The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/Proposal that the Ladies Wear Irish Manufactures






THERE was a treatise written about nine years ago, to persuade the people of Ireland to wear their own manufactures. This treatise was allowed to have not one syllable in it of party or disaffection; but was wholly founded upon the growing poverty of the nation, occasioned by the utter want of trade, except the ruinous importation of all foreign extravagances from other countries. This treatise was presented, by the grand jury of the city and county of Dublin, as a scandalous, seditious, and factious pamphlet. I forgot who was the foreman of the city grand jury; but the foreman for the county was one Dr. Seal, register to the archbishop of Dublin, wherein he differed much from the sentiments of his lord. The printer was tried before the late Mr. Whitshed, that famous lord chief justice; who, on the bench, laying his hand on his heart, declared, upon his salvation, "That the author was a jacobite, and had a design to beget a quarrel between the two nations." In the midst of this prosecution, about fifteen hundred weavers were forced to beg their bread, and had a general contribution made for their relief, which just served to make them drunk for a week; and then they were forced to turn rogues, or strolling beggars, or to leave the kingdom.

The duke of Grafton, who was then lieutenant, being perfectly ashamed of so infamous and unpopular a proceeding, obtained from England a noli prosequi for the printer. Yet the grand jury had solemn thanks given them from the secretary of state.

I mention this passage (perhaps too much forgotten) to show how dangerous it has been for the best meaning person to write one syllable in the defence of his country, or discover the miserable condition it is in.

And to prove this truth, I will produce one instance more: wholly omitting the famous cause of the drapier, and the proclamation against him, as well as the perverseness of another jury against the same Mr. Whitshed, who was violently bent to act the second part in another scene.

About two years ago, there was a small paper printed, which was called, 'A Short View of the State of Ireland,' relating to the several causes whereby any country may grow rich, and applying them to Ireland. Whitshed was dead, and consequently the printer was not troubled. Mist, the famous journalist, happened to reprint this paper in London, for which his pressfolk were prosecuted for almost a twelvemonth; and, for aught I know, are not yet discharged.

This is our case; insomuch, that although I am often without money in my pocket, I dare not own it in some company, for fear of being thought disaffected.

But, since I am determined to take care that the author of this paper shall not be discovered, (following herein the most prudent practice of the drapier) I will venture to affirm, that the three seasons wherein our corn has miscarried, did no more contribute to our present misery, than one spoonful of water thrown upon a rat already drowned, would contribute to his death: and that the present plentiful harvest, although it should be followed by a dozen ensuing, would no more restore us, than it would the rat aforesaid, to put him near the fire, which might indeed warm his fur coat, but never bring him back to life.

The short of the matter is this: The distresses of the kingdom are operating more and more every day, by very large degrees, and so have been doing for above a dozen years past.

If you demand whence these distresses have arisen, I desire to ask the following question:

If two thirds of any kingdom's revenue be exported to another country, without one farthing of value in return; and if the said kingdom be forbidden the most profitable branches of trade wherein to employ the other third, and only allowed to traffick in importing those commodities which are most ruinous to itself; how shall that kingdom stand?

If this question were formed into the first proposition of an hypothetical syllogism. I defy the man born in Ireland, who is now in the fairest way of getting a collectorship, or a cornet's post, to give good reason for denying it.

Let me put another case. Suppose a gentleman's estate of two hundred pounds a year should sink to one hundred, by some accident, whether by an earthquake, or inundation, it matters not; and suppose the said gentleman, utterly hopeless and unqualified ever to retrieve the loss; how is he otherwise to proceed in his future economy, than by reducing it on every article to one half less, unless he will be content to fly his country, or rot in gaol? This is a representation of Ireland's condition; only with one fault, that it is a little too favourable. Neither am I able to propose a full remedy for this, but only a small prolongation of life, until God shall miraculously dispose the hearts of our neighbours and our kinsmen, our fellow protestants, fellow subjects, and fellow rational creatures, to permit us to starve without running farther in debt. I am informed that our national debt (and God knows how we wretches came by that fashionable thing a national debt) is about two hundred and fifty thousand pounds; which is, at least, one third of the whole kingdom's rents, after our absentees and other foreign drains are paid, and about fifty thousand pounds more than all the cash.

It seems there are several schemes for raising a fund to pay the interest of this formidable sum, not the principal, for this is allowed impossible. The necessity of raising such a fund, is strongly and regularly pleaded, from the late deficiencies in the duties and customs. And is it a fault of Ireland that these funds are deficient? If they depend on trade, can it possibly be otherwise, while we have neither liberty to trade, nor money to trade with; neither hands to work, nor business to employ them if we had? Our diseases are visible enough, both in their causes and effects; and the cures are well known, but impossible to be applied.

If my steward comes and tells me, "that my rents are sunk so low, that they are very little more than sufficient to pay my servants their wages;" have I any other course left, than to cashier four in six of my rascally footmen, and a number of other varlets in my family, of whose insolence the whole neighbourhood complains? And I would think it extremely severe in any law, to force me to maintain a household of fifty servants, and fix their wages, before I had offered my rent-roll upon oath to the legislators.

To return from digressing: I am told one scheme for raising a fund to pay the interest of our national debt, is, by a farther duty of forty shillings a tun upon wine. Some gentlemen would carry this matter much farther, by raising it to twelve pounds; which, in a manner, would amount to a prohibition; thus weakly arguing from the practice of England.

I have often taken notice, both in print and in discourse, that there is no topick so fallacious, either in talk or in writing, as to argue how we ought to act in Ireland, from the example of England, Holland, France, or any other country, whose inhabitants are allowed the common rights and liberties of human kind. I could undertake to name six or seven of the most uncontrolled maxims in government, which are utterly false in this kingdom.

As to the additional duty on wine, I think any person may deliver his opinion upon it, until it shall have passed into a law; and, till then, I declare mine to be positively against it.

First, Because there is no nation yet known, in either hemisphere, where the people of all conditions are more in want of some cordial, to keep up their spirits, than in this of ours. I am not in jest; and if the fact will not be allowed me, I shall not argue it.

Secondly, It is too well and generally known, that this tax of forty shillings additional on every tun of wine, (which will be double at least to the home consumer) will increase equally every new session of parliament, until perhaps it comes to twelve pounds.

Thirdly, Because, as the merchants inform me, and as I have known many the like instances in England, this additional tax will more probably lessen this branch of the revenue, than increase it. And therefore sir John Stanley, a commissioner of the customs in England, used to say, "That the house of commons were generally mistaken in matters of trade, by an erroneous opinion that two and two make four." Thus if you should lay an additional duty of one penny a pound on raisins or sugar, the revenue, instead of rising, would certainly sink; and the consequence would only be, to lessen the number of plumpuddings, and ruin the confectioner.

Fourthly, I am likewise assured by merchants, that upon this additional forty shillings, the French will at least equally raise their duties upon all commodities we export thither.

Fifthly, If an original extract of the exports and imports be true, we have been gainers, upon the balance, by our trade with France for several years past; and, although our gain amounts to no great sum, we ought to be satisfied, since we are no losers, with the only consolation we are capable of receiving.

Lastly, The worst consequence is behind. If we raise the duty on wine to a considerable height, we lose the only hold we have of keeping among us the few gentlemen of any tolerable estates. I am confident, there is hardly a gentleman of eight hundred pounds a year and upward, in this kingdom, who would balance half an hour to consider whether he should live here, or in England, if a family could be as cheaply maintained in the one as the other. As to eatables, they are as cheap in many fine counties of England, as in some very indifferent ones here; or, if there be any difference, that vein of thrift, and prudence in economy, which passes there without reproach, (and chiefly in London itself) would amply make up the difference. But the article of French wine is hardly tolerable, in any degree of plenty, to a middling fortune: and this it is, which by growing habitual, wholly turns the scale with those few landed men, disengaged from employments, who content themselves to live hospitably, with plenty of good wine in their own country, rather than in penury and obscurity in another, with bad, or with none at all.

Having therefore, as far as in me lies, abolished this additional duty upon wine; for I am not under the least concern about paying the interest of the national debt, but leave it, as in loyalty bound, wholly to the wisdom of the honourable house of commons; I come now to consider, by what methods, we may be able to put off and delay our utter undoing, as long as it is possible.

I never have discoursed with any reasonable man upon the subject, who did not allow that there was no remedy left us, but to lessen the importation of all unnecessary commodities, as much as it was possible; and likewise either to persuade our absentees to spend their money at home, which is impossible; or tax them at five shillings in the pound during their absence, with such allowances, upon necessary occasions, as shall be thought convenient; or, by permitting us a free trade, which is denied to no other nation upon earth. The three last methods are treated by Mr. Prior, in his most useful treatise, added to his list of absentees.

It is to gratify the vanity and pride and luxury of the women, and of the young fops who admire them, that we owe this insupportable grievance, of bringing in the instruments of our ruin. There is annually brought over to this kingdom, near ninety thousand pounds worth of silk, whereof the greater part is manufactured. Thirty thousand pounds more, expended in muslin, holland, cambrick, and callico. What the price of lace amounts to, is not easy to be collected from the custom house book, being a kind of goods that takes up little room, and is easily run; but, considering the prodigious price of a woman's headdress, at ten, twelve, twenty pounds a yard, must be very great. The tea, rated at seven shillings per pound, comes to near twelve thousand pounds; but, considering it as the common luxury of every chambermaid, semstress, and tradesman's wife, both in town and country, however they come by it, must needs cost the kingdom double that sum. Coffee is somewhat above seven thousand pounds, I have seen no account of chocolate, and some other Indian or American goods. The drapery imported is about four and twenty thousand pounds. The whole amounts (with one or two other particulars) to one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. The lavishing of all which money is just as prudent and necessary, as to see a man in an embroidered coat, begging out of Newgate in an old shoe.

I allow that the thrown and raw silk is less pernicious; because we have some share in the manufacture: but we are not now in circumstances to trifle. It costs us above forty thousand pounds a year; and if the ladies, till better times, will not be content to go in their own country shifts, I wish they may go in rags. Let them vie with each other in the fineness of their native linen: their beauty and gentleness will as well appear, as if they were covered over with diamonds and brocade.

I believe no man is so weak, as to hope or expect that such a reformation can be brought about by a law. But a thorough hearty unanimous vote, in both houses of parliament, might perhaps answer as well: every senator, noble or plebeian, giving his honour, "That neither himself, nor any of his family would, in their dress or furniture of their houses, make use of any thing except what was of the growth and manufacture of this kingdom; and that they would use the utmost of their power, influence, and credit, to prevail on their tenants, dependants, and friends, to follow their example."