Tull, Jethro (DNB00)

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TULL, JETHRO (1674–1741), agricultural writer, was born at Basildon in Berkshire. He was baptised on 30 March 1674, ‘the sonne of Jethro and Dorothy Tull.’ The family has been frequently stated to have been of Yorkshire origin, but the branch of it to which Tull belonged had long been settled on the borders of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. He matriculated from St. John's College, Oxford, on 7 July 1691. On 11 Dec. 1693 he was admitted a student of Gray's Inn (Foster, Register of Admissions), and on 19 May 1699 he was called to the bar. He seems, however, not to have had any intention of practising, but to have studied law rather with a view to fitting himself for political life. On 5 May 1724 he was nominated a bencher of Gray's Inn, but he did not sit.

It is stated in the account of Tull given in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1764 that he made the ‘grand tour,’ and visited the several courts of Europe between the time of his being admitted as a barrister and that of his marriage on 26 Oct. 1699. This, however, is contrary to Tull's express assertion (in the preface to the specimen of his Horse-Hoing Husbandry, published in 1731), to the effect that he did not travel till April 1711.

Almost immediately after his marriage he commenced farming, on land which had belonged to his father at Howberry, near Wallingford. Weakness of health had apparently prevented him from following up his political ambitions. It was on this farm at Howberry that Tull invented and perfected his drill about 1701. In his preface to the ‘Specimen’ published in 1731 Tull has given a full account of the stages by which he arrived at this invention. Finding his plans for sowing his farm with sainfoin in a new manner hindered by the distaste of his labourers for his methods, he resolved to attempt to ‘contrive an engine to plant St. Foin more faithfully than such hands would do. For that purpose I examined and compared all the mechanical ideas that ever had entered my imagination, and at last pitched upon a groove, tongue, and spring in the soundboard of the organ. With these a little altered and some parts of two other instruments, as foreign to the field as the organ is, added to them, I composed my machine. It was named a drill, because when farmers used to sow their beans and peas into channels or furrows by hand, they called that action drilling.’ Thus Tull appears to have been quite original in his invention of the drill, although (see below) he had certainly been to some extent anticipated by earlier writers.

After having farmed for nine years part of his Oxfordshire estate with considerable success, as he himself claims, he removed about 1709 to his farm near Hungerford in Berkshire, named ‘Prosperous.’ He indignantly rebuts the suggestion made by ‘Equivocus’ (in the Practical Husbandman and Planter, July 1733, p. 37) that failure in farming was the cause of his removal, and it is more probable that his leaving was due to bad health, the situation and climate of his new farm suiting him better.

In April 1711 Tull was forced to travel for the sake of his health. He journeyed through France and Italy, carefully noticing on the way points relative to the agriculture of both countries, and made a stay at Montpellier. He returned home in 1714, and recommenced his interrupted drill husbandry upon his Berkshire farm. To this he added improvements founded upon his observations during his travels. He had noticed the ‘plowed vineyards near Frontignan and Setts in Languedoc,’ where the pulverisation of the earth between the rows of vines was made to take the place of manuring the land. On his return home he tried this method at Prosperous Farm, first upon turnips and potatoes, then upon wheat. By adding to the system certain improvements of his own, he was enabled to grow wheat on the same fields for thirteen years continuously without manuring (see Forbes, Practice of the New Husbandry, 1786).

It was not until the last decade of his career (1731–41) that Tull published accounts of his agricultural views or experiences, and the vituperation with which his published work was assailed caused him extreme annoyance. His troubles were complicated by difficulties with his labourers, whom he could not teach to use his instruments properly. He was also harassed by the speculations of his spendthrift son, who finally died in the Fleet prison twenty-three years after his father's death.

Tull died on 21 Feb. 1740–1 at Prosperous Farm, near Hungerford, and was buried at his birthplace, Basildon, on 9 March. On 26 Oct. 1699 he married Susanna Smith of Burton Dassett in Warwick, ‘a lady of genteel family.’ By his will, dated 24 Oct. 1739, he left his property to his sister-in-law and his four daughters, leaving his only son John the sum of one shilling.

At the solicitation of many noblemen and gentlemen who had visited Tull's farm, he published a specimen of his ‘Horse-hoing Husbandry’ in 1731 (4to), which was at once pirated in Dublin. Hearing of this, Tull determined to print no more, but was dissuaded by several letters, especially one from a ‘noble peer’ whom he does not name. Accordingly ‘The Horse-hoing Husbandry, or an Essay on the Principles of Tillage and Vegetation, by J. T.,’ appeared in 1733. It was at once attacked by the ‘Private Society of Husbandmen and Planters,’ at the head of which stood Stephen Switzer [q. v.] in their monthly publication, ‘The Practical Husbandman and Planter.’ Tull was accused in this serial of having plagiarised from Fitzherbert, Sir Hugh Plat [q. v.] Gabriel Plattes [q. v.] (who is confused with Sir Hugh), and John Worlidge [q. v.] and several of his theories as to the value of manure and the practice of pulverising the earth were contested. The credit undoubtedly due to Plat, Plattes, and Worlidge need not detract from Tull, for there is no reason to think that Worlidge's drill (see Worlidge, Systema Agriculturæ, chap. iv. sect. 6) materially aided Tull in his conception, and it is very unlikely that Tull had ever read Sir Hugh Plat's ‘New and admirable Arte of setting of Corn.’ Tull was morbidly sensitive to these attacks, and defended himself in various subsequent smaller writings, mostly taking the form of notes on his longer work. He published a ‘Supplement to the Essay on Horse-hoing Husbandry’ in 1735, ‘Addenda to the Essay’ in 1738, and a ‘Conclusion’ in 1739. After Tull's death in 1743 appeared a second edition of the ‘Horse-hoing Husbandry,’ in which these later publications were also reprinted. These early editions were published in folio; in 1751 appeared the 3rd (8vo) edition. In 1822 the book was edited, with some alterations, by William Cobbett. In 1753 a French translation had appeared, the history of which is interesting as showing the importance attached abroad to the ‘new husbandry.’ The Maréchal de Noailles employed a M. Otter to translate Tull's work; the translator's lack of technical knowledge was rectified by submitting the version to the revision of Buffon. At the same time a second independent translation, made also under high patronage by a M. Gottfort, was in a similar way submitted to Duhamel du Monceau, the famous French agriculturist. The work of translation was finally concentrated in Duhamel's hands, and he issued between 1753 and 1757 a free translation of Tull's work, followed by several volumes of commentary, giving an account of his own elaborations of the Tullian system and of the experiments made in the new style of husbandry by many French gentlemen, chief among whom was M. de Chateauvieux. Voltaire was a disciple of Tull, and long cultivated land at Ferney according to the precepts of the new husbandry (Biogr. Univ. 1827, s.v. ‘Tull’). Boswell records how Dr. Johnson discussed the Tullian system with a Dr. Campbell in the course of his tour in the Hebrides (1773); and Forbes was able to say in 1784, ‘Many who had neglected to practise the new husbandry, from Mr. Tull's own success were prevailed upon to engage in it upon the recommendation of these foreign gentlemen, and it is now making considerable progress among farmers in the culture of beans, pease, and cabbages, and in some measure of wheat.’

There is a very good three-quarter-length painting of Tull in the possession of the Royal Agricultural Society (reproduced as a frontispiece in its ‘Journal’ for 1891).

[Parish Register of Basildon; Gent. Mag. 1741 p. 164, 1764 pp. 522–6, 532, 632; Times, 24 Aug. 1889; Foster's Alumni; Forbes's Practice of the New Husbandry, 1786, pp. 17 seq.; Tull's Works; Switzer's Husbandman and Planter. An elaborate and appreciative memoir of Tull appeared in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Soc. of England, 3rd ser. 1891, ii. 1–40, from the pen of Earl Cathcart. For an account of Tull's system, see also C. Wren Hoskyns's Short Inquiry into the Hist. of Agriculture, 1849, pp. 120–34; Edinburgh Review, lix. 388.]

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