Abbreviated title
A modest proposal
JSA Identification Number
10_8_1
Teerink/Scouten Number
676
ESTC Number
N5335
Copy and its Location
CUL, Williams 327 (12)
Publisher and Printer
A modest proposal, Vol. , pp .
Dublin, Harding, Sarah, 1729.

Commentary

This is the first edition of A Modest Proposal. It was printed by Sarah Harding, who became Swift’s favoured printer after the death of her husband. Teerink in his bibliography says it was published at the end of October 1729.

Modest Proposal is a small octavo pamphlet. It is rather better printed than some of Harding’s other work (for example, An Answer to a P aper , C alled A Memorial), though the type is characteristically worn and there are some misprints. The text was probably copied from Swift’s manuscript by an amanuensis before it went to Harding, but she seems to have followed copy conscientiously and this printing brings us quite close to Swift’s writing. Although we know from a copy of the Miscellanies version of this text in the Rothschild collection in the library of Trinity College Cambridge that Swift made corrections himself, they are not extensive. Among Harding’s mistakes seem to be ‘neat Profit’ for ‘net Profit’ and ‘two tender’ for ‘too tender’.

This text is remarkable for its inventive use of typography, and this inventiveness will have been Swift’s rather than Sarah Harding’s. The irony of the proposal is underlined by the use of black letter for ‘Burthen to their Parents’ on the title page. At the close of the pamphlet itself Swift uses italics for the whole section in which counter-proposals (familiar from Swift’s other writings on Ireland) are rejected, but there is a more subtle use of italic running throughout the piece. Some of it is doubtless parodic, underlining the sentimental and patriotic (‘dear native Country’), but on other occasions it emphasizes the outrageous (‘just dropt from it’s Dam’; ‘Gloves for Ladies and Summer Boots for fine Gentlemen’). The italic points up the varied and inconsistent voicing of the proposal.

Sarah Harding was the widow of John Harding, who had printed the Drapier’s Letters and other controversial works for Swift. She seems to have run a small shop, operating on very narrow margins. For further information, see the exemplary accounts by James Woolley.

References: The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis and others, 16 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1939-74), vol. xii, pp. 109-18, 335-6; Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The Man, His Works, and the Age, 3 vols. (London: Methuen, 1962-83), vol. iii, pp. 629-31; James Woolley, ‘Sarah Harding as Swift’s Printer’, in Walking Naboth’s Vineyard: New Studies of Swift, ed. Christopher Fox and Brenda Tooley (Notre Dame, IN: University of Natre Dame Press, 1995), pp. 164-77; The Intelligencer, ed. James Woolley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992); Mary Pollard’s A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800 (London: The Bibliographical Society, 2000).