The battle of the books.., p.11
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Battle of the Books and Other Short Pieces, p.11

           Jonathan Swift
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
recruit to our fleet and armies. This indeed appears to be a

  consideration of some weight; but then, on the other side, several

  things deserve to be considered likewise: as, first, whether it

  may not be thought necessary that in certain tracts of country,

  like what we call parishes, there should be one man at least of

  abilities to read and write. Then it seems a wrong computation

  that the revenues of the Church throughout this island would be

  large enough to maintain two hundred young gentlemen, or even half

  that number, after the present refined way of living, that is, to

  allow each of them such a rent as, in the modern form of speech,

  would make them easy. But still there is in this project a greater

  mischief behind; and we ought to beware of the woman's folly, who

  killed the hen that every morning laid her a golden egg. For, pray

  what would become of the race of men in the next age, if we had

  nothing to trust to beside the scrofulous consumptive production

  furnished by our men of wit and pleasure, when, having squandered

  away their vigour, health, and estates, they are forced, by some

  disagreeable marriage, to piece up their broken fortunes, and

  entail rottenness and politeness on their posterity? Now, here are

  ten thousand persons reduced, by the wise regulations of Henry

  VIII., to the necessity of a low diet, and moderate exercise, who

  are the only great restorers of our breed, without which the nation

  would in an age or two become one great hospital.

  Another advantage proposed by the abolishing of Christianity is the

  clear gain of one day in seven, which is now entirely lost, and

  consequently the kingdom one seventh less considerable in trade,

  business, and pleasure; besides the loss to the public of so many

  stately structures now in the hands of the clergy, which might be

  converted into play-houses, exchanges, market-houses, common

  dormitories, and other public edifices.

  I hope I shall be forgiven a hard word if I call this a perfect

  cavil. I readily own there hath been an old custom, time out of

  mind, for people to assemble in the churches every Sunday, and that

  shops are still frequently shut, in order, as it is conceived, to

  preserve the memory of that ancient practice; but how this can

  prove a hindrance to business or pleasure is hard to imagine. What

  if the men of pleasure are forced, one day in the week, to game at

  home instead of the chocolate-house? Are not the taverns and

  Get any book for free on:


  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  coffee-houses open? Can there be a more convenient season for

  taking a dose of physic? Is not that the chief day for traders to

  sum up the accounts of the week, and for lawyers to prepare their

  briefs? But I would fain know how it can be pretended that the

  churches are misapplied? Where are more appointments and

  rendezvouses of gallantry? Where more care to appear in the

  foremost box, with greater advantage of dress? Where more meetings

  for business? Where more bargains driven of all sorts? And where

  so many conveniences or incitements to sleep?

  There is one advantage greater than any of the foregoing, proposed

  by the abolishing of Christianity, that it will utterly extinguish

  parties among us, by removing those factious distinctions of high

  and low church, of Whig and Tory, Presbyterian and Church of

  England, which are now so many mutual clogs upon public

  proceedings, and are apt to prefer the gratifying themselves or

  depressing their adversaries before the most important interest of

  the State.

  I confess, if it were certain that so great an advantage would

  redound to the nation by this expedient, I would submit, and be

  silent; but will any man say, that if the words, whoring, drinking,

  cheating, lying, stealing, were, by Act of Parliament, ejected out

  of the English tongue and dictionaries, we should all awake next

  morning chaste and temperate, honest and just, and lovers of truth?

  Is this a fair consequence? Or if the physicians would forbid us

  to pronounce the words pox, gout, rheumatism, and stone, would that

  expedient serve like so many talismen to destroy the diseases

  themselves? Are party and faction rooted in men's hearts no deeper

  than phrases borrowed from religion, or founded upon no firmer

  principles? And is our language so poor that we cannot find other

  terms to express them? Are envy, pride, avarice, and ambition such

  ill nomenclators, that they cannot furnish appellations for their

  owners? Will not heydukes and mamalukes, mandarins and patshaws,

  or any other words formed at pleasure, serve to distinguish those

  who are in the ministry from others who would be in it if they

  could? What, for instance, is easier than to vary the form of

  speech, and instead of the word church, make it a question in

  politics, whether the monument be in danger? Because religion was

  nearest at hand to furnish a few convenient phrases, is our

  invention so barren we can find no other? Suppose, for argument

  sake, that the Tories favoured Margarita, the Whigs, Mrs. Tofts,

  and the Trimmers, Valentini, would not Margaritians, Toftians, and

  Valentinians be very tolerable marks of distinction? The Prasini

  and Veniti, two most virulent factions in Italy, began, if I

  remember right, by a distinction of colours in ribbons, which we

  might do with as good a grace about the dignity of the blue and the

  green, and serve as properly to divide the Court, the Parliament,

  and the kingdom between them, as any terms of art whatsoever,

  borrowed from religion. And therefore I think there is little

  force in this objection against Christianity, or prospect of so

  great an advantage as is proposed in the abolishing of it.

  Get any book for free on:


  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  It is again objected, as a very absurd, ridiculous custom, that a

  set of men should be suffered, much less employed and hired, to

  bawl one day in seven against the lawfulness of those methods most

  in use towards the pursuit of greatness, riches, and pleasure,

  which are the constant practice of all men alive on the other six.

  But this objection is, I think, a little unworthy so refined an age

  as ours. Let us argue this matter calmly. I appeal to the breast

  of any polite Free-thinker, whether, in the pursuit of gratifying a

  pre-dominant passion, he hath not always felt a wonderful

  incitement, by reflecting it was a thing forbidden; and therefore

  we see, in order to cultivate this test, the wisdom of the nation

  hath taken special care that the ladies should be furnished with

  prohibited silks, and the men with prohibited wine. And indeed it

  were to be wished that some other prohibitions were promoted, in

  order to improve the pleasures of the town, which, for want of such

  expedients, begin already, as I am told, to flag
and grow languid,

  giving way daily to cruel inroads from the spleen.

  'Tis likewise proposed, as a great advantage to the public, that if

  we once discard the system of the Gospel, all religion will of

  course be banished for ever, and consequently along with it those

  grievous prejudices of education which, under the names of

  conscience, honour, justice, and the like, are so apt to disturb

  the peace of human minds, and the notions whereof are so hard to be

  eradicated by right reason or free-thinking, sometimes during the

  whole course of our lives.

  Here first I observe how difficult it is to get rid of a phrase

  which the world has once grown fond of, though the occasion that

  first produced it be entirely taken away. For some years past, if

  a man had but an ill-favoured nose, the deep thinkers of the age

  would, some way or other contrive to impute the cause to the

  prejudice of his education. From this fountain were said to be

  derived all our foolish notions of justice, piety, love of our

  country; all our opinions of God or a future state, heaven, hell,

  and the like; and there might formerly perhaps have been some

  pretence for this charge. But so effectual care hath been since

  taken to remove those prejudices, by an entire change in the

  methods of education, that (with honour I mention it to our polite

  innovators) the young gentlemen, who are now on the scene, seem to

  have not the least tincture left of those infusions, or string of

  those weeds, and by consequence the reason for abolishing nominal

  Christianity upon that pretext is wholly ceased.

  For the rest, it may perhaps admit a controversy, whether the

  banishing all notions of religion whatsoever would be inconvenient

  for the vulgar. Not that I am in the least of opinion with those

  who hold religion to have been the invention of politicians, to

  keep the lower part of the world in awe by the fear of invisible

  powers; unless mankind were then very different from what it is

  now; for I look upon the mass or body of our people here in England

  to be as Freethinkers, that is to say, as staunch unbelievers, as

  any of the highest rank. But I conceive some scattered notions

  Get any book for free on:


  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  about a superior power to be of singular use for the common people,

  as furnishing excellent materials to keep children quiet when they

  grow peevish, and providing topics of amusement in a tedious winter


  Lastly, it is proposed, as a singular advantage, that the

  abolishing of Christianity will very much contribute to the uniting

  of Protestants, by enlarging the terms of communion, so as to take

  in all sorts of Dissenters, who are now shut out of the pale upon

  account of a few ceremonies, which all sides confess to be things

  indifferent. That this alone will effectually answer the great

  ends of a scheme for comprehension, by opening a large noble gate,

  at which all bodies may enter; whereas the chaffering with

  Dissenters, and dodging about this or t'other ceremony, is but like

  opening a few wickets, and leaving them at jar, by which no more

  than one can get in at a time, and that not without stooping, and

  sideling, and squeezing his body.

  To all this I answer, that there is one darling inclination of

  mankind which usually affects to be a retainer to religion, though

  she be neither its parent, its godmother, nor its friend. I mean

  the spirit of opposition, that lived long before Christianity, and

  can easily subsist without it. Let us, for instance, examine

  wherein the opposition of sectaries among us consists. We shall

  find Christianity to have no share in it at all. Does the Gospel

  anywhere prescribe a starched, squeezed countenance, a stiff formal

  gait, a singularity of manners and habit, or any affected forms and

  modes of speech different from the reasonable part of mankind?

  Yet, if Christianity did not lend its name to stand in the gap, and

  to employ or divert these humours, they must of necessity be spent

  in contraventions to the laws of the land, and disturbance of the

  public peace. There is a portion of enthusiasm assigned to every

  nation, which, if it hath not proper objects to work on, will burst

  out, and set all into a flame. If the quiet of a State can be

  bought by only flinging men a few ceremonies to devour, it is a

  purchase no wise man would refuse. Let the mastiffs amuse

  themselves about a sheep's skin stuffed with hay, provided it will

  keep them from worrying the flock. The institution of convents

  abroad seems in one point a strain of great wisdom, there being few

  irregularities in human passions which may not have recourse to

  vent themselves in some of those orders, which are so many retreats

  for the speculative, the melancholy, the proud, the silent, the

  politic, and the morose, to spend themselves, and evaporate the

  noxious particles; for each of whom we in this island are forced to

  provide a several sect of religion to keep them quiet; and whenever

  Christianity shall be abolished, the Legislature must find some

  other expedient to employ and entertain them. For what imports it

  how large a gate you open, if there will be always left a number

  who place a pride and a merit in not coming in?

  Having thus considered the most important objections against

  Christianity, and the chief advantages proposed by the abolishing

  thereof, I shall now, with equal deference and submission to wiser

  Get any book for free on:


  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  judgments, as before, proceed to mention a few inconveniences that

  may happen if the Gospel should be repealed, which, perhaps, the

  projectors may not have sufficiently considered.

  And first, I am very sensible how much the gentlemen of wit and

  pleasure are apt to murmur, and be choked at the sight of so many

  daggle-tailed parsons that happen to fall in their way, and offend

  their eyes; but at the same time, these wise reformers do not

  consider what an advantage and felicity it is for great wits to be

  always provided with objects of scorn and contempt, in order to

  exercise and improve their talents, and divert their spleen from

  falling on each other, or on themselves, especially when all this

  may be done without the least imaginable danger to their persons.

  And to urge another argument of a parallel nature: if Christianity

  were once abolished, how could the Freethinkers, the strong

  reasoners, and the men of profound learning be able to find another

  subject so calculated in all points whereon to display their

  abilities? What wonderful productions of wit should we be deprived

  of from those whose genius, by continual practice, hath been wholly

  turned upon raillery and invectives against religion, and would

  therefore never be able to shine or distinguish themse
lves upon any

  other subject? We are daily complaining of the great decline of

  wit among as, and would we take away the greatest, perhaps the only

  topic we have left? Who would ever have suspected Asgil for a wit,

  or Toland for a philosopher, if the inexhaustible stock of

  Christianity had not been at hand to provide them with materials?

  What other subject through all art or nature could have produced

  Tindal for a profound author, or furnished him with readers? It is

  the wise choice of the subject that alone adorns and distinguishes

  the writer. For had a hundred such pens as these been employed on

  the side of religion, they would have immediately sunk into silence

  and oblivion.

  Nor do I think it wholly groundless, or my fears altogether

  imaginary, that the abolishing of Christianity may perhaps bring

  the Church in danger, or at least put the Senate to the trouble of

  another securing vote. I desire I may not be mistaken; I am far

  from presuming to affirm or think that the Church is in danger at

  present, or as things now stand; but we know not how soon it may be

  so when the Christian religion is repealed. As plausible as this

  project seems, there may be a dangerous design lurk under it.

  Nothing can be more notorious than that the Atheists, Deists,

  Socinians, Anti-Trinitarians, and other subdivisions of

  Freethinkers, are persons of little zeal for the present

  ecclesiastical establishment: their declared opinion is for

  repealing the sacramental test; they are very indifferent with

  regard to ceremonies; nor do they hold the JUS DIVINUM of

  episcopacy: therefore they may be intended as one politic step

  towards altering the constitution of the Church established, and

  setting up Presbytery in the stead, which I leave to be further

  considered by those at the helm.

  Get any book for free on:


  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  In the last place, I think nothing can be more plain, than that by

  this expedient we shall run into the evil we chiefly pretend to

  avoid; and that the abolishment of the Christian religion will be

  the readiest course we can take to introduce Popery. And I am the

  more inclined to this opinion because we know it has been the

  constant practice of the Jesuits to send over emissaries, with

  instructions to personate themselves members of the several

  prevailing sects amongst us. So it is recorded that they have at

  sundry times appeared in the guise of Presbyterians, Anabaptists,

  Independents, and Quakers, according as any of these were most in

  credit; so, since the fashion hath been taken up of exploding

  religion, the Popish missionaries have not been wanting to mix with

  the Freethinkers; among whom Toland, the great oracle of the Anti-

  Christians, is an Irish priest, the son of an Irish priest; and the

  most learned and ingenious author of a book called the "Rights of

  the Christian Church," was in a proper juncture reconciled to the

  Romish faith, whose true son, as appears by a hundred passages in

  his treatise, he still continues. Perhaps I could add some others

  to the number; but the fact is beyond dispute, and the reasoning

  they proceed by is right: for supposing Christianity to be

  extinguished the people will never he at ease till they find out

  some other method of worship, which will as infallibly produce

  superstition as this will end in Popery.

  And therefore, if, notwithstanding all I have said, it still be

  thought necessary to have a Bill brought in for repealing

  Christianity, I would humbly offer an amendment, that instead of

  the word Christianity may be put religion in general, which I

  conceive will much better answer all the good ends proposed by the

  projectors of it. For as long as we leave in being a God and His

  Providence, with all the necessary consequences which curious and

  inquisitive men will be apt to draw from such promises, we do not

  strike at the root of the evil, though we should ever so

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up