A Modest Proposal
(too old to reply)
Nomen Nescio
2014-11-26 02:03:14 UTC
A Modest Proposal

For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland
From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and
For Making Them Beneficial to The Public

By Jonathan Swift (1729)

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great
town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and
cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three,
four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for
an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest
livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg
sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn
thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight
for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of
children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers,
and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of
the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever
could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children
sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the
public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the
children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and shall
take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of
parents in effect as little able to support them as those who demand our
charity in the streets.

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in
London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most
delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted,
baked, or boiled ...”

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this
important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other
projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the
computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be
supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment;
at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get,
or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is
exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a
manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or
wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the
contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will
prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women
murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us!
sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense
than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and
inhuman breast.

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million
and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand
couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty
thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children, although I
apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the
kingdom; but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and
seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those
women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within
the year. There only remains one hundred and twenty thousand children of
poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, how this number
shall be reared and provided for, which, as I have already said, under
the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the
methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft
or agriculture; we neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor
cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing,
till they arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly
parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during
which time, they can however be properly looked upon only as
probationers, as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the
county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two
instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so
renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years
old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they
will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half-a-crown at
most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents
or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four
times that value.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will
not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in
London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most
delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted,
baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a
fricassee or a ragout.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the
hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand
may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males;
which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my
reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a
circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will
be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand
may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and
fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck
plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a
good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for
friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will
make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will
be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium that a child just born will weigh 12
pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for
landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem
to have the best title to the children.

Infant's flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful
in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave
author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolific diet,
there are more children born in Roman Catholic countries about nine
months after Lent than at any other season; therefore, reckoning a year
after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the
number of popish infants is at least three to one in this kingdom: and
therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the
number of papists among us.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which
list I reckon all cottagers, laborers, and four-fifths of the farmers)
to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no
gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good
fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent
nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend or his own
family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good
landlord, and grow popular among his tenants; the mother will have eight
shillings net profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may
flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make
admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.

As to our city of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose in
the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not
be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and
dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I
highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer
a refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this
kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want
of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and
maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so great
a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for
want of work and service; and these to be disposed of by their parents,
if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with due
deference to so excellent a friend and so deserving a patriot, I cannot
be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American
acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, that their flesh was
generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys by continual
exercise, and their taste disagreeable; and to fatten them would not
answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with
humble submission be a loss to the public, because they soon would
become breeders themselves; and besides, it is not improbable that some
scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice (although
indeed very unjustly), as a little bordering upon cruelty; which, I
confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any
project, however so well intended.

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed that this expedient was
put into his head by the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island
Formosa, who came from thence to London above twenty years ago, and in
conversation told my friend, that in his country when any young person
happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons
of quality as a prime dainty; and that in his time the body of a plump
girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the emperor,
was sold to his imperial majesty's prime minister of state, and other
great mandarins of the court, in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred
crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of
several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to
their fortunes cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at
playhouse and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay
for, the kingdom would not be the worse.

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast
number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have
been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the
nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in the least pain
upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every day
dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as
can be reasonably expected. And as to the young laborers, they are now
in as hopeful a condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine
away for want of nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are
accidentally hired to common labor, they have not strength to perform
it; and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the
evils to come.

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I
think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and
many, as well as of the highest importance.

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the
number of papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal
breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous enemies; and who
stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the
Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many good
protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country than stay at
home and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate.

Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own,
which by law may be made liable to distress and help to pay their
landlord's rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a
thing unknown.

Thirdly, Whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand children, from
two years old and upward, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings
a-piece per annum, the nation's stock will be thereby increased fifty
thousand pounds per annum, beside the profit of a new dish introduced to
the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom who have any
refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among ourselves, the
goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.

Fourthly, The constant breeders, beside the gain of eight shillings
sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the
charge of maintaining them after the first year.

Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns; where
the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best
receipts for dressing it to perfection, and consequently have their
houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves
upon their knowledge in good eating: and a skilful cook, who understands
how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they

Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise
nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and
penalties. It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers toward
their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor
babes, provided in some sort by the public, to their annual profit
instead of expense. We should see an honest emulation among the married
women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men
would become as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy
as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, their sows
when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too
frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of
some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barreled beef, the
propagation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making good
bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too
frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or
magnificence to a well-grown, fat, yearling child, which roasted whole
will make a considerable figure at a lord mayor's feast or any other
public entertainment. But this and many others I omit, being studious of

Supposing that one thousand families in this city, would be constant
customers for infants flesh, besides others who might have it at merry
meetings, particularly at weddings and christenings, I compute that
Dublin would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses; and the
rest of the kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper)
the remaining eighty thousand.

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against
this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will
be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and 'twas
indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the
reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual
Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think,
ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other
expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using
neither cloaths, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own
growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and
instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of
pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein
of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country,
wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of
Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any
longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment
their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country
and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one
degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of
honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution
could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite
to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness,
nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing,
though often and earnestly invited to it.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like
expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will
ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

But, as to my self, having been wearied out for many years with offering
vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of
success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly
new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expence and little
trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in
disobliging England. For this kind of commodity will not bear
exportation, and flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a
long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which
would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject
any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent,
cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be
advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire
the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points.
First, as things now stand, how they will be able to find food and
raiment for an hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly,
there being a round million of creatures in human figure throughout this
kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock would leave
them in debt two millions of pounds sterling, adding those who are
beggars by profession to the bulk of farmers, cottagers, and laborers,
with their wives and children who are beggars in effect: I desire those
politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold as to
attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these
mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness
to have been sold for food, at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and
thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as they have
since gone through by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of
paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with
neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the
weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the like or
greater miseries upon their breed for ever.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least
personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having
no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our
trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some
pleasure to the rich. I have no children by which I can propose to get a
single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past

The End

Note: Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), author and satirist, famous for
Gulliver's Travels (1726) and A Modest Proposal (1729). This proposal,
where he suggests that the Irish eat their own children, is one of his
most drastic pieces. He devoted much of his writing to the struggle for
Ireland against the English hegemony.
Keith Keller
2014-11-26 02:28:56 UTC
["Followup-To:" header set to ba.food.]
Post by Nomen Nescio
A Modest Proposal
For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland
From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and
For Making Them Beneficial to The Public
I hope those are free range artisinal kids.

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