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how we ought to act in Ireland from the example of England, Holland, France, or any other country whose inhabitants are allowed the common rights and liberties of human-kind. I could undertake to name six or seven of the most uncontrolled maxims in government, which are utterly false in this kingdom.
As to the additional duty on wine, I think any person may deliver his opinion upon it, until it shall have passed into a law; and till then I declare mine to be positively against it.
First, Because there is no nation yet known in either hemisphere, where the people of all conditions are more in want of some cordial to keep up their spirits than in this of ours. I am not in jest; and if the fact will not be allowed me, I shall not argue it.
Secondly, It is too well and generally known that this tax of 40s. additional on every tun of wine (which will be double, at least, to the home consumer) will increase equally every new session of parliament, until perhaps it comes to 121.
Thirdly, Because, as the merchants inform me, and as I have known many the like instances in England, this additional tax will more probably lessen this branch of the revenue than increase it. And therefore Sir John Stanley, a commissioner of the customs in England, used to say, “ That the house of commons were generally mistaken in matters of trade, by an erroneous opinion that two and two make four.”. Thus, if you should lay an additional duty of one penny a pound on raisins or sugar, the revenue instead of rising would certainly sink; and the consequence would only be, to lessen the number of plum-puddings and ruin the confectioner. Fourthly, I am likewise assured by merchants, that upon
this ad. ditional 40s. the French will at least equally raise their duties upon all commodities we export thither.
Fifthly, If an original extract of the exports and imports be true, we have been gainers upon the balance by our trade with France for several years past; and although our gain amounts to no great sum, we ought to be satisfied, since we are no losers, with the only consolation we are capable of receiving.
Lastly, The worst consequence is behind. If we raise the duty on wine to a considerable height, we lose the only hold we have of keeping among us the few gentlemen of any tolerable estates. I am confident there is hardly a gentleman of 8001. a-year
upward in this kingdom, who would balance half an hour to consider whether he should live here or in England, if a family could be as cheaply maintained in the one as the other. As to eatables, they are as cheap in many fine counties of England as in some very indifferent ones here; or if there be any difference, that vein of thrift and prudence in economy
which passes there without reproach, and (chiefly in London itself) would amply make up the difference. But the article of French wine is hardly tolerable, in any degree of plenty, to a middling fortune; and this it is which, by growing habitual, wholly turns the scale with those few landed men disengaged from employments who content themselves to live hospitably with plenty of good wine in their own country, rather than in penury and obscurity in another, with bad or with none at all.
Having, therefore, as far as in me lies abolished this additional duty upon wine; for I am not under the least concern about paying the interest of the national debt, but leave it as in loyalty bound wholly to the wisdom of the honorable house of commons; I come now to consider by what methods we may be able to put off and delay our utter undoing as long as it is possible.
I never have discoursed with any reasonable man upon the subject, who did not allow that there was no remedy left us but to lessen the importation of all unnecessary commodities as much as it was possible; and likewise either to persuade our absentees to spend their money at home, which is impossible; or tax them at five shillings in the pound during their absence, with such allowances upon necessary occasions, as shall be thought convenient: or by permitting us a free trade, which is denied to no other nation upon earth. The three last methods are treated by Mr. Prior in his most useful treatise added to his list of absentees.
It is to gratify the vanity and pride and luxury of the women, and of the young fops who admire them, that we owe this insupportable grievance of bringing in the instrument of our ruin. There is annually brought over to this kingdom near 90,0001. worth of silk, whereof the greater part is manufactured ; 30,0001. more expended in muslin, holland, cambric, and calico. What the price of lace amounts to is not easy to be collected from the custom-house book, being a kind of goods that takes up a little room and is easily run; but considering the prodigious price of a woman's head-dress at 101., 121., 201., a yard must be very great. The tea rated at 7s. per pound, comes to near 12,0001. ; but considering it as the common luxury of every chambermaid, sempstress, and tradesman's wife, both in town and country, however they come by it must needs cost the kingdom double that sum. Coffee is somewhat above 7,0001. I have seen no account of chocolate and some other Indian or American goods. The drapery imported is about 24,0001. The whole amounts (with one or two other particulars) to 150,0001. The lavishing of all which money is just as prudent and necessary as to see a man in an embroidered coat begging out of Newgate in an old shoe.
I allow that the thrown and raw silk is less pernicious, because we have some share in the manufacture : but we are not now in circumstances to trifle. It costs us above 40,0001. a-year; and if the ladies till better times will not be content to go in their own country shifts, I wish they may go in rags. Let them vie with each other in the fineness of their native linen: their beauty and gentleness will as well appear, as if they were covered with diamonds and brocade.
I believe no man is so weak as to hope or expect that such a reformation can be brought about by a law. But a thorough hearty unanimous vote in both houses of parliament might perhaps answer as well: every senator, noble or plebeian, giving his honor, “That neither himself nor any of his family would in their dress, or furniture of their houses, make use of anything except what was of the growth and manufacture of this kingdom; and that they would use the utmost of their power, influence and credit, to prevail on their tenants, dependants and friends, to follow their example.”
A MODEST PROPOSAL
FOR PREVENTING THE CHILDREN OF POOR PEOPLE IN IRELAND
FROM BEING A BURDEN TO THEIR PARENTS OR COUNTRY, AND FOR MAKING THEM BENEFICIAL TO THE PUBLIC. 1729.
A foreign author is said actually to have considered the proposal as serious, and
to have quoted it as an instance of the extremity under which Ireland labored.
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 the Barbadoes.
I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, 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 children 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 children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them as those who demand our charity in the streets.
As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam, may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, 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.
There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas, too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.
The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about 200,000 couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I substract 30,000 couple who are able to maintain their own children, (although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom ;) but this being granted, there will remain 170,000 hreeders. I again subtract 50,000 for those women who miscarry,
or whose children die by accident or disease within the year.
There only remains 120,000 children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, how this number shall be reared and provided for? which as I have already said under the present situation of affairs is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land; they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing, till they · arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly parts; although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier; during which time, they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers; as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.
I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no saleable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above 31. or 31. 2s. 6d. at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that value.
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 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 do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the 120,000 children already computed, 20,000 may be reserved for breed, whereof 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 children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining 100,000 may at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune throuyh the kingdom: always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. 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, and seasoned with a little pepper or