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64 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1729
"Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own" (p.2)
"of what use is freedom of thought, if it will not produce freedom of action?" (p.51)
I have got materials toward a treatise proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale, and to show that it would be only rationis capax. Upon this great foundation of misanthropy, … the whole building of my Travels is erected. (21)Several texts in this collection:
I should now, in right of a dedicator, give your Lordship a list of your own virtues, and at the same time be very unwilling to offend your modesty; but chiefly I should celebrate your liberality towards men of great parts and small fortunes, and give you broad hints that I mean myself. And I was just going on in the usual method to peruse a hundred or two of dedications, and transcribe an abstract to be applied to your Lordship. (27)Fourth such outwork explains the title:
seamen have a custom when they meet a Whale to fling him out an empty Tub, by way of amusement, to divert him from laying violent hands upon the Ship. This parable was immediately mythologised; the Whale was interpreted to be Hobbes’ “Leviathan,” which tosses and plays with all other schemes of religion and government, whereof a great many are hollow, and dry, and empty, and noisy, and wooden, and given to rotation. This is the Leviathan from whence the terrible wits of our age are said to borrow their weapons. The Ship in danger is easily understood to be its old antitype the commonwealth. (39-40)Preface otherwise makes sure to avoid going forward “without declaiming, according to custom, against the multitude of writers whereof the whole multitude of writers most reasonably complain” (40). Speaker of the preface notes that in England it’s fine to state openly that “we live in the very dregs of time” (46)—not sure how to take that, as the layers of irony here are numerous—but it would be consistent with the retrograde politics.
For it hath been objected that those ancient heroes, famous for their combating so many giants and dragons and robbers, were in their own persons a greater nuisance to mankind than any of the monsters they subdued; and therefore, to render their obligations more complete, when all other vermin were destroyed, should in conscience have concluded with the same justice upon themselves, as Hercules most generously did. (72)Criticism is thereafter cunningly identified with the intention
to travel through this vast world of writings; to peruse and hunt those monstrous faults bred within them; to drag out the lurking errors, like Cacus from his den; to multiply them like Hydra’s heads; and rake them together like Augeas’ dung; or else drive away a sort of dangerous fowl who have a perverse inclination to plunder the best branches of the tree of knowledge, like those Stymphalian birds that ate up the fruit. (73)So, good to see that he has developed an enlightened attitude toward his interlocutors, for whom, I think, he has just recommended suicide.
get a thorough insight into the index by which the whole book is governed and turned, like fishes by the tail. For to enter the palace of learning at the great gate requires an expense of time and forms, therefore men of much haste and little ceremony are content to get in by the backdoor. For the arts are all in a flying march, and therefore more easily subdued by attacking from the rear. (104)“A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit”—
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 most recently reread Malthus's 1798 essay On the Principle of Population after the incredibly stupid premise of Avengers: Endgame, in which the villain espouses a (misunderstood) version of Malthusian economics. Malthus was, notably, wrong: he didn't account for technological advancement allowing for mass production and distribution of food products, nor did he anticipate the prevalence of contraceptives and medically safe abortions. The issues preventing the eradication of starvation, malnourishment, and "overpopulation" are all issues of corporate shortcomings refusing to allow the easy distribution of necessities, not issues of production. Malthus's assertion that the exponential growth of the population will rapidly outstrip the linear growth of food production fails to account for variables such as contraceptives, abortions, voluntary (or involuntary) sterilisation, but also anthropogenic stopgap measures such as China's one-child policy (which did, in fact, cut down on the birth rate... at the expense of the older population, which was not able to be sufficiently replaced in a way that would buoy the economy). In short: Malthus's prognosis required an unchanged world in order to hold water, and the world, as it is wont to do, changed.
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 Barbados.Swift goes on to note that children are a long-term investment, i.e., they are a drain on resources for many years before the parents begin to see returns on the investment. "I am assured by our merchants," Swift says, "that a boy or a girl, before twelve years old, is no saleable commodity." After this deceptive concern Swift cuts straight to the meat of the "modest" proposal: eating children. It would solve not only the overpopulation issue, he argues, but also reduce hunger. Swift expounds upon the practical benefits of the trade. And, deadpan as always, he introduces possible alternative solutions (raising taxes, rent control, local economic support, etc.) under the guise of dismissing them as foolish ideas. Any objection to this "proposal," Swift proclaims, would have to be under the heading that it would decrease the population—which is, of course, the intention of the concept.
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.