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

§ 5. Sir Hugh Plat

Sir Hugh Plat, an interesting person whose activity extended to other matters besides agriculture, was known as the author of many curious inventions, a number of which are described in his Jewell House of Art and Nature: conteining divers rare and profitable inventions, together with sundry new experiments in the art of husbandry, distillation, and moulding (1594). He applied himself more particularly to improvements in farming and gardening, his most useful contribution to the subject being a treatise on manures, which, under the title of Diverse new sorts of soyle not yet brought into any publique use, for manuring both of pasture and arable ground, formed the second part of the Jewell House. About 1596, he also issued an exposition of The new and admirable arte of setting corne. Harte, in his Essays on Husbandry (1764), speaks of him as the most ingenious husbandman of his times, and says that he corresponded with all the lovers of agriculture and gardening throughout England.

Here, again, as in the field of horsemanship, Markham holds the foremost place in his day. His books on husbandry are, perhaps, not written with so intimate a first-hand knowledge, but a faculty for minute observation and a long acquaintance with country matters in general enabled him to supplement his own knowledge by selecting and assimilating what was best and most advanced in existing literature; and his literary taste and skill enabled him to present it in a form at once attractive and practical. He is equally at home in expounding the best methods of tillage, the treatment of live stock, the subtleties of hawking, the secrets of angling, or the most approved recipes for the housewife; there is little, indeed, in the whole range of country pleasures and duties, upon which he did not discourse with ease, enthusiasm and authority, and, on all occasions, with that display of omniscience which is a mark of the true journalist.

All these characteristics are seen to advantage in that encyclopaedic and seductive volume, A Way to get Wealth. The first treatise in this collection, Cheap and Good Husbandry, deals with the management of domestic animals and fowls and the cure of their diseases. As in duty bound, he leads off with his favourite, the horse, and, in the directions for training, the gentleness of his methods is particularly noticeable. Correction, indeed, is to be given “soundly and sharply, as oft as just occasion shall require”; but there is much more of “cherishing” than chiding, and suaviter in modo is the key-note of all his instruction. No treatise on rural economy of this period seems to have been considered complete without its chapter on bees, and Markham duly devotes a section to these “gentle, loving and familiar creatures.”

Having dealt with the duties of country life, Markham then proceeds in Country Contentments to set out the various recreations wherewith a husbandman may refresh himself after the toil of more serious business. Here he writes with accustomed ease, and in somewhat more leisurely manner, as befits the occasion. The singular rhythmical charm of his style is at its best; nothing is abrupt or unfinished; sentences are rounded off with a due regard to effect; and, in the direct simplicity of his diction, nothing of clearness is lost. What, for instance, could be better and more attuned to its subject than these instructions for the composition of a pack of hounds:

  • If you would have your Kennell for sweetnesse of cry, then you must compound it of some large dogges, that have deepe solemne mouthes, and are swift in spending, which must as it were beare the base in the consort; then a double number of roaring, and loudringing mouthes, which must beare the counter tenor; then some hollow plaine sweete mouthes, which must beare the meane or middle part: and soe with these three parts of musicke, you shall make your cry perfect.…
  • If you would have your Kennell for loudnes of mouth, you shall not then choose the hollow deepe mouth, but the loud clanging mouth, which spendeth freely and sharpley, and as it were redoubleth in the utterance: and if you mix with them the mouth that roareth, and the mouth that whineth, the crye will be both the louder and smarter; … and the more equally you compound these mouthes, having as many Roarers as Spenders, and as many whiners, as of either of the other, the louder and pleasanter your cry will be, especially if it be in sounding tall woods, or under the eccho of Rocks.
  • Hunting is followed by hawking, “a most princely and serious delight”; and shooting with long-bow and cross-bow, and the games of bowls, tennis and baloon are all included. The moralising chapter in which The whole Art of Angling is introduced is entirely in keeping with the spirit of “the contemplative man’s recreation,” and therein Markham shows himself a not unworthy precursor of Izaak Walton. After commendation of the gentle art, the making of rods, lines and other implements is described with a particular nicety, and other directions follow, all set forth with similar conciseness.

    In the English Huswife, which forms the second part of Country Contentments, Markham, for once, does not claim originality, but describes it as being in great part from “a Manuscript, which many yeeres agon belonged to an Honourable Countesse.” In it, the whole sphere of the housewife’s domain is dealt with, household physic, cookery, distilling, dairying and brewing. Recipes are given for every domestic occasion, from a remedy for the Tysicke to the making of Ipocras, with many other conceited secrets. The cookery directions are characterised by lavishness, and some of the other recipes are, to say the least, somewhat curious. If Markham had been challenged as to the “halfe a bushell of the doune of Cats tailes” prescribed for the concoction to cure burning or scalding, he would, probably, have referred it to the countess’s manuscript; but he might not have disowned the description of qualities which should be discernible in the good housewife, when he says

  • First, shee must bee cleanly both in body and garments, shee must have a quicke eye, a curious nose, a perfect taste, and ready eare; (shee must not be butter-fingred, sweete-toothed, nor faint-hearted) for, the first will let every thing fall, the second will consume what it should increase, and the last will loose time with too much nicenesse.
  • A Way to get Wealth also contains The Inrichment of the Weald of Kent and Markhams Farewell to Husbandry, both of which treat of the manuring and enrichment of poor soils; and it concludes with two or three horticultural treatises, the most important of which, A New Orchard and Garden, was the work of William Lawson. The collection was many times reprinted, the fifteenth edition making its appearance in 1695.