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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 onathan !"ift
#dited and annotated by ack $ynch
Swift was Irish, and though he much preferred living in England, he resented British
policies toward the Irish. In a letter to Pope of 1729, he wrote, Imagine a nation the
two!thirds of whose revenues are spent out of it, and who are not permitted to trade with
the other third, and where the pride of the women will not suffer "allow# them to wear
their own manufactures even where the$ e%cel what come from a&road' (his is the true
state of Ireland in a ver$ few words. )is support for Irish causes has made him a
renowned figure in modern Ireland. (he paragraph num&ers have &een added for this
"1# It is a melancholl$ *&+ect to those, who wal, through this great (own, 1 or travel in
the -ountr$, when the$ see the Streets, the Roads, and Cabbin-Doors, crowded with
Beggars of the female Se%, followed &$ three, four, or si% -hildren, all in Rags, and
importuning ever$ Passenger for an .lms. (hese Mothers instead of &eing a&le to wor,
for their honest livel$hood, are forced to emplo$ all their time in Stroling, to &eg
Sustenance for their helpless Infants, who, as the$ grow up either turn Thieves for want
of wor,, or leave their dear native Country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, 2 or sell
themselves to the Barbadoes. /
"2# I thin, it is agreed &$ all Parties, that this prodigious num&er of -hildren, in the
.rms, or on the Bac,s, or at the heels of their Mothers, and fre0uentl$ of their 1athers,
is in the present deplorable state of the Kingdom, a ver$ great additional grievance2 and
therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and eas$ method of ma,ing these
-hildren sound and useful 3em&ers of the common!wealth would deserve so well of
the pu&lic,, as to have his Statue set up for a preserver of the 4ation.
"/# But m$ Intention is ver$ far from &eing confined to provide onl$ for the -hildren of
professed beggars, it is of a much greater e%tent, and shall ta,e in the whole num&er of
Infants at a certain .ge, who are &orn of Parents in effect as little a&le to support them,
as those who demand our -harit$ in the Streets.
"5# .s to m$ own part, having turned m$ thoughts for man$ 6ears, upon this important
Su&+ect, and maturel$ weighed the several Shemes of other Pro!etors, 5 I have
alwa$s found them grossl$ mista,en in their computation. It is true a -hild, !ust dropt
from it"s Dam, 7 ma$ &e supported &$ her 3il,, for a Solar $ear with little other
4ourishment, at most not a&ove the 8alue of two Shillings, which the 3other ma$
certainl$ get, or the 8alue in Sraps, &$ her lawful *ccupation of &egging, and it is
e%actl$ at one $ear *ld that I propose to provide for them, in such a manner, as, instead
of &eing a -harge upon their Parents, or the Parish, 9 or #anting $ %ood and Raiment
for the rest of their :ives, the$ shall, on the -ontrar$, contri&ute to the 1eeding and
partl$ to the -loathing of man$ (housands.
"7# (here is li,ewise another great .dvantage in m$ Scheme, that it will prevent those
voluntary &bortions, and that horrid practice of 'omen murdering their Bastard
Children, alas; too fre0uent among us, Sacrificing the poor innoent Babes, I dou&t, <
more to avoid the E%pence, than the Shame, which would move (ears and Pit$ in the
most Savage and inhuman &reast.
"9# (he num&er of Souls in this =ingdom &eing usuall$ rec,oned one 3illion and a
half, *f these I calculate there ma$ &e a&out two hundred thousand -ouple whose
>ives are &reeders, from which num&er I Su&stract thirt$ (housand -ouples, who are
a&le to maintain their own -hildren, although I apprehend 9 there cannot &e so man$,
under the present distresses of the Kingdom, &ut this &eing granted, there will remain an
hundred and sevent$ thousand Breeders. I again Su&tract fift$ (housand for those
>omen who miscarr$, or whose -hildren d$e &$ accident, or disease within the 6ear.
(here onl$ remain an hundred and twent$ thousand -hildren of poor Parents annuall$
&orn' (he 0uestion therefore is, )ow this num&er shall &e reared, and provided for,
which, as I have alread$ said, under the present Situation of .ffairs, is utterl$
impossi&le &$ all the methods hitherto proposed, for we can neither employ them in
(andiraft, or &griulture2 we neither &uild )ouses, ?I mean in the -ountr$@ nor
cultivate :and' 1A the$ can ver$ seldom pic, up a :ivel$hood by Stealing until the$
arrive at si% $ears *ld, e%cept where the$ are of towardl$ parts, 11 although, I confess
the$ learn the Budiments much earlier2 during which time the$ can however &e properl$
loo,ed upon onl$ as Probationers, as I have &een informed &$ a principal Centleman in
the -ount$ of Cavan, who protested to me, that he never ,new a&ove one or two
Instances under the .ge of si%, even in a part of the =ingdom so reno#ned for the
)ui*est profiieny in that &rt.
"7# I am assured &$ our 3erchants, that a Bo$ or Cirl, &efore twelve $ears *ld, is no
salea&le -ommodit$, and even when the$ come to this .ge, the$ will not $ield a&ove
three Pounds, or three Pounds and half a -rown at most on the E%change, which cannot
turn to .ccount either to the Parents or the =ingdom, the -harge of 4utriments and
Bags having &een at least four times that 8alue.
"<# I shall now therefore hum&l$ propose m$ own thoughts, which I hope will not &e
l$a&le to the least *&+ection.
"9# I have &een assured &$ a ver$ ,nowing &merian of m$ ac0uaintance in +ondon,
that a $oung health$ -hild well 4ursed is at a $ear *ld, a most delicious, nourishing,
and wholesome 1ood, whether Ste#ed, Roasted, Ba*ed, or Boyled, and I ma,e no dou&t
that it will e0uall$ serve in a %riasie, or Ragoust. 12
"1A# I do therefore hum&l$ offer it to publi* onsideration, that of the hundred and
twent$ thousand -hildren, alread$ computed, twent$ thousand ma$ &e reserved for
Breed, whereof onl$ one fourth part to &e 3ales, which is more than we allow to Sheep,
bla* Cattle, or S#ine, and m$ reason is, that these -hildren are seldom the 1ruits of
3arriage, a Cirumstane not muh regarded by our Savages, therefore, one Male will
&e sufficient to serve four %emales. (hat the remaining hundred thousand ma$ at a $ear
*ld &e offered in Sale to the persons of ,uality, 1/ and %ortune, through the =ingdom,
alwa$s advising the 3other to let them Suc, plentifull$ in the last 3onth, so as to
render them Plump, and 1at for a good (a&le. . -hild will ma,e two Dishes at an
Entertainment for 1riends, and when the 1amil$ dines alone, the fore or hind Euarter
will ma,e a reasona&le Dish, and seasoned with a little Pepper or Salt will &e ver$ good
Boiled on the fourth Da$, especiall$ in 'inter.
"11# I have rec,oned upon a 3edium, that a -hild +ust &orn will weigh 12 pounds, and
in a solar 6ear if tollera&l$ nursed encreaseth to 2< Pounds.
"12# I grant this food will &e somewhat dear, 15 and therefore ver$ proper for
+andlords, 17 who, as the$ have alread$ devoured most of the Parents, seem to have
the &est (itle to the -hildren.
"1/# InfantFs flesh will &e in Season throughout the 6ear, &ut more plentiful in Marh,
and a little &efore and after2 for we are told &$ a grave .uthor 19 an eminent %renh
ph$sitian, that %ish being a prolifi* Dyet, there are more -hildren &orn in Roman
Catholi* Countries a&out nine 3onths after +ent, than at an$ other Season, therefore
rec,oning a 6ear after +ent, the 3ar,ets will &e more glutted than usual, &ecause the
4um&er of Popish Infants, is at least three to one in this =ingdom, and therefore it will
have one other -ollateral advantage &$ lessening the 4um&er of Papists among us.
"15# I have alread$ computed the -harge of nursing a Beggars -hild ?in which list I
rec,on all Cottagers, +abourers, and four fifths of the %armers@ to &e a&out two
Shillings per &nnum, Bags included2 and I &elieve no Centleman would repine to give
(en Shillings for the Carass of a good fat Child, which, as I have said will ma,e four
Dishes of e%cellent 4utritive 3eat, when he hath onl$ some particular friend, or his
own 1amil$ to Dine with him. (hus the S0uire will learn to &e a good :andlord, and
grow popular among his (enants, the 3other will have Eight Shillings neat profit, and
&e fit for >or, till she produceth another -hild.
"17# (hose who are more thrift$ ?as I must onfess the Times re)uire@ ma$ fla$ the
-arcass2 the S,in of which, .rtificiall$ 17 dressed, will ma,e admira&le -loves for
+adies, and Summer Boots for fine -entlemen.
"19# .s to our -it$ of Dublin, Sham&les 1< ma$ &e appointed for this purpose, in the
most convenient parts of it, and Butchers we ma$ &e assured will not &e wanting,
although I rather recommend &u$ing the -hildren alive, and dressing them hot from the
=nife, as we do roasting Pigs.
"17# . ver$ worth$ Person, a true +over of his Country, and whose 8irtues I highl$
esteem, was latel$ pleased, in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement upon m$
Scheme. )e said, that man$ Centlemen of this =ingdom, having of late destro$ed their
Deer, he conceived that the want of 8enison might &e well suppl$ed &$ the Bodies of
$oung :ads and 3aidens, not e%ceeding fourteen 6ears of .ge, nor under twelve2 so
great a 4um&er of &oth Se%es in ever$ -ount$ &eing now read$ to Starve, for want of
>or, and Service' .nd these to &e disposed of &$ their Parents if alive, or otherwise &$
their nearest Belations. But with due deference to so e%cellent a friend, and so deserving
a Patriot, I cannot &e altogether in his Sentiments, for as to the 3ales, m$ &merian
ac0uaintance assured me from fre0uent E%perience, that their flesh was generall$ (ough
and :ean, li,e that of our School!&o$s, &$ continual e%ercise, and their (aste
disagreea&le, and to 1atten them would not answer the -harge. (hen as to the 1emales,
it would, I thin,, with hum&le Su&mission, be a loss to the Publi*, &ecause the$ soon
would &ecome Breeders themselves' .nd &esides it is not impro&a&le that some
scrupulous People might &e apt to -ensure such a Practice, ?although indeed ver$
un+ustl$@ as a little &ordering upon -ruelt$, which, I confess, hath alwa$s &een with me
the strongest o&+ection against an$ Pro+ect, how well soever intended.
"1<# But in order to +ustif$ m$ friend, he confessed, that this e%pedient was put into his
head &$ the famous Sallmanaa.or, 19 a 4ative of the Island %ormosa, who came from
thence to +ondon, a&ove twent$ 6ears ago, and in -onversation told m$ friend, that in
his -ountr$ when an$ $oung Person happened to &e put to Death, the E%ecutioner sold
the -arcass to Persons of ,uality, as a prime Daint$, and that, in his (ime, the Bod$ of
a plump Cirl of fifteen, who was crucif$ed for an attempt to Poison the Emperor, was
sold to his Imperial Ma!esty"s prime Minister of State, and other great Mandarins 2A of
the -ourt, in /oints from the -ibbet, 21 at four hundred -rowns. 4either indeed can I
den$, that if the same use were made of several plump $oung Cirls in this (own, who,
without one single Croat 22 to their 1ortunes, cannot stir a&road without a -hair, 2/
and appear at a Play-(ouse, and &ssemblies in 1oreign fineries, which the$ never will
Pa$ for2 the =ingdom would not &e the worse.
"19# Some Persons of a desponding Spirit are in great concern a&out that vast 4um&er
of poor People, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have &een desired to implo$
m$ thoughts what -ourse ma$ &e ta,en, to ease the 4ation of so grievous an
Incum&rance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, &ecause it is ver$ well
,nown, that the$ are ever$ Da$ dying, and rotting, &$ old, and famine, and filth, and
vermin, as fast as can &e reasona&l$ e%pected. .nd as to the $ounger :a&ourers the$ are
now in almost as hopeful a -ondition. (he$ cannot get >or,, and conse0uentl$ pine
awa$ from want of 4ourishment, to a degree, that if at an$ time the$ are accidentall$
hired to common :a&our, the$ have not strength to perform it, and thus the -ountr$ and
themselves are happil$ delivered from the Evils to come.
"2A# I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to m$ su&+ect. I thin, the
advantages &$ the Proposal which I have made are o&vious and man$, as well as of the
highest importance.
"21# 1or first, as I have alread$ o&served, it would greatl$ lessen the 0umber of Papists,
with whom we are 6earl$ over!run, &eing the principal Breeders of the 4ation, as well
as our most dangerous Enemies, and who sta$ at home on purpose with a design to
deliver the Kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to ta,e their .dvantage &$ the a&sence of
so many good Protestants, 25 who have chosen rather to leave their -ountr$, than sta$
at home, and pa$ ($thes against their Consiene, to an idolatrous 1pisopal Curate.
"22# Seondly, the poorer (enants will have something valua&le of their own, which &$
:aw ma$ &e made l$a&le to Distress, 27 and help to pa$ their :andlordFs Bent, their
-orn and -attle &eing alread$ seaGed, and Money a thing un*no#n.
"2/# Thirdly, >hereas the 3aintainance of an hundred thousand -hildren, from two
6ears old, and upwards, cannot &e computed at less than (en Shillings a piece per
&nnum, the 4ationFs Stoc, will &e there&$ encreased fift$ thousand pounds per &nnum,
&esides the profit of a new Dish, introduced to the (a&les of all -entlemen of %ortune in
the =ingdom, who have an$ refinement in (aste, and the 3one$ will circulate among
our selves, the Coods &eing entirel$ of our own Crowth and 3anufacture.
"25# %ourthly, (he constant Breeders, &esides the gain of Eight Shillings Sterling per
&nnum, &$ the Sale of their -hildren, will &e rid of the -harge of maintaining them after
the first 6ear.
"27# %ifthly, this food would li,ewise &ring great Custom to Taverns, where the 8intners
will certainl$ &e so prudent as to procure the &est receipts 29 for dressing it to
perfection, and conse0uentl$ have their )ouses fre0uented &$ all the fine -entlemen,
who +ustl$ value themselves upon their ,nowledge in good Eating, and a s,illful -oo,,
who understands how to o&lige his Cuests will contrive to ma,e it as e%pensive as the$
"29# Si2thly, (his would &e a great Inducement to 3arriage, which all wise 4ations
have either encouraged &$ Bewards, or enforced &$ :aws and Penalties. It would
encrease the care and tenderness of 3others towards their -hildren, when the$ were
sure of a Settlement for :ife, to the poor Ba&es, provided in some sort &$ the Pu&lic, to
their .nnual profit instead of E%pence, we should soon see an honest Emulation among
the married women, #hih of them ould bring the fattest Child to the Mar*et, 3en
would &ecome as fond of their 'ives, during the (ime of their Pregnanc$, as the$ are
now of their Mares in 1oal, their Co#s in -alf, or So#s when the$ are read$ to 1arrow,
nor offer to Beat or =ic, them ?as is too fre0uent a practice@ for fear of a 3iscarriage.
"27# 3an$ other advantages might &e enumerated' 1or Instance, the addition of some
thousand -arcases in our e%portation of Barreled Beef. (he Propagation of S#ines
%lesh, and Improvement in the .rt of ma,ing good Baon, so much wanted among us
&$ the great destruction of Pigs, too fre0uent at our (a&les, which are no wa$
compara&le in (aste, or 3agnificence to a well grown, fat 6earling -hild, which
Boasted whole will ma,e a considera&le 1igure at a +ord Mayor"s %east, or an$ other
Pu&lic, Entertainment. But this, and man$ others I omit &eing studious of Brevit$.
"2<# Supposing that one thousand 1amilies in this -it$, would &e constant -ustomers
for Infants 1lesh, &esides others who might have it at Merry-meetings, particularl$ at
'eddings and Christenings, I compute that Dublin would ta,e off .nnuall$ a&out
twent$ thousand -arcases, and the rest of the =ingdom ?where pro&a&l$ the$ will &e
Sold somewhat -heaper@ the remaining eight$ thousand.
"29# I can thin, of no one *&+ection, that will possi&l$ &e raised against this Proposal,
unless it should &e urged, that the 4um&er of People will &e there&$ much lessened in
the =ingdom. (his I freel$ own, 27 and it was indeed one Principal design in offering it
to the >orld. I desire the Beader will o&serve, that I -alculate m$ Bemed$ for this one
individual Kingdom of IR1+&0D3 and for no other that ever #as3 is3 or3 I thin*3 ever
an be upon 1arth. (herefore let no man tal, to me of other e%pedients' 2< 4f ta2ing
our &bsentees at five Shillings a pound5 67 4f using neither Cloaths3 nor household
%urniture3 e2ept #hat is of our o#n -ro#th and Manufature5 4f utterly re!eting the
Materials and Instruments that promote %oreign +u2ury5 4f uring the 12peniveness
of Pride3 8anity3 Idleness3 and -aming in our 'omen5 4f introduing a 8ein of
Parimony3 Prudene and Temperane5 4f learning to +ove our Country3 #herein #e
differ even from +&P+&0D1RS3 and the Inhabitants of T4PI0&MB445 9: 4f )uitting
our &nimosities3 and %ations3 nor &t any longer li*e the /e#s3 #ho #ere Murdering
one another at the very moment their City #as ta*en5 9; 4f being a little Cautious not
to Sell our Country and Consienes for nothing5 4f teahing +andlords to have at
least one degree of Mery to#ards their Tenants< +astly of putting a Spirit of (onesty3
Industry and S*ill into our Shop-*eepers3 #ho3 if a Resolution ould no# be ta*en to
Buy only our 0ative -oods3 #ould immediately unite to Cheat and 12at 96 upon us in
the Prie3 the Measure3 and the -oodness3 nor ould ever yet be brought to ma*e one
fair Proposal of !ust dealing3 though often and earnestly invited to it<
"/A# (herefore I repeat, let no 3an tal, to me of these and the li,e E%pedients, till he
hath at least a Climpse of )ope, that there will ever &e some heart$ and sincere attempt
to put them into Practice.
"/1# But as to m$ self, having &een wearied out for man$ 6ears with offering vain, idle,
visionar$ thoughts, and at length utterl$ despairing of Success, I fortunatel$ fell upon
this Proposal, which as it is wholl$ new, so it hath something Solid and Beal, of no
E%pence and little (rou&le, full in our own Power, and where&$ we can incur no Danger
in disobliging 1ngland. 1or this ,ind of -ommodit$ will not &ear E%portation, the 1lesh
&eing of too tender a -onsistance, to admit a long continuance in Salt, although perhaps
I ould name a Country3 #hih #ould be glad to 1at up our #hole 0ation #ithout it< 99
"/2# .fter all I am not so violentl$ &ent upon m$ own *pinion, as to re+ect an$ *ffer,
proposed &$ wise 3en, which shall &e found e0uall$ Innocent, -heap, Eas$ and
Effectual. But &efore something of that ,ind shall &e advanced in -ontradiction to m$
Scheme, and offering a &etter, I desire the .uthor, or .uthors will &e pleased maturel$
to consider two points. %irst, .s things now stand, how the$ will &e a&le to find 1ood
and Baiment for a hundred thousand useless 3ouths and Bac,s. .nd Seondly, there
&eing a round 3illion of -reatures in humane 1igure, throughout this =ingdom, whose
whole Su&sistence put into a common Stoc,, would leave them in De&t two 3illions of
Pounds Sterling adding those, who are Beggars &$ Profession, to the Bul, of 1armers,
-ottagers and :a&ourers with their >ives and -hildren, who are Beggars in Effect2 I
desire those Politiians, who disli,e m$ *verture, and ma$ perhaps &e so &old to
attempt an .nswer, that the$ will first as, the Parents of these 3ortals, whether the$
would not at this Da$ thin, it a great )appiness to have &een sold for 1ood at a $ear
*ld, in the manner I prescri&e, and there&$ have avoided such a perpetual Scene of
3isfortunes, as the$ have since gone through, &$ the oppression of +andlords, the
Impossi&ilit$ of pa$ing Bent without 3one$ or (rade, the want of common Sustenance,
with neither )ouse nor -loaths to cover them from Inclemencies of >eather, and the
most inevita&le Prospect of intailing the li,e, or greater 3iseries upon their Breed for
"//# I Profess in the sincerit$ of m$ )eart that I have not the least personal Interest in
endeavouring to promote this necessar$ >or, having no other 3otive than the publi*
-ood of my Country, &$ advaning our Trade3 providing for Infants3 relieving the Poor3
and giving some Pleasure to the Rih. I have no -hildren, &$ which I can propose to get
a single Penn$2 the $oungest &eing nine 6ears old, and m$ >ife past -hild!&earing.
1. Du&lin.
2. (he Pretender was the descendant of =ing Hames II of the )ouse of Stuart, e%pelled
from Britain in 19<9. Hames and his descendants were -atholic, so the$ too, refuge in
-atholic countries.
/. 3an$ poor Irish were forced to see, a living in the 4ew >orld.
5. Pro!etor, *ne who forms schemes or designs ?Hohnson@.
7. Dam, (he mother' used of &easts, or other animals not human, or . human
mother' in contempt or detestation ?Hohnson@.
9. Parishes were responsi&le for the support of those una&le to wor,.
7. 'anting, lac,ing.
<. Doubt, suspect or imagine.
9. &pprehend, fear.
1A. Britain imposed strict regulations on Irish agriculture.
11. To#ardly parts, read$ a&ilities.
12. %riasee, . dish made &$ cutting chic,ens or other small things in pieces, and
dressing them with strong sauce ?Hohnson@2 ragout, 3eat stewed and highl$ seasoned
1/. ,uality, Ban,2 superiorit$ of &irth or station ?Hohnson@.
15. Dear, e%pensive.
17. British landlords too, much of the &lame for IrelandFs condition, and generall$ with
good reason.
19. SwiftFs note' Ba&elais.
17. &rtifiially, s,illfull$.
1<. Shambles, meat mar,ets.
19. Ceorge PsalmanaGar, an impostor who claimed to &e from 1ormosa ?modern
(aiwan@. )is (istorial and -eographial Desription of %ormosa ?17A5@ descri&ed
their religious practices' ever$ $ear 1<,AAA $oung &o$s were sacrificed to the gods, and
the parishioners ate their raw hearts.
2A. Mandarin, . -hinese no&leman or magistrate ?Hohnson@.
21. -ibbet, . gallows2 the post on which malefactors are hanged, or on which their
carcases are e%posed ?Hohnson@.
22. . groat is worth four pence2 prover&iall$, an$ small amount.
2/. Chair, . vehicle &orn &$ men2 a sedan ?Hohnson@.
25. Dissenters or 4onconformists, whose principles Swift re+ected.
27. Distress, arrest for de&t.
29. Reeipts, "1rom reipe.# Prescription of ingredients for an$ composition
27. 4#n, admit.
2<. (hese e%pedients are serious proposals, several of which Swift advocated in his
other pu&lications.
29. %ive shillings a pound is a twent$!five percent ta%.
/A. Topinamboo, a district in BraGil.
/1. (itus sac,ed the Second (emple in Herusalem in ..D. 7A.
/2. 12at, impose.
//. Swift is ma,ing a co$ reference to England.

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