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Towards the close of this month, if the weather is mild, Potatoes may be sown with advantage. As the history of this universal and useful vegetable is not generally known, the following brief sketch may not be uninteresting or inappropriate; it is from a communication to the Board of Agriculture, by Dr. W. Wright, of Edinburgh.
" The potato is a native of America, and well known to the Indians long before the conquest of Mexico and Peru. Gomara, in his general history of the Indies, and Josephus Acosta, are amongst the early Spanish writers who have mentioned the potato by the Indian names openanck, pape, and papas. Clusius, and after him Gerard, gave figures of the potato-plant. Gerard was the first author who gave it the name of solanum tuberosumn' which Linnæus and his followers have adopted. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh, so celebrated for his worth, his valour, and his misfortunes, discovered that part of America called Norembega, and by him named Virginia, whether the admiral was acquainted with the potato in his first voyage, or whether it was sent to him by Sir Thomas Grenville, or by Mr. Lane, the first governors of Virginia, is uncertain. It is probable he was possessed of this root about the year 1586. He is said to have given it to his gardener in Ireland, as a fine fruit from America, and which he desired him to plant in his kitchen-garden in the • spring. In August, this plant flowered, and in September produced a fruit; but so different to the gardener's expectation, that, in an ill humour, he carried the potato-apple to his master. Is this? said he, 'the fine fruit from America you prized so highly?' Sir Walter either was, or pretended to be, ignorant of the matter; and told the gardener,
since that was the case, to dig up the weed and throw it away. The gardener soon returned with a good parcel of potatoes. Gerard, an old English
botanist, received seedlings of the potato about the year 1590; and tells us, that it grew as kindly in his garden as in its native soil, Virginia. The plant was cultivated in the gardens of the nobility and gentry early about the year 1620, as a curious exotic; and towards the year 1684, was planted out in the fields, in small patches, in Lancashire. From thence it was gradually propagated all over the kingdom, as well as in France. In 1683, Sutherband has inserted the solanum tuberosum in his Hortus Medicus Edenburgensis; and it is probable that many others in Scotland cultivated the potato in their gardens about that time. It was not, however, grown in the open fields in Scotland till the year 1728, when Thomas Prentice, a day labourer, first cultivated potatoes at Kilsyth. The success was such, that every farmer and cottager followed his example; and for many years past it has become a staple article. Thomas Prentice, by his industry, had saved £200. sterling, which he sunk for double interest. Upon this he subsisted for many years, and died at Edinburgh in 1792, aged eighty-six years. This plant thrives as well in Europe as it does in America. In this island, particularly, it is quite at home; and there is hardly a soil, but, with a little pains, may be made to produce the potato. The potato may be cultivated in every habitable part of the globe; but with variable success. The heat of the West Indies is too great for it. In Jamaica, however, and other mountanous islands, where they have all climates, it has been produced in great perfection. On account of the potato being a species of solanum, or night-shade, there were many who were prejudiced against it, alleging it was narcotic. In Burgundy, we find the culture and use of potatoes in food interdicted, as a poisonous and mischevous root. Amongst other effects, it was accused of producing leprosy and dysentery. Potatoes
exposed a few days to the sun and weather, acquire a green colour, bitter taste, and a norcotic quality. In this state they are not fit for eating; but there is not the smallest foundation for the other allegations, Prejudice and ignorance have long yielded to expe. rience and truth; and all mankind at this day agree, that there is no food so wholesome, more easily procured, or less expensive, than the potato. It constitutes the chief article of food to immense numbers of people, and may be converted to the support of all domestic animals, whether raw, boiled, or roasted.”
Very few birds are to be heard at this season. The woodlark is one of the earliest, and the thrush may at times be heard. The red-breast, which sings at all other seasons is silent when the frost is on the ground; but it is often seen near the dwellings of man.
TO A RED-BREAST.
And winter sternly frown'd;
And clad the fields around.
Embolden'd by despair,
Some friendly warmth to share.
" No danger need'st thou fear,
Till warmer suns appear.
And bids the fields look gay,
My kindness shall repay.”
The mournful truth display?
Had mark'd him as her prey.
Remorseless wretch !-her cruel jaws
Soon seald her victim's doom;
And weep o'er Robin's tomb.
Some stroke may intervene;
And change the flattering scene.
A man is infinitely mistaken who thinks there is nothing to be seen out of doors, because the sun is not warm, and the streets are muddy. Let him get, by dint of good exercise, out of the streets, and he shall find enough. In the warm neighbourhood of towns he may still watch the field-fares, thrushes, and blackbirds; the titmouse seeking its food through the straw-thatch; the red-wings, field-fares, sky-larks, and tit-lark, upon the same errand, over wet meadows; the sparrows and yellow-hammers, and chaffinches, still beautiful though mute, gleaning from the straw and chaff in farm-yards; and the ring-dove, always poetical, coming for her meal to the ivy-berries. About rapid streams he may see the various habits and movements of herons, woodcocks, wild ducks, and other water-fowl, who are obliged to quit the frozen marshes to seek their food there. The red-breast comes to the window, and often into the house itself, to be rewarded for its song, and for its far famed painful obsequies to the Children in the Wood.-Literary Pocket Book.
The evenings during this season are generally the most cheerful of any period of the year. The customs prevalent among our Gallic neighbours has been described in the Literary Gazette in a lively picture of Winter Evening Parties in France.
“In the winter, after supper, which is taken at the close of the day, the veillees, or evening parties, commence. At this time the different families visit each other, and work together; the men seated on
two forms placed on each side of the fire-place, occupy themselves in cutting articles in wood, repairing their agricultural instruments, making baskets, or polishing rods and distaffs for the young girls. The women spin, and with the children, who sit round the hearth, listen attentively to the conversation. If any one of the family can read, he consults the almanack and its predictions, or relates some wonderful stories related by charlatans, or chanters of miracles at fairs. They commonly talk on some subject which is not suggested by what most interests them-agriculture, but by superstition. Hence they learn what particular donations they are to pay to the saint who watches over and takes care of the bees; to him who preserves them from hail, or procures rain for them; to what calvary in the canton they are to carry an egg boiled hard, a little bread, and a piece of money; at what fountain they must drink to cure themselves of the fever, or to prevent other diseases; they also learn what old woman will predict the best luck to them, or where the man lives who cures disorders of the eyes by a consecrated grain of wheat; they further learn what are the real torments of hell, the sufferings of limbo, the delights of paradise, and how numerous and powerful are the sorcerers. The time of miracles and fairies has not yet passed away from these villages. . One of the company who is now speaking to his attentive auditory, knew a man who sold him. self to the devil: he has seen a ghost, and crossed himself to drive it away; he has carried for two or three miles a hobgoblin who leaped upon his shoulders; and, to sum up all, he has lost some of his cattle, because a sorcerer, disguised like a beggar, was refused alms by him, and in resentment bewitched his stable.” We shall conclude this month with