What but the common virtues of a post….

This is going to be quite a long post. The reason being I want to try and transcribe from various sources a large piece of The farmer’s boy, a rural poem by Robert Bloomfield. Snippets of the poem are often quoted in articles about Suffolk cheese. It is cited as the source of jokes about how terrible Suffolk cheese was. I think it is an important record in my journey into trying to recreate good Suffolk cheeses and understanding where it all went wrong. The poem stems from 1806, our hero is Giles (the Farmer’s boy) and he seems to be subject to some gentle nagging from a dairy maid (Mary). It is a long narrative poem the piece that follows forms part of the section called ‘Spring’, it basically tells the death knell of Suffolk Cheese; something that was lost to the economic demands of sending cream and butter to London leaving the cheese behind that was too hard, being ‘flet’ (made with triple skimmed milk) to be eaten by swine.

…..His simple errand done, he homeward hies;
Another instantly its place supplies.
The clattering Dairy-maid, immers’d in steam.
Singing and scrubbing,’midst her milk and cream,
Bawls out, “Go fetch the Cows!” — he hears no more;
For pigs, and ducks, and turkeys throng the door,
And sitting hens, for constant war prepar’d ;
A concert strange to that which late he heard.
Straight to the meadow then he whistling goes;
With well-known halloo calls his lazy Cows;
Down the rich pasture heedlessly they graze,
Or hear the summons with an idle gaze;
For well they know the cow-yard yields no more
Its tempting fragrance, nor its wint’ry store.
Reluctance marks their steps, sedate and slow
The right of conquest all the law they know:
The strong press on, the weak by turns succeed,
And one superior always takes the lead;
Is ever foremost, wheresoe’er they stray;
Allow’d precedence, undisputed sway:

With jealous pride her station is maintain’d.
For many a broil that post of honour gain’d.
At home, the yard affords a grateful scene;
For Spring makes e’en a miry cow-yard clean.
Thence from its chalky bed behold convey’d
The rich manure that drenching Winter made,
Which pil’d near home grows green with many a weed,
A promis’d nutriment for Autumn’s seed.
Forth comes the Maid, and like the morning smiles;
The Mistress too, and follow’d close by Giles.
A friendly tripod forms their humble seat,
With pails bright scour’d, and delicately sweet.
Where shadowing elms obstruct the morning ray,
Begins the work, begins the solemn lay;
The full-charg’d udder yields its willing streams.
While Mary sings some lover’s amorous dreams;
And crouching Giles, beneath a neighbouring tree,
Tugs o’er his pail, and chants with equal glee;
Whose hat with tatter’d brim, of nap so bare,
From the cow’s side purloins a coat of hair,
A mottled ensign of his harmless trade,
An unambitious, peaceable cockade.
As unambitious too that cheerful aid
The Mistress yields beside her rosy Maid;
With joy she views her plenteous reeking store,
And bears a brimmer to the dairy-door
Her Cows dismiss’d the luscious mead to roam,
Till eve again recalls them loaded home.
And now the Dairy claims her choicest care,
And half her household find employment there
Slow rolls the churn, its load of clogging cream
At once foregoes its quality and name:
From knotty particles first floating wide.
Congealing butter’s dash’d from side to side;
Streams of new milk through flowing coolers stray.
And snow-white curd abounds, and wholesome whey.
Due north th’ unglazed windows, cold and clear.
For warming sunbeams are unwelcome here.
Brisk goes the work beneath each busy hand,
And Giles must trudge, whoever gives command:
A Gibeonite, that serv’d them all by turns:
He drains the pump, from him the faggot burns;
From him the noisy hogs demand their food:
While at his heels run many a chirping brood,
Or down his path in expectation stand.
With equal claims upon his strewing hand.
Thus wastes the morn, till each with pleasure sees
The bustle o’er, and press’d the new-made cheese.
Unrivall’d stands thy country Cheese, O Giles!
Whose very name alone engenders smiles;
Whose fame abroad by every tongue is spoke,
The well-known butt of many a flinty joke,
That pass like current coin the nation through;
And, ah! experience proves the satire true.
Provision’s grave, thou ever craving mart,
Dependent, huge Metropolis! where Art
Her poring thousands stows in breathless rooms,
‘Midst pois’nous smokes and steams, and rattling looms;
Where Grandeur revels in unbounded stores;
Restraint, a slighted stranger at their doors!
Thou, like a whirlpool, drain’st the country round,
Till London Market, London price, resound
Through every town, round every passing load,
And dairy produce throngs the eastern road:
Delicious veal, and butter every hour.
From Essex lowlands, and the banks of Stour;
And further far, where numerous herds repose,
From Orwell’s brink, from Waveny, or Ouse.
Hence Suffolk dairy-wives run mad for cream.
And leave their milk with nothing but its name:
Its name derision and reproach pursue,
And strangers tell of “three times skimm’d sky blue.”
To cheese converted, what can be its boast!
What but the common virtues of a post!
If drought o’ertake it faster than the knife,
Most fair it bids for stubborn length of life.
And like the oaken shelf whereon ’tis laid.
Mocks the weak efforts of the bending blade;
Or in the hog-trough rests in perfect spite,
Too big to swallow, and too hard to bite.

Inglorious victory! Ye Cheshire meads,
Or Severn’s flow’ry dales where Plenty treads,
Was your rich milk to suffer wrongs like these,
Farewell your pride! farewell renowned cheese!
The skimmer dread, whose ravages alone
Thus turn the mead’s sweet nectar into stone.


So, Suffolk lost good cheese to the demands of the London cream and butter markets. I have the beginnings of a timeline here and willcontinue adding as my research progresses.


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