Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy

John Stuart Mill
Mill, John Stuart
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
William J. Ashley, ed.
First Pub. Date
London; Longmans, Green and Co.
Pub. Date
7th edition.
25 of 79

Book II, Chapter VII

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.*90 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 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 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 chapter*91 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.*92


*93We 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*94 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 be 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.*95 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,*96 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*97 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,*98 "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."*99


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,*100 "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 1000l., 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.


*101"In some parts of Switzerland," says Mr. Kay,*102 "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 evidence*103 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,*104 "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."*105


In Flanders, according to Mr. Fauche, the British Consul at Ostend,*106 "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,*107 "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,*108 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,*109 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.*110 *111At 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."*112 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.*113 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.*114 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.*115


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,*116 "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,*117 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."


*118"In some places," says M. de Lavergne,*119 "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,*120 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.*121


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 of 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.*122 We are not on the present occasion called upon to compare it with the joint ownership of the land by associations of labourers.*123

Notes for this chapter

Der Canton Schaffhausen (ut supra), p. 53.
Supra, Book i. ch. ix. § 4.
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.

"I do 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 gazes, serious 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 a passer-by, 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."—Le Peuple, by J. Michelet, 1re partie, ch. 1.

[This paragraph was added in the 5th ed. (1862).]
Essai sur l'Economie Rurale de l'Angleterre, de l'Ecosse, et de l'Irlande, 3me éd. p. 127. [Cf. English translation in Rural Economy of Great Britain and Ireland (1855), p. 116.]

Book II. Chapter VII. Section 2

[Here followed in the original text the following words, omitted in the 3rd ed, (1852): "then indeed he may feel with the old doggrel—

    Hang sorrow, cast away care,
    The parish is bound to find us.

But unless so shielded, the day labourer," &c.]

Book II. Chapter VII. Section 4

Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, p. 146. [Peasant Rents, p. 132.]
Ibid. p. 68. [Peasant Rents, p. 59.]
Notes of a Traveller, p. 46.
Nouveaux Principes, Book iii. ch. 3.
Residence in Norway, p. 18.
[This and the next two paragraphs were added in the 3rd ed. (1852).]
Vol. i. pp. 67-9.
Vol. i. pp. 75-9.
Ibid. p. 90.
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.
In a communication to the Commissioners of Poor Law Enquiry, p. 640 of their Foreign Communications, Appendix F to their First Report.
Ibid. 268.
The following is the table (see p. 168 of the Belgian translation of Mr. Rau's large work):

Per cent.

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

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

The following table given by M. Quetelet (Sur l'Homme et le Développement de ses Facultés, 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. Per cent. Per cent.
Ireland 2.45 Rhenish Prussia 1.33 Naples 0.83
Hungary 2.40 Austria 1.30 France 0.63
Spain 1.66 Bavaria 1.08 Sweden 0.58
England 1.65 Netherlands 0.94 Lombardy 0.45

A very carefully prepared statement, by M. Legoyt, in the Journal des 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.   According to the census. According to the excess of births over deaths.
per cent. per cent. per cent. per cent.
Sweden 0.83 1.14 Wurtemburg 0.01 1.00
Norway 1.36 1.30 Holland 0.90 1.03
Denmark   0.95 Belgium   0.76
Russia   0.61 Sardinia 1.08  
Austria 0.85 0.90 Great Britain (exclusive of Ireland) 1.95 1.00
Prussia 1.84 1.18
Saxony 1.45 0.90
Hanover   0.85 France 0.68 0.50
Bavaria   0.71 United States 3.27  

Journal des Economistes for March and May 1847.
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.
[This sentence was added to the 4th ed. (1857).]
Journal des Economistes for February 1847.—[1865] 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. [M. Emile Levasscur (La Population Francaise, 1889, vol. i. p. 315) cites a calculation of M. Loua, according to which the increase per cent for the territory which has constituted France since 1871, was for the period 1801-1821 0.56; 1821-1841, 0.59; 1841-1861, 0.36; 1861-1881, 0.27.]
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.
" 1829 to 1833 " 965,444, " 1 in 34.00
" 1834 to 1838 " 972,993, " 1 in 34.39
" 1839 to 1843 " 970,617, " 1 in 35.27
" 1844 and 1845 " 983,573, " 1 in 35.58

In the last two years the births, according to M. Legoyt, were swelled by the effects of a considerable immigration. "This diminution of births," he observes, "while there is a constant, though not a rapid increase both of population and of marriages, can only be attributed to the progress of prudence and forethought in families. It was a foreseen consequence of our civil and social institutions, which, producing a daily increasing subdivision of fortunes, both landed and moveable, call forth in our people the instincts of conservation and of comfort."

In four departments, among which are two of the most thriving in Normandy, the deaths even then exceeded the births.—[1857] 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.

"The classes of our population which have only wages, and are therefore the most exposed to indigence, are now (1846) much better provided with the necessaries of food, lodging, and clothing than they were at the beginning of the century. This may be proved by the testimony of all persons who can remember the earlier of the two periods compared. Were there any doubts on the subject they might easily be dissipated by consulting old cultivators and workmen, as I have myself done in various localities, without meeting with a single contrary testimony; we may also appeal to the facts collected by an accurate observer, M. Villermé (Tableau de l'Etat Physique et Moral des Ouvriers, liv. ii. ch. i.)." From an intelligent work published in 1846, Recherches sur les Causes de l'Indigence, par A. Clément, pp. 84-5. The same writer speaks (p. 118) of: "the considerable rise which has taken place since 1789 in the wages of agricultural day-labourers;" 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. "In the last fifteen or twenty years a considerable change has taken place in the habits of the operatives in our manufacturing towns: they now expend much more than formerly on clothing and ornament.... Certain classes of workpeople, such as the canuts of Lyons," (according to all representations, like their counterpart, our handloom weavers, the very worst paid class of artizans,) "no longer snow themselves, as they did formerly, covered with filthy rags." (Page 164.)

[1862] 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. Léonce de Lavergne, Economie Rurale de la France depuis 1789. According to that painstaking, 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 greater ratio, not short of double. The following are the words of M. de Lavergne (2nd ed. p. 57): "Arthur Young estimates at 19 sous [9½d.] the average of a day's wages, which must now be about 1 franc 50 centimos [1s. 3d.], and this increase only represents a part of the improvement. Though the rural population has remained about the same in numbers, the addition made to the population since 1789 having centred in the towns, the number of actual working days has increased, first because, the duration of life having augmented, the number of able-bodied men is greater, and next, because labour is better organized, partly through the suppression of several festival-holidays, partly by the mere effect of a more active demand. When we take into account the increased number of his working days, the annual receipts of the rural workman must have doubled. This augmentation of wages answers to at least an equal augmentation of comforts, since the prices of the chief necessaries of life have changed but little, and those of manufactured, for example of woven, articles, have materially diminished. The lodging of the labourers has also improved, if not in all, at least in most of our provinces."

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

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 greatly improved in quantity and quality. "It is to-day considerably better than it was about forty years ago, when the poorer class obtained less flesh-meat and puddings, and no cheese, butter, and the like" (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.

Book II. Chapter VII. Section 5

Page 334 of the Brussels translation. He cites as an authority, Schwerz, Landwirthschaftliche Mittheilungen, i. 185.
One of the many important papers which have appeared in the Journal des 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 in a pamphlet.
[This paragraph was added in the 5th ed. (1862).]
Economie Rurale de la France, p. 455.
P. 117. 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.
[1852] 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, he 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.
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.

"In the worst times," says the historian Michelet (Le Peuple, 1re partie, ch. 1), "the times of universal poverty, when even the rich are poor and obliged to sell, the poor are enabled to buy: no other purchaser presenting himself, the peasant in rags arrives with his piece of gold, and acquires a little bit of land. These moments of disaster in which the peasant was able to buy land at a low price, have always been followed by a sudden gush of prosperity which people could not account for. Towards 1500, for example, when France, exhausted by Louis XI., seemed to be completing its ruin in Italy, the noblesse who went to the wars were obliged to sell: the land, passing into new hands, suddenly began to flourish: men began to labour and to build. This happy moment, in the style of courtly historians, was called the good Louis XII.

"Unhappily it did not last long. Scarcely had the land recovered itself when the tax-collector fell upon it; the wars of religion followed, and seemed to rase everything to the ground; with horrible miseries, dreadful famines, in which mothers devoured their children. Who would believe that the country recovered from this? Scarcely is the war ended, when from the devastated fields, and the cottages still black with the flames, comes forth the hoard of the peasant. He buys; in ten years, France wears a new face; in twenty or thirty, all possessions have doubled and trebled in value. This moment, again baptized by a royal name, is called the good Henry IV. and the great 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. [This quotation from Michelet originally came at the end of chapter x, infra, on Means of Abolishing Cottier Tenancy. It was transferred to its present position in the 5th ed. (1862).]

[The last two sentences replaced in the 3rd ed. (1852) the concluding sentence of the original text: "Whether and in what these considerations admit of useful application to any of the social questions of our time, will be considered in a future chapter."

The position of peasant proprietors in Germany in more recent decades may be studied in Buchenberger, Agrarwesen, one of the volumes in Wagner's Lehrbuch der Politischen Oekonomie (1892), §§ 69, 70, 73; Blondel, Études sur les Populations Rurales de l'Allemagne (1897); and David, Sozialismus and Landwirthschaft (1903). As to whether morcellement is progressing in France, see Gide, Économic Sociale (1905), pp. 429 seq.]

Book II. Chapter VIII. Section 1

End of Notes

25 of 79

Return to top