A Modest Proposal By Jonathan Swift 50 Essays

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 Jonathan Swift

Edited and annotated by Jack Lynch

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 they excel what come from abroad: This is the true state of Ireland in a very few words." His support for Irish causes has made him a renowned figure in modern Ireland. The paragraph numbers have been added for this edition.


[1] It is a melancholly Object to those, who walk through this great Town, 1  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 livelyhood, 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, 2  or sell themselves to the Barbadoes. 3 

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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, 4  I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true a Child, just dropt from it's Dam, 5  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, 6  or wanting 7  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.

[5] 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, 8  more to avoid the Expence, than the Shame, which would move Tears and Pity in the most Savage and inhuman breast.

[6] 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 9  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 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; we neither build Houses, (I mean in the Country) nor cultivate Land: 10  they can very seldom pick up a Livelyhood by Stealing until they arrive at six years Old, except where they are of towardly parts, 11  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.

[7] I am assured by our Merchants, that a Boy or 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 the Kingdom, the Charge of Nutriments and Rags having been at least four times that Value.

[8] I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be lyable to the least Objection.

[9] 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 Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust. 12 

[10] 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, 13  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.

[11] 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 Pounds.

[12] I grant this food will be somewhat dear, 14  and therefore very proper for Landlords, 15  who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.

[13] 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 16  an eminent French physitian, 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.

[14] 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 produceth another Child.

[15] Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the Times require) may flay the Carcass; the Skin of which, Artificially 17  dressed, will make admirable Gloves for Ladies, and Summer Boots for fine Gentlemen.

[16] As to our City of Dublin, Shambles 18  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.

[17] 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 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 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.

[18] But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Sallmanaazor, 19  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 crucifyed for an attempt to Poison the Emperor, was sold to his Imperial Majesty's prime Minister of State, and other great Mandarins 20  of the Court, in Joints from the Gibbet, 21  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 22  to their Fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a Chair, 23  and appear at a Play-House, and Assemblies in Foreign fineries, which they never will Pay for; the Kingdom would not be the worse.

[19] 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 younger 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.

[20] 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.

[21] 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, 24  who have chosen rather to leave their Country, than stay at home, and pay Tythes against their Conscience, to an idolatrous Episcopal Curate.

[22]Secondly, the poorer Tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by Law may be made lyable to Distress, 25  and help to pay their Landlord's Rent, their Corn and Cattle being already seazed, and Money a thing unknown.

[23]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.

[24]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.

[25]Fifthly, this food would likewise bring great Custom to Taverns, where the Vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts 26  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 skillful Cook, who understands how to oblige his Guests will contrive to make it as expensive as they please.

[26]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.

[27] 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.

[28] 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.

[29] 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, 27  and it 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: 28 Of taxing our Absentees at five Shillings a pound: 29  Of using neither Cloaths, nor household Furniture, except what is of our own Growth and Manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the Materials and Instruments that promote Foreign Luxury: Of curing the Expenciveness of Pride, Vanity, Idleness, and Gaming in our Women: Of introducing a Vein of Parcimony, Prudence and Temperance: Of learning to Love our Country, wherein we differ even from LAPLANDERS, and the Inhabitants of TOPINAMBOO: 30  Of quitting our Animosities, and Factions, nor Act any longer like the Jews, who were Murdering one another at the very moment their City was taken: 31  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 32  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.

[30] Therefore I repeat, let no Man talk to me of these and the like Expedients, till he hath at least a Glimpse of Hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into Practice.

[31] 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, the 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. 33 

[32] 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 Millions 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 Inclemencies of Weather, and the most inevitable Prospect of intailing the like, or greater Miseries upon their Breed for ever.

[33] 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.


Notes

1. Dublin.

2. The Pretender was the descendant of King James II of the House of Stuart, expelled from Britain in 1689. James and his descendants were Catholic, so they took refuge in Catholic countries.

3. Many poor Irish were forced to seek a living in the New World.

4.Projector, "One who forms schemes or designs" (Johnson).

5.Dam, "The mother: used of beasts, or other animals not human," or "A human mother: in contempt or detestation" (Johnson).

6. Parishes were responsible for the support of those unable to work.

7.Wanting, "lacking."

8.Doubt, "suspect" or "imagine."

9.Apprehend, "fear."

10. Britain imposed strict regulations on Irish agriculture.

11.Towardly parts, "ready abilities."

12.Fricasee, "A dish made by cutting chickens or other small things in pieces, and dressing them with strong sauce" (Johnson); ragout, "Meat stewed and highly seasoned" (Johnson).

13.Quality, "Rank; superiority of birth or station" (Johnson).

14.Dear, "expensive."

15. British landlords took much of the blame for Ireland's condition, and generally with good reason.

16. Swift's note: "Rabelais."

17.Artificially, "skillfully."

18.Shambles, "meat markets."

19. George Psalmanazar, an impostor who claimed to be from Formosa (modern Taiwan). His Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa (1704) described their religious practices: every year 18,000 young boys were sacrificed to the gods, and the parishioners ate their raw hearts.

20.Mandarin, "A Chinese nobleman or magistrate" (Johnson).

21.Gibbet, "A gallows; the post on which malefactors are hanged, or on which their carcases are exposed" (Johnson).

22. A groat is worth four pence; proverbially, any small amount.

23.Chair, "A vehicle born by men; a sedan" (Johnson).

24. Dissenters or Nonconformists, whose principles Swift rejected.

25.Distress, "arrest for debt."

26.Receipts, "[From recipe.] Prescription of ingredients for any composition" (Johnson).

27.Own, "admit."

28. These "expedients" are serious proposals, several of which Swift advocated in his other publications.

29.Five shillings a pound is a twenty-five percent tax.

30.Topinamboo, a district in Brazil.

31. Titus sacked the Second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

32.Exact, "impose."

33. Swift is making a coy reference to England.

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,[1] commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729. Swift suggested that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. His work encouraged positive development for those that suffered from famishment and financial maladies, and urged the aristocratic landlords to lower their taxes, so as to not further starve the country of its food and coin. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. The primary target of Swift's satire was the rationalism of modern economics, and the growth of rationalistic modes of thinking in modern life at the expense of more traditional human values.

In English writing, the phrase "a modest proposal" is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.

Details[edit]

Swift goes to great lengths to support his argument, including a list of possible preparation styles for the children, and calculations showing the financial benefits of his suggestion. He uses methods of argument throughout his essay which lampoon the then-influential William Petty and the social engineering popular among followers of Francis Bacon. These lampoons include appealing to the authority of "a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London" and "the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa" (who had already confessed to not being from Formosa in 1706).

This essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Much of its shock value derives from the fact that the first portion of the essay describes the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, so that the reader is unprepared for the surprise of Swift's solution when he states: "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."[1]

In the tradition of Roman satire, Swift introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by paralipsis:

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither clothes, nor household 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.

Literary Techniques[edit]

To ensure the success of his work, Swift employed several literary techniques that would prove extremely effective to his audience. The following techniques were used in his satire: understatement, hyperbole, juxtaposition, among several others.

To name his satire a "modest" proposal can be considered outrageous, as the subject content was purposely written with grotesque wordage. Perhaps the most obvious of literary techniques, it intrigued and baffled his readers.

Hyperbole is often used to evoke humor, but in this instance, it was used to make a point with strong language. Erasing the humanity of infants and referring to them as "carcasses, flesh, and meat" instead of "innocence" or "youth" efficiently defeated their significance to future generations.

Juxtaposition - a technique used to bring together two elements at odds with another - was implemented in Swift's subject matter when he combined the dire situation in Ireland with his outlandish solution.

Population solutions[edit]

George Wittkowsky argued that Swift’s main target in A Modest Proposal was not the conditions in Ireland, but rather the can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills.[2] Swift was especially insulted by projects that tried to fix population and labour issues with a simple cure-all solution.[3] A memorable example of these sorts of schemes "involved the idea of running the poor through a joint-stock company".[3] In response, Swift's Modest Proposal was "a burlesque of projects concerning the poor"[4] that were in vogue during the early 18th century.

A Modest Proposal also targets the calculating way people perceived the poor in designing their projects. The pamphlet targets reformers who "regard people as commodities".[5] In the piece, Swift adopts the "technique of a political arithmetician"[6] to show the utter ridiculousness of trying to prove any proposal with dispassionate statistics.

Critics differ about Swift's intentions in using this faux-mathematical philosophy. Edmund Wilson argues that statistically "the logic of the 'Modest proposal' can be compared with defense of crime (arrogated to Marx) in which he argues that crime takes care of the superfluous population".[6] Wittkowsky counters that Swift's satiric use of statistical analysis is an effort to enhance his satire that "springs from a spirit of bitter mockery, not from the delight in calculations for their own sake".[7]

Rhetoric[edit]

Charles K. Smith argues that Swift's rhetorical style persuades the reader to detest the speaker and pity the Irish. Swift's specific strategy is twofold, using a "trap"[8] to create sympathy for the Irish and a dislike of the narrator who, in the span of one sentence, "details vividly and with rhetorical emphasis the grinding poverty" but feels emotion solely for members of his own class.[9] Swift's use of gripping details of poverty and his narrator's cool approach towards them create "two opposing points of view" that "alienate the reader, perhaps unconsciously, from a narrator who can view with 'melancholy' detachment a subject that Swift has directed us, rhetorically, to see in a much less detached way."[9]

Swift has his proposer further degrade the Irish by using language ordinarily reserved for animals. Lewis argues that the speaker uses "the vocabulary of animal husbandry"[10] to describe the Irish. Once the children have been commodified, Swift's rhetoric can easily turn "people into animals, then meat, and from meat, logically, into tonnage worth a price per pound".[10]

Swift uses the proposer's serious tone to highlight the absurdity of his proposal. In making his argument, the speaker uses the conventional, textbook-approved order of argument from Swift's time (which was derived from the Latin rhetorician Quintilian).[11] The contrast between the "careful control against the almost inconceivable perversion of his scheme" and "the ridiculousness of the proposal" create a situation in which the reader has "to consider just what perverted values and assumptions would allow such a diligent, thoughtful, and conventional man to propose so perverse a plan".[11]

Influences[edit]

Scholars have speculated about which earlier works Swift may have had in mind when he wrote A Modest Proposal.

Tertullian's Apology[edit]

James Johnson argued that A Modest Proposal was largely influenced and inspired by Tertullian's Apology: a satirical attack against early Roman persecution of Christianity. James William Johnson believes that Swift saw major similarities between the two situations.[12] Johnson notes Swift's obvious affinity for Tertullian and the bold stylistic and structural similarities between the works A Modest Proposal and Apology.[13] In structure, Johnson points out the same central theme, that of cannibalism and the eating of babies as well as the same final argument, that "human depravity is such that men will attempt to justify their own cruelty by accusing their victims of being lower than human."[12] Stylistically, Swift and Tertullian share the same command of sarcasm and language.[12] In agreement with Johnson, Donald C. Baker points out the similarity between both authors' tones and use of irony. Baker notes the uncanny way that both authors imply an ironic "justification by ownership" over the subject of sacrificing children—Tertullian while attacking pagan parents, and Swift while attacking the English mistreatment of the Irish poor.[14]

Defoe's The Generous Projector[edit]

It has also been argued that A Modest Proposal was, at least in part, a response to the 1728 essay The Generous Projector or, A Friendly Proposal to Prevent Murder and Other Enormous Abuses, By Erecting an Hospital for Foundlings and Bastard Children by Swift's rival Daniel Defoe.[15]

Mandeville's Modest Defence of Publick Stews[edit]

Bernard Mandeville's Modest Defence of Publick Stews asked to introduce public and state controlled bordellos. The 1726 paper acknowledges women's interests and – while not being a complete satirical text – has been discussed as well as an inspiration for Jonathan Swift's title.[16][17] Mandeville had become famous with the Fable of The Bees and deliberations on private vices and public benefits in 1705 already.

John Locke's First Treatise of Government[edit]

"Be it then as Sir Robert says, that Anciently, it was usual for Men to sell and Castrate their Children. Let it be, that they exposed them; Add to it, if you please, for this is still greater Power, that they begat them for their Tables to fat and eat them: If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie Adultery, Incest and Sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both Ancient and Modern; Sins, which I suppose, have the Principle Aggravation from this, that they cross the main intention of Nature, which willeth the increase of Mankind, and the continuation of the Species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of Families, with the Security of the Marriage Bed, as necessary thereunto" (First Treatise, sec. 59).

Economic themes[edit]

Robert Phiddian's article "Have you eaten yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal" focuses on two aspects of A Modest Proposal: the voice of Swift and the voice of the Proposer. Phiddian stresses that a reader of the pamphlet must learn to distinguish between the satiric voice of Jonathan Swift and the apparent economic projections of the Proposer. He reminds readers that "there is a gap between the narrator's meaning and the text's, and that a moral-political argument is being carried out by means of parody".[18]

While Swift's proposal is obviously not a serious economic proposal, George Wittkowsky, author of "Swift's Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet", argues that to understand the piece fully, it is important to understand the economics of Swift’s time. Wittowsky argues that not enough critics have taken the time to focus directly on the mercantilism and theories of labour in 18th century England. "[I]f one regards the Modest Proposal simply as a criticism of condition, about all one can say is that conditions were bad and that Swift's irony brilliantly underscored this fact".[19]

"People are the riches of a nation"[edit]

At the start of a new industrial age in the 18th century, it was believed that "people are the riches of the nation", and there was a general faith in an economy that paid its workers low wages because high wages meant workers would work less.[20] Furthermore, "in the mercantilist view no child was too young to go into industry". In those times, the "somewhat more humane attitudes of an earlier day had all but disappeared and the laborer had come to be regarded as a commodity".[18]

Landa composed a conducive analysis when he noted that it would have been healthier for the Irish economy to more appropriately utilize their human assets by giving the people an opportunity to “become a source of wealth to the nation” or else they “must turn to begging and thievery” [21]. This opportunity may have included giving the farmers more coin to work for, diversifying their professions, or even consider enslaving their people to lower coin usage and build up financial stock in Ireland. Landa wrote that, "Swift is maintaining that the maxim—people are the riches of a nation—applies to Ireland only if Ireland is permitted slavery or cannibalism" [22]

Louis A. Landa presents Swift's A Modest Proposal as a critique of the popular and unjustified maxim of mercantilism in the 18th century that "people are the riches of a nation".[21] Swift presents the dire state of Ireland and shows that mere population itself, in Ireland's case, did not always mean greater wealth and economy.[22] The uncontrolled maxim fails to take into account that a person who does not produce in an economic or political way makes a country poorer, not richer.[22] Swift also recognises the implications of such a fact in making mercantilist philosophy a paradox: the wealth of a country is based on the poverty of the majority of its citizens.[22] Swift however, Landa argues, is not merely criticising economic maxims but also addressing the fact that England was denying Irish citizens their natural rights and dehumanising them by viewing them as a mere commodity.[22]

The Public's Reaction[edit]

Swift's writings created a backlash within the community after its publication. The work was aimed at the aristocracy, and they responded in turn. Several members of society wrote to Swift about their feelings regarding the work. In a "private" reaction letter from Lord Bathurst (Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl of Bathurst) to Jonathan Swift, Bathurst intimated that he certainly understood the message, and interpreted it as a work of comedy.

February 12, 1729-30:

"I did immediately propose it to Lady Bathurst, as your advice, particularly for her last boy, which was born the plumpest, finest thing, that could be seen; but she fell in a passion, and bid me send you word, that she would not follow your direction, but that she would breed him up to be a parson, and he should live upon the fat of the land; or a lawyer, and then, instead of being eat himself, he should devour others. You know women in passion never mind what they say; but, as she is a very reasonable woman, I have almost brought her over now to your opinion; and having convinced her, that as matters stood, we could not possibly maintain all the nine, she does begin to think it reasonable the youngest should raise fortunes for the eldest: and upon that foot a man may perforin family duty with more courage and zeal; for, if he should happen to get twins, the selling of one might provide for the other. Or if, by any accident, while his wife lies in with one child, he should get a second upon the body of another woman, he might dispose of the fattest of the two, and that would help to breed up the other.

The more I think upon this scheme, the more reasonable it appears to me; and it ought by no means to be confined to Ireland; for, in all probability, we shall, in a very little time, be altogether as poor here as you are there. I believe, indeed, we shall carry it farther, and not confine our luxury only to the eating of children; for I happened to peep the other day into a large assembly [Parliament] not far from Westminster-hall, and I found them roasting a great fat fellow, [Walpole again] For my own part, I had not the least inclination to a slice of him; but, if I guessed right, four or five of the company had a devilish mind to be at him. Well, adieu, you begin now to wish I had ended, when I might have done it so conveniently."[23]

Modern usage[edit]

A Modest Proposal is included in many literature programs as an example of early modern western satire. It also serves as an exceptional introduction to the concept and use of argumentative language, lending itself well to secondary and post-secondary essay courses. Outside of the realm of English studies, A Modest Proposal is a relevant piece included in many comparative and global literature and history courses, as well as those of numerous other disciplines in the arts, humanities, and even the social sciences.

The essay has been emulated many times. In his book A Modest Proposal (1984), evangelical author Frank Schaeffer emulated Swift's work in social conservative polemic against abortion and euthanasia in a future dystopia that advocated recycling of aborted embryos and fetuses, as well as some disabled infants with compound intellectual, physical and physiological difficulties. (Such Baby Doe Rules cases were then a major concern of the pro-life movement of the early 1980s, which viewed selective treatment of those infants as disability discrimination.) In his book A Modest Proposal for America (2013), statistician Howard Friedman opens with a satirical reflection of the extreme drive to fiscal stability by ultra-conservatives.

In the 1998 edition of "A Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood there is a quote from "A Modest Proposal" before the introduction.[24]

A Modest Video Game Proposal is the title of an open letter sent by activist/former attorney Jack Thompson on 10 October 2005. He proposed that, if someone could "create, manufacture, distribute, and sell a video game in 2006" that allows players to play the scenario he has written, in which the character kills video game developers.[1]

Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, which contains hundreds of private letters written by Thompson over the years, contains a letter in which he uses A Modest Proposal's satire technique against the Vietnam War. Thompson writes a letter to a local Aspen newspaper informing them that, on Christmas Eve, he was going to use napalm to burn a number of dogs and hopefully any humans they find. This letter protests against the burning of Vietnamese people occurring overseas.[citation needed]

The 2012 film Butcher Boys, written by Kim Henkel, is said to be loosely based on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. The film's opening scene takes place in a restaurant named "J. Swift's."

On November 30, 2017, Jonathan Swift's 350th birthday, The Washington Post published a column entitled "Why Alabamians should consider eating Democrats’ babies", by humor columnist Alexandra Petri.[25]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Baker, Donald C (1957), "Tertullian and Swift's A Modest Proposal", The Classical Journal, 52: 219–220 
  • Johnson, James William (1958), "Tertullian and A Modest Proposal", Modern Language and Notes, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 73 (8): 561–563, doi:10.2307/3043246, JSTOR 3043246  (subscription needed)
  • Landa, Louis A (1942), "A Modest Proposal and Populousness", Modern Philology, 40 (2): 161–170, doi:10.1086/388567 
  • Phiddian, Robert (1996), "Have You Eaten Yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal", Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Rice University, 36 (3): 603–621, doi:10.2307/450801, hdl:2328/746, JSTOR 450801 
  • Smith, Charles Kay (1968), "Toward a Participatory Rhetoric: Teaching Swift's Modest Proposal", College English, National Council of Teachers of English, 30 (2): 135–149, doi:10.2307/374449, JSTOR 374449 
  • Wittkowsky, George (1943), "Swift's Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet", Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, 4 (1): 75–104, doi:10.2307/2707237, JSTOR 2707237 

External links[edit]

  1. ^ ab"A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift". Project Gutenberg. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  2. ^Wittkowsky, Swift’s Modest Proposal, p76
  3. ^ abWittkowsky, Swift’s Modest Proposal, p85
  4. ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p88
  5. ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p101
  6. ^ abWittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p95
  7. ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p98
  8. ^Smith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 135
  9. ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 136
  10. ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 138
  11. ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 139
  12. ^ abcJohnson, Tertullian and A Modest Proposal, p563
  13. ^Johnson, Tertullian and A Modest Proposal, p562
  14. ^Baker, Tertullian and Swift's A Modest Proposal, p219
  15. ^Waters, Juliet (19 February 2009). "A modest but failed proposal". Montreal Mirror. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  16. ^Eine Streitschrift…, Essay von Ursula Pia Jauch. Carl Hanser Verlag, München 2001.
  17. ^Primer, I. (15 March 2006). Bernard Mandeville's "A Modest Defence of Publick Stews": Prostitution and Its Discontents in Early Georgian England. Springer. ISBN 9781403984609. 
  18. ^ abPhiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p6
  19. ^Phiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p3
  20. ^Phiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p4
  21. ^ abLanda, A Modest Proposal and Populousness, p161
  22. ^ abcdeLanda, A Modest Proposal and Populousness, p165
  23. ^Swift, Jonathan; Scott, Sir Walter (1814). The Works of Jonathan Swift: Containing Additional Letters, Tracts, and Poems Not Hitherto Published; with Notes and a Life of the Author. A. Constable. 
  24. ^"The Handmaid's Tale". www.goodreads.com. 
  25. ^Petri, Alexandra (November 30, 2017). "Why Alabamians should consider eating Democrats' babies". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2017. 

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