By the 1650s, many writers had expressed concern about the state of England’s woodlands, and the danger that the country would experience a timber famine, with disastrous consequences for trade and national security, as well as for industry and individual welfare. In Hartlib’s Legacie, Robert Child had written about the need for legislation to protect existing woods and forests, and to encourage replanting. He had also taken up Gabriel Plattes’ suggestion that landowners should plant trees, especially fruit trees, in hedgerows, and among the crops in the fields. Other contemporary agricultural improvers, notably Walter Blith (see catalogue no.15 ), discussed similar remedies for the shortage of timber, and were optimistic about the profits which might arise from them. In 1652, Hartlib had made contact with Ralph Austen (see catalogue no.14 ), whose work on fruit trees and orchards he intended to publish. Perhaps because of delays with the production of that book, Hartlib brought out A Designe for Plentie, which functioned in part as an advertisement for Austen’s longer work.
A Designe for Plentie was the work of a Norfolk minister, from Lothingland, and had been communicated to Hartlib by Colonel John Barkstead, governor of Yarmouth, and subsequently of the Tower of London. It promised plenty to the poor from the planting of the commons and wastelands with fruit trees, which would transform them into a new garden of God. Both Hartlib’s preface and the tract itself expressly drew attention to the providential origins of the calling of husbandman, and suggested that God’s goodness would ensure success for those who returned to that activity. They thus referred back to the historical example of Genesis, in which Adam had tended the fruit trees in Eden, before labouring more strenuously at tillage after the Fall and his expulsion from paradise. Such reference was made explicit in the quotation printed on the title-page (Genesis1:29, notGenesis 1:20, as printed):
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
This copy of Hartlib’s Designe for Plentie belonged to John Aubrey (see catalogue nos.9 and 10 ), who shared Hartlib’s interest in agricultural improvement, and recorded developments in his native Wiltshire. In 1652, Aubrey had mentioned to Hartlib a novel method of threshing which he had invented, but which he wished to keep secret in order not to harm the employment of the poor.