Arthur Young's Travels in France During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789
By Arthur Young
Arthur Young (1741-1820) was an 18th century English writer who is best known for the detailed accounts he published of his “travels” in England, Wales, Ireland and France on the eve of the revolution. After he inherited his father’s family estate in 1759 he began experimenting with agricultural improvements in order to maximise output. Although he was not always successful in achieving his goals, his writings contained very detailed observations and analysis of agricultural matters and were extremely popular. He began with
A Course of Experimental Agriculture (1770) based upon his personal experiences and then traveled widely, commenting on the state of agriculture in Britain and France. The following books were the result:
A Six Weeks’ Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales (1768),
A Six Months’ Tour through the North of England (1770),
Farmer’s Tour through the East of England (1771),
A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779 (1780), and
Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789 (1792). He also published a number of reference works on agriculture and farming which went through many editions and were translated into several European languages. These included the
Political Arithmetic (1774), and the 45 volume
Annals of Agriculture (1784-). Upon his return from France he was appointed to the position of secretary of the Board of Agriculture in the British government in which capacity he organized the collection and preparation of agricultural surveys of the English counties. Later in life he suffered from blindness brought on by severe cataracts and a failed operation to cure it.Young was a pioneer in the detailed observation of economic conditions in the countryside and the collection of statistical data relating to agriculture. Although modern historians dispute the reliability of his data and the conclusions he sometimes draws from them they recognise the important work he did in beginning the modern collection and analysis of this material. Young is also noteworthy for the sheer luck of being in France on the eve of and during the early part of the French Revolution. He was able to provide in his dairies close observations of the social, political and economic conditions of the French countryside as it was convulsed by violent revolution. This makes his
Travels in France (1792) particularly valuable to historians.Politically, Young was a liberal reformer. He urged the repeal of the penal laws which discriminated against Catholics, he condemned the British regulation of Irish commerce, and criticised the Irish Parliament’s industrial policy of prohibitions and bounties. He was a staunch supporter of property rights in agriculture as a means of reducing poverty. Some of his more famous sayings were “the magic of property turns sand into gold” and “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.”Betham-Edwards (
Miss Matilda Betham-Edwards, 1836-1919) published editions of
Young’s Travels in France in 1889 (listed as the 2nd ed.), 1890 (3rd ed.), 1892 (4th corrected ed.).
Dr. David M. Hart
BibliographyAllen, Robert C. and Cormac Ó Gráda, “On the Road Again with Arthur Young: English, Irish, and French Agriculture during the Industrial Revolution,”
Journal of Economic History 48 (1988): 93-116.Brunt Liam, “Rehabilitating Arthur Young,”
Economic History Review 56 (2003): 265-99.Gazley, John G.,
The Life of Arthur Young, 1741-1820. Philadelphia Philosophical Society, 1973.Mingay, G.E. (ed.).
Arthur Young and His Times. London: Macmillan, 1975.Stead, David R. “Arthur Young”. EH.net Encyclopedia
Matilda Betham-Edwards, ed.
First Pub. Date
London: George Bell and Sons
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Arthur Young: frontispiece, courtesy Liberty Fund, Inc.
IT is a question whether modern history has anything more curious to offer to the attention of the politician, than the progress and rivalship of the French and English empires, from the ministry of Colbert to the revolution in France. In the course of those 130 years, both have figured with a degree of splendour that has attracted the admiration of mankind.
In proportion to the power, the wealth, and the resources of these nations, is the interest which the world in general takes in the maxims of political œconomy by which they have been governed. To examine how far the system of that œconomy has influenced agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and public felicity, is certainly an inquiry of no slight importance; and so many books have been composed on the
theory of these, that the public can hardly think that time misemployed which attempts to give THE PRACTICE.
The survey which I made, some years past, of the agriculture of England and Ireland (the minutes of which I published under the title of
Tours), was such a step towards understanding the state of our husbandry as I shall not presume to characterise; there are but few of the European nations that do not read these Tours in their own language; and, notwithstanding all their faults and deficiencies, it has been often regretted, that no similar description of France could be resorted to, either by the
farmer or the politician. Indeed it could not but be lamented, that this vast kingdom, which has so much figured in history, were likely to remain another century unknown, with respect to those circumstances that are the objects of my enquiries. An hundred and thirty years have passed, including one of the most active and conspicuous reigns upon record, in which the French power and resources, though much overstrained, were formidable to Europe. How far were that power and those resources founded on the permanent basis of an enlightened agriculture? How far on the more insecure support of manufactures and commerce? How far have wealth and power and exterior splendour, from whatever cause they may have arisen, reflected back upon the people the prosperity they implied? Very curious inquiries; yet resolved insufficiently by those whose political reveries are spun by their firesides, or caught flying as they are whirled through Europe in post-chaises. A man who is not practically acquainted with agriculture, knows not how to make those inquiries; he scarcely knows how to discriminate the circumstances productive of misery, from those which generate the felicity of a people; an assertion that will not appear paradoxical, to those who have attended closely to these subjects. At the same time, the mere agriculturist, who makes such journies, sees little or nothing of the connection between the practice in the fields, and the resources of the empire; of combinations that take place between operations apparently unimportant, and the general interest of the state; combinations so curious, as to convert, in some cases, well cultivated fields into scenes of misery, and accuracy of husbandry into the parent of national weakness. These are subjects that never will be understood from the speculations of the mere farmer, or the mere politician; they demand a mixture of both; and the investigation of a
mind free from prejudice, particularly national prejudice; from the love of system, and of the vain theories that are to be found in the closets of speculators alone. God forbid that I should be guilty of the vanity of supposing myself thus endowed! I know too well the contrary; and have no other pretension to undertake so arduous a work, than that of having reported the agriculture of England with some little success. Twenty years experience, since that attempt, may make me hope to be not less qualified for similar exertions at present.
The clouds that, for four or five years past, have indicated a change in the political sky of the French hemisphere, and which have since gathered to so singular a storm, have rendered it yet more interesting, to know what France was previously to any change. It would indeed have been matter of astonishment, if monarchy had risen, and had set in that region, without the kingdom having had any examination professedly agricultural.
The candid reader will not expect, from the registers of a traveller, that minute analysis of common practice, which a man is enabled to give, who resides some months, or years, confined to one spot; twenty men, employed during twenty years, would not effect it; and supposing it done, not one thousandth part of their labours would be worth a perusal. Some singularly enlightened districts merit such attention; but the number of them, in any country, is inconsiderable; and the practices that deserve such a study, perhaps, still fewer: to know that unenlightened practices exist, and want improvement, is the chief knowledge that is of use to convey; and this rather for the statesman than the farmer. No reader, if he knows anything of my situation, will expect, in this work, what the advantages of rank and fortune are necessary to produce—of such I had none to exert, and could combat
difficulties with no other arms than unremitted attention, and unabating industry. Had my aims been seconded by that success in life, which gives energy to effort, and vigour to pursuit, the work would have been more worthy of the public eye; but such success must, in this kingdom, be sooner looked for in any other path than in that of the plough; the
non ullus aratro dignus honos, was not more applicable to a period of confusion and bloodshed at Rome, than one of peace and luxury in England.
One circumstance I may be allowed to mention, because it will shew, that whatever faults the ensuing pages contain, they do not flow from any presumptive expectation of success: a feeling that belongs to writers only, much more popular than myself: when the publisher agreed to run the hazard of printing these papers, and some progress being made in the journal, the whole MS. was put into the compositor’s hand to be examined, if there were a sufficiency for a volume of sixty sheets; he found enough prepared for the press to fill 140: and I assure the reader, that the successive employment of striking out and mutilating more than the half of what I had written, was executed with more indifference than regret, even though it obliged me to exclude several chapters, upon which I had taken considerable pains. The publisher would have printed the whole; but whatever faults may be found with the author, he ought at least to be exempted from the imputation of an undue confidence in the public favour; since, to expunge was undertaken as readily as to compose.—So much depended in the second part of the work on accurate figures, that I did not care to trust to myself, but employed a schoolmaster, who has the reputation of being a good arithmetician, for examining the calculations, and I hope he has not let any material errors escape him.
The revolution in France was a hazardous and critical subject, but too important to be neglected; the details I have given, and the reflections I have ventured, will, I trust, be received with candour, by those who consider how many authors, of no inconsiderable ability and reputation, have failed on that difficult theme: the course I have steered is so removed from extremes, that I can hardly hope for the approbation of more than a few; and I may apply to myself, in this instance, the words of Swift:—”I have the ambition, common with other reasoners, to wish at least that both parties may think me
in the right; but if that is not to be hoped for, my next wish should be, that both might think me
in the wrong; which I would understand as an ample justification of myself, and a sure ground to believe that I have proceeded at least with impartiality, and perhaps with truth.”
et seq., “Les Serfs transformés en roturiers,” and vol. vii., p. 190, “Etats Généraux.”
lunetterie resolves itself into a scientific study of noses!—a long-nosed nation requiring one kind of spectacles, a short-nosed people an other, and so on. A pair of spectacles can be made here for three half-pence.
Another interesting fact recorded is the item of expenditure. The first journey, lasting just upon six months, cost £118 15
d. The second journey, of eighty-eight days, cost just £61, or at the rate of fourteen shillings a day, about the sum an economical traveller would spend in France at the present time, obtaining naturally much more comfort for his money.
Readers of Arthur Young will do well to consult the reports of the Administration of Agriculture in France, 1785-7, recently published with notes by MM. Pigeonneau and De Foville, whilst the work of the latter on the subdivision of land, “Le Morcellement,” Paris, 1885, is a mine of information conveyed in a most interesting manner.
Chapter 1, Author’s Introduction