The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XXIX: Addressed to the Printer of the Public Advertiser: 19 October 1769.

[103] SIR,

I AM well assured that Junius will never descend to a dispute with such a writer as Modestus (whose letter appeared in the Gazetteer of Monday) especially as the dispute must be chiefly about words. Notwithstanding the partiality of the public, it does not appear that Junius values himself upon any superior skill in composition; and I hope his time will always be more usefully employed than in the trifling refinements of verbal criticism. Modestus, however, shall have no reason to triumph in the silence and moderation of Junius. If he knew as much of the propriety of language, as, I believe, he does of the facts in question, he would have been as cautious of attacking Junius upon his composition, as he seems to be of entering into the subject of it: yet, after all, the last is the only article of any importance to the public.

I do not wonder at the unremitted rancour with which the Duke of Bedford and his adherents invariably speak of a nation, which we well know has been too much injured to be easily forgiven. But why must Junius be an Irishman? The absurdity of his writings betrays him. Waving all consideration of the insult offered by Modestus to the declared judgment of the people (they may well bear this amongst the rest), let us follow the several instances, and try whether the charge be fairly supported.

First, then, the leaving a man to enjoy such a repose as he can find upon a bed of torture, is severe indeed; perhaps too much so, when applied to such a trifler as Sir William Draper: but there is nothing absurd either in the idea or expression. Modestus cannot distinguish between a sarcasm and a contradiction.

2. I affirm, with Junius, that it is the frequency of the fact which alone can make us comprehend how a man can be his own enemy. We should never arrive at the complex idea conveyed by those words, if we had only seen one or two instances of a man acting to his own [104] prejudice. Offer the proposition to a child or a man unused to compound his ideas, and you will soon see how little either of them understand you. It is not a simple idea, arising from a single fact, but a very complex idea, arising from many facts, well observed, and accurately compared.

3. Modustus could not, without great affectation, mistake the meaning of Junius, when he speaks of a man, who is the bitterest enemy of his friends. He could not but know, that Junius spoke not of a false or hollow friendship, but of a real intention to serve, and that intention producing the worst effects of enmity. Whether the description be strictly applicable to Sir William Draper, is another question. Junius does not say, that it is more criminal for a man to be the enemy of his friends than his own; though he might have affirmed it with truth. In a moral light, a man may certainly take greater liberties with himself, than with another. To sacrifice ourselves merely, is a weakness we may indulge in, if we think proper, for we do it at our own hazard and expence; but, under the pretence of friendship, to sport with the reputation, or sacrifice the honour, of another, is something worse than weakness; and if, in favour of the foolish intention, we do not call it a crime, we must allow, at least, that it arises from an overweening, busy, meddling impudence. Junius says only, and he says truly, that it is more extraordinary; that it involves a greater contradiction than the other; and is it not a maxim received in life, that, in general, we can determine more wisely for others, than for ourselves? The reason of it is so clear in argument, that it hardly wants the confirmation of experience. Sir William Draper, I confess, is an exception to the general rule, though not much to his credit.

4. If this gentleman will go back to his ethics, he may, perhaps, discover the truth of what Junius says, that no outward tyranny can reach the mind. The tortures of the body may be introduced, by way of ornament or illustration, to represent those of the mind; but, strictly, there is no similitude between them: they are totally different, both in their cause and operation. The wretch who suffers upon the rack is merely passive: but, when the mind is tortured, it is not at the command of any outward [105] power; it is the sense of guilt which constitutes the punishment, and creates that torture, with which the guilty mind acts upon itself.

5. He misquotes what Junius says of conscience, and makes the sentence ridiculous, by making it his own.

So much for composition. Now for fact. Junius, it seems, has mistaken the Duke of Bedford. His Grace had all the proper feelings of a father, though he took care to suppress the appearance of them. Yet it was an occasion, one would think, on which he need not have been ashamed of his grief; on which less fortitude would have done him more honour. I can conceive, indeed, a benevolent motive for his endeavouring to assume an air of tranquillity in his own family; and I wish I could discover any thing, in the rest of his character, to justify my assigning that motive to his behaviour. But is there no medium? Was it necessary to appear abroad, to ballot at the India-House, and make a public display, though it were only of an apparent insensibility? I know we are treading on tender ground; and Junius, I am convinced, does not wish to urge this question farther. Let the friends of the Duke of Bedford observe that humble silence which becomes their situation. They should recollect, that there are still some facts in store at which human nature would shudder. I shall be understood by those whom it concerns, when I say, that these facts go farther than to the Duke*.

It is not inconsistent to suppose, that a man may be quite indifferent about one part of a charge, yet severely stung with another; and though he feels no remorse, that

* Within a fortnight after Lord Tavistock's death, the venerable Gertrude had a rout at Bedford-house. The good Duke (who had only sixty thousand pounds a year) ordered an inventory to be taken of his son's wearing apparel, down to his slippers, sold them all, and put the money in his pocket. The amiable Marchioness, shocked at such brutal, unfeeling avarice, gave the value of the clothes to the Marquis's servant, out of her own purse. That incomparable woman did not long survive her husband. When she died, the Duchess of Bedford treated her as the Duke had treated his only son; she ordered every gown and trinket to be sold, and pocketed the money. These are the monsters whom Sir William Draper comes forward to defend. May God protect me from doing any thing that may require such defence, or to deserve such friendship.

[106] he may wish to be revenged. The charge of insensibility carries a reproach, indeed, but no danger, with it. Junius had said, "There are others who would assassinate". Modestus, knowing his man, will not suffer the insinuation to be divided, but fixes it all upon the Duke of Bedford.

Without determining upon what evidence Junius would choose to be condemned, I will venture to maintain, in opposition to Modestus, or to Mr. Rigby (who is certainly not Modestus) or any of the Bloomsbury gang, that the evidence against the Duke of Bedford is as strong as any presumptive evidence can be. It depends upon a combination of facts and reasoning, which require no confirmation from the anecdote of the Duke of Marlborough. This anecdote was referred to, merely to shew how ready a great man may be to receive a great bribe: and if Modestus could read the original, he would see, that the expression, only not accepted, was, probably, the only one in our language that exactly fitted the case. The bribe offered to the Duke of Marlborough was not refused.

I cannot conclude without taking notice of this honest gentleman's learning, and wishing he had given us a little more of it. When he accidentally found himself so near speaking truth, it was rather unfair of him to leave out the non potuisse refelli [not able to be refuted]. As it stands, the pudet hæc opprobria [it shames (me that) these reproaches] may be divided equally between Mr. Rigby and the Duke of Bedford. Mr. Rigby, I take for granted, will assert his natural right to the modesty of the quotation, and leave all the opprobrium to his Grace.


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