A MODEST PROPOSAL
for preventing the children of poor people inIreland
from being a burden on their parents or country
and for making thembeneficial to the public.
It is amelancholy object to thosewho walk through this greattownortravel in the countrywhen they see the streetstheroads andcabin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sexfollowedby threefouror six childrenall in ragsandimportuningevery passenger for an alms. These mothers instead ofbeing ableto work for their honest livelihoodare forced toemploy alltheir time in strolling to beg sustenance for theirhelplessinfants whoas they grow upeither turn thieves forwant ofworkor leave their dear native countryto fight forthePretender in Spainor sell themselves to the Barbadoes.
I think itis agreed by all partiesthat this prodigious numberofchildren in the armsor on the backsor at the heels oftheirmothersand frequently of their fathersis in the presentdeplorablestate of the kingdoma very great additionalgrievance;and therefore whoever could find out a faircheap andeasymethod of making these children sound and useful members ofthecommon-wealthwould deserve so well of the publicas tohave hisstatue set up for a preserver of the nation.
But myintention is very far from being confined to provide onlyfor thechildren of professed beggars: it is of a much greaterextentand shall take in the whole number of infants at acertainagewho are born of parents in effect as little able tosupportthemas those who demand our charity in the streets.
As to myown parthaving turned my thoughts for many yearsuponthisimportant subjectand maturely weighed the several schemesof ourprojectorsI have always found them grossly mistaken intheircomputation. It is truea child just dropt from its dammay besupported by her milkfor a solar yearwith little othernourishment:at most not above the value of two shillingswhichthe mothermay certainly getor the value in scrapsby herlawfuloccupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year oldthat Ipropose to provide for them in such a mannerasinsteadof being acharge upon their parentsor the parishor wantingfood andraiment for the rest of their livesthey shallon thecontrarycontribute to the feedingand partly to the cloathingof manythousands.
There islikewise another great advantage in my schemethat itwillprevent those voluntary abortionsand that horrid practiceof womenmurdering their bastard childrenalas! too frequentamong ussacrificing the poor innocent babesI doubtmore toavoid theexpence than the shamewhich would move tears and pityin themost savage and inhuman breast.
The numberof souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned onemillionand a halfof these I calculate there may be about twohundredthousand couple whose wives are breeders; from whichnumber Isubtract thirty thousand couplewho are able tomaintaintheir own children(although I apprehend there cannotbe somanyunder the present distresses of the kingdom) but thisbeinggrantedthere will remain an hundred and seventy thousandbreeders.I again subtract fifty thousandfor those women whomiscarryor whose children die by accident or disease within theyear.There only remain an hundred and twenty thousand childrenof poorparents annually born. The question therefore isHowthisnumber shall be rearedand provided for? whichas I havealreadysaidunder the present situation of affairsis utterlyimpossibleby all the methods hitherto proposed. For we canneitheremploy them in handicraft or agriculture; we neitherbuildhouses(I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: theycan veryseldom pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arriveat sixyears old; except where they are of towardly partsalthough Iconfess they learn the rudiments much earlier; duringwhich timethey can however be properly looked upon only asprobationers:As I have been informed by a principal gentleman inthe countyof Cavanwho protested to methat he never knewabove oneor two instances under the age of sixeven in a partof thekingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in thatart.
I amassured by our merchantsthat a boy or a girl before twelveyears oldis no saleable commodityand even when they come tothis agethey will not yield above three poundsor three poundsand half acrown at moston the exchange; which cannot turn toaccounteither to the parents or kingdomthe charge ofnutrimentsand rags having been at least four times that value.
I shallnow therefore humbly propose my own thoughtswhich Ihope willnot be liable to the least objection.
I havebeen assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintancein Londonthat a young healthy child well nursedisat a yearoldamost delicious nourishing and wholesome foodwhetherstewedroastedbakedor boiled; and I make no doubt that itwillequally serve in a fricasieor a ragoust.
I dotherefore humbly offer it to public considerationthat ofthehundred and twenty thousand childrenalready computedtwentythousand may be reserved for breedwhereof only onefourthpart to be males; which is more than we allow to sheepblackcattleor swineand my reason isthat these children areseldom thefruits of marriagea circumstance not much regardedby oursavagesthereforeone male will be sufficient to servefourfemales. That the remaining hundred thousand mayat a yearoldbeoffered in sale to the persons of quality and fortunethroughthe kingdomalways advising the mother to let them suckplentifullyin the last monthso as to render them plumpandfat for agood table. A child will make two dishes at anentertainmentfor friendsand when the family dines alonethefore orhind quarter will make a reasonable dishand seasonedwith alittle pepper or saltwill be very good boiled on thefourthdayespecially in winter.
I havereckoned upon a mediumthat a child just born will weigh12 poundsand in a solar yearif tolerably nursedencreasethto 28pounds.
I grantthis food will be somewhat dearand therefore veryproper forlandlordswhoas they have already devoured most oftheparentsseem to have the best title to the children.
Infant'sflesh will be in season throughout the yearbut moreplentifulin Marchand a little before and after; for we aretold by agrave authoran eminent French physicianthat fishbeing aprolific dyetthere are more children born in RomanCatholiccountries about nine months after Lentthe marketswill bemore glutted than usualbecause the number of Popishinfantsis at least three to one in this kingdomand thereforeit willhave one other collateral advantageby lessening thenumber ofPapists among us.
I havealready computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child(in whichlist I reckon all cottagerslabourersand four-fifthsof thefarmers) to be about two shillings per annumragsincluded;and I believe no gentleman would repine to give tenshillingsfor the carcass of a good fat childwhichas I havesaidwillmake four dishes of excellent nutritive meatwhen hehath onlysome particular friendor his own family to dine withhim. Thusthe squire will learn to be a good landlordand growpopularamong his tenantsthe mother will have eight shillingsneatprofitand be fit for work till she produces another child.
Those whoare more thrifty (as I must confess the times require)may fleathe carcass; the skin of whichartificially dressedwill makeadmirable gloves for ladiesand summer boots for finegentlemen.
As to ourCity of Dublinshambles may be appointed for thispurposein the most convenient parts of itand butchers we maybe assuredwill not be wanting; although I rather recommendbuying thechildren aliveand dressing them hot from the knifeas we doroasting pigs.
A veryworthy persona true lover of his countryand whosevirtues Ihighly esteemwas lately pleasedin discoursing onthismatterto offer a refinement upon my scheme. He saidthatmanygentlemen of this kingdomhaving of late destroyed theirdeerheconceived that the want of venison might be wellsupply'dby the bodies of young lads and maidensnot exceedingfourteenyears of agenor under twelve; so great a number ofboth sexesin every country being now ready to starve for want ofwork andservice: And these to be disposed of by their parents ifaliveorotherwise by their nearest relations. But with duedeferenceto so excellent a friendand so deserving a patriotIcannot bealtogether in his sentiments; for as to the malesmyAmericanacquaintance assured me from frequent experiencethattheirflesh was generally tough and leanlike that of ourschool-boysby continual exerciseand their taste disagreeableand tofatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to thefemalesit wouldI thinkwith humble submissionbe a loss tothepublicbecause they soon would become breeders themselves:Andbesidesit is not improbable that some scrupulous peoplemight beapt to censure such a practice(although indeed veryunjustly)as a little bordering upon crueltywhichI confesshathalways been with me the strongest objection against anyprojecthow well soever intended.
But inorder to justify my friendhe confessedthat thisexpedientwas put into his head by the famous Salmanaazoranative ofthe island Formosawho came from thence to Londonabovetwenty years agoand in conversation told my friendthatin hiscountrywhen any young person happened to be put todeaththeexecutioner sold the carcass to persons of qualityasa primedainty; and thatin his timethe body of a plump girloffifteenwho was crucified for an attempt to poison theEmperorwas sold to his imperial majesty's prime minister ofstateandother great mandarins of the court in joints from thegibbetatfour hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I denythatif thesame use were made of several plump young girls in thistownwhowithout one single groat to their fortunescannot stirabroadwithout a chairand appear at a play-house and assembliesin foreignfineries which they never will pay for; the kingdomwould notbe the worse.
Somepersons of a desponding spirit are in great concern aboutthat vastnumber of poor peoplewho are ageddiseasedormaimed;and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what coursemay betakento ease the nation of so grievous an incumbrance.But I amnot in the least pain upon that matterbecause it isvery wellknownthat they are every day dyingand rottingbycold andfamineand filthand verminas fast as can bereasonablyexpected. And as to the young labourersthey are nowin almostas hopeful a condition. They cannot get workandconsequentlypine away from want of nourishmentto a degreethat if atany time they are accidentally hired to common labourthey havenot strength to perform itand thus the country andthemselvesare happily delivered from the evils to come.
I have toolong digressedand therefore shall return to mysubject. Ithink the advantages by the proposal which I have madeareobvious and manyas well as of the highest importance.
For firstas I have already observedit would greatly lessenthe numberof Papistswith whom we are yearly over-runbeingtheprincipal breeders of the nationas well as our mostdangerousenemiesand who stay at home on purpose with a designto deliverthe kingdom to the Pretenderhoping to take theiradvantageby the absence of so many good Protestantswho havechosenrather to leave their countrythan stay at home and paytithesagainst their conscience to an episcopal curate.
SecondlyThe poorer tenants will have something valuable oftheir ownwhich by law may be made liable to a distressandhelp topay their landlord's renttheir corn and cattle beingalreadyseizedand money a thing unknown.
ThirdlyWhereas the maintainance of an hundred thousandchildrenfrom two years oldand upwardscannot be computed atless thanten shillings a piece per annumthe nation's stockwill bethereby encreased fifty thousand pounds per annumbesidesthe profit of a new dishintroduced to the tables of allgentlemenof fortune in the kingdomwho have any refinement intaste. Andthe money will circulate among our selvesthe goodsbeingentirely of our own growth and manufacture.
FourthlyThe constant breedersbesides the gain of eightshillingssterling per annum by the sale of their childrenwillbe rid ofthe charge of maintaining them after the first year.
FifthlyThis food would likewise bring great custom to tavernswhere thevintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure thebestreceipts for dressing it to perfection; and consequentlyhave theirhouses frequented by all the fine gentlemenwhojustlyvalue themselves upon their knowledge in good eating; anda skilfulcookwho understands how to oblige his guestswillcontriveto make it as expensive as they please.
SixthlyThis would be a great inducement to marriagewhich allwisenations have either encouraged by rewardsor enforced bylaws andpenalties. It would encrease the care and tenderness ofmotherstowards their childrenwhen they were sure of asettlementfor life to the poor babesprovided in some sort bythepublicto their annual profit instead of expence. We shouldsoon seean honest emulation among the married womenwhich ofthem couldbring the fattest child to the market. Men wouldbecome asfond of their wivesduring the time of theirpregnancyas they are now of their mares in foaltheir cows incalforsow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat orkick them(as is too frequent a practice) for fear of amiscarriage.
Many otheradvantages might be enumerated. For instancetheadditionof some thousand carcasses in our exportation ofbarrel'dbeef: the propagation of swine's fleshand improvementin the artof making good baconso much wanted among us by thegreatdestruction of pigstoo frequent at our tables; which areno waycomparable in taste or magnificence to a well grownfatyearlychildwhich roasted whole will make a considerable figureat a LordMayor's feastor any other public entertainment. Butthisandmany othersI omitbeing studious of brevity.
Supposingthat one thousand families in this citywould beconstantcustomers for infants fleshbesides others who mighthave it atmerry meetingsparticularly at weddings andchristeningsI compute that Dublin would take off annually abouttwentythousand carcasses; and the rest of the kingdom (whereprobablythey will be sold somewhat cheaper) the remaining eightythousand.
I canthink of no one objectionthat will possibly be raisedagainstthis proposalunless it should be urgedthat the numberof peoplewill be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This Ifreelyownand 'twas indeed one principal design in offering itto theworld. I desire the reader will observethat I calculatemy remedyfor this one individual Kingdom of Irelandand for noother thatever wasisorI thinkever can be upon Earth.Thereforelet no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxingourabsentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neithercloathsnor houshold furnitureexcept what is of our own growthandmanufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials andinstrumentsthat promote foreign luxury: Of curing theexpensivenessof pridevanityidlenessand gaming in ourwomen: Ofintroducing a vein of parsimonyprudence andtemperance:Of learning to love our countrywherein we differeven fromLaplandersand the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Ofquittingour animosities and factionsnor acting any longer likethe Jewswho were murdering one another at the very moment theircity wastaken: Of being a little cautious not to sell ourcountryand consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords tohave atleast one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastlyof puttinga spirit of honestyindustryand skill into ourshop-keeperswhoif a resolution could now be taken to buy onlyour nativegoodswould immediately unite to cheat and exact uponus in thepricethe measureand the goodnessnor could everyet bebrought to make one fair proposal of just dealingthoughoften andearnestly invited to it.
ThereforeI repeatlet no man talk to me of these and the likeexpedients'till he hath at least some glympse of hopethatthere willever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put themintopractice.
Butas tomy selfhaving been wearied out for many years withofferingvainidlevisionary thoughtsand at length utterlydespairingof successI fortunately fell upon this proposalwhichasit is wholly newso it hath something solid and realof noexpence and little troublefull in our own powerandwhereby wecan incur no danger in disobliging England. For thiskind ofcommodity will not bear exportationand flesh being oftoo tendera consistenceto admit a long continuance in saltalthoughperhaps I could name a countrywhich would be glad toeat up ourwhole nation without it.
After allI am not so violently bent upon my own opinionas toreject anyofferproposed by wise menwhich shall be foundequallyinnocentcheapeasyand effectual. But beforesomethingof that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to myschemeand offering a betterI desire the author or authorswill bepleased maturely to consider two points. FirstAs thingsnow standhow they will be able to find food and raiment for ahundredthousand useless mouths and backs. And secondlyTherebeing around million of creatures in humane figure throughoutthiskingdomwhose whole subsistence put into a common stockwouldleave them in debt two million of pounds sterlingaddingthose whoare beggars by professionto the bulk of farmerscottagersand labourerswith their wives and childrenwho arebeggars ineffect; I desire those politicians who dislike myovertureand may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answerthatthey willfirst ask the parents of these mortalswhether theywould notat this day think it a great happiness to have beensold forfood at a year oldin the manner I prescribeandtherebyhave avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunesasthey havesince gone throughby the oppression of landlordstheimpossibilityof paying rent without money or tradethe want ofcommonsustenancewith neither house nor cloaths to cover themfrom theinclemencies of the weatherand the most inevitableprospectof intailing the likeor greater miseriesupon theirbreed forever.
I professin the sincerity of my heartthat I have not theleastpersonal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessaryworkhaving no other motive than the public good of my countrybyadvancing our tradeproviding for infantsrelieving thepoorandgiving some pleasure to the rich. I have no childrenby which Ican propose to get a single penny; the youngest beingnine yearsoldand my wife past child-bearing.