station he now adorns? But then it must be granted, that he is wholly ignorant in the speculative, as well as practical part of polygamy; he knows not how to metamorphose a sober man into a lunatick; he is no freethinker in religion, nor has courage to be patron of an atheistical book, while he is guardian of the queen's conscience. Although, after all, to speak my private opinion, I cannot think these such mighty objections to his character as some would pretend.

The person who now presides at the council[3], is descended from a great and honourable father, not from the dregs of the people; he was at the head of the treasury for some years, and rather chose to enrich his prince than himself. In the height of favour and credit, he sacrificed the greatest employment in the kingdom to his conscience and honour; he has been always firm in his loyalty and religion, zealous for supporting the prerogative of the crown, and preserving the liberties of the people. But then his best friends must own, that he is neither deist nor socinian; he has never conversed with Toland, to open and enlarge his thoughts, and dispel the prejudices of education; nor was he ever able to arrive at that perfection of gallantry, to ruin and imprison the husband, in order to keep the wife without disturbance.

The present lord steward[4] has been always distinguished for his wit and knowledge; is of consummate wisdom and experience in affairs; has continued constant to the true interest of the nation which he espoused from the beginning; and is every way qualified to support the dignity of his office: but in point of oratory, must give place to his predecessor.

The duke of Shrewsbury[5] was highly instrumental in bringing about the Revolution, in which service he freely exposed his life and fortune. He has ever been the favourite of the nation, being possessed of all the amiable qualities that can accomplish a great man; but, in the agreeableness and fragrancy of his person, and the profoundness of his politicks, must be allowed to fail very short of ——

Mr. Harley[6] had the honour of being chosen speaker successively to three parliaments. He was the first, of late years, who ventured to restore the forgotten custom of treating his prince with duty and respect; easy and disengaged in private conversation, with such a weight of affairs upon his shoulders; of great learning, and as great a favourer and protector of it; intrepid by nature, as well as by the consciousness of his own integrity; and a despiser of money; pursuing the true interest of his prince and country against all obstacles; sagacious to view into the remotest consequences of things, by which all difficulties fly before him; a firm friend, and a placable enemy, sacrificing his justest resentments, not only to public good, but to common intercession and acknowledgment. Yet, with all these virtues, it must be granted, there is some mixture of human infirmity. His greatest admirers must confess his skill at cards and dice to be very low and superficial: in horseracing he is utterly ignorant; then, to save a few millions to the publick, he never regards how many worthy citizens he hinders from making up their plumb. And surely there is one thing never to be forgiven him; that he delights to have his table filled with black coats, whom he uses as if they were gentlemen.

My lord Dartmouth[7] is a man of letters, full of good sense, good nature, and honour; of strict virtue and regularity in his life; but labours under one great defect, that he treats his clerks with more civility and good manners, than others in his station have done the queen.

Omitting some others, I shall close this character of the present ministry with that of Mr. St. John[8]; who, from his youth applying those admirable talents of nature, and improvements of art, to publick business, grew eminent in court and parliament, at an age when the generality of mankind is employed in trifles and folly. It is to be lamented, that he has not yet procured himself a busy, important countenance; nor learned that profound part of wisdom, to be difficult of access. Besides, he has clearly mistaken the true use of books, which he has thumbed and spoiled with reading, when he ought to have multiplied them on his shelves: not like a great man of my acquaintance, who knew a book by the back, better than a friend, by the face; although he had never conversed with the former, and often with the latter.

  1. We both act 'suitable to,' &c. It should be 'suitably to our several provinces.'
  2. Sir Simon Harcourt, afterward lord Harcourt, was made lord keeper upon the resignation of ihe lord chancellor Cowper.
  3. Laurence Hyde, late earl of Rochester, in the room of lord Somers.
  4. The duke of Buckingham and Normanby, in the room of the duke of Devonshire.
  5. Lord chamberlain, in the room of the marquis of Kent.
  6. Chancellor of the exchequer, upon the removal of lord Godolphin.
  7. He succeeded the earl of Sunderland as secretary of state.
  8. Secretary of state in the room of Mr. Henry Boyle.