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Jonathan Swift - Modest Proposal

8. 9. 2008

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. 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 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 common-wealth, 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 cloathing

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 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 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; 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



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 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 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 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 prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman

Catholick countries about nine months 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 flea the carcass; the skin of which, artificially dressed,

will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine



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

supply'd 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, how well soever intended.


But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this

expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, 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 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 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

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 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 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 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 sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or

kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a



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

yearly 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



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 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 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-bearing.






End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of A Modest Proposal, by Swift




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