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North British Cultivator
A Treatise on Gardening, Agriculture, and Botany by Robert M'Nab, Member of the Perthshire Royal Horticultural Society (1842)


The first and chief employment to which the attention of man was directed, was the culture and management of the productions of the soil. The Vegetable Kingdom contributes more to our immediate wants than all the rest of the terrestrial creation; and the great law which requires that man should “cultivate the earth and subdue it,” was the first laid down for his guidance and advantage.

Of the pleasure to be derived from Gardening and Botanical pursuits, it is superfluous to speak. By the possession and cultivation of even a few feet of soil, a man may greatly enlarge his store of rational and pure enjoyments: at same time the return, in a profitable point of view, will always yield an equivalent reward to his labour.

The importance and utility of Husbandry are universally felt and acknowledged, yet the more approved methods of cultivation are known only to a few, notwithstanding all that has been written on the subject. This may arise from the generality of these works being very Costly, and often written by theoretical, rather than practical agriculturists. It therefore occurred to me, that a really practical work, by one familiarly acquainted with the subject, might be useful; and on this account I have yielded to the persuasions of many friends, and endeavoured, in the following pages, to combine perspicuity and cheapness, so as to form a small volume as accessible and useful as possible. Feeling the truth of the apothegm, that “he who succeeds in making two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, is a benefactor to his country”: and aware that in every pursuit, advancement can only be made by means of accumulated experience, in which every effort, however humble, in the right direction, has a beneficial effect, I flattered myself that my labours might not be altogether superfluous.

My first object in planning the work was to render it as plain and brief as possible, at the same time both intelligible and interesting; and I earnestly trust that this will be found to be the case on perusal. My method of cultivating Vegetables and Small Fruits is of my own invention. There are many original passages in the Agricultural department, and particularly under the head of Agricultural Botany, which will account for much of the loss of cattle and horses yearly sustained by farmers and graziers.

The Botanical department is rendered more plain and practical than is generally the case in works of the kind; and the whole is compressed into as concise a form as possible. Each of the Linnean Classes is headed with a plain introduction, and where thought necessary, the natural orders of Jussieu have been added; which may prove serviceable to young gentlemen intended for the medical profession, intending emigrants, and every one connected with rural affairs. The Glossary of Botanical terms at the end of the volume, will be found a useful companion to Hooker’s British Flora, and other works of the kind.

While utility, rather than profit, has been my aim, I may have been actuated with a little of the honest ambition of having it said of me, when I shall “pass that bourne whence none return,” (as so justly has been said of that eminent agriculturist, the late Sir John Sinclair,) “that the welfare of the human race had always an upper share in my heart.” Much of the merit due to my little essay, is owing to the abridged extracts scattered throughout it from the best modern authors. I have little else than the selection to be vain of; for those portions which are of my own composition, must, I am well aware, contain many imperfections. If I have succeeded, however, in stating plain and useful facts, in language intelligible to the community at large, I trust the reader will not be too fastidious respecting elegance of style, or harmony of diction. From an early age my hands have been chiefly occupied in guiding the plough and wielding the spade; whilst only my hours of rest have been devoted to the acquisition of general information, however small the amount. Like many of my countrymen, I have been bred in the school of hardship, and have had to struggle against the frowns of fortune; yet I feel pride in thinking, that the man who earns his bread by an honest calling, and walks through life with truth and honour, need not be ashamed to lay his humble labours before a discerning public.

The different portions of the work being preceded by suitable introductions, little more remains for me here than to state my acknowledgments to the several Newspaper Editors in Perth and neighbourhood, who, from time to time, have kindly given admission to pretty copious extracts from various portions of the work; and my gratitude for the very kind encouragement I have met from my friends, and from subscribers, to whom I had latterly communicated my intention of publishing.

Bridge of Earn, September, 1842.

Extract of a Letter from D. Fobbes, Esq., Professor of Oriental Languages and Literature, King’s College, London, to Mr M‘Nab, after having seen the prospectus of this work:—

“I have no doubt that a little Work of the kind you advertise, is calculated to do much good. When I look upon the neat little gardens of the English cottagers, I cannot help remembering that the Scotch of the same class are, or were in my time, very far behind the Southern in that respect, and from no earthly reason but sheer laziness. Take, for example, the garden of our old friend, There was a good piece of ground, I remember; but what did it produce? Green kail, and a few stray cabbages and grazers [Anglice, gooseberries.] Now, if I were Laird of so much ground, I should pride myself in making it a miniature of Paradise; I should have all, or a reasonable number, of the plants about to appear in your book; I should bestow an hour or two a day on their cultivation, instead of standing as long with my hands in my breeches’ pockets, hearing the idle talk of the strath. In your low country, the gardens are of course a shade better, but even there you have much room for improvement.

“P. S. The verse from Genesis is very applicable. I should not be surprised if your book should prove the best sermon yet made on the text as you not only tell the people to do the thing, but show them how to do it.”

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