The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/Seasonable Advice Concerning the Bill Against the Printer of the Drapier's Fourth Letter

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SINCE a bill is preparing for the grand jury to find against the printer of the drapier's last letter, there are several things maturely to be considered by those gentlemen before they determine upon it.

First, they are to consider, that the author of the said pamphlet did write three other discourses on the same subject, which, instead of being censured, were universally approved by the whole nation, and were allowed to have raised and continued that spirit among us, which has hitherto kept out Wood's coin; for all men will grant, that if those pamphlets had not been written, his coin must have overrun the nation some months ago.

Secondly, it is to be considered, that this pamphlet, against which a proclamation has been issued, is written by the same author: that nobody ever doubted the innocence and goodness of his design; that he appears, through the whole tenour of it, to be a loyal subject to his majesty, and devoted to the house of Hanover, and declares himself in a manner peculiarly zealous against the pretender. And if such a writer, in four several treatises on so nice a subject, where a royal patent is concerned, and where it was necessary to speak of England and of liberty, should in one or two places happen to let fall an inadvertent expression, it would be hard to condemn him after all the good he has done, especially when we consider, that he could have no possible design in view either of honour or profit, but purely the good of his country.

Thirdly, it ought to be well considered, whether any one expression in the said pamphlet be really liable to a just exception, much less to be found wicked, malicious, seditious, reflecting upon his majesty and his ministry, etc.

The two points in that pamphlet, which it is said the prosecutors intend chiefly to fix on, are, first, where the author mentions the penner of the king's answer. First, it is well known his majesty is not master of the English tongue; and therefore it is necessary that some other person should be employed to pen what he has to say, or write in that language. Secondly, his majesty's answer is not in the first person, but in the third. It is not said, we are concerned, or our royal predecessors; but his majesty is concerned, and his royal predecessors. By which it is plain, these are properly not the words of his majesty; but supposed to be taken from him, and transmitted hither by one of his ministers. Thirdly, it will be easily seen, that the author of the pamphlet delivers his sentiments upon this particular with the utmost caution and respect, as any impartial reader will observe.

The second paragraph, which it is said will be taken notice of as a motive to find the bill, is what the author says of Ireland's being a dependent kingdom: he explains all the dependence he knows of, which is a law made in Ireland, whereby it is enacted, that whoever is king of England shall be king of Ireland. Before this explanation be condemned, and the bill found upon it, it would be proper that some lawyers should fully inform the jury what other law there is, either statute or common, for this dependency; and if there be no law, there is no transgression.

The fourth thing very maturely to be considered by the jury, is, what influence their finding the bill may have upon the kingdom: the people in general find no fault in the drapier's last book, any more than in the three former; and therefore, when they hear it is condemned by a grand jury of Dublin, they will conclude it is done in favour of Wood's coin; they will think we of this town have changed our minds, and intend to take those halfpence, and therefore that it will be in vain for them to stand out: so that the question comes to this, Which will be of the worst consequence? to let pass one or two expressions, at the worst only unwary, in a book written for the publick service; or to leave a free open passage for Wood's brass to overrun us, by which we shall be undone for ever.

The fifth thing to be considered is, that the members of the grand jury, being merchants and principal shopkeepers, can have no suitable temptation offered them, as a recompense for the mischief they will do, and suffer by letting in this coin; nor can be at any loss or danger by rejecting the bill. They do not expect any employments in the state, to make up in their own private advantages the destruction of their country; whereas those, who go about to advise, entice, or threaten them to find that bill, have great employments which they have a mind to keep, or to get greater; as it was likewise the case of all those who signed the proclamation to have the author prosecuted. And therefore it is known, that his grace the lord archbishop of Dublin, so renowned for his piety, and wisdom, and love of his country, absolutely refused to condemn the book or the author.

Lastly, it ought to be considered what consequence the finding of the bill may have upon a poor man, perfectly innocent; I mean the printer. A lawyer may pick out expressions, and make them liable to exception, where no other man is able to find any. But how can it be supposed that an ignorant printer can be such a critick? He knew the author's design was honest, and approved by the whole kingdom: he advised with friends, who told him there was no harm in the book, and he could see none himself: it was sent him in an unknown hand; but the same in which he received the three former. He and his wife have offered to take their oaths that they knew not the author. And therefore, to find a bill that may bring punishment upon the innocent, will appear very hard, to say no worse. For it will be impossible to find the author, unless he will please to discover himself; although I wonder he ever concealed his name: but I suppose what he did at first out of modesty, he continues to do out of prudence. God protect us and him.

I will conclude all with a fable ascribed to Demosthenes: he had served the people of Athens with great fidelity in the station of an orator; when, upon a certain occasion, apprehending to be delivered over to his enemies, he told the Athenians, his countrymen, the following story: Once upon a time the wolves desired a league with the sheep, upon this condition; that the cause of strife might be taken away, which was the shepherds and mastiffs: this being granted, the wolves without all fear made havock of the sheep.

November 11, 1724.

Copies of this paper were distributed to every person of the grand jury the evening before the bill was to be exhibited, who, probably for the reasons contained in it, refused to find the bill, upon which the lord chief justice Whitshed, who had presided at a former prosecution of the dean's printer, discharged them in a rage. The following extract was soon after published to show the illegality of this proceeding, and the next grand jury that was impannelled made the subsequent presentment against all the abettors of Wood's project. See letter to lord Molesworth, p. 111 of this volume.