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[answered] A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor Peopl


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A Modest Proposal For Preventing The

 

Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being

 

A burden to Their Parents or Country, and for

 

Making Them Beneficial to The Public

 

Jonathan Swift It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the

 

country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin 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 strolling 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, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the

 

public 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. ?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 ...? 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, I have always

 

found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its

 

dam may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most

 

not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by

 

her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to

 

provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary

 

contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands.

 

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those

 

voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children,

 

alas! too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid

 

the expense 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 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 subtract fifty thousand for those women who

 

miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only

 

remains one 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 art.

 

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable

 

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 nutriment 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 fricassee or a ragout.

 

I do therefore humbly offer it to public 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 the 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, increaseth 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 prolific diet, there are more children born in Roman Catholic countries

 

about nine months after Lent than at any other season; therefore, reckoning a year after

 

Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of popish infants

 

is at least three to one in this kingdom: and therefore it will have one other collateral

 

advantage, by lessening the number of papists among us.

 

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which list I reckon all

 

cottagers, laborers, 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 net profit, and be fit for work till she produces

 

another child.

 

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass;

 

the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer

 

boots for fine gentlemen.

 

As to our city of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose in the most

 

convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be wanting; although I

 

rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we

 

do roasting pigs.

 

A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was

 

lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He

 

said that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he

 

conceived that the want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads

 

and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so great a number

 

of both sexes in every 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 schoolboys by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable; and to fatten

 

them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble

 

submission be a loss to the public, 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 intended.

 

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed that this expedient was put into his head

 

by the famous Psalmanazar, 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 playhouse and assemblies in

 

foreign fineries which they never will pay for, the kingdom would not be the worse.

 

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of

 

poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my

 

thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance.

 

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 laborers, they are now in as hopeful a

 

condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to

 

a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labor, they have not

 

strength to perform it; and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from

 

the evils to come.

 

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the

 

advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the

 

highest importance.

 

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of papists, with

 

whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal breeders of the nation as well as our

 

most dangerous enemies; and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the

 

kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many

 

good protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country than stay at home and

 

pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate. Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law

 

may be made liable to distress and help to pay their landlord's rent, their corn and cattle

 

being already seized, and money a thing unknown.

 

Thirdly, Whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old

 

and upward, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a?piece per annum, the

 

nation's stock will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per annum, beside 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 ourselves, the

 

goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.

 

Fourthly, The constant breeders, beside 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 increase the care

 

and tenderness of mothers toward their children, when they were sure of a settlement for

 

life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the public, to their annual profit instead

 

of expense. We should 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, their sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as

 

is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

 

Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some

 

thousand carcasses in our exportation of barreled beef, the propagation of swine's flesh,

 

and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the

 

great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in

 

taste or magnificence to a well?grown, fat, yearling child, which roasted whole will make

 

a considerable figure at a lord mayor's feast or any other public entertainment. But this

 

and many others I omit, being studious of brevity.

 

Supposing that one thousand families in this city, would be constant customers for

 

infants flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly at

 

weddings and christenings, I compute that Dublin would take off annually about twenty

 

thousand carcasses; and the rest of the kingdom (where probably they will be sold

 

somewhat cheaper) the remaining eighty thousand.

 

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it

 

should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the

 

kingdom. This I freely own, and '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 an

 

hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, there being a round million

 

of creatures in human 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 laborers, with their

 

wives and children who are beggars in effect: I desire those politicians who dislike my

 

overture, and may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the

 

parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to

 

have been sold for food, at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have

 

avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as they have since gone through by the

 

oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want

 

of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the

 

inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing 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

 

endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public

 

good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and

 

giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children by which I can propose to get a

 

single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child?bearing.

 


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