Austen, Ralph (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 02
Austen, Ralph

by Thomas Finlayson Henderson
According to the ODNB, the Ralph Austen who was the Oxford graduate was a different person of the same name.

AUSTEN, RALPH (d. 1676), writer on gardening, was, according to Anthony à Wood, a native of Staffordshire, and became a student of Magdalen College, Oxford. On 7 April 1630 he was chosen a university proctor, and he spent the remainder of his life in Oxford, devoting most of his time to gardening and the raising of fruit-trees. In 1647 he became deputy-registrary to the visitors, and subsequently registrary in his own right. According to Wood he was, in 1652, admitted into the public library to find materials for a book he was then meditating. In the following year he published 'A Treatise on Fruit-trees, showing the manner of grafting, setting, pruning, and ordering of them in all respects,' and along with it a voluminous pamphlet on the 'Spiritual Use of an Orchard.' It was in all probability to find materials for the latter book that he desired admission to the university; for in his preface to the 'Treatise on Fruit-trees' he states that he 'had set himself to the practice of this work about twenty years, endeavouring to find out things of use and profit by practice and experience that he might speak upon better and surer pounds than some others who have written on this subject.' A second edition of the 'Treatise' with additions and improvements, appeared in 1657. Wood states that its sale was hindered by its association with the treatise on the 'Spiritual Use of an Orchard.' 'which being all divinity, and nothing therein of the practice part of gardening, many refused to buy it; but both Johnson and Watt mention editions in 1662 and 1667. The treatise on the 'Spiritual Use of an Orchard' was reprinted separately at London in 1847. In 1658 Austen published 'Observations on some parts of Sir Francis Bacon's Naturall History as it concerns Fruit-trees, Fruits, and Flowers.' Possibly through some misreading of the title-page, this work has been attributed by some to a Francis Austen, and there is apparently no foundation for the statement that it was published originally in 1631 and again in 1657. According to Wood, Austen was the author of 'A Dialogue or Familiar Discourse and Conference between the Husbandman and Fruiterer in his Nurseries, Orchards, and Gardens,' published in 1676 and 1679, and containing much of the substance of his earlier treatise. Watt erroneously attributes to Ralph Austen two books by John Austen. A work by a Ralph Austen appeared at London in 1676 entitled 'The Strong Man Armed;' but the fact that it was published at London, not at Oxford, and that it is entirely controversial, and contains no reference to gardening, militates against the supposition that its author was identical with the subject of the present notice. According to Wood, Austen died in his house in the parish of St. Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford, and was buried in the church belonging thereunto, in the aisle adjoining the south side of the chancel, 26 Oct. 1676, after he had been a practiser in gardening and planting trees fifty years.

[Anthony à Wood's Fasti Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, i. 453, ii. 174; Johnson's History of English Gardening, 93, 98; Felton's Portraits of English Authors on Gardening, 18, 19; Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica; S. D. U. K. Biog. Dict.; Burrow's Register of the Visitors of the University of Oxford, published by the Camden Society (1881), pp. viii, 84, 312, 357.]

T. F. H.