Arranging a Roman farm (Cato 3)

vineyardThe following quote continues my modern translation of Cato’s De Agri Cultura.  Please see below for further explanation.  There is a small amount of agricultural terminology in this quote, so please also see below for some information about that.

Arranging the farm

If you ask me the best way to lay out your estate, I would say that it should be planted as follows, assuming you have bought a farm of 60 acres in total, and well-situated with all kinds of soil:

  1. A vineyard, if it promises a good yield

  2. An irrigated garden

  3. An osier bed

  4. An olive grove

  5. A meadow

  6. A corn field

  7. An area for cutting wood

  8. An orchard

  9. A grove for mast

In his youth, the farmer should diligently plant his land, but he should think carefully before he builds anything. Planting does not require thought, but demands action.  There is time enough to build when you have reached your thirty-sixth year, if you have farmed your land well in the meantime.

When you do build, have buildings in proportion to your estate. The farm buildings should be well constructed, you should have enough oil cellars and wine vats, and a good supply of casks, so that you can wait for high prices. This will build your honour, your profit and your self-respect.

Build your house according to your means. If you build well in a good location and on a good estate, and furnish the house suitably for country life, you will go there more often and more willingly. The farm will then be better, fewer mistakes will be made, and you will get larger crops. The boss showing his face will be good for the farm.

Plant elm trees along the roads and fence rows, so you will have leaves to feed the sheep and cattle, and the timber will be available if you need it. If there are any banks of streams or wetlands, plant reeds there. Surround them with willows so the osiers can be used to tie the vines.

It is most convenient to arrange the land nearest the house as an orchard, from where fire wood and bundles of sticks may be sold and obtained for the use of the master. In this enclosure should be planted everything suitable for the land, and vines should be trained onto the trees.

Near the house, also lay out a garden with garland flowers and vegetables of all kinds, and surround it with myrtle hedges, both white and black, as well as Delphic and Cyprian laurel.

Stocking the farm

An olive farm of 150 acres ought to be stocked as follows: a manager, a house keeper, five labourers, three ox drivers, one swineherd, one ass driver, one shepherd (in total thirteen hands), three pair of oxen, three asses with pack saddles to haul out the manure, one other ass to turn the mill, and one hundred sheep.

A few notes: Cato uses as his example an average size farm at the time, of 100 jugera and in the “stocking the farm” section 240 jugera. A jugerum is roughly two-thirds of an acre. An osier bed is where willows were planted to produce tough, flexible branches used for various purposes such as making baskets. A mast grove would be an area of trees used to produce seeds or acorns, probably to be eaten by animals.

Like Fairfax Harrison in his 1913 translation, I have used the word “orchard” for the sake of simplicity, but there is no single word to really describe the original Latin arbustum.  Harrison has a beautifully poetic note about it in his book, so I will quote that here as he describes an arbustum far better than I ever could:

The English word “orchard” scarcely translates arbustum, but every one who has been in Italy will recall the endless procession of small fields of maize and rye and alfalfa through which serried ranks of mulberry or feathery elm trees, linked with the charming drop and garland of the vines, seem to dance toward one in the brilliant sunlight, like so many Greek maidens on a frieze. These are arbusta.

Next time we will look at Cato’s opinion of the duties of each member of staff.

An explanation of this project:

The first Roman prose writer of any importance was Cato the Elder (234-149BC). Like many early writers in Latin, little of his work survives, and only one complete book: Agriculture (De Agri Cultura). The book gives advice about how to run a farm, and is a fascinating insight into rural life at the time.

I realise that Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations, working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation from 1913 by Fairfax Harrison.

Starting with Cato, let’s look at what he wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Cato really had to say.


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Etiquette on the Horsebus

The author of this blog during my childhood, with a horse drawn omnibus.

Snippets 156. During the latter half of the 19th Century, horse drawn omnibuses were a popular means of transport.  Some of these were even double decker, with uncovered benches on the top deck.  A familiar sight greeting a traveller at a railway station was a smaller horsebus, designed to carry between four and six people, with the roof space generally used for luggage.

Commenting on the character of the English in public places, Max O’Rell discusses their behaviour on trains and in horsebuses.  In general, the observation seems to be that the English were unusually keen to keep themselves to themselves.

When he enters an omnibus or a railway carriage, if he does not recognise any one, he eyes his fellow travellers askance in a sulky and suspicious way. He seems to say, “What a bore it is that all you people can’t walk home, and let a man have the carriage comfortably to himself!” It must be admitted though, that the notices with the advice, “Beware of pickpockets, male and female,” which confront him in these places, are quite enough to cool his gallantry, be it said for his justification.

London omnibuses are made to seat six persons on each side. These places are not marked out.  When, on entering, you find five people on either hand, you must not hope to see any one move to make room for you. No, here everything is left to personal initiative. You simply try to spy out the two pairs of thighs that seem to you the best padded, and with all your weight you let yourself down between them. No need to apologise, no one will think of calling you a bad name.

If you open the door to let a woman alight, she will say, “Thank you” to you, if she be a lady. If she happen not to be, you will get no thanks, and should be only too happy if her look do not seem to say, “Mind your own business.”…

Outside his own house John Bull is not communicative: he leaves his neighbour alone, and expects to receive a like treatment at his hands. If you remark to an Englishman, in a smoking compartment that he has dropped some cigar-ash on his trousers, he will probably answer: “For the past ten minutes I have seen a box of matches on fire in your back coat pocket, but I did not interfere with you for that.”

The photograph above was taken when I was a child, and I was the boy holding the advertising sign for Lavant Workwear.  The photograph is (c) Lavant Workwear and may not be reproduced without permission please.


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Running a Roman farm (Cato 2)

The following quote continues my modern translation of Cato’s De Agri Cultura.  We’ll dive straight into the text, but please see below for further explanation.

The duties of the owner

When you have arrived at your country house and greeted your household, you should do your rounds of the farm the same day if possible; failing that, definitely the next day.  When you have observed how the field work has progressed, what has been done and what remains to be done, you should summon your farm manager the next day.  Ask what has been done in good time, and why it has not been possible to complete everything else, and what wine, corn and other crops have been gathered.  When you have been briefed on these points you should make your own calculations of the time necessary for the work, if it doesn’t seem to you that enough has been done.

The manager will tell you that he has worked diligently himself, but some slaves have been sick and others truant, the weather has been bad, and that it has been necessary to work on the public roads.  When he has given these excuses and many others, you should remind him about the program of work which you set out for him on your last visit and compare it with the results achieved.

If the weather has been bad, count how many stormy days there have been, and point out what work could have been done despite the rain, such as washing the wine vats and lining them with pitch, cleaning out the barns, sorting the grain, hauling out and composting the manure, cleaning seeds, fixing old equipment, mending the smocks and hoods.

On feast days the old ditches should be mended, work should be carried out on public roads, briers cut down, the garden dug, the meadow tidied, the hedges trimmed and the clippings collected and burned, the fish pond cleaned out. Also, on these days the slaves’ rations should be cut down in comparison to what they are allowed when they are working in the fields in fine weather.

When this routine has been discussed quietly and with good humour and is thoroughly understood by the manager, you should give orders for the completion of any work which has been neglected.

The accounts of money, supplies and provisions should then be considered. The manager should report what wine and oil has been sold, what price he got, what supplies remain, and what is still to be sold. Security should be taken for such accounts that need to be secured.  All other unsettled matters should be agreed upon.

If anything is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; everything which is not needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased. Orders should be given (and make sure they are in writing) for all the work you want done next on the farm or contracted out. You should go over the cattle and determine what is to be sold. You should sell the oil, if you can get the price you want, the surplus wine and corn, the old cattle, the worn out oxen, and the cull sheep*, the wool and the hides, the old and sick slaves, and any thing else that is surplus to requirements.

A good farmer has an appetite for selling, not buying.

Be a good neighbour. Do not give unnecessary offence to the locals. If the neighbourhood regards you kindly, you will find a more willing market for what you have to sell, you will get the work done more easily, either by your own people or contracted out. If you build, your neighbours will help you with their services, their cattle and their materials.  If any misfortune should befall you (God forbid!) they will protect you with their kindness.

* Cull sheep are ewes that have reached the end of their breeding life, usually sold for meat.

A View of the Roman Campagna, a Villa and Aqueduct in the Distance, by Edward Lear, 1841. Nothing to do with the article, but a beautiful painting!

Next time we will look at Cato’s advice for organising and stocking a farm, including how best to lay everything out.

Link to part one of this series: Buying a farm (Cato 1)

An explanation of this project:

The first Roman prose writer of any importance was Cato the Elder (234-149BC). Like many early writers in Latin, little of his work survives, and only one complete book: Agriculture (De Agri Cultura). The book gives advice about how to run a farm, and is a fascinating insight into rural life at the time.

I realise that Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations, working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation from 1913 by Fairfax Harrison.

Starting with Cato, let’s look at what he wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Cato really had to say.


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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A Meeting on a Volcano

“Vesuvius from Portici”, by Joseph Wright of Derby

Snippets 155. In 1854 the American Rev. George Foxcroft Haskins went on a tour of Europe, spending much of his time in Italy, due principally to his interest in the Catholic faith in the country. After visiting Rome, Florence and Naples, he decided to ascend Mount Vesuvius with a party of friends. This is something I have done myself, as have many other tourists over the years, but on the day Haskins chose the volcano was not being very hospitable to visitors. However, Haskins pursued his course bravely, and was rewarded with a remarkable chance encounter at the top of the crater. The following quote is taken from Travels in England, France, Italy and Ireland, published in 1856.

We were now obliged to abandon our asses, and perform the residue of the ascent on foot, as it is entirely impracticable for beasts. The good baron, dismayed at the thought of such an undertaking, declined advancing any farther, and returned to the village. Our party thus reduced to three, viz., the secretary, my friend, and myself, we commenced the ascent of the cone on foot. It was a walk indeed.

We did not ascend by the usual path, on account of the snow and ice that lay there, but were obliged to clamber up on loose and rolling lumps of scoria. We each had a man, with a leather strap over his shoulder, one end of which was given us, in order thereby to lessen the difficulty of the ascent. I availed myself of it for a few steps, but preferred depending on my own resources; so, giving the honest man my coat, I followed in his track, and, I believe, was the least fatigued of the party. We toiled along in this manner for about an hour and a half, stopping three or four times to breathe, or rather to blow, and we perspired freely.

Finally we reached the summit, and soon after the edge of the crater. Here we encountered first a cloud of hot steam, and were completely enveloped by it. We could see nothing else, and knew not whither we were going. At the distance of four or five feet we could not discern each other, and were obliged to call out, and warn our companions to keep close together. The poor secretary began to tremble, and imagined that we were tumbling into the boiling crater; and it was with difficulty that we could rally him, and induce him to advance. But this was a mere premonitory symptom, a delicate foretaste of that which was coming. In a short time the hot steam was converted into rolling clouds of black, pitchy smoke, and then came suffocating vapors, impregnated with burning sulphur.

What choking, coughing, and applying of handkerchiefs to the nose and mouth! What exclamations and remonstrances! What grimaces and contortions! “Come on,” shouted the chief guide, “come on! quick, quick!”

But the poor secretary was frightened, and would not come; he stood stock still, and gasped, and coughed, and flourished his white pocket handkerchief as though he were mad. Convinced that the sooner we were out of this brimstone atmosphere the better, we took his arms to urge him on; but no, he would not go another step, but insisted on going back, and, as he could catch breath, gave us to understand that he should die certainly, and, what was worse, that we should die too, and that he was resolved to return; nay, more, he was resolved that we should return with him. But there were, fortunately, two sides to this question. My friend was for yielding; not I. “You shall come back,” gasped the secretary. “ I shall not,” gasped I.

Where this dispute, in the midst of burning brimstone, on the summit of Mount Vesuvius, would have terminated, I cannot say, had we not fortunately been able to compromise the matter. We had two guides ; so it was agreed that he should go back with one, while my friend and I went on with the other. If the atmosphere of the nether world be like this — nay, as the Holy Scriptures teach us, infinitely more horrible — what self-denials, what anguish, what tortures should we not rejoice briefly to endure in this world, that we may escape the pains of those unquenchable fires!

Holding our handkerchiefs to our faces with one hand, while with the other we held upon our guide for dread of losing him, we hurried rapidly onward! The wind was, unfortunately, blowing directly from the crater towards us, and this was the cause of the unusual difficulty of advancing. Finally we emerged upon the opposite side, in a pure atmosphere, under a serene sky and a brilliant sun, and were immediately relieved. In a few moments the sound of human voices reached us. Another party had preceded us. As we advanced the voices grew louder and more distinct, accompanied with merriment and laughter; and, to add to our surprise and pleasure, their language was good, plain old English. But as yet we saw no one, and could not divine whence proceeded those agreeable merry voices. But we were not long in ignorance. The mountain’s summit was wild and uneven, and, as we turned a point, we discovered a party of gentlemen in a fissure, between two banks of sulphur, roasting eggs in the ashes of the mountain. One of them, after eying me a moment, immediately ran towards me, called me by name, and shook me cordially by the hand. He was a relative, from Boston. Who would have thought of meeting him, amid ashes, and flames, and sulphur, on the summit of Mount Vesuvius?

After interchanging an abundance of questions, we drank together some mountain wine, and ate eggs roasted in the cinders. All his party were Americans. After an agreeable tete-a-tete with them of a few moments, we took our leave, and pursued our course.

We walked about the summit of the mountain for about an hour. Looking out towards the sea, we enjoyed a charming view of Naples and the bay. Every thing, however, appeared on a level, and very diminutive, as if seen through an inverted telescope. The ground itself on which we walked, as may easily be imagined, was far from being an agreeable plain. Not a spire or herb of any kind was visible. It was broken into frightful chasms and hillocks, composed of sulphur, ashes, and scoria. But the most striking and fearful object of all was the abyss that yawned below us — a crater of about six thousand feet in circumference. There were some persons at the very bottom, who appeared so small that we could but just distinguish them.

The weather was such that we could descend. The path is exceedingly steep, and, as the ashes yield to the feet, the descent is not difficult, but for the same reason, and also in consequence of the sulphurous vapors continually exhaling, the ascent is dreadful. The shape and the surface of the bottom of the crater often vary. It is sometimes concave, sometimes convex, according as the degree of intensity of the internal fermentation forces it upward or permits it to settle downward. This crust, beneath which rage eternal fires, is formed by the lava, scoria, sand, cinders, and other volcanic matters. To stand on the brink of this crust and look over into the heaving and bottomless caldron requires no small degree of nerve. The aperture was about thirty feet in diameter, from which, as from a mammoth steamer, shot forth with horrid puffs black smoke and vapors. When we listened, we could hear, in the very bowels of the mountain, distinct reports, like those of distant artillery. When we rolled masses of scoria into the gaping chasm, hoarse sounds were emitted, and fresh and thicker clouds of smoke arose, as though some new aperture had been made in the mysterious mass.


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Richard Cobden and Midhurst

A postcard showing Midhurst Grammar School, probably from the early 1920s.

Richard Cobden (1804-1865) was a successful businessman, trading in muslin and calico. In 1828 he became co-owner of a calico printing factory in Manchester. His travels in the course of his business life convinced him of the importance of free trade, and he is probably most remembered for his support of the Anti Corn Law League. In 1841 he became MP for Stockport in the Sir Robert Peel government. A man of strong moral beliefs, he finally lost his seat in parliament in 1857 due to his opposition of the British attack on Canton in the Second Opium War. A couple of years later he was returned to Parliament once again, and spent the next few years as a foreign diplomat, instrumental in the important Cobden-Chevalier Treaty with France

Cobden was born in a farmhouse in Heyshott, near Midhurst, and always retained strong ties to the Midhurst area. Although he spent his final years in his apartments in London, travelling to Algeria for the winters to avoid the damp British weather, he made a final posthumous return to his spiritual home to be buried at West Lavington Church. An obelisk in his memory can be found in West Lavington, inscribed:

Free Trade. Peace. Goodwill Among Nations.

According to the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Cobden had been keen to find a way to restore the Grammar School at Midhurst, which had fallen into disrepair. The following quote is from the 17th May 1865 edition:

An inhabitant of Midhurst, writing to the Star, suggests as an appropriate memorial to the late Richard Cobden the repair and reinstatement of the Midhurst Grammar School. He says, “The school, which once enjoyed a high reputation, has now fallen into decay. The endowment of this school is nominal. There is a demand for a good middle-class school for that neighbourhood. There is a good site, a fine school-room out of repair, and a master’s house in ruins. Attempts have been made to reinstate a good school in Midhurst. Richard Cobden was among the promoters of these efforts, but the place itself and the neighbourhood are, comparatively speaking, poor. £1000 or £1,500 are wanted to establish the old school.”

It is difficult to estimate the relative value of the sum of money required in today’s terms, as there are so many ways of calculating that, but it is probably safe to say that the sum required was at least equivalent to £100,000 today. Midhurst Grammar School had been closed since 1859, but was eventually restored and reopened in 1880.


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Buying a farm (Cato 1)

The first Roman prose writer of any importance was Cato the Elder (234-149BC). Like many early writers in Latin, little of his work survives, and only one complete book: Agriculture (De Agri Cultura). The book gives advice about how to run a farm, and is a fascinating insight into rural life at the time.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I have been running Windows into History for just over three years now, and in that time have posted nearly 350 times, but on very few occasions have looked as far back into history as Roman times. That is an omission I would like to correct over the next few months, as Latin has always been a favourite subject of mine.

I realise that Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I’m going to try something and see how it’s received here.

Starting with Cato, let’s look at what he wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Cato really had to say.  Here’s the opening to the utterly fascinating…

Agriculture

by Cato

Introduction: farming with dignity.

The pursuits of commerce would be as admirable as they are profitable if they were not subject to such great risks. The same would apply to banking, if it was always conducted with honesty.

Our ancestors considered, according to their laws, that a thief should pay back double what he stole, but a usurer should make four times the restitution. From this we can judge how much less desirable a citizen they esteemed the banker than the thief. When they wanted to praise an honest man, they called him a good “husbandman”, a good farmer. This was their highest form of praise.

Personally, I think highly of a man actively and diligently engaged in commerce, who seeks to make his fortune in that way but, as I said, his career is full of risks and pitfalls.  It is from the tillers of the soil that spring the best citizens, the most steadfast soldiers. And theirs are the lasting rewards which are most appreciated and least envied.  Those who devote themselves to that pursuit are the least inclined to dishonesty.

To get to the point, these observations are a preface to what I have promised to discuss:

Buying a farm.

When you have decided to purchase a farm, be careful not to buy on impulse. Make plenty of visits and don’t be content with a single tour of inspection.

The more you go, the more you will fall in love with the place, if it’s worth your attention. Take note of the appearance of the neighbourhood.  A flourishing country should show its prosperity.

“When you go in, look about so that, when needs be, you can find your way out.”

Make sure you choose somewhere with a good climate, not subject to destructive storms, and a soil that is naturally strong.  If possible, your farm should be at the foot of a mountain, looking to the south, in a healthy location, where labour and cattle can be sourced, well watered, near a good-sized town, and either on the sea or a navigable river, or else on a good, busy road. Choose a place which has not often changed ownership, one which is sold reluctantly by the owner, and has buildings in good repair.

Be careful not to dismiss the experience of others.  It is better to buy from a man who has farmed successfully and built well.

When you inspect the farm, look to see how many wine presses and storage vats there are.  Where there are none of these you can judge what the harvest is like.  On the other hand, it is not the number of farming implements, but what is done with them, that matters.  Where you don’t find many tools, it is not an expensive farm to operate.  Be aware that with a farm, as with a man, however productive it may be, if it spends money like water there won’t be much left over.

Next time we will look at what Cato has to say about a farmer’s first day as the new owner of his farm.


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The English need to travel

Wanderer Above the Sea Fog (c. 1818) by Caspar David Friedrich.

Snippets 154.  Last week we looked at a quote from John Bull and His Island (1883), by Max O’Rell, in which the author (who hailed from France) examines the peculiar character of the English and what sets them apart from the rest of the world.  It is an amusing book, often satirical, but O’Rell’s admiration for the country and its people also shines through.

Being part of the community of WordPress blogs for a few years has been an interesting experience.  I have not just posted here myself, but also spent a lot of time enjoying the writing of other bloggers, and one thing that has really struck me is the abundance of interesting travel blogs.  It seems to be the big thing on WordPress.  The following quote might help to illustrate the wanderlust that exists in many of us, which perhaps is an innate quality, for the English and probably elsewhere.

Call the Englishman wild, eccentric, — mad, if you will; but to do great things one must not hesitate at straying from the beaten track. He will brave every conceivable danger in order to be able to say that he has climbed to the summit of Mont Blanc, or that he has been nearer the North Pole than any other explorer.

Obstinate as a mule, stubborn as a bull-dog, the difficulties in his path will but act as incentives to him. He has traced himself a programme: nothing will prevent his carrying it out. He leaves England with his diary written beforehand. He has settled to be at the top of a certain mountain at a certain time; he is bound to be there : and I promise you that, if he has not rolled down some precipice, there you will find him…

Every Englishman of good family can manage a boat, drive a carriage, and is at home in the saddle. Accustomed from his childhood to bodily exercise, he thinks nothing of a hundred mile walk or a row from London to Oxford. A walking tour from London to Edinburgh is not at all an uncommon thing to hear of. The outfit of an English tourist is no encumbrance to him: he puts into a bag a flannel shirt, a dozen collars, and a couple of pairs of socks and, stick in hand, off he goes. I know one who walked last year as far as the north of Scotland. His friends teased him for having made up his mind to take the train to the border. “A little pluck,” said they to him, “do the whole on foot while you are at it, your railway ticket will destroy all the merit and charm of the affair.” The year previous, during the summer holidays, he had walked a distance of over a thousand miles in Norway.

This habit of walking is kept up by Englishmen to a very advanced age. Go to the provinces, you may there see old men doing their five or six miles every day; when they knock off, it is to take to their beds, and prepare to go and sleep in Abraham’s bosom. In the country, in France, our old men, gouty or crippled with rheumatism for the most part, pass half the day at table; after their dinner, you may see them leaning on the arm of an old servant, crawling along the public promenades.

In France, a man is often old at sixty; the effects of a youth, too often spent in dissipation, and of a life in most cases sedentary, become sadly apparent, and if he live to a great age, the closing years of his existence are a burden to himself and to those around him.

…but such is not the case in England: here every one dies of a green old age. I have an old friend in his eighty-eighth year, who, summer and winter, religiously takes his tub every morning, and who would not think of sitting down to luncheon without first having done his three or four miles. He is bright, cheery, will sing you a song at dessert, and never forgets to tell you of the peas he means to sow next year. Methinks he will gather many a bushel yet.

It is very difficult to find reliable sources for life expectancy at the tail end of the 19th Century, in order to back up O’Rell’s claims, but it does seem that France was lagging behind Britain by a few years.  The figures were also highly skewed in those days by infant mortality, so tended to be more a reflection of that, rather than how well people fared in later years.  However, O’Rell makes a compelling argument for the benefits of an active lifestyle.

The painting that illustrates this snippet is by Caspar David Friedrich, my favourite artist.  If you are not familiar with his work, do a search for The Stages of Life and Monastery Graveyard in the Snow, both incredibly beautiful, atmospheric and meaningful paintings.


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