Professor McBride has recently completed work on Irish Political Writings 1: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift. Several volumes of this new edition have already appeared, including two edited by distinguished Oxford scholars, Professor David Womersley and Dr Abigail Williams. This project is the culmination of many years of work. It involves a substantial introduction to the Drapier’s Letters and other Irish pamphlets (50,000 words), plus textual notes and bibliographical material (amounting to another 50,000 words). The latter sections involve a close study of Swift’s relations with his Dublin printers, but also the laborious task of historical collation – the comparison of multiple copies of each work, word by word, in twenty libraries in Ireland, Britain, the United States, Canada and New Zealand.
The volume brings new archival research and fresh scholarly approaches to the Drapier’s Letters, last published in fully annotated form by Herbert Davis in the 1930s. For the first time ever it offers a detailed scholarly edition of The Story of an Injured Lady and the Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture, complete with textual variations and notes, and it demonstrates how these important patriotic polemics emerge from Swift’s lifelong campaign against Dissenters in general and Scots Presbyterians in particular. These findings confirm my my central argument that Swift’s political and religious polemics should not be attributed to separate mental compartments.
The project has led to several spin-off articles. One of these, ‘Swift and the Sacramental Test: A New Attribution from 1719’ (Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 35 (2020), pp. 11-50) demonstrates that Swift was the author of an anonymous pamphlet entitled Some Considerations upon the Late Attempt to Repeal the Test Act (1719), and shows how the pamphlet marks a turning point in his polemical career. This was Swift’s first published Irish work, and reveals that the defence of the established Church of Ireland against liberal reform measures promoted by London ministers was crucial to the crystallising of his anti-English stance.
A second article appeared in Past & Present in 2019, entitled ‘The Politics of A Modest Proposal: Swift and the Irish Crisis of the Late 1720s’. AModest Proposal (1729) is widely regarded as the most brilliant satire in the English language. It is certainly the most notorious. Twice as many people search for it on Wikipedia as for Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), or John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689) or Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). By examining carefully the debates over the Irish economy that engaged Swift and his contemporaries during the 1720s the article explains why it was that Swift detested Irish landlords – the target of the satire – so ferociously, and why he came to see cannibalism as a fitting symbol of the perversity and self-destructive character of his fellow countrymen. It demonstrates that Swift’s best-known tract belongs to a wider clerical campaign against predatory landlords and graziers, which neither historians nor literary critics have previously investigated. This major article was accompanied by a blog piece for Past & Present examining Swift’s attitudes to the slave trade: ‘Swift, Locke and Slavery’.
Professor McBride is working on a final paper on Irish political debates, theories of English imperialism and Gulliver’s Travels, entitled ‘Swift against Empire’.