A Modest Proposal


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 fricassée or a ragout. (p. 9)

Jonathan Swift's attack on the British government's inability to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland is one of the literary canon's most famous examples of satire. 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 was first published anonymously in 1729.

A Modest Proposal proposes that the most obvious solution to Ireland's economic crisis is for the Irish to sell their children as food. Shockingly, it also suggests various ways in which they can be prepared and served. The detached, serious tone of its narrator emphasises the horror of what Swift is actually recommending: only in its final paragraphs, when the essay turns to the realities of the Irish economic system and the problems caused by absentee landlords, does the author's real view become clear. Despite its power as a piece of rhetoric, A Modest Proposal did not lead to any lasting changes for Ireland's rural poor. Just over a century later, thousands would perish in the Great Famine.

What’s special about this copy?

This copy of A Modest Proposal is unique because it has been bound together with other printed pamphlets collected by a private buyer. All of the pieces in the volume date from between 1717 and 1729. Many of the texts relate to a long-running intellectual skirmish between Alexander Pope, Swift and ‘the Scriblerians’ on one side, and their detractors on the other. One of the texts included in the compilation is ‘Remarks on Mr Pope’s translation of Homer with two letters concerning Windsor Forest and the Temple of Fame’ (1717) by John Dennis, a literary critic and established butt of the Scriblerians’ literary libels; Dennis criticised Pope and his translation of The Iliad on the grounds that Pope lacked the skill and understanding necessary to translate Homer’s Greek with the accuracy and flair it deserved

Full title:
A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people from becoming a burthen to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.
1729, Dublin, London
Book / Manuscript
Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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