John Worlidge’s ‘Systema Agriculturae’ is a seventeenth century guide advising ‘the Gentry and Yeomanry of England’ on all aspects of agriculture and farming.
The work was first published in 1669 and was tremendously successful – within fifty years five editions had appeared. It collated existing knowledge and practices into a single accessible volume and contributed greatly to Worlidge’s reputation as an early exponent of British agriculture as an industry to be developed and modernised.
The frontispiece of this volume offers a quirky introduction to the work as a whole with a printed image of an idealised farm providing a background for the title. The image is accompanied by a poem which calls on the reader to:
‘First cast your Eye upon a Rustick Seat,
Built strong and plain, yet well contriv’d and neat’
The poem then guides the reader around the image whilst summarising all that Worlidge considers important on a well-run English farm.
Worlidge offers his readers sound common sense and information on the latest technological developments; encouraging farmers to improve and modernise their lands. Despite this, Worlidge does not dismiss traditional country customs; a large section of Systema agriculturae is dedicated to ‘Prognosticks’ such as:
‘If the hair of dogs smell stronger than usual, or their guts rumble and make a noise, it presageth, Rain or Snow’ (p303).
This advice may appear antiquated and superstitious; but in an age before accurate, scientific weather reporting was widely available, signs and portents were an important aspect of agricultural life.
Worlidge’s wide ranging book covers the planting and care of various species of fruit tree; the care of livestock; technological developments in farm machinery; animal husbandry; even the relative merits of different animal manures as fertilizer. Thus, the frontispiece poem concludes:
‘Peruse the Book, for here you only see
The following Subject in Epitome.’
Kelda (Archives Assistant)