When, in the Lokrian grove dead Hesiod
The Nymphs with water washt the stains away.
From their own well they fetcht it, and heapt high
The Mound. Then certain goatherds, being by,
Poured milk and yellow honey on the grave,
Minding the Muses’ honey which he gave
Living, that old man stored with poesy.
That, surely, bespeaks a happier end to Hesiod. It is an epitaph that any poet might desire.
Now for Tusser, whom I feel that I belittled in the last Essay in order to make a point for the Boeotian.
“Five Hundreth Points of Good Husbandry United to as Many of Good Huswifery” was the sixth edition in twenty years of a book which that fact alone proves to have been a power in its day. It was indeed more lasting than that, for it had twenty editions between 1557, when it began with a modest “Hundreth Pointes,” and 1692, when the black-letter quartos ended. Thomas Tusser, the author of it, was a gentleman-farmer and had the education of one. He began as a singing-boy at Wallingford, went next to St. Paul’s, then to Eton, where Nicholas Udall gave him once fifty-three strokes, “for fault but small or none at all”; presently to Cambridge, where Trinity Hall had him at nurse. All that done, he settled as a farmer under the Lord Paget in Suffolk; and there it was that in 1557 he published his notable book. Taking the months seriatim, beginning, as he should, in September, he runs through the whole round of work with an exhaustiveness and accuracy which could hardly be bettered to-day. Given a holding of the sort he had, a man might do much worse than obey old Tusser from point to point.
He wrote in verse, a verse which is not often much better than those rustic runes which still survive, wherein weather-lore and suchlike sometimes prompt and sometimes are prompted by a rhyme. The best of these semi-proverbial maxims are recalled by the best of Tusser. Take this of the autumn winds as an example:
The West, as a father, all goodness doth
The East, a forbearer, no manner of thing;
The South, as unkind, draweth sickness too near,
The North, as a friend, maketh all again clear.
But he can be more pointed than that and no less just—as when he is telling the maids how to wash linen:
“Go wash well,” saith Summer,
“with sun I shall dry.”
“Go wring well,” saith Winter, “with wind so shall I.”
He is never dull if he is never eloquent; he is always wise if he is seldom witty. Among the Elizabethan poets there will have been many of a lowlier quality, many who could not have reached the piety and sweet humour of “My friend if cause doth wrest thee,” which, with its happy close of “And sit down, Robin, and rest thee,” is the best known of all his rhymes. As a verbal acrobat I don’t suppose any of them could approach him. His greatest feat in that kind was his “Brief Conclusion” in twelve lines, every word in every line of which began with T. Thus: