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a stranger, with a strong purse, might not influence the vulgar voters to choose him before their own landlord, or the most considerable gentleman in the neighbourhood ? How it came to pass that people were so violently bent upon getting into this assembly, which I allowed to be a great trouble and expense, often to the ruin of their families, without any salary or pension, because this appeared such an exalted strain of virtue and public spirit, that his majesty seemed to doubt it might possibly not be always sincere ?” And he desired to know “Whether such zealous gentlemen could have any views of refunding themselves for the charges and trouble they were at, by sacrificing the public good to the designs of a weak and vicious prince, in conjunction with a corrupted ministry ?” He multiplied his questions, and sifted me thoroughly upon every part of this head ; proposing numberless inquiries and objections which I think it not prudent or convenient to repeat.
Upon what I said in relation to our courts of justice, his majesty desired to be satisfied in several points : and this I was the better able to do, having been formerly almost ruined by a long suit in Chancery, which was decreed for me with costs. He asked : “What time was usually spent in determining between right and wrong, and what degree of expense? Whether advocates and orators had liberty to plead in causes manifestly known to be unjust, vexatious, or oppressive ? Whether party in religion or politics were observed to be of any weight in the scale of justice? Whether those pleading orators were persons educated in the general knowledge of equity, or only in provincial, national, and other local customs ? Whether they or their judges had any part in penning
those laws which they assumed the liberty of interpreting and glossing upon at their pleasure? Whether they had ever, at different times, pleaded for and against the same cause, and cited precedents to prove contrary opinions? Whether they were a rich or a poor corporation? Whether they received any pecuniary reward for pleading or delivering their opinions ? And, particularly, whether they were ever admitted as members in the lower senate ?"
He fell next upon the management of our treasury ; and said “He thought my memory had failed me, be. cause I computed our taxes at about five or six millions a-year, and when I came to mention the issues, he found they sometimes amounted to more than double ; for the notes he had taken were very particular in this point, because he hoped, as he told me, that the knowledge of our conduct might be useful to him, and he could not be deceived in his calculations. But, if what I told him were true, he was still at a loss how a kingdom could run out of its estate like a private person.” He asked me “Who were our creditors, and where we found money to pay them ?" He wondered to hear me talk of such chargeable and expensive wars ; “that certainly wemust be a quarrelsome people, or live among very bad neighbours, and that our generals must needs be richer than our kings.” He asked “What business we had out of our own islands, unless upon the score of trade or treaty, or to defend the coasts with our fleet?” Above all, he was amazed to hear me talk of a mercenary standing army, in the midst of peace, and among a free people. He said : “If we were governed by our own consent, in the persons of our representatives, he could not imagine of whom we were afraid, or
against whom we were to fight; and would hear my opinion, whether a private man's house might not better be defended by himself, his children, and family, than by half a dozen rascals picked up at a venture in the streets for small wages, who might get a hundred times more by cutt their throats ? "
He laughed at my "odd kind of arithmetic,” as he was pleased to call it, “in reckoning the numbers of our people by a computation drawn from the several sects among us in religion and politics." He said “He knew no reason why those who entertain opinions prejudicial to the public should be obliged to change, or should not be obliged to conceal them. And as it was tyranny in any government to require the first, so it was weakness not to enforce the second ; for a man may be allowed to keep poisons in his closet, but not to vend them about for cordials."
He observed “That among the diversions of our nobility and gentry I had mentioned gaming : he desired to know, at what age this entertainment was usually taken up, and when it was laid down ; how much of their time it employed ; whether it ever went so high as to affect their fortunes ; whether mean, vicious people, by their dexterity in that art, might not arrive at great riches, and sometimes keep our very nobles in dependence, as well as habituate them to vile companions, wholly take them from the improvement of their minds, and force them by the losses they received to learn and practise that infamous dexterity upon others.”
He was perfectly astonished with the historical account I gave him of our affairs during the last century; protesting “ It was only a heap of conspiracies,
rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments, the very worst effects that avarice, faction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, and ambition, could produce.”
His majesty, in another audience, was at the pains to recapitulate the sum of all I had spoken ; compared the questions he made with the answers I had given ; then taking me into his hands, and stroking me gently, delivered himself in these words, which I shall never forget, nor the manner he spoke them in : “My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution which, in its original, might have been tolerable ; but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions. It does not appear, from all you have said, how any one perfection is required toward the procurement of any one station among you ; much less that men are ennobled on account of their virtue, that priests are advanced for their piety or learning, soldiers for their conduct or valour, judges for their integrity, senators for the love of their country, or counsellors for their wisdom. As for yourself,” continued the king, “who have spent the greatest part of your life in travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many vices of your country. But, by what I have gathered from your own relation, and the answers I have with
much pains wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
But great allowances should be given to a king who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world, and must therefore be altogether unacquainted with the manners and customs that prevail in other nations : the want of which knowledge will ever produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking, from which we, and the politer countries of Europe, are wholly exempted. And it would be hard indeed, if so remote a prince's notions of virtue and vice were to be offered as a standard for all mankind.