Зображення сторінки

For carrying this change into effect on a sufficiently large scale to accomplish the complete abolition of cottier tenancy, the mode which most obviousiy suggests itself is the direct one, of doing the thing outright by Act of Parliament; making the whole land of Ireland the property of the tenants, subject to the rents now really paid (not the nominal rents), as a fixed rent charge. This, under the name of " fixity of tenure,” was one of the demands of the Repeal Association during the most successful period of their agitation; and was better expressed by Mr. Conner, its earliest, most enthusiastic, and most indefatigable apostle,* by the words, “ a valuation and a perpetuity.” In such a measure there would not have been any injustice, provided the landlords were compensated for the present value of the chances of increase which they would be prospectively required to forego. The rupture of existing social relations would hardly have been more violent than that effected by the ministers Stein and Hardenberg, when, by a series of edicts, in the early part of the present century, they revolutionized the state of landed property in the Prussian monarchy, and left their names to posterity among the greatest benefactors of their country. To the enlightened foreigners writing on Ireland, Von Raumer and Gustave de Beaumont, a remedy of this sort seemed so exactly and obviously what the disease required, that they had some difficulty in comprehending how it was that the thing was not yet done.

This, however, would have been, in the first place, a complete expropriation of the higher classes of Ireland : which, if there is any truth in the principles we have laid down, would be perfectly warrantable, but only if it were the sole means of effecting a great public good. In the second place, that there should be none but peasant proprietors, is in itself far from desirable. Large farms, cultivated by large capital, and owned by persons of the best education which the country can give, persons qualified by instruction to appreciate scientific discoveries, and able to bear the delay and risk of costly experiments, are an important part of a good agricultural system. Many such landlords there are even in Ireland; and it would be a public misfortune to drive them from their posts. A large proportion also of the present holdings are probably still too small to try the proprietary system under the greatest advantages : nor are the tenants always the persons one would desire to select as the first occupants of peasant-properties. There are numbers of them on whom it would have a more beneficial effect to give them the hope of acquiring a landed property by industry and frugality, than the property itself in immediate possession.

* Author of numerous pamphlets, entitled “True Political Economy of Ireland,” “Letter to the Earl of Devon,” “ Two Letters on the Rackrent Oppression of Ireland,” and others. Mr. Conner has been an agitator on the subject since 1832.

There are, however, much milder measures, not open to similar objections, and which, if pushed to the utmost extent of which they are susceptible, would realize in no inconsiderable degree the object sought. One of them would be, to enact that whoever reclaims waste land becomes the owner of it, at a fixed quit-rent equal to a moderate interest on its mere value as a waste. It would of course be a necessary part of this measure, to make compulsory on landlords the surrender of waste lands (not of an ornamental character) whenever required for reclamation. Another expedient, and one in which individuals could co-operate, would be to buy as much as possible of the land offered for sale, and sell it again in small portions as peasant-properties. A Society for this purpose was at one time projected under the aus. pices of the Tenant Right League, and on the principles, so far as applicable, of the Freehold Land Societies which

have been so successfully established in England, not · primarily for agricultural, but for electoral purposes.

This is a mode in which private capital may be employed in renovating the social and agricultural economy of Ireland, not only without sacrifice but with considerable profit

to its owners. The remarkable success of the Waste Land Improvement Society, which proceeded on a plan far less advantageous to the tenant, is an instance of what an Irish peasantry can be stimulated to do, by a sufficient assurance that what they do will be for their own advantage. It is not even indispensable to adopt perpetuity as the rule; long leases at moderate rents, like those of the Waste Land Society, would suffice, if a prospect were held out to the farmers of being allowed to purchase their farms with the capital which they might acquire, as the Society's tenants were so rapidly acquiring under the influence of its beneficent system.* When the lands were sold, the funds of the association would be liberated, and it might recommence operations in some other quarter.

$ 2. Thus far I had written in 1856. I have not changed any of the opinions I then expressed. But I feel that they are no longer susceptible of practical application. The new state of things created in Ireland by the vast decrease of her population, and by the effects of that greatest of boons ever conferred on her by any Government, the Encumbered Estates Act, has rendered the introduction, on a large scale, of the English agricultural system for the first time possible in that country. The present population of Ireland is now not greater than can be supported on that system in a state of comfort probably equal to the average lot of English farm labourers. The general improvement in agriculture is already most striking; and the improved scale of subsistence which is now becoming habitual to the people, together with the familiarity they have now acquired with the resource of expatriation, will probably prevent them for a considerable time from relapsing, through improvident multiplication, into their former degraded state. Ireland, therefore, is not now in a condition to require what are called heroic remedies. The benefits to that country of peasant proprietorship would be as great as ever; but they are no longer indispensable; a prospect has opened to her of making a great advance in civilization without that aid. But though she can now do without peasant-properties, she cannot do without the total extinction of cottier tenancy. Unless that is rooted out, the whole fruits of the improvement now in course of being effected, will be and remain precarious. The lapse of another generation will show whether the landlords of Ireland, now weeded of the reckless and bankrupt portion who formerly held so much of the land, and recruited by the substitution of a more moral and intelligent class, will improve the opportunity by the successful accomplishment of this the only real, permanent, and radical reform in the social economy of that long-suffering country.

* Though this society, during the years succeeding the famine, was forced to wind up its affairs, the memory of what it accomplished ought to be preserved. The following is an extract in the Proceedings of Lord Devon's Commission (page 84), from the report made to the society in 1845, 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 pauperisrn, the occupiers of small holdings of from ten to twenty plantation acres each, have, by their own free labour, with the society's aid, improved their farms to the value of 43961.; 6051. having been added during the last year, being at the rate of 171. 18s. per tenant for the whole term, and 21. 98. for the past year; the benefit of which improvements each tenant will enjoy during the unexpired term of a thirty-one years' lease.

“These 245 tenants and their families have, by spade industry, reclaimed and brought into cultivation 1032 plantation acres of land, previously unproductive mountain waste, upon which they grew, last year, crops valued by competent practical persons at 38961., being in the proportion of 151. 18s. each tenant; and their live stock, consisting of cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs, now actually upon the estates, is valued, according to the present prices of the neighbouring niar. kets, at 41621., of which 13041. has been added since February, 1844, being at the rate of 161. 19s. for the whole period, and 5l. 6s. for the last year; during which time their stock has thus increased in value a sum equal to their present annual rent; and by the statistical tables and returns referred to in previous reports, it is proved that the tenants, in general, improve their little farms, and increase their cultivation and crops, in nearly direct proportion to the number of available working persons of both sexes, of which their families consist.”

There cannot be a stronger testimony to the superior amount of gross, and even of net produce, raised by small farming under any tolerable system of landed tenure; and it is worthy of attention that the industry and zeal were greatest among the smaller holders ; Colonel Robinson noticing, as exceptions to the remarkable and rapid progress of improvement, some tenants who were “occupants of larger farms than twenty acres, a class too often deficient in the enduring industry indispensable for the successful prosecution of mountain improvements.”

I have concluded a discussion, which has occupied a space almost disproportioned to the dimensions of this work; and I here close the examination of those simpler forms of social economy in which the produce of the land either belongs undividedly to one class, or is shared only between two classes. We now proceed to the hypothesis of a threefold division of the produce, among labourers, landlords, and capitalists; and in order to connect the coming discussions as closely as possible with those which have now for some time occupied us, I shall commence with the subject of Wages.

« НазадПродовжити »