Jonathan Swift is the author of “A Modest Proposal,” but he is almost certainly not the narrator who is making the proposal. Thus, the claims we are considering here are those that the narrator makes. This narrator uses two kinds of evidence—quantitative and qualitative—and provides numerous pieces of data of both kinds.
The quantitative, or numerical, evidence includes demographic statistics. Challenging other “computations,” he says he offers more accurate numbers. Of 1.5 million people in the kingdom,
I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children . . .
After some additional calculations, he arrives at 120,000 remaining children who are born to poor parents. Rather than start with this questionable “statistic,” which would encourage readers’ doubt, he builds a case by using several statistics. Of course, the source of his numbers is never provided.
The qualitative evidence, which is subjective and non-numerical, includes supposedly authoritative accounts as well as inferences drawn from personal observation. One such account is from an American in London:
I have been assured by a very knowing American 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.
By including details about how the “food” would be prepared, the narrator aims to support the credibility of the claim—after all, it is secondhand information. Similarly, he mentions “merchants” as the source of information about a reasonable sale price for children of specific ages.
[A] boy or girl, before twelve years old, is no saleable age, [because] they will no yield above three pounds, or three pounds a crown and a half, at the most.
A personal observation, from which he extrapolates, concerns overpopulation. His proposal concerns
the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them as [well as] those who demand our charity in the streets.
From having seen women panhandling and other beggars with children, he extends the idea that there are more poor children whose parents need help but do not beg on the streets.
In sum, the narrator includes “statistics” as well as hearsay or personal reports in support of his claims.