The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVII. Writers on Country Pursuits and Pastimes

§ 2. His Predecessors

Among the modern writers on horses to whom Markham, in his Maister-peece, acknowledges his indebtedness, he especially esteemed Salomon de la Broue, “a man of exquisite practice and knowledge,” whose work Le cavalerice François was printed at Paris in 1593–4. Of English authors, he names Clifford and Mascall, and also mentions among his authorities fifteen names which he terms private, meaning, it may be presumed, practitioners of the veterinary art who did not publish. Christopher Clifford was the author of The Schoole of Horsemanship, published in 1585; the works of Leonard Mascall are referred to below.

No other writer on this subject approached Markham, either in popularity or in knowledge and literary craft. His books were continually reprinted throughout the seventeenth century, and they were not entirely superseded even by the great horse-masters of the latter part of the century, the duke of Newcastle and Sir William Hope, translator of Solleysel.

Perhaps yet better known than his books on horses is the collection of treatises on country matters which he gathered into one volume, under the alluring title, A Way to get Wealth. This comprehensive work forms an encyclopaedia of rural occupations and recreations, in which Markham brought up to date the existing literature of the subject.

The earliest of his predecessors in this field was Walter of Henley, whose Book of Husbandry, originally written in the thirteenth century, circulated largely in manuscript, being added to from time to time and amended as need arose. Its long continued popularity must have been due to the practical nature of the work; and the sphere of its usefulness was extended by a translation, out of the original Anglicised Norman French, into English, this version being attributed, on apparently insufficient grounds, to Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln. After having enjoyed popularity in manuscript for two hundred years, it was at length printed by Wynkyn de Worde early in the sixteenth century, only to be shortly afterwards superseded by Fitzherbert’s Book of Husbandry, which made its appearance about 1523.

It is a question whether the authorship of this treatise, as well as of its companion volume, The Book of Surveying, should be rightly assigned to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, justice of the common pleas, or to his elder brother John Fitzherbert, lord of the manor of Norbury in Derbyshire; but the balance of probability is in favour of the latter. The squire, if he it be, tells us that the work was the outcome of more than forty years’ experience, and that it was intended for the benefit of “poore fermers and tenauntes.” The familiarity with detail, the minuteness of instruction and the care with which the author states his reasons, well bear out his claim to long experience. The whole course of farming operations is dealt with, including the management of horses, cattle and sheep; woodcraft finds a place, and there is likewise a chapter on bees, which are “lyttell charge but good attendaunce.” And, country squire-like, caring for the welfare of his people, he concludes with some thirty admonitory essays suited to various occasions, from “the Occupation of a Wife” to “the Manner of Almsdeeds.” The Book of Surveying, which had a forerunner in the rules drawn up by bishop Grosseteste for the countess of Lincoln, dealt with duties pertaining to the office of steward or bailiff, and was, in effect, a hand-book of estate management, designed for “the profytte of all noble men and women.”

For a considerable period, Fitzherbert’s Book of Husbandry had no rival, and it was several times reprinted before the end of the century, when it finally gave way to the Elizabethan writers on the subject, to whom it had served as a useful quarry. Of these writers, the most notable, to name them in chronological order, were Thomas Tusser, Leonard Mascall, Barnabe Googe, Sir Hugh Plat and Markham.

Thomas Tusser, whose Hundreth good pointes of Husbandrie (1557), afterwards amplified into Five Hundreth Pointes (1573), was rather a collection of riming aphorisms than a regular treatise, is dealt with in another volume of the present work.