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Section 22

Its People and Institutions as I knew them about Sixty Years ago.


Wednesday, August 18th, 1897


A sleep, it is an easy task to show,
Was on the world till sixty years ago;
But now awake, and in Victorian light,
‘Twould take an age its triumphs to recite.

So let the scenes my early boyhood knew
Upon the farm, be marshaled in review,
And show the changes busy years have wrought,
In ways of labor, and in modes of thought.

Broad acres then of pasture, wood and field
Were held essential boundaries here to yield
For toiling souls, sufficient bread and meat,
And clothing comely, for the back and feet.

And on the narrow farms and fields to-day,
Where Fortune smiles berobed in rich array
Would starve the toilers of the Long Ago,
Their methods were so quaintly false and slow.

Machines for haying then were all unknown,
The meadows with the ancient scythe were mown;
The snaths that hung the scythe, a stick of wood,
By nature crooked in some fantastic mood.
In mowing then the scythe did ride the man
But now he mounts the scythe and sports a span,
And mows the grass by acres, quite alone,
A farmer monarch on his wheeled throne.

The forks that tossed the grass and made the hay,
Unlike the toyful playthings of to-day,
Were wooden forked sticks from nature’s store,
With slender pointed prongs, and nothing more.
The forks that pitched the hay on cart and mow,
Your sober souls would smile to see one now;
Unlike the fixtures of this marvelous age,
When skilful art and genius all engage,
To change the toil of labor into play,
And make the meadow work a holiday;
Had pondrous iron tines of marvelous length,
And handles suited to a giant’s strength.

The rakes and plows and hoes at home were made;
For foreign tools their pence they seldom paid;
A penny saved is good as penny earned,
Was frugal lesson which they early learned;
But of the penny wise and foolish pound,
But few were learned in all the land around.

A worn out scythe, a rough and clumsy rake
Axe, hacks and hoes of rude domestic make,
Were good enough for boys, for work or play;
Was here the doctrine of that early day;
And yet the boys, forsooth of tender age,
Must play their part on life’s great hustling stage;
In field or meadow make as grand a show,
As neatly lay their swaths, and hoe their row,
As men of sturdy strength and riper years,
And this the story of my toils and tears.

Since then there’s been a revolution too,
In what we eat, as well as what we do,
These fertile fields of Long Ago were crowned
With grain which in a neighboring mill was ground
With flail was thrashed the barley, wheat and rye,
And while before the wind the chaff did fly,
The weedy seeds and dust were left behind,
And from the mill the flour came unrefined;
And so the loaf was brown within the crust,
Discolored with unwholesome seeds and dust,
And then abundant grain these fields did yield,
And seldom brought from far or foreign field.
Delicious oaten porridge was unknown,
And oats for working horses only grown,
The loaf of rye was then a vulgar thing,
But now a dainty treat for priest or king.
Each farmer grew his field of corn or maize,
For morning johnny cake, surpassing praise;
And bowls of milk and mush were everywhere,
For evening meals esteemed delicious fare.

NOTES, - In my early boyhood, haying and harvesting were done with very primitive tools, and in the slow and weary way of our great-great-grandfathers. My father made his own rakes. I remember seeing him making the holes for the teeth, with a gimlet, and burning out the holes for the stales with a hot iron. All the scythe snaths were crooked sticks found in the woods. The forks, hoes and hacks were forged from iron, by the blacksmith, and were but a step in advance of those relics left by the exiled Acadians. I was quite a lad when the first smut machine was put in a mill at Waterville, which was hailed as a memorable event in the history of the country, by which the flour was much improved. About this period it was published abroad that the young Queen Victoria used oatmeal as a favorite dish, and then our provincial government helped the mills to put in kilns for grinding oats, that the people here might follow her example. Their work was not satisfactory, and the oatmeal enterprises were soon abandoned. In Berwick, were wide and thriving fields of wheat, rye and corn, and my father not only raised his own grain, but sold a surplus to others. An occasional barrel of flour was imported from the States, as a special luxury, for white bread, but was often very strong of garlic, and the refined product of the present, was unknown to the people. In those days able bodied men were paid on the farms, from one hundred to one hundred and ten dollars a year, and worked from daylight till dark, and took part of their pay in homespun cloth, and yet they laid up money, and bought farms, and afterwards became prosperous farmers.