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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 21


My time here I spend not unpleasantly. I am on horseback every day, and dine mostly with gentlemen of the army. One of the coffee-houses is conducted somewhat like those in London. The taverns are pretty good, and very cheap; port-wine is better here than any where else I have been, and porter is more common than in any part of England, out of London. This article alone costs Ireland a prodigious sum; I have heard above 40,000l. yearly. By means of the draw-back, this liquor is sold as cheap abroad as at home. Ought it not to be the policy of the legislature of this kingdom, to lighten, or even take off the duty on beer, in order to encourage their own breweries?

You may guess that Cork is a considerable city, from its having, as they tell me, a stand of fifty sedan chairs. They have a neat theatre, built by Barry, wherein the Dublin company exhibits during summer. The only public amusement at present is a


weekly Drum, where the company play cards, or chat, or dance, as they choose.

I was at one of these on Thursday last, and though there was no dancing, I found it very entertaining, as I was not constrained to play cards. The ladies being perfectly well-bred, and therefore accessible to strangers, we had a very unrestrained interchange of sentiments. It was not, I conclude, without good reason, that Mr. Derrick says, in one of his letters, that ‘he had seen a greater number of pretty women in Cork, than ever he had seen together in any other town.’

But whoever considers this matter dispassionately, will not find any strong temptation for a preference, in favour of any one place of the same kingdom, or of the one kingdom above the other. All natural endowments seem dispensed to each in very equal proportions.

It must, at the same time, be evident to the most superficial observer, that beauty is more diffused in England, among the lower ranks of life; which may, however, be attributed to the mere modes of living. There the meanest cottager is better fed,


better lodged, and better dressed, than the most opulent farmers here, who, unaccustomed to what our peasants reckon the comforts of life, know no luxury but in deep potations of aqua vitae.

From this circumstance, we may account for a fact reported to me, by the officers of the army here. They say, that the young fellows of Ireland, who offer to enlist, are more generally below the given height, than in England. There can be no appeal from their testimony, for they were Irish, and the standard is an infallible test.

I can see no reason why the causes which promote, or prevent the growth of other animals, should not have similar effects upon the human species. In England, where there is no stint of provisions, the growth is not checked, but on the contrary it is extended to the utmost bound of nature's original intention; whereas in Ireland, where food is neither in the same quantity, nor of the same quality, the body cannot expand itself, but is dwarfed, and stunted in its dimensions.

The gentlemen of Ireland are full as tall as those of England; the difference then, between


them and the commonalty can only proceed from the difference of food. The following case may, perhaps, tend to illustrate this matter, which, however, I only give upon uncertain authority. In the Anatomy-house of Trinity College, Dublin, is a human skeleton, of between seven and eight feet high. They told me, it belonged to one Magrath, an orphan, in this county, somewhere near Cloyne. The child fell into the hands of the famous Berkeley, then bishop of that see. This subtile doctor, who denied the exigence of matter, was as inquisitive in his physical researches, as he was whimsical in his metaphysical speculations. When I tell you, that he had well nigh put an end to his own exigence, by experimenting what are the sensations of a person dying on the gallows, you will be more ready to forgive him for his treatment to the poor foundling, whose story I am now to finish.

The bishop had a strange fancy to know whether it was not in the power of art to increase the human stature. And this unhappy orphan appeared to him a fit subject for trial. He made his essay according to


his preconceived theory, whatever it might be, and the consequence was, that he became seven feet high in his sixteenth year. He was carried through various parts of Europe for the last years of his life, and exhibited as the prodigious Irish giant. But so disproportioned were his organs, that he contracted an universal imbecility both of body and mind, and died of old age at twenty. His under-jaw was monstrous, yet the skull did not exceed the common size. But they shew a skull there, which, if the other members symmetrized, does certainly bespeak a stature more than Patagonian. It was the skull of one O'Dowd, a gentleman of Connaught, whose family, now extinct, were all above the common size.

In the same place, I saw the skeleton of one Clark, a native, of this city, whom they call the ossified man. Early in life his joints stiffened, his locomotive powers were lost, and his very jaws grew together. They were obliged, for his sustenance, to pour liquids into his mouth by a hole perforated through his teeth. He lived in this state for several years, leaning against a wall, till at length the very organs of life were converted


into bone. Account for this, Doctor, if you can.

Cork has produced some eminent men of your faculty. Dr. O'Connell wrote upon epidemical diseases in general, and upon those of Cork in particular. He is called by Gaubius, the Irish Sydenham; and his book is commended by Dr. Mead, both for the matter and the purity of the style. Speaking of the air, he says, Dublinii tusses catarrhales multo frequentiores & magis epidemicae sunt hyeme & autumno, imo et aliis omnibus anni temporibus, quam Corcagiae. Which he attributes to the air of Dublin being more impregnated with fuliginous particles.

Dr. Rogers has wrote in English on the same subject, and his work, I am informed, has considerable merit. Sir Edward Barry, now of Bath, the author of several medical tracts, particularly one on the consumption of the lungs, is a native of this place.

Smith mentions a Dr. Lyne, whose case was very extraordinary. For the last fifty years of his life he never glazed a window in his house; four of which he had in his bed-chamber, two on each side his bed. It


is remarkable, that, in all that time, nobody died in the house, till he his self was carried off, by the small-pox, at the age of eighty-five. After the windows were glazed by his son, Death became a frequent visitor.

On Sunday, I saw, dressed in his gown, a Mr. Delacour, whose appearance attracted attention. He seemed like the men of former times, and every thing about him bespoke somewhat out of the common line. Upon enquiry, I found he had in his youth, been author of several poetical pieces, which had been well received; particularly The Prospect of Beauty and The Progress of Poetry; the latter of which has undergone many impressions.