CELT document E700001-009

A Proposal for giving badges to the beggars in all the parishes of Dublin

Jonathan Swift

Whole text


A proposal for giving badges to the beggars in all the parishes of Dublin.

It hath been a general complaint, that the poor-house, especially since the new Constitution by Act of Parliament, hath been of no benefit to this city, for the ease of which it was wholly intended. I had the honour to be a member of it many years before it was new modelled by the legislature, not from any personal regard, but merely as one of the two deans, who are of course put into most commissions that relate to the city; and I have likewise the honour to have been left out of several commissions upon the score of party, in which my predecessors, time out of mind, have always been members.

The first commission was made up of about fifty persons, which were the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, and some few other citizens; the Judges, the two Archbishops, the two Deans of the city, and one or two more gentlemen. And I must confess my opinion, that the dissolving the old commission, and establishing a new one of nearly three times the number, have been the great cause of rendering so good a design not only useless, but a grievance instead of a benefit to the city. In the present commission all the city clergy are included, besides a great number of 'squires, not only those who reside in Dublin, and the neighbourhood, but several who live at a great distance, and cannot possibly have the least concern for the advantage of the city.

At the few general meetings that I have attended since the new Establishment, I observed very little was done, except one or two Acts of extreme justice, which I then thought  p.326 might as well have been spared: and I have found the Court of Assistants usually taken up, in little brangles about coachmen, or adjusting accounts of meal and small beer; which, however necessary, might sometimes have given place to matters of much greater moment, I mean some schemes recommended to the General Board, for answering the chief ends in erecting and establishing such a poor house, and endowing it with so considerable a revenue: and the principal end I take to have been that of maintaining the poor and orphans of the city, where the parishes are not able to do it; and clearing the streets from all strollers, foreigners, and sturdy beggars, with which, to the universal complaint and admiration, Dublin is more infested since the Establishment of the poor-house, than it was ever known to be since its first erection.

As the whole fund for supporting this hospital is raised only from the inhabitants of the city, so there can be hardly any thing more absurd, than to see it misemployed in maintaining foreign beggars and bastards, or orphans, whose country landlords never contributed one shilling towards their support. I would engage, that half this revenue, if employed with common care, and no very great degree of common honesty, would maintain all the real objects of charity in this city, except a small number of original poor in every parish, who might, without being burthensome to the parishioners, find a tolerable support.

I have for some years past applied myself to several Lord Mayors, and to the late Archbishop of Dublin, 1 for a remedy to this evil of foreign beggars; and they all appeared ready to receive a very plain proposal, I mean, that of badging the original poor of every parish, who begged in the streets;  p.327 that the said beggars should be confined to their own parishes; that, they should wear their badges well sewn upon one of their shoulders, always visible, on pain of being whipped and turned out of town; or whatever legal punishment may be thought proper and effectual. But, by the wrong way of thinking in some clergymen, and the indifference of others, this method was perpetually defeated, to their own continual disquiet, which they do not ill deserve; and if the grievance affected only them, it would be of less consequence, because the remedy is in their own power. But all street walkers, and shopkeepers bear an equal share in this hourly vexation.

I never heard more than one objection against this expedient  p.328 of badging the poor, and confining their walks to their several parishes. The Objection was this: What shall we do with the foreign beggars? Must they be left to starve? I answered, No; but they must be driven or whipped out of town; and let the next country parish do as they please; or rather after the practice in England, send them from one parish to another, until they reach their own homes. By the old laws of England still in force, and I presume by those of Ireland, every parish is bound to maintain its own poor; and the matter is of no such consequence in this point as some would make it, whether a country parish be rich or poor. In the remoter and poorer parishes of the kingdom, all necessaries for life proper for poor people are comparatively cheaper; I mean buttermilk, oatmeal, potatoes, and other vegetables; and every farmer or cottager, who is not himself a beggar, can sometimes spare a sup or a morsel, not worth the fourth part of a farthing, to an indigent neighbour of his own parish, who is disabled from work. A beggar native of the parish is known to the 'squire, to the church minister, to the popish priest, or the conventicle teachers, as well as to every farmer: he hath generally some relations able to live, and contribute something to his maintenance. None of which advantages can be reasonably expected on a removal to places where he is altogether unknown. If he be not quite maimed, he and his trull, and litter of brats (if he hath any) may get half their support by doing some kind of work in their power, and thereby be less burthensome to the people. In short, all necessaries of life grow in the country, and not in cities, and are cheaper where they grow; nor is it equal, that beggars should put us to the charge of giving them victuals, and the carriage too.

But, when the spirit of wandering takes him, attended by his female, and their equipage of children, he becomes a nuisance to the whole country: he and his female are thieves, and teach the trade of stealing to their brood at four years old; and if his infirmities be counterfeit, it is dangerous for a single person unarmed to meet him on the road. He wanders from one county to another, but still with a view to this town, whither he arrives at last, and enjoys all the privileges of a Dublin beggar.


I do not wonder that the country 'squires should be very willing to send up their colonies; but why the city should be content to receive them, is beyond my imagination. If the city were obliged by their charter to maintain a thousand beggars, they could do it cheaper by eighty per cent. a hundred miles off, than in this town, or any of its suburbs.

There is no village in Connaught, that in proportion shares so deeply in the daily increasing miseries of Ireland, as its capital city; to which miseries there hardly remained any addition, except the perpetual swarms of foreign beggars, who might be banished in a month without expense, and with very little trouble.

As I am personally acquainted with a great number of street beggars, I find some weak attempts to have been made in one or two parishes to promote the wearing of badges; and my first question to those who ask an alms, is, Where is your badge? I have in several years met with about a dozen who were ready to produce them, some out of their pockets, others from under their coat, and two or three on their shoulders, only covered with a sort of capes which they could lift up or let down upon occasion. They are too lazy to work, they are not afraid to steal, nor ashamed to beg; and yet are too proud to be seen with a badge, as many of them have confessed to me, and not a few in very injurious terms, particularly the females.

They all look upon such an obligation as a high indignity done to their office. I appeal to all indifferent people, whether such wretches deserve to be relieved. As to myself, I must confess, this absurd insolence hath so affected me, that for several years past, I have not disposed of one single farthing to a street beggar, nor intend to do so, until I see a better regulation; and I have endeavoured to persuade all my brother-walkers to follow my example, which most of them assure me they do. For, if beggary be not able to beat out pride, it cannot deserve charity. However, as to persons in coaches and chairs, they bear but little of the persecution we suffer, and are willing to leave it entirely upon us.

To say the truth, there is not a more undeserving vicious  p.330 race of human kind than the bulk of those who are reduced to beggary, even in this beggarly country. For, as a great part of our publick miseries is originally owing to our own faults (but, what those faults are I am grown by experience too wary to mention) so I am confident, that among the meaner people, nineteen in twenty of those who are reduced to a starving condition, did not become so by what lawyers call the work of GOD, either upon their bodies or goods; but merely from their own idleness, attended with all manner of vices, particularly drunkenness, thievery, and cheating.

Whoever enquires, as I have frequently done, from those who have asked me an alms; what was their former course of life, will find them to have been servants in good families, broken tradesmen, labourers, cottagers, and what they call decayed house-keepers; but (to use their own cant) reduced by losses and crosses, by which nothing can be understood but idleness and vice.

As this is the only Christian country where people contrary to the old maxim, are the poverty and not the riches of the nation, so, the blessing of increase and multiply is by us converted into a curse: and, as marriage hath been ever countenanced in all free countries, so we should be less miserable if it were discouraged in ours, as far as can be consistent with Christianity. It is seldom known in England, that the labourer, the lower mechanick, the servant, or the cottager thinks of marrying until he hath saved up a stock of money sufficient to carry on his business; nor takes a wife without a suitable portion; and as seldom fails of making a yearly addition to that stock, with a view of providing for his children. But, in this kingdom, the case is directly contrary, where many thousand couples are yearly married, whose whole united fortunes, bating the rags on their backs, would not be sufficient to purchase a pint of buttermilk for their wedding supper, nor have any prospect of supporting their honourable state, but by service, or labour, or thievery. Nay, their happiness is often deferred until they find credit to borrow, or cunning to steal a shilling to pay their Popish priest, or infamous couple-beggar. Surely no miraculous portion of wisdom would be required to find some kind of remedy against  p.331 this destructive evil, or at least, not to draw the consequences of it upon our decaying city; the greatest part whereof must of course in a few years become desolate, or in ruins.

In all other nations, that are not absolutely barbarous, parents think themselves bound by the law of nature and reason to make some provision for their children; but the reasons offered by the inhabitants of Ireland for marrying is, that they may have children to maintain them when they grow old and unable to work.

I am informed that we have been for some time past extremely obliged to England for one very beneficial branch of commerce: for it seems they are grown so gracious as to transmit us continually colonies of beggars, in return of a million of money they receive yearly from hence. That I may give no offence, I profess to mean real English beggars in the literal meaning of the word, as it is usually understood by protestants. It seems, the Justices of the Peace and parish officers in the western coasts of England, have a good while followed the trade of exporting hither their supernumerary beggars, in order to advance the English Protestant interest among us; and, these they are so kind to send over gratis, and duty free. I have had the honour more than once to attend large cargoes of them from Chester to Dublin: and I was then so ignorant as to give my opinion, that our city should receive them into bridewell, and after a month's residence, having been well whipped twice a day, fed with bran and water, and put to hard labour, they should be returned honestly back with thanks as cheap as they came: or, if that were not approved of, I proposed, that whereas one English man is allowed to be of equal intrinsic value with twelve born in Ireland, we should in justice return them a dozen for one, to dispose of as they pleased. But to return.

As to the native poor of this city, there would be little or no damage in confining them to their several parishes. For instance; a beggar of the parish of St. Warborough's  2 or any other parish here, if he be an object of compassion, hath an equal chance to receive his proportion of alms  p.332 from every charitable hand; because the inhabitants, one or other, walk through every street in town, and give their alms, without considering the place, wherever they think it may be well disposed of: and these helps, added to what they get in eatables by going from house to house among the gentry and citizens, will, without being very burthensome, be sufficient to keep them alive.

It is true, the poor of the suburb parishes will not have altogether the same advantage, because they are not equally in the road of business and passengers: but here it is to be considered, that the beggars there have not so good a title to publick charity, because most of them are strollers from the country, and compose a principal part of that great nuisance, which we ought to remove.

It should be apt to think, that few things can be more irksome to a city minister, than a number of beggars which do not belong to his district, whom he hath no obligation to take care of, who are no part of his flock, and who take the bread out of the mouths of those, to whom it properly belongs. When I mention this abuse to any minister of a city-parish, he usually lays the fault upon the beadles, who he says are bribed by the foreign beggars; and, as those beadles often keep ale-houses, they find their account in such customers. This evil might easily be remedied, if the parishes would make some small addition to the salaries of a beadle, and be more careful in the choice of those officers. But, I conceive there is one effectual method, in the power of every minister to put in practice; I mean, by making it the interest of all his own original poor, to drive out intruders: for, if the parish-beggars were absolutely forbidden by the minister and church-officers, to suffer strollers to come into the parish, upon pain of themselves not being permitted to beg alms at the church-doors, or at the houses and shops of the inhabitants; they would prevent interlopers more effectually than twenty beadles.

And, here I cannot but take notice of the great indiscretion in our city-shopkeepers, who suffer their doors to be daily besieged by crowds of beggars, (as the gates of a lord are by duns,) to the great disgust and vexation of many customers, whom I have frequently observed to go to other shops, rather than suffer such a persecution; which might  p.333 easily be avoided, if no foreign beggars were allowed to infest them.

Wherefore, I do assert, that the shopkeepers, who are the greatest complainers of this grievance, lamenting that for ever customer, they are worried by fifty beggars, do very well deserve what they suffer, when a 'prentice with a horsewhip is able to lash every beggar from the shop, who is not of the parish, and does not wear the badge of that parish on his shoulder, well fastened and fairly visible; and if this practice were universal in every house to all the sturdy vagrants, we should in a few weeks clear the town of all mendicants, except those who have a proper title to our charity: as for the aged and infirm, it would be sufficient to give them nothing, and then they must starve or follow their brethren.

It was the city that first endowed this hospital, and those who afterwards contributed, as they were such who generally inhabited here; so they intended what they gave to be for the use of the city's poor. The revenues which have since been raised by parliament, are wholly paid by the city, without the least charge upon any other part of the kingdom; and therefore nothing could more defeat the original design, than to misapply those revenues on strolling beggars, or bastards from the country, which bear no share in the charges we are at.

If some of the out-parishes be overburthened with poor, the reason must be, that the greatest part of those poor are strollers from the country, who nestle themselves where they can find the cheapest lodgings, and from thence infest every part of the town, out of which they ought to be whipped as a most insufferable nuisance, being nothing else but a profligate clan of thieves, drunkards, heathens, and whore-mongers, fitter to be rooted out of the face of the earth, than suffered to levy a vast annual tax upon the city, which shares too deep in the public miseries, brought on us by the oppressions we lye under from our neighbours, our brethren, our countrymen, our fellow protestants, and fellow subjects.

Some time ago it was appointed one of a committee to inquire into the state of the workhouse; where we found that a charity was bestowed by a great person for a certain  p.334 time, which in its consequences operated very much to the detriment of the house: for, when the time was elapsed all those who were supported by that charity, continued on the same foot with the rest of the foundation; and being generally a pack of profligate vagabond wretches from several parts of the kingdom, corrupted all the rest; so partial, or treacherous, or interested, or ignorant, or mistaken are generally all recommenders, not only to employments but even to charity itself.

I know it is complained, that the difficulty of driving foreign beggars out of the city is charged upon the bellowers (as they are called) who find their accounts best in suffering those vagrants to follow their trade through every part of the town. But this abuse might easily be remedied, and very much to the advantage of the whole city, if better salaries were given to those who execute that office in the several parishes, and would make it their interest to dear the town of those caterpillars, rather than hazard the loss of an employment that would give them an honest livelyhood. But, if that would fail, yet a general resolution of never giving charity to a street beggar out of his own parish, or without a visible badge, would infallibly force all vagrants to depart.

There is generally a vagabond spirit in beggars, which ought to be discouraged and severely punished. It is owing to the same causes that drove them into poverty; I mean, idleness, drunkenness, and rash marriages without the least prospect of supporting a family by honest endeavours, which never came into their thoughts. It is observed, that hardly one beggar in twenty looks upon himself to be relieved by receiving bread or other food; and they have in this town been frequently seen to pour out of their pitcher good broth that hath been given them, into the kennel; neither do they much regard clothes, unless to sell them; for their rags are part of their tools with which they work: they want only ale, brandy, and other strong liquors, which cannot be had without money; and, money as they conceive, always abounds in the metropolis.

I had some other thoughts to offer upon this subject. But, as I am a desponder in my nature, and have tolerably well discovered the disposition of our people, who never will  p.335 move a step towards easing themselves from any lone single grievance; it will be thought, that I have already said too much, and to little or no purpose; which hath often been the fate, or fortune of the writer,


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Title (uniform): A Proposal for giving badges to the beggars in all the parishes of Dublin

Author: Jonathan Swift

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Electronic edition compiled by: Benjamin Hazard

Funded by: University College, Cork and The Higher Education Authority via the CELT Project.

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2. Second draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 4965 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork.

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2004

Date: 2010

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E700001-009

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Editions and secondary literature

  1. An excellent bibliography covering many aspects of Jonathan Swift's Life, his writings, and criticism, compiled by Lee Jaffe, is available at http://www.jaffebros.com/lee/gulliver/bib/index.html.
  2. J. Bowles Daly (ed.), Ireland in the days of Dean Swift, Irish tracts 1720–1734. (London 1887).
  3. Frederick Ryland (ed.), Swift's Journal to Stella, A.D. 1710–1713. (London 1897).
  4. Temple Scott (ed.), A tale of a tub, and other early works. (London 1897).
  5. Frederick Falkiner, Essays on the portraits of Swift: Swift and Stella. (London 1908).
  6. C. M. Webster, Swift's Tale of a Tub compared with Earlier Satires of the Puritans. Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 47/1 (March 1932) 171–178.
  7. Stephen L. Gwynn, The life and friendships of Dean Swift. (London 1933).
  8. Stanley Lane-Poole (ed.), Selections from the prose writings of Jonathan Swift with a preface and notes. (London 1933).
  9. Ricardo Quintana, The mind and art of Jonathan Swift. (Oxford 1936).
  10. Louis A. Landa, Swift's Economic Views and Mercantilism, English Literary History 10/4 (December 1943) 310–335.
  11. R. Wyse Jackson, Swift and his circle. (Dublin 1945).
  12. Herbert Davis, The Satire of Jonathan Swift (New York 1947).
  13. Martin Price, Swift's rhetorical art. (New York 1953).
  14. Robert C. Elliott, Swift and Dr Eachard. Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 69/5 (December 1954) 1250–1257.
  15. John Middleton Murry, Jonathan Swift: A Critical Biography. (London 1954).
  16. John Middleton Murry, Swift. (London: Published for the British Council and the National Book League 1955).
  17. Kathleen Williams, Swift and the age of compromise. (London 1959).
  18. John M. Bullitt, Jonathan Swift and the anatomy of satire: a study of satiric technique. (Harvard 1961).
  19. Harold Williams (ed.), The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift. (Oxford 1963–65).
  20. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Jonathan Swift: essays on his satire and other studies. (New York 1964).
  21. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Gulliver's Travels. [based on the Faulkner edition, Dublin 1735] (Oxford 1965).
  22. Herbert J. Davis (ed.), Swift: poetical works. (New York 1967).
  23. R. B. McDowell, 'Swift as a political thinker'. In: Roger Joseph McHugh and Philip Edwards, Jonathan Swift: 1667–1967, a Dublin tercentenary tribute (Dublin 1967). 176–186.
  24. Brian Vickers (ed.), The world of Jonathan Swift: essays for the tercentenary. (Oxford 1968).
  25. Kathleen Williams, Jonathan Swift. (London 1968).
  26. Morris Golden, The self observed: Swift, Johnson, Wordsworth. (Baltimore 1972.)
  27. Jane M. Snyder, The meaning of 'Musaeo contingens cuncta lepore', Lucretius 1.934, Classical World 66 (1973) 330–334.
  28. Claude Julien Rawson, Gulliver and the gentle reader: studies in Swift and our time. (London and Boston 1973).
  29. A. L. Rowse, Jonathan Swift, major prophet. (London 1975).
  30. Alexander Norman Jeffares, Jonathan Swift. (London 1976).
  31. Clive T. Probyn, Jonathan Swift: the contemporary background. (Manchester 1978).
  32. Clive T. Probyn (ed.), The art of Jonathan Swift. (London 1978).
  33. Irvin Ehrenpreis, Swift: The man, his works, and the age (three volumes). (London 1962–83).
  34. David M. Vieth (ed.), Essential articles for the study of Jonathan Swift's poetry. (Hamden 1984).
  35. James A. Downie, Jonathan Swift, political writer. (London 1985).
  36. Frederik N. Smith (ed.), The genres of Gulliver's travels. (London 1990).
  37. James Kelly, 'Jonathan Swift and the Irish Economy in the 1720s', Eighteenth-century Ireland: Iris an dá chultúr 6 (1991) 7–36.
  38. Joseph McMinn (ed.), Swift's Irish pamphlets. (Gerrards Cross 1991).
  39. Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: the Irish identity. (Yale 1995).
  40. Christopher Fox, Walking Naboth's vineyards: new studies of Swift (University of Notre Dame Ward-Philips lectures in English language and literature, Vol. 13). (Notre Dame/Indiana 1995).
  41. Claude Rawson (ed.), Jonathan Swift: a collection of critical essays. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jeresey, 1995).
  42. Michael Stanley, Famous Dubliners: W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Wolfe Tone, Oscar Wilde, Edward Carson. (Dublin 1996).
  43. Daniel Carey, 'Swift among the freethinkers'. Eighteenth-century Ireland: Iris an dá chultúr 12 (1997) 89–99.
  44. Victoria Glendinning, Jonathan Swift. (London 1998).
  45. Aileen Douglas; Patrick Kelly; Ian Campbell Ross, (eds.). Locating Swift: essays from Dublin on the 250th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745. (Dublin 1998).
  46. Bruce Arnold, Swift: an illustrated life. (Dublin 1999).
  47. Nigel Wood (ed.), Jonathan Swift. (London and New York 1999).
  48. Christopher J. Fauske, Jonathan Swift and the Church of Ireland, 1710–24 (Portland/Oregon 2001).
  49. David George Boyce; Robert Eccleshall; Vincent Geoghegan (eds.), Political discourse in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland. (Basingstoke and New York 2001).
  50. Ann Cline Kelly, Jonathan Swift and popular culture: myth, media and the man. (Basingstoke 2002).
  51. Dirk F. Passmann and Heinz J. Vienken, The library and reading of Jonathan Swift: a bio-bibliographical handbook. 4 vols. (Frankfurt 2003).
  52. Mark McDayter, 'The haunting of St James's Library: librarians, literature, and The Battle of the Books'. Huntington Library Quarterly, 66:1–2 (2003) 1–26.
  53. Frank T. Boyle, 'Jonathan Swift' [A companion to satire]. In: Ruben Quintero (ed.), A companion to satire (Oxford 2007) 196–211.
  54. Harry Whitaker, C. U. M. Smith and Stanley Finger (eds.), Explorations of the brain, mind and medicine in the writings of Jonathan Swift. (Springer (US) 2007).
  55. Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: his life and his world. Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven: Yale University Press [2013].

The edition used in the digital edition

‘A Proposal for giving badges to the beggars in all the parishes of Dublin’ (1905). In: The prose works of Jonathan Swift D. D.‍ Ed. by Temple Scott. Vol. 7: Historical and political tracts—Irish. London: George Bell and Sons, pp. 325–335.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {A Proposal for giving badges to the beggars in all the parishes of Dublin},
  booktitle 	 = {The prose works of Jonathan Swift D. D.},
  editor 	 = {Temple Scott},
  address 	 = {London},
  publisher 	 = {George Bell and Sons},
  date 	 = {1905},
  volume 	 = {7: Historical and political tracts—Irish},
  pages 	 = {325–335}


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Creation: By Jonathan Swift

Date: April 1737

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  • The whole text is in English. (en)
  • One word is in Latin. (la)

Keywords: political; prose; 18c

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  1. 2010-08-04: Conversion script run; header updated, file parsed. New SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2008-09-23: Keywords added; file validated. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2008-07-24: Value of div0 "type" attribute modified, additions to bibliography made, content of 'langUsage' revised; minor modifications made to header. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2005-08-25: Normalised language codes and edited langUsage for XML conversion. (ed. Julianne Nyhan)
  5. 2005-08-04T14:20:28+0100: File converted to XML. (ed. Peter Flynn)
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  7. 2004-03-01: File parsed. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
  8. 2004-02-28: Header constructed; bibliography compiled, structural mark-up inserted and verified, text proofed. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
  9. 2004-02-17: Text scanned and checked. (Text capture Benjamin Hazard)

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