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What I Know Of Farming

The Farmer's Calling

If any one fancies that he ever heard me flattering farmers as a
class, or saying anything which implied that they were more virtuous,
upright, unselfish, or deserving, than other people, I am sure he must
have misunderstood or that he now misrecollects me. I do not even join
in the cant, which speaks of farmers as supporting everybody else--of
farming as the only indispensable vocation. You may say if you will that
mankind could not subsist if there were no tillers of the soil; but the
same is true of house-builders, and of some other classes. A thoroughly
good farmer is a useful, valuable citizen: so is a good merchant,
doctor, or lawyer. It is not essential to the true nobility and genuine
worth of the farmer's calling that any other should be assailed or

Still, if one of my three sons had been spared to attain manhood, I
should have advised him to try to make himself a good farmer; and this
without any romantic or poetic notions of Agriculture as a pursuit. I
know well, from personal though youthful experience, that the farmer's
life is one of labor, anxiety, and care; that hail, and flood, and
hurricane, and untimely frosts, over which he can exert no control, will
often destroy in an hour the net results of months of his persistent,
well-directed toil; that disease will sometimes sweep away his animals,
in spite of the most judicious treatment, the most thoughtful
providence, on his part; and that insects, blight, and rust, will often
blast his well-grounded hopes of a generous harvest, when they seem on
the very point of realization. I know that he is necessarily exposed,
more than most other men, to the caprices and inclemencies of weather
and climate; and that, if he begins responsible life without other means
than those he finds in his own clear head and strong arms, with those of
his helpmeet, he must expect to struggle through years of poverty,
frugality, and resolute, persistent, industry, before he can reasonably
hope to attain a position of independence, comfort, and comparative
leisure. I know that much of his work is rugged, and some of it
absolutely repulsive; I know that he will seem, even with unbroken good
fortune, to be making money much more slowly than his neighbor, the
merchant, the broker, or eloquent lawyer, who fills the general eye
while he prospers, and, when he fails, sinks out of sight and is soon
forgotten; and yet, I should have advised my sons to choose farming as
their vocation, for these among other reasons:

I. There is no other business in which success is so nearly certain as
in this. Of one hundred men who embark in trade, a careful observer
reports that ninety-five fail; and, while I think this proportion too
large, I am sure that a large majority do, and must fail, because
competition is so eager and traffic so enormously overdone. If ten men
endeavor to support their families by merchandise in a township which
affords adequate business for but three, it is certain that a majority
must fail; no matter how judicious their management or how frugal their
living. But you may double the number of farmers in any agricultural
county I ever traversed, without necessarily dooming one to failure, or
even abridging his gains. If half the traders and professional men in
this country were to betake themselves to farming to-morrow, they would
not render that pursuit one whit less profitable, while they would
largely increase the comfort and wealth of the entire community; and,
while a good merchant, lawyer, or doctor, may be starved out of any
township, simply because the work he could do well is already confided
to others, I never yet heard of a temperate, industrious, intelligent,
frugal, and energetic farmer who failed to make a living, or who, unless
prostrated by disease or disabled by casualty, was precluded from
securing a modest independence before age and decrepitude divested him
of the ability to labor.

II. I regard farming as that vocation which conduces most directly and
palpably to a reverence for Honesty and Truth. The young lawyer is often
constrained, or at least tempted, by his necessities, to do the dirty
professional work of a rascal intent on cheating his neighbor out of his
righteous dues. The young doctor may be likewise incited to resort to a
quackery he despises in order to secure instant bread; the unknown
author is often impelled to write what will sell rather than what the
public ought to buy; but the young farmer, acting as a farmer, must
realize that his success depends upon his absolute verity and integrity.
He deals directly with Nature, which never was and never will be
cheated. He has no temptation to sow beach sand for plaster, dock-seed
for clover, or stoop to any trick or juggle whatever. "Whatsoever a man
soweth that shall he also reap," while true, in the long run, of all
men, is instantly and palpably true as to him. When he, having grown his
crop, shall attempt to sell it--in other words, when he ceases to be a
farmer and becomes a trader--he may possibly be tempted into one of the
many devious ways of rascality; but, so long as he is acting simply as a
farmer, he can hardly be lured from the broad, straight highway of
integrity and righteousness.

III. The farmer's calling seems to me that most conducive to thorough
manliness of character. Nobody expects him to cringe, or smirk, or curry
favor, is order to sell his produce. No merchant refuses to buy it
because his politics are detested or his religious opinions heterodox.
He may be a Mormon, a Rebel, a Millerite, or a Communist, yet his Grain
or his Pork will sell for exactly what it is worth--not a fraction less
or more than the price commanded by the kindred product of like quality
and intrinsic value of his neighbor, whose opinions on all points are
faultlessly orthodox and popular. On the other hand, the merchant, the
lawyer, the doctor, especially if young and still struggling dubiously
for a position, are continually tempted to sacrifice or suppress their
profoundest convictions in deference to the vehement and often
irrational prepossessions of the community, whose favor is to them the
breath of life. "She will find that that won't go down here," was the
comment of an old woman on a Mississippi steamboat, when told that the
plain, deaf stranger, who seemed the focus of general interest, was Miss
Martineau, the celebrated Unitarian; and in so saying she gave
expression to a feeling which pervades and governs many if not most
communities. I doubt whether the social intolerance of adverse opinions
is more vehement anywhere else than throughout the larger portion of our
own country. I have repeatedly been stung by the receipt of letters
gravely informing me that my course and views on a current topic were
adverse to public opinion: the writers evidently assuming, as a matter
of course, that I was a mere jumping-jack, who only needed to know what
other people thought to insure my instant and abject conformity to their
prejudices. Very often, in other days, I was favored with letters from
indignant subscribers, who, dissenting from my views on some question,
took this method of informing me that they should no longer take my
journal--a superfluous trouble, which could only have meant dictation or
insult, since they had only to refrain from renewing their
subscriptions, and their Tribune would stop coming, whenever they
should have received what we owed them; and it would in no case stop
till then. That a journalist was in any sense a public teacher--that he
necessarily had convictions, and was not likely to suppress them because
they were not shared by others--in short, that his calling was other and
higher than that of a waiter at a restaurant, expected to furnish
whatever was called for, so long as the pay was forthcoming--these
ex-subscribers had evidently not for one moment suspected. That such
persons have little or no capacity to insult, is very true; and yet, a
man is somewhat degraded in his own regard by learning that his vocation
is held in such low esteem by others. The true farmer is proudly aware
that it is quite otherwise with his pursuit--that no one expects him
to swallow any creed, support any party, or defer to any prejudice, as a
condition precedent to the sale of his products. Hence, I feel that it
is easier and more natural in his pursuit than in any other for a man to
work for a living, and aspire to success and consideration, without
sacrificing self-respect, compromising integrity, or ceasing to be
essentially and thoroughly a gentleman.

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