Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Letter V: A Letter to the Lord Chancellor Middleton


I have departed from the order given by Faulkner and the earlier editors,[1] and followed by Sir W. Scott in arranging the series of the Drapier's Letters, by adhering to a more correct chronological sequence. This letter has always been printed as the sixth Drapier's letter, but I have printed it here as the fifth, since it was written prior to the letter addressed to Viscount Molesworth, which has hitherto been called the fifth. The Molesworth letter I print here as "Letter VI." As already noted the letter to Midleton was written on the 26th October, 1724, but its first publication in print did not occur until Faulkner included it in the fourth volume of his collected edition of Swift's works, issued in 1735. There it is signed "J.S." and is given as from the "Deanery House." All the other letters are printed as "By M.B. Drapier." The Advertisement to the Reader prefixed to the present fifth letter is from Faulkner's edition. Probably it was printed by Faulkner under Swift's direction.

[Footnote 1: Sheridan, Deane Swift, Hawkesworth and Nichols]

Swift's acquaintance with Midleton had been of long standing. The Chancellor had been an avowed opponent of the patent and yet, by his signature to the proclamation, he seemed to be giving the weight of his official position against the popular sentiment. In addressing him, Swift was endeavouring, apparently, to keep him to his original line of action and to destroy any influence the government party may have had on him, since he was well aware of Carteret's insinuating charm. Midleton, however, had always stood firm against the patent. His signature to the proclamation against the Drapier was justified by him when he said that the Drapier's letters tended to disturbance. Carteret had really tried to win him over, but he did not succeed "While he [Midleton] expressed the highest obligation to the Lord Lieutenant," writes Coxe, "he declared that his duty to his country was paramount to every other consideration, and refused to give any assistance to government, until the patent was absolutely surrendered."

The text here given of this letter is based on Faulkner's issue in vol. iv. of the 1735 edition of Swift's works. It has been collated with that given in the fifth volume of the "Miscellanies," printed in London in the same year.



The former of the two following papers is dated Oct. 6th 1724[3], by which it appears to be written a little after the proclamation against the author of the Drapier's Fourth Letter. It is delivered with much caution, because the author confesseth himself to be Dean of St. Patrick's; and I could discover his name subscribed at the end of the original, although blotted out by some other hand, I can tell no other reason why it was not printed, than what I have heard; that the writer finding how effectually the Drapier had succeeded, and at the same time how highly the people in power seemed to be displeased, thought it more prudent to keep the paper in his cabinet. However, having received some encouragement to collect into one volume all papers relating to Ireland, supposed to be written by the Drapier; and knowing how favourably that author's writings in this kind have been received by the public; to make the volume more complete, [I procured a copy of the following letter from one of the author's friends, with whom it was left, while the author was in England; and][4] I have printed it as near as I could in the order of time.

[Footnote 2: Nichols, in the second volume of his Supplement to Swift's Works (1779, 8vo), prints a note on this "Advertisement," furnished him by Bowyer. It is as follows:

"1. The first of the papers is said to be dated Oct. 6, 1724; and that it appears from thence to be dated a little after the proclamation against the Drapier's fourth letter. Now the fourth letter itself is dated Oct. 23, 1724. This is a pardonable mistake anywhere, but, much more in a country where going before just coming after is the characteristic dialect. But I little thought that the Dean, in his zeal for Ireland, would vouchsafe to adopt the shibboleth of it.

"2. The Preface-writer, in the choice MS which he found, could discover the Dean's name subscribed at the end of the original; but blotted out by some other hand. As the former passage is a proof that the Advertisement was drawn up in Ireland, so this affords a strong presumption that it was under the direction of the Dean himself: for who else could divine that his name was struck out by another hand? Other ink it might be: but in these recent MSS. of our age, it is the first time I ever heard of a blot carrying the evidence of a handwriting. Whether the Dean or the printer hit this blot, I shall not inquire; but lay before you the pleasant procedure of the latter upon this discovery. He had got, we see, the original in the Dean's hand; but the name was obliterated. What does he, but send away to England for a copy which might authenticate his original; and from such a copy the public is favoured with it! I remember, in a cause before Sir Joseph Jekyll, a man began reading in court the title-deeds of an estate which was contested. 'The original is a little blind,' says he; 'I have got a very fair copy of it, which I beg leave to go on with'--'Hold,' says Sir Joseph, 'if the original is not good, the copy can never make it so.' I am far, however, from accusing the printer of intending any fraud on the world. He who tells his story so openly gives security enough for his honesty. I can easily conceive the Advertisement might be in a good measure the Dean's, who never was over-courteous to his readers, and might for once be content to be merry with them." [T.S.]]

[Footnote 3: Misprinted by Faulkner for Oct. 26th. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 4: This portion in square brackets is not given by Faulkner in his Advertisement. [T.S.]]

The next treatise is called "An Address, &c." It is without a date; but seems to be written during the first session of Parliament in Lord Carteret's government. The title of this Address is in the usual form, by M.B. Drapier. There is but a small part of it that relates to William Wood and his coin: The rest contains several proposals for the improvement of Ireland, the many discouragements it lies under, and what are the best remedies against them.

By many passages in some of the Drapier's former letters, but particularly in the following Address, concerning the great drain of money from Ireland by absentees, importation of foreign goods, balance of trade, and the like, it appears that the author had taken much pains, and been well informed in the business of computing; all his reasonings upon that subject, although he does not here descend to particular sums, agreeing generally with the accounts given by others who have since made that enquiry their particular study. And it is observable, that in this Address, as well as in one of his printed letters, he hath specified several important articles, that have not been taken notice of by others who came after him.



My Lord, I desire you will consider me as a member who comes in at the latter end of a debate; or as a lawyer who speaks to a cause, when the matter hath been almost exhausted by those who spoke before.

[Footnote 5: Alan Brodrick, Lord Midleton (1660?-1728), came of a Surrey family that had greatly benefited by the forfeitures in Ireland. Adopting the profession of the law, Brodrick was, in 1695, appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland. He sat in the Irish House of Commons as the member for Cork, and in 1703 was chosen its Speaker. His strong opposition to the Sacramental Test Act lost him the favour of the government, and he was removed from his office of Solicitor-General. In 1707, however, he was appointed Attorney-General for Ireland, and in 1714 made Lord Chancellor. In the year following he was created Baron Brodrick of Midleton. His trimming with Walpole and Carteret did not, however, prevent him from opposing the Wood's patent, though he signed the proclamation against the Drapier. He thought the letters served to "create jealousies between the King and the people of Ireland." [T.S.]]

I remember some months ago I was at your house upon a commission, where I am one of the governors: But I went thither not so much on account of the commission, as to ask you some questions concerning Mr. Wood's patent to coin halfpence for Ireland; where you very freely told me, in a mixed company, how much you had been always against that wicked project, which raised in me an esteem for you so far, that I went in a few days to make you a visit, after many years' intermission. I am likewise told, that your son wrote two letters from London, (one of which I have seen) empowering those to whom they were directed, to assure his friends, that whereas there was a malicious report spread of his engaging himself to Mr. Walpole for forty thousand pounds of Wood's coin, to be received in Ireland, the said report was false and groundless; and he had never discoursed with that minister on the subject; nor would ever give his consent to have one farthing of the said coin current here. And although it be long since I have given myself the trouble of conversing with people of titles or stations; yet I have been told by those who can take up with such amusements, that there is not a considerable person of the kingdom, scrupulous in any sort to declare his opinion. But all this is needless to allege, when we consider, that the ruinous consequences of Wood's patent, have been so strongly represented by both Houses of Parliament; by the Privy-council; the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of Dublin; by so many corporations; and the concurrence of the principal gentlemen in most counties, at their quarter-sessions, without any regard to party, religion, or nation.

I conclude from hence, that the currency of these halfpence would, in the universal opinion of our people, be utterly destructive to this kingdom; and consequently, that it is every man's duty, not only to refuse this coin himself, but as far as in him lies, to persuade others to do the like: And whether this be done in private or in print, is all a case: As no layman is forbid to write, or to discourse upon religious or moral subjects; although he may not do it in a pulpit (at least in our church). Neither is this an affair of state, until authority shall think fit to declare it so: Or if you should understand it in that sense; yet you will please to consider that I am not now a preaching.

Therefore, I do think it my duty, since the Drapier will probably be no more heard of, so far to supply his place, as not to incur his fortune: For I have learnt from old experience, that there are times wherein a man ought to be cautious as well as innocent. I therefore hope, that preserving both those characters, I may be allowed, by offering new arguments or enforcing old ones, to refresh the memory of my fellow-subjects, and keep up that good spirit raised among them; to preserve themselves from utter ruin by lawful means, and such as are permitted by his Majesty.

I believe you will please to allow me two propositions: First, that we are a most loyal people; and, Secondly, that we are a free people, in the common acceptation of that word applied to a subject under a limited monarch. I know very well, that you and I did many years ago in discourse differ much, in the presence of Lord Wharton, about the meaning of that word liberty, with relation to Ireland. But if you will not allow us to be a free people, there is only another appellation left; which, I doubt, my Lord Chief Justice Whitshed would call me to an account for, if I venture to bestow: For, I observed, and I shall never forget upon what occasion, the device upon his coach to be Libertas et natale solum; at the very point of time when he was sitting in his court, and perjuring himself to betray both.[6]

[Footnote 6: On this motto of Whitshed's Swift wrote the following poetical paraphrase:

"Libertas et natale solum:
Fine words! I wonder where you stole 'em.
Could nothing but thy chief reproach
Serve for a motto on thy coach?
But let me now thy words translate:
Natale solum, my estate;
My dear estate, how well I love it,
My tenants, if you doubt, will prove it,
They swear I am so kind and good,
I hug them till I squeeze their blood.
Libertas bears a large import:
First, how to swagger in a court;
And, secondly, to shew my fury
Against an uncomplying jury;
And, thirdly, 'tis a new invention,
To favour Wood, and keep my pension;
And, fourthly, 'tis to play an odd trick,
Get the great seal and turn out Broderick;
And, fifthly, (you know whom I mean,)
To humble that vexatious Dean:
And, sixthly, for my soul to barter it
For fifty times its worth to Carteret.
Now since your motto thus you construe,
I must confess you've spoken once true.
Libertas et natale solum.
You had good reason when you stole 'em."


Now, as for our loyalty, to His present Majesty; if it hath ever been equalled in any other part of his dominions; I am sure it hath never been exceeded: And I am confident he hath not a minister in England who could ever call it once in question: But that some hard rumours at least have been transmitted from t'other side the water, I suppose you will not doubt: and rumours of the severest kind; which many good people have imputed to the indirect proceeding of Mr. Wood and his emissaries; as if he endeavoured it should be thought that our loyalty depended upon the test of refusing or taking his copper. Now, as I am sure you will admit us to be a loyal people; so you will think it pardonable in us to hope for all proper marks of favour and protection from so gracious a King, that a loyal and free people can expect: Among which, we all agree in reckoning this to be one; that Wood's halfpence may never have entrance into this kingdom. And this we shall continue to wish, when we dare no longer express our wishes; although there were no such mortal as a Drapier in the world.

I am heartily sorry, that any writer should, in a cause so generally approved, give occasion to the government and council to charge him with paragraphs "highly reflecting upon His Majesty and his ministers; tending to alienate the affections of his good subjects in England and Ireland from each other; and to promote sedition among the people."[7] I must confess, that with many others, I thought he meant well; although he might have the failing of better writers, to be not always fortunate in the manner of expressing himself.

[Footnote 7: Swift here quotes the words of the proclamation issued against the fourth Drapier's Letter. See Appendix IV. [T.S.]]

However, since the Drapier is but one man, I shall think I do a public service, by asserting that the rest of my countrymen are wholly free from learning out of his pamphlets to reflect on the King or his ministers, to breed sedition.

I solemnly declare, that I never once heard the least reflection cast upon the King, on the subject of Mr. Wood's coin: For in many discourses on this matter, I do not remember His Majesty's name to be so much as mentioned. As to the ministry in England, the only two persons hinted at were the Duke of Grafton, and Mr. Walpole:[8] The former, as I have heard you and a hundred others affirm, declared, that he never saw the patent in favour of Mr. Wood, before it was passed, although he were then lord lieutenant: And therefore I suppose everybody believes, that his grace hath been wholly unconcerned in it since.

[Footnote 8: Walpole was created a Knight of the Bath in 1724, when that order was revived. In 1726 he was installed Knight of the Order of the Garter, being the only commoner who had been so distinguished since the reign of James I., except Admiral Montague, afterwards Earl of Sandwich. He had been offered a peerage in 1723, but declined it for himself, accepting it for his son, who was created Baron Walpole of Walpole, in Norfolk. [T.S.]]

Mr. Walpole was indeed supposed to be understood by the letter W. in several newspapers; where it is said, that some expressions fell from him not very favourable to the people of Ireland; for the truth of which, the kingdom is not to answer, any more than for the discretion of the publishers. You observe, the Drapier wholly clears Mr. Walpole of this charge, by very strong arguments and speaks of him with civility. I cannot deny myself to have been often present, where the company gave then opinion, that Mr. Walpole favoured Mr. Wood's project, which I always contradicted; and for my own part, never once opened my lips against that minister, either in mixed or particular meetings: And my reason for this reservedness was, because it pleased him, in the Queen's time (I mean Queen Anne of ever blessed memory) to make a speech directly against me, by name, in the House of Commons, as I was told a very few minutes after, in the Court of Requests, by more than fifty members.

But you, who are in a great station here, (if anything here may be called great) cannot be ignorant, that whoever is understood by public voice to be chief minister, will, among the general talkers, share the blame, whether justly or no, of every thing that is disliked; which I could easily make appear in many instances, from my own knowledge, while I was in the world; and particularly in the case of the greatest, the wisest, and the most uncorrupt minister, I ever conversed with.[9]

[Footnote 9: Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford. [T.S.]]

But, whatever unpleasing opinion some people might conceive of Mr. Walpole, on account of those halfpence; I dare boldly affirm, it was entirely owing to Mr. Wood. Many persons of credit, come from England, have affirmed to me, and others, that they have seen letters under his hand, full of arrogance and insolence towards Ireland; and boasting of his favour with Mr. Walpole; which is highly probable: Because he reasonably thought it for his interest to spread such a report; and because it is the known talent of low and little spirits, to have a great man's name perpetually in their mouths.[10]

[Footnote 10: See Coxe's "Memoirs of Walpole" (vol. i., cap. 26, p. 389, ed. 1800), where Wood is blamed for his indiscretion on this matter. See also note prefixed to the Drapier's First Letter in the present edition. [T.S.]]

Thus I have sufficiently justified the people of Ireland, from learning any bad lessons out of the Drapier's pamphlets, with regard to His Majesty and his ministers: And, therefore, if those papers were intended to sow sedition among us, God be thanked, the seeds have fallen upon a very improper soil.

As to alienating the affections of the people of England and Ireland from each other; I believe, the Drapier, whatever his intentions were, hath left that matter just as he found it.

I have lived long in both kingdoms, as well in country as in town; and therefore, take myself to be as well informed as most men, in the dispositions of each people toward the other. By the people, I understand here, only the bulk of the common people; and I desire no lawyer may distort or extend my meaning.

There is a vein of industry and parsimony, that runs through the whole people of England; which, added to the easiness of their rents, makes them rich and sturdy. As to Ireland, they know little more than they do of Mexico; further than that it is a country subject to the King of England, full of bogs, inhabited by wild Irish Papists; who are kept in awe by mercenary troops sent from thence: And their general opinion is, that it were better for England if this whole island were sunk into the sea; for, they have a tradition, that every forty years there must be a rebellion in Ireland. I have seen the grossest suppositions pass upon them; "that the wild Irish were taken in toils; but that, in some time, they would grow so tame, as to eat out of your hands:" I have been asked by hundreds, and particularly by my neighbours, your tenants, at Pepper-harrow; "whether I had come from Ireland by sea:" And, upon the arrival of an Irishman to a country town, I have known crowds coming about him, and wondering to see him look so much better than themselves.

A gentleman now in Dublin, affirms, "that passing some months ago through Northampton, and finding the whole town in a flurry, with bells, bonfires, and illuminations, upon asking the cause, was told, it was for joy, that the Irish had submitted to receive Wood's halfpence." This, I think, plainly shews what sentiments that large town hath of us; and how little they made it their own case; although they be directly in our way to London, and therefore, cannot but be frequently convinced that we have human shapes.

As to the people of this kingdom, they consist either of Irish Papists; who are as inconsiderable, in point of power, as the women and children; or of English Protestants, who love their brethren of that kingdom; although they may possibly sometimes complain, when they think they are hardly used: However, I confess, I do not see any great consequence, how their personal affections stand to each other, while the sea divides them, and while they continue in their loyalty to the same prince. And yet, I will appeal to you; whether those from England have reason to complain, when they come hither in pursuit of their fortunes? Or, whether the people of Ireland have reason to boast, when they go to England on the same design?

My second proposition was, that we of Ireland are a free people: This, I suppose, you will allow; at least, with certain limitations remaining in your own breast. However, I am sure it is not criminal to affirm; because the words "liberty" and "property," as applied to the subject, are often mentioned in both houses of Parliament, as well as in yours, and other courts below; from whence it must follow, that the people of Ireland do, or ought to enjoy all the benefits of the common and statute law; such as to be tried by juries, to pay no money without their own consent, as represented in Parliament; and the like. If this be so, and if it be universally agreed, that a free people cannot, by law, be compelled to take any money in payment, except gold and silver; I do not see why any man should be hindered from cautioning his countrymen against this coin of William Wood; who is endeavouring by fraud to rob us of that property, which the laws have secured. If I am mistaken, and that this copper can be obtruded on us; I would put the Drapier's case in another light, by supposing, that a person going into his shop, should agree for thirty shillings' worth of goods, and force the seller to take his payment in a parcel of copper pieces, intrinsically not worth above a crown: I desire to know, whether the Drapier would not be actually robbed of five and twenty shillings, and how far he could be said to be master of his property? The same question may be applied to rents and debts, on bond or mortgage, and to all kind of commerce whatsoever.

Give me leave to do what the Drapier hath done more than once before me; which is, to relate the naked fact, as it stands in the view of the world.

One William Wood, Esq; and hardware-man, obtains, by fraud, a patent in England, to coin 108,000l. in copper, to pass in Ireland, leaving us liberty to take, or to refuse. The people here, in all sorts of bodies and representatives, do openly and heartily declare, that they will not accept this coin: To justify these declarations, they generally offer two reasons; first, because by the words of the patent, they are left to their own choice: And secondly, because they are not obliged by law: So that here you see there is, bellum atgue virum, a kingdom on one side, and William Wood on the other. And if Mr. Wood gets the victory, at the expense of Ireland's ruin, and the profit of one or two hundred thousand pounds (I mean by continuing, and counterfeiting as long as he lives) for himself; I doubt, both present and future ages will, at least, think it a very singular scheme.

If this fact be truly stated; I must confess, I look upon it as my duty, so far as God hath enabled me, and as long as I keep within the bounds of truth, of duty, and of decency, to warn my fellow-subjects, as they value their King, their country, and all that ought or can be dear to them, never to admit this pernicious coin; no not so much as one single halfpenny. For, if one single thief forces the door, it is in vain to talk of keeping out the whole crew behind.

And, while I shall be thus employed, I will never give myself leave to suppose, that what I say can either offend my Lord Lieutenant; whose person and great qualities I have always highly respected; (as I am sure his excellency will be my witness) or the ministers in England, with whom I have nothing to do, or they with me; much less the Privy-council here, who, as I am informed, did send an address to His Majesty against Mr. Wood's coin; which, if it be a mistake, I desire I may not be accused for a spreader of false news: But, I confess, I am so great a stranger to affairs, that for anything I know, the whole body of the council may since have been changed: And, although I observed some of the very same names in a late declaration against that coin, which I saw subscribed to the proclamation against the Drapier; yet possibly they may be different persons; for they are utterly unknown to me, and are like to continue so.

In this controversy, where the reasoners on each side are divided by St. George's Channel, His Majesty's prerogative, perhaps, would not have been mentioned; if Mr. Wood, and his advocates, had not made it necessary, by giving out, that the currency of his coin should be enforced by a proclamation. The traders and common people of the kingdom, were heartily willing to refuse this coin; but the fear of a proclamation brought along with it most dreadful apprehensions. It was therefore, absolutely necessary for the Drapier, to remove this difficulty; and accordingly, in one of his former pamphlets, he hath produced invincible arguments, (wherever he picked them up) that the King's prerogative was not at all concerned in the matter; since the law had sufficiently provided against any coin to be imposed upon the subject, except gold and silver; and that copper is not money, but as it hath been properly called nummorum famulus.

The three former letters from the Drapier, having not received any public censure, I look upon them to be without exception; and that the good people of the kingdom ought to read them often, in order to keep up that spirit raised against this destructive coin of Mr. Wood: As for this last letter, against which a proclamation is issued; I shall only say, that I could wish it were stripped of all that can be any way exceptionable; which I would not think it below me to undertake, if my abilities were equal; but being naturally somewhat slow of comprehension; no lawyer, and apt to believe the best of those who profess good designs, without any visible motive either of profit or honour; I might pore for ever, without distinguishing the cockle from the corn.

That which, I am told, gives greatest offence in this last letter, is where the Drapier affirms; "that if a rebellion should prove so successful, as to fix the Pretender on the throne of England, he would venture so far to transgress the Irish statute, (which unites Ireland to England under one King) as to lose every drop of his blood, to hinder him from being King of Ireland."

I shall not presume to vindicate any man, who openly declares he would transgress a statute; and a statute of such importance: But, with the most humble submission, and desire of pardon for a very innocent mistake, I should be apt to think that the loyal intention of the writer, might be at least some small extenuation of his crime. For, in this I confess myself to think with the Drapier.

I have not hitherto been told of any other objections against that pamphlet; but, I suppose, they will all appear at the prosecution of the Drapier. And, I think, whoever in his own conscience believes the said pamphlet to be "wicked and malicious, seditious and scandalous, highly reflecting upon His Majesty and his ministers, &c." would do well to discover the author, (as little a friend as I am to the trade of informers) although the reward of 300l. had not been tacked to the discovery. I own, it would be a great satisfaction to me, to hear the arguments not only of judges, but of lawyers, upon this case. Because, you cannot but know, there often happens occasions, wherein it would be very convenient, that the bulk of the people should be informed how they ought to conduct themselves; and therefore, it hath been the wisdom of the English Parliaments, to be very reserved in limiting the press. When a bill is debating in either House of Parliament there, nothing is more usual, than to have the controversy handled by pamphlets on both sides; without the least animadversion upon the authors.

So here, in the case of Mr. Wood and his coin; since the two Houses gave their opinion by addresses, how dangerous the currency of that copper would be to Ireland; it was, without all question, both lawful and convenient, that the bulk of the people should be let more particularly into the nature of the danger they were in; and of the remedies that were in their own power, if they would have the sense to apply them; and this cannot be more conveniently done, than by particular persons, to whom God hath given zeal and understanding sufficient for such an undertaking. Thus it happened in the case of that destructive project for a bank in Ireland, which was brought into Parliament a few years ago; and it was allowed, that the arguments and writings of some without doors, contributed very much to reject it.[11]

[Footnote 11: Swift himself assisted in writing against this "destructive project" in a series of pamphlets (see vol. vii.). The arguments for and against the bank were thoroughly discussed by Hercules Rowley and Henry Maxwell in a series of controversial letters against each other. [T.S.]]

Now, I should be heartily glad if some able lawyers would prescribe the limits, how far a private man may venture in delivering his thoughts upon public matters: Because a true lover of his country, may think it hard to be a quiet stander-by, and an indolent looker-on, while a public error prevails; by which a whole nation may be ruined. Every man who enjoys property, hath some share in the public; and therefore, the care of the public is, in some degree, every such man's concern.

To come to particulars, I could wish to know, Whether it be utterly unlawful in any writer so much as to mention the prerogative; at least so far as to bring it into doubt, upon any point whatsoever? I know it is often debated in Westminster-hall; and Sir Edward Coke, as well as other eminent lawyers, do frequently handle that subject in their books.

Secondly, How far the prerogative extends to force coin upon the subject, which is not sterling; such as lead, brass, copper, mixt metal, shells, leather, or any other material; and fix upon it whatever denomination the crown shall think fit?

Thirdly, What is really and truly meant by that phrase of "a depending kingdom," as applied to Ireland; and wherein that dependency consisteth?

Lastly, In what points relating to liberty and property, the people of Ireland differ, or at least ought to differ, from those of England?

If these particulars were made so clear, that none could mistake them, it would be of infinite ease and use to the kingdom; and either prevent or silence all discontents.

My Lord Somers, the greatest man I ever knew of your robe; and whose thoughts of Ireland differed as far as heaven and earth, from those of some others among his brethren here; lamented to me, that the prerogative of the Crown, or the privileges of Parliament, should ever be liable to dispute, in any single branch of either; by which means, he said, the public often suffered great inconveniences; whereof he gave me several instances. I produce the authority of so eminent a person, to justify my desires, that some high points might be cleared.

For want of such known ascertainment, how far a writer may proceed in expressing his good wishes for his country; a person of the most innocent intentions, may possibly, by the oratory and comments of lawyers, be charged with many crimes, which from his very soul he abhors; and consequently may be ruined in his fortunes, and left to rot among thieves in some stinking jail; merely for mistaking the purlieus of the law. I have known, in my lifetime, a printer prosecuted and convicted, for publishing a pamphlet; where the author's intentions, I am confident, were as good and innocent, as those of a martyr at his last prayers.[12] I did very lately, as I thought it my duty, preach to the people under my inspection, upon the subject of Mr. Wood's coin; and although I never heard that my sermon gave the least offence, as I am sure none was intended; yet, if it were now printed and published, I cannot say, I would ensure it from the hands of the common hangman; or my own person from those of a messenger.[13]

[Footnote 12: Supposed to be "A proposal for the universal use of Irish manufactures," written by the author. [F.]]

[Footnote 13: The reference here is to Swift's sermon on "Doing Good." See Swift's Works, vol. iv., p. 181, present edition. [T.S.]]

I have heard the late Chief Justice Holt[14]affirm, that in all criminal cases, the most favourable interpretation should be put upon words, that they can possibly bear. You meet the same position asserted in many trials, for the greatest crimes; though often very ill practised, by the perpetual corruption of judges. And I remember, at a trial in Kent, where Sir George Rook[15] was indicted for calling a gentleman knave and villain; the lawyer for the defendant brought off his client, by alleging, that the words were not injurious; for, knave in the old and true signification, imported only a servant; and villain in Latin, is villicus; which is no more than a man employed in country labour; or rather a bailiff.

[Footnote 14: Sir John Holt (1642-1710) held the recordership of London, in 1685, and was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in 1688. In the celebrated case, Ashby v.. White, Holt strongly upheld the rights of the voter as against the House of Commons. He was distinguished, in his time, for the fair and impartial hearing he always accorded a prisoner, and he even personally assisted the accused in cases where the law did not allow him to be represented by counsel. Many of Holt's opinions did become "standard maxims." [T.S.]]

[Footnote 15: Admiral Sir George Rooke (1650-1709), who, with Rear-Admiral Byng, captured Gibraltar in 1704. [T.S.]]

If Sir John Holt's opinion were a standard maxim for all times and circumstances, any writer, with a very small measure of discretion, might easily be safe; but, I doubt, in practice it hath been frequently controlled, at least before his time; for I take it to be an old rule in law.

I have read, or heard, a passage of Signor Leti, an Italian; who being in London, busying himself with writing the History of England, told King Charles the Second, that he endeavoured as much as he could to avoid giving offence, but found it a thing impossible; although he should have been as wise as Solomon: The King answered, that if this were the case, he had better employ his time in writing proverbs as Solomon did: But Leti lay under no public necessity of writing; neither would England have been one halfpenny the better, or the worse, whether he writ or no.

This I mention, because I know it will readily be objected, "What have private men to do with the public? What call had a Drapier to turn politician, to meddle in matters of state? Would not his time have been better employed in looking to his shop; or his pen in writing proverbs, elegies, ballads, garlands, and wonders? He would then have been out of all danger of proclamations, and prosecutions. Have we not able magistrates and counsellors hourly watching over the public weal?" All this may be true: And yet, when the addresses from both Houses of Parliament, against Mr. Wood's halfpence, failed of success; if some pen had not been employed, to inform the people how far they might legally proceed, in refusing that coin, to detect the fraud, the artifice, and insolence of the coiner; and to lay open the most ruinous consequences to the whole kingdom; which would inevitably follow from the currency of the said coin; I might appeal to many hundred thousand people, whether any one of them would ever have had the courage or sagacity to refuse it.

If this copper should begin to make its way among the common, ignorant people, we are inevitably undone; it is they who give us the greatest apprehension, being easily frighted, and greedy to swallow misinformations: For, if every man were wise enough to understand his own interest, which is every man's principal study, there would be no need of pamphlets upon this occasion. But, as things stand, I have thought it absolutely necessary, from my duty to God, my King, and my country, to inform the people, that the proclamation lately issued against the Drapier, doth not in the least affect the case of Mr. Wood and his coin; but only refers to certain paragraphs in the Drapier's last pamphlet, (not immediately relating to his subject, nor at all to the merits of the cause,) which the government was pleased to dislike; so that any man has the same liberty to reject, to write, and to declare against this coin, which he had before: Neither is any man obliged to believe, that those honourable persons (whereof you are the first) who signed that memorable proclamation against the Drapier, have at all changed their opinions, with regard to Mr. Wood or his coin.

Therefore concluding myself to be thus far upon a safe and sure foot; I shall continue, upon any proper occasion, as God enables me, to revive and preserve that spirit raised in the nation, (whether the real author were a real Drapier or no is little to the purpose) against this horrid design of Mr. Wood; at the same time carefully watching every stroke of my pen, and venturing only to incur the public censure of the world as a writer; not of my Lord Chief Justice Whitshed, as a criminal. Whenever an order shall come out by authority, forbidding all men upon the highest penalties, to offer anything in writing or discourse against Mr. Wood's halfpence; I shall certainly submit. However, if that should happen, I am determined to be somewhat more than the last man in the kingdom to receive them; because I will never receive them at all: For, although I know how to be silent; I have not yet learned to pay active obedience against my conscience, and the public safety.

I desire to put a case, which I think the Drapier, in some of his books, hath put before me; although not so fully as it requires.

You know the copper halfpence in England are coined by the public; and every piece worth pretty tolerably near the value of the copper. Now suppose, that, instead of the public coinage, a patent had been granted to some private, obscure person, for coining a proportionable quantity of copper in that kingdom, to what Mr. Wood is preparing in this; and all of it at least five times below the intrinsic value: The current money of England is reckoned to be twenty millions; and ours under five hundred thousand pounds: By this computation, as Mr. Wood hath power to give us 108,000 pound; so the patentee in England, by the same proportion, might circulate four millions three hundred and twenty thousand pounds; besides as much more by stealth and counterfeits: I desire to know from you, whether the Parliament might not have addressed upon such an occasion; what success they probably would have had; and how many Drapiers would have risen to pester the world with pamphlets: Yet that kingdom would not be so great a sufferer as ours in the like case; because their cash would not be conveyed into foreign countries, but lie hid in the chests of cautious, thrifty men, until better times. Then I desire, for the satisfaction of the public, that you will please to inform me why this country is treated in so very different a manner, in a point of such high importance; whether it be on account of Poining's act; of subordination; dependence; or any other term of art; which I shall not contest, but am too dull to understand.

I am very sensible, that the good or ill success of Mr. Wood, will affect you less than any person of consequence in the kingdom; because I hear you are so prudent as to make all your purchases in England; and truly so would I, if I had money, although I were to pay a hundred years' purchase; because I should be glad to possess a freehold that could not be taken from me by any law to which I did not give my own consent; and where I should never be in danger of receiving my rents in mixed copper, at the loss of sixteen shillings in the pound. You can live in ease and plenty at Pepper-harrow, in Surrey; and therefore I thought it extremely generous and public-spirited in you to be of the kingdom's side in this dispute, by shewing, without reserve, your disapprobation of Mr. Wood's design; at least if you have been so frank to others as you were to me; which indeed I could not but wonder at, considering how much we differ in other points; and therefore I could get but few believers, when I attempted to justify you in this article from your own words.

I would humbly offer another thought, which I do not remember to have fallen under the Drapier's observation. If these halfpence should once gain admittance; it is agreed, that in no long space of time, what by the clandestine practices of the coiner, what by his own counterfeits, and those of others, either from abroad or at home; his limited quantity would be trebled upon us, until there would not be a grain of gold or silver visible in the nation. This, in my opinion would lay a heavy charge upon the crown, by creating a necessity of transmitting money from England to pay the salaries at least of the principal civil officers: For I do not conceive how a judge (for instance) could support his dignity with a thousand pounds a year in Wood's coin; which would not intrinsically be worth near two hundred. To argue that these halfpence, if no other coin were current, would answer the general ends of commerce among ourselves, is a great mistake; and the Drapier hath made that matter too clear to admit an answer; by shewing us what every owner of land must be forced to do with the products of it in such a distress. You may read his remarks at large in his second and third letter; to which I refer you.

Before I conclude, I cannot but observe, that for several months past, there have more papers been written in this town, such as they are, all upon the best public principle, the love of our country, than, perhaps, hath been known in any other nation, and in so short a time: I speak in general, from the Drapier down to the maker of ballads; and all without any regard to the common motives of writers: which are profit, favour, and reputation. As to profit, I am assured by persons of credit, that the best ballad upon Mr. Wood will not yield above a groat to the author; and the unfortunate adventurer Harding, declares he never made the Drapier any present, except one pair of scissors. As to favour, whoever thinks to make his court by opposing Mr. Wood is not very deep in politics. And as to reputation, certainly no man of worth and learning, would employ his pen upon so transitory a subject, and in so obscure a corner of the world, to distinguish himself as an author. So that I look upon myself, the Drapier, and my numerous brethren, to be all true patriots in our several degrees.

All that the public can expect for the future, is only to be sometimes warned to beware of Mr. Wood's halfpence; and refer them for conviction to the Drapier's reasons. For, a man of the most superior understanding, will find it impossible to make the best use of it, while he writes in constraint; perpetually softening, correcting, or blotting out expressions, for fear of bringing his printer, or himself, under a prosecution from my Lord Chief-Justice Whitshed. It calls to my remembrance the madman in Don Quixote, who being soundly beaten by a weaver for letting a stone (which he always carried on his shoulder) fall upon a spaniel, apprehended that every cur he met was of the same species.

For these reasons, I am convinced, that what I have now written will appear low and insipid; but if it contributes, in the least, to preserve that union among us for opposing this fatal project of Mr. Wood, my pains will not be altogether lost.

I sent these papers to an eminent lawyer (and yet a man of virtue and learning into the bargain) who, after many alterations returned them back, with assuring me, that they are perfectly innocent; without the least mixture of treason, rebellion, sedition, malice, disaffection, reflection, or wicked insinuation whatsoever.

If the bellman of each parish, as he goes his circuit, would cry out, every night, "Past twelve o'clock; Beware of Wood's halfpence;" it would probably cut off the occasion for publishing any more pamphlets; provided that in country towns it were done upon market days. For my own part, as soon as it shall be determined, that it is not against law, I will begin the experiment in the liberty of St. Patrick's; and hope my example may be followed in the whole city But if authority shall think fit to forbid all writings, or discourses upon this subject, except such as are in favour of Mr. Wood, I will obey as it becomes me; only when I am in danger of bursting, I will go and whisper among the reeds, not any reflection upon the wisdom of my countrymen; but only these few words, BEWARE OF WOOD'S HALFPENCE.

I am,
With due Respect,
Your Most Obedient,
Humble Servant,

Deanery House,
Oct. 26, 1724.

Jonathan Swift