A MAN IN LOVE WITH THE SOIL
One December day in the year 1788 a Virginia gentleman sat before his desk in his mansion beside the Potomac writing a letter. He was a man of fifty-six, evidently tall and of strong figure, but with shoulders a trifle stooped, enormously large hands and feet, sparse grayish-chestnut hair, a countenance somewhat marred by lines of care and marks of smallpox, withal benevolent and honest-looking—the kind of man to whom one could intrust the inheritance of a child with the certainty that it would be carefully administered and scrupulously accounted for to the very last sixpence.
The letter was addressed to an Englishman, by name Arthur Young, the foremost scientific farmer of his day, editor of the Annals of Agriculture, author of many books, of which the best remembered is his Travels in France on the eve of the French Revolution, which is still read by every student of that stirring era.
“The more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs,” such were the words that flowed from the writer’s pen, “the better I am pleased with them; insomuch, that I can no where find so great satisfaction as in those innocent and useful pursuits. In indulging these feelings I am led to reflect how much more delightful to an undebauched mind is the task of making improvements on the earth than all the vain glory which can be acquired from ravaging it, by the most uninterrupted career of conquests.”
Thus wrote George Washington in the fulness of years, honors and experience. Surely in this age of crimson mists we can echo his correspondent that it was a “noble sentiment, which does honor to the heart of this truly great man.” Happy America to have had such a philosopher as a father!
“I think with you that the life of a husbandman is the most delectable,” he wrote on another occasion to the same friend. “It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be conceived than expressed.”
The earliest Washington arms had blazoned upon it “3 Cinque foiles,” which was the herald’s way of saying that the bearer owned land and was a farmer. When Washington made a book-plate he added to the old design spears of wheat to indicate what he once called “the most favorite amusement of my life.” Evidently he had no fear of being-called a “clodhopper” or a “hayseed!”