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OF PEASANT PROPRIETORS.
1. In the regime of peasant properties, as in that of slavery, the whole produce belongs to a single owner, and the distinction of rent, profits, and wages, does not exist. In all other respects, the two states of society are the extreme opposites of each other. The one is the state of greatest oppression and degradation to the laboring class. The other is that in which they are the most uncontrolled arbiters of their own lot.
The advantage, however, of small properties in land, is one of the most disputed questions in the range of political economy. On the continent, though there are some dissentients from the prevailing opinion, the benefit of having a numerous proprietary population exists in the minds of most people in the form of an axiom. But English authorities are either unaware of the judgment of continental agriculturists, or are content to put it aside, on the plea of their having no experience of large properties in favorable circumstances; the advantage of large properties being only felt where there are also large farms; and as this, in arable districts, implies a greater accumulation of capital than usually exists on the continent, the great continental estates, except in the case of grazing farms, are mostly let out for cultivation in small portions. There is some truth in this; but the argument admits of being retorted; for if the continent knows little, by experience, of cultivation on a large scale and by large capital, the generality of English writers are no better acquainted practically with peasant proprietors, and have almost always the most erroneous ideas of their social condition and mode of life. Yet the old traditions
even of England are on the same side with the general opinion of the continent. The “yeomanry” who were vaunted as the glory of England while they existed, and have been so much mourned over since they disappeared, were either small proprietors or small farmers, and if they were mostly the last, the character they bore for sturdy independence is the more noticeable. There is a part of England, unfortunately a very small part, where peasant proprietors are still common; for such are the “statesmen” of Cumberland and Westmoreland, though they pay, I believe, generally, if not universally, certain customary dues, which, being fixed, no more affect their character of proprietors than the land-tax does. There is but one voice, among those acquainted with the country, on the admirable effects of this tenure of land in those counties. No other agricultural population in England could have furnished the originals of Wordsworth's peasantry.*
* In Mr. Wordsworth's little descriptive work on the scenery of the Lakes, he speaks of the upper part of the dales as having been for centurios "a perfect republic of shepherds and agriculturists, proprietors, for the most part, of the lands which they occupied and cultivated. The plough of each man was confined to the maintenance of his own family, or to the occasional accommodation of his neighbor. Two or three cows furnished each family with milk and cheese. The chapel was the only edifice that presided over these dwellings, the supreme head of this pure common. wealth; the members of which existed in the midst of a powerful empire, like an ideal society, or an organized community, whose constitution had been imposed and regulated by the mountains which protected it. Neither high-born nobleman, knight, nor esquire was here; but many of these humble sons of the hills had a consciousness that the land which they walked over and tilled had, for more than five hundred years, been possessed by men of their name and blood. ... Corn was grown in these vales sufficient upon each estate to furnish bread for each family, no more. The storms and moisture of the climate induced them to sprinkle their upland property with outhouses of native stone, as places of shelter for their sheep, where, in tempestuous weather, food was distributed to them. Every family spun from its own flock the wool with which it was clothed; . weaver was here and there found among them, and the rest of their wants was supplied by the produce of the yarn, which they carded and spun in
The general system, however, of English cultivation, affording no experience to render the nature and operation of peasant properties familiar, and Englishmen being in general profoundly ignorant of the agricultural economy of other countries, the very idea of peasant proprietors is strange to the English mind, and does not easily find access to it. Even the forms of language stand in the way; the familiar designation for owners of land being “landlords," a term to which “ tenants” is always understood as a correlative. When, very recently, the suggestion of peasant properties as a means of Irish improvement found its way into parliamentary and newspaper discussions, there were writers of pretension to whom the word “proprietor” was so far from conveying any distinct idea, that they mistook the small holdings of Irish cottier tenants for peasant properties. The subject being so little understood, I think it important, before entering into the theory of it, to do something towards showing how the case stands as to matter of fact; by exhibiting, at greater length than would otherwise be admissible, some of the testimony which exists respecting the state of cultivation, and the comfort and happiness of the cultivators, in those countries and parts of countries, in which the greater part of the land has neither landlord nor farmer, other than the laborer who tills the soil.
32. I lay no stress on the condition of North America, where, as is well known, the land, wherever free from the curse of slavery, is almost universally owned by the same person who holds the plough. A country combining the natural fertility of America with the knowledge and arts of modern Europe, is so peculiarly circumstanced, that scarcely anything, except insecurity of property or a tyrannical government, could materially impair the prosperity of the industrious classes. I might, with Sismondi, insist more strongly on the case of ancient Italy, especially Latium, that Campagna which then swarmed with inhabitants in the very regions which under a contrary regime have become uninhabitable from malaria. But I prefer taking the evidence of the same writer on things known to him by personal observation.
their own houses, and carried to market either under their arms, or more frequently on packhorses, a small train taking their way weekly down the valley, or over the mountains, to the most commodious town."- A Description of the Scenery of the Lakes in the North of England, 3à edit. pp. 50 to 53 and 63 to 65.
“C'est surtout la Suisse,” says M. de Sismondi, “ qu'il faut parcourir, qu'il faut étudier, pour juger de bonheur des paysans propriétaires. C'est le Suisse qu'il faut apprendre à connaître pour se convaincre que l'agriculture pratiquée par ceux-là même qui en recueillent les fruits suffit pour procurer une grande aisance à une population très nombreuse ; une grande indépendance de caractère, fruit de l'indépendance des situations; un grand commerce de consommation, conséquence du bien être de tous les habitans, même dans un pays dont le climat est rude, dont le sol est médiocrement fertile, et où les gelées tardives et l'inconstance des saisons détruisent suivent l'espoir du laboureur. On ne saurait voir sans admiration ces maisons de bois du moindre paysan, si vastes, si bien closes, si bien construites, si couvertes de sculpture. Dans l'intérieur de grands corridors dégagent chaque chambre de la nombreuse famille ; chaque chambre n'a qu'un lit, et il est abondamment pourvu de rideaux, de couvertures, et du linge le plus blanc; des meubles soignés l'entourent ; les armoires sont remplies de linge, la laiterie est vaste, aérée, et d'une netteté exquise; sous le même toit on trouve de grands approvisionnemens de blé, de viande salée, de fromage et de bois; dans les étables on voit le bétail le mieux soigné et le plus beau de l'Europe ; le jardin est planté de fleurs, les hommes comme les femmes sont chaudement et proprement habillés, les dernières conservent avec orgueil leur antique costume ; tous portent sur leur visage l'empreinte de la vigeur et de la santé. Que d'autres nations vantent leur opulence, la Suisse pourra toujours leur opposer avec orgueil ses paysans."*
The same eminent writer thus expresses his opinion on peasant proprietorship in general.
"Partout où l'on retrouve les paysans propriétaires, on retrouve aussi cette aisance, cette sécurité, cette confiance dans l'avenir, cette indépendance qui assurent en même temps le bonheur et la vertu. Le paysan qui fait avec ses enfans tout l'ouvrage de son petit héritage, qui ne paie de fermage à personne au-dessus de lui, ni de salaire à personne au-dessous, qui règle sa production sur sa consommation, qui mange son propre blé, boit son propre vin, se revêt de son chanvre et de ses lạines, se soucie peu de connaître les prix du marché; car il a peu à vendre et peu à acheter, et H n'est jamais ruiné par les révolutions du commerce. Loin de craindre pour l'avenir, il le voit s'embellir dans son espérance ; car il met à profit pour ses enfans, pour les siècles qui viendront, chacun des instans que ne requiert pas de lui le travail de l'année. Il lui a suffi de donner peu de momens de travail pour mettre en terre le noyau qui dans cent ans sera un grand arbre, pour creuser l'aquéduc qui séchera à jamais son champ, pour former le conduit qui lui amenera une source d'eau vive, pour améliorer par des soins souvent répétés mais dérobés sur les instans perdus, toutes les espèces d'animaux et de végétaux dont il s'entoure. &a petit patrimoine est une vraie caisse d'épargnes, toujeurs préte à recevoir tous ses petits profits, à utiliser tous
s momens de loisir. La puissance toujours agissante de la nature les féconde, et les lui rend au centuple. Le pay
• Fender sur Economie Politique, Essai iü. See also to the same effect Lang's te of a Traveller, p. 354. VOL. 1.