« AnteriorContinuar »
Lavergne exhibits the advantages accruing to the general community; impressing upon his countrymen the necessity of adopting, as far as circumstances enable them to do so, the cycle of operations pursued by their energetic neighbours. “It is said of us,” remarks M. Lavergne, “that we do not care to feed on animal food, preferring vegetables and farinaceous substances; that we eat rye rather than wheat, for the same reason. The fact is, that we eat what our farmers can manage to grow for our subsistence. They cannot rear oxen, sheep, or swine in such numbers as to bring meat within the reach of the lower class, because they have nothing to give them during winter; and we eat rye simply because we cannot grow enough wheat, or even oats, of which to make bread of a more nourishing quality.” In truth, rye is treated by M. Lavergne as the most profitless and contemptible of all products. “It would be most desirable,” he says, “to abandon it, but this is not always possible.” It is one thing to renounce rye, and another to raise better corn successfully, for it is not every one who is capable of forcing nature. The English, in order to achieve what they have done in the way of wheat culture, have been obliged to fight against the qualities of their soil as well as of their climate” (p. 70); and he goes on to insist further upon the policy of raising wheat only in situations and on land favourable to its growth and its ripening, one of the principles now steadily adhered to by our best agriculturalists, in pur
* See also a passage (page 187) in the chapter on “Les Débouchés" (markets), full of sensible and acute observations on this head.
suance of which, in combination with improved methods of cultivation, a smaller surface seems to suffice for its growth with us, than would formerly have been supposed possible. M. Lavergne states that whereas, in France, one-fourth of the ground under cultivation is required for the growth of cereals destined for human food, in these islands one-sixteenth of the soil under plough suffices to yield such an amount of wheat as it consists with good husbandry to raise. The annual produce of cereals in France is thus stated by our author: wheat, seventy millions of hectolitres; rye, thirty millions; maize, seven millions; buck-wheat, eight millions. The yield of wheat, upon the 1,800,000 hectares devoted to that grain in the British Isles, is given as forty-five millions of hectolitres, of which thirty-eight millions are grown in England at a rate of produce per acre fully double that of France. Passing from the all-important feature of root crops, on which the whole circle of scientific farming now revolves, M. Lavergne explains in his chapters on sheep and cattle the circumstances which have led to the wondrous amelioration of our domestic animals. In that section which treats of cattle, many instructive observations abound, mingled with a minute exposition of the merits of our various breeds. Indeed, the manner in which the author, up to a recent period wholly occupied with the highest functions of a political career, deals with the subject of cattle management, attests a singular aptitude for mastering new and dissimilar subjects. He seizes, and expatiates upon what may be termed the philosophy of “Grazing,” with a perspicacity worthy of one whose life has been absorbed in the calling. He, like most modern agriculturists, is an advocate of “stall feeding” for cattle; or, as we have heard a friend humorously style it, “the subjecting cattle to a fixed position, upon bare boards, in a current of cold air.” The fact is that ideas of profit, when once they have obtained possession of a farming mind, carry all before them; thus a French traveller, naturally smitten with the desire of emulating our practice, and appreciating the merit of skilful adaptation of “means to ends,” readily falls in with this universally recognised aim—viz., the making of money by the shortest process. On other grounds, we confess ourselves inclined to look with complacency upon the old system of warm and clean litter, coupled with the liberty of turning about. But we must not give way to kindly, antiquated prejudices, in the face of tabular demonstrations of profitable results, such as are supplied by the apostles of a later school. The names of Bakewell, Ellman, and Collins, have here derived an additional chance of enduring fame and honour, by the mention of what they have effected for the improvement of English domestic animals. Of the former of these, M. Lavergne speaks as “a man of genius in his way, who has done as much to augment the wealth of his country as either Arkwright or Watt.” (p. 22.) The value of Bakewell and his disciples' system, consisted, he tells us, in persevering “selection.” Individuals combining the properties of rapid growth, disposition to acquire flesh and to assume rounded, handsome forms, were alone permitted to reproduce their kind; and by attentive, unwearied noting of their experiments for a series of years, these eminent
breeders of stock succeeded in arriving at the desired combination of qualities—the “Dishley,” or New Leicester sheep, the “Short-horned,” or Teeswater bull and cow, and the improved South Down sheep, being at the present time regarded as realizing the utmost perfection of which each class of animal is susceptible.
M. Lavergne seems not to have been aware of an opinion entertained by the late Mr. Thos. Gisborne, which is stated in that gentleman’s “Essays,” recently collected and published under the supervision of his friend, Mr. Joseph Parkes. He believes that “breeds” are destined to pass away, but that “races” are eternal. In other words, that a given type of animal will reproduce itself, in strict conformity with its original character, through ages; whilst that “breeds,” formed by artificially crossing, and selecting the reproducers, will revert to the pristine type so soon as they are left to themselves. This is a physiological question which, though chiefly interesting to the curious inquirer, is not without value to the stockfarmer, and we should like to see it taken up by our scientific class. Another theory, very lately started respecting the disease called “fingers and toes,” preValent among turnips chiefly, happens to proceed upon a somewhat analogous hypothesis. Assuming our actual edible bulbous roots to be nothing but improved forms of an originally wild and far inferior plant, this theory supposes “fingers and toes” to be neither more nor less than a struggle on the part of the genteel modern turnip to get back to his homely origin; diving down in a tapering, and often bifurcate root, as its remote and indigenous progenitors had always done before him. There is a certain correspondence between this plausible suggestion and the convictions of Mr. Gisborne, and both the one and the other possess that species of attraction for speculative thinkers which always attends a reference to universal tendencies in nature. The high condition of our corn cultivation, our live stock and teams, our buildings, implements, and effective methods of enriching and renewing the latent powers of the soil, call forth in turn the cordial admiration of the French visitor. Supporting his general statements by careful computations, his picture presents a body of information on which the imitators of English systems might safely rely. But whilst M. Lavergne contemplates, with something akin to wonder, the astonishing march of our modern agricultural movement, he is too wise and reflecting a teacher not to take account of the inherent difficulties which stand in the way of its adoption by his own people. It is in this mood that he writes as follows:— “The causes which have led to the agricultural superiority of the English, originate in the history and organization of our two nations. The rural economy of a people is not an isolated fact; it forms one element of a great whole. It is not upon our cultivators that the accountability for our backward condition should be chiefly cast, neither ought we to rely on them altogether for future progress. And it is not so much the concentration of their attention upon the soil itself which will secure progress, as a careful study of the general laws which govern the economic development of a community. “Up to this time,” he goes on to say, “these