The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/The Drapier’s Letters 7
BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
BY M. B. DRAPIER.
Malta gemens plagasque superbi
I HAVE been told, that petitions and addresses, to either king or parliament, are the right of every subject; provided they consist with that respect, which is due to princes and great assemblies. Neither do I remember, that the modest proposals or opinions of private men have been ill received, when they have not been delivered in the style of advice; which is a presumption far from my thoughts. However, if proposals should be looked upon as too assuming; yet I hope, every man may be suffered to declare his own and the nation's wishes. For instance; I may be allowed to wish, that some farther laws were enacted for the advancement of trade, for the improvement of agriculture, now strangely neglected, against the maxims of all wise nations: for supplying the manifest defects in the acts concerning the plantation of trees; for setting the poor to work; and many others.
Upon this principle I may venture to affirm, it is the hearty wish of the whole nation, very few excepted, that the parliament, in this session, would begin by strictly examining into the detestable fraud of one William Wood, now or late of London, hardwareman; who illegally and clandestinely, as appears by your own votes and addresses, procured a patent in England for coining halfpence in that kingdom to be current here. This, I say, is the wish of the whole nation, very few excepted; and upon account of those few, is more strongly and justly the wish of the rest: those few consisting either of Wood's confederates, some obscure tradesmen, or certain bold UNDERTAKERS, of weak judgment and strong ambition, who think to find their accounts in the ruin of the nation, by securing or advancing themselves. And because such men proceed upon a system of politicks, to which I would fain hope you will be always utter strangers, I shall humbly lay it before you.
Be pleased to suppose me in a station of fifteen hundred pounds a year, salary and perquisites; and likewise possessed of 800l. a year real estate. Then suppose a destructive project to be on foot; such for instance as this of Wood; which, if it succeed in all the consequences naturally to be expected from it, must sink the rents and wealth of the kingdom one half, although I am confident, it would have done so five sixths: Suppose, I conceive that the countenancing, or privately supporting this project, will please those by whom I expect to be preserved, or higher exalted: nothing then remains, but to compute and balance my gain and my loss, and sum up the whole. I suppose that I shall keep my employment ten years, not to mention the fair chance of a better. This at 1500l. a year amounts in ten years to 15000. My estate by the success of the said project sinks 400l. a year; which, at twenty years purchase, is but 8000l. so that I am a clear gainer of 7000l. upon the balance. And during all that period I am possessed of power and credit, can gratify my favourites, and take vengeance on my enemies. And if the project miscarry, my private merit is still entire. This arithmetick, as horrible as it appears, I knowingly affirm to have been practised and applied, in conjunctures whereon depended the ruin or safety of a nation: although probably the charity and virtue of a senate will hardly be induced to believe, that there can be such monsters among mankind. And yet the wise lord Bacon mentions a sort of people (I doubt the race is not yet extinct) who would set a house on fire for the convenience of roasting their own eggs at the flame.
But whoever is old enough to remember, and has turned his thoughts to observe the course of publick affairs in this kingdom from the time of the revolution, must acknowledge, that the highest points of interest and liberty have been often sacrificed to the avarice and ambition of particular persons, upon the very principles and arithmetick that I have supposed: the only wonder is, how these artists were able to prevail upon numbers, and influence even publick assemblies, to become instruments for effecting their execrable designs.
It is, I think, in all conscience, latitude enough for vice, if a man in station be allowed to act injustice upon the usual principles of getting a bribe, wreaking his malice, serving his party, or consulting his preferment, while his wickedness terminates in the ruin only of particular persons. But to deliver up our whole country, and every living soul who inhabits it, to certain destruction, has not, as I remember, been permitted by the most favourable casuists on the side of corruption. It were far better, that all who have had the misfortune to be born in this kingdom, should be rendered incapable of holding any employment whatsoever above the degree of a constable (according to the scheme and intention of a great minister gone to his own place) than to live under the daily apprehension of a few false brethren among ourselves. Because, in the former case, we should be wholly free from the danger of being betrayed; since none could then have impudence enough to pretend any publick good.
It is true, that in this desperate affair of the new halfpence, I have not heard of any man above my own degree of a shopkeeper, to have been hitherto so bold, as in direct terms to vindicate the fatal project; although I have been told of some very mollifying expressions which were used, and very gentle expedients proposed and handed about, when it first came under debate: but, since the eyes of the people have been so far opened, that the most ignorant can plainly see their own ruin in the success of Wood's attempt, these grand compounders, have been more cautious.
But, that the same spirit still subsists, has manifestly appeared (among other instances of great compliance) from certain circumstances, that have attended some late proceedings in a court of judicature. There is not any common place more frequently insisted on by those who treat of our constitution, than the great happiness and excellency of trials by juries; yet, if this blessed part of our law be eludible at pleasure, by the force of power, frowns, and artifice, we shall have little reason to boast of our advantage in this particular, over other states or kingdoms in Europe. And surely these high proceedings, exercised in a point that so nearly concerned the lifeblood of the people, their necessary subsistence, their very food and raiment, and even the publick peace, will not allow any favourable appearance; because it was obvious, that so much superabundant zeal could have no other design, or produce any other effect, than to damp that spirit raised in the nation aguinst this accursed scheme of William Wood and his abettors; to which spirit alone we owe, and for ever must owe, our being hitherto preserved, and our hopes of being preserved for the future, if it can be kept up, and strongly countenanced by your wise assemblies. I wish I could account for such a demeanor, upon a more charitable foundation, than that of putting our interest in over balance with the ruin of our country.
I remember some months ago, when this affair was fresh in discourse, a person nearly allied to SOMEBODY, or (as the hawkers called him) NOBODY, who was thought deeply concerned, went about very diligently among his acquaintance, to show the bad consequences that might follow, from any publick resentment, to the disadvantage of his ally, Mr. Wood; principally alleging the danger of all employments being disposed of from England. One of these emissaries came to me, and urged the same topick: I answered naturally, that I knew there was no office of any kind, which a man from England might not have if he thought it worth his asking; and that I looked upon all who had the disadvantage of being born here, as only in the conditions of leasers and gleaners. Neither could I forbear mentioning the known fable of the countryman, who entreated his ass to fly, for fear of being taken by the enemy; but the ass refused to give himself that trouble, and upon a very wise reason; because he could not possibly change his present master for a worse: the enemy could not make him fare harder, beat him more cruelly, or load him with heavier burdens.
Upon these, and many other considerations, I may affirm it to be the wish of the whole nation, that the power and privileges of juries were declared, ascertained, and confirmed by the legislature; and that whoever has been manifestly known to violate them, might be stigmatized by publick censure; not from any hope that such a censure will amend their practices, or hurt their interest (for it may probably operate quite contrary in both) but that the nation may know their enemies, from their friends.
I say not this with any regard or view to myself; for I write in great security; and am resolved that none shall merit at my expense, farther than by showing their zeal to discover, prosecute, and condemn me, for endeavouring to do my duty in serving my country: and yet I am conscious to myself, that I never had the least intention to reflect on his majesty's ministers, nor on any other person, except William Wood, whom I neither did, nor do yet conceive to be of that number. However, some would have it, that I went too far; but I suppose they will now allow themselves mistaken. I am sure I might easily have gone farther, and I think I could not easily have fared worse. And therefore I was no farther affected with their proclamation, and subsequent proceedings, than a good clergyman is, with the sins of the people. And as to the poor printer, he is now gone to appear before a higher, and before a righteous tribunal.
As my intention is only to lay before your great assemblies the general wishes of the nation; and as I have already declared it our principal wish, that your first proceeding would be to examine into the pernicious fraud of William Wood; so I must add, as the universal opinion, that all schemes of commutation, composition, and the like expedients, either avowed or implied, will be of the most pernicious consequences to the publick; against the dignity of a free kingdom; and prove an encouragement to future adventurers, in the same destructive projects. For it is a maxim, which no man at present disputes, that even a connivance to admit one thousand pounds in these halfpence, will produce, in time, the same ruinous effects, as if we openly consented to admit a million. It were therefore infinitely more safe and eligible to leave things in the doubtful, melancholy state they are at present (which however God forbid) and trust entirely to the general aversion of our people against this coin, using all honest endeavours to preserve, continue, and increase that aversion, than submit to apply those palliatives, which weak, perfidious, or abject politicians, are, upon all occasions, and in all diseases, so ready to administer.
In the small compass of my reading (which however has been more extensive than is usual to men of my inferiour calling) I have observed that grievances have always preceded supplies; and if ever grievances had a title to such a preeminence, it must be this of Wood; because it is not only the greatest grievance that any country could suffer, but a grievance of such a kind, that if it should take effect, would make it impossible for us to give any supplies at all, except in adulterate copper; unless a tax were laid for paying the civil and military lists, and the large pensions, with real commodities instead of money; which however might be liable to some few objections as well as difficulties: for, although the common soldiers might be content with beef and mutton, and wool, and malt, and leather; yet I am in some doubt as to the generals, the colonels, the numerous pensioners, the civil officers and others, who all live in England upon Irish pay, as well as those few who reside among us only because they cannot help it.
There is one particular, which although I have mentioned more than once in some of my former papers, yet I cannot forbear to repeat, and a little enlarge upon it; because I do not remember to have read or heard of the like in the history of any age or country; neither do I ever reflect upon it without the utmost astonishment.
After the unanimous addresses to his sacred majesty against this patent of Wood, from both houses of parliament, which are the three estates of the kingdom; and likewise an address from the privy council, to whom, under the chief governors, the whole administration is intrusted; the matter is referred to a committee of council in London. Wood, and his adherents are heard on one side; and a few volunteers, without any trust or direction from hence, on the other. The question (as I remember) chiefly turned upon the want of halfpence in Ireland: witnesses are called on the behalf of Wood, of what credit I have formerly shown: upon the issue, the patent is found good and legal; all his majesty's officers here (not excepting the military) commanded to be aiding and assisting to make it effectual; the addresses of both houses of parliament, of the privy council, and of the city of Dublin, the declarations of most counties and corporations through the kingdom, are altogether laid aside, as of no weight, consequence, or consideration whatsoever; and the whole kingdom of Ireland nonsuited in default of appearance; as if it were a private cause between John Doe, plaintiff, and William Roe, defendant.
With great respect to those honourable persons, the committee of council in London, I have not understood them to be our governors, counsellors, or judges. Neither did our case turn at all upon the question, whether Ireland wanted halfpence. For there is no doubt, but we do want both halfpence, gold, and silver; and we have numberless, other wants, and some that we are not so much as allowed to name, although they are peculiar to this nation; to which no other is subject, whom God has blessed the religion and laws, or any degree of soil and sunshine: but for what demerits on our side I am altogether in the dark.
But I do not remember that our want of halfpence, was either affirmed, or denied, in any of our addresses or declarations against those of Wood. We alleged the fraudulent obtaining and executing of his patent; the baseness of his metal; and the prodigious sum to be coined, which might be increased by stealth, from foreign importation, and his own counterfeits, as well as those at home; whereby we must infallibly lose all our little gold and silver, and all our poor remainder of a very limited and discouraged trade. We urged, that the patent was passed without the least reference hither; and without mention of any security given by Wood to receive his own halfpence upon demand; both which are contrary to all former proceedings in the like cases. These and many other arguments we offered; but still the patent went on, and at this day our ruin would have been half completed, if God in his mercy had not raised a universal detestation of these halfpence in the whole kingdom, with a firm resolution never to receive them, since we are not under obligations to do so, by any law, either human or divine.
But in the name of God, and of all justice and piety, when the king's majesty was pleased that this patent should pass, is it not to be understood, that he conceived, believed, and intended it as a gracious act, for the good and benefit of his subjects, for the advantage of a great and fruitful kingdom; of the most loyal kingdom upon earth, where no hand or voice was ever lifted up against him; a kingdom, where the passage is not of three hours from Britain, and a kingdom where papists have less power and less land than in England? can it be denied, or doubted, that his majesty's ministers understood and proposed the same end, the good of this nation, when they advised the passing of this patent? can the person of Wood be otherwise regarded, than as the instrument, the mechanick, the head workman, to prepare his furnace, his fuel, his metal, and his stamps? if I employ a shoeboy, is it in view to his advantage, or to my own convenience? I mention the person of William Wood alone; because no other appears, and we are not to reason upon surmises; neither would it avail, if they had a real foundation.
Allowing therefore (for we cannot do less) that this patent for the coining of halfpence was wholly intended by a gracious king, and a wise publick-spirited ministry, for the advantage of Ireland; yet when the whole kingdom to a man, for whose good the patent was designed, do, upon maturest consideration, universally join in openly declaring, protesting, addressing, petitioning against these halfpence, as the most ruinous project that ever was set on foot, to complete the slavery and destruction of a poor innocent country: is it, was it, can it, or will it ever be a question, not, whether such a kingdom or William Wood, should be a gainer; but whether such a kingdom should be wholly undone, destroyed, sunk, depopulated, made a scene of misery and desolation, for the sake of William Wood? God of his infinite mercy avert this dreadful judgment! and it is our universal wish, that God would put it into your hearts, to be his instruments for so good a work.
For my own part, who am but one man, of obscure condition, I do solemnly declare, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will suffer the most ignominious and torturing death, rather than submit to receive this accursed coin, or any other that shall be liable to these objections, until they shall be forced upon me by a law of my own country; and, if that shall ever happen, I will transport myself into some foreign land, and eat the bread of poverty among a free people.
Am I legally punishable for these expressions? shall another proclamation issue against me, because I presume to take my country's part against William Wood, where her final destruction is intended? But whenever you shall please to impose silence upon me, I will submit; because I look upon your unanimous voice to be the voice of the nation; and this I have been taught, and do believe, to be in some manner the voice of God.
The great ignominy of a whole kingdom lying so long at mercy under so vile an adversary, is such a deplorable aggravation, that the utmost expressions of shame and rage are too low to set it forth: and therefore I shall leave it to receive such a resentment, as is worthy of a parliament.
It is likewise our universal wish, that his majesty should grant liberty to coin halfpence in this kingdom for our own use, under such restriction as a parliament here shall advise: since the power of coining even gold and silver, is possessed by every petty prince abroad; and was always practised by Scotland to the very time of the union: yet surely Scotland, as to soil, climate, and extent, is not in itself a fourth part the value of Ireland, for bishop Burnet says, it is not above the fortieth part in value to the rest of Britain; and with respect to the profit that England gains from hence, not the forty thousandth part. Although I must confess, that a mote in the eye, or a thorn in the side, is more dangerous and painful, than a beam or a spike at a distance.
The histories of England, and of most other countries, abound in relating the miserable, and sometimes the most tragical effects from the abuses of coin by debasing the metal, by lessening or enhancing the value upon occasions, to the publick loss; of which we have an example within our own memory in England, and another very lately in France. It is the tenderest point of government, affecting every individual in the highest degree. When the value of money is arbitrary or unsettled, no man can well be said to have any property at all; nor is any wound so suddenly felt, so hardly cured, or that leaves such deep and lasting scars behind it.
I conceive this poor unhappy island to have a title to some indulgence from England; not only upon the score of Christianity, natural equity, and the general rights of mankind, but chiefly on account of that immense profit they receive from us; without which, that kingdom would make a very different figure in Europe, from what it does at present.
The rents of land in Ireland, since they have been of late so enormously raised and screwed up, may be computed to about two millions; whereof one third part at least is directly transmitted to those who are perpetual absentees in England; as I find by a computation made with the assistance of several skilful gentlemen.
The other articles, by which we are altogether losers and England a gainer, we found to amount to almost as much more.
I will only set down as many heads of them as I can remember, and leave them to the consideration of those who understand accounts better than I pretend to do.
The occasional absentees, for business, health, or diversion.
Three fourths of the revenue of the chief governor, during his absence; which is usually four fifths of his government.
The whole revenue of the post office.
The numerous pensions paid to persons in England.
The pay of the chief officers of the army absent in England, which is a great sum.
Four commissioners of the revenue, always absent.
Civil employments very numerous, and of great income.
Students at the inns of court, and the two universities.
Eighty thousand pounds sent yearly to England for coals: whereof the prime cost is nothing, and therefore the profit wholly theirs.
One hundred thousand pounds paid several years past for corn sent over hither from England; the effect of our own great wisdom in discouraging agriculture.
The kind liberty granted us of wearing Indian stuffs, and calicoes, to gratify the vanity and folly of our women; which, beside the profit to England, is an inconceivable loss to us, forcing the weavers to beg in our streets, or transport themselves to foreign countries.
The prodigious loss to us, and gain to England, by selling them all our wool at their own rates; whereof the manufacture exceeds above ten times the prime cost: a proceeding without example in the christian or heathen world.
Our own wool returned upon us in English manufactures, to our infinite shame and damage, and the great advantage of England.
The full profit of all mines accruing to England; an effect of great negligence and stupidity.
An affectation among us of liking all kind of goods made in England.
These and many other articles, which I cannot recollect at present, are agreed by judicious men to amount to near seven hundred thousand pounds per ann. clear profit to England. And upon the whole, let any man look into those authors who write upon the subject of commerce, he shall find, that there is not one single article in the essentials or circumstances of trade, whereby a country can be a loser, which we do not possess in the highest perfection; somewhat in every particular, that bears a kind of analogy to William Wood; and now the branches are all cut off, he stands ready with his axe at the root.
Upon this subject of perpetual absentees I have spent some time in very insignificant reflections; and considering the usual motives of human actions, which are pleasure, profit, and ambition, I cannot yet comprehend how those persons find their account in any of the three. I speak not of those English peers or gentlemen, who, beside their estates at home, have possessions here, for in that case the matter is desperate; but I mean those lords, and wealthy knights, or squires, whose birth, and partly their education, and all their fortune (except some trifle, and that in a very few instances) are in this kingdom. I knew many of them well enough during several years, when I resided in England; and truly I could not discover that the figure they made, was by any means a subject for envy; at least it gave me two very different passions. For, excepting the advantage of going now and then to an opera, or sometimes appearing behind a crowd at court, or adding to the ring of coaches in Hyde Park, or losing their money at the chocolate house, or getting news, votes, and minutes about five days before us in Dublin; I say, beside these, and a few other privileges of less importance, their temptations to live in London were beyond my knowledge or conception. And I used to wonder, how a man of birth and spirit, could endure to be wholly insignificant and obscure in a foreign country, when he might live with lustre in his own; and even at less than half that expense, which he strains himself to make without obtaining any one end, except that which happened to the frog, when he would needs contend for size with the ox. I have been told by scholars, that Cæsar said he would rather be the first man in I know not what village, than the second in Rome. This perhaps was a thought only fit for Cæsar: but to be preceded by thousands, and neglected by millions; to be wholly without power, ligure, influence, honour, credit, or distinction, is not in my poor opinion a very amiable situation of life, to a person of title or wealth, who can so cheaply and easily shine in his native country.
But, beside the depopulating of the kingdom, leaving so many parts of it wild and uncultivated, the ruin of so many country seats and plantations, the cutting down of all the woods to supply expenses in England; the absence of so many noble and wealthy persons, has been the cause of another fatal consequence, which few perhaps have been aware of. For, if that very considerable number of lords, who possess the amplest fortunes here, had been content to live at home, and attend the affairs of their own country in parliament; the weight, reputation, and dignity thereby added to that noble house, would, in all human probability, have prevented certain proceedings, which are now ever to be lamented, because they never can be remedied: and we might have then decided our own properties among ourselves, whhout being forced to travel five hundred miles by sea and land to another kingdom for justice, to our infinite expense, vexation, and trouble; which is a mark of servitude without example from the practice of any age or nation in the world.
I have sometimes wondered, upon, what motives the peerage of England were so desirous to determine our controversies; because I have been assured, and partly know, that the frequent appeals from hence have been very irksome to that illustrious body: and whoever has frequented the painted chamber and courts of requests, must have observed, that they are never so nobly filled, as when an Irish appeal is under debate.
The peers of Scotland, who are very numerous, were content to reside in their castles and houses in that bleak and barren climate; and although some of them made frequent journies to London, yet I do not remember any of their greatest families, till very lately, to have made England their constant habitation before the union: or, if they did, I am sure it was generally to their own advantage; and whatever they got, was employed to cultivate and increase their own estates; and by that means enrich themselves and their country.
As to the great number of rich absentees under the degree of peers; what particular ill effects their absence may have upon this kingdom, beside those already mentioned, may perhaps be too tender a point for me to touch. But whether those who live in another kingdom upon great estates here, and have lost all regard to their own country, farther than upon account of the revenues they receive from it; I say, whether such persons may not be prevailed on to recommend others to vacant seats, who have no interest here except a precarious employment, and consequently can have no views, but to preserve what they have got, or to be higher advanced: this, I am sure, is a very melancholy question, if it be a question at all.
But, beside the prodigious profit which England receives, by the transmittal thither of two thirds of the revenues of this whole kingdom, it has another mighty advantage, by making our country a receptacle, wherein to disburden themselves of their supernumerary pretenders to offices; persons of second rate merit in their own country, who, like birds of passage, most of them thrive and fatten here, and fly off when their credit and employments are at an end. So that Ireland may justly say, what Luther said of himself, POOR Ireland makes many rich.
If amid all our difficulties I should venture to assert, that we have one great advantage, provided we could improve it as we ought, I believe most of my readers would be long in conjecturing what possible advantage could ever fall to our share. However, it is certain, that all the regular seeds of party and faction among us are entirely rooted out; and it any new ones shall spring up, they must be of equivocal generation, without any seed at all; and will justly be imputed to a degree of stupidity, beyond even what we have been ever charged with upon the score of our birthplace and climate.
The parties in this kingdom (including those of modern date) are, first, of those who have been charged or suspected to favour the pretender; and those who were zealous opposers of him. Secondly, of those who were for and against a toleration of dissenters by law. Thirdly, of high and low church; or (to speak in the cant of the times) of whig and tory. And fourthly, of court and country. If there be any more, they are beyond my observation or politicks: for, as to subaltern or occasional parties, they have been all derivations from the same originals.
Now it is manifest, that all these incitements to faction, party, and division, are wholly removed from among us. For, as to the pretender, his cause is both desperate and obsolete: there are very few now alive, who were men in his father's time, and in that prince's interest; and in all others, the obligation of conscience has no place: even the papists in general, of any substance or estates, and their priests almost universally are what we call whigs, in the sense which by that word is generally understood. They feel the smart, and see the scars of their former wounds; and very well know, that they must be made a sacrifice to the least attempts toward a change; although it cannot be doubted that they would be glad to have their superstition restored, under any prince whatsoever.
Secondly, the dissenters are now tolerated by law; neither do we observe any murmurs at present from that quarter, except those reasonable complaints they make of persecution, because they are excluded from civil employments; but their number being very small in either house of parliament, they are not yet in a situation to erect a party: because, however indifferent men may be with regard to religion, they are now grown wise enough to know, that if such a latitude were allowed to dissenters, the few small employments left us in cities and corporations, would find other hands to lay hold on them.
Thirdly, the dispute between high and low church is now at an end; two thirds of the bishops having been promoted in this reign, and most of them from Engand, who have bestowed all preferments in their gift to those they could well confide in: The deaneries all, except three, and many principal church livings, are in the donation of the crown: so that we already possess such a body of clergy, as will never engage in controversy upon that antiquated and exploded subject.
Lastly, as to court and country parties, so famous and avowed under most reigns in English parliaments: this kingdom has not, for several years past, been a proper scene, whereon to exercise such contentions; and is now less proper than ever; many great employments for life being in distant hands, and the reversions diligently watched and secured; the temporary ones of any inviting value, are all bestowed elsewhere, as fast as they drop; and the few remaining, are of too low consideration, to create contests about them, except among younger brothers, or tradesmen like myself. And therefore, to institute a court and country party without materials, would be a very new system in politicks, and what I believe was never thought on before: nor, unless in a nation of idiots, can ever succeed; for the most ignorant Irish cottager will not sell his cow for a groat.
Therefore I conclude, that all party and faction, with regard to publick proceedings, are now extinguished in this kingdom; neither does it appear in view how they can possibly revive, unless some new causes be administered; which cannot be done, without crossing the interests of those, who are the greatest gainers by continuing the same measures. And general calamities without hope of redress, are allowed to be the great uniters of mankind.
However we may dislike the causes, yet this effect of begetting a universal concord among us, in all national debates, as well as in cities, corporations, and country neighbourhoods, may keep us at least alive, and in a condition to eat the little bread allowed us, in peace and amity. I have heard of a quarrel in a tavern, where all were at daggers drawing, till one of the company cried out, desiring to know the subject of the quarrel; which when none of them could tell, they put up their swords, sat down, and passed the rest of the evening in quiet. The former part has been our case, I hope the latter will be so too; that we shall sit down amicably together, at least until we have something that may give us a title to fall out, since nature has instructed even a brood of goslings to stick together, while the kite is hovering over their heads.
It is certain, that a firm union in any country, where every man wishes the same thing with relation to the publick, may, in several points of the greatest importance, in some measure supply the defect of power, and even of those rights, which are the natural and undoubted inheritance of mankind. If the universal wish of the nation upon any point were declared, by the unanimous vote of the house of commons, and a reasonable number of lords, I should think myself obliged in conscience to act in my sphere according to that vote; because in all free nations, I take the proper definition of law, to be the will of the majority of those who have the property in land; which, if there be a monarchy, is to be confirmed by the royal assent. And although such votes or declarations, have not received such a confirmation for certain accidental reasons; yet I think they ought to be of much weight with the subject, provided they neither oppose the king's prerogative, endanger the peace of the nation, nor infringe any law already in force; none of which however can reasonably be supposed. Thus for instance, if nine in ten of the house of commons, and a reasonable number of native temporal peers, should declare, that whoever received or uttered brass coin, except under certain limitations and securities, should be deemed as enemies to the king and the nation; I should think it a heinous sin in myself to act contrary to such a vote: and if the same power, should declare the same censure, against those who wore Indian stuffs and callicoes, or woollen manufactures imported from abroad, whereby this nation is reduced to the lowest ebb of misery, I should readily, heartily, and cheerfully pay obedience; and to my utmost power persuade others to do the like: because there is no law of this land obliging us either to receive such coin, or to wear such foreign manufactures.
Upon this last article I could humbly wish, that the reverend the clergy would set us an example, by contenting themselves with wearing gowns and other habiliments of Irish drapery; which, as it would be some incitement to the laity, and set many hands to work, so they would find their advantage in the cheapness, which is a circumstance not to be neglected by too many among that venerable body. And in order to this I could heartily desire that the most ingenious artists of the weaving trade, would contrive some decent stuffs and silk for clergymen at reasonable rates.
I have pressed several of our most substantial brethren, that the whole corporation of weavers in silk and woollen, would publish some proposals (I wish they would do it to both houses of parliament) inviting persons of all degrees, and of both sexes, to wear the woollen and silk manufactures of our own country; entering into solemn, mutual engagements, that the buyer shall have good, substantial, merchantable ware for his money, and at a certain rate, without the trouble of cheapening: so that if I sent a child for a piece of stuff of a particular colour and fineness, I should be sure not to be deceived; or, if I had reason to complain, the corporation should give me immediate satisfaction; and the name of the tradesman, who did me the wrong, should be published, and warning given not to deal with him for the future; unless the matter plainly appeared to be a mistake; for, beside the trouble of going from shop to shop, an ignorant customer runs the hazard of being cheated in the price and goodness of what he buys, being forced to an unequal combat, with a dextrous and dishonest man in his own calling. Thus our goods fall under a general disreputation; and the gentry call for English cloth, or silk, from an opinion they have (and often too justly by our own faults) that the goodness more than makes up for the difference of price.
Besides, it has been the sottish and ruinous practice of us tradesmen, upon any great demand of goods, either at home or from abroad, to raise the prices immediately, and manufacture the said goods more slightly and fraudulently than before.
Of this foul and foolish proceeding, too many instances might be produced; and I cannot forbear mentioning one, whereby this poor kingdom has received such a fatal blow, in the only article of trade allowed us of any importance, that nothing but the success of Wood's project could outdo it. During the late plague in France, the Spaniards, who buy their linen cloths in that kingdom, not daring to venture thither for fear of infection, a very great demand was made here for that commodity, and exported to Spain: but, whether by the ignorance of the merchants, or dishonesty of the northern weavers, or the collusion of both, the ware was so bad, and the price so excessive, that except some small quantity which was sold below the prime cost, the greatest part was returned: and I have been told by very intelligent persons, that if we had been fair dealers, the whole current of the linen trade to Spain, would have taken its course from hence.
If any punishment were to be inflicted on numbers of men, surely there could none be thought too great for such a race of traitors, and enemies to God and their country; who for the prospect of a little present gain, do not only ruin themselves (for that alone would be an example to the rest, and a blessing to the nation) but sell their souls to Hell, and their country to destruction. And if the plague could have been confined only to those who were partakers in the guilt, had it travelled hither from Marseilles, those wretches would have died with less title to pity, than a highwayman going to the gallows.
But it happens very unluckily, that for some time past, all endeavours or proposals from private persons to advance the publick service, however honestly and innocently designed, have been called flying in the king's face; and this to my knowledge has been the style of some persons, whose ancestors, (I mean those among them who had any) and themselves, have been flying in princes faces these fourscore years; and from their own inclinations would do so still, if their interest did not lead them rather to fly in the face of a kingdom, which has given them wings to enable them for such a flight.
Thus, about four years ago, when a discourse was published endeavouring to persuade our people to wear their own woollen manufactures, full of the most dutiful expressions to the king, and without the least party hint, it was termed flying in the king's face; the printer was prosecuted in the manner we all remember, and I hope it will somewhere be remembered farther, the jury kept eleven hours, and sent back nine times, till they were under the necessity of leaving the prisoner to the mercy of the court, by a special verdict; the judge on the bench invoking God for his witness, when he asserted that the author's design was to bring in the pretender.
And thus also my own poor endeavours, to prevent the ruin of my country, by the admission of Wood's coin, were called by the same persons, flying in the king's face; which I directly deny: for I cannot allow that vile representation of the royal countenance, in William Wood's adulterate copper, to be his sacred majesty's face; or, if it were, my flying was not against the impression, but the baseness of the metal; because I well remembered, that the image which Nebuchadnezzar commanded to be set up for all men to fall down and worship it, was not of copper, but pure gold. And I am heartily sorry we have so few royal images of that metal among us; the sight whereof, although it could hardly increase our veneration for his majesty, which is already so great, yet would very much enliven it with the mixture of comfort and satisfaction. Alexander the Great would suffer no statuary, except Phidias, to carve his image in stone or metal. How must he have treated such an operator as Wood, who goes about with sackfuls of dross, odiously misrepresenting his prince's countenance; and would force them by thousands upon every one of us at above six times the value!
But notwithstanding all that has been objected by William Wood himself, together with his favourers, abettors, supporters, either publick or private; by those who connive at this project, or discountenance his opposers, for fear of lessening their favour, or hazarding their employments; by those who endeavour to damp the spirit of the people, raised against this coin, or check the honest zeal of such, as by their writings or discourses do all they can to keep it up; by those softeners, sweeteners, compounders, and expedientmongers, who shake their heads so strongly that we can hear their pockets jingle; I did never imagine, that in detecting the practices of such enemies to the kingdom, I was flying in the king's face; or thought they were better representers of his majesty, than that very coin, for which they are secret or open advocates.
If I were allowed to recite only those wishes of the nation, which may be in our power to attain, I think they might be summed up in these few following.
First, that an end might be put to our apprehensions of Wood's halfpence, and to any danger of the like destructive scheme for the future.
Secondly, that halfpence might be coined in this kingdom by a publick mint, with due limitations.
Thirdly, that the sense of both houses of parliament, at least of the house of commons, were declared by some unanimous and hearty votes, against wearing any silk or woollen manufactures imported from abroad; as likewise against wearing Indian silks or calicoes, which are forbidden under the highest penalties in England: and it behoves us to take example from so wise a nation; because we are under a greater necessity to do so, since we are not allowed to export any woollen manufactures of our own; which is the principal branch of foreign trade in England.
Fourthly, that some effectual methods may be taken, to civilize the poorer sort of our natives, in all those parts of this kingdom where the Irish abound, by introducing among them our language and customs; for want of which, they live in the utmost ignorance, barbarity, and poverty, giving themselves wholly up to idleness, nastiness, and thievery, to the very great and just reproach of too many landlords. And, if I had in me the least spirit of a projector, I would engage, that this might be effected in a few years at a very inconsiderable charge.
Fifthly, that due encouragement should be given to agriculture; and a stop put to that pernicious practice of graziers engrossing vast quantities of land, sometimes at great distance; whereby the country is extremely depopulated.
Sixthly, that the defects in those acts for planting forest trees, might be fully supplied, since they have hitherto been wholly ineffectual, except about the demesnes of a few gentlemen; and even there in general, very unskilfully made, and thriving accordingly. Neither has there yet been due care taken to preserve what is planted, or to enclose grounds; not one hedge in a hundred coming to maturity, for want of skill and industry. The neglect of copsing woods cut down, has likewise been of very ill consequence. And if men were restrained from that unlimited liberty of cutting down their own woods, before the proper time, as they are in some other countries, it would be a mighty benefit to the kingdom. For, I believe, there is not another example in Europe, of such a prodigious quantity of excellent timber cut down in so short a time, with so little advantage to the country, either in shipping or building.
I may add that absurd practice of cutting turf without any regularity; whereby great quantities of restorable land are made utterly desperate, many thousands of cattle destroyed, the turf more difficult to come at and carry home, and less fit for burning; the air made unwholesome by stagnating pools and marshes; and the very sight of such places offensive to those who ride by. Neither should that odious custom be allowed of cutting scraws (as they call them) which is flaying off the green surface of the ground, to cover their cabins, or make up their ditches; sometimes in shallow soils, where all is gravel within a few inches; and sometimes in low ground, with a thin greensward, and sloughy underneath; which last turns all into bog by this mismanagement. And I have heard from very skilful countrymen, that by these two practices in turf and scraws, the kingdom loses some hundreds of acres of profitable land every year; beside the irreparable loss of many skirts of bogs, which have a green coat of grass, and yet are mangled for turf; and beside the want of canals by regular cutting, which would not only be a great convenience for bringing their turf home at an easy rate, but likewise render even the larger bogs more dry and safe for summer pasture.
These, and some other speculations of the like kind, I had intended to publish in a particular discourse against this session of parliament; because, in some periods of my life, I had opportunity and curiosity to observe, from what causes those great errours in every branch of country management have arisen; of which I have now ventured to relate but few put of very many; whereof some perhaps would not be mentioned without giving offence, which I have endeavoured by all possible means to avoid. And for the same reason, I chose to add here, the little I thought proper to say on this subject.
But, as to the lands of those who are perpetual absentees, I do not see any probability of their being ever improved. In former times their tenants sat at easy rents; but for some years past, they have been, generally speaking, more terribly racked by the dexterity of merciless agents from England, than even those who held under the severest landlords here. I was assured upon the place, by great numbers of credible people, that a prodigious estate in the county of Cork being let upon leases for lives and great fines paid, the rent was so high, that the tenants begged leave to surrender their leases, and were content to lose their fines.
The cultivating and improving of land is certainly a subject worthy of the highest inquiry in any country, but especially in ours; where we are so strangely limited in every branch of trade that can be of advantage to us, and utterly deprived of those, which are of the greatest importance; whereof I defy the most learned man in Europe, to produce me an example from any other kingdom in the world: for, we are denied the benefit which God and nature intended to us; as manifestly appears by our happy situation for commerce, and the great number of our excellent ports. So that I think little is left us, beside the cultivating of our own soil, encouraging agriculture, and making great plantations of trees, that we might not be under the necessity of sending for corn and bark from England, and timber from other countries. This would increase the number of our inhabitants, and help to consume our natural products, as well as manufactures at home. And I shall never forget what I once ventured to say to a great man in England, that few politicians, with all their schemes, are half so useful members of a commonwealth, as an honest farmer; who, by skilfully draining, fencing, manuring, and planting, has increased the intrinsick value of a piece of land; and thereby done a perpetual service to his country: which it is a great controversy whether any of the former ever did since the creation of the world; but no controversy at all that ninety-nine in a hundred have done abundance of mischief.
- It should be — 'either to' king or parliament. &c.
- The late earl of Sunderland.
- It should be, — 'of a whole kingdom's lying,' &c.
- Many of the above articles have been since particularly computed in "A List of the Absentees of Ireland, and the yearly Value of their Estates and Incomes spent abroad, by Thomas Prior, esquire."
- Since this hint was suggested, several useful seminaries have been instituted, under the name of "Charter Working Schools" in Ireland, supported by the royal benefaction of a thousand pounds a year, by a tax on hawkers and pedlars, and by voluntary subscriptions. These schools are for the education of boys and girls born of popish parents; in most of them, the children manufacture their own clothing, and the boys are employed in matters relative to husbandry.