Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Swearer's Bank (Author: Jonathan Swift)



Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur.

‘To believe everything that is said by a certain set of men, and to doubt of nothing they relate, though ever so improbable,’ is a maxim that has contributed as much, for the time, to the support of Irish banks as it ever did to the Popish religion; and they are not wholly beholden to the latter for their foundation, but they have the happiness to have the same patron saint; for Ignorance, the reputed mother of the devotion of one, seems to bear the same affectionate relation to the credit of the other.

To subscribe to banks, without knowing the scheme or design of them, is not unlike to some gentlemen's signing addresses without knowing the contents of them: to engage in a bank that has neither act of parliament, charter, nor lands to support it, is like sending a ship to sea without a bottom; to expect a coach and six by the former, would be as ridiculous as to hope a return by the latter.

It was well known some time ago that our banks would be included in the bubble-bill; and it was believed


those chimeras would necessarily vanish with the first easterly wind that should inform the town of the royal assent.

It was very mortifying to several gentlemen who dreamed of nothing but easy chariots, on the arrival of the fatal packet, to slip out of them into their walking shoes. But should those banks, as it is vainly imagined, be so fortunate as to obtain a charter, and purchase lands; yet, on any run on them in a time of invasion, there would be so many starving proprietors, reviving their old pretensions to land and a bellyful, that the subscribers would be unwilling upon any call to part with their money, not knowing what might happen; so that in a rebellion, where the success was doubtful, the bank would infallibly break.

Since so many gentlemen of this town have had the courage, without any security, to appear in the same paper with a million or two; it is hoped, when they are made sensible of their safety, that they will be prevailed to trust themselves in a neat skin of parchment, with a single one.

To encourage them, the undertaker proposes the erecting of a bank on parliamentary security, and such security as no revolution or change of times can effect.

To take away all jealousy of any private view of the undertaker, he assures the world that he is now in a garret, in a very thin waistcoat, studying the public good; having given an undeniable pledge of his love to his country by pawning his coat in order to defray the expense of the press.

It is very well known that, by an act of parliament to prevent profane swearing, the person so offending, on


oath made before a magistrate, forfeits a shilling, which may be levied with little difficulty.

It is almost unnecessary to mention that this is become a pet vice among us; and though age renders us unfit for other vices, yet this, where it takes hold, never leaves us but with our speech.

So vast a revenue might be raised by the execution of this act, that I have often wondered, in a scarcity of funds, that methods have not been taken to make it serviceable to the public.

I dare venture to say, if this act was well executed in England, the revenue of it, applied to the navy, would make the English fleet a terror to all Europe.

It is computed by geographers that there are 2,000,000 in this kingdom (of Ireland), of which number there may be said to be 1,000,000 of swearing souls.

It is thought there may be 5000 gentlemen; every gentleman, taking one with another, may afford to swear an oath every day, which will yearly produce 1,825,000 oaths; which number of shillings makes the yearly sum of £91,250.

The farmers of this kingdom, who are computed to be 10,000, are able to spend yearly 500,000 oaths, which gives £25,000; and it is conjectured that, from the bulk of the people, £20,000 or £25,000 may be yearly collected.

These computations are very modest, since it is evident that there is a much greater consumption of oaths in this kingdom, and consequently a much greater sum might be yearly raised.

That it may be collected with ease and regularity, it is proposed to settle informers in great towns in proportion


to the number of inhabitants, and to have riding officers in the country; and since nothing brings a greater contempt on any profession than poverty, it is determined to settle very handsome salaries on the gentlemen that are employed by the bank, that they may, by a generosity of living, reconcile men to an office that has lain under so much scandal of late as to be undertaken by none but curates, clerks of meeting houses, and broken tradesmen . . .

It is very probable that £20,000 will be necessary to defray all expenses of servants, salaries, etc. However, there will be the clear yearly sum of £100,000, which may very justly claim a million subscription.

It is determined to layout the remaining unapplied profits, which will be very considerable, toward the erecting and maintaining of charity schools. A design so beneficial to the public, and especially to the protestant interest of this kingdom, has met with so much encouragement from several great patriots in England, that they have engaged to procure an act to secure the sole benefit of informing on this swearing act to the agents and servants of this new bank. Several of my friends pretend to demonstrate, that this bank will in time vie with the South Sea Company: they insist, that the army dispend as many oaths yearly as will produce £100,000 nett.

There are computed to be 100 pretty fellows in this town that swear fifty oaths a-head daily; some of them would think it hard to be stinted to a hundred: this very branch would produce a vast sum yearly.

The fairs of this kingdom will bring in a vast revenue; the oaths of a little Connaught one, as well as


they could be numbered by two persons, amounted to three thousand. It is true that it would be impossible to turn all of them into ready money, for a shilling is so great a duty on swearing, that if it was carefully exacted the common people might as well pretend to drink wine as to swear, and an oath would be as rare among them as a clean shirt.

A servant that I employed to accompany the militia their last muster day had scored down, in the compass of eight hours, three hundred oaths; but, as the putting of the act in execution on those days would only fill the stocks with porters, and pawn-shops with muskets and swords, and as it would be matter of great joy to papists and disaffected persons to see our militia swear themselves out of their guns and swords; it is resolved that no advantage shall be taken of any militiaman's swearing while he is under arms: nor shall any advantage be taken of any man's swearing in the Four Courts, provided he is at hearing in the exchequer; or has just paid off an attorney's bill.

The medicinal use of oaths is what the undertaker would by no means discourage, especially where it is necessary to help the lungs to throw off any distilling humour. On certificate of a course of, swearing prescribed by any physician, a permit will be given to the patient by the proper officer of the bank, paying no more than sixpence. It is expected that a scheme of so much advantage to the public will meet with more encouragement than their chimerical banks; and the undertaker hopes, that as he has spent a considerable fortune in bringing this scheme to bear, he may have the satisfaction to see it take place for the public good, though he should have the fate of most projectors, to be undone.