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.
THERE are two methods of writing travels; to register the journey itself, or the result of it. In the former case, it is a diary, under which head are to be classed all those books of travels written in the form of letters. The latter usually falls into the shape of essays on distinct subjects. Of the former method of composing, almost every book of modern travels is an example. Of the latter, the admirable essays of my valuable friend Mr. Professor Symonds, upon Italian agriculture,
*1 are the most perfect specimens.
It is of very little importance what form is adopted by a man of real genius; he will make any form useful, and any information interesting. But for persons of more moderate talents, it is of consequence to consider the circumstances for and against both these modes.
The journal form hath the advantage of carrying with it a greater degree of credibility; and, of course, more weight. A traveller who thus registers his observations is detected the moment he writes of things he has not seen. He is precluded from giving studied or elaborate remarks upon insufficient foundations: If he sees little, he must register little: if he has few good opportunities, of being well informed, the reader is enabled to observe it, and will be induced to give no more credit to his relations than the sources of them appear to deserve: If he passes so rapidly through a country as necessarily to be no judge of what he sees, the reader knows it: if he dwells long in places of
little or no moment with private views or for private business, the circumstance is seen; and thus the reader has the satisfaction of being as safe from imposition either designed or involuntary, as the nature of the case will admit: all which advantages are wanted in the other method.
But to balance them, there are on the other hand some weighty inconveniences; among these the principal is, the prolixity to which a diary generally leads; the very mode of writing almost making it inevitable. It necessarily causes repetitions of the same subjects and the same ideas; and that surely must be deemed no inconsiderable fault, when one employs many words to say what might be better said in a few. Another capital objection is, that subjects of importance, instead of being treated
de suite for illustration or comparison, are given by scraps as received, without order, and without connection; a mode which lessens the effect of writing, and destroys much of its utility.
In favour of composing essays on the principal objects that have been observed, that is, giving the result of travels and not the travels themselves, there is this obvious and great advantage, that the subjects thus treated are in as complete a state of combination and illustration as the abilities of the author can make them; the matter comes with full force and effect. Another admirable circumstance is brevity; for by the rejection of all useless details, the reader has nothing before him but what tends to the full explanation of the subject: of the disadvantages, I need not speak; they are sufficiently noted by shewing the benefits of the diary form; for proportionably to the benefits of the one will clearly be the disadvantages of the other.
After weighing the
pour and the
contre, I think that it is not impracticable in my peculiar case to retain the benefits of both these plans.
With one leading and predominant object in view, namely agriculture, I have conceived that I might throw each subject of it into distinct chapters, retaining all the advantages which arise from composing the result only of my travels.
At the same time, that the reader may have whatever satisfaction flows from the diary form, the observations which I made upon the face of the countries through which I passed; and upon the manners, customs, amusements, towns, roads, seats, &c., may, without injury, be given in a journal, and thus satisfy the reader in all those points, with which he ought in candour to be made acquainted, for the reasons above intimated.
It is upon this idea that I have reviewed my notes, and executed the work I now offer to the public.
But travelling upon paper, as well as moving amongst rocks and rivers, hath its difficulties. When I had traced my plan, and begun to work upon it, I rejected without mercy a variety of little circumstances relating to myself only, and of conversations with various persons which I had thrown upon paper for the amusement of my family and intimate friends. For this I was remonstrated with by a person, of whose judgment I think highly, as having absolutely spoiled my diary, by expunging the very passages that would best please the mass of common readers; in a word, that I must give up the journal plan entirely or let it go as it was written.—To treat the public like a friend, let them see all, and trust to their candour for forgiving trifles. He reasoned thus:
Depend on it, Young, that those notes you wrote at the moment, are more likely to please than what you will now produce coolly, with the idea of reputation in your head: whatever you strike out will be what is most interesting, for you will be guided by the importance of the subject; and believe me, it is not this consideration that pleases so much as a careless and easy mode of thinking and writing, which every man exercises most when he does not compose for the press. That I am right in this opinion you yourself afford a proof. Your tour of Ireland (he was pleased to say)
is one of the best accounts of a country I have read, yet it had no great success. Why? Because the chief part of it is a farming diary, which, however valuable it may be to consult, nobody will read. If, therefore, you print your journal at all, print it so as to be read; or reject the method entirely, and confine yourself to set dissertations. Remember the travels of Dr. — and Mrs. —, from which it would be difficult to gather one single importantidea, yet they were received with applause; nay, the bagatelles of Baretti, amongst the Spanish muleteers were read with avidity.
The high opinion I have of the judgment of my friend, induced me to follow his advice; in consequence of which, I venture to offer my itinerary to the public, just as it was written on the spot: requesting my reader, if much should be found of a trifling nature, to pardon it, from a reflection, that the chief object of my travels is to be found in another part of the work, to which he may at once have recourse, if he wish to attend only to subjects of a more important character.
[All foot-notes are by the Editor unless it is stated otherwise.]
Journal, May 15, 1787.