Donald Grant Mitchell.

Wet days at Edgewood with old farmers, old gardeners and old pastorals online

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Wet Days at Edgewood

Bt don? g. mitohell

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Old Farmbbs, Old Gardeners, and
Old Pastorals



New York



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OaPTRI&HT, /Se4, /SSS, i892

Bt Donald 6. Mitchbll


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(SDrigtnai IDeMcation








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A CONSIDERABLE portion of this book was pub-
lished more than a score of years ago in the
pages of the Atlantic Monthly, The articles thus con-
tributed — under the name of Wet- Weather- Work — were
afterward revised, large additions made to them, and
published at the instance of my friend, the late Mr.
Charles Scribner — to whom I dedicated the volume,
under its present title.

That dedication I repeat upon this edition of twenty
years later — that it may stand there so long as this
book is issued, in token of my high regard for his
memory, and of my warm recollections of his kindly
nature, and of his many and unabating offices of

Donald G. Mitchell.


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Without and Within, .....•!

HssiOD AND Homer, lo

Xenophon, ...» 15

Theocritus and Lesser Poets, . , . . 21

Cato, 26

Varro, 30

Columella, ...•....• 33

A Roman Dream, 39


Virgil, 44

An Episode, 54

TiBULLUS and Horace, 58

Pliny's Country- Places, 60

Palladius, 67

Professor Daubeny, 68

The Dark Age, . • .69

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Geoponica Geoponicorum, 71

Crescenzi, . . . 77

A Florentine Farm, 81


A Picture of Rain, .85

Southern France and Troubadours, ... 87

Among the Italians, 91

Conrad Heresbach, loi

La Maison Rustique, no

French Ruralisms, 115

A Minnesinger, 124


Piers Plowman, 126

The Farmer of Chaucer's Time, . . . .130

Sir Anthony Fitz-Herbert, 134

Thomas Tusser, 138

Sir Hugh Platt, . . . . : . .142
Gervase Markham, 146


English Weather, 155

Time of James the First, 160

Samuel Hartlib, 165

Period of the Commonwealth and Restoration, . 169

Old English Homes 177

A Brace of Pastorals, i8a

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A British Tavern, 185

Early English Gardeners, . . . . .189

Jethro Tull, 195

Hanbury and Lancelot Brown, .... 202
William Shenstone, 205


John Abercrombie, 212

A Philosopher and Two Poets, .... 216

Lord Kames 221

Claridge, Mills, and Miller, . . . .227

Thomas Whately, 230

Horace Walpole, 235

Edmund Burke, 239

Goldsmith, 242


Arthur Young, 248

Ellis and Bakewell, 254

William Cowper, 259

Gilbert White, 262

Trusler and Farm-Profits 264

Sinclair and Others, 266

Old Age of Farmers, 271

Burns and Bloomfield, 276

Country Story-Tellers, 280

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British Progress in AGRicin^TURS, • • . 284
Opening of the Century, •••••. 2S9
Sir Humphry Dav^ .••••• 291


William Cobbett, ....... 297

Grahame and Crabbe, •••••• 305

Charles Lamb, • • 307

The Ettrick Shepherd, 310

Loudon, 311

A Bevy op Poets, 315

Uenvoi, • • • 323

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Y* OF THK ' ^



Without and Within.

IT is raining; and being in-doors, I look out from mj
library-window, across a quiet country-road, so near
Uiat I could toss my pen into the middle of it

A thatched stile is opposite, flanked by a straggling
hedge of Osage-orange ; and from the stile the ground
falls away in green and gradual slope to a great plateau
of measured and fenced fields, checkered, a month since,
with bluish lines of Swedes, with the ragged purple of
mangels, and the feathery emerald-green of carrots.
There are umber-colored patches of fresh-turned fur-
rows ; here and there the mossy, luxurious verdure of
new-springing rye ; gray stubble ; the ragged brown of
discolored, frostbitten rag-weed; next, a line of tree-
tops, thickening as they drop to the near bed of a river,
and beyond the river-basin showing again, with tufts of
hemlock among naked oaks and maples; then roofs,
cupolas, ambitious lookouts of suburban houses, spires.

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belfries, turrets : all these commingling in a long lin€
of white, brown, and gray, which in sunny weather is
backed by purple hills, and flanked one way by a
shining streak of water, and the other by a stretch of
low, wooded mountains that turn from purple to blue,
and so blend with the northern sky.

Is the picture clear ? A road ; a farm-flat of party*
colored checkers ; a near wood, that conceals the sunk-
en meadow of a river; a farther wood, that skirts a
town, — that seems to overgrow the town, so that only
a confused line of roo&, belfries, spires, towers, rise
above the wood; and these tallest spires and turrets
lying in relief against a purple hill-side, that is as far
beyond the town as the town is beyond my window;
and the piuple hill-side trending southward to a lake-
like gleam of water, where a light-house shines upon a
point ; and northward, as I said, these same purple hills
bearing away to paler purple, and then to blue, and
then to haze.

Thus much is seen, when I look directly eastward ;
but by an oblique glance southward (always from my
library-window) the checkered farm-land is repeated in
long perspective : here and there is a farmhouse with
its clustered out-buildings ; here and there a blotch of
wood, or of orcharding; here and there a bright sheen
:>f winter-grain ; and the level ends only where a slight
fringe of tree-tops, and the iron cordon of a railway

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that leaps over a marshy sreek upon trestle-worki
separate it from Long Island Sound.

To the north, under such oblique glance as can be
caught, the fann-lands in smaller enclosures stretch
half a mile to the skirts of a quiet village. A few tall
chimneys smoke there lazily, and below them you see as
many quick and repeated pu& of white steam. Two
white spires and a tower are in bold relief against the
precipitous basaltic cliff, at whose foot the village seems
to nestle. Yet the mountain is not wholly precipitous ;
for the colmnnar masses have been fretted away by a
thousand frosts, making a sloping debris below, and
leaving above the iron-yellow scars of fresh cleavage,
the older blotches of gray, and the still older stain of
lichens. Nor is the summit bald, but tufted with dwarf
cedars and oaks, which, as they file away on either
flank, mingle with a heavier growth of hickories and
chestnuts. A few stunted kalmias and hemlock-spruces
have found foothold in the clefts upon the face of the
rock, showing a tawny green, that blends prettily with
the scars, lichens, and weather-stains of the cliff; all
which show under a sunset light richly and changefuUy
as the breast of a dove.

But just now there is no glow of sunset; raining
still. Indeed, I do not know why I should have de-
scribed at such length a mere landscape, (than which ]
know few fairer,) unless because of a rainy day it is

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always in my eye, and that now, having invited a few
outsiders to such entertainment as may belong to my
wet farm-^ys, I should present to them at once my
oldest acquaintance, — the view from my library-win-

But as yet it is only coarsely outlined ; I warn the
reader that I may return to the outade picture over
and over again ; I weary no more of it than I weary
of the reading of a fidr poem ; no written rhythm can
be more beguiling than the interchange of colors —
wood and grain and river — all touched and toned by
the wind, as a pleasant voice intones the shadows and the
lights of a printed IdyL And i^ as to-day, the cloud-
bank comes down so as to hide fit)m time to time the
remoter objects, it is but a caesural pause, and anon the
curtain lifts — the woods, the spires, the hills flow in,
and the poem is complete.

In that comer of my library which immediately
flanks the east window is bestowed a motley array of
farm-books : there are fiit ones in yellow vellum ; there
are ponderous folios with stately dedications to some
great man we never heard of ; there are thin tractates
in ambitious type, which pronused, fifty years and more
ago, to overset all the established methods of &nning ;
there is Jethro Tull, in his irate way thrashing all down
his columns the effete Yirgilian husbandry ; there is the
sententious talk of Cato, the latinity of Columella, and

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some little musty duodecimo, hunted down upon the
quays of Paris, with such title as ^* Comes Busticus "
there is the first thin quarto of Judge Buel's " Culti
vator " — since expanded into the well-ordered state-
liness of the " Country Gentleman ^ ; there are black-
letter volumes of Barnaby Googe, and books compiled
by the distinguished ^' Captaine Garvase Markhame "
and there is a Xenophon flanked by a Hesiod, and the
heavy Greek squadron of the " Geoponics."

I delight immensely in taking an occasional wet-
day talk with these old worthies. They were none of
them chemists. I doubt if one of them could have
made soil analyses which would have been worth any
more, practically, than those of many of our agricultu-
ral professors. Such powers of investigation as they
had, they were not in the habit of wasting, and the
results of their investigation were for the most part
compactly managed. They put together their several
budgets of common-sense notions about the practical
art of husbandry, with good old-fashioned sturdiness and
pointedness. And, after all — theorize as we will and
dream as we will about new systems and scientific aids
— there lies a mass of sagacious observation in the pages
of the old teachers which can never be outlived, and
which will contribute nearly as much to practical success
in fanning as the nice appliances of modem collegiate
agriculture. Fortunately, however, it is not necessarj



to go to the pages of old books for the traces and aims
of that sagacity which has always underlaid the best
practice. Its precepts have become traditional.

And yet I delight in finding black-letter evidence
of the age of the traditions and of the purity with which
they have been kept An important member of the
County Society pays me a morning visit, and in the
course of a field - stroll lays down authoritatively the
opinion that " there 's no kind o' use in ploughing for
turnips in the spring, unless you keep the weeds dowu
all through the season.*' I yield implicit and modest
assent ; and on my next wet day find Ischomachus re-
marking to Socrates,* — " This also, I think, it must be
easy for you to understand, that, if ground is to lie fal-
low to good purpose, it ought to be free from weeds,
and warmed as much as possible by the sun." And yet
my distinguished friend of the County Society is not a
student of Xenophon. If I read out of the big book
the same observation to my foreman (who is more
piquant than garrulous), he says, — "Xenophon, eh!
well, well — there 's sense in it."

Again, the distinguished county member on some
Sunday, between services, puts his finger in my button-
hole, as we loiter under the lee side of the porch, and
says, — "I tell you^ Squire, there a'n't no sort o' use in
flinging about your hay, as most folks does. If it 's first
• (Economicus; Ciiap. XVI. § 13

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year after seedin', and there's a good deal o* clover in
it, I lay it up in little cocks as soon as it 's wil^:ed ; next
morning I make 'em bigger, and after it 's sweat a day
or so, I open it to dry off the steam a bit, and get it
into the mow;" — all which is most excellent advice,
and worthy of a newspaper. But, on my next rainy day,
I take up Heresbach,* and find Cono laying down the
law for Rigo in this wise : —

" The grasse being cut, you are to consider of what
nature the grasse is, whether very coarse and ftiU of
strong weedes, thicke leaves and great store of pfeony-
grasse, or else exceeding fine and voyd of an}^hing
which asketh much withering ; If it be of the first kind,
then after the mowing you shall first ted it, then raise
it into little grasse Cockes as bigge as small molehills,
after turne them, and make them up again, then spread
them ; and after full drying put them into wind rowes,
so into greater Cockes, then break those open, and after
they have received the strength of the Sunne, then put
three or four Cockes into one, and lastly leade them into
the Barns."

If I read this to my foreman, he says, " There 's sense
hi tiiat"

And when I render to him out of the epigram-
matic talk of Cato, the maxim that " a man should farm

* " The whole Arte of JJusbandrt/j first Avritten by Conrade Ilcr*^,*-
batch, *nd translated by Barnaby Googe, Esquire ; " Book 1.

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no more land than he can &nn well/' and that other,
^that a fiinner should be a seller rather than a buyer,"
Mr. McManus (the foreman) brings his brown 5«t
down with an authoritative rap upon the table that ies
between us, and says, — '* That 's sense ! "

In short, the shrewd sagacity, the keen worldly pru-
dence, which I observe to lie at the root of all the
&rming thrift around me, I detect in a hundred
bristling paragraphs of the Latin masters whose pages
are before me.

**Sell your old cattle and your good-for-nothing
sheep," * says Cato ; and, true to the preachment, some
thrifty man of an adjoining town tries to pass upon me a
toothless cow or a spavined horse. " Establish your farm
near to market, or adjoining good roads," t says the Bo-
man, and thereupon the New-Englander pounces down
in his two-story white house upon the very edge of the
highway. And not alone in these lesser matters, but
in all that relates to husbandry, I take a curious interest
in following up the traces of cousinship between the
old and the new votaries of the craft ; and believing
that I may find for a few wet days of talk, a little parish
of country livers who have a kindred interest, I propose
in this book to review the suggestions and drift of tlm

* *' Vendat boves vetolos • • . • oves rejiculas [and the oM heathet
•ooundrel oontinues] servum senem, servum morbosum."
t *' Oppidum validum prop^ siet .... aut via bona."

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various agricultural writers, beginning with the 6reek%
and coming down to a period within the memory of
those who are living. I shall also take the liberty of
relieving the talk with mention of those pastoral
writers who have thrown some light upon the rural
life of their days, or who by a truthftdness and sim-
plicity of touch have made their volumes welcome ones
upon the shelves of every country library.

The books practical and poetical which relate to
flower and field, stand wedded on my shelves and
wedded in my thought In the text of Xenophon I
see the ridges piling along the Elian fields, and in the
music of Theocritus I hear a lark that hangs hover-
ing over the straight-ldd furrows. An elegy of Tibul-
lus x)eoples with lovers a farmstead that Columella de-
scribes. The sparrows of Guarini twitter up and down
along the steps of Crescenzi's terraced gardens. Hugh
Piatt dibbles a wheat-lot, and Spenser spangles it
with dew. Tull drives his horse-hoe a-field where
Thomson wakes a chorus of voices, and fiings the dap-
pling shadows of clouds.

Why divorce these twin-workers towards the profits
and the entertainment of a rural life ? Nature has sol-
emnized the marriage of the beautiful with the practical
by touching some day, sooner or later, every lifting
harvest with a bridal sheen of blossoms; no clover-
crop is peifect without its bloom, and no pasture hill-

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side altogether what Providence intended it should be,
until the May sun has come and stamped it over with
its fiery brand of dandelions.

Hemd and Somer.

TTESIOD is currently reckoned one of the oldest
-■ - ^ farm -writers; but there is not enough in his
homely poem (" Works and Days ") out of which to
conjure a farm-system. He gives good advice, indeed,
about the weather, about ploughing when the ground is
not too wet, about the proper timber to put to a plough-
beam, about building a house, and taking a bride. He
also commends the felling of wood in autumn, — a
suggestion in which most lumbermen will concur with
him, although it is questionable if soimder timber is
not secured by cutting before the falling of the leaves.

** When the tall forest sheds her foliage round,
And with autumnal verdure strews the ground,
The bole is incorrupt, the timber good, —
Then whet the sounding ax to fell the wood." •

The old Greek expresses a little doubt of young folk

" Let a good ploughman ycared to forty, drive :
And see the careful husbandman be fed
With plenteous morsels, and of wholesome bread:

* Cooke's Emod; Book 11.

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The slaye who numbers fewer dajs, you 'II find
Careless of work and of a rambling mind.**

He is not true to modern notions of the creature
comforts in advising (Book 11. !ine 244) that the oxen
be stinted of their fodder in winter, and still less in his
suggestion (line 285) that three parts of water should
be added to the Biblian wine.

Mr. Gladstone notes the fact that Homer talks only
in a grandiose way of rural life and employments, as if
there were no small landholders in his day ; but Hesiod,
who must have lived within a century of Homer, with
his modest homeliness, does not confirm this view. He
tells us a farmer should keep two ploughs, and be cau-
tious how he lends either of them. His household stip-
ulations, too, are most moderate, whether on the score
of the bride, the maid, or the " forty-year-old '* plough-
man ; and for guardianship of the premises the pro-
prietor is recommended to keep " a sharp-toothed cur."

This reminds us how Ulysses, on his return from
voyaging, found seated round his good bailiff Eumaeus
four savage watch -dogs, who straightway (and here
Homer must have nodded) attack their old master,
and are driven off only by a good pelting of stones.

This Emnaeus may be regarded as the Homeric
representative farmer, as well as bailiff and swine-
herd, — the great original of Gurth, who might have
prepared a supper for Cedric the Saxon very much a?

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Eumaeus extemporized one upon his Greek farm for
Ulysses. Pope shall tell of this bit of cookery in rhyme
that has a ring of the Rappahannock : —

** His Test saocinct then girding round hiB waist.
Forth rushed the swain with hospitable haste,
Straight to the lodgments of his herd he run,
Where the &t porkers slept beneath the sun ;
Of two his cutlass launched the spouting blood;
These quartered, singed, and fixed on forks of wood,
All hasty on the hissing coals he threw;
And, smoking, back the tasteful viands drew,
Broachers, and all."

This is roast pig : nothing more elegant or digestible.
For the credit of Greek farmers, I am sorry that
EimiaBus had nothing better to offer his landlord, —
the most abominable dish, Charles L^nb and his
pleasant fable to the contrary notwithstanding, that
was ever set before a Christian.

But there is pleasanter and more odorous scent of

the Homeric coimtry in the poef s flowing description

of the garden of Alcinous ; and thither, on this wet

day, I conduct my reader, under leave of the King

of the Phaeacians : —

"' Four acres was the allotted space of ground.
Fenced with a green enclosure aU around.
Tan thriying trees confined the fruitfiil mould;
The reddening apple ripens here to gold.
Here the blue fig with luscious juice overflows,
With deeper red the full pomegranate glows;

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The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,
And verdant olives flourish round the year.
The balmy spirit of the western gale
Eternal breathes on froits untaoght to fiul:
Each dropping pear a following pear supplies;
On apples apples, figs on figs arise:
The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,
The buda to harden and the fruits to grow.

'* Here ordered vines in equal ranks appear,
With all th' united labors of the year;
Some to unload the fertile branches run,
Some dry the blackening clustera in the sun ;
Others to tread the liquid harvest join.
The groaning presses foam with floods of wine.
Here are the vines in early flowers descried,
Here grapes discolored on the sunny side,
And there in autumn's richest purple dyed.**

Is this not a pretty garden-scene for a blind poet to
lay down ? Horace Walpole, indeed, in an ill-natured
way, tells us,* that, ^ divested of harmonious Greek and
bewitching poetry," it was but a small orchard and vine-
yard, with some beds of herbs and two fountains that

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Online LibraryDonald Grant MitchellWet days at Edgewood with old farmers, old gardeners and old pastorals → online text (page 1 of 19)