Tusser, Thomas

, an English poet of the sixteenth century, and styled the British Varro, was born, as it is supposed, about the year 1515, at Rivenhall near Witham in Essex. His father, William Tusser, married a daughter of Thomas Smith, of Rivenhall, esq. by whom he had five sons and four daughters; and this match appears to have been the chief foundation of “the gentility of his family,” for which he refers his readers to “the Heralds’ book.” The name and race, however, have long been extinct. At an early age, much against his will, he was sent by his father to a music-school; and was soon placed as a chorister or singing-boy in the collegiate chapel of the castle of Wallingford; and after some hardships, of which he complains, and frequent change of place, he was at length admitted into St. Paul’s, where he arrived at considerable proficiency in music, under John Redford, the organist of that cathedral, a man distinguished for his attainments in the science. From St. Paul’s he was sent to Eton school, and was some time under the tuition of the famous Nicholas Udall, of whose severity he complains, in giving him fiftythree stripes at once for a trifling fault. Hence he was removed to Cambridge, and, according to some, was first entered of King’s college, and afterwards removed to Trinity hall; but his studies being interrupted by sickness, he left the university, and was employed about court, probably in his musical capacity, by the influence of his patron, William lord Paget. He appears to have been a retainer in this nobleman’s family, and he mentions his lordship in the highest terms of panegyric.

In this situation, which must have been during the latter part of the reign of Henry VIIL and the first years of Edward VI. when his patron was in great favour, he remained | ten years, and then retiring into the country, and marrying, turned farmer at Katwade, now Cattiwade, a hamlet of the parish of Brantham, in Sanfort hundred, Suffolk, near the river Stour. Here he composed his book of Husbandry, the first edition of which was published in 1557, and dedicated to his patron lord Paget. It is probable that he must have been acquainted with rural affairs, for several years at least, before he could produce even the rude essay which forms the germ of his future and more elaborate work. He appears to have suffered some reverse in his farming business, as we find him afterwards successively at Ipswich, where his wife died, at West Dereham, and at Norwich. He married, however, a second wife, of the name of Moon, which affords him a play of words; but this match did not add to his happiness, apparently from a disparity in age, she being very young. He then obtained, by the interest of Salisbury, dean of Norwich, a singing-man’s place in that cathedral. After this he tried farming again, at Fairsted, near his native place; but again failing, he repaired to London, which he mentions with due commendation, until being driven from it by the plague in 1574, he went to Cambridge. When the scourge abated he returned to London, and died there, as is generally supposed, about 1580, and was interred in St. Mildred’s church in the Poultry, with an epitaph, recorded by Stow.

For an author, the vicissitudes of his life present an uncommon variety of incident. “Without a tincture of careless imprudence,” saysWarton, “or vicious extravagance, this desultory character seems to have thriven in no vocation.” There are no data, however, to account for his frequent changes of life and his failures. Farming was his leading pursuit, and in that, although he was a good theorist for the time, he was unsuccessful in practice. Stillingfleet says, “He seems to have been a good-natured cheerful man, and though a lover of ceconomy, far from meanness, as appears in many of his precepts, wherein he shews his disapprobation of that pitiful spirit, which makes farmers starve their cattle, their land, and every thing belonging to them; choosing rather to lose a pound than spend a shilling. Upon the whole, his book displays all the qualities of a well-disposed man, as well as of an able farmer.” Mr. Stillingfleet adds, “Googe set Tusser on a level with Varro and Columella and Palladius; but I would rather compare him to old Hesiod. They both wrote in the infancy of husbandry; | both gave good general precepts, without entering into the detail, though Tusser has more of it than Hesiod; they both seem desirous to improve the morals of their readers as well as their farms, by recommending industry and economy; and that which perhaps may be looked upon as the greatest resemblance, they both wrote in verse, probably for the same reason, namely, to propagate their doctrines more effectually.

Tusser’s “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry” appears to have obtained a very favourable reception from the public, above twelve editions having appeared within the first fifty years, and afterwards many others were printed. The best editions are those of 1580 and 1585, but they are very scarce. In 1812 the public was favoured with a new edition, carefully collated and corrected by Dr. William Mavor, of whose biographical sketch we have availed ourselves in the present article. Dr. Mavor has rendered his edition highly valuable by a series of notes, georgical, illustrative, and explanatory, a glossary, and other improvements. 1


Life by Dr. Mavor. Philips’s Theatrum, edit. 1S01. Censura Literaria, Bibliographer, vol. I.