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for where a wide system of conduct, and the whole of a public character, is laid open to inquiry, the accuser having the choice of facts, must be very unskilful if he does not prevail; but, with regard to wit, I am afraid
none of Swift's papers will be found equal to those by
which Addison opposed him.” He wrote in the year 1711 a “letter to the October club,” a number of tory gentlemen sent from the country to parliament, who formed themselves into a club, to the number of about a hundred, and met to animate the zeal, and raise the expectations of each other. They thought, with great reason, that the ministers were losing opportunities; that sufficient use was not made of the ardour of the nation; they called loudly for more changes and stronger efforts; and demanded the pun/ ishment of part, and the dismission of the rest, of those whom they considered as public robbers. Their eagerness was not gratified by the queen, or by Harley. The queen was probably slow because she was afraid; and Harley was slow because he was doubtful: he was atory only by necessity, or for convenience; and, when he had power in his hands, had no settled purpose for which he should employ it; forced to gratify to a certain degree the tories who supported him, but unwilling to make his reconcilement to the whigs utterly desperate, he corresponded at once with the two expectants of the crown, and kept, as has been observed, the succession undetermined. Not knowing what to do, he did nothing; and, with the fate of a double dealer, at last he lost his power, but kept his ene
* Mr. Sheridan however says, that Addison's last Whig Examiner was published Oct. 12, 1711; and Swift's first Examiner, on the 10th of the following November. R.
Swift seems to have concurred in opinion with the “October club;” but it was not in his power to quicken the tardiness of Harley, whom he stimulated as much as he could, but with little effect. He that knows not whither to go, is in no haste to move. Harley, who was perhaps not quick by nature, became yet more slow by irresolution; and was content to hear that dila. toriness lamented as natural, which he applauded in himself as politic. Without the tories, however, nothing could be done: and, as they were not to be gratified, they must be appeased; and the conduct of the minister, if it could not be vindicated, was to be plausibly excused. Early in the next year he published a “proposal for correcting, improving, and ascertaining the English tongue,” in a letter to the earl of Oxford; written without much knowledge of the general nature of language, and without any accurate inquiry into the history of other tongues. The certainty and stability which, contrary to all experience, he thinks attainable, he proposes to secure by instituting an academy; the degrees of which, every man would have been willing, and many would have been proud, to disobey; and which, being renewed by successive elections, would in a short time have differed from itself. Swift now attained the zenith of his political importance: he published (1712) the “conduct of the allies,” ten days before the parliament assembled. The purpose was to persuade the nation to a peace; and never had any writer more success. The people, who had been amused with bonfires and triumphal processions, and looked with idolatry on the general and his friends, who, as they thought, had made England the arbitress of nations, were confounded between shame and rage, when they found that “mines had been exhausted, and millions destroyed,” to secure the Dutch or aggrandize the emperor, without any advantage to ourselves; that we had been bribing our neighbours to fight their own quarrel; and that amongst our enemies we might number our allies. a That is now no longer doubted, of which the nation was then first informed, that the war was unnecessarily protracted to fill the pockets of Marlborough; and that it would have been continued without each, if he could have continued his annual plunder. But Swift, I suppose, did not yet know what he has since written, that a commission was drawn, which would have appointed him general for life, had it not become ineffectual by the resolution of lord Cowper, who refused the seal. “Whatever is received,” say the schools, “is received in proportion to the recipient.” The power of a political treatise depends much upon the disposition of the people; the nation was then combustible, and a spark set it on fire. It is boasted, that between November and January eleven thousand were sold; a great number at that time, when we were not yet a nation of readers. To its propagation certainly no agency of power or influence was wanting. It furnished arguments for conversation, speeches for debate, and materials for parliamentary resolutions. Yet, surely, whoever surveys this wonder-working pamphlet with cool perusal, will confess that its efficacy was supplied by the passions of its readers; that it operates by the mere weight of facts, with very little assistance from the hand that produced them. This year (1712) he published his “Reflections on the Barrier Treaty,” which carries on the design of his “Conduct of the Allies,” and shews how little regard. in that negotiation had been shewn to the interest of
England, and how much of the conquered country had been demanded by the Dutch. This was followed by “Remarks on the Bishop of Sarum’s Introduction to his third volume of the History of the Reformation;” a pamphlet which Burnet published as an alarm, to warn the nation of the approach of Popery. Swift, who seems to have disliked the bishop with something more than political aversion, treats him like one whom he is glad of an apportunity fo insult. Swift, being now the declared favourite and supposed confident of the tory ministry, was treated by all that depended on the court with the respect which dependants know how to pay. He soon began to feel part of the misery of greatness; he that could say that he knew him, considered himself as having fortune in his power. Commissions, solicitations, remonstrances, crowded about him; he was expected to do every man’s business, to procure employment for one, and to retain it for another. In assisting those who addressed him, he represents himself as sufficiently diligent; and desires to have others believe, what he probably believed himself, that by his interposition many whigs of merit and among them Addison and Congreve, were continued in their places. But every man of known influence has so many petitions which he cannot grant, that he must necessarily offend more than he gratifies, as the preference given to one affords all the rest reason for complaint. “When I give away a place,” said Lewis XIV. “I make an hundred discontented, and one ungrateful.” Much has been said of the equality and independence which he preserved in his conversation with the ministers, of the frankness of his remonstrances, and the familiarity of his friendship. In accounts of this kind a few
single incidents are set against the general tenor of
dition romantic and superfluous. Ecclesiastical bene
fices, when they become vacant, must be given away;
Dr. Wharton, who has placed a nota bene at it, C.