The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture









IT is the peculiar felicity and prudence of the people in this kingdom, that whatever commodities or productions lie under the greatest discouragements from England, those are what they are sure to be most industrious in cultivating and spreading. Agriculture, which has been the principal care of all wise nations, and for the encouragement whereof there are so many statute laws in England, we countenance so well, that the landlords are every where, by penal clauses, absolutely prohibiting their tenants from ploughing[2]; not satisfied to confine them within certain limitations, as is the practice of the English: one effect of which is already seen in the prodigious dearness of corn, and the importation of it from London, as the cheaper market. And because people are the riches of a country, and that our neighbours have done, and are doing, all that in them lies to make our wool a drug to us, and a monopoly to them; therefore the politick gentlemen of Ireland have depopulated vast tracts of the best land, for the feeding of sheep.

I could fill a volume as large as the history of the wise men of Gotham, with a catalogue only of some wonderful laws and customs, we have observed within thirty years past. It is true indeed, our beneficial traffick of wool with France, has been our only support for several years, furnishing us with all the little money we have to pay our rents, and go to market. But our merchants assure me, this trade has received a great damp by the present fluctuating condition of the coin in France; that most of their wine is paid for in species, without carrying thither any commodity from hence.

However, since we are so universally bent upon enlarging our flocks, it may be worth inquiring, what we shall do with our wool, in case Barnstable[3] should be overstocked, and our French commerce should fail?

I could wish the parliament had thought fit to have suspended their regulation of church matters, and enlargements of the prerogative, until a more convenient time, because they did not appear very pressing, at least to the persons principally concerned; and, instead of these great refinements in politicks and divinity, had amused themselves and their committees a little with the state of the nation. For example: what if the house of commons had thought fit to make a resolution, nemine contradicente, against wearing any cloth or stuff in their families, which were not of the growth and manufacture of this kingdom? What if they had extended it so far as utterly to exclude all silks, velvets, callicoes, and the whole lexicon of female fopperies; and declared, that whoever acted otherwise should be deemed and reputed an enemy to the nation? What if they had sent up such a resolution to be agreed to by the house of lords; and by their own practice and encouragement, spread the execution of it in their several countries? What if we should agree to make burying in woollen a fashion, as our neighbours have made it a law? What if the ladies would be content with Irish stuffs for the furniture of their houses, for gowns and, petticoats for themselves and their daughters? (Upon the whole, and to crown all the rest, let a firm resolution be taken by male and female, never to appear with one single shred that comes from England; and let all the people say, amen.

I hope and believe, nothing could please his majesty better than to hear that his loyal subjects of both sexes in this kingdom celebrated his birthday (now approaching) universally clad in their own manufacture[4]. Is there virtue enough left in this deluded people, to save them from the brink of ruin? If the men's opinions may be taken, the ladies will look as handsome in stuffs as in brocades; and since all will be equal, there may be room enough to employ their wit and fancy, in choosing and matching patterns and colours. I heard the late archbishop of Tuam mention a pleasant observation of some body's; that Ireland would never be happy, till a law were made for burning every thing that came from England, except their people and their coals. I must confess, that as to the former, I should not be sorry if they would stay at home; and for the latter, I hope, in a little time we shall have no occasion for them.

Non tanti mitra est, non tanti judicis ostrum ——

but I should rejoice to see a staylace from England be thought scandalous, and become a topick for censure at visits and teatables.

If the unthinking shopkeepers in this town, had not been utterly destitute of common sense, they would have made some proposal to the parliament, with a petition to the purpose I have mentioned; promising to improve the cloths and stuffs of the nation into all possible degrees of fineness and colours, and engaging not to play the knave, according to their custom, by exacting and imposing upon the nobility and gentry, either as to the prices or the goodness. For I remember, in London, upon a general mourning, the rascally mercers and woollendrapers would in four and twenty hours raise their cloths and silks to above a double price; and if the mourning continued long, then come whining with petitions to the court, that they were ready to starve, and their fineries lay upon their hands.

I could wish our shopkeepers would immediately think on this proposal, addressing it to all persons of quality and others; but first be sure to get somebody who can write sense, to put it into form.

I think it needless to exhort the clergy to follow this good example; because in a little time, those among them, who are so unfortunate as to have had their birth and education in this country, will think themselves abundantly happy, when they can afford Irish crape, and an Athlone hat; and as to the others, I shall not presume to direct them. I have indeed seen the present archbishop of Dublin[5] clad from head to foot in our own manufacture; and yet, under the rose be it spoken, his grace deserves as good a gown as if he had not been born among us.

I have not courage enough to offer one syllable on this subject to their honours of the army; neither have I sufficiently considered the great importance of scarlet and gold lace.

The fable in Ovid of Arachne and Pallas is to this purpose. The goddess had heard of one Arachne, a young virgin very famous for spinning and weaving: they both met upon a trial of skill; and Pallas finding herself almost equalled in her own art, stung with rage and envy, knocked her rival down, and turned her into a spider; enjoining her to spin and weave for ever out of her own bowels, and in a very narrow compass. I confess, that from a boy I always pitied poor Arachne, and could never heartily love the goddess, on account of so cruel and unjust a sentence; which however is fully executed upon us by England, with farther additions of rigour and severity; for the greatest part of our bowels and vitals is extracted, without allowing us the liberty of spinning and weaving them.

The Scripture tells us that oppression makes a wise man mad; therefore consequently speaking, the reason why some men are not mad, is because they are not wise: however it were to be wished, that oppression would in time teach a little wisdom to fools.

I was much delighted with a person, who has a great estate in this kingdom, upon his complaints to me, how grievously poor England suffers by impositions from Ireland: that we convey our own wool to France, in spite of all the harpies at the customhouse: that Mr. Shuttleworth, and others on the Cheshire coasts, are such fools to sell us their bark at a good price for tanning our own hides into leather, with other enormities of the like weight and kind. To which I will venture to add more: that the mayoralty of this city is always executed by an inhabitant, and often by a native, which might as well be done by a deputy with a moderate salary, whereby poor England loses at least one thousand pounds a year upon the balance: that the governing of this kingdom costs the lord lieutenant three thousand six hundred pounds a year; so much net loss to poor England: that the people of Ireland presume to dig for coals in their own grounds; and the farmers in the county of Wicklow send their turf to the very market of Dublin, to the great discouragement of the coal trade of Mostyn and Whitehaven[6]: that the revenues of the postoffice here, so righteously belonging to the English treasury, as arising chiefly from our own commerce with each other, should be remitted to London clogged with that grievous burden of exchange; and the pensions paid out of the Irish revenues to English favourites, should lie under the same disadvantage, to the great loss of the grantees. When a divine is sent over to a bishoprick here, with the hopes of five and twenty hundred pounds a year; and upon his arrival he finds, alas! a dreadful discount of ten or twelve per cent: a judge, or a commissioner of the revenue has the same cause of complaint. Lastly, The ballad upon Cotter is vehemently suspected to be Irish manufacture; and yet is allowed to be sung in our open streets, under the very nose of the government.

These are a few among the many hardships we put upon that poor kingdom of England; for which, I am confident, every honest man wishes a remedy: and I hear, there is a project on foot, for transporting our best wheaten straw by sea and land carriage to Dunstable; and obliging us by a law to take off yearly so many ton of straw hats, for the use of our women; which will be a great encouragement to the manufacture of that industrious town.

I should be glad to learn among the divines, whether a law to bind men without their own consent be obligatory in foro conscientiæ; because I find, Scripture, Sanderson, and Suarez, are wholly silent on the matter. The oracle of reason, the great law of nature, and general opinion of civilians, whereever they treat of limited governments, are indeed decisive enough.

It is wonderful to observe the bias among our people in favour of things, persons, and wares, of all kinds, that come from England. The printer tells his hawkers, that he has got an excellent new song just brought from London. I have somewhat of a tendency that way myself; and upon hearing a coxcomb from thence displaying himself with great volubility upon the park, the playhouse, the opera, the gaming-ordinaries, it was apt to beget in me a kind of veneration for his parts and accomplishments. It is not many years, since I remember a person, who by his style and literature seems to have been the corrector of a hedge-press in some blind alley about Little Britain, proceed gradually to be an author, at least a translator[7] of a lower rate, although somewhat of a larger bulk, than any that now flourishes in Grub-street; and upon the strength of this foundation come over here, erect himself up into an orator and politician, and lead a kingdom after him. This, I am told, as the very motive that prevailed on the author[8] of a play called, 'Love in a hollow Tree,' to do us the honour of a visit; presuming, with very good reason, that he was a writer of a superiour class. I know another, who for thirty years past has been the common standard of stupidity in England, where he was never heard a minute in any assembly, or by any party, with common Christian treatment; yet upon his arrival here, could put on a face of importance and authority, talk more than six, without either gracefulness, propriety, or meaning; and at the same time be admired and followed as the pattern of eloquence and wisdom.

Nothing has humbled me so much, or shown a greater disposition to a contemptuous treatment of Ireland, in some chief governors, than that high style of several speeches from the throne, delivered as usual after the royal assent, in some periods of the two last reigns. Such exaggerations of the prodigious condescensions in the prince to pass those good laws, would have but an odd sound at Westminster: neither do I apprehend how any good law can pass, wherein the king's interest is not as much concerned as that of the people. I remember, after a speech on the like occasion delivered by my lord Wharton[9], (I think it was his last) he desired Mr. Addison to ask my opinion on it: my answer was, That his excellency had very honestly forfeited his head, on account of one paragraph; wherein he asserted, by plain consequence, a dispensing power in the queen. His lordship owned it was true, but swore the words were put into his mouth by direct orders from court. Whence it is clear, that some ministers in those times were apt from their high elevation, to look down upon this kingdom, as if it had been one of their colonies of outcasts in America. And I observed a little of the same turn of spirit in some great men from whom I expected better; although to do them justice, it proved no kind of difficulty to make them correct their idea, whereof the whole nation quickly found the benefit. —— But that is forgotten. How the style has since run, I am wholly a stranger; having never seen a speech since the last of the queen.

I would now expostulate a little with our country landlords; who, by unmeasurable screwing and racking their tenants all over the kingdom, have already reduced the miserable people to a worse condition than the peasants in France, or the vassals in Germany and Poland; so that the whole species of what we call substantial farmers, will, in a very few years, be utterly at an end. It was pleasant to observe these gentlemen, labouring with all their might, for preventing the bishops from letting their revenues at a moderate half value, (whereby the whole order would, in an age, have been reduced to manifest beggary) at the very instant when they were every where canting[10] their own land upon short leases, and sacrificing their oldest tenants for a penny an acre advance. I know not how it comes to pass (and yet perhaps I know well enough) that slaves have a natural disposition to be tyrants; and that when my betters give me a kick, I am apt to revenge it with six upon my footman; although perhaps he may be an honest and diligent fellow. I have heard great divines affirm, that nothing is so likely to call down a universal judgment from Heaven upon a nation, as universal oppression; and whether this be not already verified in part, their worships the landlords are now at full leisure to consider. Whoever travels this country, and observes the face of nature, or the faces and habits and dwellings of the natives, will hardly think himself in a land, where law, religion, or common humanity is professed.

I cannot forbear saying one word upon a thing they call a bank, which I hear is projecting in this town[11]. I never saw the proposals, nor understand any one particular of their scheme: what I wish for at present, is only a sufficient provision of hemp, and caps and bells, to distribute[12] according to the several degrees of honesty and prudence in some persons. I hear only of a monstrous sum already named; and if others do not soon hear of it too, and hear with a vengeance, then I am a gentleman of less sagacity, than myself, and a very few beside, take me to be. And the jest will be still the better, if it be true, as judicious persons have assured me, that one half is altogether imaginary. The matter will be likewise much mended, if the merchants continue to carry off our gold, and our goldsmiths to melt down our heavy silver.

  1. This proposal was answered, and our author severely censured, in a pamphlet published directly after it, entitled, "A Defence of English Commodities."
  2. It was the practice of Irish farmers to wear out their ground with ploughing, neither manuring nor letting it lie fallow, and when their leases were near expired, they ploughed even the meadows, and made such havock, that the landlords by their zeal to prevent it were betrayed into this pernicious measure.
  3. A sea port in Devonshire, at that time the principal market in England for Irish wool.
  4. Her grace the duchess of Dorset, the lord lieutenant's lady, is said to have appeared at the Castle in Dublin wholly clad in the manufacture of Ireland, on his majesty's birthday, 1753.
  5. Doctor King.
  6. Mostyn in Flintshire, and Whitehaven in Cumberland.
  7. Supposed to be Cæsar's Commentaries, dedicated to the duke of Marlborough, by col. Bladen.
  8. L. Grimston.
  9. Lord lieutenant.
  10. Canting their land is letting it to the highest bidder — cant signifies the same as auction.
  11. This project for a bank in Ireland was soon afterward brought into parliament and rejected.
  12. It should be — to 'be distributed.'