CURWEN, J.C. Observations on the State of Ireland, principally directed to its Agriculture and Rural Population; in a series of Letters, written on a tour of that country [Maria Edgeworth’s Copy]


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Two volumes in one. London: Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 47, Paternoster-Row, 1818. pp. (1) xx, 435, xii, 355. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards, spine divided into five panels by four gilt raised bands, title and author in gilt on maroon label in second; blue and gold endbands. Signed presentation copy from the author to Miss [Maria] Edgeworth. Occasional mild foxing. A fine and attractive copy with a mighty association. Very scarce.

Goldsmiths’-Kress 22011. Bradshaw 7784. Not in Gilbert.
John Christian Curwen (1756-1828), came from a Manx family and was a first cousin of Fletcher Christian, the mutineer of The Bounty. For the best part of forty years he was M.P. for Carlisle and Cumberland, and a friend of Edmund Burke. A pioneering agriculturalist he was awarded the silver medal of the Irish Farming Society.
In August 1813, in the company of Thomas Quaile, a Manx lawyer, he came on a tour to Ireland. They had their own carriage and coachman, and crossing from Scotland to Donaghadee they visited Belfast, Derry, Galway, Killarney, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Dublin. Sometimes they stayed in grand houses such as Ardbraccan, the seat of the Bishop of Meath and sometimes, at the other extreme, in wretched inns such as one at Dungarvan where, “after passing a whole day without refreshment [we arrived] at a town with a fine sounding name, which sent two members to the Irish parliament, and yet actually affording nothing on which the demands of hunger and thirst could be satisfied, but indifferent bread and worse tea”.
The book contains many graphic descriptions of ‘cabins’ and the miseries suffered by the Irish peasantry. In all his writings he shows deep compassion for those wretched people, and yet, he says: “The Irish peasant, however, though poor in what the world calls riches, possesses that in his cabin which the mines of Peru could not furnish ... a warmth of heart, an overflowing of the kindest domestic affections and of the purest joys of life”.
On the whole the book is taken up with detailed accounts of what he saw in the fields, of what farmers told him of crops and yields and rents. He was appalled by the reliance on potatoes: “The greatest political alteration that could take place in this distressed country would be a dislike to potatoes, and a general preference in the rising generation to bread and animal food”. Elsewhere he speaks of the calamity that would follow a failure of that crop “which Heaven avert!” How prophetic his words were when one considers the appalling consequences of the Great Famine due to the failure of that crop.

An important and rare work by a compassionate Englishman.1575

[L4 3A]


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