27 APRIL 1951, Page 22

Husbandry : Its Rise and Fall

English Husbandry. By Robert Trow-Smith. (Faber. Bs.)

THE literature of our native farming is enormous, and yet I would venture to predict that Mr. Trow-Smith's contribution to it will be seen as among the few books-heads-and-shoulders above the crowd. It is a perceptive, shrewd and well-digested history, scrupulous in basing its narrative upon original documents, refreshingly unpre- judiced and written by a man of experience in a style of great economy and precision. It has one fault which, paradoxically enough, is part of the writer's strength in the efficient management of such a bulk of heterogeneous material, a fault which, in one sense, is a virtue in presentation. This is the omission from his theme of its cultural aspects, and I believe (though Mr. Trow-Smith may not) that they are of profound significance in estimating not merely the values of English husbandry but its practice. Yet this reservation does not detract from the impressiveness of the book, even though the author leads off in a way that nude me slightly giddy. He dates the invention of agriculture (in Pales- tine) at 8000 s.c.. its appearance in Britain at 2400 B.C., and the first Celtic immigration at 1000-700 a.c., while he declares the societies of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age settlers to have been those of pastoral nomadism. Surely these dates are all too early. Even if Egypt, pace the author, learned the art of cultivation in 6000 a.c., it is incredible that 2,000 years should have intervened

between the agriculture of Mount Carmel and that of the Nile. And the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age settlements were mega- lithic, and peoples who build tombs and temples of ponderous blocks of stone must be. so to speak, adscriptus glebae.

After this trial gallop through prehistory, the author himself settles down to a solid examination of Belgic, Roman and Anglo- Saxon farming, with a particularly clear exposition of the latter, important as the foundation both of a peasant and yeoman pro- prietary and the open-field system. He draws proper attention to Ine's law as to the ceorl's hide making him thegnworthy, since this is the first mention of the " ladder " between the upper-lower and the lower-upper classes which so richly stabilised the community on the land before the second wave of enclosure abolished it, with the result that four million good husbandmen were lost to the land in a century.

But is Mr. Trow-Smith right in saying that the truth lies between the continuity and the sharp break theories of Roman and Saxon farming ? Surely there is a total distinction between the homestead and free villa economy of the tun and the export one of the slave- run villa latifundia? From the village community under the Norman seigneury to the Peasants' Revolt (I wish he had said rather more about this for it differed fundamentally from that of the Continental Jacquerie) and to the Tudor enclosures is familiar ground ; but the author copes with it freshly and expertly. For a time the owner-occupier was the bed-rock of English life. and Mr. Trow-Smith does well to point out that, before More's and Latimer's " Inclosiers" commercialised English husbandry at the expense of the small man, the latter's flocks—flocks that not only built the wool-churches and the wool-towns and villages but incom- parably enriched the fertility of the land—possibly exceeded in numbers those of the big-business courtiers. Even as late as 1700, by the way, the yeoman-freeholder was one-eighth of the population.

The fundamental tragedy of enclosure was not enclosing but the compulsion to it from above and the depopulation and deracination that ensued from it. The second wave on behalf of arable for sheep (from 1750-1845) opened the era of tenant "high farming" when the farmers treated their landless labourers as the Romans treated their slaves. The author is justly critical of this overpraised era, as he is justly appreciative of the neglected discoveries of the seventeenth century. The high farmers met their Waterloo when the flood-gates of "cheap food" imports—cheap because the product of " land-mining "—were opened. And so to the precarious see-sawing between prosperity in war and the doldrums in peace which is the shameful history of twentieth-century farming. "The past fifty years have witnessed the complete breakdown of orderly cropping as our grandfathers knew it and a substitution of a hus- bandry of opportunism," and a " free and individual industry " has become " the direct servant of the omnicompetent State." Of a purely urban and industrial State, it should be added, whose officers are the chemist, the engineer and the Advisory Service, but no longer the husbandman. "The industrial iron." as Mr. Trow-Smith says, " was entering into the rural soul." The cleavage between town and country, farmer and labourer has been followed by that between past and present. Modern farming, as the author agrees, has no past. Has it a future ? For Nero's town-planning needed first to burn Rome.

I have not had the space to dwell upon Mr. Trow-Smith's admirable pages on cropping, breeding and other technical matters.

Yet they are perhaps the best in the book. H. J. MASSINGHAM.