WE are fairly on English ground now ; of course, it is wet weather. The phenomena of the British climate have not changed much since the time when the rains “let fall their horrible pleasure” upon the head of the poor, drenched outcast, Lear. Thunder and lightning, however, which belonged to that particular war of the elements, are rare in England. The rain is quiet, fine, insinuating, constant as a lover, — not wasting its resources in sudden, explosive outbreaks.
During a foot-tramp of some four hundred miles, which I once had the pleasure of making upon English soil, and which led me from the mouth of the Thames to its sources, and thence through Derbyshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and all of the Lake counties, I do not think that the violence of the rain kept me housed for more than five days out of forty. Not to say that the balance showed sunshine and a bonny sky ; on the contrary, a soft, lubricating mist is the normal condition of the British atmosphere; and a neutral tint of gray sky, when no wet is falling, is almost sure to call out from the country-landlord, if communicative, an explosive and authoritative, “ Fine morning, this, Sir ! ”
The really fine, sunny days — days you believed in rashly, upon the sunny evidence of such blithe poets as Herrick —are so rare, that, after a month of British travel, you can count them on your fingers. On such a one, by a piece of good fortune, I saw all the parterres of Hampton Court,—its great vine, its labyrinthine walks, its stately alleys, its ruddy range of brick, its clipped lindens, its rotund and low-necked beauties of Sir Peter Lely, and the red geraniums flaming on the window-sills of once royal apartments, where the pensioned dowagers now dream away their lives. On another such day, Twickenham, and all its delights of trees, bowers, and villas, were flashing in the sun as brightly as ever in the best days of Horace Walpole or of Pope. And on yet another, after weary tramp, I toiled up to the inn-door of “The Bear,” at Woodstock; and after a cut or two into a ripe haunch of Oxfordshire mutton, with certain “tiny kickshaws,” I saw, for the first time, under the light of a glorious sunset, that exquisite velvety stretch of the park of Woodstock, dimpled with water, dotted with forest - clumps, where companies of sleek fallow-deer were grazing by the hundred, where pheasants whirred away down the aisles of wood, where memories of Fair Rosamond and of Rochester and of Alice Lee lingered, — and all brought to a ringing close by Southey’s ballad of “ Blenheim,” as the shadow of the gaunt Marlborough column slanted across the path.
There are other notable places, however, which seem — so dependent are we on first impressions — to be always bathed in a rain - cloud. It is quite impossible, for instance, for me to think of London Bridge save as a great reeking thoroughfare, slimy with thin mud, with piles of umbrellas crowding over it, like an army of turtles, and its balustrade steaming with wet. The charming little Dulwich Gallery, -with its Bonningtons and Murillos, I remember as situated somewhere (for I could never find it again of my own head) at a very rainy distance from London, under the spout of an interminable waterfall. The guide-books talk of a pretty neighborhood, and of a thousand rural charms thereabout; I remember only one or two draggled policemen in oil-skin capes, and with heads slanted to the wind, and my cabby, in a four-caped coat, shaking himself like a water-dog, in the area Exeter, Gloucester, and Glasgow are three great wet cities in my memory,—a damp cathedral in each, with a damp-coated usher to each, who shows damp tombs, and whose talk is dampening to the last degree. I suppose they have sunshine in these places, and in the light of the sun I am sure that marvellous gray tower of Gloucester must make a rare show; but all the reports in the world will not avail to dry up the image of those wet days of visit.
Considering how very much the fair days are overbalanced by the dirty, thick, dropping, misty weather of England, I think we take a too sunny aspect of her history : it has not been under the full-faced smiles of heaven that her battles, revolutions, executions, and pageants have held their august procession; the rain has wet many a May-day and many a harvesting, whose traditional color (through tender English verses) is gaudy with yellow sunshine. The revellers of the “Midsummer Night's Dream ” would find a wet turf eight days out of ten to disport upon. We think of Bacon without an umbrella, and of Cromwell without a mackintosh; yet I suspect both of them carried these, or their equivalents, pretty constantly. Raleigh, indeed, threw his velvet cloak into the mud for the Virgin Queen to tread upon, — from which we infer a recent shower; but it is not often that an historical incident is so suggestive of the true state of the atmosphere.
History, however, does not mind the rain: agriculture must. More especially in any view of British agriculture, whether old or new, and in any estimate of its theories or progress, due consideration must be had for the generous dampness of the British atmosphere. To this cause is to be attributed primarily that wonderful velvety turf which is so unmatchable elsewhere ; to the same cause, and to the accompanying even temperature, is to be credited very much of the success of the turnip-culture, which has within a century revolutionized the agriculture of England ; yet again, the magical effects of a thorough system of drainage are nowhere so demonstrable as in a soil constantly wetted, and giving a steady flow, however small, to the discharging tile. Measured by inches, the rain-fall is greater in most parts of America than in Great Britain ; but this fall is so capricious with us, often so sudden and violent, that there must be inevitably a large surface-discharge, even though the tile, three feet below, is in working order. The true theory of skilful drainage is, not to carry away the quick flush of a shower, but to relieve a soil too heavily saturated by opening new outflows, setting new currents astir of both air and moisture, and thus giving new life and an enlarged capacity to lands that were dead with a stagnant over-soak.
Bearing in mind, then, the conditions of the British climate, which are so much in keeping with the “wet weather” of these studies, let us go back again to old Markham’s day, and amble along—armed with our umbrellas—through the current of the seventeenth century.
James I., that conceited old pedant, whose “ Counterblast to Tobacco ” has worked the poorest of results, seems to have had a nice taste for fruits; and Sir Henry Wotton, his ambassador at Venice, writing from that city in 1622, says, — “I have sent the choicest melonseeds of all kinds, which His Majesty doth expect, as I had order both from my Lord Holderness and from Mr. Secretary Calvert.” Sir Henry sent also with the seeds very particular directions for the culture of the plants, obtained probably from some head-gardener of a Priuli or a Morosini, whose melons had the full beat ot Italian sunshine upon the south slopes of the Vicentine mountains. The same ambassador sends at that date to Lord Holderness “ a double-flowering yellow rose, of no ordinary nature " ; 1 and it would be counted of no ordinary nature now, if what he avers be true, that “ it flowreth every month from May till almost Christmas.”
King James took special interest in the establishment of his garden at the Theobald Palace in Hertfordshire: there were clipped hedges, neat array of linden avenues, fountains, and a Mount of Venus within a labyrinth ; twelve miles of wall encircled the park, and the soldiers of Cromwell found fine foraging-ground in it, when they entered upon the premises a few years later. The school-masterking formed also a guild of gardeners in the city of London, at whose hands certificates of capacity for garden-work were demanded, and these to be given only after proper examination of the applicants. Lord Bacon possessed a beautiful garden, if we may trust his own hints to that effect, and the added praises of Wotton. Cashiobury, Holland House, and Greenwich gardens were all noted in this time; and the experiments and successes of the proprietor of BednallGreene garden I have already alluded to. But the country-gentleman, who lived upon his land and directed the cultivation of his property, was but a very savage type of the Bedford or Oxfordshire landholders of our day. It involved a muddy drag over bad roads, after a heavy Flemish mare, to bring either one’s self or one’s crops to market.
Sir Thomas Ovcrbury, who draws such a tender picture of a " Milke-Mayde,’’ is severe, and, I dare say, truthful, upon the country-gentleman. “ His conversation,” says he, “ amongst his tenants is desperate : but amongst his equals full of doubt. His travel is seldome farther than the next market towne, and his inquisition is about the price of corne : when he travelleth, he will goe ten mile out of the way to a cousins house of his to save charges ; and rewards servants by taking them by the hand when hee departs. Nothing under a sub-pœna can draw him to London: and when he is there, he sticks fast upon every object, casts his eyes away upon gazing, and becomes the prey of every cut-purse. When he comes home, those wonders serve him for his holy-day talke. If he goo to court, it is in yellow stockings: and if it be in winter, in a slight tafety cloake, and pumps and pantofles.”
The portrait of the smaller farmer, who, in this time, tilled his own ground, is even more severely sketched by Bishop Earle. “ A plain country fellow is one that manures his ground well, but lets himself lye fallow and untilled. He has reason enough to do his business, and not enough to be idle or melancholy. His hand guides the plough, and the plough his thoughts, and his ditch and land-mark is the very mound of his meditations. He expostulates with his oxen very understandingly, and speaks gee, and ree, better than English. His mind is not much distracted with objects, but if a good fat cow come in his way, he stands dumb and astonished, and though his haste be never so great, will fix here half an hours contemplation. His habitation is some poor thatched roof, distinguished from his barn by the loop-holes that let out smoak, which the rain had long since washed through, but for the double ceiling of bacon on the inside, which has hung there from his grandsires time, and is yet to make rashers for posterity. He apprehends Gods blessings only in a good year, or a fat pasture, and never praises him but on good ground.”
Such were the men who were to be reached by the agricultural literature of the day! Yet, notwithstanding this unpromising audience, scarcely a year passed but some talker was found who felt himself competent to expound the whole art and mystery of husbandry.
Adam Speed, Gent., (from which title we may presume that he was no Puritan,) published a little book in the year 1626, which he wittily called "Adam out of Eden.” In this he undertakes to show how Adam, under the embarrassing circumstance of being shut out of Paradise, may increase the product of a farm from two hundred pounds to two thousand pounds a year by the rearing of rabbits on furze and broom ! It is all mathematically computed ; there is nothing to disappoint in the figures; but I suspect there might be in the rabbits.
Gentleman Speed speaks of turnips, clover, and potatoes; he advises the boiling of “ butchers’ blood ” for poultry, and mixing the “ pudding” with bran and other condiments, which will “feed the beasts very fat.”
The author of “ Adam out of Eden ” also indulges himself in verse, which is certainly not up to the measure of “ Paradise Lost.” This is its taste : —
Though husband at homo be to count the cost what,
Yet thus huswife within is as needful as that:
What helpeth in store to have never so much,
Half lost by ill-usage, ill huswifes, and such ? ”
The papers of Bacon upon subjects connected with rural life are so familiar that I need not recur to them. His particular suggestions, however sound in themselves, (and they generally are sound,) did by no means measure the extent of his contribution to the growth of good husbandry. But the more thorough methods of investigation which he instituted and encouraged gave a new and healthier direction to inquiries connected not only with agriculture, but with every experimental art.
Thus, Gabriel Platte, publishing his “ Observations and Improvements in Husbandry,” about the year 1638, thinks it necessary to sustain and illustrate them with a record of “ twenty experiments.”
Sir Richard Weston, too, a sensible up-country knight, has travelled through Flanders about the same time, and has seen such success attending upon the turnip and the clover culture there, that he urges the same upon his fellow-landholders, in a “ Discourse of Husbandrie.”
The book was published under the name of Hartlib,—the same Master Samuel Hartlib to whom Milton addressed his tractate “ Of Education,” and of whom the great poet speaks as “ a person sent hither [to England] by some good Providence from a far country, to be the occasion and incitement of great good to this island.”
This mention makes us curious to know something more of Master Samuel Hartlib, I find that he was the son of a Polish merchant, of Lithuania, was himself engaged for a time in commercial transactions, and came to England about the year 1640. He wrote several theological tracts, edited sundry agricultural works, including, among others, those of Sir Richard Weston, and published his own observations upon the shortcomings of British husbandry. He also proposed a grandiose scheme for an agricultural college, in order to teach youths “ the theorick and practick parts of this most ancient, noble, and honestly gainfull art, trade, or mystery.” The work published under his name entitled “ The Legacy,” besides notices of the Brabant husbandry, embraces epistles from various farmers, who may be supposed to represent the progressive agriculture of England, Among these letters I note one upon “ Snaggreet,” (shelly earth from river-beds); another upon “ Seaweeds”; a third upon “ Sea-sand ”; and a fourth upon “ Woollen-rags.”
Hartlib was in good odor during the days of the Commonwealth; for he lived long enough to see that bitter tragedy of the executed king before Whitehall Palace, and to hold over to the early years of the Restoration. But he was not in favor with the people about Charles II.; the small pension that Cromwell had bestowed fell into sad arrearages; and the story is, that he died miserably poor.
It is noticeable that Hartlib, and a great many sensible old gentlemen of his date, spoke of the art of husbandry as a mystery. And so it is ; a mystery then, and a mystery now. Nothing tries my patience more than to meet one ot those billet-headed farmers who —whether in print or in talk — pretend to have solved the mystery and mastered it.
Take my own crop of corn yonder upon the flat, which I have watched since the day when it first shot up its little dainty spears of green, until now its spindles are waving like banners: the land has been faithfully ploughed and fed and tilled; but how gross appliances all these, to the fine fibrous feeders that have been searching, day by day, every cranny of the soil, — to the broad leaflets that, week by week, have stolen out from their green sheaths to -wanton with the wind and caress the dews! Is there any quick-witted farmer who shall tell us with anything like definiteness what the phosphates have contributed to all this, and how much the nitrogenous manures, and to what degree the deposits of humus ? He may establish the conditions of a sure crop, thirty, forty, or sixty bushels to the acre, (seasons favoring) ; but how short a reach is this toward determining the final capacity of either soil or plant ! How often the most petted experiments laugh us in the face ! The great miracle of the vital laboratory in the plant remains to mock us. We test it; we humor it; we fondly believe that we have detected its secret: but the mystery stays.
A bumpkin may rear a crop that shall keep him from starvation; but to develop the utmost capacity of a given soil by fertilizing appliances, or by those of tillage, is the work, I suspect, of a wiser man than belongs to our day. And when I find one who fancies he has resolved all the conditions which contribute to this miracle of God’s, and can control and fructify at his will, I have less respect for his head than for a good one—of Savoy cabbage. The great problem of Adam’s curse is not worked out so easily. The sweating is not over yet.
If we are confronted with mystery, it is not blank, hopeless, fathomless mystery. Our plummet-lines are only too short; but they are growing longer. It is a lively mystery, that piques and tempts and rewards endeavor. It unfolds with an appetizing delay. Every year a new secret is laid bare, which, in the flush of triumph, seems a crowning development; whereas it presently appears that we have only opened a new door upon some further labyrinth.
Throughout the seventeenth century, the progress in husbandry, without being at any one period very brilliant, was decided and constant. If there was anything like a relapse, and neglect of good culture, it was most marked shortly after the Restoration. The country-gentlemen, who had entertained a wholesome horror of Cromwell and his troopers, had, during the Commonwealth, devoted themselves to a quiet life upon their estates, repairing the damages which the Civil War had wrought in their fortunes and in their lands. The high price of farm-products stimulated their efforts, and their countryisolation permitted a harmless show of the chivalrous contempt they entertained for the novi homines of the Commonwealth. With the return of Charles they abandoned their estates once more to the bailiffs, and made a rush for the town and for their share of the “ leeks and onions.”
But the earnest men were at work. Sainfoin and turnips were growing every year into credit. The potato was becoming a crop of value; and in the year 1664 a certain John Foster devoted a treatise to it, entitled, “ England’s Happiness increased, or a Sure Remedy against all Succeeding Dear Years, by a Plantation of Roots called Potatoes.”
For a long time the crop had been known, and Sir Thomas Overbury had made it the vehicle of one of his sharp witticisms against people who were forever boasting of their ancestry, — their best part being below ground. But Foster anticipates the full value of what had before been counted a novelty and a curiosity. He advises how custards, paste, puddings, and even bread, may be made from the flour of potatoes.
John Worlidge (1669) gives a full system of husbandry, advising green fallows, and even recommending and describing a drill for the putting in of seed, and for distributing with it a fine fertilizer.
Evelyn, also, about this time, gave a dignity to rural pursuits by his “ Sylva ” and “ Terra,” both these treatises having been recited before the Royal Society. The “Terra” is something muddy,2 and is by no means exhaustive; but the “ Sylva” for more than a century was the British planter’s hand-book, being a judicious, sensible, and eloquent treatise upon a subject as wide and as beautiful as its title. Even Walter Scott, — himself a capital woodsman, — when he tells (in “Kenilworth”) of the approach of Tressilian and his Doctor companion to the neighborhood of Say's Court, cannot forego his tribute to the worthy and cultivated author who once lived there, and who in his “Sylva” gave a manual to every British planter, and in his life an exemplar to every British gentleman.
Evelyn was educated at Oxford, travelled widely upon the Continent, was a firm adherent of the royal party, and at one time a member of Prince Rupert's famous troop. He married the daughter of the British ambassador in Paris, through whom he came into possession of Say’s Court, which he made a gem of beauty. But in his later years he had the annoyance of seeing his fine parterres and shrubbery trampled down by that Northern boor, Peter the Great, who made his residence there while studying the mysteries of ship-building at Deptford, and who had as little reverence for a parterre of flowers as for any other of the tenderer graces of life.
The British monarchs have always been more regardful of those interests which were the object of Evelyn’s tender devotion. I have already alluded to the horticultural fancies of James I. His son Charles was an extreme lover of Mowers, as well as of a great many luxuries which hedged him against all Puritan sympathy. “ Who knows not,” says Milton, in his reply to the EIKΩN BAΣIA1KH, “ the licentious remissness of his Sunday’s theatre, accompanied with that reverend statute for dominical jigs and May-poles, published in his own name,” etc. ?
But the poor king was fated to have little enjoyment of either jigs or Maypoles; harsher work belonged to his reign; and all his garden-delights came to be limited finally to a little pot of flowers upon his prison-window. And I can easily believe that the elegant, wrong-headed, courteous gentleman tended these poor flowers daintily to the very last, and snuffed their fragrance with a Christian gratitude.
Charles was an appreciative lover of poetry, too, as well as of Nature. I wonder if it ever happened to him, in his prison - hours at Carisbrooke, to come upon Milton’s “ L’ Allegro,” (first printed in the very year of the Battle of Naseby,) and to read,—
The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty;
And if I give thee honor due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free;
To hear the lark begin his flight,
And, singing, startle the dull night,
From his watch-tower in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise;
Then to come, in spite of sorrow,
And at my window bid good-morrow,
Through the sweetbner, or the vine,
Or the twisted eglantine.”
How it must have smitten the King’s heart to remember that the tender poet, whose rhythm none could appreciate better than he, was also the sturdy Puritan pamphleteer whose blows had thwacked so terribly upon the last props that held up his tottering throne !
Cromwell, as we have seen, gave Master Hartlib a pension; but whether on the score of his theological tracts, or his design for an agricultural college, would be hard to say. I suspect that the hop was the Protector’s favorite among flowering plants, and that his admiration of trees was measured by their capacity for timber. Yet that rare masculine energy, which he and his men carried with them in their tread all over England, was a very wakeful stimulus to productive agriculture.
Charles II. loved tulips, and befriended Evelyn. In his long residence at Paris he had grown into a great fondness for the French gardens. He afterward sent for Le Notre — who had laid out Versailles at an expense of twenty millions of dollars — to superintend the planting of Greenwich and St. James. Fortunately, no strict imitation of Versailles was entered upon. The splendors of Chatsworth Garden grew in this time out of the exaggerated taste, and must have delighted the French heart of Charles. Other artists have had the handling of this great domain since the days of Le Notre. A crazy wilderness of rock-work, amid which the artificial waters commit freak upon freak, has been strewed athwart the lawn ; a stately conservatory has risen, under which the Duke may drive, if he choose, in coach and four, amid palm-trees, and the monster-vegetation of the Eastern archipelago; the little glass temple is in the gardens, under which the, Victoria lily was first coaxed into British bloom; a model village has sprung up at the Park gates, in which each cottage is a gem, and seems transplanted from the last book on rural ornamentation. But the sight of the village oppresses one with a Strange incongruity; the charm of realism is wanting ; it needs a population out of one of Watteau’s pictures, — clean and deft as the painted figures; flesh and blood are too gross, too prone to muddy shoes, and to — sneeze. The rock - work, also, is incongruous; it belongs on no such wavy roll of park-land; you see it a thousand times grander, a half-hour's drive away, toward Matlock. And the stiff parterres, terraces, and alleys of Le Notre are equally out of place in such a scene. If, indeed, as at Versailles, they bounded and engrossed the view, so that natural surfaces should have no claim upon your eye, — if they were the mere setting to a monster palace, whose colonnades and balusters of marble edged away into colonnades and balusters of box-wood, and these into a limitless extent of long green lines, which are only lost to the eye where a distant fountain dashes its spray of golden dust into the air, - as at Versailles, — there would be keeping. But the Devonshire palace has quite other setting. Blue Derbyshire hills are behind it; a grand, billowy slope of the comeliest park-land in England rolls down from its terrace-foot to where the Derwent, under hoary oaks, washes its thousand acres of meadow-vale, with a flow as charming and limpid as one of Virgil’s eclogues. It is such a setting that carries the great quadrangle of Chatsworth Palace and its flanking artificialities of rock and garden, like a black patch upon the face of a fine woman of Charles’s court.
This brings us upon our line of march again. Charles II. loved stiff gardens; James H. loved stiff gardens; and William, with his Low-Country tastes, outstiffened both, with his
Lord Bacon has commended the formal style to public admiration by his advocacy and example. The lesson was repeated at Cashiobury by the most noble the Earl of Essex (of whom Evelyn writes, — “ My Lord is not illiterate beyond the rate of most noblemen of his age”). So also that famous garden of Moor-Park in Hertfordshire, laid out by the witty Duchess of Bedford, to whom Dr. Donne addresses some of his piquant letters, was a model of old-fashioned and stately graces. Sir William Temple praises it beyond reason in his “ Garden of Epicurus,” and cautions readers against undertaking any of those irregularities of garden - figures which the Chinese so much affect. He admires only stateliness and primness. “ Among us,” he says, “ the Beauty of Building and Planting is placed chiefly in some certain Proportions, Symmetrics, or Uniformities; our Walks and our Trees ranged so as to answer one another, and at exact Distances.”
From all these it is clear what was the garden-drift of the century. Even Waller, the poet, — whose moneys, if he were like most poets, could not be thrown away idly, — spent a large sum in levelling the hills about his rural home at Beaconsfields (We shall find a different poet and treatment by-and-by in Shenstone.)
Only Milton, speaking from the very arcana of the Puritan rigidities, breaks in upon these geometric formalities with the rounded graces of the garden which he planted in Eden. There
Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold
With mazy error under pendent shades,
Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed
Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice Art
In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon
Poured forth profuse on hill and dale and plain.”
Going far behind all conventionalities, he credited to Paradise — the ideal of man’s happiest estate — variety, irregularity, profusion, luxuriance ; and to the fallen estate, precision, formality, and an inexorable Art, which, in place of concealing, glorified itself. In the next century, when Milton comes to be illustrated by Addison and the rest, we shall find gardens of a different style from those of Waller and of Hampton Court.
And now from some look-out point near to the close of the seventeenth century, when John Evelyn, in his age, is repairing the damages that Peter the Great has wrought in his pretty Deptford home, let us take a bird’s-eye glance at rural England.
It is raining; and the clumsy Bedford coach, drawn by stout Flemish mares, — for thorough-breds are as yet unknown,— is covered with a sail-cloth to keep the wet away from the six “ insides.” The grass, wherever the land is stocked with grass, is as velvety as now. The wheat in the near county of Herts is fair, and will turn twenty bushels to the acre; here and there an enterprising landholder has a small field of dibbled grain, which will yield a third more. John Worlidge’s drill is not in request, and is only talked of by a few wiseacres who prophesy its ultimate adoption. The fat bullocks of Bedford will not dress more than seven hundred a head; and the cows, if killed, would not overrun five hundred weight. There are occasional fields of sainfoin and of turnips; but these latter are small, and no ridguig or hurdling is yet practised. From time to time appears a patch of barren moorland, which has been planted with forest-trees, in accordance with the suggestions of Mr. Evelyn, and under the wet sky the trees are thriving. Wide reaches of fen, measured by hundreds of miles, (which now bear great crops of barley,) are saturated with moisture, and tenanted only by ghost-like companies of cranes.
The gardens attached to noble houses, under the care of some pupil of Wise, or of Parkinson, have their espalier?, — their plums, their pears,3 and their grapes. These last are rare, however, (Parkinson says sour, too,) and bear a great price in the London market. One or two horticulturists of extraordinary enterprise have built greenhouses, warmed, Evelyn says, “ in a most ingenious way, by passing a brick flue underneath the beds.”
The lesser country - gentlemen, who have no establishments in town, rarely venture up, for fear of the footpads on the heath, and the insolence of the blackguard Cockneys. Their wives are staid dames, learned at the brew-tub and in the buttery, —but not speaking French, nor wearing hoops or patches. A great many of the older exotic plants have become domesticated ; and the goodwife has a flaming parterre at her door, — but not valued one half so much as her bed of marjoram and thyme. She may read King James’s Bible, or, if a Non-Conformist, Baxter’s " Saint’s Rest ” ; while the husband regales himself with a thumbworn copy of “ Sir Fop ling Flutter,” or, if he live well into the closing years of the century, with De Foe’s “True-born Englishman.”
Poetic feeling was more lacking in the country-life than in the illustrative literature of the century. To say nothing of Milton's brilliant little poems, “ L’ Allegro ” and “ II Penseroso,” which flash all over with the dews, there are the charming “ Characters ” of Sir Thomas Overbury, and the graceful discourse of Sir William Temple. The poet Drummond wrought a music out of the woods and waters which lingers alluringly even now around the delightful cliffs and valleys of Hawthornden. John Dryden, though a thorough cit, and a man who would have preferred his arm-chair at Will’s Coffee-House to Chatsworth and the fee of all its lands, has yet touched most tenderly the “ daisies white ” and the spring, in his “ Flower and the Leaf.”
But we skip a score of the poets, and bring our wet day to a close with the naming of two honored pastorals. The first, in sober prose, is nothing more nor less than Walton’s “Angler.” Its homeliness, its calm, sweet pictures of fields and brooks, its dainty perfume of flowers, its delicate shadowing-forth of the Christian sentiment which lived by old English firesides, its simple, artless songs, (not always of the highest style;, but of a hearty naturalness that is infinitely better,) — these make the “Angler” a book that stands among the thumb-worn. There is good marrowy English in it; I know very few fine writers of our times who could make a better book on such a subject to-day, — with all the added information, and all the practice of the newspaper-columns. What Walton wants to say he says. You can make no mistake about his meaning ; all is as lucid as the water of a spring. He does not play upon your wonderment with tropes. There is no chicane of the pen ; he has some pleasant matters to tell of, and he tells of them — straight.
Another great charm about Walton is his childlike truthfulness. I think he is almost the only earnest trout-fisher I ever knew (unless Sir Humphrey Davy be excepted) whose report could be relied upon for the weight of a trout. I have many excellent friends — capital fishermen — whose word is good upon most concerns of life, but in this one thing they cannot be confided in. I excuse it; I take off twenty per cent. from their estimates without either hesitation, auger, or reluctance.
I do not think I should have trusted in such a matter Charles Cotton, although he was agricultural as well as piscatory,— having published a “ Planter’s Manual.”
I think he could, and did, draw a long bow. I suspect innocent milkmaids were not in the habit of singing Kit Marlowe's songs to the worshipful Mr. Cotton.
One pastoral remains to mention, published at the very opening of the year 1600, and spending its fine forest-aroma thenceforward all down the century. I mean Shakspeare’s play of “As You Like It.”
From beginning to end the grand old forest of Arden is astir overhead ; from beginning to end the brooks brawl in your ear; from beginning to end you smell the bruised ferns and the delicatescented wood-flowers. It is Theocritus again, with the civilization of the added centuries contributing its spangles of reason, philosophy, and grace. Who among all the short - kirtled damsels of all the eclogues will match us this fair, lithe, witty, capricious, mirthful, buxom Rosalind? Nowhere in books have we met with her like, — but only at some long-gone picnic in the woods, where we worshipped “blushing sixteen” in dainty boots and white muslin. There, too, we met a match for sighing Orlando, — mirrored in the water; there, too, some diluted Jaques may have “ moralized ” the excursion for next day’s “ Courier,” and some lout of a Touchstone (there are always such in picnics) passed the ices, made poor puns, and won more than his share of the smiles.
Walton is English all over: but “ As You Like It” is as broad as the sky, or love, or folly, or hope.
- Reliq. Wotton., p. 317, et seq.↩
- Of clay he says, “ It is a cursed step-dame to almost all vegetation, as having few or no meatuses for the percolation of alimental showers.”↩
- Sir William Temple gives this list of his pears:—Blanquet, Robin, Rousselet, Pepin, Jargonel; and for autumn: Buree, Vertlongue, and Bergamot.↩