by Jonathan Swift (1729)

  It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great
town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads,
and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by
three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every
passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work
for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in
strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they
grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear
native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves
to the Barbadoes.
  I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of
children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their
mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable
state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and,
therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of
making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would
deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a
preserver of the nation.

  But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for
the children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and
shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are
born of parents in effect as little able to support them as those
who demand our charity in the streets.

  As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon
this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of
other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the
computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be
supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment;
at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly
get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging;
and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them
in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or
the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives,
they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to
the clothing, of many thousands.

  There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will
prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women
murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us!
sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the
expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most
savage and inhuman breast.

  The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one
million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two
hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number
I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their
own children, although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under
the present distresses of the kingdom; but this being granted, there
will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract
fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or whose children die
by accident or disease within the year. There only remains one hundred
and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The
question therefore is, how this number shall be reared and provided
for, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of
affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed.
For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we
neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land:
they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing, till they
arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly parts,
although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during which
time, they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers,
as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of
Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two
instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so
renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.

  I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve
years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age
they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and
half-a-crown at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account
either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags
having been at least four times that value.

  I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope
will not be liable to the least objection.

  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.

  I do therefore humbly offer it to public 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 the 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, increaseth to 28

  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
prolific diet, there are more children born in Roman Catholic
countries about nine months after Lent than at any other season;
therefore, reckoning a year 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.

  I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in
which list I reckon all cottagers, laborers, and four-fifths of the
farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I
believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the
carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four
dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some
particular friend or his own family to dine with him. Thus the
squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his
tenants; the mother will have eight shillings net profit, and be fit
for work till she produces another child.

  Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may
flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make
admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.

  As to our city of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose
in the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured
will not be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children
alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

  A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues
I highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to
offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this
kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the
want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and
maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so
great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to
starve for want of work and service; and these to be disposed of by
their parents, if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations.
But with due deference to so excellent a friend and so deserving a
patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the
males, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent
experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that
of our schoolboys by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable;
and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the
females, it would, I think, with humble submission be a loss to the
public, because they soon would become breeders themselves; and
besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt
to censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly), as a
little bordering upon cruelty; which, I confess, hath always been with
me the strongest objection against any project, however so well

  But in order to justify my friend, he confessed that this
expedient was put into his head by the famous Psalmanazar, a native of
the island Formosa, who came from thence to London above twenty
years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country
when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner
sold the carcass to persons of quality as a prime dainty; and that
in his time the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for
an attempt to poison the emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty's
prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court, in
joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I
deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in
this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes cannot
stir abroad without a chair, and appear at playhouse and assemblies in
foreign fineries which they never will pay for, the kingdom would
not be the worse.

  Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about
that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed,
and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken
to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in
the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that
they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and
vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young
laborers, they are now in as hopeful a condition; they cannot get
work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to a
degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common
labor, they have not strength to perform it; and thus the country
and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come.

  I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject.
I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious
and many, as well as of the highest importance.

  For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the
number of papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the
principal breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous
enemies; and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver
the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the
absence of so many good protestants, who have chosen rather to leave
their country than stay at home and pay tithes against their
conscience to an episcopal curate.

  Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their
own, which by law may be made liable to distress and help to pay their
landlord's rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money
a thing unknown.

  Thirdly, Whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand children,
from two years old and upward, cannot be computed at less than ten
shillings a-piece per annum, the nation's stock will be thereby
increased fifty thousand pounds per annum, beside the profit of a
new dish introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the
kingdom who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate
among ourselves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and

  Fourthly, The constant breeders, beside the gain of eight
shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be
rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year.

  Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns;
where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best
receipts for dressing it to perfection, and consequently have their
houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value
themselves upon their knowledge in good eating: and a skilful cook,
who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it
as expensive as they please.

  Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all
wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and
penalties. It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers toward
their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the
poor babes, provided in some sort by the public, to their annual
profit instead of expense. We should see an honest emulation among the
married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the
market. Men would become as fond of their wives during the time of
their pregnancy as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows
in calf, their sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat
or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a

  Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the
addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barreled
beef, the propagation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art
of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction
of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in
taste or magnificence to a well-grown, fat, yearling child, which
roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a lord mayor's
feast or any other public entertainment. But this and many others I
omit, being studious of brevity.
                          *   *   *   *   *

  After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to
reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally
innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that
kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a
better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to
consider two points. First, as things now stand, how they will be able
to find food and raiment for an hundred thousand useless mouths and
backs. And secondly, there being a round million of creatures in human
figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a
common stock would leave them in debt two millions of pounds sterling,
adding those who are beggars by profession to the bulk of farmers,
cottagers, and laborers, with their wives and children who are beggars
in effect: I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may
perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will first ask
the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think
it a great happiness to have been sold for food, at a year old in
the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual
scene of misfortunes as they have since gone through by the oppression
of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade,
the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover
them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable
prospect of entailing the like or greater miseries upon their breed
for ever.

  I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least
personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work,
having no other motive than the public good of my country, by
advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and
giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children by which I can
propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old,
and my wife past child-bearing.


                              THE END