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    The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift

    This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and
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    Title: A Modest Proposal
    For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from
    being a burden on their parents or country, and for making
    them beneficial to the publick

    Author: Jonathan Swift

    Release Date: October, 1997 [eBook #1080]
    [Most recently updated: October 17, 2019]

    Language: English

    Character set encoding: UTF-8

    Produced by: An Anonymous Volunteer and David Widger


    A Modest Proposal

    For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland,
    from being a burden on their parents or country,
    and for making them beneficial to the publick.

    by Dr. Jonathan Swift


    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
    cabbin-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 stroling 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 and useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so
    well of the publick, 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.

    As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this
    important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our
    projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their
    computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, may be
    supported by her milk, for a solar year, with little other nourishment:
    at most not above the value of two shillings, 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 thousands.

    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 expence
    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 couple, 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 a
    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 remain a 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; they 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 saleable 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 nutriments 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
    fricasee, or a ragoust.

    I do therefore humbly offer it to publick 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 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, encreaseth to 28

    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 prolifick
    dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick 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, labourers, 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 neat 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 county 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 publick, 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, how well soever intended.

    But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient
    was put into his head by the famous Psalmanaazor, 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 a 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 incumbrance. 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
    labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot
    get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a
    degree, that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common
    labour, 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

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

    Thirdly, Whereas the maintainance of a hundred thousand children, from
    two years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten
    shillings a piece per annum, the nation’s stock will be thereby
    encreased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides 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 our selves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and

    Fourthly, The constant breeders, besides 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 please.

    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 encrease the care and tenderness of mothers towards
    their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the
    poor babes, provided in some sort by the publick, to their annual
    profit instead of expence. We should soon 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, or 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 barrel’d 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
    publick entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being
    studious of brevity.

    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
    was 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 clothes, 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 shopkeepers, 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 myself, 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 a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly,
    There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout
    this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, would
    leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are
    beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers,
    with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I desire
    those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold
    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
    intailing 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 endeavouring to promote this necessary work,
    having no other motive than the publick 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 child-bearing.


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