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WE have now imparted a knowledge1 of the constellations and of the seasons, in a method unattended with difficulty for the most ignorant even, and free from every doubt; indeed, to those who understand these matters aright, the face of the earth contributes in no less a degree to a due appreciation of the celestial phenomena, than does the science of astronomy to our improvement in the arts of agriculture.

Many writers have made it their next care to treat of horticulture; but, for my own part, it does not appear to me altogether advisable to pass on immediately to that subject, and, indeed, I am rather surprised to find that some among the learned, who have either sought the pleasures of knowledge in these pursuits, or have grounded their celebrity upon them, have omitted so many particulars in reference thereto; for no mention do we find in their writings of numerous vegetable productions, both wild as well as cultivated, many of which are found, in ordinary life, to be of higher value and of more extended use to man than the cereals even.

To commence, then, with a production which is of an utility that is universally recognized, and is employed not only upon dry land but upon the seas as well, we will turn our attention to flax,2 a plant which is reproduced from seed, but which can neither be classed among the cereals nor yet among the garden plants. What department is there to be found of active life in which flax is not employed? and in what production of the earth are there greater marvels3 revealed to us than in this? To think that here is a plant which brings Egypt in close proximity to Italy!—so much so, in fact, that Galerius4 and Balbillus,5 both of them prefects of Egypt, made the passage to Alexandria from the Straits of Sicily, the one in six days, the other in five! It was only this very last summer, that Valerius Marianus, a senator of prætorian rank, reached Alexandria from Puteoli in eight days, and that, too, with a very moderate breeze all the time! To think that here is a plant which brings Gades, situate near the Pillars of Hercules, within six days of Ostia, Nearer Spain within three, the province of Gallia Narbonensis within two, and Africa within one!—this last passage having been made by C. Flavius, when legatus of Vibius Crispus, the proconsul, and that, too, with but little or no wind to favour his passage!

What audacity in man! What criminal perverseness! thus to sow a thing in the ground for the purpose of catching the winds and the tempests, it being not enough for him, forsooth, to be borne upon the waves alone! Nay, still more than this, sails even that are bigger than the very ships themselves will not suffice for him, and although it takes a whole tree to make a mast to carry the cross-yards, above those cross-yards sails upon sails must still be added, with others swelling at the prow and at the stern as well—so many devices, in fact, to challenge death! Only to think, in fine, that that which moves to and fro, as it were, the various countries of the earth, should spring from a seed so minute, and make its appearance in a stem so fine, so little elevated above the surface of the earth! And then, besides, it is not in all its native strength that it is employed for the purposes of a tissue; no, it must first be rent asunder, and then tawed and beaten, till it is reduced to the softness of wool; indeed, it is only by such violence done to its nature, and prompted by the extreme audacity of man, and6 * * * that it is rendered subservient to his purposes. The inventor of this art has been already mentioned by us on a more appropriate occasion;7 not satisfied that his fellow-men should perish upon land, but anxious that they should meet their end with no sepulchral rites to await them, there are no execrations8 to be found that can equal his demerits!

It is only in the preceding Book9 that I was warning the agriculturist, as he values the grain that is to form our daily sustenance, to be on his guard against the storm and the tempest; and yet, here we have man sowing with his own hand, man racking his invention how best to gather, an object the only aspirations of which upon the deep are the winds of heaven! And then, too, as if to let us understand all the better how highly favoured is this instrument of our punishment, there is no vegetable production that grows with greater facility;10 and, to prove to us that it is in despite of Nature her- self that it exists, it has the property of scorching11 the ground where it is grown, and of deteriorating the quality of the very soil itself.

1 More particularly in B. xvii. cc. 2 and 3, and B. xviii. cc. 57–75.

2 The Linum usitatissimum of Linnæus.

3 What would he have said to the application of the powers of steam, and the electric telegraph?

4 Possibly Galerius Trachalus, Consul A.D. 68, a relation of Galeria Fundana, the wife of the Emperor Vitellius.

5 Governor of Egypt in the reign of Nero, A.D. 55. He is mentioned by Seneca, Quæst. Nat. B. iv. c. 2, and is supposed to have written a work on Egypt and his journeys in that Country.

6 Or, as Sillig suggest, "after ill treatment such as this, that it arrives at the sea." The passage is evidently defective.

7 In B. vii. c. 57. He alludes to Dædalus.

8 He probably has in view here the imprecation uttered by Horace:—
"Illi robur, et æs triplex
Circa pectus erat, qui fragilem truci
Commisit pelago ratem."—Odes, i. 3.
At the present day hemp forms a material part in the manufacture of sails. In addition to flax, the ancients employed broom, rushes, leather, and various skins of animals for the purpose.

9 In c. 76.

10 On the contrary, as Fée observes, the cultivation of flax is attended with the greatest difficulties.

11 See B. xvii. c. 7. Virgil says, Georg. i. 77, "Urit enim lini campum seges"—but in the sense, as Fée remarks, of exhausting, not scorching the soil.

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