Thomas Tusser was a 16th century English poet, perhaps one of the earliest known of the pastoral English poets. A farmer first, he turned to poetry and, in 1557, he produced a long piece of work called Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry.
Although set to verse he wrote it as an instructional aide to other farmers and it became his best known work. Within this poem is the couplet:
This translated, as the centuries went by, into the proverb which is still in common use today:
Tusser was born on the 19th October 1524 in the town of Rivenhall, Essex. His family must have been comfortably off as he was sent to school at Wallingford in Oxfordshire and he became a chorister at the St Nicholas collegiate chapel in Wallingford Castle. From here he continued his education as a chorister in St Paul’s Cathedral, London and then on to Eton College. In his nineteenth year he began studying at Cambridge; firstly in King’s College and then Trinity Hall.
His talents as a musician were recognised when he was summoned to the royal court and he remained there for some ten years before marrying and then taking a dramatic turn of direction. He bought a farm in the East Anglian town of Cattawade, Suffolk, settling here to a peaceful rural existence. He decided to record the events of a year in the country by composing A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie, composed entirely in rhyming couplets. Sixteen years later his publisher put out a much expanded version, now titled Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. Literary critics ever since have praised this work, being a detailed and sympathetic account of rural life during Tudor times. It was detailed yet simple in its homely observational style. Take, for example, the following extract which eulogises on “the perfect cheese”. Tusser lists ten specific qualities that the ideal cheese should have. It must be:
Although he liked to move around he seldom left the East Anglian area of England. He settled at one point in Ipswich and farmed for a while in West Dereham. He returned to singing, joining the choir of Norwich Cathedral, before farming once more, this time in the Essex area of Fairstead. He was living in London at the time of the Plague (1572-73) and was fortunate to survive that.
He remained just about comfortably off for the rest of his life, owning an estate in Cambridgeshire, and yet he never made his fortune. Farming was his main occupation and he did very well at it, without ever turning much of a profit. The following was said of him, which sums up very well his inability to enrich himself:
He moved out of London to work his estate but, once the Plague had receded, he returned once more to the capital where he lived for the rest of his life.
Thomas Tusser died on the 3rd May 1580, aged 55.