LESSON 65 Raleigh's Two Plants
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, two plants were brought to England, for the first time, by Sir Walter Raleigh, both of which are now very much used -- the tobacco-plant and the potato. Sir Walter had sailed across the seas to America, in search of new lands; and he brought back both these plants with him.
When he was in America, he had seen the Indians smoke, and before long he acquired the habit himself. He became extremely fond of smoking, and frequently indulged in the practice.
When he returned to England, he was sitting by the fire one day, and began to smoke. In the middle of his smoking, the door opened, and in came his man-servant. Now, this man had never in his life seen any one smoke, and did not know that there was such a plant as tobacco. So, when he saw the smoke coming from his master's mouth, he thought that he was on fire! He cried out in alarm, and ran to fetch a bucket of water to put the fire out; and Sir Walter was deluged before he had time to explain what he was really doing.
But very soon the old servant got used to seeing people with smoke coming out of their mouths; and all the young nobles of the court began to smoke because Sir Walter did so.
At first, people did not like the potato at all: nobody would eat it. Yet Sir Walter told them how useful it would be. The potato, he said, could be made to grow in England. He told them that, when the corn-harvest failed -- which it often used to do -- people need not starve if they had plenty of potatoes.
Queen Elizabeth, who was a very clever woman, listened to what Sir Walter said, and had potatoes served up at her own table. There the grand people who dined with her majesty were obliged to eat them. But they spread a report that the potato was poisonous, because it belongs to the same order as the deadly nightshade and many other poisonous plants. So, in spite of all that the Queen could do, no one would eat potatoes, and they were left for the pigs.
The people did not find out their mistake till many years afterwards. The poor potato was despised and forgotten till the reign of the French king Louis XVI., when there lived a Frenchman who had made a study of growing plants for food. He felt sure that he could make the potato a great blessing to the country; and he began at once to try.
After a great deal of trouble he succeeded. People laughed at him at first, and would not take any notice of what he said. But he went on growing the potato till he brought it to perfection. Even then no one would have eaten it, if its part had not been taken by the king. He had large pieces of ground planted with potatoes, and went about with the flower of the potato in his button-hole.
No one dared to laugh at the king; and when he said that potatoes were to be eaten, people began to find out how good and wholesome they were. By degrees the potato was more and more liked; and now there is hardly any vegetable that is more highly esteemed.