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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAmelia - Volume III - BOOK XI - Chapter II
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Amelia - Volume III - BOOK XI - Chapter II Post by :Phil_Graham Category :Long Stories Author :Henry Fielding Date :January 2011 Read :2477

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Amelia - Volume III - BOOK XI - Chapter II

Chapter II - Matters political.


Before we return to Booth we will relate a scene in which Dr Harrison
was concerned.

This good man, whilst in the country, happened to be in the
neighbourhood of a nobleman of his acquaintance, and whom he knew to
have very considerable interest with the ministers at that time.

The doctor, who was very well known to this nobleman, took this
opportunity of paying him a visit in order to recommend poor Booth to
his favour. Nor did he much doubt of his success, the favour he was to
ask being a very small one, and to which he thought the service of
Booth gave him so just a title.

The doctor's name soon gained him an admission to the presence of this
great man, who, indeed, received him with much courtesy and
politeness; not so much, perhaps, from any particular regard to the
sacred function, nor from any respect to the doctor's personal merit,
as from some considerations which the reader will perhaps guess anon.
After many ceremonials, and some previous discourse on different
subjects, the doctor opened the business, and told the great man that
he was come to him to solicit a favour for a young gentleman who had
been an officer in the army and was now on half-pay. "All the favour I
ask, my lord," said he, "is, that this gentleman may be again admitted
_ad _eundem_. I am convinced your lordship will do me the justice to
think I would not ask for a worthless person; but, indeed, the young
man I mean hath very extraordinary merit. He was at the siege of
Gibraltar, in which he behaved with distinguished bravery, and was
dangerously wounded at two several times in the service of his
country. I will add that he is at present in great necessity, and hath
a wife and several children, for whom he hath no other means of
providing; and, if it will recommend him farther to your lordship's
favour, his wife, I believe, is one of the best and worthiest of all
her sex."

"As to that, my dear doctor," cries the nobleman, "I shall make no
doubt. Indeed any service I shall do the gentleman will be upon your
account. As to necessity, it is the plea of so many that it is
impossible to serve them all. And with regard to the personal merit of
these inferior officers, I believe I need not tell you that it is very
little regarded. But if you recommend him, let the person be what he
will, I am convinced it will be done; for I know it is in your power
at present to ask for a greater matter than this."

"I depend entirely upon your lordship," answered the doctor.

"Indeed, my worthy friend," replied the lord, "I will not take a merit
to myself which will so little belong to me. You are to depend on
yourself. It falls out very luckily too at this time, when you have it
in your power so greatly to oblige us."

"What, my lord, is in my power?" cries the doctor.

"You certainly know," answered his lordship, "how hard Colonel
Trompington is run at your town in the election of a mayor; they tell
me it will be a very near thing unless you join us. But we know it is
in your power to do the business, and turn the scale. I heard your
name mentioned the other day on that account, and I know you may have
anything in reason if you will give us your interest."

"Sure, my lord," cries the doctor, "you are not in earnest in asking
my interest for the colonel?"

"Indeed I am," answered the peer; "why should you doubt it?"

"For many reasons," answered the doctor. "First, I am an old friend
and acquaintance of Mr. Fairfield, as your lordship, I believe, very
well knows. The little interest, therefore, that I have, you may be
assured, will go in his favour. Indeed, I do not concern myself deeply
in these affairs, for I do not think it becomes my cloth so to do.
But, as far as I think it decent to interest myself, it will certainly
be on the side of Mr. Fairfield. Indeed, I should do so if I was
acquainted with both the gentlemen only by reputation; the one being a
neighbouring gentleman of a very large estate, a very sober and
sensible man, of known probity and attachment to the true interest of
his country; the other is a mere stranger, a boy, a soldier of
fortune, and, as far as I can discern from the little conversation I
have had with him, of a very shallow capacity, and no education."

"No education, my dear friend!" cries the nobleman. "Why, he hath been
educated in half the courts of Europe."

"Perhaps so, my lord," answered the doctor; "but I shall always be so
great a pedant as to call a man of no learning a man of no education.
And, from my own knowledge, I can aver that I am persuaded there is
scarce a foot-soldier in the army who is more illiterate than the
colonel."

"Why, as to Latin and Greek, you know," replied the lord, "they are
not much required in the army."

"It may be so," said the doctor. "Then let such persons keep to their
own profession. It is a very low civil capacity indeed for which an
illiterate man can be qualified. And, to speak a plain truth, if your
lordship is a friend to the colonel, you would do well to advise him
to decline an attempt in which I am certain he hath no probability of
success."

"Well, sir," said the lord, "if you are resolved against us, I must
deal as freely with you, and tell you plainly I cannot serve you in
your affair. Nay, it will be the best thing I can do to hold my
tongue; for, if I should mention his name with your recommendation
after what you have said, he would perhaps never get provided for as
long as he lives."

"Is his own merit, then, my lord, no recommendation?" cries the
doctor.

"My dear, dear sir," cries the other, "what is the merit of a
subaltern officer?"

"Surely, my lord," cries the doctor, "it is the merit which should
recommend him to the post of a subaltern officer. And it is a merit
which will hereafter qualify him to serve his country in a higher
capacity. And I do assure of this young man, that he hath not only a
good heart but a good head too. And I have been told by those who are
judges that he is, for his age, an excellent officer."

"Very probably!" cries my lord. "And there are abundance with the same
merit and the same qualifications who want a morsel of bread for
themselves and their families."

"It is an infamous scandal on the nation," cries the doctor; "and I am
heartily sorry it can be said even with a colour of truth."

"How can it be otherwise?" says the peer. "Do you think it is possible
to provide for all men of merit?"

"Yes, surely do I," said the doctor; "and very easily too."

"How, pray?" cries the lord. "Upon my word, I shall be glad to know."

"Only by not providing for those who have none. The men of merit in
any capacity are not, I am afraid, so extremely numerous that we need
starve any of them, unless we wickedly suffer a set of worthless
fellows to eat their bread."

"This is all mere Utopia," cries his lordship; "the chimerical system
of Plato's commonwealth, with which we amused ourselves at the
university; politics which are inconsistent with the state of human
affairs."

"Sure, my lord," cries the doctor, "we have read of states where such
doctrines have been put in practice. What is your lordship's opinion
of Rome in the earlier ages of the commonwealth, of Sparta, and even
of Athens itself in some periods of its history?"

"Indeed, doctor," cries the lord, "all these notions are obsolete and
long since exploded. To apply maxims of government drawn from the
Greek and Roman histories to this nation is absurd and impossible.
But, if you will have Roman examples, fetch them from those times of
the republic that were most like our own. Do you not know, doctor,
that this is as corrupt a nation as ever existed under the sun? And
would you think of governing such a people by the strict principles of
honesty and morality?"

"If it be so corrupt," said the doctor, "I think it is high time to
amend it: or else it is easy to foresee that Roman and British liberty
will have the same fate; for corruption in the body politic as
naturally tends to dissolution as in the natural body."

"I thank you for your simile," cries my lord; "for, in the natural
body, I believe, you will allow there is the season of youth, the
season of manhood, and the season of old age; and that, when the last
of these arrives, it will be an impossible attempt by all the means of
art to restore the body again to its youth, or to the vigour of its
middle age. The same periods happen to every great kingdom. In its
youth it rises by arts and arms to power and prosperity. This it
enjoys and flourishes with a while; and then it may be said to be in
the vigour of its age, enriched at home with all the emoluments and
blessings of peace, and formidable abroad with all the terrors of war.
At length this very prosperity introduces corruption, and then comes
on its old age. Virtue and learning, art and industry, decay by
degrees. The people sink into sloth and luxury and prostitution. It is
enervated at home--becomes contemptible abroad; and such indeed is its
misery and wretchedness, that it resembles a man in the last decrepit
stage of life, who looks with unconcern at his approaching
dissolution."

"This is a melancholy picture indeed," cries the doctor; "and, if the
latter part of it can be applied to our case, I see nothing but
religion, which would have prevented this decrepit state of the
constitution, should prevent a man of spirit from hanging himself out
of the way of so wretched a contemplation."

"Why so?" said the peer; "why hang myself, doctor? Would it not be
wiser, think you, to make the best of your time, and the most you can,
in such a nation?"

"And is religion, then, to be really laid out of the question?" cries
the doctor.

"If I am to speak my own opinion, sir," answered the peer, "you know I
shall answer in the negative. But you are too well acquainted with the
world to be told that the conduct of politicians is not formed upon
the principles of religion."

"I am very sorry for it," cries the doctor; "but I will talk to them
then of honour and honesty; this is a language which I hope they will
at least pretend to understand. Now to deny a man the preferment which
he merits, and to give it to another man who doth not merit it, is a
manifest act of injustice, and is consequently inconsistent with both
honour and honesty. Nor is it only an act of injustice to the man
himself, but to the public, for whose good principally all public
offices are, or ought to be, instituted. Now this good can never be
completed nor obtained but by employing all persons according to their
capacities. Wherever true merit is liable to be superseded by favour
and partiality, and men are intrusted with offices without any regard
to capacity or integrity, the affairs of that state will always be in
a deplorable situation. Such, as Livy tells us, was the state of Capua
a little before its final destruction, and the consequence your
lordship well knows. But, my lord, there is another mischief which
attends this kind of injustice, and that is, it hath a manifest
tendency to destroy all virtue and all ability among the people, by
taking away all that encouragement and incentive which should promote
emulation and raise men to aim at excelling in any art, science, or
profession. Nor can anything, my lord, contribute more to render a
nation contemptible among its neighbours; for what opinion can other
countries have of the councils, or what terror can they conceive of
the arms, of such a people? and it was chiefly owing to the avoiding
this error that Oliver Cromwell carried the reputation of England
higher than it ever was at any other time. I will add only one
argument more, and that is founded on the most narrow and selfish
system of politics; and this is, that such a conduct is sure to create
universal discontent and grumbling at home; for nothing can bring men
to rest satisfied, when they see others preferred to them, but an
opinion that they deserved that elevation; for, as one of the greatest
men this country ever produced observes,

One worthless man that gains what he pretends
Disgusts a thousand unpretending friends.

With what heart-burnings then must any nation see themselves obliged
to contribute to the support of a set of men of whose incapacity to
serve them they are well apprized, and who do their country a double
diskindness, by being themselves employed in posts to which they are
unequal, and by keeping others out of those employments for which they
are qualified!"

"And do you really think, doctor," cries the nobleman, "that any
minister could support himself in this country upon such principles as
you recommend? Do you think he would be able to baffle an opposition
unless he should oblige his friends by conferring places often
contrary to his own inclinations and his own opinion?"

"Yes, really do I," cries the doctor. "Indeed, if a minister is
resolved to make good his confession in the liturgy, _by leaving
undone all those things which he ought to have done, and by doing all
those things which he ought not to have done, such a minister, I
grant, will be obliged to baffle opposition, as you are pleased to
term it, by these arts; for, as Shakespeare somewhere says,

Things ill begun strengthen themselves by ill.

But if, on the contrary, he will please to consider the true interest
of his country, and that only in great and national points; if he will
engage his country in neither alliances nor quarrels but where it is
really interested; if he will raise no money but what is wanted, nor
employ any civil or military officers but what are useful, and place
in these employments men of the highest integrity, and of the greatest
abilities; if he will employ some few of his hours to advance our
trade, and some few more to regulate our domestic government; if he
would do this, my lord, I will answer for it, he shall either have no
opposition to baffle, or he shall baffle it by a fair appeal to his
conduct. Such a minister may, in the language of the law, put himself
on his country when he pleases, and he shall come off with honour and
applause."

"And do you really believe, doctor," cries the peer, "there ever was
such a minister, or ever will be?"

"Why not, my lord?" answered the doctor. "It requires no very
extraordinary parts, nor any extraordinary degree of virtue. He need
practise no great instances of self-denial. He shall have power, and
honour, and riches, and, perhaps, all in a much greater degree than he
can ever acquire by pursuing a contrary system. He shall have more of
each and much more of safety."

"Pray, doctor," said my lord," let me ask you one simple question. Do
you really believe any man upon earth was ever a rogue out of choice?"

"Really, my lord," says the doctor, "I am ashamed to answer in the
affirmative; and yet I am afraid experience would almost justify me if
I should. Perhaps the opinion of the world may sometimes mislead men
to think those measures necessary which in reality are not so. Or the
truth may be, that a man of good inclinations finds his office filled
with such corruption by the iniquity of his predecessors, that he may
despair of being capable of purging it; and so sits down contented, as
Augeas did with the filth of his stables, not because he thought them
the better, or that such filth was really necessary to a stable, but
that he despaired of sufficient force to cleanse them."

"I will ask you one question more, and I have done," said the
nobleman. "Do you imagine that if any minister was really as good as
you would have him, that the people in general would believe that he
was so?"

"Truly, my lord," said the doctor, "I think they may be justified in
not believing too hastily. But I beg leave to answer your lordship's
question by another. Doth your lordship believe that the people of
Greenland, when they see the light of the sun and feel his warmth,
after so long a season of cold and darkness, will really be persuaded
that he shines upon them?"

My lord smiled at the conceit; and then the doctor took an opportunity
to renew his suit, to which his lordship answered, "He would promise
nothing, and could give him no hopes of success; but you may be
assured," said he, with a leering countenance, "I shall do him all the
service in my power." A language which the doctor well understood; and
soon after took a civil, but not a very ceremonious leave.

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