The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 14/Number 81/Glorying in the Goad
GLORYING IN THE GOAD.
"Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendor and state,
I envy them not, I declare it;
I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham,
I shear my own fleece, and I wear it;
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruits, I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer;
So, jolly boys, now.
Here's God speed the plough,
Long life and success to the farmer!"
So sings a certain venerable pitcher its untiring song. A brave pitcher it was in its day. A well-ordered farm lies along its swelling sides. A purple man merrily drives his purple team afield. Gold and purple milkmaids are milking purple and golden cows. Young boys bind the ripened sheaves, or bear mugs of foaming cider to the busy hay-makers, with artistic defiance of chronology. There are ploughs and harrows, hoes and spades, beehives and poultry-houses, all in the best repair, and all resplendent in purple and gold. Alas! Ilium fuit. The gold is become dim, the purple is dingy, the lucent whiteness has gone gray; a very large, brown, zigzag fissure has rent its volcanic path through the happy home, dividing the fair garden, cutting the plough in two, narrowly escaping the ploughman; and, indeed, the whole structure is saved from violent disruption only by the unrelaxing clasp of a string of blue yarn. Thus passes away the glory of the world!
Is it not too often typical of the glory of our rural dreams? To live in the country; to lie on green lawns, or under bowers of roses and honeysuckle; to watch the procession of the flowers, and bind upon our brows the sweetest and the fairest; to take largess of all the fruits in their season; to be entirely independent of the world, dead to its din, alive only to its beauty; to feed upon butter and honey, and feast upon strawberries and cream, all found within your own garden-wall; to be wakened by the lark, and lulled asleep by the cricket; to hear the tinkling of the cow-bell as you walk, and to smell the new-mown hay: surely we have found Arcadia at last. Cast away day-book and ledger, green bag and yardstick; let us go straightway into the country and buy a farm.
But before the deeds are actually delivered, before your feet have finally deserted the pavement to make life-long acquaintance with the dew, it will be worth while to ascertain whether the pitcher's word is as good as its bond. If its fallen fortunes are indicative of what yours shall be,—if Arcadia blooms only in its gorgeous bosom, and will turn into an Arabia Petræa at the first touch of your spade,—better for you a pitcher of roughest Delft on board of deal than all this pomp and circumstance of lies.
Reports of societies are not generally "as interesting as a novel." Nevertheless, if one will consult the Report of the Commission of Agriculture for 1862, he will find, among fascinating columns of figures, bold disquisitions on the midge, a mirage of grapes, pears, and peaches, and uncomfortable-looking "thoroughbred" cattle, an essay, by Dr. W. W. Hall of New York city, which may assist him in forming his plans. It is not necessarily destructive of the most charming theories, but it is very definite and damnatory as to facts. Among other unromantic and disagreeable things, it asserts—and proves its assertions by still more disagreeable, because incontrovertible statistics,—that, for all the sylvan delights of lawn and bower, and the exquisite sensation of eating your own hams, the largest class of patients in insane asylums comes from the "jolly boys" and their wives and daughters; but better watch a grass-blade struggling up under the curb-stone of the sidewalk than view the fairest landscape in the world from behind a grated window. We learn also, that, in spite of his ample larder, his freedom from envy and carking care, the farmer does not live so long as the pale clergyman whose white hands he looks upon with only not contempt; but how sweet soever may be the scent of clover and buttercup, he little heeds their fragrance who lies beneath them. We are told that a very large part of our farming population have no breadth of view; that they cannot enter into a conversation beyond a few comments on the weather, the crops, the markets, and the neighborhood-news. The freshness, the beauty, the music and motion, that breathe and stir around them, can gain no foothold in the unvarying routine of their lives; but in vain do the heavens spread out their glory, and in vain the earth unfolds her loveliness, if
"A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose is to him,
And it is nothing more."
To these skeletons is added, perhaps, the causal and certainly the most common skeleton of all: in this rustic paradise, this home of all the graces and comforts, the grim spectre Debt stalks to and fro, eating out the farmer's substance, and giving him in return anxiety, makeshifts, irascibility, and despair. Three homes out of four, according to this writer's estimate, suffer from the ravages of debt.
This is a general, perhaps a national view. We may come a little nearer home, and find that a closer examination only confirms the conclusions arrived at by the broader survey. Thoreau, who "has travelled a great deal in Concord," and whose keen eyes took note there for forty years, says,—"When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, . . . . I find that for the most part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they have inherited with incumbrances, or else bought with hired money, . . . . but commonly they have not paid for them yet. It is true, the incumbrances sometimes outweigh the value of the farm, so that the farm itself becomes one great incumbrance, and still a man is found to inherit it, being well acquainted with it, as he says. On applying to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot at once name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear. If you would know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the bank where they are mortgaged. The man who has actually paid for his farm with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point to him. I doubt if there are three such men in Concord. What has been said of the merchants,—that a very large majority, even ninety-seven in a hundred, are sure to fail,—is equally true of the farmers. . . . Yet the Middlesex Cattle-Show goes off here with éclat annually, as if all the joints of the agricultural machine were suent."
If you do not trust the testimony of books, but will turn to living men, you will scarcely fare better. One man, whose recreations have been rural, but his business civic, conducts you through his groves and summer-houses, his stone barns and his latticed cottages, but tempers your enthusiasm with the remark, that this fancy farming is sowing ninepences to reap sixpences. Relinquishing fancy farms, you go to the practical man swinging his scythe in his hay-field, his shirt-sleeves rolled above his elbows, and his trousers tucked into his boots. He shows you the face-walls and the compost-heap, the drains and the resultant hay-cocks, with measurable pride, but tells you at the same time that every dollar he has earned on that farm has cost him nine shillings. This will never do. A third farmer has inherited his farm, not only without incumbrance, but with money at interest. Under his hands it waxes fat and flourishing, and sends to market every year its twelve or fifteen hundred dollars' worth of produce. But you overhear its owner telling his neighbor that "it's a Cain's business, this farming: make any man cross enough to kill his brother!" You find this farmer racked with rheumatism, though in the prime of life,—bent with the weight of years before his time. He has lost his health just as he has improved his farm, by working early and late through sun and rain. You turn to still another farm, whose owner brings the learning of a college as well as the muscles of a yeoman to the culture of the soil. His nurseries and orchards are thrifty, his cattle sleek and comfortable, his yards broad, cleanly, and sunny. His fields wave with plenty, his granary overflows. Here, surely, you have struck into the Happy Valley. Here at last Tityrus reposes under the shade of his broad-spreading beech-trees. On the contrary, you find Tityrus in the back sitting-room, rolling his eyes in a fine frenzy over a very prose bucolic on the Condition and Prospects of Sheep-Husbandry, which he is writing for the "Country Gentleman" at five dollars a page. All the cool of the day he works on his farm, and all the hot of the day he devotes to his manuscript; and he avers with a solemnity which carries conviction, that he and his wife have come to the conclusion that they are carrying on their farm for the benefit of the hired help! He is devoted to farming; he is interested in its processes; but the men and maids get all the profits, and he supports his family by his pen. Everywhere you find one song with variations. Farmers and farmers' wives are not in love with their calling. They are not enthusiastic over it. The "smartest" of the children do not remain at home to take charge of the farm, unless impelled by a sense of duty to their aged parents, or lured by some promise of extraordinary recompense. Everywhere the farmer finds farming to be "a slave's life," "a dog's life," "delve all your days, and nothin' to show for 't," "hard scrapin' to make both ends meet." It is so unwieldly a mode of applying means to ends, that, if you must believe him, every quart of milk costs him six cents, with the labor thrown in, while you pay the milkman but five cents at your own door; every dozen eggs which he gathers from his own barn he gathers at the rate of twenty-five cents a dozen, while you are paying only twenty-two. And even when both ends do meet, and not only meet, but lap over, you scarcely find a hearty cheerfulness and sunshine, a liberal praise and unfeigned ardor, a contagious delight in the soil. "Jolly boys" in purple blouses may drive ploughs around pitchers, but they are rarely met on the hill-sides of New England. If we may credit Dr. Hall, they are quite as rarely seen on the rich, rolling lands toward the sunset.
Is this state of things inevitable? Farmers have a very general belief that it is. They not only plod on in the old way themselves, but they have no faith in the possible opening-up of any other way. Their sole hope of bettering their condition lies in abandoning it altogether. If one son is superior to the others, if an only son concentrates upon himself all the parental affection, they do not plan for him a brilliant career in their own line; they do not look to him to obtain distinction by some great agricultural achievement, a discovery of new laws or a new combination of old laws; all their love and hope find expression in the determination "not to bring him up to farming." They "don't mean he shall ever have to work." Hard work and small profits is the story of their lives and of the lives of their ancestors, and they do not believe any other story will ever be truly told of the genuine farmer. And when we say small profits, we wish the phrase to hold all the meaning of which it is capable. It is hard work and small profits to body and soul; small profits to heart and brain as well as purse. But every plan which looks to better things is "notional," "new-fangled," "easier to tell of than 'tis to do"; and so the farmer goes on his daily beat, with a shamefaced pride in his independence, fostered by the flattery of his county-fair orators, yet vituperating his occupation, bemoaning its hardships, and depreciating its emoluments, stubbornly set in the belief that he knows all there is to know about farming, and scornful of whatever attempts to go deeper than his own ploughshare or cut a broader swath than his own scythe.
To suggest the possibility that all this is the result of limited knowledge, and that the most favorable and beneficial change might be found in a more liberal education and a wider acquaintance with the facts discovered and the deductions made by science, would be considered by a bold yeomanry, our country's pride, as an outbreak of "book-farming" in its most virulent form. "You may bet your hat on one thing," says the bold yeoman,—"a man may know sunthin', an' be a good minister an' a tol'able deacon, but he's spiled for farmin'."
Two words are beginning to be coupled in the newspapers and to float about in the air, whose juxtaposition is the cause of many a demure chuckle among the rural population,—"Agricultural College." Separately, the words command all respect; united, they are a living refutation of the well-known axiom that "the whole is equal to all its parts." On the contrary, so far are our farmers from believing this, that, while they acknowledge each part to be a very serious and important fact, they look upon the whole as the flimsiest of fallacies.
"Gov'ment is goin' to build an Agriculteral College. Farmin' an' learnin' marry an' set up house-keepin'. Guess Uncle Sam'll have to give 'em a hist with a donation-party now 'n' then. Agriculteral College? Yes, Sir! Well, Sir, if you'll show me a man, Sir, that's a gradooate from that College, that'll ever be seen with a hoe in his hand, I'll give him leave to knock my brains out with it! Yes, Sir! An' it'll be the best use he can put it to, Sir! He'll do less mischief that way 'n any other! Agriculteral College! Edicated farmers! Yes, Sir, I've seen 'em! Got a grist up in Topsell. Jint-stock farm. The best talent in Essex County's been a-carryin' on that farm, an' nigh about carried it off, an' themselves along with it. Yes, Sir, the best talent in Essex County, an' had the farm given 'em, an' they've sunk a thousan' dollars, Sir, a'ready! That's what I call a Sinkin'-Fund, Sir! That's to begin with. Jones is an edicated farmer. He made his cider last fall on scinetific principles. Well, Sir, I could put an apple in my mouth, an' swim down Merrimac River, an' have better cider 'n that all the way! Edicated farmin' 's a very pootty thing, if a man can be at the expense on't; but when it comes to gittin' a livin', farmin' 's farmin'. Agriculteral College! Yes, Sir, farmin' 's a hard life, lookin' at the best side. Soil's light an' runnin' to stones. But this here college stuff's the poorest kind o' top-dressin' you can give it. Learnin's a good thing. I've nothin' agin learnin', but 't a'n't the best use you can make on 't to plough it in. The only way to promote the agriculteral interests of Essex County, Sir, is to keep the farmers jest as they are. Greek 'n' Latin a'n't state-prison offences, but they're sure death to pork 'n' potaters. Minute you edicate the farmers they'll be as uneasy as a toad under a harrow. What kind of a hand would Doctor Hall or Squire Smith make, to come an' take a farm alongside o' me?"
This is the way our bold yeoman puts it. Planting himself on the indisputable facts of his pork and potatoes, he regards one who stands upon any other ground as a dreamer and a visionary. He forgets that pork and potatoes are not the only facts in the world. The earth itself is a larger fact than anything that springs from it. It is the inalienable inheritance, the sole support of man. Mother and nurse, from the cradle to the grave, there comes no hour when he can withdraw from her nourishing bosom. But, by our farmers' showing, it is but a harsh and niggardly step-mother, opening the fountains of life only under enforcement. Is this reasonable? Is it reasonable to suppose that the one calling which is essential to life, the one calling on which every other depends, should be the Canaan accursed, servant of servants to its brethren? Is it reasonable to suppose that God gave us this beautiful round world, source of all our wealth, almoner of every comfort, possessor and dispenser of all grace and loveliness, yet with such poison in her veins that they alone are safe who deal with her at a remove,—she withers the hand that touches her? The ancients believed better things than these. They reverenced the Mighty Mother, and fabled a giant's strength to him who craved a blessing by the laying-on of hands. We know that a curse was pronounced upon the earth, but why farmers should be so forward to monopolize the curse it is difficult to conceive. It is generally supposed that all the descendants of Adam are equally implicated. It is not the farmer alone, but the minister and the mechanic as well, who is to eat bread in the sweat of his face. One product of the earth was no more accursed than another. Wheat and barley and corn are no more under a ban than gold and iron and timber, which all come from the same bountiful bosom; but while artificers in gold and iron magnify their office and wax fat, the farmer depreciates his, and according to his own showing is clothed upon with leanness.
Surely these things ought not so to be. Looking at this earth as the divinely prepared dwelling-place of man, and looking at man as divinely appointed to dress and keep it, to replenish and subdue it, we should naturally suppose that there would be an obvious and preëminent adaptation of the one to the other. We should naturally suppose that the primary, the fundamental occupation of the race would be one which should not only keep body and soul together, but should be especially and exactly fitted to develop and strengthen all the powers called into exercise, and should also be most likely to call into exercise a great variety of powers to the fashioning of a healthy and beautiful symmetry. Looking still further at the secondary occupations, we find our views confirmed. The shoemaker must bend over his lapstone, and he becomes stooping and hollow-chested. The blacksmith twists the sinews of his arms to strength, but at the expense of his other members. The watchmaker trains his eyes to microscopic vision, but his muscles are small and his skin colorless. A very large majority of the secondary callings remove men from the open air, often from the sunshine, and generally train one or a few faculties at the expense of the others. The artisan carries skill to perfection, the genius towers into sublimity, but the man suffers. Not so the farmer. His life is not only many-, but all-sided. His ever-changing employment gives him every variety of motion and posture. Not a muscle but is pressed into service. His work lies chiefly out-of-doors. The freedom of earth and sky are his. Every power of his mind may be brought into play. He is surrounded by mysteries which the longest life will not give him time enough to fathom, problems whose solution may furnish employment for the deepest thought and the most sustained attention, and whose solution is at the same time a direct and most important contribution to his own ease and riches. The constant presence of beautiful and ever-shifting scenery ministers to his taste and his imagination. Nature, in her grandeur, in her loveliness, in the surpassing beauty of her utilities, is always spread before him. All her wonderful processes go on beneath his eyes. The great laboratory is ever open. The furnace-fire is always burning. Patent to his curious or admiring gaze the transmutation takes place. The occult principle of life surrounds him, might almost bewilder him, with manifestations. Bee and bird, fruit and blossom, and the phantom humanity in beasts, offer all their secrets to his eyes. Every process is his minister. His mental and material interests lie in one right line. The sun is his servant. The shower fulfils his behest. The dew drops silently down to do his work. The fragrance of the apple-orchard shall turn to gold in his grasp. The beauty of bloom shall fill his home with plenty. The frost of winter is his treasure-keeper, and the snows wrap him about with beneficence. With nothing trivial, deceptive, inflated, has he to do. An unimpeachable sincerity pervades all things. All things are natural, and all things act after their kind. Is it a divine decree that all this shall tend to no good? Shall all this pomp of preparation rightly come to nothing? Do we gather the natural fruits of circumstance, when the mind travels on to madness, the body goes prematurely to disease and decay, and the heart shrivels away from love and is overcast with gloom? Is all the appearance of adaptation false, and do farmers gain the due emoluments of their position? Not so. It is their fault that they do not see the life which revels in exuberance around them. In their minds is no under-draining, no subsoiling. Earth with all her interests takes unrelaxing hold of their potato-patch, but they have eyes only for the potato-patch. Accustoming themselves to the contemplation of little things, considered separately and not as links in the universal chain, their angle of vision has grown preternaturally acute. Things they see, but not the relations of things. They dwell on desert islands. For all the integrity of Nature, they fail to learn integrity. The honest farmer is no more common than the honest merchant. He abhors the tricks of trade, he has his standing joke about the lawyer's conscience: but the load of hay which he sold to the merchant was heavier by his own weight on the scales than at the merchant's stable-yard; the lawyer who buys his wood, taught by broad rural experience, looks closely to the admeasurement; and a trout in the milk Thoreau counts as very strong circumstantial evidence. The farmer does not compass sublime swindles like the merchant, nor such sharp practice as the lawyer; but in small ways he is the peer of either. We do not say that farmers are any more addicted to their characteristic vices than the lawyers and merchants are to theirs; but that they have their peculiarities, like other classes, and that the term honest is as necessary a prefix to farmer as to any other noun of occupation. We admit all this, but we believe it is the fault of the farmer, and not of his circumstances.
"His fault!" says the farmer, and say many men of whom better things might be expected. "How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labors, and whose talk is of bullocks?" How? By "seeking her as silver, and searching for her as for hid treasures." For remember, O farmer! the despairing question is from below, the inspiring answer from above. It is not the Bible, but the Apocrypha, that casts doubt upon agricultural education. There is wisdom to him that holdeth the plough. Honor and health and wealth and great-heartedness are to be found in the soil. Earth is not one huge incumbrance to weigh man down; it is the means by which he may rise to heavenly heights. Earth has been the mother of dignity ever since her Maker's eyes looked upon her, and the Maker's voice pronounced her very good. And "Very Good" is the true verdict. Ignorance, stupidity, and sin insist upon perpetuating the curse from which she has been once redeemed; but a blessing lies in her heart for him who has but the courage to grasp it.
What analogies have they to prop their conclusions withal, who maintain the necessary degradation of the soil? Fire, air, and water bow down and do obeisance to man. They are analyzed and recombined. They are studied with insatiable curiosity. They receive the absorbed attention of a lifetime. Daily their secrets are wrested from them. Their likings and their dislikings are forced into man's service; they are coupled in strange unions and harnessed to his chariot. Whithersoever he will, they bear him. They minister to his lowliest needs, they bend to his loftiest dreams. They have lifted him from the earth whereon he crept, and have given him the wings of the wind. Swifter than the eagle flies, swift as the lightnings flash, they run to and fro at his command. Nor has the limit of their capacities been reached. Nor has man ceased to pry into the mysteries which lie hidden in their depths. He was once their abject slave. He is now their crowned king. He will one day be their absolute monarch.
But while the three ancient elements are thus wrought into glory and honor, the fourth sister, Earth, remains a clod. They give gifts to men, but she only sears him with the brand of servitude. Every bold seeker, adventuring into their arcana, bears back his treasure-trove; but the earth only mocks her wooer, and robs him of his strength who sleeps upon her knees!
It is easy to point to occurrences which seem to prove this,—to experiments which seemed fruitless,—to plans adopted only to be laid aside,—to new modes that were heralded with great flourish of trumpets, and shuffled ignominiously out through the pantry-door. But every science and every art has had its empirical age, and every age has its empiricists. Astrology spoke its great swelling words, made its cabalistic signs, and passed away to its burial; but astronomy remains eternal as the heavens. The stars cannot tell a man when he shall die, and they shine upon the shepherd as brightly as on the sage; but they have marvellous secrets to whisper to him who watches the long night through to behold their coming and mark the magic of their ways; and by so much knowledge unfolded Earth takes her place in the skies. There was no El Dorado beyond the western sea to bestow eternal youth upon the Spanish dreamer; but there was a land fairer than all his fancy painted, to whose light the Gentiles shall yet come, and kings to the brightness of its rising. The philosopher's stone has never been found which should transmute all metals to gold; but gold itself is worthless in the presence of such truths as philosophy reveals. All the way through, no science has been pushed to barren results. A thousand errors have branched off from the central truth, and have sometimes been mistaken for it; a thousand false steps have been made for one in the right direction; yet the truth is central and indivisible, and men have pressed on steadily to reach it. Counterfeits do not annihilate the pure coin. Pretenders do not destroy faith in the rightful prince. Even failures lead the way to success. Honest, wise, persevering research has ever been rewarded in full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. And it is not to be supposed that the one science of the earth vaster and nobler than all others, the science that ministers most directly to man's life, shall be the one science to baffle his research and yield him meagre returns. We do not know what wealth the earth holds in store for us, and it is our shame and misery that we so little strive to know, so little care to seek. With an ignorance for which our rich experience leaves us no excuse, we doggedly assume that we have attained the ultimatum. The earth is to us but an immense pippin covered all over with the arrogant label, "Seek-no-further."
If farmers choose to accept this label as their motto, they should also accept the consequences without complaint. If they choose to live in a rut, they must not expect to breathe the air which they would find on a hill. Many readers will remember a passage at arms that occurred in the legislative assembly of one of our New-England States. A clergyman, advocating a bill which was to help a certain class of young men in obtaining education, referred to several persons who had by assistance become men of note, but who without it would have remained "only farmers." Another member immediately took umbrage, avowed himself to be a farmer, and assured the assembly that he should not vote for a bill which was to educate young men to sneer at him! The bill failed,—whether from constitutional weakness or from this death-blow we are not informed, but are left to infer the latter. The repartee was very good as a repartee, and a respectable degree of Parliamentary skill was shown in seizing upon a plausible pretext for a foregone conclusion; but so far as the question was of principle and not of repartee, the clergyman was right and the farmer was wrong. We may exalt democracy, and abase aristocracy, and cajole people with specious phrases. Ignorance and uncouthness may put on the garb of modest merit, and worthlessness seek to veil itself by an unattractive exterior; but under never so many layers the truth remains intact. "Only a farmer" expresses with all-sufficient accuracy the relative position of farmers,—not their necessary, but their actual position. The occupation which should be a liberal profession is a most illiberal labor. The eloquence of Demosthenes cannot change facts. Farming is honorable, just as any other business is honorable, according to the amount of mind and heart brought to bear on it. Shoemaking will always be an inferior craft to statesmanship, because the amount of intellect required is less in the former than in the latter. The man who aims at the highest culture, both of his farm and himself, is aiming, whether consciously or not, at the highest rank, and he shall not stand among mean men; but he who simply delves in the dirt will find no laurels there. Fine-sounding phrases cannot give dignity to that which is in itself undignified. No amount of complaint can elevate prejudice, obstinacy, and routine into intelligence, generosity, magnanimity. Farmers themselves act upon this principle with entire unanimity, because it is a law of Nature, and not an effort of the will. The man upon whose experiments they look with utter distrust, ill-concealed contempt, and covert ridicule, whose science seems to them mere nonsense, extravagance, and recklessness, they at the same time regard with reverence, admiration, and confidence. They look down upon him as a farmer, but they look up to him as a man. They have a consciousness that he lives on another plane than theirs. They are proud and pleased to have his family visit and receive theirs. They feel that he is of a different order from themselves. And if farmers persist in keeping education and science away from their farms, if they will bring only their hard hands to the work, and will leave their brains to shrivel in their skulls, this state of things must go on. The best of materials is of no use without will and skill to work it. Matter is a sorry substance until mind lays hold of it. The world was not made with tug and sweat, but He spake and it was done, He commanded, and it stood fast. As the world was made, so must it be subdued, not by matter clawing at matter, but by the calm dominion of spirit over matter. Until intellect percolates the soil, the soil will not part with its hidden hoards. We shall have effort, struggle, wear, and weariness, but no victory. It is the strife of clod with clod.
So it is that the men who grieve to bring their minds into play will never make of their occupation a profession. The people who work mind and muscle, who turn knowledge into wisdom, shall stand before kings. Those who
"Keep in uninquiring trust
The old dull round of things"
shall be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the end of the days. If farming is doomed, farmers are doomed. For here is the earth ready-made, and however much we may dislike it, it is all we have and the best we shall get. If farming must be mere mechanical labor,—peine forte et dure,—then there is a point where elevation and improvement must stop, for there must always exist a class of serfs,—serfs to the soil, slaves of their own farms; and none are more sure of this than those who have lived in a farming community, and seen how surely the adventurous spirits, the active, the energetic, the intellectual, the promising, turn away from the dismal monotony of the farm and launch out on currents of freer flow, or, if they remain at home, remain only in consequence of the continued and earnest expostulations and the fairest promises of parents, to rock the cradle of their declining years, and not unfrequently to rock it over.
But if the founders of our Agricultural College, or if any furtherers of rural education, propose to themselves to diffuse light (and dispel darkness) by appealing to farmers,—if they think to correct the evils of ignorance by furnishing special opportunities to farmers,—if they flatter themselves that they can establish a college of aims and claims so moderate that farmers and farmers' boys will not be discouraged by the time, money, or mind required,—if they design to narrow the crown that lesser brows may be circled,—they are spending their strength for nought. No college and no school can be founded so wisely and fitly, that farmers, as a class, will send their sons to it. Why should they, believing, as they do, that the district-school already gives them as much "learnin'" as they need? Boys there can "read, write, and cipher." They gain knowledge enough to reckon with the hired man, to keep the tally of the marketing, to compute interest, and to do parish business. What more do they want? Your college-men will talk about selections and temperatures, silex and fluorine; but what has all that to do with planting the ten-acre lot? Timothy and red-top grew before Liebig was born. A rose by any other name is just as sweet to the agricultural nose. Farmers who have grown to manhood with full faith in the fixity of their condition, in the impossibility of its improvement, are not to be turned right-about-face by a programme. The best patent cultivator could not root out this main article of their creed. Agricultural colleges may spread all their blandishments; but farmers will not listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. The academic roof may be set low and the academic door flung wide open, and the academic Siren, with new and deeper meaning, may sweetly
"Sing a song of sixpence, a bag full of rye";
but before it reaches the rural ear, it will have transformed itself into a new rendering of the fatal entomological civility,—
"'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the spider to the fly."
Reasoning is of no avail. Analogy has nothing to take hold of. Farmers do not grasp the chances already offered them; how should they be expected to possess themselves of future ones? Able treatises on breeding, instructive, eloquent, and forcible, are written and printed; but these men continue to tie up nightly their ill-favored and lean-fleshed kine, and are weekly dragged to church by loose-jointed nags wabbling over the road, head between legs. There are yearly reports, rich in suggestion, well printed, cleverly illustrated, distributed without cost—to the receivers. They will not read them. They may glance at the foreign-looking sheep, with folds of wool on his throat; they will utter a strong idiomatic exclamation over the broad-sided short-horn; but they will not go beyond the limits of their own township to replenish their stock. They have not time nor money nor heart for experiments. You prove to them beyond the possibility of gainsaying that their mode is cumbrous, and, in truth, extravagant; they will assent to your propositions, admit the force of your arguments, but inevitably leave your presence with the remark, that, "after all, they think, like Gran'ma'am Howdy, they'd better go on in the good old diabolical way,"—and there, accordingly, they go. Their logic is devious, but it is always ready. It may not be convincing, but it is conclusive. The major premise is often hidden, but it is as firm as Fate.
"Parson Edwards's been round with the temperance-pledge," says one old farmer to another.
"Yes," answers the latter. "Came to me. Asked me, says he, 'Mr. Solomon,' says he, 'have you got any cider in your suller?' 'Yes, Sir,' says I,—'sixteen barrels, good as ever you see in your life, I don't care where 't is.' 'Well,' says he, 'Mr. Solomon, my advice to you is, to go an' tap them barrels, every one on 'em, an' let it run!'"
"Guess you told him you'd wait a spell, didn't you?"
"Humph! Let it run! I knew his gran'sir! Meddlin' toad! Advisin' me to throw my cider away! I knew his gran'sir!"
Whenever any amendment is suggested, some "gran'sir" or other will be sure to block the way. That he has been two generations dead, or that he has no apparent connection with the point at issue, may be indisputably proved, but it does not open the road.
Nor will the farmer's sons be any more ready to avail themselves of their college than the farmer's self. As a general thing, they have either ploughed their own furrow "in the good old diabolical way," and walk in it as their fathers walked, caring for no other, or they have acquired so unconquerable a repugnance to the uncongenial toil that they cannot conceive of any plan or process by which it can be made tolerable. To elevate farming by placing the lever under the farmers is to attack a fort where its defences are strongest. But we can apply socially as well as agriculturally the principle of a rotation of crops. Poets are not necessarily the sons of poets. We do not draw upon engineers' families for our supply of engineers. The greatest statesman of the age may come from the smallest estate in the country. So also is there no Medo-Persic law compelling the cultivation of our lands by farmers' sons. An infusion of fresh blood is sometimes the best remedy for longstanding disease and weakness, especially in social organizations. The end desired is not the education of any special existing class, but the establishment of a class fit to receive in trust special existing interests. We want our country's soil to be intelligently and beneficially cultivated. We desire that it shall be rescued from ignorance and from quackery, and placed in the hands of active intellect and sound sense. We want our farmers to be working-men, not day-laborers. We want them to be practical farmers, book-farmers, and gentlemen-farmers in one. The proprietors of the soil stand at the base of society, and should constitute by themselves an order of nobility,—but eclectic, not hereditary. Whenever a boy displays a turn for agriculture, there is a fit subject for agricultural education, a proper student for an agricultural college, whether his father were merchant, farmer, policeman, or president. You cannot make a college so mean that farmers' sons will flock into it, but you can make it so great that the best of all classes shall press in. Endosmose and exosmose are the soul of growth; either, alone, would bring death,—death on one side from exhaustion, on the other from over-fulness. The city is currently said to draw its best blood from the country. Let the city pour it back again over field and meadow, turning our wildernesses into gardens. Country and city will be invigorated by an exchange of commodities,—the one giving of its nature, the other of its culture. We want no exclusiveness, aristocratic or democratic. We want intelligent men to develop the capacity of the soil. The problem is, to vindicate the ways of God to man,—to demonstrate that He spake truth, when He looked upon the earth which He had made, and pronounced it very good. It is the duty of this generation to show to the future that agriculture opens a career, and not a grave, to thought, energy, and genius. It needs strong arms and stout hearts, but there are bays to be won and worn. We want farmers who do not look upon their land as a malicious menial, but who love it and woo it, and delight in enriching and adorning it. We want men who are enthusiastic,—who will not be put down by failures, nor disheartened by delay,—men who believe that the Earth holds in her lap richer stores than gold or silver,—who are not deceived by all the grovelling that has been laid to her charge, but know in their inmost souls that she is full of beneficence and power, and that it needs only to pronounce the "Open Sesame!" to gain admittance to her treasure-house and possession of her richest gifts. We want men who are willing to spend and be spent, not for paltry gains or sordid existence, but for gains that are not paltry and existence that is not sordid,—for love of truth,—men who attribute the failure of their experiments, not to the poverty of Nature, but to their own short-sighted, rough-handed endeavor, and who will simply take heart and try again,—men who are fully persuaded in their own minds that there must be, and are fully determined in their own hearts that there shall be, profit to him that glorieth in the goad.
It is left for our country to show that manual and mental skill, strength, exercise, and labor are not incompatible,—that hard hands may comport with gracious manners,—that one may be a gentleman digging in a ditch, as well as dancing in a drawing-room. The Old World groans under her peasant system,—even free England has her Hodge; but we will have no peasantry here, no Hodges in hobnailed shoes, no stolid perpetual serfdom to nurse our vanity and pride. The very genius of our nation makes every man's manhood his most valuable possession. America professes to believe that no one can with impunity evade the decree, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." She professes to hold labor in honor; but she should show her faith by her work. She should display her children of labor, fairer and fatter than the children of kings and princes. If they are seen to be decrepit in mind and body before their time,—if they have less happiness than the Austrian peasant, and less content than the English clown, and no breadth of vision or liberality of thought or clear foresight to atone for such deficiency, we shall have to compass sea and land before we make many intelligent men or nations proselytes to our faith.
The time especially has need of men. This hour, and every hour of the last three years, ought to prove to us beyond cavil that no class can safely be left in ignorance, least of all the class that holds in its hands a people's staff of life. Our country needs all the brain, all the conscience, all the nerve and patience and moral strength, that can be commanded. Her salvation lies in a yeomanry capable of comprehending the momentous issues at stake. "More light!" is the dying gasp of a dying people. Our republican institutions are but half completed. To give every man the right to vote, without giving him at the same time the power to vote intelligently, is but questionable service. If such an arrangement were perpetual, it would be unquestionable disservice. Only as fast and as far as we keep enlightenment abreast of power are we seeing that the Republic receives no detriment. Ignorance is the never-failing foe of freedom, the never-failing ally of despotism. We have organized and successfully fought a crusade against tyranny; we are now in the full tide of our crusade against slavery; let us have one more, organized and efficient, against ignorance, that the fruit of our former victories be not lost to us for lack of wisdom to use them aright.
That the people who suffer most from want of knowledge should disdain it is but natural. To see the need of teaching, men must be taught. It is this very ignorance which is the strong buttress against education. Ignorance propagates itself. It can be subdued only by force or tact, not by argument. But for men who have attained by the help of their education whatever reputation they possess to affect to question its importance is to spurn the ladder by which they have mounted to eminence. We are sometimes almost tempted to suspect the existence of a petty jealousy in members of the learned professions. It would seem as if a small fear were indulged lest a wider diffusion of knowledge and a more thorough culture among the farming classes should detract from the supremacy of others. There is certainly, among some writers, a leaning towards a continuance of present abuses for which it is difficult to account. The shrewdness of the plain farmer is pitted against the science of the scholar, to the entire discomfiture of the latter. But would the plain farmer's shrewdness be at all diminished by educating the plain farmer? Would his sharp sense be blunted by being expressed with some partial subjection to grammatical forms? Would his observation be any less close for being trained? Would his reasoning be any less profitable by being wisely directed than by running at hap-hazard? Would it not be more economical to strengthen and polish his powerful weapons, and give them honest work to do, than to leave them rough and rusty from disuse, and only brought out at long intervals to hew and hack devices for walking in darkness? If education is not the foe of legal, mechanical, polemic, nor forensic acuteness, why should it be hostile to any?
No lover of his country, who brings to this view the same clearness and sense which he takes to political or personal plans, but must hail as an omen of good the efforts now making throughout the North in behalf of agriculture and education. It is a cause for proud and grateful gratulation and congratulation, that our government is so wise and strong as to look through all the smoke and cloud of warfare, and set firm in the tumultuous present the foundations of future greatness,—that, calm and confident, it lays in the midst of the thunder-storm of battle the corner-stone of the temple of Peace. It is equally encouraging to see the States from east to west responding to this movement, consulting with each other, enlisting in the enterprise their best men, and sending them up and down in the land, and in other lands, to observe and collate and infer, that the beneficent designs of Congress may be carried out and carried on in the best possible manner for the highest good of all. So a free people governs itself. So a free people discerns its weakness and unfolds its strength. So a true aristocracy will yet develop a worthy democracy. From such living, far-seeing patriotism we augur the best results. Mistakes will doubtless be made; wisdom will not die with this generation; but a beginning is the sure presage of the end. Hesitation and precipitancy, unseemly delay and ill-advised action, may retard, but will not prevent, a glorious consummation. In these colleges we look to see agricultural centres from which shall radiate new light across our hills and valleys. They will not at once turn every plough-boy into a philosopher, nor send us Liebigs to milk the cows; but to every plough-boy and dairyman in the country they will give a new and a wider horizon. They will bring fresh and manly incentives into the domain of toil. They will establish in society a new order of men,—an order whose mere existence will give heart and hope to the farmer-lad disgusted with his narrow life, yet unable to relinquish it. They will send out to us men who have learned and will teach that the plough, the hoe, the rake are implements of profit and honor, as well as of industry. They will show that the hand and the head may march abreast, and that only so can their full capacity be tested. Science will be corrected by practice, and practice will be guided by science. These men will go over the land and quietly set up their household gods among our old-time farmers. They will gradually acquire influence, not by loud-voiced rhetoric, but by the silent eloquence of rich cornfields, heavy-laden orchards, full-uddered kine, and merry-hearted boys and girls,—by the gentle, but irresistible force of kindly words, pleasant ways, ready sympathy, a helping hand in trouble, "sage counsel in cumber,"—by the thousand little devices of taste and culture and good-fellowship,—by the cheap elegances, the fine endearments, all the small, sweet courtesies of life. They will approve the beneficence and the power of the Great Mother; they will demonstrate to farmers the possibility of large and generous living; they will teach them to distinguish between the mountebanks of pretended science and the apostles of that science which alone is truth; they will give to thought a new direction, to energy a new impulse, to earth a new creation, to man a new life.