The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/The Drapier’s Letters 2








IN your newsletter of the first instant, there is a paragraph, dated from London July 25th, relating to Wood's halfpence; whereby it is plain, what I foretold in my letter to the shopkeepers, etc. that this vile fellow would never be at rest; and that the danger of our ruin approaches nearer; and therefore the kingdom requires new and fresh warning. However, I take this paragraph to be, in a great measure, an imposition upon the publick; at least I hope so, because I am informed that Wood is generally his own news writer. I cannot but observe from that paragraph, that this publick enemy of ours, not satisfied to ruin us with his trash, takes every occasion to treat this kingdom with the utmost contempt. He represents several of our merchants and traders, upon examination before a committee of council, agreeing, that there was the utmost necessity of copper money here, before his patent; so that several gentlemen have been forced to tally with their workmen, and give them bits of cards sealed and subscribed with their names. What then? If a physician prescribe to a patient a dram of physick, shall a rascal apothecary cram him with a pound, and mix it up with poison? And is not a landlord's hand and seal to his own labourers a better security for five or ten shillings, than Wood's brass, ten times below the real value, can be to the kingdom for a hundred and eight thousand pounds?

But who are these merchants and traders of Ireland that made this report of the utmost necessity we are under for copper money? They are only a few betrayers of their country, confederates with Wood, from whom they are to purchase a great quantity of his coin, perhaps at half the price that we are to take it, and vend it among us, to the ruin of the publick, and their own private advantages. Are not these excellent witnesses, upon whose integrity the fate of the kingdom must depend; evidences in their own cause, and sharers in this work of iniquity?

If we could have deserved the liberty of coining for ourselves, as we formerly did, and why we have it not is every body's wonder as well as mine, ten thousand pounds might have been coined here in Dublin of only one fifth below the intrinsick value; and this sum, with the stock of halfpence we then had, would have been sufficient: but Wood, by his emissaries, enemies to God and this kingdom, has taken care to buy up as many of our old halfpence as he could; and from thence the present want of change arises; to remove which by Mr. Wood's remedy, would be, to cure a scratch on the finger by cutting off the arm. But, supposing there were not one farthing of change in the whole nation, I will maintain, that five and twenty thousand pounds would be a sum fully sufficient to answer all our occasions. I am no inconsiderable shopkeeper in this town. I have discoursed with several of my own, and other trades, with many gentlemen both of city and country, and also with great numbers of farmers, cottagers, and labourers, who all agree, that two shillings in change for every family, would be more than necessary in all dealings. Now, by the largest computation (even before that grievous discouragement of agriculture, which has so much lessened our numbers) the souls in this kingdom are computed to be one million and a half; which, allowing six to a family, makes two hundred and fifty thousand families, and consequently two shillings to each family, will amount only to five and twenty thousand pounds; whereas this honest, liberal, hardwareman, Wood, would impose upon us above four times that sum.

Your paragraph relates farther, that sir Isaac Newton reported an essay taken at the Tower of Wood's metal; by which it appears, that Wood had in all respects performed his contract. His contract! with whom? Was it with the parliament or people of Ireland? Are not they to be the purchasers? But they detest, abhor, and reject it as corrupt, fraudulent, mingled with dirt and trash. Upon which he grows angry, goes to law, and will impose his goods upon us by force.

But your newsletter says, that an essay was made of the coin. How impudent and insupportable is this! Wood takes care to coin a dozen or two halfpence of good metal, sends them to the Tower, and they are approved; and these must answer all that he has already coined, or shall coin for the future. It is true, indeed, that a gentleman often sends to my shop for a pattern of stuff; I cut it fairly off, and if he likes it, he comes, or sends, and compares the pattern with the whole piece, and probably we come to a bargain. But if I were to buy a hundred sheep, and the grazier should bring me one single wether fat and well fleeced, by way of pattern, and expect the same price round for the whole hundred, without suffering me to see them before he was paid, or giving me good security to restore my money for those that were lean, or shorn, or scabby, I would be none of his customer. I have heard of a man who had a mind to sell his house, and therefore carried a piece of brick in his pocket, which he showed as a pattern to encourage purchasers; and this is directly the case in point with Mr. Wood's essay.

The next part of the paragraph, contains Mr. Wood's voluntary proposals for preventing any farther objections or apprehensions.

His first proposal is, that whereas he has already coined seventeen thousand pounds, and has copper prepared to make it up forty thousand pounds, he will be content to coin no more, unless the exigencies of trade require it, although his patent impowers him to coin a far greater quantity.

To which if I were to answer, it should be thus: let Mr. Wood and his crew of founders and tinkers coin on, till there is not an old kettle left in the kingdom; let them coin old leather, tobacco-pipe clay, or the dirt in the street, and call their trumpery by what name they please, from a guinea to a farthing; we are not under any concern to know how he and his tribe of accomplices think fit to employ themselves. But I hope, and trust, that we are all, to a man, fully determined to have nothing to do with him or his ware.

The king has given him a patent to coin halfpence, but has not obliged us to take them; and I have already shown in my Letter to the Shopkeepers etc., that the law has not left it in the power of the prerogative to compel the subject to take any money, beside gold and silver of the right sterling and standard.

Wood farther purposes (if I understand him right, for his expressions are dubious) that he will not coin above forty thousand pounds, unless the exigencies of trade require it. First, I observe that this sum of forty thousand pounds is almost double to what I proved to be sufficient for the whole kingdom, although we had not one of our old halfpence left. Again, I ask, who is to be judge, when the exigencies of trade require it? Without doubt he means himself; for as to us of this poor kingdom, who must be utterly ruined if this project should succeed, we were never once consulted till the matter was over, and he will judge of our exigencies by his own: neither will these be ever at an end, till he and his accomplices shall think they have enough: and it now appears that he will not be content with all our gold and silver, but intends to buy up our goods and manufactures with the same coin.

I shall not enter into examination of the prices for which he now proposes to sell his halfpence, or what he calls his copper by the pound; I have said enough of it in my former letter, and it has likewise been considered by others. It is certain that by his own first computation, we were to pay three shillings for what was intrinsically worth but one, although it had been of the true weight and standard for which he pretended to have contracted; but there is so great a difference both in weight and badness in several of his coins, that some of them have been nine in ten below the intrinsick value, and most of them six or seven.

His last proposal being of a peculiar strain and nature, deserves to be very particularly considered, both on account of the matter and the style. It is as follows:

Lastly, In consideration of the direful apprehensions which prevail in Ireland, that Mr. Wood will, by such coinage, drain them of their gold and silver; he proposes to take their manufactures in exchange, and that no person be obliged to receive more than five pence halfpenny at one payment.

First observe this little impudent hardwareman turning into ridicule the direful apprehensions of a whole kingdom, priding himself as the cause of them, and daring to prescribe (what no king of England ever attempted) how far a whole nation shall be obliged to take his brass coin. And he has reason to insult: for sure there was never an example in history of a great kingdom kept in awe for above a year, in daily dread of utter destruction, not by a powerful invader at the head of twenty thousand men, not by a plague or a famine, not by a tyrannical prince (for we never had one more gracious) or a corrupt administration, but by one single, diminutive, insignificant mechanick.

But to go on: to remove our direful apprehensions that he will drain us of our gold and silver by his coinage, this little arbitrary mock-monarch most graciously offers to take our manufactures in exchange. Are our Irish understandings indeed so low in his opinion? Is not this the very misery we complain of; that his cursed project will put us under the necessity of selling our goods for what is equal to nothing? How would such a proposal sound from France or Spain, or any other country with which we traffick, if they should offer to deal with us only upon this condition, that we should take their money at ten times higher than the intrinsick value? Does Mr. Wood think, for instance, that we will sell him a stone of wool for a parcel of his counters not worth sixpence, when we can send it to England, and receive as many shillings in gold and silver? Surely there was never heard such a compound of impudence, villany, and folly.

His proposals conclude with perfect high treason. He promises, that no person shall be obliged to receive more than five pence halfpenny of his coin in one payment. By which it is plain, that he pretends to oblige every subject in this kingdom to take so much in every payment, if it be offered; whereas his patent obliges no man, nor can the prerogative, by law, claim such a power, as I have often observed; so that here Mr Wood takes upon him the entire legislature, and an absolute dominion over the properties of the whole nation.

Good God! who are this wretch's advisers? who are his supporters, abettors, encouragers, or sharers? Mr. Wood will oblige me to take five pence halfpenny of his brass in every payment. And I will shoot Mr. Wood and his deputies through the head, like highwaymen or housebreakers, if they dare to force one farthing of their coin on me in the payment of a hundred pounds. It is no loss of honour to submit to the lion, but who, with the figure of a man, can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat? He has laid a tax upon the people of Ireland of seventeen shillings at least in the pound: a tax, I say, not only upon lands, but interest-money, goods, manufactures, the hire of handicraftsmen, labourers, and servants. Shopkeepers, look to yourselves! Wood will oblige and force you to take five pence halfpenny of his trash in every payment: and many of you receive twenty, thirty, forty payments in one day, or else you can hardly find bread: and pray consider how much that will amount to in a year; twenty times five pence halfpenny is nine shillings and two pence, which is above a hundred and sixty pounds a year, wherein you will be losers of at least one hundred and forty pounds by taking your payments in his money. If any of you be content to deal with Mr. Wood on such conditions, you may; but for my own particular, let his money perish with him. If the famous Mr. Hampden rather chose to go to prison, than pay a few shillings to king Charles I, without authority of parliament; I will rather choose to be hanged, than have all my substance taxed at seventeen shillings in the pound, at the arbitrary will and pleasure of the venerable Mr. Wood.

The paragraph concludes thus: N. B. (that is to say, nota bene, or mark well) No evidence appeared from Ireland, or elsewhere, to prove the mischiefs complained of, or any abuses whatsoever committed in the execution of the said grant.

The impudence of this remark exceeds all that went before. First, the house of commons in Ireland, which represents the whole people of the kingdom; and secondly, the privy council addressed his majesty against these halfpence: what could be done more to express the universal sense of the nation? If his copper were diamonds, and the kingdom were entirely against it, would not that be sufficient to reject it? Must a committee of the whole house of commons, and our whole privy-council, go over to argue pro and con with Mr. Wood? To what end did the king give his patent for coining halfpence in Ireland? Was it not because it was represented to his sacred majesty, that such a coinage would be of advantage to the good of this kingdom, and of all his subjects here: It is to the patentee's peril, if this representation be false, and the execution of his patent be fraudulent and corrupt. Is he so wicked and foolish to think, that his patent was given him to ruin a million and a half of people, that he might be a gainer of three or fourscore thousand pounds to himself? Before he was at the charge of passing a patent, much more of raking up so much filthy dross, and stamping it with his majesty's image and superscription, should he not first in common sense, in common equity, and common manners, have consulted the principal party concerned; that is to say, the people of the kingdom, the house of lords, or commons, or the privy-council? If any foreigner should ask us, whose image and superscription there is on Wood's coin? We should be ashamed to tell him, it was Cæsar's. In that great want of copper halfpence which he alleges we were, our city set up our Cæsar's[1] statue in excellent copper at an expense that is equal in value to thirty thousand pound of his coin; and we will not receive his image in worse metal.

I observe many of our people putting a melancholy case on this subject. It is true, say they, we are all undone if Wood's halfpence must pass; but what shall we do, if his majesty puts out a proclamation commanding us to take them? This has often been dinned in my ears. But I desire my countrymen to be assured that there is nothing in it. The king never issues out a proclamation but to enjoin what the law permits him. He will not issue out a proclamation against law; or, if such a thing should happen by a mistake, we are no more obliged to obey it, than to run our heads into the fire. Besides, his majesty will never command us by a proclamation, what he does not offer to command us in the patent itself. There he leaves it to our discretion; so that our destruction must be entirely owing to ourselves. Therefore let no man be afraid of a proclamation, which will never be granted; and if it should, yet upon this occasion will be of no force. The king's revenues here are near four hundred thousand pounds a year. Can you think his ministers will advise him to take them in Wood's brass, which will reduce the value to fifty thousand pounds? England gets a million sterling by this nation; which, if this project goes on, will be almost reduced to nothing: and do you think those who live in England upon Irish estates, will be content to take an eighth or tenth part by being paid in Wood's dross?

If Wood and his confederates were not convinced of our stupidity, they never would have attempted so audacious an enterprise. He now sees a spirit has been raised against him, and he only watches till it begin to flag: he goes about watching when to devour us. He hopes we shall be weary of contending with him; and at last, out of ignorance or fear, or of being perfectly tired with opposition, we shall be forced to yield: and therefore, I confess, it is my chief endeavour to keep up your spirits and resentments. If I tell you there is a precipice under you, and that if you go forward you will certainly break your necks; if I point to it before your eyes, must I be at the trouble of repeating it every morning? Are our people's hearts waxed gross? are their ears dull of hearing? and have they closed their eyes? I fear there are some few vipers among us, who for ten or twenty pounds gain would sell their souls and their country; although at last it should end in their own ruin, as well as ours. Be not like the deaf adder, who refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.

Although my letter be directed to you, Mr. Harding, yet I intend it for all my countrymen. I have no interest in this affair, but what is common to the publick: I can live better than many others; I have some gold and silver by me, and a shop well furnished; and shall be able to make a shift when many of my betters are starving. But I am grieved to see the coldness and indifference of many people, with whom I discourse. Some are afraid of a proclamation; others shrug up their shoulders, and cry, What would you have us to do? Some give out, there is no danger at all: others are comforted, that it will be a common calamity, and they shall fare no worse than their neighbours. Will a man who hears midnight robbers at his door, get out of bed, and raise his family for a common defence; and shall a whole kingdom lie in a lethargy, while Mr. Wood comes, at the head of his confederates, to rob them of all they have, to ruin us and our posterity, for ever? If a highwayman meets you on the road, you give him your money to save your life; but God be thanked, Mr. Wood cannot touch a hair of your heads. You have all the laws of God and man on your side: when he or his accomplices offer you his dross, it is but saying no, and you are safe. If a madman should come into my shop with a handful of dirt raked out of the kennel, and offer it in payment for ten yards of stuff, I would pity, or laugh at him; or if his behaviour deserved it, kick him out of my doors. And if Mr. Wood comes to demand my gold and silver, or commodities for which I have paid my gold and silver, in exchange for his trash, can he deserve or expect better treatment?

When the evil day is come (if it must come) let us mark and observe those who presume to offer these halfpence in payment. Let their names and trades, and places of abode, be made publick, that every one may be aware of them, as betrayers of their country, and confederates with Mr. Wood. Let them be watched at markets and fairs; and let the first honest discoverer give the word about that Mr. Wood's halfpence have been offered, and caution the poor innocent people not to receive them.

Perhaps I have been too tedious; but there would never be an end, if I attempted to say all that this melancholy subject will bear. I will conclude with humbly offering one proposal; which, if it were put into practice, would blow up this destructive project at once. Let some skilful, judicious pen, draw up an advertisement to the following purpose:

Whereas one William Wood, hardwareman, now or lately sojourning in the city of London, has, by many misrepresentations, procured a patent for coining a hundred and eight thousand pounds in copper halfpence for this kingdom; which is a sum five times greater than our occasions require: And whereas it is notorious, that the said Wood has coined his halfpence of such base metal, and false weight, that they are at least six parts in seven below the real value; And whereas we have reason to apprehend, that the said Wood may at any time hereafter clandestinely coin as many more halfpence as he pleases: And whereas the said patent neither does, nor can oblige his majesty's subjects to receive the said halfpence in any payment, but leaves it to their voluntary choice; because by law the subject cannot be obliged to take any money, except gold or silver: And whereas, contrary to the letter and meaning of the said patent, the said Wood has declared, that every person shall be obliged to take five pence halfpenny of his coin in every payment: And whereas the house of commons, and privy-council, have severally addressed his most sacred majesty, representing the ill consequences which the said coinage may have upon this kingdom: and lastly, whereas it is universally agreed, that the whole nation to a man, (except Mr. Wood, and his confederates) are in the utmost apprehensions of the ruinous consequences that must follow from the said coinage; Therefore we, whose names are underwritten, being persons of considerable estates in this kingdom, and residers therein, do unanimously resolve and declare, that we will never receive one farthing or halfpenny of the said Wood's coining; and that we will direct all our tenants to refuse the said coin from any person whatsoever; of which that they may not be ignorant, we have sent them a copy of this advertisement, to be read to them by our stewards, receivers, etc.

I could wish, that a paper of this nature might be drawn up, and signed by two or three hundred principal gentlemen of this kingdom; and printed copies thereof sent to their several tenants. I am deceived if any thing could sooner defeat this execrable design of Wood, and his accomplices. This would immediately give the alarm, and set the kingdom on their guard; this would give courage to the meanest tenant and cottager. How long, O Lord, righteous and true, etc.

I must tell you in particular, Mr. Harding, that you are much to blame. Several hundred persons have inquired at your house for my Letter to the Shopkeepers, etc. and you had none to sell them. Pray keep yourself provided with that Letter, and with this: you have got very well by the former; but I did not then write for your sake, any more than I do now. Pray advertise both in every newspaper: and let it not be your fault or mine, if our countrymen will not take warning. I desire you likewise to sell them as cheap as you can.

I am your servant,

August 4, 1724.

  1. An equestrian statue of George I, at Essex-bridge, Dublin.