by Jonathan Swift

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

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 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 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 intended.

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

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

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 manufacture.

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

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.