SNOWING : the checkered fields below are traceable now only by the brown lines of fences and the sparse trees that mark the hedge-rows. The white of the houses and of the spires of the town is seen dimly through the snow, and seems to waver and shift position like the sails and spars of ships seen through fog. And straightway upon this image of ships and swaying spars I go sailing back to the farm-land of the past, and sharpen my pen for another day’s work among The Old Farm-Writers.
I suspect Virgil was never a serious farmer. I am confident he never had one of those callosities upon the inner side of his right thumb which come of the lower thole ol a scythe-snath, after a week’s mowing. But he had that quick poet’s eye which sees at a glance what other men see only in a day. Not a shrub or a tree, not a bit of fallow ground or of nodding lentils escaped his observation ; not a bird or a bee; not even the mosquitoes, which to this day hover pestiferously about the low-lying sedge-lands of Mantua. His first pastoral, little known now, and rarely printed with his works, is inscribed Culex.1
Young Virgil appears to have been of a delicate constitution, and probably left the fever-bearing regions of the Mincio for the higher plain of Milan for sanitary reasons, as much as the other, — of studying, as men of his parts did study, Greek and philosophy. There is a story, indeed, that he studied and practised farriery, as his father had done before him; and Jethro Tull, in his crude onslaught upon what he calls the Virgilian husbandry, (chap, ix.,) intimates that a farrier could be no way fit to lay down the rules for good farm-practice. But this story of his having been a horse-doctor rests, so far as I can discover, only on this flimsy tradition, — that the young poet, on his way to the South of Italy, after leaving Milan and Mantua, fell in at Rome with the master-of-horse to Octavianus, and gave such shrewd hints to that official in regard to the points and failings of certain favorite horses of the Roman Triumvir (for Octavianus had not as yet assumed the purple) as to gain a presentation to the future Augustus, and rich marks of his favor.
It is certain that the poet journeyed to the South, and that thenceforward the glorious sunshine of Baiæ and of the Neapolitan shores gave a color to his poems and to his life.
Yet his agricultural method was derived almost wholly from his observation in the North of Italy. He never forgot the marshy borders of the Mincio nor the shores of beautiful Benacus (Lago di Garda) ; who knows but he may some time have driven his flocks afield on the very battle-ground of Solferino ?
But the ruralities of Virgil take a special interest from the period in which they were written. He followed upon the heel of long and desolating intestine wars, — a singing-bird in the wake of vultures. No wonder the voice seemed strangely sweet.
The eloquence of the Senate had long ago lost its traditionary power ; the sword was every way keener. Who should listen to the best of speakers, when Pompey was in the forum, covered with the spoils of the East ? Who should care for Cicero’s periods, when the magnificent conqueror of Gaul is skirting the Umbrian Marshes, making straight for the Rubicon and Rome ?
Then came Pharsalia, with its bloody trail, from which Caesar rises only to be slaughtered in the Senate-Chamber. Next comes the long duel between the Triumvirate and the palsied representatives of the Republican party. Philippi closes that interlude; and there is a new duel between Octavianus and Antony (Lepidus counting for nothing). The gallant lover of Cleopatra is pitted against a gallant general who is a nephew to the first Cæsar. The fight comes off at Actium, and the lover is the loser; the pretty Egyptian Jezebel, with her golden-prowed galleys, goes sweeping down, under a full press of wind, to swell the squadron of the conqueror. The winds will always carry the Jezebels to the conquering side.
Such, then, was the condition of Italy, —its families divided, its grain-fields trampled down by the Volscian cavalry, its houses red with fresh blood - stains, its homes beyond the Po parcelled out to lawless returning soldiers, its public security poised on the point of the sword of Augustus, — when Virgil's Bucolics appear: a pastoral thanksgiving for the patrimony that had been spared him. through court-favor.
There is a show of gross adulation that makes one blush for his manhood; but withal he is a most lithesome poet, whose words are like honeyed blossoms, and whose graceful measure is like a hedge of bloom that sways with spring breezes, and spends perfume as it sways.
The Georgies were said to have been written at the suggestion of Maecenas, a cultivated friend of Augustus, who, like many another friend of the party in power, had made a great fortune out of the wars that desolated Italy. He made good use of it, however, in patronizing Virgil, and in bestowing a snug farm in the Sabine country upon Horace ; where I had the pleasure of drinking goats’ milk — “ dulci digne mero ” — in the spring of 184-.
There can be no doubt but Virgil had been an attentive reader of Xenophon, of Hesiod, of Cato, and of Varro; otherwise he certainly would have been unworthy of the task he had undertaken, — that of laying down the rules of good husbandry in a way that should insure the reading of them, and kindle a love for the pursuit.
I suspect that Virgil was not only a reader of all that had been written on the subject, but that he was also an insistant questioner of every sagacious landholder and every sturdy farmer that he fell in with, whether on the Campanian hills or at the house of Maecenas. How else does a man accomplish himself for a didactic work relating to matters of fact ? I suspect, moreover, that Virgil, during those half-dozen years in which he was engaged upon this task, lost no opportunity of inspecting every bee-hive that fell in his way, of measuring the points and graces of every pretty heifer he saw in the fields, and of noting with the eye of an artist the color of every furrow that glided from the plough. It is inconceivable that a man of his intellectual address should have given so much of literary toil to a work that was not in every essential fully up to the best practice of the day. Five years, it is said, were given to the accomplishment of this short poem. What say our poetasters to this ? Fifteen hundred days, we will suppose, to less than twice as many lines; blocking out four or five for his morning’s task, and all the evening — for he was a late worker — licking them into shape, as a bear licks her cubs.
But cui bono ? what good is in it all ? Simply as a work of art, it will be cherished through all time,—an earlier Titian, whose color can never fade. It was, besides, a most beguiling peace-note, following upon the rude blasts of war. It gave a new charm to forsaken homesteads. Under the Virgilian leadership, Monte Gennaro and the heights of Tusculum beckon the Romans to the fields; the meadows by reedy Thrasymenus are made golden with doubled crops. The Tarentine sheep multiply around Benacus, and crop close those dark bits of herbage which have been fed by the blood of Roman citizens.
Thus much for the magic of the verse ; but there is also sound farm-talk in Virgil.
I am aware that Seneca, living a few years after him, invidiously objects that he was more careful of his language than of his doctrine, and that Columella quotes him charily,—that the collector of the “ Geoponies ” ignores him, and that Tull gives him clumsy raillery; but I have yet to see in what respect his system falls short of Columella, or how it differs materially, except in fulness, from the teachings of Crescenzi, who wrote a thousand years and more later. There is little in the poem, save its superstitions, from which a modern farmer can dissent.2
We are hardly launched upon the first Georgic before we find a pretty suggestion of the theory of rotation, —
Rolling and irrigation both glide into the verse a few lines later. He insists upon the choice of the best seed, advises to keep the drains clear, even upon holydays, (268,) and urges, in common with a great many shrewd New-England farmers, to cut light meadows while the dew is on, (288-9,) even though it involve night-work. Some, too, he says, whittle their torches by fire-light, of a winter’s night; and the good wife, meantime, lifting a song of cheer, plies the shuttle merrily. The shuttle is certainly an archaism, whatever the good wife may be.
His theory of weather-signs, taken principally from Aratus, agrees in many respects with the late Marshal Bugeaud’s observations, upon which the Marshal planted his faith so firmly that he is said to have ordered all his campaigns in Africa in accordance with them.
In the opening of the second book. Virgil insists, very wisely, upon proper adaptation of plantations of fruit-trees to different localities and exposures, — a matter which is far too little considered by farmers of our day. Ills views in regard to propagation, whether by cuttings, layers, or seed, are in agreement with those of the best Scotch nurserymen ; and in the matter of grafting or inoculation, he errs (?) only in declaring certain results possible, which even modern gardening has not accomplished. Dryden shall help us to the pretty falsehood : —
And planes huge apples bear, that bore but leaves.
Thus mastful beech the bristly chestnut bears,
And the wild ash is white with blooming pears,
And greedy swine from grafted elms are fed
With falling acorns, that on oaks are bred.”
It is curious how generally this belief in something like promiscuous grafting was entertained by the old writers. Palladius repeats it with great unction in his poem “ De Insitione,” two or three centuries later; 3 and in the tenth book of the “ Geoponics,” a certain Damogerontis (whoever he may have been) says, (cap. lxv.,) “ Some rustic writers allege that nut-trees and resinous trees (τà pnτivnv ԑxovτa) cannot be successfully grafted ; but,” he continues, “ this is a mistake ; I have myself grafted the pistache nut into the terebenthine.”
Is it remotely possible that these old gentlemen understood the physiology of plants better than we ?
As I return to Virgil, and slip along the dulcet lines, I come upon this cracking laconism, in which is compacted as much wholesome advice as a loose farmwriter would spread over a page : —
Exiguum colito.” 4
The wisdom of the advice for these days of steam-engines, reapers, and high wages, is more than questionable; but it is in perfect agreement with the notions of a great many old-fashioned farmers who live nearer to the heathen past than they imagine.
The cattle of Virgil are certainly no prize-animals. Any good committee would vote them down incontinently : —
(iii. 52,) would not pass muster at any fair of the last century.
The horses are better; there is the dash of high venture in them ; they have snuffed battle; their limbs are suppled to a bounding gallop, — as where in the Æneid,
The fourth book of the Georgies is full of the murmur of bees, showing how the poet had listened, and had loved to listen. After describing minutely how and where the homes of the honey-makers are to be placed, he offers them this delicate attention : —
A passage for thy weary people make;
With osier floats the standing water strew;
Of massy stones make bridges, if it flow;
That basking in the sun thy bees may lie,
And, resting there, their flaggy pinions dry.”
Who cannot see from this how tenderly the man had watched the buzzing yellow-jackets, as they circled and stooped in broad noon about some little pool in the rills that flow into the Lago di Garda ? For hereabout, of a surety, the poet once sauntered through the noontides, while his flock cropped the " milk-giving cytisus,” upon the hills.
And charming hills they are, as my own eyes can witness: nay, my little note-book of travel shall itself tell the story. (The third shelf, upon the right, my boy.)
No matter how many years ago. — I was going from Milan, (to which place I had come by Piacenza and Lodi,) on my way to Verona by Brescia and Peschiera. At Desenzano, or thereabout, the blue lake of Benaco first appeared. A few of the higher mountains that bounded the view were still capped with snow, though it was latter May. Through fragrant locusts and mulberry-trees, and between irregular hedges, we dashed down across the isthmus of Sermione, where the ruins of a Roman castle flout the sky.
Hedges and orchards and fragrant locusts still hem the way, as we touch the lake, and, rounding its southern skirt, come in sight of the grim bastions of Peschiera. A Hungarian sentinel, lithe and tall, I see pacing the rampart, against the blue of the sky. Women and girls come trooping into the narrow road, — for it is near sunset, — with their aprons full of mulberry-leaves. A bugle sounds somewhere within the fortress, and the mellow music swims the water, and beats with melodious echo — boom on boom — against Sermione and the farther shores.
The sun just dipping behind the western mountains, with a disk all golden, pours down a flood of yellow light, tinting the mulberry-orchards, the edges of the Roman castle, the edges of the waves where the lake stirs, and spreading out in a bay of gold where the lake lies still.
Virgil never saw a prettier sight there ; and I was thinking of him, and of my old master beating off spondees and dactyls with a red ruler on his threadbare knee, when the sun sunk utterly, and the purple shadows dipped us all in twilight.
“ È arrivato, Signore ! ” said the vetturino. True enough, I was at the door of the inn of Peschiera, and snuffed the stew of an Italian supper.
Virgil closes the first book of the Georgics with a poetic forecast of the time when ploughmen should touch upon rusted war-weapons in their work, and turn out helmets empty, and bones of dead soldiers, — as indeed they might, and did. But how unlike a poem it will sound, when the schools are opened on the Rappahannock again, and the boy scans,— choking down his sobs, —
Grandiaque effossis mirabitur ossa sepulcris,”
and the master veils his eyes!
I fear that Virgil was harmed by the Georgican success, and became more than ever an adulator of the ruling powers. I can fancy him at a palace teadrinking, where pretty court-lips give some witty turn to his “Sic Vos, non Vobis,” and pretty court-eyes glance tenderly at Master Marius, who blushes, and asks some Sabina (not Poppæa) after Tibullus and his Delia. But a great deal is to be forgiven to a man who can turn compliments as Virgil turned them. What can be more exquisite than that allusion to the dead boy Marcellus, in the Sixth Book of the Æneid ? He is reading it aloud before Augustus, at Rome. Maecenas is there from his tall house upon the Esquiline; possibly Horace has driven over from the Sabine country, — for, alone of poets, he was jolly enough to listen to the reading of a poem not his own. Above all, the calm-faced Octavia, Caesar’s sister, and the rival of Cleopatra, is present. A sad match she has made of it with Antony; and her boy Marcellus is just now dead, — dying down at Baiæ, notwithstanding the care of that famous doctor, Antonius Musa, first of hydropaths.
Virgil had read of the Sibyl, — of the entrance to Hades, — of the magic metallic bough that made Charon submissive, — of the dog Cerberus, and his sop, — of the Greeks who welcomed Æneas, — then of the father Anchises, who told the son what brave fate should belong to him and his, — warning him, meantime, with alliterative beauty, against the worst of wars, —
Neu patriæ validas in viscera vertite vires,”—
too late, alas! There were those about Augustus who could sigh over this.
“Virgil reads on : Anchises is pointing out to Æneas that old Marcellus who fought Hannibal; and beside him, full of beauty, strides a young hero about whom the attendants throng.
“ And who is the young hero,” demands Æneas, “ over whose brow a dark fate is brooding ? ”
(The motherless Octavia is listening with a yearning heart.)
And Anchises, the tears starting to his eyes, says, —
“ Seek not, O son, to fathom the sorrows of thy kindred. The Fates, that lend him, shall claim him ; a jealous Heaven cannot spare such gifts to Rome. Then, what outcry of manly grief shall shake the battlements of the city! what a wealth of mourning shall Father Tiber see, as he sweeps past his new-made grave! Never a Trojan who carried hopes so high, nor ever the land of Romulus so gloried in a son.”
(Octavia is listening.)
“ Ah, piety ! alas for the ancient faith! alas for the right hand so stanch in battle ! None, none could meet him, whether afoot or with reeking charger he pressed the foe. Ah, unhappy youth ! If by any means thou canst break the harsh decrees of Fate, thou wilt be — Marcellus ! ”
It is Octavia’s lost boy ; and she is carried out, fainting.
But Virgil receives a matter of ten thousand sesterces a line, — which, allowing for difference in exchange and value of gold, may (or may not) have been a matter of ten thousand dollars. With this bouncing bag of sesterces, Virgil shall go upon the shelf for to-day.
I must name Horace for the reason of his “ Procul beatus,” etc., if I had no other; but the truth is, that, though lie rarely wrote intentionally of countrymatters, yet there was in him that fulness of rural taste which bubbled over — in grape-clusters, in images of rivers, in snowy Soracte, in shade of plane-trees; nay, he could not so much as touch an amphora but the purple juices of the hill-side stained his verse as they stained his lip. See, too, what a garden pungency there is in his garlic ode (III. a) ; and the opening to Torquatus (Ode VII. Lib. 4) is the limning of one who has followed the changes of the bursting spring with his whole heart in his eyes : —
every school-boy knows it: but what every school-boy does not know, and but few of the masters, is this charming, jingling rendering of it into the Venetian dialect: —
Su i prài torna i fiori
De cento colori,
E a dosso de i àlbori
La fogia è tornada
A farli vestir.
Che dà quèla tèra
Cambiàda de cièra,
E i fiumi che placidi
Sbassài nel so’ lèto
Va zòzo in te 'l mar! ” 5
On my last wet-day, I Spoke of the elder Pliny, and now the younger Pliny shall tell us something of one or two of his country-places. Pliny was a government-official, and was rich: whether these facts had any bearing on each other I know no more than I should know if he had lived in our times.
I know that he had a charming place down by the sea, near to Ostium. Two roads led thither: “both of them,” he says, “in some parts sandy, which makes it heavy and tedious, if you travel in a coach; but easy enough for those who ride. My villa” (he is writing to his friend Gallos, Epist. XX. Lib. 2) “is large enough for all convenience, and not expensive.” He describes the portico as affording a capital retreat in bad weather, not only for the reason that it is protected by windows, but because, there is an extraordinary projection of the roof. “ From the middle of this portico you pass into a charming inner court, and thence into a large hall which extends towards the sea,—so near, indeed, that under a west wind the waves ripple on the steps. On the left of this hall is a large loungingroom (cubiculum), and a lesser one beyond, with windows to the east and west. The angle which this lounging - room forms with the hall makes a pleasant lee, and a loitering-place for my family in the winter. Near this again is a crescent-shaped apartment, with windows which receive the sun all day, where I keep my favorite authors. From tins, one passes to a bed-chamber by a raised passage, under which is a stove that communicates an agreeable warmth to the whole apartment. The other rooms in this portion of the villa are for the freedomn and slaves; but still are sufficiently well ordered (tam mundis) for my guests.”
And he goes on to describe the bathrooms, the cooling-rooms, the sweatingrooms, the tennis-court, “ which lies open to the warmth of the afternoon sun.” Adjoining this is a tower, with two apartments below and two above, — besides a supper-room, which commands a wide look-out along the sea, and over the villas that stud the shores. At the opposite end of the tennis-court is another tower, with its apartments opening upon a museum, — and below this the great dining-hall, whose windows look upon gardens, where are box-tree hedges, and rosemary, and bowers of vines. Figs and mulberries grow profusely in the garden ; and walking under them, one approaches still another banqueting-hall, remote from the sea, and adjoining the kitchengarden. Thence a grand portico (cryptoporticus) extends with a range of windows on either side, and before the portico is a terrace perfumed with violets. His favorite apartment, however, is a detached building, which he has himself erected in a retired part of the grounds. It has a warm winter-room, looking one way on the terrace, and another on the ocean ; through its folding-doors may be seen an inner chamber, and within this again a sanctum, whose windows command three views totally separate and distinct,—the sea, the woods, or the villas along the shore.
“ Tell me,” he says, “if all this is not very charming, and if I shall not have the honor of your company, to enjoy it with me ? ”
If Pliny regarded the seat at Ostium as only a convenient and inexpensive place, we may form some notion of his I uscan property, which, as he says in his letter to his friend Apollinaris, (Lib.
Epist. 6,) he prefers to all his others, whether of Tivoli, Tusculum, or Palestrina. There, at a distance of a hundred and fifty miles from Home, in the midst of the richest corn-bearing and olive-bearing regions of Tuscany, he can enjoy country quietude. There is no need to be slipping on his toga; ceremony is left behind. The air is healthful ; the scene is quiet. “ Studiis animum, venatu corpus exerceo.” I will not follow him through the particularity of the description which he gives to his friend Apollinaris. There are the widereaching views of fruitful valleys and of empurpled hill-sides ; there are the fresh winds sweeping from the distant Apennines ; there is the gestatio with its clipped boxes, the embowered walks, the colonnades, the marble banquet-rooms, the baths, the Carystian columns, the soft, embracing air, and the violet sky. I leave Pliny seated upon a bench in a marble alcove of his Tuscan garden. From this bench, the water, gushing through several little pipes, as if it were pressed out by the weight of the persons reposing upon it, falls into a stone cistern underneath, whence it is received into a polished marble basin, so artfully contrived that it is always full, without ever overflowing. “ When I sup here,” he writes, “this basin serves for a table,— the larger dishes being placed round the margin, while the smaller ones swim about in the form of little vessels and waterfowl.”
Such al fresco suppers the countrygentlemen of Italy ate in the first century of our era !
Palladius wrote somewhere about the middle of the fourth century. His work is arranged in the form of a calendar for the months, and closes with a poem which is as inferior to the poems of the time of Augustus as the later emperors were inferior to the Cæsars. There is in his treatise no notable advance upon the teachings of Columella, whom he frequently quotes, — as well as certain Greek authorities of the Lower Empire. I find in his treatise a somewhat fuller list of vegetables, fruits, and field-crops than belongs to the earlier writers. I find more variety of treatment. I see a waning faith in the superstitions of the past: Bacchus and the Lares are less jubilant than they were ; but the Christian civilization has not yet vivified the art of culture. The magnificent gardens of Nero and the horticultural experiences of the great Adrian at Tivoli have left no traces in the method or inspiration of Palladius.
I will not pass wholly from the classic period, without allusion to the recent book of Professor Daubeny on Roman husbandry. It is charming, and yet disappointing, — not for failure, on his part, to trace the traditions to their sources, not for lack of learning or skill, but for lack of that afflatus which should pour over and fill both subject and talker, where the talker is lover as well as master.
Daubeny’s husbandry lacks the odor of fresh-turned ground, — lacks the imprint of loving familiarity. He is clearly no farmer: every man who has put his hand to the plough (aratori crede) sees it. Your blood does not tingle at his story of Boreas, nor a dreamy languor creep over you when he talks of sunny south-winds.
Had he written exclusively of bees, or trees, or flowers, there would have been a charming murmur, like the susurrus of the poets, — aud a fragrance as of crushed heaps of lilies and jonquils. But Daubeny approaches farming as a good surgeon approaches a cadaver. He disarticulates the joints superbly ; but there is no tremulous intensity. The bystanders do not feel the thrill with which they see a man bare his arm for a capital operation upon a live and palpitating body.
From the time of Palladius to the time of Pietro Crescenzi is a period of a thousand years, a period as dreary and impenetrable as the snow-cloud through which I see faintly a few spires staggering : so along the pages of Muratori’s interminable annals gaunt figures come and go ; but they are not the figures of farmers.
Goths, wars, famines, and plague succeed each other in ghastly procession. Boethius lifts, indeed, a little rural plaint from out of the gloom,—
“Felix nimium prior ætas,
Contenta fidelibus arvis,” 6 — but the dungeon closes over him; and there are outstanding orders of Charlemagne which look as if he had an eye to the crops of Italy, and to a good vegetable stew with his Transalpine dinners, — but for the most part the land is waste. I see some such monster as Eccelino reaping a harvest of blood. I see Lombards pouring down from the mountaingates, with falcons on their thumbs, ready to pounce upon the purple columbœ that trace back their lineage to the doves Virgil may have fed in the streets of Mantua. I see torrents of people, the third of them women, driven mad by some fanatical outcry, sweeping over the whole breadth of Italy, and consuming all green things as a fire consumes stubble. Think of what the fine villa of Pliny would have been, with its boxwood bowers and floating dishes, under the press of such crusaders ! It was a precarious time for agricultural investments : I know nothing that could match it, unless it may have been last summer’s harvests in the valley of the Shenandoah.
Upon a parchment (strumento) of Ferrara, bearing date A. D. 1113, (Annals of Muratori,) I find a memorandum or contract which looks like reviving civilization. “ Terram autem illam quam rancabo, frui debeo per annos tres; postea reddam serraticum.” The Latin is stiff, but the sense is sound. “ If I grub up wild laud, I shall hold it three years tor pay.”
I shall make no apology for introducing next to the reader the “ Geoponica Geoponicorum,” — a somewhat extraordinary collection of agricultural opinions, usually attributed, in a loose way, to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who held the Byzantine throne about the middle of the tenth century. It was undoubtedly under the order of Constantine that the collection took its present shape; but whether a collection under the same name had not previously existed, and, if so, to whom is to he credited the authorship, are questions which have been discussed through a wilderness of Greek and Roman type, by the various editors.
The edition before me (that of Niclas, Leipsic) gives no less than a hundred pages of prolegomena, prefaces, introductory observations, with notes to each and all, interlacing the pages into a motley of patchwork; the whole preceded by two, and followed by five stately dedications. The weight of authority points to Cassiauus Bassus, a Bithynian, as the real compiler,—notwithstanding his name is attached to particular chapters of the book, and notwithstanding he lived as early as the fifth century. Other critics attribute the collection to Dionysius Uticensis, who is cited by both Varro and Columella. The question is unsettled, and is not worth the settling.
My own opinion — in which, however, Niclas and Needham do not share — is, that the Emperor Porphyrogenitus, in addition to his historical and judicial labors,7 wishing to mass together the best agricultural opinions of the day, expressed that wish to some trusted Byzantine official (we may say his Commissioner of Patents). Whereupon the Byzantine official (commissioner) goes to some hungry agricultural friend, of the Chersonesus, and lays before him the plan, with promise of a round Byzantian stipend.
The agricultural friend goes lovingly to the work, and discovers some old compilation of Bassus or of Dionysius, into which he whips a few modern phrases, attributes a few chapters to the virtual compiler of the whole, makes one or two adroit allusions to local scenes, and carries the result to the Byzantine official (commissioner). The official (commissioner) has confidence in the opinions and virtues of his agricultural friend, and indorses the book, paying over the stipend, which it is found necessary to double, by reason of the unexpected cost, of execution. The official (commissioner) presents the report to the Emperor, who receives it gratefully, — at the same time approving the bill of costs, which has grown into a quadruple of the original estimates.
This hypothesis will explain the paragraphs which so puzzle Niclas and Needham ; it explains the evident interpolations, and the local allusions. The only extravagance in the hypothesis is its assumption that the officials of Byzantium were as rapacious as our own.
Thus far, I have imagined a Certain analogy between the work in view and the " Patent Office Agricultural Reports.” The analogy stops here: the “ Geoponica” is a good book. It is in no sense to be regarded as a work of the tenth century, or as one strictly Byzantine : nearly half the authors named are of Western origin, and I find none dating later than the fifth century,—while many, as Apuleius, Fiorentinus, Africanus, and the poor brothers Quintilii, who died under the stab of Commodus, belong to a period preceding that of Palladios. Aratus and Democritus (of Abdera) again, who are cited, are veterans of the old Greek school, who might have contributed as well to the agriculture of Thrace or Macedonia in the days of Philip as in the days of the Porphyrogenitus.
The first book, of meteorologie phenomena, is nearly identical in its teachings with those of Aratus, Varro, and Virgil.
The subject of field-culture is opened with the standard maxim, repeated byall the old writers, that the master’s eye is invaluable.8 The doctrine of rotation, or frequent change of crops, is laid down with unmistakable precision. A steep for seed (hellebore) is recommended, to guard against the depredations of birds or mice.
In the second book, in certain chapters credited to Fiorentinus, I find, among other valuable manures mentioned, sea-weed and tide-drift, Tà έκ τηϛ ϑaλύσσηϛ δέ έκβpaσσόμεva βpvώδη, which I do not recall in any other of the old writers. He also recommends the refuse of leather-dressers, and a mode of promoting put refaction in the compost-heap, which would almost seem to be stolen from “ Bummer's Method.” He further urges the diversion of turbid rills, after rains, over grass lands, and altogether makes a better compend of this branch of the subject than can be found in the Roman writers proper.
Grain should be cut before it is fully ripe, as the meal is the sweeter. What correspondent of our agricultural papers, suggesting this as a novelty, could believe that it stood in Greek type as early as ever Greek types were set ?
A farm foreman should be apt to rise early, should win the respect of Ins men, should fear to tell an untruth, regard religious observances, and not drink too hard.
Three or four books are devoted to a very full discussion of the vine, and of wines,—not differing materially, however, from the Columellan advice. In discussing the moral aspects of the matter, this Geoponic author enumerates other things which will intoxicate as well as wine, — even some waters; also the wine made from barley and wheat, which barbarians drink. Old men, he says, are easily made drunk ; women not easily, by reason of temperament; but by drinking enough they may come to it.
Where the discourse turns upon pears, (Lib. X. Cap. xxiii.,) it is urged, that, if vou wish specially good fruit, you should bore a hole through the trunk at the ground, and drive in a plug of either oak or beech, and draw the earth over it. If it does not heal well, wash for a fortnight with the lees of old wine : in any event, the wine-lees will help the flavor of the fruit. -Almost identical directions are to be found in Palladius, (Tit. XXL,) but the above is credited to Diophanes, who lived in Asia Minor a full century before Christ.
Book XI. opens with flowers and evergreens, introduced (by a Latin translation) in a mellifluous roll of genitives :— “plantationem rosarum, et liliorum, et violarum, et reliquorum florum odoratorum.” Thereafter is given the pretty tradition, that red roses came of nectar spilled from heaven. Love, who bore the celestial vintage, tripped a wing, and overset the vase ; and the nectar, spilling on the valleys of the earth, bubbled up in roses. Next we have this kindred story of the lilies. Jupiter wished to make his boy Hercules (born of a mortal) one of the gods ; so he snatches him from the bosom of his earthly mother, Alcmena, and bears him to the bosom of the godlike Juno. The milk is spilled from the full-mouthed boy, as he traverses the sky, (making the Milky Way,) and what drops below stars and clouds, and touches earth, stains the ground with — lilies.
In the chapter upon pot-herbs are some of those allusions to the climate of Constantinople which may have served to accredit the work in the Byzantine court. I find no extraordinary methods of kitchen-garden culture, — unless I except the treatment of musk-melon seeds to a steep of milk and honey, in order to improve the flavor of the fruit. (Cap. xx.) The remaining chapters relate to ordinary domestic animals, with diversions to stags, camels, hare, poisons, scorpions, and serpents. I can cheerfully commend the work to those who have a snowy day on their hands, good eyesight, and a love for the subject.
And now, while the snow lasts, let us take one look at Messer Pietro Crescenzi, a Bolognese of the fourteenth century. My copy of him is a little, fat, unctuous, parchment-bound book of 1534, bought upon a street stall under the walls of the University of Bologna.
Through whose hands may it not have passed since its printing ! Sometimes I seem to snuff in it the taint of a dirtyhanded friar, who loved his pot-herbs better than his breviary, and plotted his yearly garden on some shelf of the hills that look down on Castagnolo: other times I scent only the mould and the damp of some monastery shelf, that guarded it quietly and cleanly, while red-handed war raged around the walls.
Crescenzi was a man of good family in Bologna, being nephew of Crescenzi di Crescenzo, who died in 1268, an ambassador in Venice. Pietro was educated to the law, and, wearying of the civil commotions in his native town, accepted judicial positions in the independent cities of Italy, — Pisa and Asti among others; and after thirty years of absence, in which, as he says, he had read many authors,9 and seen many sorts of farming, he gives his book to the world.
Its arrangement is very similar to that of Palladius, to which he makes frequent reference. There is long and quaint talk of situations, breezes, cellar-digging, and wells; but in the matter of irrigation and pipe-laying he is clearly in advance of the Roman writers. He discourses upon tiles, and gives a cement for making water-tight their junction, — ”Calcina viva intriaa con olio.” (Lib. I. Cap. ix.) He adds good rules for mortar-making, and advises that the timber for house-building be cut. in November or December in the old of the moon.
In matters of physiology he shows a near approach to modern views: he insists that food for plants must be in a liquid form.10
He quotes Columella’s rule for twenty-four loads (carrette) of manure to hilllands per acre, and eighteen to level land; and adds, — " Our people put the double of this,” — “I nostri mettano più chel doppio.”
But the book of our friend Crescenzi is interesting, not so much for its maxims of agronomic wisdom as for its association with one of the most eventful periods of Italian history. The new language of the Peninsula 11 was just now crystallizing into shape, and was presently to receive the stamp of currency from the hands of Dante and Boccaccio. A thriving commerce through the ports of Venice and Amalfi demanded all the products of the hill-sides. Milan, then having a population of two hundred thousand, had turned a great river into the fields, which to this day irrigates thousands of acres of rice-lands. Wheat was grown in profusion, at that time, on fields which are now desolated by the malaria, or by indolence. In the days of Crescenzi, gunpowder was burned for the first time in battle ; and for the first time crops of grain were paid for in bills of exchange. All the Peninsula was vibrating with the throbs of a new and more splendid life. The art that had cropped out of the fashionable schools of Byzantium was fast putting them in eclipse ; and before Crescenzi died, if he loved art on canvas as he loved art in gardens, he must have
In 1360 a certain Paganino Bonafedc composed a poem called “ R Tesoro de’ Rustici”; but I believe it was never published ; and Tiraboschi calls it “poco felice.” If we could only bar publicity to all the poco felice verses !
In the middle of the fifteenth century the Florentine Poggio says some good things in a rural way; and still later, that whimsical, disagreeable Politiano, who was a pet cub of Lorenzo de’ Medici, published his “ Rusticus.” Roscoe says, with his usual strained hyperbole, that it is inferior in kind only to the Georgies. The fact is, it compares with the Georgics as the vilest of the Medici compare with the grandest of the Caesars.
The young Michele Verini, of the same period, has given, in one of his few remaining letters, an eloquent description of the Cajano farm of Lorenzo de’ Medici. It lay between Florence and Pistoia. The river Ombrone skirted its fields. It was so successfully irrigated, that three crops of grain grew in a year. Its barns had stone floors, walls with moat, and towers like a castle. The cows he kept there (for ewes were now superseded) were equal to the supply of the entire city of Florence. Hogs were fed upon the whey; and peacocks and pheasant innumerable roamed through the woods.
Politiano also touches upon the same theme; but the prose of young Verini is better, because more explicit, than the verse of Politiano.
While. I write, wandering in fancy to that fair plain where Florence sits a queen, with her girdle of shining rivers, and her garland of olive-bearing hills, - the snow is passing. The spires have staggered plainly and stiffly into sight. Again I can count them, one by one. I have brought as many authors to the front as there are spires staring at me from the snow.
Let me marshal them once more : — Verini, the young Florentine; Politiano,12 who cannot live in peace with the wife of his patron ; Poggio, the Tuscan ; Crescenzi, the magistrate and farmer joined; the half-score of dead men who lie between the covers of the “ Geoponica ” ; the martyr Boethius, who, under the consolations of a serene, perhaps Christian philosophy, cannot forget the charm of the fields; Palladius, who is more full than original; Pliny the Consul, and the friend of Tacitus ; Horace, whose very laugh is brimming with the buxom cheer of the country ; and last, — Virgil.
I hear no such sweet bugle-note as his along all the line !
“ Claudite jam rivos, pueri, sat prata biberunt.”
Even so : Claudite jam libras, parvuli! — Shut up the books, my little ones! Enough of this.
- “Lusimus: hæc propter Culicis sint carmina dicta.”↩
- Of course, I reckon the " Exceptantque leves auras; et sæpe sine ullis,” etc., (Lib. III. 274,) as among the superstitions.↩
- The same writer, under Februarius, Tit. XVII., gives a very curious method of grafting the willow, so that it may bear peaches.↩
- Praise big farms; stick by little ones.↩
- This, with other odes, is prettily turned by SigPietro Bussolino, and given as an appendix to the Serie degli Scritti in Dialetto Venez., by Bart. Gamba.↩
- De Consol. Phil. Lib. II.↩
- See Gibbon, — opening of Chapter LIII.↩
- As a curious illustration of the rhetoric of the different agronomes, I give the various wordings of this universal maxim.↩
- The “ Geoponica ” has,—“ IIoλλω τòv aypdv úµεívω πolεí ðεoπtov auvεχńc πapovoia.” Lib. II. Cap. i.↩
- Columella says,— “ Ne ista quidem præidia tantum pollent, quantum vel uua præsentia domini.” I. i. 18.↩
- Cato says, — “ Frons occipitio prior est.” Cap. iv.↩
- Palladius puts it,— “Præsentia domini provectus est agri.” I. vi.↩
- And the elder Pliny writes, — “Majores ferthissimum in agro oculum domini esse dixerunt.”↩
- “ E molti libri d’ antichi e de' novelli savi lessi e studiai, e diverse e varie operazioni de’ coltivatori delle terre vidi e conobbi.”↩
- “Il proprio cibo delle piante sara alcuno humido ben mischiato.” Cap. xiii.↩
- Crescenzi’s book was written in Latin, but was very shortly after (perhaps by himself) rendered into the street-tongue of Italy. heard admiringly of Cimabue, and Giotto, and Orcagna.↩
- See Roscoe, Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, Chap. VIII.↩