Chapter X: Of The Air And Soil And Commodities Of This Island

The air (for the most part) throughout the island is such as by reason in manner of continual clouds is reputed to be gross, and nothing so pleasant as that of the main. Howbeit, as they which affirm these things have only respect to the impediment or hindrance of the sunbeams by the interposition of the clouds and of ingrossed air, so experience teacheth us that it is no less pure, wholesome, and commodious than is that of other countries, and (as Caesar himself hereto addeth) much more temperate in summer than that of the Gauls, from whom he adventured hither. Neither is there any thing found in the air of our region that is not usually seen amongst other nations lying beyond the seas. Wherefore we must needs confess that the situation of our island (for benefit of the heavens) is nothing inferior to that of any country of the main, wheresoever it lie under the open firmament. And this Plutarch knew full well, who affirmeth a part of the Elysian Fields to be found in Britain, and the isles that are situated about it in the ocean.

The soil of Britain is such as by the testimonies and reports both of the old and new writers, and experience also of such as now inhabit the same, is very fruitful, and such indeed as bringeth forth many commodities, whereof other countries have need, and yet itself (if fond niceness were abolished) needless of those that are daily brought from other places. Nevertheless it is more inclined to feeding and gazing than profitable for tillage and bearing of corn, by reason whereof the country is wonderfully replenished with neat and all kind of cattle; and such store is there also of the same in every place that the fourth part of the land is scarcely manured for the provision and maintenance of grain. Certes this fruitfulness was not unknown unto the Britons long before Caesar's time, which was the cause wherefore our predecessors living in those days in manner neglected tillage and lived by feeding and grazing only. The graziers themselves also then dwelled in movable villages by companies, whose custom was to divide the ground amongst them, and each one not to depart from the place where his lot lay (a thing much like the Irish Criacht) till, by eating up of the country about him, he was enforced to remove further and seek for better pasture. And this was the British custom, as I learn, at first. It hath been commonly reported that the ground of Wales is neither so fruitful as that of England, neither the soil of Scotland so bountiful as that of Wales, which is true for corn and for the most part; otherwise there is so good ground in some parts of Wales as is in England, albeit the best of Scotland be scarcely comparable to the mean of either of both. Howbeit, as the bounty of the Scotch doth fail in some respect, so doth it surmount in other, God and nature having not appointed all countries to yield forth like commodities.

But where our ground is not so good as we would wish, we have - if need be - sufficient help to cherish our ground withal, and to make it more fruitful. For, beside the compest that is carried out of the husbandmen's yards, ditches, ponds, dung-houses, or cities and great towns, we have with us a kind of white marl which is of so great force that if it be cast over a piece of land but once in three-score years it shall not need of any further compesting. Hereof also doth Pliny speak (lib. 17, cap. 6, 7, 8), where he affirmeth that our marl endureth upon the earth by the space of fourscore years: insomuch that it is laid upon the same but once in a man's life, whereby the owner shall not need to travel twice in procuring to commend and better his soil. He calleth it marga, and, making divers kinds thereof, he finally commendeth ours, and that of France, above all other, which lieth sometime a hundred foot deep, and far better than the scattering of chalk upon the same, as the Hedui and Pictones did in his time, or as some of our days also do practice: albeit divers do like better to cast on lime, but it will not so long endure, as I have heard reported.

There are also in this island great plenty of fresh rivers and streams, as you have heard already, and these thoroughly fraught with all kinds of delicate fish accustomed to be found in rivers. The whole isle likewise is very full of hills, of which some (though not very many) are of exceeding height, and divers extending themselves very far from the beginning; as we may see by Shooter's Hill, which, rising east of London and not far from the Thames, runneth along the south side of the island westward until it come to Cornwall. Like unto these also are the Crowdon Hills, which, though under divers names (as also the other from the Peak), do run into the borders of Scotland. What should I speak of the Cheviot Hills, which reach twenty miles in length? of the Black Mountains in Wales, which go from ( ^*) to ( ^*) miles at the least in length? of the Clee Hills in Shropshire, which come within four miles of Ludlow, and are divided from some part of Worcester by the Leme? of the Crames in Scotland, and of our Chiltern, which are eighteen miles at the least from one end of them, which reach from Henley in Oxfordshire to Dunstable in Bedfordshire, and are very well replenished with wood and corn, notwithstanding that the most part yield a sweet short grass, profitable for sheep? Wherein albeit they of Scotland do somewhat come behind us, yet their outward defect is inwardly recompensed, not only with plenty of quarries (and those of sundry kinds of marble, hard stone, and fine alabaster), but also rich mines of metal, as shall be shewed hereafter.