CELT document E700001-001

An Answer to a Paper, called A Memorial of the poor Inhabitants, Tradesmen, and Labourers of the Kingdom of Ireland

Jonathan Swift

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An Answer To A Paper, Called A Memorial Of The Poor Inhabitants, Tradesmen, And Labourers Of The Kingdom Of Ireland1

I received a paper from you, wherever you are, printed without any name of author or printer, and sent, I suppose, to me among others, without any particular distinction. It contains a complaint of the dearness of corn, and some schemes of making it cheaper which I cannot approve of.

But pray permit me, before I go further, to give you a short history of the steps by which we arrived at this hopeful situation.

It was, indeed, the shameful practice of too many Irish farmers, to wear out their ground with ploughing; while, either through poverty, laziness, or ignorance, they neither took care to manure it as they ought, nor gave time to any part of the land to recover itself; and, when their leases are near expiring, being assured that their landlords would not renew, they ploughed even the meadows, and made such a havock, that many landlords were considerable sufferers by it.

This gave birth to that abominable race of graziers, who, upon expiration of the farmer's leases were ready to engross great quantities of land; and the gentlemen having been before often ill paid, and their land worn out of heart, were too easily tempted, when a rich grazier made him an offer to take all his land, and give his security for payment. Thus a vast p.110 tract of land, where twenty or thirty farmers lived, together with their cottagers and labourers in their several cabins, became all desolate, and easily managed by one or two herdsmen and their boys; whereby the master-grazier, with little trouble, seized to himself the livelihood of a hundred people.

It must be confessed, that the farmers were justly punished for their knavery, brutality, and folly. But neither are the squires and landlords to be excused; for to them is owing the depopulating of the country, the vast number of beggars, and the ruin of those few sorry improvements we had.

That farmers should be limited in ploughing is very reasonable, and practised in England, and might have easily been done here by penal clauses in their leases; but to deprive them, in a manner, altogether from tilling their lands, was a most stupid want of thinking.

Had the farmers been confined to plough a certain quantity of land, with a penalty of ten pounds an acre for whatever they exceeded, and farther limited for the three or four last years of their leases, all this evil had been prevented; the nation would have saved a million of money, and been more populous by above two hundred thousand souls.

For a people, denied the benefit of trade, to manage their lands in such a manner as to produce nothing but what they are forbidden to trade with, 2 or only such things as they can neither export nor manufacture to advantage, is an absurdity that a wild Indian would be ashamed of; especially when we add, that we are content to purchase this hopeful commerce, by sending to foreign markets for our daily bread. The grazier's employment is to feed great flocks of sheep, or black cattle, or both. With regard to sheep, as folly is usually accompanied with perverseness, so it is here. There is something so monstrous to deal in a commodity (further than for our own use) which we are not allowed to export manufactured, nor even unmanufactured, but to one certain country, and only to some few ports in that country; 3 there  p.111 is, I say, something so sottish, that it wants a name in our language to express it by: and the good of it is, that the more sheep we have, the fewer human creatures are left to wear the wool, or eat the flesh. Ajax was mad, when he mistook a flock of sheep for his enemies; but we shall never be sober, until we have the same way of thinking.

The other part of the grazier's business is, what we call black-cattle, producing hides, tallow, and beef for exportation: all which are good and useful commodities, if rightly managed. But it seems, the greatest part of the hides are sent out raw, for want of bark to tan them; and that want will daily grow stronger; for I doubt the new project of tanning without it is at an end. Our beef, I am afraid, still continues scandalous in foreign markets, for the old reasons. But our tallow, for anything I know, may be good. However, to bestow the whole kingdom on beef and mutton, and thereby drive out half the people who should eat their share, and force the rest to send sometimes as far as Egypt for bread to eat with it, is a most peculiar and distinguished piece of public economy, of which I have no comprehension.

I know very well that our ancestors the Scythians, and their posterity our kinsmen the Tartars, lived upon the blood, and milk, and raw flesh of their cattle, without one grain of corn; but I confess myself so degenerate, that I am not easy without bread to my victuals.

What amazed me for a week or two, was to see, in this prodigious plenty of cattle, and dearth of human creatures, and want of bread, as well as money to buy it, that all kind of flesh-meat should be monstrously dear, beyond what was ever known in this kingdom. I thought it a defect in the laws, that there was not some regulation in the price of flesh, as well as bread: but I imagine myself to have guessed out the reason: In short, I am apt to think that the whole kingdom is overstocked with cattle, both black and white; and as it is observed, that the poor Irish have a vanity to be p.112 rather owners of two lean cows, than one fat, although with double the charge of grazing, and but half the quantity of milk; so I conceive it much more difficult at present to find fat bullock or wether, than it would be if half of both were fairly knocked on the head: for I am assured that the district in the several markets called Carrion Row is as reasonable as the poor can desire; only the circumstance of money to purchase it, and of trade, or labour, to purchase that money, are indeed wholly wanting.

Now, sir, to return more particularly to you and your memorial.

A hundred thousand barrels of wheat, you say, should be imported hither; and ten thousand pounds premium to the importers. Have you looked into the purse of the nation? I am no commissioner of the treasury; but am well assured that the whole running cash would not supply you with a sum to purchase so much corn, which, only at twenty shillings a barrel, will be a hundred thousand pounds; and ten thousand more for the premiums. But you will traffic for your corn with other goods: and where are those goods? if you had them, they are all engaged to pay the rents of absentees, and other occasions in London, besides a huge balance of trade this year against us. Will foreigners take our bankers' papers? I suppose they will value it at little more than so much a quire. Where are these rich farmers and engrossers of corn, in so bad a year, and so little sowing?

You are in pain of two shillings premium, and forget the twenty shillings for the price; find me out the latter, and I will engage for the former.

Your scheme for a tax for raising such a sum is all visionary, and owing to a great want of knowledge in the miserable state of this nation. Tea, coffee, sugar, spices, wine, and foreign clothes, are the particulars you mention upon which this tax should be raised. I will allow the two first; because they are unwholesome; and the last, because I should be glad if they were all burned: but I beg you will leave us our wine to make us a while forget our misery; or give your tenants leave to plough for barley. But I will tell you a secret, which I learned many years ago from the commissioners of the customs in London: they said, when any  p.113 commodity appeared to be taxed above a moderate rate, the consequence was, to lessen that branch of the revenue by one half; and one of those gentlemen pleasantly told me, that the mistake of parliaments, on such occasions, was owing to an error of computing two and two to make four; whereas, in the business of laying impositions, two and two never made more than one; which happens by lessening the import, and the strong temptation of running such goods as paid high duties. At least in this kingdom, although the women are as vain and extravagant as their lovers or their husbands can deserve, and the men are fond enough of wine; yet the number of both who can afford such expenses is so small, that the major part must refuse gratifying themselves, and the duties will rather be lessened than increased. But, allowing no force in this argument; yet so preternatural a sum as one hundred and ten thousand pounds, raised all on a sudden, (for there is no dallying with hunger,) is just in proportion with raising a million and a half in England; which, as things now stand, would probably bring that opulent kingdom under some difficulties.

You are concerned how strange and surprising it would be in foreign parts to hear that the poor were starving in a RICH country, &c. Are you in earnest? Is Ireland the rich country you mean? Or are you insulting our poverty? Were you ever out of Ireland? Or were you ever in it till of late? You may probably have a good employment, and are saving all you can to purchase a good estate in England. But by talking so familiarly of one hundred and ten thousand pounds, by a tax upon a few commodities, it is plain you are either naturally or affectedly ignorant of our present condition: or else you would know and allow, that such a sum is not to be raised here, without a general excise; since, in proportion to our wealth, we pay already in taxes more than England ever did in the height of the war. And when you have brought over your corn, who will be the buyers? Most certainly not the poor, who will not be able to purchase the twentieth part of it.

Sir, upon the whole, your paper is a very crude piece, liable to more objections than there are lines; but I think your meaning is good, and so far you are pardonable.

If you will propose a general contribution in supporting  p.114 the poor in potatoes and butter-milk, till the new corn comes in, perhaps you may succeed better, because the thing at least is possible; and I think if our brethren in England would contribute upon this emergency, out of the million they gain from us every year, they would do a piece of justice as well as charity. In the mean time, go and preach to your own tenants, to fall to the plough as fast as they can ; and prevail with your neighbouring squires to do the same with theirs; or else die with the guilt of having driven away half the inhabitants, and starving the rest. For as to your scheme of raising one hundred and ten thousand pounds, it is as vain as that of Rabelais; which was, to squeeze out wind from the posteriors of a dead ass.

But why all this concern for the poor? We want them not, as the country is now managed; they may follow thousands of their leaders, and seek their bread abroad. Where the plough has no work, one family can do the business of fifty, and you may send away the other forty-nine. An admirable piece of husbandry, never known or practised by the wisest nations, who erroneously thought people to be the riches of a country!

If so wretched a state of things would allow it, methinks I could have a malicious pleasure, after all the warning I have in vain given the public, at my own peril, for several years past, to see the consequences and events answering in every particular. I pretend to no sagacity: what I writ was little more than what I had discoursed to several persons, who were generally of my opinion; and it was obvious to every common understanding, that such effects must needs follow from such causes;—a fair issue of things begun upon party rage, while some sacrificed the public to fury, and others to ambition: while a spirit of faction and oppression reigned in every part of the country, where gentlemen, instead of consulting the ease of their tenants, or cultivating their lands, were worrying one another upon points of Whig and Tory, of High Church and Low Church ; which no more concerned them than the long and famous controversy of strops for razors: while agriculture was wholly discouraged, and consequently half the farmers and labourers, and poorer tradesmen, forced to beggary or banishment. “Wisdom crieth in the streets:  p.115 Because I have called on ye; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsels, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh.”

I have now done with your Memorial, and freely excuse your mistakes, since you appear to write as a strange;, and as of a country which is left at liberty to enjoy the benefits of nature, and to make the best of those advantages which God hath given it, in soil, climate, and situation.

But having lately sent out a paper, entitled, A Short View of the State of Ireland; and hearing of an objection, that some people think I have treated the memory of the late Lord Chief Justice Whitshed with an appearance of severity; since I may not probably have another opportunity of explaining myself in that particular, I choose to do it here. Laying it, therefore, down for a postulatum, which I suppose will be universally granted, that no little creature of so mean a birth and genius, had ever the honour to be a greater enemy to his country, and to all kinds of virtue, than HE, I answer thus ; Whether there be two different goddesses called Fame, as some authors contend, or only one goddess sounding two different trumpets, it is certain that people distinguished for their villainy have as good a title for a blast from the proper trumpet, as those who are most renowned for their virtues have from the other; and have equal reason to complain if it be refused them. And accordingly the names of the most celebrated profligates have been faithfully transmitted down to posterity. And although the person here understood acted his part in an obscure corner of the world, yet his talents might have shone with lustre enough in the noblest scene.

As to my naming a person dead, the plain honest reason is the best. He was armed with power, guilt, and will to do mischief, even where he was not provoked, as appeared by his prosecuting two printers, 4 one to death, and both to ruin, who had neither offended God nor the King nor him nor the public.

What an encouragement to vice is this! If an ill man be  p.116 alive, and in power, we dare not attack him; and if he be weary of the world, or of his own villainies, he has nothing to do but die, and then his reputation is safe. For these excellent casuists know just Latin enough to have heard a most foolish precept, that de mortuis nil nisi bonum; so that if Socrates, and Anytus his accuser, had happened to die together, the charity of survivors must either have obliged them to hold their peace, or to fix the same character on both. The only crime of charging the dead is, when the least doubt remains whether the accusation be true; but when men are openly abandoned, and lost to all shame, they have no reason to think it hard if their memory be reproached. Whoever reports, or otherwise publisheth, any thing which it is possible may be false, that man is a slanderer; hic niger est, hunc tu, Romane, caveto. Even the least misrepresentation, or aggravation of facts, deserves the same censure, in some degree; but in this case, I am quite deceived if my error hath not been on the side of extenuation.

I have now present before me the idea of some persons (I know not in what part of the world) who spend every moment of their lives, and every turn of their thoughts, while they are awake, (and probably of their dreams while they sleep,) in the most detestable actions and designs; who delight in mischief, scandal, and obloquy, with the hatred and contempt of all mankind against them, but chiefly of those among their own party and their own family; such whose odious qualities rival each other for perfection: avarice, brutality, faction, pride, malice, treachery, noise, impudence, dullness, ignorance, vanity, and revenge, contending every moment for superiority in their breasts. Such creatures are not to be reformed, neither is it prudence or safety to attempt a reformation. Yet, although their memories will rot, there may be some benefit for their survivors to smell it while it is rotting.

I am, Sir, Your humble servant, A. B. Dublin, March 25th, 1728.

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Title (uniform): An Answer to a Paper, called “A Memorial of the poor Inhabitants, Tradesmen, and Labourers of the Kingdom of Ireland”

Author: Jonathan Swift

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Electronic edition compiled by: Benjamin Hazard

Funded by: University College, Cork and The Higher Education Authority via the CELT Project.

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2. Second draft.

Extent: 4610 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork.

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2004

Date: 2008

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E700001-001

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Editions and secondary literature

  1. An excellent bibliography covering many aspects of Jonathan Swift's Life, his writings, and criticism, compiled by Lee Jaffe, is available at http://www.jaffebros.com/lee/gulliver/bib/index.html.
  2. J. Bowles Daly (ed.), Ireland in the days of Dean Swift, Irish tracts 1720–1734. (London 1887).
  3. Frederick Ryland (ed.), Swift's Journal to Stella, A.D. 1710–1713. (London 1897).
  4. Temple Scott (ed.), A tale of a tub, and other early works. (London 1897).
  5. Frederick Falkiner, Essays on the portraits of Swift: Swift and Stella. (London 1908).
  6. C. M. Webster, Swift's Tale of a Tub compared with Earlier Satires of the Puritans. Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 47/1 (March 1932) 171–178.
  7. Stephen L. Gwynn, The life and friendships of Dean Swift. (London 1933).
  8. Stanley Lane-Poole (ed.), Selections from the prose writings of Jonathan Swift with a preface and notes. (London 1933).
  9. Ricardo Quintana, The mind and art of Jonathan Swift. (Oxford 1936).
  10. Louis A. Landa, Swift's Economic Views and Mercantilism, English Literary History 10/4 (December 1943) 310–335.
  11. R. Wyse Jackson, Swift and his circle. (Dublin 1945).
  12. Herbert Davis, The Satire of Jonathan Swift (New York 1947).
  13. Martin Price, Swift's rhetorical art. (New York 1953).
  14. Robert C. Elliott, Swift and Dr Eachard. Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 69/5 (December 1954) 1250–1257.
  15. John Middleton Murry, Jonathan Swift: A Critical Biography. (London 1954).
  16. John Middleton Murry, Swift. (London: Published for the British Council and the National Book League 1955).
  17. Kathleen Williams, Swift and the age of compromise. (London 1959).
  18. John M. Bullitt, Jonathan Swift and the anatomy of satire: a study of satiric technique. (Harvard 1961).
  19. Harold Williams (ed.), The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift. (Oxford 1963–65).
  20. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Jonathan Swift: essays on his satire and other studies. (New York 1964).
  21. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Gulliver's Travels. [based on the Faulkner edition, Dublin 1735] (Oxford 1965).
  22. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Swift: poetical works. (New York 1967).
  23. R. B. McDowell, 'Swift as a political thinker'. In: Roger Joseph McHugh and Philip Edwards, Jonathan Swift: 1667–1967, a Dublin tercentenary tribute (Dublin 1967). 176–186.
  24. Brian Vickers (ed.), The world of Jonathan Swift: essays for the tercentenary. (Oxford 1968).
  25. Kathleen Williams, Jonathan Swift. (London 1968).
  26. Morris Golden, The self observed: Swift, Johnson, Wordsworth. (Baltimore 1972).
  27. Jane M. Snyder, The meaning of 'Musaeo contingens cuncta lepore', Lucretius 1.934, Classical World 66 (1973) 330–334.
  28. Claude Julien Rawson, Gulliver and the gentle reader: studies in Swift and our time. (London and Boston 1973).
  29. A. L. Rowse, Jonathan Swift, major prophet. (London 1975).
  30. Alexander Norman Jeffares, Jonathan Swift. (London 1976).
  31. Clive T. Probyn, Jonathan Swift: the contemporary background. (Manchester 1978).
  32. Clive T. Probyn (ed.), The art of Jonathan Swift. (London 1978).
  33. Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The man, his works, and the age (three volumes). (London 1962–83).
  34. David M. Vieth (ed.), Essential articles for the study of Jonathan Swift's poetry. (Hamden 1984).
  35. James A. Downie, Jonathan Swift, political writer. (London 1985).
  36. Frederik N. Smith (ed.), The genres of Gulliver's travels. (London 1990).
  37. James Kelly, 'Jonathan Swift and the Irish Economy in the 1720s', Eighteenth-century Ireland: Iris an dá chultúr 6 (1991) 7–36.
  38. Joseph McMinn (ed.), Swift's Irish pamphlets. (Gerrards Cross 1991).
  39. Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: the Irish identity. (Yale 1995).
  40. Christopher Fox, Walking Naboth's vineyards: new studies of Swift (University of Notre Dame Ward-Philips lectures in English language and literature, Vol. 13). (Notre Dame/Indiana 1995).
  41. Claude Rawson (ed.), Jonathan Swift: a collection of critical essays. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jeresey, 1995).
  42. Michael Stanley, Famous Dubliners: W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Wolfe Tone, Oscar Wilde, Edward Carson. (Dublin 1996).
  43. Daniel Carey, 'Swift among the freethinkers'. Eighteenth-century Ireland: Iris an dá chultúr, 12 (1997) 89–99.
  44. Victoria Glendinning, Jonathan Swift. (London 1998).
  45. Aileen Douglas; Patrick Kelly; Ian Campbell Ross, (eds.). Locating Swift: essays from Dublin on the 250th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745. (Dublin 1998).
  46. Bruce Arnold, Swift: an illustrated life. (Dublin 1999).
  47. Nigel Wood (ed.), Jonathan Swift. (London and New York 1999).
  48. Christopher J. Fauske, Jonathan Swift and the Church of Ireland, 1710–24 (Portland/Oregon 2001).
  49. David George Boyce; Robert Eccleshall; Vincent Geoghegan (eds.), Political discourse in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland. (Basingstoke and New York 2001).
  50. Ann Cline Kelly, Jonathan Swift and popular culture: myth, media and the man. Basingstoke 2002.
  51. Dirk F. Passmann and Heinz J. Vienken, The library and reading of Jonathan Swift: a bio-bibliographical handbook. 4 vols. (Frankfurt 2003).
  52. Mark McDayter, 'The haunting of St James's Library: librarians, literature, and The Battle of the Books'. Huntington Library Quarterly, 66:1–2 (2003) 1–26.
  53. Frank T. Boyle, 'Jonathan Swift' [A companion to satire]. In: Ruben Quintero (ed.), A companion to satire (Oxford 2007) 196–211.
  54. Harry Whitaker, C. U. M. Smith and Stanley Finger (eds.), Explorations of the Brain, Mind and Medicine in the Writings of Jonathan Swift. Springer (US) 2007.
  55. Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: his life and his world. Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven: Yale University Press [2013].

The edition used in the digital edition

‘An Answer to a Paper, called , UNKNOWN = q’ (1905). In: The prose works of Jonathan Swift D. D.‍ Ed. by Temple Scott. Vol. 7: Historical and political tracts—Irish. London: George Bell and Sons, pp. 107–116.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  editor 	 = {Temple Scott},
  title 	 = {An Answer to a Paper, called ,
  UNKNOWN 	 = {q}},
  booktitle 	 = {The prose works of Jonathan Swift D. D.},
  editor 	 = {Temple Scott},
  address 	 = {London},
  publisher 	 = {George Bell and Sons},
  date 	 = {1905},
  volume 	 = {7: Historical and political tracts—Irish},
  pages 	 = {107–116}


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Creation: By Jonathan Swift

Date: March 1728

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  • The text is in English. (en)
  • Some text is in Latin. (la)

Keywords: political; prose; tract; 18c

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  4. 2008-07-24: Value of div0 "type" attribute modified, additions to bibliography made, content of 'langUsage' revised; minor modifications made to header. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  5. 2005-08-25: Normalised language codes and edited langUsage for XML conversion (ed. Julianne Nyhan)
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  1. This is, perhaps, as trenchant and fine a piece of writing as is to be found in any of those pamphlets Swift wrote for the alleviation of the miserable condition of Ireland. The author of the "Memorial" to which Swift made this passionate reply was Sir John Browne, and the purport of his writing may be easily gathered from Swift's animadversions. The text here given is based on that printed by Faulkner in 1735 in the fourth volume of his collected edition of Swift's works. Scott reprints Browne's "Memorial" and his reply to the present" Answer," but they are of little importance and in no way assist us in our appreciation of Swift's work. The date of Swift's answer is given by Faulkner as "March 25th, 1728," which year Scott misprints 1738, evidently a printer's error, though the arrangement of the order of the pamphlets in his edition leaves much to be desired. 🢀

  2. The laws prohibiting the importation of live cattle into England, and the restrictions as to the woollen industry, were the ruin of those who held land for grazing purposes. 🢀

  3. The Act of 10 and 11 William III., cap. 10, was the final blow to the woollen industry of Ireland. It was enacted in 1699, and prohibited the exportation of Irish wool to any other country. In the fifth letter of Hely Hutchinson's "Commercial Restraints of Ireland" (1779) will be found a full account of the passing of this Act and its consequences. 🢀

  4. Edward Waters and John Harding, the printers of Swift's pamphlets. See volume on The Drapier's Letters🢀


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