Excerpt From A Modest Proposal In Plain and Simple English
Those who walk through this great town, or make journeys into the country, are often saddened by the sight of female beggars crowding the roads and doors of houses; they are often followed by three to six children, all dressed in rags, and all begging for money from every passerby. These mothers, instead of making money through honest work, have to spend all their time begging for money to support their helpless children. When those children grow up, they become thieves because they cannot get work, or they leave their dear native country to go and fight for the Pretender in Spain, or they sell themselves in slavery in the West Indies.
I think everyone agrees that having so many children being carried around by, or following, their mothers, and frequently their fathers, is a very great additional burden on the kingdom at this difficult time. So anyone who could think of a fair, cheap and easy plan whereby these children could become useful members of society would deserve so much thanks from the public that he should have a statue put up as somebody who saved the nation.
But I'm not just thinking about the children of those who are confirmed beggars. I am looking at a far bigger picture, and thinking about all of those children of a certain age whose parents are just as unable to support them as those people who are actually begging in the streets.
Speaking for myself, having thought about this for many years, and having assessed many other schemes put forward to solve the problem, I have always thought that their calculations are flawed. It is true that a newborn child can be supported by its mother's milk for a whole year with hardly any other food. It doesn't need more than a couple of shillings' worth of food which the mother can certainly get by begging (either the money or scraps worth the same amount). When they reach a year old I propose that we deal with them in such a way that instead of being a burden on their parents, or the funds of the parish, demanding to be fed and clothed for the rest of their lives, they will provide food and some clothing to many thousands of people.
There is also another great benefit to my scheme; it will stop those elective abortions and the horrible practice of women murdering their illegitimate children which is, sadly, all too common. They sacrifice their poor innocent babies more for reasons of expense than shame, and this would make the wickedest, most inhuman person weep and feel pity.
It is generally calculated that there are around a million and a half people in this country, of whom I reckon there are about two hundred thousand couples in which the wives will be breeding. I take away from this thirty thousand who are capable of supporting their own children (although that might be a generous figure, given the poverty there is in the kingdom at the moment), which leaves a hundred and seventy thousand who are breeding. I will subtract from that figure fifty thousand, to account for the women who have miscarriages, or whose children die in accidents or of disease before they reach a year old. That leaves us a hundred and twenty thousand children born to the parents of poor people each year. So the question is, how will we bring up and feed and clothe this number of people? As I have already stated, in the state of the country at the moment it is utterly impossible to do so via all the solutions which have been proposed so far. We can't give them jobs as craftsmen or agricultural workers; there is no housebuilding going on in the country at the moment, nor are we growing food. Until they get to six years old they can't usually make a living by stealing, unless they are very advanced, although I must admit they pick up the basics much earlier. However, during that time they can only really be seen as apprentices. I was told by a great man in the County of Cavan that he had only ever heard of one or two examples of children under the age of six making a living through thieving, and he lived in a part of the kingdom where the children were famous for picking up the trade extremely quickly.
Our merchants assure me that a boy or girl under twelve years old is useless in terms of being sold, and even when they get to this age one can't get more than three pounds for them, or three pounds and a half crown at best; this won't show a profit for either the parents or the kingdom, as they will have consumed at least four times that value in food and clothes by then.
So I will now put forward my own ideas, to which I hope nobody will take any exception.
I have been told by a very intelligent American whom I know in London that a young healthy child which has been well fed is, when it reaches a year old, a very delicious, nourishing and healthy food, whether you eat it stewed, roasted, baked or boiled. I have no doubt that it would also work well fricasseed or in a stew.
So I humbly put forward the idea that of these hundred and twenty thousand children we should keep twenty thousand reserved for breeding, with only a quarter of them being males. This is more than the proportion we keep for sheep, black cattle or pigs, and my logic is that these children are not usually born to married parents; our savage people don't seem to care about marriage, and so one male will be enough to mate with four females. I propose that the hundred thousand who are left should be offered for sale, at the age of one year old, to rich and noble people throughout the kingdom. The mother should always be advised to let them get plenty of milk in their last month, so that they will become plump and fat, ready for the table. A child has enough meat on it to make two dishes when entertaining friends, and when a family is eating alone, either the front or back quarters will make a decent meal, and when a little pepper or salt is added it could last through to a fourth day, when it will be very good boiled, especially in winter.
I've worked out the average, which is that a newborn child will weigh around 12lbs, and over the course of a year, if it is fed reasonably well, it will grow to 28lbs.
I must admit that this food will be rather expensive, and so it will be very good for the landlords; as they have already gobbled up most of the parents, they would seem to have the best right to the children.
The flesh of children will be in season all year round, but there will be more of it in March, and a little before and afterwards. We are told by a distinguished author, an eminent French doctor, that because fish is a very fertile diet, more children are born in Roman Catholic countries nine months after Lent; this means that there will be more meat on the market than usual at this time, because at least three quarters of the children in this country are Catholic. So my proposal will have the additional advantage of cutting down on the number of Catholics.
I have already mentioned that the cost of bringing up the child of a beggar (in this category I include all farm laborers and eighty percent of the farmers) as being about two shillings a year, including the rags for their clothes. I don't think any gentleman would be unwilling to pay ten shillings for the body of good fat child which, as I said, will do for four very nourishing meals if he is only dining with a friend or his own family. So a squire will have a good reason to be a good landlord; he will become popular with his tenants, and the mother will make a clear profit of eight shillings, and be able to work until she has her next child.
Those people who have to watch the pennies (which I must admit most people do nowadays) can skin the carcass; once this skin has been treated it will make excellent gloves for the ladies, and summer boots for gentlemen of quality.
As for Dublin city, we can set up slaughterhouses for this purpose in the most suitable areas, and we can be sure that plenty of people will be willing to be butchers. However, I would be inclined to recommend that the children be purchased alive and prepared for eating straight after slaughter, like we do with roast pigs.
A very noble person, a true patriot whom I greatly admire, recently, when we were talking about this, put forward an improvement to my idea. He said that as many gentlemen in this country have recently killed all of their deer, he thought that the lack of venison could be made up for with the bodies of young boys and girls, no older than fourteen and no younger than twelve. There were so many boys and girls in every country who are on the point of starving because of lack of work: if their parents were alive then they should slaughter them, otherwise their closest relations could do it. But with all respect for my excellent friend, such a fine patriot, I can't completely agree with him. My American friend has told me that their flesh is generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys, due to their continual exercise; he said that they do not taste good, and that fattening them up wouldn't make any difference. As for the girls, with all due respect I think that they would be a loss to the public, because soon they would start breeding themselves. Besides, it's quite possible that some rather fussy people might say (wrongly) that doing this could be seen as rather cruel; I admit that this has always been my biggest worry, however well-intentioned the project is.
However, to excuse my friend, he admitted that the idea had been put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of Formosa who came from there to London over twenty years ago. When he was talking to my friend who told him that in his country, when any young person was executed, the executioner sold the body to upper-class people as a delicacy. During his time there, a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for trying to poison the Emperor, was cut up into joints and sold to the prime minister of the country and other high placed people from the court, making an overall profit of four hundred crowns. And I must say, that if the same thing was done with certain plump young girls in this town (who don't have a penny to their names and yet won't go anywhere without hiring a sedan chair, and who show up at the theatre and parties in foreign clothes which they will never pay for), the country wouldn't be any worse off.
Some pessimistic people have raised concerns about what should be done with the great number of poor people who are old, diseased or maimed. I have given much thought to what should be done to relieve the nation of this burden. But this particular matter does not bother me in the slightest, because it is quite obvious that they are dying every day, rotting away through cold, famine, filth and vermin as quickly as we can hope for. As for the younger laborers, they are now almost in the same desirable state. They can't get work, and so they are dying from lack of nourishment, to such an extent that if they ever do happen to have a job they are not even strong enough to carry it out. So they and the country are not going to be bothered by their presence for very long.
I have wandered away from my subject for too long, so now I'll get back to it. I think the advantages of what I have proposed are obvious and numerous, and also extremely important.
Firstly, as I have already said, it would greatly cut down the number of Catholics. They are becoming more numerous year by year, as they are the people in the country who read the most. They are our most dangerous enemies, and they have stayed in the country in order to hand it over to the Pretender. They hope to take advantage of the absence of so many good Protestants who have decided to abandon their country rather than remain here and pay taxes to a church they don't believe in.
Secondly, this proposal will give poor people a valuable piece of property; then when they fall behind in their rent their landlord will be able to seize it to make up the arrears (we know that their corn and their cattle have already been seized, and they never have any money).
Thirdly, looking after a hundred thousand children from the age of two upwards will cost at least ten shillings per carcass a year, the value of property in the nation will go up by fifty thousand pounds per annum (and we will also have the benefit of a new foodstuff for the tables of all discerning wealthy gentlemen in the country). As we will be growing and processing this product ourselves, we will benefit by keeping the money in the country.