“The Famine Year,” the seventh chapter of Trollope's Castle Richmond, discusses “the agony of that period” — the winter of 1846-47 — which came “many, many years” after “the increasing swarms of the country had been fed upon the potato, and upon the potato only; and now all at once the potato failed them, and the greater part of eight million human beings were left without food.” Then he raises the key religious questions, to what extent was God responsible for the terrible suffering, and if He was, why did He destroy the lives of so many people? Trollope agres with many of his contemporaries that the “destruction of the potato was the work of God,” and he understands that “it was natural to attribute the sufferings which at once overwhelmed the unfortunate country to God's anger—to his wrath for the misdeeds of which that country had been guilty.” This Trollope does not accept:
For myself, I do not believe in such exhibitions of God's anger. When wars come, and pestilence, and famine; when the people of a land are worse than decimated, and the living hardly able to bury the dead, I cannot coincide with those who would deprecate God's wrath by prayers. I do not believe that our God stalks darkly along the clouds, laying thousands low with the arrows of death, and those thousands the most ignorant, because men who are not ignorant have displeased Him. Nor, if in his wisdom He did do so, can I think that men's prayers would hinder that which his wisdom had seen to be good and right. . . .
But on no Christian basis can I understand the justice or acknowledge the propriety of asking our Lord to abate his wrath in detail, or to alter his settled purpose. If He be wise, would we change his wisdom? If He be merciful, would we limit his mercy? There comes upon us some strange disease, and we bid Him to stay his hand. But the disease, when it has passed by, has taught us lessons of cleanliness, which no master less stern would have made acceptable. A famine strikes us, and we again beg that that hand may be stayed;—beg as the Greeks were said to beg when they thought that the anger of Phœbus was hot against them because his priest had been dishonoured. We so beg, thinking that God's anger is hot also against us. But, lo! the famine passes by, and a land that had been brought to the dust by man's folly is once more prosperous and happy.
Ireland was “brought to a terrible pass;—not as so many said and do say, by the idolatry of popery, or by the sedition of demagogues, or even mainly by the idleness of the people.” — none of which charges against the Irish he accepts: the “idolatry” is “not so bad” as in other Roman Catholic countries, sedition is not so common as charged, and the Irish work just as hard as do people in other nations. Sounding much like the speakers in Jonathan Swift's “Modest Proposal” and Thomas Carlyle's French Revolution and Chartism, Trollope lays the blame on the landowners, Protestant and Catholic, whose shirking of responsibilities has led to this disaster.
- The Irish Famine, 1845-49
- Trollope's analysis of the Irish Famine of 1846-47
- The look of dying from starvation
Trollope, Anthony. Castle Richmond. London & New York: 1906. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks, and revised by Rita Bailey and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.. 5 August 2013.
Last modified 13 August 2013