The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 14, No. 83, September, 1864
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

* * * * *

The work was not all done for the agriculture and the agriculturist of England in the last century; it is hardly all done yet; it is doubtful if it will be done so as to close investigation and ripen method in our time. There was room for a corps of fresh workers at the opening of the present century; nor was such a corps lacking.

About the year 1808, a certain John Christian Curwen, Member of Parliament, and dating from Cumberland, wrote "Hints on Agricultural Subjects," a big octavo volume, in which he suggests the steaming of potatoes for horses, as a substitute for hay; but it does not appear that the suggestion was well received. To his credit, however, it may be said, that, in the same book, he urged the system of "soiling" cattle,—a system which even now needs its earnest expounders, and which would give full warrant for their loudest exhortation.

I notice, too, that, at about the same period, Dr. Beddoes, the friend and early patron of Sir Humphry Davy at the Pneumatic Institution of Bristol, wrote a book with the quaint title, "Good Advice to Husbandmen in Harvest, and for all those who labor in Hot Berths, and for others who will take it—in Warm Weather." And with the recollection of Davy's description of the Doctor in my mind,—"uncommonly short and fat,"[27]—I have felt a great interest in seeing what such a man should have to say upon harvest-heats; but his book, so far as I know, is not to be found in America.

A certain John Harding, of St. James Street, London, published, in 1809, a tract upon "The Use of Sugar in Feeding Cattle," in which were set forth sundry experiments which went to show how bullocks had been fattened on molasses, and had been rewarded with a premium. I am indebted for all knowledge of this anomalous tractate to the "Agricultural Biography" of Mr. Donaldson, who seems disposed to give a sheltering wing to the curious theory broached, and discourses upon it with a lucidity and coherence worthy of a state-paper. I must be permitted to quote Mr. Donaldson's language:—"The author's ideas are no romance or chimera, but a very feasible entertainment of the undertaking, when a social revolution permits the fruits of all climes to be used in freedom of the burden of value that is imposed by monopoly, and restricts the legitimate appropriation."

George Adams, in 1810, proposed "A New System of Agriculture and Feeding Stock," of which the novelty lay in movable sheds, (upon iron tram-ways,) for the purpose of soiling cattle. The method was certainly original; nor can it be regarded as wholly visionary in our time, when the iron conduits of Mr. Mechi, under the steam-thrust of the Tip-Tree engines, are showing a percentage of profit.

Charles Drury, in the same year, recommended, in an elaborate treatise, the steaming of straw, roots, and hay, for cattle-food,—a recommendation which, in our time, has been put into most successful practice.

Mowbray, who was for a long time the great authority upon Domestic Fowls and their Treatment, published his book in 1803, which he represents as having been compiled from the memoranda of forty years' experience.

And next, as illustrative of the rural literature of the early part of this century, I must introduce the august name of Sir Humphry Davy. This I am warranted in doing on two several counts: first, because he was an accomplished fisherman and the author of "Salmonia," and next, because he was the first scientific man of any repute who was formally invited by a Board of Agriculture to discuss the relations of Chemistry to the practice of farming.

Unfortunately, he was himself ignorant of practical agriculture,[28] when called upon to illustrate its relations to chemistry; but, like an earnest man, he set about informing himself by communication with the best farmers of the kingdom. He delivered a very admirable series of lectures, and it was without doubt most agreeable to the country-gentlemen to find the great waste from their fermenting manures made clear by Sir Humphry's retorts; but Davy was too profound and too honest a man to lay down for farmers any chemical high-road to success. He directed and stimulated inquiry; he developed many of the principles which underlay their best practice; but he offered them no safety-lamp. I think he brought more zeal to his investigations in the domain of pure science; he loved well-defined and brilliant results; and I do not think that he pushed his inquiries in regard to the way in which the forage-plants availed themselves of sulphate of lime with one-half the earnestness or delight with which he conducted his discovery of the integral character of chlorine, or with which he saw for the first time the metallic globules bubbling out from the electrified crust of potash.

Yet he loved the country with a rare and thorough love, as his descriptions throughout his letters prove; and he delighted in straying away, in the leafy month of June, to the charming place of his friend Knight, upon the Teme in Herefordshire. His "Salmonia" is, in its way, a pastoral; not, certainly, to be compared with the original of Walton, lacking its simple homeliness, for which its superior scientific accuracy can make but poor amends. I cannot altogether forget, in reading it, that its author is a fine gentleman from London. Neither fish, nor alders, nor eddies, nor purling shallows, can drive out of memory the fact that Sir Humphry must be back at "The Hall" by half-past six, in season to dress for dinner. Walton, in slouch-hat, bound about with "leaders," sat upon the green turf to listen to a milkmaid's song. Sir Humphry (I think he must have carried a camp-stool) recited some verses written by "a noble lady long distinguished at court."[29]

In fact, there was always a great deal of the fine gentleman about the great chemist,—almost too fine for the quiet tenor of a working-life. Those first brilliant successes of his professional career at the Royal Institution of London, before he was turned of thirty, and in which his youth, his splendid elocution, his happy discoveries, his attractive manner, all made him the mark for distinguished attentions, went very far, I fancy, to carry him to that stage of social intoxication under which he was deluded into marrying a wealthy lady of fashion, and a confirmed blue-stocking,—the brilliant Mrs. Apreece.

Little domestic comfort ever came of the marriage. Yet he was a chivalrous man, and took the issue calmly. It is always in his letters,—"My dear Jane," and "God bless you! Yours affectionately." But these expressions bound the tender passages. It was altogether a gentlemanly and a lady-like affair. Only once, as I can find, he forgets himself in an honest repining; it is in a letter to his brother, under date of October 30, 1823:[30]—"To add to my annoyances, I find my house, as usual, after the arrangements made by the mistress of it, without female servants; but in this world we have to suffer and bear, and from Socrates down to humble mortals, domestic discomfort seems a sort of philosophical fate."

If only Lady Davy could have seen this Xantippe touch, I think Sir Humphry would have taken to angling in some quiet country-place for a month thereafter!

And even when affairs grow serious with the Baronet, and when, stricken by the palsy, he is loitering among the mountains of Styria, he writes,—"I am glad to hear of your perfect restoration, and with health and the society of London, which you are so fitted to ornament and enjoy, your 'viva la felicita' is much more secure than any hope belonging to me."

And again, "You once talked of passing this winter in Italy; but I hope your plans will be entirely guided by the state of your health and feelings. Your society would undoubtedly be a very great resource to me, but I am so well aware of my own present unfitness for society that I would not have you risk the chance of an uncomfortable moment on my account."

The dear Lady Jane must have had a penchant for society to leave the poor palsied man to tumble into his tomb alone!

Yet once again, in the last letter he ever writes, dated Rome, March, 1829, he gallantly asks her to join him; it begins,—"I am still alive, though expecting every hour to be released."

And the Lady Jane, who is washing off her fashionable humors in the fashionable waters of Bath, writes,—"I have received, my beloved Sir Humphry, the letter signed by your hand, with its precious wish of tenderness. I start to-morrow, having been detained here by Doctors Babington and Clarke till to-day.... I cannot add more" (it is a letter of half a page) "than that your fame is a deposit, and your memory a glory, your life still a hope."

Sweet Lady Jane! Yet they say she mourned him duly, and set a proper headstone at his grave. But, for my own part, I have no faith in that affection which will splinter a loving heart every day of its life, and yet, when it has ceased to beat, will make atonement with an idle swash of tears.

* * * * *

There was a British farmer by the name of Morris Birkbeck, who about the year 1814 wrote an account of an agricultural tour in France; and who subsequently established himself somewhere upon our Western prairies, of which he gave account in "Letters from Illinois," and in "Notes on a Journey in America, from the Coast of Virginia to the Territory of Illinois," with maps, etc. Cobbett once or twice names him as "poor Birkbeck,"—but whether in allusion to his having been drowned in one of our Western rivers, or to the poverty of his agricultural successes, it is hard to determine.

In 1820 Major-General Beatson, who had been Aid to the Marquis of Wellesley in India, published an account of a new system of farming, which he claimed to have in successful operation at his place in the County of Sussex. The novelty of the system lay in the fact that he abandoned both manures and the plough, and scarified the surface to the depth of two or three inches, after which he burned it over. The Major-General was called to the governorship of St. Helena before his system had made much progress. I am led to allude to the plan as one of the premonitory hints of that rotary method which is just now enlisting a large degree of attention in the agricultural world, and which promises to supplant the plough on all wide stretches of land, within the present century.

Finlayson, a brawny Scot, born in the parish of Mauchline, who was known from "Glentuck to the Rutton-Ley" as the best man for "putting the stone," or for a "hop, step, and leap," contrived the self-cleaning ploughs (with circular beam) and harrows which bore his name. He was also—besides being the athlete of Ayrshire—the author of sundry creditable and practical works on agriculture.

But the most notable man in connection with rural literature, of this day, was, by all odds, William Cobbett. His early history has so large a flavor of romance in it that I am sure my readers will excuse me for detailing it.

His grandfather was a day-laborer; he died before Cobbett was born; but the author says that he used to visit the grandmother at Christmas and Whitsuntide. Her home was "a little thatched cottage, with a garden before the door. She used to give us milk and bread for breakfast, an apple-pudding for dinner, and a piece of bread and cheese for our supper. Her fire was made of turf cut from the neighboring heath; and her evening light was a rush dipped in grease."[31] His father was a small farmer, and one who did not allow his boys to grow up in idleness. "My first occupation," he tells us, "was driving the small birds from the turnip-seed, and the rook from the pease; when I first trudged a-field, with my wooden bottle and my satchel swung over my shoulders, I was hardly able to climb the gates and stiles; and at the close of the day, to reach home was a task of infinite difficulty."

At the age of eleven he speaks of himself as occupied in clipping box-edgings and weeding flower-beds in the garden of the Bishop of Winchester; and while here he encounters, one day, a workman who has just come from the famous Kew Gardens of the King. Young Cobbett is fired by the glowing description, and resolves that he must see them, and work upon them too. So he sets off, one summer's morning, with only the clothes he has upon his back, and with thirteen halfpence in his pocket, for Richmond. And as he trudges through the streets of the town, after a hard day's walk, in his blue smock-frock, and with his red garters tied under his knees, staring about him, he sees in the window of a bookseller's shop the "Tale of a Tub," price threepence; it piques his curiosity, and, though his money is nearly all spent, he closes a bargain for the book, and, throwing himself down upon the shady side of a hay-rick, makes his first acquaintance with Dean Swift. He read till it was dark, without thought of supper or of bed,—then tumbled down upon the grass under the shadow of the stack, and slept till the birds of the Kew Gardens waked him.

He finds work, as he had determined to do; but it was not fated that he should pass his life amid the pleasant parterres of Kew. At sixteen, or thereabout, on a visit to a relative, he catches his first sight of the Channel waters, and of the royal fleet riding at anchor at Spithead. And at that sight, the "old Armada," and the "brave Rodney," and the "wooden walls," of which he had read, come drifting like a poem into his thought, and he vows that he will become a sailor,—maybe, in time, the Admiral Cobbett. But here, too, the fates are against him: a kind captain to whom he makes application suspects him for a runaway, and advises him to find his way home.

He returns once more to the plough; "but," he says, "I was now spoiled for a farmer." He sighs for the world; the little horizon of Farnham (his native town) is too narrow for him; and the very next year he makes his final escapade.

"It was on the 6th of May, 1783, that I, like Don Quixote, sallied forth to seek adventures. I was dressed in my holiday clothes, in order to accompany two or three lasses to Guildford fair. They were to assemble at a house about three miles from my home, where I was to attend them; but, unfortunately for me, I had to cross the London turnpike-road. The stage-coach had just turned the summit of a hill, and was rattling down towards me at a merry rate. The notion of going to London never entered my mind till this very moment; yet the step was completely determined on before the coach came to the spot where I stood. Up I got, and was in London about nine o'clock in the evening."

His immediate adventure in the metropolis proves to be his instalment as scrivener in an attorney's office. No wonder he chafes at this; no wonder, that, in his wanderings about town, he is charmed by an advertisement which invited all loyal and public-spirited young men to repair to a certain "rendezvous"; he goes to the rendezvous, and presently finds himself a recruit in one of His Majesty's regiments which is filling up for service in British America.

He must have been an apt soldier, so far as drill went; for I find that he rose rapidly to the grade of corporal, and thence to the position of sergeant-major. He tells us that his early habits, his strict attention to duty, and his native talent were the occasion of his swift promotion. In New Brunswick, upon a certain winter's morning, he falls in with the rosy-faced daughter of a sergeant of artillery, who was scrubbing her pans at sunrise, upon the snow. "I made up my mind," he says, "that she was the very girl for me.... This matter was at once settled as firmly as if written in the book of fate."

To this end he determines to leave the army as soon as possible. But before he can effect this, the artillery-man is ordered back to England, and his pretty daughter goes with him. But Cobbett has closed the compact with her, and placed in her hands a hundred and fifty pounds of his earnings,—a free gift, and an earnest of his troth.

The very next season, however, he meets, in a sweet rural solitude of the Province, another charmer, with whom he dallies in a lovelorn way for two years or more. He cannot quite forget the old; he cannot cease befondling the new. If only the "remotest rumor had come," says he, "of the faithlessness of the brunette in England, I should have been fastened for life in the New-Brunswick valley." But no such rumor comes, and in due time he bids a heart-rending adieu, and recrosses the ocean to find his first love maid-of-all-work in a gentleman's family at five pounds a year; and she puts in his hand, upon their first interview, the whole of the hundred and fifty pounds, untouched. This rekindles his admiration and respect for her judgment, and she becomes his wife,—a wife he never ceases thereafter to love and honor.

He goes to France, and thence to America. Establishing himself in Philadelphia, he enters upon the career of authorship, with a zeal for the King, and a hatred of Dr. Franklin and all Democrats, which give him a world of trouble. His foul bitterness of speech finds its climax at length in a brutal onslaught upon Dr. Rush, for which he is prosecuted, convicted, and mulcted in a sum that breaks down his bookselling and interrupts the profits of his authorship.

He retires to England, opens shop in Pall-Mall, and edits the "Porcupine," which bristles with envenomed arrows discharged against all Liberals and Democrats. Again he is prosecuted, convicted, imprisoned. His boys, well taught in all manner of farm-work, send him, from his home in the country, hampers of fresh fruits, to relieve the tedium of Newgate. Discharged at length, and continuing his ribaldry in the columns of the "Register," he flies before an Act of Parliament, and takes new refuge in America. He is now upon Long Island, earnest as in his youth in agricultural pursuits. The late Dr. Francis of New York used to speak of his visits to him, and of the fine vegetables he raised. His political opinions had undergone modification; there was not so much declamation against democracy,—not so much angry zeal for royalty and the state-church. Nay, he committed the stupendous absurdity of carrying back with him to England the bones of Tom Paine, as the grandest gift he could bestow upon his mother-land. No great ovations greeted this strange luggage of his; I think he was ashamed of it afterwards,—if Cobbett was ever ashamed of anything. He became candidate for Parliament in the Liberal interest; he undertook those famous "Rural Rides" which are a rare jumble of sweet rural scenes and crazy political objurgation. Now he hammers the "parsons,"—now he tears the paper-money to rags,—and anon he is bitter upon Malthus, Ricardo, and the Scotch "Feelosofers,"—and closes his anathema with the charming picture of a wooded "hanger," up which he toils (with curses on the road) only to rejoice in the view of a sweet Hampshire valley, over which sleek flocks are feeding, and down which some white stream goes winding, and cheating him into a rare memory of his innocent boyhood. He gains at length his election to Parliament; but he is not a man to figure well there, with his impetuosity and lack of self-control. He can talk by the hour to those who feel with him; but to be challenged, to have his fierce invective submitted to the severe test of an inexorable logic,—this limits his audacity; and his audacity once limited, his power is gone.

But I must not forget that I have brought him into my wet-day galaxy as a farmer. His energy, his promptitude, his habits of thrift, would have made him one of the best of farmers. His book on gardening is even now one of the most instructive that can be placed in the hands of a beginner. He ignores physiology and botany, indeed; he makes crude errors on this score; but he had an intuitive sense of the right method of teaching. He is plain and clear, to a comma. He knows what needs to be told; and he tells it straightforwardly. There is no better model for agricultural writers than "Cobbett on Gardening." There is no miserable waste of words,—no indirectness of talk; what he thinks, he prints.

His "Cottage Economy," too, is a book which every small landholder in America should own; there is a sterling merit in it which will not be outlived. He made a great mistake, it is true, in insisting that Indian-corn could be grown successfully in England. But being a man who did not yield to influences of climate himself, he did not mean that his crops should; and if he had been rich enough, I believe that he would have covered his farm with a glass roof, rather than yield his conclusion that Indian-corn could be grown successfully under a British sky.

A great, impracticable, earnest, headstrong man, the like of whom does not appear a half-dozen times in a century. Being self-educated, he was possessed, like nearly all self-educated men, of a complacency and a self-sufficiency which stood always in his way. Affecting to teach grammar, he was ignorant of all the etymology of the language; knowing no word of botany, he classified plants by the "fearings" of his turnip-field. He was vain to the last degree; he thought his books were the best books in the world, and that everybody should read them. He was industrious, restless, captious, and, although humane at heart, was the most malignant slanderer of his time. He called a political antagonist a "pimp," and thought a crushing argument lay in the word; he called parsons scoundrels, and bade his boys be regular at church.

In June, 1835, while the Parliament was in session, he grew ill,—talked feebly about politics and farming, (to his household,) "wished for 'four days' rain' for the Cobbett corn," and on Wednesday, (16th June,) desired to be carried around the farm, and criticized the work that had been done,—grew feeble as evening drew on, and an hour after midnight leaned back heavily in his chair, and died.

* * * * *

I must give a paragraph, at least, to the Rev. James Grahame, the good Scotch parson, were it only because he wrote a poem called "British Georgics." They are not so good as Virgil's; nor did he ever think it himself. In fact, he published his best poem anonymously, and so furtively that even his wife took up an early copy, which she found one day upon her table, and, charmed with its pleasant description of Scottish braes and burn-sides, said, "Ah! Jemmy, if ye could only mak' a book like this!" And I will venture to say that "Jemmy" never had rarer or pleasanter praise.

Shall we read a little, and test the worth of good Mistress Grahame's judgment? It is a bit of the parson's walk in "The Sabbath":—

"Now, when the downward sun has left the glens, Each mountain's rugged lineaments are traced Upon the adverse slope, where stalks gigantic The shepherd's shadow thrown athwart the chasm, As on the topmost ridge he homeward hies. How deep the hush! the torrent's channel, dry, Presents a stony steep, the echo's haunt. But hark a plaintive sound floating along! 'Tis from yon heath-roofed shieling; now it dies Away, now rises full; it is the song Which He who listens to the hallelujahs Of choiring seraphim delights to hear; It is the music of the heart, the voice Of venerable age, of guileless youth, In kindly circle seated on the ground Before their wicker door."

Crabbe, who was as keen an observer of rural scenes, had a much better faculty of verse; indeed, he had a faculty of language so large that it carried him beyond the real drift of his stories. I do not know the fact, indeed; but I think, that, notwithstanding the Duke of Rutland's patronage, Mr. Crabbe must have written inordinately long sermons. It is strange how many good men do,—losing point and force and efficiency in a welter of words! If there is one rhetorical lesson which it behooves all theologic or academic professors to lay down and enforce, (if need be with the ferule,) it is this,—Be short. It is amazing the way in which good men lose themselves on Sunday mornings in the lapse of their own language; and most rarely are we confronted from the pulpit with an opinion which would not bear stripping of wordy shifts, and be all the more comely for its nakedness.

George Crabbe wrote charming rural tales; but he wrote long ones. There is minute observation, dramatic force, tender pathos, but there is much, of tedious and coarse description. If by some subtile alchemy the better qualities could be thrown down from the turbid and watery flux of his verse, we should have an admirable pocket-volume for the country; as it is, his books rest mostly on the shelves, and it requires a strong breath to puff away the dust that has gathered on the topmost edges.

I think of the Reverend Mr. Crabbe as an amiable, absent-minded old gentleman, driving about on week-days in a heavy, square-topped gig, (his wife holding the reins,) in search of way-side gypsies, and on Sunday pushing a discourse—which was good up to the "fourthly"—into the "seventhly."

Charles Lamb, if he had been clerically disposed, would, I am sure, have written short sermons; and I think that his hearers would have carried away the gist of them clean and clear.

He never wrote anything that could be called strictly pastoral; he was a creature of streets and crowding houses; no man could have been more ignorant of the every-day offices of rural life; I doubt if he ever knew from which side a horse was to be mounted or a cow to be milked, and a sprouting bean was a source of the greatest wonderment to him. Yet, in spite of all this, what a book those Essays of his make, to lie down with under trees! It is the honest, lovable simplicity of his nature that makes the keeping good. He is the Izaak Walton of London streets,—of print-shops, of pastry-shops, of mouldy book-stalls; the chime of Bow-bells strikes upon his ear like the chorus of a milkmaid's song at Ware.

There is not a bit of rodomontade in him about the charms of the country, from beginning to end; if there were, we should despise him. He can find nothing to say of Skiddaw but that he is "a great creature"; and he writes to Wordsworth, (whose sight is failing,) on Ambleside, "I return you condolence for your decaying sight,—not for anything there is to see in the country, but for the miss of the pleasure of reading a London newspaper."

And again to his friend Manning, (about the date of 1800,)—"I am not romance-bit about Nature. The earth and sea and sky (when all is said) is but as a house to dwell in. If the inmates be courteous, and good liquors flow like the conduits at an old coronation,—if they can talk sensibly, and feel properly, I have no need to stand staring upon the gilded looking-glass, (that strained my friend's purse-strings in the purchase,) nor his five-shilling print, over the mantel-piece, of old Nabbs, the carrier. Just as important to me (in a sense) is all the furniture of my world,—eye-pampering, but satisfies no heart. Streets, streets, streets, markets, theatres, churches, Covent Gardens, shops sparkling with pretty faces of industrious milliners, neat seamstresses, ladies cheapening, gentlemen behind counters lying, authors in the street with spectacles, lamps lit at night, pastry-cooks' and silver-smiths' shops, beautiful Quakers of Pentonville, noise of coaches, drowsy cry of mechanic watchmen at night, with bucks reeling home drunk,—if you happen to wake at midnight, cries of 'Fire!' and 'Stop thief!'—inns of court with their learned air, and halls, and butteries, just like Cambridge colleges,—old book-stalls, 'Jeremy Taylors,' 'Burtons on Melancholy,' and 'Religio Medicis,' on every stall. These are thy pleasures, O London-with-the-many-sins!—for these may Keswick and her giant brood go hang!"

And again to Wordsworth, in 1830,—"Let no native Londoner imagine that health, and rest, and innocent occupation, interchange of converse sweet, and recreative study, can make the country anything better than altogether odious and detestable."

Does any weak-limbed country-liver resent this honesty of speech? Surely not, if he be earnest in his loves and faith; but, the rather, by such token of unbounded naturalness, he recognizes under the waistcoat of this dear, old, charming cockney the traces of close cousinship to the Waltons, and binds him, and all the simplicity of his talk, to his heart, for aye. There is never a hillside under whose oaks or chestnuts I lounge upon a smoky afternoon of August, but a pocket Elia is as coveted and as cousinly a companion as a pocket Walton, or a White of Selborne. And upon wet days in my library, I conjure up the image of the thin, bent old gentleman—Charles Lamb—to sit over against me, and I watch his kindly, beaming eye, as he recites with poor stuttering voice,—between the whiffs of his pipe,—over and over, those always new stories of "Christ's Hospital," and the cherished "Blakesmoor," and "Mackery End."

(No, you need not put back the book, my boy; 't is always in place.)

I never admired greatly James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd; yet he belongs of double right in the coterie of my wet-day preachers. Bred a shepherd, he tried farming, and he wrote pastorals. His farming (if we may believe contemporary evidence) was by no means so good as his verse. The Ettrick Shepherd of the "Noctes Ambrosianae" is, I fancy, as much becolored by the wit of Professor Wilson as any daughter of a duchess whom Sir Joshua changed into a nymph. I think of Hogg as a sturdy sheep-tender, growing rebellious among the Cheviot flocks, crazed by a reading of the Border minstrelsy, drunken on books, (as his fellows were with "mountain-dew,") and wreaking his vitality on Gaelic rhymes,—which, it is true, have a certain blush and aroma of the heather-hills, but which never reached the excellence that he fondly imagined belonged to them. I fancy, that, when he sat at the laird's table, (Sir Walter's,) and called the laird's lady by her baptismal name, and—not abashed in any presence—uttered his Gaelic gibes for the wonderment of London guests,—that he thought far more of himself than the world has ever been inclined to think of him. I know that poets have a privilege of conceit, and that those who are not poets sometimes assume it; but it is, after all, a sorry quality by which to win the world's esteem; and when death closes the record, it is apt to insure a large debit against the dead man.

It may not be commonly known that the Ettrick Shepherd was an agricultural author, and wrote "Hogg on Sheep," for which, as he tells us, he received the sum of eighty-six pounds. It is an octavo book, and relates to the care, management, and diseases of the black-faced mountain-breed, of which alone he was cognizant. It had never a great reputation; and I think the sheep-farmers of the Cheviots were disposed to look with distrust upon the teachings of a shepherd who supped with "lords" at Abbotsford, and whose best venture in verse was in "The Queen's Wake." A British agricultural author, speaking of him in a pitiful way, says,—"He passed years of busy authorship, and encountered the usual difficulties of that penurious mode of life."[32]

This is good; it is as good as anything of Hogg's.

I approach the name of Mr. Loudon, the author of the Encyclopaedias of Gardening and Agriculture, with far more of respect. If nothing else in him laid claim to regard, his industry, his earnestness, his indefatigable labor in aid of all that belonged to the progress of British gardening or farming, would demand it. I take a pride, too, in saying, that, notwithstanding his literary labors, he was successful as a farmer, during the short period of his farm-holding.

Mr. Loudon was a Scotchman by birth, was educated in Edinburgh, and was for a time under the tutelage of Mr. Dickson, the famous nurseryman of Leith-Walk. Early in the present century he made his first appearance in London,—published certain papers on the laying-out of the public squares of the metropolis, and shortly after was employed by the Earl of Mansfield in the arrangement of the palace-gardens at Scone. In 1813 and '14 he travelled on the Continent very widely, making the gardens of most repute the special objects of his study; and in 1822 he published his "Encyclopaedia of Gardening"; that of Agriculture followed shortly after, and his book of Rural Architecture in 1833. But these labors, enormous as they were, had interludes of other periodical work, and were crowned at last by his magnum opus, the "Arboretum." A man of only ordinary nerve and diligence would have taken a ten years' rest upon the completion of only one of his ponderous octavos; and the wonder is the greater, that London wrought in his later years under all the disadvantages of appeals from rapacious creditors and the infirmities of a broken constitution. Crippled, palsied, fevered, for a long period of years, he still wrought on with a persistence that would have broken many a strong man down, and only yielded at last to a bronchial affection which grappled him at his work.

This author massed together an amount of information upon the subjects of which he treated that is quite unmatched in the whole annals of agricultural literature. Columella, Heresbach, Worlidge, and even the writers of the "Geoponica," dwindle into insignificance in the comparison. He is not, indeed, always absolutely accurate on historical points;[33] but in all essentials his books are so complete as to have made them standard works up to a time long subsequent to their issue.

* * * * *

No notice of the agricultural literature of the early part of this century would be at all complete without mention of the Magazines and Society "Transactions," in which alone some of the best and most scientific cultivators communicated their experience or suggestions to the public. Loudon was himself the editor of the "Gardener's Magazine"; and the earlier Transactions of the Horticultural Society are enriched by the papers of such men as Knight, Van Mons, Sir Joseph Banks, Rev. William Herbert, Messrs. Dickson, Haworth, Wedgwood, and others. The works of individual authors lost ground in comparison with such an array of reports from scientific observers, and from that time forth periodical literature has become the standard teacher in what relates to good culture. I do not know what extent of good the newly instituted Agricultural Colleges of this country may effect; but I feel quite safe in saying that our agricultural journals will prove always the most effective teachers of the great mass of the farming-population. The London Horticultural Society at an early day established the Chiswick Gardens, and these, managed under the advice of the Society's Directors, have not only afforded an accurate gauge of British progress in horticulture, but they have furnished to the humblest cultivator who has strolled through their inclosures practical lessons in the craft of gardening, renewed from month to month and from year to year. It is to be hoped that the American Agricultural Colleges will adopt some similar plan, and illustrate the methods they teach upon lands which shall be open to public inspection, and upon whose culture and its successes systematic reports shall be annually made. Failing of this, they will fail of the best part of their proper purpose. Nor would it be a fruitless work, if, in connection with such experimental farm, a weekly record were issued,—giving analyses of the artificial manures employed, and a complete register of every field, from the date of its "breaking-up" to the harvesting of the crop. Every new implement, moreover, should be reported upon with unwavering impartiality, and no advertisements should be received. I think under these conditions we might almost look for an honest newspaper.

* * * * *

Writing thus, during these in-door hours, of country-pursuits, and of those who have illustrated them, or who have in any way quickened the edge with which we farmers rasp away the weeds or carve out our pastoral entertainment, I come upon the names of a great bevy of poets, belonging to the earlier quarter of this century, that I find it hard to pass by. Much as I love to bring to mind, over and over again, "Ivanhoe" and "Waverley," I love quite as much to summon to my view Walter Scott, the woodsman of Abbotsford, with hatchet at his girdle, and the hound Maida in attendance. I see him thinning out the saplings that he has planted upon the Tweed banks. I know how they stand, having wandered by the hour among them. I can fancy how the master would have lopped away the boughs for a little looplet through which a burst of the blue Eildon Hills should come. His favorite seat, overshadowed by an arbor-vitae, (of which a leaf lies pressed in the "Scotch Tourist" yonder,) was so near to the Tweed banks that the ripple of the stream over its pebbly bottom must have made a delightful lullaby for the toil-worn old man. But beyond wood-craft, I could never discover that Sir Walter had any strong agricultural inclination; nor do I think that the old gentleman had much eye for the picturesque; no landscape-gardener of any reputation would have decided upon such a site for such a pile as that of Abbotsford: the spot is low; the views are not extended or varied; the very trees are all of Scott's planting: but the master loved the murmur of the Tweed,—loved the nearness of Melrose, and in every old bit of sculpture that he walled into his home he found pictures of far-away scenes that printed in vague shape of tower or abbey all his limited horizon.

Christopher North carried his Scotch love of mountains to his home among the English lakes. I think he counted Skiddaw something more than "a great creature." In all respects—saving the pipes and the ale—he was the very opposite of Charles Lamb. And yet do we love him more? A stalwart, hearty man, with a great redundance of flesh and blood, who could "put the stone" with Finlayson, or climb with the hardiest of the Ben-Nevis guides, or cast a fly with the daintiest of the Low-Country fishers,—redundant of imagination, redundant of speech, and with such exuberance in him that we feel surfeit from the overflow, as at the reading of Spenser's "Faerie Queene," and lay him down with a wearisome sense of mental indigestion.

Nor yet is it so much an indigestion as a feeling of plethora, due less to the frothiness of the condiments than to a certain fulness of blood and brawn. The broad-shouldered Christopher, in his shooting-jacket, (a dingy green velveteen, with pocket-pouches all stuffed,) strides away along the skirts of Cruachan or Loch Lochy with such a tearing pace, and greets every lassie with such a clamorous outbreak of song, and throws such a wonderful stretch of line upon every pool, and amazes us with such stupendous "strikes" and such a whizzing of his reel, that we fairly lose our breath.

Not so of the "White Doe of Rylstone"; nay, we more incline to doze over it than to lose our breath. Wilson differs from Wordsworth as Loch Awe, with its shaggy savagery of shore, from the Sunday quietude and beauty of Rydal-Water. The Strid of Wordsworth was bounded by the slaty banks of the "Crystal Wharf," and the Strid of Wilson, in his best moments, was as large as the valley of Glencoe. Yet Wordsworth loved intensely all the more beautiful aspects of the country, and of country-life. No angler and no gardener, indeed,—too severely and proudly meditative for any such sleight-of-hand. The only great weight which he ever lifted, I suspect, was one which he carried with him always,—the immense dignity of his poetic priesthood. His home and its surroundings were fairly typical of his tastes: a cottage, (so called,) of homely material indeed, but with an ambitious elevation of gables and of chimney-stacks; a velvety sheen of turf, as dapper as that of a suburban haberdasher; a mossy urn or two, patches of flowers, but rather fragrant than showy ones; behind him the loveliest of wooded hills, all toned down by graceful culture, and before him the silvery mirrors of Windermere and Rydal-Water.

We have to credit him with some rare and tender description, and fragments of great poems; but I cannot help thinking that he fancied a profounder meaning lay in them than the world has yet detected.

John Clare was a contemporary of Wordsworth's, and was most essentially a poet of the fields. His father was a pauper and a cripple; not even young Cobbett was so pressed to the glebe by the circumstances of his birth. But the thrushes taught Clare to sing. He wrote verses upon the lining of his hat-band. He hoarded halfpence to buy Thomson's "Seasons," and walked seven miles before sunrise to make the purchase. The hardest field-toil could not repress the poetic aspirations of such a boy. By dint of new hoardings he succeeded in printing verses of his own; but nobody read them. He wrote other verses, which at length made him known. The world flattered the peasant-bard of Northamptonshire. A few distinguished patrons subscribed the means for equipping a farm of his own. The heroine of his love-tales became its mistress; a shelf or two of books made him rich; but in an evil hour he entered upon some farm-speculation which broke down; a new poem was sharply criticized or neglected; the novelty of his peasant's song was over. Disheartened and gloomy, he was overwhelmed with despondency, and became the inmate of a mad-house, where for forty years he has staggered idiotically toward the rest which did not come. But even as I write I see in the British papers that he is free at last. Poor Clare is dead.

With this sad story in mind, we may read with a zest which perhaps its merit alone would not provoke his little sonnet of "The Thrush's Nest":—

"Within a thick and spreading hawthorn-bush, That overhung a mole-hill large and round, I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush Sing hymns, of rapture, while I drank the sound With joy; and oft, an unintruding guest, I watched her secret toils from day to day,— How true she warped the moss to form her nest, And modelled it within with wood and clay, And by-and-by, like heath-bells gilt with dew, There lay her shining eggs as bright as flowers, Ink-spotted over, shells of green and blue; And there I witnessed, in the summer hours, A brood of Nature's minstrels chirp and fly, Glad as the sunshine and the laughing sky."

There are pretty snatches of a Southern May in Hunt's poem of "Rimini," where

"sky, earth, and sea Breathe like a bright-eyed face that laughs out openly. 'T is Nature full of spirits, waked and springing: The birds to the delicious tune are singing, Darting with freaks and snatches up and down, Where the light woods go seaward from the town; While happy faces striking through the green Of leafy roads at every turn are seen; And the far ships, lifting their sails of white Like joyful hands, come up with scattery light, Come gleaming up true to the wished-for day, And chase the whistling brine, and swirl into the bay."

This does not sound as if it came from the prince of cockneys; and I have always felt a certain regard for Leigh Hunt, too, by reason of the tender story which he gives of the little garden, "mio picciol orto," that he established during his two years of prisonhood.[34]

But, after all, there was no robustness in his rural spirit,—nothing that makes the cheek tingle, as if a smart wind had smitten it. He was born to handle roses without thorns; I think that with a pretty boudoir, on whose table every morning a pretty maid should arrange a pretty nosegay, and with a pretty canary to sing songs in a gilded cage, and pretty gold-fish to disport in a crystal vase, and basted partridges for dinner, his love for the country would have been satisfied. He loved Nature as a sentimental boy loves a fine woman of twice his years,—sighing himself away in pretty phrases that flatter, but do not touch her; there is nothing to remind, even, of the full, abounding, fiery, all-conquering love with which a full-grown man meets and marries a yielding maiden.

In poor John Keats, however, there is something of this; and under its heats he consumed away. For ripe, joyous outburst of all rural fancies,—for keen apprehension of what most takes hold of the susceptibilities of a man who loves the country,—for his coinage of all sweet sounds of birds, all murmur of leaves, all riot and blossoming of flowers, into fragrant verse,—he was without a peer in his day. It is not that he is so true to natural phases in his descriptive epithets, not that he sees all, not that he has heard all; but his heart has drunk the incense of it, and his imagination refined it, and his fancy set it aflow in those jocund lines which bound and writhe and exult with a passionate love for the things of field and air.

* * * * *

I close these papers, with my eye resting upon the same stretch of fields,—the wooded border of a river,—the twinkling roofs and spires flanked by hills and sea,—where my eye rested when I began this story of the old masters with Hesiod and the bean-patches of Ithaca. And I take a pleasure in feeling that the farm-practice over all the fields below me rests upon the cumulated authorship of so long a line of teachers. Yon open furrow, over which the herbage has closed, carries trace of the ridging in the "Works and Days"; the brown field of half-broken clods is the fallow ([Greek: Neos]) of Xenophon; the drills belong to Worlidge; their culture with the horse-hoe is at the order of Master Tull. Young and Cobbett are full of their suggestions; Lancelot Brown has ordered away a great straggling hedge-row; and Sir Uvedale Price has urged me to spare a hoary maple which lords it over a half-acre of flat land. Cato gives orders for the asparagus, and Switzer for the hot-beds. Crescenzi directs the walling, and Smith of Deanston the ploughing. Burns embalms all my field-mice, and Cowper drapes an urn for me in a tangled wilderness. Knight names my cherries, and Walton, the kind master, goes with me over the hill to a wee brook that bounds down under hemlocks and soft maples, for "a contemplative man's recreation." Davy long ago caught all the fermentation of my manure-heap in his retort, and Thomson painted for me the scene which is under my window to-day. Mowbray cures the pip in my poultry, and all the songs of all the birds are caught and repeated to the echo in the pages of the poets which lie here under my hand; through the prism of their verse, Patrick the cattle-tender changes to a lithe milkmaid, against whose ankles the buttercups nod rejoicingly, and Rosamund (which is the nurse) wakes all Arden (which is Edgewood) with a rich burst of laughter.

And shall I not be grateful to these my patrons? And shall I count it unworthy to pass these few in-door hours of rain in the emblazonment of their titles?

Nor must I forget here to express my indebtedness to those kind friends who have from time to time favored me with suggestions or corrections, in the course of these papers, and to those others—not a few—who have lent me rare old books of husbandry, which are not easily laid hold of.

I have discussed no works of living authors, whether of practical or pastoral intent: at some future day I may possibly pay my compliments to them. Meantime I cannot help interpolating in the interest of my readers a little fragment of a letter addressed to me within the year by the lamented Hawthorne:—"I remember long ago your speaking prospectively of a farm; but I never dreamed of your being really much more of a farmer than myself, whose efforts in that line only make me the father of a progeny of weeds in a garden-patch. I have about twenty-five acres of land, seventeen of which are a hill of sand and gravel, wooded with birches, locusts, and pitch-pines, and apparently incapable of any other growth; so that I have great comfort in that part of my territory. The other eight acres are said to be the best land in Concord, and they have made me miserable, and would soon have ruined me, if I had not determined nevermore to attempt raising anything from them. So there they lie along the roadside, within their broken fence, an eyesore to me, and a laughing-stock to all the neighbors. If it were not for the difficulty of transportation by express or otherwise, I would thankfully give you those eight acres."

And now the fine, nervous hand, which wrought with such strange power and beauty, is stilled forever! The eight acres can well lie neglected; for upon a broader field, as large as humanity, and at the hands of thousands of reapers who worked for love, he has gathered in a great harvest of immortelles.


[27] Life of Sir Humphry Davy, London, 1839, p. 46.

[28] See letter of Thomas Poole, p. 322, Fragmentary Remains of Sir Humphry Davy.

[29] Salmonia, p. 5, London, Murray, 1851.

[30] Fragmentary Remains, p. 242.

[31] Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine.

[32] Agricultural Biography, etc. London, 1854. Printed for the Author.

[33] I ought, perhaps, to make definite exception in the case of a writer so universally accredited. In his "Encyclopaedia of Gardening," he speaks of the "Geoponica" as the work of "modern Greeks," written after the transfer of the seat of empire to Constantinople; whereas the bulk of those treatises were written long before that date. He speaks of Varro as first in order of time of Roman authors on agriculture; yet Varro was born 116 B. C., and Cato died as early as 149 B. C. Crescenzi he names as an author of the fifteenth century; he should be credited to the fourteenth. He also commits the very common error in writers on gardening, of confounding the Tuscan villa of Pliny with that at Tusculum. These two places of the Roman Consul were entirely distinct and unlike.

[34] Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, Vol. II. p. 258.


It is pleasant to see how much the present war has done towards effacing the traditional jealousy between regular officers and volunteers. The two classes have been so thoroughly intermingled, on staff-duties and in the field,—so many regular officers now hold in the volunteer service a rank higher than their permanent standing,—the whole previous military experience of most regulars was so trifling, compared with that which they and the volunteers have now shared in common,—and so many young men have lately been appointed to commissions, in both branches, not only without a West-Point education, but with almost none at all,—that it really cannot be said that there is much feeling of conscious separation left. For treating the two as antagonistic the time has clearly gone by. For judiciously weighing their respective services in the field the epoch has not come, since the reign of history begins only when that of telegrams and special correspondents has ended. It is better, therefore, to limit the comparison, as yet, to that minor routine of military duty upon which the daily existence of an army depends, and of which the great deeds of daring are merely exciting episodes.

At the beginning of the war, and before the distinction was thus partially effaced, the comparison involved very different elements. In our general military inexperience, the majority were not disposed to underrate the value of specific professional training. Education holds in this country much of the prestige held by hereditary rank in Europe, modified only by the condition that the possessor shall take no undue airs upon himself. Even then the penalty consists only in a few outbreaks of superficial jealousy, and the substantial respect for any real acquirements remains the same. So there was a time when the faintest aroma of West Point lent a charm to the most unattractive candidate for a commission. Any Governor felt a certain relief in intrusting a regiment to any man who had ever eaten clandestine oysters at Benny Haven's, or had once heard the whiz of an Indian arrow on the frontier, however mediocre might have been all his other claims to confidence. If he failed, the regular army might bear the shame; if he succeeded, to the State-House be the glory.

Yet there was always another party of critics, not less intelligent, who urged the value of general preparations for any duty, as compared with special,—who held that it was always easier for a man of brains to acquire technical skill than for a person of mere technicality to superadd brains, and that the antecedents of a frontier lieutenant were, on the whole, a poorer training for large responsibilities than those of many a civilian, who had lived in the midst of men, though out of uniform. Let us have a fair statement of this position, for it was very sincere and had much temporary influence. The main thing, it was argued, was the knowledge of human nature and the habit of dealing with mankind in masses,—the very thing from which the younger regular officers at least had been rigidly excluded. From a monastic life at West Point they had usually been transferred to a yet more isolated condition, in some obscure outpost,—or if otherwise, then they had seen no service at all, and were mere clerks in shoulder-straps. But a lawyer who could manoeuvre fifty witnesses as if they were one,—a teacher used to governing young men by the hundred,—an orator trained to sway thousands,—a master-mechanic,—a railway-superintendent,—a factory-agent,—a broker who could harness Wall Street and drive it,—a financier who could rule a sovereign State with a rod of (railway) iron,—such men as these, it was plausibly reasoned, could give an average army-officer all the advantage of his special training, at the start, and yet beat him at his own trade in a year.

These theories were naturally strengthened, moreover, by occasional instances of conspicuous failure, when volunteer troops were intrusted to regular officers. These disappointments could usually be traced to very plain causes. The men selected were sometimes men whose West-Point career would hardly bear minute investigation,—or who had in civil pursuits forgotten all they had learned at the Academy, except self-esteem,—or who had been confined to the duties of some special department, as quartermasters or paymasters, and were really fitted for nothing else,—or who had served their country by resigning their commissions, if not by holding them,—or who had contrived, first or last, to lose hopelessly their tempers or their digestions, or their faith, hope, and charity. Beyond all this lay the trouble, that the best regular officer from the very fact of his superior training was puzzled to know how much to demand of volunteer troops, or what standard to enforce upon them. It was a problem in the Differential Calculus, with the Army Regulations for a constant, and a raw volunteer regiment for a variable, and not a formula in Davies which suited the purpose. Unfortunately, these perplexities were quite as apt to end in relaxation as in rigor, so that the regiments thus commanded sometimes slid into a looseness of which a resolute volunteer officer would have been ashamed.

These were among the earlier results. Against them was to be set the fact, that, on the whole, no regiments in the field made progress so rapid, or held their own so well, as those placed under regular officers. And now that three years have abolished many surmises, and turned many others into established facts, it must be owned that the total value of the professional training has proved far greater, and that of the general preparation far less, than many intelligent observers predicted. The relation between officer and soldier is something so different in kind from anything which civil life has to offer, that it has proved almost impossible to transfer methods or maxims from the one to the other. If a regiment is merely a caucus, and the colonel the chairman,—or merely a fire-company, and the colonel the foreman,—or merely a prayer-meeting, and the colonel the moderator,—or merely a bar-room, and the colonel the landlord,—then the failure of the whole thing is a foregone conclusion. War is not the highest of human pursuits, certainly; but an army comes very near to being the completest of human organizations, and he alone succeeds in it who readily accepts its inevitable laws, and applies them. An army is an aristocracy, on a three-years' lease, supposing that the period of enlistment. No mortal skill can make military power effective on democratic principles. A democratic people can perhaps carry on a war longer and better than any other; because no other can so well comprehend the object, raise the means, or bear the sacrifices. But these sacrifices include the surrender, for the time being, of the essential principle of the government. Personal independence in the soldier, like personal liberty in the civilian, must be waived for the preservation of the nation. With shipwreck staring men in the face, the choice lies between despotism and anarchy, trusting to the common sense of those concerned, when the danger is over, to revert to the old safeguards. It is precisely because democracy is an advanced stage in human society, that war, which belongs to a less advanced stage, is peculiarly inconsistent with its habits. Thus the undemocratic character, so often lamented in West Point and Annapolis, is in reality their strong point. Granted that they are no more appropriate to our stage of society than are revolvers and bowie-knives, that is precisely what makes them all serviceable in time of war. War being exceptional, the institutions which train its officers must be exceptional likewise.

The first essential for military authority lies in the power of command,—a power which it is useless to analyze, for it is felt instinctively, and it is seen in its results. It is hardly too much to say, that, in military service, if one has this power, all else becomes secondary; and it is perfectly safe to say that without it all other gifts are useless. Now for the exercise of power there is no preparation like power, and nowhere is this preparation to be found, in this community, except in regular army-training. Nothing but great personal qualities can give a man by nature what is easily acquired by young men of very average ability who are systematically trained to command.

The criticism habitually made upon our army by foreign observers at the beginning of the war continues still to be made, though in a rather less degree,—that the soldiers are relatively superior to the officers, so that the officers lead, perhaps, but do not command them. The reason is plain. Three years are not long enough to overcome the settled habits of twenty years. The weak point of our volunteer service invariably lies here, that the soldier, in nine cases out of ten, utterly detests being commanded, while the officer, in his turn, equally shrinks from commanding. War, to both, is an episode in life, not a profession, and therefore military subordination, which needs for its efficiency to be fixed and absolute, is, by common consent, reduced to a minimum. The white American soldier, being, doubtless, the most intelligent in the world, is more ready than any other to comply with a reasonable order, but he does it because it is reasonable, not because it is an order. With advancing experience his compliance increases, but it is still because he better and better comprehends the reason. Give him an order that looks utterly unreasonable,—and this is sometimes necessary,—or give him one which looks trifling, under which head all sanitary precautions are yet too apt to rank, and you may, perhaps, find that you still have a free and independent citizen to deal with, not a soldier. Implicit obedience must be admitted still to be a rare quality in our army; nor can we wonder at it. In many cases there is really no more difference between officers and men, in education or in breeding, than if the one class were chosen by lot from the other; all are from the same neighborhood, all will return to the same civil pursuits side by side; every officer knows that in a little while each soldier will again become his client or his customer, his constituent or his rival. Shall he risk offending him for life in order to carry out some hobby of stricter discipline? If this difficulty exist in the case of commissioned officers, it is still more the case with the non-commissioned, those essential intermediate links in the chain of authority. Hence the discipline of our soldiers has been generally that of a town-meeting or of an engine-company, rather than that of an army; and it shows the extraordinary quality of the individual men, that so much has been accomplished with such a formidable defect in the organization. Even granting that there has been a great and constant improvement, the evil is still vast enough. And every young man trained at West Point enters the service with at least this advantage, that he has been brought up to command, and has not that task to learn.

He has this further advantage, that he is brought up with some respect for the army-organization as it is, with its existing rules, methods, and proprieties, and is not, like the newly commissioned civilian, disposed in his secret soul to set aside all its proprieties as mere "pipe-clay," its methods as "old-fogyism," and its rules as "red-tape." How many good volunteer officers will admit, if they speak candidly, that on entering the service they half believed the "Army Regulations" to be a mass of old-time rubbish, which they would gladly reedit, under contract, with immense improvements, in a month or two,—and that they finally left the service with the conviction that the same book was a mine of wisdom, as yet but half explored! Certainly, when one thinks for what a handful of an army our present military system was devised, and with what an admirable elasticity it has borne this sudden and stupendous expansion, it must be admitted to have most admirably stood the test. Of course, there has been much amendment and alteration needed, nor is the work done yet; but it has mainly touched the details, not the general principles. The system is wonderfully complete for its own ends, and the more one studies it the less one sneers. Many a form which at first seems to the volunteer officer merely cumbrous and trivial he learns to prize at last as almost essential to good discipline; he seldom attempts a short cut without finding it the longest way, and rarely enters on that heroic measure of cutting red-tape without finding at last that he has entangled his own fingers in the process.

More thorough training tells in another way. It is hard to appreciate, without the actual experience, how much of military life is a matter of mere detail. The maiden at home fancies her lover charging at the head of his company, when in reality he is at that precise moment endeavoring to convince his company-cooks that salt-junk needs five hours' boiling, or is anxiously deciding which pair of worn-out trousers shall be ejected from a drummer-boy's knapsack. Courage is, no doubt, a good quality in a soldier, and luckily not often wanting; but, in the long run, courage depends largely on the haversack. Men are naturally brave, and when the crisis comes, almost all men will fight well, if well commanded. As Sir Philip Sidney said, an army of stags led by a lion is more formidable than an army of lions led by a stag. Courage is cheap; the main duty of an officer is to take good care of his men, so that every one of them shall be ready, at a moment's notice, for any reasonable demand. A soldier's life usually implies weeks and months of waiting, and then one glorious hour; and if the interval of leisure has been wasted, there is nothing but a wasted heroism at the end, and perhaps not even that. The penalty for misused weeks, the reward for laborious months, may be determined within ten minutes. Without discipline an army is a mob, and the larger the worse; without rations the men are empty uniforms; without ammunition they might as well have no guns; without shoes they might almost as well have no legs. And it is in the practical appreciation of all these matters that the superiority of the regular officer is apt to be shown.

Almost any honest volunteer officer will admit, that, although the tactics were easily learned, yet, in dealing with all other practical details of army-life, he was obliged to gain his knowledge through many blunders. There were a thousand points on which the light of Nature, even aided by "Army Regulations," did not sufficiently instruct him; and his best hints were probably obtained by frankly consulting regular officers, even if inferior in rank. The advantage of a West-Point training is precisely that of any other professional education. There is nothing in it which any intelligent man cannot learn for himself in later life; nevertheless, the intelligent man would have fared a good deal better, had he learned it all in advance. Test it by shifting the positions. No lawyer would trust his case to a West-Point graduate, without evidence of thorough special preparation. Yet he himself enters on a career equally new to him, where his clients may be counted by thousands, and every case is capital. The army is a foreign country to civilians; of course you can learn the language after your arrival, but how you envy your companion, who, having spoken it from childhood, can proceed at once to matters more important!

Yet the great advantage of the regular army does not, after all, consist merely in any superiority of knowledge, or in the trained habit of command. Granting that patience and labor can readily supply these to the volunteer, the trouble remains, that even in labor and patience the regular officer is apt to have the advantage, by reason of a stronger stimulus. The difference is not merely in the start, but in the pace. No man can be often thrown into the society of regular officers, especially among the younger ones, without noticing a higher standard of professional earnestness than that found among average volunteers; and in this respect a West-Point training makes little or no difference. The reason of the superiority is obvious. To the volunteer, the service is still an episode; to the regular, a permanent career. No doubt, if a man is thoroughly conscientious, or thoroughly ambitious, or thoroughly enthusiastic, a temporary pursuit may prove as absorbing as if it were taken up for life; but the majority of men, however well-meaning, are not thorough at all. How often one hears the apology made by volunteer officers, even those of high rank,—"Military life is not my profession; I entered the army from patriotism, willing to serve my country faithfully for three years, but of course not pretending to perfection in every trivial detail of a pursuit which I shall soon quit forever." But it is patriotism to think the details not trivial. If one gives one's self to one's country, let the gift be total and noble. These details are worthy to absorb the whole daily thought, and they should absorb it, until more thorough comprehension and more matured executive power leave room for larger studies, still in the line of the adopted occupation. If a man leaves his office or his study to be a soldier, let him be a soldier in earnest. Let those three years bound the horizon of his plans, and let him study his new duty as if earth offered no other conceivable career. The scholar must forswear his pen, the lawyer his books, the politician his arts. An officer of whatever rank, who does not find occupation enough for every day, amid the quietest winter-quarters, in the prescribed duties of his position and the studies to which they should lead, is fitted only for civil pursuits, and had better return to them.

Without this thoroughness, life in the army affords no solid contentment. What is called military glory is a fitful and uncertain thing. Time and the newspapers play strange tricks with reputations, and of a hundred officers whose names appear with honor in this morning's despatches ninety may never be mentioned again till it is time to write their epitaphs. Who, for instance, can recite the names of the successive cavalry-commanders who have ridden on their bold forays through Virginia, since the war began? All must give place to the latest Kautz or Sheridan, who has eclipsed without excelling them all. Yet each is as brave and as faithful to-day, no doubt, as when he too glittered for his hour before all men's gaze, and the obscurer duty may be the more substantial honor. So when I lift my eyes to look on yonder level ocean-floor, the fitful sunshine now glimmers white on one far-off sail, now on another; and yet I know that all canvas looks snowy while those casual rays are on it, and that the best vessel is that which, sunlit or shaded, best accomplishes its destined course. The officer is almost as powerless as the soldier to choose his opportunity or his place. Military glory may depend on a thousand things,—the accident of local position, the jealousy of a rival, the whim of a superior. But the merit of having done one's whole duty to the men whose lives are in one's keeping, and to the nation whose life is staked with theirs,—of having held one's command in such a state, that, if at any given moment it was not performing the most brilliant achievement, it might have been,—this is the substantial triumph which every faithful officer has always within reach.

Now will any one but a newspaper flatterer venture to say that this is the habitual standard in our volunteer service? Take as a test the manner in which official inspections are usually regarded by a regimental commander. These occasions are to him what examinations by the School Committee are to a public-school teacher. He may either deprecate and dodge them, or he may manfully welcome them as the very best means of improvement for all under his care. Which is the more common view? What sight more pitiable than to behold an officer begging off from inspection because he has just come in from picket, or is just going out on picket, or has just removed camp, or was a day too late with his last requisition for cartridges? No doubt it is a trying ordeal to have some young regular-army lieutenant ride up to your tent at an hour's notice, and leisurely devote a day to probing every weak spot in your command,—to stand by while he smells at every camp-kettle, detects every delinquent gun-sling, ferrets out old shoes from behind the mess-bunks, spies out every tent-pole not labelled with the sergeant's name, asks to see the cash-balance of each company-fund, and perplexes your best captain on forming from two ranks into one by the left flank. Yet it is just such unpleasant processes as these which are the salvation of an army; these petty mortifications are the fulcrum by which you can lift your whole regiment to a first-class rank, if you have only the sense to use them. So long as no inspecting officer needs twice to remind you of the same thing, you have no need to blush. But though you be the bravest of the brave, though you know a thousand things of which he is utterly ignorant, yet so long as he can tell you one thing which you ought to know, he is master of the situation. He may be the most conceited little popinjay who ever strutted in uniform; no matter; it is more for your interest to learn than for his to teach. Let our volunteer officers, as a body, once resolve to act on this principle, and we shall have such an army as the world never saw. But nothing costs the nation a price so fearful, in money or in men, as the false pride which shrinks from these necessary surgical operations, or regards the surgeon as a foe.

It is not being an officer to wear uniform for three years, to draw one's pay periodically, and to acquit one's self without shame during a few hours or days of actual battle. History will never record what fine regiments have been wasted and ruined, since this war began, by the negligence in camp of commanders who were brave as Bayard in the field. Unless a man is willing to concentrate his whole soul upon learning and performing the humblest as well as the most brilliant functions of his new profession, a true officer he will never become. More time will not help him; for time seldom does much for one who enters, especially in middle life, on an employment for which he is essentially unfitted. It is amusing to see the weight attached to the name of veteran, in military matters, by persons who in civil life are very ready to exchange a veteran doctor or minister for his younger rival. Military seniority, though the only practicable rule of precedence, is liable to many notorious inconveniences. It is especially without meaning in the volunteer service, where the Governor of Maine may happen to date a set of commissions on the first day of January, and His Excellency of Minnesota may doom his contemporary regiment to life-long subordination by accidentally postponing theirs to the second day. But it has sufficient drawbacks even where all the appointments pass through one channel. The dignity it gives is a merely chronological distinction,—an oldest-inhabitant renown,—much like the university-degree of A. M., which simply implies that a man has got decently through college, and then survived three years. But if a man was originally placed in a position beyond his deserts, the mere lapse of time may have only made him the more dangerous charlatan. If he showed no sign of military aptitude in six months, a probation of three years may have been more costly, but not more conclusive. Add to this the fact that each successive year of the war has seen all officers more carefully selected, if only because there has been more choice of material; so that there is sometimes a temptation in actual service, were it practicable, to become Scriptural in our treatment, and put the last first and the first last. In those unfortunate early days, when it seemed to most of our Governors to make little difference whom they commissioned, since all were alike untried, and of two evils it was natural to choose that which would produce the more agreeable consequences at the next election-time,—in those days of darkness many very poor officers saw the light. Many of these have since been happily discharged or judiciously shelved. The trouble is, that those who remain are among the senior officers in our volunteer army, in their respective grades. They command posts, brigades, divisions. They preside at court-martials. Beneath the shadow of their notorious incompetency all minor evils may lurk undetected. To crown all, they are, in many cases, sincere and well-meaning men, utterly obtuse as to their own deficiencies, and manifesting (to employ a witticism coeval with themselves) all the Christian virtues except that of resignation.

The present writer has beheld the spectacle of an officer of high rank, previously eminent in civil life, who could only vindicate himself before a court-martial from the ruinous charge of false muster by summoning a staff-officer to prove that it was his custom to sign all military papers without looking at them. He has seen a lieutenant tried for neglect of duty in allowing a soldier under his command, at an important picket-post, to be found by the field-officer of the day with two inches of sand in the bottom of his gun,—and pleading, in mitigation of sentence, that it had never been the practice in his regiment to make any inspection of men detailed for such duty. That such instances of negligence should be tolerated for six months in any regiment of regulars is a thing almost inconceivable, and yet in these cases the regiments and the officers had been nearly three years in service.

It is to be remembered that even the command of a regiment of a thousand men is a first-class administrative position, and that there is no employer of men in civil life who assumes the responsibility of those under his command so absolutely and thoroughly. The life, the health, the efficiency, the finances, the families of his soldiers, are staked not so much on the courage of a regimental commander as upon his decision, his foresight, and his business-habits. As Richter's worldly old statesman tells his son, "War trains a man to business." If he takes his training slowly, he must grow perfect through suffering,—commonly the suffering of other people. The varied and elaborate returns, for instance, now required of officers,—daily, monthly, quarterly, annually,—are not one too many as regards the interests of Government and of the soldiers, but are enough to daunt any but an accurate and methodical man. A single error in an ordnance requisition may send a body of troops into action with only twenty rounds of ammunition to a man. One mistake in a property-voucher may involve an officer in stoppages exceeding his yearly pay. One wrong spelling in a muster-roll may beggar a soldier's children ten years after the father has been killed in battle. Under such circumstances no standard of accuracy can be too high. And yet even the degree of regularity that now exists is due more to the constant pressure from head-quarters than to any individual zeal. For a large part of this pressure the influence of the regular army is responsible,—those officers usually occupying the more important staff-positions, and having in some departments of service, especially in the ordnance, moulded and remoulded the whole machinery until it has become almost a model. It would be difficult to name anything in civil life which is in its way so perfect as the present system of business and of papers in this department. Every ordnance blank now contains a schedule of instructions for its own use, so simple and so minute that it seems as if, henceforward, the most negligent volunteer officer could never make another error. And yet in the very last set of returns which the writer had occasion to revise,—returns made by a very meritorious captain,—there were eight different papers, and a mistake in every one.

The glaring defeat of most of our volunteer regiments, from the beginning to this day, has lain in slovenliness and remissness as to every department of military duty, except the actual fighting and dying. When it comes to that ultimate test, our men usually endure it so magnificently that one is tempted to overlook all deficiencies on intermediate points. But they must not be overlooked, because they create a fearful discount on the usefulness of our troops, when tried by the standard of regular armies. I do not now refer to the niceties of dress-parade or the courtesies of salutation: it has long since been tacitly admitted that a white American soldier will not present arms to any number of rows of buttons, if he can by any ingenuity evade it; and to shoulder arms on passing an officer is something to which only Ethiopia or the regular army can attain. Grant, if you please, (though I do not grant,) that these are merely points of foolish punctilio. But there are many things which are more than punctilio, though they may be less than fighting. The efficiency of a body of troops depends, after all, not so much on its bravery as on the condition of its sick-list. A regiment which does picket-duty faithfully will often avoid the need of duties more terrible. Yet I have ridden by night along a chain of ten sentinels, every one of whom should have taken my life rather than permit me to give the countersign without dismounting, and have been required to dismount by only four, while two did not ask me for the countersign at all, and two others were asleep. I have ridden through a regimental camp whose utterly filthy condition seemed enough to send malaria through a whole military department, and have been asked by the colonel, almost with tears in his eyes, to explain to him why his men were dying at the rate of one a day. The latter was a regiment nearly a year old, and the former one of almost two years' service, and just from the old Army of the Potomac.

The fault was, of course, in the officers. The officer makes the command, as surely as, in educational matters, the teacher makes the school. There is not a regiment in the army so good that it could not be utterly spoiled in three months by a poor commander, nor so poor that it could not be altogether transformed in six by a good one. The difference in material is nothing,—white or black, German or Irish; so potent is military machinery that an officer who knows his business can make good soldiers out of almost anything, give him but a fair chance. The difference between the present Army of the Potomac and any previous one,—the reason why we do not daily hear, as in the early campaigns, of irresistible surprises, overwhelming numbers, and masked batteries,—the reason why the present movements are a tide and not a wave,—is not that the men are veterans, but that the officers are. There is an immense amount of perfectly raw material in General Grant's force, besides the colored regiments, which in that army are all raw, but in which the Copperhead critics have such faith they would gladly select them for dangers fit for Napoleon's Old Guard. But the newest recruit soon grows steady with a steady corporal at his elbow, a well-trained sergeant behind him, and a captain or a colonel whose voice means something to give commands.

This reference to the colored troops suggests the false impression, still held by many, that special opposition to this important military organization has been made by regular officers. There is no justice in this. While it is very probable that regular officers, as a class, may have had stronger prejudices on this point than others have held, yet it is to be remembered that the chief obstacles have not come from them, nor from military men of any kind, but from civilians at home. Nothing has been more remarkable than the facility with which the expected aversion of the army everywhere vanished before the admirable behavior of the colored troops, and the substantial value of the reinforcements they brought. When it comes to the simple question whether a soldier shall go on duty every night or every other night, he is not critical as to beauty of complexion in the soldier who relieves him.

Some regular officers may have been virulently opposed to the employment of negroes as soldiers, though the few instances which I have known have been far more than compensated by repeated acts of the most substantial kindness from many others. But I never have met one who did not express contempt for the fraud thus far practised by Government on a portion of these troops, by refusing to pay them the wages which the Secretary of War had guarantied. This is a wrong which, but for good discipline, would have long since converted our older colored regiments into a mob of mutineers, and which, while dishonestly saving the Government a few thousand dollars, has virtually sacrificed hundreds of thousands in its discouraging effect upon enlistments, at a time when the fate of the nation may depend upon a few regiments more or less. It is in vain for national conventions to make capital by denouncing massacres like that of Fort Pillow, and yet ignore this more deliberate injustice for which some of their own members are in part responsible. The colored soldiers will take their own risk of capture and maltreatment very readily, (since they must take it on themselves at any rate,) if the Government will let its justice begin at home, and pay them their honest earnings. It is of little consequence to a dying man whether any one else is to die by retaliation, but it is of momentous consequence whether his wife and family are to be cheated of half his scanty earnings by the nation for which he dies. The Rebels may be induced to concede the negro the rights of war, when we grant him the ordinary rights of peace, namely, to be paid the price agreed upon. Jefferson Davis and the London "Times"—one-half whose stock-in-trade is "the inveterate meanness of the Yankee"—will hardly be converted to sound morals by the rebukes of an administration which allows its Secretary of War to promise a black soldier thirteen dollars a month, pay him seven, and shoot him if he grumbles. From this crowning injustice the regular army, and, indeed, the whole army, is clear; to civilians alone belongs this carnival of fraud.

If, in some instances, terrible injustice has been done to the black soldiers in their military treatment also, it has not been only, or chiefly, under regular officers. Against the cruel fatigue duty imposed upon them last summer, in the Department of the South, for instance, must be set the more disastrous mismanagements of the Department of the Gulf,—the only place from which we now hear the old stories of disease and desertion,—all dating back to the astonishing blunder of organizing the colored regiments of half-size at the outset, with a full complement of officers. This measure, however agreeable it might have been to the horde of aspirants for commissions, was in itself calculated to destroy all self-respect in the soldiers, being based on the utterly baseless assumption that they required twice as many officers as whites, and was foredoomed to failure, because no esprit de corps can be created in a regiment which is from the first insignificant in respect to size. It is scarcely conceivable that any regular officer should have honestly fallen into such an error as this; and it is very certain that the wisest suggestions and the most efficient action have proceeded, since the beginning, from them. It will be sufficient to mention the names of Major-General Hunter, Brigadier-General Phelps, and Adjutant-General Thomas; and one there is whose crowning merits deserve a tribute distinct even from these.

When some future Bancroft or Motley writes with philosophic brain and poet's hand the story of the Great Civil War, he will find the transition to a new era in our nation's history to have been fitly marked by one festal day,—that of the announcement of the President's Proclamation, upon Port-Royal Island, on the first of January, 1863. That New-Year's time was our second contribution to the great series of historic days, beads upon the rosary of the human race, permanent festivals of freedom. Its celebration was one beside whose simple pageant the superb festivals of other lands might seem but glittering counterfeits. Beneath a majestic grove of the great live-oaks which glorify the South-Carolina soil a liberated people met to celebrate their own peaceful emancipation. They came thronging, by land and water, from plantations which their own self-imposed and exemplary industry was beginning already to redeem. The military escort which surrounded them had been organized out of their own numbers, and had furnished to the nation the first proof of the capacity of their race to bear arms. The key-note of the meeting was given by spontaneous voices, whose unexpected anthem took the day from the management of well-meaning patrons, and swept all away into the great currents of simple feeling. It was a scene never to be forgotten: the moss-hung trees, with their hundred-feet diameter of shade; the eager faces of women and children in the foreground; the many-colored headdresses; the upraised hands; the neat uniforms of the soldiers; the outer row of mounted officers and ladies; and beyond all the blue river, with its swift, free tide. And at the centre of all this great and joyous circle stood modestly the man on whose personal integrity and energy, more than on any President or Cabinet, the hopes of all that multitude appeared to rest,—who commanded then among his subjects, and still commands, an allegiance more absolute than any European potentate can claim,—whose name will be forever illustrious as having first made a practical reality out of that Proclamation which then was to the President only an autograph, and to the Cabinet only a dream,—who, when the whole fate of the slaves and of the Government hung trembling in the balance, decided it forever by throwing into the scale the weight of one resolute man,—who personally mustered in the first black regiment, and personally governed the first community where emancipation was a success,—who taught the relieved nation, in fine, that there was strength and safety in those dusky millions who till then had been an incubus and a terror,—Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, Military Governor of South Carolina. The single career of this one man more than atones for all the traitors whom West Point ever nurtured, and awards the highest place on the roll of our practical statesmanship to the regular army.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse