The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 5/The Wonderful Wonder of Wonders
THERE is a certain person lately arrived at this city, of whom it is very proper the world should be informed. His character may perhaps be thought very inconsistent, improbable, and unnatural; however I intend to draw it with the utmost regard to truth. This I am the better qualified to do, because he is a sort of dependant upon our family, and almost of the same age; though I cannot directly say, I have ever seen him. He is a native of this country, and has lived long among us; but, what appears wonderful, and hardly credible, was never seen before, by any mortal.
It is true indeed, he always chooses the lowest place in company; and contrives it so, to keep out of sight. It is reported however, that in his younger days he was frequently exposed to view, but always against his will, and was sure to smart for it.
As to his family, he came into the world a younger brother, being of six children the fourth in order of (1) birth; of which the eldest is now head of the house; the second and third carry arms; but the two youngest are only footmen: some indeed add, that he has likewise a twin brother, who lives over against him and keeps a victuallinghouse (2); he has the reputation to be a close, griping, squeezing fellow; and that when his bags are full, he is often needy; yet when the fit takes him, as fast as he gets, he lets it fly.
When in office, no one discharges himself, or does his business better. He has sometimes strained hard for an honest livelihood; and never got a bit, till every body else had done.
One practice appears very blamable in him; that every morning he privately frequents unclean houses, where any modest person would blush to be seen. And although this be generally known, yet the world, as censorious as it is, has been so kind to overlook this infirmity in him. To deal impartially, it must be granted that he is too great a lover of himself, and very often consults his own ease, at the expense of his best friends: but this is one of his blind sides; and the best of men I fear are not without them.
He has been constituted by the higher powers in the station of receiver general, in which employment some have censured him for playing fast and loose. He is likewise overseer of the golden mines which he daily inspects, when his health will permit him.
He was long bred under a master of arts (3), who instilled good principles into him, but these were scon corrupted. I know not whether this deserves mention: that he is so very capricious, as to take it for an equal affront, to talk either of kissing or kicking him, which has occasioned a thousand quarrels: however no body was ever so great a sufferer for faults, which he neither was, nor possibly could be guilty of.
In his religion he has thus much of the quaker, that he stands always covered, even in the presence of the king; in most other points a perfect idolater (4), although he endeavours to conceal it; for he is known to offer daily sacrifices to certain subterraneous nymphs, whom he worships in an humble posture, prone on his face, and stript stark naked; and so leaves his offerings behind him, which the priests (5) of those goddesses are careful enough to remove, upon certain seasons, with the utmost privacy at midnight, and from thence maintain themselves and families. In all urgent necessities and pressures, he applies himself to these deities, and sometimes even in the streets and highways, from an opinion that those powers have an influence in all places, although their peculiar residence be in caverns under ground. Upon these occasions, the fairest ladies will not refuse to lend their hands to assist him: for, although they are ashamed to have him seen in their company, or even so much as to hear him named; yet it is well known, that he is one of their constant followers.
In politicks, he always submits to what is uppermost; but he peruses pamphlets on both sides with great impartiality, though seldom till every body else has done with them.
His learning is of a mixed kind, and he may properly be called a helluo librorum, or another Jacobus de Voragine; though his studies are chiefly confined to schoolmen, commentators, and German divines, together with modern poetry and criticks: and he is an atomick philosopher, strongly maintaining a void in nature, which he seems to have fairly proved by many experiments.
I shall now proceed to describe some peculiar qualities, which, in several instances, seem to distinguish this person from the common race of other mortals.
His grandfather was a member of the rump parliament, as the grandson is of the present, where he often rises, sometimes grumbles, but never speaks. However he lets nothing pass willingly, but what is well digested. His courage is indisputable, for he will take the boldest man alive by the nose.
He is generally the first abed in the family, and the last up; which is to be lamented; because when he happens to rise before the rest, it has been thought to forebode some good fortune to his superiours.
As wisdom is acquired by age, so, by every new wrinkle (6) in his face, he is reported to gain some new knowledge.
In him we may observe the true effects and consequences of tyranny in a state: for, as he is a great oppressor of all below him, so there is nobody more oppressed by those above him; yet, in his time, he has been so highly in favour, that many illustrious persons have been entirely indebted to him for their preferments.
He has discovered, from his own experience, the true point wherein all human actions, projects, and designs do chiefly terminate; and how mean and sordid they are at the bottom.
It behoves the publick to keep him quiet; for his frequent murmurs are a certain sign of intestine tumults.
No philosopher ever lamented more the luxury, for which these nations are so justly taxed; it has been known to cost him tears of blood (7): for in his own nature he is far from being profuse; though indeed he never stays a night at a gentleman's house, without leaving something behind him.
He receives with great submission whatever his patrons think fit to give him; and when they lay heavy burdens upon him, which is frequently enough, he gets rid of them as soon as he can; but not without some labour, and much grumbling.
He is a perpetual hanger on; yet nobody knows how to be without him. He patiently suffers himself to be kept under, but loves to be well used, and in that case will sacrifice his vitals to give you ease: and he has hardly one acquaintance, for whom he has not been bound; yet, as far as we can find, was never known to lose any thing by it.
He is observed to be very unquiet in the company of a Frenchman in new clothes, or a young coquette. (8)
He is, in short, the subject of much mirth and raillery, which he seems to take well enough; though it has not been observed, that ever any good thing came from himself.
There is so general an opinion of his justice, that sometimes very hard cases are left to his decision: and while he sits upon them, he carries himself exactly even between both sides, except where some knotty point arises; and then he is observed to lean a little to the right or left, as the matter inclines him; but his reasons for it are so manifest and convincing, that every man approves them.
THOUGH I am not insensible how many thousand persons have been, and still are, with great dexterity handling this subject, and no less aware of what infinite reams of paper have been laid out upon it; however, in my opinion no man living has touched it with greater nicety, and more delicate turns than our author. But, because there is some intended obscurity in this relation; and curiosity, inquisitive of secrets, may possibly not enter into the bottom and depth of the subject, it was thought not improper to take off the veil, and gain the reader's favour by enlarging his insight, Ars enim non habet inimicum, nisi ignorantem. It is well known, that it has been the policy of all times, to deliver down important subjects by emblem and riddle, and not to suffer the knowledge of truth to be derived to us in plain and simple terms, which are generally as soon forgotten as conceived. For this reason, the heathen religion is mostly couched under mythology. For the like reason (this being a Fundamental in its kind) the author has thought fit to wrap up his treasure in clean linen, which it is our business to lay open, and set in a due light; for I have observed, upon any accidental discovery, the least glimpse has given a great diversion to the eager spectator, as many ladies could testify, were it proper, or the case would admit.
The politest companies have vouchsafed to smile at the bare name; and some people of fashion have been so little scrupulous of bringing it in play, that it was the usual saying of a knight, and a man of good breeding, that whenever he rose, his a-se rose with him.
(1) He alludes to the manner of our birth, the head and arms appear before the posteriours and the two feet, which he calls the footmen.
(2) Victualling house.] The belly, which receives and digests our nourishment.
(3) Master of arts.] Persius: magister artis, ingeniique largitor venter.
(4) Idolater.] Alludes to the sacrifices offered by the Romans to the goddess Cloacina.
(5) Priests.] Gold-finders, who perform their office in the night time: but our author farther seems to have an eye to the custom of the heathen priests stealing the offerings in the night; of which see more in the story of Bel and the Dragon.
(6) Wrinkle.] This refers, to a proverb — you have one wrinkle in your a-se more than you had before.
(7) Tears of blood.] Hemorrhoids, according to the physicians, are a frequent consequence of intemperance.
(8) Unquiet.] Their tails being generally observed to he most restless.