The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 8/An Essay on English Bubbles
HAVING received the following scheme from Dublin, I give you the earliest notice how you may retrieve decus et tutamen, which you have sacrificed by permits in bubbles. This project is founded on a parliamentary security; besides, the Devil is in it if it can fail, since a dignitary of the church is at the head of it. Therefore you who have subscribed to the stocking insurance, and are out at the heels, may soon appear tight about the leg; you who encouraged the hemp manufacture may leave the halter to rogues, and prevent the odium of felo de se. Medicinal virtues are to be had without the expense and hazard of a dispensary: you may sleep without dreaming of bottles at your tail, and a looking glass shall not affright you: and, since the glass bubble proved as brittle as its ware, and broke, together with itself, the hopes of its proprietors, they may make themselves whole by subscribing to our new fund.
Here indeed may be made three very grave objections, by incredulous interested priests, ambitious citizens, and scrupulous statesmen. 1. The stocking manufactory gentlemen do not know how swearing can bring them to any probability of covering their legs anew, unless it be by the means of a pair of stocks. 2. That the hemp-snared men apprehend, that such an encouragement for oaths can tend to no other advancement, promotion, and exaltation, of their persons, than that of the gallows; the late old ordinary Paul, having grown gray in the habit of making this accurate observation in every month's Sessions paper, "That swearing had as great a hand in the suspension of every living soul under his cure, as sabbath-breaking itself." And, 3. That the glass-bubble-men cannot, for their lives, with the best pair of spectacles (which is the only thing left neat and whole out of all their ware), see how they shall make any thing out of this his oath-project, supposing he should even confirm by one its goodness; an oath being, as they say, as brittle as glass, and only made to be broken.
But those incredulous priests shall not go without an answer, that will, I am sure, induce them to place a great confidence in the benefit arising from Christians, who damn themselves every hour of the day: for, while they speak of the vainness and fickleness of oaths, as an objection against our project, they little consider that this fickleness and vainness is the common practice among all the people of this sublunary world; and that, consequently, instead of being an objection against the project, is a concluding argument of the constancy and solidity of their sure gain by it; a never-failing argument, as he tells us, among the brethren of his cloth.
The ambitious citizens, who, from being plunged deep in the wealthy whirlpool of the South Sea, are in hopes of rising to such seats of fortune and dignity as would best suit with their mounting and aspiring hopes, may imagine that this new fund, in the sister nation, may prove a rival to theirs; and, by drawing off a multitude of subscribers, will, if it makes a flood in Ireland, cause an ebb in England. But it may be answered, That though our author avers "that this fund will vie with the South Sea," yet it will not clash with it. On the contrary, the subscribers to this must wish the increase of the South Sea (so far from being its rival), because the multitude of people raised by it, who were plain speakers, as they were plain dealers before, must learn to swear, in order to become their clothes, and to be gentlemen à la mode; while those who are ruined, I mean Jóbed by it, will dismiss the patience of their old pattern, swear at their condition, and curse their Maker in their distress: and so the increase of that English fund will be demonstratively an ample augmentation of the Irish one, so far will it be from being rivalled by it; so that each of them may subscribe to a fund they have their own security for augmenting.
The scrupulous Statesmen (for we know that Statesmen are usually very scrupulous) may object against having this project secured by votes in parliament; by reason, as they may deem it in their great wisdom, of its being an impious project, and that therefore so illustrious an assembly as the Irish Parliament ought by no means, according to the opinion of a Christian statesman, to be concerned in supporting any impious thing in the world. The way that some may take to prove it impious is, because it will tend highly to the interest of swearing. But this I take to be plain downright sophistry, and playing upon words: if this be called the Swearing project, or the Oath-act, the increase of Swearing will be very much for the benefit and interest of Swearing; i. e. to the subscribers in the fund to be raised by this fruitful Swearing-act, if it should be so called; but not to the Swearers themselves who are to pay for it; so that it will be, according to this distinction, piously indeed an act for a benefit to mankind from swearing, not impiously a benefit in swearing: so that I think that argument entirely answered and defeated. Far be it from the dean to have entered into so unchristian a project as this had been, so considered. But then these politicians (being generally, as the world knows, mighty tender of conscience) may raise these new doubts, fears, and scruples, viz. That it will, however, cause the subscribers to wish, in their minds, for many oaths to fly about, which is a heinous crime, and to lay stratagems to try the patience of men of all sorts; to put them upon the swearing strain, in order to bring grist to their own mill, which is a crime still more enormous; and that therefore, for fear of these evil consequences, the passing of such an act is not consistent with the really extraordinary and tender conscience of a true modern politician. But, in answer to this, I think, I can plead the strongest plea in nature, and that is called precedent, I think; which I take thus from the South Sea: one man, by the very nature of that subscription, must naturally pray for the temporal damnation of another man in his fortune, in order for gaining his own salvation in it; yea, even though he knows the other man's temporal damnation would be the cause of his eternal, by his swearing and despairing. Neither do I think this in casuistry any sin, because the swearing undone man is a free agent, and can choose whether he will swear or no, any body's wishes whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding. And in politicks, I am sure, it is even a Machiavelian holy maxim, "That some men should be ruined for the good of others." Thus, I think, I have answered all the objections that can be brought against this project's coming to perfection; and proved it to be convenient for the state, of interest to the protestant church, and consonant with Christianity; nay, with the very scruples of modern squeamish statesmen.
To conclude: The laudable author of this project squares the measures of it so much according to the Scripture rule, that it may reasonably be presumed all good Christians in England will come as fast into the subscriptions for his encouragement, as they have already done throughout the kingdom of Ireland: for what greater proof could this author give of his Christianity, than, for bringing about this Swearing-act, charitably to part with his coat, and sit starving in a very thin waistcoat in his garret, to do the corporal virtues of feeding and clothing the poor, and raising them from the cottage to the palace, by punishing the vices of the rich? What more could have been done even in the primitive times?
P. S. For the benefit of the author, application may be made to me at the Tilt Yard Coffeehouse, Whitehall.
- Prefixed to an edition of "The Swearer's Bank," printed at London in 1720. The tract itself is printed in the ninth volume of this collection, p. 383.
- The motto round a crown piece, which was the usual price of permits.
- The dean of St. Patrick's.
- Paul Lorraine, many years ordinary of Newgate. He died Oct. 7, 1719.
- See vol. IX. p. 385.