The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/Some Advice to the Members of the October Club
HUMBLY OFFERED TO THE
In a Letter from a Person of Honour.
Written in the Year 1711-12.
ABOUT the year, when her late majesty of blessed memory thought proper to change her ministry, and brought in Mr. Harley, Mr. St. John, sir Simon Harcourt, and some others; the first of these being made an earl and lord treasurer, he was soon after blamed by the friends for not making a general sweep of all the whigs, as the latter did of their adversaries upon her majesty's death, when they came into power. At that time a great number of parliament men, amounting to above two hundred, grew so warm upon the slowness of the treasurer in this part, that they formed themselves into a body under the name of the October Club, and had many meetings, to consult upon some methods that might spur on those in power, so that they might make a quicker dispatch in removing all of the whig leaven from the employments they still possessed. To prevent the ill consequences of this discontent among so many worthy members, the rest of the ministry joined with the treasurer, partly to pacify, and partly divide those, who were in greater haste than moderate men thought convenient. It was well known, that the supposed author met a considerable number of this club in a publick house, where he convinced them very plainly of the treasurer's sincerity, with many of those very reasons which are urged in the following discourse, beside some others which were not so proper to appear at that time in print.
The treasurer alleged in his defence, that such a treatment would not consist with prudence, because there were many employments to be bestowed, which required skill and practice; that several gentlemen, who possessed them, had been long versed, very loyal to her majesty, had never been violent party men, and were ready to fall into all honest measures for the service of their queen and country. But however, as offices became vacant, he would humbly recommend to her majesty such gentlemen, whose principles with regard both to church and state, his friends would approve of, and he would be ready to accept their recommendations. Thus the earl proceeded in procuring employments for those, who deserved them by their honesty and abilities to execute them; which I confess to have been a singularity not very likely to be imitated. However the gentlemen of this club still continued uneasy that no quicker progress was made in removals, until those who were least violent began to soften a little, or, by dividing them, the whole affair dropped. During this difficulty, we have been assured that the following discourse was very seasonably published with great success; showing the difficulties that the earl of Oxford lay under, and his real desire, that all persons in employment should be true loyal churchmen, zealous for her majesty's honour and safety, as well as for the succession in the house of Hanover, if the queen should happen to die without issue. This discourse having been published about the year 1711, and many of the facts forgotten, would not have been generally understood without some explanation, which we have now endeavoured to give, because it seems a point of history too material to be lost. We owe this piece of intelligence to an intimate of the supposed author.
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SINCE the first institution of your society, I have always thought you capable of the greatest things. Such a number of persons, members of parliament, true lovers of our constitution in church and state, meeting at certain times, and mixing business and conversation together, without the forms and constraint necessary to be observed in publick assemblies, must very much improve each other's understanding, correct and fix your judgment, and prepare yourselves against any designs of the opposite party. Upon the opening of this session an incident has happened, to provide against the consequences whereof, will require your utmost vigilance and application. All this last summer, the enemy was working under ground, and laying their train; they gradually became more frequent and bold in their pamphlets and papers, while those on our side were dropped, as if we had no farther occasion for them. Some time before, an opportunity fell into their hands, which they have cultivated ever since; and thereby have endeavoured, in some sort, to turn those arts against us, which had been so effectually employed to their ruin: a plain demonstration of their superiour skill at intrigue; to make a stratagem succeed a second time, and this even against those who first tried it upon them. I know not whether this opportunity I have mentioned could have been prevented by any care, without straining a very tender point; which those chiefly concerned avoided by all means, because it might seem a counterpart of what they had so much condemned in their predecessors; although it is certain the two cases were widely different; and if policy had once got the better of good nature, all had been safe, for there was no danger in view; but the consequences of this were foreseen from the beginning; and those who kept the watch had early warning of it. It would have been a masterpiece of prudence, in this case, to have made a friend of an enemy. But whether that were possible to be compassed, or whether it were ever attempted, is now too late to inquire. All accommodation was rendered desperate, by an unlucky proceeding some months ago at Windsor, which was a declaration of war, too frank and generous for that situation of affairs; and I am told was not approved of by a certain great minister. It was obvious to suppose, that in a particular, where the honour and interest of a husband were so closely united with those of a wife, he might be sure of her utmost endeavours for his protection, although she neither loved nor esteemed him. The danger of losing power, favour, profit, and shelter from domestick tyranny, were strong incitements to stir up a working brain, early practised in all the arts of intriguing. Neither is it safe to count upon the weakness of any man's understanding, who is thoroughly possessed with the spirit of revenge, to sharpen his invention: nothing else is required beside obsequiousness and assiduity; which, as they are often the talents of those who have no better, so they are apt to make impressions upon the best and greatest minds.
It was no small advantage to the designing party, that since the adventure at Windsor, the person on whom we so much depend, was long absent by sickness; which hindered him from pursuing those measures, that ministers are in prudence forced to take, to defend their country and themselves against an irritated faction. The negotiators on the other side, improved this favourable conjuncture to the utmost; and by an unparallelled boldness, accompanied with many falsehoods, persuaded certain lords (who were already in the same principle, but were afraid of making a wrong step, lest it should lead them out of their coaches into the dirt) that voting in appearance against the court, would be the safest course to avoid the danger they most apprehended, which was that of losing their pensions; and their opinions, when produced, by seemingly contradicting their interest, have an appearance of virtue into the bargain. This, with some arguments of more immediate power, went far in producing that strange unexpected turn we have so lately seen, and from which our adversaries reckoned upon such wonderful effects; and some of them, particularly my lord chief justice, began to act as if all were already in their power.
But although the more immediate causes of this desertion were what I have above related, yet I am apt to think it would hardly have been attempted, or at least not have succeeded, but for a prevailing opinion, that the church party and the ministers had different views, or at least were not so firmly united as they ought to have been. It was commonly said, and I suppose not without some ground of truth, that many gentlemen of your club were discontented to find so little done; that they thought it looked as if the people were not in earnest; that they expected to see a thorough change with respect to employments; and although every man could not be provided for, yet when all places were filled with persons of good principles, there would be fewer complaints, and less danger from the other party; that this change was hoped for all last summer, and even to the opening of the session, yet nothing done. On the other hand, it was urged by some, in favour of the ministry, that it was impossible to find employments for one pretender in twenty; and therefore in gratifying one, nineteen would be disobliged; but while all had leave to hope, they would all endeavour to deserve: but this again was esteemed a very shallow policy, which was too easily seen through, must soon come to an end, and would cause a general discontent, with twenty other objections to which it was liable: and indeed, considering the short life of ministers in our climate, it was, with some reason, thought a little hard, that those for whom any employment was intended, should, by such a delay, be probably deprived of half their benefit; not to mention, that a ministry is best confirmed, when all inferiour officers are in its interest.
I have set this cause of complaint in the strongest light, although my design is to endeavour that it should have no manner of weight with you, as I am confident our adversaries counted upon, and do still expect to find mighty advantages by it.
But it is necessary to say something to this objection, which, in all appearance, lies so hard upon the present ministry. What shall I offer upon so tender a point? how shall I convey an answer that none will apprehend, except those for whom I intend it? I have often pitied the condition of great ministers, upon several accounts; but never so much upon any, as when their duty obliges them to bear the blame and envy of actions, for which they will not be answerable in the next world, though they dare not convince the present, till it is too late. This letter is sent you, gentlemen, from no mean hand, nor from a person uninformed, though, for the rest, as little concerned in point of interest for any change of ministry, as most others of his fellow-subjects. I may therefore assume so much to myself, as to desire you will depend upon it, that a short time will make manifest, how little the defect you complain of ought to lie at that door, where your enemies would be glad to see you place it. The wisest man, who is not very near the spring of affairs, but views them only in their issues and events, will be apt to fix applauses and reproaches in the wrong place; which is the true cause of a weakness, that I never yet knew great ministers without; I mean, their being deaf to all advice: for, if a person of the best understanding offers his opinion in a point where he is not master of all the circumstances, (which perhaps are not to be told) tis a hundred to one but he runs into an absurdity: whence it is, that ministers falsely conclude themselves to be equally wiser than others in general things, where the common reason of mankind ought to be the judge, and is probably less biassed than theirs. I have known a great man of excellent parts, blindly pursue a point of no importance, against the advice of every friend he had, till it ended in his ruin. I have seen great abilities rendered utterly useless, by unaccountable and unnecessary delay, and by difficulty of access, by which a thousand opportunities are suffered to escape. I have observed the strongest shoulders sink under too great a load of business, for want of dividing a due proportion among others. These, and more that might be named, are very obvious failings, which every rational man may be allowed to discern, as well as lament; and wherein the wisest minister may receive advice from others, of inferiour understanding. But in those actions where we are not thoroughly informed of all the motives and circumstances, it is hardly possible that our judgment should not be mistaken. I have often been one of the company, where we have all blamed a measure taken, which has afterward proved the only one that could possibly have succeeded. Nay, I have known those very men, who have formerly been in the secret of affairs, when a new set of people hath come in, offering their refinements and conjectures in a very plausible manner upon what was passing, and widely err in all they advanced.
Whatever occasions may have been given for complaints that enough has not been done, those complaints should not be carried so far, as to make us forget what hath been done; which, at first, was a great deal more than we hoped, or thought practicable; and you may be assured, that so much courage and address were not employed in the beginning of so great a work, without a resolution of carrying it through, as fast as opportunities would offer. Any of the most sanguine gentlemen in your club, would gladly have compounded two years ago, to have been assured of seeing affairs in the present situation: it is principally to the abilities of one great person, that you, gendemen, owe the happiness of meeting together, to cultivate the good principles, and form yourselves into a body for defending your country, against a restless and dangerous faction. It is to the same we all owe that mighty change in the most important posts of the kingdom; that we see the sacred person of our prince encompassed by those, whom we ourselves would have chosen, if it had been left to our power: and if every thing besides that you could wish, has not been hitherto done, you will be but just to impute it to some powerful, though unknown impediments, wherein the ministry is more to be lamented than blamed. But there is good reason to hope, from the vigorous proceedings of the court, that these impediments will in a short time effectually be removed: and one great motive to hasten the removal of them, will doubtless be, the reflection upon those dangerous consequences, which had like to have ensued upon not removing them before. Besides, after so plain and formidable a conviction, that mild and moderate methods meet with no other reception or return, than to serve as opportunities to the insatiable malice of an enemy; power will awake to vindicate itself, and disarm its opposers, at least of all offensive weapons.
Consider, if you please, how hard beset the present ministry has been on every side: by the impossibility of carrying on the war any longer, without taking the most desperate courses; or of recovering Spain from the house of Bourbon, although we could continue it many years longer: by the clamours of a faction against any peace without that condition, which the most knowing among themselves allowed to be impracticable; by the secret cabals of foreign ministers, who endeavoured to inflame our people, and spirited up a sinking faction to blast our endeavours for peace, with those popular reproaches of France and the pretender; not to mention the danger they have been in, from private insinuations, of such a nature as it was almost impossible to fence against. These clouds now begin to blow over, and those who are at the helm, will have leisure to look about them, and complete what yet remains to be done.
That confederate body, which now makes up the adverse party, consists of a union so monstrous and unnatural, that in a little time it must of necessity fall to pieces. The dissenters, with reason, think themselves betrayed and sold by their brethren. What they have been told, that the present bill against occasional conformity was to prevent a greater evil, is an excuse too gross to pass; and if any other profound refinement were meant, it is now come to nothing. The remaining sections of the party, have no other tie, but that of an inveterate hatred and rancour against those in power, without agreeing in any other common interest, not cemented by principle, or personal friendship: I speak particularly of their leaders; and although I know that court enmities are as inconstant as its friendships, yet from the difference of temper and principle, as well as the scars remaining of former animosities, I am persuaded their league will not be of long continuance: I know several of them, who will never pardon those with whom they are now in confederacy; and when once they see the present ministry thoroughly fixed, they will grow weary of hunting upon a cold scent, or playing a desperate game, and crumble away.
On the other side, while the malice of that party continues in vigour, while they yet feel the bruises of their fall, which pain them afresh since their late disappointment, they will leave no arts untried to recover themselves; and it behoves all, who have any regard for the safety of the queen or her kingdom, to join unanimously against an adversary, who will return full fraught with vengeance, upon the first opportunity that shall offer: and this perhaps is more to be regarded, because that party seem, yet to have a reserve of hope in the same quarter, whence their last reinforcement came. Neither can any thing cultivate this hope of theirs so much, as a disagreement among ourselves, founded upon a jealousy of the ministry; who I think need no better a testimony of their good intentions, than the incessant rage of the party-leaders against them.
There is one fault, which both sides are apt to charge upon themselves, and very generously commend their adversaries, for the contrary virtue. The tories acknowledge, that the whigs outdid them in rewarding their friends, and adhering to each other; the whigs allow the same to the tories. I am apt to think, that the former may a little excel the latter in this point; for, doubtless, the tories are less vindictive of the two; and whoever is remiss in punishing, will probably be so in rewarding: although, at the same time, I well remember the clamours often raised during the reign of that party, against the leaders, by those who thought their merits were not rewarded; and they had reason on their side, because it is no doubt a misfortune to forfeit honour and conscience for nothing: but surely the case is very different at this time, when, whoever adheres to the administration, does service to God, his prince, and his country, as well as contributes to his own private interest and safety.
But if the whig leaders were more grateful in rewarding their friends, it must be avowed likewise, that the bulk of them were in general more zealous for the service of their party, even when abstracted from any private advantage, as might be observed in a thousand instances; for which I would likewise commend them, if it were not unnatural for mankind, to be more violent in an ill cause, than a good one.
The perpetual discord of factions, with several changes of late years in the very nature of our government, have controlled many maxims among us. The court and country party, which used to be the old division, seems now to be ceased, or suspended, for better times, and worse princes. The queen and ministry are at this time fully in the true interest of the kingdom; and therefore the court and country are of a side; and the whigs, who originally were of the latter, are now of neither, but an independent faction, nursed up by the necessities, or mistakes, of a late good, although unexperienced prince. Court and country ought therefore to join their forces against these common enemies, until they are entirely dispersed and disabled. It is enough to arm ourselves against them, when we consider that the greatest misfortunes which can befall the nation, are what would most answer their interest and their wishes; a perpetual war increases their money, and breaks and beggars their landed enemies. The ruin of the church would please the dissenters, deists, and socinians, whereof the body of their party . A commonwealth, or a protector, would gratify the republican principles of some, and the ambition of others among them.
Hence I would infer, that no discontents of an inferiour nature, such I mean as I have already mentioned, should be carried so far as to give any ill impression of the present ministry. If all things have not been hitherto done as you, gentlemen, could reasonably wish, it can be imputed only to the secret instruments of that faction. The truth of this has appeared from some late incidents, more visibly than formerly. Neither do I believe that any one will now make a doubt, whether a certain person be in earnest, after the united and avowed endeavours of a whole party, to strike directly at his head. When it happens by some private cross intrigues, that a great man has not that power which is thought due to his station, he will however probably desire the reputation of it, without which he neither can preserve the dignity, nor hardly go through the common business of his place; yet is it that reputation to which he owes all the envy and hatred of others, as well as his own disquiets. Mean time, his expecting friends impute all their disappointments to some deep design, or to his defect of good will; and his enemies are sure to cry up his excess of power, especially in those points where they are confident it is most shortened. A minister, in this difficult case, is sometimes forced to preserve his credit, by forbearing what is in his power, for fear of discovering how far the limits extend of what is not; or, perhaps, for fear of showing an inclination contrary to that of his master. Yet all this while he lies under the reproach of delay, unsteadiness, or want of sincerity. So that there are many inconveniences and dangers, either in discovering, or concealing the want of power. Neither is it hard to conceive, that ministers may happen to suffer for the sins of their predecessors, who, by their great abuses and monopolies of power and favour, have taught princes to be more thrifty for the future, in the distribution of both. And as in common life, whoever has been long confined, is very fond of his liberty, and will not easily endure the very appearance of restraint, even from those who have been the instruments of setting him free; so it is with the recovery of power, which is usually attended with an undistinguished jealousy, left it should be again invaded, in such a juncture, I cannot discover why a wise and honest man should venture to place himself at the head of affairs, upon any other regard than the safety of his country, and the advice of Socrates, to prevent an ill man from coming in.
Upon the whole, I do not see any one ground of suspicion or dislike, which you, gentlemen, or others who wish well to their country, may have entertained about persons or proceedings, but what may probably be misapprehended, even by those who think they have the best information. Nay, I will venture to go one step farther, by adding, that although it may not be prudent to speak out upon this occasion; yet whoever will reason impartially upon the whole state of affairs, must entirely acquit the ministry of that delay and neutrality, which have been laid to their charge. Or, suppose some small part of this accusation were true, (which I positively know to be otherwise, whereof the world will soon be convinced) yet the consequences of any resentment at this time, must either be none at all, or the most fatal that can be imagined; for, if the present ministry be made so uneasy, that a change be thought necessary, things will return of course into the old hands of those, whose little fingers will be found heavier than their predecessors loins. The whig faction is so dextrous at corrupting, and the people so susceptible of it, that you cannot be ignorant how easy it will be, after such a turn of affairs, upon a new election, to procure a majority against you. They will resume their power, with a spirit like that of Marius or Sylla, or the last triumvirate; and those ministers who have been most censured for too much hesitation, will fall the first sacrifices to their vengeance: but these are the smallest mischiefs to be apprehended from such returning exiles. What security can a prince hope for his person, or his crown, or even for the monarchy itself? He must expect to see his best friends brought to the scaffold, for asserting his rights; to see his prerogative trampled on, and his treasure applied to feed the avarice of those, who make themselves his keepers; to hear himself treated with insolence and contempt; to have his family purged at pleasure by their humour and malice; and to retain even the name and shadow of a king, no longer than his ephori shall think fit.
These are the inevitable consequences of such a change of affairs, as that envenomed party is now projecting; which will best be prevented by your firmly adhering to the present ministry, until this domestick enemy is out of all possibility of making head any more.
- Supposed at that time to have been lord Harcourt. In the Political State, Feb. 1711-12, is an alphabetical list of the gentlemen who formed the club. They met at the Bell Tavern, in King street, Westminster.
- The lord treasurer.
- The duke and duchess of Somerset.
- The lord treasurer.
- Had like — a bad phrase; it should be — 'which were likely to have ensued, &c.'