« PreviousContinue »
versy from the value of Wood's halfpence into an examination, bitterly conducted by the master of irony, of the way in which the government of Ireland was carried on, in regard to her social and political condition. This was very alarming, because, if permitted to be indulged further, the people, awakened from sleep, might demand their rights. Accordingly, a prosecution was resolved on. A proclamation offered £300 reward for the discovery of the author, whom every body knew to be Swift. Chief Justice Whitshed (whom Swift afterwards pursued to the death) was particularly incensed by the following passage, and it was sufficiently provocative :—“The remedy is wholly in your own hands, and therefore I have digressed a little, in order to refresh and continue that spirit so seasonably raised among you, and to let you see that by the laws of God, of nature, of nations, and of your country, you are, and ought to be, as free a people as your brethren in England.” When I said there was no match for Swift in the Irish Council, I meant to have made an exception in favour of the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carteret. This nobleman was polite, accomplished, witty, and quick, an admirable scholar, and secretly an admirer of Swift. To get Lord Carteret out of England as a troublesome rival, Walpole, it is said, enjoyed “the refined revenge” of sending him to Ireland, hoping to reduce his popularity by making him the instrument of carrying unpopular measures, and chief amongst them, the scheme of Wood, and his copper coin. One man of talent always respects another, and accordingly Swift admired Carteret, and thought him above his work. The audacity of Swift was equal to his ability. He went to a levee at the Castle, pushed through the courtiers, stood before the Lord Lieutenant unabashed, and in a firm voice demanded why he persecuted a poor printer for publishing letters which were calculated to do good to his country. Lord
Carteret, with ready wit and happy scholarship, replied — “Res dura, et regni novitas, me talia cogunt moliri.”
Swift and the Lord Lieutenant became good friends, each relishing the humour of the other. The State prosecution proceeded, the Chief Justice was intemperate, and Swift pommelled him into a legal mummy. With inimitable tact, Swift addressed his “Seasonable Advice” to the Grand Jury, exhorting them to remember the story of the bargain made by the wolves with the sheep, on condition that they would send away the mastiffs, after which the wolves ate the sheep ; and as verse or prose were equally facile to the Dean, he fired off a few pungent lines :
“ If, then, oppression has not quite subdued
At once your prudence and your gratitude ;
And give him freedom, whilst yourselves are free.” The Chief Justice did all his malignity could suggest. The Grand Jury remembered what Swift said, and forgot all the Chief Justice said, in which they showed great good sense; the bills were ignored, and Swift remained master of the situation, and the most popular man in Ireland. The first thing he did was to despatch the Chief Justice, which he did with all convenient speed. The next thing he got up was a mock execution of Wood, so inimitable in point of humour, and so likely to catch the people, that I must give you a touch of its quality.
A FULL AND TRUE ACCOUNT
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1724. Some time ago, upon a report spread, that William Wood, hardwareman, was concealed in his brother-in-law's house here in Dublin, a great number of people of different conditions, and of both sexes, crowded about the door, determinately bent to take revenge upon him as a coiner and a counterfeiter. The people cried out to have him delivered into their hands.
Says the Cook I'll baste him.
Third Butcher . . My knife is in him.
It was impossible to withstand humour like Swift's. But it was not merely by his wit that Swift tried to save his unfortunate country; he beheld her condition, felt indignant at her treatment, and strove for her amelioration. The people comprehended Swift, and adored him to the last.
We find the Dean in London; he is asked to dinner by the politic Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole ; after having dined with him, Swift asks an interview with the Minister on business. We have, in the faithful biography of the Dean by Sir W. Scott, a true account of the memorable interview, and its results :
6 The Dean stated at length the grievances of Ireland, being all that could contribute to render a nation poor and despicable: the nation being controlled by laws to which her Legislature did not consent (so much for the Parliament]; their manufactures interdicted, to favour those of England ; their trade cramped and ruined by prohibitions; the natives studiously excluded from all places of honour, trust, or profit; while the conduct of those to whom the government was delegated lay under no other check than might arise from their own sense of justice. But Walpole was prepossessed against any statement of the affairs of Ireland that might come from Swift. Ere the Dean had left the kingdom, the Primate Boulter, to whom Walpole chiefly confided the efficient power in Irish affairs, had written to warn him not to give credit to Swift's 6 endeavours to misrepresent his Majesty's friends in Ireland, wherever he finds an opportunity. Thus prepossessed against all that might come from the author of the Drapier's Letters, Walpole turned a deaf ear to the grievances of Ireland, saying that the King derived little revenue from that kingdom, and proceeded to enlarge upon the opinions he had adopted from its governors, in a manner which did not agree with Swift's notions of liberty, and he and the Minister parted with mutual civility, neither having made the smallest impression on the other.”
The narrative is truthful, but depressing, for if Swift could not convince a British Minister, who could hope to succeed ?
Lastly, our Irish Parliament provoked him by a direct
attack upon the property of the Church, in abolishing agistment tithe, while doing nothing useful to the country. He satirized the whole House of Commons, in a poem entitled the Legion Club :
LEGION CLUB. 1735.
It is plain Swift had a very poor opinion of this assembly ; and it does not appear that his judgment was erroneous. A public-spirited Parliament would never have tolerated the commercial legislation imposed upon Ireland; a patriotic Parliament would never have submitted to the administration