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What I Know Of Farming

Intellect In Agriculture

If a man whose capital consists of the clothes on his back, $5 in his
pocket, and an ax over his right shoulder, undertakes to hew for himself
a farm out of the primitive forest, he must of course devote some years
to rugged manual labor, or he will fail of success. It is indeed
possible that he should find others, even on the rude outposts of
civilization, who will hire them to teach school, or serve as county
clerk, or survey lands, or do something else of like nature: thus
enabling him to do his chopping trees, and rolling logs, and breaking up
his stumpy acres, by proxy; but the fair presumption is that he will
have to chop and log, and burn off and fence, and break up, by the use
of his own proper muscle; and he must be energetic and frugal, as well
as fortunate, if he gets a comfortable house over his head, with forty
arable acres about him, at the end of fifteen years' hard work. If he
has brains, and has been well educated, he may possibly shorten this
ordeal to ten years; but, should he begin by fancying hard work beneath
him, or his abilities too great to be squandered in bushwhacking, he is
very likely to come out at the little end of the horn, and, straggling
back to some populous settlement, more needy and seedy than when he set
forth to wrest a farm from the wilderness, declare the pioneer's life
one of such dreary, hopeless privation that no one who can read or
cypher ought ever to attempt it.

A poor man, who undertakes to live by his wits on a farm that he has
bought on credit, is not likely to achieve a brilliant success; but the
farmer whose hand and brain work in concert will never find nor fancy
his intellect or his education too good for his calling. He may very
often discover that he wasted months of his school-days on what was
ill-adapted to his needs, and of little use in fighting the actual
battle of life; but he will at the same time have ample reason to lament
the meagerness and the deficiency of his knowledge.

I hold our average Common Schools defective, in that they fail to teach
Geology and Chemistry, which in my view are the natural bases of a
sound, practical knowledge of things--knowledge which the farmer, of all
men, can least afford to miss. However it may be with others, he vitally
needs to understand the character and constitution of the soil he must
cultivate, the elements of which it is composed, and the laws which
govern their relations to each other. Instruct him in the higher
mathematics if you will, in logic, in meteorology, in ever so many
languages; but not till he shall have been thoroughly grounded in the
sciences which unlock for him the arcana of Nature; for these are
intimately related to all he must do, and devise, and direct, throughout
the whole course of his active career. Whatever he may learn or dispense
with, a knowledge of these sciences is among the most urgent of his
life-long needs.

Hence, I would suggest that a simple, lucid, lively, accurate digest of
the leading principles and facts in Geology and Chemistry, and their
application to the practical management of a farm, ought to constitute
the Reader of the highest class in every Common School, especially in
rural districts. Leave out details and recipes, with directions when to
plant or sow, etc.; for these must vary with climates, circumstances,
and the progress of knowledge; but let the body and bones, so to speak,
of a primary agricultural education be taught in every school, in such
terms and with such clearness as to commend them to the understanding of
every pupil. I never yet visited a school in which something was not
taught which might be omitted or postponed in favor of this.

Out of school and after school, let the young farmer delight in the
literature illustrative of his calling--I mean the very best of it. Let
him have few agricultural books; but let these treat of principles and
laws rather than of methods and applications. Let him learn from these
how to ascertain by experiment what are the actual and pressing needs of
his soil, and he will readily determine by reflection and inquiry how
those needs may be most readily and cheaply satisfied.

All the books in the world never of themselves made one good farmer;
but, on the other hand, no man in this age can be a thoroughly good
farmer without the knowledge which is more easily and rapidly acquired
from books than otherwise. Books are no substitute for open-eyed
observation and practical experience; but they enable one familiar with
their contents to observe with an accuracy, and experiment with an
intelligence, that are unattainable without them. The very farmer who
tells you that he never opened a book which treats of Agriculture, and
never wants to see one, will ask his neighbor how to grow or cure
tobacco, or hops, or sorgho, or any crop with which he is yet
unacquainted, when the chances are a hundred to one that this particular
neighbor cannot advise him so well as the volume which embodies the
experience of a thousand cultivators of this very plant instead of
barely one. A good book treating practically of Agriculture, or of some
department therein, is simply a compendium of the experience of past
ages combined with such knowledge as the present generation have been
enabled to add thereto. It may be faulty or defective on some points; it
is not to be blindly confided in, nor slavishly followed--it is to be
mastered, discussed, criticised, and followed so far as its teachings
coincide with the dictates of science, experience, and common sense. Its
true office is suggestion; the good farmer will lean upon and trust it
as an oracle only where his own proper knowledge proves entirely

By-and-by, it will be generally realized that few men live or have lived
who cannot find scope and profitable employment for all their intellect
on a two-hundred-acre farm. And then the farmer will select the
brightest of his sons to follow him in the management and cultivation of
the paternal acres, leaving those of inferior ability to seek fortune in
pursuits for which a limited and special capacity will serve, if not
suffice. And then we shall have an Agriculture worthy of our country and
the age.

Meantime, let us make the most of what we have, by diffusing, studying,
discussing, criticizing, Liebig's Agricultural Chemistry, Dana's Muck
Manual, Waring's Elements, and the books that each treat more especially
of some department of the farmer's art, and so making ourselves
familiar, first, with the principles, then with the methods, of
scientific, efficient, successful husbandry. Let us, who love it, treat
Agriculture as the elevated, ennobling pursuit it might and should be,
and thus exalt it in the estimation of the entire community.

We may, at all events, be sure of this: Just so fast and so far as
farming is rendered an intellectual pursuit, it will attract and retain
the strongest minds, the best abilities, of the human race. It has been
widely shunned and escaped from, mainly because it has seemed a calling
in which only inferior capacities were required or would be rewarded.
Let this error give place to the truth, and Agriculture will win
votaries from among the brightest intellects of the race.

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