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by competition are the practice of the country, to expect industry, useful activity, any restraint on population but death, or any the smallest diminution of poverty, is to look for figs on thistles and grapes on thorns. If our practical statesmen are not ripe for the recognition of this fact; or if, while they acknowledge it in theory, they have not a sufficient feeling of its reality, to be capable of founding upon it any course of conduct; there is still another, and a purely physical consideration, from which they will find it impossible to escape. If the one crop on which the people have hitherto supported themselves continues to be precarious, either some new and great impulse must be given to agricultural skill and industry, or the soil of Ireland can no longer feed any thing like its present population. The whole produce of the western half of the island, leaving nothing for rent, will not now keep permanently in existence the whole of its people; and they will necessarily remain an annual charge on the taxation of the empire, until they are reduced either by emigration or by starvation to a number corresponding with the low state of their industry, or unless the means are found of making that industry much more productive.
Cottiers, therefore, must cease to be. Nothing can be done for Ireland without transforming her rural population from cottier tenants into something else. But into what? Those who, knowing neither Ireland nor any foreign country, take as their sole standard of social and economical excellence English practice, propose as the single remedy for Irish wretchedness, the transformation of the cottiers into hired laborers. I contend that the object should be their transformation, as far as circumstances admit, into landed proprietors. Either, indeed, would be a most desirable exchange from the present nuisance; but as a practical object the latter of the two seems to me preferable in an almost incalculable degree to the former, both as the most desirable in itself, and very much the easiest to effect.
§ 2. To convert the cottiers into hired laborers is rather a scheme for the improvement of Irish agriculture, than of the condition of the Irish people. The status of a day laborer has no charm for infusing forethought, frugality or self-restraint into a people devoid of them. It is not necessarily injurious to those qualities where they exist; but it seldom engenders them where they are absent. If the Irish peasantry could be instantaneously changed into receivers of wages, the wages being no higher than they now are, or than there is any reason to hope that they would be, and the present habits and mental characteristics of the people remaining, we should merely see five or six millions of people living as day laborers in the same wretched manner in which as cottiers they lived before ; equally passive in the absence of every comfort, equally reckless in multiplication, and even, perhaps, equally listless at their work; since they could not be dismissed en masse, and if they could, dismissal would now be simply remanding them to the poor-rate. Far other would be the effect of making them peasant proprietors. A people who in industry and providence have everything to learn—who are confessedly among the most backward of European populations in the industrial virtues—require for their regeneration the most powerful incitements by which those virtues can be stimulated ; and there is no stimulus comparable to property in land. A permanent interest in the soil to those who till it, is almost a guarantee for the most unwearied laboriousness ; against over-population, though not infallible, it is the best preservative yet known; and where it failed, any other plan would probably fail much more egregiously; the evil would be beyond the reach of merely economical remedies. Having already insisted so strongly on these topics, I feel it needless to argue any further, that the conversion of the Irish peasantry, or of some considerable portion of them, into small landed proprietors, is a more beneficial object than the transformation of all of them indiscriminately into laborers for hire.
But beside being more desirable, it is, above all, more attainable. The other plan, as a measure standing by itself, is wholly impracticable. It involves contradictory conditions. The conversion of the cottiers into hired laborers implies the introduction, all over Ireland, of capitalist farmers, in lieu of the present small tenants. These farmers, or their capital at least, must come from England. But to induce capital to come in, the cottier population must first be peaceably got rid of; in other words, that must be already accomplished, which English capital is proposed as the means of accomplishing. Why is Ireland the only country in the world to which English capital does not go ? Because it cannot go to any purpose without turning out the people, and the people refuse to be turned out. I presume it is not seriously proposed that they should be turned out en masse, without being otherwise provided for. With their own consent they never will be dislodged from their holdings until something better is given to them. They will not be got rid of by merely telling them that something better will follow.
It is necessary, however, in the next place to consider, what is the condition of things which would follow. The ineffective Irish agriculture is to be converted into an effective English agriculture, by throwing together the small holdings into large farms, cultivated by combined labor, with the best modern improvements. On the supposition of success, Ireland would be assimilated, in her agriculture, to the most improved parts of England. But what are the most improved parts of England ? Those in which fewest laborers are employed, in proportion to the
extent of the soil. Taking the number of Irish peasants to the square mile, and the number of hired laborers on an equal space in the model counties of Scotland or England, the former number is commonly computed to be about three times the latter. Two thirds, therefore, of the Irish peasantry would be absolutely dispensed with. What is to be done with them? Is it supposed that they would find employment in manufacturing labor? They are at present unfit for it; and even if fit, capital would require to be imported for that purpose too; and is it likely that manufacturing capital will resort to Ireland, abandoning Leeds and Manchester? Under a more efficient cultivation of her soil, Ireland would require a greatly increased amount of manufactured goods, but these would still be most advantageously manufactured in Lancashire or Yorkshire; and even if Ireland became, as to agricultural improvement, an English county, she would be but a larger Devonshire, drawing everything which she consumed, except the products of agriculture, from elsewhere. * All the excess of Irish population above the Devonshire standard would be a local surplus, which must migrate to England, or to America, or subsist on taxation or on charity, or must be enabled to raise its own food from its own soil. The plan, therefore, of turning the cottiers into laborers for wages, even if it fulfilled its utmost promise, only disposes of a third of the populatlon; with respect to the remaining two thirds, the original difficulty recurs in its full force.
The question, what system of agriculture is best in itself, is, for Ireland, of purely theoretical interest; the people are there, and the problem is not how to improve the country, but how it can be improved by and for its present inhabitants. It is not probable that England will undertake a simultaneous removal of two millions—the smallest number which in the opinion of any person acquainted with the VOL. I.
subject, would make a clear field for the introduction of English agriculture. But unless she does, the soil of Ireland must continue to employ and feed the people of Ireland; and since it cannot do this on the English system, or on any system whatever of large farming, all idea of that species of agricultural improvement as an exclusive thing must be abandoned; the petite culture in some one of its shapes will continue, and a large proportion of the peasants, if they do not become small proprietors, will remain small farmers. In the few cases in which comprehensive measures of agricultural improvement have been undertaken by large capitals, the capitalists have not, as some perhaps might suppose, employed themselves in creating large farms, and cultivating them by hired labor; their farms are of a size only sufficient for a single family: it was by other expedients that the improvement, which was to render the enterprise profitable, was brought about; these were, advances of capital, and a temporary security of tenure. There is a company called the Irish Waste Land Improvement Society, of whose operations, in 1845, the following report was made by their intelligent manager, Colonel Robinson.*
“ Two hundred and forty-five tenants, many of whom were a few years since in a state bordering on pauperism, the occupiers of small holdings of from ten to twenty plantation acres each, have, by their own free labor, with the Society's aid, improved their farms to the value of £4,396 ; £605 having been added during the last year, being at the rate of £17 18s. per tenant for the whole term, and £2 9s. for the past year; the benefit of whieh improvements each tenant will enjoy during the unexpired term of a thirtyone years' lease.
“ These 245 tenants and their families have by spade
* In the Appendix to the Report of Lord Devon's Commission, p. 84.