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Artfully Honest Beasts

The cows in the delightful and beautifully crafted English 20th-century wood engraving on Page 16 are not called Daisy. They are numbers: 17, 26.

They are livestock. Indeed, it is a question why any cow would be called Daisy. It seems an entirely inappropriate name for a cow, though in children's books all cows are called Daisy. Or Buttercup. Or Clover. Why? Daisies and buttercups are fresh, perky, small, and delicate in a sturdy kind of way. And they are wistfully clean.

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Cows, realistically, are none of these things.

They are not much like flowers of any persuasion, though there is one kind of thyme nicknamed "herba barone" or some such thing, because it reminded someone, aroma-wise, of a (can you believe it?) baron of roast beef. And there is an orchid that attracts fertilizing insects (flies) by assuming the stench of old meat.

But I digress disgustingly.

The point is that anyone whose garden has been invaded by cows will not connect them with the loveliness of flowers. To a brute cow, flowers are fodder. Miriam Macgregor has depicted, in the accumulative dance of her tiny incisions, a classical image of someone's little Eden being destroyed by cows. She engraved the image on the smooth surface of a piece of end-grain boxwood and then printed it with silvery finesse,

The "Eden" in this case is an English allotment, a plot set aside on public land for people to grow vegetables and maybe a few flowers. It is being trampled by a brigandage of cows. The beans hang in tatters, corn stalks are bent in submission to their fate, and cabbages, once neatly rowed and hoed, await theirs. The sad scarecrow lies fallen in the mess.

The plot-holder, arriving too late to prevent a devastation that probably took the beasts five minutes to achieve, throws up his arms in impotent fury and moos comically at the intruders.

The cows, naturally, take no notice whatever, and continue to munch their delectable chaos.

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