A Modest Proposal
How we cite our quotes:
It is a melancholy object to 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 all importuning every passenger for an alms. (1)
One of Swift's favorite topics was how everyone in Ireland was as poor and miserable except the tippy-top classes. Check out "Causes of the Wretched Condition of Ireland" (1726) for a quick rundown of his serious thoughts.
These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg for 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 Barbados. (1)
The narrator is basically saying that the Irish would rather become traitors or slaves than suffer through poverty. Pretty extreme, right? It's half true: many of the poorest Irish citizens sold themselves to sugar plantations in the West Indies to get out of Dodge.
I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in arms, or on 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. (2)
Someone needs to hire a babysitter. Note the word choice: Swift is saying that overpopulation is "a great additional grievance" in a nation that's already suffering, not the reason for Ireland's problems.