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Nicholson, Asenath, 1792-1855 / Annals of the famine in Ireland (1851)

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[chapter 2]

  [p. 25]  
“Afar we stand, a gloomy band,
Our worth, our wants neglected,
The children in their fatherland
Cut off, despised, rejected.”

ALLOW me to say to the reader, that the cup I now hold in my hand is a “cup of trembling,” and gladly would my sickening heart turn away from its contents, “but ‘for this cause was I sent,’ and the cup which my Father has given me shall I not drink it?” Yes, for this cause was I sent, for this cause, in the face of all that was thought consistency or prudence, unprotected by mortal arm or encouraged by mortal support, was I bidden to go out, and to go “nothing doubting” into a strange land, and there do what I should be bidden, not knowing what that might be nor inquiring wherefore the work were laid upon me.

I came, the island was traversed, stormy days and dark nights, filthy cabins and uncomfortable lodging-houses were my lot, evil surmises from the proud professor, and the cold neglect of many, were all alike to me; the “tower” into which I ran was always safe and always open, the “rock” under which I sheltered was indeed “higher than I,” and the tempest passed harmlessly by.

  [p. 26]  

From June 1844 to December 1846, though I could say with the disciples returning from Emmaus, that “my heart burned within me,” yet with them I must add, my “eyes were holden,” that I had not yet seen the ultimate object, nor had the slightest curiosity been awakened as to the result of the researches which had been made, who would understand or misunderstand, who would approve or condemn. Ireland’s pride and Ireland’s humility, her wealth and her poverty, her beauty and deformity, had all been tested in a degree, and the causes of her poverty stood out in such bold relief that no special revelation, either human or divine, was requisite to give a solution.

“Will not God be avenged on such a nation as this?” was the constant question urging me, and the echo is still sounding as the mighty wave is now rolling over the proud ones who have “held the poor in derision,” and the only answer is, “What will ye do in the end thereof?” What avails the multiplicity of prayers while the poor are oppressed? The surplice, the gown, or the robe will not hide the stain; the “leprosy lies deep within.” “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.”

Too long have ye “dwelt in your ceiled houses,” while the poor, who have “reaped down your fields for naught,” have been sitting in their floorless, smoky cabins, on the scanty patch where they have been allowed to crouch, till your authority should bid them depart, to eat their potato on some bog or ditch elsewhere.   [p. 27]   And more fearful than all, now that the root on which you have fed them for centuries is taken away; famished and naked you drive them into the pitiless storm. Ye withhold from them labor, and then call them “idle;” ye give them work without any just equivalent, and then cry out when the scanty food is blasted, “Improvidence, Improvidence!” — that had these “idlers” put by anything for a “rainy day,” they might have had money to have bought bread! That idleness and improvidence, (which are generally companions,) are two great evils of Ireland, must be acknowledged. The rich are idle from a silly pride and long habits of indulgence; and the poor, because no man “hires them.”

“Would you have us work,” said a shopkeeper’s wife “when we can get scores of girls, glad to do it, for 10s. a quarter?” Here is one of the sources of evil: the “ways of the household,” which are specially allotted to the “prudent wife,” are made over to the uninterested servant; because this poor servant was “glad” to work for a little more than nothing. The keys of the house are peculiarly the care of the mistress, and with these well pocketed she prevents all inroads into her larder, and the servant may eat her potato at option, for in but few families is she allowed bread and butter or tea. This keeping everything locked, we are told, is to keep servants from theft — the surest method of making them thieves. Their late hours of rising and of meals, necessarily unhinge all that is good in housekeeping; and where all is left to   [p. 28]   servants, economy must come in by-the-by. The middle class, such as shopkeepers, good farmers, and tradesmen of all kinds, live on a few articles of diet, and the mistress seldom taxes her ingenuity to apply the useful proverb, “To make one thing meet another.” Bread, butter, tea, and an egg, are the ultimatum of a breakfast, at nine, and often ten in the morning; then a yawning about, or perhaps a little fancy knitting, till lunch, which is a piece of cold meat and bread, and in the higher classes wine; a dinner from four to six, and tea often brought on before leaving the table, or in an hour after. The dinner is, among farmers and tradesmen, mostly pork, put upon a platter with cabbage, and potatoes served in two ways: first, brought on in the jackets, as they are boiled; next dish, which is the dessert in most houses, the potatoes are browned upon a griddle, which gives them a good flavor. Bread is seldom or never taken with potatoes, and a pudding is rarely seen, except on special occasions. Pies are often made; but these are the chief commodities, and always ended by “hot whisky punch.” This accompaniment is so necessary, that in genteel families a handsome copper kettle is kept for the special purpose, which is put upon a frame in the center of a table. The “lower order” only, are teetotalers, because, as the reason is often given, “it was necessary for them, they were so ignorant and vulgar.” Now what, must it be expected, could the daughters of such a family be? Why, the exact copy of the mother; the servant must do for her what would be for her own health, and what is actually   [p. 29]   her duty to perform. She is sent to school, and goes the routine of a genteel education. She can work Berlin wool, perhaps read French, and possibly German, play the piano, and write a commonplace letter, in angular writing, made on purpose for the ladies; but with all this her mind is not cultivated, her heart is not disciplined. She looks pretty, walks genteelly, and talks sometimes quite enchantingly; but with all these appurtenances, the inquiry must and does arise — “What are you good for?” The little, common, necessary daily duties which belong to woman, are unheeded; and when any exigencies fall upon her, she has no alternative. A mind always accustomed to the same routine, and that a frivolous one, cannot, when unexpected adversity comes, plunge into new difficult duties and perform them efficiently. If she have always had a dressmaker to fit her apparel and a waiting-maid to put it on, how can she, should her husband become a bankrupt, be qualified to make and repair the garments for herself and children, which probably she must do, or her children be in a very untidy state.

Now, as trifling as these things appear to many, yet Ireland has suffered, and is still doomed to suffer deeply, on these accounts. Many of these genteel ones are reduced to the last extremity, the mistresses not being able to give even the 10s. per quarter to a servant. She knows not how economically to prepare the scanty food which her husband may provide; and multitudes of this class are either in the walls of the union, or hovering about its precincts.

  [p. 30]  

When the famine had actually come, and all the country was aghast, when supplies from all parts were poured in, — what was done with these supplies? Why, the best that these inefficient housekeepers could do. The rice and Indian meal, both of which are excellent articles of food, were cooked in such a manner that, in most cases, they were actually unhealthy, and in all cases unpalatable. So unused were they to the use of that common article, rice, that they steeped it the night before, then poured the water off, without rubbing, and for three and four hours they boiled, stirred, and simmered this, till it became a watery jelly, disgusting to the eye and unsavory to the taste, for they never salted it; besides unwholesome for the stomachs of those who had always used a dry potato for food. The poor complained that it made them sick; they were accused of being ungrateful, and sometimes told they should not have any more; and the difficulty, if possible, was increased, by giving it out uncooked, — for the starving ones in the towns had no fuel and they could not keep up a fire to stew it for hours, and many of them ate it raw, which was certainly better, when they had good teeth, than cooked in this unsavory way.

But the Indian meal! Who shall attempt a description of this frightful formidable? When it first landed, the rich, who had no occasion for using it, hailed it with joy, and some actually condescended to say, “They believed they could eat it themselves.” But the poor, who had not yet slid down the precipice so far as to feel that they were actually dying, could be   [p. 31]   heard on the streets, and in the market-place, interrogate one another, “And have ye seen the yaller Indian, God save us awl? By dad and “Peel’s brimstone” has come over again, to scrape the maw of every divil on us.”

The reader must be content to take the famine just as I saw it; and though the language may be sometimes startling, to refine it by any substitution or seasoning of my own invention would be weakening its force, and oftentimes frittering away the truth. In justice it should be said that they often use the word devil in a quite different meaning from what others do, always applying it to a poor neglected creature, however deserving he may be, as well as to those who are wicked. Thus they would often say, “The breath is cowld in the poor divil’s body, he’ll no more feel the hunger, God bless him!” And the yaller Indian was called by all manner of epithets, and went through all manner of ordeals but the right one. The Indian meal by some was stirred in cold water with a stick, then put quite dry upon a griddle, it consequently crumbled apart, there was no turning it; and one desponding woman came to me, saying, “That the last bit of turf had died on her, and not a ha’porth of the yaller Indian would stop with its comrade.” Others made what they call “stirabout;” this was done, too, by first steeping in cold water, then pouring it into a pot, and immediately after swelling, it became so thick that it could not be stirred, neither would it cook in the least. The “stirabout” then became a “stand   [p. 32]   about,” and the effect of eating this was all but favorable to those who had seldom taken farinaceous food. They were actually afraid to take it in many cases, the government meal in particular, fearing that the “Inglish intinded to kill them” with the “tarin and scrapin;” but when hunger had progressed a little, these fears subsided, and they cared neither what they ate, or who sent it to them.

Had the women of the higher classes known how to prepare these articles in a proper manner, much money might have been saved, and many lives rescued, which are now lost.

When the first clamor had a little subsided, there followed the recipes for cooking Indian meal. One of these, highly celebrated for a while, was from Italy, and called “Polentia;” whether spelt correctly the learned must decide; but this same Polentia would do for gentlemen and ladies too. The recipe cannot precisely be given; but enough to know that it was turned and overturned — covered and uncovered — boiled and steamed in a pot — and then came out genteelly, in a becoming shape, according to the form of the pot used. Now this was often on the tables of the gentry, for the recipe and meal were from Italy; the poor would only hear of this at a distance — the cooking they could never attain. Next came American recipes: these, with all due credence, were accepted as the one thing needful, for they possessed these redeeming qualities: — first, they were from America, the land which they loved, for many of their “kin” were there; next, that though   [p. 33]   they thought that nobody but negroes ate it — yet negroes lived on that food; and “sure the Americans wouldn’t hurt ’em.”

These recipes were prepared in due form, and made up with suets, fats, sweets, and spices, so that the Laird John Russell himself could “ate em.” A great and grand meeting of lords and nobility was held, called by the poor, the “yaller Indin maitin;” and a bona fide sanction put on to the Indian meal cake. Here again was a difficulty — the meal was for the hungry; Where could they procure spices, sweets, and fats for such delicacies? — and as they thought that these were necessary to make it safe to eat, then their fears were awakened anew. But a few weeks adjusted all these difficulties, for when the number of the slain had increased in every parish, all murmuring at the quality of the food ceased — they suffered in uncomplaining silence.

It was on the evening of December 7th, when about stepping into the train, at Kingstown, for Dublin, I heard a policeman relating to a bystander a case of famine at the south. The potato, I knew, was partly destroyed; but never thought that actual famine would be the result. The facts were so appalling, that had they not come from a policeman, who, it should be said, are in general men of veracity, my mind would have doubted; and when he added that “I got this information from a friend who was present in the court, and who wrote the circumstances to me,” all queries were removed.

  [p. 34]  

A man had died from hunger, and his widow had gone into the plowed field of her landlord to try to pick a few potatoes in the ridges which might be remaining since the harvest; she found a few — the landlord saw her — sent a magistrate to the cabin, who found three children in a state of starvation, and nothing in the cabin but the pot, which was over the fire. He demanded of her to show him the potatoes — she hesitated; he inquired what she had in the pot — she was silent; he looked in, and saw a dog, with the handful of potatoes she had gathered from the field. The sight of the wretched cabin, and still more, the despairing looks of the poor silent mother and the famished children, crouched in fear in a dark corner, so touched the heart of the magistrate, that he took the pot from the fire, bade the woman to follow him, and they went to the court-room together. He presented the pot, containing the dog and the handful of potatoes, to the astonished judge. He called the woman — interrogated her kindly. She told him they sat in their desolate cabin two entire days, without eating, before she killed the half-famished dog; that she did not think she was stealing, to glean after the harvest was gathered. The judge gave her three pounds from his own purse; told her when she had used that to come again to him.

This was a compassionate judge, — and would to God Ireland could boast of many such.

I heard that story, heart-rending as it was, and soon found that it was but a prelude to facts of daily, yes, hourly occurrence, still more appalling. The work of   [p. 35]   death now commenced; the volcano, over which I felt that Ireland was walking, had burst, though its appearance was wholly different from anything I had ever conceived; a famine was always in Ireland, in a certain degree; and so common were beggars, and so many were always but just struggling for life, that not until thousands were reduced to the like condition of the woman last mentioned, did those, who had never begged, make their wants known. They picked over and picked out their blackened potatoes, and even ate the decayed ones, till many were made sick, before the real state of the country was known; and when it fell, it fell like an avalanche, sweeping at once the entire land. No parish need be anxious for neighboring ones — each had enough under his own eye, and at his own door, to drain all resources, and keep alive his sympathy. It was some months before the rich really believed that the poor were not making false pretenses; for at such a distance had they ever kept themselves from the “lower order,” who were all “dirty and lazy,” that many of them had never realized that four millions of people were subsisting entirely on the potato, and that another million ate them six days out of seven, entirely; they did not realize that these “lazy ones” had worked six or eight months in the year for eightpence and tenpence, but more for sixpence, and even threepence in the southern parts, and the other four months been “idle” because “no man had hired them;” they did not realize that the disgusting rags with which these “lazy ones disgraced their very gates, and   [p. 36]   shocked all decency, were the rags which they had contributed to provide; and such were often heard to say that this judgment was what they might expect, as a reward of their “religion and idleness.” But the wave rolled on; the slain were multiplied; the dead by the way-side, and the more revolting sights of families found in the darkest corner of a cabin, in one putrid mass, where, in many cases, the cabin was tumbled down upon them to give them a burial, was somewhat convincing, even to those who had doubted much from the beginning.

There were some peculiarities in this famine which history has not recorded in any other. It may be scrupled whether any were heard to say that they did not deserve it — that they had not been such sinners above all others, that they must suffer so much — and so little plundering was never known in any famine as this; scarcely ever was a bread shop disturbed, though the poor creatures have been found dead under its window, in sight of it; the old proverb that “hunger will break through a stone wall,” was never exemplified during the famine; some carts, laden with meal, have been pillaged, and some boats have been robbed, but these were not common occurrences; occasionally, in the cities, would a man throw a stone at a street lamp, or do some other trifling mischief, always in presence of a policeman, that he might be put in jail, where the law must feed him. This was certainly an alternative for a starving man not so much to be censured as admired. Let it be stated that these men had   [p. 37]   applied for work in vain. I will descend to particulars; and state what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard, and be answerable for whatever statements are thus made.

The first starving person that I saw was a few days after the story of the woman and dog had been related. A servant in the house where I was stopping, at Kings-town, said that the milk woman wished me to see a man near by, that was in a state of actual starvation; and he was going out to attempt to work on the Queen’s highway; a little labor was beginning opposite the house, and fifteen-pence a-day stimulated this poor man, who had seven to support, his rent to pay, and fuel to buy. He had been sick with fever; the clothes of his family that would fetch any price, had been pawned or sold, and all were starving together. He staggered with his spade to the work; the overseer objected; but he entreated to be allowed to try. The servant went out and asked him to step into the kitchen; and, reader, if you have never seen a starving human being, may you never! In my childhood I had been frightened with the stories of ghosts, and had seen actual skeletons; but imagination had come short of the sight of this man. And here, to those who have never watched the progress of protracted hunger, it might be proper to say, that persons will live for months, and pass through different stages, and life will struggle on to maintain her lawful hold, if occasional scanty supplies are given, till the walking skeleton is reduced to a state of inanity — he sees you not, he   [p. 38]   heeds you not, neither does he beg. The first stage is somewhat clamorous — will not easily be put off; the next is patient, passive stupidity; and the last is idiocy. In the second stage they will stand at a window for hours, without asking charity, giving a vacant stare, and not until peremptorily driven away will they move. In the last state, the head bends forward, and they walk with long strides, and pass you unheedingly. The man before mentioned was emaciated to the last degree; he was tall, his eyes prominent, his skin shriveled, his manner cringing and childlike; and the impression then and there made never has nor never can be effaced; it was the first, and the beginning of these dreadful days yet in reserve. He had a breakfast, and was told to come in at four and get his dinner. The family were from home; the servant had an Irish heart, consequently my endeavors were all seconded. Often has she taken the loaf allowed for her board-wages, (that is, so much allowed weekly for food,) and sliced nearly the whole away — denying herself for the suffering around her. It must be mentioned that laborers for the public, on roads, seldom or never ate more than twice a day, at ten and four; their food was the potato and oatmeal stirabout, and buttermilk, the luxury which was seldom enjoyed. This man was fed on Indian meal, gruel, buttermilk or new milk and bread in the morning; stirabout, buttermilk and bread at four. Workmen are not paid at night on the public works, they must wait a week; and if they commence labor in a state of hunger, they often die before the   [p. 39]   week expires; many have been carried home to their wretched cabins, some dead and others dying, who had fallen down with the spade in their hands. The next day after this wretched man was fed, another, in like condition, at work in the same place, was called in and fed; he afterward died, when the labor was finished, and he could get no more work. The first man gradually gained strength, and all for him was encouraging; when my purse became low — so many had been fed at the door that a pot was kept continually boiling, from seven in the morning till seven at night; Indian meal was then dear; the Americans had not sent their supplies; and much did my heart shrink at the thought that my means must be exhausted.

Let me here speak of the virtues of Indian meal; though always having been accustomed to it, more or less, not till December, 1846, in the famine of Ireland, did I know its value. It was made into gruel, boiled till it became a jelly; and once a day from twenty-five to thirty were fed — some who walked miles to get it, and every one who had this privilege recovered without tasting anything but that, once a day — they always took it till they wanted no more; and this too without bread. One old man daily walked three miles, on his staff, for this, and he grew cheerful; always most courteously thanking me, saying, “It nourishes my ould heart, so that it keeps me warm all the night.” I had told these two laborers that when they found the gate locked they must know that I had no more to give them, and they must go home. The sad hour   [p. 40]   arrived; the overseer sent me word that he thanked me for feeding them so long; they must otherwise have died at their work. The gate was shut, and long and tedious were the next two days. One child of the poor man died, and he buried it in the morning before light, because if he took an hour from labor he would be dismissed. When the poor creatures that had daily been fed with the gruel came, and were told there was no more for them, I felt that I had sealed their doom. They turned away, blessing me again and again, but “we must die of the hunger, God be praised.”

I would not say that I actually murmured, but the question did arise, “Why was I brought to see a famine, and be the humble instrument of saving some few alive, and then see these few die, because I had no more to give them?”

Two days and nights dragged on. News was constantly arriving of the fearful state of the people, and the specters that had been before my eyes constantly haunted me. My bedroom overlooked the burying-ground. I could fancy, as I often arose to look into it, that some haggard father was bringing a dead child, lashed to his back, and laying him on some tombstone, as had been done, and leaving it to the mercy of whoever might find it a grave!

I was sitting in solitude, alone, at eleven o’clock, when the man of the house unexpectedly arrived. He had a parcel; in that parcel there was money from New York, and that money was for me!

No being, either Christian or pagan, if he never saw   [p. 41]   a famine, nor possesses a feeling heart, can understand what I then felt. I adored that watchful Hand that had so strangely led and upheld me in Ireland; and now, above all and over all, when my heart was sinking in the deepest despondency, when no way of escape appeared, this heavenly boon was sent! The night was spent in adoration and praise, longing for the day, when I might again hang over the “blessed pot,” as the Irish called it. I lay below on a sofa, and saw no tombstones that night.

The morning came — the pot was over the fire. As soon as shops were opened, meal, bread, and milk were purchased. The man of the house went early to his business in Dublin. The gate was unlocked — the breakfast was prepared. The quantity was well-nigh doubled, though enough had always been provided before. The sight of the man was more than I wished to abide; he was again sinking — had taken nothing but a “sup,” as he termed it, of some meager slop but once in the day, because his children would all die if he took it from them. The other soon followed; and while they were taking their breakfast, I was reading from New York the result of a meeting there in behalf of the Irish. This awakened gratitude toward my country unknown before; and now, should I not be unmindful of the Hand that had led me through this wilderness thus far, and in every emergency carried me almost miraculously through, if what I am about to record of the few following months, so far as self is concerned, should be withheld?

  [p. 42]  

That day my mind was most active, devising how the greatest good might be effected by the little which God had intrusted to me. Indian meal, when cooked in a suitable manner, was now becoming a great favorite; this I knew how to do, and determined to use the money for this object, always cooking it myself. When this was adjusted in my mind, the remainder of the day was devoted to writing letters to America, mostly for the two objects of thanking them for what they had done, and giving them, from eye-witness, a little account of the famine. In this, the desire and even the thought was entirely withheld of receiving anything myself to give; acting entirely as a passive instrument; moving, because moved upon. Here, afterward, was the wisdom of Him who sees not as man seeth, peculiarly manifest; for had I that day, by the parcel put into my hands from New York, been in possession of a hundred pounds, the day would have been spent in going into the cabins of the starving, and distributing to the needy — the money would have soon been expended, and then no more means would, have been in my power to do good. But my weakness was God’s strength, my poverty His riches; and as He had shown me, all the journey through, that my dependence should be entirely on Him, so now, more than ever, it was to be made manifest. The letters crossed the ocean, found the way to the hands and hearts of those to whom they were sent, and, when in the multitude of other thoughts and cares they were by the writer forgotten as a past dream, they were returned, embodied in a printed parcel, accompanied   [p. 43]   with donations of meal, money, and clothing; and this, like the other, reached me when all means were exhausted.

When the rumor of a famine had become authenticated in Dublin, Joseph Bewley, a Friend, possessing both a warm heart and full purse, (which do not always go together,) put in operation a soup shop, which fed many hundreds twice a day. This soup was of the best quality, the best meat, peas, oatmeal, &c.; and when applications became so numerous that a greater supply was requisite and funds failing, mention was made to this benevolent man that the quantity of meat must be reduced, his answer was, that not one iota should be taken off, but more added, if even it must be done entirely at his own expense. It shall, he added, be made rich and nourishing, as well as palatable. The poor who could, were required to pay half-price for a ticket; and benevolent people purchased tickets by the quantity, and gave to the poor. The regulation of this soup establishment was a pattern worthy of imitation. The neatness and order of the shop; the comely attired Quaker matrons and their daughters, with their white sleeves drawn over their tidy-clad arms — their white aprons and caps, all moving in that quiet harmony so peculiar to that people; and there, too, at seven in the morning, and again at midday. All this beauty and finish, contrasted with the woe-begone, emaciated, filthy, ragged beings that stood in their turn before them, was a sight at which angels, if they could weep, might weep, and might rejoice too. Often have I stood, in painful   [p. 44]   admiration, to see the two extremes of degradation and elevation, comfort and misery, cleanliness and filth, in these two classes, made alike in God’s image, but thrown into different circumstances, developing two such wide and strange opposites.

My task was a different one — operating individually. I took my own time and way — as woman is wont to do when at her own option; and before the supplies, which afterward came through the letters mentioned, I marked out a path which was pursued during that winter, until July, when I left for the North. A basket of good dimensions was provided, sufficient to contain three loaves of the largest made bread; this was cut in slices, and at eight o’clock I set off. The poor had watched the “American lady,” and were always on the spot, ready for an attack, when I went out; and the most efficient method of stopping their importunities was bread. No sooner well upon the street, than the army commenced rallying; and no one, perhaps, that winter, was so regularly guarded as was this basket and its owner. A slice was given to each, till it was all exhausted; while in desperation, at times, lest I might be overpowered — not by violence, but by number — I hurried on, sometimes actually running to my place of destination, the hungry ones, men, women, and children, who had not received the slice, in pursuit — till I rushed into some shop-door or house, for protection, till the troop should retire; sometimes the stay would be long and tedious, and ofttimes they must be driven back by force. Cook street, a place devoted almost entirely to making coffins,   [p. 45]   and well known by the name of Coffin street, was the field of my winter’s labor. This was chosen for its extreme poverty, being the seat of misery refined; and here no lady of “delicate foot” would like to venture; and beside, I saw that a little thrown over a wide surface was throwing all away, and no benefit that was lasting would ensue. Ten pounds divided among a hundred, would not keep one from starvation many days; but applied to twenty, economically, might save those twenty till more efficient means might be taken. So much a day was allowed to each family, according to their number, — always cooking it myself, in their cabins, till they could and did do it prudently themselves. The turf was provided and the rent paid weekly, which must be done, or, in many cases, turning upon the street was the consequence: for it is no more than justice to observe, that there are some kind slave-holders in the United States, and there are some kind landlords in Ireland; but in too many cases both are synonymous terms, so far as power may be equal.

One of these miserable families was that of a widow. I found her creeping upon the street, one cold night, when snow was upon the ground. Her pitiful posture, bent over, leaning upon two sticks, with a little boy and girl behind her crying with the cold, induced me to inquire, and I found that she was actually lame, her legs much swollen, and her story proved to be a true one. She had been turned from the hospital as a hopeless case, and a poor, sick, starving friend had taken her in, and she had crawled out with a few boxes of matches to   [p. 46]   see if she could sell them, for she told me she could not yet bring herself to beg; she could work, and was willing to; could she get knitting or sewing. I inquired her number. “I will not deny it again,” she replied; “I did so to a lady, soon after I came out of the hospital, for I was ashamed to be found in such a dreadful place, by a lady; but I have been so punished for that lie, that I will not do it again.” Giving her a few pence, and meaning to take her by surprise if I found her at all, an indirect promise was made to call at some future day. At ten the next morning my way was made into that fearful street, and still more fearful alley which led to the cheerless abode I entered.

The reader may be informed that in the wealthy, beautiful city of Dublin, which can boast some of the finest architecture on earth, there are in retired streets and dark alleys, some of the most forbidding, most uncomfortable abodes that can be found in the wildest bogs of that wretched country. Finding my way through darkness and filth, a sight opened upon me, which, speaking moderately, was startling. When I had recovered a little, I saw on my right hand the miserable woman before-named, sitting in a dark corner on a little damp straw, which poorly defended her from the wet and muddy ground-floor she was occupying. The two ragged, hungry children were at her feet; on the other side of the empty grate (for there was not a spark of fire) sat the kind woman who had taken her in, on the same foundation of straw and mud, with her back against the wall. She was without a dress — she had   [p. 47]   pawned her last to pay her rent; her husband likewise had pawned his coat for the same purpose. He was lying upon the straw, with a fragment of a cotton shawl about him, for he had no shirt. They were all silent, and for a while I was mute. The woman first mentioned broke the pause, by saying, “This, I believe, is the kind lady I met last night: you have found the way to our dark place, and I am sorry we cannot ask you to sit down.” There was not even a stool in the room. The young woman had been sick for weeks, and was now only able to sit up a little; but having neither food, fuel, or covering, nothing but death stared them in the face; and the most affecting part of the whole to me was the simple statement of the widow, who said, in the most resigned manner, “We have been talking, Mary and I, this morning, and counting off our days; we could not expect any relief, for I could not go out again, and she could not, and the farthest that the good God will give us on earth cannot be more than fourteen days. The children, may be,” she added, “God would let her take with her, for they must soon starve if left.” This had been a cool calculation made from the appearance of the present condition, and without the least murmuring they were bringing their minds to their circumstances. “You are willing to live longer,” I said. “If the good God wills it,” was the answer; “but we cannot see how.” They did live. Daily did I go and cook their food, or see it cooked, and daily did they improve; and in a few weeks many an apronful of shavings and blocks were brought to me from the coffin-shops,   [p. 48]   by the young woman who was sitting almost naked on the straw. They both were good expert knitters and good seamstresses; and my garments, which were approaching to a sisterhood with many of the going-down genteel ones, were soon put in tidy repair by this young woman. Often, late in the evening, would I hear a soft footstep on the stairs, followed by a gentle tap, and the unassuming Mary would enter with her bountiful supply of fire-kindling; and when she was told that less would do very well, and she should keep more for herself, she replied, “I can do with little, and you would not like to go to the shop for any.” She watched my wardrobe, kept everything in the best repair, and studied my comfort first, before she seemed to know that she needed any. I had saved her life, she said, and that was more than all she could do for me; and the day that I sailed from Dublin for England, as I was hurrying along the street, some one caught me by my dress, and turning about, Mary stood before me, whom I had not seen for months, having been absent in the mountains. She had a basket on her arm, was comfortably clad, said she was selling fruit and vegetables and doing well; the other was still with her, in ill health, but not suffering for food. “Farewell, Mary, we shall meet no more on earth; may God fit us both for a better world!” “Shall I never see you again? — God be praised that he sent you to us!”

The man whom I found on the highway at Kingstown, having heard that I was going from Ireland, walked seven Irish miles that day, to see and thank me, and   [p. 49]   leave his blessing. I was out, and regretted much, for his sake as well as mine, that he was disappointed. These testimonials were more grateful to me than would have been a donation of plate from the government. They were God’s testimonials — the offerings of the poor; and that heart is not to be envied that does not know their blessing.

Another feeble dying woman I found upon the street, one rainy day, who had reached a state of half-idiocy, and for two years was fed and partly clothed, whether I was in Dublin or not; and though she had a tolerable supply of food, her mind never rallied; yet she always knew and acknowledged, even to a weakness, her benefactress. She never has yet been made in the least to rely on herself; what she is bidden to do is done like a child, and then she is satisfied.

These few cases are given as specimens, not wishing to be tedious with such narrations, only to show the character of the famine, and its effects in general on the sufferers, with whom I was conversant. The distribution of the bread in the street was continued not even Sabbaths excepted; my basket was often taken near the chapel door, and left in some house till I came out. So pressing at last was the crowd, that I dare not go into a shop to take out my purse to buy the most trifling article, and a bread-shop above all was avoided. There was no fear of violence, but the dreadful importuning, falling upon their knees, clasping their emaciated hands, and their glaring eyes fixed upon me, were quite too much. Sometimes I endeavored to steal   [p. 50]   into a shop in the evening unperceived, but never succeeded. Hunger, in its incipient stages, never sleeps, never neglects its watch, but continues sharpening the inventive faculties, till, like the drunkard’s thirst, intrigue and dissimulation give startling proof of the varied materials which compose the entire man. From the first look that was presented me by the starving man in Kingstown, a common desire for food never returned, so that through the winter, but little was necessary for my wants. Twopence halfpenny worth of cocoa for a week, threepence halfpenny for milk, three-pence for sugar, and fourteenpence for bread; making in all twenty-threepence, was the most ever used; but in a few weeks, necessity compelled a reducing the expense, from which not the least inconvenience was felt. My practice was to pay the mistress for lodgings weekly, in advance, that she might feel no uneasiness; and after doing this one Monday morning, my purse promptly told me that Saturday night would leave my poor pensioners, one in particular, without a shelter, if the usual quantity of food were taken. something must be done: money was exhausted, and from no human source could I that week look for more. In a paper I had a pound of Indian meal — the cocoa, milk and sugar were stopped, and the meal made into gruel, twenty-three pence was reduced to fourteen; and when the meal was expended, a penny roll was taken into my muff as the day’s excursion commenced, and eaten when and where opportunity best presented, and inclination most strongly prompted. The widow’s rent   [p. 51]   was paid, no inconvenience felt, and before the next demand was made, an unexpected call for a few books which I had published in Scotland, put me in possession of a little more, so that the “cruise of oil” never failed. The pensioners were fed in the mean time from their own industry, for the women had been provided with knitting, which though poorly paid, yet kept them from actual hunger. Another expedient I never omitted when available. The people of Dublin, among the comfortable classes, whatever hospitality they might manifest toward guests and visitors, had never troubled themselves by looking into the real home wants of the suffering poor. Enough they thought that societies of all kinds abounded, and a poor-house besides, were claims upon their purses to a full equivalent for all their consciences required, and to visit them was quite unlady-like, if not dangerous. To many of these I had access as a matter of curiosity, to hear from me the tales of starvation, which they were now to have dealt out unsparingly; and so kind were the most of them that the interview generally ended by an invitation to eat, which was never refused when needed, and the meal thus saved was always given to the hungry. These people would not have given a shilling in money, but many and many a meal of gruel was provided from these hap-hazard lunches, through that sad winter; and, more than this, a kind woman who is now in her grave, and with whom I had once lodged, gave me an invitation, which was to continue during my labors in Dublin, of coming to dine with her every Sabbath; and   [p. 52]   then a bountiful, well-cooked dinner of vegetables and a pudding were always provided. These kind Sabbath dinners were all I tasted that winter; two meals a day for the other six, made me quite satisfied. Something better was now in reserve.

The Central Committee of the Society of Friends, which was organized in November, 1846, had effectually and untiringly begun, and carried on one of the most extensive and noble plans that probably had ever been known under any circumstances of distress, by private individuals. And their first circular should be stereotyped and kept, that future generations may read. One or two sentences only are here recorded, as specimens of the spirit which moved this faithful body of men: —

“Many of us partake largely of the Lord’s outward gifts; and it is surely incumbent on us to be prompt in manifesting our sense of His unmerited bounty, by offices of Christian kindness to our suffering fellow-creatures. May we prove ourselves faithful stewards of the substance intrusted to us.

“Let none presume to think that the summons to deep and serious thoughtfulness, and to a close searching of heart, does not extend to him. Which of us has ever experienced what it is to want food? May none of our hearts be lifted up by these things, or betrayed into forgetfulness of our dependent condition, and of our utter unworthiness of the least of the Lord’s mercies; for surely to each of us belongs the humbling inquiry,   [p. 53]   ‘Who maketh thee to differ from another, and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?’”

Other committees soon cooperated with this; Waterford, Limerick, Cork, Youghal, &c., were moved to like exertions. Nor did these exertions rest on the British side of the Atlantic.

In March, 1847, an extract from the Central Relief Committee, says; In consequence of a letter addressed by Jacob Harvey of New York, to Thomas P. Cope, a meeting was held in Mulberry Street House, committees appointed to make collections, &c., and what was the result? The report says, “Considering the short time which had elapsed at the period of our latest accounts, since sufficient information of the distress of Ireland had reached the American public; that from the great extent of the mission no opportunity had then been afforded for the full development of public feeling; that the supplies of money and food already received and on the way, are but the first-fruits of their liberality; the movement must be regarded as one of the most remarkable manifestations of national sympathy on record.” And in another report, after two years and a half labor, this same Committee say that, referring to their circular, “it was responded to, not merely by those to whom it was addressed; but by many unconnected with our religious societies in these countries, and also by the citizens of the United States, to an extent and with a munificence unparalleled in the history of benevolent exertions. The contributions confided to us, in money, food, and clothing, amounted to   [p. 54]   about £200,000, of which more than half was sent from America.” The Committee add, that “the contributions intrusted to them were but a small proportion of the whole expenditure for the relief of the country.”

America sent much money, and many ship-loads of provisions, which did not pass through the hands of this committee. The British Relief Association dispensed about £400,000. The distribution by other relief associations may be estimated at fully £200,000; and the collections by local committees in Ireland exceeded £300,000. The aggregate of the whole, taking remittances from emigrants, private benevolence, &c., was not less than one million and a half sterling. Government relief, ten millions sterling.

To return to individual exertion. The New York people opened a fund; appointed a Treasurer; and devoted the avails to me, to be used at my discretion; and sent these donations, at first, through the channel of the Central Committee, in Dublin. This favor to me was more than can be described or imagined by any who never witnessed what I had, and who had never been placed in the same condition to act. I now ascended an eminence which was a lofty one; and on which I hope I may never again stand — such a mission, however honorable it may be to be able to rescue our fellow-creatures from death, has an unnatural cause for its claim; and when famine is allowed to progress till the slain are multiplied, it says one of two things: — First, that the promise of a “seed-time and harvest”   [p. 55]   did not embrace a sufficiency of food for every mouth in the world; or else that man has not done his duty in securing that food. Now God never deals vaguely with man, his promises are clear and definite, his demands rational and peremptory: — “Do this and live; neglect it, and die.” When He said “seed-time and harvest,” He said, by that, food shall always be sufficient for man: and never was a famine on earth, in any part, when there was not an abundance in some part, to make up all the deficiency; and if man is not warned by some dreamer, like Pharaoh, of a seven years’ famine, to secure a wise Joseph, to provide in advance for a seven years’ destitution; yet if he is a wise husbandman, a good steward, a discerner of the signs of the times — when the skies drop down “extra fatness,” and the harvests are doubly laden with rich fruit, he hesitates not in believing that tithes and offerings will be called for somewhere, into the storehouse of the Lord, proportionable to the seventh day’s manna that was rained from the heavens, to be gathered on the sixth.

Thus Ireland’s famine was a marked one, so far as man was concerned; and God is slandered, when it is called an unavoidable dispensation of His wise providence, to which we should all humbly bow, as a chastisement which could not be avoided. As well might we say to the staggering inebriate, that he must be patient under a wise dispensation of Providence — that the Lord does not willingly afflict him, &c., as to say that the starving thousands in Ireland must submit   [p. 56]   patiently, because God, for wise purposes, had turned from all natural laws to send this affliction upon them; for in the first place, the potato had been, everywhere in Ireland, an indirect curse, and in many parts a direct one; for centuries the poor had been oppressed and degraded by this root — for oppression is always degradation; they had not the privilege even of the beasts of the desert in variety; for the brutes, where instinct or pleasure demand, can select their food; the bird, if it cannot find a corn, may select a seed; the lion, if he cannot find an opportunity to capture any nobler game, may secure a sheep or calf; the cat, if the mouse be not in reach of her stealthy step, may secure the unwary bird, or if the wing of the bird be too lofty she may put her quick paw and fasten the nails into the darting fish; the horse or cow, if grass from the meadow or hay from the stack be wanting, may be supplied from the full granary; but the Irish must masticate the potato every day in the year, either boiled or roasted, with or without salt; and if his churlish, dainty, grumbling palate should show any symptoms of relishing food like other men, he is told that, lazy, dirty, and savage as he is, the potato is a boon which is quite too good for him. Now when God gave the “herb bearing seed, and the tree bearing fruit,” to man, He said not that one portion of mankind shall be confined to a single root; and though his patience long continued to see him fed on this root, by his masters, yet, in his own time, He “came out of his place,” and with one breath blackened and blasted this instrument   [p. 57]   of torture and cruelty; and though puny man has attempted to resuscitate and bring it to its old use, this breath blows upon it, and it shrinks back into its insignificance, abashed and deadened, as if cognizant of the degrading use to which it had been applied. But the care of God, at the same time that this fatal work was done, had before filled the granaries of the husband-man, at least over the civilized world, to an overflowing abundance; and while he had been doing this He also prepared the hearts of these husbandmen, all over the Christian world, to rise in one simultaneous mass, and pour into this famished land the fruits of their harvests; so that — shall it be said, for future generations to read , — that it rotted in the harbors while the dying were falling in the streets, for want of it? Yes, unhesitatingly may it be said, that there was not a week during that famine, but there was sufficient food for the wants of that week, and more than sufficient. Was there then a “God’s famine” in Ireland, in 1846-7-8-9, and so on? No! it is all mockery to call it so, and mockery which the Almighty will expose, before man will believe, and be humbled as he ought to be. It is therefore I say, may I never be on such an eminence again, from such a cause, from one which, if its breaking forth could not have been foreseen or prevented, need never have resulted in the loss of a single life.

The principle of throwing away life to-day, lest means to protect it to-morrow might be lessened, was fully and practically carried on and carried out.

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