A Satire with Plenty of Bite; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Daily Mail (London), January 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Satire with Plenty of Bite; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION Who was the 18thcentury author or politician who suggested that the Irish could end a famine by eating their children?

THIS wasn't a serious suggestion, but a satire called 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, by brilliant Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), famous for having written Gulliver's Travels.

It wasn't so much famine as the terrible poverty of the Irish poor and their, often unwanted, children to which his Modest Proposal was directed.

Under the general heading Ironical Essays, he wrote: 'It is a melancholy Object to those who walk through this great Town (Dublin) or travel in the Country, when they see the Streets, the Roads and Cabbin-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 livelyhood, are forced to employ all of their time Stroling to beg Sustenance for their helpless Infants, who, as they grow up, either turn Thieves or leave their dear Native Country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.'

His solution? Eat the babies! He recommended a new baby should be suckled by its mother for one year and 'let them Suck plentifully in the last Month, so as to render them Plump, and Fat, for a good Table (after which it may be sold for ten shillings).

'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.'

Apart from reducing poverty the mothers would become wealthy, and it would also 'lessen the Number of Papists among us'.

He observes that: 'We would soon see an honest Emulation among married Women, which of them could bring forth the fattest Child to the Market.

'Men would become as fond of their Wives as they are of their pregnant sows, nor offer to beat or kick them for fear of a miscarriage, and therefore loss of income.'

He says '(a pig) is 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 Publick Entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being studious of Brevity.'

Of course, this was all tongue-in-cheek as Swift no doubt relished the reaction of horror his idea would generate.

William Neil, Reading.

QUESTION The trains on the Great Northern Line into Moorgate Tube station on the London Underground are 37 years old. Are they the oldest commuter trains in Britain?

SOUTH West Trains Island Line operates an 81/2-mile stretch of track from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin down the eastern side of the Isle of Wight. The rolling stock for this service is more than 70 years old.

The British Rail Class 483 electrical multiple units were built as 1938 Tube stock units for London Underground. Having worked for nearly 50 years there, they were refurbished between 1989 and 1992 for use on the Island Line.

The units replaced the even older Class 485 and Class 486 units, which were originally built as standard stock units for the London Electric Railway in 1923. The stock is the oldest type in Great Britain to remain in regular service and, while a little bouncy, are perfectly serviceable.

Ted Williams, Portsmouth.

QUESTION During the Forties, the U.S navy experimented with electromagnets attached around some of its ships to avoid radar detection. One ship, the U.S.S.

Eldridge, is claimed by many witnesses to have disappeared and then reappeared hundreds of miles away. …

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