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Intelligencer, No. 5

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2021

David Hayton
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
Adam Rounce
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

Describ’d it's thus: Defin’d would you it have?

Then theWorld's honest Man's an errant Knave.

Ben. Johnson

Headnote

Composed c. 8 June 1728; published; copy text 1728 (see Textual Account).

Published in June 1728, this introduces the general contrast between the calculating uses of discretion and prudence in the making of a career, and the worldly failure of the more ingenuous and principled, and was continued and exemplified in the two character studies in The Intelligencer, no. 7, with which it was later combined as ‘An Essay on the Fates of Clergymen’, when reprinted in the Pope/Swift Miscellanies of 1732.

The idea that discretion in public life is more of a veil for ambition and a form of self-interest appears frequently in Swift's writings, albeit in slightly different ways. The general premise that the discreetly ambitious are prepared to make great sacrifices (even of their self-respect) in order to advance is phrased in Thoughts on Various Subjects: ‘Ambition often puts Men upon doing the meanest Offices; so climbing is performed in the same Posture with Creeping’ (Davis, vol. I, p. 245). Gulliver is advised by the Emperor of Lilliput to ‘acquire, by my Patience and discreet Behaviour, the good Opinion of himself and his subjects’.Conversely, theKing of Brobdingnag remarks that, in Gulliver's milieu, it seems unlikely ‘that Men are ennobled on Account of their Virtue’, or ‘that Priests are advanced for their Piety or Learning’ (CWJS, vol. XVI, pp. 49, 189). And in ‘On Poetry: A Rhapsody’, the prospective poet, upon publication, is advised not to attempt to influence public opinion directly, but rather ‘Be silent as a Politician’ (Poems, vol. II, p. 644). Such examples could be multiplied, given Swift's suspicion of the ostensible means of advancement in public life.

THE INTELLIGENCER.

There is no Talent so useful towards rising in the World, or which puts Men more out of the reach of Fortune, than that Quality generally possessed by the Dullest sort of People, and is in common Speech, called Discretion, a species of lower Prudence, by the assistance of which, People of the meanest Intellectuals, without any other Qualification, pass through the World in great Tranquility, and with Universal good Treatment, neither giving nor taking Offence.

Type
Chapter
Information
Irish Political Writings after 1725
A Modest Proposal and Other Works
, pp. 57 - 63
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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