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A proposal for the universal use of Irish manufacture (Author: Jonathan Swift)


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


concerned) 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


their 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


example, 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:


However, 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,


‘The 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


hollow 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


as 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,


(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


saw the proposals, nor understand any one particular of their scheme: What I wish for at present, is only a sufficient


provision of hemp, and caps, and bells, to distribute according to the several degrees of honesty and prudence in some


persons. 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.