The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 8/Proposal for the Regulation and Improvement of Quadrille



———— Ridiculum aeri
Fortius & melius, &c.

Hor. Sat, I. x. 14.

WHEREAS the noble game of Quadrille hath been found, by experience, to be of great use and benefit to the commonwealth; particularly as it helps to kill time, that lies heavy upon our hands; and to pass away life, which seems too long while we have it, and too short when we come to part with it; as it suppresses all wit in conversation, which is apt to turn into scandal; all politicks, which are offensive to ministries and governments; and all reading, which is injurious to the eyes, especially by candle light: as it destroys pride effectually, by bringing the noble and ignoble, the learned and the ignorant, the prude and the coquet, wives, widows, and maids, to one common level; giving preference of the best place and warmest corner, not according to the fantastical distinctions of birth, quality, and station, but by equal lot: as it is a sovereign cure for animosities, making people good friends for the time being, who heartily hate one another: as it prevents the squabbles, so frequent among other dealers, about the weight of gold, and gives the lightest the same value and currency with the heaviest; which is no small advantage to the publick at this juncture, when change is grown so scarce: and, to name no more, as it enables the butler to go as fine as his master, without an increase of wages:

And whereas, for want of true taste and relish of the said noble game, divers ladies are tardy, and come late to the rendezvous, being detained by the paltry cares of a family, or a nap after dinner, or by hooking in a few street visits at doors where they expect to be denied, and are sometimes cruelly bit; while the true professors and adepts, who consider the shortness of human life and the value of precious time, are impatiently waiting for such loiterers, and curse innocent clocks and watches that are forced to lie in justification of their tardiness:

Now, in order to cut off those frivolous pretences, and prevent those ill-bred and injurious practices for the future; and to the intent that every lady may have due notice of the appointed hour it is hereby proposed, that a subscription be set on foot, for erecting a square tower in the middle of St. Stephen's Green; and that a bell be hung in the same, large enough to be heard distinctly over the parishes of St. Anne, St. Andrew, and St. Peter; and, in calm evenings, as far as the parish of St. Mary, for the benefit of the graduates dwelling there: that the said bell, for greater solemnity, shall be christened[2], according to the rites and ceremonies of the Roman church; and that the godfathers shall be K. C. and M. J. and the godmothers L. M. and R. E. who shall call it The Great Tom of Quadrille: that the said bell shall be tolled by the butlers of St. Stephen's Green and Dawson Street, in their turns, beginning exactly a quarter before six in the evening, and ending precisely at six. In the mean time, all the little church bells shall cease their babblings, to the end Tom may be more distinctly heard.

And if, upon such legal notice, any lady of the party shall not be ready on the spot, to draw for her place before the last stroke of Tom, she shall lay down five shillings on the table, by way of fine, for the use of the poor of the parish, being protestants; or, on failure thereof, she shall not handle a card that night, but Dummy shall be substituted in her room.

And, that parties may not be disappointed, by excuses of a cold or other slight indispositions, when it is too late to beat up for a new recruit; it is proposed, that no such excuse shall be admitted, unless the same be certified under the hand of some graduate physician. Dr. Richard T——— always excepted: and for want of such certificate, the defaultress to be amerced, as aforesaid, at the next meeting. And it is farther proposed, that the said great Tom shall be tolled a quarter before eleven precisely; after which, no pool shall be made, to the intent that the ladies may have a quarter of an hour for adjusting their play-purses, and saying their prayers: and, in the absence of the butler who is to be the bell-hour for the night, it may be lawful for a footman to snuff the candles over the ladies' shoulders; provided he be a handsome well-dressed young fellow, with a clean shirt and ruffles.

N. B. That Tom is not to toll on Sundays, without special license from the parish minister; and this not till divine service is over.

And whereas frequent disputes and altercations arise in play between ladies of distinction, insomuch that a by-stander may plainly perceive that they pull coifs in their hearts, and part with such animosity, that nothing but the sovereign reconciler Quadrille could bring them to meet again in one house; it is humbly proposed, for the benefit of trade, that, when a question cannot be decided by the company, the same shall be immediately set down in writing by the lady who can write the best English; and that the case, being thereby stated, and attested by both parties, shall, together with the fee of one fish ad valorem, be laid before the renowned Mr. sergeant Bettesworth, who shall be appointed arbitrator general in all disputes of this kind; and shall, moreover, have sufficient power and authority to give damages for all opprobrious languages; and especially for all hints, squints, innuendoes, leers, and shrugs, or other muscular motions of evil signification, by which the reputation of a lady may be affected, on account of any slip or miscarriage that may have happened within twenty years last past.

And, if any lady should find herself aggrieved by the decision of the said Mr. Bettesworth, it shall be lawful for her to remove her cause, by appeal, before the Upright Man in Essex Street, who, having never given a corrupt judgment, may be called, next after his holiness at Rome, the only infallible judge upon earth; and the said Upright Man's determination shall be final and conclusive to all parties.

And forasmuch as it appears, by experience, that this beneficial branch of commerce cannot well be carried on without entries to be made in writing, which, by their great number, might occasion oversights and mistakes, without some prudent restriction; it is humbly proposed, that all appointments, made for any longer time than three months to come, shall be declared utterly null and void: and in case a lady should happen, upon the day prefixed within that term, to be in labour, or to be no longer than one week brought to bed; or if, for the unseasonable hours, her husband should withhold her pin-money, or chain her by the leg to the bed-post; she shall incur no penalty for her nonappearance, there being no doubt of her good inclination.

But no plea of a husband newly buried, or of weeds delayed by a mantua maker, or any other matter of mere fashion or ceremony, shall be in any wise admitted.

And, to the intent that no breach of faith may pass unpunished, it is proposed, that the lady making default shall, at the next party-meeting, take the chair nearest the door, or against a cracked pannel in the wainscot, and have no skreen at her back, unless she shall give her honour that her memorandum paper was casually left in her folio Common Prayer-book at church, and that she only perused it there during the collect: in which case her punishment shall be respited till the next meeting, where she shall produce the same, and vouch it to be the true original.

And lastly, because it sometimes happens that a party is broken, and a hand wanting, by misnomer[3], and other blunders of servants carrying messages; it is proposed, that the servant so offending, if it be a valet de chambre, shall wait in a common livery for the space of one month; and if he be a footman, the booby shall be tossed in a blanket in the middle of Stephen's Green.

  1. Dr. Josiah Hort, the author of this Proposal, was made bishop of Kilmore, July 27, 1727; and translated to Tuam, Jan. 27, 1741. He published a volume of Sermons, 8vo, 1738; and died in 1752. That he was the author, and Dr. Swift the editor, of this little treatise, is plain from their respective letters, vol. XIII. pp. 250, 259. It having given umbrage to Serjeant Bettesworth, a member of parliament, he preferred a complaint to the House of Commons, then sitting, who voted Faulkner, the printer, into close confinement, for not discovering the author, then universally supposed to be Dr. Swift, against whom some sharp invectives were consequently thrown out by Bettesworth and other members; which provoked the Dean to retaliate, by "The Legion Club," and some other verses in this collection. See vol. VIII, p. 208.
  2. The bells are christened by the papists.
  3. Wrong name.