Wet-Weather Work: Viii. — Conclusion



As I sit in my library-chair listening to the welcome drip from the eaves, I bethink me of the great host of English farm-teachers who in the last century wrote and wrought so well, and wonder why their precepts and their example should not have made a garden of that little British island. To say nothing of the inherited knowledge of such men as Sir Anthony Fitz-Herbert, Hugh Platt, Markham, Lord Bacon, Hartlib, and the rest, there was Tull, who had blazed a new path between the turnip and the wheat-drills—to fortune ; there was Lord Kames, who illustrated with rare good sense, and the daintiness of a man of letters, all the economies of a thrifty husbandry ; Sir John Sinclair proved the wisdom of thorough culture upon tracts that almost covered counties; Bakewell (of Dishley) — that fine old farmer in breeches and top - boots, who received Russian princes and French marquises at his kitchen - fireside — demonstrated how fat might be laid on sheep or cattle for the handling of a butcher ; in fact, he succeeded so for, that Dr. Parkinson once told Paley that the great breeder had “ the power of fattening his sheep in whatever part of the body he chose, directing it to shoulder, leg, or neck, as he thought proper, — and this,” continued Parkinson, “ is the great problem of his art.”

“ It ’s a lie. Sir,” said Paley, — “ and that ’s the solution of it.”

And yet Dr. Parkinson was very near the truth.

Besides Bakewell, there was Arthur Young, as we have seen, giving all England the benefit of agricultural comparisons by his admirable “ Tours ” ; Lord Dundonald had brought his chemical knowledge to the aid of good husbandry ; Abercrombie and Speedily and Marshall had written treatises on all that regarded good gardening. The nurseries of Tottenham Court Road, the parterres of Chelsea, and the stoves of the Yew Gardens were luxuriant witnesses of what the enterprising gardener might do.

Agriculture, too, had a certain dignity given to it by the fact that “ Farmer George ” (the King) had written his experiences for a journal of Arthur Young, the Duke of Bedford was one of the foremost advocates of improved farming, and Lord Townshend took a pride in his sobriquet. of “ Turnip Townshend.”

Yet, for all this, at the opening of the present century, England was by no means a garden. Over more than half the kingdom, turnips, where sown at all, were sown broadcast. In four counties out of five, a bare fallow was deemed essential for the recuperation of cropped lands. Barley and oats were more often grown than wheat. Dibbling or drilling of grain, notwithstanding Platt and Jethro Tull, were still rare. The wet claylands had, for the most part, no drainage, save the open furrows which were as old as the teachings of Xenophon ; indeed, it will hardly be credited, when I state that it is only so late as 1843 that a certain gardener, John Reade by name, at the Derby Show of the Royal Agricultural Society, exhibited certain cylindrical pipes, which he had formed by wrapping damp clay around a smooth billet of wood, and with which he “ had been in the habit of draining the hot-beds of his master.” A sagacious engineer who was present, and saw these, examined them closely, and, calling the attention of Earl Spencer (the eminent agriculturist) to them, said, “ My Lord, with them I can drain all England.”

It was not until about 1830 that the subsoil - plough of Mr. Smith of Deanston was first contrived for special work upon the lands of Perthshire. Notwithstanding all the brilliant successes of Bakewell, long-legged, raw-boned cattle were admired by the majority of British farmers at the opening of this century, and elephantine monsters of this description were dragged about England in vans for exhibition. It was only in 1798 that, the “ Smithfield Club” was inaugurated for the show of fat cattle, by the Duke of Bedford, Lord Somerville, Arthur Young, and others ; and it was about the same period that young Jonas Webb (whose life has latterly been illustrated by a glowing chapter from Elihu Burritt) used to ride upon the Norfolk bucks bred by his grandfather, and, with a quick sense of discomfort from their sharp backs, vowed, that, when he “grew a man, he ’d make better saddles for them”; and he did, as every one knows who has ever seen a good type of the Brabaham flock.

The Royal Agricultural Society dates from 1838. In 1835 Sir Robert Peel presented a farmers’ club at Tamworth with “ two iron ploughs of the best construction,” and when he inquired after them and their work the following year, the report was that the wooden mould-board was better: “We tried ’em, but we be all of one mind, that the iron made the weeds grow.” And I can recall a bright morning in January of 1845, when I made two bouts around a field in the middle of the best dairy-district of Devonshire, at the stilts of a plough so cumbrous and ineffective that a thrifty New-England farmer would have discarded it at sight. Nor can I omit, in this connection, to revive, so far as I may, the image of a small Devon farmer, who had lived, and I dare say will die, utterly ignorant of the instructions of Tull, or of the agricultural labors of Arthur Young: a short, wheezy, rotund figure of a man, with ruddy face, — fastening the hs in his talk most blunderingly,—driving over to the market-town every fair-day, with pretty samples of wheat or barley in his dog-cart, —believing in the royal family like a gospel, —limiting his reading to glances at the “ Times ” in the tap-room, — looking with an evil eye upon railways, (which, in that day, had not intruded farther than Exeter into his shire,) —distrusting terribly the spread of “ eddication": it “ doan’t help the work-folk any ; for, d' ye see, they ’ve to keep a mind on their ploughing and craps ; and as for the b’ys, the big uns must mind the beasts, and the little uns’s got enough to do a-scaring the domed rooks. Gads! what hodds to them, please your Honor, what Darby is a-dooin’ up in Lunnun, or what Lewis-Philup is a-dooin’ with the Frenchers ? ” And the ruddy farmergentleman stirs his toddy afresh, lays his right leg caressingly over his left leg, admires his white - topped boots, and is the picture of British complacency. I hope he is living ; I hope be stirs his toddy still in the tap-room of the inn by the pretty Erme River; but I hope that he has grown wiser as he has grown older, and that he has given over his wheezy curses at the engine as it hurtles past on the iron way to Plymouth and to Penzance.

The work was not all done for the agriculture and the agriculturist of England in the last century; it is hardly all done yet; it is doubtful if it will be done so as to close investigation and ripen method in our time. There was room for a corps of fresh workers at the opening of the present century; nor was such a corps lacking.

About the year 1808, a certain John Christian Curwen, Member of Parliament, and dating from Cumberland, wrote “ Hints on Agricultural Subjects,” a big octavo volume, in which he suggests the steaming of potatoes for horses, as a substitute for hay ; but it does not appear that the suggestion was well received. To his credit, however, it may be said, that, in the same book, he urged the system of “ soiling ” cattle,—a system which even now needs its earnest expounders, and which would give full warrant for their loudest exhortation.

I notice, too, that, at about the same period, Dr. Beddoes, the friend and early patron of Sir Humphry Davy at the Pneumatic Institution of Bristol, wrote a book with the quaint title, “ Good Advice to Husbandmen in Harvest, and for all those who labor in Hot Berths, and for others who will take it—in Warm Weather.” And with the recollection of Davy’s description of the Doctor in my mind,— “ uncommonly short and fat,” 1 — I have felt a great interest in seeing what such a man should have to say upon harvestheats ; but his book, so far as I know, is not to be found in America.

A certain John Harding, of St. James Street, London, published, in 1809, a tract upon “ The Use of Sugar in Feeding Cattle,” in which were set forth sundry experiments which went to show how bullocks had been fattened on molasses, and had been rewarded with a premium, I am indebted for all knowledge of this anomalous tractate to the “ Agricultural Biography” of Mr. Donaldson, who seems disposed to give a sheltering wing to the curious theory broached, and discourses upon it with a lucidity and coherence worthy of a state-paper. I must be permitted to quote Mr. Donaldson’s language :—“ The author’s ideas are no romance or chimera, but a very feasible entertainment of the undertaking, when a social revolution permits the fruits of all climes to be used in freedom of the burden of value that is imposed by monopoly, and restricts the legitimate appropriation.”

George Adams, in 1810, proposed “ A New System of Agriculture and Feeding Stock,” of which the novelty lay in movable sheds, (upon iron tram-ways,) for the purpose of soiling cattle. The method was certainly original; nor can it be regarded as wholly visionary in our time, when the iron conduits of Mr. Mechi, under the steam-thrust of the Tip-Tree engines, are showing a percentage of profit.

Charles Drury, in the same year, recommended, in an elaborate treatise, the steaming of straw, roots, and hay, for cattle-food,—a recommendation which, in our time, has been put into most successful practice.

Mowbray, who was for a long time the great authority upon Domestic Fowls and their Treatment, published his book in 1803, which he represents as having been compiled from the memoranda of forty years’ experience.

And next, as illustrative of the rural literature of the early part of this century, I must introduce the august name of Sir Humphry Davy. This I am warranted in doing on two several counts : first, because he was an accomplished fisherman and the author of “ Salmonia,” and next, because he was the first scientific man of any repute who was formally invited by a Board of Agriculture to discuss the relations of Chemistry to the practice of farming.

Unfortunately, he was himself ignorant of practical agriculture,2 when called upon to illustrate its relations to chemistry ; but, like an earnest man, he set about informing himself by communication with the best farmers of the kingdom. He delivered a very admirable series of lectures, and it was without doubt most agreeable to the country-gentlemen to find the great waste from their fermenting manures made clear by Sir Humphry’s retorts; but Davy was too profound and too honest a man to lay down for farmers any chemical high - road to success. He directed and stimulated inquiry ; he developed many of the principles which underlay their best practice; but he offered them no safety-lamp. I think he brought more zeal to his investigations in the domain of pure science ; he loved well-defined and brilliant results; and I do not think that he pushed his inquiries in regard to the way in which the forage - plants availed themselves of sulphate of lime with one-half the earnestness or delight with which he conducted his discovery of the integral character of chlorine, or with which he saw for the first time the metallic globules bubbling out from the electrified crust of potash.

Yet he loved the country with a rare and thorough love, as his descriptions throughout his letters prove; and he delighted in straying away, in the leafy month of June, to the charming place of his friend Knight, upon the Teme in Herefordshire. His “ Salmonia” is, in its way, a pastoral; not, certainly, to be compared with the original of Walton, lacking its simple homeliness, for which its superior scientific accuracy can make but poor amends. I cannot altogether forget, in reading it, that its author is a fine gentleman from London. Neither fish, nor alders, nor eddies, nor purling shallows, can drive out of memory the fact that Sir Humphry must be back at “ The Hall ” by half-past six, in season to dress for dinner. Walton, in slouchhat, bound about with “ leaders,” sat upon the green turf to listen to a milkmaid’s song. Sir Humphry (I think he must have carried a camp-stool) recited some verses written by “ a noble lady long distinguished at court.”3

In fact, there was always a great deal of the fine gentleman about the great chemist,—almost too fine for the quiet tenor of a working-life. Those first brilliant successes of his professional career at the Royal Institution of London, before he was turned of thirty, and in which his youth, his splendid elocution, his happy discoveries, his attractive manner, all made him the mark for distinguished attentions, went very far, I fancy, to carry him to that stage of social intoxication under which he was deluded into marrying a wealthy lady of fashion, and a confirmed blue-stocking, — the brilliant Mrs. Apreece.

Little domestic comfort ever came of the marriage. Yet he was a chivalrous man, and took the issue calmly. It is always in his letters, — “ My dear Jane,” and “God bless you! Yours affectionately.” But these expressions bound the tender passages. It was altogether a gentlemanly and a lady-like affair. Only once, as I can find, he forgets himself in an honest repining; it is in a letter to his brother, under date of October 30, 1823 : 4—“ To add to my annoyances, I find my house, as usual, after the arrangements made by the mistress of it, without female servants ; but in this world we have to suffer and bear, and from Socrates down to humble mortals, domestic discomfort seems a sort of philosophical fate.”

If only Lady Davy could have seen this Xantippe touch, I think Sir Humphry would have taken to angling in some quiet country - place for a mouth thereafter!

And even when affairs grow serious with the Baronet, and when, stricken by the palsy, he is loitering among the mountains of Styria, he writes,—“ I am glad to hear of your perfect restoration, and with health and the society of London, which you are so fitted to ornament and enjoy, your ' viva la felicità’ is much more secure than any hope belonging to me.”

And again, “ You once talked of passing this winter in Italy ; but I hope your plans will be entirely guided by the state of your health and feelings. Your society would undoubtedly be a very great resource to me, but I am so well aware of my own present unfitness for society that I would not have you risk the chance of an uncomfortable moment on my account.”

The dear Lady Jane must have had a penchant for society to leave the poor palsied man to tumble into his tomb alone !

Yet once again, in the last letter he ever writes, dated Rome, March, 1829, he gallantly asks her to join him ; it begins,— “ I am still alive, though expecting every hour to be released.”

And the Lady Jane, who is washing off her fashionable humors in the fashionable waters of Bath, writes,—“ I have received, my beloved Sir Humphry, the letter signed by your hand, with its precious wish of tenderness. I start to-morrow, having been detained here by Doctors Babington and Clarke till to-day. .... I cannot add more” (it is a letter of half a page) “ than that your fame is a deposit, and your memory a glory, your life still a hope.”

Sweet Lady Jane ! Yet they say she mourned him duly, and set a proper headstone at his grave. But, for my own part, I have no faith in that affection which will splinter a loving heart every day of its life, and yet, when it has ceased to beat, will make atonement with an idle swash of tears.

There was a British farmer by the name of Morris Birkbeck, who about the year 1814 wrote an account of an agricultural tour in France ; and who subsequently established himself somewhere upon our Western prairies, of which he gave account in “ Letters from Illinois,” and in “ Notes on a Journey in America, from the Coast of Virginia to the Territory of Illinois,” with maps, etc. Cobbett once or twice names him as “ poor Birkbeck,” — but whether in allusion to his having been drowned in one of our Western rivers, or to the poverty of his agricultural successes, it is hard to determine.

In 1820 Major-General Beatson, who had been Aid to the Marquis of Wellesley in India, published an account of a new system of farming, which he claimed to have in successful operation at his place in the County of Sussex. The novelty of the system lay in the fact that he abandoned both manures and the plough, and scarified the surface to the depth of two or three inches, after which he burned it over. The Major-General was called to the governorship of St. Helena before his system had made much progress. I am led to allude to the plan as one of the premonitory hints of that rotary method which is just now enlisting a large degree of attention in the agricultural world, and which promises to supplant the plough on all wide stretches of land, within the present century.

Finlayson, a brawny Scot, born in the parish of Mauchline, who was known from “ Glentuck to the Rutton-Ley ” as the best man for “ putting the stone,” or for a “ hop, step, and leap,” contrived the self-cleaning ploughs (with circular beam) and harrows which bore his name. He was also—besides being the athlete of Ayrshire—the author of sundry creditable and practical works on agriculture.

But the most notable man in connection with rural literature, of this day, was, by all odds, William Cobbett. His early history has so large a flavor of romance in it that I am sure my readers will excuse me for detailing it.

His grandfather was a day-laborer ; he died before Cobbett was born ; but the author says that he used to visit the grandmother at Christmas and Whitsuntide. Her home was “ a little thatched cottage, with a garden before the door. She used to give us milk and bread for breakfast, an apple-pudding lor dinner, and a piece of bread and cheese for our supper. Her fire was made of turf cut from the neighboring heath ; and her evening light was a rush dipped in grease.” 5 His father was a small farmer, and one who did not allow his boys to grow up in idleness. “My first occupation,” he tells us, “was driving the small birds from the turnipseed, and the rook from the pease ; when I first trudged a-field, with my wooden bottle and my satchel swung over my shoulders, I was hardly able to climb the gates and stiles; and at the close of the day, to reach home was a task of infinite difficulty.”

At the age of eleven he speaks of himself as occupied in clipping box-edgings and weeding flower-beds in the garden of the Bishop of Winchester ; and while here he encounters, one day, a workman who has just come from the famous Kew Gardens of the King. Young Cobbett is fired by the glowing description, and resolves that he must see them, and work upon them too. So he sets off, one summer’s morning, with only the clothes he has upon his back, and with thirteen halfpence in his pocket, for Richmond. And as he trudges through the streets of the town, after a hard day’s walk, in his blue smock-frock, and with his red garters tied under his knees, staring about him, he sees in the window of a bookseller’s shop the “ Tale of a Tub,” price threepence; it piques his curiosity, and, though his money is nearly all spent, he closes a bargain for the book, and, throwing himself down upon the shady side of a hay-rick, makes his first acquaintance with Dean Swift. He read till it was dark, without thought of supper or of bed, — then tumbled down upon the grass under the shadow of the stack, and slept till the birds of the Kew Gardens waked him.

He finds work, as he had determined to do ; but it was not fated that he should pass his life amid the pleasant parterres of Kew. At sixteen, or thereabout, on a visit to a relative, he catches his first sight of the Channel waters, and of the royal fleet riding at anchor at Spithead. And at that sight, the “ old Armada,” and the “ brave Rodney,” and the “ wooden walls,” of which he had read, come drifting like a poem into his thought, and he vows that he will become a sailor, — maybe, in time, the Admiral Cobbett. But here, too, the fates are against him : a kind captain to whom he makes application suspects him for a runaway, and advises him to find his way home.

He returns once more to the plough; “but,” he says, “I was now spoiled for a farmer.” He sighs for the world ; the little horizon of Farnham (his native town) is too narrow for him; and the very next year he makes his final escapade.

“ It was on the 6th of May, 1783, that I, like Don Quixote, sallied forth to sock adventures. I was dressed in my holiday clothes, in order to accompany two or three lasses to Guildford fair. They were to assemble at a house about three miles from my home, where I was to attend them ; but, unfortunately for me, I had to cross the London turnpike-road. The stage-coach had just turned the summit of a hill, and was rattling down towards me at a merry rate. The notion of going to London never entered my mind till this very moment; yet the step was completely determined on before the coach came to the spot where I stood. Up I got, and was in London about nine o’clock in the evening.”

His immediate adventure in the metropolis proves to be his instalment as scrivener in an attorney’s office. No wonder he chafes at this ; no wonder, that, in his wanderings about town, he is charmed by an advertisement which invited all loyal and public-spirited young men to repair to a certain “ rendezvous ”; he goes to the rendezvous, and presently finds himself a recruit in one of His Majesty’s regiments which is filling up for service in British America.

He must have been an apt soldier, so far as drill went ; for I find that he rose rapidly to the grade of corporal, and thence to the position of sergeant-major. He tells us that his early habits, his strict attention to duty, and his native talent were the occasion of his swift promotion. In New Brunswick, upon a certain winter’s morning, he falls in with the rosyfaced daughter of a sergeant of artillery, who was scrubbing her pans at sunrise, upon the snow. “ I made up my mind,” he says, “ that she was the very girl for me. ....This matter was at once set-

tled as firmly as if written in the book of fate.”

To this end he determines to leave the army as soon as possible. But before he can effect this, the artillery-man is ordered back to England, and his pretty daughter goes with him. But Cobbett has closed the compact with her, and placed in her hands a hundred and fifty pounds of his earnings,—a free gift, and an earnest of his troth.

The very next season, however, he meets, in a sweet rural solitude of the Province, another charmer, with whom he dallies in a lovelorn way for two years or more. He cannot quite forget the old ; he cannot cease befondling the new. If only the “ remotest rumor had come,” says he, “ of the faithlessness of the brunette in England, I should have been fastened for life in the New-Brunswick valley.” But no such rumor comes, and in due time he bids a heart-rending adieu, and recrosses the ocean to find his first love maid-of-all-work in a gentleman’s family at five pounds a year ; and she puts in his hand, upon their first interview, the whole of the hundred and fifty pounds, untouched. This rekindles his admiration and respect for her judgment, and she becomes his wife, —a wife be never ceases thereafter to love and honor.

He goes to France, and thence to America. Establishing himself in Philadelphia, he enters upon the career of authorship, with a zeal for the King, and a hatred of Dr. Franklin and all Democrats, which give him a world of trouble. His foul bitterness of speech finds its climax at length in a brutal onslaught upon Dr. Rush, for which he is prosecuted, convicted, and mulcted iu a sum that breaks down his bookselling and interrupts the profits of his authorship.

He retires to England, opens shop in Pall-Mall, and edits the “Porcupine,” which bristles with envenomed arrows discharged against all Liberals and Democrats. Again he is prosecuted, convicted, imprisoned. His boys, well taught in all manner of farm-work, send him, from his home in the country, hampers of fresh fruits, to relieve the tedium of Newgate. Discharged at length, and continuing his ribaldry in the columns of the “ Register,” he flies before an Act of Parliament, and takes new refuge in America. He is now upon Long Island, earnest as in his youth in agricultural pursuits. The late Dr. Francis of New York used to speak of his visits to him, and of the fine vegetables he raised. His political opinions had undergone modification ; there was not so much declamation against democracy, — not so much angry zeal for royalty and the statechurch. Nay, he committed the stupendous absurdity of carrying back with him to England the bones of Tom Paine, as the grandest gift he could bestow upon his mother-land. No great ovations greeted this strange luggage of his; I think he was ashamed of it afterwards, — if Cobbett was ever ashamed of anything. He became candidate for Parliament in the Liberal interest; he undertook those famous “ Rural Rides ” which are a rare jumble of sweet rural scenes and crazy political objurgation. Now he hammers the “ parsons,” — now he tears the paper-money to rags, — and anon he is bitter upon Malthus, Ricardo, and the Scotch “Feelosofers,” — and closes his anathema with the charming picture of a wooded “ hanger,” up which he toils (with curses on the road) only to rejoice in the view of a sweet Hampshire valley, over which sleek flocks are feeding, and down which some white stream goes winding, and cheating him into a rare memory of his innocent boyhood, He gains at length his election to Parliament; but he is not a man to figure well there, with his impetuosity and lack of self-control. He can talk by the hour to those who feel with him; but to be challenged, to have his fierce invective submitted to the severe test of an inexorable logic, — this limits his audacity ; and his audacity once limited, his power is gone.

But I must not forget that I have brought him into my wet-dav galaxy as a farmer. His energy, his promptitude, his habits of thrift, would have made him one of the best of farmers. His book on gardening is even now one of the most instructive that can be placed in the hands of a beginner. He ignores physiology and botany, indeed; he makes crude errors on this score ; but he had an intuitive sense of the right method of teaching. He is plain and clear, to a comma, He knows what needs to be told; and he tells it straightforwardly. There is no better model for agricultural writers than “ Cobbett on Gardening.” There is no miserable waste of words, — no indirectness of talk ; what he thinks, he prints.

His “ Cottage Economy,” too, is a book which every small landholder in America should own ; there is a sterling merit in it which will not be outlived, He made a great mistake, it is true, in insisting that Indian-corn could be grown successfully in England. But being a man who did not yield to influences of climate himself, he did not mean that his crops should; and if he had been rich enough, I believe that he would have covered his farm with a glass roof, rather than yield his conclusion that Indian-corn could be grown successfully under a British sky.

A great, impracticable, earnest, headstrong man, the like of whom does not appear a half-dozen times in a century. Being self-educated, he was possessed, like nearly all self-educated men, of a complacency and a self-sufficiency which stood always in his way. Affecting to teach grammar, he was ignorant of all the etymology of the language; knowing no word of botany, be classified plants by the “fearings” of his turnipfield. He was vain to the last degree; lie thought his books were the best books in the world, and that everybody should read them. He was industrious, restless, captious, and, although humane at heart, was the most malignant slanderer of his time. He called a political antagonist a “ pimp,” and thought a crushing argument lay in the word; he called parsons scoundrels, and bade his boys be regular at church.

In June, 1835, while the Parliament was in session, he grew ill, — talked feebly about politics and farming, (to his household,) “ wished for ' four days’ rain ’ for the Cobbett corn,” and on Wednesday, (16th June,) desired to be carried around the farm, and criticized the work that had been done, — grew feeble as evening drew on, and an hour after midnight leaned back heavily in his chair, and died.

I must give a paragraph, at least, to the Rev. James Grahame, the good Scotch parson, were it only because he wrote a poem called “ British Georgies.” They are not so good as Virgil’s ; nor did he ever think it himself. In fact, he published his best poem anonymously, and so furtively that even his wife took up an early copy, which she found one day upon her table, and, charmed with its pleasant description of Scottish braes and burn-sides, said, “ All! Jemmy, if ye could only mak’ a book like this! ” And I will venture to say that “ Jemmy ” never had rarer or pleasanter praise.

Shall we read a little, and test the worth of good Mistress Grahame’s judgment ? It is a bit of the parson’s walk in “ The Sabbath ”: —

“ Now, when the downward sun has left the glens,
Each mountain’s rugged lineaments are traced
Upon the adverse slope, where stalks gigantic
The shepherd’s shadow thrown athwart the chasm,
As on the topmost ridge he homeward hies. How deep the hush! the torrent’s channel, dry,
Presents a stony steep, the echo’s haunt.
But hark a plaintive sound floating along!
’T is from you heath-roofed shieling; now it dies
Away, now rises full; it is the song
Which He who listens to the hallelujahs
Of choiring seraphim delights to hear;
It is the music of the heart, the voice
Of venerable age, of guileless youth,
In kindly circle seated on the ground
Before their wicker door.”

Crabbe, who was as keen an observer of rural scenes, had a much better faculty of verse; indeed, he had a faculty of language so large that it carried him beyond the real drift of bis stories. I do not know the fact, indeed; but I think, that, notwithstanding the Duke of Rutland’s patronage, Mr. Crabbe must have written inordinately long sermons. It is strange how many good men do, — losing point and force and efficiency in a welter of words ! If there is one rhetorical lesson which it behooves all theologic or academic professors to lay down and enforce, (if need be with the ferule,) it is this, — Be short. It is amazing the way in which good men lose themselves on Sunday mornings in the lapse of their own language; and most rarely are we confronted from the pulpit with an opinion which would not bear stripping of wordy shifts, and be all the more comely for its nakedness.

George Crabbe wrote charming rural tales; but he wrote long ones. There is minuteobservation, dramatic force, tender pathos, but there is much of tedious and coarse description. If by some subtile alchemy the better qualities could be thrown down from the turbid and watery flux of his verse, we should have an admirable pocket-volume for the country ; as it is, his books rest mostly on the shelves, and it requires a strong breath to puff away the dust that has gathered on the topmost edges.

I think of the Reverend Mr. Crabbe as an amiable, absent minded old gentleman, driving about on week-days in a heavy, square-topped gig, (his wife bolding the reins,) in search of way-side gypsies, and on Sunday pushing a discourse — which was good up to the “ fourthly into the “ seventhly.”

Charles Lamb, if he had been clerically disposed, would, I am sure, have written short sermons ; and I think that his hearers would have carried away the gist of them clean and clear.

He never wrote anything that could he called strictly pastoral; he was a creature of streets and crowding houses; no man could have been more ignorant of the every-day offices of rural life ; I doubt if he ever knew from which side a horse was to be mounted or a cow to be milked, and a sprouting bean was a source of the greatest wonderment to him. Yet, in spite of all this, what a book those Essays of his make, to be down with under trees! It is the honest, lovable simplicity of his nature that makes the keeping good. He is the Izaak Walton of London streets,—of print-shops, of pastry - shops, of mouldy book - stalls; the chime of Bow-bells strikes upon his ear like the chorus of a milkmaid’s song at Ware.

There is not a bit of rodomontade in him about the charms of the country, from beginning to end; if there were, we should despise him. He can find nothing to say of Skiddaw but that he is “ a great creature ”; and he writes to Wordsworth, (whose sight is failing,) on Ambleside, “ I return you condolence for your decaying sight,—not for anything there is to see in the country, but for the miss of the pleasure of reading a London newspaper.”

And again to his friend Manning, (about the date of 1800,) — “ I am not romancebit about Nature. The earth and sea and sky (when all is said) is but as a house to dwell in. If the inmates be courteous, and good liquors flow like the conduits at an old coronation,—if they can talk sensibly, and feel properly, I have no need to stand staring upon the gilded looking-glass, (that strained my friend’s purse-strings in the purchase,) nor his five-shilling print, over the mantel-piece, of old Nabbs, the carrier. Just as important to me (in a sense) is all the furniture of my world, — eye-pampering, but satisfies no heart. Streets, streets, streets, markets, theatres, churches, Covent Gardens, shops sparkling with pretty faces of industrious milliners, neat seamstresses, ladies cheapening, gentlemen behind counters lying, authors in the street with spectacles, lamps lit at night, pastry-cooks’ and silver-smiths’ shops, beautiful Quakers of Pentonville, noise of coaches, drowsy cry of mechanic watchmen at night, with bucks reeling home drunk, — if you happen to wake at midnight, cries of ‘ Fire ! ’ and ' Stop thief! ’ — inns of court with their learned air, and halls, and butteries, just like Cambridge colleges,—old book-stalls, ‘Jeremy Taylors,’ ' Burtons on Melancholy,’ and ‘ Religio Medicis,’ on every stall. These are thy pleasures, O London-with-themany-sins! — for these may Keswick and her giant brood go hang ! ”

Ami again to Wordsworth, in 1830,— “Let no native Londoner imagine that health, and rest, and innocent occupation, interchange of converse sweet, and recreative study, can make the country anything better than altogether odious and detestable.”

Does any weak-limbed country-liver resent this honesty of speech ? Surely not, if he be earnest in his loves and faith; but, the rather, by such token of unbounded naturalness, he recognizes under the waistcoat of this dear, old, charming cockney the traces of close cousinship to the Waltons, and binds him, and all the simplicity of his talk, to his heart, for aye. There is never a hillside under whose oaks or chestnuts I lounge upon a smoky afternoon of August, but a pocket Elia is as coveted and as cousinly a companion as a pocket Walton, or a White of Selborne. And upon wet days in my library, I conjure up the image of the thin, bent old gentleman — Charles Lamb — to sit over against me, and I watch his kindly, beaming eye, as he recites with poor stuttering voice,—between the whiffs of his pipe,— over and over, those always new stories of “Christ’s Hospital,” and the cherished “ Blakesmoor,” and “ Mockery End.”

(No, you need not put back the book, my boy ; ’t is always in place.)

I never admired greatly James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd ; yet be belongs of double right in the coterie of my wetday preachers. Bred a shepherd, he tried farming, and he wrote pastorals. His farming (if we may believe contemporary evidence) was by no means so good as his verse. The Ettrick Shepherd of the “ Noctes Ambrosianæ ” is, I fancy, as much becolored by the wit of Professor Wilson as any daughter of a duchess whom Sir Joshua changed into a nymph. I think of Hogg as a sturdy sheep-tender, growing rebellious among the Cheviot flocks, crazed by a reading of the Border minstrelsy, drunken on books, (as his fellows were with “ mountain-dew, ) anil wreaking his vitality on Gaelic rhymes, — which, it is true, have a certain blush and aroma of the heather-hills, but which never reached the excellence that he fondly imagined belonged to them. I fancy, that, when he sat at the laird’s table, (Sir Walter’s,) and called the laird’s lady by her baptismal name, and — not abashed in any presence—uttered his Gaelic gibes for the wonderment of London guests,—that he thought far more of himself than the world has ever been inclined to think of him. I know that poets have a privilege of conceit, and that those who are not poets sometimes assump it; but it is, after all, a sorry quality by which to win the world’s esteem; and when death closes the record, it is apt to insure a large debit against the dead man.

It may not be commonly known that the Ettrick Shepherd was an agricultural author, and wrote “ Hogg on Sheep,” for which, as he tells us, he received the sum of eighty-six pounds. It is an octavo book, and relates to the care, management, and diseases of the black-faced mountain - breed, of whieh alone he was cognizant. It had never a great reputation; and I think the sheep - farmers of the Cheviots were disposed to look with distrust upon the teachings of a shepherd who supped with “lords” at Abbotsford, and whose best venture in verse was in “ The Queen’s Wake.” A British agricultural author, speaking of him in a pitiful way, says, — “ He passed years of busy authorship, and encountered the usual difficulties of that penurious mode of life.”6

This is good; it is as good as anything of Hogg’s.

I approach the name of Mr. Loudon, the author of the Encyclopædias of Gardening and Agriculture, with far more of respect. If nothing else in him laid claim to regard, his industry, his earnestness, his indefatigable labor in aid of all that belonged to the progress of British gardening or farming, would demand it. I take a pride, too, in saying, that, notwithstanding his literary labors, he was successful as a farmer, during the. short period of his farm-holding.

Mr. Loudon was a Scotchman by birth, Avas educated in Edinburgh, and was for a time under the tutelage of Mr. Dickson, the famous nurseryman of LeithWalk. Early in the present century he made his first appearance in London, — published certain papers on the layingout of the public squares of the metropolis, and shortly after was employed by the Earl of Mansfield in the arrangement of the palace - gardens at Scone. In 1813 and ’14 he travelled on the Continent very widely, making the gardens of most repute the special objects of his study; and in 1822 he published his “ Encyclopædia of Gardening”; that of Agriculture followed shortly after, and his book of Rural Architecture in 1833, But these labors, enormous as they were, had interludes of other periodical work, and Avere crowned at last by his magnum opus, the “ Arboretum.” A man of only ordinary nerve and diligence would have taken a ten years’ rest upon the completion of only one of his ponderous octavos; and the wonder is the greater, that Loudon wrought in his later years under all the disadvantages of appeals from rapacious creditors and the infirmities of a broken constitution. Crippled, palsied, fevered, for a long period of years, he still wrought on with a persistence that would have broken many a strong man down, and only yielded at last to a bronchial affection, which grappled him at his work.

This author massed together an amount of information upon the subjects of which he treated that is quite unmatched in the whole annals of agricultural literature. Columella, Heresbach, Worlidge, and even the writers of the “ Geoponica,” dwindle into insignificance in the comparison. He is not, indeed, always absolutely accurate on historical points; 7 but in all essentials his books are so complete as to have made them standard works up to a time long subsequent to their issue.

No notice of the agricultural literature of the early part of this century would be at all complete without mention of the Magazines and Society “ Transactions,” in which alone some of the best and most scientific cultivators communicated their experience or suggestions to the public. Loudon was himself the editor of the “ Gardener’s Magazine ” ; and the earlier Transactions of the Horticultural Society are enriched by the papers of such men as Knight, Van Mons, Sir Joseph Banks, Rev. William Herbert, Messrs. Dickson, Haworth, Wedgwood, and others. The works of individual authors lost ground in comparison with such an array of reports from scientific observers, and from that time forth periodical literature has become the standard teacher in what relates to good culture. I do not know what extent of good the newly instituted Agricultural Colleges of this country may effect; but I feel quite safe in saying that our agricultural journals will prove always the most effective teachers of the great mass of the farming-population. The London Horticultural Society at an early day established the Chiswick Gardens, and these, managed under the advice of the Society’s Directors, have not only afforded an accurate gauge of British progress in horticulture, but they have furnished to the humblest cultivator who has strolled through their inclosures practical lessons in the craft of gardening, renewed from month to month and front year to year. It is to be hoped that the American Agricultural Colleges will adopt some similar plan, and illustrate the methods they teach upon lands which shall be open to public inspection, and upon whose culture and its successes systematic reports shall he annually made. Failing of this, they will fail of the best part of their proper purpose. Nor would it be a fruitless work, if, in connection with such experimental farm, a weekly record were issued, — giving analyses of the artificial manures employed, and a complete register of every field, from the date of its “breaking-up” to the harvesting of the crop. Every new implement, moreover, should be reported upon with unwavering impartiality, and no advertisements should be received. I think under these conditions we might almost look for an honest newspaper.

Writing thus, during these in-door hours, of country - pursuits, and of those who have illustrated them, or who have in any way quickened the edge with which we farmers rasp away the weeds or carve out our pastoral entertainment, I come upon the names of a great bevy of poets, belonging to the earlier quarter of this century, that I find it hard to pass by. Much as I love to bring to mind, over and over again, “ Ivanhoe ” and “ Waverley,” I love quite as much to summon to my view Walter Scott, the woodsman of Abbotsford, with hatchet at his girdle, and the hound Maida in attendance. I see him thinning out the saplings that he has planted upon the Tweed banks. I know how they stand, having wandered by the hour among them. I can fancy how the master would have lopped away the boughs for a little looplet through which a burst of the blue Eildon Hills should come. His favorite seat, overshadowed by an arbor-vitæ, (of which a leaf lies pressed in the “ Scotch Tourist ” yonder,) was so near to the Tweed banks that the ripple of the stream over its pebbly bottom must have made a delightful lullaby for the toil-worn old man. But beyond wood-craft., I could never discover that Sir Walter had any strong agricultural inclination ; nor do I think that the old gentleman had much eye for the picturesque ; no landscape - gardener of any reputation would have decided upon such a site for such a pile as that of Abbotsford : the spot is low; the views are not extended or varied ; the very trees are all of Scott’s planting: but the master loved the murmur of the Tweed,—loved the nearness of Melrose, and in every old bit of sculpture that he walled into his home he found pictures of far-away scenes that printed in vague shape of tower or abbey all his limited horizon.

Christopher North carried his Scotch love of mountains to his home among the English lakes. I think he counted Skiddaw something more than “ a great creature.” In all respects — saving the pipes and the ale — he was the very opposite of Charles Lamb. And yet do we love him more ? A stalwart, hearty man, with a great redundance of flesh and blood, who could “ put the stone ” with Finlayson, or climb with the hardiest of the Ben-Nevis guides, or east ally with the daintiest of the Low - Country fishers, — redundant of imagination, redundant ot speech, and with such exuberance in him that we feel surfeit from the overflow, as at the reading of Spenser’s “Faërie Queene,” and lay him down with a wearisome sense of mental indigestion.

Nor yet is it so much an indigestion as a feeling of plethora, due less to the frothiness of the condiments than to a certain fulness of blood and brawn. The broadshouldered Christopher, in his shootingjacket, (a dingy green velveteen, with pocket-pouches all stuffed,) strides away along the skirts of Cruachan or Loch Lochy with such a tearing pace, and greets every lassie with such a clamorous outbreak of song, and throws such a wonderful stretch of line upon every pool, and amazes us with such stupendous “strikes” and such a whizzing of his reel, that we fairly lose our breath.

Not so of the “ White Doe of Rylstone ” ; nay, we more incline to doze over it than to lose our breath. Wilson differs from Wordsworth as Loch Awe, with its shaggy savagery of shore, from the Sunday quietude and beauty of Rydal - Water. The Strid of Wordsworth was bounded by the slaty banks of the “ Crystal Wharf,” and the Strid of Wilson, in his best moments, was as large as the valley of Glencoe. Yet Wordsworth loved intensely all the more beautiful aspects of the country, and of country-life. No angler and no gardener, indeed,—too severely and proudly meditative for any such sleight-of-hand. The only great weight which he ever lifted, I suspect, was one which he carried with him always, — the immense dignity of his poetic priesthood. His home and its surroundings were fairly typical of his tastes: a cottage, (so called,) of homely material indeed, but with an ambitious elevation of gables and of chimney-stacks; a velvety sheen of turf, as dapper as that of a suburban haberdasher; a mossy urn or two, patches of flowers, but rather fragrant than showy ones; behind him the loveliest of wooded hills, all toned down by graceful culture, and before him the silvery mirrors of Windermere and Rydal-Water.

We have to credit him with some rare and tender description, and fragments of great poems; but I cannot help thinking that he fancied a profounder meaning lay in them than the world has yet detected.

John Clare was a contemporary of Wordsworth’s, and was most essentially a poet of the fields. His father was a pauper and a cripple ; not even young Cobbett was so pressed to the glebe by the circumstances of his birth. But the thrushes taught Clare to sing. He wrote verses upon the lining of his hat-band. He hoarded halfpence to buy Thomson’s “ Seasons,” and walked seven miles before sunrise to make the purchase. The hardest field-toil could not repress the poetic aspirations of such a boy. By dint of new hoardings he succeeded in printing verses of his own ; but nobody read them. He wrote other verses, which at length made him known. The world flattered the peasant-bard of Northamptonshire. A few distinguished patrons subscribed the means for equipping a farm of his own. The heroine of his lovetales became its mistress; a shelf or two of books made him rich ; but in an evil hour he entered upon some farm-speculation which broke down; a new poem was sharply criticized or neglected ; the novelty of his peasant’s song was over. Disheartened and gloomy, he was overwhelmed with despondency, and became the inmate of a mad-house, where for forty years he has staggered idiotically toward the rest which did not come. But even as I write I see in the British papers that he is free at last. Poor Clare is dead.

With this sad story in mind, we may read with a zest which perhaps its merit alone would not provoke his little sonnet of “ The Thrush’s Nest”: —

“ Within a thick and spreading hawthorn-bush.
That overhung a mole-hill large and round,
I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush
Sing hymns of rapture, while I drank the sound
With joy; and oft, an unintruding guest,
T watched her secret toils from day to day,—
How true she warped the moss to form her nest,
And modelled it within with wood and clay,
And by-and-by, like heath-bells gilt with dew.
There lay her shining eggs as bright as flowers,
Ink-spotted over, shells of green and blue;
And there I witnessed, in the summer hours,
A brood of Nature’s minstrels chirp and fly,
Glad as the sunshine and the laughing sky.”
There are pretty snatches of a South-
ern May in Hunt’s poem of “ Rimini,” where
“ sky, earth, and sea
Breathe like a bright-eyed face that laughs out openly.
’T is Nature full of spirits, waked and springing:
The birds to the delicious tune are singing,
Darting with freaks and snatches up and down,
Where the light woods go seaward from the town;
While happy faces striking through the green
Of leafy roads at every turn are seen;
And the fur ships, lifting their sails of white
Like joyful hands, come up with scattery light,
Come gleaming up true to the wished-for day,
And chase the whistling brine, and swirl into the bay.”

This does not sound as if it came from the prince of cockneys; and I have always felt a certain regard for Leigh Hunt, too, by reason of the tender story which he gives of the little garden, “ mio picciolorto,” that he established during his two years of prisonhood.8

But, after all, there was no robustness in his rural spirit, — nothing that makes the cheek tingle, as if a smart wind had smitten it. He was born to handle roses without thorns ; I think that with a pretty boudoir, on whose table every morning a pretty maid should arrange a pretty nosegay, and with a pretty canary to sing songs in a gilded cage, and pretty gold - fish to disport in a crystal vase, and basted partridges for dinner, his love for the country would have been satisfied. He loved Nature as a sentimental boy loves a fine woman of twice his years,—sighing himself away in pretty phrases that flatter, but do not touch her; there is nothing to remind, even, of the full, abounding, fiery, all-conquering love with which a full-grown man meets and marries a yielding maiden.

In poor John Keats, however, there is something of this ; and under its heats he consumed away. For ripe, joyous outburst of all rural fancies,—for keen apprehension of what most takes hold of the susceptibilities of a man who loves the country,—for his coinage of all sweet sounds of birds, all murmur of leaves,, all riot and blossoming of flowers, into fragrant verse, — he was without a peer in his day. It is not that he is so true to natural phases in his descriptive epithets, not that he sees all, not that he has heard all ; but his heart has drunk the incense of it, and his imagination refined it, and his fancy set it allow in those jocund lines which bound and writhe and exult with a passionate love for the things of field and air.

I close these papers, with my eye resting upon the same stretch of fields,— the wooded border of a river,—the twinkling roofs and spires flanked by hills and sea,—where my eye rested when I began this story of the old masters with Hesiod and the bean-patches of Ithaca. And I take a pleasure in feeling that the farm - practice over all the fields below me rests upon the cumulated authorship of so long a line of teachers. Yon open furrow, over which the herbage has closed, carries trace of the ridging in the “ Works and Days ” ; the brown field of hall-broken clods is the fallow (Nεóç) of Xenophon; the drills belong to Worlidge ; their culture with the horse-hoe is at the order of Master Tull. Young and Cobbett are full of their suggestions; Lancelot Brown has ordered away a great straggling hedge-row; and Sir Uvedale Price has urged me to spare a hoary maple which lords it over a halfacre of flat land. Cato gives orders for the asparagus, and Switzer for the hot-beds. Crescenzi directs the wailing, and Smith of Deanston the ploughing. Burns embalms all my field-mice, and Cowper drapes an urn for me in a tangled wilderness. Knight names my cherries, and Walton, the kind master, goes with me over the hill to a wee brook that bounds down under hemlocks and soft maples, for “ a contemplative man’s recreation.” Davy long ago caught all the fermentation of my manure-heap in his retort, and Thomson painted for me the scene which is under my window to-day. Mowbray cures the pip in my poultry, and all the songs of all the birds are caught and repeated to the echo in the pages of the poets which lie here under my hand ; through the prism of their verse, Patrick the cattle-tender changes to a lithe milkmaid, against whose ankles the buttercups nod rejoicingly, and Rosamund (which is the nurse) wakes all Arden (which is Edgewood) with a rich burst of laughter.

And shall I not be grateful to these my patrons? And shall I count it unworthy to pass these few in-door hours of rain in the emblazonment of their titles ?

Nor must I forget here to express my indebtedness to those kind friends who have from time to time favored me with suggestions or corrections, in the course of these papers, and to those others—not a few-who have lent me rare old books of husbandry, which are not easily laid hold of.

I have discussed no works of living authors, whether of practical or pastoral intent : at some future day I may possibly pay my compliments to them. Meantime I cannot help interpolating in the interest of my readers a little fragment of a letter addressed to me within the year by the lamented Hawthorne: — “I remember long ago your speaking prospectively of a farm ; but I never dreamed of your being really much more of a farmer than myself, whose efforts in that line only make me the father of a progeny of weeds in a garden-patch. I have about twenty-five acres of land, seventeen of which are a hill of sand and gravel, wooded with birches, locusts, and pitch-pines, and apparently incapable of any other growth; so that I have great comfort in that part of my territory. The other eight acres are said to be the best land in Concord, and they have made me miserable, and would soon have ruined me, if I had not determined nevermore to attempt raising anything from them. So there they lie along the roadside, within their broken fence, an eyesore to me, and a laughing-stock to all the neighbors. If it were not for the difficulty of transportation by express or otherwise, I would thankfully give you those eight acres.”

And now the fine, nervous hand, which wrought with such strange power and beauty, is stilled forever! The eight acres can well lie neglected; for upon a broader field, as large as humanity, and at the hands of thousands of reapers who worked for love, he has gathered in a great harvest of immortelles.

  1. Life, of Sir Humphry Davy, London, 1839, p. 46.
  2. See letter of Thomas Poole, p. 322, Fragmentary Remains of Sir Humphry Davy.
  3. Salmonia, p. 5, London, Murray, 1851.
  4. Fragmentary Remains, p. 242.
  5. Life and Adventures if Peter Porcupine.
  6. Agricultural Biography, etc. London, 1854. Printed for the Author.
  7. I ought, perhaps, to make definite exception in the case of a writer so universally accredited. In his “ Encyclopædia of Gardening,” he specks of the “Geoponiea" as the work of “ modern Greeks.” written after the transfer of the seat of empire to Constantinople; WHEREAS the bulk of those treatises were written long before that date. He speaks of Varro as first in order of time of Roman authors on agriculture; yet Varro was born 116 B. C., and Cato died as early as 149 B. C. Crescenzi he names as an author of the fifteenth century; he should be credited to the fourteenth. He also commits the very common error in writers on gardening, of confounding the Tuscan villa of Pliny with that at Tusculum. These two places of the Roman Consul were entirely distinct and unlike.
  8. Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, Vol. II. p. 258.