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could not venture to take part himself against the Court, yet his son, his secretary, his purse-bearer, and other dependents, did so publicly and warmly.
Through these causes, an impulse was given that soon became general, and spread from low to high. The Irish Parliament met full of resentment, and decided with headlong haste. Both Houses passed Addresses to the King, declaring that the execution of Wood's patent would be prejudicial to the revenue, and destructive of trade; that the terms of the patent had not been complied with, and that if even they had, there would have been a loss to the nation of 150 per cent.! So monstrous an exaggeration has scarcely ever yet been hazarded in any public document — at least not out of Spain! These Addresses were first transmitted to Walpole, and in sending them to Townshend at Hanover, he declares himself astonished that any assembly should have come into resolutions that are all false in fact ; " and indeed,” he adds, “I was a good deal concerned till I saw what they did “ object, lest by inadvertency, or by being imposed upon,
we might, out of a desire of doing the service, have let “this slip through our fingers, liable to more objections “than I was aware of. But most certainly it is not so. “ The resolution that makes the loss 150 per cent. is “ founded upon a computation that copper uncoined is “worth 12d. a pound; now a pound of copper halfpence “and farthings are by the patent to pass for 2s. 6d. ; “ therefore the loss is 1s. 6d. But a pound of copper “prepared for the Mint in London costs there ls. 6d. “ the charge of coining a pound of copper is at the Mint “ 4d.; and I think the duty of a pound of copper coined,
imported into Ireland, is a halfpenny per pound, besides “the exchange, and which, with all allowances, comes to “20 per cent., and all this is laid aside, and the copper “money valued at the supposed value of the rough Irish copper, which is much inferior to English copper." The King's answer to the Irish Addresses
was, as Walpole advised it, mild and conciliatory: he expressed his concern that his granting a patent according to the practice of his Royal Predecessors, had given so much
* To Lord Townshend, Oct. 1. 1723.
uneasiness, and if there had been any abuses committed by the patentee, he would give orders for inquiring into and punishing them. Accordingly the affair was referred to a Committee of the Privy Council in England, which after a most searching inquiry, and the examination of numerous witnesses, published their Report in July, 1724. In this Report they justified, in the clearest and most unquestionable manner, both the terms of the patent and the conduct of the patentee. At the same time, however, Mr. Wood declared himself willing to yield to the clamour against his coinage, so far as to reduce it from 108,0001. to 40,000l. value ; and to propose that no more than 5 d. of it should be a legal tender at any one payment. This the Government accepted, and sent directions to Ireland that the halfpence might be allowed currency to the reduced amount.
Such fair concessions, and suchi unanswerable arguments, might probably have prevailed, had not the mighty mind of Swift arrayed itself against them. For ten years had that aspiring spirit pined in obscurity and oblivion : he now seized the opportunity to exert and display his powers. From the simple transaction before him, he drew a frightful picture of fraud, oppression, and impending misery. Public ruin was foretold, and public vengeance threatened in a hundred shapes.* Songs, ballads, and lampoons flew about the streets. A more serious attack was made in letters, which appeared from time to time under the assumed name of M. B. a Drapier of Dublin. Of these letters Mr. Hawkins Browne used to say, that they were the most perfect pieces of oratory composed since the days of Demosthenes t; and though far from assenting to such extravagant panegyric, we can scarcely deny them a very high degree of admiration. They are written with so much art, as entirely to con
* As for instance :-
“ In short, you must all go to rack and to ruin!” Swift's Works, vol. x. p. 478. One poem proposes to scald Wood in his own melted copper ; another prefers “ the drop at Kilmain“ ham.”
† Sheridan's Life of Swift, p. 241. ed. 1784.
ceal the appearance of art. The author speaks of himself as a “poor ignorant shopkeeper utterly unskilled in law;" he appears throughout a quiet man startled from his station by the common danger,—“as when,” he says,
a house is attempted to be robbed, it often happens the “weakest in the family runs first to stop the door.” The style is plain and simple; the deductions easy and suited to the understandings of all; and the strokes of satire with which it abounds are the more pungent, as seeming not to be designed. So far from leaving any handle to be called a party man, he always refers with much respect to the Ministers, and with no less loyalty to the King, “ for we never had one more gracious.” The stubborn facts against him are moulded with the highest skill; he attempts to prove, or (what is quite as effectual when a ferment is once raised) he assumes as proved, that the patent itself is iniquitous; that, moreover, its terms have been grossly violated by the patentee; that the halfpence are six parts out of seven base; that Wood will hereafter be able “ to buy all our goods for eleven
parts in twelve under the value.” Wood himself from a proprietor of iron works becomes a hardware-man and tinker! His copper is turned into brass! The people are told that they will soon have no meat to feed them, unless they can eat brass as ostriches do iron! “ If “ Mr. Wood's project should take, it would ruin even our “ beggars! Do you
think I will sell you a yard of tenpenny stuff for twenty of Mr. Wood's halfpence? No, “ not under two hundred, at least; neither will I be at " the trouble of counting, but weigh them in a lump."
Even so clear a proof as the public assay at the Mint is called impudent and insupportable. — “ If I were to “buy a hundred sheep, and the grazier should bring me
one single wether fat and well fleeced, by way of pat“tern, and expect the same price round for the whole “ hundred, even for those that were lean, or shorn, or “scabby, I would be none of his customer. I have heard “ of a man who had a mind to sell his house, and there“ fore carried a piece of brick in his pocket, which he “ showed as a pattern to encourage purchasers; and this “ is directly the case in point with Mr. Wood's assay.”
It is to be observed that the Government had not used
any compulsion with respect to this coin; their orders were only to allow it currency with those who might be willing to receive it. Yet the Drapier takes care to drop an insinuation of force: “I hope the words vo“ luntary and willing to receive it will be understood “ and applied in their true natural meaning, as commonly “ understood by Protestants: for, if a fierce Captain
comes to my shop to buy six yards of scarlet cloth, “ followed by a porter laden with a sack of Wood's coin upon his shoulders; if we are agreed upon the price,
my scarlet lies ready cut upon the counter; if he “ then gives me the word of command to receive my
money in Wood's coin, and calls me a disaffected “ Jacobite dog for refusing it (though I am as loyal a “ subject as himself, and without hire), and thereupon “ seizes my cloth, leaving me the price in this odious
copper, and bids me take my remedy; in this case, I “shall hardly be brought to think that I am left to my “ own will. . . . It is probable that the first willing re“ceivers will be those who must receive it, whether they “ will or not, under the penalty of losing an office."
This loyal subject is also full of apprehensions lest the King's Ministers should “advise him to take his revenues “ here, which are near 400,0001. a year, in Wood's brass, of which will reduce their value to 50,000l.” How it was possible that 400,0001. should be sent over in copper, which was only to be coined to the value of 40,0001., Swift does not explain, nor did his Irish readers inquire. All ranks caught the alarm; all distinctions of party were hushed; and the nation became united as one man. The Drapier, whose real author was soon whispered, was hailed as the Public Deliverer; and, according to the advice contained in one of the Letters, a Declaration was published, signed by many persons of station and property, denouncing Wood's coin, and warning their tenants not to take it.
It was in the midst of this storm that the new Viceroy, Lord Carteret, landed in October. He had instructions to use strong measures, if needful, to assert the authority of Government; and he wanted neither skill nor spirit to perform them. Perceiving that the Drapier's Letters were the main root of the evil, he issued a proclamation VOL. II.
against the last; offered a reward of 3001. for discovering the author; and caused Harding, the printer, to be apprehended. But the grand jury who were required to find a Bill against Harding, unanimously threw it out, and were discharged by Chief Justice Whitshed with much passion. A popular lampoon was immediately levelled at the Chief Justice from the same invisible and powerful hand. The agitation increased ; and the next grand jury, so far from finding a Bill against Harding, made a presentment against all persons who should, by fraud or otherwise, impose Wood's halfpence upon the people a presentment which, it appears, had been drawn up by Swift himself.
Such a spirit as now appeared in Ireland could neither be broken by force, nor melted by persuasion. After several attempts, and many consultations, Carteret informed the Government that the affair was desperate, and that further perseverance could end only in rebellion and confusion. The Ministers, however reluctant to compro. mise the King's authority, had no alternative, and yielded the point by withdrawing the patent, while at the same time the resignation of Lord Midleton was accepted, and a pension of 30001. granted to Wood, in compensation for his loss.
Several modern writers, astonished at the overwhelming and irrational outcry against a beneficial project, have devised another motive to explain it, and suppose that Wood's patent was only the pretext; a peg on which to hang the question of the independence and equality of Ireland. But such a supposition is by no means consistent with the contemporary records. There can be no doubt that Wood's patent was considered a real and enormous grievance in itself; and the question of equality was merely brought on to point a period or to swell a complaint, or rather was provoked by a foolish sally of Wood, implying that Ireland was only a “dependent
* This lampoon turned upon his motto
* Libertas et natale solum.
Switt's Works, vol. X. p. 467,