Page images
PDF

south certain epidemics, which they thought proper to ascribe to the sole means which existed to prevent them. The Comptroller General was obliged in 1771 to vequest the opinion of the faculty of medicine, in order to put an end to these false notions.

Parmentier, who had learned to appreciate the potatoe in the prisons of Germany, where he had been often confined to that food, seconded the views of the Minister by a chemical examination of this root, in which he demonstrated that none of its constituents are hurtful. He did better still. To give the people a relish for them, he cultivated them in the open fields, in places very much frequented. He guarded them carefully during the day only; and was happy when he had excited as mud) curiosity as to induce people to steal some of thein during the night. He would have wished that the King, as we read of the Emperors of China, had traced the first furrow of his field. His Majesty thought proper at least to wear a bunch of potatoe flowers at his button-hole in the midst of the Court on a festival day. Nothing more was wanting to induce several great lords to plant this root.

Parmentier wished likewise to engage the cooks of the great in the service of the poor, by inducing them to practise their skill on the potatoe; for he was aware that the poor could not obtain potatoes in abundance unless they could furnish the rich with an agreeable article of food. He informs us that he one day gave a dinner composed entirely of potatoes, with 20 different sauces, all

of which gratified the palates of his guests.

But the enemies of the potatoe, though refuted in their attempts to prove it injurious to the health, did not consider themselves as vanquished. They pretended that it injured the fields, and rendered them barren. It was not at all likely that a plant which is capable of nourishing a greater number of cattle, and multiplying the manure, should injure the soil. It was necessary, however, to answer this objection, and ro consider the potatoe in an agricultural point of view. Parmeutier accordingly published in different forms every tiling regarding its cultivation and uses, even in fertilizing the soil. He introduced the subject into philosophical works, into popular instructions, into journals, into dictionaries, into works of all kinds. During 40 years he let slip no opportunity of recommending it. Every bad year was a kind of auxiliary, of which he profited with care to draw the attention of mankind to his favourite plant.

Hence the name of this salutary vegetable and his own have become almost inseparable in the memory of the friends of humanity. Even the common people united them, and not always with gratitude. At a certain period of the Revolution it was proposed to give Parmentier some municipal place. One of the voters opposed this proposal with fury :—*' He will make us eat potatoes," said he, "it was he who invented them."

But Parmentier did not ask the suffrages of the people. He knew well that it was always a duty to serve them- But he knew equally that as long as their education remained what it is, it was a duty likewise not to consult them. He had no doubt that at length the advantage of his plans would be appreciated. And one of the fortunate tilings attending his old age vvus to see the almost complete success of his perseverance. "The potatoe has now only friends," he wrote in one of his last works, "even in those cantons from which the spirit of system and contention seemed anxious to banish it for ever."

But Parmentier was not one of those persons who occupy themselves exclusively with one idea. The advantages which he had perceived in the potatoe did not make him neglect those offered by other vegetables.

Maize, the plant which, next to the potatoe, give3 the most economical food, i6 likewise a present of the New World, although in some places it is still obstinately called Turkey corn. It was the principal food of the Americans when the Spaniards visited their coasts. It was brought to Europe much earlier than the potatoe; for Fuchs describes it, and gives a drawing of it, in 1543. It was likewise spread more quickly; and by giving to Italy, and our southern provinces, a new and abundant article of food, it has greaily contributed to enrich them, and i J increase their population.

Piirmentier, therefore, in order to encourage its culture, hud need only to explain, as he does in a very con plete manner, the precautious which its cultivation require*, and the numerous uses to which it may be applied, lie

wished to exclude buck wheat, which is so inferior, from the few cantons where it is still cultivated.

The acorn, which they say nourished our ancestors before they were acquainted with corn, is still very useful in some of pur provinces, cluefly about the centre of the kingdom. M. Daine, Intend ant of Limoges, induced Parmentier to examine whether it w«s not possible to make from it an eatable bread, and capable of being kept. His experiments were unsuccessful j but they occasioned a complete treatise on the acorn, and on the different preparations of its food.

Corn itself was an object of long study with him; and perhaps he has not been of less service in explaining the best methods of grinding and baking, than in spreading the cultivation of potatoes. Chemical analysis having informed him that bran contains no nourishment proper for man, he concluded that it was advantageous to exclude it from bread.— He deduced from this the advantages of an economical method of grinding, which, by subjecting the grain repeatedly to the mill and the sieve, detaches from the bran even the minutest particles of flour; and he proved likewise that it furnished, at a lower price, a white, agreeable, and more nutritive bread. Ignorance had so misunderstood the advantages of this method, that laws had long existed to prevent it, and that the mn«t precious part of the grain was given to the cattle along with the bran.

Parmentier studied with care

every thing relating to bread; and

because books would have been

of little service to millers and

baker?, bakers, people who scarcely read any, he induced Government to establish a School of Baking, from which the pupils would speedily carry into the provinces all the good practices. He went himself to Britanny and Languedoc, with M. Cadet-Devaux, in order to propagate his doctrine.

He caused the greatest part of the bran which was mixed with the bread of the soldiers to be withdrawn; and by procuring them a more healthy and agreeable article of food, he p\it an end to a multitude of abuses of which this mixture was the source.

Skilful men have calculated that the progress of knowledge in our days relative to grinding and baking has been such, that abstracting from the other vegetables which may be substituted for corn, the quantity of corn necessary for the food of an individual may be reduced more than a third. As it is chiefly to Parmentier that the almost general adoption of these new processes is owing, this calculation establishes his services better than a thousand panegyrics.

Ardent as Parmentier was for the public utility, it was to be expected that he would interest himself much in the efforts occasioned by the last war to supply exotic luxuries. It was he that brought the syrup of grapes to the greatest perfection. This preparation, which may be ridiculed by those who wish to assimilate it to sugar, has notwithstanding reduced the consumption of sugar many thousand quintals, and has produced immense savings in our hospitals, of which the poor have reaped the advantage, has given a

new value to our vines at a time when the war and the taxes made them be pulled up in many places, and will not remain less useful for many purposes, even if sugar should again fall in this country to its old price.

We have seen above how Parmentier, being by pretty singular accidents deprived of the active superintendance of the Invalids, had been stopped in the natural line of his advancement. He had too much merit to allow this injustice to continue long. Government employed him in different circumstances as a military apothecary; and when in 17 88 a consulting council of physicians and' surgeons was organized for the army, the Minister wished to place him there as apothecary; but Bayen was then alive, and Parmentier was the first to represent that he could not take his seat above his master. He was therefore named assistant to Bayen — This institution, like many others, was suppressed during the period of revolutionary anarchy, an epoch during which even medical subordination was rejected. But necessity obliged them soon to reestablish it under the names of Commission and Council of Health for the Armies; and Parmentier, whom the reign of terror had for a time driven from Paris, was speedily placed in it.

He showed in this situation the same zeal as in all others; and the hospitals of the army were prodigiously indebted to his care. He neglected nothing—instructions, repeated orders to his inferiors, pressing solicitations to men in authority. We have seen him, within these few years deploring

the

the absolute neglect in which a Government, occupied in conquering, and not in preserving, left the asylums of the victims of ■war.

We ought to bear the most striking testimony of the care which he took of the young persons employed under his orders, the friendly manner in which he received them, encouraged them, and rewarded them. His protection extended to them at what distance soever they were carried; and we know more than one who was indebted for his life in far distant climates to the provident recommendations of this paternal chief.

But his activity was not restricted to the duties of his place; wery thing which could be useful occupied hi§ attention.

When the steam-engines were established, he satisfied the public of the salubrity of the waters of the Seine. More lately he occupied himself with ardour in the establishment of economical soups. He contributed materially to the propagation of vaccination. It was he chiefly who introduced into the central pharmacy of the hospitals at Paris the excellent order which reigns there; and he drew up the pharmaceutic code according to which they are directed.— He watched over the great baking establishment at Scipion, where all the bread of the hospitals is made. The Hospice dts Menages was under his particular care; and he bestowed the most minute attention on all that could alleviate the lot of 800 old persons eif both sexes, of which it is composed. At a period when people might

labour much, and perform great services, without receiving any recompense, wherever men united to do good, he appeared foremost: and you might depend upon bei« able to dispose of his time, of his pen, and, if occasion served, of his fortune.

This continual habit of occupying himself for the good of mankind, had even affected his external air. Benevolence seemed to appear in him personified. Hi; person was tall; and remained erect to the end of his life; hi< figure was full of "amenity; lb visage wa6 at once noble and gentle; his hair was white as tlx snow—all these seemed to raider this respectable old man tin image of goodness and of virtue His physiognomy was pleasim.'. particularly from that appearand of happiness produced by thegwi which he did, and which was* much the more entitled to bt happy, because a man who without high birth, without fortune, without great places, without any remarkable genius, but by the sole perseverance of the love of gwxlness, has perhaps contributed a much to the happiness of his rait as any of those upon whom Nature and Fortune have accumulated all the means of scrvJe them.

Parmentier was never married Madame Houzeau, his sisW, lived always with him, and *♦■ conded him in his benevolent labours with the tenderest friendship. She died at the time when her affectionate care would have been most necessary to her brot ther, who had for some years been threatened with a chronical aftection in his breast. Regret fw

this this loss aggravated the disease of this excellent man, and rendered his last days very painful, but Without altering his character, or interrupting his labours. He died on the 17th December, 1813, in the 77th year of his age.

CHARACTER OF MUXGO PARK;

From his Life prefixed to the Journal of hit Mission to Africa in 1805.

The leading parts of Mungo Park's character must have been anticipated by the reader in the principal events and transactions of his life. Of his enterprising spirit, his indefatigable vigilance and activity, his calm fortitude and unshaken perseverance, he has left permanent memorials in the narrative of his former travels, and in the Journal and Correspondence now published. In these respects few travellers have equalled, none certainly ever surpassed him. Nor were the qualities of his understanding less valuable or conspicuous. He was distinguished by a correctness of judgment, seldom found united with au ardent and adventurous turn of mind, and generally deemed incompatible with it. His talents certainly were not brilliant, but solid and useful, such as were peculiarly suited to a traveller and geographical discoverer. Hence, in his accounts of new and unknown countries, he is consistent and rational: he is betrayed into no exaggeration, nor does he exhibit any traces of credulity or enthusiasm. His attention was directed exclusively to facts; and except in hia opinion relative to

the termination of the Niger (which he supported by very plausible arguments) he rarely indulged in conjecture, much less in hypothesis or speculation.

Among the characteristic qualities of Park which were so apparent in his former travels, none certainly were more valuable or contributed more to his success, than his admirable prudence, calmness and temper; but it has been doubted whether . these merits were equally conspicuous during his second expedition. The parts of his conduct which have given occasion to this remark are, his setting out from the Gambia almost at the eve of the rainy, season, and his voyage down the Niger under circumstances 60 apparently desperate. On the motives by which he may have been influenced as to the former of these measures something has been said in the course of the foregoing narrative. With regard to his determination in the latter instance, justice must allow that his situation was oue of extreme difficulty, and admitted probably of no alternative. In both cases our knowledge of the facts is much too imperfect to enable us to form a correct opinion as to the propriety of his conduct, much less to justify us in condemning him unheard.

In all the relations of private life he appear to have been highly exemplary; and his conduct as a sou, a husband, and a father, merited every praise. To the more gentle and amiable parts of his character the most certain of all testimonies may be found in the warm attachment of his friends, and in the fond and affectionate recollections

« PreviousContinue »