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writer last quoted,* “is generally superior in Flanders to that of the most improved farms of the same kind in Britain. We surpass the Flemish farmer greatly in capital, in varied implements of tillage, in the choice and breeding of cattle and sheep,” (though, according to the same authority,t they are much“ before us in the feeding of their cows,”) " and the British farmer is in general a man of superior education to the Flemish peasant. But in the minute attention to the qualities of the soil, in the management and application of manures of different kinds, in the judicious succession of crops, and especially in the economy of land, so that every part of it shall be in a constant state of production, we have still something to learn from the Flemings,” and not from an instructed and enterprising Fleming here and there, but from the general practice.
Much of the most highly cultivated part of the country consists of peasant properties, managed by the proprietors, always either wholly or partly by spade husbandry. I “When the land is cultivated entirely by the spade, and no horses are kept, a cow is kept for every three acres of land, and entirely fed on artificial grasses and roots. This mode of cultivation is principally adopted in the Waes district, where properties are very small. All the labor is done by the different members of the family;" children soon beginning “to assist in various minute operations, according to their age and strength, such as weeding, hoeing, feeding the cows. If they can raise rye and wheat enough to make their bread, and potatoes, turnips, carrots, and clover, for the cows, they do well ; and the produce of the sale of their rape-seed, their flax, their hemp, and their butter, after deducting the expense of manure purchased, which is always considerable, gives them a very good profit. Supposing the whole extent of the land to be six acres, which
• Flemish Husbandry, p. 3.
† Ibid., p. 13.
Ibid., pp. 73 et seq.
is not an uncommon occupation, and which one man can manage ;' then, (after describing the cultivation,)“ if a man with his wife and three young children are considered as equal to three and a half grown-up men, the family will require thirty-nine bushels of grain, forty-nine bushels of potatoes, a fat hog, and the butter and milk of one cow: an acre and a half of land will produce the grain and potatoes, and allow some corn to finish the fattening of the hog, which has the extra buttermilk; another acre in clover, carrots, and potatoes, together with the stubble turnips, will more than feed the cow; consequently two and a half acres of land are sufficient to feed this family, and the produce of the other three and a half may be sold to pay the rent or the interest of purchase-money, wear and tear of implements, extra manure, and clothes for the family. But these acres are the most profitable on the farm, for the hemp, flax, and colza are included ; and by having another acre in clover and roots, a second cow can be kept, and its produce sold. We have, therefore, a solution of the problem how a family can live and thrive on six acres of moderate land.” After showing by calculation that this extent of land can be cultivated in the most perfect manner by the family without any aid from hired labor, the writer continues, “In a farm of ten acres entirely cultivated by the spade, the addition of a man and a woman to the members of the family will render all the operations more easy; and with a horse and cart to carry out the manure, and bring home the produce, and occasionally draw the harrows, fifteen acres may be very well cultivated. ... Thus it will be seen," (this is the result of some pages of details and calculations, *) “ that by spade husbandry, an industrious man with a small capital, occupying only fifteen acres of good light land, may not only live and bring up a family, paying a good
* Flemish Husbandry, p. 81.
rent, but may accumulate a considerable sum in the course of his life.” But the indefatigable industry by which he accomplishes this, and of which so large a portion is expended not in the mere cultivation, but in the improvement, for a distant return, of the soil itself-has that industry no connection with not paying rent? Could it exist, without presupposing, at least, a virtually permanent tenure ?
As to their mode of living, “the Flemish farmers and laborers live much more economically than the same class in England; they seldom eat meat except on Sundays and in harvest: buttermilk and potatoes with brown bread is their daily food.” It is on this kind of evidence that English travellers, as they hurry through Europe, pronounce the peasantry of every continental country poor and miserable, its agricultural and social system a failure, and the English the only regime under which laborers are well off. It is, truly enough, the only regime under which laborers, whether well off or not, never attempt to be better. So little are English observers accustomed to consider it possible that a laborer should not spend all he earns, that they habitually mistake the signs of economy for those of poverty. Observe the true interpretation of the phenomena.
“ Accordingly, they are gradually acquiring capital, and their great ambition is to have land of their own. They eagerly seize every opportunity of purchasing a small farm, and the price is so raised by the competition, that land pays little more than two per cent. interest for the purchase money. Large properties gradually disappear, and are divided into small portions, which sell at a high rate. But the wealth and industry of the population is continually increasing, being rather diffused through the masses than accumulated in individuals.”
With facts like these, known and accessible, it is not a little surprising to find the case of Flanders referred to, not in recommendation of peasant properties, but as a warning against them; on no better ground than a presumptive excess of population, inferred from the distress which existed among the peasantry of Brabant and East Flanders in the disastrous year 1846-7. The evidence which I have cited from a writer conversant with the subject, and having no economical theory to support, shows that the distress, whatever may have been its severity, arose from no insufficiency in these little properties to supply abundantly, in any ordinary circumstances, the wants of all whom they have to maintain. It arose from the essential condition to which those are subject who employ land of their own in growing their own food, namely, that the vicissitudes of the seasons must be borne by themselves, and cannot, as in the case of large farmers, be shifted from them to the consumer. When we remember the season of 1846, a partial failure of all kinds of grain, and an almost total one of the potato, it is no wonder that in so unusual a calamity the produce of six acres, half of them sown with flax, hemp, or oil seeds, should fall short of a year's provision for a family. But we are not to contrast the distressed Flemish peasant with an English capitalist who farms several hundred acres of land. If the peasant were an Englishman, he would not be that capitalist, but a day laborer under a capitalist. And is there no distress, in times of dearth, among day laborers? Was there none, that year, in countries where small proprietors and small farmers are unknown? Is there any reason whatever to believe that the distress was greater in Belgium, than corresponds to the proportional extent of the failure of crops compared with other countries ?
$ 6. It is from France, however, that impressions unfavorable to peasant properties are generally drawn; it is in France that the system is so often asserted to have brought forth its fruit, in the most wretched possible agri
culture, and to be rapidly reducing, if not to have already reduced the peasantry, by subdivision of land, to the verge of starvation. It is difficult to account for the general prevalence of impressions so much the reverse of the truth. The agriculture of France was wretched, and the peasantry in great indigence before the Revolution. At that time they were not, generally speaking, landed proprietors. There were, however, considerable districts of France where the land, even then, was to a great extent the property of the peasantry, and among these were many of the most conspicuous exceptions to the general bad agriculture and to the general poverty. An authority on this point, not to be disputed, is Arthur Young, the inveterate enemy of small farms, the coryphæus of the modern English school of agriculturists; who yet, travelling over nearly the whole of France in 1787, 1788, and 1789, when he finds remarkable excellence of cultivation, never hesitates to ascribe it to peasant property. “Leaving Sauve," says he,* “I was much struck with a large tract of land, seemingly nothing but huge rocks; yet most of it inclosed and planted with the most industrious attention. Every man has an olive, a mulberry, an almond, or a peach tree, and vines scattered among them ; so that the whole ground is covered with the oddest mixture of these plants and bulging rocks, that can be conceived. The inhabitants of this village deserve encouragement for their industry; and if I were a French minister they should have it. They would soon turn all the deserts around them into gardens. Such a knot of active husbandmen, who turn their rocks into scenes of fertility, because I suppose their own, would do the same by the wastes, if animated by the same omnipotent principle.” Again.f “Walk to Rossendal," (near Dunkirk,) “where M. le Brun has an improvement on the