The humble potato

From Blackwood’s Magazine, November 1819:

We have often congratulated ourselves on having flourished after the extinction of chivalry, the decline and fall of the empire of ghosts, and the introduction of potatoes into this island. We never could have endured a shirt of mail […] The luxury of being negligently dressed, of lying diffused all day over a sofa, was then unknown. […]

Neither were there potatoes in those days — and without that vegetable, say, what were a dinner?

“A world without a sun.”

From the very bottom of our souls do we pity our ancestors. There is no philosophy in saying, that the universal love of the potato, did the potato itself create. That love must have pre-existed in the elements of our nature, just as the desire for Eve pre-existed in Adam, and was only called forth into action by that accomplished female. There must, therefore have been, ever since the arrival of the Saxons in this island, unknown, at least not understood, by our forefathers,

“A craving void left aching at their hearts.”

A void which, within these last hundred years, has been filled up, so that little seems to be wanting, under our free government, to the perfection of our social and domestic happiness. It would be a curious enquiry, to show the effects of this vegetable on the moral, intellectual, and physical character of the people of a sister kingdom; and on some future occasion we hope to sift this subject to the bottom. There can be no doubt, that the sudden extinction of the potato in Ireland would be as fine a subject for a poem from the pen of Lord Byron, as the sudden extinction of light, some of the evils of which imaginary event his Lordship has, with his usual vigour, delineated in that composition entitled, “Darkness.”

By the way, if that allusion to the extinction of the Irish potato strikes you as prophetic, wonder not that the same also occurred to people three decades later. See a letter to the editor, captioned “Potatoes and Prophecy,” that ran in the Southern Literary Messenger of July 1848. (That editor’s name?— Edgar Allan Poe!)

Posted 2022-04-25