What is’t to us if taxes rise or fall? Thanks to our fortune, we pay none at all

Charles Churchill

Charles Churchill

The 18th-century English poet and satirist Charles Churchill wrote the following witty and sharp words, jeering and criticizing the aristocracy and the establishment of his time.

The cit, a common-councilman by place,
Ten thousand mighty nothings in his face,
By situation as by nature great,
With nice precision parcels out the state;
Proves and disproves, affirms and then denies,
Objects himself, and to himself replies;
Wielding aloft the politician rod,
Makes Pitt by turns a devil and a god;
Maintains, e’en to the very teeth of Power,
The same thing right and wrong in half an hour:
Now all is well, now he suspects a plot,
And plainly proves, whatever is, is not:
Fearfully wise, he shakes his empty head,
And deals out empires as he deals out thread;
His useless scales are in a corner flung,
And Europe’s balance hangs upon his tongue.
Peace to such triflers! be our happier plan
To pass through life as easy as we can.
Who’s in or out, who moves this grand machine,
Nor stirs my curiosity, nor spleen.
Secrets of state no more I wish to know
Than secret movements of a puppet-show:
Let but the puppets move, I’ve my desire,
Unseen the hand which guides the master-wire.
What is’t to us if taxes rise or fall?
Thanks to our fortune, we pay none at all.

Churchill ends his poem, in which he pungently tackles various societal issues of that time and repels the attacks on him,  with a sound insight and invoke: 

What is this World?–A term which men have got
To signify, not one in ten knows what;
A term, which with no more precision passes
To point out herds of men than herds of asses;
In common use no more it means, we find,
Than many fools in same opinions join’d.
Can numbers, then, change Nature’s stated laws?
Can numbers make the worse the better cause?
Vice must be vice, virtue be virtue still,
Though thousands rail at good, and practise ill.
Wouldst thou defend the Gaul’s destructive rage,
Because vast nations on his part engage?
Though, to support the rebel Caesar’s cause,
Tumultuous legions arm against the laws;
Though scandal would our patriot’s name impeach,
And rails at virtues which she cannot reach,  
What honest man but would with joy submit  
To bleed with Cato, and retire with Pitt?
Steadfast and true to virtue’s sacred laws,     
Unmoved by vulgar censure, or applause,
Let the World talk, my friend; that World, we know,     
Which calls us guilty, cannot make us so.     
Unawed by numbers, follow Nature’s plan;     
Assert the rights, or quit the name of man.     
Consider well, weigh strictly right and wrong;     
Resolve not quick, but once resolved, be strong.     
In spite of Dulness, and in spite of Wit,     
If to thyself thou canst thyself acquit,  
Rather stand up, assured with conscious pride,     
Alone, than err with millions on thy side.

The full poem: Churchill, Charles. 1761. “Night. An Epistle To Robert Lloyd”. London

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