Agriculture is the art of cultivating the earth, so that it may produce the vegetables we desire in their greatest perfection. It may be divided into two branches : namely, theory and practice. The former particularly treats of the various as of preparing and managing the soil and manure, and of the different kinds of vegetables which are adapted to particular soils, and most proper to be raised for the consumption of men, cattle, etc. The latter . to the implements of husbandry, the various methods of cultivating ng land, raising crops, and feeding cattle.
Agriculture is one of those art which, from the earliest periods, have been deservedly held in the highest estimation. One of the first injunctions upon our original progenitor, after his dismission from the garden of Eden, was, that he should "till the ground."' Subsequent experience has fully proved, that the cultivation of tins necessary art essentially contributes to the prosperity of mankind, and that it ought; to form a primary object in all moral and political regulations.
In the earliest ages, and among those nations which have been celebrated for their refinement and civilization, agriculture has been highly prized, and carried even to considerable perfection. Among the Hebrews, high birth or rank conferred no exclusive distinctions; for it was then considered as the most honourable of human employments. By this valuable art, the Chaldeans discovered the means of procuring suc-cessive crops of corn, which enabled them to remain stationary, and not migrate, as their predecessors had formerly done, in order to obtain subsistence for themselves and their flocks. So sensible were many nations of its great importance, that, according to the history of the an-ns, their kings, once in every month, divested themselves of regal pomp, and ate with husbandmen. In China, a day is still annually appointed, when the emperor in solemn procession to a field, where he shews his sense of the inestimable benefits of agriculture, by undertaking, for a short time, the laborious occupation of directing the plough in person. Among the Romans, the rural art was deemed so honourable a pursuit, that the most distinguished senators, at their leisure intervals, applied themselves to the cultivation of the soil. Numa Pompilius, one of their first kings, was distinguished as much for his skill in agriculture, as for his exemplary piety: and such was the ami able simplicity of those times, that their greatest warriors and legislators, were often called from the active labours of the field to the higher, but not more dignified, offices of the state. CaTo, the censor, who had governed and subdued many warlike nations, did not consider it beneath him to write a treatise on agriculture; and several valuable works upon this subject, appeared at various periods of the Roman empire.
The Athenians first taught the use of corn to the rest of Greece; and after tasting bread, returned public thanks to the gods for such an unexpected and valuable blessing. By continued applications, they brought rural economy to a high degree of perfection, and soon reduced it to an art. The most eminent Greek writers upon agriculture were Hesiod, Zexophon, DEmocritus of Abdera, Socra-ticus, Archytas, Tarentixus, Aristotle, and Theophrastus.
Previous to the establishment of the Romans in this country, the art of agriculture was but 1 ttle known in Britain. By their assistance, however, it experienced considerable improvements, insomuch that they were enabled annually to export large quantities of grain from this island. Subsequent to this period, it has been continually advancing in its progress ; and, by the great encouragement it has of late experienced from the more enlightened classes of society, more especially from our present gracious Sovereign, who has in as eminent degree devoted himself to its study and improvement, it bids fair to attain a high degree of perfection. Societies have lately been formed for the purpose of encouraging thjis, and other useful arts; and a plan has been proposed for introducing the study of agriculture into our schools, and making it a necessary part of national education.
In the year 1756, a period of difficulty and distress, France began to pay particular attention to this important subject. Prize questions were annually proposed by the academies of Lyons, Bourdeaux, and by the society instituted for the improvement of agriculture in Brittany. About this time, also, it was greatly encouraged in Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Italy ; in the last mentioned country, a private gentleman, about 40 years ago, left his whole fortune, to the establishment and support of an agricultural academy. The Dutch seem to be the only nation in Europe, by which rural economy is treated with apparent neglect; for, with the single exception of draining their fens and morasses, they have scarcely deemed it an object worthy of public support.
Whether we consider agriculture as a means of procuring as well the necessaries as luxuries of life; of providing a security against the aggregated calamities of scarcity, famine, and disease ; or of engaging the mind in active and extensive pursuits of general knowledge, it is one of the most useful and important of all the arts which have employed the attention of mankind. Its theory is, in a great measure, dependent on several branches of science, such as natural history, chemistry, experimental philosophy, and mechanics, all of which may be successively applied to its advancement; and without a competent knowledge of these, it cannot be properly understood. Its practical C part., part, however, may be earned on, independently of scientific experiments. No person, therefore, need be deterred from attempting any improvements, because he is not conversant with the more abstract parts of physical knowledge.—This art is also eminently useful, because it furnishes us, to a considerable degree, with the means of com-merce; for the quantity of corn which we do not want for our own and consumption, may always find a ready market, if exported to other countries.
The flourishing state of our manufactures is greatly dependent on that of our agriculture; because the price of those commodities obtained by labour, is not only closely connected with that of the necessaries of life, but some of the most considerable articles of manufactures are originally supplied by agricultural productions, such as wool, flax, hemp, rape-seed, tallow, etc.
The successful advancement of the rural art depends upon two circumstances; the one, its improvement by discovery or invention; the other, a more extensive practice of such improvements, when fully demonstrated. The former is effected, by the contrivance of more perfect machines and implements of husbandry, which facilitate the progress of labour: the introduction of new articles of profitable culture, and the most advantageous method of treating those which have already been cultivated, though in a detective manner. The latter, -namelv, the practice, relates not only to future improvements, but likewise to those which, though generally known, have been either wholly neglected, or adopted only in particular places.
Various plans have lately been devised for the purpose of encouraging agriculture ; such as the in-closure of waste lands, the draining of fens and morasses, the construction of inland canals, etc.. On the subject of inclosures, Dr. DaR win , "There can certainly be no objection to the inclosure of commons, or at least to their division into private property, as they are believed to produce more than tenfold the quantity of sustenance to mankind, if they are employed in agriculture, or even in pasturage, than by nourishing a few geese, sheep, or deer, in their uncultivated state, covered with tern, heath or gorse."
To conclude: agricultural pursuits will always constitute one of the principal employments of the bulk of mankind; it is, therefore, as well the interest, as the duty, of the. higher classes, to contribute every comfort in their power, towards alleviating the burthens inse-parable from the lot of the husbandman. For, so long as that valuable body of the people, who cultivate the soil, were duly stimulated to habits of industry, and encouraged in the practice of domestic virtues, we find no example in the pages of ancient or modern history, that such a nation ever suffered a general calamity. We do not, how ever, here allude to any particular period of scarcity, which may be either real or artificial, and the causes of which we shall not pretend to investigate. But, on the whole, there can be no doubt that the system of husbandry now followed in this country, together with the praise-worthy exertions of the Board of Agriculture, and the different societies instituted for this purpose, will be ultimately productive of the happiest effects.
On this occasion, we should consider ourselves deficient in gratitude and duty, if we omitted to mention the names of those illustrious patriots, who have so materially contributed to the scientific progress, and successful practice of agriculture to this island. Such are, the present Duke of Bedford, Lord Somerville, Sir John Sinclair, Dr. JAMES Anderson, Mr. Arthur Young, and especially our worthy friend and professor, Dr. Coventry, who fills his academical chair, in the university of Edinburgh, with general satisfaction. As this gentleman is the only public teacher of agriculture in the British empire, we shall in justice to his merits observe, that he is not merely a theoretical lecturer, but that he takes every opportunity of enforcing bis excellent precepts by practical example; for he cultivates one of the best regulated and most productive farms in Fife-shire.
For an account of the different subjects connected with agriculture, we refer the reader to the articles, as they are classed in the order of the alphabet.
Agriculture. - Notwithstanding the fair prospects we have stated under this article, there are numerous obstacles that impede the progress of that inestimable art, in. the British empire. - 1. One of the most powerful impediments, is the general ignorance that still pre vails among the managers of landed estates : this inconvenience, we are happy to observe, may gradually be removed, by establishments similar to that proposed by the Rev. Mr. Close ; an account of whose plan is inserted in the 9th vol. of the " Letters and Papers of the Bath and West of England Society." - By this praise-worthy institution, young men may, for a small premium, be qualified to undertake farms either on their own account, or to serve as bailiffs to landed proprietors; for they will be instructed in the principles of Agriculture, especially those of the Drill-husbandry, and in all the necessary duties of a farm, relative to both rural and economical affairs. 2. The impolicy of continuing to grant ill-regulated leases, by which a certain, and generally erroneous, rotation of crops is enforced ; and 3. The burthen necessarily occasioned by the present system of Tithes. Farther, extensive wastes or commons still remain to be cultivated ; and the system of agricultural legislation and police is so miserably defective, that innumerable petty frauds and thefts are with impunity committed in the fields of industrious farmers ; because the trouble and expence of prosecuting depredators, are too great to be borne by persons who earn their bread by honest labour, and daily exertion. Such "shackles, " Mr.MIDDLETON energetically observes, " cramp and paralyze every effort which can be made towards the improvement of this science ; and, so long as the agriculture of this realm is compelled to endure them, any considerable improvement of the soil is utterly impracticable." - For a more detailed account of these abuses, with appropriate remedies, we refer the reader to that Gentleman's highly interesting " View of the Agriculture of Middlesex" etc. 8vo. 1798 ; and which was drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture.