Context: Thomas Tusser was a gentleman, from a good family, and was a graduate of Eton and Cambridge; but the urban life for which he had been prepared did not suit him, and he abandoned it for rural simplicity and a farm. He moved from one farm to another and does not appear to have been successful in husbandry, though he had a thorough knowledge of it and wrote books on the subject. As sometimes happens, he was able to tell others how to succeed without being able to do so himself. He died at last in a debtor's prison. His Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, in which all manner of practical suggestions are given, provides us with an excellent picture of life on an early Elizabethan farm. Included in the book are observations on weather and climate, the planets, and other natural phenomena; there are also moral maxims and various popular sayings. The entire book is done in verse with a rude, homely flavor, some of it mere doggerel but endowed with rustic charm. The first eleven chapters are short verses consisting of general observations on agriculture and farm life, and the twelfth describes the farmer's diet. At this point the main body of Tusser's early "farmer's almanac" actually begins. Chapters thirteen and fourteen discuss the winds and the planets. Chapter fifteen is a summary ("September's Abstract") of the chapter which follows; the latter, "September's Husbandry," begins the farmer's year. This is the best time, says Tusser, to take over a farm. Change in ownership is not a speedy matter, for the seller is entitled to his harvest; however, the buyer may move in ahead of time on any fallow ground and begin his own work. This is also a good time to drive a bargain, and here Tusser uses one of the familiar sayings of the day; it was already old when John Heywood (1497?–1580?) added it to his collection, Proverbes (1546):
1. At Michelmas lightly, new farmer comes in,New husbandry forceth him, new to begin;Old farmer, still taking, the time to him given,Makes August to last, untill Michelmas even.2. New farmer may enter, (as champions say),On all that is fallow, at Lent Lady-day:In woodland, old farmer to that will not yield,For losing of pasture, and feed of his field.3. Provide against Michelmas, bargain to make,For terme to give over, to keep or to take;In doing of either, let wit bear a stroke,For buying or selling of pig in a poke.4. Good farm and well stored, good housing and dry,Good corn and good dairy, good market and nigh;Good shepherd, good tillman, good Jack and good Gill,Make husband and huswife their coffers to fill.