Today is the birthday of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and “A Modest Proposal.”
Jonathan Swift was born on this day in 1667, in Dublin, Ireland. His father was dead by the time of his birth, and he suffered through a childhood of poverty and a disappointment. He went on to become one of the finest satirists of all time, and is best known for his long narrative, Gulliver’s Travels.
My favorite work of Swift’s, however, is the essay “A Modest Proposal,” which is one of those works that everyone knows abut but not everyone has read. In this essay, he argues–logically, evenly, and sensibly–that the best way to alleviate the poverty of the Irish people is for them to sell their children to the wealthy to be eaten.
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 fricasie, or a ragout.
If you haven’t read “A Modest Proposal,” you should definitely devote half an hour of your time to do so. There is no satire more biting, more audacious, or more hilarious than this one. Satire only works if you are in on the joke, and you can’t be in on the joke unless you read Jonathan Swift.
UPDATE: “A Modest Proposal” is no longer my favorite Jonathan Swift work. It has been surpassed by A Tale of a Tub. Read my thoughts on Tub here.