Promise of agricultural progress checked by the Civil War: agricultural writers and their suggestions: Sir Richard Weston on turnips and clover: conservatism of English farmers; their dislike to book-farming not un reasonable: unexhausted improvements discussed; Walter Blith on drainage: attempts to drain the fens in the eastern counties; the resistance of the fenmen: new views on commons: Winstanley's claims: enclosures advocated as a step towards agricultural improvement.

THE beginning of the seventeenth century promised to usher in a new era of agricultural prosperity. During the first four decades of the period prospects steadily brightened. No general improvement in farming practices had been possible until a considerable area of land had been enclosed in one or other of the various forms which enclosures might assume. Under the Tudor sovereigns--in the midst of much agrarian suffering and discontent--this indispensable work had been begun, and it continued throughout the seventeenth century. Estates were consolidated; small farms were thrown together; open village farms in considerable numbers gave place to compact and separate freeholds or tenancies; agrarian partnerships, in which it was no man's interest to be energetic, made way, here and there, for that individual occupation which offered the strongest incentive to enterprise. Thus opportunities were afforded for the introduction of new crops, the application of land to its best use, and the adoption of improved methods. Dairying was extended in the vales of the West and South West; corn and meat found better and dearer markets; under the spur of increased profits arable farming again prospered, and the conversion of tillage to pasture was arrested. New materials for agricultural wealth were accumulating; turnips, already grown in English gardens, were recommended for field cultivation; twenty years later, potatoes were suggested as a farming crop; the value of clover and other artificial grasses had been recognised, and urged upon English farmers. Methods became less barbarous. An Act of Parliament was passed "agaynst plowynge by the taile," and the custom of "pulling off the wool yearly from living sheep" was declared illegal. Drainage was discussed with a sense and sagacity which were not rivalled till the nineteenth century. Increased care was given to manuring; new fertilising agencies were suggested; the merits of Peruvian guano were explained by G. de la Vega at Lisbon in 1602; the use of valuable substances, known to our ancestors but discontinued, was revived. Attention was paid to the improvement of agricultural implements. Patents were taken out for draining machines (Burrell, 1628); for new manures (1636); for improved courses of husbandry (Chiver, 1637 and 1640); for ploughs (Hamilton, 1623; Brouncker, 1627; Parham, 1634); for instruments for mechanical sowing (Ramsey, 1634, and Plattes, 1639). On all sides new energies seemed to be aroused.

   Much of the land had changed hands during the preceding century, and the infusion of new blood into the ownership of the soil introduced a more enterprising and business-like spirit into farming. The increased wealth of landowners showed itself in the erection of Jacobean mansions; farmer owners, tenant-farmers for lives or long terms of years, copyholders at fixed quit-rents, made money. Only the agricultural labourer still suffered. His wages rose more slowly than the prices of the necessaries of life; his hold on the land was relaxing; his dependence upon his labour-power became more complete. He was more secure of employment; but in this respect alone was his lot altered for the better.

   The promise of improvement was checked by the outbreak of the Civil War. Excepting those who were directly engaged in the struggle, men seemed to follow their ordinary business and their accustomed pursuits. The story that a crowd of country gentlemen followed the hounds across Marston Moor between the two armies drawn up in hostile array, may not be true; but it illustrates the temper of a large proportion of the inhabitants. It was the prevailing sense of insecurity, rather than the actual absorption of the whole population in the war, that caused the promise of agricultural progress to perish in the bud. In more settled times under the Commonwealth, farming prospects again brightened. But ractical progress was once more suspended by the social changes and political uncertainties of the last half of the seventeenth century. Agriculture languished, if it did not actually decline. It is a significant fact that between 1640 and 1670 not more than six patents were taken out for agricultural improvements. Country gentlemen ceased to interest themselves in farming pursuits. "Our gentry," notes Pepys, "are grown ignorant in everything of good husbandry." Without their initiative progress was almost impossible. Open-field farmers could not change their field-customs without the consent of the whole body of partners. Farmers in individual occupation of their holdings had not, as a general rule, the enterprise, the education, the capital, or the security of tenure, to conduct experiments or adopt improvements.

   But the period was one of active preparation. A crowd of agricultural writers followed in the train of Fitzherbert, Tusser, and Googe. Leonard Mascall in his Booke of Cattell (1591) had instructed husbandmen in the more skilful "government" of horses, oxen, cattle, and sheep. Gervase Markham wrote on every variety of agricultural subjects, multiplying his treatises under different titles with a rapidity which gained for him the distinction of being the "first English hackwriter," and proved that books on farming found a sale. Horses were made the subject of special treatment. Blundeville's Fower chiefyst ofces belonging to Horsemanshippe (1565-6) was followed by such books as Markham's Discourse on Horsemanshippe (1593) and How to Chuse, Ride, Trayne,and Dyet both Hunting and Running Horses (1599), by Grymes's Honest and Plaine Dealing Farrier (1636), and by John Crawshey's Countryman's Instructor (1636). Then, as now, horsedealing was a trial of the sharpest wits, blunted by the fewest scruples. Crawshey, who describes himself as a "plaine Yorkshire man," warns his readers against being deceived when buying horses in the market, "for many men will protest and sweare that they are sound when they know the contrary, onely for their private gaine." Where so much is strange in farming matters, it is refreshing to find familiar features. The proper treatment of woodlands was discussed by Standish (1611). Rowland Vaughan (1610), struck by the sight of a streamlet issuing from a mole-heap in a bank, discussed new methods of irrigation, or "the summer and winter drowning" of meadows and pasture. Even the smaller profits of farming received attention. Numerous books were published on orchards, and on gardens, in which were now accumulating such future stores of agricultural riches as turnips, carrots, and potatoes. Mascall in 1581 had written on the "husbandlye Ordring of Poultry"; Sir Hugh Plat had instructed housewives in the art of fattening fowls for the table; and John Partridge published a treatise on the same subjects, in which he gives recipes for keeping their natural foes at bay. The following may be recommended to Hunt Secretaries, who are impoverished by demands on their poultry funds. "Rub your poultry," says Partridge, "with the juice of Rue or Herbe grasse and the wesels shall do them no hurt; if they eats the lungs or lights of a Foxe, the Foxes shall not eate them." Nor were bees neglected. Thomas Hill (1568), and Edmund Southerne (1593) had written on the "right ordering" of bees. But Charles Butler's Feminine Monarchie (1609), and John Levett's Orderinge of Bees (1634) became the standard authorities on the subject. Both books were known to Robert Child, author of the Large Letter on the deficiencies of English husbandry, published by Hartlib in 1651. He says that Butler "hath written so exactly, and upon his owne experience" that little remained to be added. Henry Best (1641), however, preferred Levett to any other writer on bee-keeping. "Hee is the best," he thinks, "that ever writte of this subjeckt."

   During the same period men like Gabriel Plattes or Sir Richard Weston were suggesting new agricultural methods, or introducing new crops which were destined to change the face of English farming. Plattes (1638), who seems to have been of Flemish origin, urged that corn should be steeped before sowing, and not sown broadcast but set in regular rows. To those who adopted the suggestion of the "corn setter," he promised a yield of a hundred-fold, and he invented a drill to facilitate and cheapen the process. Plattes was on the verge of a great improvement. But men who looked for no larger return than six-fold or eight-fold on the grain sown, regarded his promise as the dream of a visionary who had not travelled beyond the sound of Bow Bells. Unfortunately, the career of Plattes confirmed the contempt with which practical farmers were ready to regard the theories of agricultural writers. Like Tusser, he failed in farming. As Tusser died (1580) in the debtor's prison of the Poultry Compter, so Plattes is said to have died starving and shirtless in the streets of London."

   Sir Richard Weston could at least lay claim to thirty years experience in the successful improvement of his estates at Sutton in Surrey "by Fire and Water." He had enriched his heathy land by the process of paring and burning, "which wee call Devonshiring"; he had also adopted Vaughan's suggestion of irrigation, and proved its value on his own meadows. But the important change with which Weston's name will always be associated is the introduction of a new rotation of crops, founded on the field cultivation of roots and clover. As Brillat-Savarin valued a new dish above a new star, so Arthur Young regards Weston as "a greater benefactor than Newton." He did indeed offer bread and meat to millions. Whether Weston had visited Flanders before 1644 is uncertain. His attempt to make the Wey navigable by means of locks suggests that he was acquainted with the foreign system of canals. On the other hand, his treatise on agriculture implies that he paid his first visit to the country in that year as a refugee. A Royalist and a Catholic, Weston, at the outbreak of the Civil War, was driven into exile, and his estates were sequestrated. He took refuge in Flanders. There he studied the Flemish methods of agriculture, especially their use of flax, clover, and turnips. For the field cultivation of clover he advises that heathy ground should be pared, burned, limed, and well ploughed and harrowed; that the seed should be sown in April, or the end of March, at the rate of ten pounds of seed to the acre; that, once sown, the crop should be left for five years. The results of his observations, embodied in his Discours of the Husbandrie used in Brabant and Flanders, were written in 1645 and left to his sons as a "Legacie." The subsequent history of the "Legacie" is curious. Circulated in manuscript, an imperfect copy fell into the hands of Samuel Hartlib, who piratically published it in 1650, with an unctuous dedication "to the Right Honorable the Council of State." In the following year Hartlib seems to have learned the name of the author and to have obtained possession of a more perfect copy. He therefore wrote two letters to Weston, asking him to correct and enlarge his "Discourse." Receiving no answer, he republished the treatise in 1651. Eighteen years later, the Discours was again appropriated--this time by Gabriel Reeve, who, in 1670, reprinted it under the title of Directions left by a Gentleman to his Sons for the Improvement of Barren and Heathy Land in England and Wales.

   Roots, clover, and artificial grasses subsequently revolutionised English farming; but it was more than a century before their use became at all general. Other crops were pressed by agricultural writers upon the attention of farmers--such as flax, hemp, hops, woad and madder for dyes, saffron, liquorice, rape, and coleseed. A more important suggestion was the field cultivation of potatoes which hitherto had been treated as exotics, rarely found except in the gardens of the rich. In 1664 John Forster (England's Happiness Increased, etc.) urged farmers to grow them in their fields. He distinguishes "Irish Potatoes" from Spanish, Canadian, or Virginian varieties, points to their success in Ireland, notices their introduction into Wales and the North of England, and recommends their trial in other parts of the country. It was not till the Napoleonic wars that the advice was taken to any general extent. None of these crops, it may be observed, could be introduced on an open-field farm, unless the whole body of agrarian partners agreed to alter their field customs.

   Another noteworthy book is the Legacie (1651), which passes under the name of Samuel Hartlib, who has gained undeserved credit by his piracy of Weston's work. By birth a Pole, Hartlib had come to England in 1628. By his Reformation of Schooles (1642), translated from Comenius, he forced himself on the notice of Milton, who in 1644 curtly addressed to him his Tract Of Education. From Weston's Discours, Hartlib stole the title of the Legacie (1651), composed of letters from various writers on the defects of English agriculture, and their remedies. Five-sixths of the Legacie are taken up with "A Large Letter . . . written to M. Samuel Hartlib," signed (1655), by R. Child. It throws a clear light on some of the conditions of English farming in the middle of the seventeenth century.

   In the "Large Letter" the cumbrousness of the English ploughs, carts, and waggons is noticed. Clumsy implements and bad practices were said to exist side by side with obvious improvements, which yet found no imitators. Some Kentish farmers used "4, 6, yea 12 horses and oxen" in their ploughs, and in Ireland farmers fastened their horses by the tails. Yet in Norfolk the practice was to plough with two horses only, while in Kent itself, a certain Colonel Blunt of Gravesend ploughed with one horse, and an ingenious yeoman had invented a double-furrow plough. Men who perplexed their brains about perpetual motion would, says the writer, have used their ingenuity to more effect if they had tried to improve the implements of agriculture. Cattle-breeding, except "in Lancashire and some few Northern Counties" was not studied; no attempt was made to improve the best breeds for milking or for fattening. Dairying needed attention ; butter might be "better sented and tasted; our cheeses were inferior to those of Italy, France, or Holland. Various remedies against the prevalence of smut and mildew in wheat are suggested, including lime, change of seed, early sowing, and the use of bearded wheat. Flax and hemp were unduly neglected, though both might be grown, it is suggested, with profit to agriculturists, and to the great increase of employment ; as a remedy against this persistent neglect, the author advocates compulsory legislation, to force farmers, "even like brutes, to understand their own good." Twenty-one natural substances are recommended as manures, the value of which had been proved by experience. Among them are chalk, marl, lime, farm-yard dung, if it is not too much exposed to the sun and rain; "snaggreet," or soil full of small shells taken out of rivers, and much used in Surrey; owse, from marshy ditches or foreshores; seaweed; sea-sand, as used in Cornwall ; "folding of sheepe after the Flaunders manner, (viz.) under a covert, in which earth is strawed about 6 inches thick"; ashes, soot, pigeons' dung, malt-dust, blood, shavings of horn, woollen rags as used in Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, and Kent. It need scarcely be pointed out that for none of these fertilisers was the agriculturist indebted to chemistry, and that no attempt was as yet made to restore to the soil the special properties of which it is impoverished by particular crops. To meadows and pasture no attention was paid; mole-heaps and ant-hills were not spread and levelled; in laying down land to graze, little care was taken to sow the best and sweetest grasses. Clover, sainfoin, and lucerne were generally ignored. The practice of "soiling," that is, of cutting clover green as fodder for cattle, is, however, commended. Large tracts of land were allowed to lie waste, so "that there are more waste lands in England than in all Europe besides, considering the quantity of land." Among the waste lands he includes "dry heathy commons." "I know," he adds, "that poore people will cry out against me because I call these waste lands: but it's no matter."

   The destruction of woods for fuel is condemned. For this consumption the glass furnaces ,of the South, the salt "wiches" of Cheshire, and, above all, the iron-works of Surrey, Sussex, and other counties, were responsible. The writer probably alludes to "Dud" Dudley's experiments, when he expresses the hope that the difficulties of using "sea-coal" for the smelting of iron might be overcome so as to save our timber. Experiments were not sufficiently tried, and a "Colledge of Experiments," already recommended by Gabriel Plattes, is once more suggested. Men do not know where to go if they want advice, or to obtain reliable seeds and plants. Some means was needed of bringing home to other husbandmen a knowledge of the improvements made by their more skilful brethren. Another deficiency in English husbandry was its insular repugnance to foreign methods and new-fangled crops. Men objected that the new seeds "will not grow here with us, for our forefathers never used them. To these I reply and ask them, how they know? have they tryed? Idlenesse never wants an excuse; and why might not our forefathers upon the same ground have held their hands in their pockets, and have said, that Wheat, and Barley, would not have grown amongst us?" The same complaint, it may be added, is made by Walter Blith in The English Improver Improved: "The fourth and last abuse is a calumniating and depraving every new Invention; of this most culpable are your mouldy old leavened husbandmen, who themselves and their forefathers have been accustomed to such a course of husbandry as they will practise, and no other; their resolution is so fixed, no issues or events whatsoever shall change them. If their neighbour hath as much corn of one Acre as they of two upon the same land, or if another plow the same land for strength and nature with two horses and one man as well as he, and have as good corn, as he hath been used with four horses and two men yet so he will continue. Or if an Improvement be discovered to him and all his neighbours, hee'l oppose it and degrade it. What forsooth saith he, who taught you more wit than your forefathers?" Seventeenth century farmers did not lack descendants in later generations. It took a heavy hammer and many blows to drive a nail through heart of oak.

   It would be unjust to lay on agriculturists the whole blame for neglect of improvements. Much deserves to rest on the agricultural writers themselves. Their promises were often exaggerated beyond the bounds of belief; mixed with some useful suggestions were others which were either ridiculous or of doubtful value. Men actually and practically engaged in cultivating the soil were, therefore, justified in some distrust of book-farmers. Turnips were undoubtedly an invaluable addition to agricultural resources. But it was an exaggeration, to say with Adolphus Speed (Adam out of Eden,1659) that they were the only food for cattle, swine, and poultry, sovereign for conditioning "Hunting dogs," an admirable ingredient for bread, affording "two very good crops" each year, supplying "very good Syder" and "exceeding good Oyl." Nor was confidence in Speed's advice on other topics likely to be inspired by his promise that land, rented at £200 a year, might be made to realise a net annual profit of £2000 by keeping rabbits. Similarly the remedy which is suggested in Hartlib's Legacie (3rd edition, 1655) "against the Rot, and other diseases in Sheep and Horses" is enough to cast suspicion on the whole book: "Take Serpents or (which is better) Vipers," advises the writer, "cut their heads and tayls off and dry the rest to powder. Mingle this powder with salt, and give a few grains of it so mingled now and then to your Horses and Sheep." Other suggested remedies are, at least, more easy of application. "The colicke or pain in the belly (in oxen) is put away in the beholding of geese in the water, specially duckes."If a horse sickens from some mysterious ailment, "a piece of fern-root placed under his tongue will make him immediately voyde, upward and downward, whatsoever is in his body, and presently amende." Again, neither silkworms nor vineyards, though both are favourites with the Stewart theorists, commend themselves strongly as a safe livelihood to practical men who farmed under an English climate. Nor was it possible to take seriously the proposed introduction of "Black Foxes, Muske-cats, Sables, Martines," etc., suggested by Robert Child, the author of the principal tract in the Legacie, as an addition to the agricultural wealth of the country. He adds to his list "the Elephant, the greatest, wisest, and longest-lived of all beasts . . . very serviceable for carriage (15 men usually riding on his backe together)." It would have added variety to English rural life to see the partners in a village farm conveyed to their holdings on the back of a co-operative elephant, and dropping off as they arrived at their respective strips. But it is doubtful whether they would have found their four-footed omnibus "not chargeable to keepe." Literary and experimental agriculturists naturally gained a reputation similar to that of quack medicine vendors. In practice they often failed. Like ancient alchemists, they starved in the midst of their golden dreams. Tusser, teaching thrift, never throve. Gabriel Plattes, the corn setter, died for want of bread. Donaldson, the author of the first Scottish agricultural treatise, admits that he took to writing books because he could not succeed on the land. Even Arthur Young failed twice in farm management before he began his invaluable tours.

   In the "Large Letter" on the defects of English farming, and their remedies, from which quotations have been already made, Child also notices the amount of land that lay waste from want of drainage. This was one of the crying needs of agriculture. Without extensive drainage, the introduction of new crops and improved practices was impossible. With the hour comes the man. The necessity and methods of drainage were ably discussed by Walter Blith. Writing as "a lover of Ingenuity," he published his English Improver in 1649. His treatise, interlarded with biblical quotations, was the first which dealt with draining. As the Puritans of the day sought Scriptural authority for their political constitution, so the Puritan farmer justifies his advocacy of drainage by references to the Bible. "Can the rush," he asks with Bildad, "grow without mire or the flagg without water?" In other ways also Blith's work is significant of the era of the Civil War. He himself beat his ploughshare into a sword, became a captain in the Roundhead army, dedicated his second edition under the title of The English Improver Improved (1652) "to the Right Honourable the Lord Generall Cromwell," adorns it with a portrait of himself arrayed in full military costume, and adds the legend 'Vive La Re Publick.'

   Among the remedies which Blith suggests for the defects of English farming, he urges the employment of more capital; enclosures, with due regard to cottiers and labourers; the abolition of "slavish customs"; the removal of water-mills; the extinction of "vermine"; the recognition of tenant-right. It is an indication of agricultural progress that the question of tenants' improvements should be thus forcing itself to the front. Sir Richard Weston in his Discours called attention to the Flemish custom, unknown to him in England, of "taking a Farm upon Improvement." In Flanders leases for twenty-one years were taken on condition that "whatsoever four indifferent persons (whereof two to bee chosen by the one, and two by the other) should judg the Farm to bee improved at the end of his Leas, the Owner was to paie so much in value to the Tenant for his improving it." In the Preface to his Legacie, Hartlib had imitated Weston in urging the adoption of this custom in England. Blith, who also quotes the Flemish lease with approval, points out the injustice of the English law and the hindrance to all improvements which it created. "If," he says, "a Tenant be at never so great paines or cost for the improvement of his Land, he doth thereby but occasion a greater Rack upon himself, or else invests his Land-Lord into his cost and labour gratis, or at best lies at his Land-Lord's mercy for requital; which occasions a neglect of all good Husbandry. . . . Now this I humble conceive may be removed, if there were a Law Inacted, by which every Land-Lord should be obliged, either to give him reasonable allowance for his clear Improvement, or else suffer him or his to enjoy it so much longer as till he hath had a proportionable requitall." The question had not yet become acute; but, with the insecurity of tenure which then prevailed, it was not surprising that tenant-farmers were averse to improvements. Their experience was embodied in the proverbial saying current in Berkshire:

"He that havocs may sit
He that improves must flit."

The same experience inspired the popular saying prevalent in the Lowlands of Scotland. Donaldson, in his Husbandry Anatomised (1697) says that, when a tenant improves his land, "the Landlord obligeth him either to augment his Rent, or remove, insomuch that it's become a Proverb (and I think none more true), Bouch and Sit, Improve and Flit."

   In treating of drainage, Blith deals not only with surface water but the constant action of springs and stagnant bottom water. He urges that no man should attempt to lay out his drains by the eye alone, but by the aid of "a true exact Water Lovell," an instrument which he carefully describes and depicts. No drain, he said, could touch the "cold spewing moyst water that feeds the flagg and rush," unless it was "a yard or four feet deep," provided with proper outfalls. The drains were to be filled with elder boughs or with stones, and turfed over. He insists that they should be cut straight, not, as open-field farmers were compelled to cut them--want of space or from the opposition of their neighbours--with turns and angles. His views are sound and advanced on general schemes of drainage, which, for "the commonwealth's advantage" should, he suggests, be enforced by compulsory powers upon landowners.

   When Blith wrote, the condition of the fens had become a matter of national importance. It was now that the great work of draining and reclaiming the drowned district had been for the first time seriously undertaken on a scale commensurate with the magnitude of the task. It is singular that foreigners should have taught the English how to deal, not only with land, but with water. As farmers, the Low Countries were far in advance of England, and from them came the most valuable improvements in agricultural methods, as well as the most useful additions to agricultural resources. Dutchmen drained our fens; irrigation, warping, canals were all foreign importations. The irrigation of meadows, which M. de Girardin described as a sound msurance against drought, is said to have been first practised in England in modern times by the notorious "Horatio Pallavazene," of Babraham . . . "who robbed the Pope to lend the Queen." Warping was brought from Italy to the Isle of Axholme in the eighteenth century, and by its means the deposits at the estuary of the Humber were converted into "polders." The Dutch and Flemings had mastered the secret of locks and canals long before any attempt was made to render English rivers navigable, or available for water-carriage in inland districts. The great French "Canal du Midi" was completed in 1681, nearly a century before the example was followed in England. In this connection it may be also noticed that a colony of Walloon emigrants, settled at Thorney towards the middle of the seventeenth century, introduced into the district the practice of paring and burning the coarse tussocks of grass, and the paring plough was long known as the French plough.

   Robert Child in his "Large Letter" on the most notable deficiencies of English agriculture, printed in Hartlib's Legacie (1651), suggests that the drainage of marshes was not begun till the reign of Elizabeth. "In Qu. Elizabeth's dayes," he writes, "Ingenuities, Curiosities, and Good Husbandry began to take place, and then Salt Marshes began to be fenced from the Seas." In this he is mistaken. Some progress had been made at an earlier date. A number of Acts were passed in the reign of Henry VIII. for the reclamation of marshes and fens by undertakers, who were usually rewarded with half the reclaimed land. Thus Wapping Marsh was reclaimed by Cornelius Vanderdelf in 1544, and the embankment of Plumstead and Greenwich Marshes was begun in the same reign. Isolated marshes had been drained in the eastern counties during the reign of Elizabeth. Norden (Surveyor's Dialogue, 1607) says: "much of the Fennes is made lately firme ground, by the skill of one Captaine Lovell, and by M. William Englebert, an excellent Ingenor." But it was not till the reign of Charles I. that any serious attempt was made to deal with the Great Level of the Fens, which extended into the six counties of Cambridge, Lincoln, Huntingdon, Northampton, Suffolk, and Norfolk.

   Seventy miles in length, and varying in breadth from ten to thirty miles, the fens comprised an area of nearly 700,000 acres. Now a richly fertile, highly cultivated district, it was, in the seventeenth century, a wilderness of bogs, pools, and reed-shoals--a vast morass, from which, here and there, emerged a few islands of solid earth. Here dwelt an amphibious population, travelling in punts, walking on stilts, and living mainly by fishing, cutting willows, keeping geese, and wild-fowling. "H. C." who, in 1629, urged upon the Government the Drayning of Fennes, paints an unattractive picture of the country: "The Aer Nebulous, Grosse, and full of rotten Harres; the Water purred and muddy, yea, full of loathsome Vermine; the Earth spuing, unfast, and boggie; the Fire noysome turfe and hassocks; such are the inconveniences of the Drownings." Eight great principal rivers--the Great Ouse, the Cam, the Nene, the Welland, the Glen, the Milden-hall or Lark, the Brandon or Lesser Ouse, and the Stoke or Wissey--carry the upland waters through this wide stretch of flat country towards the sea. Whenever the rains fell, the rivers rose above their banks, and, especially if the wind was blowing from the east or south, flooded the country for miles around. It was only in the map that they reached the ocean at all. Two causes principally contributed to make the country a brackish swamp. The outfalls of the rivers had become silted up so that their mouths were choked by many feet of alluvial deposit. Twice every day the tides rushed up the channels for a considerable distance, forcing back the fresh water, and converting the whole country into one vast shallow bay. Efforts had been made by the Romans to reclaim these flat levels, and their "causey" is still in existence. In the palmy days of the great monasteries of Crowland, Thorney, Ely, and Ramsey, isolated districts were occupied, and highly cultivated. William of Malmesbury, writing in the reign of Henry II. (1143), describes the district round Thorney as "a very Paradise in pleasure and delight; it resembles heaven itself--it abounds in lofty trees, neither is any waste place in it; for in some parts there are apple trees, in other vines which either spread upon the ground or run along poles." Such a description applies only to the islands on which the great monasteries were situated. The rest of the country had become, at some unknown period of history, an unproductive bog, affording little benefit to the realm other than fish and fowl, and "overmuch harbour to a rude and almost barbarous sort of lazy and beggarly people."

   No important effort was made to reclaim the district till the time of John Morton, Bishop of Ely, afterwards a Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reign of Henry VII. As a grower of strawberries he is enshrined in literature; but in the history of farming his principal achievement was probably suggested by his residence in Flanders from 1483 to 1485 as a political refugee. A cut, forty feet wide and four feet deep, running from Peterborough to Wisbech, still bears the name of "Morton's Leam" and still plays an important part in the drainage of the country. Other local efforts were made, which proved for the most part ineffective. In spite of individual enterprise, the general condition of the district was so deplorable that it attracted the attention of the Government. The fens were surveyed, Commissioners and Courts of Sewers appointed, and an Act (1601) was passed for the drainage of the Great Level. In 1606, under a local Act, a portion of the Isle of Ely was reclaimed, the undertakers receiving two-thirds of the land thus recovered from the water. In 1626 the drainage of Hatfield Chase, Ditchmarsh, and all the lands through which crept the Idle, the Aire, and the Don, was commenced by Cornelius Vermuyden. Three years later, the greater task was attempted of draining that portion of the fens which was afterwards known as the Bedford Level. In 1630 the local gentry who formed the Commissioners of Sewers, contracted with Vermuyden (now Sir Cornelius) to execute the work, and the fourth Earl of Bedford headed the undertaking. The work began vigorously enough. In 1637 the Commissioners of Sewers certified its completion; but the winter rains flooded the country; the Earl of Bedford was at the end of his resources; he had spent £100,000, and was in danger of losing it all. The certificate of completion was reversed. Charles I. intervened; fresh arrangements were made for the allotment of the recovered land; a new Company of Adventurers was formed; Vermuyden still directed the operations, although his skill was attacked by Andrewes Burrell in his Briefe Relation (1642). Vermuyden in his defence (Discourse, 1642) pleaded that the only purpose of the first Agreement was to make the, land "summer ground." The new venture was more ambitious. Though the work was partially suspended during the Civil War, it proceeded under the Commonwealth. In 1649 the fifth Earl of Bedford joined the undertaking, and, four years later, the drainage was finished. New channels and drains were made to carry off the surface water; existing drains were scoured and straightened; banks were raised to restrain the rivers within their beds; new outfalls into the sea, provided with sluices, were made, and old ones deepened and widened; numerous dams were erected to keep out the sea. In 1652 Sir C. Vermuyden reported the completion of the work to the Council, saying that "wheat and other grains, besides unnumerable quantities of sheep, cattle, and other stock were raised, where never had been any before." The Bedford Level was the largest work undertaken. It was also the most complete, though even here for a time there were failures. Other marshes were attacked by improvers, with more or less success. From various causes, however, the water often regained its hold on the country. In some cases the work was only partially finished; in others, it was so inadequately executed by persons whom Blith calls "mountebank engineers, idle practitioners, and slothful impatient slubberers," that it broke down under the rainfall of the first wet season; in others, the windmills, which were used to raise the water of the interior districts to the levels of the main rivers, could not cope with a flood; in others, the works were destroyed by the fenmen, and were not really restored till the beginning of the nineteenth century.

   The marshes were to fenmen what wastes and commons were to dwellers on their verge. Catching pike and plucking geese were more attractive than feeding bullocks or shearing sheep. Any change from desultory industries to the settled labour of agriculture was in itself distasteful to the commoners, and little, if any, compensation was made for their rights or claims to pasture, turf-cutting, fishing, or fowling. All over the fen districts there were, on the one side, outbursts of popular indignation, and, on the other, complaints of the "riotous letts and disturbances of lewd persons." The commoners were called to arms by some Tyrtaeus of the fens, whose doggerel verses have been preserved by Dugdale in his History of Imbanking and Draining:

Come, brethren of the water, and let us all assemble,
To treat upon this matter which makes us quake and tremble,
For we shall rue it, if't be true, the Fens be undertaken,
And where we feed in fen and reed, they'll feed both beef and bacon.

Behold the great design, which they do now determine,
Will make our bodies pine, a prey to crows and vermin;
For they do mean all fens to drain and waters overmaster;
All will be dry and we must die, 'cause Essex calves want pasture.

The feathered fowls have wings to fly to other nations,
But we have no such things to help our transportations;
We must give place (oh grievous case!) to horned beasts anal cattle,
Exoept that we can all agree to drive them out by battle.

Wherefore let us entreat our ancient water nurses
To show their power so great as t'help to drain their purses,
And send us good old Captain Flood to lead us out to battle,
Then Twopenny Jack with skales on's back will drive out all the cattle.

   The Civil Wars gave the fenmen their opportunity. Vermuyden seems to have been personally unpopular: he was a Zealander; most of his workmen were foreigners; the adventurers who settled on the lands which they had reclaimed were French or Dutch Protestants. The commoners, moving swiftly and silently in their boats, broke down the embankments, fired the mills, filled up the drains, levelled the enclosures, turned their cattle into the standing corn. They attacked the workmen, threw some of them into the river, held them under the water with poles, and burnt their tools The perpetrators of the outrages worked so secretly that they could rarely be identified. Sometimes their action was bold and open. In the neighbourhood of Hatfield Chase, near the Isle of Agholme, every day for seven weeks, gangs of commoners, armed with muskets, drew up the flood-gates so as to let in the flowing tide, and at every ebb shut the sluices, threatening that they "would stay till the whole level was well drowned, and the inhabitants forced to swim away like ducks." Even the religion of the French and Dutch Protestants was not respected. From Epworth in 1656 comes their petition that the fenmen had made their church a slaughter-house and a burying-place for carrion. Major-General Whalley was entrusted by Parliament with the task of protecting the adventurers. But agitators like Lilburne and Noddel were at work among his soldiers, and the commoners showed no respect for the authority of Parliament. "They could make as good a Parliament themselves; it was a Parliament of clouts." In some cases the resistance of the fenmen secured them further concessions; in others they succeeded in destroying the works of the undertakers. It was not till after 1714 that the riots caused by the reclamation ceased to disturb the peace of the country. By that time the object was partially achieved, and many of the swamps and marshes of the fen districts were restored to the ague-shivering, fever-stricken inhabitants in their primitive unproductiveness.

   The struggle for the reclamation of the waste-lands of the water-drowned fens is another aspect of the older land-battle between enclosers and commoners. Men like Robert Child in his Large Letter in Hartlib's Legacie, or Walter Blith, championed reclamation for the same reasons that they advocated enclosures. The former, writing in 1650 before the drainage was complete, speaks of "that great Fen of Lincolneshire, Cambridge, Hungtingdon, consisting, as I am Informed, of 380,000 Acres, which is now almost recovered." "Very great, therefore," he continues, "is the improvement of draining of lands, and our negligence very great, that they have been waste so long, and as yet so continue in divers places: for the improving of a Kingdome is better than the conquering a new one." Blith, writing three years later (English Improver Improved, 1652), speaks of the work as finished. "As to the Drayning, or laying dry the Fenns," he says, "those profitable works, the Commonwealths glory, let not Curs Snarl, nor dogs bark thereat, the unparralleld advantages of the World." But when these and other writers of the period dealt with enclosures, they treated the subject from a new point of view. As a matter of farming, their arguments were sound. But economic gain might involve social and moral loss, and the Stewart writers on agriculture tried to reconcile the two aspects of the question. In the interests of agricultural progress, they are practically unanimous in their advocacy of individual as opposed to common occupation of arable land. But in the case of commons of pasture, they vigorously defended the claims of the commoners, both tenant-farmers and cottagers. More advanced members of the Republican party went beyond the recognition of pasture rights, and claimed the common, not for the open-field farmers to whose arable holdings it was historically attached, but for the general public--irrespective of claims arising from neighbourhood or from the tillage of adjacent land. On the practical assertion of such claims a curious side-light is thrown by the proceedings of Jerrard Winstanley in 1649.

   Winstanley and his friends sought to establish a society having all things in common. With this object they settled on the common lands of St. George's Hill, near Walton-on-Thames, and began to plough, cultivate, and enclose the land. Lord Fairfax's soldiers burned their huts, and turned them off. Winstanley, in the jargon of the day, identified the struggle, in which his personal profits were staked, with the prophetic Armageddon "between the Lamb of Righteousness . . . and the Dragon of Unrighteousness." Needless to say, he found himself a champion of the former. He sets forth his claims in a pamphlet addressed to the General as A Letter to the Lord Fairfax and his Council of War: . . . Proving it an undeniable Equity That the Common People ought to dig, plow, plant, and dwell upon the Commons, without hiring them or paying Rent to any. He was, he says, opposed by none save "one or two covetous freeholders that would have all the commons to themselves, and that would uphold the Norman tyranny over us, which by the victory that you have got over the Norman successor is plucked up by the roots and therefore ought to be cast away." In other words, the effect of the Civil War and of the defeat of Charles I., as interpreted by his school of thought, was to establish the rights of the people to "have the land freed from the entanglement of lords, lords of manors, and landlords, which are our taskmasters," "to enter on their inheritance," and "dig, plow, plant and dwell upon the Commons" without rent, and improve them "for a public treasury and livelihood." Instead of the existing law, the rule was to be established of "First come, first served." For this appropriation and improvement of the commons the inspiration of the "Lamb of Righteousness" was claimed, so long as the new possessors were Winstanley and his communistic society; but the same processes were the direct suggestion of the "Dragon of Unrighteousness," if the work was carried out by the adjacent owners and cultivators of the soil. In either case, whoever was the encloser, the general public gained no advantage; the pasture commons were ploughed, enclosed, and appropriated to individuals.

   The episode is significant. Probably Winstanley had, and has, sympathisers. But the views of those practical agriculturists, who were interested in the enclosure and tillage of open-fields and commons in order to accelerate farming progress, were less revolutionary. Had they been carried into effect, much social loss might have been averted. From the purely commercial side, their arguments in favour of converting open-field land into separate holdings and of enclosing the commons and wastes were overwhelming. There need be no depopulation, for tillage would be increased. If the rights of commoners were respected, the social drawbacks to the change might be removed. The whole question was assuming a new form. The improvements in arable farming suggested by Stewart and Commonwealth writers minimised the social loss caused by enclosures, at the same time that they magnified the economic waste of the openfield system.

   Tudor farmers had treated arable and pasture farming as two distinct branches, which could not be combined. On open-field land, though some live-stock was maintained by means of commons, the energies of farmers were almost exclusively concentrated on corn. On enclosed land, corn might be comparatively relegated to the background, and the farmer's mainstays were meat, dairy produce, and, if a flock-master, wool. So long as this rigid distinction was maintained, enclosures often meant depopulation and a dwindling wheat-area. Experience was crystallised into the proverb "No balks, no corn." It is true that, towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, the advantages which enclosures gave to the enterprise of the arable farmer were realised, and land began to be fenced off, not for pasture only, but also for tillage. But the economic case for enclosures was enormously strengthened, when the real pivots of mixed husbandry were discovered, and when Stewart agriculturists found that neither turnips, nor clover, nor artificial grasses, nor potatoes, nor drainage, were possible on open-fields which were held in common for half the year. Yet the experience of the previous two hundred years had created a mass of well-founded prejudice, which fought stubbornly against any extension of the practice of enclosing land. It is for this reason, probably, that the best writers of the Stewart and Commonwealth period labour hard to prove that enclosures of open-fields and commons, whatever their past history had been, necessitated neither depopulation nor decay of tillage, and might even promote not only economic but social gain.

   In his Book of Surveying (1523) Fitzherbert had written on the way "to make a township that is worth 20 marks a year worth £20 a year." His plan was to discover, first, how many acres of arable land each man occupied in the open-fields, how much meadow, and what proportion of common pasture were attached to his holding; and secondly, by means of exchange, to consolidate these lands, lay them together, and enclose them in several occupation. Every man should have "one little croft or close next to his house." In the Briefe Examination (1549) the Doctor, who represents the author's views, only condemns those enclosures of land which were made for the conversion of tillage into pasture, or "without recompence of them that have right to comen therein." It was on this principle that in 1545 the Royal wastes of Hounslow Heath were enclosed under the award of Commissioners, who set out a portion of the heath to each inhabitant; either as copyholds, or on leases for terms of years.

   Sentiments like these became the commonplaces of Stewart and Commonwealth writers. The demand for "three acres and a cow " can show an origin of respectable antiquity. Gabriel Plattes (A Discovery of Infinite Treasure, Hidden since the World's Begining, 1639) pleads that all parties would gain by enclosures, landowners by increased rents, clergymen by improved tithes, the poor by increased employment. "I could wish," he adds, "that in every Parish where Commons are inclosed, a corner might be laid to the poore mens houses, that every one might keep a Cow or for the maintenance of his familie two." The wish of the Stewart writer had been expressed by a Tudor predecessor a century earlier. Thomas Becon (The Jewel of Joy, 1540) had suggested that landlords should attach to every cottage enough "land to keep a cow or two." Walter Blith (English Improver Improved, ed. 1653) argues vigorously in favour of enclosures, and quotes with approval the whole of Tusser's poem comparing "champion" (open) and "severall" land. Of open-field farmers he says "live they do indeed, very many in a mean, low condition, with hunger and care. Better do those in Bridewell. And for the best of them, they live as uncomfortably, moyling and toyling and drudging. What they get they spend." But in all enclosures he expressly makes the condition that all interests should be provided for--not only those of the landlord, but those also of the "Minister to the People," the "Freeholder Farmer or Tenant," and the "Poor Labourer or Cottier." All these, he says, would gain by the process. He takes the last first: "Look what right or Interest he hath in Common, I'll first allot out his proportion into severall with the better rather than with the worse, a Proportion out of everyman's inheritance." At the same time he condemns "depopulating Inclosure . . . such as former oppressive times by the will and power of some cruell Lord either through his greatness or purchased favour at Court, or in the Common Courts of England, by his purse and power could do anything, inclose, depopulate, destroy, ruins all Tillage, and convert all to pasture without any other Improvement at all . . . which hath brought men to conceive, that because men did depopulate by Enclosure, therefore it is now impossible to enclose without Depopulation."

   To the same effect as Blith writes Robert Child in the "Large Letter " in Hartlib's Legacie (1651). He regards wastes and commons as defects in English husbandry, and in defence of his position asks eight questions, which he does not attempt to answer, preferring to leave "the determination for wiser heads."

   1. "Whether or no these lands might not be improved very much by the Husbandry of Flaunders (viz.) by sowing Flax, Turneps, great Clover-Grasse, if that Manure be made by folding Sheepe after the Flaunders way, to keepe it in heart?

   2. "Whether the Rottennesse and Scabbinesse of Sheepe, Murrein of Cattel, Diseases of horses, and in general all diseases of Cattel do not especially proceed from Commons?

   3. "If the rich men, who are able to keepe great stockes are not great gainers by them?

   4. "Whether Commons do not rather make poore, by causing idlenesse than maintaine them: and such poor, who are trained up rather for the Gallowes or beggery, than for the Commonwealths service?

   5. " How it cometh to passe, that there are fewest poore, where there are fewest Commons, as in Kent, where there is scarce 6 Commons in the County of a considerable greatnesse?*

* Tusser held the same opinion that poverty and commons go together. In his comparison between "Champion Country and Severall " he writes:

" T'one barefoot and ragged doth go
And ready in winter to starve;
When t'other you see not do so,
But hath that. is needful to serve."

   6. "How many do they see enriched by the Commons: and if their Cattel be not usually swept away by the Rot, or starved in some hard winters?

   7. "If that poore men might not imploy 2 Acres enclosed to more advantage, than twice as much in a Common?

   "And lastly, if that all Commons were enclosed, and part given to the Inhabitants, and part rented out, for a stock to set the poore on worke in every County."

   Blith not only quoted Tusser in support of his opinion, but adds that "all that ever I yet saw or read" held the same opinion. "Tis true I have met with one or two small Pieces, as M. Spriggs, and another whose name I remember not, that write against depopulating Inclosure, with whom I freely joyn and approve." It is probable that he alludes to Henry Halhead's Inclosure Thrown Open etc. (1650), to which Joshua Sprigge of Banbury contributed a Preface. The tract is an appeal against enclosures, mainly based on past history. It probably belongs to a group of pamphlets dealing with the Midland counties, where the enclosing movement seems to have been active. Halhead describes how would-be enclosers begin by upsetting the field customs by which the cultivation of the land was regulated; how they tell the people that they will be three times as well off, that enclosure stops strife and contention, "nourisheth Wood in hedges," and keeps sheep from rotting. If they cannot prevail by these promises, they begin a suit at law, and make the resisters dance attendance at the lawcourts for months and even years. Then they pull out their purses, and offer to buy them out. If this fails, on goes the suit till a decree against the open-field partners is granted in Chancery. The description bears the stamp of accuracy. But, logically, neither the old methods of enclosing nor the results of the conversion of tillage into pasture really met the case put forward by the new advocates of enclosure as an instrument both of social and agricultural progress.

   The case for enclosures of open-field farms and commons is. vigorously stated in three tracts; one by S. Taylor (Common Good: or the Improvement of Commons, Forests, and Chases by Inclosure, 1652); another by Adam Moore (Bread for the Poor . . . Promised by Enclosure of the Wastes and Common Grounds of England, 1653); the third by Joseph Lee (Vindication of a Regulated Enclosure, etc.,1656) Their arguments are mainly based on the wretched conditions of the commons, the poor farming of open-field land, and the social and agricultural gain which, as Lee's practical experience had shown, resulted from individual occupation. None of the three authors alludes to the recent discoveries of roots, clover, and grasses, or to the improved methods of drainage, on which Blith and others so strongly relied. Of Taylor nothing is known, except that his tract shows him to have been a vehement assailant of alehouses. Moore tells us that he was a Somersetshire man. The Rev. Joseph Lee was a Leicestershire "Minister of the Gospel" at Cotesbach, who had been violently attacked by his professional brethren for the share he had himself taken in the enclosure of Catthorp Common. In his Epistle to the Reader he explains why he preferred to reply to these attacks by a tract and not by a sermon: "I am very sensible that if our pulpits had sounded more of the things of Christ, and lesse of the things of the world, it had been better with us then it is this day." Part of the tract consists of hard text-fighting; but its value lies in the facts which he quotes from his own experience.

   Enclosures, in the opinion of the three writers, are not only "lawfull" but "laudable." They injure none, but profit all. Lee considers that five classes ought to be considered, landlords, ministers, the poor, cottagers, and tenant-farmers. Moore omits the ministers, but asserts the claims of the remaining four classes. All three writers agree that a certain portion of the Commons ought to be set aside for the poor, and the rest proportionately divided. This, says Lee, was the principle adopted at Catthorp. If this were done, there need be no depopulation. In proof Lee mentions a number of parishes in Leicestershire, where the land had been enclosed without any decay of population, houses, or tillage. Neither would it lead to any diminution of useful employment. The same number of maid-servants would be employed; and though there might be fewer lads, they would be more useful citizens if set to some trade. On the industrial gain thus derived from enclosures the three authors are also agreed. They in effect answer the fourth question asked by Robert Child in the "Large Letter" in Hartlib's Legacie with an unhesitating affirmative. At the beginning of the century, Norden (1607) had drawn attention to the character of the squatters who settled on the edges of wastes and commons. He describes them as "people given to little or no labour, living very hardly with oaten bread and sour whey and goat's milk, dwelling far from any church or chapel, . . . as ignorant of God or of any civil course of life as the very savages among the infidels, in a manner which is lamentable and fit to be reformed by the lord of the manor." Fifty years later, according to the three authors, commons were blots on the social life of the nation. Children, says Taylor, are "brought up Lazying upon a Common to attend one Cow and a few sheep," and "being nursed up in idleness in their youth they become indisposed for labor, and then begging is their portion or Theevery their Trade. . . . The two great Nurseries of Idlenesse and Beggery etc. are Ale-houses and Commons." Taylor says that "people are nowhere more penurious than such as border on commons." "This poverty." he explains, "is due to God's displeasure at the idleness of the Borderers," or commoners. They have no settled industry. Tbey look to the profits of a horse or cow; if they can keep one; if not, they can at least "compass a goose or a swine." If they have no live-stock at all, they are "sure of furze, fern, bushes, or cowdung, for fuel to keep them warm in winter." They can beguile, writes Moore, the "silly Woodcock and his feathered fellows by tricks and traps of their own painful framing," and so gain money enough to keep them till they have to work again. Sometimes they earn a few shillings by guarding the flocks and herds of others. But, if a sheep or a cow is missing, the "chuck-fists" will not pay them their wage, but suspect them of theft, and proceed against them by law. The Commons are, in fact, "Nurseries of Thieves and Horse-stealers." Lee is of the same opinion that commons fostered idleness. Perhaps, he admits, "3 or 4 shepherd boyes" by enclosures "will be necessitated to lay aside that idle employment; . . . destructive to the soules of those Lads, in that, poor creatures, they are brought up by this means without either civill or religious education." When they should have been at school or at church, they were "playing at nine-holes under a bush," while their cattle make a prey on their neighbour's corn, and "they themselves are made a prey to Satan." Other moral gains are alleged that by enclosure an end is put to occasions for litigation and strife between common-field farmers, or for quarrels between herdsmen, and that there are fewer opportunities for pilferings of land and of corn, or for the destruction of a neighbour's crops by turning in horses and cattle under pretence that they have broken loose from their tethers.

   It is not true, in the opinion of the three writers, that enclosures necessarily destroy tillage. On the contrary, the cheapness and abundance of corn are due to the opportunities that enclosures afford for breaking up worn-out pastures which yield double the quantities produced on common fields. Nor is it true that enclosers are under a curse so that the land passes out of their families. Instances to the contrary are adduced from Leicestershire, and that cannot be a special curse on enclosures which is a fate common to all other landholders. Enclosure may diminish the number of horses; but one horse well kept is worth three so "jaded and tyred as are the horses of common-field farmers." Nor is it any tyranny for the majority to enforce enclosure where the whole body of partners are not unanimous. At Catthorp one man with common for seven sheep stood out. The rest overruled him; but he lost nothing. All that the other commoners did was to enclose their portions of the common away from him. That the agricultural gain is great, scarcely admits of a doubt. On open-fields the corn-land is worn out. It can only be induced to bear at all by constant ploughings and liberal manurings, which absorb all profits in labour and charges. Even then there is often little more than a bare return of seed, poor in quality--"small humble-Bee-Ears with little grains." The peace land is no better; it may provide enough for seed and keep of the horses; but it yields no clear profit. The live-stock that are reared on the commons are dwarfed and undersized; they are driven long distances to and fro, so that they have neither rest nor quiet. Colts, raised on the commons, by cold and famine come to no good. "Cattle, nurtured there, grow to such brockish and starved stature" that, living, they grieve the owner's eye, and, dead, deceive the Commonwealth. Sheep do better; but they even are so pinched that they make little profit. One sheep in an enclosure is worth two on a common. There are five rots in the open-fields to one rot in enclosed land. The commons are over-stocked. They are, says Moore, "Pest-houses of disease for cattle. Hither come the Poor, the Blinde, Lame, Tired, Scabbed, Mangie, Rotten, Murrainous." No order is kept; but milch cows, young beasts, sheep, horses, swine--often unringed--and geese are turned out together. Furze and heath are encouraged by commoners, because they keep cattle and sheep alive in hard winter when fodder is scarce; but the same space covered with grass would be more useful. That which is every man's is no man's, and no one tries to better the commons. When it is everybody's interest to improve the pasture, it is nobody's business to do the work.

   The whole subject of enclosures had yet to be fought out. From the point of view of production, the change was desirable; no pressure of population as yet made it necessary. Commons were essential to the existence of those openfield farms, which advocates of agricultural improvement recognised as an obstacle to progress; but new methods and new resources had as yet hardly advanced beyond theories. Neither the argument from increased productiveness, nor the appeal for progress, had gained their full force. Yet the altered tone of agricultural writers is significant. It was almost as incontestably in favour of enclosure as the tone of Elizabethan writers had been opposed to the process. Generalisation from handfuls of particular instances is always easy. A large tract of country might have been improved and enclosed with the approval of all parties. But there were the widest differences between commons, or between commons and moors, wastes, and bogs. Moore himself reserves his bitterest condemnation for what he calls "marish," as opposed to "uplandish," commons. Stress might be laid on the moral influences of common land either way, and self-interest or bias is always prone to conceal itself under the mask of moral motives. The same rights might encourage industry and thrift, or idleness and crime. It was doubtless illogical to argue that enclosures must always depopulate, whether the change was effected with or without regard to the claims of cottagers and small commoners, or for the purpose of increasing the area either of tillage or of pasture. Yet those who had suffered from enclosures were not unjustified in the conclusion that history would repeat itself. Whichever way the question was ultimately decided, it could not fail to affect the condition of the rural population for better or for worse, and to affect it profoundly. Unfortunately the decision was made, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, under an economic pressure which completely overrode the social considerations that should have controlled and modified the process of enclosure.