The Wikipedia article on satire has a section on censorship and criticsim which contains the following claim (emphasis added):

For instance, at the time of its publication, many people misunderstood Swift's purpose in A Modest Proposal, assuming it to be a serious recommendation of economically motivated cannibalism.[citation needed]

The claim is not supported by a source and the article about Swift's A Modest Proposal contains no such claim.

What is the evidence that many contemporary readers misread Swift's essay in this way? (I am not looking for evidence for the plausibility that some people misread it; that is almost a given. I am looking for examples from Swift's lifetime.)

  • 2
    In the age of the internet, surely it has become completely clear that there will always be a few people who mistake satire for a serious recommendation. So this just leaves the question of how many is many, which is more or less a matter of opinion.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 3:30
  • 1
    @PeterShor See "at the time of its publication" in the quote. A Modest Proposal was published in 1729, more than two centuries before the invention of the internet.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 12:30
  • 2
    @Tsanduko: technology has changed. I doubt that the psychology of people and the propensity of some of them to mistake satire for a serious recommendation has; the internet has simply made it much more obvious that such people exist.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 12:31
  • @PeterShor But my question is specifically about the first readers, i.e. contemporaries of Swift.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 12:34


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