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In 1846 there appeared an elaborate treatise,* by two authors, MM. Mounier and Rubichon, the latter of whom was by his own statement a public functionary for ten years preceding the French Revolution, and both appear to take their ideas of a wholesome state of society from the institutions and practices of the middle ages. In this book it is maintained, that while French writers and administrators are in a conspiracy to represent their country as making rapid strides in prosperity, the progress of the morcellement is in fact reducing it to beggary. An imposing array of official details, adduced in apparent support of this assertion, gave a degree of weight to it which it could not claim from any correctness of information or capacity of judgment shown by its authors. Their work was cried up as a book of authority by the Quarterly Review^ in an article which excited some notice by proclaiming, on the evidence produced by these writers, that "in a few years the Code Napoleon will be employed in dividing fractions of square inches of land, and deciding by logarithms infinitesimal inheritances." As such representations ought not to be without a permanent answer, I think it worth while to subjoin the substance of three articles in the Morning Chronicle, containing as complete a refutation of these writers and of their reviewer, partly from their own materials, as appears to be either merited or required.
* De l'Agriculture en France, d'apres les Documents officiels. Par M. L. Mounier, avec des Remarques par M. Rubichon. Paris, 1846. | For December, 184
Substance (with omissions and corrections) of three articles in the Morning Chronicle of 11th, 13th, and 16th January, 1847, in reply to MM. Mounier and Rubichon and to the Quarterly Review, on the Subdivision of Landed Property in France.
The reviewer makes an extraordinary slip at the threshold of his subject, in estimating the extent to which the morcellement has actually proceeded. He finds it stated, that among nearly five millions and a half of landed proprietors, there are 2,600,000 the revenue of whose land, as rated to the land-tax, does not exceed forty shillings, which sum, he very candidly says, should rather be sixty, as the rated value is very much lower than the real value. On this he exclaims, "There already exist in France millions of examples that a proprietaire may be poorer than a peasant. . . . 2,600,000 families, comprising 13,000,000 persons, of each of which families the rated income does not exceed forty shillings, but say sixty shillings sterling, for the maintenance of five persons—and these are proprietors! The poorest day labourer would earn four times as much." He seems actually to suppose that these small proprietors, like great landlords, live only upon the rent of their land, forgetting that they have its whole produce. He might have known from the very documents he has quoted, and might have guessed if he had not known, that the forty shillings at which the land is rated in the collector's books are not the gross produce of the little estate, but its net produce; the surplus beyond the expenses of cultivation; which expenses include the subsistence of the cultivators, together with interest on the capital. The reviewer himself shows that the rated revenue of all the landed property of France is about 4 per cent of its rated value, and does not therefore much exceed a reasonable rent. A writer who can mistake this for the whole income of a peasant cultivating his own land, gives the measure of his competency for the subject, and of the degree of attention he has paid to it.
We will now attempt to discover, from the reviewer's data and those of his authors, what may really be the condition of these 2,600,000 proprietors. As the French Government estimates the land-tax at one-tenth of the revenue of the land, proprietors rated at £2 (or 50 francs) pay, it is to be presumed, five francs. The average of the contribution fonciere for all France is 2£- francs per hectare, and in the southern half of the kingdom, which is the most divided, two francs. A hectare being about 2£ English acres, this gives from five to between six and seven acres as the portion of land which falls to the lot of each of the reviewer's forty-shilling or sixty-shilling freeholders. But, it may be said, this is not the average but the maximum of their possessions. We will therefore take another estimate grounded on official documents, from the reviewer's authorities, MM. Mounier and Rubichon. "It is hardly credible," they say, "that there are in France more than four millions of proprietors so poor, that they pay no more than 5f. 95c." (say 6f.) "to the contribution fonder«.'* In this case the 5f. 95c. are certainly the average. Six francs of land-tax correspond to six acres per family on the average of all France, and to seven and a half on that of the southern division, which contains the greatest proportion of small proprietors. A still more favourable result is given by the calculations of M. Lullin de Chateauvieux, a much better authority than these authors, who estimates the average holdings of the 3,900,000 poorest proprietors at eight acres and a half. Now, take any one of these computations in a fertile country like France, suppose as bad an agriculture as exists anywhere in Western Europe, and then judge whether a single family, industrious and economical as the French of the poorer classes are, and enjoying the entire produce of from five to eight and a half acres, subject to a payment of only tenpence an acre to the Government, can be otherwise than in a very desirable condition? We do not forget that the land is sometimes mortgaged for part of the purchase money, and the reviewer makes a great cry about the tremendous encumbrances by which the land of France is weighed down; not amounting, however, on his own showing, to forty per cent on the rental, which we should think is as favourable a return as could be made by any landed aristocracy in Europe. The interest on the mortgages of all France is estimated at twentyfour millions sterling for one hundred and fourteen millions of acres— less than five shillings per acre. The owner of from five to eight acres could afford to pay double this amount, and be very well off.