Drapier's Letters

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VIII | Start of Chapter

Whether the patent was properly granted or whether the new coinage was calculated to debase the currency of the country and to damage its trade are questions now of no greater importance than whether William Wood himself was a man of the highest reputation and a desirable acquaintance for highly-placed statesmen. Our interest is entirely in the fact that the agitation against the patent was suddenly brought to a height by a letter published in Dublin addressed "To the Shopkeepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common People of Ireland concerning the brass halfpence coined by one William Wood," and signed "M. B. Drapier." This was the first of the famous series known as the Drapier's Letters, which created in Ireland a combined agitation among all classes such as had never been known before. The author assumed for the time the character of an honest trader aroused to irrepressible wrath by the base attempt of a Government favourite to damage the trade of Ireland and make dishonest money for himself by the issue of base coin. Swift converted the whole dispute into a great national question for Ireland. He positively excelled himself in the vivacity and vigour of his satire, in the variety of humorous illustrations by which he enlivened his pages, and the manner in which he held up to ridicule the pleadings of those who strove to justify the patent. The very exaggeration in which Swift revelled when describing the probable effects of Wood's halfpence upon Irish trade is a sort of literary art, and is well worthy of the great author who told of Gulliver's Travels.