A Modest Proposal


Jonathon Swift is the poster boy for satire.  Gulliver’s Travels is probably the most famous work of satire in the English language.  I read that in high school, so I put Swift’s second most notorious work on The Book List: A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on their Parents or their Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick (1729).  You know, the one about eating children.

Swift’s parents were English, but he spent most of his life in Ireland.  He was outraged by British exploitation of the Irish people.  In A Modest Proposal Swift satirizes the barbarous treatment of the Irish by suggesting that poor Irish mothers sell their babies to the wealthy for food.  He defends his proposal in grizzly and hilarious detail: “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 fricasie, or a ragoust.”  I love that he gets his information on cannibalism from an American.  We were considered uncivilized barbarians at that time, I suppose.

I am not going to say much else about A Modest Proposal, because it is only about eight pages long.  So, if you are interested at all, you might as well read it yourself.  It’s worth reading simply because it is so frequently referenced, in my all-time favorite episode of Sealab 2021, for example.

Favorite Snippet:

 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.

You might like this pamphlet if:

  • you have a dark sense of humor.
  • you liked Gulliver’s Travels.
  • you like biting political satire.
  • you like the instant gratification of reading things that are short.
  • you are interested in 18th century Ireland.


You might not like this pamphlet if:

  • you can’t take a joke.


Final thoughts: Just read it.  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h.htm


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