The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/An Answer to Several Letters Sent Me from Unknown Hands
SENT ME FROM UNKNOWN HANDS.
WRITTEN IN 1729.
I AM very well pleased with the good opinion you express of me; and wish it were any way in my power to answer your expectations, for the service of my country. I have carefully read your several schemes and proposals, which you think should be offered to the parliament. In answer, I will assure you, that in another place, I have known very good proposals rejected with contempt by publick assemblies, merely because they were offered from without doors; and yours perhaps might have the same fate, especially if handed to the publick by me, who am not acquainted with three members, nor have the least interest with one. My printers have been twice prosecuted, to my great expense, on account of discourses I writ for the publick service, without the least reflection on parties or persons; and the success I had in those of the drapier, was not owing to my abilities, but to a lucky juncture, when the fuel was ready for the first hand that would be at the pains of kindling it. It is true, both those envenomed prosecutions were the workmanship of a judge, who is now gone to his own place. But, let that be as it will, I am determined, henceforth, never to be the instrument of leaving an innocent man at the mercy of that bench.
It is certain there are several particulars relating to this kingdom, (I have mentioned a few of them in one of my drapier's letters) which it were heartily to be wished that the parliament would take under their consideration, such as will no way interfere with England, otherwise than to its advantage.
The first I shall mention, is touched at in a letter which I received from one of you, gentlemen, about the highways; which, indeed, are almost every where scandalously neglected. I know a very rich man in this city, a true lover and saver of his money, who, being possessed of some adjacent lands, has been at great charge in repairing effectually the roads that lead to them; and has assured me, that his lands are thereby advanced four or five shillings an acre, by which he gets treble interest. But, generally speaking, all over the kingdom, the roads are deplorable; and what is more particularly barbarous, there is no sort of provision made for travellers on foot; no, not near the city, except in a very few places, and in a most wretched manner: whereas the English are so particularly careful in this point, that you may travel there a hundred miles with less inconvenience than one mile here. But, since this may be thought too great a reformation, I shall only speak of roads for horses, carriages, and cattle.
Ireland is, I think, computed to be one third smaller than England; yet, by some natural disadvantages, it would not bear quite the same proportion in value, with the same encouragement. However, it has so happened, for many years past, that it never arrived to above one eleventh part in point of riches; and of late, by the continual decrease of trade, and increase of absentees, with other circumstances not here to be mentioned, hardly to a fifteenth part; at least, if my calculations be right, which I doubt are a little too favourable on our side.
Now, supposing day labour to be cheaper by one half here than in England, and our roads, by the nature of our carriages and the desolation of our country, to be not worn and beaten above one eighth part so much as those of England, which is a very moderate computation: I do not see why the mending of them, would be a greater burden to this kingdom, than to that.
There have been, I believe, twenty acts of parliament, in six or seven years of the late king, for mending long tracts of impassable ways in several counties of England, by erecting turnpikes, and receiving passage money in a manner that every body knows. If what I have advanced be true, it would be hard to give a reason against the same practice here; since the necessity is as great, the advantage, in proportion, perhaps much greater, the materials of stone and gravel as easy to be found, and the workmanship at least twice as cheap. Besides, the work may be done gradually, with allowances for the poverty of the nation, by so many perch a year; but with a special care to encourage skill and diligence, and to prevent fraud in the undertakers, to which we are too liable, and which are not always conlincd to those of the meaner sort: but against these, no doubt, the wisdom of the nation may, and will provide.
Another evil, which, in my opinion, deserves the publick care, is the ill management of the bogs; the neglect whereof is a much greater mischief to this kingdom than most people seem to be aware of.
It is allowed indeed, by those who are esteemed most skilful in such matters, that the red swelling mossy bog, whereof we have so many large tracts in this island, is not by any means to be fully reduced, but the skirts, which are covered with a green coat, easily may, being not accretion, or annual growth of moss, like the other.
Now the landlords are generally so careless as to suffer their tenants to cut their turf in these skirts, as well as the bog adjoined; whereby there is yearly lost a considerable quantity of land throughout the kingdom, never to be recovered.
But this is not the greatest part of the mischief: for the main bog, although perhaps not reducible to natural soil; yet, by continuing large, deep, straight canals through the middle, cleaned at proper times, as low as the channel or gravel, would become secure summer pasture; the margins might, with great profit and ornament, be filled with quickins, birch, and other trees proper for such a soil, and the canals be convenient for water carriage of the turf, which is now drawn upon sled cars with great expense, difficulty, and loss of time, by reason of the many turfpits scattered irregularly through the bog, wherein great numbers of cattle are yearly drowned. And it has been, I confess, to me a matter of the greatest vexation, as well as wonder, to think how any landlord could be so absurd as to suffer such havock to be made.
All the acts for encouraging plantations of forest-trees are, I am told, extremely defective; which, with great submission, must have been owing to a defect of skill in the contrivers of them. In this climate, by the continual blowing of the west-south-west wind, hardly any tree of value will come to perfection that is not planted in groves, except very rarely, and where there is much land-shelter. I have not, indeed, read all the acts; but from inquiry, I cannot learn that the planting in groves is enjoined. And as the effects of these laws, I have not seen the least, in many hundred miles riding, except about a very few gentlemen's houses, and even those with very little skill or success. In all the rest, the hedges generally miscarry, as well as the larger slender twigs planted upon the tops of ditches, merely for want of common skill and care.
I do not believe that a greater and quicker profit could be made, than by planting large groves of ash, a few feet asunder, which in seven years would make the best kind of hop poles, and grow in the same or less time, to a second crop from their roots.
It would likewise be of great use and beauty in our desert scenes, to oblige cottagers to plant ash or elm before their cabins, and round their potatoe gardens, where cattle either do not or ought not to come to destroy them.
The common objection against all this, drawn from the laziness, the perverseness, or thievish disposition, of the poor native Irish, might be easily answered, by showing the true reasons for such accusations, and how easily those people may be brought to a less savage manner of life: but my printers have already suffered too much for my speculations. However, supposing the size of a native's understanding just equal to that of a dog or a horse, I have often seen those two animals civilized by rewards, at least as much as by punishments.
It would be a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language in this kingdom, so far at least as to oblige all the natives to speak only English, on every occasion of business, in shops, markets, fairs, and other places of dealing; yet I am wholly deceived, if this might not be effectually done in less than half an age, and at a very trifling expense; for such I look upon a tax to be of only six thousand pounds a year, to accomplish so great a work. This would, in a great measure civilize the most barbarous among them, reconcile them to our customs and manner of living, and reduce great numbers to the national religion, whatever kind may then happen to be established. The method is plain and simple; and although I am too desponding to produce it, yet I could heartily wish some publick thoughts were employed to reduce this uncultivated people from that idle, savage, beastly, thievish manner of life, in which they continue sunk to such a degree, that it is almost impossible for a country gentleman to find a servant of human capacity, or the least tincture of natural honesty, or who does not live among his own tenants in continual fear of having his plantations destroyed, his cattle stolen, and his goods pilfered.
The love, affection, or vanity of living in England, continuing to carry thither so many wealthy families, the consequences thereof, together with the utter loss of all trade, except what is detrimental, which has forced such great numbers of weavers, and others, to seek their bread in foreign countries; the unhappy practice of stocking such vast quantities of land with sheep and other cattle, which reduces twenty families to one: these events, I say, have exceedingly depopulated this kingdom for several years past. I should heartily wish, therefore, under this miserable dearth of money, that those who are most concerned would think it advisable to save a hundred thousand pounds a year, which is now sent out of this kingdom, to feed us with corn. There is not an older or more uncontroverted maxim in the politicks of all wise nations, than that of encouraging agriculture. And therefore, to what kind of wisdom a practice so directly contrary among us may be reduced, I am by no means a judge. If labour and people make the true riches of a nation, what must be the issue, where one part of the people are forced away, and the other have nothing to do?
If it should be thought proper by wiser heads, that his majesty might be applied to in a national way, for giving the kingdom leave to coin halfpence for its own use; I believe no good subject will be under the least apprehension that such a request could meet with refusal, or the least delay. Perhaps we are the only kingdom upon earth, or that ever was or will be upon earth, which did not enjoy that common right of civil society, under the proper inspection of its prince or legislature, to coin money of all usual metals for its own occasion. Every petty prince in Germany, vassal to the emperor, enjoys this privilege. And I have seen in this kingdom several silver pieces, with the inscription of civitas waterford, droghedagh, and other towns.