ricardo to maria edgeworth
[Reply to 510.—Answered by 514]
Bromesberrow Place Ledbury 13 Decr. 1822
My Dear Miss Edgeworth
I am sure you will have concluded that I had left London before your letter reached me, when you found a reasonable time had elapsed, and you had no answer to it. I therefore need not tell you that such was the fact, and that the first time I saw it was on sunday last on my arrival from Dover at Brook Street.—I have seen a great deal more of the Continent than I expected when we parted in London. My companions and I journey’d on very comfortably together through Holland, by the Rhine, through Switzerland, till we arrived at Geneva, when a grand consultation took place whether we should return home or proceed into Italy.
If this question had been to be decided by ballot, or even by open voting, the result would not have been a moment doubtful, but as it depended on the fiat of an absolute monarch, some pleadings were necessary. At Geneva we received letters from all our dear children at home—they all conveyed good news—they told us that Mrs. Clutterbuck was safely in bed with a little girl, that she was going on well, and that all the rest were in perfect health. These facts were strongly urged, and the absolute monarch was graciously pleased to give directions to prepare for passing the Alps. Thanks to Bonaparte this passage was not a difficult task; we crossed the Simplon in the most beautiful weather, and visited successively the towns of Milan, Verona, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Leghorn, Pisa, Genoa and Turin. From the latter we crossed Mont Cenis, and made the best of our way to Paris. At Paris we stayed three weeks, and finished our excursion by a prosperous voyage across our narrow channel, immediately after the hurricane of thursday last would permit a vessel to put to sea. Our little party have returned in perfect health, and highly delighted with our tour. If we have a complaint to make it is that we had too few difficulties to combat with. We were not robbed nor benighted. The roads were almost uniformly good, and our carriage neither broke down, nor was it overturned. Landlords were civil to us—they gave us good beds and wholesome food, and their charges were by no means unreasonable. Notwithstanding this want of striking adventures, the recollection of our journey is a source of great pleasure to us, and we talk over the little incidents of it with a great deal of interest and animation. At Geneva I had the satisfaction of seeing our friend Dumont in good health;—as a proof of it, he accompanied us to Chamouny, and accomplished, with us young ones, the ascent of the Montanvert. I need not say that his society afforded us all much gratification, for you know what an agreeable companion he is. This was not the only pleasure which awaited me at Geneva and in its neighbourhood;—the Duke and Madme. de Broglie were at Coppet, and I went with Mr. Dumont to dine with them. I had never seen Madme. de Broglie before: I was delighted with her. I do not know whether you know it, but I am very shy, which I, sometimes, perhaps generally, hide under as bold an exterior as I can assume. All the painful feelings of shyness vanished after I had been five minutes in the company of the Duchess—she was so affable, so unaffected, and made me feel so much at my ease that I could scarcely believe I was in her company for the first time. The Duke was kind and agreeable as usual. Monsr. Sismondi was of the party. He and I differ much in our views on subjects connected with Politl. Economy, and these differences were brought under discussion. I had a powerful ally in the Duke; the brunt of the battle fell on him and he defended our common principles with great judgement and ability. Madame sat by as umpire, and if she did not determine in favor of either of the contending parties, she at least kept us within the rules of order and fair play. Although I think that Mr. Sismondi has taken an erroneous view on these questions, I am fully sensible of his great talents and pleasing manners—it gave me great pleasure to meet him a second time at a dinner given to us by Mr. Dumont the day before I quitted Geneva. At Paris I again had the satisfaction of seeing Monsr. and Madme. de Broglie with the Baron de Stael—they all reached that city after I had arrived there. I did not fail to pay my respects at Paris to Monsr. Delessert and his brother; from both gentlemen I received many acts of kindness; they were always willing to give me or procure for me every information I required respecting commercial and financial subjects. At Mons. B. Delesserts I had the pleasure of sitting next to Madme.. Gautier at dinner, who besides her other claims to my good will added that of calling you her friend.
You will think that I have devoted a sufficient portion of my letter to an account of my travels,—I will now attend to the topics touched upon in your letter. And first, upon the subject of French stock. You will have observed that there have been great variations in the price, accordingly as the opinions in favor of peace or of war have prevailed. Peace appears now to be probable: if it should not be disturbed, all alarm respecting the goodness of our security will for the present cease. I retain a favorable opinion of the soundness of the resources of France, and at the present depressed price of stock I have not any intention of selling mine, but if the price should rise to 95 I shall be disposed to sell about half of what I have. My reasons for doing so are, first, that I bought at a much lower price, and secondly because the measures pursued by the French Government are such as I think will at no distant time produce internal disorder, if they do not disturb the relations of peace with foreign countries. I am pretty confident however that the funds will survive, let whatever changes that may take place.
I am pleased to hear that though you have all fallen again into the regular course of your former habits and pursuits, you yet retain a pleasing recollection of your journey to England; above all am I pleased that the recollection of me and mine is associated in all your minds with agreeable reflections. This is such acceptable intelligence to me that I readily give it credit, notwithstanding that your letter confirms me in my former suspicion of your wishing to give pleasure to your friends by placing their good qualities in the most prominent and agreeable light.
I do not know that I have given the question for and against the potatoe that degree of attentive consideration to entitle me to speak with confidence upon it. It is probable, I think, that, as in most other contested opinions, the parties on both sides have been guilty of exaggeration. I confess I have always inclined to that view which regards it as an evil that the population of a country should be chiefly fed and supported on potatoes. But my objection rests almost wholly on the fact which we have so often witnessed of the crop being uncertain and liable to peculiar accidents. We cannot, I think, doubt, that the situation of mankind would be much happier if we could depend with as much certainty on a given quantity of capital and labour producing a certain quantity of food, as we can depend upon the same quantity of capital and labour producing a certain quantity of manufactured goods. It is evident that in the latter case we can calculate upon results almost with absolute certainty; in the other case we must always be exposed to the uncertainty of the seasons, which will render the crop fluctuating. If it be granted that certainty, with respect to the production of quantity of food, be desirable, it follows that of all the different qualities of food on which mankind can be sustained, provided it be not too difficult to obtain it, that quality is most desirable for their general consumption, on the production of which we can rely with the most certainty. In comparing wheat and potatoes I apprehend the former approaches much nearer to the desired end than the other, and for that reason I give it the decided preference. The argument, that the failure of the potatoe crop is only occasional, and that at all other times there will be in the world a much greater number of happy and contented beings, appears to me defective. Judging by my own feelings, if, for five, six, or seven years of easy competency, with respect to food, I had to endure one year of famine, and to witness the sufferings of my family and friends for that one dreadful year, I would rather that I had never been born;—no happiness, (and it is happiness of no extraordinary kind of which we are speaking) can compensate perpetual hunger, and all the evils in its train, for one year, much less can it compensate for the dreadful suffering of starvation, if that should be the consequence. Answer this objection and I am for the potatoe. You say, that the potatoe is a storeable food, and you would, I conclude, infer from that fact, that provision might be made in years of plenty for the occasional years of scarcity. There can be no doubt if it be a storeable food, and if the preparation of it for store were not expensive, so that the price should not be greatly enhanced to the consumer in the years of deficient crop, great progress would be made in the defence of the potatoe, but we must be satisfied as to this fact; and then I should still require some proof that there were among you some of those patient, plodding, calculating merchants who would be contented to enter into a speculation on a prospect of its success in four, five, or ten years. Give me these securities and I will fight with you till death in favor of the potatoe, for my motto, after Mr. Bentham, is “the greatest happiness to the greatest number.”
As to the objection of potatoes facilitating the cottagers subdivision of property, we might have said the same of wheat in former ages. While potatoes continued very cheap it would have that tendency, but I do not know why potatoes might not become in time as dear as wheat, for let it be always remembered that it is not quantity that regulates price, but facility or difficulty of production. If the people of all countries lived on potatoes, I can conceive the world to be many times its present amount of population; potatoes to be increased 50 or 100 times in quantity; and yet to be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in value. Sloth and rags are no more the concomitants of potatoes, than of wheat. With the one we might have an industrious, happy people, equally as with the other, only 3 times (perhaps) more numerous. Good government does not depend on the food of the people, and I have great doubts whether the population of Ireland would have been wiser or happier if they had never lived on any other food but wheat, provided the crop of wheat had been subject to the same vicissitudes from seasons that potatoes are liable to. It is quite certain it would never have been so numerous.
I agree with you as to many of the Malthean objections to the potatoes being unfounded they might equally apply to machinery in manufactures;—in fact Malthus himself does so apply them.
I think we are not only richer but happier in England than in Ireland, and for the reasons I have before given, we are never so near actual famine as you are; what can you put in the scale against this dreadful evil? I should be glad to accept your summons and go to Ireland to judge for myself, I thank you for the tempting offers you make me, so does Mrs. Ricardo, so does Mary, and so also does Birtha, but it is for the present out of the question, we shall however hope some day to pay you a visit at Edgeworth Town. We thank Mrs. Edge-worth and your brother for the encouragement they are pleased to give to it.
I am writing to you from the house of my son, and I am requested by him and Harriet, by Mrs. Ricardo, and by Mary and Birtha, to give their kind regards to you, Miss Fanny, and Miss Harriet. When I have such a message I always feel a difficulty how to word the sentence so as to include myself amongst those who are sending the kind regards, but though I may be unskilful, my young cousins must not do me the injustice to suppose that I forget [them.] To prevent all possibility of their coming to so erroneous [a concl]usion, I do now assure them of my continued reg[ards] and I beg them to preserve me in their kind remembrance.—
Ever my dear Miss Edgeworth
Your sincere friend
I have not sent till this day the letter you inclosed to me, to Mr. Morritt.
I have not seen Mrs. Smith yet, but I have heard from her—she is in tolerable health, and is behaving under her misfortunes like a good and wise woman.