The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 5/Intelligencer Number 19
THE INTELLIGENCER. No. 19.
Sic vos non nobis vellera fertis, oves.
Not for yourselves, ye sheep, your fleeces grow.
I AM a country gentleman, and a member of parliament, with an estate of about 1400l. a year; which, as a northern landlord, I receive from above two hundred tenants: and my lands having been let near twenty years ago, the rents, until very lately, were esteemed to be not above half value; yet, by the intolerable scarcity of silver, I lie under the greatest difficulties in receiving them, as well as in paying my labourers, or buying any thing necessary for my family from tradesmen, who are not able to be long out of their money. But the sufferings of me, and those of my rank, are trifles in comparison of what the meaner sort undergo; such as the buyers and sellers at fairs and markets; the shopkeepers in every town; and farmers in general; ail those who travel with fish, poultry, pedlary-ware, and other conveniencies to sell: but more especially handicraftsmen, who work for us by the day; and common labourers, whom I have already mentioned. Both these kinds of people I am forced to employ until their wages amount to a double pistole, or a moidore (for we hardly have any gold of lower value left us) to divide it among themselves as they can: and this is generally done at an alehouse, or brandyshop; where, beside the cost of getting drunk (which is usually the case) they must pay ten pence or a shilling for changing their piece into silver to some huckstering fellow, who follows that trade. But, what is infinitely worse, those poor men, for want of due payment, are forced to take up their oatmeal, and other necessaries of life, at almost double value; and consequently are not able to discharge half their score, especially under the scarceness of corn for two years past, and the melancholy disappointment of the present crop.
The causes of this, and a thousand other evils, are clear and manifest to you and all thinking men, although hidden from the vulgar; these indeed complain of hard times, the dearth of corn, the want of money, the badness of seasons; that their goods bear no price, and the poor cannot find work; but their weak reasonings never carry them to the hatred and contempt born us by our neighbours and brethren, without the least grounds of provocation; who rejoice at our sufferings, although sometimes to their own disadvantage. They consider not the dead weight upon every beneficial branch of our trade; that half our revenues are annually sent to England; with many other grievances peculiar to this unhappy kingdom; which keeps us from enjoying the common benefits of mankind; as you, and some other lovers of their country have so often observed, with such good inclinations, and so little effect.
It is true indeed, that under our circumstances in general, this complaint for the want of silver, may appear as ridiculous, as for a man to be impatient about a cut finger, when he is struck with the plague: and yet a poor fellow going to the gallows, may be allowed to feel the smart of wasps while he is upon Tyburn road. This misfortune is so urging and vexatious in every kind of small traffick, and so hourly pressing upon all persons in the country whatsoever, that a hundred inconveniencies, of perhaps greater moment in themselves, have been tamely submitted to, with far less disquietude and murmur. And the case seems yet the harder, if it be true, what many skilful men assert, that nothing is more easy than a remedy; and, that the want of silver, in proportion to the little gold remaining among us, is altogether as unnecessary, as it is inconvenient. A person of distinction assured me very lately, that, in discoursing with the lord lieutenant before his last return to England, his excellency said, "He had pressed the matter often, in proper time and place, and to proper persons; and could not see any difficulty of the least moment, that could prevent us from being made easy upon this article."
Whoever carries to England twenty-seven English shillings, and brings back one moidore of full weight, is a gainer of nine pence Irish: in a guinea, the advantage is three pence; and two pence in a pistole. The bankers, who are generally masters of all our gold and silver, with this advantage, have sent over as much of the latter as came into their hands. The value of one thousand moidores in silver would thus amount in clear profit to 37l. 10s. The shopkeepers, and other traders, who go to London to buy goods, followed the same practice; by which we have been driven into this insupportable distress.
To a common thinker it should seem, that nothing would be more easy than for the government to redress this evil, at any time they shall please. When the value of guineas was lowered in England from 21s. and 6d. to only 21s. the consequences to this kingdom were obvious, and manifest to us all: and a sober man may be allowed at least to wonder, although he dare not complain, why a new regulation of coin among us was not then made; much more, why it has never been since. It would surely require no very profound skill in algebra to reduce the difference of nine pence in thirty shillings, or three pence in a guinea to than a farthing; and so small a fraction could be no temptation either to bankers to hazard their silver at sea, or tradesmen to load themselves with it in their journies to England. In my humble opinion it would be no unseasonable condescension, if the government would graciously please to signify to the poor loyal protestant subjects of Ireland, either that this miserable want of silver is not possibly to be remedied in any degree by the nicest skill in arithmetick; or else that it does not stand with the good pleasure of England to suffer any silver at all among us. In the former case, it would be madness to expect impossibilities; and in the other, we must submit: for lives and fortunes are always at the mercy of the conqueror.
The question has been often put in printed papers, by the drapier and others, or perhaps by the same writer under different styles, why this kingdom should not be permitted to have a mint of its own for the coinage of gold, silver, and copper; which is a power exercised by many bishops, and every petty prince, in Germany? But this question has never been answered, nor the least application, that I have heard of, made to the crown from hence for the grant of a publick mint; although it stands upon record, that several cities, and corporations here, had the liberty of coining silver. I can see no reasons, why we alone, of all nations, are thus restrained, but such as I dare not mention: only thus far I may venture, that Ireland is the first imperial kingdom since Nimrod, which ever wanted power to coin their own money.
I know very well, that in England it is lawful for any subject to petition either the prince or the parliament, provided it be done in a dutiful and regular manner: but what is lawful for a subject of Ireland, I profess I cannot determine: nor will undertake that the printer shall not be prosecuted in a court of justice for publishing my wishes, that a poor shopkeeper might be able to change a guinea or a moidore, when a customer comes for a crown's worth of goods. I have known less crimes punished with the utmost severity, under the title of disaffection. And I cannot but approve the wisdom of the ancients, who, after Astrea had fled from the earth, at least took care to provide three upright judges for Hell. Men's ears among us are indeed grown so nice, that whoever happens to think out of fashion, in what relates to the welfare of this kingdom, dare not so much as complain of the toothach, lest our weak and busy dabblers in politicks, should be ready to swear against him for disaffection.
There was a method practised by sir Ambrose Crawley, the great dealer in iron works, which I wonder the gentlemen of our country, under this great exigence, have not thought fit to imitate. In the several towns and villages where he dealt, and many miles round, he gave notes instead of money (from two pence to twenty shillings) which passed current in all shops and markets, as well as in houses, where meat or drink was sold. I see no reason, why the like practice may not be introduced among us with some degree of success; or, at least, may not serve as a poor expedient in this our blessed age of paper; which, as it discharges all our greatest payments, may be equally useful in the smaller, and may just keep us alive, until an English act of parliament shall forbid it.
I have been told, that among some of our poorest American colonies upon the continent, the people enjoy the liberty of cutting the little money among them into halves and quarters, for the conveniencies of small traffick. How happy should we be, in comparison of our present condition, if the like privilege were granted to us of employing the sheers, for want of a mint, upon our foreign gold, by clipping it into half crowns, and shillings, and even lower denominations; for beggars must be content to live upon scraps; and it would be our felicity, that these scraps could never be exported to other countries, while any thing better was left.
If neither of these projects will avail, I see nothing left us but to truck and barter our goods, like the wild Indians, with each other, or with our too powerful neighbours; only with this disadvantage on our side, that the Indians enjoy the product of their own land; whereas the better half of ours is sent away, without so much as a recompense in bugles or glass in return.
It must needs be a very comfortable circumstance in the present juncture, that some thousand families are gone, are going, or preparing to go from hence, and settle themselves in America: the poorer sort for want of work; the farmers, whose beneficial bargains are now become a rackrent too hard to be born, and those who have any ready money, or can purchase any by the sale of their goods or leases, because they find their fortunes hourly decaying, that their goods will bear no price, and that few or none have any money to buy the very necessaries of life, are hastening to follow their departed neighbours. It is true, corn among us carries a very high price; but it is for the same reason, that rats and cats and dead horses have been often bought for gold in a town besieged.
There is a person of quality in my neighbourhood, who, twenty years ago, when he was just come to age, being unexperienced, and of a generous temper, let his lands, even as times went then, at a low rate to able tenants; and consequently, by the rise of lands since that time, looked upon his estate to be set at half value: but numbers of these tenants or their descendants, are now offering to sell their leases by cant, even those which were for lives, some of them renewable for ever, and some feefarms, which the landlord himself has bought in at half the price they would have yielded seven years ago. And some leases let at the same time for lives, have been given up to him, without any consideration at all.
This is the most favourable face of all things at present among us; I say, among us of the North, who were esteemed the only thriving people of the kingdom. And how far, and how soon, this misery and desolation may spread, it is easy to foresee.
The vast sums of money daily carried off by our numerous adventurers to America, have deprived us of our gold in these parts, almost as much as of our silver. And the good wives, who come to our houses, offer us their pieces of linen, upon which their whole dependance lies, for so little profit, that it can neither half pay their rents, nor half support their families.
It is remarkable, that this enthusiasm spread among our Northern people, of sheltering themselves in the continent of America, has no other foundation than their present insupportable condition at home. I have made all possible inquiries to learn what encouragement our people have met with, by any intelligence from those plantations, sufficient to make them undertake so tedious and hazardous a voyage, in all seasons of the year, and so ill accommodated in their ships, that many of them have died miserably in their passage, but could never get one satisfactory answer. Somebody, they knew not who, had written letters to his friend or cousin from thence, inviting him by all means to come over; that it was a fine fruitful country, and to be held for ever at a penny an acre. But the truth of the fact is this: the English established in those colonies are in great want of men to inhabit that tract of ground, which lies between them and the wild Indians, who are not reduced under their dominion. We read of some barbarous people, whom the Romans placed in their army for no other service than to blunt their enemies swords, and afterward to fill up trenches with their dead bodies. And thus our people, who transport themselves, are settled into those interjacent tracts, as a screen against the insults of the savages; and many have as much lands as they can clear from the woods, at a very reasonable rate, if they can afford to pay about a hundred years purchase by their labour. Now, beside the fox's reason, which inclines all those who have already ventured thither to represent every thing in a false light, as well for justifying their own conduct, as for getting companions in their misery, the governing people in those plantations have also wisely provided, that no letters shall be suffered to pass from thence hither, without being first viewed by the council; by which, our people here, are wholly deceived in the opinions they have of the happy condition of their friends gone before them. This was accidentally discovered some months ago by an honest man, who, having transported himself and family thither, and finding all things directly contrary to his hope, had the luck to convey a private note by a faithful hand to his relation here, entreating him not to think of such a voyage, and to discourage all his friends from attempting it. Yet this, although it be a truth well known, has produced very little effect; which is no manner of wonder: for, as it is natural to a man in a fever to turn often, although without any hope of ease; or, when he is pursued, to leap down a precipice, to avoid an enemy just at his back; so, men in the extremest degree of misery and want, will naturally fly to the first appearance of relief, let it be ever so vain or visionary.
You may observe, that I have very superficially touched the subject I began with, and with the utmost caution; for I know how criminal the least complaint has been thought, however seasonable or just or honestly intended, which has forced me to offer up my daily prayers, that it may never, at least in my time, be interpreted by innuendoes as a false, scandalous, seditious, and disaffected action, for a man to roar under an acute fit of the gout; which, beside the loss and the danger, would be very inconvenient to one of my age, so severely afflicted with that distemper.
I wish you good success, but, I can promise you little, in an ungrateful office you have taken up without the least view either to reputation or profit. Perhaps your comfort is, that none but villains and betrayers of their country can be your enemies. Upon which I have little to say, having not the honour to be acquainted with many of that sort; and therefore, as you may easily believe, am compelled to lead a very retired life.
I am, Sir,
your most obedient
County of Down,
Dec. 2, 1728.
- The lord Carteret.
- Cant or auction.
- The fox who having lost his tail, would have persuaded the rest to cut off theirs.