The Principles of Political Economy, by John Stuart Mill

Chapter 7

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.1 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 what feature in the condition of the peasantry this preeminent 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 be 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 chapter2 respecting the far larger gross produce which, with anything like 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.3

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 Lavergne4 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 Charente, 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 all-sufficient. The mental faculties will he most 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. The position of the peasant proprietor of Continental Europe 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 his 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 developing 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 most cherished 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 “paysan du Danube;” both in fact and in fiction he is now “le rusé paysan.” 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 the 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. M’Culloch’s opinion is well known. Mr. Jones affirms,5 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 elsewhere6 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 into 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, has been kept down to what would barely support life. Extremely low ideas 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 à 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. But 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 as 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,7 “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. 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 over-population; 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 subdivided 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 that in the Swiss Cantons, the patrimonies of the peasants are ever so divided as to reduce them below an honourable competence; though the habit of foreign service, by opening to the children a career indefinite and uncalculable, sometimes calls forth a super-abundant population.”8

There is similar testimony respecting Norway. Though there is no law or custom of primogeniture, and no manufactures to take off a surplus population, the subdivision of property is not carried to an injurious extent. “The division of the land among children,” says Mr. Laing,9 “appears not, during the thousand years it has been in operation, to have had the effect of reducing the landed properties to the minimum size that will barely support human existence. I have counted from five-and-twenty to forty cows upon farms, and that in a country in which the farmer must, for at least seven months in the year, have winter provender and houses provided for all the cattle. It is evident that some cause or other, operating on aggregation of landed property, counteracts the dividing effects of partition among children. That cause can be no other than what I have long conjectured would be effective in such a social arrangement; viz. that in a country where land is held, not in tenancy merely, as in Ireland, but in full ownership, its aggregation by the deaths of co-heirs, and by the marriages of the female heirs among the body of landholders, will balance its subdivision by the equal succession of children. The whole mass of property will, I conceive, be found in such a state of society to consist of as many estates of the class of 10001., as many of 100l., as many of 10l., a year, at one period as another.” That this should happen, supposes diffused through society a very efficacious prudential check to population; and it is reasonable to give part of the credit of this prudential restraint to the peculiar adaptation of the peasant-proprietary system for fostering it.

“In some parts of Switzerland,” says Mr. Kay,10 “as in the canton of Argovie for instance, a peasant never marries before he attains the age of twenty-five years, and generally much later in life; and in that canton the women very seldom marry before they have attained the age of thirty. . . . Nor do the division of land and the cheapness of the mode of conveying it from one man to another, encourage the providence of the labourers of the rural districts only. They act in the same manner, though perhaps. in a less degree, upon the labourers of the smaller towns. In the smaller provincial towns it is customary for a labourer to own a small plot of ground outside the town. This plot he cultivates in the evening as his kitchen garden. He raises in it vegetables and fruits for the use of his family during the winter. After his day’s work is over, he and his family repair to the garden for a short time, which they spend in planting, sowing, weeding, or preparing for sowing or harvest, according to the season. The desire to become possessed of one of these gardens operates very strongly in strengthening prudential habits and in restraining improvident marriages. Some of the manufacturers in the canton of Argovie told me that a townsman was seldom contented until he had bought a garden, or a garden and house, and that the town labourers generally deferred their marriages for some years, in order to save enough to purchase either one or both of these luxuries.”

The same writer shows by statistical evidence11 that in Prussia the average age of marriage is not only much later than in England, but “is gradually becoming later than it was formerly,” while at the same time “fewer illegitimate children are born in Prussia than in any other of the European countries.” “Wherever I travelled,” says Mr. Kay,12 “in North Germany and Switzerland, I was assured by all that the desire to obtain land, which was felt by all the peasants, was acting as the strongest possible check upon undue increase of population.”13

In Flanders, according to Mr. Fauche, the British Consul at Ostend,14 “farmers’ sons and those who have the means to become farmers will delay their marriage until they get possession of a farm.” Once a farmer, the next object is to become a proprietor. “The first thing a Dane does with his savings,” says Mr. Browne, the Consul at Copenhagen,15 “is to purchase a clock, then a horse and cow, which he hires out, and which pays a good interest. Then his ambition is to become a petty proprietor, and this class of persons is better off than any in Denmark. Indeed, I know of no people in any country who have more easily within their reach all that is really necessary for life than this class, which is very large in comparison with that of labourers.”

But the experience which most decidedly contradicts the asserted tendency of peasant proprietorship to produce excess of population, is the case of France. In that country the experiment is not tried in the most favourable circumstances, a large proportion of the properties being too small. The number of landed proprietors in France is not exactly ascertained, but on no estimate does it fall much short of five millions; which, on the lowest calculation of the number of persons of a family (and for France it ought to be a low calculation), shows much more than half the population as either possessing, or entitled to inherit, landed property. A majority of the properties are so small as not to afford a subsistence to the proprietors, of whom, according to some computations, as many as three millions are obliged to eke out their means of support either by working for hire, or by taking additional land, generally on metayer tenure. When the property possessed is not sufficient to relieve the possessor from dependence on wages, the condition of a proprietor loses much of its characteristic efficacy as a check to over-population: and if the prediction so often made in England had been realized, and France had become a “pauper warren,” the experiment would have proved nothing against the tendencies of the same system of agricultural economy in other circumstances. But what is the fact? That the rate of increase of the French population is the slowest in Europe. During the generation which the Revolution raised from the extreme of hopeless wretchedness to sudden abundance, a great increase of population took place. But a generation has grown up, which, having been born in improved circumstances, has not learnt to be miserable; and upon them the spirit of thrift operates most conspicuously, in keeping the increase of population within the increase of national wealth. In a table, drawn up by Professor Rau,16 of the rate of annual increase of the populations of various countries, that of France, from 1817 to 1827, is stated at 63/100 per cent, that of England during a similar decennial period being 1 6/10 annually, and that of the United States nearly 3. According to the Official returns as analysed by M. Legoyt,17 the increase of the population, which from 1801 to 1806 was at the rate of 1.28 per cent annually, averaged only 0.47 per cent from 1806 to 1831; from 1831 to 1836 it averaged 0.60 per cent; from 1836 to 1841, 0.41 per cent, and from 1841 to l846, 0.68 per cent.18 At the census of l851 the rate of annual increase shown was only 1.08 per cent in the five years, or 0.21 annually; and at the census of 1856 only 0.71 per cent in five years, or 0.14 annually. so that, in the words of M. de Lavergne, “la population ne s’accroît presque plus en France.”19 Even this slow increase is wholly the effect of a diminution of deaths; the number of births not increasing at all, while the proportion of the births to the population is constantly diminishing.20 This slow growth of the numbers of the people, while capital increases much more rapidly, has caused a noticeable improvement in the condition of the labouring class. The circumstances of that portion of the class who are landed proprietors are not easily ascertained with precision, being of course extremely variable; but the mere labourers, who derived no direct benefit from the changes in landed property which took place at the Revolution, have unquestionably much improved in condition since that period.21 Dr. Rau testifies to a similar fact in the case of another country in which the subdivision of the land is probably excessive, the Palatinate.22

I am not aware of a single authentic instance which supports the assertion that rapid multiplication is promoted by peasant properties. Instances may undoubtedly be cited of its not being prevented by them, and one of the principal of these is Belgium; the prospects of which, in respect to population, are at present a matter of considerable uncertainty. Belgium has the most rapidly increasing population on the Continent; and when the circumstances of the country require, as they must soon do, that this rapidity should be checked, there will be a considerable strength of existing habit to be broken through. One of the unfavourable circumstances is the great power possessed over the minds of the people by the Catholic priesthood, whose influence is everywhere strongly exerted against restraining population. As yet, however, it must be remembered that the indefatigable industry and great agricultural skill of the people have rendered the existing rapidity of increase practically innocuous; the great number of large estates still undivided affording by their gradual dismemberment, a resource for the necessary augmentation of the gross produce; and there are, besides, many large manufacturing towns, and mining and coal districts, which attract and employ a considerable portion of the annual increase of population.

§5. But even where peasant properties are accompanied by an excess of numbers, this evil is not necessarily attended with the additional economical disadvantage of too great a subdivision of the land. It does not follow because landed property is minutely divided, that farms will be so. As large properties are perfectly compatible with small farms, so are small properties with farms of an adequate size; and a subdivision of occupancy is not an inevitable consequence of even undue multiplication among peasant proprietors. As might be expected from their admirable intelligence in things relating to their occupation, the Flemish peasantry have long learnt this lesson. “The habit of not dividing properties,” says Dr. Rau,23 “and the opinion that this is advantageous, have been so completely preserved in Flanders, that even now, when a peasant dies leaving several children, they do not think of dividing his patrimony, though it be neither entailed nor settled in trust; they prefer selling it entire, and sharing the proceeds, considering it as a jewel which loses its value when it is divided.” That the same feeling must prevail widely even in France, is shown by the great frequency of sales of land, amounting in ten years to a fourth part of the whole soil of the country.. and M. Passy, in his tract “On the Changes in the Agricultural Condition of the Department of the Eure since the year 1800,”24 states other facts tending to the same conclusion. “The example,” says he, “of this department attests that there does not exist, as some writers have imagined, between the distribution of property and that of cultivation, a connexion which tends invincibly to assimilate them. In no portion of it have changes of ownership had a perceptible influence on the size of holdings. While, in districts of small farming, lands belonging to the same owner are ordinarily distributed among many tenants, so neither is it uncommon, in places where the grande culture prevails, for the same farmer to rent the lands of several proprietors. In the plains of Vexin, in particular, many active and rich cultivators do not content themselves with a single farm; others add to the lands of their principal holding, all those in the neighbourhood which they are able to hire, and in this manner make up a total extent which in some cases reaches or exceeds two hundred hectares” (five hundred English acres). “The more the estates are dismembered, the more frequent do this sort of arrangements become: and as they conduce to the interest of all concerned, it is probable that time will confirm them.”

“In some places,” says M. de Lavergne,25 “in the neighbourhood of Paris, for example, where the advantages of the grande culture become evident, the size of farms tends to increase, several farms are thrown together into one, and farmers enlarge their holdings by renting parcelles from a number of different proprietors. Elsewhere farms as well as properties of too great extent, tend to division. Cultivation spontaneously finds out the organization which suits it best.” It is a striking fact, stated by the same eminent writer,26 that the departments which have the greatest number of small côtes foncières, are the Nord, the Somme, the Pas de Calais, the Seine Inférieure, the Aisne, and the Oise; all of them among the richest and best cultivated, and the first-mentioned of them the very richest and best cultivated, in France.

Undue subdivision, and excessive smallness of holdings, are undoubtedly a prevalent evil in some countries of peasant proprietors, and particularly in parts of Germany and France. The governments of Bavaria and Nassau have thought it necessary to impose a legal limit to subdivision, and the Prussian Government unsuccessfully proposed the same measures to the Estates of its Rhenish Provinces. But I do not think it will anywhere be found that the petite culture is the system of the peasants, and the grande culture that of the great landlords: on the contrary, wherever the small properties are divided among too many proprietors, I believe it to be true that the large properties also are parcelled out among too many farmers, and that the cause is the same in both cases, a backward state of capital, skill, and agricultural enterprise. There is reason to believe that the subdivision in France is not more excessive than is accounted for by this cause; that it is diminishing, not increasing; and that the terror expressed in some quarters, at the progress of the morcellement, is one of the most groundless of real or pretended panics.27

If peasant properties have any effect in promoting subdivision beyond the degree which corresponds to the agricultural practices of the country, and which is customary on its large estates, the cause must lie in one of the salutary influences of the system; the eminent degree in which it promotes providence on the part of those who, not being yet peasant proprietors, hope to become so. In England, where the agricultural labourer has no investment for his savings but the savings bank, and no position to which he can rise by any exercise of economy, except perhaps that of a petty shopkeeper, with its chances of bankruptcy, there is nothing at all resembling the intense spirit of thrift which takes possession of one who, from being a day labourer, can raise himself by saving to the condition of a landed proprietor. According to almost all authorities, the real cause of the morcellement is the higher price which can be obtained for land by selling it to the peasantry, as an investment for their small accumulations, than by disposing of it entire to some rich purchaser who has no object but to live on its income, without improving it. The hope of obtaining such an investment is the most powerful inducements, to those who are without land, to practise the industry, frugality, and self-restraint, on which their success in this object of ambition is dependent.

As the result of this enquiry into the direct operation and indirect influences of peasant properties, I conceive it to be established, that there is no necessary connexion between this form of landed property and an imperfect state of the arts of production; that it is favourable in quite as many respects as it is unfavourable, to the most effective use of the powers of the soil; that no other existing state of agricultural economy has so beneficial an effect on the industry, the intelligence, the frugality, and prudence of the population, nor tends on the whole so much to discourage an improvident increase of their numbers; and that no existing state, therefore, is on the whole so favourable both to their moral and their physical welfare. Compared with the English system of cultivation by hired labour, it must be regarded as eminently beneficial to the labouring class.28 We are not on the present occasion called upon to compare it with the joint ownership of the land by associations of labourers.

1 “Fast ubermenschliche Fleiss”. Der Canton Schaffhausen (ut supra), p. 53.

2 Supra, Book i, ch. ix, sec. 4.

3 Read the graphic description by the historian Michelet, of the feelings of a peasant proprietor towards his land.

“Si nous voulons connaitre la pensee intime, la passion, du paysan de France, cela est fort aise. Promenons-nous le dimanche dans la campagne, suivons-le. Le voila qui s’en va la-bas devant nous. Il est deux heures; sa femme est a vepres; il est endimanche; je reponds qu’il va voir sa maitresse.

“Quelle maitresse? sa terre.

“Je ne dis pas qu’il y aille tout droit. Non, il est libre ce jour-la, il est maitre d’y aller ou de n’y pas aller. N’y va-t-il pas assez tous les jours de la semaine? Aussi, il se detourne, il va ailleurs, il a affaire ailleurs. Et pourtant, il y va.

“Il est vrai qu’il passait bien pres; c’etait un occasion. Il la regarde, mais apparemment il n’y entera pas; qu’y ferait-il? — Et pourtant il y entre.

“Du moins, il est probable qu’il n’y travaillera pas; il est endimanche; il a blouse et chemise blanches. — Rien n’empeche cependant d’oter quelque mauvaise herbe, de rejeter cette pierre. Il y a bien encore cette souche qui gene, mais il n’a pas sa pioche, ce sera pour demain.

“Alors, il croise ses bras et s’arrete, regarde, serieux, soucieux. Il regarde longtemps, tres-longtemps, et semble s’oublier. A la fin, s’il se croit observe, s’il appercoit un passant, il s’eloigne a pas lents. A trente pas encore, il s’arrete, se retourne, et jette sur sa terre un dernier regard, regard profond et sombre; mais pour qui sait bien voir, il est tout passionne, ce regard, tout de coeur, plein de devotion.” — Le Peuple, par J. Michelet, 1re partie, ch. 1.

4 Essai sur l’Economie Rurale de l’Angleterre, de l’Ecosse, et de l’Irlande, 3me ed. p. 127.

5 Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, p. 146.

6 Ibid. p. 68.

7 Notes of a Traveller, p. 46.

8 Nouveaux Principes, Book iii. ch. 3.

9 Residence in Norway, p. 18.

10 Vol. i. pp. 67–9.

11 Ibid. pp. 75–9.

12 Ibid. p. 90.

13 The Prussian minister of statistics, in a work (Der Volkswohlstand im Preussischen Staate) which I am obliged to quote at second hand from Mr Kay, after proving by figures the great and progressive increase of the consumption of food and clothing per head of the population, from which he justly infers a corresponding increase of the productiveness of agriculture, continues: “The division of estates has, since 1831, proceeded more and more throughout the country. There are now many more small independent proprietors than formerly. Yet, however many complaints of pauperism are heard among the dependent labourers, we never hear it complained that pauperism is increasing among the peasant proprietors.” — Kay, i. 262–6.

14 In a communication to the Commissioners of Poor Law Enquiry, p. 640 of their Foreign Communication, Appendix F to their First Report.

15 Ibid. 268.

16 The following is the table (see p. 168 of the Belgian translation of Mr Rau’s large work:

per cent
United States 1820–30 2.92
Hungary (according to Rohrer) 2.40
England 1811–21 1.78
England 1821–31 1.60
Austria (Rohrer) 1.30
Prussia 1816–27 1.54
Prussia 1820–30 1.37
Prussia 1821–31 1.27
Netherlands 1821–28 1.28
Scotland 1821–31 1.30
Saxony 1815–30 1.15
Baden 1820–30 (Heunisch) 1.13
Bavaria 1814–28 1.08
Naples 1814–24 0.83
France 1817–27 (Mathieu) 0.63
and more recently Moreau de Jonnes 0.55

But the number given by Moreau de Jonnes, he adds, is not entitled to implicit confidence.

The following table given by M. Quetelet (Sur l’Homme et le Developpment de se Facultes, vol. i, ch. 7, also on the authority of Rau, contains additional matter, and differs in some items from the preceding, probably from the author’s having taken, in those cases, an average of different years:

per cent
Ireland 2.45
Hungary 2.40
Spain 1.66
England 1.65
Rhenish Prussia 1.33
Austria 1.30
Bavaria 1.08
Netherlands 0.94
Naples 0.83
France 0.63
Sweden 0.58
Lombardy 0.45

A very carefully prepared statement, by M. Legoyt, in the Journal of Economistes for May 1847, which brings up the results for France to the census of the preceding year 1846, is summed up in the following table:

According to the Census According to the excess of births over deaths
percent percent
Sweden 0.83 1.14
Norway 1.36 1.30
Denmark 0.95
Russia 0.65
Austria 0.85 0.90
Prussia 1.84 1.18
Saxony 1.45 0.90
Hanover 0.85
Bavaria 0.71
Wurtemburg 0.01 1.00
Holland 0.90 1.03
Belgium 0.76
Sardinia 1.08
Great Britain (exclusive of Ireland) 1.95 1.00
France 0.68 0.50
United States 3.27

17 Journal des Economistes for March and May 1847.

18 M. Legoyt is of opinion that the population was understated in 1841, and the increase between that time and 1846 consequently overstated, and that the real increase during the whole period was something intermediate between the last two averages, or not much more than one in two hundred.

19 Journal des Economistes for February 1847. In the Journal for January 1865, M. Legoyt gives some of the numbers slightly altered, and I presume corrected. The series of percentages is 1.28, 0.31, 0.69, 0.60, 0.41, 0.68, 0.22, and 0.20. The last census in the table that of 1861, shows a slight reaction, the percentage, independently of the newly acquired departments, being 0.32.

20 The following are the numbers given by M. Legoyt:

From 1824 to 1828 annual number of births 981,914, being 1 in 32.30 of the population.

From 1829 to 1833 annual number of births 965,444, being 1 in 34.00

From 1834 to 1838 annual number of births 972,993, being 1 in 34.39

From 1839 to 1843 annual number of births 970,617, being 1 in 35.27

From 1844 to 1845 annual numbrr of births 983,573, being 1 in 35.58

In the last two years the births, according to M. Legoyt, were swelled by the effects of considerable immigration. “Cette diminution des naissances.” he observes, “en presence d’un accroissement constant, quoique peu rapide, de la population generale et des mariages, ne peut etre attribue qu’aux progres de l’esprit d’ordre et de prevision dans les familes. C’est d’ailleurs la consequence prevue de nos institutions civiles et sociales, qui, en amenant chaque jour une plus grande subdivision de la fortune territoriale et mobiliere de la France, developpent au sein des populations les instincts de conservation et de bien-etre.”

In four departments, among which are two of the most thriving in Normandy, the deaths even then exceeded the births. The census of 1856 exhibits the remarkable fact of a positive diminution in the population of 54 out of the 86 departments. A significant comment on the pauper-warren theory. See M. de Lavergne’s analysis of the returns.

21 “Les classes de notre population qui n’ont que leur salaire, celles qui, par cette raison, sont les plus exposees a l’indigence, sont aujourd’hui beaucoup mieux pourvues des objets necessaires a la nourriture, au logement et au vetement, qu’elles ne l’etaient au commencement du siecle. . . . On peut appuyer [ce fait] du temoignage de toutes les personnes qui ont souvenir de la premiere des epoques comparees. . . . S’il restait des doutes a cet egard, on pourrait facilement les dissiper en consultant les anciens cultivateurs et les anciens ouvriers, ainsi que nous l’avons fait nous-memes dans diverses localites, sans rencontrer un seul temoignage contradictoire; on peut invoquer aussi les renseignemens recueillis a ce sujet par un observateur exact, M. Villerme (Tableay de l’Etat Physique et Moral des Oyvriers, liv. ii. ch. i)” From an intelligent work published in 1846, Recherches sur les Cayses de l’Indigence, par A. Clement, pp. 84–5. The same writer speaks (p. 118) of “la hausse considerable qui s’est manifeste depuis 1789 dans le taux du salaire de nos cultivateurs journaliers;” and adds the following evidence of a higher standard of habitual requirements, even in that portion of the town population, the state of which is usually represented as most deplorable. “Depuis quinze a vingt ans, un changement considerable s’est manifeste dans les habitudes des ouvriers de nos villes manufacturieres: ils depensent aujourd’hui beaucoup plus que par le passe pour le vetement et la parure . . . Les ouvriers de certaines classes, tels que les anciens canuts de Lyon,” (according to all representations, like their counterpart, our handloom weavers, the very worst paid class of artizans,) “ne se montrent plus comme autrefois couverts de sales haillons.” (page 164.)

The preceding statements were given in former editions of this work, being the best to which I had at the time access; but evidence, both of a more recent, and of a more minute and precise character, will now be found in the important work of M. Leonce de Lavergne, Economie Rurale de la France depuis 1789. According to that pains-taking, well-informed, and most impartial enquirer, the average daily wages of a French labourer have risen, since the commencement of the Revolution, in the ratio of 19 to 30, while, owing to the more constant employment, the total earnings have increased in a still neater ratio, not short of double. The following are the words of M. de Lavergne (2nd ed. p. 57):

“Arthur Young evalue a dix-neuf sols le prix moyen de la journee du travail, qui doit etre aujourd’hui d’un franc cinquante centimes, et cette augmentation ne represente encore qu’une partie du gain realise. Bien que la nation rurale soit restee a peu pres la meme, l’excedant de population survenu depuis 1789 s’etant concentre dans les villes, le nombre effectif des journees de travail a grossi, d’abord parce que la vie moyenne s’etant allongee, le nombre des hommes valides s’est eleve, et ensuite parce que le travail est mieux organise, soit par la suppression de plusieurs fetes chomees, soit par le seul effet d’une demande plus active. En tenant compte de l’accroissement du nombre des journees, le gain annuel de l’ouvrier rural doit avoir double. . . . Cette augmentation dans le salaire se traduit pour l’ouvrier en une augmentation au moins correspondante de bien-etre, puisque le prix des principaux objets necessaires a la vie a peu change, et que celui des objets fabriques, des tissus, par exemple, a sensiblement baisse. L’habitation est egalement devenue meilleure, sinon partout, du moins dans la plupart de nos provinces.”

M. de Lavergne’s estimate of the average amount of a day’s wages is grounded on a careful comparison, in this and all other economical points of view, of all the different provinces of France.

22 In his little book on the Agriculture of the Palatinate, already cited. He says that the daily wages of labour, which during the last years of the war were unusually high, and so continued until 1817, afterwards sank to a lower money-rate, but that the prices of many commodities having fallen in a still greater proportion, the condition of the people was unequivocally improved. The food given to farm labourers by their employers has also neatly improved in quantity and quality. “Sie heutigen Tages bedeutend besser ist, als vor ungefahr 40 Jahren, wo das Gesinde weniger Fleisch und Mehlspeisen, keinen Kase zum Brote u. dgl. erhielt.” (p. 20) “Such an increase of wages” (adds the Professor) “which must be estimated not in money, but in the quantity of necessaries and conveniences which the labourer is enabled to procure, is, by universal admission, a proof that the mass of capital must have increased.” It proves not only this, but also that the labouring population has not increased in an equal degree; and that in this instance as well as in that of France, the division of the land, even when excessive, has been compatible with a strengthening of the prudential checks to population.

23 He cites as an authority, Schwerz, Landwirthschaftliche Mittheilungen, i. 185.

24 One of the many important papers which have appeared in the Journal of Economistes,the organ of the principal political economists of France, and doing great and increasing honour to their knowledge and ability. M. Passy’s essay has been reprinted separately as a pamphlet.

25 Economie Rurale de la France, p. 455.

26 See, for facts of a similar tendency, pp. 141, 250, and other passages of the same important treatise: which, on the other hand, equally abounds with evidence of the mischievous effect of subdivision when too minute, or when the nature of the soil and of its products is not suitable to it.

27 Mr. Laing, in his latest publication, “Observations on the Social and Political State of the European People in 1848 and 1849”, a book devoted to the glorification of England, and the disparagement of everything elsewhere which others, or even he himself in former works, had thought worthy of praise, argues that “although the land itself is not divided and subdivided” on the death of the proprietor, “the value of the land is, and with effects almost as prejudicial to social progress. The value of each share becomes a debt or burden upon the land.” Consequently the condition of the agricultural population is retrograde; “each generation is worse off than the preceding one, although the land is neither less nor more divided, nor worse cultivated.” And this he gives as the explanation of the great indebtedness of the small landed proprietors in France (pp. 97–9). If these statements were correct, they would invalidate all which Mr. Laing affirmed so positively in other writings, and repeats in this, respecting the peculiar efficacy of the possession of land in preventing over-population. But he is entirely mistaken as to the matter of fact. In the only country of which he speaks from actual residence, Norway, he does not pretend that the condition of the peasant proprietors is deteriorating. The facts already cited prove that in respect to Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, the assertion is equally wide of the mark; and what has been shown respecting the slow increase of population in France, demonstrates that if the condition of the French peasantry was deteriorating, it could not be from the cause supposed by Mr. Laing. The truth I believe to be that in every country without exception, in which peasant properties prevail, the condition of the people is improving, the produce of the land and even its fertility increasing, and from the larger surplus which remains after feeding the agricultural classes, the towns are augmenting both in population and in the well-being of their inhabitants. On this question, as well as on that of the morcellement, so far as regards France, additional facts and observations, brought up to a later date, will [52, 57 observations will] be found in the Appendix.

28 French history strikingly confirms these conclusions. Three times during the course of ages the peasantry have been purchasers of land; and these times immediately preceded the three principal eras of French agricultural prosperity.

“Aux temps les plus mauvais,” says the historian Michelet, (Le Peyple, lre partie, ch. 1) “aux moments de pauvrete universelle, ou le riche meme est pauvre et vend par force, alors le pauvre se trouve en etat d’acheter; nul acquereur ne se presentant, le paysan en guenilles arrive avec sa piece d’or, et il acquiert un bout de terre. Ces moments de desastre ou le paysan a pu acquerir la terre a bon marche, ont toujours ete suivis d’un elan subit de fecondite qu’on ne s’expliquait pas. Vers 1500, par example, quand la France epuisee par Louis XI semble achever sa ruine en Italie, la noblesse qui part est obligee de vendre; la terre, passant a de nouvelles mains, refleurit tout-a-coup; on travaille, on batit. Ce beau moment (dans le style de l’histoire monarchique) s’est appele le bon Louis XII.

“Il dure peu, malheureusement. La terre est a peine remise en bon etat, le fisc fond dessus; les guerres de religion arrivent, qui semblent raser tout jusqu’au sol, miseres horribles, famines atroces ou les meres mangeaient leurs enfants. Qui croirait que le pays se releve de la? Eh bien, la guerre finit a peine, de ce champ ravage, de cette chaumiere encore noire et brulee, sort l’Epargne du paysan. Il achete; en dix ans, la France a change de face; en vingt ou trente, tous les biens ont double, triple de valeur. Ce moment encore baptise d’un nom royal, s’appelle le bon Henri IV et le grand Richelieu.”

Of the third era it is needless again to speak: it was that of the Revolution.

Whoever would study the reverse of the picture, may compare these historic periods, characterized by the dismemberment of large and the construction of small properties, with the wide-spread national suffering which accompanied, and the permanent deterioration of the condition of the labouring classes which followed, the “clearing” away of small yeomen to make room for large grazing farms, which was the grand economical event of English history during the sixteenth century.

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