maria edgeworth to ricardo
[Reply to 511.—Answered by 515]
Black Castle Navan— Decr. 28th. 1822
Welcome dear Sir most welcome you and your family back to England—I feel as if I had warm friends nearer to me—and though you cannot come now, I feel assured that at some future time you and yours will be in the midst of us at Edgeworths town—by the time we have done quarrelling about decking K Williams statue with orange ribbons, and by the time we throw no more bottles or rattles at our Lord Lieutenants—
How kind you were to take the trouble of writing me so long a letter—You who have so much to do—The result of your travels was delightful to me—and thank you for sparing me the pictures palaces, houses and churches (St. Peters to boot) of which all commonplace travellers have given me an indigestion—not likely to be cured by Eustace—I wish I were in the midst of you for an hour or two to hear you talking over the little incidents—Even in Humboldt the personal narrative is always what interests me most.
The potato cause rests between us now I think on a single point—By the by it is only with those who argue well, candidly, and for truth’s sake, that an argument can readily be brought to a single point.
☞(Please to observe that as I take a good half of this compliment to my own dear self you need not be squeamish, but swallow the other half quietly and without making as many wry faces at it as an Irish woman at a fair makes when offered a glass of whiskey—Head averted—outstretched hand rejecting—“Oh phoo!—Paw!—I never touch it—How could you think!...nasty stuff!...I! of all people!—Never!—
“But—see Judy—I sweeten the glass for you”—replies the experienced tempter sipping his sweet half.—“Why then! ” replies the lady and down goes the other half in pure politeness)
To return to the potato-cause—too near allied perhaps to the whiskey-evil. You handsomely promise that you would join me in defence of this root of plenty if I could prove to you that it has the essential advantage which other things equal shd as you justly observe decide the choice of a nations food viz—Security—security that the supply will be constant—or as I should add that the deficiency if it occur in the food chosen can with the greatest probability be supplied from other sources.—
I add this because it does not appear to me essential that the nation should confine itself to one species of food tho’ that may be its staple supply—
Then I come to your required 1st. quality of storeability. You see I set formally to work at the argument as your own dear Bentham or Mill would do.
I did send you in my last letter or will send you in my next a sample of potato flour, which was made by M. L’Asteyrie at Paris in the year 1803, which he gave to me and I have kept ever since—You will see that it is good—therefore you must admit that potato flour can be stored—and will be good at the end of 20 years.—
Then comes to be considered next the practicability of storing potatoes in this country upon a large scale and the cost of so doing—And here for the present I must pause in this part of the argument—I must wait till I have further information—I have written to Paris to M. L’Asteyrie to ask whether his process for storing potato flour has been carried on to any extent—and at what expense—Then I will inquire how or if it could be carried on in this country.
In the mean time I have this morning put some questions on the comparative advantages of corn and potatoes and I will give you the result in the answers of a clear headed man who has had much experience in farming land and in living among the lower classes of the people here so as to know their habits
1stQy—Do you think that there is more chance one year with another that a wheat crop should fail or a potato crop?
Answer—More chance of the wheat crop failing—and more chance that oats shd fail than potatoes—I reckon potatoes the most secure and profitable crop—
Qy—If you had to feed this neighborhood, for ten years to come and all depended on you, would you depend on potatoes or corn
Answer Potatoes certainly—
Qy—Are potatoes—corn and oats likely to fail the same season, or from the same causes or on different seasons and from different causes
Answer On different seasons and from different causes—
Answer—Because it is the blast which injures the wheat and that does not touch the potato—It is the frost which injures the potato and that does not touch the wheat or oats—Damp which injures wheat and does not injure potatoes is frequent in Ireland—
But suppose my Dr Sir that potatoes failed altogether the corn being safe you would have a supply of food—Since corn being a storeable commodity you might have as much stored as you please or as calculation of chances showed to be necessary—So that even if potatoes be not storeable we have all that is required if we cultivate a certain proportion of both potatoes and corn—
Corn must be cultivated otherwise there could not be straw to supply manure for the potatoes—It is therefore only necessary to settle the proportion between the two—
The distress which arose last year in Ireland it has been asserted arose from the general failure of the potatoe crop. But it could not have arisen from that cause for this plain reason the failure was not general—Potatoes were plentiful and good in many parts of this country though bad in others—The distress as far as I have been able to learn arose partly from want of communication and information between the places where there was plenty and places where there was scarcity—and partly from want of money. Where there was sufficient information there was plenty of food appeared both potatoes and corn, but there was actual want of money to purchase this food or there was a want of exchangeable value or commodities among the lower classes—All the money they had went for rent and did not fully pay the rent—Remember I am now merely stating facts—
Where the potatoes did fail this, as I am informed arose in great measure from the improvidence of the people who did not plant them in time—
I admit that these habits of improvidence are to be taken into account against the general security of the potatoe-crop as national food—But though you may take it into account you must only account it as an evil that should be remedied not as a decisive argument against a positive good—You would surely as a legislator seek for the cure of a moral evil that admits of remedy instead of giving up in indolent despair a good which is only rendered insecure by the bad habits which you ought to reform.
From pretty extensive information which I have collected I learn that potatoes are not only the most profitable crop but that the proportion of profit is considerable.
In this County of Meath several farmers have after paying rent and all expenses of manure labor &c one fourth clear profit on their potatoes.
There is a difference of profit in favor of potatoes over wheat of £3 per acre at an average—the wheat selling at 40 s. a barrel (a barrel being in this part of Ireland 20 stone—14 lbs. weight to the stone—
Potatoes selling on an average at 5 shillings a barrel or 3d. a stone—
This year the potato crop in this county being abundant potatoes are selling in the market at 1½d. a stone—Wheat at present selling from 18 to 23 shillings per barrel.
Now I am tired and so are you tired of me I am sure—
I must drop down at once from the affairs of the nation to my own paltry concerns.—Will you be so kind to advise me where I should place £300 which I want to place so as of course to have as high interest as is consistent with security—Ishd wish to place it so that I might without diminution of the principal take up that principal in the course of a year or two—shall I buy into
- French 5 per Cents
- English 3 per Cents
- or Spanish—I do-not-know-what-per Cents?
With affectionate remembrances and true esteem for Mrs. Ricardo and love to Mary and Birtha and to Harriet if she be with you I am
Dear Sir Your grateful and much attached friend
Neither Fanny or Harriet are with me else their love wd accompany mine—
I shall be at this place 3 weeks longer therefore if you should feel the good spirit move you to write to me within that time direct to me
Black Castle Navan.
I am with a dear Aunt Ruxton—my fathers only surviving sister—very like him—76 years old and with as warm a heart and lively faculties as a woman of twenty—I am well and happy—Tell me that you are the same—A merry Christmas and a happy new year to you—I am old fashioned enough to wish my friends these good things
All well at home—I heard from them yesterday