Monday, 7 October 2013
French Farming in 1890? Really?
The harvest is over, the haymaking is finished, the next crop is already pushing up through the tilth. It is the right time of year to view this illustration. It appears in a picture book published in 1890 by the Religious Tract Society and purports to show French farmers haymaking by electric light. In the foreground is what is known as a 'portable engine', that is to say, a steam engine which has to be towed into position. It is running a generator which feeds electricity via the thick cable to a lamp mounted on a pylon attached to the engine. In the mid ground two stands of wheat are being harvested by horse drawn reapers, stooks are being laid on the ground, haystacks are being erected and in the background we can see another steam engine with electric light pylon which is running a threshing machine by means of a drive belt from its flywheel. We are looking at a remarkable capital investment in machinery for 1890.
I first visited France 75 years after this drawing was published and was struck by how poorly equipped were French farmers compared to their contemporaries in the UK. Had something happened in the interim? Or is this engraving a representation of how the Religious Tract Society wanted the world to be rather than of how the world was? What do you think?
And why is the smoke from the engines blowing in different directions?