Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

the latter were more remote from the proprietary mansion, and were rented to the ceorls or farmers. In order to show the low state of agriculture at that time, we may state that the common price of an acre of fertile soil was about four English shillings, and in the year 1043, a quarter of wheat sold at about fifteen shillings, which was equal to seven or eight pounds sterling at the present time. A new era in agriculture was, however, introduced by the invasion of the Normans in 1066, and by the introduction of husbandmen from France, Flanders, and Normandy, who purchased and cultivated farms.

Previously to the fifteenth century, agriculture had received but little aid from scientific research, but in the latter part of that period it had assumed the form of a compact and permanent science. At that time it derived important assistance from Fitzherbert, who wrote two treatises upon the subject. One was entitled the "Book of Husbandry," and appeared in 1534. The other was called the "Book of Surveying and Improvements," and was published in 1539. Fitzherbert seems to have studied the character of soils, and the laws of vegetation, with considerable industry, and his works abound with much elementary knowledge, but they are of course destitute of that philosophical accuracy which is founded upon the inductive method of Bacon, afterwards established.

During the year 1600, France made extraordinary efforts to bring the art of husbandry into vogue, and for that object several important works were published; but the practice of agriculture was more regarded by that nation, as well as the Flemings, than the mere publication of books, so that a knowledge of their principles could only be obtained by observation. In England, during the civil wars, husbandry received some temporary checks, but in the time of Hartlib it had grown to great perfection. The country gentlemen, who had been impoverished by these wars, became industrious, but they soon sank into idleness, and the whole business of agriculture gradually fell into the hands of the common farmers. Ireland was induced, by the writings of Blyth, to give up a wretched mode of agricultural practice which had long prevailed, and to adopt a more improved system, and as evidence of the fact, the transactions of the Dublin society for encouraging husbandry are cited as authority upon this subject. After the peace of Aix la Chapelle, the nations of Europe applied themselves with uncommon vigour to the science of agriculture, and societies were regularly organized for the promotion of this object, under the patronage of their several governments. In the year 1756, increased attention was given to the subject in France, and prize questions were annually proposed by the rural academies, particularly those of Lyons and Bordeaux. Russia has also made

vigorous exertions to introduce into that country the most improved method of agriculture, through the patronage of the state, and it has been taught publicly in the Swedish, Danish, and German Universities. Italy, Tuscany, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Japan, and China, have also bestowed marked attention upon the subject.

Notwithstanding the rapid advances which have been made in modern times in agricultural science, there is no doubt that Great Britain is far before the rest of the world in its practical application. Societies, with powerful influence, such as the Bath Society, the Royal Society, and the Society of Arts, have given their agency in aid of its progress. This forwardness on the part of Great Britain is doubtless owing somewhat to the genius of the people, but more, perhaps, to the general spirit of improvement which pervades that empire, and to the denseness of the population which makes it the great alternative to starvation. A modern writer upon "the progress and present state of agriculture," enters into an argument to show the advance of husbandry in England and Wales, by a computation of the increase of population in those countries, and the consequent increase of agricultural products necessary for their support, He traces the augmentation of agricultural industry to various causes. In the first place, vast tracts of land have for many years been used as wastes, commons, and common fields, the former of which have been altogether uncultivated. These fields were sometimes ploughed, but the property in them was so intermixed and divided that this was done to very little effect. It is estimated that from the year 1760 to 1832, about six millions of acres of land have been enclosed by act of parliament, and that in this mode the produce of the soil has been increased from eight to ten fold. Another cause of agricultural improvement in these countries, is the fact of the substitution of green crops for fallow, and the introduction of fallow between successive corn crops, as well as the use of bone manure, and the better rotation of crops. This improvement throughout Great Britain has been extended to stock, as well as to arable husbandry, and this is demonstrated by the fact, that the average weight of cattle and sheep throughout the kingdom has been doubled since the year 1750. The high state of agriculture in England is a prominent feature which strikes the attention of the traveller to that country. Almost every section of earth seems to be devoted to this object, and the natural humidity of the climate keeps the vegetation at all times verdant. In fact, the soil is generally too moist and low for cultivation without the use of furrowing and draining. The country is divided into comparatively small fields, (unlike the mighty solitudes which the American wilder

ness stretches out before the eye,) broken only by the stately mansions and grounds of the nobility and gentry, and surrounded

"By hedge-row elms on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate,
Where the great sun begins his state
Robed in flames and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight,
While the ploughman near at hand
Whistles o'er the furrowed land,
And the milkmaid singeth blithe,
And the mower whets his scythe,
And every shepherd tells his tale,
Under the hawthorn in the dale."

It cannot be denied that other countries are also far behind the English in the quality of the stock, the blood and strength of their horses and cattle, and even dogs, owing, doubtless, to the extraordinary pains taken in breeding. The horses which one may daily see in the Regent's Park, would excite the emulation of our most accomplished gentlemen of the turf, and the display of fat sheep at Smithfield would almost startle the good people of Brighton.

The United States, in the immense magnitude and fertility of their domain, embracing a great variety of soil and climate, and affording growth to the products of the colder as well as tropical regions, afford a wide and rich field for agricultural science. The freedom of our government, the cheapness of the soil, the abolition of the laws of primogeniture and the statutes of distribution, which one of our most distinguished jurists' has declared are the only just agrarian laws, furnish ample means and motives to agricultural labour. We have no unjust impoposition of taxes, like those which limit a portion of the hardworking labourers of Ireland to three potatoes a day. Here, a man with common industry, may keep himself a freeman upon his own soil, and far from want, with nothing above him but "God and the laws."

The Indians, before the emigration of our forefathers, practised agriculture, but it was limited with them to small corn fields which they cultivated in their migratory expeditions through the wilderness. It seems to be essential to the progress of agricultural industry, that the rights of meum and tuum should be clearly defined, and that the husbandman should possess an absolute or qualified property in the soil. To this fact may be attributed the want of success which attended the agricultural labours of our ancestors. That they acquired a subsistence from the earth there can be no doubt, but it could hardly

Mr. Justice Story.

be expected, that a colony flying from persecution and establishing itself in dense forests could make any very marked advances in this art. The colonists had not the implements of husbandry, or the leisure necessary for its cultivation. Their time was occupied in laying the foundations of a new social system, and in repelling the attacks of the savages. The most approved modes of practice had not then been completely developed, and the utensils of the art had not been invented in those commodious forms which have so much facilitated agricultural labour in our own day. Obstacles to the success of the art were subsequently presented in the outbreaking of the American revolution. The disasters springing from that event, which were felt throughout every section of the country, called upon the people to exercise the arts of war, rather than those of peace, and they were therefore compelled to strap their muskets upon their backs while they were guiding the plough. When, however, the storm of the revolution blew over, the energies of the people quietly sank down into the right channels, and since that period the business of husbandry has been gradually advancing in this country.

The aid of science to the arts, which may be deemed a prominent characteristic of the present age, is no where more strongly exhibited than in the progress of husbandry. Chemistry, botany, geology, even natural philosophy, have all contributed to this work. The composition of the different species of soil, and their capacity for producing the different kinds of vegetation, may be easily ascertained by chemical analysis. To understand rightly the proper food of plants, the varieties of vegetables necessary to be raised for the amelioration of the soil, and also the different kinds of manures and composts adapted to the several kinds of land, requires a minute philosophical investigation. The soil is frequently barren in a great degree, and there is no mode of ascertaining the causes but by chemical tests. If, for example, the salts of iron are discovered in the soil, they may be decomposed by lime; or if there is an excess of siliceous sand, this may be remedied by the application of calcareous matter; if of vegetable matter, by liming and burning; or if there is a deficiency in this respect, it may be supplied by manure. In fact, the whole structure of organic matter is dependent upon physical laws, and it is only by ascertaining its chemical constitution that we can act upon it agriculturally with full success.

The advantages of agricultural chemistry are, moreover, demonstrated in the right practice of the rotation of crops. The benefit of this practice consists in keeping the soil always in strength, and at the same time in drawing from it all the profit which is practicable. It is well known that different plants

produce different effects upon the soil, some tending to rob it of its strength, and others, to act gently upon it; some to loosen, and others to bind. Hence it is necessary to good husbandry, that a careful examination should be made into the chemical combination of the different plants, and this is the only mode in which crops can be properly alternated. A merely theoretic agriculturist, doubtless, would be unable to cultivate the soil with full success, but the farmer, it is obvious, would practise husbandry with far greater advantage if he could combine a knowledge of the principles of the science with an experimental practice of the art. The design, and the only design of agricultural chemistry, is to discover improved modes of cultivation. This may be done most effectually, by experimenting upon those elements which constitute the soil, and upon those causes which produce the growth of vegetation. The soil, as well as the vegetation which it produces, contains a number of chemical constituents, which have been accurately analysed, and it is through the agency of the unerring principles of science, that a knowledge of the causes of its barrenness can be obtained, and also the proper means of its fertilization.

On this foundation has been erected the work of Sir Humphrey Davy, whose title we have prefixed to this article. The course of lectures on Agricultural Chemistry was delivered during ten successive years from 1802, before the British Board of Agriculture. The work was published at their request, and dedicated to that body. We have before us the London edition, issued in 1814, but the volume has been reprinted in this country, and is already embodied into the agricultural literature of our republic. It embraces eight lectures, with an appendix, containing "an account of the results of experiments on the produce and nutritive qualities of different grasses, and other plants used as the food of animals, instituted by John, Duke of Bedford." These lectures embrace all that may be supposed connected with the application of chemistry to agriculture. The most prominent subjects treated of in the work are, "the general powers of matter which influence vegetables;" the constitution of soils; the nature of the atmosphere, and its influence upon vegetables; animal, vegetable, and mineral manures; and the chemical effect of the different modes of improving lands. These lectures are written in a clear and vigorous style, and we possess an ample voucher for the accuracy of the facts and principles they embody, in the reputation of their author as the first chemist of his age. Our limits forbid us from entering into an exhibition of the valuable facts contained in this volume, but we commend it to all the reading classes of the community, as it embraces knowledge of great importance to the man of science, the theoretical agriculturist, and the practical farmer.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »