I desire to be understood right, and that by swearing I mean all those cursory oaths, curses, execrations, imprecations, asseverations, and by whatsoever other names they are distinguished, which are used in vehemence of discourse, in the mouths almost of all men more or less, of what sort soever.
I am not about to argue anything of their being sinful and unlawful, as forbid by divine rules; let the parson alone to tell you that, who has, no question, said as much to as little purpose in this case as in any other. But I am of the opinion that there is nothing so impertinent, so insignificant, so senseless, and foolish as our vulgar way of discourse when mixed with oaths and curses, and I would only recommend a little consideration to our gentlemen, who have sense and wit enough, and would be ashamed to speak nonsense in other things, but value themselves upon their parts, I would but ask them to put into writing the commonplaces of their discourse, and read them over again, and examine the English, the cadence, the grammar of them; then let then turn them into Latin, or translate them into any other language, and but see what a jargon and confusion of speech they make together.
Swearing, that lewdness of the tongue, that scum and excrement of the mouth, is of all vices the most foolish and senseless. It makes a man's conversation unpleasant, his discourse fruitless, and his language nonsense.
It makes conversation unpleasant, at least to those who do not use the same foolish way of discourse, and, indeed, is an affront to all the company who swear not as he does; for if I swear and curse in company I either presume all the company likes it or affront them who do not.
Then it is fruitless; for no man is believed a jot the more for all the asseverations, damnings, and swearings he makes. Those who are used to it themselves do not believe a man the more because they know they are so customary that they signify little to bind a man's intention, and they who practise them not have so mean an opinion of those that do as makes them think they deserve no belief.
Then, they are the spoilers and destroyers of a man's discourse, and turn it into perfect nonsense; and to make it out I must descend a little to particulars, and desire the reader a little to foul his mouth with the brutish, sordid, senseless expressions which some gentlemen call polite English, and speaking with a grace.
Some part of them indeed, though they are foolish enough, as effects of a mad, inconsiderate rage, are yet English; as when a man swears he will do this or, that, and it may be adds, "God damn him he will;" that is, "God damn him if he don't." This, though it be horrid in another sense, yet may be read in writing, and is English: but what language is this?
"Jack, God damn me, Jack, how dost do? How hast thou done this long time, by God?" And then they kiss; and the other, as lewd as himself, goes on:-
"Dear Tom, I am glad to see thee with all my heart, let me die. Come, let us go take a bottle, we must not part so; pr'ythee let's go and be drunk by God."
This is some of our new florid language, and the graces and delicacies of style, which if it were put into Latin, I would fain know which is the principal verb.
But for a little further remembrance of this impertinence, go among the gamesters, and there nothing is more frequent than, "God damn the dice," or "God damn the bowls."
Among the sportsmen it is, "God damn the hounds," when they are at a fault; or, "God damn the horse," if he baulks a leap. They call men "sons of -," and "dogs," and innumerable instances may be given of the like gallantry of language, grown now so much a custom.
It is true, custom is allowed to be our best authority for words, and it is fit it should be so; but reason must be the judge of sense in language, and custom can never prevail over it. Words, indeed, like ceremonies in religion, may be submitted to the magistrate; but sense, like the essentials, is positive, unalterable, and cannot be submitted to any jurisdiction; it is a law to itself; it is ever the same; even an Act of Parliament cannot alter it.