Swift: The Examiner and the Drapier
Most people who read the weekly essays Swift wrote under the name of The Examiner (in the years 1710–11) get a clear picture of the author as a political and social theorist. They observe that he believes the national constitution is twofold, comprising the Established Church as well as the machinery of state. They hear the Examiner's rhetoric linger on the excellence of monarchy as a form of government (Apr. 5, p. 125) and on the merits of the reigning queen, Anne. When he attacks the Whig party, they find him linking it to the idea of a democratic republic, accusing the Whigs of being anti-Christian (May 3, pp. 143–44), and associating their leaders with the lowest social classes. When he defends the Tory party, they find the Examiner attaching it to the old, titled families and to the gentry—i.e., the country gentlemen whose income was derived from large estates in land, which they had usually inherited and which they tried to enlarge by purchase and marriage.
Swift lines up the crown with the aristocracy, the gentry, the Church, and the Tories. He lines up the Whigs with the bankers, the stock jobbers, and other forces supposed to be
resisting the crown. In religion the Examiner groups the Whigs with the sects and schools opposed to the Church of England: the Nonconformists (especially the Presbyterians), Deists, and atheists (May 3, p. 144).
These impressions of Swift's program do not mislead one. But I wish to qualify them by showing how many implications appear if we look closely at his language. For example, though he was a monarchist, Swift had an extraordinary imagination for the misdeeds and vices of kings. Writing in one Examiner about opinions falsely attributed to the Tories, Swift takes up the notion of unlimited obedience to a monarch. He denies that the Tories went nearly so far as the Whigs claimed. But to illustrate these false Whiggish claims, he indulges in prodigious suppositions of crimes a king might perpetrate:
Though he should force [i.e., rape] your wife or daughter, murder your children before your face, or cut off five hundred heads in a morning for his diversion, you are still to wish him a long prosperous reign, and to be patient under all his cruelties, with the same resignation as under a plague or a famine; because to resist him would be to resist God in the person of his vicegerent. If a king of England should go through the streets of London, in order to murder every man he met, passive obedience commands them to submit. . . . His next heir, though worse than what I have described, though a fool or a madman, has a divine undefeasible right to succeed him, which no law can disannul; nay though he should kill his father upon the throne, he is immediately king to all intents and purposes. . . .
(Mar. 22, p. 112)
The Examiner papers often praise Queen Anne, but few of the commendations are so vivid as these sarcastic fantasies. It is normal for an author of Swift's time to seem more vivid in fantasy than in describing things he has seen. Yet if one looks behind the eulogy of Anne as "a queen who engrosses all our love, and all our veneration" (Nov. 23, p. 20), one meets Swift giving lively instances of other sorts of rulers—like Edward II and Richard II, who lavished wealth and power on vicious favorites:
Whoever has been the least conversant in the English story [i.e., history] cannot but have heard of Gaveston, the Spencers, and the Earl of Oxford; who by the excess and abuse of their power, cost the princes they served, or rather governed, their crowns and lives.
(Feb. 22, p. 93)
Meanwhile, in his most private letters, we discover Swift complaining that the queen is suspicious of the very men whom she ought to trust, and that she foolishly takes advice from some of the leading Whigs. These biographical facts do not affect the meaning of Swift's arguments in The Examiner , but they alert us against exaggerating the implications of his vague praise. We may also notice that Swift himself had no good luck with royalty. At this time he could remember that William III never fulfilled a promise of preferment which Swift thought he had made. He could also see that the queen whom he celebrated showed no disposition to make his acquaintance or to encourage him. Yet his friends in power said they would introduce him to her majesty. (They never did.) If we look into the future, we may meet Swift calling her "a royal prude" in some verses resenting the failure to speed his advancement.
Even in public, it was a delicate matter to eulogize her majesty. The ideal monarch, in Swift's exposition, must stand above both political parties and all social classes. In the Examiner papers, he magnified the royal prerogative and praised the queen as utterly devoted to the good of the nation. Yet the praise is subtly ambiguous. Swift does not want a case that rests on personal virtues. It must be constitutional. The Tories, he says, "prefer a monarchy before all other forms of government"; and the prerogative of the sovereign "ought, at least, to be held as sacred as the rights of his people" (Apr. 5, p. 232).
What Swift must recommend, therefore, is not her majesty alone as a virtuous individual but the hereditary, limited monarch as an essential part of lawful government. One reason he must do so is that Swift's campaign against the Whigs includes
the charge of favoring a republic (May 3, p. 142). They have, he says, "no great veneration for crowned heads "; and most of them "prefer a commonwealth before a monarchy" (Apr. 5, p. 123). This remark alludes to the rude treatment of Queen Anne by her abrasive friend Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and by Sarah's outspoken son-in-law, the Earl of Sunderland. To show off the Tories' better manners, and their idea of the constitution, the Examiner speaks of her majesty with reverence.
The awkwardness of Swift's attitude is that to hold his place rhetorically, he must avoid bringing in the predecessors of the queen or her probable successor. Her exiled father, James II, had to be condemned by Tory spokesmen because he had acted the part of a Roman Catholic tyrant subverting the Established Church (Apr. 12, pp. 235–36); and one of the Examiner's purposes was to cleanse his party of the dirt which its founders smeared on themselves when they supported the succession of James to the throne. So it was that Swift went out of his way to criticize James for his misgovernment (Apr. 12, pp. 235–37); and so it was that he accused the Whigs themselves of following James's policies (May 3, pp. 257–60).
The opposite problem arose from the example of Anne's brother-in-law, William III. The accession of the Dutch prince to the throne had agonized the Tories because it set aside both the reigning (or "abdicated") king and the Prince of Wales. William's ecclesiastical policy had alienated the Tories because he tried to strengthen the Dissenters. Besides, the Whigs treated William as their patron; and for Swift to place him in the foreground of a constitutional prospect would have confounded the Tories. The Examiner has harsh words for his reign (May 31, pp. 286–87).
Finally, the opinions of George of Hanover, who was the legal successor of the childless queen (after his mother's death), were only too well known. He could not be praised as a specimen of monarchy, because he was already working closely with the Whigs, and openly resented the foreign policy of Swift's friends.
We have only to remember that Swift's imagination nor-
mally operated better in satire than in eulogy; and we may then appreciate the implications of his pointed allusions to the possibility of royal misconduct. In a deep sense, although Swift considered monarchy the most practicable form of government for a nation like England, he had more reason to blame individual rulers of the country than to praise them. This ultimately is why his praise of monarchy had to be ambiguous. There was something paradoxical about his recommending an institution that was admirable in theory but troublesome in practice.
A related ambiguity touches Swift's effort to connect his friends' administration with ancient, titled families. A pearl, the Examiner said, might indeed be found on a dunghill, but that was not the first place where a man would look for one (May 10, pp. 266–68). Now it is true that her royal majesty's uncle, the Earl of Rochester, was Lord President of the Privy Council, and that the Duke of Buckingham was Lord Steward. But they could not match the aristocratic distinction of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, who were the queen's Whig confidants; nor could they match the military splendor of the Duke of Marlborough, who had become at least publicly the hero of the Whigs. Since The Examiner regularly attacked both Marlborough and the arch-Whig Sunderland—whose family enjoyed conspicuous antiquity—it was a risky maneuver for Swift to blame the Whigs as hating the "ancient nobility."
It is more than a coincidence that the number of The Examiner in which Swift elaborated the importance of nobility is also the one in which he foretold the elevation of his friend Robert Harley, who was then the chief minister of the queen (May 10). Several features of the discussion must strike the well-informed reader. We know that Swift himself felt uneasy about Harley's preoccupation with genealogy, for he once said of him,
As his own birth was illustrious, being descended from the heirs general of the Veres and the Mortimers, so he seemed to value that accidental advantage [i.e., high birth] in himself and others more than it could pretend to deserve.
(Prose Works , VIII, 135)
But the truth was less palatable than Swift expressed it. Not only did Harley overvalue his connection with the de Veres and the Mortimers, but that connection did not exist. In no sense was Harley descended from either family. Yet he took the de Veres' great title of Earl of Oxford when he became a peer, and he also saw to it that his claims were published in an absurd pamphlet in Latin and English.
This being so, one must smile at the implications of the last of the Examiner's paragraphs on the advantages of birth; for here Swift says,
Nothing is more observable in those who rise to great place or wealth, from mean originals, than their mighty solicitude to convince the world that they are not so low as is commonly believed. They are glad to find it made out by some strained genealogy, that they have some remote alliance with better families.
(May 10, p. 151)
Did Swift realize how closely this insight touched his grand friend? I don't know. But I think it implies Swift's uneasiness about his own praise of noble families.
In The Examiner , Swift's aristocratic bias emerges from a double impulse: his respect for established families and his contempt for men promoted to high places from humble backgrounds. "The fortune of war," he complained, "hath raised several persons up to swelling titles, and great commands over numbers of men" (Dec. 21, p. 128). When Swift means to belittle the men whom the Whigs brought into power, he says, "[The] lowest plebeians rise to the head of affairs, and there preserve themselves by representing the nobles and other friends to the old government, as enemies to the public" (Jan. 18, p. 153). As a party, the Whigs strengthen themselves—if we believe The Examiner —"by dependents raised from the lowest of the people" (Mar. 8, p. 205).
Of course, this line of attack was no more secure than the
praise of aristocracy. The Tories possessed an ample share of plebeians. Their brilliant diplomat Matthew Prior had started his career by working in a tavern kept by an uncle. Harley's pet bishop, John Robinson, who became Keeper of the Privy Seal, sprang from an origin almost as humble. The most dramatic example of Swift's double view of ancestry is his treatment of Lord Somers, the gray eminence of Whiggery. In The Examiner Swift sneered at Somers for being derived from "the dregs of the people" (Feb. 1, p. 78). But in the dedication of A Tale of a Tub , seven years earlier, Swift not only described Somers as "the sublimest genius of the age, for wit, learning, judgment, eloquence and wisdom"; he also ridiculed supposititious flatterers who might take a genealogical tack and exalt his lordship's ancestry by tracing his pedigree "in a lineal descent from the House of Austria."
It would be only too easy to root Swift's ambiguity in his career. An Irish background was no blessing for a man with Swift's ambitions; and we may suppose he felt uneasy about his own lack of distinguished forebears, especially on his mother's side (Prose Works , V, 191–92). He may well have felt eager to bathe himself in the social brilliance of great courtiers.
Nevertheless, the opposite movement, though subdued, is also visible. I mean the Examiner's alignment with trade (not finance) and with the common people. In The Examiner Swift offers economic arguments against continuing the War of the Spanish Succession. He explicitly acknowledges the importance of trade. He puffs Harley for establishing a company to trade with Latin America (Jun. 7, pp. 295–96). As for his contempt for the common people, he mingles that with a respect for their judgment.
Although the Examiner often berates the Whigs for standing on the support of moneylenders and stockjobbers, he almost never identifies their faults with a peculiarly commercial (as against financial) tie. Once, in attacking the Whigs' large notions of religious toleration, he blames them for yoking that with trade; and he complains, "[These] men come with the spirit
of shopkeepers to frame rules for the administration of kingdoms; or, as if they thought the whole art of government consisted in the importation of nutmegs , and the cure of herrings " (Dec. 28, p. 48). But Swift limits his meaning at once by conceding that "trade and manufactures do always indeed deserve the best encouragement" (p. 49). It is the so-called "moneyed" men, or financiers, and not the merchants or tradesmen, whom the Examiner conscientiously denounces.
Toward the common people (variously defined) Swift shows his usual mixture of attitudes. As the riotous mob, they are invariably condemned, quite in the style of Dryden. So Swift blames their churlishness for the invention of party labels. The "vulgar," he says, "not troubling themselves to examine through the merits of a cause, are consequently the most violent partisans of what they espouse; and in their quarrels, usually proceed to their beloved argument of calling names " (May 31, p. 162). Their riotous temper pushes them to the front in great political changes; for these, Swift says, "have the same effect upon commonwealths that thunder has upon liquors, making the dregs fly up to the top" (Jan. 18, p. 65).
But "the people" may also refer to the mass of honest Englishmen outside the institutions of government or church, and not belonging to the peerage, gentry, or upper bourgeoisie. As such—yeomen, artisans, shopkeepers, etc.—they receive frequent praise. Swift says they intuitively know the best interests of their country; he boasts that his friends in power have vox populi on their side (Jun. 7, p. 292); and he cheerfully agrees with Machiavelli that "the people, when left to their own judgment, do seldom mistake their true interests" (Jan. 18, pp. 64–65). Contrariwise, Swift says, if it is a Whig principle to appeal to the people, "that is only when they have been so wise as to poison their understandings beforehand" (Mar. 8, p. 105).
So far, I have been talking about prominent themes of the Examiner papers, and Swift's ambiguous attitude toward them. But Swift's power resides of course not in ambiguity. It is irony that raises his treatment of such themes into powerful rhetoric. To understand how he accomplishes the transformation, one
must begin with his habit of lining up properties along the divisions of an issue. In the political debate, for instance, Swift fixes a fairly specific set of faults on the Whigs and sets these against matching virtues on the side of the Tories. The Whigs are restless and heterogeneous; the Tories are stable and homogeneous. The Whigs are corrupt and avaricious; the Tories are honorable and generous. The Whigs are insolent; the Tories, courteous.
Having created a system of contraries, Swift can rise to irony merely by praising the enemy for a quality he conspicuously lacks, or by blaming him for an absent virtue. A good example is a passage in which he goes down the list of Whig leaders, to show how their followers have endowed them with precisely those merits which The Examiner condemns them for ignoring. Marlborough here has liberality and gratitude; his wife has humility and gentleness; the licentious, anticlerical Earl of Wharton has piety and justice (Feb. 1, p. 77).
In dealing with the grandest persons, simply a lack of unction can fill an ironical remark with significance. Discussing a figure like Marlborough, who usually received the most respectful attention, Swift has only to speak of him in casual or offhand language to diminish him and evoke ridicule. When the Examiner coolly writes that "excessive avarice in a general, is, I think, the greatest defect he can be liable to, next to those of courage and conduct," his tone itself brings Marlborough down to the level of mere mortals and washes out the lustre of military heroism (Feb. 22, p. 96).
We need not go further into Swift's habit of implying meanings through irony. If any aspect of his style is appreciated, this is. The emphasis remains correct, of course. But by dwelling on it, critics have obscured the true richness of the style. Even irony could not by itself give Swift his strength and depth. It is because his brilliant manner—he has plain manners too—is abundantly figurative that it dazzles the reader. Swift's irony invades the other tropes and figures, charging them with ridicule.
Conventionally, figurative language works to dignify its subject; the sublime style normally abounds in figures. But Swift takes figures associated with elevation and inverts them. He employs ironical metaphors, similes, personifications, synecdoches, and allegories which implicitly degrade their subjects. No example is more obvious than the series of conceits in A Tale of a Tub comparing wisdom to a fox, a cheese, a sack-posset, a hen, and a nut (Prose Works , I, 40).
In The Examiner , even on the level of mere similes, Swift's farfetched inventions are triumphant. One shining example is an association of the Whigs with war and revolution. To make this connection vivid and absurd at once, Swift finds an explosively compact conceit, comparing the Whigs to a sideshow at Bartholomew Fair, in which a girl balances swords on her hands and shoulders while turning around quickly:
[The] Whigs owe all their wealth to wars and revolutions; like the girl at Bartholomew-Fair, who gets a penny by turning round a hundred times, with swords in her hands.
(May 3, p. 147)
This kind of mock-conceit is hardly a method of implication; for the overt statement is part of the effect. But the ironical use of synecdoche goes further. Having associated disgraceful individuals and sinister cliques with the Whigs—as the heterogeneous ingredients of their party—Swift then takes any one person or group to stand for the whole congeries. Of course, instead of choosing an ennobling element, as the partisans themselves would prefer, he picks a shameful one and then expresses the figure ironically, seeming to praise where he really blames. Thus after establishing that the dissenting sects are among the constituent bodies of the Whig party, Swift first treats them as equivalent to the party as a whole. Then he reverses the connection ironically, making Presbyterianism (for instance) not a religious sect at all but a political faction. So he calls the Dissenters "the most spreading branch of the Whig party, that professeth Christianity" (Apr. 12, p. 234). Or else he says the Earl of Wharton "is a Presbyterian in politicks, and an atheist in
religion, but he chuses at present to whore with a Papist" (Prose Works , III, 179). As implication the device is again unsubtle, but the cumulative ingenuity disarms criticism.
On the other hand, Swift's ironical use of personification is both subtle and radiant with suggestion. At its best this technique depends on a series of procedures. First Swift takes an abstract idea, probably of a vice. Then he personifies this and associates it with a person or group. For instance, in one Examiner paper Swift personifies the idea of merit and gives it a genealogy. Characteristically, he also produces false merit, a brother, who is often mistaken for true. In the context, true merit reaches toward the Tories, false merit toward the Whigs. Now Swift can say,
[False] Merit filled the anti-chambers with a crew of his dependants and creatures, such as projectors, schematists, occasional converts to a party, prostitute flatterers, starveling writers, buffoons, shallow politicians, empty orators, and the like.
(Mar. 1, p. 99)
Obviously, False Merit is a minister of state who acts as a patron of corrupt Whigs; and if Swift failed to make this fact explicit, few readers would not grasp it for themselves.
The highest refinement of ironical personification is to connect an ugly abstraction so regularly with an object of one's satire that at last the mention of the vice alone will be equivalent to the proper name of the victim. This is what Swift does with avarice or ambition, and the Duke of Marlborough.
He begins by blaming Marlborough for his desire to possess regal power and his love of money. For one Examiner paper Swift invents a letter to Marcus Crassus, the triumvir of ancient Rome, describing him in terms that point at the Duke of Marlborough. In the letter, with no irony, he scolds Crassus for covetousness. In later numbers of The Examiner Swift returns to the accusation, coupling it with the vice of inordinate ambition. He also goes on to write about the immaterial honors bestowed on his own friend Robert Harley, and Swift contrasts these pure rewards of virtue with mercenary compensa-
tion, saying that such true honors make a coin which "the receiver [knows] how to value, although neither Avarice nor Ambition would be able to comprehend its worth" (Mar. 29, p. 120). We may infer that by invoking the personified Avarice and Ambition, the author is contrasting the treacherous Duke of Marlborough with the honorable Robert Harley.
The ultimate stage soon follows. All Swift has to do is to pair Avarice off with Ambition, and the reader recognizes Marlborough in the personification. Writing about the danger to a monarch of tolerating insults from his favorites, Swift says that such a prince should extricate himself the moment he has the power, "because, from the monstrous encroachments of exorbitant Avarice and Ambition, he cannot tell how long it may continue to be so" (Apr. 19, p. 133). The reader easily knows that the reference is to Queen Anne and Marlborough. In the very next number of The Examiner , Swift can drop the figure of speech altogether, and simply mention a set of politicians accustomed to power, who forget to be cautious "by excess of Avarice and Ambition." The implications of the apparently simple statement are obvious (Apr. 26, p. 139). Irony and the figure of personification are no longer wanted to alert us.
Of course, in his brilliant style, Swift does not keep the various devices apart but mingles them for cumulated energy. To show how he accomplishes this mingling, I shall use the attack on Wharton in The Examiner for November 9. Here the humblest stratum is the ironical pretense of celebrating his lordship for a talent which Swift naturally despises, viz. the knack of telling lies. But besides using praise for blame, Swift also indulges in a kind of allegory or parallel history; for instead of naming Wharton, he describes him in terms of Milton's Satan. This higher strain has to sustain yet another, because, by a kind of synecdoche, Swift makes Wharton alone stand for the whole Whig party. Finally, the surface of the argument is an elaborate personification. Swift purports to be writing not about an individual but about an abstraction, the art of political
lying. He pretends to give the history of this art but does so in language which applies either to the Whig party or to Wharton himself.
When one puts all the ingredients together, the suggestive force grows immense. The figures lure us into agreeing implicitly that every Whig is an atheist and a liar, that Satan was the first Whig, that all Wharton's crimes are typical of his entire party, that the Tories are quintessentially religious, patriotic, honest, etc. The essay is one of Swift's great successes, and yet it is only one of several in a series of remarkably high quality.
If I have been so far absorbed by the stylistic brilliance of the Examiner papers, I must now suggest why they receive little attention except from historical scholars. The reason, I think, is that Swift's best writing depends on a passionate moral idealism, and that the arguments he had to employ in The Examiner ran against that deep current. In the largest sense he was here attacking a false concept of heroism—that is, military heroism, narrowly national, unrelated to morality, unrelated to spiritual purpose. He was exploding a false kind of imperialistic glory feeding on the last stages of the War of the Spanish Succession, when a noble resistance to the aggression of Louis XIV had become an elementary greed for French territories and commerce.
To such false heroism he could have opposed either true heroism (in his terms, self-sacrifice for a high cause) or national prudence: both self-sacrifice and self-preservation were essential principles of Swift's genius. Unfortunately, it was national prudence that determined his rhetoric in The Examiner . Swift loathed war as an instrument of policy. He disliked standing armies and scoffed at the fame of soldiers. He also dreaded financial instability in the nation even as in his household. During the years 1710–1714 the great need of Swift's friends in power was to terminate a conflict that had lasted in effect for almost twenty-five years. When Swift advanced their peace efforts with his journalism, he went over and over the financial consequences of the war for Britain, and raised the question
whether the stunning achievements of Marlborough's army were worth the enormous waste of lives and money that they entailed. At the same time, he denounced those statesmen who backed the war. They prolonged it, he said, for the bribes and perquisites that made them rich. To Marlborough above all Swift assigned the ugly role of preferring solid gold to immaterial honor.
The trouble with this depreciation of familiar ideals is that Swift had no generous aspirations to offer in their place. National prudence rarely stirs moral depths. When a controversialist writes for a government in power and blames the opposition for rashness, he can hardly pour exalting intensities into the reader's soul. Swift could not rise above prudential goals because the support for the war had itself derived from high principle: internationalism, religious and political freedom, the cause of humanity. The brilliance of Swift's satire therefore offers a magnificent display of devices to rally one's own fellows, but no moral appeal that echoes in the ears of posterity.
In The Examiner , I think Swift's instincts were at odds with the caution of his implicit values. He felt ill at ease with an unheroic, prudential rhetoric; and that discomfort showed itself in the ambiguities I have discussed. That an ironist should play with ambiguities is only proper. But Swift does not in fact play with these; he merely lets them appear—sometimes in spite of himself. The reservations he felt about the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the gentry never come into ironic manipulation. His sympathy with the common people emerges as a debating point; his sympathy with merchants and tradesmen sounds like a concession (Dec. 28, p. 49). His stand against the Dissenters remains unqualified by an ideal of national harmony uniting a variety of interests.
Finally, there is the character of the Examiner. Although Swift loved games of impersonation, and did tease the readers of the paper by throwing out and taking back hints of the author's identity, he never went very far with the device. The general effect is close to that of the traditional author's ethos.
Thus the Examiner insists on his objectivity and truthfulness. He affiliates himself with appropriate men and institutions. He shows himself to be witty and playful. But his personality as such is not—as formalist critics might say—foregrounded.
The reason is that in these papers Swift assumed the point of view of a particular social class while founding his arguments on a show of impartiality. The landed gentry were well known to be the mainstay of the Tory party; they were not given to literary subtleties; and as a social type they were often a butt of satire. One could not be ostentatious about belonging to the class and seriously declare that one was unprejudiced. Once or twice, Swift did imply that the Examiner was a country gentleman. But he never dared to indulge in his favorite device of raising and lowering a mask while his real face grinned at the spectator. If Swift had made a comic turn of being and not being a squire, he would have risked alienating the very people he was addressing, and he would have subverted his own rhetoric.
By suggesting the ambiguity of Swift's antitheses in The Examiner , I have tried to prepare a reader for what happened to those features in his greatest political essays. During the years 1724–25, Swift interrupted the composition of Gulliver's Travels to produce a series of pamphlets called The Drapier's Letters . In these he pretended to be a drapier, or retail dealer in cloth, with the initials M. B., which may stand for Marcus Brutus. The occasion of the pamphlets was a quarrel between the English government and the Irish people. Although Ireland had her own parliament, judges, and apparatus of administration, the government in England effectively ruled the sister nation. Constitutionally, there may have been two distinct kingdoms of equal rank, sharing the same monarch. In fact, Ireland endured something of the status of a colony. In many ways her government was a shadow government. Too many of her high officials, judges, and bishops were simply sent over from England.
Statesmen often rested the case for English authority upon an act called Poynings' Law—going back to the reign of Henry
VII—according to which all Irish legislation had to be approved by the king and the Privy Council of England. That old statute gained new vitality from the Declaratory (or Dependency) Act passed by the British Parliament in 1720. According to this act, the House of Lords of Ireland could not serve as the court of last appeal for Irish litigation, because the British Lords retained that function; and—much worse—the British Parliament was declared to possess full authority to make laws for Ireland.
The long-smouldering resentment of the Irish against such arbitrary power led to the controversy which Swift entered with The Drapier's Letters . An English ironmaster named William Wood had received a patent under the crown empowering him to issue a large quantity of copper money for Ireland. Nobody in Ireland was consulted on the matter; and the manufacture of the coins was to be so carelessly supervised that Wood might increase their quantity and lower their quality at will. Fortunately, silver or gold money was the only legal tender, and copper coins were merely for convenience; so anybody who wished might reject them. Gradually, the whole range of Irish social classes, political parties, and religious sects united in protest against the patent. From the evidence we have, it looks as if some leaders of the opposition asked Swift to help them; and in February, 1724, he certainly began to do so, taking the pseudonym of M. B. Drapier.
I wish to consider the superiority of The Drapier's Letters to the Examiner papers in their methods of implication and their conception of heroism. Essentially, Swift uses the same methods he used before. But now, instead of merely attacking a false idea of heroism, he defines a true one. Instead of merely exposing ambiguities, he handles them ironically. No longer do Swift's antitheses stem from political slogans. They now represent nations and principles.
Swift embodies Ireland in the heroic drapier whose voice he assumes. He embodies England in the villainous William Wood. Having set up these opponents, Swift associates certain persons and qualities with each. The drapier is patriotic; Wood
is mercenary. The Irish want liberty and justice; the English wish to impose slavery and injustice. The Irish parliament and privy council side with liberty and the drapier; the English privy council, with Wood and oppression. As for George I and his prime minister Walpole, Swift shifts them back and forth with delicious ambiguity. They could not approve of Wood's scheme, and yet they must have approved of it. Swift has it both ways as he alternates the official lies with hints of the obvious truth.
Inside his large frame, Swift plays with the social types that appeared in the Examiner papers: the nobility and gentry, the common people, and the rest. But now he makes cunning use of their contradictory implications. The basic method is to expose the absurd inconsistencies of the government's case by uttering officially approved propositions in a way that defies fact or probability. For example, it was well known that the Duke of Grafton as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had approved of Wood's patent, and it was unreasonable to suppose that he would not have known about it. Yet for reasons of state his grace—a royal bastard and a booby—denied having intelligence of the matter. All the Drapier had to say was,
But the Late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland affirmed it was a Secret to him (and who will doubt of his VERACITY, especially when he Swore to a Person of Quality; from whom I had it, that Ireland should never be troubled with these Half-pence).
(Drapier , p. 47)
Nothing more is wanted to annihilate the character of a brainless figurehead.
The king himself receives far more elaborate treatment. He is theoretically above parties; he is the father of his people, whether Irish or English. As a king he must of course be handled with respect by any journalist. Swift therefore ostentatiously grants him the attributes of royalty and explicitly opposes him to the contemptible William Wood.
Along with such conventional reverence, however, Swift offers innuendoes. First, he refers so heavily to the monarch's
kindness and to the loyalty of the Irish people that an attentive reader might wonder why his majesty's benevolence was not more effective, or why the Irish were so blindly loyal to their sovereign. In the Third Letter his implication becomes explicit; and the Drapier observes,
His Majesty . . . is pleased to say that He will do every Thing in his Power for the Satisfaction of his People . It should seem therefore, that the Recalling of the Patent is not to be understood as a Thing In his Power .
(Drapier , p. 60)
The other innuendo depends on the central fact of law, that nothing but silver or gold is legal tender, and so consequently nobody need touch the copper money. Swift chooses to convey this crucial truth in references to the king, and to say repeatedly that his majesty, even if he wished to make people take the halfpence and farthings, could not do so. The possibility that the king might after all sink to such illegality grows inescapable, and the idea of the king is correspondingly discolored.
As the innuendoes press down, they crush the respectful allusions until every reference to "our Gracious Prince" or "his Sacred Majesty" sounds ironical. One example will illustrate the general effect. Urging the people to reject Wood's coins, Swift tells them,
It is no Treason to Rebel against Mr. Woods. His Majesty in his Patent obliges no body to take these Half-Pence, our Gracious Prince hath no such ill Advisers about him; or if he had, yet you see the Laws have not left it in the King's Power, to force us to take any Coin, but what is Lawful, of right Standard Gold and Silver . . . .
On the one hand, George I is "our gracious prince." On the other, if he imposed the coins on his Irish subjects, he would be breaking the law. Swift invites the reader to envisage a contradiction between kingship and justice.
The Drapier emits a remarkable number of allusions to the king, most of them casual and undignified—though in perfectly
decent language. The actual words "king" and "majesty" occur about two dozen times in the first of The Drapier's Letters . Though none of these references is openly offensive, the cumulation makes one feel a conflict between the terms of deep respect and the easiness of the tone. Such a discord of theme and tone is a common ironic technique, much affected by Swift—I have indicated that the Examiner gave the treatment to Marlborough.
In his Third Letter , the drapier says, "Surely his Majesty, when he consented to the Passing of this Patent, Conceived he was doing an Act of Grace to his Most Loyal Subjects of Ireland , without any Regard to Mr. Wood , farther than as an Instrument " (p. 45). By this time it hardly matters whether we fasten on the simple sense of the outburst, or the truthful, rational implication that the king never thought of serving his people. Either way, it becomes an indictment of George I.
So also Swift plays with the relation between Wood and the king. In the First Letter he observes that Wood got the patent ultimately from the crown but through advisers who misled his majesty. But he detaches Wood from the king, as an obscure culprit who has succeeded in a low, contemptible piece of iniquity. As the Letters go on, this relationship alters. Swift insinuates that the king might be in agreement with Wood's views. He even proposes ironically that Wood has usurped the royal prerogative and made himself an "arbitrary mock-monarch."
One hears other hints that Wood has pre-empted the place of a king. The Drapier compares himself to John Hampden refusing to pay ship money, and thus casts Wood in the part of Charles I. He describes the Master of the Royal Mint as if he works not for the crown but for Wood. He speaks of Wood as "daring to prescribe what no King of England ever attempted"; and he also produces a ferociously climactic metaphor:
It is no Loss of Honour to submit to the Lyon , but who, with the Figure of a Man , can think with Patience of being Devoured alive by a Rat .
(Drapier , p. 25)
Here Swift implies that King George has abandoned his responsibilities as father of his people and allowed Wood to act as an absolute tyrant. The lion himself has become a rat. It is notable that while fewer figures of speech occur in The Drapier's Letters than in The Examiner , those few have immense resonance.
If Swift could travel so far with a monarch, the same method of ambiguous antitheses carries him still further with the prime minister. For Walpole, the Drapier's gestures of respect are more perfunctory than for King George, and his insinuation of the minister's collaboration with Wood is bolder. The favorable language therefore quickly begins to sound sarcastic, and the heavy suppositions become implicit certainties. In the Fourth Letter the ambiguity of Swift's rhetoric carries us into the following sentence, which defies the reader's knowledge that no government business took its course without Walpole's backing; thanks to the great man's reputation for total corruption, the sentence is both logical and false, producing savage implications about the nature of government:
But I will now demonstrate beyond all Contradiction that Mr. W—— is against the Project of Mr. Wood , and is an entire Friend to Ireland, only by this one invincible Argument, that he has the Universal Opinion of being a Wise Man, an able Minister, and in all his Proceedings pursuing the True Interest of the King his Master: And that as his Integrity is above all Corruption , so is his Fortune above all Temptation .
(Drapier , pp. 86–87)
In other words, the interests of a king are opposed to those of his people; and no matter how rich a great minister may be, he will connive at crimes in return for bribes.
A parallel ambiguity affects the diatribe against Wood. Swift lingers on the contrast between the ironmonger's meanness and the magnitude of his lawless achievement. Endlessly, Swift defines the issue of the patent as a conflict between a single
evildoer and a whole kingdom. And yet, we gather, Wood has his accomplices, and England herself stands behind him. So the horror of one negligible villain destroying a whole people evolves into the horror of a powerful, imperial nation stifling her weaker sister.
Openly, the Drapier denounces Wood as unutterably contemptible and solitary. Yet the knave is incredibly powerful at the same time, for he is capable of ruining Ireland. Now the meaner Wood appears, the harder it becomes to account for his triumph. Driven to locate an adequate cause of the enormity, the reader thinks metonymically of others, half-associated with Wood's career by the Drapier's argument. Finally, one must seek out the true contrivers in Walpole and King George. Meanwhile, those mighty persons in turn sink figuratively to the level of serving as tools of a despicable hardwareman. When, therefore, the Drapier openly denounces Wood, we infer that he is covertly denouncing the prime minister and the king.
Thus the old figures of metonymy and synecdoche abide in The Drapier's Letters as in The Examiner . But the differences are illuminating. One is that Swift vastly enlarges the scope of his own side by rising above the simple legality of the patent. Where the English privy council had agreed that the royal prerogative empowered his majesty to dispose as he pleased of the privilege of minting coins, the Drapier wonders whether the prerogative was not meant to be exercised for the benefit of the people. His postulate—salus populi suprema lex —was to remain valid, and to serve the American colonists against the great-grandson of George I.
We hear the Drapier refuse to allow statute law or the rule of precedents to justify the misdeeds of the English ministry. For such mere legalities he substitutes the ultimate sanctions, larger than any national code, on which the concept of justice must rely. By appealing to Lockean principles of natural law, he makes Ireland represent humanity as a whole, while the Drapier stands for liberty; and Swift foreshadows the appeal Burke was to make in his speech on conciliation with the American colonies:
The question with me [said Burke] is, not whether you have a right to render your people miserable; but whether it is not your interest to make them happy. It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do.
Yet the force of The Drapier's Letters does not spring from the mere elevation of Swift's views. It operates more subtly and elaborately through the games Swift plays with the character of the Drapier. It may be significant that personification is far more rare in The Drapier's Letters than in The Examiner . I suspect the reason is that Swift in the Letters makes so much more use of impersonation. The identity of the Drapier is richer by far than that of the Examiner, and it has a fundamental connection with Swift's ideals. The bumptious earthiness of the Drapier gives solidity to the ideals, and the grandeur of the ideals fills the character of the Drapier with heroic dignity. It is not high principle alone or the rich identity by itself that distinguishes the Letters . It is the interfusion of the two.
Swift's devices of impersonation are really a form of irony, because one can analyze any deliberate irony into the acting of a part. Socrates pretended to be an ignorant man when he practiced his peculiar form of inquiry, even as Swift puts on the mask of naïveté for his satires. But the theatrical aspect shines in the Letters . As the Drapier, Swift not only puts himself forward but calls attention to certain of his traits and to some quasi-biographical facts in ways that are attractively humorous and dramatic. Unlike the Examiner, he hides and reveals himself provocatively, now as M. B., now as Swift. Like the Examiner's irony, the Drapier's playful self-exposure invades his other rhetorical devices. Brilliant figures of speech drawn from Scripture suggest the priestly character of the author even while explicit features mark the person of a drapier. From the start a
majestic figure, finally recognizable as the Dean of St. Patrick's, lowers behind the shopkeeper; and the meaning of his words alters as we listen to one voice or the other.
Unlike the Examiner, the Drapier becomes not merely a spokesman but a heroic defender. Activities that are humdrum in themselves take on epic grandeur when the great-hearted tradesman sets the example; and he is a hero whose boldness is untempered by affiliation with a winning party or a government in power. Rather, as in the Third Letter , Swift goes out of his way to show off the Drapier's single-handedness:
I am very Sensible that such a Work as I have undertaken might have worthily employed a much better Pen. But when a House is attempted to be Robbed it often happens that the weakest in the Family runs first to stop the Door. All the Assistance I had were some Informations from an Eminent Person , whereof I am afraid I have Spoiled a Few by endeavouring to make them of a Piece with my own Productions, and the Rest I was not able to manage. . . .
(Drapier , p. 63)
By setting himself apart, the Drapier magnifies his heroism and directs our attention to the fact that Swift picked an humble shopkeeper for his disguise. One might suppose these turns were mere debaters' tricks if the Fourth and Fifth Letters did not show their implications for Swift's political and social philosophy. To clarify that significance, we may just glance at the relations between the Drapier and his audience, noticing how Swift plays with various social types.
In the original Letter , the Drapier spoke as a shopkeeper himself to the "shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers, and common-people." The practical reason was, I assume, that the richer, better educated classes could be trusted to appreciate their rights and to refuse Wood's coins, while the humbler shopkeepers and tenant farmers might feel intimidated. But whatever the cause, Swift was following the opposite tack to that of
The Examiner , and identifying himself with the lower social classes. This identification continued throughout the five letters published in the years 1724–25.
As a heroic member of their own order, the Drapier can express both sides of his feeling for the common people, his affectionate protectiveness and his angry contempt. Unlike the Examiner with the gentry, he need not ignore the ambiguity. So he cheers them on and chastises them by turns. They are innocent victims of English oppression, but they are also wicked betrayers of their own salvation.
It is your Folly [the Drapier says] that you have no common or general Interest in your View, not even the Wisest among you, neither do you know or enquire, or care who are your Friends, or who are your Enemies.
(Drapier , p. 3)
The loving, scolding note is that of a father, teacher, priest. A reader might well wonder whether any simple shopkeeper could have the learning and penetration shown by the Drapier; and he might notice signs in the very first Letter that the true author was the notorious Dean Swift who had already risked his security for the good of Ireland.
Finally, the reader might discover two attitudes, in this letter, toward the nobility and gentry, i.e., toward the great landowners whom Swift considered to be the natural rulers of a country. The Drapier takes their superiority for granted; the government and the economy, he suggests, rightly depend on them. Yet he complains bitterly that (unlike the common people) they waste the wealth of the nation in England—"a great Number of Lords and Squires , whose Estates are here, and are our Countrymen, spend all their Lives and Fortunes there" (p. 5).
As the Letters continue, these ambiguities deepen, along with the shifting attitudes toward Wood, Walpole, and the king; and as they deepen, the ironical implications ramify.
In the Second Letter the rallying and reproaching of the common people continue, suggesting how comfortable the Drapier feels with them. He addresses the gentry and nobility with respect, and urges them to instruct their tenant farmers to refuse Wood's coins (pp. 29–31). But we also hear a caustic allusion to absentee landlords (pp. 27–28). Again, the Drapier makes much of his being a shopkeeper (p. 20), and yet speaks rashly, in the tones of a heroic champion risking his life for his country:
. . . I will Shoot Mr. Woods and his Deputies through the Head, like High-way Men or House-breakers , if they dare to force one Farthing of their Coyn upon me. . . . (Drapier , p. 25)
In the Third Letter a movement begins that seems crucial for Swift's whole career. Not only does the Drapier dwell on his single-handedness as champion of the nation; he also hints at the inactivity of the governing classes (p. 63). Though addressing this pamphlet to the nobility and gentry, the Drapier carefully separates himself from them, repeatedly mentioning his own low condition (p. 35) as an "illiterate shopkeeper" (p. 36), poor, ignorant (p. 38), and mean (p. 44). For his climactic figure of speech, in a pamphlet that has several other Biblical allusions, he picks an Old Testament parallel comparing himself to David (p. 63), and generally, I think, hinting at a priestly speaker. One cannot miss the implicit complaint that the great men of Ireland felt reluctant to do battle with the Philistine while an illiterate shopkeeper became the champion of Israel. Even if one "eminent person" did assist him, the Drapier says,
I was in the Case of David who could not move in the Armour of Saul , and therefore I rather chose to attack this Uncircumcised Philistine (Wood I mean) with a Sling and a Stone .
(Drapier , p. 63)
Both as M. B. Drapier and as Dean Swift, the author prefers to belong to the people rather than to their betters.
A striking paradox of The Drapier's Letters derives from Swift's treatment of money. As in The Examiner he is connecting the preservation of a kingdom with financial prudence.
Why then does the later work seem so much loftier? First, Swift spiritualizes the theme. In his rhetoric the rejection of the coins sounds like self-sacrifice and self-preservation together. It is the English who exude avarice; it is they who scramble for pensions and sinecures (pp. 73–74); and it is Wood who sacrifices conscience to cash.
Contrariwise, it is the Irish who refuse to defile themselves with the filthy metal. The literal gesture becomes figurative as they turn their backs on money and embrace patriotism. (In The Examiner , profit and patriotism merge.) Swift also adds to the spiritual implications by using Biblical phrases and images to suggest the sinfulness of Wood's forces or the virtue of his own.
But Swift does much more by rooting the opposition to Wood's coins in the largest constitutional issues and the meaning of human freedom. The Fourth Letter is the one that fixes this enlargement, and it is here that Swift's reorientation grows clearly visible. Addressing the "whole people" of Ireland, the Drapier now implies that they must be ready to seize those rights which the tyrants in England have denied them. Force, he indicates, is the only sanction of an oppressive regime (pp. 79, 85–86); and if such a government ignores the needs and wishes of its subjects, it deserves—by this reasoning—no loyalty.
Swift's high-mindedness becomes cogent because the Drapier sets the example for his audience: he himself offers to answer English injustice with violence (p. 79). But by the same token he disregards an overwhelming counterargument; for the rulers of Ireland—the Anglican landowners—could keep their power (in a country where they comprised a fractional minority) only with the backing of British troops. Constantly, the government in Westminster had to be ready with military force which it might bring to bear in Ireland against the mass of Roman Catholics of native stock. Otherwise, the social order to which Swift himself belonged would collapse, and the church he served would shrivel up.
Simply ignoring this truth, Swift denounces the view that Ireland is a "depending kingdom." "All government without
the consent of the governed," he declares, "is the very definition of slavery" (p. 79). "By the laws of God, of nature, of nations, and of your own country," he tells the Irish, "you are and ought to be as free a people as your brethren of England" (p. 80).
Fifty years later, these sentiments might nourish the American colonists. But the Irish nobility and great landlords would hardly associate themselves with such language. The doctrines the Drapier taught, if truly applied, would have undone the property settlement of Ireland.
He was equally alarming in his treatment of the king. Taking up the royal prerogative to coin money, the Drapier opens with a rational, fatherly tone and humble language. He shows how narrowly the king's independent authority is limited. But instead of being gingerly, he goes on to sound almost insolent when he explains yet once more that no British monarch may compel his subjects to take coin other than sterling or gold. In effect, the Drapier defines the prerogative so nakedly that no officer of the government could publicly agree with him:
But we are so far from disputing the King's Prerogative in Coyning, that we own he has Power to give a Patent to any Man for setting his Royal Image and Superscription upon whatever Materials he pleases, and Liberty to the Patentee to offer them in any Country from England to Japan , only attended with one small Limitation, That no body alive is obliged to take them .
(Drapier , p. 70)
It is not surprising that such language scared leaders in the Drapier's camp. Swift had transformed himself from an aide into a manipulator of those who were resisting the patent. The Letter to the Whole People represented his own policy, not his service to another man's program. Among the high legal officers—Chief Justice Whitshed, Chief Baron Hale, and Attorney-General Rogerson (the first and last being Irish by birth and education)—all agreed that the Fourth Letter was "a seditious and vile libel, and fit to be prosecuted." The Chancellor himself was Lord Midleton, son of a Cromwellian officer who had received a large grant of Irish land. Midleton thought the Fourth
Letter was "highly seditious," and that the author and printer deserved to be punished, or at least he said so to the Lord Lieutenant. Yet Midleton also opposed Wood's patent.
When the Privy Council of Ireland met to condemn the Fourth Letter , only one of the twenty-one members present voted against the motion. When they divided on proclaiming a reward for the discovery of the author, only four members voted against the motion.
No wonder the Drapier revealed some reservations in his identification with the whole people. As we move from the Fourth to the Fifth Letter , we cannot ignore Swift's change of allegiance, or the fact that he no longer assumes that simply as property holders, the nobility and great landowners are the proper rulers of the kingdom. It becomes supremely important now that Swift should wear the mask of a shopkeeper. Unlike the Examiner, the heroic Drapier does not tie himself to a class or a ministry.
Swift signalized a break with his old allies by addressing his Fifth Letter to Lord Molesworth, an anticlerical Whig whom Swift's friend Harley had once turned out of the Privy Council of Ireland. Robert Molesworth had made himself conspicuous for two principles which the government could have wished at this time to be mutually exclusive: a concern for the welfare of Ireland and a loyalty to Whig traditions and the House of Hanover. Although in matters of religion Swift set Molesworth among the damned, in political economy he found his lordship's zeal angelic. Molesworth's Considerations for Promoting Agriculture (1723) delivered useful hints of the same tendency as Swift's own program. The dedication of that pamphlet could only have completed the reversal of Swift's attitude toward Molesworth. It was inscribed to the Irish House of Commons in recognition of their brave union against Wood's patent; and here Molesworth eulogized the votes of the Commons as
an eminent instance of your wisdom and love to your country, in your just censure and vigorous resolutions against a patent calculated to destroy your trade, rob you of your money; and which calls you slaves and fools to your faces.
The implicit meaning of dedicating the Fifth Letter to Molesworth becomes clear when one fits his lordship into the set of antitheses that Swift had established. By tracing his own allegedly wicked expressions to a man whom the king delighted to honor, the Drapier confounded the royal ministers and infused confidence into their opponents. Cutting across outworn distinctions, his arguments drew on a principle that combined Christian charity (or benevolence) with eminent practicality, a principle illuminated by the appeal to Molesworth.
This is the idea of productivity. In the scheme of polarities which the Drapier used to divide those who backed Wood's patent from those who fought it, Swift finally linked not only justice but productivity with the opposition. Even during his discussion of political freedom, he would leave the immediate controversy behind, and make the issue of the patent simply an entry into the larger subject of Ireland's economic welfare. In that very great matter he implicitly set the productive landowners, farmers, manufacturers, and tradesmen against the parasites and drones: the absentee landlords, the idle pensioners, the government officers—the tribe of mercenary English opportunists who not only failed to perform the jobs they were paid for but even stepped out of their way to injure the country that fed them. Eventually, Swift would be tempted to exclude the resident landlords themselves from the productive body because of their irresponsibility, oppressiveness, and greed; but that was a turn he was not yet ready to take.
If one keeps in mind this implicit distinction between productive and unproductive men, the word "people" may have at least two senses. One is the "true English" minority to
which Swift belonged: the Anglican descendants of English families who had come over and taken possession of the country. The other is the nobility, farmers, artisans, and so forth who lived in the kingdom and contributed to its prosperity. Certainly, those whom the Drapier tried to combine against Wood's patent included Roman Catholics and Presbyterians.
So it seems fair to say that Swift's arguments brought all the productive and public-spirited men of Ireland together in a bloc defying the oppressors of their country. The boundaries between Whig and Tory, High Church and Low Church, no longer concern the Dean of St. Patrick's (though he was to revert to them repeatedly and bitterly in controversies of church and state). A greater principle, the salvation of the people, has transcended them.
I think it no accident that in this Fifth Letter Swift made the most of his old game of masks, flaunting the pretense that the author is a drapier, and making an allegory of his autobiography. In a series of paragraphs devoted to this transparent impersonation, Swift reviews his career as an Irish patriot by talking about his pamphlets as if they were pieces of cloth. Speaking of the success of the Third Letter , he says,
This incited me so far, that I ventured upon a Fourth Piece made of the best Irish Wooll I could get, and I thought it Grave and Rich enough to be worn by the best Lord or Judge of the Land. But of late some Great Folks complain as I hear, that when they had it on, they felt a Shuddering in their Limbs , and have thrown it off in a Rage, cursing to Hell the poor Drapier who invented it, so that I am determined never to work for Persons of Quality again, except for your Lordship and a very few more .
(Drapier , p. 103)
When the game of impersonation erupts in this pamphlet, Swift treats his various past performances in the Irish interest as due to separate authors, and he even mentions conversations which the Drapier had with a certain "Dean," who is of course Swift. Few readers would not have known that the Dean and
all these authors were one and the same person. The effect of the transparent disguises is to imply the danger of the Drapier's work and his insouciance in meeting it. But Swift also implies that while the single, heroic, humble patriot did the job of a multitude, the men of rank refused to take any risk for the sake of their nation.
If we look beyond the five letters published in 1724 and 1725, I think we shall find Swift staying on course. In a Drapier's Letter composed in 1725 but only published ten years later, he went over a number of practical measures for improving the Irish economy even within the grotesque limits set by England. Here Swift gave concentrated attention to the irresponsibility of the nobility and gentry who lived and spent their income abroad (pp. 158–60); and he ended the whole essay with a sentiment which was to be echoed by the King of Brobdingnag:
And I shall never forget what I once ventured to say to a great Man in England ; That few Politicians , with all their Schemes, are half so useful Members of a Commonwealth, as an honest Farmer ; who, by skilfully draining, fencing, manuring and planting, hath increased the intrinsick Value of a Piece of Land. . . .
The identification of productiveness with virtue, and Swift's sympathy with the common people, led to a further turn when he acknowledged that the landlords themselves were to blame for the misery of the kingdom. A few years after writing the Drapier's Letters , Swift produced A Modest Proposal , in which not the English government but the feckless Anglican gentry of Ireland found themselves condemned as butchers of their fellow countrymen. Still later, in one of his last and most savage poems, The Legion Club , Swift denounced the irresponsibility of that very House of Commons which he had celebrated as the Drapier and which was the organ by which the gentry (along with the nobility) governed the country.
It would not be hard to show that Swift's sympathy with the common people deepened during this same period. But I
shall offer only one rather moving piece of evidence. In the original form of the Fifth Letter , the Drapier spoke of "the rabble" as being eager to destroy images of William Wood. For the 1735 edition of his works, Swift emended the expression from "rabble" to "my faithful Friends the Common People" (Drapier , p. 110n).