That there are in nature any such things as inutiles herbŠ the botanists deny, and justly too, according to their meaning.
But the farmer, who expects to make profit of his land from what he sows or plants in it, finds not only herbŠ inutiles, but also noxiŠ, unprofitable and hurtful weeds ; which come like muscŠ, or uninvited guests, that always hurt and often spoil his crop, by devouring what he has, by his labour in dunging and tilling, provided for its sustenance.
All weeds, as such, are pernicious, but some much more than others ; some do more injury, and are more easily destroyed ; some do less injury, and are harder to kill ; others there are which have both these bad qualities. The hardest to kill are such as will grow and propagate by their seed, and also by every piece of their roots, as couch-grass, coltsfoot, melilot, fern, and such like. Some are hurtful only by robbing legitimate (or sown) plants of their nourishment, as all weeds do ; others both lessen a legitimate crop by robbing it, and also spoil that crop which escapes their rapine, when they infect it with their nauseous scent and relish, as meililot, wild-garlic, &c.
Weeds starve the sown plants by robbing them of their provision of food*, not of their room (as some authors vainly imagine), which will appear by the following experiment.
* A tree of any sort will spoil corn all round it, in a large circle ; half an acre of turnips has been spoiled by one ; hereby it is plain that trees rob as weeds ; because it is not by their shadow, there being as much damage done by them on the south side, where their shadow never comes, as on their north side ; nor can it be by their dropping, for it is the same on the side where a tree has no boughs to drop over the plants, when they are also at a very great distance from all parts of the tree, except its roots.
Let three beds of the same soil, equal and equally prepared, be sown with the same sort of corn. Let the first of these beds be kept clean from weeds : in the second, let a quantity of weeds grow along with the corn ; and in the third, stick up a quantity of dead sticks, greater in bulk than the weeds.
It will be found that the produce of the corn in the first will not exceed that of the third bed ; but in the second, where the weeds are, the corn will be diminished in proportion to the quantity of weeds amongst it.
The sticks having done no injury to the corn, show there was room enough in the bed for company to lodge, would they forbear to eat ; or else (like travelers in Spain) bring their provisions with them to their inn, or (which would be the same thing) if weeds could find there some dish so disagreeable to the palate of the corn, and agreeable to their own that they might feed on it without robbing, and then they would be as innocent as the sticks, which take up the same room with the weeds.
The quantity of nourishment weeds rob the corn of, is not in proportion only to their number and bulk, but to the degrees of heat in their constitution, as appears by the instance of charlock and turnips, mentioned in the chapter " Of Change of Species."
It is needless to go about to compute the value of the damage weeds do, since all experienced husbandmen know it to be very great, and would unanimously agree to extripate their whole race as entirely as in England they have done the wolves, though much more innocent and less rapacious than weeds*.
* If we consider the crops they utterly destroy, and those they extremely diminish, and that very few crops escape without receiving injury from them, it may be a question whether the mischief weeds do to our corn, is not as great as the value of the rent of all the arable lands in England.
But alas ! they find it impossible to be done, or even to be hoped for, by the common husbandry, and the reasons I take to be these : -
The seeds of most sorts of weeds are so hardy, as to lie sound and uncorrupt for many years*, or perhaps ages, in the earth ; and are not killed until they begin to grow or sprout, which very few of them do unless the land be ploughed, and then enough of them will ripen amongst the sown crop, to propagate and continue their species, by shedding their offspring in the ground (for it is observed they are generally ripe before the corn), and the seeds of these do the same in the next sown crop ; and thus perpetuate their savage, wicked** brood, from generation to generation.
Besides, their seeds never all come up in one year, unless the land be very often ploughed ; for they must have their exact depth and degrees of moisture and heat to make them grow ; and as such as have not these will lie in the ground and retain their vegetative virtue for ages ; and the common usual ploughings not being sufficient to make them all, or the greatest part grow, almost every crop that ripens increases the stock of seed, until it make a considerable part of the staple of such land as is sown without good tillage and fallowing.
The best defence against these enemies which the farmer has hitherto found, is to endeavour their destruction by a good summer fallow : this indeed, if the weather be propitious, does make havoc of them ; but still some will escape one year's prosecution.
Either by being sometimes situate so high that the sun's heat dries them, sometimes lying so deep it cannot reach therm : either way,
* The seeds of Lethean poppy (called red-weed) have lain dormant 24 years (the land being during that time in St.-Foin), and then at first ploughing they came up very thick : this I have seen ; and so will many other sorts of weeds, when the ground has lain untilled for an age.
** The French call them, les herbes savages, et les mechantes herbes.
their germination, which would have proved their death, is prevented.
Another faculty secures abundance of them, and that is, their being able to endure the heat and moisture of one year without growing ; as wild oats, and innumerable other sorts of weeds will
do ; for gather these when ripe, sow them in the richest bed, water them, and do all that is possible to make them grow the first year, it will be vain labour ; they will resist all enticements until the second ; that is, if you gather them in autumn, you cannot force them to grow until the next spring come twelvemonth ; and many of them will remain dormant even to the next year after that, and some of them longer.
I have not tried by sowing them (wild oats, &c.) in a bed myself, but have been so informed by others : and my own experience hath frequently shown me, that they will come up, after lying many years in the ground ; and that very few sorts of weeds will come all up the first year as corn doth : if they die, the tillage of one year's summer fallow might extripate them.
By this means, one year's summer fallow can have no effect upon them, but to prepare the soil for their more vigorous growth and plentiful increase the next year after, and very rarely will the farmer fallow his land two years successively : and often the dung, which is made of the straw of sown corn, being full of the seeds of weeds, when spread on the fallows encumbers the soil with another stock of weeds, as ample as that the fallowing has destroyed ; and though perhaps many of these may not grow the next year, they will be sure to come up afterwards.
The other old remedy is what often proves worse than the
disease ; that is, what they call weeding among sown corn ; for if, by the hook or hand they cut some sorts (as thistles) while they are young, they will sprout up again, like hydras, with more heads than before ; and if they are cut when full-grown, after thy have done
almost their utmost in robbing the crop, it is like shutting the stable-door after the steed is stolen.
The best way to destroy them is to pull them up, roots and all, out of the rows whilst they are young.
Hand-weeders often do more harm to the corn with their feet, than they do good by cutting or pulling out the weeds with their hands ; and yet I have known this operation sometimes cost the farmer twelve shillings an acre ; besides the damage done by treading down his wheat ; and after all, a sufficient quantity of them have escaped, to make a too plentiful increase in the next crop of corn.
The new hoeing-husbandry in time will probably make such an utter riddance* of all sorts of weeds, except such as come in the air**, that as long as this management is properly continued, there is no danger to be apprehended from them ; which is enough to confute the old error of equivocal generation,
* A very pernicious, large, perennial weed, like burrage, with a blue flower infested a piece of land for time out of mind ; hoeing has destroyed it utterly, not one of the species has been seen in the field these seven years, though constantly tilled and hoed.
** The seeds of some weeds may be suspected to come in the air ; as the seed of the grass that grew in Cheapside, in the time of the plague ; but it might come from seeds in the dirt, brought thither by the feet of people and cattle, and by the wheels of coaches, carts carrying hay or otherwise : continual treading might keep it from growing, and when the treading ceased, it is no wonder the seeds should furnish the streets with grass.
And I have observed on the floors, two story high, of a lone, ruinous, uninhabited house, being long uncovered, a sort of herb growing very thick ; I think it was pimpernel, and believe that its seeds did not come thither in the air ; but in the sand which was mixed with the mortar that had fallen from the ceilings, and it is like there were few seeds at first, yet these ripening for several years, shed their seeds annually, until the floors became all over very thick planted : besides, hay-seeds and pimpernel are too heavy to be carried far by the air.
had it not been already sufficiently exploded, ever since the demonstration of Mapighiues experiment. For if weeds were brought forth without their proper seeds, the hoeing could not hinder their production, where the soil was inclined naturally to produce them.
And except also such weeds whose seed is carried by birds, which is the most common manner of transporting the seeds of vegetables from field to field, against the consent of the owner : for birds, whether great or small, do not care to eat their prey where they take it, but generally choose some open place for that purpose. It is, I am persuaded, by this means chiefly, that a vineyard or field made ever so clean from grass, will, in lying untilled a few years, be replenished with a turf of that neighbouring species of grass which best suits the heat and moisture of the soil : yet there are some species of seeds that birds (at least such as frequent the place) do not effect ; else the burrage-weed (mentioned p. 121, n.) would have appeared again in my field in some of the many years since the hoeing has extripated it there ; for it grows plentifully in the unploughed way adjoining thereto.
I never heard than any author has been dissatisfied with this experiment, except Equivocus, who (unless my memory deceives me) has falsely quoted it ; for he leaves out the latter part of it viz., that when seeds were put into the glass, the earth produced them into plants very soon.
His objections against the fairness of this experiment are two, viz., that the lawn (I think it was) deprived the earth of some part of the powers, that he affirms would produce plants equivocally. And that the time the earth was in the glass was not sufficient for the effect of those powers.
For answer to the first objection : What he calls a fine linen cloth was only to keep out seeds from being conveyed into the glass by the air. The sun's influence was rather increased by the refraction through the glass : air, rain, dew, and all sorts of particles of the
atmosphere, might enter through the lawn cover : and it was plain, that nothing was wanting for production but seeds, which, when they were thrown in, were produced with no other helps than the earth had whilst nothing was produced. And we see plants come up under a north wall from earth whereon the sun doth not shine ; and even in places where there is not so free an air as that earth in the glass enjoyed.
As to the second objection : Equivocus owns the glass stood a long time ; but it seems it was not long enough for the earth in it to produce plants without corporeal seeds. I would have him let the world know, how long a time he requires earth to remain in that manner for determining that point against him.
Equivocus seems to object against that experiment for the fairness of it ; and to show how much he abhors every fair experiment that discovers truth, he quotes most unfair ones against it.
His first I observe, of this sort, is, that when earth taken out of cellars, and exposed on the top of a house, plants such as grow in the neighbourhood will come up in it. What can be hence inferred in proof of equivocal generation, unless we are sure, that no seeds of those plants were in that earth when in the cellars ; and unless the top of the house was so high as to be above the reach of winds and birds that could carry seeds thither ?
The wormwood coming up amongst the rubbish is no fairer an experiment than his other ; for though it came up in the spring, when there are no seeds to shed ; yet the seeds might be carried thither in the autumn or in the winter, for wormwood holds some of its seed even in winter, when some sorts of birds (as goldfinches) being hungry take it out, and sometimes carry it off to eat it, and love to peck it on dry ground ; and the rubbish of a house seems a proper situation for their feeding on it ; and they generally leave some seeds behind them in such places ; and yet Equivocus is so
vain as to affirm, that " this is a plain instance, that those plants did not derive their original from real seed."
As to his instances of mustard-seed, furze, broom, charlock, and innumerable other species of plants which might be found, which Equivocus and some of the most ignorant of the vulgar imagine to be produced from a fortuitous concourse of particles, and not from real corporeal seeds ; they are answered by Equivocus himself in his Essay of May, p.60, as follows : " that there are many seeds which lie long in the ground without any visible signs of germination is not to be disputed." And I see no impossibility against their having lain so from the deluge, if not from the creation of the world (I mean such of them as lie deep in the earth, and have never been exposed to the sun, air, &c.) ; however there is less impossibility of that, than of their being generated by a fortuitous concourse of atoms or particles.
A seed that by its smallness is invisible to the naked eye, contains in it an almost infinite progeny of its own species, and is a little world, whose creation is as miraculous a work of infinite wisdom as the great world ; and one might as well be produced by a fortuitous concourse, &c. as the other.
Nature is regular and geometrical in all her works ; hence each seed produces no other species of plant but its own ; but blind chance is irregular, and if it were possible for it to produce a plant, it would be of some other species than those produced from seeds ; therefore, I think, no reasonable man can suspect any plant to be generated by a fortuitous concourse of particles, unless he is satisfied of its being a new species that never appeared in the world before it ; neither would any two equivocally-generated plants be of the same species, not being the offspring of parents proper to each.
Indeed, in this respect of singularity (falsehood, ingratitude, and inhumanity) different from the common species of men, Equivocus himself seems a stronger argument for equivocal generation that any as he brings : and as he founds his faith of that blind doctrine on the opinion of heathen authors, who held it the same for animals as for plants, and that many of the former were generated from putrefaction and corruption, there seems no fortuitous concourse of particles so likely to have produced Equivocus, as of such an unsavory composition mentioned in his Essay of April, p p. 72, 73, 74. He says " ordure, dung, and air, actuating on one another may produce," &c. - I say, Sterquilinium Equivocum.
That mushrooms are generated without seed in the manner pretended, from rotten dung that smells of mushrooms is a very fallacious account, since they are known to bear seed in their gills ; and the Paris gardeners rub old dry mushrooms on the dung, which produces the young ones ; by such rubbing the seed comes out of the gills.
And when Equivocus, in his Essay of August, p. 180, describes the manner of making a mushroom-bed, he directs, that it be set with cakes of dung that smell like mushrooms, and then he says there will afterwards " come up mushrooms enough especially if the earth of the mushroom-bed be watered with the water wherein mushrooms, which sprung up everywhere in September, are washed."
Here Equivocus's lower class of readers must renounce their senses, as well as their reason, in order to free themselves from all suspicion of mushroom-seeds being in those cakes, or in that water, before they can be able to perceive the cogency of his arguments for the equivocal or fortuitous generation of plants, without real corporeal seeds.
As neither Equivocus, nor any other advocate of this blind doctrine, make any distinction between the generation (or production) of plants that bear a large seed, and those that bear a small seed, I hope it may be sufficient to convince them of their error if it can be demonstrated that plants which bear a large seed are not produced equivocally : for which purpose, let an experiment be made, which shall not be liable to the objections Equivocus makes (though I think unjustly) against that of Malpighius, in the following manner, viz., let there be a very fine wire sieve, such as is used to sift tobacco, through which let be passed what quantity you please of earth of any sort and from any country ; set it without a cover in the open air, where no birds come, especially great birds ; and this may be in some place where people are always present in the daytime : let it thus stand a whole year, or as much longer as you will, and stir it as often as you think fit ; then if no bean, pea, fir, or other plant, bearing such a large seed appear in it ; or in case small birds are kept from that earth by a net, or otherwise, then if no plant, the smallest of whose seeds are too large to pass the meshes of that sieve, come up, I believe every man of sense will be confirmed in the doctrine of univocal generation of all vegetables.
Many more arguments might be brought against Equivocus on this point, but absurdas opiniones accuratius refeltere stultum est. And I think no opinion can be more absurd than this of Equivocus.
The belief of that blind doctrine might probably be one of the causes, that made the ancients despair of finding so great success in hoeing, as now appears ; or else, if they had had true principles, they might perhaps have invented and improved that husbandry, and the instruments necessary to put it in practice.