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Temple Scott has extensive footnotes to this text. He notes on p. 13: This pamphlet constitutes the opening of a campaign against his political enemies in England on whom Swift had, it must be presumed, determined to take revenge. When the fall of Harley's administration was complete and irrevocable, Swift returned to Ireland and, for six years, he lived the simple life of the Dean of St. Patrick's, unheard of except by a few of his more intimate friends in England. Accustomed by years of intimacy with the ministers of Anne's court, and by his own temperament, to act the part of leader and adviser, Swift's compulsory silence must have chafed and irritated him to a degree. His opportunities for advancement had passed with the passing of Harley and Bolingbroke from power, and he had given too ardent and enthusiastic a support to these friends of his for Walpole to look to him for a like service. Moreover, however strong may have been these personal motives, Swift's detestation of Walpole's Irish policy must have been deep and bitter, even before he began to express himself on the matter. His sincerity cannot be doubted, even if we make an ample allowance for a private grudge against the great English minister. The condition of Ireland, at this time, was such as to arouse the warmest indignation from the most indifferent and unprejudicedand it was a condition for which English misrule was mainly responsible. It cannot therefore be wondered at that Swift should be among the strenuous and persistent opponents of a policy which spelled ruin to his country, and his patriotism must be recognized even if we accept the existence of a personal motive. The crass stupidity which characterized England's dealings with Ireland at this time would be hardly credible, were it not on record in the acts passed in the reigns of Charles II. and William III., and embodied in the resolutions of the English parliament during Walpole's term of power. An impartial historian is forced to the conclusion that England had determined to ruin the sister nation. Already its social life was disreputable; the people taxed in various ways far beyond their means; the agriculture at the lowest state by the neglect and indifference of the landed proprietors; and the manufactures crippled by a series of pernicious restrictions imposed by a selfish rival. Swift, in writing this Proposal, did not take advantage of any special occasion, as he did later in the matter of Wood's halfpence. His occasion must be found in the condition of the country, in the injustice to which she was subjected, and in the fact that the time had come when it would be wise and safe for him to come out once more into the open.
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Created: By Jonathan Swift (1720)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
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It is the peculiar felicity and prudence of the people in this kingdom, that whatever commodities or productions lie under the greatest discouragements from England, those are what we are sure to be most industrious in cultivating and spreading. Agriculture, which hath been the principal care of all wise nations, and for the encouragement whereof there are so many statute laws in England, we countenance so well, that the landlords are everywhere by penal clauses absolutely prohibiting their tenants from ploughing; not satisfied to confine them within certain limitations, as it is the practice of the English; one effect of which is already seen in the prodigious dearness of corn, and the importation of it from London, as the cheaper market:1 And because people are the riches of a country, and that our neighbours have done, and are doing all that in them lie, to make our wool a drug to us, and a monopoly to them; therefore the politic gentlemen of Ireland have depopulated vast tracts of the best land, for the feeding of sheep.2
I could fill a volume as large as the history of the Wise Men of Gotham with a catalogue only of some wonderful laws and customs we have observed within thirty years past.3 'Tis true indeed, our beneficial traffic of wool with France, hath been our only support for several years past, furnishing us all the little money we have to pay our rents and go to market. But our merchants assure me, This trade hath received a great damp by the present fluctuating condition of the coin in France; and that most of their wine is paid for in specie, without carrying thither any commodity from hence.
However, since we are so universally bent upon enlarging our flocks, it may be worth enquiring what we shall do with our wool, in case Barnstaple4 should be overstocked, and our French commerce should fail?
I could wish the Parliament had thought fit to have suspended their regulation of church matters, and enlargements of the prerogative till a more convenient time, because they did not appear very pressing (at least to the persons principally
p.19concerned) and instead of these great refinements in politics and divinity, had amused themselves and their committees a little with the state of the nation. For example: What if the House of Commons had thought fit to make a resolution nemine contradicente against wearing any cloth or stuff in their families, which were not of the growth and manufacture of this kingdom? What if they had extended it so far as utterly to exclude all silks, velvets, calicoes, and the whole lexicon of female fopperies; and declared, that whoever acted otherwise, should be deemed and reputed an enemy to the nation?5 What if they had sent up such a resolution to be agreed to by the House of Lords, and by their own practice and encouragement spread the execution of it in their several countries? What if we should agree to make burying in woollen a fashion, as our neighbours have made it a law? What if the ladies would be content with Irish stuffs for the furniture of their houses, for gowns and petticoats to themselves and their daughters? Upon the whole, and to crown all the rest: Let a firm resolution be taken by male and female, never to appear with one single shred that comes from England; And let all the people say, Amen.
I hope and believe nothing could please His Majesty better than to hear that his loyal subjects of both sexes in this kingdom celebrated his birthday (now approaching) universally clad in their own manufacture. Is there virtue enough left in this deluded people to save them from the brink of ruin? If the men's opinions may be taken, the ladies will look as handsome in stuffs as brocades; and since all will be equal, there may be room enough to employ their wit and fancy in choosing and matching of patterns and colours. I heard the late Archbishop of Tuam mention a pleasant observation of somebody's; that Ireland would never be happy till a law were made for burning everything that came from England, except their people and
p.20their coals. Nor am I even yet for lessening the number of those exceptions.6
Non tanti mitra est, non tanti judicis ostrum.
But I should rejoice to see a staylace from England be thought scandalous, and become a topic for censure at visits and tea-tables.
If the unthinking shopkeepers in this town had not been utterly destitute of common sense, they would have made some proposal to the Parliament, with a petition to the purpose I have mentioned; promising to improve the cloths and stuffs of the nation into all possible degrees of fineness and colours, and engaging not to play the knave according to their custom, by exacting and imposing upon the nobility and gentry either as to the prices or the goodness. For I remember in London upon a general mourning, the rascally mercers and woollen-drapers, would in four-and-twenty hours raise their cloths and silks to above a double price; and if the mourning continued long, then come whining with petitions to the court, that they were ready to starve, and their fineries lay upon their hands.
I could wish our shopkeepers would immediately think on this proposal, addressing it to all persons of quality and others; but first be sure to get somebody who can write sense, to put it into form.
I think it needless to exhort the clergy to follow this good
p.21example, because in a little time, those among them who are so unfortunate to have had their birth and education in this country, will think themselves abundantly happy when they can afford Irish crape, and an Athlone hat; and as to the others I shall not presume to direct them. I have indeed seen the present Archbishop of Dublin clad from head to foot in our own manufacture; and yet, under the rose be it spoken, his Grace deserves as good a gown as any prelate in Christendom.7
I have not courage enough to offer one syllable on this subject to their honours of the army: Neither have I sufficiently considered the great importance of scarlet and gold lace.
The fable in Ovid of Arachne and Pallas, is to this purpose. The goddess had heard of one Arachne a young virgin, very famous for spinning and weaving. They both met upon a trial of skill; and Pallas finding herself almost equalled in her own art, stung with rage and envy, knocked her rival down, turned her into a spider, enjoining her to spin and weave for ever, out of her own bowels, and in a very narrow compass. I confess, that from a boy, I always pitied poor Arachne, and could never heartily love the goddess on account of so cruel and unjust a sentence; which however is fully executed upon us by England, with further additions of rigour and severity. For the greatest part of our bowels and vitals are extracted, without allowing us the liberty of spinning and weaving them.
The Scripture tells us, that oppression makes a wise man mad. Therefore, consequently speaking, the reason why some men are not mad, is because they are not wise:
p.22However, it were to be wished that oppression would in time teach a little wisdom to fools.
I was much delighted with a person who hath a great estate in this kingdom, upon his complaints to me, how grievously poor England suffers by impositions from Ireland. That we convey our own wool to France in spite of all the harpies at the custom-house. That Mr. Shuttleworth, and others on the Cheshire coasts are such fools to sell us their bark at a good price for tanning our own hides into leather; with other enormities of the like weight and kind. To which I will venture to add some more: That the mayoralty of this city is always executed by an inhabitant, and often by a native, which might as well be done by a deputy, with a moderate salary, whereby poor England lose at least one thousand pounds a year upon the balance. That the governing of this kingdom costs the lord lieutenant two thousand four hundred pounds a year,8 so much net loss to poor England. That the people of Ireland presume to dig for coals in their own grounds, and the farmers in the county of Wicklow send their turf to the very market of Dublin, to the great discouragement of the coal trade at Mostyn and Whitehaven. That the revenues of the post-office here, so righteously belonging to the English treasury, as arising chiefly from our own commerce with each other, should be remitted to London, clogged with that grievous burthen of exchange, and the pensions paid out of the Irish revenues to English favourites, should lie under the same disadvantage, to the great loss of the grantees. When a divine is sent over to a bishopric here, with the hopes of five-and-twenty hundred pounds a year; upon his arrival, he finds, alas! a dreadful discount of ten or twelve per cent. A judge or a commissioner of the revenue has the same cause of complaint.Lastly,
p.23The ballad upon Cotter is vehemently suspected to be Irish manufacture; and yet is allowed to be sung in our open streets, under the very nose of the government.9 These are a few among the many hardships we put upon that poor kingdom of England; for which I am confident every honest man wishes a remedy: And I hear there is a project on foot for transporting our best wheaten straw by sea and land carriage to Dunstable; and obliging us by a law to take off yearly so many ton of straw hats for the use of our women, which will be a great encouragement to the manufacture of that industrious town.
I should be glad to learn among the divines, whether a law to bind men without their own consent, be obligatory in foro conscientiae; because I find Scripture, Sanderson and Suarez are wholly silent in the matter. The oracle of reason, the great law of nature, and general opinion of civilians, wherever they treat of limited governments, are indeed decisive enough.
It is wonderful to observe the bias among our people in favour of things, persons, and wares of all kinds that come from England. The printer tells his hawkers that he has got an excellent new song just brought from London. I have somewhat of a tendency that way myself; and upon hearing a coxcomb from thence displaying himself with great volubility upon the park, the playhouse, the opera, the gaming ordinaries, it was apt to beget in me a kind of veneration for his parts and accomplishments. 'Tis not many years, since I remember a person who by his style and literature seems to have been corrector of a hedge-press in some blind alley about Little Britain, proceed gradually to be an author, at least a translator of a lower rate, though somewhat of a larger bulk, than any that now flourishes in Grub Street; and upon the strength of this foundation, come over here, erect himself up into an orator and politician, and lead a kingdom after him.10 This, I am told, was the very motive that prevailed on the author of a play, called Love in a
p.24hollow Tree, to do us the honour of a visit; presuming with very good reason, that he was a writer of a superior class.11 I know another, who for thirty years past, hath been the common standard of stupidity in England, where he was never heard a minute in any assembly, or by any party with common Christian treatment; yet upon his arrival hither, could put on a face of importance and authority, talked more than six, without either gracefulness, propriety, or meaning; and at the same time be admired and followed as the pattern of eloquence and wisdom.
Nothing hath humbled me so much, or shewn a greater disposition to a contemptuous treatment of Ireland in some chief governors,12 than that high style of several speeches from the throne, delivered, as usual, after the royal assent, in some periods of the two last reigns. Such high exaggerations of the prodigious condescensions in the prince, to pass those good laws, would have but an odd sound at Westminster: Neither do I apprehend how any good law can pass, wherein the king's interest is not as much concerned as that of the people. I remember after a speech on the like occasion, delivered by my Lord Wharton, (I think it was his last) he desired Mr. Addison to ask my opinion of it: My answer was, That his Excellency had very honestly forfeited his head on account of one paragraph; wherein he asserted by plain consequence, a dispensing power in the Queen. His Lordship owned it was true, but swore the words were put into his mouth by direct orders from Court. From whence it is clear, that some ministers in those times, were apt, from their high elevation, to look down upon this kingdom
p.25as if it had been one of their colonies of outcasts in America. And I observed a little of the same turn of spirit in some great men, from whom I expected better; although to do them justice, it proved no point of difficulty to make them correct their idea, whereof the whole nation quickly found the benefit?But that is forgotten. How the style hath since run, I am wholly a stranger, having never seen a speech since the last of the Queen.
I would now expostulate a little with our country landlords, who by unmeasurable screwing and racking their tenants all over the kingdom, have already reduced the miserable people to a worse condition than the peasants in France, or the vassals in Germany and Poland; so that the whole species of what we call substantial farmers, will in a very few years be utterly at an end.13 It was pleasant to observe these gentlemen labouring with all their might for preventing the bishops from letting their revenues at a moderate half value, (whereby the whole order would in an age have been reduced to manifest beggary) at the very instant when they were everywhere canting their own lands upon short leases, and sacrificing their oldest tenants for a penny an acre advance.14 I know not how it comes to pass,
p.26(and yet perhaps I know well enough) that slaves have a natural disposition to be tyrants; and that when my betters give me a kick, I am apt to revenge it with six upon my footman; although perhaps he may be an honest and diligent fellow. I have heard great divines affirm, that nothing is so likely to call down an universal judgment from Heaven upon a nation as universal oppression; and whether this be not already verified in part, their worships the landlords are now at full leisure to consider. Whoever travels this country, and observes the face of nature, or the faces, and habits, and dwellings of the natives, will hardly think himself in a land where either law, religion, or common humanity is professed.15 I cannot forbear saying one word upon a thing they call a bank, which I hear is projecting in this town.16 I never
p.28saw the proposals, nor understand any one particular of their scheme: What I wish for at present, is only a sufficient
p.29provision of hemp, and caps, and bells, to distribute according to the several degrees of honesty and prudence in some
p.30persons. I hear only of a monstrous sum already named; and if others, do not soon hear of it too, and hear of it with a vengeance, then am I a gentleman of less sagacity, than myself and very few besides, take me to be. And the jest will be still the better, if it be true, as judicious persons have assured me, that one half of this money will be real, and the other half only Gasconnade.17 The matter will be likewise much mended, if the merchants continue to carry off our gold, and our goldsmiths to melt down our heavy silver.
Sheridan, in the sixth number of The Intelligencer, contributes an account of the state of Ireland, written to the text, O patria! O divum domus!
When I travel through any part of this unhappy kingdom, and I have now by several excursions made from Dublin, gone through most counties of it, it raises two passions in my breast of a different kind; an indignation against those vile betrayers and insulters of it, who insinuate themselves into favour, by saying, it is a rich nation; and a sincere passion for the natives, who are sunk to the lowest degree of misery and poverty, whose houses are dunghills, whose victuals are the blood of their cattle, or the herbs in the field; and whose clothing, to the dishonour of God and man, is nakedness. Yet notwithstanding all the dismal appearances, it is the common phrase of our upstart race of people, who have suddenly sprang up like the dragon's teeth among us, That Ireland was never known to be so rich as it is now; by which, as I apprehend, they can only mean themselves, for they have skipped over the channel from the vantage ground of a dunghill upon no other merit, either visible or divineable, than that of not having been born among us.
This is the modern way of planting Colonies: Et ubi solitudinem faciunt, id Imperium vocant. When those who are so unfortunate to be born here, are excluded from the meanest preferments, and deemed incapable of being entertained even as common soldiers, whose poor stipend is but four pence a day. No trade, no emoluments, no encouragement for learning among the natives, who yet by a perverse consequence are divided into factions, with as much violence and rancour, as if they had the wealth of the Indies to contend for. It puts me in mind of a fable which I read in a monkish author. He quotes for it one of the Greek mythologists that once upon a time a colony of large dogs (called the Molossi) transplanted themselves from Epirus to Aetolia, where they seized those parts of the countries, most fertile in flesh of all kinds, obliging the native dogs to retire from their best kennels, to live under ditches and bushes, but to preserve good neighbourhood and peace; and finding likewise, that the Aetolian dogs might be of some use in the low offices of life, they passed a decree, that the natives should be entitled to the short ribs, tops of back, knuckle-bones, and guts of all the game, which they were obliged by their masters to run down. This condition was accepted, and what was a little singular, while the Molossian dogs kept a good understanding among themselves, living in peace and luxury, these Aetolian curs were perpetually snarling, growling, barking and tearing at each other's throats: Nay, sometimes those of the best quality among them, were seen to quarrel with as much rancour for a rotten gut, as if it had been a fat haunch of venison. But what need we wonder at this in dogs, when the same is every day practised among men?
Last year I travelled from Dublin to Dundalk, through a country esteemed the most fruitful part of the kingdom, and so nature intended it. But no ornaments or improvements of such a scene were visible. No habitation fit for gentlemen, no farmers' houses, few fields of corn, and almost a bare face of nature, without new plantations of any kind, only a few miserable cottages, at three or four miles' distance, and one Church in the centre between this city and Drogheda. When I arrived at this last town, the first mortifying sight was the ruins of several churches, battered down by that usurper, Cromwell, whose fanatic zeal made more desolation in a few days, than the piety of succeeding prelates or the wealth of the town have, in more than sixty years, attempted to repair.
Perhaps the inhabitants, through a high strain of virtue, have, in imitation of the Athenians, made a solemn resolution, never to rebuild those sacred edifices, but rather leave them in ruins, as monuments, to perpetuate the detestable memory of that hellish instrument of rebellion, desolation, and murder. For the Athenians, when Mardonius had ravaged a great part of Greece, took a formal oath at the Isthmus, to lose their lives rather than their liberty, to stand by their leaders to the last, to spare the cities of such barbarians as they conquered. And what crowned all, the conclusion of their oath was, We will never repair any of the Temples, which they have burned and destroyed, lest they may appear to posterity as so many monuments of these wicked barbarians. This was a glorious resolution; and I am sorry to think, that the poverty of my countrymen will not let the world suppose, they have acted upon such a generous principle; yet upon this occasion I cannot but observe, that there is a fatality in some nations, to be fond of those who have treated them with the least humanity. Thus I have often heard the memory of Cromwell, who has depopulated, and almost wholly destroyed this miserable country, celebrated like that of a saint, and at the same time the sufferings of the royal martyr turned into ridicule, and his murder justified even from the pulpit, and all this done with an intent to gain favour, under a monarchy; which is a new strain of politics that I shall not pretend to account for.
Examine all the eastern towns of Ireland, and you will trace this horrid instrument of destruction, in defacing of Churches, and particularly in destroying whatever was ornamental, either within or without them. We see in the several towns a very few houses scattered among the ruins of thousands, which he laid level with their streets; great numbers of castles, the country seats of gentlemen then in being, still standing in ruin, habitations for bats, daws, and owls, without the least repairs or succession of other buildings. Nor have the country churches, as far as my eye could reach, met with any better treatment from him, nine in ten of them lying among their graves and God only knows when they are to have a resurrection. When I passed from Dundalk where this cursed usurper's handy work is yet visible, I cast mine eyes around from the top of a mountain, from whence I had a wide and a waste prospect of several venerable ruins. It struck me with a melancholy, not unlike that expressed by Cicero in one of his letters which being much upon the like prospect, and concluding with a very necessary reflection on the uncertainty of things in this world, I shall here insert a translation of what he says: 'In my return from Asia, as I sailed from Aegina, towards Megara, I began to take a prospect of the several countries round me. Behind me was Aegina; before me Megara; on the right hand the Piraeus; and on the left was Corinth; which towns were formerly in a most flourishing condition; now they lie prostrate and in ruin.
Thus I began to think with myself: Shall we who have but a trifling existence, express any resentment, when one of us either dies a natural death, or is slain, whose lives are necessarily of a short duration, when at one view I beheld the carcases of so many great cities? What if he had seen the natives of those free republics, reduced to all the miserable consequences of a conquered people, living without the common defences against hunger and cold, rather appearing like spectres than men? I am apt to think, that seeing his fellow creatures in ruin like this, it would have put him past all patience for philosophic reflection.
As for my own part, I confess, that the sights and occurrences which I had in this my last journey, so far transported me to a mixture of rage and compassion, that I am not able to decide, which had the greater influence upon my spirits; for this new cant, of a rich and flourishing nation, was still uppermost in my thoughts; every mile I travelled, giving me such ample demonstrations to the contrary. For this reason, I have been at the pains to render a most exact and faithful account of all the visible signs of riches, which I met with in sixty miles' riding through the most public roads, and the best part of the kingdom. First, as to trade, I met nine cars loaden with old musty, shrivelled hides; one car-load of butter; four jockeys driving eight horses, all out of case; one cow and calf driven by a man and his wife; six tattered families flitting to be shipped off to the West Indies; a colony of a hundred and fifty beggars, all repairing to people our metropolis, and by encreasing the number of hands, to encrease its wealth, upon the old maxim, that people are the riches of a nation, and therefore ten thousand mouths, with hardly ten pair of hands, or hardly any work to employ them, will infallibly make us a rich and flourishing people. Secondly, Travellers enough, but seven in ten wanting shirts and cravats; nine in ten going bare foot, and carrying their brogues and stockings in their hands; one woman in twenty having a pillion, the rest riding bare backed: Above two hundred horsemen, with four pair of boots amongst them all; seventeen saddles of leather (the rest being made of straw) and most of their garrons only shod before. I went into one of the principal farmer's houses, out of curiosity, and his whole furniture consisted of two blocks for stools, a bench on each side the fire-place made of turf, six trenchers, one bowl, a pot, six horn spoons, three noggins, three blankets, one of which served the man and maid servant; the other the master of the family, his wife and five children; a small churn, a wooden candlestick, a broken stick for a pair of tongs. In the public towns, one third of the inhabitants walking the streets bare foot; windows half built up with stone, to save the expense of glass, the broken panes up and down supplied by brown paper, few being able to afford white; in some places they were stopped with straw or hay. Another mark of our riches, are the signs at the several inns upon the road, viz. In some, a staff stuck in the thatch, with a turf at the end of it; a staff in a dunghill with a white rag wrapped about the head; a pole, where they can afford it, with a besom at the top; an oatmeal cake on a board at the window; and, at the principal inns of the road, I have observed the signs taken down and laid against the wall near the door, being taken from their post to prevent the shaking of the house down by the wind. In short, I saw not one single house, in the best town I travelled through, which had not manifest appearances of beggary and want. I could give many more instances of our wealth, but I hope these will suffice for the end I propose.
It may be objected, what use it is of to display the poverty of the nation, in the manner I have done. I answer, I desire to know for what ends, and by what persons, this new opinion of our flourishing state has of late been so industriously advanced: One thing is certain, that the advancers have either already found their own account, or have been heartily promised, or at least have been entertained with hopes, by seeing such an opinion pleasing to those who have it in their power to reward.
It is no doubt a very generous principle in any person to rejoice in the felicities of a nation, where themselves are strangers or sojourners: But if it be found that the same persons on all other occasions express a hatred and contempt of the nation and people in general, and hold it for a maxim: That the more such a country is humbled, the more their own will rise; it need be no longer a secret, why such an opinion, and the advantages of it are encouraged. And besides, if the bayliff reports to his master, that the ox is fat and strong, when in reality it can hardly carry its own legs, is it not natural to think, that command will be given, for a greater load to be put upon it?