City Shower

City Shower



City Shower

A Description of a City Shower. October, 1710. by Jonathan Swift

Careful observers may foretell the hour (By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower: While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er Her frolics and pursues her tail no more. Returning home at night, you'll find the sink Strike your offended sense with double stink. If you be wise, then go not far to dine: You'll spend in coach-hire more than save in wine. A coming shower your shooting corns presage, Old aches throb, your hollow tooth will rage. Sauntering in coffee-house is Dulman seen; He damns the climate and complains of spleen.
Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings, A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings, That swilled more liquor than it could contain And like a drunkard gives it up again. Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope, While the first drizzling shower is borne aslope: Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean. You fly, invoke the gods; then turning, stop To rail; she singing, still whirls on her mop. Not yet the dust had shunned th' unequal strife, But, aided by the wind, fought still for life, And wafted with its foe by violent gust, 'Twas doubtful which was rain and which was dust. Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid When dust and rain at once his coat invade; His only coat, where dust confus'd with rain Roughen the nap and leave a mingled stain.
Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down, Threatening with deluge this devoted town. To shops in crowds the daggled females fly, Pretend to cheapen goods but nothing buy. The Templar spruce, while every spout's abroach, Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach. The tucked-up sempstress walks with hasty strides While streams run down her oil'd umbrella's sides. Here various kinds by various fortunes led Commence acquaintance underneath a shed. Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs Forget their feuds and join to save their wigs. Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits, While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits; And ever and anon with frightful din The leather sounds; he trembles from within. So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed, Pregnant with Greeks, impatient to be freed, (Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do, Instead of paying chairmen, run them through), Laocoðn struck the outside with his spear, And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear,
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow, And bear their trophies with them as they go: Filth of all hues and odours seem to tell What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell. They, as each torrent drives, with rapid force From Smithfield or St. Pulchre's shape their course And in huge confluent join at Snow Hill ridge, Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge. Sweepings from butchers stalls, dung, guts, and blood, Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud, Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood.
Etext Prepared by Jack Lynch
Jonathan Swift, "Description of a City Shower," and "A Modest Proposal"  (1st draft by Tara Conrad with additions by Arnie.)
Genre: satiric verse and prose satire.
Form: "City Shower" is in heroic couplets, rhyming pairs of loose iambic pentameter lines (with a few extra syllables tucked in there when necessary.
Characters: Swift’s "Projector" persona in "A Modest Proposal"; quick mention of a few different people (Susan, the Templar, "sempstress," Tories, Whigs, and beaux).
Summary: "A Modest Proposal, For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public"
This essay satirically promotes the consumption of one-year-old children to eliminate the growing number of poor citizens in Ireland. The speaker proposes that women should breast feed their children until the child is one year old, when the baby should be ready for sale. He supports his claim that this would be a wise course of action by pointing out the child would cost "less than two shillings for rags to wear."   When the child reaches one year of age, the child could then be sold to wealthy landowners that would pay ten shillings for the delicacy, a profit of eight shillings for the mother. The speaker discusses many different ways for these aristocrats to stew or roast these plump babes, and other profitable things to do with the "byproducts" or which would result from the children's absence from their families.
Swift uses savage irony to point out the inhumane condition of the colonized Irish.   Near the end, his "Projector" rejects several rational ways to help the poor, strategies Swift, himself, had previously proposed in pamphlets, including the series known as "The Drapier's Letters.".
Part of the satire's effect derives from the thoroughness with which it works out its basic metaphor equating the English devouring of innocent babies and wealthy absentee landowners devouring the Irish economy.   This has the effect of literalizing the metaphor as the butchery, sale, and consumption of the "product" are worked out.  This also was a satirical strategy we saw in Jonson's Volpone (feigned madness becomes a real madness, leading to encarceration).
This proposal could be compared to More’s Utopia because they both use satire to discuss the welfare of society. More used a more appealing alternative to create his utopia,  a place where everyone was equal and where sharing everything solved class divisions.  Distancing the subject from England helps readers play More's game since it reduces  their drive to test the utopian constructs against "reality."  By contrast, Swift used the horrendous proposal of devouring children to make a statement about the society in which he lived, in effect making England and Ireland seem strange, alien places, a negation of the popular vision.   Such a "negative Utopia" could be called a "dystopia."
"Description of a City Shower"
Swift writes about what happens during a sudden shower in terms of how people react to it: Susan takes down her linens from the line, Tories and Whigs "forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs"(line 41), etc. He goes on to discuss the incredible stench and filth of the London sewers. Swift describes what can be found floating up out of the sewers when there is a downpour (dead cats, butchers' scraps, etc.).  The effect is to level all the pretentions of the street's human denizens to the level of what the shower does to  them, eliminating the illusion of difference and forcing them to acknowledge their animal origins.  It's an interesting poem to compare with Dryden's "Annus Mirabilus" which turns a city ruined by the great fire into a rising, angelic ruler of the world.

Issues and Research Sources:

  • In this proposal, Swift has mentioned other ways to increase the prosperity of Ireland (2478).
    • Why do you think that Swift chose to use the devouring of children’s flesh as the basis of this proposal?

We have many precedents for this strategy.  For instance, Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals" argued that, though they ate human flesh, the cannibals were more noble than we were in their other conduct; Jonson's Volpone, suggested that Europeans' greed turned them into animals who preyed upon one another; Behn's Oroonoko, argued that sophisticated Europeans were more debased than the "Natural Man."

    • What use have the English made of the supposed binary opposition "civilized-savage" and how have they defined those terms?

Note that even Behn makes her most debased European "the wild Irishman, Bannister" and moderate Marvell's "Horatian Ode" guardedly praises Cromwell's suppression of the Irish, while Milton positively dances on Irish graves in his commendatory poem to Cromwell on the same expedition.  What mental behaviors make it possible for the colonizers to make such radical distinctions between themselves and the colonized?

    • Where do the Irish fit into the English project of self-definition and self-justification?

Think about how we conceive of our identities by making comparisons and contrasts with others.  In our most deeply buried layers of character, there are visions of the Other by which we anchor our separateness, our notion of a discrete identity.  The use of the Irish as the Other happens in America, too, with even in the works of revered writers like Thoreau and Hawthorne.

  • In C17 editions of "Modest Proposal" some of the text was italicized in order to emphasis the meaning of these sections. Usually these sections contained Swift’s personal feelings or attitudes toward modern issues of poverty and poverty.
  • Do you think that these sections had more influence on the reader because they were highlighted?

    3.  One of the infuriating things about the "Proposer"'s or "Projector"'s voice is its serene rationalism.   All of its rhetoric imitates the ideal C17 public speaker's tone of sweet reason and enlightened concern for the well-being of others.  He never descends to polemical ranting.  The scariest part of the essay may be when the argument turns to the suggestion that, if the Irish were offered the chance to kill their children, they might prefer it to seeing them grow up in such total poverty (cf. Oroonoko's decision to kill Imoinda so that their unborn children would not be raised as slaves).

  • How and why does Swift manage to bring his readers to see that they can imagine even cannibalism as a "rational" alternative to other things?
  • What could be his agenda regarding rationalism, and how might it compare with Rochester's "Satyr Against Reason and Mankind"?

    4.  Though the typical student reading of this "proposal" is that the morally bankrupt "Proposer" wishes to sell Irish babies to the absentee English landlords, the narrator specifically points out that this is impossible because "this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although I perhaps I could name a country which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it."  That's Swift's closest approach to the "English landlords eating Irish babies" reading, and he turns it into a hypothetical metaphor in the end.   Instead, it appears the Irish, themselves, must be the "customers" for this new Irish delicacy that's too dainty to export.  How does that affect your sense of the experience of the satire's first readers when they picked it up in Dublin bookstalls?  Note, too, that for many years the satire was published only in Ireland--how does that affect your sense of the author's ability to predict his audience's reactions?

  • Though the first edition clearly identifies "Dr. Swift" as the author, another edition published in the same year does not name the author at all.  In the next year, a quasi-anonymous edition, attributed to "Dr. S--ft," was published with a preface containing the names of all English absentee landlords, their annual income from the Irish estates, and a proposal to tax them, followed by "A Modest Proposal . . . "  What is Swift up to?  How does anonymous publication of satires play with the readers' gullibility and what effects does that risk?  For a complete publication history of this satire and the rest of Swift's works, see Herman Teerink.     A bibliography of the writings in prose and verse of Jonathan Swift, D. D. .The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1937. 826.4 S97Qt   Please don't hesitate to ask for help understanding the abbreviations and other conventions of bibliographic description.  Once you figure out how to use sources like these, they can reveal important details of a work's reception in its various stages of publication, as well as its periods of relative unpopularity.
  • The conditions Swift describes in "A Modest Proposal" are not hyperbole.  Only his Projector's solution exaggerates, and perhaps only a little.  The situation continued to deteriorate for another 150 years, during which English landlords exported from Ireland the grain and livestock Irish tenant farmers raised, while the farmers increasingly had to live on a limited range of vegetables, mainly potatoes.  In 1845, a previously unknown fungus named Phytophthora infestans attacked the potato crop.   For five years, while England continued to export all other edible crops from Ireland to England, the Irish starved, were evicted from their homes, caught cholera, typhus, and typhoid fever in the workhouses, were shipped to Australia, Canada and America by the hundreds of thousands only to die on the ships or shortly after reaching land, until a population of eight to nine million souls was reduced to between five and six million. Swift tried to tell them what would happen.  Which satirists are we ignoring, to our peril, today?
  • If you liked Swift's satire, look here for the story of the famous "Isaac Bickerstaff" prediction of a famous London astrologer's death.


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City Shower


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City Shower