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Wet Weather Work by A Farmer - Atlantic

I.

It is raining; and being in-doors, I look out from my library-window, across a quiet country-road, so near that 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 furrows; here and there the mossy, luxurious verdure of new-springing rye; gray stubble; the ragged brown of discolored, frost-bitten 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, belfries, turrets: all these commingling in a long line 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 sunken meadow of a river; a farther wood, that skirts a town,—that seems to overgrow the town, so that only a confused line of roofs, 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 purple 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 farm-house with its clustered out-buildings; here and there a blotch of wood, or of orcharding; here and there a bright sheen of winter-grain; and the level ends only where a slight fringe of tree-tops, and the iron cordon of a railway that leaps over a marshy creek upon trestle-work, separate it from Long Island Sound.

To the north, under such oblique glance as can be caught, the farm-lands in smaller inclosures 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 puffs 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 columnar masses been fretted away by a thousand frosts, making a sloping débris 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 chest-nuts. 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 changefully 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 described at such length a mere landscape, (than which I know few fairer,) unless because of a rainy day it is always in my eye, and that now, having invited a few outsiders to such entertainment as may belong to my wet farm-days, I should present to them at once my oldest acquaintance,—the view from my library-window.

But as yet it is only coarsely outlined. We may some day return to it with a fond particularity; for let me warn the reader that I have that love of such scenes, nay, for the very verdure of the lawn, that I could put an ink-mark for every blade of the fresh-springing grass, and yet feel that the tale of its beauty, and of its emerald wealth, were not half told.

This day we spend in-doors, and busy ourselves with the whims, doctrines, and economics of a few

OLD-TIME FARMERS.

The shelves where they rest in vellum and in dust are only an arm's-length from the window; so that I can relieve the stiff classicism of Flaxman's rendering of the "Works and Days," or the tedious iteration of Columella and Crescenzio, by a glance outside into the rain-cloud, under which lies always the checkered illustration of the farming of to-day, and beyond which the spires stand in sentinel.

Hesiod 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. But, on the other hand, he gives very bad advice, where, as in Book II., (line 244,) he recommends to stint the oxen in winter, and (line 285) to put three parts of water 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 cautious how he lends either of them. His household stipulations, too, are most moderate, whether on the score of the bride, the maid, or the "forty-year-old" ploughman; and for guardianship of the premises the proprietor 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 Eumaeus, by the way, may be regarded as the Homeric representative farmer, as well as bailiff and swineherd,—the great original of Gurth, who might have prepared a supper for Cedric the Saxon very much as 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 vest succinct then girding round his waist,
  Forth rushed the swain with hospitable haste,
  Straight to the lodgements of his herd he run,
  Where the fat 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 Eumaeus has nothing better to offer his landlord,—the most abominable dish, Charles Lamb and his pleasant fable to the contrary notwithstanding, that was ever set before a Christian.

To return to Hesiod, we suspect that he was only a small farmer—if he had ever farmed at all—in the foggy latitude of Boeotia, and knew nothing of the sunny wealth in the south of the peninsula, or of such princely estates as Eumaeus managed in the Ionian seas. Flaxman has certainly not given him the look of a large proprietor in his outlines: his toilet is severely scant, and the old gentleman appears to have lost two of his fingers in a chaff-cutter. As for Perses, who is represented as listening to the sage,[A] his dress is in the extreme of classic scantiness,—being, in fact, a mere night-shirt, and a tight fit at that.

[Footnote A: Flaxman's Illustrations of "Works and Days," Plate I.]

But we dismiss Hesiod, the first of the heathen farm-writers, with a loving thought of his pretty Pandora, whom the goddesses so bedecked, whom Jove looks on (in Flaxman's picture) with such sharp approval, and whose attributes the poet has compacted into one resonant line, daintily rendered by Cooke,—

     "Thus the sex began
  A lovely mischief to the soul of man."

I next beg to pull from his place on the shelf, and to present to the reader, my friend General Xenophon, a most graceful writer, a capital huntsman, an able strategist, an experienced farmer, and, if we may believe Laertius, "handsome beyond expression."

It is refreshing to find such qualities united in one man at any time, and doubly refreshing to find them in a person so far removed from the charities of today that the malcontents cannot pull his character in pieces. To be sure, he was guilty of a few acts of pillage in the course of his Persian campaign; but he tells the story of it in his "Anabasis" with a brave front: his purse was low, and needed replenishment; there is no cover put up, of disorderly sutlers or camp-followers.

The farming reputation of the General rests upon his "Economics" and his horse-treatise ([Greek: Hippikae]).

Economy has come to have a contorted meaning in our day, as if it were only—saving. Its true gist is better expressed by the word management; and in that old-fashioned sense it forms a significant title for Xenophon's book: management of the household, management of flocks, of servants, of land, of property in general.

At the very outset we find this bit of practical wisdom, which is put into the mouth of Socrates, who is replying to Critobulus:—"Those things should be called goods that are beneficial to the master. Neither can those lands be called goods which by a man's unskilful management put him to more expense than he receives profit by them; nor may those lands be called goods which do not bring a good farmer such a profit as may give him a good living."

Thereafter (sec. vii.) he introduces the good Ischomachus, who, it appears, has a thrifty wife at home, and from that source flow in a great many capital hints upon domestic management. The apartments, the exposure, the cleanliness, the order, are all considered in such an admirably practical, common-sense way as would make the old Greek a good lecturer to the sewing-circles of our time. And when the wife of the wise Ischomachus, in an unfortunate moment, puts on rouge and cosmetics, the grave husband meets her with this complimentary rebuke:—"Can there be anything in Nature more complete than yourself?"

"The science of husbandry," he says, and it might be said of the science in most times, "is extremely profitable to those who understand it; but it brings the greatest trouble and misery upon those farmers who undertake it without knowledge." (sec. xv.)

Where Xenophon comes to speak of the details of farm-labor, of ploughings and fallowings, there is all that precision and particularity of mention, added to a shrewd sagacity, which one might look for in the columns of the "Country Gentleman." He even describes how a field should be thrown into narrow lands, in order to promote a more effectual surface-drainage. In the midst of it, however, we come upon a stereorary maxim, which is, to say the least, of doubtful worth:—"Nor is there any sort of earth which will not make very rich manure, by being laid a due time in standing water, till it is fully impregnated with the virtue of the water." His British translator, Professor Bradley, does, indeed, give a little note of corroborative testimony. But I would not advise any active farmer, on the authority either of General Xenophon or of Professor Bradley, to transport his surface-soil very largely to the nearest frog-pond, in the hope of finding it transmuted into manure. The absorptive and retentive capacity of soils is, to be sure, the bone just now of very particular contention; but whatever that capacity may be, it certainly needs something more palpable than the virtue of standing water for its profitable development.

Here, again, is very neat evidence of how much simple good sense has to do with husbandry: Socrates, who is supposed to have no particular knowledge of the craft, says to his interlocutor,—"You have satisfied me that I am not ignorant in husbandry; and yet I never had any master to instruct me in it."

"It is not," says Xenophon, "difference in knowledge or opportunities of knowledge that makes some farmers rich and others poor; but that which makes some poor and some rich is that the former are negligent and lazy, the latter industrious and thrifty."

Next, we have this masculine ergo:—"Therefore we may know that those who will not learn such sciences as they might get their living by, or do not fall into husbandry, are either downright fools, or else propose to get their living by robbery or by begging." (sec. xx.)

This is a good clean cut at politicians, office-holders, and other such beggar craft, through more than a score of centuries,—clean as classicism can make it: the Attic euphony in it, and all the aroma of age.

Once more, and it is the last of the "Oeconomica," we give this charming bit of New-Englandism:—"I remember my father had an excellent rule," (Ischomachus loquitur,) "which he advised me to follow: that, if ever I bought any land, I should by no means purchase that which had been already well-improved, but should choose such as had never been tilled, either through neglect of the owner, or for want of capacity to do it; for he observed, that, if I were to purchase improved grounds, I must pay a high price for them, and then I could not propose to advance their value, and must also lose the pleasure of improving them myself, or of seeing them thrive better by my endeavors."

When Xenophon wrote his rural treatises, (including the [Greek: Kunaegetikos],) he was living in that delightful region of country which lies westward of the mountains of Arcadia, looking toward the Ionian Sea. Here, too, he wrote the story of his retreat, and his wanderings among the mountains of Armenia; here he talked with his friends, and made other such symposia as he has given us a taste of at the house of Callias the Athenian; here he ranged over the whole country-side with his horses and dogs: a stalwart and lithe old gentleman, without a doubt; able to mount a horse or to manage one, with the supplest of the grooms; and with a keen eye, as his book shows, for the good points in horse-flesh. A man might make a worse mistake than to buy a horse after Xenophon's instructions, to-day. A spavin or a wind-gall did not escape the old gentleman's eye, and he never bought a horse without proving his wind and handling him well about the mouth and ears. His grooms were taught their duties with nice speciality: the mane and tail to be thoroughly washed; the food and bed to be properly and regularly prepared; and treatment to be always gentle and kind.

Exception may perhaps be taken to his doctrine in regard to stall-floors. Moist ones, he says, injure the hoof: "Better to have stones inserted in the ground close to one another, equal in size to their hoofs; for such stalls consolidate the hoofs of those standing on them, beside strengthening the hollow of the foot."

After certain directions for rough riding and leaping, he advises hunting through thickets, if wild animals are to be found. Otherwise, the following pleasant diversion is named, which I beg to suggest to sub-lieutenants in training for dragoon-service:—"It is a useful exercise for two horsemen to agree between themselves, that one shall retire through all sorts of rough places, and as he flees, is to turn about from time to time and present his spear; and the other shall pursue, having javelins blunted with balls, and a spear of the same description, and whenever he comes within javelin-throw, he is to hurl the blunted weapon at the party retreating, and whenever he comes within spear-reach, he is to strike him with it."

Putting aside his horsemanship, in which he must have been nearly perfect, there was very much that was grand about the old Greek,—very much that makes us strangely love the man, who, when his soldiers lay benumbed under the snows on the heights of Armenia, threw off his general's coat, or blanket, or what not, and set himself resolutely to wood-chopping and to cheering them. The farmer knew how.

Such men win battles. He has his joke, too, with Cheirisophus, the Lacedaemonian, about the thieving propensity of his townspeople, and invites him, in virtue of it, to steal a difficult march upon the enemy. And Cheirisophus grimly retorts upon Xenophon, that Athenians are said to be great experts in stealing the public money, especially the high officers. This sounds home-like! When I come upon such things, I forget the parasangs and the Taochians and the dead Cyrus, and seem to be reading out of American newspapers.

It is quite out of the question to claim Theocritus as a farm-writer; and yet in all old literature there is not to be found such a lively bevy of heifers, and wanton kids, and "butting rams," and stalwart herdsmen, who milk the cows "upon the sly," as in the "Idyls" of the musical Sicilian.

There is no doubt but Theocritus knew the country to a charm: he knew all its roughnesses, and the thorns that scratched the bare legs of the goatherds; he knew the lank heifers, that fed, "like grasshoppers," only on dew; he knew what clatter the brooks made, tumbling headlong adown the rocks,—

[Greek: apo tus petras kataleibetai ypsothen ydor]

he knew, moreover, all the charms and coyness of the country-nymphs, giving even a rural twist to his praises of the courtly Helen:—

  "In shape, in height, in stately presence
        fair,
  Straight as a furrow gliding from the
        share."[B]

[Footnote B: Elton's translation, I think. I do not vouch for its correctness.]

A man must have had an eye for good ploughing and a lithe figure, as well as a keen scent for the odor of fresh-turned earth, to make such a comparison as that!

Theocritus was no French sentimentalist; he would have protested against the tame elegancies of the Roman Bucolics; and the sospiri ardenti and miserelli aman of Guarini would have driven him mad. He is as brisk as the wind upon a breezy down. His cow-tenders are swart and bare-legged, and love with a vengeance. There is no miserable tooting upon flutes, but an uproarious song that shakes the woods; and if it comes to a matter of kissing, there are no "reluctant lips," but a smack that makes the vales resound.

It is no Boucher we have here, nor Watteau: cosmetics and rosettes are far away; tunics are short, and cheeks are nut-brown. It is Teniers, rather:—boors, indeed; but they are live boors, and not manikin shepherds.

I shall call out another Sicilian here, named Moschus, were it only for his picture of a fine, sturdy bullock: it occurs in his "Rape of Europa":—

  "With yellow hue his sleekened body beams;
  His forehead with a snowy circle gleams;
  Horns, equal-bending, from his brow emerge,
  And to a moonlight crescent orbing verge."

Nothing can be finer than the way in which this "milky steer," with
Europa on his back, goes sailing over the brine, his "feet all oars."
Meantime, she, the pretty truant,

  "Grasps with one hand his curved projecting horn,
  And with the other closely drawn compressed
  The fluttering foldings of her purple vest,
  Whene'er its fringed hem was dashed with dew
  Of the salt sea-foam that in circles flew:
  Wide o'er Europa's shoulders to the gale
  The ruffled robe heaved swelling, like a sail."

Moschus is as rich as the Veronese at Venice; and his picture is truer to the premium standard. The painting shows a pampered animal, with over-red blotches on his white hide, and is by half too fat to breast such "salt sea-foam" as flashes on the Idyl of Moschus.

Another poet, Aratus of Cilicia, whose very name has a smack of tillage, has left us a book about the weather [Greek: Dosaemeia] which is quite as good to mark down a hay-day by as the later meteorologies of Professor Espy or Judge Butler.

Besides which, our friend Aratus holds the abiding honor of having been quoted by St. Paul, in his speech to the Athenians on Mars Hill:—

"For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said: 'For we are also His offspring.'"

And Aratus, (after Elton,)—

  "On thee our being hangs; in thee we move;
  All are thy offspring, and the seed of Jove."

Scattered through the lesser Greek poets, and up and down the Anthology, are charming bits of rurality, redolent of the fields and of field-life, with which it would be easy to fill up the measure of this rainy day, and beat off the Grecian couplets to the tinkle of the eave-drops. Up and down, the cicada chirps; the locust, "encourager of sleep," sings his drowsy song; boozy Anacreon flings grapes; the purple violets and the daffodils crown the perfumed head of Heliodora; and the reverent Simonides likens our life to the grass.

Nor will I part company with these, or close up the Greek ranks of farmers, (in which I must not forget the great schoolmaster, Theophrastus,) until I cull a sample of the Anthology, and plant it for a guidon at the head of the column,—a little bannerol of music, touching upon our topic, as daintily as the bees touch the flowering tips of the wild thyme.

It is by Zonas the Sardian:—

[Greek: Ai o agete nxouthai oimblaeides akra melissai, _K.T.L.,]

and the rendering by Mr. Hay:—

  "Ye nimble honey-making bees, the flowers are in their prime;
  Come now and taste the little buds of sweetly breathing thyme,
  Of tender poppies all so fair, or bits of raisin sweet,
  Or down that decks the apple tribe, or fragrant violet;
  Come, nibble on,—your vessels store with honey while you can,
  In order that the hive-protecting, bee-preserving Pan
  May have a tasting for himself, and that the hand so rude,
  That cuts away the comb, may leave yourselves some little food."

Leaving now this murmur of the bees upon the banks of the Pactolus, will slip over-seas to Tusculum, where Cato was born, who was the oldest of the Roman writers upon agriculture; and thence into the Sabine territory, where, upon an estate of his father's, in the midst of the beautiful country lying northward of the Monte Gennaro, (the Lucretilis of Horace,) he learned the art of good farming.

In what this art consisted in his day, he tells us in short, crackling speech;—"Primum, bene arare; secundum, arare; tertium, stercorare." For the rest, he says, choose good seed, sow thickly, and pull all the weeds. Nothing more would be needed to grow as good a crop upon the checkered plateau under my window as ever fattened among the Sabine Hills.

Has the art come to a stand-still, then; and shall we take to reading
Cato on fair days, as well as rainy?

There has been advance, without doubt; but all the advance in the world would not take away the edge from truths, stated as Cato knew how to state them. There is very much of what is called Agricultural Science, nowadays, which is—rubbish. Science is sound, and agriculture always an honest art; but the mixture, not uncommonly, is bad,—no fair marriage, but a monstrous concubinage, with a monstrous progeny of muddy treatises and disquisitions which confuse more than they instruct. In contrast with such, it is no wonder that the observations of such a man as Cato, whose energies had been kept alive by service in the field, and whose tongue had been educated in the Roman Senate, should carry weight with them. The grand truths on which successful agriculture rests, and which simple experience long ago demonstrated, cannot be kept out of view, nor can they be dwarfed by any imposition of learning. Science may explain them, or illustrate or extend; but it cannot shake their preponderating influence upon the crop of the year. As respects many other arts, the initial truths may be lost sight of, and overlaid by the mass of succeeding developments,—not falsified, but so belittled as practically to be counted for nothing. In this respect, agriculture is exceptional. The old story is always the safe story: you must plough and plough again; and manure; and sow good seed, and enough; and pull the weeds; and as sure as the rain falls, the crop will come.

Many nice additions to this method of treatment, which my fine-farming friends will suggest, are anticipated by the old Roman, if we look far enough into his book. Thus, he knew the uses of a harrow; he knew the wisdom of ploughing in a green crop; he had steeps for his seed; he knew how to drain off the surface-water,—nay, there is very much in his account of the proper preparation of ground for olive-trees, or vine-setting, which looks like a mastery of the principles that govern the modern system of drainage.[C]

[Footnote C: XLIII. "Sulcos, si locus aquosus erit, alveatos esse oportet," etc.]

Of what particular service recent investigations in science have been to the practical farmer, and what positive and available aid, beyond what could be derived from a careful study of the Roman masters, they put into the hands of an intelligent worker, who is tilling ground simply for pecuniary advantage, I shall hope to inquire and discourse upon, some other day: when that day comes, we will fling out the banner of the nineteenth century, and give a gun to Liebig, and Johnson, and the rest.

Meantime, as a farmer who endeavors to keep posted in all the devices for pushing lands which have an awkward habit of yielding poor crops into the better habit of yielding large ones, I will not attempt to conceal the chagrin with which I find this curmudgeon of a Roman Senator, living two centuries before Christ, and northward of Monte Gennaro, who never heard of "Hovey's Root-Cutter," or of the law of primaries, laying down rules[D] of culture so clear, so apt, so full, that I, who have the advantages of two thousand years, find nothing in them to laugh at, unless it be a few oblations to the gods;[E] and this, considering that I am just now burning a little incense (Havana) to the nymph Volutia, is uncalled for.

[Footnote D: This mention, of course, excludes the Senator's formulae for unguents, aperients, cattle-nostrums, and pickled pork.]

[Footnote E: CXXXIV. Cato, De Re Rusticâ.]

And if Senator Cato were to wake up to-morrow, in the white house that stares through the rain yonder, and were to open his little musty vellum of slipshod maxims, and, in faith of it, start a rival farm in the bean line, or in vine-growing,—keeping clear of the newspapers,—I make no doubt but he would prove as thrifty a neighbor as my good friend the Deacon.

We nineteenth-century men, at work among our cabbages, clipping off the purslane and the twitch-grass, are disposed to assume a very complacent attitude, as we lean upon our hoe-handles,—as if we were doing tall things in the way of illustrating physiology and the cognate sciences. But the truth is, old Laertes, near three thousand years ago, in his slouch cap and greasy beard, was hoeing up in the same way his purslane and twitch-grass, in his bean-patch on the hills of Ithaca. The difference between us, so far as the crop and the tools go, is, after all, ignominiously small. He dreaded the weevil in his beans, and we the club-foot in our cabbages; we have the "Herald," and he had none; we have "Plantation-Bitters," and he had his jug of the Biblian wine.

M. Varro, another Roman farmer, lies between the same covers "De Re Rusticâ" with Cato, and seems to have had more literary tact, though less of blunt sagacity. Yet he challenges at once our confidence by telling us so frankly the occasion of his writing upon such a subject. Life, he says, is a bubble,—and the life of an old man a bubble about to break. He is eighty, and must pack his luggage to go out of this world. ("Annus octogesimus admonet me, ut sarcinas colligam antequam proficiscar e vitâ.") Therefore he, writes down for his wife, Fundania, the rules by which she may manage the farm.

And a very respectably old lady she must have been, to deal with the villici and the coloni, if her age bore suitable relation to that of her husband. The ripe maturity of many of the rural writers I have introduced cannot fail to strike one. Thus, Xenophon gained a strength in his Elian fields that carried him into the nineties; Cato lived to be over eighty; and now we have Varro, writing his book out by Tusculum at eighty, and surviving to counsel with Fundania ten years more. Pliny, too, (the elder,) who, if not a farmer, had his country-seats, and left very much to establish our acquaintance with the Roman rural life, was a hale, much-enduring man, of such soldierly habits and large abstemiousness as to warrant a good fourscore,—if he had not fallen under that murderous cloud of ashes from Mount Vesuvius, in the year 79.

The poets, doubtless, burnt out earlier, as they usually do. Virgil, whom I shall come to speak of presently, certainly did: he died at fifty-one. Tibullus, whose opening Idyl is as pretty a bit of gasconade about living in a cottage in the country, upon love and a few vegetables, as a maiden could wish for, did not reach the fifties; and Martial, whose "Faustine Villa," if nothing else, entitles him to rural oblation, fell short of the sixties.

Varro indulges in some sharp sneers at those who had written on the same subject before him. This was natural enough in a man of his pursuits: he had written four hundred books!

Of Columella we know scarcely more than that he lived somewhere about the time of Tiberius, that he was a man of wealth, that he travelled extensively through Gaul, Italy, and Greece, observing intelligently different methods of culture, and that he has given the fullest existing compend of ancient agriculture. In his chapter upon Gardening he warms into hexameters; but the rest is stately and euphonious prose. In his opening chapter, he does not forego such praises of the farmer's life as sound like a lawyer's address before a county-society on a fair-day. Cincinnatus and his plough come in for it; and Fabricius and Curius Dentatus; with which names, luckily, our orators cannot whet their periods, since Columella's mention of them is about all we know of their farming.

He falls into the way, moreover, of lamenting, as people obstinately continue to do, the "good old times," when men were better than "now," and when the reasonable delights of the garden and the fields engrossed them to the neglect of the circus and the theatres. But when he opens upon his subject proper, it is in grandiose, Spanish style, (he was a native of Cadiz,) with a maxim broad enough to cover all possible conditions:—"Qui studium agricolationi dederit, sciat haec sibi advocanda: prudentiam rei, facultatem impendendi voluntatem agendi." Or, as Tremellius says,—"That man will master the business, qui et colere sciet, et poterit, et volet."

This is comprehensive, if not encouraging. That "facultatem impendendi" is a tremendous bolster to farming as to anything else; it is only another shape of the "poterit," and the "poterit" only a scholarly rendering of pounds and pence. As if Tremellius had said,—That man will make his way at farming who understands the business, who has the money to apply to it, and who is willing to bleed freely.

With a kindred sagacity this shrewd Roman advises a man to slip upon his farm often, in order that his steward may keep sharply at his work; he even suggests that the landlord make a feint of coming, when he has no intention thereto, that he may gain a day's alertness from the bailiff. The book is of course a measure of the advances made in farming during the two hundred years elapsed since Cato's time; but those advances were not great. There was advance in power to systematize facts, advance in literary aptitude, but no very noticeable gain in methods of culture. Columella gives the results of wider observation, and of more persistent study; but, for aught I can see, a man could get a crop of lentils as well with Cato as with Columbia; a man would house his flocks and servants as well out of the one as the other; in short, a man would grow into the "facultatem impendendi" as swiftly under the teachings of the Senator as of the later writer of the reign of Tiberius.

It is but dull work to follow those teachings; here and there I warm into a little sympathy, as I catch sight, in his Latin dress, of our old friend Curculio; here and there I sniff a fruit that seems familiar,—as the fraga, or a morum; and here and there comes blushing into the crabbed text the sweet name of some home-flower,—a lily, a narcissus, or a rose. The chief value of the work of Columella, however, lies in its clear showing-forth of the relative importance given to different crops, under Roman culture, and to the raising of cattle, poultry, fish, etc.; as compared with crops. Knowing this, we know very much that will help us toward an estimate of the domestic life of the Romans. We learn, with surprise, how little they regarded their oxen, save as working-animals,—whether the milk-white steers of Clitumnus, or the dun Campanian cattle, whose descendants show their long-horned stateliness to this day in the Roman forum. The sheep, too, whether of Tarentum or of Canusium, were regarded as of value chiefly for their wool and milk; and it is surely amazing, that men who could appreciate the iambics of Horace and the eloquence of Cicero should have shown so little fancy for a fat saddle of mutton or for a mottled sirloin of beef.

I change from Columella to Virgil, and from Virgil back to some pleasant Idyl of Tibullus, and from Tibullus to the pretty prate of Horace about the Sabine Hills; I stroll through Pliny's villa, eying the clipped box-trees; I hear the rattle in the tennis-court; I watch the tall Roman girls—

"Grandes virgines proborum colonorum"—

marching along with their wicker-baskets filled with curds and fresh-plucked thrushes, until there comes over me a confusion of times and places.

—The sound of the battle of to-day dies; the fresh blood-stains fade; and I seem to wake upon the heights of Tusculum, in the days of Tiberius. The farm-flat below is a miniature Campagna, along which I see stretching straight to the city the shining pavement of the Via Tusculana. The spires yonder melt into mist, and in place of them I see the marble house-walls of which Augustus boasted. As yet the grander monuments of the Empire are not built; but there is a blotch of cliff which may be the Tarpeian Rock, and beside it a huge hulk of building on the Capitoline Hill, where sat the Roman Senate. A little hitherward are the gay turrets of the villa of Maecenas, and of the princely houses on the Palatine Hill, and in the foreground the stately tomb of Cecilia Metella. I see the barriers of a hippodrome, (where now howling jockeys make the twilight hideous); a gestatio, with its lines of cherry-trees, is before me, and the velvety lavender-green of olive-orchards covers the hills behind. Vines grow upon the slope eastward,—

"Neve tibi ad solem vergant vineta cadentem,"—

twining around, and flinging off a great wealth of tendrils from their supporting-poles (pedamenta). The figs begin to show the purple bloom of fruitage, and the villicus, who has just now come in from the atriolum, reports a good crop, and asks if it would not be well to apply a few loads of marl (tofacea) to the summer fallow, which Cato is just now breaking up with the Campanian steers, for barley.

Scipio, a stanch Numidian, has gone to market with three asses loaded with cabbages and asparagus. Villicus tells me that the poultry in the fattening-coops (as close-shut as the Strasburg geese)[F] are doing well, and he has added a soupçon of sweetening to their barley-gruel. The young doves have their legs faithfully broken, ("obteras crura") and are placidly fattening on their stumps. The thrush-house is properly darkened, only enough light entering to show the food to some three or four thousand birds, which are in course of cramming for the market. The cochlearium has a good stock of snails and mussels; and the little dormice are growing into fine condition for an approaching Imperial banquet.

[Footnote F: "Locus ad hanc rem desideratur maxime calidus, et minimi luminis, in quo singulae caveis angustioribus vel sportis inclusae pendeant aves, sed ita coarctatae, ne versari posslnt."—Columella, Lib. VIII. cap. vii.]

Villicus reports the clip of the Tarentine sheep unusually fine, and free from burrs. The new must is all a-foam in the vinaria; and around the inner cellar (gaudendem est!) there is a tier of urns, as large as school-boys, brimming with ripe Falernian.

If it were not stormy, I might order out the farm-chariot, or curriculum, which is, after all, but a low, dumpy kind of horse-cart, and take a drive over the lava pavement of the Via Tusculana, to learn what news is astir, and what the citizens talk of in the forum. Is all quiet upon the Rhine? How is it possibly with Germanicus? And what of that story of the arrest of Seneca? It could hardly have happened, they say, in the good old days of the Republic.

And with this mention, as with the sound of a gun, the Roman pastoral dream is broken. The Campagna, the olive-orchards, the columbarium, fall back to their old places in the blurred type of Columella. The Campanian steers are unyoked, and stabled in the text of Varro. The turrets of the villa of Maecenas, and of the palaces of Sylla and the Caesars, give place to the spires of a New-England town,—southward of which I see through the mist a solitary flag flying over a soldiers' hospital. It reminds of nearer and deadlier perils than ever environed the Roman Republic,—perils out of which if the wisdom and courage of the people do not find a way, some new Caesar will point it with the sword.

Looking northward, I see there is a bight of blue in the sky; and a lee set of dark-gray and purple clouds is folding down over the eastern horizon,—against which the spires and the flag show clearer than ever. It means that the rain has stopped; and the rain having stopped, my in-door work is done.