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tem of cultivation, and the thousand devices of the peasant proprietor for making every superfluous hour and odd moment instrumental to some increase in the future produce and value of the land, will explain what has been said in a previous chapter* respecting the far larger gross produce which, with anything like parity of agricultural knowledge, is obtained, from the same quality of soil, on small farms, at least when they are the property of the cultivator. The treatise on “Flemish Husbandry” is especially instructive respecting the means by which untiring industry does more than outweigh inferiority of resources, imperfection of implements, and ignorance of scientific theories. The peasant cultivation of Flanders and Italy is affirmed to produce heavier crops, in equal circumstances of soil, than the best cultivated districts of Scotland and England. It produces them, no doubt, with an amount of labour which, if paid for by an employer, would make the cost to him more than equivalent to the benefit; but to the peasant it is not cost, it is the devotion of time which he can spare, to a favourite pursuit, if we should not rather say a ruling passion.f
We have seen, too, that it is not solely by superior exertion that the Flemish cultivators succeed in obtaining these brilliant results. The same motive which gives such intonsity to their industry, placed them earlier in possession of an amount of agricultural knowledge not attained until much later in countries where agriculture was carried on solely b hired labour. An equally high testimony is borne by M. de Lavergnež to the agricultural skill of the small proprietors, in those parts of France to which the petite culture is really suitable. “In the rich plains of Flanders, on the banks of the Rhine, the Garonne, the Charente, the Rhone, all the practices which fertilize the land and increase the productiveness of labour are known to the very smallest cultivators, and practised by them, however considerable may be the advances which they require. In their hands, abundant manures, collected at great cost, repair and, incessantly increase the fertility of the soil, in spite of the activity of cultivation. The races of cattle are superior, the crops magnificent. Tobacco, flax, colza, madder, beetroot, in some places; in others, the vine, the olive, the plum, the mulberry, only yield their abundant treasures to a population of industrious labourers. Is it not also to the petite culture that we are indebted for most of the garden produce obtained by dint of great outlay in the neighbourhood of Paris?”
§ 2. . Another aspect of peasant properties, in which it is essential that they should be considered, is that of an instrument of popular education. Books and schooling are absolutely necessary to education; but not allsufficient. The mental faculties will
* Supra, Book i. ch. ix. § 4.
and careful. He gives a long, a very long
be most developed where they are most exercised; and what gives more exercise to them than the having a multitude of interests, none of which can be neglected, and which can be provided for only by varied efforts of will and intelligence 2 Some of the disparagers of small properties lay great stress on the cares and anxieties which beset the peasant proprietor of the Rhineland or Flanders. It is precisely those cares and anxieties which tend to make him a superior being to an English day-labourer. It is, to be sure, rather abusing the privileges of fair argument to represent the condition of a day-labourer as not an anxious one. I can conceive no circumstances in which he is free from anxiety, where there is a possibility of being out of employment; unless he has access to a o: dispensation of parish pay, and no shame or reluctance in demanding it. The day-labourer has, in the existing state of society and population, many of the anxieties which have not an invigorating effect on the mind, and none of those which have. The position of the peasant proprietor of Flanders is the reverse. From the anxiety which chills and paralyses— the uncertainty of having food to eat —few persons are more exempt: it requires as rare a concurrence of circumstances as the potato failure combined with an universal bad harvest, to bring him within reach of that danger. His anxieties are the ordinary vicissitudes of more and less; his cares are that he takes his fair share of the business of life; that he is a free buman being, and not perpetually a child, which seems to be the approved condition of the labouring classes according to the prevailing philanthropy. He is no longer a being of a different order from the middle classes; he has pursuits and objects like those which occupy them, and give to their intellects the greatest part of such cultivation as they receive. If there is a first principle in intellectual education, it is this—that the discipline which does good to the mind is that in which the mind is active, not that in which it is passive. 'The secret for develop
ing the faculties is to give them much to do, and much inducement to do it. This detracts nothing from the impor. tance, and even necessity, of other kinds of mental cultivation. The pos. session of property will not prevent the peasant from being coarse, selfish, and narrow-minded. These things depend on other influences, and other kinds of instruction. But this great stimulus to one kind of mental activity, in no way impedes any other means of intellectual development. On the contrary, by cultivating the habit of turning to practical use, every fragment of knowledge acquired, it helps to render that schooling and reading fruitful, which without some such auxiliary influence are in too many cases like seed thrown on a rock.
§ 3. It is not on the intelligence alone that the situation of a peasant proprietor exercises an improving influence. It is no less propitious to the moral virtues of prudence, temperance, and self-control. Day-labourers, where the labouring class mainly consists of them, are usually improvident; they spend carelessly to the full extent of their means and let the future shift for itself. This is so notorious, that many persons strongly interested in the welfare of the labouring classes, hold it as a fixed opinion that an increase of wages would do them little good, unless accompanied by at least a corresponding improvement in their tastes and habits. The tendency of o: proprietors, and of those who
ope to become proprietors, is to the contrary extreme; to take even too much Hoo for the morrow. They are oftener accused of penuriousness than of prodigality. They deny themselves reasonable indulgences, and live wretchedly in order to economize. In Switzerland almost everybody saves, who has any means of saving; the case of the Flemish farmers has been already noticed: among the French, though a pleasure-loving and reputed to be a self-indulgent people, the spirit of thrift is diffused through the rural population in a manner most gratifying as a whole, and which in individual instances errs rather on the side of excess than defect. Among those who, from the hovels in which they live, and the herbs and roots which constitute their diet, are mistaken by travellers for proofs and specimens of general indigence, there are numbers who have hoards in leathern bags, consisting of sums in five-franc pieces, which they keep by them . for a whole generation, unless brought out to be expended in their mostcherished gratification —the purchase of land. If there is a moral inconvenience attached to a state of society in which the peasantry have land, it is the danger of their being too careful of their pecuniary concerns; of its making them crafty, and “calculating” in the objectionable sense. The French peasant is no simple countryman, no downright “peasant of the Danube:”* both in fact and in fiction he is now “the crafty peasant.” That is the stage which he has reached in the progressive development which the constitution of things has imposed on human intelligence and human emancipation. But some excess in this direction is a small and a passing evil compared with recklessness and improvidence in the labouring classes, and a cheap price to pay for the inestimable worth of the virtue of self-dependence, as the general characteristic of a people: a virtue which is one of the first conditions of excellence in a human character—the stock on which if the other virtues are not grafted, they have seldom any firm root; a quality indispensable in the case of alo, class, even to any tolerable degree of physical comfort; and by which the peasantry of France, and of most European countries of easant proprietors, are distinguished yond any other labouring population.
§ 4. Is it likely, that a state of economical relations so conducive to frugality and prudence in every other respect, should be prejudicial to it in the cardinal point of increase of population? That it is so, is the opinion expressed by most of those English political economists who have written anything about the matter. Mr. *See the celebrated fable of La Fontaine,
M’Culloch's opinion is well known. Mr. Jones affirms,” that a “peasant opulation, raising their own wages }. the soil, and consuming them in kind, are universally acted upon very feebly by internal checks, or by mo. tives disposing them to restraint. The consequence is, that unless some external cause, quite independent of their will, forces such peasant cultivators to slacken their rate of increase, they will, in a limited territory, very rapidly approach a state of want and penury, and will be stopped at last only by the physical impossibility of procuring subsistence.” He elsewheref speaks of such a peasantry as “exactly in the condition in which the animal disposition to increase their numbers is checked by the fewest of those balancing motives and desires which regulate the increase of superior ranks or more civilized people.” The “causes of this peculiarity” Mr. Jones promised to point out in a subsequent work, which never made its appearance. I am totally unable to conjecture from what theory of human nature, and of the motives which influence human conduct, he would have derived them. Arthur Young assumes the same “peculiarity” as a fact; but, though not much in the habit of *† his opinions, he does not push his doctrine to so violent an extreme as Mr. Jones; having, as we have seen, himself testified to various instances in which peasant populations, such as Mr. Jones speaks of, were not tending to “a state of want and penury,” and were in no danger whateyer of coming in contact with “physical impossibility of procuring su sistence.” That there should be discrepancy of experience on this matter, is easily to be accounted for. Whether the labour. ing people live by land or by wages, they have always hitherto o up to the limit set by their habitual standard of comfort. When that standard was low, not exceeding a scanty subsistence, the size of pro. perties, as well as the rate of wages,
.* on the Distribution of Wealth,
... 1 p # Ibid. p. 68.
has been kept down to what would barely support life. Extremely low ideas of §. is necessary for subsistence, are perfectly compatible with asant properties; and if a people ave always been used to poverty, and habit has reconciled them to it, there will be over-population, and excessive subdivision of land. But this is not to the purpose. The true question is, supposing a peasantry to possess land not insufficient but sufficient for their comfortable support, are they more, or less, likely to fall from this state of comfort through improvident multiplication, than if they were living in an equally comfortable manner as hired labourers ? All & priori considerations are in favour of their being less . The dependence of wages on population is a matter of speculation and discussion. That wages would fall if population were much increased is often a matter of real doubt, and always a thing which requires some exercise of the thinking faculty for its intelligent recognition. But every peasant can satisfy himself from evidence which he can fully appreciate, whether his piece of land can be made to support several families in the same comfort in which it supports one. Few people like to leave to their children a worse lot in life than their own. The parent who has land to leave, is perfectly able to judge whether the children can live upon it or not : but people who are supported by wages, see no reason why their sons should be unable to support themselves in the same way, and trust accordingly to chance. “In even the most useful and necessary arts and manufactures,” says Mr. Laing,” “the demand for labourers is not a seen, known, steady, and appreciable demand: but it is so in ... under small properties. "The labour to be done, the subsistence that labour will produce out of his portion of land, are seen and known elements in a man's calculation upon his means of subsistence. Can his square of land, or can it not, subsist a family? Can he marry or not ? are questions which every man can answer without delay, doubt, or speculation. * Notes of a Traveller, p. 46.
It is the depending on chance, where judgment has nothing clearly set before it, that causes reckless, improvident marriages in the lower, as in the higher classes, and produces among us the evils of over-population; and chance necessarily enters into every man's calculations, when certainty is removed altogether; as it is, where certain subsistence is, by our distribution of property, the lot of but a small portion instead of about two-thirds of the people.” There never has been a writer more keenly sensible of the evils brought o the labouring classes by excess of population, than Sismondi, and this is one of the grounds of his earnest advocacy of peasant properties. He had ample opportunity, in more countries than one, for judging of their effect on population. Let us see his testimony. “In the countries in which cultivation by small proprietors still continues, population increases regularly and rapidly until it has attained its natural limits; that is to say, inheritances continue to be divided and Subivided among several sons, as long as, by an increase of labour, each family can extract an equal income from a smaller portion of land. A father who possessed a vast extent of natural pasture, divides it among his sons, and they turn it into fields and meadows; his sons divide it amon their sons, who abolish fallows: eac improvement in agricultural knowledge admits of another step in the subdivision of property. But there is no danger lest the proprietor should bring up his children to make beggars of them. He knows exactly what inheritance he has to leave them ; he knows that the law will divide it equally among them; he sees the limit beyond which this division would make them descend from the rank which he has himself filled, and a just family pride, common to the peasant and to the nobleman, makes him abstain from summoning into life, children for whom he cannot properly provide. If more are born, at least they do not marry, or they agree among themselves, . of several brothers shall perpetuate the family. It is not found that in the Swiss Cantons, the patrimonies of the peasants are ever so divided as to reduce them below an honourable competence; though the habit of foreign service, by opening to the children a career indefinite and uncalculable, sometimes calls forth a superabundant population.”* There is similar testimony respect. ing Norway. Though there is no law or custom of primogeniture, and no manufactures to take off a surplus population, the subdivision of property is not carried to an injurious extent. “The division of the land among children,” says Mr. Laing,f “appears not, during the thousand years it has been in operation, to have had the effect of reducing the landed properties to the minimum size that will barely support human existence. I have counted from five-and-twenty to forty cows upon farms, and that in a country in which the farmer must, for at least seven months in the year, have winter provender and houses provided for all the cattle. It is evident that some cause or other, operating on aggregation of landed property, counteracts the dividing effects of partition among children. That cause can be no other than what I have long conjectured would be effective in such a social arrangement; viz. that in a country where land is held, not in tenancy merely, as in Ireland, but in full ownership, its aggregation by the deaths of co-heirs, and by the marriages of the female heirs among the body of landholders, will balance its subdivision by the equal succession of children. The whole mass of property will, I conceive, be found in such a state of society to consist of as many estates of the class of 1000l., as many of 100l., as many of 10l., a year, at one period as at another.” That this should happen, supposes diffused through society a very efficacious prudential check to population: and it is reasonable to give part of the credit of this prudential restraint to the peculiar adaptation of the peasant-proprietary system for fostering it. * Nouveaua Principes, Book iii. ch. 3. * Residence in Norway, p. 18.
“In some parts of Switzerland,” says Mr. Kay,” “as in the canton of Argovie for instance, a peasant never marries before he attains the age of twenty-five years, and generally much later in life; and in that canton the women very seldom marry before they have attained the age of thirty. . . . Nor do the division of land and the cheapness of the mode of conveying it from one man to another, encourage . the providence of the labourers of the ...F districts only. They act in the same manner, though perhaps in a less degree, upon the labourers of the smaller towns. . In the smaller provincial towns it is customary for a labourer to own a small plot of ground outside the town. This plot he cultivates in the evening as his kitchen garden. He raises in it vegetables and fruits for the use of his famil during the winter. . After his day's work is over, he and his family repair to the garden for a short time, which they spend in planting, sowing, weeding, or preparing for sowing, a harvest, according to the season. The desire to become possessed of one of these gardens operates very strongly in strengthening prudential habits and in restraining improvident marriages. Some of the manufacturers in the canton of Argovie told me that a townsman was seldom contented until he had bought a garden, or a garden and house, and that the town labourers generally deferred their marriages for some years, in order to save enough to purchase either one or both of these luxuries.”
The same writer shows by statistical evidence f that in Prussia the average age of marriage is not only much later than in England, but “is graduall becoming later than it was formerly,” while at the same time “fewer illegitimate children are born in Prussia than in any other of the European countries.” “Wherever I travelled,” says Mr. Kay,+ “in North Germany and Switzerland, I was assured by all that the desire to obtain land, which was felt by all the peasants, was acting as