Arthur Young (agriculturist)

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For the cartoonist and writer, see Art Young.
Arthur Young (1794)

Arthur Young (11 September 1741 – 20 April 1820)[1] was an English writer on agriculture, economics, social statistics, and campaigner for the rights of agricultural workers.[2] Not himself successful as a farmer, he built on connections and activities as a publicist a substantial reputation as an expert on agricultural improvement. After the French Revolution of 1789, his views on its politics carried weight as an informed observer, and he became an important opponent of British reformers.

Young is considered a major English writer on agriculture; but it is as a social and political observer that he is best known, and for his Tour in Ireland and Travels in France.

Early life[edit]

He was born in 1741 at Whitehall, London, the second son of Arthur Young, who was rector of Bradfield Combust in Suffolk and chaplain to Arthur Onslow, and his wife Anna Lucretia Coussmaker.[3] After attending school at Lavenham from 1748,[4] he was in 1758 placed in a mercantile house at King's Lynn, Messrs. Robertson. His sister Elizabeth Mary, who married John Thomlinson in 1758, died the following year. The plan for Young to work after his training in King's Lynn in Messrs. Thomlinson, London merchants, under his in-laws, was disrupted by the death.[3][5][6]

Young's father also died in 1759. In 1761 Young went to London and started in 1762 a magazine entitled The Universal Museum. It ran to five numbers with Young as editor, who recruited William Kenrick, just out of King's Bench Prison, and was then sold to a consortium of booksellers, the initial advice of Samuel Johnson who wanted no part of it.[7][8] Young suffered from lung disease from 1761 to 1763, and turned down an offer of a place as cavalry officer from Sir Charles Howard.[9] Young's mother then gave him charge of the family estate at Bradfield Hall, a small property encumbered with debt. From 1763 to 1766 he concentrated on farming there.

In 1764–5 Young met and became a friend of Walter Harte, who published Essays on Husbandry in 1764. Harte advised him to give up writing for periodicals.[10] Young collected works by Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau, Samuel Hartlib and Jethro Tull, as well as reading Harte. He was a contributor to the Museum Rusticum.[9]

Farmer and writer[edit]

In 1767 Young took over a farm in Essex, at Sampford Hall, one of the reasons being to move away from his mother, who was on bad terms with his wife. For financial reasons he had to move on in 1768, to Bradmore Farm, North Mymms, in Hertfordshire.[9] There he engaged in experiments, describing the results in A Course of Experimental Agriculture (1770). Though the experiments were, in general, unsuccessful, he acquired a working knowledge of agriculture. He acted as parliamentary reporter for the Morning Post, a London newspaper, from 1773.[9]

Robert Andrews, considered for his farming a model landowner by Arthur Young, with his wife, in a double portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

Young was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1774; but the Society refused a number of his papers on agricultural topics, which always had critics, such as James Anderson of Hermiston.[11] In 1784 Young began the publication of the Annals of Agriculture, which ran for 45 volumes: contributors included King George III, writing under the nom de plume of "Ralph Robinson", and Robert Andrews, whom Young took as a model farmer.[12] Young's figures for the total area of England and Wales, and total cultivated area, were serious overestimates. In a work from 1799, during wartime and fiscal strain on the national budget, Henry Beeke gave more reliable figures showing Young had erred.[13]

Young was appointed secretary of the Board of Agriculture in 1793, just after it was formed under the presidency of Sir John Sinclair. In this capacity he worked on the collection and preparation of the General View of Agriculture county surveys. The Annals of Agriculture began to wind down in 1803, when John Rackham of Bury St Edmunds who printed it found copy was lacking, and pressed Young, who padded out the pages with old notes. Richard Phillips took it on for volume 41, and saw the publication out, the final volume 45 appearing in 1808.[14][15]

Travel writer[edit]

Young began a series of journeys through England and Wales, and gave an account of his observations in books which appeared from 1768 to 1770—A Six Weeks' Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales, A Six Months' Tour through the North of England and the Farmer's Tour through the East of England. He claimed that these books contained the only extant information relative to the rental, produce and stock of England that was founded on actual examination. They were favourably received, and widely translated.

He toured the Kingdom of Ireland in 1776–77, publishing his Tour in Ireland in 1780. The book was subsequently republished in 1897 and 1925, but with large sections of Young's social detail edited out.[16][17]

Young's first visit to France was in 1787. Travelling all over that country around the start of the French Revolution, he described the condition of the people and the conduct of public affairs at that critical juncture. The Travels in France appeared in one large quarto volume in 1792, reprinted in two octavo volumes (Dublin, 1793); enlarged second edition in two quarto volumes (London, 1794).

On the French Revolution[edit]

An eye-witness to the French Revolution at the time of the fall of the Bastille in 1789, Young by 1792 had become an opponent of its violence, and had modified his reforming views on English politics.[9] Seeing the burned châteaux at Besançon, he was shocked by the provincial disorders, as he had been by the chaotic debates of the National Assembly (for which he recommended John Hatsell's book on procedure).[18] Along with William Windham, he aligned himself with Edmund Burke's view in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) in his Plain and Earnest Address to Britons of November 1792; it was endorsed by the loyalist Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers.[19] In 1793 he opposed Charles Grey's reform motion in Parliament, and wrote Example of France a Warning to Britain.[20]

In 1793 also, Young played a role in the recruiting of the Suffolk Yeomanry, by pulling together local groups of cavalry volunteers. The formation actually took place in 1794, even if the cap-badge date of 1793 was later adopted.[21][22] He joined with the radical Capel Lofft of Troston Hall on a proposal for a Suffolk ship-of-war to be supported by subscription.[23]

Young returned to the subject of reform in 1798, with An Enquiry into the State of Mind Amongst the Lowest Classes. He had attained a formidable position as commentator, and used it to call attention to urban unrest and the influence of Tom Paine.[24]


Young's closest friend was John Symonds the Cambridge academic, who became involved in his writing as editor. Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol in 1782 held weekly Thurday dinners at Ickworth, for Symonds, Young and others.[25]

In the late 1780s the export of wool became a contentious matter, and Young combined forces with Sir Joseph Banks in opposition to restrictions on its export.[26] James Oakes of Bury St Edmunds, a yarn dealer, was a friend of both Symonds and Young.[27] In the wool controversy Oakes was on the other side from Young, who argued that restricting export of wool was against the interests of landowners, while Oakes wished to see the price of wool to spinners fall.[28]

A tour by Young was typically preceded by newspaper publicity, and consisted of social meetings with prominent farmers and agricultural improvers.[9] One in south-west England in 1796 led to acquaintance with Sir Francis Buller, 1st Baronet, a judge and improver at Princetown on Dartmoor. Buller corresponded with Young on agricultural matters. The relationship later became awkward, however, when Young's son the Rev. Arthur Young was suspected of jury tampering in the trial of Arthur O'Connor, on the basis of a letter to Gamaliel Lloyd of Bury St Edmunds, a radical. Buller and the attorney-general took a belligerent attitude to the allegations, when the letter was read out in court.[29][30]

Last years[edit]

Young's tomb at All Saint's Church, Bradfield Combust

From 1801, Young followed the evangelical teaching of Thomas Scott at the London Lock Chapel, and was influenced by Charles Simeon.[31] In 1811 he became firm friends with a niece of Frances Burney, Marianne Francis (1790–1832), who shared his commitment to evangelical Christianity.[32][33] His sight, however, was failing, and in that year he had an operation for cataract, which proved unsuccessful, leaving him blind.[9]

Young continued to publish pamphlets. He died in Sackville Street, London on 12 April 1820, and was buried at Bradfield Combust church,[9] where his tomb, in the form of a sarcophagus, is inscribed "Let every real patriot shed a tear, For genius, talent, worth, lie buried here." The tomb is designated a National Monument.[34] He left an autobiography in manuscript, which was edited (1898) by Matilda Betham-Edwards.


One of Arthur Young's bookplates in a Royal Agricultural Society of England book

Young influenced contemporary observers of economic and social life, such as Frederick Morton Eden and Sir John Sinclair. He was influential too on the American improver John Beale Bordley.[35]

More recently, Young has been studied for his methods of investigation. Richard Stone (1997) presents him as a pioneer national income statistician, continuing the work of Gregory King who had lived a century before. Young produced three estimates of the national income of England, in his Tour through the North of England, Farmer's Tour through the East of England and in his Political Arithmetic. Brunt (2001) emphasises the way Young collected his information and presents him as a pioneer of sample surveys.


Young built a reputation on the views he expressed, as an agricultural improver, political economist and social observer. At the age of 17, he published a pamphlet On the War in North America. He also wrote four early novels, and Reflections on the Present State of Affairs at Home and Abroad in 1759. In 1768 he published the Farmer's Letters to the People of England, in 1771 the Farmer's Calendar, which went through many editions, and in 1774 his Political Arithmetic, which was widely translated.

Young produced around 25 books and pamphlets on agriculture and 15 books on political economy, as well as many articles. These included:

The Travels in France were translated into French in 1793/4 by François Soules; a new version by Henri Lesage, with an introduction by Léonce Guilhaud de Lavergne, appeared in 1856. The Directory in 1801 ordered Young's writings to be translated in 20 volumes under the title Le Cultivateur anglais.


In 1765 Young married Martha Allen (died 1815), sister-in-law of Charles Burney. Their acute marital strife and Young's devotion to his children were witnessed by Fanny Burney and her half-sister Sarah during a visit in 1792.[38] He grieved deeply when his daughter Martha Ann died of consumption on 14 July 1797 at the age of 14, and the loss is said to have turned his mind to religion.[39]


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Autobiography of Arthur Young. by Matilda Betham-Edwards. Pub New York, A.M. Kelley, 1967
  3. ^ a b  Higgs, Henry (1900). "Young, Arthur (1741-1820)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 63. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 357–363. 
  4. ^ "The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries". St Edmundsbury District Council. Archived from the original on 2004-03-27. Retrieved 2010-12-14. 
  5. ^ "Thomlinson, John (1731–67), of East Barnet, Herts., History of Parliament Online". Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  6. ^ The Farmer's Magazine. 1820. p. 299. 
  7. ^ Arthur Young; Matilda Betham-Edwards (10 May 2012). The Autobiography of Arthur Young: With Selections from His Correspondence. Cambridge University Press. pp. 26–7. ISBN 978-1-108-04774-6. 
  8. ^ Rogers, C. S.; Rizzo, Betty. "Kenrick, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15416.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Mingay, G. E. "Young, Arthur". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30256.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ John Gerow Gazley (1973). The Life of Arthur Young, 1741–1820. American Philosophical Society. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-87169-097-5. 
  11. ^ Dan Doll; Jessica Munns (2006). Recording and Reordering: Essays on the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century Diary and Journal. Bucknell University Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-8387-5630-0. 
  12. ^ Belsey, Hugh. "Andrews, Robert". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/95074.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. ^ Sheldon, R. D. "Beeke, Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1952.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  14. ^ John Gerow Gazley (1973). The Life of Arthur Young, 1741–1820. American Philosophical Society. p. 464. ISBN 978-0-87169-097-5. 
  15. ^ Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts. 1808. 
  16. ^ Tour in Ireland, 1897 edition, edited by Henry Morley
  17. ^ Tour of Ireland [sic] 1776-1779 (1780); Constantia Maxwell, sel. ed., Tour of Ireland: Irish History from Contemporary Sources (London: Allen & Unwin 1925)
  18. ^ Jenny Graham (2000). The Nation, the Law, and the King: Reform Politics in England, 1789–1799. 1. University Press of America. pp. 161 and 125. ISBN 0-7618-1484-1. 
  19. ^ Jenny Graham (2000). The Nation, the Law, and the King: Reform Politics in England, 1789–1799. 1. University Press of America. pp. 24 and 415. ISBN 0-7618-1484-1. 
  20. ^ Jenny Graham (2000). The Nation, the Law, and the King: Reform Politics in England, 1789–1799. 1. University Press of America. pp. 91 and 483. ISBN 0-7618-1484-1. 
  21. ^ "The Loyal Suffolk Hussars - The Friends Of The Suffolk Regiment". Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  22. ^ "History, Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry Association". Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  23. ^ Susan Mitchell Sommers (2002). Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 163 note 25. ISBN 978-0-275-97513-5. 
  24. ^ Jenny Graham (2000). The Nation, the Law, and the King: Reform Politics in England, 1789–1799. 2. University Press of America. pp. 855 and 887. ISBN 0-7618-1484-1. 
  25. ^ Chris Wrigley; Johnathan Shepherd (1991). On the Move: Essays in Labour and Transport History Presented to Philip Bagwell. A&C Black. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-85285-060-9. 
  26. ^ Edward Smith (11 May 2011). The Life of Sir Joseph Banks: President of the Royal Society, with Some Notices of His Friends and Contemporaries. Cambridge University Press. p. 310. ISBN 978-1-108-03112-7. 
  27. ^ François duc de La Rochefoucauld; Norman Scarfe (1988). A Frenchman's Year in Suffolk: French Impressions of Suffolk Life in 1784 : the Mélanges Sur L'Angleterre of François de La Rochefoucauld. Boydell & Brewer. p. 225. ISBN 978-0-85115-508-1. 
  28. ^ "St Edmundsbury Local History - St Edmundsbury from 1700 to 1812". Retrieved 18 March 2016. 
  29. ^ John Gerow Gazley (1973). The Life of Arthur Young, 1741–1820. American Philosophical Society. pp. 355 and 399. ISBN 978-0-87169-097-5. 
  30. ^ Oldham, James. "Buller, Sir James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/3914.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  31. ^ John Gerow Gazley (1973). The Life of Arthur Young, 1741–1820. American Philosophical Society. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-87169-097-5. 
  32. ^ The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney, op. cit., p. 138, Note 2.
  33. ^ John Gerow Gazley (1973). The Life of Arthur Young, 1741–1820. American Philosophical Society. pp. 587–8. ISBN 978-0-87169-097-5. 
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 November 2012. Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  35. ^ Russo, Jean B. "Bordley, John Beale". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/68464.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  36. ^ Online at Arthur Young's Travels in France During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789 from The Library of Economics and Liberty.
  37. ^ Online at Travels in France and Italy During the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789 from Archive for the History of Economic Thought
  38. ^ The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame D'Arblay), Volume 1, 1791-1792, ed. Joyce Hemlow, et al. (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 231-48.
  39. ^ The Autobiography of Arthur Young with Selections from his Correspondence, ed. M. Betham-Edwards (London: Smith, Elder, 1898), pp. 167 and 177-8. Cited in The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney, ed. Lorna J. Clark (Athens, GA, and London, UK: University of Georgia Press, 1997), which has several letters to Young's daughter Mary and wife Martha (pp. 1-30). The latter show occasional irritation at Mrs. Young's requests for various articles to be sent to her, at her claims that people are slow to reply to her letters, and at the repeated invitations for Sarah to visit again. This was something neither she nor her half-sister Frances wished to do, as they were embarrassed by the frequent marital strife they witnessed.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Young, Arthur (1741-1829)". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.