Political pamphleteering was a fashionable pastime in Swift's day, which saw vast numbers of tracts and essays advancing political opinions and proposing remedies for Ireland's economic and social ills. Swift's tract parodies the style and method of these, and the grim irony of his own solution reveals his personal despair at the failure of all this paper journalism to achieve any actual progress. His piece protests the utter inefficacy of Irish political leadership, and it also attacks the orientation of so many contemporary reformers toward economic utilitarianism. While Swift himself was an astute economic thinker, he often expressed contempt for the application of supposedly scientific management ideas to humanitarian concerns.
Fry’s rendition of this sonnet might be re-evaluated if we knew that the author was speaking of the higher sense of “mistress”, ., Queen Elizabeth (roses red and white?), her wig-hair (“black wires grow on her head”). And that in turn suggests that the writer was far higher in station than the cock and bull story that a commoner could speak so familiarly of the Queen and chide a high noble Southampton. That the author “loves” his “mistress”, there is no doubt. But the love is allegiance and fealty. She isn’t exactly a thing of beauty. He describes his love for her as “rare”, a term understood then to indicate high spirituality, even to royal fineness of spirit. In other words, his loyalty is finer than any of her vain pretenses, manufactured falsely for the world.