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Shvoong Home>Books>The Drapier's Letters Review

The Drapier's Letters

Book Review   by:axial     Original Author: Jonathon Swift
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Write your abstract here. A book whose plotline evolved as it was written, in fact a book which owes its existence to the protracted character of the dispute it engages, DRAPIER'S LETTERS is simultaneously a masterpiece of fact and fiction. The Drapier, Swift's persona through most of the letters, is a masterpiece of characterization, as are all Swift's voices. (How good was Swift at assuming voices not his own? A professor I know once demonstrated to a class, by every available method of textual analysis and scansion, that five passages from Swift with different narrators were written by five different people. Computer analysis I'm certain would tell you the same.) The facts exposed in the letters, on the other hand, are as rigorously and meticulously factual as is humanly possible---certainly Swift observes a far higher standard than is common in comparably polemical works. (To recognize what a creation is the downright, honest (not always grammatically or syntactically pinpoint) voice of the Drapier, simply contrast it with Swift writing in his own voice in A Letter to the Lord Chancellor Middleton.) the first point at issue in the Drapier's Letters was a request made in Ireland to the Crown in England to coin a new issue of farthings and halfpence. England's Crown (and Parliament) were pleased to award the commission to an Englishman, William Wood, whom the Irish Parliament promptly complained of since nobody in Ireland knew or trusted him, and there were Irish candidates eager to serve at a less rate of profit. Besides it soon appeared that Wood's coins were seriously underweight and easy to counterfeit. Swift made no doubt Wood, who was guaranteed a gouging profit simply on the short weights, would not fall behind others in counterfeiting his own coins.
Such a flood of these undervalued coins and their raps would soon strip Ireland of every gold and silver coin that could be offered in exchange, plus its wool and other goods. Ireland, whose economy was already depressed, would be ruined in perpetuity. The second point became more crucial to Swift as the campaign went on and he saw what lengths the English were prepared to go to force Wood's halfpence on a nation united in its determination not to have them. It was Ireland's status, in English eyes, as a 'depending kingdom'---in all but name, a nation of slaves. England saw a real risk of its supremacy over Ireland slipping to a mere equality if resistance on a point such as this could be sustained against it---therefore it was declared treasonous to oppose Wood's halfpence and farthings further. This was the moment to pull back if you feared the hangman's noose. It was the moment to stand forth more boldly than ever if you wanted to help Ireland (should it wish) reclaim its independence. This was the moment when Swift spoke out most boldly; stepped out from behind the Drapier's mask, to speak in his own voice unmistakably. (This is a work Canada's own Northrop Frye repeatedly declared a dated and negligible piece of propaganda.)
Published: August 21, 2005   
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