Switzer, Stephen (DNB00)

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SWITZER, STEPHEN (1682?–1745), agricultural writer, was the son of Thomas Switzer or Sweetzer of East Stratton, and his wife Mary, whose maiden name was probably Hapgood. Switzer's parents were married on 14 Feb. 1676, and he was himself baptised on 25 Feb. 1682 (Par. Reg. of Micheldever and Stratton). An elder brother was named Thomas (1678–1742). Stephen was brought up at Stratton (Ichnographia Rustica, 1718, p. 66), and had an education which he describes as ‘none of the meanest for one of my profession.’ Compelled, as it would appear from his own words, by reduced circumstances (Gardener's Recreation, 1715, pp. vii, viii), he became a gardener, taking service for several years under George London and Henry Wise [q. v.], the acknowledged experts in the gardening profession at the period (Ichnographia Rustica, 1718). In 1706 he is stated to have been employed under London in laying out the grounds at Blenheim. He is also thought to have been engaged under Mr. Lowder, superintendent of the royal gardens at St. James's, as kitchen-gardener (G. W. Johnson, History of English Gardening, 1829, p. 158). Like other horticulturists of the time, he appears to have been invited to Scotland to furnish plans of improvement. About a century later Loudon fancied that he could distinguish in the gardens of many gentlemen's seats round Edinburgh traces of Switzer's style (Encyclopædia of Gardening, 1822, p. 78). In 1724 he was servant in some capacity (probably that of gardener) to the Earl of Orrery (Practical Fruit Gardener, ded. 1724). In 1729, in his ‘Introduction to a System of Hydrostatics,’ he states that the greatest help he had had in composing the work had been ‘out of the library of my very worthy, learned, and noble friend and master, the Earl of Orrery.’

Switzer also appears to have served in the same capacity Lords Brooke and Bathurst. A statement frequently made (e.g. in the Hampshire Independent, 6 June 1891; Johnson's English Gardening, 1829, p. 158), to the effect that he was servant or gardener to William, lord Russell [q. v.], who was executed in 1683, is chronologically impossible, and is probably founded on a misconception of Switzer's own words (Ichnographia Rustica, i. 66).

Switzer subsequently entered into business as a nurseryman and seedsman in Westminster Hall, where he kept a stand bearing the sign of the Flower Pot, close by the entrance to the court of common pleas. His gardens were at Milbank.

Switzer edited a monthly agricultural periodical, supported in great measure by his patrons, and entitled ‘The Practical Husbandman and Planter,’ in which he took exception to Jethro Tull's ‘Remarks on the bad Husbandry that is so finely expressed in Virgil's first Georgic.’ Switzer, who prided himself on his classical education, and generally prefixed Latin mottoes to his treatises on husbandry and gardening, was infuriated at Tull's hint that Virgil's Georgics had ‘amass'd together every one of the very worst pieces of husbandry that could be met with in any age or country.’ There followed a violent controversy with Tull, the first edition of whose ‘Horse Hoing Husbandry’ appeared in 1733. Hard words were used on both sides. Switzer died on 8 June 1745 (Gent. Mag. 1745, xv. 332; London Mag. June 1745).

G. W. Johnson considers Switzer to be greatly superior to Bradley, Lawrence, and the other contemporary writers on gardening (Hist. of English Gardening, 1829, p. 159). But his literary style and taste were frequently at fault (see introductory sentences of the Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation). He was a skilful draughtsman, and himself designed many of the frontispieces and illustrations to his works. These are important as giving examples of the ideals of the early eighteenth century in gardening.

Switzer wrote: 1 ‘The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation,’ 1715, a somewhat rare work in one volume, which was reissued three years later, with the addition of two further volumes, as ‘Ichnographia Rustica, or the Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation,’ 3 vols. 1718. A later edition was published in 1742, as ‘with large additions.’ It was, however, unaltered except for the addition of a preface and an appendix. 2. ‘The Practical Fruit Gardener,’ 1724; 2nd edit. 1731. The second edition was reprinted, with slight alterations, in 1763. This, says Johnson, is a work ‘superior to the age in which it appeared’ (Hist. of English Gardening, p. 181). 3. ‘The Practical Kitchen Gardener,’ 1727. 4. ‘A compendious Method of raising the Italian Brocoli, Spanish Cardoon, Celeriac, Finochi, and other Foreign Kitchen Vegetables,’ 1728; 3rd and 4th edit. 1729; 5th edit. 1751; this work contains an account of ‘La Lucerne, St. Foyne, Clover, and other Grass Seeds,’ and a description of the method of fertilising land by burning clay. 5. ‘An Introduction to a General System of Hydrostatics and Hydraulics,’ 2 vols. 1729, 4to. 6. ‘A Dissertation on the true Cytisus of the Ancients,’ 1731; this work was reissued in the course of the next year, bound up with the ‘Compendious Method,’ and with a new title-page, as ‘The Country Gentleman's Companion, or Ancient Husbandry restored and Modern Husbandry improved,’ 1732. According to Weston, he also wrote ‘A New Method of Tanning without Bark,’ 1731, and Loudon credits him with a tract on draining and other useful agricultural improvements, published at Edinburgh in 1717. Neither of these works is to be found in the British Museum library, and they do not appear to be forthcoming elsewhere.

[The best and fullest account of Switzer and his writings is to be found in G. W. Johnson's Hist. of English Gardening, 1829. This account, however, is incorrect in some particulars. See also The Cottage Gardener, ed. by G. W. Johnson, 1850 iii. 152, 1855 xiii. 53.]

E. C.-e.