I continue to get a kick out of reading J. Bailey Moore’s discussion of farming in Candia, New Hampshire in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. I offer the following passage as an example of an author who is not afraid of digression. From fettering sheep to the life of Samuel Johnson to haying, without so much as a “But I digress . . . “!
The sheep of those days often caused their owners much trouble by jumping over the walls and fences into the cultivated fields under the lead of an old ram or bell wether. In such cases fettering the legs of the sheep was considered the only remedy.
The reference to sheep recalls a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s great essay upon the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson. After quoting the statement of the German philosopher, Jean Paul, that a whole flock of sheep will jump over an imaginary pole after the real pole over which the bell wether has jumped has been removed, Carlyle declares that the great masses of mankind are utterly incapable of guiding themselves and, like stupid sheep, they too must have their bellwethers and jump over nothing, blindly following those who undertake to lead them, whether in the matter of fashion, politics or religion, without knowing or caring to know why they are led this way, that or the other.
Haying begins soon after the 4th of July. A few patches of grass around the house are first moved, and soon after the red-top and clover fields are attacked.1
Uh oh. My digression from the subject of Brown family history wouldn’t be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, would it?
1J. Bailey Moore, History of the Town of Candia, Rockingham County, N.H., from Its First Settlement to the Present Time (Manchester, N.H.: George W. Browne, 1893), 259.