I believe no man is so weak, as to hope or expect that such a reformation can be brought about by a law. But a thorough hearty, unanimous vote, in both houses of Parliament, might perhaps answer as well: every senator, noble or plebeian, giving his honour, that neither himself, nor any of his family, would, in their dress, or furniture of their houses, make use of anything except what was of the growth and manufacture of this kingdom; and that they would use the utmost of their power, influence, and credit, to prevail on their tenants, dependants, and friends, to follow their example.
FOR PREVENTING THE CHILDREN OF POOR PEOPLE
FROM BEING A BURTHEN TO THEIR PARENTS
OR COUNTRY, AND FOR MAKING THEM BENEFICIAL
TO THE PUBLIC.
Perhaps in no literature is there to be found a piece of writing in any sense comparable to this “Modest Proposal.” Written, apparently, in a light and comic vein, it might deceive the casual reader into the belief that Swift had achieved a joke. It has the air of a smiling and indifferent raconteur amusing an after-dinner table. In truth, however, this piece of writing is a terrible indictment made by an advocate speaking against the result of a tyranny of power which, through wicked stupidity or complacent indifference, had afflicted a people almost to extinction. The restraint of the writer evinced in this tract, is the more remarkable, when we remember that he was Ireland’s foremost patriot, that he had been her champion for liberty and independence, and that an indignation filled him at all times, lacerating his heart, against the cruelty and oppression and wretchedness of humanity generally. Here, he sits down and writes as calmly as if composing an ordinary sermon, and proposes, in cold blood, to alleviate the poverty of the Irish people by the sale of their children as table food for the rich. He even goes into calculations as to cost of breeding, and shows how a mother might earn eight shillings a year on each child, by disposing of its carcass for ten shillings. Of the million and a half people who inhabit the country, he assumes that there are 200,000 who beget children; of these about 30,000 are able to provide for their offspring, but the balance of 170,000 must inevitably become a burden. What is to become of them? Many schemes have been proposed to meet their case, but not one of them has answered. Trade and agriculture gave them no opportunity, since the trade of the country was almost at a standstill, and land was now either too dear to keep or too poor to cultivate. At the time of Swift’s writing Ireland had passed through three frightful years of famine. Corn had become so dear that riots occurred at the ports where what corn remained was being