NOTES AND QUERIES. [io s. xn. NOV. 13, 1009.
well-balanced periods. Ploughing, begun in autumn, goes on in winter when the weather permits, and finishes in spring, when the
f'ound is prepared for the " Lent corn." 11 this time the ploughman cannot work on very late not late enough for the curfew, if rung at the usual time ; and even when, if he be carter or under-carter, he has taken his team to stable and attended to the horses properly, it would be only in the depth of winter that it would be dark when he wended his way home. At this season you would hardly hear the " droning beetle," and certainly the owl would not be complaining. Of course, I am speaking of agricultural operations as I have always known them conducted in this locality ; but there may be differences in other counties.
E. E. STREET. Chichester.
I do not think we need tie Gray down to the literal meaning of " plowman " (so spelt by Gray) in the third line of his poem. It will be enough if we understand " labourer."
As to ploughing customs, it is no doubt general to begin early, and finish about half- past two ; but here in Devonshire I often see a man ploughing at sunset. It depends on what time they begin. T. M. W.
From 1880 to 1887 I lived in Herts. One or two farms in the parish I served were tenanted by Cornishmen, and I well recollect the surprise and disgust of the parishioners, especially the farmers, expressed in no un- certain manner by them towards these new- comers for ploughing after two o'clock. I could not accustom myself to the sight for a long time, and used to pity the horses.
Here in Lancashire ploughing is continued till the evening. I note with gratitude that in bleak, cold weather horses have cloths over them, which goodly custom does not obtain in all parts of England.
This question has often been discussed. It has been pointed out that the plough ceases to work about two o'clock, or at any rate before three ; but it is usually for- gotten that the ploughman not only has to bring his horses to the stable, but also must spend some time there in " seeing to them." The wife who said that he came home at half-past two must have meant that he came back to the village, not to his cottage. He would hardly get to the cottage before four at the earliest. Nevertheless, it is probable that Gray, who was not country-
bred, used " ploughman " as a synonym for any farm labourer. Here he was wrong, since the ploughman is a skilled labourer, and in the Midlands gets a shilling a week more than a labourer who does not plough.
I can remember when the general name for farm hands was "ploughboy," and in this sense Gray's lines would be fairly accurate, for in his day the farm hands worked longer hours than is now the case. Probably in his day the ploughman might take his team out at 6 o'clock in the morning, but he would be in before noon. In this part of North Notts at the present day the hours are 3|, 4, or 4J hours' actual ploughing, depend- ing upon the nature of the land " clay " for the shorter term, and " sand " for the longer. These hours do not represent the actual hours the ploughman works only those of his team. He has to feed his horses about two hours before they begin work, and to attend to them in other ways, THOS. RATCLIFFE.
Gray would be quite right in some parts of the country, but not perhaps in all. In the Midlands, where I was brought up, it was customary in my boyhood, on the larger farms at any rate, to go to plough the first thing in the morning, and keep at it until 2 or 2.30 in the afternoon ; but the smaller farmers of the Isle of Axholme (and presumably of other parts) frequently make what they call " two yokes " of a day's ploughing, the first extending from about 8 in the morning till 12, the latter for about the same time, or rather less, in the evening. This gives the ploughman, who is often the farmer himself, the middle of the day at home a convenient arrangement in many respects. I have often seen men returning home with their teams about curfew-time, for when I first went to live in the Isle the curfew was still rung there. C. C. B.
The hour at which the poet settles to his meditation is indicated in the opening stanza. The curfew bell is tolling, the lowing kine are winding slowly homewards from the pasture, and the ploughman passes as the twilight begins to gather. Presumably the time was 9 P.M., at which hour, according to ' The Merry Devil of Edmonton,' " 'tis time to ring curfew." This being so, the season must have been early or late summer, when there is virtually no ploughing to be done. How, then, should the ploughman have his place in the description ? He might be the