(1697?–1725), and his wife Sarah (fl.
During his time in prison his wife Sarah Harding took over the printing business, printing a pamphlet sometimes attributed to Swift, The present miserable state of Ireland (1721). She was the daughter of Elizabeth Sadlier , a prominent Dublin printer, and it is possible that Harding's marriage to Sarah introduced him to the printing business. John Harding was released again later in 1721, and later in the same year was employed by Swift for the first time, publishing half-page protests against the proposed bank of Ireland. Swift's choice of Harding seems to have been motivated not by Harding's publishing skills – he was not a particularly refined printer – but because of his willingness to ‘issue ephemeral, adventurous, even dangerous papers of controversy’ (Woolley, ‘Sarah Harding’, 167). He was also known for his tory sympathies and had published reports on the Atterbury conspiracy in 1722, ‘feeding the political rumour mill’ and causing discomfort to the Dublin Castle administration (Sherry, ‘The present horrid conspiracy’, 156).
The most dangerous papers produced by the Hardings were Swift's Drapier's letters (1723–5). John Harding had already courted controversy in 1723 when he falsely suggested in his newspaper that the value of the existing gold coinage was falling. This led to his being prosecuted by the Irish privy council and a short spell in prison from 16 November 1723 to late February 1724. The publication of the fourth ‘Drapier's letter’, To the whole people of Ireland (October 1724), however, caused a much greater storm. A reward of £300 was offered for the discovery of the author, while both Hardings were arrested and put on trial in November. Perhaps influenced by Swift's Seasonable advice to the grand jury (1724) the jury failed to convict, and contrary to precedent the chief justice, William Whitshed, dismissed them. Harding seems to have remained in jail, but the evidence is patchy and it seems doubtful that he died in prison, as has been traditionally thought. He died 19 April 1725, his health ruined by his bouts of imprisonment. In perhaps a final act of defiance, his son was baptised John Draper Harding in May of that year.
Sarah Harding continued her husband's printing business after his death, and she continued to be retained by Swift, perhaps in deference to her husband's suffering on his behalf. In 1726 a poem was published, under her mother's imprint, suggesting that she was in need of charity and that she had been forgotten by the Drapier. This was perhaps unfair, as Swift continued to support her, even after another stint in prison for printing ‘an impudent and insolent paper’ entitled On wisdoms defeat in a learned debate (1725) (Hayton (ed.), Coghill letters, 25). This pamphlet, sometimes attributed to Swift, was burned by the common hangman.
In 1728 she published Swift's A short view of the present state of Ireland, and in the same year she was engaged to print the periodical of Swift and Thomas Sheridan (qv), The Intelligencer. Their choice of printer was partly motivated by her past services and her impoverished condition. In an advertisement Sheridan wrote: ‘that the widow, the printer of these papers, who did likewise print the Drapier's letters, must be enabled by charitable encouragements to keep a merry Christmas, for she and her family were ruined by inopportune imprisonments and hardship for printing those papers, which were to the advantage of the kingdom in general’ (Intelligencer, 201).
Sarah Harding's last major publication was Swift's A modest proposal (1729). George Faulkner (qv) replaced her as the dean's printer, while Harding remarried, marrying another Dublin printer, Nicholas Hussey, who like Harding had his premises on Fishamble St. It is not known when she died.