Зображення сторінки

erable capital, as is proved by the excellence of the farm buildings; and it is not probable that the land-owners would any longer consent to peril their movable property on the hazards of agricultural enterprise, when assured of a fixed money income without it. Thus would the question stand even if the change left undisturbed the metayer's virtual fixity of tenure, and converted him, in fact, into a peasant proprietor at a quit-rent. But if we suppose him converted into a mere tenant, displaceable at the landlord's will, and liable to have his rent raised by competition to any amount which any unfortunate being in search of subsistence can be found to offer or promise for it; he would lose all the features in his condition which preserve it from being deteriorated; he would be cast down from his present position of a kind of half-proprietor of the land, and would sink into a cottier tenant.



§ 1. By the general appellation of cottier* tenure I shall designate all cases without exception in which the laborer makes his contract for land without the intervention of a capitalist farmer, and in which the conditions of the contract, especially the amount of rent, are determined not by custom but by competition. The principal European ex

In its original acceptation the word "cottier" designates a class of sub-tenants, who rent a cottage and an acre or two of land from the small farmers. But the usage of writers has long since stretched the term to include those small farmers themselves, and generally all peasant farmers whose rents are determined by competition.

ample of this tenure is Ireland, and it is from that country that the term cottier is derived. Nearly the whole agricultural population of Ireland may be said to be cottiertenants; except so far as the Ulster tenant-right constitutes an exception. There is, indeed, a numerous class of laborers who (we may presume through the refusal either of proprietors or of tenants in possession to permit any further subdivision) have been unable to obtain even the smallest patch of land as permanent tenants. But, from the deficiency of capital, the custom of paying wages in land is so universal, that even those who work as casual laborers for the cottiers or for such larger farmers as are found in the country, are usually paid not in money, but by permission to cultivate for the season, a piece of ground, which is generally delivered to them by the farmer ready manured, and is known by the name of conacre. For this they agree to pay a money rent, often of several pounds an acre ; but no money actually passes, the debt being worked out in labor at a money valuation.

The produce, on the cottier system, being divided into two portions, rent, and the remuneration of the laborer; the one is evidently determined by the other. The laborer has whatever the landlord does not take; the condition of the laborer depends on the amount of rent. But rent, being regulated by competition, depends upon the relation between the demand for land and the supply of it. The demand for land depends on the number of competitors, and the competitors are the whole rural population. The effect, therefore, of this tenure, is to bring the principle of population to act directly on the land, and not, as in England, on capital. Rent, in this state of things, depends on the proportion between population and land. As the land is a fixed quantity, while population has an unlimited power of increase ; unless something checks that increase, the competition for land soon forces up rent to the highest point, consistent with keeping the population alive. The effects, therefore, of cottier tenure depend on the extent to which the capacity of population to increase is controlled, either by custom, by individual prudence, or by starvation and disease.

It would be an exaggeration to affirm, that cottier tenancy is absolutely incompatible with a prosperous condition of the laboring class. If we could suppose it to exist among a people to whom a high standard of comfort was habitual ; whose requirements were such, that they would not offer a higher rent for land than would leave them an ample subsistence, and whose moderate increase of numbers left no unemployed population to force up rents by competition, save when the increasing produce of the land from increase of skill would enable a higher rent to be paid without inconvenience; the cultivating class might be as well remunerated, might have as large a share of the necessaries and comforts of life, on this system of tenure as on any other. They would not, however, while their rents were arbitrary, enjoy any of the peculiar advantages which metayers on the Tuscan system derive from their connection with the land. They would neither have the use of a capital belonging to their landlords, nor would the want of this be made up by the intense motives to bodily and mental exertion which act upon the peasant who has assurance of a perpetuity. On the contrary, any increased value given to the land by the exertions of the tenant, would have no effect but to raise the rent against himself, either the next year, or at farthest when his lease expired. The landlords might have justice or good sense enough not to avail themselves of the advantage which competition would give them; and different landlords would do so in different degrees. But it is never safe to expect that a class or body of men will act contrary to their immediate pecuniary interest; and even a doubt on the subject would be almost as fatal as a certainty, for when a person is considering whether he shall undergo a present exertion or VOL. I.


sacrifice for a comparatively remote future, the scale is turned by a very small probability that the fruits of the exertion or of the sacrifice will be taken away from him. The only safeguard against these uncertainties would be the growth of a custom, insuring a permanence of tenure in the same occupant, without liability to any other increase of rent, than might happen to be sanctioned by the general sentiments of the community. The Ulster tenant-right is such a custom. The very considerable sums which outgoing tenants obtain from their successors, for the good-will of their farms,* in the first place actually limit the competition for land to persons who have such sums to offer ; while the same fact also proves that full advantage is not taken by the landlord of even that more limited competition, since the landlord's rent does not amount to the whole of what the incoming tenant not only offers but actually pays. He does so in the full confidence that the rent will not be raised; and for this he has the guarantee of a custom, not recognized by law, but deriving its binding force from another sanction, perfectly well understood in Ireland. Without one or other of these supports, a custom limiting the rent of land is not likely to grow up in any progressive community. If wealth and population were stationary, rent also would generally be stationary, and after remaining a long time unaltered, would probably come to be considered unalterable. But all progress in wealth and population tends to a rise of rents. Under a metayer system there is an established mode in which the owner of land is sure of participating in the increased produce drawn from it. But on the cottier system he can only do so by a readjustment of the contract, while that readjustment, in a progressive community, would almost always be to his advantage. His interest, therefore, would be decidedly opposed to the growth of any custom commuting rent into a fixed demand.

* "It is not uncommon for a tenant without a lease to sell the bare privilege of occupancy or possession of his farm, without any visible sign of improvement having been made by him, at from ten to sixteen, up to twenty and even forty years' purchase of the rent.”—(Digest of Evidence taken by Lord Devon's Commission. Introductory chapter.) The compiler adds, "the comparative tranquillity of that district" (Ulster) "may perhaps be mainly attributable to this fact."

+ “It is in the great majority of cases not a reimbursement for outlay incurred, or improvements affected on the land, but a mere life insurance or purchase of immunity from outrage."-(Digest, ut supra.) “The present tenant-right of Ulster," (the writer judiciously remarks,) " is an embryo copyhold.Even there, if the tenant-right be disregarded, and a tenant be ejected without having received the price of his good-will, outrages are generally the consequence.”—(Ch. viii.) “The disorganized state of Tipperary, and the agrarian combination throughout Ireland, are but a methodized war to obtain the Ulster tenant-right.”

2. Where the amount of rent is not limited, either by law or custom, a cottier system has the disadvantages of the worst metayer system, with scarcely any of the advantages by which, in the best forms of that tenure, they are compensated. It is scarcely possible that cottier agriculture should be other than miserable. There is not the same necessity that the condition of the cultivators should be so. Since by a sufficient restraint on population, competition for land could be kept down, and extreme poverty prevented; habits of prudence and a high standard of comfort, once established, would have a fair chance of maintaining themselves; although even in these favorable circumstances the motives to prudence would be considerably weaker than in the case of metayers, protected by custom (like those of Tuscany) from being deprived of their lands; since a metayer family, thus protected, could not be impoverished by any other improvident multiplication than their own, but a cottier family, however prudent and self-restraining, may have the rent raised against it by the consequences of the multiplication of other families. Any protection to the cottier against this evil could only be derived from a salutary

« НазадПродовжити »