A Modest Proposal

Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt

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 do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. 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.

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.” from A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift


17 responses to “A Modest Proposal”

  1. You’ve just got to hand it to Jonathan Swift !
    Do you know the one about the young man who was besotted by this girl, and adored the ground she had walked on, and more, until the day he found her coming out of the “bathroom”. Total psychological collapse ! “celia shits!”.
    I cannot find it anywhere. maybe it’s gone the way of Skinner’s misbehaviour with numbers in the 50’s.


    • Why do you loathe teaching it? When I read it in high school I thought it was brilliant–how quickly we rationalize evil and dehumanize life! Swift hits right at the heart of things past and present.

      I’m actually surprised it’s still taught.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dealing with the mixed reactions to the baby-eating aspect is rather wearisome. We now read parts, rather than the whole, and this gets the idea of satire and of rhetorical strategy quite well which sidesteps nicely the more unsavory descriptive.


      • Hmm. You have me thinking. Unsavory is a very funny word to use. What do we do with the real-life unsavory aspects of the callous selling of real-life unborn children’s body parts?

        What elements of reality do we allow young adults to know about? Most people recoil at the thought of inflicting pain on or killing children. I think that’s why none of us want to see ultrasounds of babies so we can continue to believe that Swift’s words were only satire.

        The Irish back then were treated as less than human so to them the satire was only just a step away from reality. Now we have REALITY.

        I wonder what we’ll do with this new unsavory development .


  2. I remember when each of my kids was an infant people would say they looked yummy or threaten to gobble them up. Perhaps they had read Mr. Swift’s piece and missed the satire. I really got sick of telling people: Don’t eat the baby!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sifting through baby parts in a pie dish for cash–no longer satire. let me take another sip of wine while we negotiate. Sigh.

      People always said, “Oh, your babies should be models.” I guess I didn’t feed them enough to look like good eating. And who in their right mind would allow a baby to become a model? maybe a dancer in high heels at 6, but NOT a model. I have my limits.


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