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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 12/From Jonathan Swift to Charles Mordaunt - 4

APRIL 28, 1726.

YOUR lordship having, at my request, obtained for me an hour from sir Robert Walpole[1], I accordingly attended him yesterday at eight o'clock in the morning, and had somewhat more than an hour's conversation with him. Your lordship was this day pleased to inquire what passed between that great minister and me, to which I gave you some general answers, from whence you said you could comprehend little or nothing.

I had no other design in desiring to see sir Robert Walpole, than to represent the affairs of Ireland to him in a true light, not only without any view to myself, but to any party whatsoever: and, because I understood the affairs of that kingdom tolerably well, and observed the representations he had received were such as I could not agree to; my principal design was to set him right, not only for the service of Ireland, but likewise of England, and of his own administration.

I failed very much in my design; for, I saw, he had conceived opinions from the examples and practices of the present and some former governors, which I could not reconcile to the notions I had of liberty, a possession always understood by the British nation to be the inheritance of a human creature.

Sir Robert Walpole was pleased to enlarge very much upon the subject of Ireland, in a manner so alien from what I conceived to be the rights and privileges of a subject of England, that I did not think proper to debate the matter with him so much as I otherwise might, because I found it would be in vain. I shall therefore, without entering into dispute, make bold to mention to your lordship some few grievances of that kingdom, as it consists of a people, who, beside a natural right of enjoying the privileges of subjects, have also a claim of merit from their extraordinary loyalty to the present king[2] and his family.

First, That all persons born in Ireland, are called and treated as Irishmen, although their fathers and grandfathers were born in England; and their predecessors having been conquerors of Ireland, it is humbly conceived they ought to be on as good a foot as any subjects of Britain, according to the practice of all other nations, and particularly of the Greeks and Romans.

Secondly, That they are denied the natural liberty of exporting their manufactures to any country which is not engaged in a war with England.

Thirdly, That whereas there is a university in Ireland, founded by queen Elizabeth, where youth are instructed with a much stricter discipline than either in Oxford or Cambridge; it lies under the greatest discouragements, by filling all the principal employments, civil and ecclesiastical, with persons from England, who have neither interest, property, acquaintance, nor alliance, in that kingdom; contrary to the practice of all other states in Europe which are governed by viceroys, at least what hath never been used without the utmost discontents of the people.

Fourthly, That several of the bishops sent over to Ireland, having been clergymen of obscure condition, and without other distinction than that of chaplains to the governors, do frequently invite over their old acquaintance or kindred, to whom they bestow the best preferments in their gift. The like may be said of the judges, who take with them one or two dependents, to whom they give their countenance, and who consequently, without other merit, grow immediately into the chief business of their courts. The same practice is followed by all others in civil employments, if they have a cousin, a valet, or footman, in their family, born in England.

Fifthly, That all civil employments, grantable in reversion, are given to persons who reside in England.

The people of Ireland, who are certainly the most loyal subjects in the world, cannot but conceive that most of these hardships have been the consequence of some unfortunate representations (at least) in former times; and the whole body of the gentry feel the effects in a very sensible part, being utterly destitute of all means to make provision for their younger sons, either in the church, the law, the revenue, or (of late) in the army: and, in the desperate condition of trade, it is equally vain to think of making them merchants. All they have left is, at the expiration of leases, to rack their tenants, which they have done to such a degree, that there is not one farmer in a hundred through the kingdom who can afford shoes or stockings to his children, or to eat flesh, or drink any thing better than sour milk or water, twice in a year; so that the whole country, except the Scotch plantation in the north, is a scene of misery and desolation, hardly to be matched on this side Lapland.

The rents of Ireland are computed to about a million and a half, whereof one half million at least is spent by lords and gentlemen residing in England, and by some other articles too long to mention.

About three hundred thousand pounds more are returned thither on other accounts: and, upon the whole, those who are the best versed in that kind of knowledge, agree, that England gains annually by Ireland a million at least, which even I could make appear beyond all doubt.

But, as this mighty profit would probably increase, with tolerable treatment, to half a million more; so it must of necessity sink, under the hardships that kingdom lies at present.

And whereas sir Robert Walpole was pleased to take notice, how little the king gets by Ireland; it ought, perhaps, to be considered, that the revenues and taxes, I think, amount to above four hundred thousand pounds a year; and reckoning the riches of Ireland, compared with England, to be as one to twelve, the king's revenues there would be equal to more than five millions here; which, considering the bad payment of rents, from such miserable creatures as most of the tenants in Ireland are, will be allowed to be as much as such a kingdom can bear.

The current coin of Ireland is reckoned, at most, but five hundred thousand pounds; so that above four fifths are paid every year into the exchequer.

I think it manifest, that whatever circumstances can possibly contribute to make a country poor and despicable, are all united with respect to Ireland. The nation controlled by laws to which they do not consent, disowned by their brethren and countrymen, refused the liberty not only of trading with their own manufactures, but even their native commodities, forced to seek for justice many hundred miles by sea and land, rendered in a manner incapable of serving their king and country in any employment of honour, trust, or profit; and all this without the least demerit: while the governors sent over thither can possibly have no affection to the people, farther than what is instilled into them by their own justice and love of mankind, which do not always operate; and whatever they please to represent hither is never called in question.

Whether the representatives of such a people, thus distressed and laid in the dust, when they meet in a parliament, can do the publick business with that cheerfulness which might be expected from freeborn subjects, would be a question in any other country, except that unfortunate island; the English inhabitants whereof, have given more and greater examples of their loyalty and dutifulness, than can be shown in any other part of the world.

What part of these grievances may be thought proper to be redressed by so wise and great a minister as sir Robert Walpole, he perhaps will please to consider; especially because they have been all brought upon that kingdom since the revolution; which, however, is a blessing annually celebrated there with the greatest zeal and sincerity.

I most humbly entreat your lordship to give this paper to sir Robert Walpole, and desire him to read it, which he may do in a few minutes. I am, with the greatest respect, my lord,

Your lordship's

most obedient humble servant,

  1. When Dr. Swift was in England in 1726, he went to see sir Robert Walpole at Chelsea; which drew the notice of all the company: but no one knew him till sir Robert entered, who went up to him very obligingly. Swift, without rising up, or any other address, said, "For God's sake, sir Robert, take me out of that Ireland, and place me somewhere in England." — "Mr. dean" said sir Robert, "I should be glad to oblige you; but I fear removing you will spoil your wit. Look on that tree (pointing to one under the window): I transplanted it from the hungry soil of Houghton to the Thames side; but it is good for nothing here." This happened some years before the dean's Rhapsody appeared, where sir Robert has an ample share of his pointed ridicule. In a letter to Mr. Pope, Oct. 30, 1727, the dean says, "I forgave sir Robert Walpole a thousand pounds, multa gemens," alluding to an order which he had, upon the exchequer, for that sum, a short time before the death of queen Anne, which was never paid.
  2. K. George I.