by Matilda Betham-Edwards
ARTHUR YOUNG was born Sept. 11, 1741, at Whitehall, but this accident of birthplace does not deprive Suffolk of a distinguished son. His home from the first, as it remained throughout the greater part of his life, was Bradfield Hall, of Bradfield-Combust, near Bury St. Edmunds, a property held by the Young family since 1620. He was the youngest son of the Reverend Dr. Arthur Young, Prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral, chaplain to Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons, and rector of Bradfield, and of Lucretia, born, de Coussmaker, a lady of Dutch extraction, whose family accompanied William III. to England. Mr. Speaker Onslow and the Bishop of Bristol stood sponsors for the boy, appropriate inauguration of a life destined to be spent in the best company. From his father, an extremely handsome man six feet in stature, and the author of a learned work commended by Voltaire, he inherited good looks, a striking presence, and literary facility; from his mother, an inordinate craving for knowledge, and conversational powers of a high order. He describes her as very amiable and cheerful, fond of conversation, for which she had a talent, and a great reader on a variety of subjects. She brought her husband a very large dowry, and no inconsiderable portion of this handsome jointure seems to have been swallowed up in the speculations of her son, one of the greatest agriculturists and least successful practical farmers who ever lived.
We can easily understand Arthur Young's love of rural life and keen appreciation of scenery, after a visit to Bradfield, reached from Mark's Tey on the Great Eastern Railway. It is a sweet spot, in the near neighbourhood of much of the beautiful country with which Gainsborough has familiarized us. Alighting at the quiet little station of Whelnetham, we follow a winding road overhung with lofty elms, that leads to the village; or in summer, knee-deep in wild flowers and waving grasses, we may take a traverse through the meadows, their lofty hedges a tangle of eglantine and honeysuckle, on every side stretches of rich pasture, cornfields, and woods. The place has a very old-world look; here and there, between the trees, peeps a whitewashed cottage, with overhanging thatched roof, or a farmhouse of equally rustic appearance, very little modernization having taken place in these regions.
The Suffolk farmer, as Arthur Young modestly calls himself, was in reality a country squire. His old home has been replaced by a Gothic mansion, but nothing can be more squirarchal than the well-wooded park, ornamental water with its swans, Queen Anne's garden and stately avenues, leading to church and lodge, which remain as they were in his own time. Opposite the gates of Bradfield Hall stands the village ale-house, no quainter, more antiquated hostelry in rural England. Between park and village, consisting of church, rectory-house, and a dozen cottages, lies the broad, elm-bordered road leading to the railway station. This is the old London coach road followed by our traveller when setting forth on his French travels a hundred years ago, enterprises regarded by his family mad as those of Don Quixote himself.
Entrancing as were these adventuresome journeys, we can fancy with what pleasure he hailed the first glimpse of Bradfield on returning home safe and sound from one expedition after another.
As happens with so many men of genius, Arthur Young owed little to schools or schoolmasters. He was first sent to the grammar school at Lavenham—that exquisitely clean, picturesque village, with its noble cathedral—no other name befits the church—lying between Sudbury and Whelnetham.
"I was sent to this school," he writes, "in order to learn the Latin and Greek languages, with the addition of receiving instruction in writing and arithmetic, taught by a man who attended every day for that purpose; but whether from my being a favourite of his, or having my attention too much affected by frequent visits to Bradfield, I afterwards found myself so ill-grounded in those languages, that for some time before leaving school I found it necessary to give much attention to recover lost time. My mother soon bought me a little white pony, which was sent every Saturday to bring me home, and though the plan was that of returning every Monday morning, yet the weather or some other circumstance would often occasion delays, not a little injurious. The latter part of the time I had a pointer and a gun, and went out with the master. I had also a room to myself and a neat collection of books, and I remember beginning to write a history of England, thinking that I could make a good one out of several others. How early began my literary follies! I seemed to have a natural propensity to writing books." Pretty well this for a boy of nine or ten! All readers of the "Travels in France" will remember Arthur Young's love of music and the drama. His diary shows at what an early age those tastes were fostered. In his thirteenth year, he tells us, he is taken to London, sees Garrick in tragedy, and hears the Messiah. Another characteristic, equally familiar to us, is his deep admiration of personal beauty, and his delight in the society of graceful, attractive women. This, too, we find a feature of his somewhat precocious boyhood.
"What commanded more of my attention," he writes, "was a branch of learning very different from Greek: it was the lessons I received from a dancing-master, who came over once a week from Colchester to teach the boys, and also some young ladies. Two of these in succession made terrible havoc with my heart. The first was a Miss Betsey Harrington, a Lavenham grocer's daughter, who was admitted by all who saw her to be truly beautiful."
On quitting Lavenham, his destiny remained for a moment undecided. His father wished him to be sent to Eton, and thence to one of the Universities. His mother opposed the scheme, and he was apprenticed, with a premium of £600, to a mercantile firm at Lynn. He wrote of this resolve in a strain of regret those who come after him cannot share. Had paternal influence prevailed, he tells us, his life might have been very different. Originality is nowhere more refreshing than in the Church. It is pleasant to fancy Arthur Young a bishop. But what other pen would have given us that inimitable picture of rural France on the eve of the great Revolution? Who else would have fought so valiantly the cause of the farmer at home?
"Every circumstance," he tells us, "attending this new situation was most detestable to my feelings, till I effected an improvement by hiring a lodging, surrounding myself with books, and becoming acquainted with a Miss Robertson, the daughter of the elder partner. She was of a pleasing figure, with fine black, expressive eyes; danced well, and performed on the harpsichord, as she received instructions from Mr. Burney (Dr. Burney, the author of 'The History of Music'), then a person in the highest estimation for his powers of conversation and agreeable manners." In these interesting reminiscences he speaks of the great foppery prevailing in dress—a weakness from which he was not himself exempt, as the vivacious Fanny Burney will tell us by-and-by. His extraordinary—we are almost tempted to say abnormal—energy becomes apparent in these early days. The future author of a history of agriculture in ten folio volumes was already busy with the pen, writing pamphlets "On the Theatre of the Present War in America," and kindred topics, for each of which he received the value of ten pounds in books—an arrangement between publisher and literary aspirant that might, perhaps, be judiciously followed in these days.
In 1759, being just twenty, he left Lynn, "without education, pursuits, profession, or employment," he writes despondingly. His father died during the same year. Somewhat later, whilst at Bristol recruiting from illness, his skill in chess-playing attracted the attention of a military authority, who offered him a commission in a cavalry regiment. If we could ill have spared Arthur Young for the Church, still more should we have begrudged him to the army. Again his mother interfered, and posterity owes her a debt of gratitude. Instead of exchanging bullets and sabre thrusts with his French neighbours, Arthur Young was now destined to the more pacific international give-and-take of roots and seeds. He became from that time a farmer.
"I was absolutely destitute of all means of advancement in any path of life that promised an independent support. So situated, I could hardly fail of following the maternal advice, to try what farming could do. I rented a small farm of my mother's, and farmed from 1763 to 1766. Having taken a second farm that was in the hands of a tenant, I gained some knowledge, but not much; and the painful effect was to convince me that, to understand the business in any perfection, it was necessary to continue my exertions for many years. And the circumstance, perhaps, of all others in my life which I most deeply regretted, and considered as a sin of the blackest dye, was my publishing the result of my experiences during these four years, which, speaking as a farmer, was nothing but ignorance, folly, presumption, and rascality. The only use which resulted from these years was to enable me to view the farms of other men with an eye of more discrimination than I could possibly have done without that practice. It was also the occasion of my going on the Southern Tour in 1767, the Northern Tour in 1768, and the Eastern in 1770, extending through much the greater part of the kingdom; and the execution of these tours was considered by all who read them (and they were very generally read) to be of most singular utility to the general agriculture of the kingdom."
It will not escape observation that these jottings of old age, interesting at they are, err on the side of redundancy and epexegesis. We wholly miss the vivacity, terseness, and vigour of the French Travels.
At twenty-four he married Miss Martha Allen, of Lynn, sister to Fanny Burney's stepmother. The marriage brought him an enviable connection—troops of friends, a passport into brilliant circles, but no fireside happiness. The lady was evidently of a captious disposition, shrewish temper, and narrow sympathies. "I wonder how he could ever marry her!" wrote the quick-sighted author of "Evelina." On the other hand, a generous woman might, perhaps, have had some ground for jealousy. A few years later Arthur Young became famous. Courted by the great, a conspicuous figure in society, handsome, witty, versatile, he certainly found a London salon more to his taste than a dull farmhouse—a day's outing with the Burneys more congenial than heavy land-farming in wet weather.
"Last night," writes Fanny, in the gossipy, ecstatic, invaluable journal of girlhood, "while Hetty, Susey, and myself were at tea, that lively, charming, spirited Mr. Young entered the room. Oh, how glad we were to see him! He was in extremely good spirits." Later she adds: "Well, but now for our Greenwich party. Talking of happiness, sensibility, and a total want of feeling, my mamma said, turning to me, 'Here's a girl will never be happy, never whilst she lives, for she possesses, perhaps, as feeling a heart as ever girl had.' Some time after, when we were near the end of our journey, 'And so,' said Mr. Young, 'my friend Fanny possesses a very feeling heart?' He harped on this some little time, till at last he said he would call me feeling Fanny; it was characteristic, he said, and a good deal more nonsense, that put me out of all patience, which same virtue I have not yet sufficiently recovered to recount any more of our conversation, charming as it was."
In the meantime he was making one disastrous attempt at practical farming after another, like a desperate gamester doubling the stakes with every loss. For a year or two after his marriage he remained at Bradfield, farming a copyhold of twenty acres, his sole fortune, and eighty more, the property of his mother.
This experiment proving a failure, he next hired an occupation of three times the size in Essex, which he was glad to be rid of in five years' time, paying a premium of £100 to the incoming tenant. His successor, a practical farmer, made a good deal of money out of the concern, probably as much as Arthur Young had lost by it, so hampering to worldly success is the possession of original ideas!
One of his farms he describes as "a devouring wolf," an epithet that need not surprise us when we consider that he made 3,000 experiments on his Suffolk holding alone.
The superstitious might see in the pertinacity with which Mrs. Young encouraged her son's ventures some preternatural foreshadowing of his career. Again and again she advertised for a farm for him, and nothing better offering itself, he hired some land in Hertfordshire, which ere long he anathematized as a "hungry vitriolic gravel, a Nabob's fortune would sink in the attempt to raise good, arable crops to any extent in such a country."
One of the most curious incidents in a career that detractors might well call Quixotic, is the origin of the famous English Tours. Will it be believed that just as Cervantes' half-mad hero set out in search of chivalrous adventure, and Dr. Syntax in search of the picturesque, this thrice-ruined farmer determined to explore the entire country till he could find land that would pay? Whenever he put pen to paper he was successful. Whenever he turned to experimental farming he almost ruined himself. These narratives of home travel from an agricultural point of view were a novelty, and also supplied an actual want. Not only did he give a succinct picture of farming as carried on at that time in various parts of England, but much information valuable to the general reader. The three works were largely sold, yet the author grew poorer and poorer.
In 1770 Fanny Burney gives a vivacious, jaunty picture of her uncle, as she used to call him. She describes him as most absurdly dressed for a common visit, being in light blue, embroidered with silver, having a bag and sword, and walking in the rain. "He was grown all airs and affectation," she adds, "yet I believe this was put on, for what purpose I cannot tell, unless it were to let us see what a power of transformation he possessed."
A year later we have a very different account. "Mr. and Mrs. Young have been in town for a few days," scribbled the girl-diarist. "They are in a situation that quite afflicts me. Mr. Young, whose study and dependence is agriculture, has half undone himself by experiments. His writings upon this subject have been amazingly well received by the public, and in his tours through England he has been caressed and assisted almost universally. Indeed, his conversation and appearance must ever secure him welcome and admiration. But, of late, some of his facts have been disputed, and though I believe it to be only by envious and malignant people, yet reports of that kind are fatal to an author, whose sole credit must subsist on his veracity. In short, by slow but sure degrees, his fame has been sported with and his fortune destroyed....His children, happily, have their mother's jointure settled upon them. He has some thoughts of going abroad, but his wife is averse to it." A few weeks later she adds, "Mr. Young is not well, and appears almost overcome with the horrors of his situation; in fact, he is almost destitute. This is a dreadful trial for him, yet I am persuaded he will still find some means of extricating himself from his distresses, at least if genius, spirit, and enterprise can avail."
His own diary for this year contains the following entry: "The same unremitting industry, the same anxiety, the same vain hopes, the same perpetual disappointment, no happiness, nor anything like it." He had indeed reached one of the acutest crises of his much-tried life; ruin stared him in the face.
But three months after that last sorrowful mention of her favourite, Fanny Burney once more strikes a cheerful note. Mr. Young had dined with her sister and herself, she wrote. Fortune, she hoped, smiled on him again, for he again smiled on the world. The originator of three thousand unsuccessful experiments was hardly the man to lose faith in himself. If occasional fits of dejection overtook him, he was ready an hour after to enter upon a history of agriculture throughout all ages and in all countries, make gigantic schemes in the interest of English husbandry, or to hire four thousand acres of Yorkshire moorland with the intention of turning the wilderness into a garden. His powers of work, of hoping against hope, of throwing heart and soul into new interests and undertakings, were phenomenal.
Of the year 1773 he writes: "Labour and sorrow, folly and infatuation: here began a new career of industry, new hopes, and never-failing disappointment." And once more the careless, yet inimitable pen of Fanny Burney gives us, in a few lines, the catastrophe that had wellnigh shipwrecked his life: "I have had lately a very long and very strange conversation with Mr. Young. We happened to be alone in the parlour, and either from confidence in my prudence, or from an entire and unaccountable carelessness of consequences, he told me that he was the most miserable fellow breathing, and almost directly said that his connexions made him so, and most vehemently added that if he was to begin the world again, no earthly thing should prevail with him to marry! That now he was never easy but when he was in a plow-cart, but that happy he could never be. I am very sorry for him, but cannot wonder."
In June, 1776, after a passage of twenty-four hours, he landed in Ireland. His stay did not extend over three years, and during a part of the time he was occupied in managing Lord Kingsbury's estate in County Cork. The result, nevertheless, was a survey of the country, and an inquiry into the condition of the people, which for accuracy, fulness of detail, and acuteness of observation, render it invaluable to this day. "Arthur Young's Tour in Ireland," wrote Lord Lonsdale to Croker in 1849, "has given me the idea that his views of Ireland were nearer the truth than any other work."
An accession of fame does not always mean an increase of fortune, and the future was as hard a problem to the popular author, now in the prime of life and the fulness of powers, as to the ambitious stripling of twenty. On his return from Ireland he wrote, "I arrived at Bradfield on the first of January, and had then full time to reflect upon what should be the pursuit of my life, and upon what plan I could devise for that fresh establishment of myself which should at the same time prevent any relapse into those odious dependencies and uncertainties which from 1771 to 1778 had been the perpetual torment of my life. Whilst I was hesitating what plan to follow, an emigration to America crossed my mind, and much occupied my thoughts." This project was prevented by his mother's advanced years, and instead he took up leases on her estate, gradually increasing his occupation to four hundred acres. Henceforth his home was Bradfield, of which a few years later he became owner.
"My father," he tells us, "inherited Bradfield from his father Bartholomew Young, Esq., called Captain from a command in the militia, and it is remarkable that with only a part of the present estate he lived genteelly, and drove a coach and four on a property which would in the present time only maintain the establishment of a wheelbarrow."
Four children had been born to him, two daughters and a son, and after an interval of thirteen years, his youngest and best-beloved child, the little girl familiar to readers of the French Travels. Whilst he appears to have been an affectionate and conscientious father, all the passionate depth and tenderness of his nature were lavished on this latest born, his "darling child," his "lovely Bobbin." Her name was Martha, but her bright, quick ways, rosy complexion, and dark, vivacious eyes, had won for her the pet name of Robin, afterwards changed to Bobbin, and these mentions of Bobbin in private diaries, little notes written to her from France, and letters to others concerning her welfare, show his character in a new and touching light. This exquisite child—for the adoring praise of her father is amply substantiated by others—was the supreme joy and consolation of a life often steeped in uncommon bitterness, and when she died, there went forth a wail from an utterly desolated heart, that moves us to tears after the long lapse of years. This awful shadow is as yet far off. The existence of his darling corresponded to the most brilliant years of Arthur Young's career.
Glancing at the entries made between 1780 and 1787, that is to say, between the Irish and French journeys, we find many a stirring episode, and much evidence of indefatigable, even colossal labours, undertaken in a hopeful spirit. Some of these memoranda are passing humorous: he tells us, for instance, how whilst at Petworth, on a visit to Lord Egremont, he went into a bath at four o'clock a.m., the thermometer standing below zero, and on coming out walked straight into a shrubbery, and rubbed himself in the snow to see the effect of cold upon the body. It had none, he complacently adds, except that of increasing strength and activity. From another note we learn that he had been busy on stanzas to a lady.
The year 1783 opens with the project of the "Annals of Agriculture," which he calls, as well he might do, one of the greatest speculations of his life. Literary contributions were invited from all sides, and the work was launched under royal patronage. Arthur Young not only acted as editor, but wrote voluminously for its pages. The "Annals" consist of forty-five quarto volumes, and although much of the information therein contained has been superseded, they form, in the words of a competent authority, "a noble addition to any library. It is here, as a statesman, that Arthur Young stands pre-eminent. On questions of home or international trade, on commerce, or prices, on monopolies, on religious bigotry, on class arrogance and insolence, on endowed charities, on the poor laws, on the law of settlement, on taxation direct and indirect, on bounties and drawbacks, he knew as much as Cobden, and has written as wisely. That which his great contemporary Adam Smith reasoned out, Arthur Young seems to have reached with electric despatch by instinct."
The "Annals" made a noise in the world; even Dr. Burney wrote enthusiastically about them. Would he were ten years younger, he said, he would take Arthur Young's white house and as much land as he could spare, and enter himself as his scholar. From far and near came testimonies equally flattering, and from remote quarters of Europe, flocked disciples and pupils to sit at the feet of the modern Varro. Among those who found their way to Bradfield were three young Russians, sent by the Empress Catherine to study farming under his care. He gives an amusing account of their examination. One of the three was so much awed that he resolutely refused to open his lips, for which offence, adds the narrator, I sincerely hope he was not sent to Siberia. Later came the nephew of the Polish ambassador, "a heavy, dull man, with a Tartar countenance; his intention was to learn agriculture, but he made poor progress." The Duke de Liancourt, that amiable champion of the Revolution, the President of the Dijon Parliament—and other distinguished personages familiar to readers of the French Travels—also visited Bradfield.
In the midst of these multifarious and engrossing occupations the scheme of an agricultural survey of France was gradually taking shape in his mind. Whilst contributing largely to the "Annals," making a variety of experiments with the aid of Priestley, holding what may be called a professorial chair in his own home, he was full of new projects.
In 1784 he had crossed to Calais with his son Arthur, "just to say that he had been in France." In 1787 his friends, the Duke de Liancourt and Lazonski, invited him to join them in a Pyrenean tour, and the invitation was accepted.
"This was touching a string tremulous to vibrate," he writes; "I had long wished for an opportunity to examine France. My darling child, my lovely Bobbin, I left in perfect health, the rest of my family well and provided for in every respect as they had themselves chalked out, the 'Annals' lodged in the hand of a man on whose friendship and abilities I could entirely confide." In spite of vehement remonstrances and agonized entreaties, he set out. "I implore you to give up this mad scheme. Think of your wife and children," his brother had written, and much more in the same strain, working himself up into a veritable frenzy of panic. An expedition to Patagonia, or a journey round the world, could hardly have inspired this timid counsellor with livelier terrors. He certainly never expected to see the foolhardy traveler again.
Arthur Young's mother had died two years before, and the event is thus noted in his journal: "My ever dear and venerated mother died. Happy, happy spirit." During her lifetime, as we have seen, he shrank from the notion of quitting England.
It is a curious and interesting fact that these French journeys exactly realized a plan of travel laid down in an early work. If we turn to the last chapter of that well-written and characteristic little book, "The Farmer's Letters to the People of England" (second edition, 1768), we shall find his own agricultural survey of France anticipated in every point. The nobility and men of large fortune travel, he writes, but no farmers; unfortunately those who have this peculiar and distinguishing advantage, the noble opportunity of benefitting themselves and their country, seldom inquire or even think about agriculture. Then follows the sketch of a farmer's tour in routes laid down for his imaginary traveller, being precisely those he was himself to follow a decade later. French Flanders must be visited, Lorraine and the adjoining provinces, Champagne and Burgundy. Then the tour of Franche Comté and of the Lyonnais should be made; next that of Normandy, Brittany, Orleannais, and Anjou. All the noble improvements of the Marquis de Turbilly in that province ought to be viewed with the most attentive eyes. From Anjou the traveller should journey through Guienne and Languedoc; next examine Provence—then enter Dauphiné, Gascony, and examine the heaths of Bordeaux; thence make his way to Spain, and travel towards Galicia.
To few of us is granted in middle age such entire fulfilment of the worthiest aspirations of youth. Little, perhaps, did the writer foresee that he was himself to be "that wise and honest traveller," who should describe rural France on the eve of the Revolution, not only for his own countrymen and his own epoch, but for all Europe and generations to come. We are gratified to find him at Turbilly, warmly received by its noble owner, and inspecting his farm, as he begged to be allowed to do, with the oldest surviving labourer of the late marquis.
He had left no anxieties behind him when setting out for France, but his heart is ever with his adored child. The fond letters he wrote to her in his large, clear, enviable handwriting have all been preserved. From Moulins, August 7, 1787, he writes, Bobbin being then four years old: "I think it high time to inquire how you do, pass your time, how the Mag (magpie) does, and the four kittens. I hope you have taken care of them, and remembered your papa wants cats. Do the flowers grow in your garden? Are you a better gardener than you used to be? The Marquis de Guerchy's little girls have a little house on a little hill, and on one side a little flower garden, on the other side a little kitchen garden, which they manage themselves and keep very clean from weeds. Bobbin would much like to see it." From Bagnères de Luchon he writes to his eldest daughter: "Do not forget to let me know how Bobbin does. God send her well and free from accidents. I hope she does not go alone near hedges for fear of snakes." From Limoges he sends many kisses to his dear little Bobbin, and her sister Mary is to say that he will be sure to bring her a French doll.
We must pass briefly over these rich, happy, dazzling years. The French Travels obtained all the éclat of a brilliant invention, which indeed, in a literary sense, they may be described. No one had done the same thing before, and now it was done to perfection. The author's name was soon in everybody's mouth. He received invitations to half-a-dozen courts. All the learned societies of Europe and America enrolled him as a member. His work was translated into a score of languages, and princes, statesmen, political economists, wits—not only of his own nationality, but from various parts of the world—paid a visit to Bradfield. Among his correspondents and guests were Washington, Pitt, Burke, Wilberforce, La Fayette, Priestley, Jeremy Bentham, that eccentric yet admirable philanthropist, Berchtold, and the Due de Liancourt. Never, perhaps, had been seen in Suffolk such distinguished international gatherings.
The Burneys were, of course, frequent visitors at the pleasant country house described in "Camilla." Occasionally the too hospitable host—for although now owner of the maternal estate, Arthur Young was far from rich—would give a fête champêtre. At an early hour the guests arrived. The fishponds in the park were dragged, and after a long animated morning spent by both sexes out of doors, the party sat down to a four o'clock dinner, degustating the fish just caught.
Travelling on the continent was now out of the question, but the home journeys were continued. We find mention of an eleven days' tour in Yorkshire, made at a cost of £17 3s. He also visited Norfolk, Bedfordshire, and Essex. Meantime the pen was as busy as ever. In the year 1792 the editor contributed twenty-five papers to the "Annals" on various subjects: Mr. Pitt's speech; the abolition of the slave trade; turnips in Germany; a Spanish merino ram, inter alia.
The merino ram was a present from the king, and is thus commented upon in the journal: "This year (1791) His Majesty had the goodness to present me with a present of a Spanish ram. The world is full of those who consider military glory as the proper object of the ambition of monarchs, who measure regal merit by the millions that are slaughtered, by the public robbery and plunder that are dignified by the title of dignity and conquest, and who look down on every exertion of peace and tranquillity as unbecoming those who aim at the epithet great, and unworthy the aim of men that are born for masters of the globe. My ideas are cast in a very different mould, and I believe the period is advancing with accelerated pace that shall exhibit character in a light totally new, and shall rather brand than exalt the virtues hitherto admired, that shall pay more homage to the prince who gave a ram to a farmer than for wielding the sceptre."
It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that these reminiscences belong to old age. No one could write more agreeable English than the Suffolk squire in his prime.
A ram and a secretaryship of £600 a year! Such were the ultimate rewards of a man of splendid talents, one who had rendered signal services to his country! Seldom, indeed, is the irony running through human fortunes so forcibly brought home to us, the lesson of the poet's words, so humiliatingly borne out—
"Alas! the gratitude of men,
Has of'tner left me mourning."
In 1793 the Board of Agriculture was established by Act of Parliament. Here Arthur Young saw the realization of a darling scheme, and as secretary he was certainly the right man in the right place. Yet he felt doubtful of nomination, and even laid a wager of books with his friend, Sir John Sinclair, a set of the "Annals" against the "Statistical History of Scotland," that some one else would be chosen for the post. He lost his wager, and thus wrote of his appointment: "What a change in the destinies of a man's life! Instead of entering the solitary lord of 4,000 acres (in allusion to his former purchase of Yorkshire moorland) in the keen atmosphere of lofty rock and mountain torrent, with a little creation rising gradually around me, making the black wilderness smile with cultivation and grouse give way to industrious population, active, energetic, though remote and tranquil, and every instant of my existence making two blades of grass grow where one was found before, behold me at a desk in the smoke, the fog, the din of Whitehall."
"It is well to be reminded," writes an author before quoted, Mr. Pell, "that a distinguished man like Arthur Young was satisfied to hold in old age an appointment with a salary of £600 a year, finding herein a haven of rest after all his troubles and labours." In this new capacity he showed all his phenomenal powers of work. The business of the new board was carried on with the utmost assiduity. Whilst directing several clerks and organizing schemes innumerable, he found time for literary undertakings that would have appalled the soul of any but Varro himself. It is odd that these two great authorities on agriculture, removed from each other by twelve centuries, should be among the most voluminous writers on record. Arthur Young had already begun his history of agriculture, the opus magnum, the crowning achievement of his life, destined as he hoped to be his legacy to the nation. Alas! like many another bequest of its kind, it occupies a spare cupboard into which the light of day never enters. The encyclopædia was eventually finished, and consisted of ten folio volumes of manuscript; some years after his death, a relation and devoted disciple got through the formidable task of reducing the ten massive tomes to six. We hardly know which to admire most, the industry of author or compiler. Were a third enthusiast to take the matter in hand, and pare down the abridgment by yet a sixth, we should doubtless have a compendium of husbandry adapted to every library, and perhaps the only work of the kind ever produced by a single pen.
Meantime honours and distinctions continued to pour in. The Empress Catherine sent him a magnificent gold snuff-box, with two rich ermine cloaks for his wife and eldest daughter. From her representative at Moscow came a second snuff-box, set with diamonds, and inscribed with the words in Russian, "From a pupil to his master." The Society of Arts adjudged him the honorary gold medal. The Salford Agricultural Society offered a special medal, on which was engraved, "for his services to his country."
And Fanny Burney paid him her prettiest compliments, which very likely he valued far more than gold snuff-boxes or medals. In a letter preserved at Bradfield occurs the following:—"P.S. Will Honeycomb says, if you would know anything of a lady's meaning, (always provided she has any) when she writes to you, look at the postscript. Now, pray, dear Sir, how came you ever to imagine what you are pleased to blazon to the world with all the confidence of self-belief that you think farming the only thing worth manly attention? You who, if taste, rather than circumstances, had been your guide, might have found wreaths and flowers almost any way you had turned, as fragrant as those of Ceres."
The enforced residence in London had many attractions. He dined out, he tells us, from twenty-five to thirty times in one month, and had received during the same period, "forty invitations from people of the highest rank and consequence." He mentions the fact of having had two interviews with the king, and what interests us in a far greater degree, a dinner in company of Hannah More. I was very eager, he writes, in listening to every word that fell from her lips, though not nearly so much so as I should have been many years after; an allusion explained by the last pages of this memoir. In 1796 he visited Burke, and this entry is too interesting to be passed by. The pair had corresponded on agriculture and had met before. Burke was naturally delighted with Arthur Young's recantation, "The Example of France." He had not seen, he wrote, anything in this controversy which stood better bottomed. It was a "most able, useful, and reasonable pamphlet." "I reached Mr. Burke's before breakfast," writes Young, "and had every reason to be pleased with my reception. 'Why, Mr. Young,' said Burke, 'it is many years since I saw you, and to the best of my recollection you have not suffered the smallest change. You look as young as you did sixteen years ago. You must be very strong. You have no belly. Your form shows lightness. You have an elastic mind.' I wish I could have returned anything like the compliment, but I was shocked to see him so broken, so low, and with such expressions of melancholy. I almost thought that I had come to see the greatest genius of the age in vain. The conversation was remarkably desultory, a broken mixture of agricultural observations, French madness, price of provisions, the death of his son, the absurdity of regulating labour, the mischief of our poor laws, the difficulty of our cottagers keeping cows, an argumentative discussion of any opinion seemed to distress him, and I therefore avoided it. Speaking on public affairs he said: 'I never read a newspaper, but if anything happens to occur which they think will interest me, I am told of it.' I observed there was strength of mind in the resolution. 'Oh, no,' he replied; 'it is mere weakness of mind.' It was evident that he would not publish on the subject that had brought me to Gregory's (here Arthur Young alludes to a project mooted in parliament for regulating the price of labour), but he declared himself absolutely inimical to any regulation whatever by law, that all such interference was not only unnecessary but mischievous. He observed that the supposed scarcity was extremely ill understood, and that the consumption of the people was clear proof of it. This in his neighbourhood was not lessened, as he had learned by a very careful examination of many bakers, butchers, and excisemen, nor had the poor been distressed further than what resulted immediately from that improvidence which was occasioned by the poor laws. After breakfast he took me a sauntering walk for five hours over his farm, and to a cottage where a scrap of land had been stolen from the waste. I was glad to find his farm in good order, and doubly so to hear that it was his only amusement except the attention he paid to a school for sixty children of noble French emigrants.
"Mrs. Crewe arrived just before dinner, and though she exerted herself with that brilliance of imagination which renders her conversation so interesting, it was not sufficient to raise the drooping spirits of Mr. Burke....Yet he tried once or twice to rally, and once even to pun. Mrs. Crewe observing that Thelwel was to stand for Norwich, observed that it would be horrid for Mr. Wyndham to be turned out by such a man. 'Aye,' Mr. Burke replied, 'that would not tell well.' She laughed at him in the style of condemning a bad pun. Somebody said it was a fair one. Burke said, 'It was neither very bad nor very good.' My visit on the whole," adds Arthur Young, "was interesting. I am glad once more to have seen and conversed with the man who I hold to possess the greatest and most brilliant parts of any person of the age he lived in. But to behold so great a genius so depressed with melancholy, stooping with infirmity of body, feeling the anguish of a lacerated mind, and sinking into the grave under accumulated misery—to see all this in a character I venerate, and apparently without resource or comfort, wounded every feeling of my soul, and I left him next day almost as low-spirited as himself."
The clouds were already gathering about his own horizon. A year later, and he too was a grief-stricken, desolated, prematurely aged man.
His second daughter Elizabeth, married to a son of Hoole, the translator of Ariosto, had died of consumption in 1794. Signs of the same terrible disease now began to show themselves in his bright, his adored Bobbin. In the midst of his engrossing occupations we find him constantly thinking of her, writing long letters, fulfilling her childish commissions. Bobbin has expressed a wish for a workbox, and he bestows as much attention on the purchase as if he were in treaty for 4,000 acres of moorland. He had looked at a good many, he wrote, but could find none under twenty-five shillings, or at still higher prices; he hears, however, that good ones are to be had at a lower figure, and will continue his researches. He shows the most painful eagerness about her health. She is to tell him every particular as to appetite, sleep, pulse, thirst. One of these letters ends thus: "I cannot read half your mother's letter, but enough to see that she is very angry with me for I know not what." He sends strict orders concerning her. Miss Patty is to ride out in the chaise or on double horse when Bonnet (a bailiff) is not obliged to be absent from the farm. If he is at market, when the days are long and Miss Patty rises early, she can have a ride before breakfast. Bonnet is to pay Miss Patty a shilling a week. In another note he reasons with the little patient on the childishness of demurring at medicines. She is ordered steel, and only takes it under protest. He urges her by the love she bears her father to follow out the doctor's orders in every particular. Change of air was tried, but the precious life could not be saved. She died about twelve months after his visit to Burke. "On Friday morning, June 19, at twelve minutes past one," he writes, "my dear, angelic child breathed her last." In a note below follows a later entry, "Here was my call to God. Oh! may it prove effective."
He never recovered from the blow. In his overpowering grief he could not bear to part with the mortal remains of his darling. When, at last, he consented to interment, the coffin was placed under the family pew, her heart lying where he knelt in prayer. He wept himself blind; the terrible calamity that now gradually overtook him being indeed imputed to excess of weeping.
Sorrow mastered, unmanned a nature singularly hopeful and elastic. He became a prey to morbid introspection, to the gloomiest views of human life. He fell at last into the mood that incites men to write or read such works as "Baxter's Saints' Rest," or in our own day, to join the Salvation Army. The blindness came on by slow degrees, and for some time he remained at his post.
"In London, I am alone and therefore at peace," he writes significantly in 1798. "I rise at four or five, and go to bed at nine or ten. I go to no amusements, and read some Scripture every day. I never lay aside my good books but for business."
He still continues to see old friends, however, and his former interest in public affairs does not wholly desert him. During the same year he visits Pitt several times at Holwood, and throws heart and soul into new enterprises. The loss of his child has awakened pity for suffering childhood. In one month alone we find seven dinners given to about forty-eight poor children each time. Another entry is to this effect: "Dinner to fifteen poor children, eleven shillings, another dinner, do., do., another to thirty-seven poor children, sixteen shillings and sixpence," and so on, and so on. Perhaps the following note may have something to do with these charities. "1798. Sold copyright of my travels for 280 guineas." What travels these were he does not say.
The business of the Board was still carried on as laboriously as before, but in 1808 he writes that his sight is so indifferent he is afraid of writing at all, and further on, "My eyes grow worse and worse. For me to read a letter of two sheets and a half would be a vain attempt. I pick out as much as they will let me."
Three years later he was operated upon for cataract, and from a curious and interesting letter written by his wife, we learn the cause, or supposed cause, of failure. All seemed going on well with the somewhat intractable patient, and the oculists held out good hope of recovery on one condition. He must remain calm. Weeping would be fatal. Wilberforce paid him a visit as he sat bandaged in a dark room. The visitor had been cautioned on no account whatever to agitate him, but either underrating his friend's susceptibility or his own, he began in his soft gentle voice, "The Duke of Grafton is dead," and went on to speak of the duke's death so touchingly that the other burst into tears. The mischief was done past recall. The last twelve years of life were spent by Arthur Young in total blindness. They were busier for all that than those of many men in the meridian. He was now chiefly at Bradfield, where the indefatigable veteran severely taxed the energies of his comparatively youthful associates. Besides his secretary, M. de St. Croix, he often enjoyed the friendly services of a granddaughter of Dr. Burney's, Miss Francis by name, a lady who, like Mezzofanti, was "a monster of languages, a Briareus of parts of speech, a walking polyglot." It was a definite understanding that this linguistic knowledge—to what special uses it was put we are not informed—should be kept up. Every day Miss Francis enjoyed an hour or more for the purpose of reading a little Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and so on. In a letter to her brother, Mary Young, the only surviving daughter, amusingly describes one of these long, well-filled days. When at Bradfield, she tells us, Miss Francis slept over the servant's hall with a packthread round her wrist, this packthread passing through the keyhole communicated with Arthur Young's room, and when he wanted to awake her, which was generally between four or five o'clock in the morning, he pulled it, on which she immediately rose. The pair would then sally forth for a two hours' walk on the turnpike road, stopping at some farmhouse to take milk, and afterwards distributing religious tracts at the cottages by the way, Miss Francis questioning the people upon their principles, reading to them, and catechizing the children. "At half-past eight they return," writes Miss Young, "as that is the hour M. St. Croix gets up, who finds it quite enough to read and write for two hours and a half before breakfast. After breakfast the three adjourn to the library till one, when Mr. St. Croix takes his walk for an hour, Miss Francis and my father read, write, or walk till three o'clock. He puts children to school at Bradfield, Cockfield, and Stanningfield, and every Sunday they meet and are catechized. Every Sunday night a hundred meet, when Mr. St. Croix reads a sermon and chapter, and my father explains for an hour, after which a prayer dismisses them. Last Sunday they (Arthur Young and the linguist) went to church at Acton. Every Sunday they go to Acton or Ampton, each church ten miles out and ten home, besides teaching the schools and the meeting in the hall." She adds, "My father has taken out a license for the hall (i.e. Bradfield), as there is an assembly of people which would have been liable to information." This letter bears date May 13, 1814.
The Sunday evening services made a deep impression on the country folks. The villagers of Bradfield and the neighbourhood still talk of the blind old Squire who was a great preacher. They know little or nothing of his literary fame. The achievement by which he will be remembered is to them a sealed book. But he lives in local memory as a second Wesley, a wonderful stirrer-up of men's consciences, an unrivalled expounder of the Gospel. There is still living at Bury St. Edmunds (1889) a nonagenarian who has a vivid recollection of Arthur Young's sermons. In his vehemence the orator would move to and fro till he gradually had his back turned to the congregation, whereupon his daughter or secretary would gently place their hands upon his shoulders and restore him to the proper position.
It is a touching figure we now take leave of, that blind, fervid, silver-haired preacher, a hundred eager faces fixed upon his own, the rapt silence of the crowded meeting-place only broken by his trembling, impassioned tones. For the story of Arthur Young's life is mainly told. The world had not yet lost sight of him. He was from time to time pleasantly reminded of the conspicuous part he had played in it. He tells us how, in 1815, when breakfasting with Wilberforce, he met General Macaulay, who, recently travelling from Geneva to Lyons, had visited a French farm, where he found everything "in the highest style of management, and so much superior to all the rest of the country, that he inquired into the origin of such superiority. The answer of the owner was, 'My cultivation is entirely that of Monsieur Arthur Young, whose recommendations I have carried into practice with the success you see.'" For the most part the remaining years were uneventful. He bore his privations and infirmities with resignation, and retained full possession of his faculties to the last. He died at Sackville Street on the 20th April, 1820, and was buried at Bradfield. The handsome tomb in the form of a sarcophagus erected to his memory stands close to the roadside, over against the entrance to his old home. Passers-by may read the some-what stilted yet veracious inscription on the outer slab:—
"Let every real patriot shed a tear,
For genius, talent, worth, lie buried here."
In France such a man would have had his statue long ago. Perhaps this more modest tribute were more to his taste. That a native of his beloved Suffolk, herself a frequent wayfarer throughout the length and breadth of France, should edit his French Travels a hundred years after they were written, would surely have pleased Arthur Young well.
Of his children two survived him, his daughter Mary, who died unmarried, and his son Arthur, whose son, the present owner of Bradfield, is the last of Arthur Young's race and name.