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The high hopes of certain passages of Rural Rides were dashed. It is clear from this brief outline how Cobbett's own bio- graphy is inextricably bound up with the .
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Trying a different Web browser might help. If the Labourers exult, one cannot say that it is unnatural. If Reason have her fair sway, I am exempted from all pain upon this occasion.
Rural Rides by William Cobbett - Free Ebook
I have done my best to prevent these calamities. Those farmers who have attended to me are safe while the storm rages. My endeavours to stop the evil in time cost me the earnings of twenty long years! I did not sink, no, nor bend , beneath the heavy and reiterated blows of the accursed system, which I have dealt back blow for blow; and, blessed be God, I now see it reel!
It is staggering about like a sheep with water in the head: turning its pate up on one side: seeming to listen, but has no hearing: seeming to look, but has no sight: one day it capers and dances: the next it mopes and seems ready to die. This, to my fancy, is a very nice country. It is continual hill and dell. Now and then a chain of hills higher than the rest, and these are downs, or woods.
To stand upon any of the hills and look around you, you almost think you see the ups and downs of sea in a heavy swell as the sailors call it after what they call a gale of wind. The undulations are endless, and the great variety in the height, breadth, length, and form of the little hills, has a very delightful effect.
It has great tenacity; does not wash away like sand, or light loam. It is a stiff, tenacious loam, mixed with flint stones.
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Bears Saint-foin well, and all sorts of grass, which make the fields on the hills as green as meadows, even at this season; and the grass does not burn up in summer. There are none: absolutely none. No water-furrow is ever made in the land.
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No ditches round the fields. And, even in the deep valleys , such as that in which this village is situated, though it winds round for ten or fifteen miles, there is no run of water even now. There is the bed of a brook, which will run before spring, and it continues running with more or less water for about half the year, though, some years, it never runs at all.
It rained all Friday night; pretty nearly all day yesterday; and to-day the ground is as dry as a bone, except just along the street of the village, which has been kept in a sort of stabble by the flocks of sheep passing along to and from Appleshaw fair. In the deep and long and narrow valleys, such as this, there are meadows with very fine herbage and very productive. The grass very fine and excellent in its quality. It is very curious that the soil is much shallower in the vales than on the hills.
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In the vales it is a sort of hazle-mould on a bed of something approaching to gravel; but on the hills it is stiff loam, with apparently half flints, on a bed of something like clay first reddish, not yellow , and then comes the chalk, which they often take up by digging a sort of wells; and then they spread it on the surface, as they do the clay in some countries, where they sometimes fetch it many miles and at an immense expense. It was very common, near Botley, to chalk land at an expense of sixteen pounds an acre.
They have frequently 40 bushels of wheat to the acre. Their barley is very fine; and their Saint-foin abundant. The turnips are, in general, very good at this time; and the land [Pg 14] appears as capable of carrying fine crops of them as any land that I have seen. A fine country for sheep: always dry: they never injure the land when feeding off turnips in wet weather; and they can lie down on the dry; for the ground is, in fact, never wet except while the rain is actually falling.
Sometimes, in spring-thaws and thunder-showers, the rain runs down the hills in torrents; but is gone directly. The flocks of sheep, some in fold and some at large, feeding on the sides of the hills, give great additional beauty to the scenery. They sometimes stretch along the top and sides of hills for miles together; and as their edges, or outsides, joining the fields and the downs, go winding and twisting about, and as the fields and downs are naked of trees, the sight altogether is very pretty.
This sort of country, which, in irregular shape, is of great extent, has many and great advantages. Dry under foot. Good roads, winter as well as summer, and little, very little, expense. Saint-foin flourishes. Fences cost little. Wood, hurdles, and hedging-stuff cheap.
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No shade in wet harvests. The water in the wells excellent. Good sporting country, except for coursing, and too many flints for that. There is a spring in one of the cross valleys that runs into this, having a basin about thirty feet over, and about eight feet deep, which, they say, sends up water once in about 30 or 40 years; and boils up so as to make a large current of water. Sir Richard Colt Hoare has written a great deal about this ancient boundary, which is, indeed, something very curious.
In the ploughed fields the traces of it are quite gone; but they remain in the woods as well as on the downs. A white frost this morning. The hills round about beautiful at sun-rise, the rooks making that noise which they always make in winter mornings. The Starlings are come in large flocks; and, which is deemed a sign of a hard winter, the Fieldfares are come at an early season.
The haws are very abundant; which, they say, is another sign of a hard winter. But it is, in some fields, four [Pg 15] inches high, and is green and gay, the colour being finer than that of any grass. Little coal is brought from Andover.
A load of fagots does not cost above 10 s. So that, in this respect, the labourers are pretty well off. The wages here and in Berkshire, about 8 s. The sheep, which had taken a rise at Weyhill fair, have fallen again even below the Norfolk and Sussex mark. Some Southdown Lambs were sold at Appleshaw so low as 8 s. Some Dorsetshire Ewes brought no more than a pound; and, perhaps, the average did not exceed 28 s. I have seen a farmer here who can get or could a few days ago 28 s.
It is impossible that they can have cost him less than 24 s. Here upon one hundred sheep is a loss of l. A correspondent informs me that one hundred and fifty Welsh Sheep were, on the 18th of October, offered for 4 s. The skin was worth a shilling of the money! The following I take from the Tyne Mercury of the 30th of October. Thomas Cooper, of Bow, purchased three milch cows and forty sheep, for 18 l. This would make an average of 56 s. But very little indeed was sold at 88 s.
The best of the new for about 48 s. And if we take all England through, it does not come up to that, nor anything like it. Nothing can be truer than this.
And nothing can be clearer than that the present race of farmers, generally speaking, must be swept away by bankruptcy, if they [Pg 16] do not, in time, make their bow, and retire. There are two descriptions of farmers, very distinct as to the effects which this change must naturally have on them. The word farmer comes from the French, fermier , and signifies renter. Those only who rent, therefore, are, properly speaking, farmers. Those who till their own land are yeomen ; and when I was a boy it was the common practice to call the former farmers and the latter yeoman-farmers.
These yeomen have, for the greater part, been swallowed up by the paper-system which has drawn such masses of money together. They have, by degrees, been bought out. Still there are some few left; and these, if not in debt, will stand their ground. But all the present race of mere renters must give way, in one manner or another.
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They must break, or drop their style greatly; even in the latter case, their rent must, very shortly, be diminished more than two-thirds. They have no discounts. What they have out they owe : it is so much debt : and, of course, they become poorer and poorer, because they must, like a mortgager, have more and more to pay as prices fall.
This is very good; for it will make them disgorge a part, at least, of what they have swallowed, during the years of high prices and depreciation.