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“ care and neatness observed in every particular, " that an honest pride is felt in possessing this “ reward of exertion.”...“ The farms on the Pays “ de Waes, between Ghent and Antwerp, are cul“tivated with astonishing method and neatness; " and afford the most perfect specimens of field “culture on the principles of gardening. The soil “is artificial, and the result of centuries of “systematic manuring, which has converted a “ barren sand into a rich black loamy mould.”... “ The extent of farms in Flanders and throughout “ Belgium very rarely exceeds one hundred acres. “The number containing fifty acres is not great, “ but those of twenty, fifteen, ten, and five acres, “ especially between ten and five, are very numer"ous.”
“ The small farms between five and ten acres, “ which abound in many parts of Belgium, have “ much resemblance to the small holdings in Ire“ land ; but while the Irish cultivator exists in a “ state of miserable privation of the common con“ veniences of civilized life, the Belgian peasant“farmer enjoys, comparatively, a great degree of “ comfort. His cottage is built substantially, with "an upper floor for sleeping, and is kept in good “ repair: it has always a cellarage for the dairy, “ a store-room for the grain, an oven, an out-house “for potatoes, a roomy cattle stall, a piggery, and a
“ loft for the poultry. The furniture is decent, the " bedding amply sufficient, and an air of comfort "and prosperity pervades the whole establishment. “The cows are supplied with straw to lie upon: “the dung and its drainings are carefully collected " in the tank, and a compost heap is accumulated “ from every possible source. The premises are “ kept extremely neat, with a constant observance of " the most rigid economy, industry, and regularity. “No member of the family is ever seen ragged or “slovenly; but all are decently clothed, though it “ be with the coarsest materials. The men univer“sally work in linen canvass frocks, and both “women and men wear wooden shoes. Rye bread " and milk principally constitute their diet. Mashed "potatoes and onions, with occasionally slices of “ bacon, are the usual articles for dinner. The “ great superiority of the Belgian over the Irish “peasant-farmer is owing, not to any advantages “of soil or climate, but to a better system of culti“vation, and especially to established habits of “sobriety, forethought, and prudent economy."*
The superiority of Belgian cultivation is, no doubt, owing to the superior frugality and industry of the people; but to what is this superior industry to be attributed ? It is vain to speak of race or religion. Both profess the same creed. The real cause is evident—that the industrious and prudent Flemish peasant tills his own ground, secure that every penny he expends on it, every hour's labour he devotes to it, increases the value of his own undoubted property ; while the Irish tenant occupies the ground of another. He is idle and improvident, because he has no security that he will be permitted to reap the fruits of his exertions. He is a mere tenant-at-will, liable to be turned out at the caprice of the lord of the soil. He has in many cases good reason to fear, that any improvement of the property will be followed by an increase of rent. How could industry be expected under such circumstances ?
* M•Culloch's Geographical Dictionary, art. Belgium.
But it is not necessary to leave our own country for a striking illustration of the point we have endeavoured to establish. The following interesting statement has been communicated to the author, by a friend who is personally acquainted with the locality described. It shows that the possession of property in land, produces the same effects in Ireland as in other countries, even with all the disadvantages which must result from a tenure by mere right of possession, without the facility of sale to another :
“ Within a few miles of the town of Wexford, is
“ a range of rocky hills called the mountain of “ Forth, forming the northern limit of the barony of " that name. They extend nearly four miles in “ length, and about one mile across. They are about “seven hundred feet above the sea, are exceedingly “ rugged, bleak, and sterile, and are naturally almost “ destitute of soil or vegetation. It was probably “ for this reason that the district (not being com“ prised within the bounds of the neighbouring 6 proprietors,) remained in a state of commonage “ until within the last thirty or forty years. It is “ now sprinkled with little patches of land, many of “ them on the highest part of the mountain, re. “ claimed and enclosed at a vast expense of labour “ by the peasant-proprietors; who have been in“ duced to overcome extraordinary difficulties in “ the hope of at length making a little spot of land “their own. The surface was thickly covered " with large masses of rock of various sizes, and “ intersected by the gullies formed by winter tor“rents. These rocks have been broken, buried, “ rolled away, or heaped into the form of fences. “ The land, when thus cleared, has been carefully “ enriched with soil, manured, and tilled. These “ little holdings vary from half an acre to ten of “ fifteen acres. The occupiers hold by the right of “possession ; they are generally poor ; but they
“are peaceable, well conducted, independent, and “ industrious ; and the district is absolutely free “ from agrarian outrage."*
These examples are so apposite, so clearly shew the result of small proprietors cultivating their own ground, that they might be considered as conclusive; yet the paramount importance of the subject induces the writer to quote the opinion of a most accurate observer, and one who was by no means prejudiced in favour of small properties, but who on the contrary loses no opportunity of expressing his preference for large farms. Arthur Young, in his
* The author is aware that statements of a contrary character have been made respecting different parts of Ireland. Some of the evidence before the Land Commissioners stated, that tenants having the security of a perpetuity, or of a lease for a long term of years, were even less industrious than their neighbours, whose farms were held at will and at a much higher rent. This may be true in some cases, and yet it surely does not prove that security is a discouragement to industry. Some other explanation must be sought for this apparent contradiction. Peculiar or local advantages rarely raise a man much above the ordinary level of the people among whom he lives. If they are lazy, it is not likely that he will be very industrious. The prevalent feeling of insecurity in Ireland has produced its natural fruits ; and in those cases in which security really exists, the parties are too often content to follow the example of their neighbours ; and as their advantageous position enables them to attain the same low degree of comfort with less exertion, 60 they are sometimes more lazy than those who are forced to labour by the necessity of providing for a higher rent. Many circumstances have conspired to render the condition of the peasantry of the county of Wexford, superior to that of the peasantry of most other counties in Ireland ; among which the division of the land into estates of moderate extent, and the general residence of the proprietors, are certainly not the least important.