A Modest Proposal
- Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup by Staff and Research Assistants at The University of Virginia, John O'Brien, Sara Brunstetter
SourcesIreland : ,
Research informing these annotations draws on publicly-accessible resources, with links provided where possible. Annotations have also included common knowledge, defined as information that can be found in multiple reliable sources. If you notice an error in these annotations, please contact email@example.com.
Original spelling and capitalization is retained, though the long s has been silently modernized and ligatured forms are not encoded.
Hyphenation has not been retained, except where necessary for the sense of the word.
Page breaks have been retained. Catchwords, signatures, and running headers have not. Where pages break in the middle of a word, the complete word has been indicated prior to the page beginning.
Materials have been transcribed from and checked against first editions, where possible. See the Sources section.
CitationSwift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal; For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick, , 1729 . Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. http://anthology.lib.virginia.edu/work/data/Swift/swift-modest-proposal. Accessed: 2023-03-25T17:53:52.589Z
For preventing the
From being a
Burthen to their parents,
For making them Beneficial to the
by Dr. SWIFT
Dublin, printed by S. Harding:
London, Re-printed; and sold by J. Roberts
in Warwick-lane, and the Pamphlet-Shops
It is a melancholly Object to those, who walk through this great Town, or travel
in the Country, when they see the streets, the roads, and the 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 lively-hood, 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 common-wealth, would
deserve so well of the publick, as to have his Statue set up for a preserver of
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 Cloathing 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 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 Substract 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 Substract fifty Thousand, for those Women who miscarry, or whose
Children dye by accident or disease within the Year. There only remain an
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 Lively-hood 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
lyable to the least Objection.
I have been assured by a very knowing Americanof 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 Boyled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, 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 Mrriage, 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 tollerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 Pound.
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 Beggars 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 stay 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 supplyed 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
School-boys, 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, however so well
But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put
into his head by the famous Sallmanaazor, 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 Play-House 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
imploy 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 degressed, 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 over-run, 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 Tythes against their Conscience
to an Episcopal Curate.
Secondly, the poorer Tenants will have something valuable
of their own, which by Law may be made lyable to a Distress, and help to pay
their Landlord's Rent, their Corn and Cattle being already seazed, and Money a thing unknown.
Thirdly, Whereas the Maintainance of an 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 Manufacture.
Fourthly, The constant Breeders, besides the gain of
Eight Shillings ster. 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 Carcases in our exportation of Barreled Beef. The Propagation of Swines 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 Carcases, 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 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 disoblinging
England. For this kind of Commodity will not bear Exportation, and
Flesh being of too tender a Consistance, 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 Subsi-stance put into a common Stock, would
leave them in Debt two Million of Pounds Sterl, 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 Land-lords, the
impossibility of paying Rent without Money or Trade, the want of common
Sustenance, with neither House nor Cloaths 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