The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/The Drapier's Letter to the Good People of Ireland

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IT is now some considerable time since I troubled you with my advice[1]; and, as I am growing old and infirm, I was in good hopes to have been quietly laid in my grave, before any occasion offered of addressing you again: but my affection for you, which does not decay, though my poor body does, obliges me once more to put you in mind of your true interests, that you may not unwarily run yourselves into danger and distress, for want of understanding, or seriously considering it.

I have many reasons to believe, that there are not few among you, who secretly rejoice at the rebellion which is now raised in Scotland; and perhaps conceive hopes of some alteration for the better, in their circumstances and condition, if it should succeed. It is those mistaken people whom I design to talk to in this letter, and I desire no more of them than to give me a fair hearing; examining coolly with themselves, whether what I shall say be true.

It is no objection to my speaking to them, that they are generally papists. I do not know how other people are disposed; but, for my part, I hate no man for his religion; I look upon a papist as my countryman and neighbour, though I happen myself to be a protestant. And, if I know what advice is good for him, I can see no reason why I should not give it him, or why he should not take it.

A papist has sense, I suppose, like other men, to see his interest and advantage; and the same natural desire to embrace it where he finds it; and, if I can show him where it lies, he will not, I believe, kick it from him, barely to spite me as a protestant.

I have nothing to say to the popish gentry of this kingdom. They would hardly take such a plain man's advice; and, besides, they have so many ways of coming off safe themselves, though the poor people were undone, that I need not be concerned for them.

My care is for the common people, the labourers, farmers, artificers, and tradesmen, of this nation; who are in danger of being deluded by their betters, and made tools of to serve their purposes, without any advantage to themselves. It is possible, that, among the lords and squires, one perhaps of a hundred would get something by a change: places and employments will be promised them, no doubt; and a few of those promises, perhaps, the French and Scotch friends of the pretender might give him leave to keep. But what are the poorer sort the better all this while? Will the labourer get one farthing a day more? Will the farmer's rent be lowered? Will the artificer be more employed, or better paid? Will the tradesman get more customers, or have fewer scores upon his books?

I have been bred in a careful way of life; and never ventured upon any project, without consulting my pillow first how much I should be a gainer in the upshot. I wish my good countrymen would do so too; and, before they grow fond of change, ask themselves this sober question, Whether it would better their condition if it were really brought about? If it would not, to what purpose do we wish it? If the poor labourer, when all is over, is to be a labourer still, and earn his groat a day as hardly as he did before; I cannot find why he should think it worth his while to venture a leg or an arm, and the gallows too into the bargain, to be just where he set out. If he must dig and delve when the pretender is settled on the throne, he had as good stick to it now, for any difference I can see.

I believe, my countrymen are not so mad as to imagine the pretender can, or will, give every one of them estates; and I am sure, if he does not, they can be only where they were. If a farmer must pay his rent, I see no reason that he should be much concerned whether he pays it to one man or to another. His popish landlord will, I suppose demand it as soon and as strictly as a protestant; and, if he does not pay it, pound his cattle, or distrain his goods, as readily at least.

I have not observed that tenants to popish landlords wear tighter clothes, ride better cattle, or spend more money at markets and fairs, than the tenants on protestant estates; therefore I cannot believe they are better used: on the contrary, I know, from long experience, that there is more money taken in my shop from the latter than the former; and therefore I suppose that, generally speaking, they are in better circumstances. I could wish all of them had better bargains; but, since they will not be mended by the best success that their own hearts could wish to the pretender, they may as well be quiet, and make the best of such as they have already.

There is not a more foolish trade than fighting for nothing; and I hope my good countrymen will be too wise to be persuaded into it. Fine speeches and fair promises will not be wanting, to delude them; but let them remember the warning I now give them, that, when all is over, the very best that can befal them is, to have their labour for their pains.

I doubt not but you are told, "that you will all be made;" and I do not expect that you should take my word to the contrary. I desire only, that you would trust the understanding God has given you, and not be fooled out of your senses. Will the manufacturer be made, by an entire stop to business? or the tradesman, by being obliged to shut up shop? And yet you all must know, that, in a civil war, no work can be carried on, nor any trade go forward. I hope you are not yet so stupid as to think, that people will build houses, buy rich furniture, or make up fine clothes, when we are all together by the ears, and nobody can tell to whose share they will fall at last. And if there be no buyers, you can have no employers. Merchants will not stock themselves with goods when there is no demand for them, to have their shops rifled, and their storehouses broken open and plundered, by one side or the other.

Indeed, my good friends and countrymen, let designing people say what they please, you will all be ruined in the struggle, let it end which way it will; and it well deserves your thoughts, whether it is worth your while to beggar yourselves and families, that the man's name upon the throne may be James instead of George. You will probably see neither of them while you live, nor be one penny the richer for the one or for the other; and, if you take my advice, you will accordingly not trouble your heads about them.

You may think it a fine thing, when you get drunk over your ale, to throw up your caps and cry, "Long live king James!" but it would be a wiser thing, to think how you will live yourselves, after you are beggared in his cause. Will he make good your losses? pay one man for the plundering of his warehouse, and another for the rifling of his shop? Will he give you money, think ye, to release your own and your wives' clothes which you must pawn for bread, because no work is stirring? Will he buy new looms and tackle for you, because yours have been burnt and destroyed? If you fancy so, you are strangely imposed upon indeed. He will have other things to do with his money; or, if he had any to spare, there will be hungry Frenchmen enough about him to snap it up before it comes to you.

I will not say any thing to you about the dangers you must run in the course of a civil war, though they are very dreadful, and more horrid than you can possibly imagine, because I cannot think that there is any need of it. I have shown you very plainly, that, if you should be deluded to take arms, you fight for less than nothing, for the undoing of yourselves and families; and if this argument will not prevail upon you to be quiet, I can only pray for you, that God will be pleased to restore you to the right use of your understandings. I am,

Your old and faithful friend,


  1. It is very manifest that this letter was not written by the dean; but, as it was at the time intended to be considered as his, and on that supposition had actually a good effect, it is here preserved as a curiosity. The reader may see its history in the following extract from Dr. Maty's Memoirs of Lord Chesterfield. "Dean Swift was still alive, when lord Chesterfield arrived[*]; but reduced to a state of total dotage and insensibility, which one month after ended in his death. This short interval was laid hold of, to publish under his name a new letter of a Drapier to the good people of Ireland, and particularly to the poor papists. It was so much in the dean's style, and was so greedily received, that it went through a variety of editions in a month's time. Indeed the many strokes of wit and humour that it contained, would induce me to suspect that his lordship had some share in it."
    * ^ In Ireland, in the character of lord lieutenant.