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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2021

David Hayton
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
Adam Rounce
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

The appearance of the Drapier's Letters in 1724 had transformed Swift's standing as a public figure in Ireland, and restored his reputation as a political commentator to the vertiginous heights previously reached by The Conduct of the Allies, written for Robert Harley's Tory administration in England in November 1711. Nothing he published after the Drapier's Letters had the same political impact. This judgement applies even to the Modest Proposal, which in retrospect was recognised as by some distance themost important of his writings on public affairs after 1725, but which received a relatively muted reception in Ireland when it first appeared. Indeed, in many of the works included in this volume (which excludes publications on purely ecclesiastical subjects), Swift was in effect re-treading old ground. His observations on the state of the Irish economy reiterated the pessimistic assessment which he had consistently articulated in the years following his exile to the deanery of St Patrick's in 1713, and which had been given a particularly sharp edge in the arguments of the Drapier. He saw Ireland's problems – the backwardness of agriculture, the decline in manufacture and trade, the scarcity of money, even the moral inadequacies of the people – as deriving ultimately from the kingdom's constitutional inferiority, and the way in which this had been, and was still being, exploited by ministers and Parliaments at Westminster to protect English interests and disadvantage the inhabitants of Ireland. But after the withdrawal of ‘Wood's Halfpence’ in 1725 the debate in Ireland over political economy moved on, and took a more constructive turn. A succession of poor harvests from 1727 to 1728 triggered subsistence crises, resulting in the impoverishment and near starvation of small farmers and labourers in the countryside, hosts of beggars on the streets of Dublin, and renewed (and overwhelmingly Protestant) emigration from Ulster to north America. In response, other commentators revisited the fundamental causes of Ireland's woes, and offered variations on Swift's themes. Pamphleteers and parliamentarians discussed ways in which Ireland might be ‘improved’, and in 1731 these would-be ‘improvers’ founded theDublin Society, a forum for the exchange of ideas and information, with the intention that it should become an engine of economic development.

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Irish Political Writings after 1725
A Modest Proposal and Other Works
, pp. xxiii - cviii
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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  • Introduction
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Edited by David Hayton, Queen's University Belfast, Adam Rounce, University of Nottingham
  • Book: Irish Political Writings after 1725
  • Online publication: 02 September 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781139046060.003
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  • Introduction
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Edited by David Hayton, Queen's University Belfast, Adam Rounce, University of Nottingham
  • Book: Irish Political Writings after 1725
  • Online publication: 02 September 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781139046060.003
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Edited by David Hayton, Queen's University Belfast, Adam Rounce, University of Nottingham
  • Book: Irish Political Writings after 1725
  • Online publication: 02 September 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781139046060.003
Available formats
×