The following tract was taken by Sir Walter Scott from a little miscellaneous 12mo volume of pamphlets, communicated by Mr. Hartsonge, relating chiefly to Irish affairs, the property at one time of Thomas Kingsbury, Esq., son of Dr. Kingsbury, who attended Swift in his last illness. The present editor came across a similar volume while on a visit of research in Dublin, among the collection of books which belonged to the late Sir W. Gilbert, and which were being catalogued for auction by the bookseller, Mr. O'Donoghue. The little 12mo contained this tract which had, as Sir W. Scott points out, a portrait of Swift at the end, on the recto of the last leaf.
According to Sir W. Scott, the friend in Dublin to whom the letter is supposed to be addressed, was Sir Robert Walpole. If Scott be correct, and there seems little reason to doubt his conjecture, the tract must have been written in the second half of the year 1726. In the early part of that year Swift had an interview with Walpole. Our knowledge of what transpired at that interview is obtained from Swift's letter of April 28th, 1726, to Lord Peterborough; from Swift's letter to Dr. Stopford of July 20th, 1726; from Pope's letter to Swift of September 3rd, 1726; and from Swift's letter to Lady Betty Germaine of January 8th, 1731. From these letters we learn that Swift was really invited by Walpole to meet him. Swift's visit to England concerned itself mainly with the publication of Gulliver's Travels, but Sir Henry Craik thinks that Swift had other thoughts. As regards politics, says this biographer, he was encouraged to hope that without loss either of honour or consistency, it was open to him to make terms with the new powers. In the end, the result proved that he either over-estimated his own capacity of surrendering his independence, or under-estimated the terms that would be exacted. This remark would leave it open for a reader to conclude that Swift would, at a certain price, have been ready to join Walpole and his party. But the letters referred to do not in the least warrant such a conclusion. Swift's thought was for Ireland, and had he been successful with Walpole in his pleading for Ireland's cause that minister might have found an ally in Swift; but the price to be paid was not to the man. From Swift's letter to Peterborough we are at once introduced to Ireland's case, and his point of view on this was so opposed to Walpole's preconceived notions of how best to govern Ireland, as well as of his settled plans, that Swift found, as he put it, that Walpole had conceived opinions . . . which I could not reconcile to the notions I had of liberty. Not at all of his own liberty, but of that of the liberty of a nation; for, as he says (giving now the quotation in full): I had no other design in desiring to see Sir Robert Walpole, than to represent the affairs of Ireland to him in a true light, not only without any view to myself, but to any party whatsoever ... I failed very much
p.154in my design; for I saw that he had conceived opinions, from the example and practices of the present, and some former governors, which I could not reconcile to the notions I had of liberty. The part given here in italics is omitted by Sir H. Craik in his quotation.
Swift saw Walpole twice once at Walpole's invitation at a dinner at Chelsea, and a second time at his own wish, expressed though Lord Peterborough. At the first meeting nothing of politics could be broached, as the encounter was a public one. The second meeting was private and resulted in nothing. The letter to Peterborough was written by Swift the day after he had seen Walpole, and Peterborough was requested to show it to that minister. The letter is so pertinent to the subject-matter of this volume that it is printed here:
April 28th, 1726.'Swift to the Earl of Peterborough.'
Your lordship having, at my request, obtained for me an hour from Sir Robert Walpole, I accordingly attended him yesterday at eight o'clock in the morning, and had somewhat more than an hour's conversation with him. Your lordship was this day pleased to inquire what passed between that great minister and me; to which I gave you some general answers, from whence you said you could comprehend little or nothing.
I had no other design in desiring to see Sir Robert Walpole, than to represent the affairs of Ireland to him in a true light, not only without any view to myself, but to any party whatsoever: and, because I understood the affairs of that kingdom tolerably well, and observed the representations he had received were such as I could not agree to; my principal design was to set him right, not only for the service of Ireland, but likewise of England, and of his own administration.
I failed very much in my design; for I saw he had conceived opinions, from the example and practices of the present, and some former governors, which I could not reconcile to the notions I had of liberty, a possession always understood by the British nation to be the inheritance of a human creature.
Sir Robert Walpole was pleased to enlarge very much upon the subject of Ireland, in a manner so alien from what I conceived to be the rights and privileges of a subject of England, that I did not think proper to debate the matter with him so much as I otherwise might, because I found it would be in vain. I shall, therefore, without entering into dispute, make bold to mention to your lordship some few grievances of that kingdom, as it consists of a people who, beside a natural right of enjoying the privileges of subjects, have also a claim of merit from their extraordinary loyalty to the present king and his family.
First, That all persons born in Ireland are called and treated as Irishmen, although their fathers and grandfathers were born in England; and their predecessors having been conquerors of Ireland, it is humbly considered they ought to be on as good a foot as any subjects of Britain, according to the practice of all other nations, and particularly of the Greeks and Romans.
Secondly, That they are denied the natural liberty of exporting their manufactures to any country which is not engaged in a war with England.
Thirdly, That whereas there is a university in Ireland, founded by Queen Elizabeth, where youth are instructed with a much stricter discipline than either in Oxford or Cambridge, it lies under the greatest discouragements, by filling all the principal employments, civil and ecclesiastical, with persons from England, who have neither interest, property, acquaintance, nor alliance, in that kingdom; contrary to the practice of all other states in Europe which are governed by viceroys, at least what hath never been used without the utmost discontents of the people.
Fourthly, That several of the bishops sent over to Ireland, having been clergymen of obscure condition, and without other distinction than that of chaplains to the governors, do frequently invite over their old acquaintances or kindred, to whom they bestow the best preferment in their gift. The like may be said of the judges, who take with them one or two dependants, to whom they give their countenance; and who, consequently, without other merit, grow immediately into the chief business of their courts. The same practice is followed by all others in civil employments, if they have a cousin, a valet, or footman in their family, born in England.
Fifthly, That all civil employments, granted in reversion, are given to persons who reside in England.
The people of Ireland, who are certainly the most loyal subjects in the world, cannot but conceive that most of these hardships have been the consequence of some unfortunate representations (at least) in former times; and the whole body of the gentry feel the effects in a very sensible part, being utterly destitute of all means to make provision for their younger sons, either in the Church, the law, the revenue, or (of late) in the army; and, in the desperate condition of trade, it is equally vain to think of making them merchants. All they have left is, at the expiration of leases, to rack their tenants, which they have done to such a degree, that there is not one farmer in a hundred through the kingdom who can afford shoes or stockings to his children, or to eat flesh, or drink anything better than sour milk or water, twice in a year; so that the whole country, except the Scottish plantation in the north, is a scene of misery and desolation hardly to be matched on this side of Lapland.
The rents of Ireland are computed to about a million and a half, whereof one half million at least is spent by lords and gentlemen residing in England, and by some other articles too long to mention.
About three hundred thousand pounds more are returned thither on other accounts; and, upon the whole, those who are the best versed in that kind of knowledge agree, that England gains annually by Ireland a million at least, which even I could make appear beyond all doubt.
But, as this mighty profit would probably increase, with tolerable treatment, to half a million more, so it must of necessity sink, under the hardships that kingdom lies at present.
And whereas Sir Robert Walpole was pleased to take notice, how little the king gets by Ireland, it ought, perhaps to be considered, that the revenues and taxes, I think, amount to above four hundred thousand
p.155pounds a-year; and, reckoning the riches of Ireland, compared with England, to be as one to twelve, the king's revenues there would be equal to more than five millions here; which, considering the bad payment of rents, from such miserable creatures as most of the tenants in Ireland are, will be allowed to be as much as such a kingdom can bear.
The current coin of Ireland is reckoned, at most, but at five hundred thousand pounds; so that above four-fifths are paid every year into the exchequer.
I think it manifest, that whatever circumstances could possibly contribute to make a country poor and despicable, are all united with respect to Ireland. The nation controlled by laws to which they do not consent, disowned by their brethren and countrymen, refused the liberty not only of trading with their own manufactures, but even their native commodities, forced to seek for justice many hundred miles by sea and land, rendered in a manner incapable of serving their king and country in any employment of honour, trust, or profit; and all this without the least demerit; while the governors sent over thither can possibly have no affection to the people, further than what is instilled into them by their own justice and love of mankind, which do not always operate; and whatever they please to represent hither is never called in question.
Whether the representatives of such a people, thus distressed and laid in the dust, when they meet in a parliament, can do the public business with that cheerfulness which might be expected from free-born subjects, would be a question in any other country except that unfortunate island; the English inhabitants whereof have given more and greater examples of their loyalty and dutifulness, than can be shown in any other part of the world.
'What part of these grievances may be thought proper to be redressed by so wise and great a minister as Sir Robert Walpole, he perhaps will please to consider; especially because they have been all brought upon that kingdom since the Revolution; which, however, is a blessing annually celebrated there with the greatest zeal and sincerity.
I most humbly entreat your lordship to give this paper to Sir Robert Walpole, and desire him to read it, which he may do in a few minutes. I am, with the greatest respect, my lord,
Your lordship's most obedient and humble servant,JON. SWIFT.
Scott thinks that had Swift been anxious for personal favours from Walpole he could easily have obtained them; but the minister did not choose to gain his adherence at the expense of sacrificing the system which had hitherto guided England in her conduct towards the sister kingdom, and the patriot of Ireland was not to be won at a cheaper rate than the emancipation of his country.
The original pamphlet bears neither date nor printer's name.