I’ve been trying to lose weight before I head off to Ireland.
Can you imagine anything more absurd than someone uttering the phrase “I’m trying to lose weight” in mid-19th century potato-famished Ireland?
I recall some vivid moments in William Carleton‘s (1794-1869) novel The Black Prophet:a Tale of Irish Famine (1847), such as thinning one’s plate when starving in Ireland:
The next morning the Sullivan family rose to witness another weary and dismal day of incessant rain, and to partake of a breakfast of thin stirabout, made and served up with that woful ingenuity, which necessity, the mother of invention in periods of scarcity, as well as in matters of a different character, had made known to the benevolent hearted wife of Jerry Sullivan. That is to say, the victuals were made so unsubstantially thin, that in order to impose, if possible, on the appetite, it was deemed necessary to deceive the eye by turning the plates and dishes round and round several times, while the viands were hot, so as by spreading them over a larger surface, to give the appearance of a greater quantity. It is, heaven knows, a melancholy cheat, but one with which the periodical famines of our unhappy country have made our people too well acquainted. 
Or sometimes laying on one’s belly:
“What is the matter with you, Con?” asked his mother, “you seem dreadfully uneasy.”
“I am ill, mother,” he replied—“the fever that was near taking Tom away, is upon me; I feel that I have it by the pains that’s in my head and the small o’ my back.”
“Lie down a little, dear,” she added, “its only the pain, poor boy, of an empty stomach—lie down on your poor bed, God help you, and when the supper’s ready you’ll be better.”
UPDATE: Forgot about this gem from the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser (1553-1599), who lived in Ireland for much of his adult life:
Out of every corner of the woods and glynnes they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legges could not beare them; they looked like anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eate the dead carrions, happy where they could finde them, yea, and one another soone after, insomuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and, if they found a plot of water-cresesses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue therewithal; that in short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentifull country suddainely left voyde of man and beast; yet sure in all that warre, there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extrremitie of famine, which they themselves had wrought. 
 Carleton, William. The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. Belfast: Simm and McIntyre. 1847. “III, A Family on the Decline—Omens.” 34–35.
 Carleton, The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. “XI, Pity and Remorse.” 107.
 Spenser, Edmund. A View of the State of Ireland. 1596. 1633. Edited by Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley. Blackwell, Oxford. 1997. pp. 101–02.
And so he went on; and she was more silent and more a listener than usual. I don’t know all that was passing in pretty Lilias’s fancy—in her heart—near the hum of the waters and the spell of that musical voice. Love speaks in allegories and a language of signs; looks and tones tell his tale most truly. So Devereux’s talk held her for a while in a sort of trance, melancholy and delightful. There must be, of course, the affinity—the rapport—the what you please to call it—to begin with—it matters not how faint and slender; and then the spell steals on and grows. See how the poor little woodbine, or the jessamine, or the vine, will lean towards the rugged elm, appointed by Virgil, in his epic of husbandry (I mean no pun) for their natural support—the elm, you know it hath been said, is the gentleman of the forest:—see all the little tendrils turn his way silently, and cling, and long years after, maybe, clothe the broken and blighted tree with a fragrance and beauty not its own. Those feeble feminine plants, are, it sometimes seems to me, the strength and perfection of creation—strength perfected in weakness; the ivy, green among the snows of winter, and clasping together in its true embrace the loveless ruin; and the vine that maketh glad the heart of man amidst the miseries of life. I must not be mistaken, though, for Devereux’s talk was only a tender sort of trifling, and Lilias had said nothing to encourage him to risk more; but she now felt sure that Devereux liked her—that, indeed, he took a deep interest in her—and somehow she was happy. 
Compare (American) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):
Thus long I have been in Cambridge this term (three of four weeks) & have not before this moment paid my deviors to the Gnomes to whom I dedicated this quaint & heterogeneous manuscript. Is it because matter has been wanting—no—I have written much elsewhere in prose, poetry, & miscellany—let me put the most favourable construction on the case & say that I have been better employed. Beside considerable attention however unsuccessful to college studies I have finished Bisset’s Life of Burke as well as Burke’s regicide Peace together with considerable variety of desultory reading generally speaking highly entertaining & instructive. The Pythologian Poem does not proceed very rapidly though I have experienced some poetic moments. Could I seat myself in the alcove of one of those public libraries which human pride & literary rivalship have made costly, splendid, & magnificent it would indeed be an enviable situation. I would plunge into the classic lore of chivalrous story & of the fairy-land bards & unclosing the ponderous volumes of the firmest believers in magic & in the potency of consecrated crosier or elfin ring I would let my soul sail away delighted in to their wildest phantasies. Pendragon is rising before my fancy & has given me permission to wander in his walks of Fairy-land & to present myself at the bower of Gloriana. I stand in the fair assembly of the chosen; the brave & the beautiful; honour & virtue, courage & delicacy are mingling in magnificent joy. Unstained knighthood is sheathing the successful blade in the presence of unstained chastity. And the festal jubilee of Fairy land is announced by the tinkling of its silver bells. The halls & beauty. The birds partake & magnify the happiness of the green-wood shades. & the music of the harp comes swelling on the gay breezes. Or other views more real[,] scarcely less beautiful should attract, enchain me. All the stores of Grecian & Roman literature may be unlocked & fully displayed—or with the Indian enchanters send my soul up to wander among the stars till “the twilight of the gods[.]”
 Le Fanu, The House by the Churchyard, “Chapter XXIV – In Which Two Young Persons Understand one another Better, perhaps, than ever They did Before, without Saying So,” 115–16.
 Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks. Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard UP. 1960-82. Vol. I, March 11, 1820, pp. 10–11.
Behold the words of St. Patrick of Wales and see how he conveys his humility:
But what is the point of excuses, however truthful, especially when linked with my audacity in aspiring now, in my old age, to what I did not acquire in my youth? For my sins prevented me from consolidating what I had previously read through. But who believes me even if I repeat what I have said before? As a youth, indeed almost a boy without any beard, I was taken captive, before I knew what to desire and what I ought to avoid. And so, then, today I am ashamed and terrified to expose my awkwardness, because, being inarticulate, I am unable to explain briefly what I mean, as my mind and spirit long and the inclination of my heart indicates.
Il Confessio. (Declaration of Patrick.) From St. Patrick – His Writings and Muirchu’s Life. Edited and Translated by A. B. E. Hood. Phillimore & Co. London. 1978. § 10, p. 43.
The worst of these politics of revolution is this: they temper and harden the breast, in order to prepare it for the desperate strokes which are sometimes used in extreme occasions. But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives a gratuitous taint; and the moral sentiments suffer not a little, when no political purpose is served by the depravation. This sort of people are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgot his nature.
—Reflections on the Revolution in France (1791)
And since ’tis the Ides of March, let us render under Caesar (100BC-44BC):
Men are generally ready to believe what they want to believe.
I had a book on top of my head. I had to get up the stairs without it falling off. If it fell off I would die. It was a hardback book, heavy, the best kind for carrying on your head. I couldn’t remember which one it was. I knew all the books in the house. I knew their shapes and smells. I knew what pages would open if I held them with the spine on the ground and let the sides drop. I knew all the books but I couldn’t remember the name of the one on my head.
Though the mission of the aesthetic movement is to lure people to contemplate, not to lead them to create, yet, as the creative instinct is strong in the Celt, and it is the Celt who leads in art, there is no reason why in future years this strange Renaissance should not become almost as mighty in its way as was that new birth of Art that woke many centuries ago in the cities of Italy.