Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Irish Misery
By Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
From A Short View of the State of Ireland

NOW, if all this be true (upon which I could easily enlarge), I should be glad to know, by what secret method it is that we grow a rich and flourishing people, without liberty, trade, manufactures, inhabitants, money, or the privilege of coining; without industry, labour, or improvement of land; and with more than half the rent and profits of the whole kingdom annually exported, for which we receive not a single farthing: and to make up all this, nothing worth mentioning, except the linen of the North, a trade, casual, corrupted, and at mercy; and some butter from Cork. If we do flourish, it must be against every law of nature and reason; like the thorn at Glastonbury, that blossoms in the midst of winter.
  Let the worthy commissioners who come from England ride round the kingdom, and observe the face of nature, or the fare of the natives; the improvement of the land; the thriving numerous plantations; the noble woods; the abundance and vicinity of country seats; the commodious farms, houses, and barns; the towns and villages, where everybody is busy, and thriving with all kind of manufactures; the shops full of goods wrought to perfection, and filled with customers; the comfortable diet, and dress, and dwellings of the people; the vast number of ships in our harbours and docks, and shipwrights in our seaport towns; the roads crowded with carriers laden with rich manufactures; the perpetual concourse to and fro of pompous equipages.  2
  With what envy and admiration would those gentlemen return from so delightful a progress! what glorious reports would they make, when they went back to England!  3
  But my heart is too heavy to continue this irony longer; for it is manifest, that whatever stranger took such a journey, would be apt to think himself travelling in Lapland or Ysland, rather than in a country so favoured by nature as ours, both in fruitfulness of soil and temperature of climate. The miserable dress, and diet, and dwelling of the people; the general desolation in most parts of the kingdom; the old seats of the nobility and gentry all in ruins, and no new ones in their stead; the families of farmers, who pay great rents, living in filth and nastiness upon butter-milk and potatoes, without a shoe or stocking to their feet, or a house so convenient as an English hog-sty to receive them. These indeed may be comfortable sights to an English spectator, who comes for a short time, only to learn the language, and returns back to his own country, whither he finds all his wealth transmitted.
        Nostra miseria magna est.
  There is not one argument used to prove the riches of Ireland, which is not a logical demonstration of its poverty. The rise of our rents is squeezed out of the very blood, and vitals, and clothes, and dwellings of the tenants, who live worse than English beggars. The lowness of interest, in all other countries a sign of wealth, is in us a proof of misery; there being no trade to employ any borrower. Hence alone comes the dearness of land; since the savers have no other way to lay out their money: hence the dearness of necessaries of life; because the tenants cannot afford to pay such extravagant rates for land (which they must take, or go a-begging), without raising the price of cattle and of corn, although themselves should live upon chaff. Hence our increase of building in this city; because workmen have nothing to do but to employ one another, and one half of them are infallibly undone. Hence the daily increase of bankers, who may be a necessary evil in a trading country, but so ruinous in ours; who, for their private advantage, have sent away all our silver, and one third of our gold; so that within three years past the running cash of the nation, which was about five hundred thousand pounds, is now less than two, and must daily diminish, unless we have liberty to coin, as well as that important kingdom the Isle of Man, and the meanest principality in the German empire, as I before observed.  5

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