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Cottage Economy

No. VIII.

On the converting of English Grass, and Grain Plants cut green, into Straw, for the purpose of making Plat for Hats and Bonnets.

Kensington, May 30, 1823.

208. The foregoing Numbers have treated, chiefly, of the management of the affairs of a labourer’s family, and more particularly of the mode of disposing of the money earned by the labour of the family. The present Number will point out what I hope may become an advantageous kind of labour. All along I have proceeded upon the supposition, that the wife and children of the labourer be, as constantly as possible, employed in work of some sort or other. The cutting, the bleaching, the sorting, and the platting of straw, seem to be, of all employments, the best suited to the wives and children of country labourers; and the discovery which I have made, as to the means of obtaining the necessary materials, will enable them to enter at once upon that employment.

209. Before I proceed to give my directions relative to the performance of this sort of labour, I shall give a sort of history of the discovery to which I have just alluded.

210. The practice of making hats, bonnets, and other things, of straw, is perhaps of very ancient date; but not to waste time in fruitless inquiries, it is very well known that, for many years past, straw coverings for the head have been greatly in use in England, in America, and, indeed, in almost all the countries that we know much of. In this country the manufacture was, only a few years ago, very flourishing; but it has now greatly declined, and has left in poverty and misery those whom it once well fed and clothed.

211. The cause of this change has been, the importation of the straw hats and bonnets from Italy, greatly superior, in durability and beauty, to those made in England. The plat made in England was made of the straw of ripened grain. It was, in general, split; but the main circumstance was, that it was made of the straw of ripened grain; while the Italian plat was made of the straw of grain, or grass, cut green. Now, the straw of ripened grain or grass is brittle; or, rather, rotten. It dies while standing, and, in point of toughness, the difference between it and straw from plants cut green is much about the same as the difference between a stick that has died on the tree, and one that has been cut from the tree. But besides the difference in point of toughness, strength, and durability, there was the difference in beauty. The colour of the Italian plat was better; the plat was brighter; and the Indian straws, being small whole straws, instead of small straws made by the splitting of large ones, here was a roundness in them, that gave light and shade to the plat, which could not be given by our flat bits of straw.

212. It seems odd, that nobody should have set to work to find out how the Italians came by this fine straw. The importation of these Italian articles was chiefly from the port of Leghorn; and therefore the bonnets imported were called Leghorn Bonnets. The straw manufacturers in this country seem to have made no effort to resist this invasion from Leghorn. And, which is very curious, the Leghorn straw has now began to be imported, and to be platted in this country. So that we had hands to plat as well as the Italians. All that we wanted was the same kind of straw that the Italians had: and it is truly wonderful that these importations from Leghorn should have gone on increasing year after year, and our domestic manufacture dwindling away at a like pace, without there having been any inquiry relative to the way in which the Italians got their straw! Strange, that we should have imported even straw from Italy, without inquiring whether similar straw could not be got in England! There really seems to have been an opinion, that England could no more produce this straw than it could produce the sugar-cane.

213. Things were in this state, when in 1821, a Miss Woodhouse, a farmer’s daughter in Connecticut, sent a straw-bonnet of her own making to the Society of Arts in London. This bonnet, superior in fineness and beauty to anything of the kind that had come from Leghorn, the maker stated to consist of a sort of grass of which she sent along with the bonnet some of the seeds. The question was, then, would these precious seeds grow and produce plants in perfection in England? A large quantity of the seed had not been sent: and it was therefore, by a member of the Society, thought desirable to get, with as little delay as possible, a considerable quantity of the seed.

214. It was in this stage of the affair that my attention was called to it. The member just alluded to applied to me to get the seed from America. I was of opinion that there could be no sort of grass in Connecticut that would not, and that did not, grow and flourish in England. My son James, who was then at New-York, had instructions from me, in June 1821, to go to Miss Woodhouse, and to send me home an account of the matter. In September, the same year, I heard from him, who sent me an account of the cutting and bleaching, and also a specimen of the plat and grass of Connecticut. Miss Woodhouse had told the Society of Arts, that the grass used was the Poa Pratensis. This is the smooth-stalked meadow-grass. So that it was quite useless to send for seed. It was clear, that we had grass enough in England, if we could but make it into straw as handsome as that of Italy.

215. Upon my publishing an account of what had taken place with regard to the American Bonnet, an importer of Italian straw applied to me to know whether I would undertake to import American straw. He was in the habit of importing Italian straw, and of having it platted in this country; but having seen the bonnet of Miss Woodhouse, he was anxious to get the American straw. This gentleman showed me some Italian straw which he had imported, and as the seed heads were on, I could not see what plant it was. The gentleman who showed the straw to me, told me (and, doubtless, he believed) that the plant was one that would not grow in England. I however, who looked at the straw with the eyes of a farmer, perceived that it consisted of dry oat, wheat, and rye plants, and of Bennet and other common grass plants.

216. This quite settled the point of growth in England. It was now certain that we had the plants in abundance; and the only question that remained to be determined was, Had we SUN to give to those plants the beautiful colour which the American and Italian straw had? If that colour were to be obtained by art, by any chemical applications, we could obtain it as easily as the Americans or the Italians; but, if it were the gift of the SUN solely, here might be a difficulty impossible for us to overcome. My experiments have proved that the fear of such difficulty was wholly groundless.

217. It was late in September 1821 that I obtained this knowledge, as to the kind of plants that produced the foreign straw. I could, at that time of the year, do nothing in the way of removing my doubts as to the powers of our Sun in the bleaching of grass; but I resolved to do this when the proper season for bleaching should return. Accordingly, when the next month of June came, I went into the country for the purpose. I made my experiments, and, in short, I proved to demonstration, that we had not only the plants, but the sun also, necessary for the making of straw, yielding in no respect to that of America or of Italy. I think that, upon the whole, we have greatly the advantage of those countries; for grass is more abundant in this country than in any other. It flourishes here more than in any other country. It is here in a greater variety of sorts; and for fineness in point of size, there is no part of the world which can equal what might be obtained from some of our downs, merely by keeping the land ungrazed till the month of July.

218. When I had obtained the straw, I got some of it made into plat. One piece of this plat was equal in point of colour, and superior in point of fineness, even to the plat of the bonnet, of Miss Woodhouse. It seemed, therefore, now to be necessary to do nothing more than to make all this well known to the country. As the Society of Arts had interested itself in the matter, and as I heard that, through its laudable zeal, several sowings of the foreign grass-seed had been made in England, I communicated an account of my experiments to that Society. The first communication was made by me on the 19th of February last, when I sent to the Society, specimens of my straw and also of the plat. Some time after this I attended a committee of the Society on the subject, and gave them a verbal account of the way in which I had gone to work.

219. The committee had, before this, given some of my straw to certain manufacturers of plat, in order to see what it would produce. These manufacturers, with the exception of one, brought such specimens of plat as to induce, at first sight, any one to believe that it was nonsense to think of bringing the thing to any degree of perfection! But, was it possible to believe this? Was it possible to believe that it could answer to import straw from Italy, to pay a twenty per cent. duty on that straw, and to have it platted here; and that it would not answer to turn into plat straw of just the same sort grown in England? It was impossible to believe this; but possible enough to believe, that persons now making profit by Italian straw, or plat, or bonnets, would rather that English straw should come to shut out the Italian and to put an end to the Leghorn trade.

220. In order to show the character of the reports of those manufacturers, I sent some parcels of straw into Hertfordshire, and got back, in the course of five days, fifteen specimens of plat. These I sent to the Society of Arts on the 3d of April; and I here insert a copy of the letter which accompanied them.

TO THE SECRETARY OF THE SOCIETY OF ARTS.

Kensington, April 3, 1823.

Sir,—With this letter I send you sixteen specimens of plat, and also eight parcels of straw, in order to show the sorts that the plat is made out of. The numbers of the plat correspond with those of the straw; but each parcel of straw has two numbers attached to it, except in the case of the first number, which is the wheat straw. Of each kind of straw a parcel of the stoutest and a parcel of the smallest were sent to be platted; so that each parcel of the straw now sent, except that of the wheat, refers to two of the pieces of plat. For instance, 2 and 3 of the plat is of the sort of straw marked 2 and 3; 4 and 12 of the plat is of the sort of straw marked 4 and 12; and so on. These parcels of straw are sent in order that you may know the kind of straw, or rather, of grass, from which the several pieces of plat have been made. This is very material; because it is by those parcels of straw that the kinds of grass are to be known.

The piece of plat No. 16 is American; all the rest are from my straw. You will see, that 15 is the finest plat of all. No. 7 is from the stout straws of the same kind as No. 15. By looking at the parcel of straw Nos. 7 and 15, you will see what sort of grass this is. The next, in point of beauty and fineness combined, are the pieces Nos. 13 and 8; and by looking at the parcel of straw, Nos. 13 and 8, you will see what sort of grass that is. Next comes 10 and 5, which are very beautiful too; and the sort of grass, you will see, is the common Bennet. The wheat, you see, is too coarse; and the rest of the sorts are either too hard or too brittle. I beg you to look at Nos. 10 and 5. Those appear to me to be the thing to supplant the Leghorn. The colour is good, the straws work well, they afford a great variety of sizes, and they come from the common Bennet grass, which grows all over the kingdom, which is cultivated in all our fields, which is in bloom in the fair month of June, which may be grown as fine or as coarse as we please, and ten acres of which would, I dare say, make ten thousand bonnets. However, 7 and 15, and 8 and 13, are very good; and they are to be got in every part of the kingdom.

As to platters, it is to be too childish to believe that they are not to be got, when I could send off these straws, and get back the plat, in the course of five days. Far better work than this would have been obtained if I could have gone on the errand myself. What then will people not do, who regularly undertake the business for their livelihood?

I will, as soon as possible, send you an account of the manner in which I went to work with the grass. The card or plat, which I sent you some time ago, you will be so good as to give me back again some time; because I have now not a bit of the American plat left.

I am, Sir, your most humble and most obedient servant,

Wm. Cobbett.

221. I should observe, that these written communications, of mine to the Society, belong, in fact, to it, and will be published in its Proceedings, a volume of which comes out every year; but, in this case, there would have been a year lost to those who may act in consequence of these communications being made public. The grass is to be got, in great quantities and of the best sorts, only in June and July; and the Society’s volume does not come out till December. The Society has, therefore, given its consent to the making of the communications public through the means of this little work of mine.

222. Having shown what sort of plat could be produced from English grass-straw, I next communicated to the Society an account of the method which I pursued in the cutting and bleaching of the grass. The letter in which I did this I shall here insert a copy of, before I proceed further. In the original the paragraphs were numbered from one to seventeen: they are here marked by letters, in order to avoid confusion, the paragraphs of the work itself being marked by numbers.

TO THE SECRETARY OF THE SOCIETY OF ARTS.

Kensington, April 14, 1823.

A.—Sir,—Agreeably to your request, I now communicate to you a statement of those particulars which you wished to possess, relative to the specimens of straw and of plat which I have at different times sent to you for the inspection of the Society.

B.—That my statement may not come too abruptly upon those members of the Society who have not had an opportunity of witnessing the progress of this interesting inquiry, I will take a short review of the circumstances which led to the making of my experiments.

C.—In the month of June, 1821, a gentleman, a member of the Society, informed me, by letter, that a Miss Woodhouse, a farmer’s daughter, of Weathersfield, in Connecticut, had transmitted to the Society a straw-bonnet of very fine materials and manufacture; that this bonnet (according to her account) was made from the straw of a sort of grass called poa pratensis; that it seemed to be unknown whether the same grass would grow in England; that it was desirable to ascertain whether this grass would grow in England; that, at all events, it was desirable to get from America some of the seed of this grass; and that, for this purpose, my informant, knowing that I had a son in America; addressed himself to me, it being his opinion that, if materials similar to those used by Miss Woodhouse could by any means be grown in England, the benefit to the nation must be considerable.

D.—In consequence of this application, I wrote to my son James, (then at New York,) directing him to do what he was able in order to cause success to the undertaking. On the receipt of my letter, in July, he went from New York to Weathersfield, (about a hundred and twenty miles;) saw Miss Woodhouse; made the necessary inquiries; obtained a specimen of the grass, and also of the plat, which other persons at Weathersfield, as well as Miss Woodhouse, were in the habit of making; and having acquired the necessary information as to cutting the grass and bleaching the straw, he transmitted to me an account of the matter; which account, together with his specimens of grass and plat, I received in the month of September.

E.—I was now, when I came to see the specimen of grass, convinced that Miss Woodhouse’s materials could be grown in England; a conviction which, if it had not been complete at once, would have been made complete immediately afterwards by the sight of a bunch of bonnet-straw imported from Leghorn, which straw was shown to me by the importer, and which I found to be that of two or three sorts of our common grass, and of oats, wheat, and rye.

F.—That the grass, or plants, could be grown in England was, therefore, now certain, and indeed that they were, in point of commonness, next to the earth itself. But before the grass could, with propriety, be called materials for bonnet-making, there was the bleaching to be performed; and it was by no means certain that this could be accomplished by means of an English sun, the difference between which and that of Italy or Connecticut was well known to be very great.

G.—My experiments have, I presume, completely removed this doubt. I think that the straw produced by me to the Society, and also some of the pieces of plat, are of a colour which no straw or plat can surpass. All that remains, therefore, is for me to give an account of the manner in which I cut and bleached the grass which I have submitted to the Society in the state of straw.

H.—First, as to the season of the year, all the straw, except that of one sort of couch-grass, and the long coppice-grass, which two were got in Sussex, were got from grass cut in Hertfordshire on the 21st of June. A grass head-land, in a wheat-field, had been mowed during the forepart of the day, and in the afternoon I went and took a handful here and a handful there out of the swaths. When I had collected as much as I could well carry, I took it to my friend’s house, and proceeded to prepare it for bleaching, according to the information sent me from America by my son; that is to say, I put my grass into a shallow tub, put boiling water upon it until it was covered by the water, let it remain in that state for ten minutes, then took it out, and laid it very thinly on a closely-mowed lawn in a garden. But I should observe, that, before I put the grass into the tub, I tied it up in small bundles, or sheaves, each bundle being about six inches through at the butt-end. This was necessary, in order to be able to take the grass, at the end of ten minutes, out of the water, without throwing it into a confused mixture as to tops and tails. Being tied up in little bundles, I could easily, with a prong, take it out of the hot water. The bundles were put into a large wicker basket, carried to the lawn in the garden, and there taken out, one by one, and laid in swaths as before-mentioned.

I.—It was laid very thinly; almost might I say, that no stalk of grass covered another. The swaths were turned once a day. The bleaching was completed at the end of seven days from time of scalding and laying out. June is a fine month. The grass was, as it happened, cut on the longest day in the year; and the weather was remarkably fine and clear. But the grass which I afterwards cut in Sussex, was cut in the first week in August; and as to the weather my journal speaks thus:—

August, 1822.

2d.—Thunder and rain.—Began cutting grass.
3d.—Beautiful day.
4th.—Fine day.
5th.—Cloudy day—Began scalding grass, and laying it out.
6th.—Cloudy greater part of the day.
7th.—Same weather.
8th.—Cloudy and rather misty.—Finished cutting grass.
9th.—Dry but cloudy.
10th.—Very close and hot.—Packed up part of the grass.
11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th.—Same weather.
15th.—Hot and clear.—Finished packing the grass.

K.—The grass cut in Sussex was as well bleached as that cut in Hertfordshire; so that it is evident that we never can have a summer that will not afford sun sufficient for this business.

L.—The part of the straw used for platting; that part of the stalk which is above the upper joint; that part which is between the upper joint and the seed-branches. This part is taken out, and the rest of the straw thrown away. But the whole plant must be cut and bleached; because, if you were to take off, when green, the part above described, that part would wither up next to nothing. This part must die in company with the whole plants, and be separated from the other parts after the bleaching has been performed.

M.—The time of cutting must vary with the seasons, the situation, and the sort of grass. The grass which I got in Hertfordshire, than which nothing can, I think, be more beautiful, was, when cut, generally in bloom; just in bloom. The wheat was in full bloom; so that a good time for getting grass may be considered to be that when the wheat is in bloom. When I cut the grass in Sussex, the wheat was ripe, for reaping had begun; but that grass is of a very backward sort, and, besides, grew in the shade amongst coppice-wood and under trees, which stood pretty thick.

N.—As to the sorts of grass, I have to observe generally, that in proportion as the colour of the grass is deep; that is to say, getting further from the yellow, and nearer to the blue, it is of a deep and dead yellow when it becomes straw. Those kinds of grass are best which are, in point of colour, nearest to that of wheat, which is a fresh pale green. Another thing is, the quality of the straw as to pliancy and toughness. Experience must be our guide here. I had not time to make a large collection of sorts; but those which I have sent to you contain three sorts which are proved to be good. In my letter of the 3d instant I sent you sixteen pieces of plat and eight bunches of straw, having the seed heads on, in order to show the sorts of grass. The sixteenth piece of plat was American. The first piece was from wheat cut and bleached by me; the rest from grass cut and bleached by me. I will here, for fear of mistake, give a list of the names of the several sorts of grass, the straw of which was sent with my letter of the 3d instant, referring to the numbers, as placed on the plat and on the bunches of straw.

PIECES
OF PLAT.
  BUNCHES
OF STRAW.
  SORTS OF GRASS.
No 1.—  No. 1.  —Wheat.
2.} 2 and 3{ Melica Cærulea; or, Purple Melica Grass.
3.
4.} 4 and 12{ Agrostis Stolonifera; or, Fiorin Grass;
that is to say, one sort of Couch-grass.
12.
5.} 5 and 10{ Lolium Perenne; or Ray-grass.
10.
6.} 6 and 11{ Avena Flavescens; or, Yellow Oat grass.
11.
7.} 7 and 15{ Cynosurus Cristatus; or Crested Dog’s-tail grass.
15.
8.} 8 and 13{ Anthoxanthum Odoratum; or, Sweet scented Vernal grass.
13.
9.} 9 and 14{ Agrostis Canina; or, Brown Bent grass.
14.

O.—These names are those given at the Botanical Garden at Kew. But the same English names are not in the country given to these sorts of grass. The Fiorin grass, the Yellow Oat-grass, and the Brown-Bent, are all called couch-grass; except that the latter is, in Sussex, called Red Robin. It is the native grass of the plains of Long Island; and they call it Red Top. The Ray-grass is the common field grass, which is, all over the kingdom, sown with clover. The farmers, in a great part of the kingdom, call it Bent, or Bennett, grass; and sometimes it is galled Darnel-grass. The Crested Dog’s-tail goes, in Sussex, by the name of Hendonbent; for what reason I know not. The sweet-scented Vernal-grass I have never, amongst the farmers, heard any name for. Miss Woodhouse’s grass appears, from the plants that I saw in the Adelphi, to be one of the sorts of Couch-grass. Indeed, I am sure that it is a Couch-grass, if the plants I there saw came from her seed. My son, who went into Connecticut, who saw the grass growing, and who sent me home a specimen of it, is now in England: he was with me when I cut the grass in Sussex; and he says that Miss Woodhouse’s was a Couch-grass. However, it is impossible to look at the specimens of straw and of plat which I have sent you, without being convinced that there is no want of the raw material in England. I was, after my first hearing of the subject, very soon convinced that the grass grew in England; but I had great doubts as to the capacity of our sun. Those doubts my own experiments have completely removed; but then I was not aware of the great effect of the scalding, of which, by the way, Miss Woodhouse had said nothing, and the knowledge of which we owe entirely to my son James’ journey into Connecticut.

P.—Having thus given you an account of the time and manner of cutting the grass, of the mode of cutting and bleaching; having given you the best account I am able, as to the sorts of grass to be employed in this business; and having, in my former communications, given you specimens of the plat wrought from the several sorts of straw, I might here close my letter; but as it may be useful to speak of the expense of cutting and bleaching, I shall trouble you with a few words relating to it. If there were a field of Ray-grass, or of Crested Dog’s-tail, or any other good sort, and nothing else growing with it, the expense of cutting would be very little indeed, seeing that the scythe or reap-hook would do the business at a great rate. Doubtless there will be such fields; but even if the grass have to be cut by the handful, my opinion is, that the expense of cutting and bleaching would not exceed fourpence for straw enough to make a large bonnet. I should be willing to contract to supply straw, at this rate, for half a million of bonnets. The scalding must constitute a considerable part of the expense; because there must be fresh water for every parcel of grass that you put in the tub. When water has scalded one parcel of cold grass, it will not scald another parcel. Besides, the scalding draws out the sweet matter of the grass, and makes the water the colour of that horrible stuff called London porter. It would be very good, by-the-by, to give to pigs. Many people give hay-tea to pigs and calves; and this is grass-tea. To scald a large quantity, therefore would require means not usually at hand, and the scalding is an essential part of the business. Perhaps, in a large and convenient farm-house, with a good brewing copper, good fuel and water handy, four or five women might scald a wagon load in a day; and a wagon would, I think, carry straw enough (in the rough) to furnish the means of making a thousand bonnets. However, the scalding might take place in the field itself, by means of a portable boiler, especially if water were at hand; and perhaps it would be better to carry the water to the field than to carry the grass to the farm-house, for there must be ground to lay it out upon the moment it has been scalded, and no ground can be so proper as the newly-mowed ground where the grass has stood. The space, too, must be large, for any considerable quantity of grass. As to all these things, however, the best and cheapest methods will soon be discovered when people set about the work with a view to profit.

Q.—The Society will want nothing from me, nor from any-body else, to convince it of the importance of this matter; but I cannot, in concluding these communications to you, Sir, refrain from making an observation or two on the consequences likely to arise out of these inquiries. The manufacture is alone of considerable magnitude. Not less than about five millions of persons in this kingdom have a dress which consists partly of manufactured straw; and a large part, and all the most expensive part, of the articles thus used, now come from abroad. In cases where you can get from abroad any article at less expense than you can get it at home, the wisdom of fabricating that article at home may be doubted. But, in this case, you get the raw material by labour performed at home, and the cost of that labour is not nearly so great as would be the cost of the mere carriage of the straw from a foreign country to this. If our own people had all plenty of employment, and that too more profitable to them and to the country than the turning of a part of our own grass into articles of dress, then it would be advisable still to import Leghorn bonnets; but the facts being the reverse, it is clear, that whatever money, or money’s worth things, be sent out of the country, in exchange for Leghorn bonnets, is, while we have the raw material here for next to nothing, just so much thrown away. The Italians, it may be said, take some of our manufactures in exchange; and let us suppose, for the purpose of illustration, that they take cloth from Yorkshire. Stop the exchange between Leghorn and Yorkshire, and, does Yorkshire lose part of its custom? No: for though those who make the bonnets out of English grass, prevent the Leghorners from buying Yorkshire cloth, they, with the money which they now get, instead of its being got by the Leghorners, buy the Yorkshire cloth themselves; and they wear this cloth too, instead of its being worn by the people of Italy; ay, Sir, and many, now in rags, will be well clad, if the laudable object of the Society be effected. Besides this, however, why should we not export the articles of this manufacture? To America we certainly should; and I should not be at all surprised if we were to export them to Leghorn itself.

R.—Notwithstanding all this, however, if the manufacture were of a description to require, in order to give it success, the collecting of the manufacturers together in great numbers, I should, however great the wealth that it might promise, never have done any thing to promote its establishment. The contrary is happily the case: here all is not only performed by hand, but by hand singly, without any combination of hands. Here there is no power of machinery or of chemistry wanted. All is performed out in the open fields, or sitting in the cottage. There wants no coal mines and no rivers to assist; no water-powers nor powers of fire. No part of the kingdom is unfit for the business. Every-where there are grass, water, sun, and women and children’s fingers; and these are all that are wanted. But, the great thing of all is this; that, to obtain the materials for the making of this article of dress, at once so gay, so useful, and in some cases so expensive, there requires not a penny of capital. Many of the labourers now make their own straw hats to wear in summer. Poor rotten things, made out of straw of ripened grain. With what satisfaction will they learn that straw, twenty times as durable, to say nothing of the beauty, is to be got from every hedge? In short when the people are well and clearly informed of the facts, which I have through you, Sir, had the honour to lay before the Society, it is next to impossible that the manufacture should not become general throughout the country. In every labourer’s house a pot of water can be boiled. What labourer’s wife cannot, in the summer months, find time to cut and bleach grass enough to give her and her children work for a part of the winter? There is no necessity for all to be platters. Some may cut and bleach only. Others may prepare the straw, as mentioned in paragraph L. of this letter. And doubtless, as the farmers in Hertfordshire now sell their straw to the platters, grass collectors and bleachers and preparers would do the same. So that there is scarcely any country labourer’s family that might not derive some advantage from this discovery; and, while I am convinced that this consideration has been by no means over-looked by the Society, it has been, I assure you, the great consideration of all with,

Sir, your most obedient and
most humble Servant,
Wm. Cobbett.

223. In the last edition, this closing part of the work, relative to the straw plat, was not presented to the public as a thing which admitted of no alteration; but, on the contrary, it was presented to the public with the following concluding remark: “In conclusion I have to observe, that I by no means send forth this essay as containing opinions and instructions that are to undergo no alteration. I am, indeed, endeavouring to teach others; but I am myself only a learner. Experience will, doubtless, make me much more perfect in a knowledge of the several parts of the subject; and the fruit of this experience I shall be careful to communicate to the public.” I now proceed to make good this promise. Experience has proved that very beautiful and very fine plat can be made of the straw of divers kinds of grass. But the most ample experience has also proved to us that it is to the straw of wheat, that we are to look for a manufacture to supplant the Leghorn. This was mentioned as a strong suspicion in my former edition of this work. And I urged my readers to sow wheat for the purpose. The fact is now proved beyond all contradiction, that the straw of wheat or rye, but particularly of wheat, is the straw for this purpose. Finer plat may be made from the straw of grass than can possibly be made from the straw of wheat or rye: but the grass plat is, all of it, more or less brittle; and none of it has the beautiful and uniform colour of the straw of wheat. Since the last edition of this work, I have received packets of the straw from Tuscany, all of wheat; and, indeed, I am convinced that no other straw is any-thing like so well calculated for the purpose. Wheat straw bleaches better than any other. It has that fine, pale, golden colour which no other straw has; it is much more simple, more pliant than any other straw; and, in short, this is the material. I did not urge in vain. A good quantity of wheat was sowed for this purpose. A great deal of it has been well harvested; and I have the pleasure to know that several hundreds of persons are now employed in the platting of straw. One more year; one more crop of wheat; and another Leghorn bonnet will never be imported in England. Some great errors have been committed in the sowing of the wheat, and in the cutting of it. I shall now, therefore, availing myself of the experience which I have gained, offer to the public some observations on the sort of wheat to be sowed for this purpose; on the season for sowing; on the land to be used for the purpose; on the quantity of seed, and the manner of sowing: on the season for cutting; on the manner of cutting, bleaching, and housing; on the platting; on the knitting, and on the pressing.

224. The SORT OF WHEAT. The Leghorn plat is all made of the straw of the spring wheat. This spring wheat is so called by us, because it is sowed in the spring, at the same time that barley is sowed. The botanical name of it is TRITICUM ÆSTIVUM. It is a small-grained bearded wheat. It has very fine straw; but experience has convinced me, that the little brown-grained winter wheat is just as good for the purpose. In short, any wheat will do. I have now in my possession specimens of plat made of both winter and spring wheat, and I see no difference at all. I am decidedly of opinion that the winter wheat is as good as the spring wheat for the purpose. I have plat, and I have straw both now before me, and the above is the result of my experience.

225. THE LAND PROPER FOR THE GROWING OF WHEAT. The object is to have the straw as small as we can get it. The land must not, therefore, be too rich; yet it ought not to be very poor. If it be, you get the straw of no length. I saw an acre this year, as beautiful as possible, sowed upon a light loam, which bore last year a fine crop of potatoes. The land ought to be perfectly clean, at any rate; so that, when the crop is taken off, the wheat straw may not be mixed with weeds and grass.

226. SEASON FOR SOWING. This will be more conveniently stated in paragraph 228.

227. QUANTITY OF SEED AND MANNER OF SOWING. When first this subject was started in 1821, I said, in the Register, that I would engage to grow as fine straw in England as the Italians could grow. I recommended then, as a first guess, fifteen bushels of wheat to the acre. Since that, reflection told me that that was not quite enough. I therefore recommended twenty bushels to the acre. Upon the beautiful acre which I have mentioned above, eighteen bushels, I am told, were sowed; fine and beautiful as it was, I think it would have been better if it had had twenty bushels; twenty bushels, therefore, is what I recommend. You must sow broad cast, of course, and you must take great pains to cover the seed well. It must be a good even-handed seedsman, and there must be very nice covering.

228. SEASON FOR CUTTING. Now, mind, it is fit to cut in just about one week after the bloom has dropped. If you examine the ear at that time, you will find the grain just beginning to be formed, and that is precisely the time to cut the wheat: The straw has then got its full substance in it. But I must now point out a very material thing. It is by no means desirable to have all your wheat fit to cut at the same time. It is a great misfortune, indeed, so to have it. If fit to cut altogether, it ought to be cut all at the same time; for supposing you to have an acre, it will require a fortnight or three weeks to cut it and bleach it, unless you have a very great number of hands, and very great vessels to prepare water in. Therefore, if I were to have an acre of wheat for this, purpose, and were to sow all spring wheat, I would sow a twelfth part of the acre every week from the first week in March to the last week in May. If I relied partly upon winter wheat, I would sow some every month, from the latter end of September to March. If I employed the two sorts of wheat, or indeed if I employed only the spring wheat, the Triticum Æstivum, I should have some wheat fit to cut in June, and some not fit to cut till September. I should be sure to have a fair chance as to the weather. And, in short, it would be next to impossible for me to fail of securing a considerable part of my crop. I beg the reader’s particular attention to the contents of this paragraph.

229. MANNER OF CUTTING THE WHEAT. It is cut by a little reap-hook, close to the ground as possible. It is then tied in little sheaves, with two pieces of string, one near the butt, and the other about half-way up. This little bundle or sheaf ought to be six inches through at the butt, and no more. It ought not to be tied too tightly, lest the scalding should not be perfect.

230. MANNER OF BLEACHING. The little sheaves mentioned in the last paragraph are carried to a brewing mash, vat, or other tub. You must not put them into the tub in too large a quantity, lest the water get chilled before it get to the bottom. Pour on scalding water till you cover the whole of the little sheaves, and let the water be a foot above the top sheaves. When the sheaves have remained thus a full quarter of an hour, take them out with a prong, lay them in a clothes-basket, or upon a hurdle, and carry them to the ground where the bleaching is to be finished. This should be, if possible, a piece of grass land, where the grass is very short. Take the sheaves, and lay some of them along in a row; untie them, and lay the straw along in that row as thin as it can possibly be laid. If it were possible, no one straw ought to have another lying upon it, or across it. If the sun be clear, it will require to lie twenty-four hours thus, then to be turned, and lie twenty-four hours on the other side. If the sun be not very clear, it must lie longer. But the numerous sowings which I have mentioned will afford you so many chances, so many opportunities of having fine weather, that the risk about weather would necessarily be very small. If wet weather should come, and if your straw remain out in it any length of time, it will be spoiled; but, according to the mode of sowing above pointed out, you really could stand very little chance of losing straw by bad weather. If you had some straw out bleaching, and the weather were to appear suddenly to be about to change, the quantity that you would have out would not be large enough to prevent you from putting it under cover, and keeping it there till the weather changed.

231. HOUSING THE STRAW. When your straw is nicely bleached, gather it up, and with the same string that you used to tie it when green, tie it up again into little sheaves. Put it by in some room where there is no damp, and where mice and rats are not suffered to inhabit. Here it is always ready for use, and it will keep, I dare say, four or five years very well.

232. THE PLATTING. This is now so well understood that nothing need be said about the manner of doing the work. But much might be said about the measures to be pursued by land-owners, by parish officers, by farmers, and more especially by gentlemen and ladies of sense, public spirit, and benevolence of disposition. The thing will be done; the manufacture will spread itself all over this kingdom; but the exertions of those whom I have here pointed out might hasten the period of its being brought to perfection. And I beg such gentlemen and ladies to reflect on the vast importance of such manufacture, which it is impossible to cause to produce any-thing but good. One of the great misfortunes of England at this day is, that the land has had taken away from it those employments for its women and children which were so necessary to the well-being of the agricultural labourer. The spinning, the carding, the reeling, the knitting; these have been all taken away from the land, and given to the Lords of the Loom, the haughty lords of bands of abject slaves. But let the landholder mark how the change has operated to produce his ruin. He must have the labouring MAN and the labouring BOY; but, alas! he cannot have these, without having the man’s wife, and the boy’s mother, and little sisters and brothers. Even Nature herself says, that he shall have the wife and little children, or that he shall not have the man and the boy. But the Lords of the Loom, the crabbed-voiced, hard-favoured, hard-hearted, puffed-up, insolent, savage and bloody wretches of the North have, assisted by a blind and greedy Government, taken all the employment away from the agricultural women and children. This manufacture of Straw will form one little article of employment for these persons. It sets at defiance all the hatching and scheming of all the tyrannical wretches who cause the poor little creatures to die in their factories, heated to eighty-four degrees. There will need no inventions of Watt; none of your horse powers, nor water powers; no murdering of one set of wretches in the coal mines, to bring up the means of murdering another set of wretches in the factories, by the heat produced from those coals; none of these are wanted to carry on this manufactory. It wants no combination laws; none of the inventions of the hard-hearted wretches of the North.

233. THE KNITTING. Upon this subject, I have only to congratulate my readers that there are great numbers of English women who can now knit, plat together, better than those famous Jewesses of whom we were told.

234. THE PRESSING. Bonnets and hats are pressed after they are made. I am told that a proper press costs pretty nearly a hundred pounds; but, then, that it will do prodigious deal of business. I would recommend to our friends in the country to teach as many children as they can to make the plat. The plat will be knitted in London, and in other considerable towns, by persons to whom it will be sold. It appears to me, at least, that this will be the course that the thing will take. However, we must leave this to time; and here I conclude my observations upon a subject which is deeply interesting to myself, and which the public in general deem to be of great importance.

235. POSTSCRIPT on brewing.—I think it right to say here, that, ever since I published the instructions for brewing by copper and by wooden utensils, the beer at my own house has always been brewed precisely agreeable to the instructions contained in this book; and I have to add, that I never have had such good beer in my house in all my lifetime, as since I have followed that mode of brewing. My table-beer, as well as my ale, is always as clear as wine. I have had hundreds and hundreds of quarters of malt brewed into beer in my house. My people could always make it strong enough and sweet enough; but never, except by accident, could they make it CLEAR. Now I never have any that is not clear. And yet my utensils are all very small; and my brewers are sometimes one labouring man, and sometimes another. A man wants showing how to brew the first time. I should suppose that we use, in my house, about seven hundred gallons of beer every year, taking both sorts together; and I can positively assert, that there has not been one drop of bad beer, and indeed none which has not been most excellent, in my house, during the last two years, I think it is, since I began using the utensils, and in the manner named in this book.

 


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