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Madam How and Lady Why
written by "Kingsley, Charles, 1819-1875"
...you, and then I’ll tell you something more.  We put on the chalk because, beside sweetening the land, it will hold water.  You see, the land about here, though it is often very wet from springs, is sandy and hungry; and when we drain the bottom water out of it, the top water (that is, the rain) is apt to run through it too fast: and then it dries and burns up; and we get no plant of wheat, nor of turnips either.  So we put on chalk to hold water, and keep the ground moist. But how can these lumps of chalk hold water?  They are not made like cups. No: but they are made like sponges, which serves our turn better still.  Just take up that lump, young squire, and you’ll see water enough in it, or rather looking out of it, and staring you in the face. Why! one side of the lump is all over thick ice. So it is.  All that water was inside the chalk last night, till it froze.  And then it came squeezing out of the holes in the chalk in strings, as you may see it if you break the ice across.  Now you may judge for yourself how much water a load of chalk will hold, even on a dry summer’s day.  And now, if you’ll excuse me, sir, I must be off to market. Was it all true that the farmer said? Quite true, I believe.  He is not a scientific man—that is, he does not know the chemical causes of all these things; but his knowledge is sound and useful, because it comes from long experience.  He and his forefathers, perhaps for a thousand years and more, have been farming this country, reading Madam How’s books with very keen eyes, experimenting and watching, very carefully and rationally; making mistakes often, and failing and losing their crops and their money; but learning from their mistakes, till their empiric knowledge, as it is called, helps them to grow sometimes quite as good crops as if they had learned agricultural chemistry. What he meant by the chalk sweetening the land you would not ...

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