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from limiting competition: and they made it very effectually the interest of artizans not to marry until after passing through the two stages of apprentice and journeyman, and attaining the rank of master. * In Norway, where the labour is chiefly agricultural, it is forbidden by law to engage a farm-servant for less than a year; which was the general English practice until the poor laws destroyed it, by enabling the farmer to cast his labourers on parish pay whenever he did not immediately require their labour. In consequence of this custom, and of its enforcement by law, the whole of the rather limited class of agricultural labourers in Norway have an engagement for a year at least, which if the parties are content with one another, naturally becomes a permanent engagement: hence it is known in every neighbourhood whether there is, or is likely to be, a vacancy, and unless there is, a young man does not marry, knowing that he could not obtain employment. The custom still exists in
* “En général,” says Sismondi, “le nombre des maîtres était fixé dans chaque communauté, et le maître pouvait seul tenir boutique, acheter et vendre pour son compte. Chaque maître ne pouvait former qu'un certain nombre d'apprentis, auxquels il enseignait son métier; et dans plusieurs communautés, il n'en pouvait tenir qu'un seul. Chaque maître pouvait de même tenir un nombre limité d'ouvriers, qui portaient le nom de compagnons; et, dans les métiers où l'on ne pouvait avoir qu'un seul apprenti, on ne pouvait avoir non plus qu'un seul, ou que deux compagnons. Aucun homme ne pouvait acheter, vendre, ou travailler dans un métier, s'il n'était apprenti, compagnon, ou maître; aucun homme ne pouvait devenir compagnon s'il n'avait servi un nombre d'années déterminé comme apprenti, ou devenir maître s'il n'avait servi un nombre égal d'années comme compagnon; et s'il n'avait de plus fait son chefd'æuvre, ou exécuté un travail désigné dans son métier, qui devait être jugé par sa jurande. On voit que cette organisation mettait entièrement dans la main des maîtres le renouvellement des corps de métier. Eux seuls pouvaient recevoir des apprentis; mais ils n'étaient point obligés à en prende; aussi se faisaient-ils payer cette faveur, et souvent à un prix très-élevé; en sorte qu'un jeune homme ne pouvait entrer dans un métier s'il n'avait, au préalable, la somme qu'il fallait payer pour son apprentissage, et celle qui lui était nécessaire pour se sustenter pendant la durée de cet apprentissage; car pendant quatre, cinq, ou sept ans, tout son travail appartenait à son maître. Sa dépendance de ce maître était tout aussi longtemps absolue; car un seul acte de la volonté, ou même du caprice de celui-ci, pouvait lui fermer l'entrée des professions lucratives. L'apprenti, devenu compagnon, acquérait un peu plus de liberté ; il pouvait s'engager avec quel maître il voulait, passer de l'un à l'autre; et comme l'entrée au compag. nonage n'était ouverte que par l'apprentissage, il commençait à profiter du monopole dont il avait souffert, et il était à peu près sûr de se faire bien payer un travail que personne ne pouvait faire, si ce n'est lui. Cependant il dépendait de la jurande pour obtenir la maîtrise ; aussi ne se regardait-il point encore comme assuré de son sort, comme ayant un état. En général, il ne se mariait point qu'il ne fût passé maître.
Cumberland and Westmoreland, except that the term is half a year instead of a year; and seems to be still attended with the same consequences. The farm-servants “are lodged and boarded in their masters' houses, which they seldom leave until, through the death of some relation or neighbour, they succeed to the ownership or lease of a cottage farm. What is called surplus labour does not here exist.” * I have mentioned in another chapter the check to population in England during the last century, from the difficulty of obtaining a separate dwelling place. Other customs restrictive of population might be specified : in some parts of Italy, it is the practice, according to Sismondi, among the poor, as it is well known to be in the higher ranks, that all but one of the sons remain unmarried. But such family arrangements are not likely to exist among day-labourers. They are the resource of small proprietors and metayers, for preventing too minute a subdivision of the land.
In England generally there is now scarcely a relic of these indirect checks to population ; except that in
“Il est bien certain, et comme fait et comme théorie, que l'établissement des corps de métier empêchait et devait empêcher la naissance d'une population surabondante. D'après les statuts de presque tous les corps de métier, un homme ne pouvait être passé maître qu'après vingt-cinq ans; mais s'il n'avait pas un capital à lui, s'il n'avait pas fait des économies suffisantes, il continuait bien plus longtemps à travailler comme compagnon; plusieurs, et peut-être le plus grand nombre des artisans, demeuraient compagnons toute leur vie. Il était presque sans exemple, cependant, qu'ils se mariassent avant d'être reçus maîtres ; quand ils auraient été assez imprudens pour le désirer, aucun père n'aurait voulu donner sa fille à un homme qui n'avait point d'état.”—Nouveaux Principes, book iv. chap. 10. See also Adam Smith, book i. chap. 10, part 2.
* See Thornton on Over-Population, page 18, and the authorities there cited.
+ Supra, p. 211.
parishes owned by one or a very small number of landowners, the increase of resident labourers is still occasionally obstructed, by preventing cottages from being built, or by pulling down those which exist; thus restraining the population liable to become locally chargeable, without any material effect on population generally, the work required in those parishes being performed by labourers settled elsewhere. The surrounding districts always feel themselves much aggrieved by this practice, against which they cannot defend themselves by similar means, since a single acre of land owned by any one who does not enter into the combination, enables him to defeat the attempt, very profitably to himself, by covering that acre with cottages. To meet these complaints it has already been under the consideration of Parliament to abolish parochial settlements, and make the poor rate a charge not on the parish but on the whole union.* If this proposition be adopted, which for other reasons is very desirable, it will remove the small remnant of what was once a check to population: the value of which, however, from the narrow limits of its operation, must now be considerd very trifling.
§ 6. In the case, therefore, of the common agricultural labourer, the checks to population may almost be considered as non-existent. If the growth of the towns, and of the capital there employed, by which the factory operatives are maintained at their present average rate of wages notwithstanding their rapid increase, did not also absorb a great part of the annual addition to the rural population, there seems no reason in the present habits of the people why they should not fall into as miserable a condition as the Irish previous to 1846; and if the market for our manufactures should, I do not say fall off, but even cease to expand at the rapid rate of the last fifty years, there is no certainty that this fate may not be reserved for us. With
* An Act passed in the session of 1861, though not going quite this length, has the effect intended in nearly the same degree.
out carrying our anticipations forward to such a calamity, which the great and growing intelligence of the factory population would, it may be hoped, avert, by an adaptation of their habits to their circumstances; the existing condition of the labourers of some of the most exclusively agricultural counties, Wiltshire, Somersetshire, Dorsetshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, is sufficiently painful to contemplate. The labourers of these counties, with large families, and eight or perhaps nine shillings for their weekly wages when in full employment, have for some time been one of the stock objects of popular compassion : it is time that they had the benefit also of some application of common sense.
Unhappily, sentimentality rather than common sense usually presides over the discussion of these subjects; and while there is a growing sensitiveness to the hardships of the poor, and a ready disposition to admit claims in them upon the good offices of other people, there is an all but universal unwillingness to face the real difficulty of their position, or advert at all to the conditions which nature has made indispensable to the improvement of their physical lot. Discussions on the condition of the labourers, lamentations over its wretchedness, denunciations of all who are supposed to be indifferent to it, projects of one kind or another for improving it, were in no country and in no time of the world so rife as in the present generation ; but there is a tacit agreement to ignore totally the law of wages, or to dismiss it in a parenthesis, with such terms as “hard-hearted Malthusianism ;” as if it were not a thousand times more hard-hearted to tell human beings that they may, than that they may not, call into existence swarms of creatures who are sure to be miserable, and most likely to be depraved; and forgetting that the conduct, which it is reckoned so cruel to disapprove, is a degrading slavery to a brute instinct in one of the persons concerned, and most commonly, in the other, helpless submission to a revolting abuse of power.
So long as mankind remained in a semi-barbarous state, with the indolence and the few wants of the savage, it probably was not desirable that population should be restrained; the pressure of physical want may have been a necessary stimulus, in that stage of the human mind, to the exertion of labour and ingenuity required for accomplishing that greatest of all past changes in human modes of existence, by which industrial life attained predominance over the hunting, the pastoral, and the military or predatory state. Want, in that age of the world, had its uses, as even slavery had; and there may be corners of the earth where those uses are not yet superseded, though they might easily be so were a helping hand held out by more civilized communities. But in Europe the time, if it ever existed, is long past, when a life of privation had the smallest tendency to make men either better workmen or more civilized beings. It is, on the contrary, evident, that if the agricultural labourers were better off, they would both work more efficiently and be better citizens. I ask, then, is it true, or not, that if their numbers were fewer they would obtain higher wages ? This is the question, and no other : and it is idle to divert attention from it, by attacking any incidental position of Malthus or some other writer, and pretending that to refute that, is to disprove the principle of population. Some, for instance, have achieved an easy victory over a passing remark of Mr. Malthus, hazarded chiefly by way of illustration, that the increase of food may perhaps be assumed to take place in an arithmetical ratio, while population increases in a geometrical : when every candid reader knows that Mr. Malthus laid no stress on this unlucky attempt to give numerical precision to things which do not admit of it, and every person capable of reasoning must see that it is wholly superfluous to his argument. Others have attached immense importance to a correction which more recent political economists have made in the mere language of the earlier followers of Mr. Malthus. Several writers had said that it is the tendency of population to increase faster than the