ARTICLE: Stephen Swift-A Modest Proposal
October 9, 2002

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A Modest Proposal
by Stephen Swift
First Published in 2002


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 prophets of all and various and sundry types, followed by three, four, or six spiritual children, all in rags or military fatigues and importuning every passenger with a handout or a flyer. These zealots, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to importunately and annually warn of a certain doom to come this year, or even this month: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Jerusalem, the so called prophet Elijah, or sell themselves to the purveyors of the prosperity gospel.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of prophets 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 false prophets 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 prophets; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of the populace.

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 prophet just dropped from its church may be watched closely for a solar year, with little other effort being made than a casual search of the internet; at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother church may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old in the prophetic ministry that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish or their sending church, 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.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy prophet, well nursed is at a year old in the ministry 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. Certainly, this manner could also be favorably employed in the Spanish speaking districts where the shredding of beef, or the empanada are the favorite cuisine.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand prophets (it certainly seems there are that many on the internet), twenty thousand may be reserved where accuracy in prediction is noted in such for one year, wherereof 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 prophets are seldom evidencing the fruits of the spirit, 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 in their ministry, and having been found prophetically irresponsible, reckless and inaccurate, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom. A prophet 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 grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for pastors, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the prophets.

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 prophets alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

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.

First, the general welfare will be improved, and the prophetic word will be more respected and heeded by the general public, as it becomes known that inaccurate practitioners are removed from the ranks.

Secondly, The poorer churches 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 unknown.

Thirdly, those who desire the reenactment of Jewish law and it's accompanying religious fervor will be placated, while the general public will also be greatly benefited. The mere reestablishment of the Sanhedrin with their arbitrary and capricious slaying of the prophets will do no one any good, and will anger the deity to which we are much indebted. We find this proposal preferable to any pretenders to solvency.

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 prophet, 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.

Supposing that one thousand families in this city would be constant customers for prophets flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly weddings and christenings; I compute that Dublin would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses, and the rest of the kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) the remaining eighty thousand.

I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal unless it should be urged that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. Therefore, let no man talk to me of other expedients.

But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England, or America for that matter. For this king of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.

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 know of no prophets in the WPA by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being thirty years old, and the oldest, well, let's just say he is old. Anyway, all in the WPA are accurate. The cry of my heart is for accuracy and responsibility in the prophetic, and for the general improvement of the things in this life, and in the life to come.

The current situation, being polluted as it is, demands that something be done. Surely the evangelical churches, who banded together so nobly concerning financial accountability, will be among the first to warmly embrace this proposal.


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