« НазадПродовжити »
apparent reason, of the quantity of idle time which the peasantry had on their hands when the land was in very small portions, notwithstanding the ardour with which they toiled to improve their little patrimony, in every way which theirknowledge or ingenuity could suggest. He recommends, accordingly, that a limit of subdivision should be fixed by law; and this is by no means an indefensible proposition in countries, if such there are, where division, having already gone farther than the state of capital and the nature of the staple articles of culavation render advisable, still continues progressive. That each peasant should have a patch of land, even iu full property, if it is not sufficient to support him in comfort, is a system with all the disadvantages, and scarcely
any of the benefits, of small properties; since he must either live in indigence on the produce of his land, or depend as habitually as if he had no landed possessions, on the wages of hired labour: which, besides, if all the holdings surrounding him are of similar dimensions, he has little prospect of finding. The benefits of peasant properties are conditional on their not being too much subdivided; that is, on their not being required to maintain too many persons, in proportion to the produce that can be raised from them by those persons. The question resolves itself, like most questions respecting the condition of the labouring classes, into one of population. Are small properties a stimulus to undue multiplication, or a check to it?
CONTINUATION OF THE SAME SUBJECT.
§ 1. Before examining the influence of peasant properties on the ultimate economical interests of the labouring class, as determined by the increase of population, let us note the points respecting the moral and social influence of that territorial arrangement, which may be looked upon as established, either by the reason of the case, or by the facts and authorities cited in the preceding chapter.
The reader new to the subject must have been struck with the powerful impression made upon all the witnesses to whom I have referred, by what a Swiss statistical writer calls the "almost superhuman industry" of peasant proprietors.* On this point, at least, authorities are unanimous. Those who have seen only one country of peasant properties, always think the inhabitants of that country the most industrious in the world. There is as little doubt among observers, with
* The Canton Schaffhausm (before quoted), p. S3.
what feature in the condition of the peasantry this pre-eminent industry is connected. It is "the magic of property,'' which, in the words of Arthur Young, "turns sand into gold." The idea of property does not, however, necessarily imply that there should be no rent, any more than that there should be no taxes. It merely implies that the rent should be a fixed charge, not liable to be raised against the possessor by his own improvements, or by the will of a landlord. A tenant at a quit-rent is, to all intents and purposes, a proprietor; a copyholder is not less so than a freeholder. What is wanted is permanent possession on fixed terms. "Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years' lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert."
The details which have been cited, and those, still more minute, to bo found in the same authorities, concerning the habitually elaborate system of cultivation, and the thousand devices of the peasant proprietor for making every superfluous hour and odd moment instrumental to some increase in the future produce and value of the land, will explain what has been said in a previous chapter* respecting the far larger gross produce which, with anything Eke parity of agricultural knowledge, is obtained, from the same quality of soil, on small farms, at least when they are the property of the cultivator. The treatise on "Flemish Husbandry" is especially instructive respecting the means by which untiring industry does more than outweigh inferiority of resources, imperfection of implements, and ignorance .of scientific theories. The peasant cultivation of Flanders and Italy is affirmed to produce heavier crops, in equal circumstances of soil, than the best cultivated districts of Scotland and England. It produces them, no doubt, with an amount of labour which, if paid for by an employer, would make the cost to him more than equivalent to the benefit; but to the peasant it is not cost, it is the devotion of time which he can spare, to a favourite pursuit, if we should not rather say a ruling passion.f
* Supra, Book i. ch. Ix. § i.
t Read the graphic description by the historian Michelet, of the feelings of a peasant proprietor towards his land.
"If we would know the inmost thought, the passion, of the French peasant, it is very easy. Let us walk out on Sunday into the country and follow him. Behold him yonder, walking in front of us. It is two o'clock; his wife is at vespers: he has on his Sunday clothes; I perceive that he is going to visit his mistress.
"What mistress? His land.
"Ida not say he goes straight to it. No, he is free to-day, and may either go or not. Does he not go every day in the week? Accordingly, he turns aside, he goes another way, he has business elsewhere. And yet—he goes.
"It is true, he was passing close by ; it was an opportunity. He looks, but apparently he will not go in; what for? And yet—he enters.
"At least it is probable that he will not work ; he is in his Sunday dress: he has a clean shirt and blouse. Still, there is no harm in plucking up this weed and throwing out that stone. There is a stump, too, which is in the way; but he has not his tools with him, he will do it to-morrow.
"Then he folds his arms and gates, serious
We have seen, too, that it is not solely by superior exertion that the Flemish cultivators succeed in obtaining these brilliant results. The same motive which gives such intensity to their industry, placed them earlier in possession of an amount of agricultural knowledge not attained until much later in countries where agriculture was carried on solely by hired labour. An equally high testimony is borne by M. de Lavergne* to the agricultural skill of the small proprietors, in those parts of France to which the petite culture is really suitable. "In the rich plains of Flanders, on the banks of the Rhine, the Garonne, the Qharente, the Rhone, all the practices which fertilize the land and increase the productiveness of labour are known to the very smallest cultivators, and practised by them, however considerable may be the advances which they require. In their hands, abundant manures, collected at great cost, repair and incessantly increase the fertility of the soil, in spite of the activity of cultivation. The races of cattle are superior, the crops magnificent. Tobacco, flax, colza, madder, beetroot, in some places; in others, the vine, the olive, the plum, the mulberry, only yield their abundant treasures to a population of industrious labourers. Is it not also to the petite culture that we are indebted for most of the garden produce obtained by dint of great outlay in the neighbourhood of Paris?"
§ 2. Another aspect of peasant properties, in which it is essential that they should be considered, is that of an instrument of popular education. Books and schooling are absolutely necessary to education; but not allsufficient. The mental faculties will
and careful. He gives a long, a very long look, and seems lost in thought. At last, if he thinks himself observed, if he sees apasserby, he moves slowly away. Thirty paces off he stops, turns round, and casts on his land a last look, sombre and profound, but to those who can see it, the look is full of passion, of heart, of devotion."—The PeopU, by J. Michelet, Fart i. ch. 1.
* Esmtj on the Rural Economy of England Scotland, and Ireland, 3rd ed. p. 127.
be moat developed where they are most exercised; and what gives more exercise to them than the having a multitude of interests, none of which can be neglected, and which can be provided for only by varied efforts of will and intelligence? Some of the disparagers of small properties lay great stress on the cares and anxieties which beset the peasant proprietor of the Rhineland or Flanders. It is precisely those cares and anxieties which tend to make him a superior being to an English day-labourer. It is, to be sure, rather abusing the privileges of fair argument to represent the condition of a day-labourer as not an anxious one. I can conceive no circumstances in which he is free from anxiety, where there is a possibility of being out of employment; unless he has access to a profuse dispensation of parish pay, and no shame or reluctance in demanding it. The day-labourer has, in the existing state of society and population, many of the anxieties which have not an invigorating effect on the mind, and none of those which have. Theposition of the peasant proprietor of Flanders is the reverse. From the anxiety which chills and paralyses— the uncertainty of having food to eat —few persons are more exempt: it requires as rare a concurrence of circumstances as the potato failure combined with an universal bad harvest, to bring him within reach of that danger. His anxieties are the ordinary vicissitudes of more and less; his cares are that he takes bis fair share of the business of life; that he is a free human being, and not perpetually a child, which seems to be the approved condition of the labouring classes according to the prevailing'philanthropy. He is no longer a being of a different order from the middle classes; he has pursuits and objects like those which occupy them, and give to their intellects the greatest part of such cultivation as they receive. If there is a first principle in intellectual education, it is this—that the discipline which does good to the mind is that in which the mind is active, not that in which it is passive. The secret for develop
ing the faculties is to give them much to do, and much inducement to do it. This detracts nothing from the importance, and even necessity, of other kinds of mental cultivation. The possession of property will not prevent the peasant from being coarse, selfish, and narrow-minded. These things depend on other influences, and other kinds of instruction. But this great stimulus to one kind of mental activity, in no way impedes any other means of intellectual development. On the contrary, by cultivating the habit of turning to practical use every fragment of knowledge acquired, it helps to render that schooling and reading fruitful, which without some such auxiliary influence are in too many cases like seed thrown on a rock.
§ 3. It is not on the intelligence alone that the situation of a peasant proprietor exercises an improving influence. It is no less propitious to the moral virtues of prudence, temperance, and self-control. Day-labourers, where the labouring class mainly consists of them, are usually improvident; they spend carelessly to the full extent of their means .and let the future shift for itself. This is so notorious, that many persons strongly interested in the welfare of the labouring classes, hold it as a fixed opinion that an increase of wages would do them little good, unless accompanied by at least a corresponding improvement in their tastes and habits. The tendency of peasant proprietors, and of those who hope to become proprietors, is to the contrary extreme; to take even too much thought for the morrow. They are oftener accused of penuriousness than of prodigality. They deny themselves reasonable indulgences, and live wretchedly in order to economize. In Switzerland almost everybody saves, who has any means of saving; the case of the Flemish farmers has been already noticed: among the French, though a pleasure-loving and reputed to be a self-indulgent people, the spirit of thrift is diffused through the rural population in a manner most gratifying as a whole, and which in individual instances errs rather on the side of excess than defect. Among those who, from the hovels in which they live, and the herbs and roots which constitute their diet, are mistaken by travellers for proofs and specimens of general indigence, there are numbers who have hoards in leathern bags, consisting of sums in five-franc pieces, which they keep by them perhaps for a whole generation, unless brought out to be expended in their mostcherished gratification —the purchase of land. If there is a moral inconvenience attached to a state of society in which the peasantry have land, it is the danger of their being too careful of their pecuniary concerns; of its making them crafty, and "calculating" in the objectionable sense. The French peasant is no simple countryman, no downright "peasant of the Danube:"* both in fact and in fiction he is now "the crafty peasant." That is the stage which he has reached in the progressive development which the constitution of things has imposed on human intelligence and human emancipation. But some excess in this direction is a small and a passing evil compared with recklessness and improvidence in the labouring classes, and a cheap price to pay for the inestimable worth of the virtue of self-dependence, as the general characteristic of a people: a virtue which is one of the first conditions of excellence in a human character—the stock on which if the other virtues are not grafted, they have seldom any firm root; a quality indispensable in the case of a labouring class, even to any tolerable degree of physical comfort; and by which the peasantry of France, and of most European countries of peasant proprietors, are distinguished beyond any other labouring population.
§ 4. Is it likely, that a state of economical relations so conducive to frugality and prudence in every other respect, should be prejudicial to it in the cardinal point of increase of population? That it is so, is the opinion expressed by most of those English political economists who have written anything about the matter. Mr. •See the celebrated fable of La Fontaine.
M'Culloch's opinion is well known. Mr. Jones affirms,* that a "peasant population, raising their own wages from the soil, and consuming them in kind, are universally acted upon very feebly by internal checks, or by motives disposing them to restraint. The consequence is, that unless some external cause, quite independent of their will, forces such peasant cultivators to slacken their rate of increase, they will, in a limited territory, very rapidly approach a state of want and penury, and will be stopped at last only by the physical impossibility of procuring subsistence." He elsewhere f speaks of such a peasantry as "exactly in the condition in which the animal disposition to increase their numbers is checked by the fewest of those balancing motives and desires which regulate the increase of superior ranks or more civilized people." The "causes of this peculiarity" Mr. Jones promised to point out in a subsequent work, which never made its appearance. I am totally unable to conjecture from what theory of human nature, and of the motives which influence human conduct, he would have derived them. Arthur Young assumes the same "peculiarity" as a fact; but, though not much in the habit of qualifying his opinions, he does not push his doctrine to so violent an extreme as Mr. Jones .; having, as we have seen, himself testified to various instances in which peasant populations, such as Mr. Jones speaks of, were not tending to "a state of want and penury," and were in no danger whatever of coming in contact with " physical impossibility of procuring subsistence."
That there should be discrepancy of experience on this matter, is easily to be accounted for. Whether the labouring people live by land or by wages, they have always hitherto multiplied up to the limit set by their habitual standard of comfort. When that standard was low, not exceeding a scanty subsistence, the size of properties, as well as the rate of wages,
* Essay on the Distribution of Wealth. p. 1«.
t Ibid. p. 68.
has been kept down to what would barely support life. Extremely low ,deas of what is necessary for subsistence, are perfectly compatible with peasant properties; and if a people have always been used to poverty, and habit has reconciled them to it, there will be over-population, and excessive subdivision of land. But this is not to the purpose. The true question is, supposing a peasantry to possess land not insufficient but sufficient for their comfortable support, are they more, or less, likely to fall from this state of comfort through improvident multiplication, than if they were living in an equally comfortable manner as hired labourers? All a priori considerations are in favour of their being less likely. The dependence of wages on population is a matter of speculation and discussion. That wages would fall if population were much increased is often a matter of real doubt, and always a thing which requires some exercise of the thinking faculty for its intelligent recognition. -Bat every peasant can satisfy himself from evidence which he can fully appreciate, whether his piece of land can be made to support several families in the same comfort in which it supports one. Few people like to leave to their children a worse lot in life than their own. The parent who has land to leave, is perfectly able to judge whether the children can live upon it or not: but people who are supported by wages, see no reason why their sons should be unable to support themselves in the same way, and trust accordingly to chance. "In even the most useful and necessary arts and manufactures," says Mr. Laing,* "the demand for labourers is not a seen, known, steady, and appreciable demand: but it is so in husbandry," under small properties. "The labour to be done, the subsistence that labour will produce out of his portion of land, are seen and known elements in a man's calculation upon his means of subsistence. Can his square of land, or can it not, subsist a family? Can he marry or not? are questions which every man can answer without delay, doubt, or speculation. * Hotet qfa Traveller, p. 46.
It is the depending on chance, where judgment has nothing clearly set before it, that causes reckless, improvident marriages in the lower, as in the higher classes, and produces among us the evils of overpopulation; and chance necessarily enters into every man's calculations, when certainty is removed altogether; as it is, where certain subsistence is, by our distribution of property, the lot of but a small portion instead of about two-thirds of the people."
There never has been a writer more keenly sensible of the evils brought upon the labouring classes by excess of population, than Sismondi, and this is one of the grounds of his earnest advocacy of peasant properties. He had ample opportunity, in more countries than one, for judging of their effect on population. Let us see his testimony. "In the countries in which cultivation by small proprietors still continues, population increases regularly and rapidly until it has attained its natural limits; that is to say, inheritances continue to be divided and subivided among several sons, as long as, by an increase of labour, each family can extract an equal income from a smaller portion of land. A father who possessed a vast extent of natural pasture, divides it among his sons, and they turn it into fields and meadows; his sons divide it among their sons, who abolish fallows: each improvement in agricultural knowledge admits of another step in the subdivision of property. But there is no danger lest the proprietor should bring up his children to make beggars of them. He knows exactly what inheritance he has to leave them; he knows that the law will divide it equally among them; he sees the limit beyond which this division would make them descend from the rank which he has himself filled, and a just family pride, common to the peasant and to the nobleman, makes him abstain from summoning into life, children for whom he cannot properly provide. If more are born, at least they do not marry, or they agree among themselves, which of several brothers shall perpetuate the family. It is not found