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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 18/Letter from Jonathan Swift to John Barber - 3

< The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift‎ | Volume 18


MARCH 30, 1737.

YOU will read the character of the bearer, Mr. Lloyd, which he is to deliver to you, signed by the magistrates and chief inhabitants of Colrane. It seems your society has raised the rents of that town, and your lands adjoining, about three years ago, to four times the value of what they formerly paid; which is beyond all I have ever heard even among the most screwing landlords of this impoverished kingdom; and the consequence has already been, that many of your tenants in the said town and lands are preparing for their removal to the plantations in America; for the same reasons that are driving some thousands of families in the adjoining northern parts to the same plantations; I mean the oppression by landlords. My dear friend, you are to consider that no society can, or ought in prudence or justice, let their lands at so high a rate as a squire who lives upon his own estate, and is able to distrain in an hour's warning. All bodies corporate must give easy bargains, that they may depend upon receiving their rents, and thereby be ready to pay all the incident charges to which they are subject. Thus, bishops, deans and chapters, as well as other corporations, seldom or never let their lands even so high as at half the value; and when they raise those rents which are scandalously low, it is ever by degrees. I have many instances of this conduct in my own practice, as well as in that of my chapter. Although my own lands, as dean, be let for four-fifths under their value, I have not raised them a sixth part in twenty-three years, and took very moderate fines. On the other side, I confess there is no reason why an honourable society should rent their estate for a trifle; and therefore I told Mr. Lloyd my opinion, that if you could be prevailed on just to double the old rent, and no more, I hoped the tenants might be able to live in a tolerable manner; for I am as much convinced as I can be of any thing human, that this wretched oppressed country must of necessity decline every year. If, by a miracle, things should mend, you may, in a future renewal, make a moderate increase of rent, but not by such leaps as you are now taking; for you ought to remember the fable of the hen, who laid every second day a golden egg; upon which her mistress killed her, to get the whole lump at once. I am told that one condition in your charter obliges you to plant a colony of English in those parts: if that be so, you are too wise to make it a colony of Irish beggars. Some ill consequences have already happened by your prodigious increase of the rent. Many of your old tenants have quitted their houses in Colrane; others are not able to repair their habitations, which are daily going to ruin, and many of those who live on your lands in the country, owe great arrears, which they will never be in a condition to pay. I would not have said thus much in an affair, and about persons to whom I am an utter stranger, if I had not been assured, by some whom I can trust, of the poor condition those people in and about Colrane have lain under, since that enormous increase of their rents.

The bearer, Mr. Lloyd, whom I never saw till yesterday, seems to be a gentleman of great truth and good sense; he has no interest in the case, for, although he lives at Colrane, his preferment is some miles farther; he is now going to visit his father, who lives near Wrexham, not far from Chester, and from thence, at the desire of your tenants in and near Colrane, he is content to go to London, and wait on you there with his credentials. If he has misrepresented this matter to me in any one particular, I shall never be his advocate again.

And now, my dear friend, I am forced to tell you, that my health is very much decayed, my deafness and giddiness are more frequent; spirits I have none left; my memory is almost gone. The publick corruptions in both kingdoms allow me no peace or quiet of mind. I sink every day, and am older by twenty years than many others of the same age. I hope, and am told, that it is better with you. May you live as long as you desire, for I have lost so many old friends, without getting any new, that I must keep you as a handsel of the former. I am, my long dear friend, with great esteem and love,

Your most obedient humble servant.

When I would write to you, I cannot remember the street you live in.

  1. This letter, incorrectly copied in vol. XIII, p. 331, is here given from the original.