Abbreviated title
A modest proposal
JSA Identification Number
Teerink/Scouten Number
27 (4b)
ESTC Number
Copy and its Location
CUL, Williams 160 (4)
Publisher and Printer
Miscellanies, the third volume, Vol. iii, pp 138-56.
London, Motte, Benjamin Gilliver, Lawton Wright, John, 1732.


This version of A Modest Proposal appeared in the Swift-Pope Miscellanies in 1732. It was first printed as a pamphlet by Sarah Harding in 1729. The ordering of the volumes of these miscellanies is confusing. The third volume published was called the ‘last’, and when Pope decided to publish a fourth volume they called it the ‘third’. This volume, like the others, was published in octavo and in duodecimo. The volume this text is printed from is a duodecimo and sometimes in other sets the title pages are changed so that this volume is called the last.

The volume was printed by John Wright, whose business at this time was shaped by Pope. Pope does not, however, seem to have been very interested in the prose pieces in the Miscellanies, and I see no evidence of his hand in Modest Proposal. It is a characteristic Wright job, tidily and accurately done, in not especially good type, with liberal use of printer’s ornaments.

Swift’s marked-up copy of this text survives in the Rothschild collection in the library of Trinity College Cambridge.

This text is remarkable for its inventive use of typography, and Pope and Wright have retained the complex italicization of the original. Towards the close of the pamphlet 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.

The plan to produce volumes of miscellanies modelled on Swift’s miscellany of 1711 seems to have been hatched during Swift’s stay with Pope at Twickenham in the spring and summer of 1726. The basic plan had been for the first volume to reprint 1711, the second to focus on prose by Arbuthnot and Swift, and the third to contain verse by Swift and Pope. The third was called the ‘Final’ volume, but Pope then decided on a fourth one, unfortunately called the third. The volumes were to be published in London, by Motte, who had become Swift’s bookseller, and Pope, because he was on the spot (and liked doing that sort of thing) was to take charge of revising and editing. Tensions eventually arose because of Pope’s attitude to Swift’s poetry and Swift’s willingness to publish elsewhere; but surprisingly little evidence has emerged so far of Pope’s distorting the text of Swift’s work.

Benjamin Motte, Jr.’s father was a printer and a friend of Swift’s bookseller, Benjamin Tooke. He had intellectual interests, like his son, who was to publish an Abridgement of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Societ y. He died in 1710 and Motte took over the printing business from his mother when he came of age in 1715. He became a bookseller at the end of 1723 or the beginning of 1724, becoming a partner in the Tooke business. When Benjamin Tooke, Jr., died in May 1723, he left his bookselling business to his brother Samuel but a controlling interest to an older brother, Revd. Andrew Tooke, who was soon to become the censor of Gulliver’s Travels. Benjamin Motte joined Samuel Tooke in partnership shortly afterwards; perhaps he was helping out family friends, but it proved an expensive move. Samuel Tooke died in December 1724, leaving Motte in charge of the business, but when Andrew Tooke died in January 1732, Motte owed him £1,645. Motte’s financial problems with Gulliver’s Travels and the Miscellanies should be seen against this background. Motte gave up his Aldersgate printing house in 1726; in 1727 he bound Charles Bathurst as apprentice for the large sum of £80; he took Bathurst into partnership in 1734; he died intestate in April 1738; Bathurst carried on the business until he died in 1786. All my information on Motte comes from the innovative research of Michael Treadwell.

Lawton Gilliver (?1703-48)came from a wealthy family in Derbyshire. He set up in business in Fleet Street in 1728, and his sign, Homer’s Head, suggests he may have done so with Pope’s support. From the Dunciad Variorum in 1729 to Works II in 1735 he was Pope’s chosen bookseller and issued many of the important works of the second part of his career. He went bankrupt in 1742.

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, 736-49; Michael Treadwell, ‘Benjamin Motte, Jr’, in Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 154, The British Literary Book Trade, 1700-1820, ed. James E. Bracken and Joel Silver (Detroit, MI: Gale, 1995); J. McLaverty, Pope’s Printer, John Wright: A Preliminary Study (Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1977) and ‘Lawton Gilliver: Pope’s Bookseller’, Studies in Bibliography, 32 (1979), 101-24.