The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, Vol. VI; The Drapier's Letters
by Jonathan Swift
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To be completed in 12 volumes, 3s. 6d. each.






VOL. I. A TALE OF A TUB AND OTHER EARLY WORKS. Edited by TEMPLE SCOTT. With a biographical introduction by W.E.H. LECKY, M.P. With Portrait and Facsimiles.

VOL. II. THE JOURNAL TO STELLA. Edited by FREDERICK RYLAND, M.A. With two Portraits of Stella and a Facsimile of one of the Letters.

VOLS. III. & IV. WRITINGS ON RELIGION AND THE CHURCH. Edited by TEMPLE SCOTT. With Portraits and Facsimiles of Title-pages.

VOL. V. HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL TRACTS—ENGLISH. Edited by TEMPLE SCOTT. With Portrait and Facsimiles of Title-pages.

VOL. VI. THE DRAPIER'S LETTERS. Edited by TEMPLE SCOTT. With Portrait, Reproductions of Wood's Coinage, and Facsimiles of Title pages.

VOL. VIII. GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. Edited by G. RAVENSCROFT DENNIS. With Portrait, Maps and Facsimiles.



To be followed by:




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In 1714 Swift left England for Ireland, disappointed, distressed, and worn out with anxiety in the service of the Harley Ministry. On his installation as Dean of St. Patrick's he had been received in Dublin with jeering and derision. He had even been mocked at in his walks abroad. In 1720, however, he entered for the second time the field of active political polemics, and began with renewed energy the series of writings which not only placed him at the head and front of the political writers of the day, but secured for him a place in the affections of the people of Ireland—a place which has been kept sacred to him even to the present time. A visitor to the city of Dublin desirous of finding his way to St. Patrick's Cathedral need but to ask for the Dean's Church, and he will be understood. There is only one Dean, and he wrote the "Drapier's Letters." The joy of the people of Dublin on the withdrawal of Wood's Patent found such permanent expression, that it has descended as oral tradition, and what was omitted from the records of Parliament and the proceedings of Clubs and Associations founded in the Drapier's honour, has been embalmed in the hearts of the people, whose love he won, and whose homage it was ever his pride to accept.

The spirit of Swift which Grattan invoked had, even in Grattan's time, power to stir hearts to patriotic enthusiasm. That spirit has not died out yet, and the Irish people still find it seasonable and refreshing to be awakened by it to a true sense of the dignity and majesty of Ireland's place in the British Empire.

A dispassionate student of the condition of Ireland between the years of Swift's birth and death—between, say, 1667 and 1745—could rise from that study in no unprejudiced mood. It would be difficult for him to avoid the conclusion that the government of Ireland by England had not only degraded the people of the vassal nation, but had proved a disgrace and a stigma on the ruling nation. It was a government of the masses by the classes, for no other than selfish ends. It ended, as all such governments must inevitably end, in impoverishing the people, in wholesale emigration, in starvation and even death, in revolt, and in fostering among those who remained, and among those whom circumstances exiled, the dangerous spirit of resentment and rebellion which is the outcome of the sense of injustice. It has also served, even to this day, to give vitality to those associations that have from time to time arisen in Ireland for the object of realizing that country's self-government.

It may be argued that the people of Ireland of that time justified Swift's petition when he prayed to be removed from "this land of slaves, where all are fools and all are knaves"; but that is no justification for the injustice. The injustice from which Ireland suffered was a fact. Its existence was resented with all the indignation with which an emotional and spiritual people will always resent material obstructions to the free play of what they feel to be their best powers.

There were no leaders at the time who could see this, and seeing it, enforce its truth on the dull English mind to move it to saner methods of dealing with this people. Nor were there any who could order the resentment into battalions of fighting men to give point to the demands for equal rights with their English fellow-subjects.

Had Swift been an Irishman by nature as he was by birth, it might have been otherwise; but Swift was an Irishman by accident, and only became an Irish patriot by reason of the humanity in him which found indignant and permanent expression against oppression. Swift's indignation against the selfish hypocrisy of his fellow-men was the cry from the pain which the sight of man's inhumanity to man inflicted on his sensitive and truth-loving nature. The folly and baseness of his fellow-creatures stung him, as he once wrote to Pope, "to perfect rage and resentment." Turn where he would, he found either the knave as the slave driver, or the slave as a fool, and the latter became even a willing sacrifice. His indignation at the one was hardly greater than his contempt for the other, and his different feelings found trenchant expression in such writings as the "Drapier's Letters," the "Modest Proposal," and "Gulliver's Travels."

It has been argued that the saeva indignatio which lacerated his heart was the passion of a mad man. To argue thus seems to us to misunderstand entirely the peculiar qualities of Swift's nature. It was not the mad man that made the passion; it was rather the passion that made the man mad. As we understand him, it seems to us that Swift's was an eminently majestic spirit, moved by the tenderest of human sympathies, and capable of ennobling love—a creature born to rule and to command, but with all the noble qualities which go to make a ruler loved. It happened that circumstances placed him early in his career into poverty and servitude. He extricated himself from both in time; but his liberation was due to an assertion of his best powers, and not to a dissimulation of them. Had he been less honest, he might have risen to a position of great power, but it would have been at the price of those very qualities which made him the great man he was. That assertion cost him his natural vocation, and Swift lived on to rage in the narrow confines of a Dublin Deanery House. He might have flourished as the greatest of English statesmen—he became instead a monster, a master-scourger of men, pitiless to them as they had been blind to him. But monster and master-scourger as he proved himself, he always took the side of the oppressed as against the oppressor. The impulse which sent him abroad collecting guineas for "poor Harrison" was the same impulse which moved him in his study at the Deanery to write as "M.B. Drapier." On this latter occasion, however, he also had an opportunity to lay bare the secret springs of oppression, an opportunity which he was not the man to let go by.

No doubt Swift was not quite disinterested in the motives which prompted him to enter the political arena for the second time. He hated the Walpole Ministry in power; he resented his exile in a country whose people he despised; and he scorned the men who, while they feared him, had yet had the power to prevent his advancement. But, allowing for these personal incentives, there was in Swift such a large sympathy for the degraded condition of the Irish people, such a tender solicitude for their best welfare, and such a deep-seated zeal for their betterment, that, in measuring to him his share in the title of patriot, we cannot but admit that what we may call his public spirit far outweighed his private spleen. Above all things Swift loved liberty, integrity, sincerity and justice; and if it be that it was his love for these, rather than his love for the country, which inspired him to patriotic efforts, who shall say that he does not still deserve well of us. If a patriot be a man who nobly teaches a people to become aware of its highest functions as a nation, then was Swift a great patriot, and he better deserves that title than many who have been accorded it.

The matter of Wood's Halfpence was a trivial one in itself; but it was just that kind of a matter which Swift must instantly have appreciated as the happiest for his purpose. It was a matter which appealed to the commonest news-boy on the street, and its meaning once made plain, the principle which gave vitality to the meaning was ready for enunciation and was assured of intelligent acceptance. In writing the "Drapier's Letters," he had, to use his own words, seasonably raised a spirit among the Irish people, and that spirit he continued to refresh, until when he told them in his Fourth Letter, "by the Laws of God, of Nature, of Nations, and of your Country, you are, and ought to be, as free a people as your brethren in England," the country rose as one man to the appeal. Neither the suavities of Carteret nor the intrigues of Walpole had any chance against the set opposition which met them. The question to be settled was taken away from the consideration of ministers, and out of the seclusion of Cabinets into the hands of the People, and before the public eye. There was but one way in which it could be settled—the way of the people's will—and it went that way. It does not at all matter that Walpole finally had his way—that the King's mistress pocketed her douceur, and that Wood retired satisfied with the ample compensation allowed him. What does matter is that, for the first time in Irish History, a spirit of national life was breathed into an almost denationalized people. Beneath the lean and starved ribs of death Swift planted a soul; it is for this that Irishmen will ever revere his memory.

In the composition of the "Letters" Swift had set himself a task peculiarly fitting to his genius. Those qualities of mind which enabled him to enter into the habits of the lives of footmen, servants, and lackeys found an even more congenial freedom of play here. His knowledge of human nature was so profound that he instinctively touched the right keys, playing on the passions of the common people with a deftness far surpassing in effect the acquired skill of the mere master of oratory. He ordered his arguments and framed their language, so that his readers responded with almost passionate enthusiasm to the call he made upon them. Allied to his gift of intellectual sympathy with his kind was a consummate ability in expression, into which he imparted the fullest value of the intended meaning. His thought lost nothing in its statement. Writing as he did from the point of view of a tradesman, to the shopkeepers, farmers, and common people of Ireland, his business was to speak with them as if he were one of them. He had already laid bare their grievances caused by the selfish legislation of the English Parliament, which had ruined Irish manufactures; he had written grimly of the iniquitous laws which had destroyed the woollen trade of the country; he had not forgotten the condition of the people as he saw it on his journeys from Dublin to Cork—a condition which he was later to reveal in the most terrible of his satirical tracts—and he realized with almost personal anguish the degradation of the people brought about by the rapacity and selfishness of a class which governed with no thought of ultimate consequences, and with no apparent understanding of what justice implied. It was left for him to precipitate his private opinion and public spirit in such form as would arouse the nation to a sense of self-respect, if not to a pitch of resentment. The "Drapier's Letters" was the reagent that accomplished both.

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The editor takes this opportunity to express his thanks and obligations to Mr. G.R. Dennis, to Mr. W. Spencer Jackson, to the late Colonel F.R. Grant, to Mr. C. Litton Falkiner of Killiney, and to Mr. O'Donoghue of Dublin. His acknowledgment is here also made to Mr. Strickland, of the National Gallery of Ireland, to whose kindness and learning he is greatly indebted.


NEW YORK, March, 1903.
























JONATHAN SWIFT. From a painting in the National Gallery of Ireland, ascribed to Francis Bindon

HALFPENCE AND FARTHINGS coined by William Wood, 1722 and 1723




About the year 1720 it was generally acknowledged in Ireland that there was a want there of the small change, necessary in the transaction of petty dealings with shopkeepers and tradesmen. It has been indignantly denied by contemporary writers that this small change meant copper coins. They asserted that there was no lack of copper money, but that there was a great want of small silver. Be that as it may, the report that small change was wanting was sufficiently substantiated to the English government to warrant it to proceed to satisfy the want. In its dealings with Ireland, however, English governments appear to have consistently assumed that attitude which would most likely cause friction and arouse disturbance. In England coins for currency proceeded from a mint established under government supervision. In Scotland such a mint was specially provided for in the Act of Union. But in Ireland, the government acted otherwise.

The Irish people had again and again begged that they should be permitted to establish a mint in which coins could be issued of the same standard and intrinsic value as those used in England. English parliaments, however, invariably disregarded these petitions. Instead of the mint the King gave grants or patents by which a private individual obtained the right to mint coins for the use of the inhabitants. The right was most often given for a handsome consideration, and held for a term of years. In 1660 Charles II. granted such a patent to Sir Thomas Armstrong, permitting him to coin farthings for twenty years. It appears, however, that Armstrong never actually coined the farthings, although he had gone to the expense of establishing a costly plant for the purpose.

Small copper coins becoming scarce, several individuals, without permission, issued tokens; but the practice was stopped. In 1680 Sir William Armstrong, son of Sir Thomas, with Colonel George Legg (afterwards Lord Dartmouth), obtained a patent for twenty-one years, granting them the right to issue copper halfpence. Coins were actually struck and circulated, but the patent itself was sold to John Knox in the very year of its issue. Knox, however, had his patent specially renewed, but his coinage was interrupted when James II. issued his debased money during the Revolution (see Monck Mason, p. 334, and the notes on this matter to the Drapier's Third Letter, in present edition).

Knox sold his patent to Colonel Roger Moore, who overstocked the country with his coins to such an extent that the currency became undervalued. When, in 1705, Moore endeavoured to obtain a renewal of his patent, his application was refused. By 1722, owing either to Moore's bad coinage, or to the importation of debased coins from other countries, the copper money had degraded considerably. In a pamphlet[1] issued by George Ewing in Dublin (1724), it is stated that in that year, W. Trench presented a memorial to the Lords of the Treasury, complaining of the condition of the copper coinage, and pointing out that the evil results had been brought about by the system of grants to private individuals. Notwithstanding this memorial, it was attempted to overcome the difficulty by a continuance of the old methods. A new patent was issued to an English iron merchant, William Wood by name, who, according to Coxe, submitted proposal with many others, for the amelioration of the grievance. Wood's proposals, say this same authority, were accepted "as beneficial to Ireland." The letters patent bear the date July 12th, 1722, and were prepared in accordance with the King's instructions to the Attorney and Solicitor General sent in a letter from Kensington on June 16th, 1722. The letter commanded "that a bill should be prepared for his royal signature, containing and importing an indenture, whereof one part was to pass the Great Seal of Great Britain." This indenture, notes Monck Mason,[2] between His Majesty of the one part, "and William Wood, of Wolverhampton, in the County of Stafford, Esq.," of the other, signifies that His Majesty

"has received information that, in his kingdom of Ireland, there was a great want of small money for making small payments, and that retailers and others did suffer by reason of such want."

[Footnote 1: "A Defence of the Conduct of the People of Ireland in their unanimous refusal of Mr. Wood's Copper Money," pp. 22-23.]

[Footnote 2: "History of St. Patrick's Cathedral," note v, pp. 326-327.]

By virtue, therefore, of his prerogative royal, and in consideration of the rents, covenants, and agreements therein expressed, His Majesty granted to William Wood, his executors, assigns, etc., "full, free, sole, and absolute power, privilege, licence, and authority," during fourteen years, from the annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, 1722, to coin halfpence and farthings of copper, to be uttered and disposed of in Ireland, and not elsewhere. It was provided that the whole quantity coined should not exceed 360 tons of copper, whereof 100 tons only were to be coined in the first year, and 20 tons in each of the last thirteen, said farthings and halfpence to be of good, pure, and merchantable copper, and of such size and bigness, that one avoirdupois pound weight of copper should not be converted into more farthings and halfpence than would make thirty pence by tale; all the said farthings and halfpence to be of equal weight in themselves, or as near thereunto as might be, allowing a remedy not exceeding two farthings over or under in each pound. The same "to pass and to be received as current money, by such as shall or will, voluntarily and willingly, and not otherwise, receive the same, within the said kingdom of Ireland, and not elsewhere." Wood also covenanted to pay to the King's clerk or comptroller of the coinage, L200 yearly, and L100 per annum into his Majesty's treasury.

Most of the accounts of this transaction and its consequent agitation in Ireland, particularly those given by Sir W. Scott and Earl Stanhope, are taken from Coxe's "Life of Walpole." Monck Mason, however, in his various notes appended to his life of Swift, has once and for all placed Coxe's narrative in its true light, and exposed the specious special pleading on behalf of his hero, Walpole. But even Coxe cannot hide the fact that the granting of the patent and the circumstances under which it was granted, amounted to a disgraceful job, by which an opportunity was seized to benefit a "noble person" in England at the expense of Ireland. The patent was really granted to the King's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, who sold it to William Wood for the sum of L10,000, and (as it was reported with, probably, much truth) for a share in the profits of the coining. The job was alluded to by Swift when he wrote:

"When late a feminine magician, Join'd with a brazen politician, Expos'd, to blind a nation's eyes, A parchment of prodigious size."

Coxe endeavors to exonerate Walpole from the disgrace attached to this business, by expatiating on Carteret's opposition to Walpole, an opposition which went so far as to attempt to injure the financial minister's reputation by fomenting jealousies and using the Wood patent agitation to arouse against him the popular indignation; but this does not explain away the fact itself. He lays some blame for the agitation on Wood's indiscretion in flaunting his rights and publicly boasting of what the great minister would do for him. At the same time he takes care to censure the government for its misconduct in not consulting with the Lord Lieutenant and his Privy Council before granting the patent. His censure, however, is founded on the consideration that this want of attention was injudicious and was the cause of the spread of exaggerated rumours of the patent's evil tendency. He has nothing to say of the rights and liberties of a people which had thereby been infringed and ignored.

The English parliament had rarely shown much consideration for Irish feelings or Irish rights. Its attitude towards the Irish Houses of Legislation had been high-handed and even dictatorial; so that constitutional struggles were not at all infrequent towards the end of the seventeenth and during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The efforts of Sir Constantine Phipps towards a non-parliamentary government,[3] and the reversal by the English House of Lords of the decision given by the Irish House of Lords in the famous Annesley case, had prepared the Irish people for a revolt against any further attempts to dictate to its properly elected representatives assembled in parliament. Moreover, the wretched material condition of the people, as it largely had been brought about by a selfish, persecuting legislation that practically isolated Ireland commercially in prohibiting the exportation of its industrial products, was a danger and a menace to the governing country. The two nations were facing each other threateningly. When, therefore, Wood began to import his coin, suspicion was immediately aroused.

[Footnote 3: See Lecky's "History of Ireland," vol. i., p. 446, etc.]

The masses took little notice of it at first; but the commissioners of revenue in Dublin took action in a letter they addressed to the Right Hon. Edward Hopkins, secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. This letter, dated August 7th, 1722, began by expressing surprise at the patent granted to Mr. Wood, and asked the secretary "to lay before the Lord Lieutenant a memorial, presented by their agent to the Lords of the Treasury, concerning this patent, and also a report of some former Commissioners of the revenue on the like occasion, and to acquaint his Grace, that they concurred in all the objections in those papers, and were of opinion, that such a patent would be highly prejudicial to the trade, and welfare of this kingdom, and more particularly to his Majesty's revenue, which they had formerly found to have suffered very much, by too great a quantity of such base coin."[4] No reply was received to this letter.

[Footnote 4: "A Defence of the Conduct of the People of Ireland," etc., p. 6.]

Fears began to be generally felt, and the early murmurs of an agitation to be heard when, on September 19th, 1722, the Commissioners addressed a second letter, this time to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury. The letter assured their Lordships "that they had been applied to by many persons of rank and fortune, and by the merchants and traders in Ireland, to represent the ill effects of Mr. Wood's patent, and that they could from former experience assure their Lordships, it would be particularly detrimental to his Majesty's revenue. They represented that this matter had made a great noise here, and that there did not appear the least want of such small species of coin for change, and hoped that the importance of the occasion would excuse their making this representation of a matter that had not been referred to them."[5]

[Footnote 5: Ibid, pp. 6-7.]

To this letter also no reply was vouchsafed. In the meantime, Wood kept sending in his coins, landing them at most of the ports of the kingdom.

"Then everyone that was not interested in the success of this coinage," writes the author of the pamphlet already quoted, "by having contracted for a great quantity of his halfpence at a large discount, or biassed by the hopes of immoderate gain to be made out of the ruins of their country, expressed their apprehensions of the pernicious consequences of this copper money; and resolved to make use of the right they had by law to refuse the same".[6]

[Footnote 6: Ibid, p. 7.]

The Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Grafton, had arrived in August, 1723, and parliament sat early in September. Its first attention was paid to the Wood patent. After the early excitement had subsided, they resolved to appeal to the King. During the early stages of the discussion, however, the Commons addressed the Lord Lieutenant, asking that a copy of the patent and other papers relating to it, be laid before them. This was on September 13th. On the following day Mr. Hopkins informed the House that the Lord Lieutenant had no such copy, nor any papers. The House then unanimously resolved to inquire into the matter on its own account, and issued orders for several persons to appear before it to give evidence, fixing the day for examination for September 16th. On that day, however, Mr. Hopkins appeared before the members with a copy of the patent, and informed them that the Lord Lieutenant had received it since his last communication with them. This incident served but to arouse further ridicule. A broadside, published at the time with the title "A Creed of an Irish Commoner," amusingly reveals the lameness of the excuse for this non-production of the exemplification. Coxe says that the cause for the delay was due to the fact that the copy of the patent had been delivered to the Lord Lieutenant's servant, instead of to his private secretary; but this excuse is probably no more happily founded than the one offered.

On Friday, September 20th, the House resolved itself into a committee "to take into consideration the state of the nation, particularly in relation to the importing and uttering of copper halfpence and farthings in this kingdom." After three days' debate, and after examining competent witnesses under oath, it passed resolutions to the following effect

(1) That Wood's patent is highly prejudicial to his Majesty's revenue, and is destructive of trade and commerce, and most dangerous to the rights and properties of the subject.

(2) That for the purpose of obtaining the patent Wood had notoriously misrepresented the state of the nation.

(3) That great quantities of the coin had been imported of different impressions and of much less weight than the patent called for.

(4) That the loss to the nation by the uttering of this coin would amount to 150 per cent.

(5) That in coining the halfpence Wood was guilty of a notorious fraud.

(6) "That it is the opinion of this Committee, that it hath been always highly prejudicial to this kingdom to grant the power or privilege of coining money to private persons; and that it will, at all times, be of dangerous consequence to grant any such power to any body politic, or corporate, or any private person or persons whatsoever."[7]

[Footnote 7: "Comm. Journals," vol. iii., pp. 317-325.]

Addresses to his Majesty in conformity with these resolutions were voted on September 27th.

The House of Lords passed similar resolutions on September 26th, and voted addresses embodying them on September 28th.[8]

[Footnote 8: "Lords' Journals," vol. ii., pp. 745-751.]

These Addresses received a better attention than did the letters from the revenue commissioners. The Houses were courteously informed that their communications would receive His Majesty's careful consideration. Walpole kept his promise, but not before he had fought hard to maintain the English prerogative, as he might have called it. The "secret" history as narrated in Coxe's lively manner, throws some light on the situation. Coxe really finds his hero's conduct not marked with "his usual caution." The Lord Lieutenant was permitted to go to Ireland without proper instructions; the information on which Walpole acted was not reliable; and he did not sufficiently appreciate the influence of Chancellor Midleton and his family. "He bitterly accused Lord Midleton of treachery and low cunning, of having made, in his speeches, distinction between the King and his ministers, of caballing with Carteret, Cadogan, and Roxburgh, and of pursuing that line of conduct, because he was of opinion the opposite party would gain the ascendency in the cabinet. He did not believe the disturbances to be so serious as they were represented, nor was he satisfied with the Duke of Grafton's conduct, as being solely directed by Conolly, but declared that the part acted by Conolly, almost excused what the Brodricks had done." Carteret complained to the King and proved to him that Walpole's policy was a dangerous one. The King became irritated and Walpole "ashamed." He even became "uneasy," and it is to be supposed, took a more "cautious" course; for he managed to conciliate the Brodricks and the powers in Dublin. But the devil was not ill long. The cabinet crisis resulted in the triumph of Townshend and Walpole, and the devil got well again. Carteret must be removed and the patent promoted. But Midleton and the Brodricks must be kept friendly. So Carteret went to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, Midleton remained Chancellor, and constituted a lord justice, and St. John Brodrick was nominated a member of the Privy Council. Still farther on his "cautious" way, Ireland must be given some consideration; hence the Committee of the Privy Council, specially called to inquire into the grievances complained of by the Irish Houses of Parliament in their loyal addresses.

The Committee sat for several weeks, and the report it issued forms the subject of Swift's animadversions in the Drapier's third letter. But the time spent by the Committee in London was being utilized in quite a different fashion by Swift in Ireland. "Cautious" as was Walpole, he had not reckoned with the champion of his political opponents of Queen Anne's days. Swift had little humour for court intrigues and cabinet cabals. He came out into the open to fight the good fight of the people to whom courts and cabinets should be servants and not self-seeking masters. Whatever doubts the people of Ireland may have had about the legal validity of their resentment towards Wood and his coins, were quickly dissipated when they read "A Letter to the Shop Keepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common People of Ireland, concerning the Brass Half-pence coined by Mr. Wood," and signed, "M.B. Drapier." The letter, as Lord Orrery remarked, acted like the sound of a trumpet. At that sound "a spirit arose among the people, that in the eastern phrase, was like unto a trumpet in the day of the whirlwind. Every person of every rank, party, and denomination was convinced, that the admission of Wood's copper must prove fatal to the Commonwealth. The papist, the fanatic, the Tory, the Whig, all listed themselves volunteers under the banners of M.B. Drapier, and were all equally zealous to serve the Common cause."

The present text of the first of the Drapier's letters is based on that given by Sir W. Scott, carefully collated with two copies of the first edition which differed from each other in many particulars. One belonged to the late Colonel F. Grant, and the other is in the British Museum. It has also been read with the collection of the Drapier's Letters issued by the Drapier Club in 1725, with the title, "Fraud Detected"; with the London edition of "The Hibernian Patriot" (1730), and with Faulkner's text issued in his collected edition of Swift's Works in 1735.


By M.B. Drapier.

DUBLIN: Printed by J. Harding in Molesworth's-Court. ]




What I intend now to say to you, is, next to your duty to God, and the care of your salvation, of the greatest concern to yourselves, and your children, your bread and clothing, and every common necessary of life entirely depend upon it. Therefore I do most earnestly exhort you as men, as Christians, as parents, and as lovers of your country, to read this paper with the utmost attention, or get it read to you by others; which that you may do at the less expense, I have ordered the printer to sell it at the lowest rate.

It is a great fault among you, that when a person writes with no other intention than to do you good, you will not be at the pains to read his advices: One copy of this paper may serve a dozen of you, which will be less than a farthing a-piece. It is your folly that you have no common or general interest in your view, not even the wisest among you, neither do you know or enquire, or care who are your friends, or who are your enemies.

About three[9] years ago, a little book was written, to advise all people to wear the manufactures of this our own dear country:[10] It had no other design, said nothing against the King or Parliament, or any man, yet the POOR PRINTER was prosecuted two years, with the utmost violence, and even some WEAVERS themselves, for whose sake it was written, being upon the JURY, FOUND HIM GUILTY. This would be enough to discourage any man from endeavouring to do you good, when you will either neglect him or fly in his face for his pains, and when he must expect only danger to himself and loss of money, perhaps to his ruin.[11]

[Footnote 9: In his reprint of the Drapier's Letters, issued in 1725 with the title, "Fraud Detected; or the Hibernian Patriot," Faulkner prints "four" instead of "three"; but this, of course, is a correction made to agree with the date of the publication of this reprint. The "Proposal" was published in 1720. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 10: The "little book" was "A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures." See vol. vii. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 11: Instead of the words "loss of money," Faulkner in the reprint of 1725 has "to be fined and imprisoned." [T.S.]]

However I cannot but warn you once more of the manifest destruction before your eyes, if you do not behave yourselves as you ought.

I will therefore first tell you the plain story of the fact; and then I will lay before you how you ought to act in common prudence, and according to the laws of your country.

The fact is thus: It having been many years since COPPER HALFPENCE OR FARTHINGS were last coined in this kingdom, they have been for some time very scarce,[12] and many counterfeits passed about under the name of raps, several applications were made to England, that we might have liberty to coin new ones, as in former times we did; but they did not succeed. At last one Mr. Wood,[13] a mean ordinary man, a hardware dealer, procured a patent[14]under his Majesty's broad seal to coin fourscore and ten thousand pounds[15] in copper for this kingdom, which patent however did not oblige any one here to take them, unless they pleased. Now you must know, that the halfpence and farthings in England pass for very little more than they are worth. And if you should beat them to pieces, and sell them to the brazier you would not lose above a penny in a shilling. But Mr. Wood made his halfpence of such base metal, and so much smaller than the English ones, that the brazier would not give you above a penny of good money for a shilling of his; so that this sum of fourscore and ten thousand pounds in good gold and silver, must be given for trash that will not be worth above eight or nine thousand pounds real value. But this is not the worst, for Mr. Wood when he pleases may by stealth send over another and another fourscore and ten thousand pounds, and buy all our goods for eleven parts in twelve, under the value. For example, if a hatter sells a dozen of hats for five shillings a-piece, which amounts to three pounds, and receives the payment in Mr. Wood's coin, he really receives only the value of five shillings.

[Footnote 12: They had become scarce because they had been undervalued, and therefore sent out of the country in payment of goods bought. See Prior's "Observations on Coin," issued in 1729, where it is stated that this scarcity had occurred only within the last twenty years. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 13: William Wood (1671-1730) was an ironmaster of Wolverhampton. In addition to the patent for coining copper halfpence which he obtained for Ireland, and to which full reference is made in the introductory note to this first Drapier's Letter, Wood also obtained a patent, in 1722, for coining halfpence, pence and twopence for the English colonies in America. This latter patent fared no better than the Irish one. The coins introduced in America bear the dates 1722 and 1723, and are now much sought after by collectors. They are known as the Rosa American coinage. A list of the poems and pamphlets on Wood, during the excitement in Dublin, attending on the Drapier's Letters, will be found in the bibliography of Swift's works to be given in vol. xi. of this edition. See also Monck Mason's "History of St. Patrick's Cathedral." In the original edition of the Letter, Wood's name is mis-spelt Woods. [T. S.]]

[Footnote 14: See the introductory note for the manner in which this patent was obtained. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 15: This is how the amount is named in the first edition; but the amount in reality was L100,800 (the value of 360 tons of copper, as stated by the patent). Sir W. Scott prints this as L108,000. Coxe, in his "Memoirs of Sir Robert Walpole" gives the amount as L100,000. Lecky states it as L108,000. [T.S.]]

Perhaps you will wonder how such an ordinary fellow as this Mr. Wood could have so much interest as to get His Majesty's broad seal for so great a sum of bad money, to be sent to this poor country, and that all the nobility and gentry here could not obtain the same favour, and let us make our own halfpence, as we used to do. Now I will make that matter very plain. We are at a great distance from the King's court, and have nobody there to solicit for us, although a great number of lords and squires, whose estates are here, and are our countrymen, spending all their lives and fortunes there. But this same Mr. Wood was able to attend constantly for his own interest; he is an Englishman and had great friends, and it seems knew very well where to give money, to those that would speak to others that could speak to the King and could tell a fair story. And His Majesty, and perhaps the great lord or lords who advised him, might think it was for our country's good; and so, as the lawyers express it, "the King was deceived in his grant," which often happens in all reigns. And I am sure if His Majesty knew that such a patent, if it should take effect according to the desire of Mr. Wood, would utterly ruin this kingdom, which hath given such great proofs of its loyalty, he would immediately recall it, and perhaps shew his displeasure to somebody or other. But "a word to the wise is enough." Most of you must have heard, with what anger our honourable House of Commons received an account of this Wood's patent.[16] There were several fine speeches made upon it, and plain proofs that it was all A WICKED CHEAT from the bottom to the top, and several smart votes were printed, which that same Wood had the assurance to answer likewise in print, and in so confident a way, as if he were a better man than our whole Parliament put together.[17]

[Footnote 16: The Irish House of Commons reported that the loss to the country, even if the patent were carried out as required, would amount to about 150 per cent.; and both Irish Houses of Parliament voted addresses against the coinage, and accused the patentee of fraud and deceit. They asserted that the terms of the patent had not been fulfilled and "that the circulation of the halfpence would be highly prejudicial to the revenue, destructive of the commerce, and of most dangerous consequences to the rights and properties of the subjects." See introductory note. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 17: Wood's indiscreet retort was published in the "Flying Post" October 8th, 1723. Later he boasted that he would, with Walpole's assistance, "pour the coin down the throats of the people." [T.S.]]

This Wood, as soon as his patent was passed, or soon after, sends over a great many barrels of these halfpence, to Cork and other sea-port towns,[18] and to get them off offered an hundred pounds in his coin for seventy or eighty in silver. But the collectors of the King's customs very honestly refused to take them, and so did almost everybody else. And since the Parliament hath condemned them, and desired the King that they might be stopped, all the kingdom do abominate them.

[Footnote 18: At Dublin, Cork, Waterford and other ports, the merchants refused to accept the copper coins. Monck Mason notes that "in the 'Dublin Gazette,' No. 2562, we meet with resolutions by the merchants of Cork, dated the 25th of Aug., 1724, and like resolutions by those of Waterford, dated 22d Aug. wherein they declare, that, 'they will never receive or utter in any payment, the halfpence or farthings coined by William Wood; as they conceive the importing and uttering the same, to be highly prejudicial to His Majesty's revenue, and to the trade of the kingdom': these resolutions are declared to be conformable to those of the Trinity Guild, of merchants, of the city of Dublin, voted at their guild-hall, on the 18th day of the same month" (Hist. St. Patrick's, p. 346, note r). See also Appendix No. IX. [T.S.]]

But Wood is still working underhand to force his halfpence upon us, and if he can by help of his friends in England prevail so far as to get an order that the commissioners and collectors of the King's money shall receive them, and that the army is to be paid with them, then he thinks his work shall be done. And this is the difficulty you will be under in such a case. For the common soldier when he goes to the market or alehouse will offer this money, and if it be refused, perhaps he will swagger and hector, and threaten to beat the butcher or alewife, or take the goods by force, and throw them the bad halfpence. In this and the like cases, the shopkeeper or victualler, or any other tradesman has no more to do, than to demand ten times the price of his goods, if it is to be paid in Wood's money; for example, twenty-pence of that money for a quart of ale, and so in all things else, and not part with his goods till he gets the money.

For suppose you go to an alehouse with that base money, and the landlord gives you a quart for four of these halfpence, what must the victualler do? His brewer will not be paid in that coin, or if the brewer should be such a fool, the farmers will not take it from them for their bere,[19] because they are bound by their leases to pay their rents in good and lawful money of England, which this is not, nor of Ireland neither, and the 'squire their landlord will never be so bewitched to take such trash for his land, so that it must certainly stop somewhere or other, and wherever it stops it is the same thing, and we are all undone.

[Footnote 19: Bere = barley. Cf. A.S. baerlic, Icelandic, barr, meaning barley, the grain used for making malt for the preparation of beer. [T.S.]]

The common weight of these halfpence is between four and five to an ounce, suppose five, then three shillings and fourpence will weigh a pound, and consequently twenty shillings will weigh six pound butter weight. Now there are many hundred farmers who pay two hundred pound a year rent. Therefore when one of these farmers comes with his half-year's rent, which is one hundred pound, it will be at least six hundred pound weight, which is three horse load.

If a 'squire has a mind to come to town to buy clothes and wine and spices for himself and family, or perhaps to pass the winter here; he must bring with him five or six horses loaden with sacks as the farmers bring their corn; and when his lady comes in her coach to our shops, it must be followed by a car loaden with Mr. Wood's money. And I hope we shall have the grace to take it for no more than it is worth.

They say 'Squire Conolly[20] has sixteen thousand pounds a year, now if he sends for his rent to town, as it is likely he does, he must have two hundred and forty horses to bring up his half-year's rent, and two or three great cellars in his house for stowage. But what the bankers will do I cannot tell. For I am assured, that some great bankers keep by them forty thousand pounds in ready cash to answer all payments, which sum, in Mr. Wood's money, would require twelve hundred horses to carry it.

[Footnote 20: William Conolly (d. 1729) was chosen Speaker of the Irish House of Commons on November 12th, 1715. He held this office until October 12th, 1729. Swift elsewhere says that Wharton sold Conolly the office of Chief Commissioner of the Irish Revenue for L3,000. Between the years 1706 and 1729 Conolly was ten times selected for the office of a Lord Justice of Ireland. The remark in the text as to Conolly's income is repeated by Boulter ("Letters," vol. i., p. 334), though the Primate writes of L17,000 a year. The reference to Conolly is of set purpose, because Conolly had advocated the patent as against Midleton's condemnation of it. [T.S.]]

For my own part, I am already resolved what to do; I have a pretty good shop of Irish stuffs and silks, and instead of taking Mr. Wood's bad copper, I intend to truck with my neighbours the butchers, and bakers, and brewers, and the rest, goods for goods, and the little gold and silver I have, I will keep by me like my heart's blood till better times, or till I am just ready to starve, and then I will buy Mr. Wood's money as my father did the brass money in K. James's time,[21] who could buy ten pound of it with a guinea, and I hope to get as much for a pistole, and so purchase bread from those who will be such fools as to sell it me.

[Footnote 21: James II., during his unsuccessful campaign in Ireland, debased the coinage in order to make his funds meet the demands of his soldiery. Archbishop King, in his work on the "State of the Protestants in Ireland," describes the evil effects which this proceeding had: "King James's council used not to stick at the formalities of law or reason, and therefore vast quantities of brass money were coined, and made current by a proclamation, dated 18th June, 1689, under severe penalties. The metal of which this money was made was the worst kind of brass; old guns, and the refuse of metals were melted down to make it; workmen rated it at threepence or a groat a pound, which being coined into sixpences, shillings, or half-crowns, one pound weight made about L5. And by another proclamation, dated 1690, the half-crowns were called in, and being stamped anew, were made to pass for crowns; so that then, three pence or four pence worth of metal made L10. There was coined in all, from the first setting up of the mint, to the rout at the Boyne, being about twelve months, L965,375. In this coin King James paid all his appointments, and all that received the king's pay being generally papists, they forced the protestants to part with the goods out of their shops for this money, and to receive their debts in it; so that the loss by the brass money did, in a manner, entirely fall on the protestants, being defrauded (for I can call it no better) of about, L60,000 per month by this stratagem, which must, in a few months, have utterly exhausted them. When the papists had gotten most of their saleable goods from their protestant neighbours, and yet great quantities of brass money remained in their hands, they began to consider how many of them, who had estates, had engaged them to protestants by judgments, statutes staple, and mortgages; and to take this likewise from them they procured a proclamation, dated 4 Feb. 1689, to make brass money current in all payments whatsoever." A proclamation of William III., dated July 10th, 1690, ordered that these crown pieces of James should pass as of equal value with one penny each. [T.S.]]

These halfpence, if they once pass, will soon be counterfeit, because it may be cheaply done, the stuff is so base. The Dutch likewise will probably do the same thing, and send them over to us to pay for our goods.[22] And Mr. Wood will never be at rest but coin on: So that in some years we shall have at least five times fourscore and ten thousand pounds of this lumber. Now the current money of this kingdom is not reckoned to be above four hundred thousand pounds in all, and while there is a silver sixpence left these blood-suckers will never be quiet.

[Footnote 22: The Dutch had previously counterfeited the debased coinage of Ireland and sent them over in payment for Irish manufactures. [T. S.]]

When once the kingdom is reduced to such a condition, I will tell you what must be the end: The gentlemen of estates will all turn off their tenants for want of payment, because as I told you before, the tenants are obliged by their leases to pay sterling which is lawful current money of England; then they will turn their own farmers, as too many of them do already, run all into sheep where they can, keeping only such other cattle as are necessary, then they will be their own merchants and send their wool and butter and hides and linen beyond sea for ready money and wine and spices and silks. They will keep only a few miserable cottiers.[23] The farmers must rob or beg, or leave their country. The shopkeepers in this and every other town, must break and starve: For it is the landed man that maintains the merchant, and shopkeeper, and handicraftsman.

[Footnote 23: "Unlike the peasant proprietor," says Lecky, "and also unlike the mediaeval serf, the cottier had no permanent interest in the soil, and no security for his future position. Unlike the English farmer, he was no capitalist, who selects land as one of the many forms of profitable investment that are open to him. He was a man destitute of all knowledge and of all capital, who found the land the only thing that remained between himself and starvation. Rents in the lower grades of tenancies were regulated by competition, but it was competition between a half-starving population, who had no other resources except the soil, and were therefore prepared to promise anything rather than be deprived of it. The landlord did nothing for them. They built their own mud hovels, planted their hedges, dug their ditches. They were half naked, half starved, utterly destitute of all providence and of all education, liable at any time to be turned adrift from their holdings, ground to the dust by three great burdens—rack-rents, paid not to the landlord but to the middleman; tithes, paid to the clergy—often the absentee clergy—of the church to which they did not belong; and dues, paid to their own priests" ("Hist, of Ireland," vol. i., pp. 214-215, ed. 1892). [T.S.]]

But when the 'squire turns farmer and merchant himself, all the good money he gets from abroad, he will hoard up or send for England, and keep some poor tailor or weaver and the like in his own house, who will be glad to get bread at any rate.

I should never have done if I were to tell you all the miseries that we shall undergo if we be so foolish and wicked as to take this CURSED COIN. It would be very hard if all Ireland should be put into one scale, and this sorry fellow Wood into the other, that Mr. Wood should weigh down this whole kingdom, by which England gets above a million of good money every year clear into their pockets, and that is more than the English do by all the world besides.

But your great comfort is, that as His Majesty's patent does not oblige you to take this money, so the laws have not given the crown a power of forcing the subjects to take what money the King pleases: For then by the same reason we might be bound to take pebble-stones or cockle-shells or stamped leather for current coin, if ever we should happen to live under an ill prince, who might likewise by the same power make a guinea pass for ten pounds, a shilling for twenty shillings, and so on, by which he would in a short time get all the silver and gold of the kingdom into his own hands, and leave us nothing but brass or leather or what he pleased. Neither is anything reckoned more cruel or oppressive in the French government than their common practice of calling in all their money after they have sunk it very low, and then coining it anew at a much higher value, which however is not the thousandth part so wicked as this abominable project of Mr. Wood. For the French give their subjects silver for silver and gold for gold, but this fellow will not so much as give us good brass or copper for our gold and silver, nor even a twelfth part of their worth.

Having said thus much, I will now go on to tell you the judgments of some great lawyers in this matter, whom I fee'd on purpose for your sakes, and got their opinions under their hands, that I might be sure I went upon good grounds.

A famous law-book, called "The Mirror of Justice,"[24] discoursing of the articles (or laws) ordained by our ancient kings declares the law to be as follows: "It was ordained that no king of this realm should change, impair or amend the money or make any other money than of gold or silver without the assent of all the counties," that is, as my Lord Coke says,[25] without the assent of Parliament.

[Footnote 24: This was an important legal treatise often quoted by Coke. Its full title is: "The Booke called, The Mirrour of Justices: Made by Andrew Home. With the book, called, The Diversity of Courts, And Their Jurisdictions ... London ... 1646." The French edition was printed in 1642 with the title, "La somme appelle Mirroir des Justices: vel speculum Justiciariorum, Factum per Andream Home." Coke quotes it from a manuscript, as he died before it was printed. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 25: 2 Inst. 576. [ORIG. ED.]]

This book is very ancient, and of great authority for the time in which it was wrote, and with that character is often quoted by that great lawyer my Lord Coke.[26] By the law of England, the several metals are divided into lawful or true metal and unlawful or false metal, the former comprehends silver or gold; the latter all baser metals: That the former is only to pass in payments appears by an act of Parliament[27] made the twentieth year of Edward the First, called the "Statute concerning the Passing of Pence," which I give you here as I got it translated into English, for some of our laws at that time, were, as I am told writ in Latin: "Whoever in buying or selling presumeth to refuse an halfpenny or farthing of lawful money, bearing the stamp which it ought to have, let him be seized on as a contemner of the King's majesty, and cast into prison."

[Footnote 26: 2 Inst. 576-577. [ORIG. ED.]]

[Footnote 27: 2 Inst. 577. [ORIG. ED.]]

By this statute, no person is to be reckoned a contemner of the King's majesty, and for that crime to be committed to prison; but he who refuses to accept the King's coin made of lawful metal, by which, as I observed before, silver and gold only are intended.

That this is the true construction of the act, appears not only from the plain meaning of the words, but from my Lord Coke's observation upon it. "By this act" (says he) "it appears, that no subject can be forced to take in buying or selling or other payments, any money made but of lawful metal; that is, of silver or gold."[28]

[Footnote 28: 2 Inst. 577. [ORIG. ED.]]

The law of England gives the King all mines of gold and silver, but not the mines of other metals, the reason of which prerogative or power, as it is given by my Lord Coke[29] is, because money can be made of gold and silver, but not of other metals.

[Footnote 29: 2 Inst. 577. [ORIG. ED.]]

Pursuant to this opinion halfpence and farthings were anciently made of silver, which is most evident from the act of Parliament of Henry the 4th. chap. 4.[30] by which it is enacted as follows: "Item, for the great scarcity that is at present within the realm of England of halfpence and farthings of silver, it is ordained and established that the third part of all the money of silver plate which shall be brought to the bullion, shall be made in halfpence and farthings." This shews that by the word "halfpenny" and "farthing" of lawful money in that statute concerning the passing of pence, are meant a small coin in halfpence and farthings of silver.

[Footnote 30: Swift makes an incorrect reference here. The act was 4 Henry IV., cap. 10. [T.S.]]

This is further manifest from the statute of the ninth year of Edward the 3d. chap. 3. which enacts, "That no sterling halfpenny or farthing be molten for to make vessel, nor any other thing by the goldsmiths, nor others, upon forfeiture of the money so molten" (or melted).

By another act in this King's reign[31] black money was not to be current in England, and by an act made in the eleventh year of his reign chap. 5. galley halfpence were not to pass, what kind of coin these were I do not know, but I presume they were made of base metal, and that these acts were no new laws, but farther declarations of the old laws relating to the coin.

[Footnote 31: The act against black money was passed in Henry IV.'s reign not Edward III.'s. The "galley halfpence" were dealt with by 9 Hen. IV., cap. 4. [T.S.]]

Thus the law stands in relation to coin, nor is there any example to the contrary, except one in Davis's Reports,[32] who tells us that in the time of Tyrone's rebellion Queen Elizabeth ordered money of mixed metal to be coined in the Tower of London, and sent over hither for payment of the army, obliging all people to receive it and commanding that all silver money should be taken only as bullion, that is, for as much as it weighed. Davis tells us several particulars in this matter too long here to trouble you with, and that the privy-council of this kingdom obliged a merchant in England to receive this mixed money for goods transmitted hither.[33]

[Footnote 32: This refers to Sir John Davies's "Abridgement of Sir Edward Coke's Reports," first published in 1651. Davies was Attorney-General for Ireland and a poet. His works have been collected and edited by Dr. A.B. Grosart in the Fuller Worthies Library. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 33: Charles I., during the Civil War, paid his forces with debased coin struck by him. [T.S.]]

But this proceeding is rejected by all the best lawyers as contrary to law, the Privy-council here having no such power. And besides it is to be considered, that the Queen was then under great difficulties by a rebellion in this kingdom assisted from Spain, and whatever is done in great exigences and dangerous times should never be an example to proceed by in seasons of peace and quietness.

I will now, my dear friends to save you the trouble, set before you in short, what the law obliges you to do, and what it does not oblige you to.

First, You are obliged to take all money in payments which is coined by the King and is of the English standard or weight, provided it be of gold or silver.

Secondly, You are not obliged to take any money which is not of gold or silver, no not the halfpence, or farthings of England, or of any other country, and it is only for convenience, or ease, that you are content to take them, because the custom of coining silver halfpence and farthings hath long been left off, I will suppose on account of their being subject to be lost.

Thirdly, Much less are you obliged to take those vile halfpence of that same Wood, by which you must lose almost eleven-pence in every shilling.

Therefore my friends, stand to it one and all, refuse this filthy trash. It is no treason to rebel against Mr. Wood. His Majesty in his patent obliges nobody to take these halfpence,[34] our gracious prince hath no so ill advisers about him; or if he had, yet you see the laws have not left it in the King's power, to force us to take any coin but what is lawful, of right standard gold and silver, therefore you have nothing to fear.

[Footnote 34: The words of the patent are "to pass and to be received as current money; by such as shall or will, voluntarily and wittingly, and not otherwise, receive the same" (the halfpence and farthings). [T.S.]]

And let me in the next place apply myself particularly to you who are the poor sort of tradesmen, perhaps you may think you will not be so great losers as the rich, if these halfpence should pass, because you seldom see any silver, and your customers come to your shops or stalls with nothing but brass, which you likewise find hard to be got, but you may take my word, whenever this money gains footing among you, you will be utterly undone; if you carry these halfpence to a shop for tobacco or brandy, or any other thing you want, the shopkeeper will advance his goods accordingly, or else he must break, and leave the key under the door. Do you think I will sell you a yard of tenpenny stuff for twenty of Mr. Wood's halfpence? No, not under two hundred at least, neither will I be at the trouble of counting, but weigh them in a lump; I will tell you one thing further, that if Mr. Wood's project should take, it will ruin even our beggars; For when I give a beggar an halfpenny, it will quench his thirst, or go a good way to fill his belly, but the twelfth part of a halfpenny will do him no more service than if I should give him three pins out of my sleeve.

In short these halfpence are like "the accursed thing, which" as the Scripture tells us, "the children of Israel were forbidden to touch," they will run about like the plague and destroy every one who lays his hands upon them. I have heard scholars talk of a man who told a king that he had invented a way to torment people by putting them into a bull of brass with fire under it, but the prince put the projector first into his own brazen bull to make the experiment;[35] this very much resembles the project of Mr. Wood, and the like of this may possibly be Mr. Wood's fate, that the brass he contrived to torment this kingdom with, may prove his own torment, and his destruction at last.

[Footnote 35: It is curious to find Swift so referring to Phalaris, of whom he had heard so much in the days of the "Battle of the Books." [SIR H. CRAIK.]]

N.B. The author of this paper is informed by persons who have made it their business to be exact in their observations on the true value of these halfpence, that any person may expect to get a quart of twopenny ale for thirty-six of them.

I desire all persons may keep this paper carefully by them to refresh their memories whenever they shall have farther notice of Mr. Wood's halfpence, or any other the like imposture.




Towards the beginning of the August of 1724, the Committee of Inquiry had finished their report on Wood's patent. Somehow, an advance notice of the contents of the report found its way, probably directed by Walpole himself, into the pages of a London journal, from whence it was reprinted in Dublin, in Harding's Newspaper on the 1st of August. The notice stated that the Committee had recommended a reduction in the amount of coin Wood was to issue to L40,000. It informed the public that the report notified that Wood was willing to take goods in exchange for his coins, if enough silver were not to be had, and he agreed to restrict the amount of each payment to 5-1/2d. But a pretty broad hint was given that a refusal to accept the compromise offered might possibly provoke the higher powers to an assertion of the prerogative.

Walpole also had already endeavoured to calm the situation by consenting to a minute examination of the coins themselves at the London Mint. The Lords Commissioners had instructed Sir Isaac Newton, the Master of the Mint, Edward Southwell, and Thomas Scroope, to make an assay of Wood's money. The report of the assayists was issued on April 27th, 1724;[1] and certified that the coins submitted had been tested and found to be correct both as to weight and quality. In addition to this evidence of good faith, Walpole had nominated Carteret in place of the Duke of Grafton to the Lord-Lieutenancy. Carteret was a favourite with the best men in Ireland, and a man of culture as well as ability. It was hoped that his influence would smooth down the members of the opposition by an acceptance of the altered measure. He was in the way in London, and he might be of great service in Dublin; so to Dublin he went.

[Footnote 1: A full reprint of this report is given in Appendix II.]

But Walpole had not reckoned with the Drapier. In the paragraph in Harding's sheet, Swift saw a diplomatist's move to win the game by diplomatic methods. Compromise was the one result Swift was determined to render impossible; and the Drapier's second letter, "To Mr. Harding the Printer," renews the conflict with yet stronger passion and with even more satirical force. It is evident Swift was bent now on raising a deeper question than merely this of the acceptance or refusal of Wood's halfpence and farthings. There was a principle here that had to be insisted and a right to be safeguarded. Mr. Churton Collins ably expresses Swift's attitude at this juncture when he says:[2] "Nothing can be more certain than that it was Swift's design from the very beginning to make the controversy with Wood the basis of far more extensive operations. It had furnished him with the means of waking Ireland from long lethargy into fiery life. He looked to it to furnish him with the means of elevating her from servitude to independence, from ignominy to honour. His only fear was lest the spirit which he had kindled should burn itself out or be prematurely quenched. And of this he must have felt that there was some danger, when it was announced that England had given way much more than it was expected she would give way, and much more than she had ever given way before."

[Footnote 2: "Jonathan Swift," pp. 179-180.]

This letter to Harding was but the preliminary leading up to the famous fourth letter "to the whole people of Ireland." It was also an introduction to, and preparation of the public mind for, the drastic criticism of the Privy Council's Report, the arrival of which was expected shortly.

The present text of this second letter is that given by Sir W. Scott, collated with the copies of the original edition in the possession of the late Colonel F. Grant and in the British Museum. It has also been compared with Faulkner's issue of 1725, in "Fraud Detected."




Sir, In your Newsletter of the 1st. instant there is a paragraph dated from London, July 25th. relating to Wood's halfpence; whereby it is plain what I foretold in my "Letter to the Shopkeepers, &c." that this vile fellow would never be at rest, and that the danger of our ruin approaches nearer, and therefore the kingdom requires NEW and FRESH WARNING; however I take that paragraph to be, in a great measure, an imposition upon the public, at least I hope so, because I am informed that Wood is generally his own newswriter. I cannot but observe from that paragraph that this public enemy of ours, not satisfied to ruin us with his trash, takes every occasion to treat this kingdom with the utmost contempt. He represents "several of our merchants and traders upon examination before a committee of council, agreeing that there was the utmost necessity of copper money here, before his patent, so that several gentlemen have been forced to tally with their workmen and give them bits of cards sealed and subscribed with their names." What then? If a physician prescribes to a patient a dram of physic, shall a rascal apothecary cram him with a pound, and mix it up with poison? And is not a landlord's hand and seal to his own labourers a better security for five or ten shillings, than Wood's brass seven times below the real value, can be to the kingdom, for an hundred and four thousand pounds?[3]

[Footnote 3: Thus in original edition. L108,000 is the amount generally given. See note on p. 15. [T.S.]]

But who are these merchants and traders of Ireland that make this report of "the utmost necessity we are under of copper money"? They are only a few betrayers of their country, confederates with Wood, from whom they are to purchase a great quantity of his coin, perhaps at half value, and vend it among us to the ruin of the public, and their own private advantage. Are not these excellent witnesses, upon whose integrity the fate of a kingdom must depend, who are evidences in their own cause, and sharers in this work of iniquity?

If we could have deserved the liberty of coining for ourselves, as we formerly did, and why we have not is everybody's wonder as well as mine,[4] ten thousand pounds might have been coined here in Dublin of only one-fifth below the intrinsic value, and this sum, with the stock of halfpence we then had, would have been sufficient:[5] But Wood by his emissaries, enemies to God and this kingdom, hath taken care to buy up as many of our old halfpence as he could, and from thence the present want of change arises; to remove which, by Mr. Wood's remedy, would be, to cure a scratch on the finger by cutting off the arm. But supposing there were not one farthing of change in the whole nation, I will maintain, that five and twenty thousand pounds would be a sum fully sufficient to answer all our occasions. I am no inconsiderable shopkeeper in this town, I have discoursed with several of my own and other trades, with many gentlemen both of city and country, and also with great numbers of farmers, cottagers, and labourers, who all agree that two shillings in change for every family would be more than necessary in all dealings. Now by the largest computation (even before that grievous discouragement of agriculture, which hath so much lessened our numbers [6]) the souls in this kingdom are computed to be one million and a half, which, allowing but six to a family, makes two hundred and fifty thousand families, and consequently two shillings to each family will amount only to five and twenty thousand pounds, whereas this honest liberal hardwareman Wood would impose upon us above four times that sum.

[Footnote 4: Time and again Ireland had petitioned the King of England for the establishment of a mint in Dublin. Both Houses of Parliament addressed King Charles I. in 1634, begging for a mint which should coin money in Ireland of the same standard and values as those of England, and allowing the profits to the government. Wentworth supported the address; but it was refused (Carte's "Ormond," vol. i., pp. 79-80). When Lord Cornwallis's petition for a renewal of his patent for minting coins was presented in 1700, it was referred to a committee of the Lords Justices. In their report the Lords Justices condemned the system in vogue, and urged the establishment of a mint, in which the coining of money should be in the hands of the government and in those of a subject. No notice was taken of this advice. See Lecky's "Ireland," vol. i., p. 448 (ed 1892) [T.S.]]

[Footnote 5: Boulter stated that L10,000 or L15,000 would have amply fulfilled the demand ("Letters," vol. i., pp. 4, 11). [T.S.]]

[Footnote 6: It was not alone the direct discouragement of agriculture which lessened the population. This result was also largely brought about by the anti-Catholic legislation of Queen Anne's reign, which "reduced the Roman Catholics to a state of depression," and caused thousands of them to go elsewhere for the means of living. See Crawford's "Ireland," vol. ii., pp. 264-267. [T.S.]]

Your paragraph relates further, that Sir Isaac Newton reported an assay taken at the Tower of Wood's metal, by which it appears, that Wood had in all respects performed his contract[7]. His contract! With whom? Was it with the parliament or people of Ireland? Are not they to be the purchasers? But they detest, abhor, and reject it, as corrupt, fraudulent, mingled with dirt and trash. Upon which he grows angry, goes to law, and will impose his goods upon us by force.

[Footnote 7: For the full text of Newton's report see Appendix, No. II. [T.S.]]

But your Newsletter says that an assay was made of the coin. How impudent and insupportable is this? Wood takes care to coin a dozen or two halfpence of good metal, sends them to the Tower and they are approved, and these must answer all that he hath already coined or shall coin for the future. It is true indeed, that a gentleman often sends to my shop for a pattern of stuff, I cut it fairly off, and if he likes it, he comes or sends and compares the pattern with the whole piece, and probably we come to a bargain. But if I were to buy an hundred sheep, and the grazier should bring me one single wether fat and well fleeced by way of pattern, and expect the same price round for the whole hundred, without suffering me to see them before he was paid, or giving me good security to restore my money for those that were lean or shorn or scabby, I would be none of his customer. I have heard of a man who had a mind to sell his house, and therefore carried a piece of brick in his pocket, which he shewed as a pattern to encourage purchasers: And this is directly the case in point with Mr. Wood's assay.[8]

[Footnote 8: Monck Mason remarks on this assay that "the assay-masters do not report that Mr. Wood's coinage was superior to that of former kings, but only to those specimens of such coinages as were exhibited by Mr. Wood, which, it is admitted were much worn. Whether the money coined in the preceding reign was good or bad is in fact nothing to the purpose." "'What argument,'" quotes Monck Mason from the tract issued in 1724 entitled, "A Defence of the Conduct of the People of Ireland, in their unanimous refusal of Mr. Wood's Copper Money," "'can be drawn from the badness of our former coinages but this, that because we have formerly been cheated by our coiners, we ought to suffer Mr. Wood to cheat us over again? Whereas, one reason for our so vigorously opposing Mr. Wood's coinage, is, because we have always been imposed upon in our copper money, and we find he is treading exactly in the steps of his predecessors, and thinks he has a right to cheat us because he can shew a precedent for it.' In truth, there was a vast number of counterfeits of those coins, which had been imported, chiefly from Scotland, as appears from a proclamation prohibiting the Importation of them in 1697" ("History St. Patrick's Cathedral," p, 340, note d.) [T.S.]]

The next part of the paragraph contains Mr. Wood's voluntary proposals for "preventing any future objections or apprehensions."

His first proposal is, that "whereas he hath already coined seventeen thousand pounds, and has copper prepared to make it up forty thousand pounds, he will be content to coin no more, unless the EXIGENCES OF TRADE REQUIRE IT, though his patent empowers him to coin a far greater quantity."

To which if I were to answer it should be thus: "Let Mr. Wood and his crew of founders and tinkers coin on till there is not an old kettle left in the kingdom: let them coin old leather, tobacco-pipe clay or the dirt in the streets, and call their trumpery by what name they please from a guinea to a farthing, we are not under any concern to know how he and his tribe or accomplices think fit to employ themselves." But I hope and trust, that we are all to a man fully determined to have nothing to do with him or his ware.

The King has given him a patent to coin halfpence, but hath not obliged us to take them, and I have already shewn in my "Letter to the Shopkeepers, &c." that the law hath not left it in the power of the prerogative to compel the subject to take any money, beside gold and silver of the right sterling and standard.

Wood further proposes, (if I understand him right, for his expressions are dubious) that "he will not coin above forty thousand pounds, unless the exigences of trade require it." First, I observe that this sum of forty thousand pounds is almost double to what I proved to be sufficient for the whole kingdom, although we had not one of our old halfpence left. Again I ask, who is to be judge when the exigences of trade require it? Without doubt he means himself, for as to us of this poor kingdom, who must be utterly ruined if his project should succeed, we were never once consulted till the matter was over, and he will judge of our exigences by his own; neither will these be ever at an end till he and his accomplices will think they have enough: And it now appears that he will not be content with all our gold and silver, but intends to buy up our goods and manufactures with the same coin.

I shall not enter into examination of the prices for which he now proposes to sell his halfpence, or what he calls his copper, by the pound; I have said enough of it in my former letter, and it hath likewise been considered by others. It is certain that by his own first computation, we were to pay three shillings for what was intrinsically worth but one,[9] although it had been of the true weight and standard for which he pretended to have contracted; but there is so great a difference both in weight and badness in several of his coins that some of them have been nine in ten below the intrinsic value, and most of them six or seven.[10]

[Footnote 9: The report of the Committee of the Privy Council which sat on Wood's coinage, stated that copper ready for minting cost eighteen pence per pound before it was brought into the Mint at the Tower of London. See the Report prefixed to Letter III. and Appendix II., in which it is also stated that Wood's copper was worth thirteen pence per pound. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 10: Newton's assay report says that Wood's pieces were of unequal weight. [T.S.]]

His last proposal being of a peculiar strain and nature, deserves to be very particularly considered, both on account of the matter and the style. It is as follows.

"Lastly, in consideration of the direful apprehensions which prevail in Ireland, that Mr. Wood will by such coinage drain them of their gold and silver, he proposes to take their manufactures in exchange, and that no person be obliged to receive more than fivepence halfpenny at one payment."

First, Observe this little impudent hardwareman turning into ridicule "the direful apprehensions of a whole kingdom," priding himself as the cause of them, and daring to prescribe what no King of England ever attempted, how far a whole nation shall be obliged to take his brass coin. And he has reason to insult; for sure there was never an example in history, of a great kingdom kept in awe for above a year in daily dread of utter destruction, not by a powerful invader at the head of twenty thousand men, not by a plague or a famine, not by a tyrannical prince (for we never had one more gracious) or a corrupt administration, but by one single, diminutive, insignificant, mechanic.

But to go on. To remove our "direful apprehensions that he will drain us of our gold and silver by his coinage:" This little arbitrary mock-monarch most graciously offers to "take our manufactures in exchange." Are our Irish understandings indeed so low in his opinion? Is not this the very misery we complain of? That his cursed project will put us under the necessity of selling our goods for what is equal to nothing. How would such a proposal sound from France or Spain or any other country we deal with, if they should offer to deal with us only upon this condition, that we should take their money at ten times higher than the intrinsic value? Does Mr. Wood think, for instance, that we will sell him a stone of wool for a parcel of his counters not worth sixpence, when we can send it to England and receive as many shillings in gold and silver? Surely there was never heard such a compound of impudence, villainy and folly.

His proposals conclude with perfect high treason. He promises, that no person shall be obliged to receive more than fivepence halfpenny of his coin in one payment: By which it is plain, that he pretends to oblige every subject in this kingdom to take so much in every payment, if it be offered; whereas his patent obliges no man, nor can the prerogative by law claim such a power, as I have often observed; so that here Mr. Wood takes upon him the entire legislature, and an absolute dominion over the properties of the whole nation.

Good God! Who are this wretch's advisers? Who are his supporters, abettors, encouragers, or sharers? Mr. Wood will oblige me to take fivepence halfpenny of his brass in every payment! And I will shoot Mr. Wood and his deputies through the head, like highwaymen or housebreakers, if they dare to force one farthing of their coin upon me in the payment of an hundred pounds. It is no loss of honour to submit to the lion, but who, with the figure of a man, can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat. He has laid a tax upon the people of Ireland of seventeen shillings at least in the pound; a tax I say, not only upon lands, but interest-money, goods, manufactures, the hire of handicraftsmen, labourers, and servants. Shopkeepers look to yourselves. Wood will oblige and force you to take fivepence halfpenny of his trash in every payment, and many of you receive twenty, thirty, forty payments in a day, or else you can hardly find bread: And pray consider how much that will amount to in a year: Twenty times fivepence halfpenny is nine shillings and twopence, which is above an hundred and sixty pounds a year, whereof you will be losers of at least one hundred and forty pounds by taking your payments in his money. If any of you be content to deal with Mr. Wood on such conditions they may. But for my own particular, "let his money perish with him." If the famous Mr. Hampden rather chose to go to prison, than pay a few shillings to King Charles 1st. without authority of Parliament, I will rather choose to be hanged than have all my substance taxed at seventeen shillings in the pound, at the arbitrary will and pleasure of the venerable Mr. Wood.

The paragraph concludes thus. "N.B." (that is to say nota bene, or mark well), "No evidence appeared from Ireland, or elsewhere, to prove the mischiefs complained of, or any abuses whatsoever committed in the execution of the said grant."

The impudence of this remark exceeds all that went before. First; the House of Commons in Ireland, which represents the whole people of the kingdom; and secondly the Privy-council, addressed His Majesty against these halfpence. What could be done more to express the universal sense and opinion of the nation? If his copper were diamonds, and the kingdom were entirely against it, would not that be sufficient to reject it? Must a committee of the House of Commons, and our whole Privy-council go over to argue pro and con with Mr. Wood? To what end did the King give his patent for coining of halfpence in Ireland? Was it not, because it was represented to his sacred Majesty, that such a coinage would be of advantage to the good of this kingdom, and of all his subjects here? It is to the patentee's peril if his representation be false, and the execution of his patent be fraudulent and corrupt. Is he so wicked and foolish to think that his patent was given him to ruin a million and a half of people, that he might be a gainer of three or four score thousand pounds to himself? Before he was at the charge of passing a patent, much more of raking up so much filthy dross, and stamping it with His Majesty's "image and superscription," should he not first in common sense, in common equity, and common manners, have consulted the principal party concerned; that is to say, the people of the kingdom, the House of Lords or Commons, or the Privy-council? If any foreigner should ask us, "whose image and superscription" there is in Wood's coin, we should be ashamed to tell him, it was Caesar's. In that great want of copper halfpence, which he alleges we were, our city set up our Caesar's statue[11] in excellent copper, at an expense that is equal in value to thirty thousand pounds of his coin: And we will not receive his image in worse metal.

[Footnote 11: An equestrian statue of George I. at Essex Bridge, Dublin, F]

I observe many of our people putting a melancholy case on this subject. "It is true" say they, "we are all undone if Wood's halfpence must pass; but what shall we do, if His Majesty puts out a proclamation commanding us to take them?" This hath been often dinned in my ears. But I desire my countrymen to be assured that there is nothing in it. The King never issues out a proclamation but to enjoin what the law permits him. He will not issue out a proclamation against law, or if such a thing should happen by a mistake, we are no more obliged to obey it than to run our heads into the fire. Besides, His Majesty will never command us by a proclamation, what he does not offer to command us in the patent itself. There he leaves it to our discretion, so that our destruction must be entirely owing to ourselves. Therefore let no man be afraid of a proclamation, which will never be granted; and if it should, yet upon this occasion, will be of no force. The King's revenues here are near four hundred thousand pounds a year, can you think his ministers will advise him to take them in Wood's brass, which will reduce the value to fifty thousand pounds. England gets a million sterl. by this nation, which, if this project goes on, will be almost reduced to nothing: And do you think those who live in England upon Irish estates will be content to take an eighth or a tenth part, by being paid in Wood's dross?

If Wood and his confederates were not convinced of our stupidity, they never would have attempted so audacious an enterprise. He now sees a spirit hath been raised against him, and he only watches till it begins to flag, he goes about "watching" when to "devour us." He hopes we shall be weary of contending with him, and at last out of ignorance, or fear, or of being perfectly tired with opposition, we shall be forced to yield. And therefore I confess it is my chief endeavour to keep up your spirits and resentments. If I tell you there is a precipice under you, and that if you go forwards you will certainly break your necks. If I point to it before your eyes, must I be at the trouble of repeating it every morning? Are our people's "hearts waxed gross"? Are "their ears dull of hearing," and have "they closed their eyes"? I fear there are some few vipers among us, who, for ten or twenty pounds gain, would sell their souls and their country, though at last it would end in their own ruin as well as ours. Be not like "the deaf adder, who refuses to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely."

Though my letter be directed to you, Mr. Harding, yet I intend it for all my countrymen. I have no interest in this affair but what is common to the public. I can live better than many others, I have some gold and silver by me, and a shop well furnished, and shall be able to make a shift when many of my betters are starving. But I am grieved to see the coldness and indifference of many people, with whom I discourse. Some are afraid of a proclamation, others shrug up their shoulders, and cry, "What would you have us do?" Some give out, there is no danger at all. Others are comforted that it will be a common calamity and they shall fare no worse than their neighbours. Will a man, who hears midnight robbers at his door, get out of bed, and raise his family for a common defence, and shall a whole kingdom lie in a lethargy, while Mr. Wood comes at the head of his confederates to rob them of all they have, to ruin us and our posterity for ever? If an highwayman meets you on the road, you give him your money to save your life, but, God be thanked, Mr. Wood cannot touch a hair of your heads. You have all the laws of God and man on your side. When he or his accomplices offer you his dross it is but saying no, and you are safe. If a madman should come to my shop with an handful of dirt raked out of the kennel, and offer it in payment for ten yards of stuff, I would pity or laugh at him, or, if his behaviour deserved it, kick him out of my doors. And if Mr. Wood comes to demand any gold and silver, or commodities for which I have paid my gold and silver, in exchange for his trash, can he deserve or expect better treatment?

When the evil day is come (if it must come) let us mark and observe those who presume to offer these halfpence in payment. Let their names, and trades, and places of abode be made public, that every one may be aware of them, as betrayers of their country, and confederates with Mr. Wood. Let them be watched at markets and fairs, and let the first honest discoverer give the word about, that Wood's halfpence have been offered, and caution the poor innocent people not to receive them.

Perhaps I have been too tedious; but there would never be an end, if I attempted to say all that this melancholy subject will bear. I will conclude with humbly offering one proposal, which, if it were put in practice, would blow up this destructive project at once. Let some skilful judicious pen draw up an advertisement to the following purpose.

That "Whereas one William Wood hardware-man, now or lately sojourning in the city of London, hath, by many misrepresentations, procured a patent for coining an hundred and forty thousand pounds[12] in copper halfpence for this kingdom, which is a sum five times greater than our occasions require. And whereas it is notorious that the said Wood hath coined his halfpence of such base metal and false weight, that they are, at least, six parts in seven below the real value. And whereas we have reason to apprehend, that the said Wood may, at any time hereafter, clandestinely coin as many more halfpence as he pleases. And whereas the said patent neither doth nor can oblige His Majesty's subjects to receive the said halfpence in any payment, but leaves it to their voluntary choice, because, by law the subject cannot be obliged to take any money except gold or silver. And whereas, contrary to the letter and meaning of the said patent, the said Wood hath declared that every person shall be obliged to take fivepence halfpenny of his coin in every payment. And whereas the House of Commons and Privy-council have severally addressed his Most Sacred Majesty, representing the ill consequences which the said coinage may have upon this kingdom. And lastly whereas it is universally agreed, that the whole nation to a man (except Mr. Wood and his confederates) are in the utmost apprehensions of the ruinous consequences, that must follow from the said coinage. Therefore we whose names are underwritten, being persons of considerable estates in this kingdom, and residers therein, do unanimously resolve and declare that we will never receive, one farthing or halfpenny of the said Wood's coining, and that we will direct all our tenants to refuse the said coin from any person whatsoever; Of which that they may not be ignorant, we have sent them a copy of this advertisement, to be read to them by our stewards, receivers, &c."

[Footnote 12: In the first paragraph of this letter the sum was given as L104,000. [T.S.]]

I could wish, that a paper of this nature might be drawn up, and signed by two or three hundred principal gentlemen of this kingdom, and printed copies thereof sent to their several tenants; I am deceived, if anything could sooner defeat this execrable design of Wood and his accomplices. This would immediately give the alarm, and set the kingdom on their guard. This would give courage to the meanest tenant and cottager. "How long, O Lord, righteous and true."

I must tell you in particular, Mr. Harding, that you are much to blame. Several hundred persons have enquired at your house for my "Letter to the Shopkeepers, &c." and you had none to sell them. Pray keep yourself provided with that letter, and with this; you have got very well by the former, but I did not then write for your sake, any more than I do now. Pray advertise both in every newspaper, and let it not be your fault or mine, if our countrymen will not take warning. I desire you likewise to sell them as cheap as you can.

I am your servant,


Aug. 4, 1724.

The Report of the Committee of the Lords of His Majesty's most honourable Privy-Council, in relation to Mr. Wood's Halfpence and Farthings, etc.[1]


In obedience to your Majesty's order of reference, upon the several resolutions and addresses of both Houses of Parliament of Ireland, during their late session, the late address of your Majesty's justices, and Privy-council of that kingdom, and the petitions of the county and city of Dublin, concerning a patent granted by your Majesty to William Wood Esq; for the coining and uttering copper halfpence and farthings in the kingdom of Ireland, to such persons as would voluntarily accept the same; and upon the petition of the said William Wood, concerning the same coinage, the Lords of the Committee have taken into their consideration the said patent, addresses, petitions, and all matters and papers relating thereto, and have heard and examined all such persons, as upon due and sufficient notice, were desirous and willing to be heard upon the subject matter under their consideration, and have agreed upon the following Report, containing a true state of the whole matter, as it appeared before them, with their humble opinion, to be laid before your Majesty for your royal consideration and determination, upon a matter of such importance.

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