The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 30
THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 1710-11.
IF we examine what societies of men are in closest union among themselves, we shall find them either to be those who are engaged in some evil design, or who labour under one common misfortune. Thus the troops of banditti in several countries abroad, the knots of highwaymen in our own nation, the several tribes of sharpers, thieves, and pickpockets, with many others, are so firmly knit together, that nothing is more difficult than to break or dissolve their several gangs: so likewise those who are fellow sufferers under any misfortune, whether it be in reality or opinion, are usually contracted into a very strict union; as we may observe in the papists throughout the kingdom, under those real difficulties which are justly put on them; and in the several schisms of presbyterians, and other sects, under that grievous persecution of the modern kind, called want of power. And the reason why such confederacies are kept so sacred and inviolable, is very plain; because, in each of those cases I have mentioned, the whole body is moved by one spirit in pursuit of one general end, and the interest of individuals is not crossed by each other, or by the whole.
Now both these motives are joined to unite the high-flying whigs at present: they have been always engaged in an evil design, and of late they are faster rivetted by that terrible calamity, the loss of power. So that whatever designs a mischievous crew of dark confederates may possibly entertain, who will stop at no means to compass them, may be justly apprehended from these.
On the other side, those who wish well to the publick, and would gladly contribute to its service, are apt to differ in their opinions about the methods of promoting it: and when their party flourishes,, are sometimes envious at those in power; ready to overvalue their own merit, and be impatient until it be rewarded by the measure they have prescribed for themselves. There is a farther topick of contention, which a ruling party is apt to fall into, in relation to retrospections, and inquiry into past carriages; wherein some are thought too warm and zealous, others too cool and remiss; while in the mean time these divisions are industriously fomented by the discarded faction; which, although it be an old practice, has been much improved in the schools of the jesuits; who, when they despaired of perverting this nation to popery, by arguments or plots against the state, sent their emissaries to subdivide us into schisms. And this expedient is now, with great propriety, taken up by our men of incensed moderation; because they suppose themselves able to attack the strongest of our subdivisions, and to subdue us one after another. Nothing better resembles this proceeding, than that famous combat between the Horatii and Curiatii; where, two of the former being killed, the third, who remained entire and untouched, was able to kill his three wounded adversaries, after he had divided them by a stratagem. I well know with how tender a hand all this should be touched; yet at the same time I think it my duty to warn the friends, as well as expose the enemies of the publick weal; and to begin preaching up union, upon the first suspicion that any steps are made to disturb it.
But the two chief subjects of discontent, which, upon most great changes, in the management of publick affairs, are apt to breed differences among those who are in possession, are what I have just now mentioned; a desire of punishing the corruption of former managers; and rewarding merit among those who have been any way instrumental or consenting to the change. The first of these is a point so nice, that I shall purposely wave it: but the latter I take to fall properly within my district. By merit, I here understand that value which every man puts upon his own deservings from the publick. And I believe, there could not be a more difficult employment found out, than that of paymaster general to this sort of merit; or a more noisy, crowded place, than a court of judicature erected to settle and adjust every man's claim upon that article. I imagine, if this had fallen into the fancy of the ancient poets, they would have dressed it up after their manner into an agreeable fiction; and given us a genealogy and description of merit, perhaps not very different from that which follows.
A poetical genealogy and description of MERIT.
That true Merit was the son of Virtue and Honour; but that there was likewise a spurious child, who usurped the name, and whose parents were Vanity and Impudence. That at a distance there was a great resemblance between them, and they were often mistaken for each other. That the bastard issue had a loud shrill voice, which was perpetually employed in cravings and complaints; while the other never spoke louder than a whisper, and was often so bashful that he could not speak at all. That in all great assemblies the false Merit would step before the true, and stand just in his way; was constantly at court, or great men's levees, or whispering in some minister's ear. That the more you fed him, the more hungry and importunate he grew. That he often passed for the true son of Virtue and Honour, and the genuine, for an impostor. That he was born distorted and a dwarf, but by force of art appeared of handsome shape, and taller than the usual size; and that none but those who were wise and good, as well as vigilant, could discover his littleness or deformity. That the true Merit had been often forced to the indignity of applying to the false, for his credit with those in power, and to keep himself from starving. That false Merit filled the antichambers with a crew of his dependants and creatures, such as projectors, schematists, occasional converts to a party, prostitute flatterers, starveling writers, buffoons, shallow politicians, empty orators, and the like; who all owned him for their patron, and he grew discontented if they were not immediately fed."
This metaphorical description of false Merit is, I doubt, calculated for most countries in Christendom; as to our own, I believe it may be said, with a sufficient reserve of charity, that we are fully able to reward every man among us according to his real deservings: and I think I may add, without suspicion of flattery, that never any prince had a ministry with a better judgment to distinguish between false and real merit, than that which is now at the helm; or whose inclination, as well as interest, was greater to encourage the latter. And it ought to be observed, that those great and excellent persons we see at the head of affairs, are of the queen's own personal, voluntary choice; not forced upon her by any insolent, overgrown favourite, or by the pretended necessity of complying with an unruly faction.
Yet these are the persons whom those scandals to the press, in their daily pamphlets and papers, openly revile at so ignominious a rate, as I believe was never tolerated before under any government. For surely no lawful power derived from a prince should be so far affronted, as to leave those who are in authority exposed to every scurrilous libeller: because in this point I make a mighty difference between those who are in, and those who are out of power; not upon any regard to their persons, but the stations they are placed in by the sovereign. And if my distinction be right, I think I might appeal to any man, whether if a stranger were to read the invectives which are daily published against the present ministry, and the outrageous fury of the authors against me for censuring the last; he would not conclude the whigs to be at this time in full possession of power and favour, and the tories entirely at their mercy. But all this now ceases to be a wonder, since the queen herself is no longer spared; witness the libel published some days ago, under the title of "A Letter to Sir Jacob Banks," where the reflections upon her sacred majesty, are much more plain and direct, than ever the Examiner thought fit to publish against the most obnoxious persons in a ministry, discarded for endeavouring the ruin of their prince and country. Cæsar indeed threatened to hang the pirates for presuming to disturb him, while he was their prisoner aboard their ship: But it was Cæsar who did so, and he did it to a crew of publick robbers; and it became the greatness of his spirit, for he lived to execute what he had threatened. Had they been in his power and sent such a message, it could be imputed to nothing but the extremes of impudence, folly, or madness.
I had a letter last week relating to Mr. Greenshields, an episcopal clergyman of Scotland; and the writer seems to be a gentleman of that part of Britain. I remember formerly to have read a printed account of Mr. Greenshields' case, who has been prosecuted and silenced, for no other reason beside reading divine service after the manner of the church of England to his own congregation, who desired it; though, as the gentleman who writes to me says, there is no law in Scotland against those meetings; and he adds, that the sentence pronounced against Mr. Greenshields will soon be affirmed, if some care be not taken to prevent it. I am altogether uninformed in the particulars of this case, and besides, to treat it justly would not come within the compass of my paper; therefore I could wish the gentleman would undertake it in a discourse by itself; and I should be glad he would inform the publick in one fact; whether episcopal assemblies are freely allowed in Scotland? It is notorious, that abundance of their clergy fled from thence some years ago into England and Ireland, as from a persecution; but it was alleged by their enemies, that they refused to take the oaths to the government, which however none of them scrupled when they came among us. It is somewhat extraordinary to see our whigs and fanaticks keep such a stir about the sacred act of toleration, while their brethren will not allow a connivance in so near a neighbourhood; especially if what the gentleman insists on in his letter be true, that nine parts in ten of the nobility and gentry, and two in three of the commons, are episcopal; of which, one argument he offers is, the present choice of their representatives in both houses, though opposed to the utmost by the preachings, threatenings, and anathemas of the kirk. Such usage to a majority may, as he thinks, be of dangerous consequence; and I entirely agree with him. If these be the principles of the high kirk, God preserve, at least the southern parts from their tyranny!