The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 3/The Examiner, Number 15

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



———— medioque ut limite curras,
Jeare, ait, moneo: ne si demissior ibis,
Unda gravet pennas; si celsior, ignis adurat.

——— My boy, take care
To wing thy course along the middle air;
If low, the surges wet thy flagging plumes;
If high, the sun the melting wax consumes.

IT must be avowed that for some years past, there have been few things more wanted in England than such a paper as this ought to be: and such I will endeavour to make it as long as it shall be found of any use, without entering into the violences of either party. Considering the many grievous misrepresentations of persons and things, it is highly requisite at this juncture, that the people throughout the kingdom should, if possible, be set right in their opinions by some impartial hand; which has never been yet attempted; those, who have hitherto undertaken it, being, upon every account, the least qualified of all human-kind, for such work.

We live here under a limited monarchy, and under the doctrine and discipline of an excellent church. We are unhappily divided into two parties, both which pretend a mighty zeal for our religion and government, only they disagree about the means. The evils we must fence against, are, on one side, fanaticism and infidelity in religion, and anarchy, under the name of a commonwealth, in government; on the other side, popery, slavery, and the Pretender from France. Now, to inform and direct us in our sentiments upon these weighty points, here are, on one side, two stupid illiterate scribblers, both of them fanaticks by profession, I mean the Review, and Observator; on the other side, we have an open Nonjuror, whose character and person, as well as learning and good sense, discovered upon other subjects, do indeed deserve respect and esteem; but his Rehearsal, and the rest of his political papers, are yet more pernicious than those of the former two. If the generality of the people know not how to talk or think, until they have read their lesson in the papers of the week, what a misfortune is it, that their duty should be conveyed to them through such vehicles as those! For, let some gentlemen think what they please, I cannot but suspect, that the two worthies I first mentioned, have, in a degree, done mischief among us; the mock authoritative manner of the one, and the insipid mirth of the other, however insupportable to reasonable ears, being of a level with great numbers among the lowest part of mankind. Neither was the author of the Rehearsal, while he continued that paper, less infectious to many persons of better figure, who perhaps, were as well qualified, and much less prejudiced, to judge for themselves.

It was this reason, that moved me to take the matter out of those rough, as well as those dirty hands; to let the remote and uninstructed part of the nation see, that they have been misled on both sides, by mad ridiculous extremes, at a wide distance on each side of the truth; while the right path is so broad and plain, as to be easily kept, if they were once put into it.

Farther: I had lately entered on a resolution to take little notice of other papers, unless it were such, where the malice and falshood had so great a mixture of wit and spirit, as would make them dangerous: which, in the present circle of scribblers, from twelve-pence to a half-penny, I could easily foresee would not very frequently occur. But here again I am forced to dispense with my resolution, although it be only to tell my reader what measures I am likely to take on such occasions for the future. I was told, that the paper called The Observator, was twice filled last week with remarks upon a late Examiner. These I read with the first opportunity, and, to speak in the news-writers phrase, they gave me occasion for many speculations. I observed, with singular pleasure, the nature of those things which the owners of them usually call answers, and with what dexterity this matchless author had fallen into the whole art and cant of them. To transcribe here and there three or four detached lines of least weight in a discourse, and by a foolish comment mistake every syllable of the meaning, is what I have known many, of a superiour class to this formidable adversary, entitle an Answer. This is what he has exactly done, in about thrice as many words as my whole discourse[1]; which is so mighty an advantage over me, that I shall by no means engage in so unequal a combat; but, as far as I can judge of my own temper, entirely dismiss him for the future; heartily wishing he had a match exactly of his own size to meddle with, who should only have the odds of truth and honesty; which, as I take it, would be an effectual way to silence him for ever. Upon this occasion, I cannot forbear a short story of a fanatic farmer, who lived in my neighbourhood, and was so great a disputant in religion, that the servants in all the families thereabouts reported, how he had confuted the bishop and all his clergy. I had then a footman, who was fond of reading the Bible: and I borrowed a comment for him, which he studied so close, that in a month or two I thought him a match for the farmer. They disputed at several houses, with a ring of servants and other people always about them; where Ned explained his texts so full and clear[2] to the capacity of his audience, and showed the insignificancy of his adversary's cant to the meanest understanding, that he got the whole country on his side, and the farmer was cured of his itch of disputation for ever after.

The worst of it is, that this sort of outrageous party-writers I have spoken of above, are like a couple of makebates, who inflame small quarrels by a thousand stories, and by keeping friends at a distance, hinder them from coming to a good understanding; as they certainly would, if they were suffered to meet and debate between themselves: for let any one examine a reasonable honest man, of either side, upon those opinions in religion and government, which both parties daily buffet each other about; he shall hardly find one material point in difference between them. I would[3] be glad to ask a question about two great men of the late ministry, How they came to be whigs? and by what figure of speech, half a dozen others, lately put into great employments, can be called tories? I doubt, whoever would suit the definition to the persons, must make it directly contrary to what we understood it at the time of the Revolution.

In order to remove these misapprehensions among us, I believe, it will be necessary, upon occasion, to detect the malice and falshood of some popular maxims, which those idiots scatter from the press twice a week, and draw a hundred absurd consequences from them.

For example; I have heard it often objected, as a great piece of insolence in the clergy and others, to say or hint, that the church was in danger, when it was voted otherwise in parliament some years ago; and the queen herself, in her last speech, did openly condemn all such insinuations. Notwithstanding which, I did then, and do still, believe the church has, since that vote, been in very imminent danger; and I think I might then have said so, without the least offence to her majesty, or either of the two houses. The queen's words, as near as I can remember, mentioned the church being in danger from her administration; and whoever says or thinks that, deserves, in my opinion, to be hanged for a traitor: but, that the church and state, may be both in danger, under the best princes that ever reigned, and without the least guilt of theirs, is such a truth, as a man must be a great stranger to history and common sense, to doubt. The wisest prince on earth, may be forced, by the necessity of his affairs, and the present power of an unruly faction; or deceived, by the craft of ill-designing men. One or two ministers, most in his confidence, may at first have good intentions, but grow corrupted by time, by avarice, by love, by ambition, and have fairer terms offered them to gratify their passions or interests, from one set of men than another, until they are too far involved for a retreat; and so be forced to take seven spirits more wicked than themselves. This is a very possible case; and will not the last state of such men be worse than the first? that is to say, will not the publick, which was safe at first, grow in danger by such proceedings as these? And shall a faithful subject, who foresees and trembles at the consequences, be called disaffected, because he delivers his opinion, although the prince declares, as he justly may, that the danger is not owing to his administration? or shall the prince himself be blamed, when, in such a juncture, he puts his affairs into other hands, with the universal applause of his people? As to the vote against those who should affirm the church was in danger, I think it likewise referred to danger from, or under, the queen's administration; for I neither have it by me, nor can suddenly have recourse to it; but, if it were otherwise, I know not how it can refer to any dangers, but what were past, or at that time present; or how it could affect the future, unless the senators were all inspired, or at least that majority which voted it: neither do I see it is any crime, farther than ill manners, to differ in opinion from a majority of either or both houses; and that ill manners[4], I must confess, I have been often guilty of for some years past, although I hope I never shall again.

Another topick of great use to these weekly inflamers, is, the young Pretender in France to whom their whole party is in a high measure indebted for all their greatness; and whenever it lies in their power, they may perhaps return their acknowledgments, as, out of their zeal for frequent revolutions, they were ready to do to his supposed father; which is a piece of secret history, that I hope will one day see the light; and I am sure it shall, if ever I am master of it, without regarding whose ears may tingle. But at present, the word Pretender, is a term of art in their profession. A secretary of state cannot desire leave to resign, but the Pretender is at bottom; the queen cannot dissolve a parliament, but it is a plot to dethrone herself and bring in the Pretender; half a score stock-jobbers are playing the knave in Exchange-alley, and there goes the Pretender with a sponge. One would be apt to think, they bawl out the Pretender so often, to take off the terrour; or tell so many lies about him, to slacken our caution, that when he is really coming, by their connivance, we may not believe them; as the boy served the shepherds about the coming of the wolf; or perhaps they scare us with the Pretender, because they think he may be like some diseases, that come with a fright. Do they not believe, that the queen's present ministry love her majesty, at least as well as some loved the church? And why is it not as great a mark of disaffection now, to say the queen is in danger, as it was some months ago to affirm the same of the church? Suppose it be a false opinion, that the queen's right is hereditary and indefeasible; yet how is it possible that those who hold and believe such a doctrine, can be in the Pretender's interest? His title is weakened by every argument that strengthens hers: it is as plain as the words of an act of parliament can make it, That her present majesty is heir to the survivor of the late king and queen her sister: is not that an hereditary right[5]? What need we explain it any farther? I have known an article of faith expounded in much looser and more general terms, and that, by an author, whose opinions are very much followed by a certain party. Suppose we go farther, and examine the word indefeasible, with which some writers of late have made themselves so merry: I confess, it is hard to conceive how any law, which the supreme power makes, may not by the same power be repealed; so that I shall not determine, whether the queen's right be indefeasible or not. But this I will maintain, that whoever affirms it is so, is not guilty of a crime; for in that settlement of the crown after the Revolution, where her present majesty is named in remainder, there are (as near as I can remember) these remarkable words, "to which we bind ourselves and our posterity for ever." Lawyers may explain this, or call them words of form as they please; and reasoners may argue, that such an obligation is against the nature of government; but a plain reader, who takes the words in their natural meaning, may be excused in thinking a right so confirmed is indefeasible; and if there be an absurdity in such an opinion, he is not to answer for it.

P. S. When this paper was going to the press, the printer brought me two more Observators, wholly taken up in my Examiner upon lying, which I was at the pains to read; and they are just such, an answer, as the two others I have mentioned. This is all I have to say on that matter.

  1. This is neither grammar, nor sense; it should be as my whole discourse contains.
  2. It should be, so fully and clearly.
  3. Would, here, is improperly used for, should.
  4. That ill manners is certainly ungrammatical; it should be, that species of ill manners.
  5. Our author's sentiments on hereditary right, as exhibited in this Examiner, and in vol. II, in "The Sentiments of a Church of England Man," are not easily reconcileable to a laboured tract on that subject, ascribed to him in 1775, under the title of "A Discourse on Hereditary Right, written in the year 1712, by a "celebrated Clergyman."