« НазадПродовжити »
“Tour through France,” says, “In Bearn I passed “through a region of small farmers, whose appear“ance, neatness, ease, and happiness charmed me; it “shows what property alone could, on a small scale, “effect; but these were by no means contemptibly “small; they are, as I judged by the distance from “house to house, from forty to eighty acres. Ex“cept these and a very few other instances, I saw “nothing respectable on small properties, except a “most unremitting industry. Indeed it is neces“sary to impress on the reader's mind, that the “husbandry I met with, in a great variety of in“stances, on little properties, was as bad as can well “be conceived, yet the industry of the possessors “ was so conspicuous, and so meritorious, that no “commendations would be too great for it. It is “sufficient to prove, that property in land is, of “all others, the most active instigator to severe “ and incessant labour.” Again he says, in reference to another district, “An activity has been “here, that has swept away all difficulties before “it, and has clothed the very rocks with verdure. “It would be a disgrace to common sense to ask “the cause : the enjoyment of property must have “ done it. Give a man the secure possession of a “bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden ; “give him a nine years' lease of a garden, and “ he will convert it into a desert.”
One other instance is adduced, of a country which a short time since suffered the worst evils of the feudal system. The land in Prussia was vested in a small number of proprietors; the peasantry were serfs bound to the soil, of which they were hereditary tenants, or tenants for life or for a term of years, but which none but nobles or privileged persons could hold as property. “In 1807, how“ever, the regulation which prevented peasants, “tradesmen, &c. from acquiring land was abolished ; “ and in 1811 appeared the famous edict, which “enacted that all the peasants who held perpetual “leases, on condition of paying certain quantities “of produce, or of performing certain services on “account of the proprietors, should, upon giving “ up one-third of the lands held by them, become “the unconditional proprietors of the other two“thirds. And with respect to the other classes of “peasants, or those who occupied lands upon life “leases, or leases for a term of years, it was “enacted that they should, upon giving up half “ their farms, become the unconditional proprietors “of the other half. This edict certainly effected “the greatest and most sweeping change, that was “ever peaceably effected in the distribution of pro“perty in any great country. It was regarded at “the time, and in some respects justly, as a dan“gerous interference with the rights of individuals.
“ But the abuses which it went to eradicate were “so injurious to the public welfare, and were, at “ the same time, so deeply seated, that they could “ not have been extirpated by any less powerful “means. It has given a wonderful stimulus to im“ provement. The peasantry, relieved from the bur“ dens and services to which they were previously “subjected, and placed, in respect of political [and “social] privileges, on a level with their lords, have “begun to display a spirit of enterprise and indus“try, that was formerly unknown.”....“The Prussian “government has also succeeded in effecting the “ division of a vast number of common properties, “[formerly belonging to towns and villages] and “has thus totally changed the appearance of a great “extent of country, and created several thousand “new proprietors. The want of capital, and the “force of old habits, rendered the influence of these “changes at the outset less striking than many “anticipated ; but these retarding circumstances “have daily diminished in power: and it may be “safely affirmed, that the country has made a “greater progress since 1815, than it did during “the preceding hundred years.” The example of Prussia seems peculiarly in point. It forcibly demonstrates the evils resulting from large estates, and the rapid advancement which may be expected from an increase of small properties, when the cultivator himself has an interest in the improvement of the land. Nothing gives a man a stronger feeling of loyalty, of conservatism, of determination to uphold the institutions of the country he lives in, than the possession of property in land, the possession of a spot, however small, which is his own. He feels himself a part of the state ; he looks upon offences against the laws as aggressions against himself and his own rights; and these he is ever ready to maintain. His home possesses a real value; it is not merely his dwelling, hired for the occasion, but his own unquestionable property. If he spend his labour or his money in improving it, he knows that he works for himself and for his family; and his industry is encouraged, and his energy prompted by the consideration. He respects himself; he values his independent position, and is careful not to lose it by improvidence. His children are brought up in habits of industry and self-respect, and are thus enabled to work for themselves, and strengthened to withstand many of the dangerous temptations of life. They hesitate long before they incur the danger of lowering their position, or losing their independence, by an improvident
* M'Culloch's Geographical Dictionary, art. Prussia.
marriage. Such were the yeomanry of England ; such are the peasantry of many parts of Switzerland, and in other places on the Continent. Wherever this class of men exists, the beneficial effects are felt by the state, in the industry and frugality of the people, and in increased respect for the laws and institutions of the country. The great subdivision of landed property which exists in France, has frequently been urged as an objection to the views advocated in this essay. But the argument is by no means a fair one. The law of France compels sub-division. It forcibly divides the paternal estate. It is in fact a law of entail in favor of all the children. It lessens the motives to accumulate property, by taking from a parent the power of disposing of it as he may judge best. It interferes with the exercise of parental authority, by rendering all the children in great measure independent; having a similar effect, as respects the whole family, that our entails have in reference to the eldest son. Thus it is as much opposed to freedom as our legislation. There are, no doubt, economical checks, which have prevented land becoming infinitely subdivided, as Arthur Young prophesied it would be ; but, the effect of this law of compulsory division must eventually be, to cut down all large estates, and render France a