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in the objectionable sense. The French peasant is no simple countryman, no downright "paysan du Danube ;" both in fact and in fiction he is now "le rusé paysan." 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 laboring 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 a laboring class, even to any tolerable degree of physical comfort; and by which the peasantry of France, and of most European countries of peasant proprietors, are distinguished beyond any other laboring 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. McCulloch's opinion is well known. Mr. Jones affirms,* that "a peasant population, raising their own wages from the soil, and consuming them in kind, are universally acted upon very feebly by internal checks, or by motives 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
• Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, p. 146.
will be stopped at last only by the physical impossibility of procuring subsistence.” He elsewhere* 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 of more civilized people.” The "causes of this peculiarity,” Mr. Jones promises to point out in a subsequent work, which has never yet made its appearance: I am totally unable to conjecture from what theory of human nature, and of the motives which influence human conduct, he will derive them. Arthur Young assumes the same “peculiarity” as a fact; but, although not much in the habit of qualifying 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 whatever of coming in contact with " physical impossibility of procuring subsistence."
That there should be discrepancy of experience on this. matter, is easily to be accounted for. Whether the laboring people live by land or by wages, they have always hitherto multiplied up to the limit set by their habitual standard of comfort. When that standard was low, not exceeding a scanty subsistence, the size of properties, as well as the rate of wages, has been kept down to what would barely support life. Extremely low ideas of what is necessary for subsistence, are perfectly compatible with peasant properties; and if a people have 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
• Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, p. 68. VOL. 1.
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 laborers ? All a priori considerations are in favor of their being less likely. 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 reflecting 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 comforts 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 laborers is not a seen, known, steady, and appreciable demand; but it is so in husbandry” under small properties. “The labor to be done, the subsistence that labor 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. 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.”
* Notes of a Traveller, p. 46.
There never has been a writer more keenly sensible of the evils brought upon the laboring 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 subdivided among several sons, as long as, by an increase of labor, 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 among their sons, who abolish fallows; each 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, which 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
honorable competence, although 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 respecting 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 it 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 coheirs, and by the marriages of female heirs among the body of land-holders, will balance its subdivision by the equal division 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 £1000, as many of £100, as many of £10 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
* Nouveaux Principes, Book III. ch. 3. + Residence in Norway, p. 18.