Swift suggests that the landlords eat the children of their peasant tenants.
The modest proposal is that the poor have too many children, so if they start eating children they will be better off.
I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.
There is a play on the word “dear,” which is used both to mean expensive and loved, reinforcing the satire. Basically, Swift is saying that the landlords have destroyed the children’s parents and metaphorically devoured them, so they might as well actually devour their children.
The satire of the piece is biting. Swift is blaming the landlords for the peasants’ problems, because they have been greedy and callous. Obviously, he does not really expect landlords to eat their tenants’ babies, but the proposal alone is enough to get them thinking about how they treat them.
The speaker proposes that the children of the poor should contribute to the wellness of the society by being reared and sold as a delicacy to the well-off landlords.
He says, “…at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune…always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month so as to render them plum and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes…the fore or hind quarters will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt…”
The speaker of course does not mean this in the literal sense. His proposal is satirical and intended to decry the deplorable living conditions of the Irish subjects under the English land owners.