Drapier’s Letters is the collective name for a series of seven pamphlets written between 1724 and 1725 by the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Jonathan Swift, to arouse public opinion in Ireland against the imposition of a privately minted copper coinage that Swift believed to be of inferior quality. William Wood was granted letters patent to mint the coin, and Swift saw the licensing of the patent as corrupt. In response, Swift represented Ireland as constitutionally and financially independent of Britain in the Drapier’s Letters. Since the subject was politically sensitive, Swift wrote under the pseudonym M. B., Drapier, to hide from retaliation.
Although the letters were condemned by the Irish government, with prompting from the British government, they were still able to inspire popular sentiment against Wood and his patent. The popular sentiment turned into a nationwide boycott, which forced the patent to be withdrawn; Swift was later honoured for this service to the people of Ireland. Many Irish people recognised Swift as a hero for his defiance of British control over the Irish nation. Beyond being a hero, many critics have seen Swift, through the persona of the Drapier, as the first to organise a “more universal Irish community”. Regardless of whom Swift is actually appealing to or what he may or may not have done, the nickname provided by Archbishop King, “Our Irish Copper-Farthen Dean”, and his connection to ending the controversy stuck.
The first complete collection of the Drapier’s Letters appeared in the 1734 George Faulkner edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift along with an allegorical frontispiece offering praise and thanks from the Irish people. Today, the Drapier’s Letters are an important part of Swift’s political writings, along with Gulliver’s Travels (1726), A Tale of a Tub (1704), and A Modest Proposal (1729).
Image: Title page of the 1735 Works. The author is in the Dean’s chair receiving the thanks of Ireland. The motto reads, “I have made a monument more lasting than bronze.” The word “Ære” means “bronze” or “metal” or “honour” or “air” in Latin and may be a pun on the Irish word for Ireland Éire so that a parallel meaning could mean “I have made a monument to Ireland Forever.” Swift was familiar with the Irish language, and translated at least one poem by Carolan, “O’Rorke’s Feast.” The phrase comes from Horace’s Carmina.
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