A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
A Modest Proposal – A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick, commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729.
Swift suggested that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. His work encouraged positive development for those that suffered from famishment and financial maladies, and urged the aristocratic landlords to lower their taxes, so as to not further starve the country of its food and coin. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. The primary target of Swift’s satire was the rationalism of modern economics, and the growth of rationalistic modes of thinking in modern life at the expense of more traditional human values.
In English writing, the phrase “a modest proposal” is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.
If you read this in high school (as many of us did), it may have shocked you–not bad for a tract written in 1729. It wouldn’t be fair to those of you who haven’t come across A Modest Proposal to reveal the particulars of the piece; suffice it to say that Saturday Night Live has nothing on Jonathan Swift! Swift’s discussion of what Great Britain should do for his native impoverished Ireland is a model of political satire, absolutely consistent in tone and even now still sparkling in its clarity. The balance between, on the one hand, the utter seriousness of the matter in question and, on the other, the outrageousness of the remedy suggested is exquisite. A Modest Proposal is short and comes bound in this edition with several of Swift’s other writings. This volume is an excellent introduction to the author of Gulliver’s Travels (itself a masterwork) and to one of the world’s premier satirical minds. What are you waiting for? –Michael Gerber
Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
Swift is remembered for works such as A Tale of a Tub (1704), An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1712), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729). He is regarded by the Encyclopædia Britannica as the foremost prose satirist in the English language, and is less well known for his poetry. He originally published all of his works under pseudonyms – such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, the Drapier – or anonymously. He was a master of two styles of satire, the Horatian and Juvenalian styles.
His deadpan, ironic writing style, particularly in A Modest Proposal, has led to such satire being subsequently termed “Swiftian”
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