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THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

JANUARY, 1887.

No. CCCXXXVII.

ART. I.-1. Report of the Select Committee appointed to enquire into the present State of Agriculture and of Persons employed in Agriculture. 1883.

2. Report from the Select Committee appointed to enquire into the State of Agriculture, and into the Causes and Extent of the Distress which still presses on some important branches thereof. 1836.

3. Report from the Select Committee on Agricultural Customs. 1847-8.

4. Report from her Majesty's Representatives respecting the Tenure of Land in the several Countries of Europe. 1869. 5. Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture. 1881 and

1882.

6. Landlords and Allotments. By the EARL OF ONSLOW. London: 1886.

7. The Law of Allotments, with the Statutes and Notes. By T. HALL HALL, M.A. London: 1886.

As the problem of food supply is the most vital of social questions, so agriculture forms the first concern of a nation. Physiocrats were in the right when they maintained that the soil is the ultimate source of wealth. Land is, in fact, an indispensable ingredient in the raw material of society, the principal cause of the division of labour, and therefore the fundamental condition of civilisation and progress. Much has in late years been written on agricultural topics; but the supreme importance of the questions involved, the magnitude of the interests at stake, the nature of the propositions laid before the public, the apparent tendencies of modern legislation, the collapse of a

VOL. CLXV. NO. CCCXXXVII.

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part of our social system, the dismal outlook offered to the classes dependent upon land, the precious opportunity for comprehensive reform afforded by the partial union of two great political parties, justify recurrence to a subject which may at first sight seem to be hackneyed. In the land lies the root of the Irish difficulty; land questions loom in the near distance of English politics.

Agriculture bears upon its face every sign of a depressed industry. The soil is weakly farmed; it is falling out of condition, and even out of cultivation; its produce per acre diminishes; foreign supplies pour into the country in increasing volume. Landlords have curtailed their expenditure, reduced their establishments, let or closed their houses, or become absentees on the Continent. Among farmers, arrears, bills of sale, liquidations, bankruptcies, keep in advance of abatements, remissions, and reductions of rent. Labourers are employed half time, or, thrown out of work, crowd into towns to meet an exodus into the country of starving artisans. The landlord's income is precarious, the farmer's fixed rent an improvident speculation, the labourer's wages an uncertain remuneration. With existing conditions all classes, but especially those engaged in agriculture, are necessarily dissatisfied. What steps can be taken to pave the way for improvement, or to prevent the recurrence of the present distress? and what measures can be adopted for the immediate relief of landlords, tenants, and labourers?

At the outset it may be said that, though State interests override the interests of individuals; though the cultivation and occupation of the soil are matters of national interest; though the limitation in the quantity of land attaches a fancy value to its acquisition and renders its possession a monopoly-no true distinction on the score of ownership can be drawn between real and personal property. Money invested in land and money invested in the funds are equally the fruits of industry, equally entitled to protection. Rights, legally acquired under the existing system, cannot be disturbed without destroying that security which is the vital breath of nations. Sudden changes, subversive of the social system, rather aggravate than cure existing evils. Freedom of contract is a sounder principle than State interference, and voluntary action more satisfactory than that compulsion which Mr. Chamberlain regards as a blessed word.' Whatever remedies be applied, they must be consistent with established rights and recognised economic laws.

one side, the accumulation of large estates in few hands is

admittedly an evil; on the other, the mixture of large, middle-sized, and small holdings is economically and socially the most advantageous organisation. But, unless legislation is ill-considered and revolutionary, no general change can be immediately effected in the occupation or even the cultivation of the soil. Wise reform will only affect existing conditions by degrees; it will pave the way for, but not effect, radical change; it will create no artificial class by the stroke of a pen. Relief from agricultural depression must be sought, not in the manufacture of a peasant proprietary by suppression of landlords, but in the restoration of confidence and the consequent attraction of more capital into land, the extinction of all hindrances to the developement of high farming, the removal of every obstacle to the wider distribution of landed interests.

Crude panaceas are in vogue at the present day; wild theories are promulgated for the redistribution of English land. In the days of her commercial and agricultural supremacy, England might safely ignore such demands for change. An ever-increasing prosperity postponed the shock of antagonistic interests. But now, when disastrous seasons and foreign competition have paralysed the energies of agriculturists, when commerce has ceased to expand with sufficient rapidity to employ a growing population, land questions are not merely considered with curiosity, but the exclusive privileges of the few are discussed with deepening eagerness. The assailants of property may be noisy out of all proportion to their numbers; their confidence may rather proceed from ignorance than from the calm of reasoned conviction; they may have given no proof, tested by success, that their schemes are feasible; they may forget that the first and worst sufferers by economic blunders are the poor; but it is idle to ignore the danger of an agitation which has already scared away capital from the land, and renders chronic the enfeebled condition of agriculture. It is easy to distinguish the historical and economical aspects of Irish from English land questions; yet the exceptional legislation which has been deemed necessary for the Irish tenantry has already borne fruit in England. The cry is raised, and assiduously encouraged by political leaders, that landlords are a parasitical growth, a remnant of feudalism, a class that reaps what others sow. The misconception is industriously fostered that England is a solitary exception to the universal rule of European landholding. It is maintained with increasing vehemence that God made the land for the

people, that land is an ager publicus, which the State has granted to landlords to administer, but which she may at pleasure resume. Men quote with approval Mirabeau's retort to the objection that he could not sell the landed property of the church— Not sell it! then I will give it.'

The peasant proprietor is the spoilt child of theorists; his artificial creation by the stroke of a pen is the favourite panacea of a large section of land reformers. Towards this end, in one shape or another, all theoretical reforms appear to tend. No one will deny that the spontaneous increase of small owners is socially and politically valuable, or that the aggregation of large properties in a few hands is a source of political and social danger. Latifundia perdidere Italiam;' and it is quite possible that land monopoly may prove the ruin of England. The happiness of a people depends on the distribution, not on the accumulation, of wealth; the larger the proportion of those who enjoy a proprietary interest in the soil, the stronger is the guarantee afforded to the stability of the State. From an economic point of view it may be doubted whether peasant proprietors are profitable; but the enquiry whether a large or small farm produces most per acre yields in importance to the question-Which contributes most to the sum total of national prosperity?

It is useless to appeal in favour of peasant proprietors to the instances quoted by Mill. His authorities belong to an extinct condition of society. At the present day means of communication are easy; agriculture has ceased to be selfsufficing, and has become dependent on manufacture; machinery has been introduced into all farming operations; foreign competition has to be faced. Statistics of foreign agricultural commissions prove that the continental peasantry are not more capable of competing with prairie farmers and rich, if not virgin, soils than are our English tenantry. The Agricultural Congress at Nancy, which concluded its session in the last week of August, 1886, practically decided that une seule ressource reste donc aux 'cultivateurs qui veulent éviter la ruine, c'est d'élever les ' rendements de leurs récoltes.' In other words, high farming is the recommendation of the Congress. Acre for acre, the English system produces more than the foreign. What reason is there to suppose that the raw agricultural labourer of England, suddenly planted on a cottier farm, will extract more from the soil than his continental rival, who is favoured by a genial climate, centuries of training, and acquired habits of industry and thrift? The heavy rainfall and low

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