First London Edition of the Drapier Letters
The Hibernian Patriot: Being a Collection of the Drapier's Letters to the People of Ireland, Concerning Mr. Wood's Brass Half-Pence.
[London] Printed at Dublin. London Reprinted: A. Moor [i.e. William Bowyer], 1730.
First London edition. [viii], 264 pp. 8vo. First London Edition of the Drapier Letters. Contemporary Cambridge calf. Lacking spine label, rubbed, front cover detached, rear joint cracked Goldsmiths' 6798; Kress 3901; Rothschild 2095; Teerink 22. Item #308183
The first London edition of Swift’s pseudonymous letters, first issued separately in 1724, then collected first by the Dublin edition of 1725 under the title Fraud Detected.
In 1722, the English Parliament granted to one William Wood, mine-owner and iron-monger, the right to coin the extravagant sum of £100,000 in copper half-pence. Swift was outraged at what he perceived not only as a swindle to advance the interests of a particular moneyed class, but also as one more example of the monstrous tyranny exercised by England over the Irish. In the persona of a humble shopkeeper, Swift attacked the proposal on several sound economic grounds and pushed his conclusions to their logical and absurd consequences. Having calculated the real (as opposed to the nominal) value of Wood’s half-pence, and taking it for granted that bad money drives out good, Swift concludes hilariously that a lady going out shopping will need to be ”followed by a Car loaded with Mr. Wood’s money,” and that a banker will need twelve hundred horse to carry the cash he needs in his bank. But there is also a thunderously Swiftian appeal to freedom:
“Were not the people of Ireland born as free as those of England? How have they foreited their Freedom? Is not their Parliament as fair a Representative of the People, as that of England? And hath not their Privy Council as great or a greater share in the Administration of publick Affairs? Are they not subjects of the same King? Does not the same Sun shine over them? And have they not the same God for their Protector? Am I a Free-Man in England, and do I become a Slave in six hours by crossing the Channel?”
Swift’s “Drapier” urges a boycott of Wood’s coins upon his countrymen: “If a Madman should come to my Shop with a Handful of Dirt raked out of the Kennel, and offer it in payment for Ten Yards of Stuff, I would Pity or Laugh at him, or, if his Behaviour deserved it, kick him out of my Doors. And if Mr. Wood comes to demand any Gold or Silver, or Commodities for which I have payed my Gold and Silver, in Exchange for his Trash, can he deserve or expect better treatment?”
Swift’s publication fanned the flames of controversy both in Ireland and England; and his victory was complete when by the end of August 1725, Wood’s grant was withdrawn. “Precisely to what extent Swift had been instrumental in bringing it about can never be assessed. It is certain that he had many able helpers, as it is clear that the populace gave him pre-eminence, so that for the rest of his life he was the people’s idol…” (Dobrée, English Literature in the Early Nineteenth Century 1700-1740, p. 439).
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