The thrifty that teacheth the thriving
Teach timely to traverse the thing that thou ’trive,
and so on. If Peter Piper dates so early, Tusser beats it handsomely.
For the rest, he writes doggerel, and has no other pretensions that I can see. All the Elizabethans did, Shakespeare among the best of them. And I don’t know that Shakespeare’s doggerel is much better than Tusser’s doggerel. It is something that, swimming in such a brave company, he should keep his head above water; and something more that in one other point Tusser can vie with the foremost. His knack of christening his personages with ad hoc names recalls Shakespeare’s, which, with its Dick the Carter and Marian’s nose, was of the same kind and degree. Here is an example, where he wishes to instil the value of hedge-mending. If you let your fences down, he says:
At noon, if it bloweth, at night if it
Out trudgeth Hew Makeshift with hook and with line;
While Gillet his blowse is a milking thy cow,
Sir Hew is a rigging thy gate, or thy plow.
Autolycus sang like that. Now take an allusive couplet addressed to the house-mistress, that she by all means see the lights out:
Fear candle in hay-loft, in barn, and
Fear Flea-smock and Mend-breech for burning their bed.
Right Shakespearian direction: few words and to the mark. But Tusser is seldom up to that level, and never on it long.
We may as well be clear about the kind of farmer Tusser was before we go any further. A farmer, indeed, he happens to have been; but he was also a husbandman. A farmer in his day was a man who paid a yearly rent for something, by no means necessarily land. To farm a thing was to pay a rent for it. You could farm the tithe, or the King’s taxes; you could farm a landlord’s rent-roll, a corporation’s market-dues, the profits of a bridge or of a highway. The first farmers of land were the men who took over all the estates of a monastery, paying the holy men a sufficiency, and making what they could over and above. In Elizabeth’s time the great landlords had taken a leaf out of the monks’ book, and the farmer of land was becoming more common. There were yet, however, many husbandmen who were not farmers at all: yeomen of soccage tenure, and tenants by copy of court-roll. That class was probably the most numerous of all, and Tusser, though he objected to its common fields, or “champion land,” as he calls it, had plenty to tell them. He must, I think, himself have been a copyholder in his day, so feelingly does he deal with the detriments of a champion-holding. The need, for example, of watching the beasts straying at will over the open fields!
Where champion wanteth a swineherd for
There many complaineth of naughty man’s dog.
Where each his own keeper appoints without care,
There corn is destroyed ere men be aware