Ireland in 1729 a modest proposal
A Modest Proposal: For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public by Jonathan Swift (1 star ratings)Published anonymously in 1729, Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, puts forth the darkly comical idea that the starving poor of Ireland might alleviate their economic condition by selling their children as food for wealthy gentlemen and ladies.
At its core, Swift’s Modest Proposal satirizes English exploitation of Ireland in particular and the heartless attitude that rich elites can develop towards the poor in general. Along with Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal is an early English example of the black comedic genre.
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Resources: A Modest Proposal
Dedicated to the exploration of hoaxes, mischief, and misinformation throughout history. Toggle navigation. The essay began innocuously by discussing the problem of numerous starving beggars and homeless children in Ireland. But then it proposed a radical solution: Ireland's large, impoverished population could be turned to its advantage by feeding the unwanted babies of the poor to the rich. Swift noted, "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 fricassee, or a ragout.
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The essay suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. In English writing, the phrase "a modest proposal " is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire. Swift's essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Much of its shock value derives from the fact that the first portion of the essay describes the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, so that the reader is unprepared for the surprise of Swift's solution when he states: "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 fricassee , or a ragout. Swift goes to great lengths to support his argument, including a list of possible preparation styles for the children, and calculations showing the financial benefits of his suggestion.
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Trade restrictions had greatly hurt the economy and the lack of work led to rampant poverty and hunger. The sight of beggars in the streets, was a common sight. Overpopulation and overcrowding contributed to the dismal conditions, and there seemed to be little hope that things would improve.
Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in His father died before he was born, leaving the family with relatively modest means. Nevertheless, as a member of the Anglo-Irish ruling class, Swift received the best education Ireland could offer. During his ten years in this position, Swift took advantage of Temple's vast library to round out his education and immersed himself in the politics and opinions of this prominent intellectual. Swift took orders in the Anglican Church in , and he was named dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin in
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 fricassee or a ragout. Aside from providing a valuable source of food and clothing, other benefits of the scheme would include: a reduction in the number of Roman Catholics in Ireland; a general boost to the economy; and an increase in trade at taverns and other places where food was prepared due to interest in the new dish. Men would also be less likely to beat their pregnant wives for fear of causing an unprofitable miscarriage. The full text of the Modest Proposal is available from a variety of open access sources, including the Project Gutenberg website. Some time ago, I was preparing a lecture that mentioned the Modest Proposal and I went looking for an appropriate image for my powerpoint presentation. Here are just a few of them….