Jacob Serenius and The English Husbandman and Shepherd (1727)
In 1727, Jacob Serenius (1700-1776) published The English Husbandman and Shepherd (Engelska Aker-Mannen och Fdra-Herden), a Swedish compilation of English agricultural literature. For him, gathering information on English agriculture was relatively easy. He was the minister of the Swedish Lutheran Congregation in London and both spoke and read English fluently, and he would later write the first dictionaries between the English and Swedish languages. As minister of the congregation, he became a focal point for Swedish-English exchange, functioning as an intermediary for Swedish researchers and travellers. Additionally, he became acquainted with numerous prominent English scientists and theologians, including bishop Edmund Gibson - whose 1695 translation and revision of William Camden’s Britannia (1586) was used by Serenius in The English Husbandman — and Hans Sloane, President of the Royal Society 1727-1741.9
For all his contacts, Serenius’ own farming experience at the time of the publication of The English Husbandman is unknown but likely limited: Serenius was only 26 years old and had spent a large part of his life as a student at Uppsala University.10 The English Husbandman is, therefore, not a work based on practical experience, but on translation and compilation. But why would a young minister choose to publish such a work? Like many contemporary authors, Serenius stressed the usefulness of agriculture for the wealth of the state, describing it as ‘the first and foremost work, onto which a kingdom’s strength and well-being is based’.11 However, although his interest in stately improvement was most likely sincere, personal ambitions also influenced his decision to publish. Serenius had temporarily returned to Stockholm at the time of publication, trying - for the moment unsuccessfully - to seize a better clerical position.12 Most likely, he also had his mindset on a position within the Diet of the Estates, as part of the Estate of the Clergy. Serenius was probably well aware of the current Swedish political interest in agriculture, manifested by the royal establishment of an agricultural commission in 1725.13 When his book was finished, he presented it to the Estates.14 Through the publication, he conveyed himself as possessor and disseminator of useful - in the virtuous, public sense - knowledge.
Serenius thus had two motives for the publication of The English Husbandman: to prove himself a useful and virtuous resource for the state, as well as conveying useful practical knowledge. These two, sometimes conflicting, ambitions influenced his translation and selection of English agricultural knowledge, as will be seen in the following examples.
The kingdom not located on the moon: calendar and climate
Serenius was well aware of the practical problems of implementing agricultural practices in a new context. He used a good part of the preface to explain the similarities between Sweden and England, arguing that
England is not a kingdom located on the Moon, but on the same Earth as us; no further than that the southern parts of Sweden and the northern parts of England are located at the same height [on the map] [...].15
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there were some differences, which made him abandon his original plan of translating John Mortimer’s The Whole Art of Husbandry (1721).16 According to Serenius, using only Mortimer would have ‘made the work burdened with things not useful other than in England’.1' Instead, although Mortimer’s work still served as a base, Serenius compiled his work from a large array of sources, and his bibliography contains many famous English agricultural writers, such as Richard Bradley, John Evelyn, John Laurence, Gervase Markham, Timothy Nourse, and Thomas Tusser.18
To make this knowledge useful to a Swedish audience, Serenius not only needed to abandon some themes, but also adjusted the information to fit the Swedish context. Sometimes it proved impossible. For example, Serenius had to settle with translating ‘Furze’ as ‘Furze, (a plant similar to Juniper)’, as he did not know a Swedish name for it.19 In other cases, however, the facts could be adapted to retain the practical usefulness of the information. One example concerns dates. Sweden and England both followed the Julian calendar: linguistically and socially, dates were therefore easy to translate. However, differences in climate came with their own hurdles. When comparing Serenius’ work with the corresponding sections in Mortimer’s, an interesting pattern emerges. In instructive parts that do not merely describe a regional fashion of cultivation in for example the Low Countries, Serenius often, although not always, adjusted the information.2" If we compare the altered with the kept instances, it becomes clear that the changes were not random.
The adjustments can be paired into three groups. Firstly, Serenius adjusted information about which month something needed to be done: for example, ‘February and March’ became ‘March or April’.21 Secondly, he replaced the mentioning of a month with a more vague concept, for instance, ‘January’ with
‘the first days of spring’.22 Thirdly, he changed ‘winter’ to either ‘autumn’, ‘winter or autumn’, or ‘autumn and spring’.23 In the majority of the altered instances, Serenius thus adjusted the information to corresponding better to the harsher Swedish winter: mentions of months in the period of late spring (April) to late summer (end of August) were rarely changed, although common in the text.24 Serenius thus consciously tried to adapt the information in order to make it practically useful for a Swedish audience - at least those in the middle part of the realm. He had, as Serenius himself put it, ‘in the translation as far as possible, adapted the words to the subject matter’.21 However, his will to communicate practical information sometimes conflicted with an ambition to convey himself as learned. This could sometimes lead to confusion, as the next section will show.