The battle of the books.., p.10
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       The Battle of the Books and Other Short Pieces, p.10

           Jonathan Swift
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By rapine, theft, or thirst of blood.

  The ass approaching next, confessed,

  That in his heart he loved a jest:

  A wag he was, he needs must own,

  And could not let a dunce alone:

  Sometimes his friend he would not spare,

  And might perhaps be too severe:

  But yet, the worst that could be said,

  He was a wit both born and bred;

  And, if it be a sin or shame,

  Nature alone must bear the blame:

  One fault he hath, is sorry for't,

  His ears are half a foot too short;

  Which could he to the standard bring,

  He'd show his face before the king:

  Then, for his voice, there's none disputes

  That he's the nightingale of brutes.

  The swine with contrite heart allowed,

  His shape and beauty made him proud:

  In diet was perhaps too nice,

  But gluttony was ne'er his vice:

  In every turn of life content,

  And meekly took what fortune sent:

  Enquire through all the parish round,

  A better neighbour ne'er was found:

  His vigilance might seine displease;

  'Tis true, he hated sloth like pease.

  The mimic ape began his chatter,

  How evil tongues his life bespatter:

  Much of the cens'ring world complained,

  Who said his gravity was feigned:

  Indeed, the strictness of his morals

  Engaged him in a hundred quarrels:

  He saw, and he was grieved to see't,

  His zeal was sometimes indiscreet:

  He found his virtues too severe

  For our corrupted times to bear:

  Yet, such a lewd licentious age

  Might well excuse a stoic's rage.

  The goat advanced with decent pace:

  And first excused his youthful face;

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  Forgiveness begged, that he appeared

  ('Twas nature's fault) without a beard.

  'Tis true, he was not much inclined

  To fondness for the female kind;

  Not, as his enemies object,

  From chance or natural defect;

  Not by his frigid constitution,

  But through a pious resolution;

  For he had made a holy vow

  Of chastity, as monks do now;

  Which he resolved to keep for ever hence,

  As strictly, too, as doth his reverence.

  Apply the tale, and you shall find

  How just it suits with human kind.

  Some faults we own: but, can you guess?

  Why? - virtue's carried to excess;

  Wherewith our vanity endows us,

  Though neither foe nor friend allows us.

  The lawyer swears, you may rely on't,

  He never squeezed a needy client:

  And this he makes his constant rule,

  For which his brethren call him fool;

  His conscience always was so nice,

  He freely gave the poor advice;

  By which he lost, he may affirm,

  A hundred fees last Easter term.

  While others of the learned robe

  Would break the patience of a Job;

  No pleader at the bar could match

  His diligence and quick despatch;

  Ne'er kept a cause, he well may boast,

  Above a term or two at most.

  The cringing knave, who seeks a place

  Without success, thus tells his case:

  Why should he longer mince the matter?

  He failed because he could not flatter:

  He had not learned to turn his coat,

  Nor for a party give his vote.

  His crime he quickly understood;

  Too zealous for the nation's good:

  He found the ministers resent it,

  Yet could not for his heart repent it.

  The chaplain vows he cannot fawn,

  Though it would raise him to the lawn:

  He passed his hours among his books;

  You find it in his meagre looks:

  He might, if he were worldly-wise,

  Preferment get, and spare his eyes:

  But owned he had a stubborn spirit,

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  That made him trust alone in merit:

  Would rise by merit to promotion;

  Alas! a mere chimeric notion.

  The doctor, if you will believe him,

  Confessed a sin, and God forgive him:

  Called up at midnight, ran to save

  A blind old beggar from the grave:

  But, see how Satan spreads his snares;

  He quite forgot to say his prayers.

  He cannot help it, for his heart,

  Sometimes to act the parson's part,

  Quotes from the Bible many a sentence

  That moves his patients to repentance:

  And, when his medicines do no good,

  Supports their minds with heavenly food.

  At which, however well intended,

  He hears the clergy are offended;

  And grown so bold behind his back,

  To call him hypocrite and quack.

  In his own church he keeps a seat;

  Says grace before and after meat;

  And calls, without affecting airs,

  His household twice a day to prayers.

  He shuns apothecaries' shops;

  And hates to cram the sick with slops:

  He scorns to make his art a trade,

  Nor bribes my lady's favourite maid.

  Old nurse-keepers would never hire

  To recommend him to the Squire;

  Which others, whom he will not name,

  Have often practised to their shame.

  The statesman tells you with a sneer,

  His fault is to be too sincere;

  And, having no sinister ends,

  Is apt to disoblige his friends.

  The nation's good, his Master's glory,

  Without regard to Whig or Tory,

  Were all the schemes he had in view;

  Yet he was seconded by few:

  Though some had spread a thousand lies,

  'Twas he defeated the Excise.

  'Twas known, though he had borne aspersion,

  That standing troops were his aversion:

  His practice was, in every station,

  To serve the king, and please the nation.

  Though hard to find in every case

  The fittest man to fill a place:

  His promises he ne'er forgot,

  But took memorials on the spot:

  His enemies, for want of charity,

  Said he affected popularity:

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  'Tis true, the people understood,

  That all he did was for their good;

  Their kind affections he has tried;

  No love is lost on either side.

  He came to court with fortune clear,

  Which now he runs out every year;

  Must, at the rate that he goes on,

  Inevitably be undone.

  Oh! if his Majesty would please

  To give him but a writ of ease,

  Would grant him license to retire,

  As it hath long been his desire,

  By fair accounts it would be found,

  He's poorer by ten thousand pound.

  He owns, and hopes it is no sin,

  He ne'er was partial to his kin;

He thought it base for men in stations

  To crowd the court with their relations:

  His country was his dearest mother,

  And every virtuous man his brother:

  Through modesty or awkward shame

  (For which he owns himself to blame)


  He found the wisest men he could,

  Without respect to friends or blood;

  Nor never acts on private views,

  When he hath liberty to choose.

  The sharper swore he hated play,

  Except to pass an hour away:

  And well he might; for to his cost,

  By want of skill, he always lost.

  He heard there was a club of cheats,

  Who had contrived a thousand feats;

  Could change the stock, or cog a dye,

  And thus deceive the sharpest eye:

  No wonder how his fortune sunk,

  His brothers fleece him when he's drunk.

  I own the moral not exact;

  Besides, the tale is false in fact;

  And so absurd, that, could I raise up

  From fields Elysian, fabling AEsop;

  I would accuse him to his face,

  For libelling the four-foot race.

  Creatures of every kind but ours

  Well comprehend their natural powers;

  While we, whom reason ought to sway,

  Mistake our talents every day:

  The ass was never known so stupid

  To act the part of Tray or Cupid;

  Nor leaps upon his master's lap,

  There to be stroked, and fed with pap:

  As AEsop would the world persuade;

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  He better understands his trade:

  Nor comes whene'er his lady whistles,

  But carries loads, and feeds on thistles;

  Our author's meaning, I presume, is


  Wherein the moralist designed

  A compliment on human-kind:

  For, here he owns, that now and then

  Beasts may degenerate into men.







  I AM very sensible what a weakness and presumption it is to reason

  against the general humour and disposition of the world.


  remember it was with great justice, and a due regard to the

  freedom, both of the public and the press, forbidden upon several

  penalties to write, or discourse, or lay wagers against the - even

  before it was confirmed by Parliament; because that was looked upon

  as a design to oppose the current of the people, which, besides the

  folly of it, is a manifest breach of the fundamental law, that

  makes this majority of opinions the voice of God. In like manner,

  and for the very same reasons, it may perhaps be neither safe nor

  prudent to argue against the abolishing of Christianity, at


  juncture when all parties seem so unanimously determined upon the

  point, as we cannot but allow from their actions, their discourses,

  and their writings. However, I know not how, whether from the

  affectation of singularity, or the perverseness of human nature,

  but so it unhappily falls out, that I cannot be entirely of this

  opinion. Nay, though I were sure an order were issued for my

  immediate prosecution by the Attorney-General, I should still

  confess, that in the present posture of our affairs at home or

  abroad, I do not yet see the absolute necessity of extirpating the

  Christian religion from among us.

  This perhaps may appear too great a paradox even for our wise and

  paxodoxical age to endure; therefore I shall handle it with all

  tenderness, and with the utmost deference to that great and

  profound majority which is of another sentiment.

  And yet the curious may please to observe, how much the genius of


  nation is liable to alter in half an age. I have heard it affirmed

  for certain by some very odd people, that the contrary opinion was

  even in their memories as much in vogue as the other is now; and

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  that a project for the abolishing of Christianity would then have

  appeared as singular, and been thought as absurd, as it would be at

  this time to write or discourse in its defence.

  Therefore I freely own, that all appearances are against me. The

  system of the Gospel, after the fate of other systems, is generally

  antiquated and exploded, and the mass or body of the common people,

  among whom it seems to have had its latest credit, are now grown as

  much ashamed of it as their betters; opinions, like fashions,

  always descending from those of quality to the middle sort, and

  thence to the vulgar, where at length they are dropped and vanish.

  But here I would not be mistaken, and must therefore be so bold as

  to borrow a distinction from the writers on the other side, when

  they make a difference betwixt nominal and real Trinitarians. I

  hope no reader imagines me so weak to stand up in the defence of

  real Christianity, such as used in primitive times (if we may

  believe the authors of those ages) to have an influence upon men's

  belief and actions. To offer at the restoring of that, would

  indeed be a wild project: it would be to dig up foundations; to

  destroy at one blow all the wit, and half the learning of the

  kingdom; to break the entire frame and constitution of things; to

  ruin trade, extinguish arts and sciences, with the professors of

  them; in short, to turn our courts, exchanges, and shops into

  deserts; and would be full as absurd as the proposal of Horace,

  where he advises the Romans, all in a body, to leave their city,

  and seek a new seat in some remote part of the world, by way of a

  cure for the corruption of their manners.

  Therefore I think this caution was in itself altogether unnecessary

  (which I have inserted only to prevent all possibility of

  cavilling), since every candid reader will easily understand my

  discourse to be intended only in defence of nominal Christianity,

  the other having been for some time wholly laid aside by general

  consent, as utterly inconsistent with all our present schemes of

  wealth and power.

  But why we should therefore cut off the name and title of

  Christians, although the general opinion and resolution be so

  violent for it, I confess I cannot (with submission) apprehend the

  consequence necessary. However, since the undertakers propose such

  wonderful advantages to the nation by this project, and advance

  many plausible objections against the system of Christianity, I

  shall briefly consider the strength of both, fairly allow them

  their greatest weight, and offer such answers as I think most

  reasonable. After which I will beg leave to show what

; inconveniences may possibly happen by such an innovation, in the

  present posture of our affairs.

  First, one great advantage proposed by the abolishing of

  Christianity is, that it would very much enlarge and establish

  liberty of conscience, that great bulwark of our nation, and of the

  Protestant religion, which is still too much limited by

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  Other Short Pieces

  priestcraft, notwithstanding all the good intentions of the

  legislature, as we have lately found by a severe instance. For it

  is confidently reported, that two young gentlemen of real hopes,

  bright wit, and profound judgment, who, upon a thorough examination

  of causes and effects, and by the mere force of natural abilities,

  without the least tincture of learning, having made a discovery

  that there was no God, and generously communicating their thoughts

  for the good of the public, were some time ago, by an unparalleled

  severity, and upon I know not what obsolete law, broke for

  blasphemy. And as it has been wisely observed, if persecution once

  begins, no man alive knows how far it may reach, or where it will


  In answer to all which, with deference to wiser judgments, I think

  this rather shows the necessity of a nominal religion among us.

  Great wits love to be free with the highest objects; and if they

  cannot be allowed a god to revile or renounce, they will speak evil

  of dignities, abuse the government, and reflect upon the ministry,

  which I am sure few will deny to be of much more pernicious

  consequence, according to the saying of Tiberius, DEORUM OFFENSA

  DIIS CUROE. As to the particular fact related, I think it is not

  fair to argue from one instance, perhaps another cannot be

  produced: yet (to the comfort of all those who may be apprehensive

  of persecution) blasphemy we know is freely spoke a million of

  times in every coffee-house and tavern, or wherever else good

  company meet. It must be allowed, indeed, that to break an English

  free-born officer only for blasphemy was, to speak the gentlest of

  such an action, a very high strain of absolute power. Little can

  be said in excuse for the general; perhaps he was afraid it might

  give offence to the allies, among whom, for aught we know, it may

  be the custom of the country to believe a God. But if he argued,

  as some have done, upon a mistaken principle, that an officer who

  is guilty of speaking blasphemy may, some time or other, proceed so

  far as to raise a mutiny, the consequence is by no means to be

  admitted: for surely the commander of an English army is like to

  be but ill obeyed whose soldiers fear and reverence him as little

  as they do a Deity.

  It is further objected against the Gospel system that it obliges

  men to the belief of things too difficult for Freethinkers, and

  such who have shook off the prejudices that usually cling to a

  confined education. To which I answer, that men should be cautious

  how they raise objections which reflect upon the wisdom of the

  nation. Is not everybody freely allowed to believe whatever he

  pleases, and to publish his belief to the world whenever he thinks

  fit, especially if it serves to strengthen the party which is in

  the right? Would any indifferent foreigner, who should read the

  trumpery lately written by Asgil, Tindal, Toland, Coward, and forty

  more, imagine the Gospel to be our rule of faith, and to be

  confirmed by Parliaments? Does any man either believe, or say he

  believes, or desire to have it thought that he says he believes,

  one syllable of the matter? And is any man worse received upon

  that score, or does he find his want of nominal faith a

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  Other Short Pieces

  disadvantage to him in the pursuit of any civil or military

  employment? What if there be an old dormant statute or two against

  him, are they not now obsolete, to a degree, that Empson and Dudley

  themselves, if they were now alive, would find it impossible to put

  them in execution?

  It is likewise urged, that there are, by computation, in this

  kingdom, above ten thousand parsons, whose revenues, added to those

  of my lords the bishops, would suffice to maintain at least two

  hundred young gentlemen of wit and pleasure, and free-thinking,

  enemies to priestcraft, narrow principles, pedantry, and

  prejudices, who might be an ornament to the court and town: and

  then again, so a great number of able [bodied] divines might be a

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