Edward Gibbon Reflects on Modern Britain

On Boris Johnson the Artist:

As he cowered in the precincts of Lord Goldsmith’s opulent villa, the Prime Minister sought to replicate the Depictive endeavours of Mr Churchill, a Masquerade he supplied by investing himself in the rude Smock of a limner, and the plausible arrangement before him of Canvasses and Pigments. However, unlike the persuasive Pictures wrought by his most Pugnatious and effective of Predecessors, who routinely set to rights the ills of the Realm before unfolding his Easel amid the groves of Chartwell or the sands of Antibes, Mr Johnson’s Delineative Enterprise was perceiv’d by the Mob as but the Pictorial equivalent of the Musickal essays of Nero, who, as the Temples and Colonnades of Rome were swiftly reduced by fire to Acrid waste, strumm’d tunelessly upon a Lyre, oblivious to the anguish’t wails of his flame-lick’t Subjects. A crowded Tableau of unrelieved Despair painted itself upon the broad elevation of the Kingdom, whose shores the Principal Limner had so ignominiously fled. Mr Johnson meanwhile prim’d his Canvass ’til it was clean as the Whited Sepulchre, then sought to reproduce upon it the crimson harmonies of a Balearique sunset, with a brush dip’t carelessly in the lifeblood of Albion.

On Simon Cowell:

Mr Gray has correctly observ’d, that “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air…”, a defect in the Mechanism of Fortune that Mr Cowell sought with vigour to remedy. To this end he established a National Contest, that was eagerly attended by hordes of precariously polish’t Amateurs, at pains to demonstrate their skill at Song, Dance or Jest. The few who triumphed by proving their Talent, Mr Cowell at once propelled to Fame and Riches, and the many thousands who failed, he peremptorily forc’t back to the Rustick obscurity whence they had so hopefully emerged. The Mob embraced this noisy Circus most enthusiastically, being as happy to greet the Excellence of the well-starr’d Few with Sentimental applause, as they were delighted to heap Cruel Ridicule upon the ludicrous Ineptitude of the Majority. Mr Cowell loved Dogs, and therefore they too were admitted to the Contest, some inspiring general Amazement through the ingenuity of their capers. Even such amiable Growlers as gave imperfect performances, nonetheless won the hearts of the Mob by the softness of their Muzzles and their comical Indifference. Mr Cowell’s faction heap’t praise on him for opening the jealously-guarded slopes of Parnassus to the humblest of Aspirants, reasoning that Equality and Justice were well served by such an Enterprise. Others said it was wrong to stimulate the hopeless Dreams of the village Maid or Ploughboy, who would certainly neglect the servile duties apportion’d to them in their properly appointed Station, thereby provoking both the Ruin of their Masters and the general Disintegration of Society.  

On Jacob Rees-Mogg

Though his father was but the editor of a Broadsheet and schooled respectably enough at The Charterhouse, Mr Rees-Mogg was sent to Eton College, where he cultivated such a lofty and disdainful manner of diction and discourse, that soon not even the most languid and elaborately-escutcheon’d Duke might touch him for Flippancy and Insolence. When he pitched himself against the flower of Albion’s Aristocracy, e’en Norfolk and Spencer seem’d but Ploughboys to this polished Paragon. As he sauntered toward his Faction’s yearly gathering in Manchester, with leisurely gait and supercilious mien, he was surprised there by a Mr Hutchins, that daily fought hard for the benefit of Poor men stricken with the Palsy, though he himself laboured beneath the ravages of that cruel Distemper. This enrag’d Invalid, in a most Terrifick and guttural diatribe, berated the Elegant Parliamentarian for the contempt he had oft express’t for the Poor and Diseas’d (a failing many had noted was audibly discordant with the strains of Catholic Piety that daily emanated from Mr Rees-Mogg’s luxurious household). Though Mr Rees-Mogg immediately stammered out a rosary of Mellifluous Platitudes and Patrician Assurances, they served merely to darken and deepen the profound Gulf that prevails twixt Dives and Lazarus both in Albion and the Hereafter, that seem’d vividly delineated for onlookers by the dramatick appearance of Mr Hutchins.

On Dominic Cummings:

Of all that advised the Prime Minister on the Prospectus that led to Albion’s fatal removal from the House of Europe, few were more learnèd or subtle than Mr Cummings. He it was that dressed the ravaged limbs of the Prospectus in deceptive finery, just as the agile Perruquier applies Ribbons and Paint to improve the haggard Front of an exhausted Strumpet. Following his Ejection from the palaces of White-hall, Mr Cummings turned upon his erstwhile Masters, vividly and honestly delineating, for the benefit of the Mob, the Chaos and Catastrophe that reigned in the secret purlieus of State, neglecting not his own Culpability in the resulting enormities. Yet so far from endearing him to the populace he sought to please, the disclosures served to dim even further his once bright Star. There are numerous reasons that urged this outcome, but two that should be especially noted by those who would gain the Confidence of Princes and the Adulation of the Mob: first, his learning undid him, for no Britons love (to lend delicacy to a Vulgar expression) one whose Posterior is too ostentatiously immers’t in the Pierian Spring; second, no men love a Traitor, even such men as vehemently despise the Persons or Enterprise that hath been betray’d. So Mr Cummings must for the while take refuge in the obscurity of his own exclusive Broadsheet, or perforce embark on fresh conspiracies from within the sanctuary afforded by the quiet staircases and quadrangles of the University.   

On Police Corruption:

Civil Order was maintained in those days by a general assembly of Constables, most of them distinguished by their Valour, and readiness to give even their lives in the cause of general Security. However, just as the Costermonger’s Barrow, glistering with wholesome Hesperidin bounty, might be poisoned by a single blemish’t Globe that lay conceal’d within, so also was the Constabulary contaminated by hidden and scheming Malefactors. These would place a desirable object, be it either a luxurious Pocket-Watch or a negligible Turnip, by stealth within their innocent quarry’s Hovel. Then, in the presence of marveling Witnesses, they would Theatrically discover it, feigning glib astonishment, with such dark Rhetorickal utterances as “What have we here?” or “Thou shalt likely endure no fewer than Ten Years Servitude for this.” Having convey’d their bewildered prisoner to the Gaol, such spurious confessions as they could not obtain by civil Interrogation, they would wrest from him by means of brutish Coercion. At length, the unfortunate ruffian would emerge from the Dungeon, wearing the crimson Stripes and sooty Contusions of undeserved chastisement. If challenged upon this by the concern’d Chaplain or indignant Advocate, the Constables would lightly say, “He hath fallen upon the stairs.” or “He hath by unhappy accident collided with a Door.” Further, such Inveterate Reprobates as had riches within their grasp, were cordially invited to dispense portions to the Constables, in exchange for continuing indemnity from Arrest. This shameful bounty the Constables would solicit not through outright entreaty, but rather through subtle observations, such as “I would winter upon the shores of Spain…” or “The Ruinous cost of Meat is redoubling apace!”

On William Shatner:

There is in America a Mr Shatner, a renowned Thespian of some ninety summers. More than a half century before, this Veteran of the Playhouse had delivered, to resounding and universal admiration, the role of a Captain Kirk, who patrolled the Heavens in a vessel ingeniously adapted for the undertaking of hazardous voyages toward distant Planets and mighty Constellations. In this fictive Enterprise, the Captain was assisted by a crew of resourceful Lieutenants, their task to avert the numerous catastrophes that scheming Aliens, the scaly denizens of inhospitable Planets, perpetually sought to wreak upon the general Order of the Universe. Having repeatedly vanquish’t these Reptilian predators in the course of innumerable adventures, Mr Shatner withdrew gracefully from the Stage, to a tumultuous cadence of applause from both Pit and Gallery. At length, the gentle twilight of this affable Personator’s years was enlivened by a communication from a Mr Musk, a powerful merchant who had built a conveyance aptly equipped for the exploration of the Caerulean Zone. He offered that Mr Shatner should with no delay ride skyward in the Celestial Contraption, an invitation to which the ever-intrepid Player most readily assented. The hour of elevation was duly set for Mr Shatner to be ceremoniously installed at the Helm of the Rocket. Mr Musk’s Scientific attendants having ignited its massy Engines, the Ancient Thespian would in an instant be propelled with vertiginous speed into the Heavens, there gleefully to marvel at the sudden proximity of the Planets, Stars and Meteors he had in his youth so skilfully delineated within the Terrestrial limitations of the Stage.

On Banksy:

There lived not far from Bristol a Mr Cunningham, a roving limner that cloak’t his true identity with a nom de guerre that was at once economical and memorable, thereby ensuring that his endeavours became universally familiar, interminably discussed, and of considerable value. Mr Cunningham early resolved to forsake the arduous pursuit of exposure in the Academy, the assistance of Picture Dealers, or the approbation of the Critic, electing instead to create a grand compendium of nefariously executed Frescoes, upon such elevations of public edifices as afforded apt and expansive tabulae rasae for the nocturnal delineation of his numerous Themes. The resulting Pictures, that invariably appeared as if by some miraculous Agency in the first illuminative rays of Aurora, enraged his enemies as much as they delighted his champions. Among those that waged war against him was Mr Gibson, whose faction strove to keep Albion neat, and therefore abhorred what it earnestly trumpeted as the irredeemable desecration wrought by Mr Cunningham. Mr Cunningham replied to their charge that he was a common Vandal by asserting that they themselves were no better than Huns, for while they were content to purchase and gaze upon pleasing and anodyne gravures of Arcadian perfection, they simultaneously promoted unscrupulous Men of Business, that were bent on the destruction of those very Temples and Glades.            

On Football:

To urge with matchless boot the Leathern Sphere is the dream of every stumbling yeoman, for by this means may he win the recognition of a Patron, and rise from the sink of rustick obscurity that Nature and Circumstance hath so cruelly ordained. Let him no longer excavate from icy ground, with crude bucolic curse, the obdurate Turnip, but rather permit him to range upon a nobler campus, declaiming in clarion voice, and with commendable Spartan brevity, the battle cries of the noble Sport: “Strike it hither, Sir!” and “Drive back that man!”  Many an obscure yokel, born to sluggish plough or Stygian mill, was thus elevated, and the perseverance of visionary Managers wrought worthy Corinthians of rude hobbledehoys. In recent times, a want of Guineas for the enterprise was supplied by the luxurious Arab or the opulent Muscovite, who sat by his Tent or Samovar in delighted contemplation of the warring, liveried armies he had purchas’t. Some celebrated players, upon whom the encroaching Winter of life hath enforc’t decorous retirement from the muddy battlefield, sit by the barricades, where for the instruction of the Mob they sustain an uninterrupted discourse on the strategies and accidents of the game, seasoned, during the opportune interlude that occurs twixt the moieties of play, by Philosophical and Political observation. One such was Mr Lineker who, incens’t by the Prime Minister’s attempt to purloin glory for the resurrection in Albion of the noble Sport, cried Foul! upon the Scheming Potentate, to an universal roar of approbation from this affable Veteran’s myriad throng of admirers.

On Crete and Marbella:

Whilst the Taliban, that most turbulent and pedantick of Heathens, advanced with stealth and purpose toward the gates of Qabool, Albion’s Foreign Secretary lay dozing with luxurious ineptitude in a Cretan grotto. When rebuked for these liminal frolicks, he retorted that the Ocean was “closèd off”, vain denial that he cooled in the Aegean’s wafty Zephyrs while others broiled in the Austere and arid gusts of the Hindoo Kush. Resisting the most urgent entreaties for his immediate return to White-hall, he remained in balmy rustication upon the soft Heraklian Periphery, with the full blessing of his ever-languid and jestful Prime Minister. The Taliban meanwhile ran amok in Qabool, where they scourged the terrified rabble with primed muskets and cruel Scripture. Soon after, Mr Johnson himself, enervated by recent reversals, and sensible of the rumblings of the Mob, conceal’d himself at Marbella, an Islet of such glistering opulence as to beshadow even the debauch’t glories of Tiberian Capri. Here, while the simple yeomen of Albion cried aloud under fresh privations wrought upon them by the Jamodar Sunak, the Prime Minister sauntered with his lackeys through shady groves and expansive boulevards, pausing only to sip Falernian vintage, or to cool his exhausted bulk in the sweet waters of a marbled pool.

On ethnic minorities in the Cabinet:

As though he were a Mogul or Ottoman potentate, the Prime Minister kept a menagerie of Jamodars, Moorish and Oriental officials he had elevated to high degree. To him that cried: “Fie! Thou lovest not the poor Baboo or Negroe!”, Mr Johnson would say, “Behold my splendid Jamodars, and eat thy words!” The most ornamental of these was Kwarteng, a strapping Moor, that had been tamed by Provost Anderson at Eton College, and spake Latin and Greek. Next came Zahawi of Baghdad, that knew Chymick and was formerly kept in Lord Archer’s retinue. The Mob marveled at Sunak, an Oriental Croesus who, though wreathed in smiles, and possessing coffers o’erflowing with the treasures of Ind, pluck’t pence from the poor man’s purse at his Master’s bidding. Next came Javid, feared by the sick and halt, for he would force them to pay for Physick, formerly gratis, and have them throw themselves on the mercy of their kinsmen. Most feared of all was Patel, a Kali to her devoted, for like that terrifick Hindoo Deity, she fashion’d pretty necklaces from the Skulls of her adversaries. This menagerie of Jamodars formed a bastion for the cunning Prime Minister, for he knew that in a final reckoning, if the Mob were to storm Durbar Court in White-hall, it would likely practise retribution upon his Dusky Jamodars, not upon him. Such as were not cut down by Saxon yeoman with stones and staves would face a faction of their own kind, beturbaned Dervishes and Thuggees, armed with scimitars and garrottes, learnèd in the infliction of a thousand-and-one agonising methods of despatch. Meanwhile the Principal Miscreant might slip away disguis’d, to cower in the precincts of White’s club, while fire and destruction reigned in the thoroughfares without.

On Brexit:

Europe was, then, a cluster of Principalities and Republicks that lodged together in prosperous amity, in a house they had for built themselves, that had been half a century in the building when Mr Cameron was Prime Minister. Notwithstanding the innumerable virtues of this intricate domestick arrangement, many within the Tory faction thought to strengthen their hold on the Mob by an appeal to its Rustick mistrust of Continentals, and its evergreen hatred of the Dark-Skinned races that roamed at will throughout the Continent. The sarcastic Frenchman, the idle Negroe, the thieving Arab and the lecherous Turk; these were but four of myriad supposed enemies, all united in an infernal project to strangle the prosperity of Albion and dilute its lusty blood with their own abominable liquids. So Britannia was offered a Referendum, where she could chuse either to remain in the hellish Continental bordello in which she was then captive, or to leave its portals forever. The Prospectus for Departure was so embellished with lurid fable that simple Rusticks readily fell upon it, so Albion’s apartment in the House of Europe was razed at a stroke, and her sons jubilantly danced amid its ruins, to the melodious huzzahs of Mr Johnson, whom they soon readily embraced as their new Captain. Soon after though, a universal Pestilence struck. Its fell hand, unchecked by a vacillating Government, at once destroyed a legion of Britons and tore away the veil that concealed the fatal emptiness of the cynical Prospectus.

On Vladimir Putin:

The Abject Slav was ruled in those days by Mr Putin, a polish’t tyrant who was as loved by the simple Grandsires of the Steppe as he was despised by the Men of Letters that wrote against him. It was for nothing that the ill-starr’d Serf, who for centuries had suffered beneath the twin cudgels of Tsardom and Orthodoxy, had found Liberty from these upon the Revolution of 1917. Just as an oft-beaten cur will resist the blandishments of kindness in favour of a familiarly cruel master, the unthinking Mujeek then laboured unhappily beneath a series of new and no less oppressive tyrants, of whom Mr Putin was but the latest exemplar. This tireless Despot, amid noisy applause and but scant dissent, cast into prison by unjustified and peremptory means those that spake against him, such as the wandering heretic Navalnius, who brought to universal attention the prevailing tyrannies and Oligarchical plunder that beset the whole of Muscovy. Such as he could not incarcerate, Mr Putin dispatched by stealth with poison, as with Mr Skripal, whom he sought without success to assassinate in Salisbury, some agents of the Tyrant stealing upon the unwitting intelligencer in the very precincts of the Cathedral itself. Not content to foment fatal mischief solely for his own subjects, Mr Putin sought to rattle the ever-precarious carriages of both the Americas and Albion. In the former he nourish’t Mr Trump, a tyrant who, though soon toppled, wrought incalculable discord in the Land of the Free, aided by disbursements from Mr Putin’s purse. In Albion he was no less effective, there casting, from his inexhaustible supply of ill-gotten Roobles, sufficient to help turn the Mob against their European brethren, and thereby precipitate the fatal elevation of Mr Johnson.  

On Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel:

The calamities he wrought, the Prime Minister answered with glib jest, and when this failed he resorted to sallies of polished mendacity. Though the mob had been won with the promise that their shores would no longer be gained by the swarthy alien, he was assisted in his endeavours by a court of ambitious Dravidians and Moors, whose families in kinder times had been amply nourished in the bosom of Albion. The first of these was Sunak, a subtle nabob who, though his own domestick coffers were ripe with the treasures of Ind, sought to impoverish further the wretches of whose precarious welfare he was the unchallenged custodian. In those days, such of the mob who worked not or laboured for little were sustained by a Pittance of twenty pounds dispensed to them weekly. This Sunak denied them, plunging millions into a sink of unrelieved poverty. A second minister, Patel, he tasked with the protection of Albion’s shores and the preservation of order within the realm. To this end, she commanded the Fleet to sail to and fro’ in the Channel, for the purpose of surprising French fishermen, or to apprehend leaky barques laden with wretches seeking the protection and succour which in former times they might have expected on these shores. So it was that the Navy, once the proud scourge of Spain’s Armada and the Nemesis of the German Tyrant, was employed at little more than overturning the fragile coracles of the innocent.

On Sajid Javid:

Further among the Prime Minister’s retinue of stony-hearted Jamodars was Javid, whom he appointed chief overseer of all Physitians. When he assumed the undeserved mantle of apothecary general, Albion’s subjects had for long been accustomed to a unique and beneficent regime of Physick, whereby every man, be he never so poor, might obtain receipts for his distemper gratis, their price justly furnished from the ample coffers of Taxation. Javid set about proscribing this banquet of Hippocrates, proclaiming that the sick and halt should rather throw themselves on the charity of kinsmen than burden the state treasury with their sickness. When droves perished in the unhappy wake of these leges sumptuariae, the Prime Minister urged the mob to consider not the length of their grandsire’s mortal days nor the outcome of his chancres, but rather the fatter purses they might obtain only by joyful labour and mute obedience.

On the 2021 Tory Conference:

As the kingdom reeled under a two-fold burden of disease and privation, the Prime Minister and his cohorts foregathered in Manchester for a round of feasting and declamation. On the final day, when his Jamodars had spoken and the bacchanalia were for an interlude suspended, the Prime Minister himself rose to speak. Whereas his opponent Mr Starmer had elsewhere in Albion rowed with the weighty oars of sweet reason and cautious speculation, the Prime Minister plied the craft of discourse with the bright sails of levity and fable, the former to sustain the adulation of the Mob, the latter to draw the veil of deceit over his iniquities. As to his trusted Minister Mr Gove discovered a-capering in a tavern, he said it was done to encourage timid folk to go forth, for the ravages of pestilence were now all but abated. As to his own near-fatal distemper, he said lightly that the angels of providence had timely plucked him from the jaws of Hades. As to the Tartarean suffering endured by millions in the kingdom, in flames kindled at his own harsh bidding, in furnaces stoked by his own merciless Jamodars, he said nothing. His oration concluded, it was met with a hoarse cadence of rapturous applause, as when Mammon harangued the assembled Pandaemonium. Throughout the kingdom, the trusting mob read his oratory in hastily printed broadsheets, and such as were unlettered rejoiced, when they saw its essence cunningly graved for them in lurid pamphlets.

On Michael Rosen and the NHS:

At the time of the pestilence there lived in London a Mr Rosen, who wrote merry tales for children and served honourably for a while as their Laureate. One such tale was of a family that went forth fearlessly to hunt a Bear, despite the arduous terrain, and all manner of peril that Reason or Prudence would perforce connect to such an enterprise. The tale was greeted with tumultuous joy and hilarity by the infants that heard it, and the universal approbation of Parents, Grandsires, Schoolmasters and Booksellers. This applause served to heighten the already lofty pedestal upon which Mr Rosen stood, so that his wise utterances on all manner of ills and delusions, then prevailing in the kingdom, became as widely attended as his verses and fables. By ill chance, when the pestilence took hold, Mr Rosen was among the first to sicken, and sank into a torpor from which, it then seemed, even the most intense Hippocratic intervention would be insufficient to revive him. However, fair Providence intervened, and the Laureate was timely snatched from the Valley of the Shadow amid widespread rejoicing. When at length he had shaken off the clinging fetters of distemper, Mr Rosen turned his ingenious pencil to an account of his ordeal. This book was not merely ardent in its praise of Physitians, terrifick in its delineation of morbid peril, and completely descriptive of the palliative powers of Love. It also stood as a memento for the virtues of Physick, and a warning to those Politicians that would rob the purse of Hippocrates to feed the ravening maw of Greed and Ambition.

On Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein:

In those days, His Royal Highness The Duke of York was as injudicious in his choice of acquaintance as he was ardent in his admiration of Unblemish’t Pulchritude. This was witnessed by the inclusion in his retinue of Mr Epstein, a luxurious man of business that dwelt on an island, within the picturesque archipelago named by mariners for the first Queen Elizabeth. To this Virgin atoll, the colonial Tiberius would coax credulous maidens, for the purpose of cruelly deflowering them within its verdant precincts, an enterprise he achieved by a generall display of enticing ostentation, and the untiring persistence of liberally rewarded Pandars. For this, he was at length thrown into prison, though e’er he could be brought to the Assizes he was found slain in the dungeon, it being impossible to determine whether by his own hand, or by that of the Ruffian his gaolers had put with him. A maiden of Mr Epstein’s set, one Victoria, brought a Suit against the Duke, proclaiming that some years gone by he had forced himself upon her, an accusation His Royal Highness would likely be forced to answer before the Colonial Justices. His Sovereign Mother was set to pay dear for learnèd men at law to speak for him, a question upon which the Mob was bitterly divided. Some factions held the Queen’s last shilling to be de jure everyman’s, and should not be cast toward the wasteful defence of almost certain perfidy. Others held the Queen’s purse was de facto her own, and would be nobly emptied in an attempt to restore the tarnished lustre of the Crown and establish what must surely be the unquestionable innocence of a Royal Duke.