Famine is a condition most of the Western world has not been faced with in our current generation. It was not unknown in Scott’s time. In Lord Henry Cockburn’s “Memorials of his Time”, we find the following discussion of the date March 4, 1795:
‘In the years 1795 and 1796 there was a greater dearth than has ever visited the British Isles. On the 4th of March 1795 about eleven thousand persons, being probably about an eighth of the population, were fed by charity in Edinburgh. I have never forgotten that famine, perhaps because it was the first I had seen. A public proclamation specified the exact quantity of bread which each family ought to consume, being a loaf, if I recollect rightly, for each individual weekly. An odd proceeding; but it gave a full measure, and a ground for economy, which were useful. Then was the triumph of public kitchens, Count Rumfords, and cooking committees. Chemistry strained itself to extract nutriment from everything…’
France experienced famine at much the same time, due mainly to the state of war that existed at this point. Andrew Appleby, in his “Epidemics and Famine in the Little Ice Age” comments that ‘After 1710, most of France was famine-free, until 1795, when the dislocations of war and the confusion of government again brought starvation to the poor.’
Scott mentions famine, or the threat of famine, several times in his “Life of Napoleon”. Appleby’s comments echo Scott’s on the period of the Revolution: ‘To conclude the picture, as if God and man had alike determined the fall of the ancient monarchy, a hurricane of most portentous and unusual character burst on the kingdom, and laying waste the promised harvest far and wide, showed to the terrified inhabitants the prospect at once of poverty and famine, added to those of national bankruptcy and a distracted government…’
Blogging over raisin bran and coffee this morning. Suddenly looking forward to a big Sunday dinner.