Open main menu

Marshall, William (1745-1818) (DNB00)


MARSHALL, WILLIAM (1745–1818), agriculturist and philologist, was baptised on 28 July 1745 at Sinnington, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He himself states that he was 'born a farmer, and that he could trace his blood through the veins of agriculturists for upwards of four hundred years,' but that, from the age of fifteen, he was 'trained to traffic, and wandered in the ways of commerce in a distant climate (the West Indies) for fourteen years;' but after 'a violent fit of illness' he returned to this country, and in 1774 undertook the management of a farm of three hundred acres near Croydon in Surrey. Here he wrote his first work entitled 'Minutes of Agriculture made on a Farm of three hundred acres of various soils near Croydon … published as a Sketch of the actual Business of a Farm,' London, 1778, 4to. Dr. Johnson, to whom the manuscript was submitted, disapproved of certain passages sanctioning work on Sunday in harvest-time (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ch. xxxix.) These passages were subsequently cancelled. In a note in the second edition of the 'Minutes' (1799, p. 70) Marshall says: 'That which was published, and is now offered again to the public, is, in effect, what Dr. Johnson approved; or let me put it in the most cautious terms, that of which Dr. Johnson did not disapprove.

In 1779 Marshall published 'Experiments and Observations concerning Agriculture and the Weather,' and in 1780 he was appointed agent in Norfolk on the landed estate of Sir Harbord Harbord. To the 'Philosophical Transactions' he contributed in 1783 'An Account of the Black Canker Caterpillar which destroys the Turnips in Norfolk.' This is quoted in Kirby and Spence's 'Entomology' (1st edit. i. 186) as the only authority for information on the subject. Marshall left Norfolk in 1784 and settled at Stafford, where he was busily occupied in arranging and printing his works. His 'Arbustum Americanum, the American Grove, or an Alphabetical Catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs, natives of the American United States,' appeared in 1785. From 1786 to 1808 he resided in Clement's Inn, London, during the winters, and travelled during the summers in the country.

His chief publication was 'A General Survey, from personal experience, observation, and enquiry, of the Rural Economy of England,' dividing the country into six agricultural departments. In 1787 the first two volumes appeared, dealing with the eastern division (exemplified in Norfolk); the northern (dealing with Yorkshire), followed in 2 vols, in 1788; the west central (treating of Gloucestershire) in 2 vols, in 1789; the midland (Leicestershire, &c.) in 2 vols, in 1790 (2nd edit. 1796); the western (Devonshire, Somerset, Dorset, and Cornwall), 2 vols. 1796; and the southern (Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire, 2 vols. 1798; to a second edit, of the last, 1799, the author prefixed a sketch of the 'Vale of London and an outline of its Rural Economy'). Most of these valuable works were collected by Paris in his ' Agriculture pratique des differentes parties de l'Angleterre,' translated from the English, 5 vols. Paris, 1803, and reissued under the title of 'La Maison rustique anglaise.' In the 'Rural Economy of the Midland Counties' Marshall proposed the establishment of a 'Board of Agriculture, or more generally of Rural Affairs,' and his proposal was carried into effect by parliament in 1793. Afterwards his plan of provisional surveys was adopted by the board, and he was urged to take a part in it, but he preferred continuing his own 'General Survey, which was completed in 12 vols. 1798, 8vo. He had previously published a 'General View of the Agriculture of the Central Highlands of Scotland,' 1794; 'A Review of the Landscape, a didactic poem,' 1795; and 'Planting and Rural Ornament,' 2 vols. 1796 (3rd edit, 1803). These were followed by a work 'On the Appropriation and Inclosure of Commonable and Intermixed Lands: with the heads of a Bill for that purpose: together with remarks on the outline of a Bill by a Committee of the House of Lords for the same purpose,' London, 1801, 8vo: and another 'On the Landed Property of England, an elementary and practical Treatise: containing the Purchase, the Improvement, and the Management of Landed Estates,' London, 1804, 4to. An abstract of the latter work appeared in 1806.

In 1808 Marshall retired to his native vale of Cleveland, Yorkshire, where he purchased a large estate. The latter years of his life were devoted to the composition of 'A Review and Complete Abstract of the Reports to the Board of Agriculture on the several Counties of England,' afterwards published in a collected form, 5 vols. Lomdon, 1817, 8vo. In 1799 he had published 'Proposals for a Rural Institute,. or College of Agriculture, and the other Branches of Rural Economy.' He was raising a building at Pickering for the purpose when he died (18 Sept. 1818). His monument in Pickering Church states that 'he was indefatigable in the study of rural economy,' and that 'he was an excellent mechanic, and had a considerable knowledge of most branches of science, particularly of philology, botany, and chemistry.'

Marshall was the first to form a collection of words peculiar to the Yorkshire dialect. The vocabulary appended to the 'Economy of Yorkshire' contains about eleven hundred words (Robinson, Hist. of Whitby, p. 241). Donaldson says that Marshall's agricultural writings are very valuable, and that as 'a rational observer and practical compiler he was decidedly superior' to Arthur Young (Agricultural Biography, p. 64).

[Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Eastmeads Hist. Rievallensis, p. 285; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 1484; McCulloch's Lit. of Pol. Economy, p. 218; Midland's Biog. Univ. xxvii. 77; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 63; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iii. 484, iv. 17; Nouvelle Biog. Univ.; Robinson's Glossary of Yorkshire Words, Preface; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

T. C.