|CHAPTER IX. |
REMARKS ON THE BAD HUSBANDRY, THAT IS SO FINELY
EXPRESSED IN VIRGIL'S FIRST GEORGIC.
- - - - - - - - TerrŠ
Pingue solum primis extemplo a mensibus anni
Fortes invertant tauri : glebasque jacentes
Pulverulenta coquant maturis solibus Šstas.
- - - - - - - - Straight let the vig'rous steer
Turn the rich furrow in the new-born year,
And summer's heat with rip'ning suns pursue
The sluggish glebe, and all the clod subdure.
- - - - - - - - officiant lŠtis ne frugibus herbŠ ;
- - - - - - - - lest the weeds the smiling blade withstand.
This is good husbandry, which I must maintain against Equivocus, who in his directions to his reading farmers, tells them, in his Preface to September, that it is time enough to break up strong land in Britain, in May or in June, whereas Virgil directs it to be done in January or February. And what we esteem strong land in Britain,
being much stronger than the Italian ; and our climate being more subject to rains, our land should not be broke up later than theirs. And our most experienced farmers find it a less expense, and infinitely more profitable, to break up their wheat-land in winter (being the same time that Virgil calls the spring) ; they say this first ploughing, and a second in summer, costs them less than one first ploughing (or breaking up) in summer, when the weather is dry. By the former method, they never fail of a sufficient pulverisation, and to kill the weeds ; but in the latter, it is as uncertain as the weather, which often disappoints them, but the former never does, according to that excellent verse of Hesiod :
All farmers of my acquaintance that are eminent for being good husbandmen, and have practised from their youth to old age, declare they are very certain, they have many times been at a great loss by ploughing their land too seldom ; but never lost by ploughing any sort of land too often. This is from long experience ; and I take it, is what Virgil means in strong land ; and is undoubtedly good husbandry, which nobody contradicts, except Equivocus, as above.
It is the bad theory of the good husbandry in strong land, that occasions his bad husbandry in light land ; for if the effect of pulverisation were generally known (as it may be demonstrated)
to procure and enlarge the pasture of plants, instead of only killing weeds, which is only accidentally done by pulverisation, it having its chief effect even where no weeds are ; I say, if this were known, it could not be denied, that pulverisation is at least as necessary (and in a greater degree) to poor light land, as it is to strong and rich. And it is the custom in the South of France to plough up their light land in the winter, pulverising it by frequent iterations in the summer ; and this is done in Languedoc on land so light, that I have seen it ploughed (for wheat) by a plough drawn by a single ass. This is Virgil's reason for ploughing rich land betimes, and shows the old theory, which never gave any other reason for tillage and hoeing except killing of weeds.
The Equivocal Society having ransacked their old heathen authors to find other reasons, pretend pulverisation to be one ; it is indeed an effect of good tillage ; but is no more a reason for it, than changing the under and upper sides of the furrow is the reason for turning it ; and the Society say pulverisation is poison to light land. What they say of the advantages of summer fallowing being another reason for tillage, is no better, since such fallowing is only good tillage, not a reason for tillage. I do not perceive that they offer any other reasons ; if they had and they would have produced them in contradiction of what I have said in my Essay.
At si non fuerit Telus foecunda, sub ipsum
Arcturum tenui SAT ERIT suspendere sulco.
But if not fat the soil, it will suffice,
When bright Arcturus mounts the purple skies,
To skim the surface with a gentle share,
And lift the furrow lightly to the air.
When poor land is ploughed late, there is not time enough to plough it so often as reason requires ; because there must be a competent exposure between the ploughings ; and the poorer it is, the more ploughings (or something else) will be necessary to pulverise it ; and also such land generally being on a high situation,
must be sown early, or the wheat will be in danger of dying in the winter ; therefore, upon all those accounts, it should be earlier ploughed than strong land, besides for the killing of weeds, which is impossible to be done in any sort of land by such tillage as does not move and turn it often enough to make them all grow, which once ploughing never can.
Equivocus is against pulverising this land, because he thinks it would make it too hollow ; but in truth, the contrary of his opinion is ture, because pulverisation makes its natural pores less, and its specific gravity greater ; and this Equivocus might have learnt of Virgil himself, if his malice would have given him leave to inquire ; for Virgil, in his second Georgic, relates an experiment, which fully contradicts this his own precept, for dig a pit or hole in light land, and the same earth which comes out of it will not fill it up again. Therefore it filling less room (by the breaking) is a proof of its specific gravity being increased.
He says, in page 13 of his Advertisement to his second volume, " If the soil was naturally light and hollow, over much ploughing, or pulverising of it, would be not only needless, but also destructive to it."
In this Equivocus is right ; because too much ploughing or pulverising is impossible ; unless where it is feared the soil should become too rich for the sort of vegetable therein to be sown.
It is insufficient tillage only that makes light land become more hollow and light, upon two accounts : first, as it does not sufficiently diminish the size of its natural pores, the largeness of which is the cause of its hollowness and lightness ; for the size of none of these can be diminished, but by breaking their partitions, few of which are broken by insufficient (i. e. Virgilian) tillage. Secondly, it becomes lighter on account of the size of its artificial pores, which, by insufficient tillage, are made large in proportion to the degree of insufficiency ; but, on the contrary, sufficient
tillage makes the artificial pores very small, and diminishes the size of the natural pores, in proportion to the degree of that smallness of the artificial.
Equivocus says, that in the west, " they never plough their wheat-lands in the summer, nor till they are ready to sow them, well knowing that if they were to summer-fallow them, it would cause the ground to produce nothing but charlock, and several other weeds of that kind, which are all of them the indelible criteria of poverty."
But in truth these weeds are only criteria of the worst sort of Virgilian husbandry ; for they grow much stronger and larger in rich land ; but this is earlier and oftener ploughed, whereby the charlock seeds, &c. grow and are killed, without stocking the ground with their species as they do in poor land that is ploughed late, and but once or twice, where all or most weeds that grow are sure to live and propagate.
I remember to have formerly seen my chalky clivi look all over yellow with blossomed charlock, to which they were very subject when in the hands of a Virgilian tenant, but since they have been a few years used in my hoeing tillage, very little charlock appears in therm : nor is there any more charlock on my hill whose second stratum is clay, which about twelve years ago had the thickest and largest crop of it that ever I saw : the seed was ripe, and stood all the winter, and was shed on the land to fill it fuller, yet a few years of my potatoe and turnip management totally extripated the race of charlock from thence also.
Charlock, therefore, is neither equivocally (which Virgilians term naturally) produced, nor is it an indelible criterion of poverty ; for this hill, since it has been made dry, appears by the crops of all sorts it produces to be the richest field I have. Charlock and other weeds may be a cause of poverty, but never can be an effect of it, in any soil whatever.
Equivocus is wrong to infer that this western husbandry is not Virgilian, because he thinks the farmers there never so much as heard of Virgil's Georgics, when the praised commentator proves it to be so from the Latin words used among husbandmen of that country in their rustic affairs.
Equivocus, in his last-quoted page, and in his two next following it, pretends to bring this opinion of mine concerning pulverisation to the test, by what he most childishly calls an experiment, which is only this, that there is a sort of hollow light land about Wilcot (a place I do not know) in the county of Wilts, part whereof being well limed, produces much better than adjoining lands, of the same sort, not limed. And from hence infers that pulverisation is poison to some soils.
But whether this argument be a test of my opinion, or rather a test of Equivocus's understanding, I leave to the determination of the sober reader ; and whether inveterate malice may not so operate on the fibres of a wicked man's brain, as to make him become a mente captus.
This test which Equivocus proposes, could prove nothing to the purpose ; but if any one will be so curious as to see a test of it, he may go to Fiddleton, and several adjacent parishes not far from Wilcot, and within eight or ten miles of the Devizes in Wiltshire, and he will be convinced (by the present practice there) of the benefit of pulverising light land ; he will see thousands of acres that were time out of mind, until within these last twenty years, kept in the once ploughing husbandry, now vastly improved by pulverisation with frequent ploughings ; they have there proved by practice what I have demonstrated in theory, viz., that light land requires more ploughing than strong land : they say also, that the summer sun and summer ploughings are of greatest benefit to light land : they further say, that the longer it is kept in that pulverising way, the more fruitful it grows. These lands were formerly sown (alternately) every other year upon once ploughing, as the rest of
the neighbourhood yet are ; but now these are sown three years successively on frequent ploughings, and are of double the value to what they were formerly, and to what the other adjoining lands of the same nature unpulverised in the Virgilian method are.
Five years, whereof the three first are sown and the other two unsown, are called a round ; and they find that every successive round the land grows better and less light, which proves that the Anti-Virgilian pulverisation in time destroys, or, at least, abates, that pernicious leaven (which was the cause of the hollowness or lightness), and increases the cement of the soil, as the superficies of its parts are frequently increased.
Though the staple of this land may be too thin to acquire the name of strong land, yet it loses so much of its lightness, that it subsides sufficiently after sowing, but not too much.
The substance of this relation I had from a gentleman of honour, learning, and integrity, who was the first who put the pulverising husbandry into practice in that country, upon a large estate of light land.
In Glucestershire also,which is a western county, I am well informed, that great quantities of very light land, which when kept in the sat erit husbandry, were let for half a crown an acre, but being now brought into the pulverising method, are let for ten shillings an acre.
But there is a misfortune in many parishes, that the custom does not permit any one to pulverise his light lands by tillage, until an enclosure be made of them.
Full experiments of this doctrine have been made in Hampshire too, and in other places, which show the bad theory and practice of Virgilians.
And to confute the sat erit maxim of Virgil, even the practice of the parish where I live is sufficient. The greatest part of the south side of it is light land, formerly downs, and on the north side, is
poor, sandy, light land, formerly a heath : in this they always sowed their wheat on once ploughing, until within these last twenty years. It was about seventeen years ago, that I was walking with a farmer in this part, and saw on one side of a hedge a little field in the occupation of a gentleman, who had fallowed it early, and ploughed it three or four times afterwards, and sowed it with wheat without dung : on the other side of the hedge was a field sown with wheat on once ploughing, according to the old custom, well dunged : it was then near harvest, and the farmer judged the crop of the Anti-Virgilian filed at four quarters to an acre, and the other at two bushels, or three at the most ; and I afterwards found that he was right in his valuation of those different crops. He said the field which had the poor crop was always accounted the better land of the two, though of the same sort. He said too, that his late father used to observe that this custom of once ploughing did never produce so good crops as the same sort of land did in places where it was the custom to plough often ; and the farmer himself could remember fifty years, and never found their once ploughing succeed well. I then asked him the reason why they continued such a bad custom, which was never known to succeed. His answer was, We are still in hopes.
But that custom is now so entirely worn out, that I do not believe there has been an acre of wheat sown upon once ploughing these ten last years in this parish, which is a large one, lying in two counties.
The south side of the parish being very high down-land was reckoned too poor and too light for wheat.
They thought with the Virgilians, that much ploughing would make it yet lighter ; therefore they used generally to sow it with oats on once ploughing, and to let it lie unsown more years than sown. But now they are convinced of that error, and till the same land as much, or more, than their strong land, of which the middle
of the parish that lies in a bottom consists (though it is not my fortune to have any of it). And that light land is, within these last twenty years, so much improved by thorough good summer tillage, that it produces rather better crops of wheat and barley than their rich low land does ; it is not, therefore, become lighter or poorer by pulverisation, but more dense and richer.
The Virgilian error in this matter seems to be their mistaking exhaustion for pulverisation ; for when they sow upon two or three ploughings, which are insufficient for light land (especially whilst full of weeds), the exhausting may be greater than in proportion to such pulverisation, and then the land must become poorer. This effect, which is owing to exhaustion only, they falsely impute to pulverisation ; for it is demonstrable, both in theory and practice, that no land can become poorer, unless the exhaustion exceeds the pulverisation of it ; nor richer, unless the pulverisation exceeds the exhaustion.
When a well-tilled field is to be sown with corn for three years, leave one land in the middle of it unsown, pulverising it by the plough very often, and suffering no vegetable to grow in it for the first and second years ; but the third year let the whole field be sown alike. Then if this third crop be poorer than the crop of the pulverised land in the middle of it (as it certainly will), it will be evident that the poverty proceeds from the exhaustion, and not from the pulverisation. It is also demonstrable, that light land requires a greater degree of pulverisation than strong land, when the exhaustion of both is equal.
In answer to the ridicule of Equivocus, in page 15 of the Advertisement to his second volume, about pulverisation being no catholicon, I say, it may be proved so far a catholicon, that is enlarges and enriches the vegetable pasture, and (if made by the plough) kills weeds, and diminishes the too great specific gravity of strong land ; increases the too little specific gravity of light land. It
retains competent moisture, but not too much water. If in proper ridges, it les-sens the labour of cattle, by causing the plough to go more easily in strong land.
If Virgil gives no other reason for tillage but the killing of weeds (as I think he does not), and yet in his SAT ERIT directs the ploughing of poor land in such a manner that weeds cannot be killed, but rather propagated and strengthened by it, how can there be a worse theory than Virgil's ? And would it not be wonderful, if the Equivocal Society were what they pretend to be, that they should not give some reason why pulverisation kills weeds in strong land, and breeds them in light land, as they assert it does ? But that assertion is so far from being true, that pulverisation by the plough more easily kills an equal number of the same species of weeds in light land than in strong, because, the former being more friable, the imprisoned seeds are sooner set at liberty to grow in it, in order for their destruction. Some sorts of dung increase weeds, no sort of dung or manure kills them ; yet the Virgilian, in light land, wherein weeds most abound, uses much dung and very little ploughing.
- - - - - - - - Sterilem exiguns ne deserat humor arenam.
Lest moisture - desert the barren sand.
However this reason may hold in other countries, it is certainly wrong in England : for all experience proves, that the more such dry light land is pulverised by early and frequent ploughings, and the deeper the same pulverised mould is, the better the corn that grows on it will endure a dry summer.
By experience, I do not mean the experience of these Virgilians, who know not what pulverisation is, believing that twice or at most thrice ploughing is the utmost that tillage can do, the notion of infinite or indefinite division being to them unintelligible and ridiculous.
I have been informed, by a hill-country farmer, who had learning enough to so far balance the common prejudices of his Virgilian education, that he for many years managed part of his dry, light, down land in the same manner that common good husbands manage their strong land ; viz., he ploughed it three or four times singly dunged with the fold, and one bushel and a half of seed-wheat sown on an acre ; the other part of the same land managed in the old Virgilian method ; viz., ploughed once, more dunged, and four bushels of wheat sowed on an acre ; which greater quantity of dung and seed were much more chargeable than the other. But the different success of these two managements was, that every dry summer the Virgilian produced miserable poor crops, and the other very good ones ; but in wet summers the Virgilian crops were better than the tilled crops, which were too big and lodged. Not to bring in question, whether the lodging might not have been prevented by yet more lightly folding ; it is by this experiment very plain, that the more this dry, light land is pulverised, the more moisture it retains in summer. This farmer is yet living, a man of credit, and can easily make appear the truth of these facts ; and I have myself always observed the same effect of pulverisation in regard to moisture on all sorts of land with which I have been acquainted, at what times soever they were sown or planted.
And this moisture obtained, or rather retained, by pulverisation, whether from dews or rains, is never injurious : - for, as pulverised earth holds a small quantity of water longer than the sat - erit tillage does, so it suffers water, when in too great quantity, to descend or exhale sooner from it. The lodging of the above-mentioned crops on that very dry land must not be imputed to too much water, but ragtehr to too great a number of plants, or other causes.
He directes that poor land should be ploughed late, for fear the moisture should be dried out of it.
This has more need of being enriched by early and frequent ploughings ; for all its moisture will be exhaled, and for want of being opened, can receive little return from the atmosphere, the later it is ploughed, the drier it will be.
The sat erit, is therefore a great mistake.
But it is only the mistake of Virgilians, and of such vulgar who (as Equivocus, in page 2 of April, says of the lower class of readers) " are not able to distinguish truth from error, or right from wrong." It is these only are they, who cry, It is enough, when their land is ploughed twice, though it has thereby attained no competent degree of pulverisation, but such as serves only to set some of the weeds a-growing, which being ripe, shed their seed ; which being afterwards ploughed in and few of their breed killed, composes a considerable part of the staple of their lands ; yet when they come up thick at their once or twice ploughing for their next crop, they fancy the same species are produced equivocally without real corporeal seeds ; and then they say, it is ploughing that breeds weeds, which is because they plough often enough to make some of the seeds (of which the soil is very full) grow, but not often enough to kill them when sprouted. If the lands of England were all in such vulgar hands, those three syllables sat erit would be, I suppose, a loss of three millions sterling yearly to the public.
It seems absurd to be so solicitous for laying dung upon land to which pulverisation is thought to be poison, when the effect of all sorts of dung is to pulverise more or less in proportion to the quantity of salts therein contained.
That this is an effect of those salts is so evident from the demonstration of every experiment, that I believe nobody ever did deny it ; but whether they have any other considerable effects upon a soil is uncertain, for the warmth occasioned by their ferment cannot be much, and the addition made to the staple by the substance of the usual quantity of dung of any sort is very little when reduced to earth.
The truth of it is, such poor light land requires a considerable quantity both of dung and of tillage to pulverise it, in proportion to the degree of its poverty. The Virgilians judging otherwise, leave out the tillage, and add more dung than is usual in any other species of husbandry ; the consequence of which practice is, that much the greatest part of this land must lie still at the value of about 2s. per acre, for keeping of a vast number mostly of dry sheep for doubly dunging of the small remainder, which also must not be often sowed, and produces commonly very light crops. But, as I am informed, when farmers of a religion (or rather education) different from those bigoted Virgilians come amongst them, they leave out part of the dung, and add more tillage, sow less seed, and, by a competent use of each, raise better and more crops, making a great improvement on those lands, which, by the Virgilian husbandry, are of little value.
None of the improvements made on any sort of arable land by foreign grasses or turnips could have been introduced into Britain without renouncing the sat - erit doctrine of Virgil ; for they will not succeed on any sort of land without pulverisation by tillage ; and they are most generally made on light land, and, therefdore, may be properly called Anti-Virgilian, and so may most sorts of hoeing culture for corn, which are always found very beneficial to the husbandman who uses them with discretion.
Clover doth not improve the soil by killing of weeds, as the vulgar imagine ; for, in truth, weeds, especially natural grass, will kill or spoil the clover ; the improvement is therefore from other causes, the chief of which is the preparing the land for it by tillage, that kills natural grass, and most other weeds ; and those that are left are hindered from propagating by seed, if the clover be mowed before they are ripe, and by the rotting of its large roots, and by such other benefits as are shown that a soil receives from St.-Foin, and other long tap-rooted plants.
The benefit that the clover and turnip husbandry brings to a soil consists in the pulverisation it occasions by tillage as well as by fermentation.
Tenui sulco (a shallow furrow), the land being sterile requires that it be ploughed as deep as the staple will allow ; for the poorer it is, the less reason is there to leave any part of it unploughed ; and shallow ploughings, though the land be never so fine, lose much of the benefit that dews bring to the ground ; because the earth being hard below, will not suffer them to sink so deep, but that they are again exhaled in the day ; this keeps it drier and poorer.
Equivocus insinuates to his readers, that I have advised to plough below the staple of such thin land, and bring up the spelt. But every reader will see the contrary is true. But this ill effect of the shallowness may be helped by doubling the thickness of the staple by raising it into little ridges. The mutatis foetibus, and inaratŠ gratia terrŠ are answered in chap. " Of Tillage," and chap. " Of Change of Species."
SŠpe etiam steriles incendere profuit agros,
Atque levem stipulam crepitantibus urere flammis.
It profits oft to fire the fruitless ground,
And thirsty stubble crackling all around.
It is certain, that Virgil meant the burning the stubble upon rich land, and burning the turf itself of barren land* ; because barren land had no stubble on it to be burnt ; but the custom of burning the
* Such poor land ought, to be oftener ploughed to enrich it, by making it still finer ; as the salts which are left after burning and wasting the best part of that poor, thin land, being spread upon the barren remainder, will so divide even that, by fermenting therewith, as to cause it to produce a few crops. But this cannot be so much divided, or pulverised by the plough ; unless the ploughings be oftener repeated than any body has ever yet repeated them ; and if ever any trial be made to attempt the equalling these ashes, it will be the best to do it by way of hoeing ; because a crop is raised by it, at the same time, to help defray the expense of such trial. How frequent hoeing brings moisture, see chap " Of Hoeing."
stubble on the rich plains about Rome continues to this time ; and the chief benefit of it is, that by this means they are prevented from being an encumbrance to the next ploughing, and their ashes, together with the dead bodies of serpents, lizards, &c. which the flame kills, become a sort of compost (though a very light one, and next to nothing in quantity), or manure to the soil, which is only warmed, not burnt.
As to the other, viz., the burning the earth itself of the barren fields, especially of those which have a shallow staple, it is a practice so pernicious, and carries away so much of the best part of the surface, that it is not only (as far as I can be informed) wholly left off in Italy, but in most other countries, where the owners of lands have any regard to posterity ; for it certainly destroys those thin, poor fields, and after a few crops, renders them scarce worthy the name of an inheritance.
Against burning such land Equivocus agrees with me, but says, that is not the land that Virgil means. To which I answer, that the meaning of Virgil in this point is best known by the followers of his husbandry ; and if his late commentator be in the right as to the southern parts of England being the chief seat of it, " where Latin words are in use at this time among the rustics," which I believe is true, then there can be no doubt of Virgil's meaning, or that I have perverted it ; for it is, and always hath been, the practice of those Virgilians to burn the surface of their poor, thin, hollow downs, and this is the only burning I have treated of. Nor did I hear than any other sort was burnt till of late, and believe burning the other sorts, which Equivocus mentions, is a new practice, and nowhere common.
Equivocus pretends, that Virgil doth not mean the burning of this light sort of soil, because he has just despatched it before by his sat erit, &c. ; but this pretence is without reason, it being the practice
to sow such sometimes without burning, and indeed oftener than with it ; and Virgil seems here to treat of burning the same sort of poor land, the ploughing of which he had just before treated of in the sat erit ; for his words are, sŠpe etiam, oftentimes also.
He pretends, that Virgil meant those kinds of soils that owe their " sterility to the too close contexture of parts, which will not suffer the superfluous water to pass off, or the roots of corn or trees to penetrate or find their way into, or pass through them, until they are subdued by fire."
But how burning should prevent the too great plenty of water from causing barrenness by standing too near the surface, I cannot imagine ; for barren clays, and that tenacious kind of land, are generally more tenacious below the staple than at the surface, which is, I suppose, the only part to be burnt. And the fire diminishing that, the next surface that remains after the burning will be lower than the former, and thereby retain more water in and upon the remaining staple.
There may be, and I am informed there is, a sort of deep land covered with coarse grass, sedge, and trumpery, which burning might make a quick despatch of, and by reason of its thickness enough may be left for many burnings. But as the upper part is always the richest, some of which the fire carries away, and the rest it converts into a manure, the staple must be diminished, and by many repetitions at last be much impoverished ; as every burning makes it thinner, though it may be a long time before such a soil becomes too thin by frequent burnings.
Equivocus's experiment of burnt earth put into a pot, and set abroad for a year, increasing its weight a sixth part, proves nothing, but that wet earth is heavier than dry earth. It is such another experiment as he gives elsewhere, of old pieces of bricks being thrown out by accident, and in some time increasing in their weight. How knows he their weight was augmented, if they were thrown out by accident without weighing whilst dry ?
Such precarious experiments are convincing to no philosopher but Equivocus.
The reasons Virgil offers for explaining the cause of this short improvement of burning this barren land, are such as, abstracted from the poetry, will appear to be utterly unbecoming the character of a philosopher, who pretends rerum cognoscere causas. His are such, that, though contrary to one another, and jarring among themselves, are all of them false, as,
Sive iode occulas vires, et pabula terrŠ
Whether from thence by Nature's secret laws,
Fresh nourishment the earth, and vigour draws.
The most material answer which Equivocus seems to make to this charge is, in page 17 of his Preface to August, by allowing the incoherence of the three last lines, viz.,
Seu durat magis, et venas astringit hiantes :
Ne tenues pluviŠ, rapidive potentia solis
Acrior, aut BoreŠ penetrabile frigus adurat.
which lines, he says, " this nobel poet has in all probability added by a licentia poetica, a license that most of those poets take, who are to weave their precepts with their poetry."
Here Equivocus hath indeed for once hit upon the only way of reconciling contradictions ; but I may presume to say, with god assuracne, that this license is never allowed to a philosopher ; and those four resons of Virgil, I spake of as abstracted from the poetry.
Equivocus (in page 23, of the same Preface) says, that the cement of stiff land (except too much burnt) is not all gone. I have said nothing in my Essay concerning the cement of burnt stiff land ; and therefore he equivocates in charging me with fallaciously affirming any thing of it ; but by this exception he, I think, doth not deny that the fire carries away the cement in proportion to the degree of burning.
And it is ridiculous to say, that that part of the earth which is not burnt, which I suppose is much the greatest part (only the turf or surface, and not much of the staple passing the fire), is either made opener or looser, braced or relaxed, by the burning of the turf or surface, which is but a small part of the staple, except by what the ashes of the burnt part effect by being spread thereon as a manure.
This is so far from being true, that the fire, instead of giving any sort of strength or nourishment to the earth that is burnt, carries both away, and brings nothing in room thereof. The great decrease of its weight* shows how much is missing.
- - - - - - - - Sive illis omne per ignem
Excoquitur vitium, atque exudat inutilis humor.
Or that the latent vice is purg'd by heat,
And the redundant humours waste in sweat.
There was no vice in it, to be boiled out, except its being stocked with grass, and wanting tillage. Had there been moisture in it, it would not have burnt, therefore that must have been dried out before the fire could operate.
I do not understand what authors means by the juices of the
earth : they seem to mean something besides water, when they add the epithets, sweet and sour.
Seu plures calor ille vias, et cŠca relaxat
Spiramenta, novas veniant qua succus in herbas :
Or, that the flames unusual tracks explore,
Relax the grit, and open ev'ry pore,
Whence genial moisture hastens through the earth,
Slides to the root, and cheers the tender birth.
* I am sorry to find that Mr. Evelyn should think, that an intense calcination of the earth increases the very weight of the mould ; since even stone burnt to lime loses a third part of its weight by the calcination ; and earth, being more sulphurous, loses more of its weight by being burnt, and visibly emits more smoke.
When earth and water have been altered by the operations they suffer in the vessels of plants, they are converted into juices : but no juice, properly so called, can be made by inorganical matter : therefore it seems a very improper word to express the moisture of the earth, in writing of husbandry, though very elegant in the poet.
It does indeed so relax and open the earth, that all that is fruitful breathes out of it ; the fire makes room enough for the juice to reach plants, but the mischief of it is, it leaves no juice at all for them.
Seu durat magis, et venas astringit hiantes :
Ne tenues pluviŠ, rapidive potentia solis
Acrior, aut BoreŠ penetrabile frigus adurat.
Or that the heat the hollow glebe constrains,
Braces each nerve, and knits the gaping veins ;
Lest piercing wet, or the swift power of day,
More fierce, or scorching Boreas urge his way.
Hey day ! This is both contrary to what he said before of relaxing and opening, and to the fact itself ; for fire having reduced the earth (that it leaves) to ashes, which are so hollow, that rain, heat and cold will easily enter them : so loose, that they will not become hard or dense, all their cement being gone.
It is common for the rain to wash them off from the declivity of a hill, and for the wind to blow them away from the plain, they are so light. And it is a demonstration of their sterility, that no manner of vegetable will grow, or live in them. So that the poet had much better have solved this phenomenon by a positive ingenious Je ne scai quoi ; or to have left off at this verse, viz.
Effoetos cinerem immundum jactare per agros.
- - - - - - - - Nor o'er th' exhausted sand
To spread vile ashes with a friendly hand.
From observing the effect of these impure ashes, he might have discovered the cause he so unfortunately aims at ; for it can be no other than, that the cinereal salts being spread upon the unburnt earth that is left, ferment therewith, and reducing it into an almost infinite number of parts, increase proportionably that internal superficies described in the chapter " Of Pasture of Plants" : but if we would compute the loss we sustain in waste and diminution of the staple of our thin land in burning it, we should find these ashes a very dear sort of compost ; for, though two or three good crops are received after this manure, whose salts divide more than common ploughing can do, yet the land is become so thin, that whereas it is impossible to injure it so much by crops obtained from fair tillage, but that in a few years it will recover its fertility ; yet the mischief done by this fire will never suffer it to equal the same sort of unburnt land, until a general conflagration.
Rursus in obliquum* verso perrumpit arato,
Mult¨m adeo, rastris glebas qui frangit inertes,
Vimineasque trahit crates, juvat arva :
Much too he helps the field, who ev'ry clod
With harrows breaks, and drags the hurdle's load.
Equivocus accuses me for disliking harrowing and hurdling generally, when I only blame the method used by our worst Virgilians of scratching the superficies of the land, instead of tilling the staple of it, which, if it were well tilled, there would be no clods to occasion the trouble, and (if the land be moist) the damage of harrowing. But, I believe, nobody ever denied, as he would insinuate, that harrowing or hurdling is necessary for covering of sown corn, or grass-seeds, except such corn as is sown under furrow.
A yet worse contrivance it was, to till land with a hurdle made of vine twigs, this is so puerile an invention, that the might have directed it to be drawn by a hobby-horse.
A late commentator interprets his harrowing and hurdling to be of use in sowing upon the back ; that is, upon once ploughing ; had this interpretation been
Rursus in obliquum* verso perrumpit arato,
Assails oblique, and thorough cuts again.
This is found not to attain the end of tillage near so well, as turning the furrows back again into the same places where they were before breaking up, and not to plough across the furrows until the third ploughing, and sometimes the fourth ; for it should not be cross-ploughed before the grass (or turf) is totally dead. This shows, that in those days Ceres did chose her favourites as many as are now chosen, not for their merits ; since the most slovenly husbandmen were honoured with her approbation.
In common fields the lands are generally so narrow, that they cannot be cross-ploughed ; neither is it ever necessary, where land is clean ploughed without (scamna) balks.
* Whilst the green side of the furrow, which is turned downwards by the first ploughing, is rotting, the root sides being upwards, sends up blades and stalks of grass from all the joints of roots exposed to the air ; for every joint has both roots and stalks included in it, the open air kills the roots ; but the stalks are killed for want of it ; these reversed roots being become new turf, (which is nourished by such roots as the thickness and largeness of the furrow protect from air,) will continue to grow and hold the earth together, until that be also turned downwards from the reach of the air. But in cross-ploughing, not half the furrows are turned, they are only heaped upon one another, and there the air keeps the grass alive for a long time, when that which is turned back the same way without crossing is all killed ; and being dead on both sides, will grow no more ; and the land is much sooner brought into tilth this way than by cross-ploughing, as experience shows.
Equivocus says, " That if Virgil should be wrong, it is certainly no great fault in a poet, since authors in prose are sometimes guilty of worse."
I do not say, it is a great fault in Virgil to be wrong either as a poet or a husbandman ; I only think I prove that he is wrong in the latter capacity ; and I have not so much veneration for the authority of the prince of poets, as to think that right which my reason and experience convince me is wrong ; and I cannot help thinking the late commentator much in the right, when blaming Mr. Dryden's version, he says, that if you take from Virgil his figures, you take the club from Hercules ; neither can I dissent from Seneca in my opinion of the Georgics, because he, living nearer to Virgil's time, could better judge of the truth of them than Equivocus. Take Seneca's words in his 86th Epistle, Englished by Mr. Cowley in the notes on his Davidies, as follows, viz. " Virgil did look not upon what might be spoken most truly, but what most gracefully ; and aimed more at delighting his readers, than at instructing husbandmen."
Hence, I think, that one who writes on the same subject, with a quite contrary view, (as I have done,) his husbandry may, in that respect, be termed without arrogance Anti-Virgilian.
Humida solstitia atque hyemes orate serenas
AgricolŠ : - - - -
The solstice moist, serene the winter sky,
For this, ye swains, entreat the powers on high.
Here Equivocus makes heavy clamurs against me, for advising to keep land moist by retaining the dews : he says, that some nights let fall no dews, but such nights are certainly very rare, and when they happen, there is the more need to preserve those dews that have fallen in the moist nights.
He says, that if I had the power of correcting the Liturgy, I would expunge the prayer for rain : but Equivocus, no doubt, means no other liturgy than that of Virgil to his god Augustus. Vid. Pref. to Sept.
Ignarosque viŠ - miseratus Agrestis
Ingredere, et votis jam nunc assuesce vocari.
Virgil might have advised them to remedy, in some measure, the inconveniences of dry weather, by frequently hoeing the soil to open it, for the reception of the dews which moisten it, and refrigerate the roots in the night, after the scorching heats of the day ; since he knew that
Noctes lentus non deficit humor.
Distilling moisture ne're deserts the night.
He might have advised an expedient to obtain in part the effects of Hiemes serenŠ, viz., to plant the corn in such a manner that it might be protected from the injuries of cold winds and water, as in the chap. " Of Wheat" is described.
Ipsa dies alios alilo dedit ordine Luna
Felices operum. Quintam fuge, &c.*
For various labours each revolving Moon
Gives happy days ; the fifth be sure to shun.
* Back-acre is first sown, and on the right day of the moon to begin upon ; then continuing to sow, until in its turn white-acre is sown, on the worst day of the moon. Now what reason could the poet give, why white-acre sown on the worst day should prosper the better for black-acre's being sown on the best day ? Answer, his word ; for certainly no other oracle but Virgil's word could have obtained a place for any thing so unphilosophical as this (about the days of the moon) to stand among the Transactions of that illustrious Society, whose motto is Nullius in Verba.
In my remark on this fancy of the moon, Equivocus accuses me of using " all the opprobrious language I am able to " bestow on Virgil (and his commentator);" but this is so false that I defy him to show any approbrious language in my Essay.
It is also as false for him to assert, that I say, there is not " one useful truth discovered in the Georgic." The trick of Equivocus is to quote falsely, as he doth very frequently, if not generally : he leaves out the word new, which quite changes the sense of my expression.
But although it should have been said, that Virgil had been the discoverer of no truth in Georgic, the assertion had not been amiss ; because he who writes of now truths but what he takes from books written a thousand years before him, cannot be a discoverer of it.
Equivocus excuses Virgil concerning the influence of the moon, as follows, " An error (if it may be called one) of which not only Virgil, (who is chiefly celebrated for his poetry), but also the ancient husbandmen, who wrote before and after him, were guilty ; and was in all probability inserted by Virgil in compliance with the currency of the times, rather than out of any serious belief of its influence on planting and sowing."
This is a wonderful vindication of the veracity and sincerity of Virgil, for which the Virgilians are much obliged to his champion Equivocus, who is such a zealot of truth, if you will believe him. But it is plain that Equivocus pretends to have more faith in this error, than he says Virgil had, and defends it with his usual arguments, which require much patience for a man of common sense to read. Also in his Essays some works are directed to be done in the increase, and others in the decrease of the moon.
Yet, in his Essay of June, page 99, he says, " But whether the increase or decrease of the moon affects, it seems at present to be an antiquated as well as useless speculation."
Is this (the above quotation from Vigil) what the late commentator in his Preface calls, " An Appeal to Truth and Nature throughout all Ages of Mankind ?" Must vain and idle superstition be thought true and natural, because it is old, though we know it to be false, and consequently against Nature ? I am sure it is far from showing, that the foundation of the whole Georgic is truth ; unless he left out this, and most of all the rest. For indeed I cannot find one new useful truth discovered in all the pages of the Georgic,* though he says, every page affords instances of such ; therefore I agree with that commentator, that it is endless to enumerate instances of that
kind ; because I hold, that nothing cannot be numbered.
Hic segetes, illic veniut felicius uvŠ,
The harvest here, there vines more happy found.
Vines will grow as well, and better in strong land, but light land is more easily hoed, &c. Vines will grow wherever corn will grow, if there be sufficient heat to ripen the grapes. And corn will grow wherever vines will.
Nonne vides, croceos ut Tmolus odores,
India mittit ebur, &c.
Do you not see how Tmolus his perfumes,
Her iv'ry India, soft SabŠan's gums,
How Pontus heady castor sends from far,
The Spaniard's steel, - - - -
* The natural habit of Truth is a plain dress ; yet not suddenly found, being the daughter of Time, therefore the moderns have the advantage of the ancients.
It was the six lines immediately preceding, that occasioned this my remark ; for cultusque habitusque locorum, is that fond maxim that forbids all new improvements.
This rule Virgil endeavours to enforce by the reasons, or rather examples, mentioned in the four following lines, viz., Nonne vides croceos, &c. These reasons Equivocus, though he exclaims against me in a scurrilous manner for disapproving, yet after he has pretended to excuse Virgil again by a licentia poetica, disapproves them more severely than I have done, but in other words, in page 30, of the Preface to August, viz., " And what fool could not have said as much as he has done ? For had Virgil been serious, and wrote in prose, he might have been deemed as mad as several people do this author (i. e. horse-hoer) ; but poets sure have a little more liberty to make use of flights in verse than those who write in prose have."
Now, I suppose, that every impartial reader will allow, that Equivocus himself has implicitly acquitted me of " either not having understood Virgil's meaning, or else wilfully misrepresented it." For if Virgil was neither sincere, nor serious, nor believed himself what he wrote, as his champion Equivocus urges in defence of Virgilian husbandry, how shall any body understand his meaning ? Or if nobody but Equivocus understands it, how can any other wilfully misrepresent it ? Or how should I, who am no critic, be certain of a poet's meaning, which the critics among themselves differ about ? Our critic Equivocus, against the opinion of all others, will have it, that where Virgil says, Hoc imitamur arando,
by putre solum, Virgil means, putridum solum : but it is certainly absurd to conclude, with Equivocus,that the design of tillage is to imitate putrid, cold, watery land. He has also made bold to correct Dr. Trap's translation of male pinguis ArenŠ ; changing barren sands to mouldered clods.
Virgil says, putres-sulci is the soil whereon to sow medica [lucerne], and it is well known, that even in hot countries that grass will not succeed on a watery staple : therefore his putre solum is not putridum solum, but ratehr mole, or mite solum, a loose, mellow soil.
And Col. Lib. ii. cap. 2 explains what putre solum is, (speaking of the African land, he says,) Atque ejusmodi terram pinguibus aremis putrem veluti cinerem solutam, & c.
For my part, I have taken Virgil's meaning in the true sense, to the best of my own judgment. And do not think it worth while to enter into any dispute about it, unless it were of greater moment than I apprehend it to be : and so leave Equivocus to expound it by a licentia poetica, the latitude of which I am not poet enough to determine the extent of.
But if Equivocus thinks the licentia poetica to be so very extensive, he should have wrote in verse to entitle himself to the benefit of the poets, as felons are entitled to the benefit of the clergy ; but then he must have taken care to write like a poet, as the felon must read like a clergyman.
In page 32 of the same Preface, he demands the reason why I find fault with one of the best authors of antiquity, whose husbandry has stood the test of so many ages ? To which he gives himself an answer as ridiculous as false. And then he goes on to say of me as follows, viz., " He might indeed, have attacked a Bradley, or even a Woodward (as he has done) with very good success, but a Virgil is certainly an over-match for him ; and it is much to be wondered at, that Virgil's translator, who has so just a value for him, should let
this great adept pass so long unobserved."
It is well known, that Virgil was bred a farrier, which we call a horse-doctor, which trade has generally in most countries annexed to it, that of a blacksmith : it doth not indeed appear, that he had both those trades ; but however, his farrier's trade was sufficient to take up his time in learning and practising it, until he went to Rome, and then he had something else to do than to plough ; therefore, the only time he was likely to have for ploughing, must be before he was arrived at years proper for learning his trade, and most of that time, too, seems to have been spent in keeping goats or sheep, as many of the boys of our lower class of people do. However such an age, wherein even plough-boys that do nothing else but plough, are very incapable of making useful observation upon arable industry ; so that Virgil could have little or no experience in it of his own, and must have taken what he wrote from books written by those authors who lived when agriculture was in its most imperfect state, as Hesiod, and the other Greeks did.
Virgil was born a poet, and undoubtedly the best [of the Latins] that ever wrote ; but neither he, nor any other, I believe, was ever born a farmer : talents in husbandry must be acquired by long experience and diligent observations thereon ; and he that will make any improvements therein, must sometimes deviate from the old beaten road of Patrios cultusque habitusque locorum, by way of trial.
By asserting, that Virgil's husbandry has stood the test of so many ages (1700 years) Equivocus contradicts the commentator he praises, who with great truth affirms, There is more of Virgil's husbandry put in practice in England at this instant, than in Italy itself : which is as much as to say, it has not stood the test even in Virgil's own country, but is there disused ; and, I believe, if that matter were fully inquired into, it would appear, that it never was much practised or approved of about Rome, or any other part of Italy.
From the Agrarian laws also, the same may be inferred ; for that small portion of land allotted to each family, in this Virgilian culture, would not have been sufficient to keep those families from starving.
And in my traveling through that country (I went the whole length of it by land) traversing the kingdom of Naples almost all over, and made a considerable stay in many places thereof ; and in about two years' time, I never could find or be informed of paring or burning, or of raftering, or of sowing corn without many ploughings there, and yet their land is not strong.
And, methinks, it looks very odd, that Equivocus, after he has affirmed that the husbandry of England has been for these 1700 years Virgilian, should, in page 2 of his Advertisement to his Vol. II, talk of " rousing our countrymen, if possible, out of that fatal lethargy into which they have long fallen." What test is likely to have been made in such a country, if Equivocus speaks truth ? Or if the Virgilian husbandry they had so long practised in their lethargy were right, why does Equivocus endeavour so obstreperously to rouse them out of it ? But he seems to condemn the English Virgilian husbandry yet more in page 4 of his preface to July, when he affirms, that " the greatest part of the nation have been all along bewildered in dark uncertain paths, not having come into the true notions in practice and theory till of late."
Note. Raftering is ploughing one furrow, and leaving another unploughed, which is at most but half a ploughing.
Thus burning the surface, and ploughing light land late, and but once or twice, and sometimes half ploughing it, make that scheme of bad husbandry that Virgil's translator justly imputes to him, and whom he would not wrong, having such a value for him ; and herein he is warranted by the general practise of the southern parts of England, where the worst sort of Virgilian husbandry reigns, being
in most other places exploded, except by those who adhere more to blind custom than to reason ; and must of necessity by exploded, in those southern parts also, were it not for their vast tracts of downs, which maintain such extraordinary flocks of sheep that suffice to help them, as I am informed, to dung their once ploughed land twice over, which dung, with a great quantity of seed harrowed in among the high sharlock and other weeds, produces them crops so uncertain, that it is a rule amongst the farmers there, that the profit of sheep must pay their rent ; and notwithstanding that, I hear of more farmers that break in that country then elsewhere. And one thing I am sure they will readily grant me, viz., that were all their downs taken away, they must either change their Virgilian husbandry on the arable land, or desert that Virgilian country ; for without sheep, their land, with their sort of single tillage, would not produce corn either to pay rent or to maintain then in food.
This Virgilian husbandry being shown, its opposite is not to pulverise land by fire, nor put trust in dung and harrows to supply the place of the plough ; but on the contrary, to give to every sort of land proper and sufficient tillage (the poorest requiring most) and to use only what dung we have, or can reasonably get in the properest manner, is that husbandry which I call Anti-Virgilian ; of which my horse-hoeing scheme is a species.
When Equivocus pretends to prove by experience that Virgil's bad husbandry is best, he has recourse only to the experience of Virgilians, which proves no more than that Virgil's husbandry is Virgilian ; and not that it is better than any one species of the Anti-Virgilian ; but in truth every proper trial proves it to be worse.
Poetry, like music, is a very pleasant and innocent amusement of life ; but we ought not to suffer our diversion to captivate our
reason ; and if we seriously consider the scope and design of the Ăneid and Georgic, what opinion can we have of Virgil's regard for truth ? Or if it be true as RuŠus relates, that Virgil's advice and
persuasions entailed perpetual slavery upon the bravest people in the world, we cannot but know what a patriot he was, and how his principles ought to be esteemed by all the lovers of liberty. And I do not think it any more injurious to Virgil's memory to say, that he was the best poet, and the worst field husband-man, than it is to Tully's to say that he was the best orator and the worst poet.
Should any author in prose have given a caution to the Italian farmers against planting their land with perfumes, ivory, frankincense, castor, or steel, would he not be thought very impertinent ?
A late commentator upon Virgil's second Georgic says*, " He is certain the husbandry of England in general is Virgilian, which is shown by paring and burning the surface ; by raftering and cross-ploughing ; and that in those part of England where the Romans principality inhabited, all along the southern coast, Latin words remain to this hour among shepherds and ploughmen in their rustic affairs ; and what will seem more strange at first sight to affirm, though in fact it be really true, there is more of Virgil's husbandry put in practice in England at this instant, than in Italy itself."
** When Virgil says,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Glebaque versis