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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Arthur Young (1741–1820)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IN 1787, an English country gentleman—“a Suffolk farmer,” he calls himself—visited France with quite other purposes than those of ordinary tourists. He wished to study the country from an agricultural point of view; to examine the land and methods of cultivation in different parts, and by comparing them with those at home, to obtain valuable suggestions. Comparatively poor himself, he wished to fill “the humble office of venturing hints to those whose situation allows more active exertions.” During his first trip, and a second one taken in 1788, he explored western France. In 1789–90 he examined the eastern and southern portions of the country. The record of his observations, published in successive parts, and later united under the same title of ‘Travels in France,’ proved a unique book of permanent value.  1
  His handsome person and genial ingratiating manners won the French to unreserve and friendliness. He talked with peasants and tradespeople. He visited in the châteaux of the nobility. Just as the Revolution was breaking out in France, when the old régime was on the point of extinction, this clear-sighted foreigner took careful copious notes of the state in which he found land and people.  2
  Although appreciating the seriousness of what was taking place in the country, he evidently had no premonition of its historical significance. His view of the present was unbiased by anticipation of the future. The resulting simplicity of statement is what renders him authoritative.  3
  He was a simple truth-seeker, and absolutely impartial. He was not dazzled by the magnificence of Versailles, or in the least disposed to accept conventional statements; but judged everything with his own eyes and ears. Although deeply interested in the great governmental issues of the time, they were not his vital concern. It was “inconvenient” to travel while the country was so “unsettled,” while a mob might murder one on a moment’s mad suspicion, and while châteaux were being fired and their inhabitants cruelly expelled. But the English traveler merely assumed the tricolor and went serenely on his way, noting the distribution of population, the stupid ignorance of the peasants about events at Paris, and the hard domination of the nobles, which resulted in the mismanagement of land. His style was terse and graphic; and his practical point of view gave authoritative value to a work, the like of which had never before been attempted. His book soon became popular in French translation. French land-owners profited by his demonstration of their errors, and adopted his theories upon their estates. Under the Directory his selected works were translated into French by order of the government, with the title ‘Le Cultivateur Anglais.’ Taine and other historians gladly availed themselves of this fund of accurate information. The ‘Travels’ became known throughout Europe; and Young received invitations to visit various courts, and to become a member of prominent agricultural societies.  4
  When Arthur Young went to France, at the solicitation of his French friend the Duke de la Rochefoucauld de Liancourt, he was a man of forty-six, and had already a European reputation as an agriculturist. But before arriving at this brilliant success, he had known many years of failure and discouragement. This revolutionizer of agricultural methods learned the lessons he taught others, through a series of personal disappointments. He was the inevitable martyr in the promulgation of new ideas. He could show others how to gain money at farming, although nearly always impoverished when he tried it himself.  5
  Arthur Young, who was born in London, September 11th, 1741, lived most of his life at Bradfield Hall in Suffolk. His father, the rector of Bradfield, a prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral, and the chaplain of Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons, wished his son to go to a university, and become a clergyman like himself. This Arthur Young’s mother strongly opposed; and when he had finished his school days at Lavenham, he was at her desire placed with a wine merchant at Lynn. Business was distasteful to him, and he soon forsook it. He passed several years rather aimlessly, and then drifted into farming; chiefly because his mother had a farm which she wished to turn over to his care, and because he did not know what else to do. He soon found he was losing money, and after some three thousand experiments in cultivation he changed to a larger farm in Essex; there too he was unfortunate, and after five years was glad to pay a more practical farmer £100 to take it off his hands. He had not lost interest in spite of his failures, and the latter had taught him practical insight. He decided to travel about the country in search of land which could be profitably cultivated; and he thus gained a wide knowledge of prevailing conditions, which he published in a number of successful volumes. A hater of slavery, a Free-Trader, an idolatrous admirer of Rousseau, he studied all questions from a philosophic as well as utilitarian point of view. The ‘Farmer’s Tour through the East of England,’ the ‘Tour in Ireland,’ ‘A Six-Weeks’ Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales,’ ‘A Six-Months’ Tour through the North of England,’ were valuable expositions, full of wise suggestions. They embraced also questions of population and political economy. These, with many essays upon kindred subjects contributed to agricultural journals, made his theory more profitable to him than his practice. In Ireland he met Lord Kingsborough; who, strongly attracted by his scientific views, intrusted him with the management of his great estate, in which he was brilliantly successful.  6
  In 1783 he inaugurated ‘The Annals of Agriculture,’ a monumental work in forty-five quarto volumes, of which he was editor, and for which he wrote many papers. Many learned men were among its contributors, and George III. is said to have written for it over the name of Ralph Robinson. The ‘Annals’ definitely established his reputation. Bradfield Hall, which belonged to him after the death of his mother in 1785, became a kind of academy of agriculture. Among those who came to study farming under his direction were the nephew of the Polish ambassador, and three young Russians sent by the Empress Catherine. Many English and foreign friends of note visited him; and particularly, after the appearance of the ‘Travels,’ he received and corresponded with many brilliant statesmen,—with Washington, Pitt, Burke, Lafayette, and others.  7
  A few years after Arthur Young’s return from his last French journey, the Board of Agriculture was established by act of Parliament. Such a board had long been one of his favorite projects; and he was fittingly made its secretary, with a salary of £600.  8
  Fanny Burney’s vivacious pen has given a vivid impression of Arthur Young’s delightful personality. At the age of twenty-four he married her stepmother’s sister, Miss Martha Allen,—not an amiable lady, from all accounts,—with whom he was not happy. Probably he was glad to escape home friction in the society of the gay and congenial Burneys. Miss Burney describes him as witty and handsome, and fond of fine clothes. Sometimes he is in the depths of depression over his unlucky speculations; but he soon throws off care, and is hopefully ready for a new experiment.  9
  When about sixty-six he became totally blind; in spite of which calamity he continued busy, and intelligently interested in public events, until his death in London, April 20th, 1820.  10
 
 
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