Alfred Russell Wallace :
Its necessity and its aims (1882)
CHAPTER V –
The social and economical effects of English landlordism.
Landlordism in England is seen at its best—despotic power of landlords—landlords’ interference with religious freedom—landlords’ interference with political freedom—landlords’ interference with a tenant’s amusements—eviction of the inhabitants of an entire village—injurious power of landlords over farmers and over agriculture—limitation of the beneficial influence of landlords—it would be greatly increased under occupying ownership—supposed importance of the large farms which landlordism favours—the effects of landlordism on the well-being of the labouring classes—deterioration of the agricultural labourer during the present century—the social degradation of the agricultural labourer at the present day—this state of things is due to the system of landlordism, not to the bad conduct of landlords—the enclosure act and its results—uniform evidence as to the beneficial effects of allotments and cottage gardens—beneficial effects of small cottage farms—the logical bearing of this evidence—various powers exercised by landlords to the detriment of the public—free choice of a home essential to social well-being—characteristics of a good system of land tenure—enclosure of commons and mountain wastes as affecting the public—the destruction of ancient monuments—public improvements checked by landlordism—permanent deterioration of the country by the export of minerals—concluding remarks on English landlordism.
In England pure landlordism is seen at its best. Its characteristics have been determined by the great and popular class of country squires and by numerous wealthy peers owning large ancestral estates, who have usually lived among their tenants, have been accustomed to treat them liberally, and have had sympathy with their pursuits and a desire for their prosperity. The tenant-farmers, too, are usually men of some capital, of good education, and of independent spirit, who are able to understand their position and maintain their rights, and whose occupancy of the land is the result of a more or less free contract with the owner. It is impossible to imagine more favourable conditions for the trial of our actual land-system; and we may safely assume that whatever evils we find to result from it here ought not to be imputed to the misconduct of individuals, but to the essential features of the system itself. There are, no doubt, certain remediable evils due to the laws of inheritance and the power of entail. These will probably soon be cured; but their removal will have little influence on those wider and more deeply-seated effects of the system to which I shall here call attention.
Despotic Power of Landlords.—The Hon. George C. Brodrick, in his valuable and impartial work, “English Land and English Landlords,” speaks of the large resident landowner of a parish or district as being “invested with an authority over its inhabitants which neither the Saxon chief nor the Norman lord, in the fulness of his power, ever had the right of exercising.” The clergyman is usually his nominee, and often his kinsman. The farmers, who are almost the only employers of labour besides himself, are his tenants-at-will, and, possibly, his debtors. The tradespeople of the village rent under him, and, even if they do not, could be ruined by his disfavour. The labourers live in his cottages, and are absolutely at his mercy for the privilege of hiring allotments, generally of inadequate size, and at an exorbitant rent as compared with the same land occupied by farmers[i]; and they are also dependent upon him for work in winter. He is usually a magistrate, and thus has the power of the law in his hands to carry out his orders and enhance his authority. Except by his permission, merely to live upon his estate is impossible; while most of the inhabitants may have their lives rendered miserable, or may be actually ruined by his displeasure. As Mr. Brodrick says: “We are wont to look back on Saxon times as barbarous, and on the feudal system as oppressive; but the simple truth is that nine-tenths of the population in an English country parish have at this moment less share in local government than belonged to all classes of freemen for centuries before and for centuries after the Norman Conquest. Again: they have not only less share in local government than belongs to French peasants in the present day, but less than belonged to French peasants under the eighteenth century monarchy.” It may be said that this could be remedied, and that local self-government could be given to our people. But this is not so. No people can be free who are dependent on others for the very right to live in their native place or wherever they have become settled. So long as a man can be evicted and banished from a local community at the will of the landlord, there can be no independence, and no possible freedom or self-government worthy of the name. It is because the French peasants are landowners, and because the Norman villeins were in the position of copy-holders, and could not be ejected by the lord of the soil, that they were really free-men, while the tenants-at-will of an English landlord to-day are really serfs. Mr. Brodrick refers to the exclusion of manufacturing industries from sites naturally adapted for them, and their excessive concentration on sites artificially limited, with the consequent evils of overcrowding in towns and depopulation in some country districts, as being due to the opposition of rural landowners who thought their interests were involved; while all who remember the early days of railway-making can call to mind instances in which landowners exercised the power of compelling a railway to be diverted from the more direct and less expensive course, to the permanent injury of the whole community. Such cases show the power to check the free development of commerce and communication given to an individual by the possession of large areas of land—a power absolutely unique of its kind, since, not only can it be exercised by subjects in no other way, but is such as no civilised government exerts except upon weighty grounds of public policy.
Landlords’ Interference with Religious Freedom.—But even more important than these cases are those in which a great landowner exercises despotic power over individuals, such as we are accustomed to look upon with horror when occurring in the Turkish or Russian Empires. One or two illustrative examples only can be here given, but a little research through the columns of the daily press would enable any one to fill a volume with similar cases. Let us first choose an example of interference with religious freedom—a matter on which we more especially pride ourselves. In April 1879 there appeared in the Daily News a correspondence between Samuel McAulay, a Wesleyan Minister, and Langhorne Burton, a Lincolnshire landowner. The former asked that religious services which had been conducted for thirty years in the village of Bag-Enderby, and which the said landlord had interdicted, might be resumed, the writer urging his case forcibly, but in very respectful terms. The answer was as follows:—
“Somersby, Horncastle, 20th March. Sir,—I have to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 17th instant, applying for permission to resume your Wesleyan services which have been for some time held in one of my cottages at Bag-Enderby, and which permission, you say at the close of your letter, you shall take for granted if you hear nothing to the contrary. Now, sir, I consider this rather an offhand way of settling the matter, and I request that you will on no account act as you propose, at any rate until you hear further from me. The result of such a step on your part would probably be the removal from Bag-Enderby of all the members of your body, who are of little value to me as tenants. I wish to have as tenants none (these italics are his own) but thorough Church people, and consider myself quite at liberty to choose such as I like, without being dictated to by anybody. Reasons apart from this for my interdict of your meetings in Bag-Enderby I do not feel called upon to enter into with you. I also forbear to remark upon your seeming disposition to dictate to me my duty as a landlord. Your letters I have placed in my rector’s hands, and beg to state in conclusion that I will write to you again should occasion require it.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
“Rev. S. McAulay.”
Here we note the confirmation of the interdict, and the threat of “removal of the members of your body” from the village, of which many were probably natives; as well as the claim “to have as tenants none but thorough Church people,” a claim to be carried into effect only by the eviction of all Dissenters from the landlord’s property. The law of England permits the free practice of their religion by any sect whatever, but it is powerless to protect the Wesleyans of Bag-Enderby from what might be to many of them a very cruel punishment if they venture to exercise their right. Mr. Burton is probably not the only landowner who acts in this manner, though few would so openly proclaim their intention of doing so; but every landowner possesses the same power, and since it is plainly inconsistent with religious liberty, it ought no longer to exist. Yet this power is inherent in landlordism as established by law, and the inevitable corollary is that landlordism itself is incompatible with the freedom of British subjects, and must therefore be abolished.
Landlords’ Interference with Political Freedom.—Instances of tenant-farmers of the highest respectability being ejected from their farms for voting in opposition to their landlords’ will and pleasure must be known to every reader. A few years ago the eviction of the late Mr. George Hope, of Fenton Barns, an agriculturist of world-wide reputation, startled all England. The facts, as stated in the account of his life written by his daughter, are as follows. The Hopes had had the farm (of 640 acres) for three generations, and had changed it from “a moorish waste covered with furze-bushes” to a rich and highly cultivated farm. The rent had always been regularly paid, the land kept in the highest state of cultivation, and many improvements made, so that Mr. Hope was really a model tenant, besides being, as an agriculturist, celebrated throughout Europe. He was turned out by his landlord, because he held different political opinions and took an active part in politics and in public affairs. Up to 1852 neither Mr. Hope, his father, nor his grandfather had made any profit out of the farm; since then his energy and talent had made it very profitable, but at the same time it had been vastly improved for the benefit of the landlord—Mr. Nisbet Hamilton.
Another tenant on the same estate—Mr. Saddler, of Ferrygate—was also got rid of (for political reasons it was believed), and his improvements were confiscated without the least compensation. Mr. James Howard, M.P., states that these two gentlemen were, without exception, the most enterprising farmers of his acquaintance; and he maintains that the system under which men of capital and position may, on six short months’ notice, be called upon to quit their farms and to break up house and home is one worthy only of a barbarous age.[ii]
Landlords’ Interference with a Tenant’s Sport.—The following is a more recent case of ejection of a well-to-do hereditary occupant of a farm, who had offended his landlord by daring to secure some sporting privileges for his private enjoyment, without first asking permission to do so.
Mr. W. R. Todd, who with his father had occupied the same Yorkshire farm for forty years, took a few fields which were let by tender, together with the right of shooting, in order to enjoy some sport, which the landlord of his farm forbade on his lands. On doing so, his landlord sent for him, and told him he must either give up the shooting or the farm, as his tenants were not allowed to shoot, even on land which they had taken for the express purpose. Accordingly, Mr. Todd had to quit, and stated his case in the Daily News of October last year. The landlord’s agent thereupon wrote to explain, admitting that the facts were stated correctly by Mr. Todd, but adding that there were circumstances of aggravation, the tenant having “placed turnips to attract the hares, and shot them in the dusk when the snow was on the ground.” Considering that so much damage is done by hares that the Legislature have since been obliged to give tenants the power to destroy them, whether their landlords will or no, Mr. Todd’s conduct seems very natural, and was certainly neither legally nor morally wrong. Neither can we say that the landlord was wrong in using the power he possessed to preserve the hares for his own sport; but the circumstance, none the less, shows that a tenant-farmer of England lives under a hard despotism, and is liable to be expelled from the home of his childhood for the slightest interference with his landlord’s fancies or privileges.
Eviction of the Inhabitants of an Entire Village.—In the following case, given on the authority of Mr. Froude,[iii]no offence whatever appears to have been alleged against the unfortunate tenants. He says:—”Not a mile from the place where I am now writing an estate on the coast of Devonshire came into the hands of an English Duke. There was a primitive village upon it, occupied by sailors, pilots, and fishermen, which is described in Domesday Book, and was inhabited at the Conquest by the actual forefathers of the late tenants, whose names may be read there. The houses were out of repair. The Duke’s predecessors had laid out nothing upon them for a century, and had been contented with exacting the rents. When the present owner entered into possession it was represented to him that if the village was to continue it must be rebuilt, but that to rebuild it would be a needless expense, for the people, living as they did on their wages as fishermen and seamen, would not cultivate his land, and were useless to him. The houses were therefore simply torn down, and nearly half the population was driven out into the world to find new homes. A few more such instances of tyranny might provoke a dangerous crisis.” Here, then, for no offence whatever, a considerable village population—who, if long-continued ancestral occupancy goes for anything, had the full moral and equitable right to live on this particular portion of their native soil—were rudely driven out to what must have been to them a cruel banishment. Some grave political crime, some gross offence against law or morality, would hardly have justified such a punishment, in which old and young, women and children, were alike involved. Who can tell the mental anguish, the physical suffering involved in such an eviction; the burning sense of injury, the rending of social ties, the pain and loss of having to seek a fresh home and begin a new life at the will of an unknown and unseen despot? And the powerful Government of our free England, with its high-sounding declarations—that every man’s house is his castle; that rich and poor are alike in the eye of its laws; and that there is no wrong without a remedy—was absolutely powerless to give these poor villagers any protection whatever! By recognising private property in land, the State has set up in its midst a number of petty lords more powerful than any Government; and whose decrees, whatever injustice they may do, or whatever misery bring to British subjects, no court of law or equity is able to reverse. Well may Mr. Brodrick say that neither Saxon chief nor Norman lord ever had the right of exercising such power as this; for they at all events had a superior lord over them who could, if he so willed, remedy such injustice, while our existing Government can not do so.
On the broad ground, then, that the possession of land (for other purposes than personal occupation) gives the owner powers which are inconsistent with the liberties of their fellow-subjects, we again claim the abolition of landlordism.
Injurious Power of Landlords over Farmers and over Agriculture.—One of the strongest points of the landlord system is supposed to be the beneficial influence of an educated and enlightened class, whose duty as well as their interest is to manage their estates on the best principles, to introduce improved methods of agriculture, and generally to set a good example in both agricultural and social economy. Admitting that the best types of landlords actually do produce these good effects, we are bound to ask what proportion these bear to the whole body, and whether in the majority of cases, a great landowner is not rather a clog upon progressive agriculture, by the antiquated regulations which he enforces on his tenants, while by inordinate game-preserving he actually destroys large quantities of the produce of the soil.
Mr. Brodrick tells us that the most profitable form of agricultural occupation is that which most resembles ownership; that “the best agriculture is found on farms whose owners are protected by leases; the next best on farms whose tenants are protected by the Lincolnshire or other customs; the worst of all on farms whose tenants are not protected at all, but rely on the honour of their landlords.” Now during the present century the custom of granting leases has diminished, partly owing to the desire of landlords to secure political power by influencing their tenants’ votes, and partly from the importance they attach to rights of sporting, which often induces them to accept low rents from non-improving tenants, who can be turned out at short notice if they meddle with the game; and Mr. Brodrick concludes that, “by the operation of these and other causes, it is tolerably certain that yearly tenancy has become the rule, and leasehold tenancy the exception, in most English counties;” while Mr. C. S. Read, M.P., stated, at a recent meeting of the Farmers’ Club, that three-fourths of the land of England is held subject to a six months’ notice to quit. Whence it follows that a system of tenure which produces “the worst agriculture of all” is that which prevails over the larger part of our country; and this result is due directly to the will and pleasure of English landlords.
But even under its best conditions—that of holding by a lease—tenant farming is essentially wasteful and imperfect. The tenant is almost always subject to covenants which restrict his freedom and keep him in a certain routine of operations, even under circumstances when a change would be advantageous to all parties. He is bound to make up a fixed amount of rent annually, and is therefore unable to carry out any operations which would diminish his profits for one or two years, to increase them largely in the future. Whatever improvements he may make at the commencement of his lease must be so calculated that he can obtain their full value before its termination; and there is great waste of capital involved in the tendency of every such tenant to exhaust the soil as much as possible towards the expiration of a lease, which has to be restored to its normal fertility in the early years of the next term.
Limitation of the Beneficial Influence of Landlords.—Again, whatever benefits may be due to the presence of resident landlords, these extend over comparatively a small portion of the country, owing to the number of absentees even in England. From an examination of the official New Domesday Book, Mr. Arthur Arnold has ascertained that the 525 members of the peerage own 1,593 separate estates, comprising an area of more than 15,000,000 acres; or, allowing for roads, rivers, towns, and other public property, about one-third the whole land of the United Kingdom. The Duke of Buccleugh owns 14 separate estates, and four other peers 11 each, while the whole body of peers average 3 each, often widely separated in different counties. It is evident that in all these cases the estates must be wholly managed by agents; and, although the owner may occasionally visit each of them, the supposed beneficial influence of residency must be at a minimum. The list of landowners possessing more than 5,000 acres shows that great numbers of private gentlemen also possess estates in from two to seven distinct counties; and as most of these live a considerable part of the year in London, and another part abroad, they can hardly have much time to reside even on the particular estate which they make their home. On the whole, then, it is evident that the majority of the estates of great landlords do not possess the benefit, whatever that may be, of the permanent residence of the owner among the farmers, labourers, and other people who, as we have seen, are so largely dependent on his will and pleasure.
Whatever Beneficial Influence Landlords Exert would be Increased Under Occupying Ownership.—It will be as well to notice here a strange misconception which pervades the ideas and arguments of those who uphold landlordism as a beneficial system. They assume that, if the nobility and educated gentry were no longer the possessors of great landed estates, beyond what they desired to occupy and maintain for their own pleasure or profit, they would not live in the country at all. But we may ask, Where, then, would they live? Is all the English love of country life a delusion? Would our wealthy classes live always in London, if they derived their income from other sources than the rents of land which they rarely or never behold? These questions really require no answer, and they serve to show the futility of the whole objection. If, as we here maintain, land ought to be owned only for personal occupation, it is as certain as anything can be that the number of wealthy resident landowners would greatly increase. The numerous fine parks and demesnes now kept up merely as show places, or let out to yearly tenants, would be each and all in the hands of a separate occupying owner. Each would be a home; and, as such, would be the object of that loving personal care and attention which, as one of half-a-dozen country houses, they never receive. For one resident landowner with education, wealth, and refinement, there would then be a dozen or a score; for each great estate would become the property of many owners, some owning several hundreds or even thousands of acres, others small farms; and as every one of these would be influenced by the double motive of adding to the permanent value of his own property and increasing the beauty and enjoyability of his only country home, their influence for good on each other and on the labouring classes would be certainly many times greater than that of any one half-resident landlord, even if all these were as good, and useful, and enlightened members of society as some of them really are.
Supposed Importance of the Large Farms which Landlordism Favours.—Another of the allegations in support of landlordism is that great landlords favour large farms, and that large farms worked by farmers of sufficient capital are more economical and produce larger profits than small ones. Admitting, for the sake of argument only, that this may possibly be sometimes true, and even that scientific farming on large farms produces larger wheat crops per acre than small ones, this only proves that such farms are better for the landlord and perhaps for the tenant, but not necessarily for the nation at large. For, since our supply of corn and cattle now comes mainly from abroad, the chief effect of a larger amount of such produce being obtained by a given amount of labour is that the landlord gets a higher rent and the farmer a larger profit, while the whole population of the country round may be positively injured. It is a well-known fact that in a district of large farms the inhabitants of the adjacent towns and villages suffer many inconveniences, especially in the difficulty of procuring new milk, fresh butter, eggs, or poultry, all of which, if produced, are sent away to London or other large cities. Families living quite in the country are thus often obliged to use Swiss milk, to eat foreign butter, or even an artificial compound of fat misnamed butter, and French eggs; while labourers and mechanics often bring up their families without the use of so wholesome and natural a food as milk.
But the question of the comparative productiveness of large and small farms is most unfairly decided by a comparison of tenant-farmers of these two classes in England. The large farmer is usually better educated and has a larger capital than the small one, and more frequently has a lease which enables him to work his land at a considerable advantage. But, as we shall show in our next chapter, when occupying owners are concerned there is no such superiority. Mr. Brodrick tells us that M. de Lavergne, writing on the Rural Economy of England, declared that no similar area of English land is cultivated so well as the Département du Nord, which is essentially a district of small farms; adding—”there is overwhelming evidence to prove that scientific English agriculturists have yet many lessons to learn from the small farms in Belgium, Switzerland, the Channel Islands, and Germany.”
The great and essential point, however, is always overlooked by the apologists of landlord-and-tenant farming. This is, not which system leads to the greatest production of wealth, but, which supports the largest agricultural and rural population in comfort, decency, and reasonable well-being; which tends most to render the lowest class of workers thrifty, sober, and industrious; which will most surely abolish pauperism and diminish crime. The government of a civilised community is bound to consider the well-being of every class of its subjects, not that of capitalists only; and the experience of the last 50 years abundantly proves—as we have already shown—that the most astounding increase in the aggregate wealth of the community has no necessary tendency to diminish poverty or abolish pauperism.[iv]Let us, then, proceed to inquire what are the effects of landlordism on that large mass of workers to whom the entire wealth of the country is primarily due; and whose physical, social, and moral condition is the true and final test of the success of any government or any social polity.
The Effects of Landlordism on the Well-Being of the Labouring Classes.—In mediæval times the villein or serf, corresponding to our agricultural labourer of to-day, could not be ejected from his land except by the judgment of a manor-court, in which the freeholders sat as jurymen.[v]However hardly he might be treated by his lord, he still had a home and a plot of land on which he could work with all the intense interest of an owner. Later on, when the villeins had become freemen, it was attempted to fix the rate of wages of labourers, who, by the continued enclosures of woods and wastes had become more dependent on daily labour for sustenance. In order to mitigate the evil results of this limitation of wages, the first Poor Law was established, and about the same time a statute of Elizabeth required four acres of land to be attached to each new cottage. If this just and far-seeing law had been strictly enforced to the present day, and the land so granted declared to be inalienable, it is probable that much of the great mass of pauperism which now exists would have been prevented. Down to a century ago, however, the position of the agricultural labourer was decidedly better than it is now. Matthews estimated that, in 1720, the wages of a labourer commanded more than at any previous or subsequent time; while a Parliamentary Report in 1868 thus forcibly sums up the advantages of his position:—”Previous to 1775 the agricultural labourer was in a most prosperous condition. His wages gave him a great command over the necessaries of life, his rent was lower, his wearing apparel cheaper, his shoes cheaper, his living cheaper, than formerly; and he had on the commons and wastes liberty of cutting furze for fuel, with the chance of getting a little land, and in time a small farm.”[vi]It is true that his social and moral condition was very low, but so was that of many of his superiors; and it is very doubtful whether the improvement which has taken place in this last respect is not to a great extent neutralised by the deterioration of his physical condition.
Deterioration of the Condition of the Agricultural Labourer during the present Century.—From that time till within the last few years the wealth of the landlords, and, in a less degree, the profits of the farmers, have been steadily increasing. The rent of even agricultural land has nearly doubled, and the price of much agricultural produce has doubled also. In the latter part of the last century meat was 4d. a pound, cheese 3 1/2d., butter 6 1/2d., and skim-milk could be had for a halfpenny a quart, or was often given away, while wages were then about 8s. a week. In 1850 all these articles of food were much dearer, while in some parts of England wages were actually lower; and whereas during the last twenty years the above articles have been usually more than double the price, wages have been less than half as high again. But the labourer has now to pay much higher house-rent, he has generally no garden, and, being usually a weekly tenant, is so dependent on his landlord that he cannot make the most of what he has; the commons and roadside wastes from which he formerly obtained fuel for winter, with food and litter for a cow, a donkey, geese or poultry, have almost all been enclosed; and the result is that he has few means of adding to his scanty wages, and is reduced to live mainly on bread and weak tea, with a little cheese or bacon and cheap artificial butter, while his children are brought up almost without knowing the taste of milk. His sole relaxation is to be found at the wayside tavern, his only prospect to end his days in the workhouse.
The Social Degradation of the Agricultural Labourer at the Present Day.—In a remarkable letter to the Daily News in 1869, Sir George Grey gave a striking picture of the social and physical degradation of the English agricultural labourer. He quotes the reports of their medical officers to the Privy Council, which tell us that—”Whether he shall find house-room on the land which he contributes to till, whether the house-room which he gets shall be human or swinish, whether he shall have the little space of garden that so vastly lessens the pressure of his poverty—all this does not depend on his willingness and ability to pay reasonable rent for the decent accommodation he requires, but depends on the use which others may see fit to make of their ‘right to do as they will with their own.'” Owing to the pecuniary interest which each parish formerly had in reducing the number of its resident labourers, thus diminishing its liability to rates, the landowners had but to resolve that there should be no labourers’ dwellings on their estates, and they would thenceforth be virtually free from half their responsibilities for the poor. The lord of the soil may treat its actual cultivators as aliens whom he may expel from his territory; and when it is his interest or his pleasure he often does so. The same report states:—”Besides the extreme cases where houses of a parish were pulled down in the teeth of an increasing population, there were also innumerable parishes where the demolition of houses was going on more rapidly than any diminution of the population could explain. When the process of depopulation is completed, the result is a show village, where the cottages have been reduced to a few, and where none but persons who are needful as shepherds, gardeners, or gamekeepers are allowed to live. But the land requires cultivation, and it will be found that the labourers employed upon it are not the tenants of the owner, but that they come from a neighbouring open village, perhaps three miles off, where a numerous small proprietary had received them when their cottages were destroyed in the close villages around.” To the hard toil of the labourer there will then have to be added the daily need of walking six miles or more for the power of earning his daily bread. “But he suffers a still greater evil in the kind of dwelling he is obliged to inhabit. In the open village cottage speculators buy scraps of land, which they throng as densely as they can with the cheapest of all possible hovels, and into these wretched habitations (which, even if they adjoin the open country, have some of the worst features of the worst town residences) crowd the agricultural labourers of England.” The habitual overcrowding of these wretched hovels leads to scenes and conditions of life too painful to dwell upon, and we need only quote the concluding statement. “To be subject to such influences is a degradation which must become deeper and deeper for those on whom it continues to work. To children who are born under its curse it must be a very baptism into infamy.”
It may be supposed that these cases are the exceptions, but the report assures us they are not so. After doing justice to the honourable instances in which landowners, even at a loss to themselves, provide decent accommodation for their labourers, it adds:—”From these brighter but exceptional scenes it is requisite, in the interests of justice, that attention should again be drawn to the overwhelming preponderance of facts, which are a reproach to the civilisation of England. Lamentable indeed must be the case when, notwithstanding all that is evident with regard to the quality of the present accommodation, it is the common conclusion of competent observers that even the general badness of dwellings is an evil infinitely less urgent than their numerical insufficiency.”[vii]
Corroborative evidence, if any be needed, is furnished by many independent authorities. Professor Fawcett, in the work already referred to, says of the British agricultural labourers—”Theirs is a life of incessant toil for wages too scanty to give them a sufficient supply of the first necessities of life. No hope cheers their monotonous career: a life of constant labour brings them no other prospect than that when their strength is exhausted, they must crave as suppliant mendicants a pittance from parish relief “; while the Bishop of Manchester states that out of 300 parishes which he visited in Norfolk, Essex, Sussex, and Gloucestershire, only two had good cottage accommodation … “The majority of the cottages that exist in rural parishes are deficient in almost every requisite that should constitute a home for a Christian family in a civilised community.” Details are then given of parishes and estates of 2,000 acres with one or two cottages only and sometimes none at all; and as a result ten or eleven persons sleeping in a single bedroom.[viii]And the only remedy suggested for this state of things is—not to give labourers a right to have land, the one and only possible and real remedy, but “to call upon those who own the soil to see to it that their estates are adequately provided with decent residences for those by whom they are tilled.” What a weak and impotent conclusion! Call upon the landlords to build comfortable, roomy, and decent cottages at a certain loss! Truly you may call and call, but you will get no satisfactory response; and in the meantime more Commissions will inquire, more misery and horror will come to light, and no general improvement will be effected.
This State of Things is Due to the System of Landlordism, not to the Bad Conduct of Landlords.—Now, the great point to be noticed here is, that, except by the action of the benevolent or charitable, the labourer is, as a rule, disgracefully housed, wretchedly fed, and, however honest and industrious he may be, has rarely any other prospect than to die a pauper. The law of supply and demand has failed to give him a decent cottage. The enormous increase in the wealth of the landlord, giving him the disposal of so much larger a fund out of which to employ labourers, has in no way benefitted the tiller of the soil. And, while every one remarks that the standard of living of the tenant-farmers has been greatly raised, the foregoing evidence, no less than the glaring facts of persistent pauperism, shows that the social condition of the labourer has certainly been stationary, if it has not actually deteriorated. It is not necessary to go far to seek the cause of this apparently inexplicable state of things. Those who do not wilfully shut their eyes must see that the monopoly of the land by landlords sufficiently explains it. The land is a fixed quantity, while the population is ever increasing. The tenant-farmer with capital is in a position to make such a bargain with the landlord as will give him fair interest on his capital and adequate remuneration for his skill in superintending his farm. Between them they absorb all the profit that they extract from the soil, while the wages of the labourer are kept down by the forced competition of those who have no other means of living to that irreducible minimum which is barely sufficient to support life and health while he can work, and, as soon as his strength fails, leaves him to charity or the poorhouse.[ix]It is not that the landlord or the farmer are individually to blame. Both try to make the most of the property which the law allows them to possess, and we cannot expect them to do more than pay the current rate of wages. Were all landlords without exception to devote a considerable percentage of their incomes to providing good cottages for their labourers rent-free, one of the great blots on our agricultural system would doubtless be removed. But this would be charity pure and simple; and to say that there is no way of raising the status of the labouring population except by the universal charity of the landlords is to confess that landlordism itself is an evil of the first magnitude. The labourer does not want charity, but simply justice. He wants some share in that common land which his ancestors possessed, but from which, by landlord-made law, he is now totally divorced. He claims the right to labour for his own benefit on some portion of his native soil, not doled out to him in allotments at three or four times the rent paid by the farmer, and even then considered a favour, but in plots attached to his cottage home, to which he shall have an inalienable title under a fixed quit-rent, to which he can devote those hours or days of enforced idleness now cruelly wasted, and in the cultivation of which his children may acquire habits of industry and thrift, and the simpler arts of cultivation. In our next chapter we shall show, by abundant evidence, that by conceding such a right we should soon change a pauperised into a self-supporting population and should at the same time render our country far more healthy and enjoyable to every one of its inhabitants.
The Enclosure Act and its Results.—Although we freely absolve landlords from blame in the matter of the wages of labourers, we cannot do the same in regard to their collective action in the enclosures of commons. By means of various Enclosure Acts, it is estimated that about seven millions of acres of land were enclosed between 1710 and 1843. The progress of enclosure has been most rapid since the time of George II, and Sir George Nicholls states that two and a half millions of acres were enclosed in thirty years between 1769 and 1799. The Royal Commissioners on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture remark that these enclosures were often made without any compensation to the smaller commoners, and that they have deprived agricultural labourers of ancient rights over the waste, and have disabled the occupants of new cottages from acquiring such rights. In 1845 a general Enclosure Act was passed for still further facilitating the enclosure and improvement of commons, and it empowered the Commissioners to grant portions of the land for recreation and for allotments to the labouring poor, according to population. It did not, however, allow allotments of more than a quarter of an acre to each labourer, and no house was in any case allowed to be erected on them. While all other persons having rights of common had allotments made to them of land in absolute property, the labourers, to whom the common rights had in many cases been of more real use and value than to most of the surrounding landowners, had nothing whatever given to them but a miserable pittance of allotment ground, for which they had to pay a high rent! The Commissioners, however, appear to have made little use even of these scanty powers, since, out of 7,000,000 acres enclosed since 1760, it was found in 1868 that only 2,l19 acres had been reserved for allotments.[x]As examples of the more recent action of the Enclosure Commissioners, we find it stated in the report of the Commons Preservation Society that in 1869 they recommended the enclosure of 6,916 acres, of which they reserved three acres for recreation and six for field gardens! Owing to the attention drawn to these figures in Parliament and by the press, they have latterly given rather more for these purposes; yet in 1875, out of 18,600 acres enclosed only 132 acres were reserved for garden allotments.
Uniform Evidence as to the Beneficial Effects of Allotments and Cottage Gardens.—If we think it strange that a body of highly educated, wealthy, moral, and benevolent men saw nothing wrong in thus appropriating to themselves land which had been the birthright of the English labourers from time immemorial, we are still more astonished at the impolicy of such a course of action, in view of the evidence they possessed of the important uses this land might have been put to for the diminution of the persistent evils of pauperism and crime. So long ago as 1795, it was shown before a Select Committee of the House of Commons “that, in 1770, the lord of a manor near Tewkesbury, remarking the exceptionally good character of families holding plots of reclaimed land, set apart some twenty-five acres for cottagers’ allotments, and had the satisfaction of seeing the poor-rates reduced in two years to 4d. in the pound, while they stood at 2s. 6d. in the surrounding parishes.” And another Select Committee in 1843 reported that “the tenancy of land under the garden allotment system is a powerful means of bettering the condition of those classes who depend for their livelihood on manual labour, and the benefits are obtained without corresponding disadvantages.” From evidence given before the “Women’s and Children’s Employment Commission” in 1868, it was proved that cottagers obtained a return from such allotments of £16 an acre above the ordinary farm rent, and it was estimated that, if all agricultural labourers above 20 years of age possessed half-acre or quarter-acre allotments, the annual value of the produce would be between three and four millions of pounds. If these statements are even approximately correct, it is clear that the refusal of land to labourers results in a great loss to the nation of actual food, quite independently of the enormous saving that would accrue to it by the diminution of pauperism.
The allotments that do exist (and they are far from sufficient to supply the wants of the agricultural labourers) are, however, no test whatever of the good that might accrue from a more generous system. They are almost always held from year to year, and the labourers usually pay for them double or treble the rent paid for the same land by the farmer. They are also let in far too small patches; and, what is worst of all, they are often situated a considerable distance from the dwellings of the majority of the labourers. All these conditions are adverse to their being made the most of. A garden is especially valuable because it enables a man and his family to utilise odd moments, while its progress, being constantly under his eye, gives him a new interest in his home. After a long day’s labour, and a walk of perhaps two or three miles from his work, to have to walk another mile, perhaps, to his allotment must often prevent him from going there at all, except when the days are longest. But perhaps even more important is the loss which his garden sustains in not receiving the whole refuse and sewage of the house, which could be so easily applied to a cottage garden, but which involves a heavy cost in time and labour if they are to be carried to a distant allotment. Again, the temporary occupation of a field-allotment affords no scope for growing fruit, in which our country is so deficient, or in keeping poultry for the supply of eggs, which might as easily be produced by our cottagers as by those of France. It is a mere mockery to point to allotments as affording any adequate notion of the material and social benefits which our labourers directly, and the whole country indirectly, would derive from throwing open the land freely to the permanent occupation or ownership of our labouring classes.
Beneficial Effects of Small Cottage Farms.—As one example of the good effects produced by even an approximation to such a system is the following statement of what has been done on the Annandale estate in Dumfriesshire. “Leases of twenty-one years were offered at ordinary farm rents to deserving labourers, carefully selected for their character, who built their own cottages, at a cost to themselves varying from £21 to £40, exclusive of labour, while the landlord supplied timber, stone, &c., at a cost of about £22. These houses were not grouped in villages, but chiefly situated along roads, with plots of from two to six acres attached to each, or the addition of grass for a cow. All the work for these little farms was done at by-hours and by members of the family, the cottager buying roots from the farmer, and producing in return milk, butter, and pork, besides rearing calves. Among such peasant farmers pauperism soon ceased to exist, and many of them soon bettered themselves in life. It was also particularly observed that habits of marketing and the constant demands on thrift and forethought brought out new virtues and powers in the wives. In fact, the moral effects of the system in fostering industry, sobriety, and contentment were described as no less satisfactory than its economical success.”[xi]
Again, the same writer tells us that in several estates in Cheshire it is the practice to let plots of land ranging from two and a-half to three and a-half acres with each cottage at an ordinary farm rent. This practice, which is but the revival of a custom once almost universal amongst the peasantry of England, is found to be fraught with manifold advantages. The most obvious of these is an abundant supply of milk for the farm labourers’ children, who in many districts grow up without tasting the natural diet of childhood. But the habits of thrift and forethought encouraged by cow-keeping and dairying, on however small a scale, constitute a moral advantage of great importance. On Lord Tollemache’s estate in Cheshire, where the system has been long established and carefully managed, its results have been eminently beneficial, and attended by none of the drawbacks so often magnified into insuperable difficulties by the opponents of cottage farming. Not less satisfactory has been the experience of other landlords who have given the system a fair trial, and the Second Report of the Women and Children’s Employment Commission is full of evidence in its favour. “Yet,” adds Mr. Brodrick, “such is the conservatism of agriculture that it continues to be a rare feature of English rural economy, and it is quite possible that generations will elapse before it is widely extended.”[xii]
The Logical Bearing of this Evidence.—Now, when we have, on one side, a system which inevitably pauperises a large section of the labouring classes; which degrades them socially and morally; and which, through them, permanently injures the whole community—and, on the other side, one which tends immediately to abolish pauperism and diminish crime; to elevate this same class socially and morally; and, while doing this, to aid materially in the supply of some of the most important necessaries of life, every Englishman has a right to object to leaving this great question in the hands of any body of men, much less of those who for so long a time have shown themselves utterly incompetent to form a correct judgment upon it. We object, too, most strongly to the indefinite continuance of a system which enables any of our fellow-citizens either to withhold at their pleasure or to grant as a favour that which we maintain is the birthright of every Englishman—the freedom to enjoy and utilise some portion of his native soil, on terms to be settled by the State, in the interest of all.
Various Powers Exercised by Landlords to the Detriment of the Public at Large.—Having thus shown how much despotic power landlords possess over their various classes of tenants, and how much injury these tenants often suffer directly, and the community indirectly, by the exercise of these powers, we have now to consider the numerous ways in which the entire population, individually and collectively, suffer injury, by allowing the soil of the country to be monopolised by private owners and to be dealt with as mere merchandise for profit or speculation; as the means of obtaining undue political and social power; or as an exclusive possession in which the people at large have no interests and can claim no rights.
We will begin with the question of House and Home, as one which affects the interests and the happiness of a larger number of persons than any other question whatever.
The Free Choice of a Home Essential to Well-Being.—People have so long been accustomed to look upon land as necessarily belonging to some individual who has the right to do what he pleases with it, that to most persons the idea never occurs that, as free citizens of a free State, they ought to be able to live wherever they choose to live, so long as they do not infringe any other person’s equal right to do so. As a fact, they can only live where some landlord chooses to allow them; and though hundreds and thousands who have the means would like to choose a spot for themselves on which to reside, paying, of course, its fair value to the actual owner, they are very frequently restricted to some building-estate, where competition and speculation have raised the price of building land to such a degree that the crowding and other inconveniences of towns are extended far into the country. Every one who has written on the subject condemns the system of building-leases, as fraught with innumerable evils, and one which ought not to be permitted. It leads to bad speculative building, in which solidity and comfort are sacrificed to ornament and show. It leads to overcrowding in the vicinity of towns, and the comparative desertion of the more remote country places. And by the large profits it gives to existing landowners, with the prospect of a still larger profit to their descendants, it leads to the crowding of houses on narrow strips of land at ground-rents altogether disproportionate to its extreme agricultural value. These leases have usually been for 99 years, but some landlords now restrict them to 80 and even to 60 years; and for the latter half of the term it is evident that the home feeling and affection which leads a man continually to improve the dwelling which he trusts will be inhabited by some portion of his family after him, and which has an important moral influence on his character, must be continually weakened and at last wholly cease. Yet, so long as absolute private property in land continues, and it is held to be a fit subject for free barter and contract, it will be practically impossible to abolish the system.
Characteristics of a Good System of Land Tenure.—Now, we consider it to be an indisputable axiom that that system of land-tenure is best which leads at once to the freest enjoyment of the land by the whole population, and at the same time tends to its increased cultivation and productiveness. Of all modes of enjoyment that which depends upon the House and its surroundings—the healthiness, beauty, convenience, and productiveness of the Home—is the most important, since it affects directly the bulk of the whole population, and affects them during the largest portion of their daily lives. The utmost possible freedom in the choice of a home, with the greatest possible facilities for procuring the necessary land at a cheap rate, would constitute perhaps the chief of all the blessings which a sound and rational system of “Nationalisation of the Land” would confer upon every individual. Under the present system the very reverse obtains, since we have the least possible freedom of choice, and in most cases have to pay an extravagant monopoly price for whatever we are permitted to occupy.
It will be shown further on that it is quite possible to obtain the land for the nation without confiscating the property of any existing landowner or any expectant heir; and, that being done, it will be as easy as it will be expedient to secure the right of every one to obtain land for a “house and home,” in almost any spot he may choose, and at a cost only slightly exceeding its value for agricultural purposes. The quantity of land thus taken from agriculture would, it is true, be somewhat larger than at present; but, as much of this would be highly cultivated as garden ground, and would offer facilities for the rearing of poultry and pigs as well as for growing fruit and vegetables, it is probable or even certain that the general productiveness of the land would be increased rather than diminished. At all events, every one must feel that the most perfect liberty in the choice of a dwelling-place, with a sufficiency of land for garden and pleasure-grounds at a cheap rate, would be so beneficial to the health and contentment of the entire community, that a system of land-tenure which renders it possible and even easy has already much in its favour. The exact mode in which this may be effected will be explained when the scheme of Nationalisation here advocated is discussed in detail.
We may, however, at once point out that the free appropriation of land for dwellings as now proposed offers, perhaps, the only possible check to the undue growth of large towns. In all the more beautiful and healthful parts of the country land would be taken for dwellings, and these would become new centres of rural populations, forming in time country villages and small towns. All land and building speculation being abolished, the growth of towns, now mainly caused by such speculations, would be checked, and hundreds who now take houses from speculative builders merely because they have no real freedom of choice will then choose for themselves, will occupy much more land, and will thus spread themselves more generally over the country. Other checks might be applied by local authorities, which would tend greatly to the healthiness and enjoyability of our larger towns, such as the interposition of belts of park and garden at certain intervals around dense centres of population—a class of improvement which the ruinous competition prices of land held by private owners now renders impossible.[xiii]
Enclosure of Commons and Mountain Wastes as Affecting the Public.—Next in importance to the power of securing pleasant and healthy houses, the general public have most interest in the right to free passage about the country—to roam over the commons, heaths, and woods; to search out the grand and beautiful scenes afforded by our rivers, moors, and mountains; to have preserved for them the ruins which are landmarks of our written history, as well as those more ancient monuments which tell us of pre-historic ages. In each and all of these directions they suffer injury from the powers claimed and exercised by landlords. As we have already seen, enormous areas of common land have been enclosed and appropriated by the surrounding owners, often without provision even of foot-paths by which the public may enjoy any of the land they once freely roamed over. Owing to inordinate game-preservation, the woods and copses are almost always rigidly shut up, and thus the public are deprived of one of the greatest enjoyments of country life—the power to wander freely under the shade of trees, in places where the choicest wild flowers blossom, and where the living denizens of the woods may be seen in their native haunts. Were it not for the ancient foot-paths crossing the country from village to village, many parts of our land would be almost shut out from the great body of its inhabitants. Fortunately these are tolerably numerous. But however great may be the need of fresh centres of population, we rarely hear of new paths being formed, while old ones are occasionally shut up or diverted, or so enclosed by fences that all their picturesque beauty and rural enjoyability is destroyed.
Another injury to the public and deprivation of their rights is the frequent and constantly increasing enclosure of those roadside strips of green sward which add so much to the charm of rural walks. Everywhere we find roads and lanes now bounded between parallel hedges or fences at a regular distance apart, while a few yards inside the fields on either side an old bank or an irregular row of trees show the distance to which the road formerly extended. We are assured by the Commons Preservation Society “that all such absorptions are illegal, the general rule of law being that the public have a right of way over the whole space between the hedges.”[xiv]And in a later report they repeat that such encroachments “are almost invariably illegal, and may be abated by the ordinary remedies provided in the case of the obstruction of a highway.” It appears, therefore, that all over the country the public have for many years past been systematically robbed by means of these encroachments; and few more striking proofs can be given of the great evil of landlordism and the injurious power and influence of landlords than that such systematic robbery, though contrary to law, should have been almost always effected with impunity.
Equally, or perhaps even more, injurious to the interests of the public is the extensive appropriation by individual landlords of enormous areas of wild mountain country in Wales, Ireland, and especially in Scotland, whereby Englishmen are forbidden in many cases to visit and enjoy some of the most beautiful and picturesque scenery of their native land—spots where nature exhibits her full grandeur, and where alone the choicest and rarest examples of our native flora and fauna are to be met with. The right to these enormous tracts of land as private property appears to be of very recent and very doubtful origin. The Highland chiefs had certainly no such right to the land in fee, with the concomitant power to evict all the rest of the clan and sell or let the land to the highest bidder. Yet this is what the successors to those chiefs claim, and what they have in some cases actually done; and the law, ever on the side of the landlords and against the people, appears to have endorsed their claim, and has thus given to them complete and despotic power over the lives and liberties of the native inhabitants of the district. The result has been that terrible depopulation and pauperisation of the country which has been described in the last chapter, and the replacement of men and human habitations by sheep, cattle, and deer, for a parallel to which we must go back to the days of the Norman conquerors of England in the height of their despotic power. Some of the wildest and grandest mountain scenery of Scotland is now as rigidly shut up as if it were in a private pleasure ground. Hundreds of square miles of glen and rock and mountain-side are given up to deer and grouse for the pleasure and profit of a few individuals, while the public are thereby deprived of a means of enjoyment and healthful relaxation which hardly any country in Europe denies them but their own.
The Destruction of Ancient Monuments.—One of the most palpable illustrations of the evil consequences of allowing land to be the absolute property of individuals is, that it has led to the destruction of a vast number of most interesting ancient monuments, while the attempt of Sir John Lubbock and others to preserve those that still remain has been for some years strenuously opposed, on the ground that it interferes with the rights of landlords. Let us cull from Sir John Lubbock’s essay[xv]a few examples of that destruction which several Members of Parliament have had the hardihood to deny.
One of the most remarkable and interesting of our very ancient monuments is Abury, or Avebury, in Wiltshire, which an old antiquarian declared “did as much exceed Stonehenge as a cathedral doth an ordinary parish church.” The entire series of these remains presented such a colossal enigma as it would be difficult to parallel even at Karnac; but this wonderful relic of the past has been for many years undergoing destruction, the great stones of which it is composed being broken up to build cottages, to make gate-posts, and even to mend the roads. “Still, even now,” says Sir John Lubbock, “there is perhaps no more remarkable monument of the kind in this country, or even in Europe.” In the year 1875, the owner of the land on which this grand monument stands sold it unreservedly to a Building Society, by which it was lotted out in sites for cottages, and actually sold in small plots for this purpose. Fortunately, Sir John Lubbock was informed of this just in time, and succeeded in purchasing the land himself, and in persuading the villagers for a small consideration to exchange their allotments for others in an adjoining field which was just as well suited to them. Abury, the wonder of antiquarians and the enigma of the learned, was thus barely saved from complete destruction by the intervention of a private gentleman living in a remote county!
As another example, the Roman camp on Hod Hill, Dorsetshire, was an unique relic of Roman military skill. Mr. Warne, a local antiquary, says:—”Nothing could be finer than its condition about ten years ago; until then it might be seen as in its pristine state, and, making due allowance for the lapse of ages, as perfect as when excavated by the Roman cohorts … It was indeed so perfect as to render it a model of Roman castramentation.” Yet since that time, this magnificent camp has been almost entirely destroyed.
Sir John Lubbock mentions scores of similar cases, which have occurred and are occurring all over the country. No less than forty of the Irish round towers have perished during the present century; and quite recently, when Mr. Payne went to see the Long Stone, a remarkable monolithic monument described in the “History of Gloucestershire,” he found that it had just been blown up with gunpowder by the farmer “because it cumbered the ground.” It may be said that the landowners erred through ignorance of the value and interest of these monuments, but that cannot be said now; for after repeated discussions in Parliament, and after an overwhelming body of facts of the character of those here presented has been laid before them, the great landlords still refuse to give up their right to “do what they like with their own.” and have strenuously opposed, and hitherto prevented from passing, the very moderate measure of Sir John Lubbock for the purchase and preservation of the most important of these ancient monuments which still remain to us.
Public Improvements Checked by Landlordism.—Another mode in which private property in land operates to the serious injury of the public at large is the power which landlords possess, and very often use, of demanding enormous sums for the land required for public improvements. Whether it is the formation of new streets in the Metropolis, or the construction of railways or docks, or the securing of land for public recreation, the claims of landlords invariably stand in the way, sometimes preventing the desired improvements from being carried into effect, sometimes burthening them with a heavy load of debt and so diminishing their usefulness. Instances of this will occur to every one who takes note of passing events. I will only here quote the following statement of Mr. Brodrick:—”The landed interest of England is estimated to have received a sum exceeding the national revenue from railway companies alone over and above the market price of the land thus sold.” The italics are mine, to call attention to the fact that this sum of 70 or 80 millions paid to the landlords is a permanent injury to the community, by increasing to that extent the unproductive capital expenditure of the railway companies of the kingdom; while no class has received so much benefit from railways as the landlords, in the enormous increase given thereby to the value of their estates, so that if they had freely given the land required to construct the lines, they would still have been gainers. As another example:—”One nobleman is known to have received three quarters of a million sterling for the mere sites of docks constructed by the enterprise of others.” Here again no doubt his other land in the neighbourhood would be greatly increased in value by these very docks, and, equitably, all this increase of value should go to those whose expenditure caused it, or at least to the community at large. But the public and the Government are alike powerless, and must submit to pay whatever landlords choose to demand for permission to make public improvements; and this state of things will continue so long as private property in land is allowed.
Permanent Deterioration of the Country by the Export of Minerals.—I have already given an example of a landlord denying the free exercise of their religion to his tenants, and cases in which sites for chapels have been refused are not uncommon; but I shall pass on to an example of the power of landlords which appears to me to go far beyond what should be allowed to any citizens of a densely populated country. I allude to the possession as private property of the minerals beneath its surface, and the power to work, sell, export, and totally exhaust them for their individual benefit.
It has not been sufficiently considered that the minerals of a country are in a totally different category from its agricultural products or even the agricultural land, inasmuch as man can neither produce them nor hasten their production by nature, while in the process of use they are completely destroyed. They are, besides, a portion of the very land itself; and their export to such an extent as to render the remainder more difficult of access, and therefore more costly, is a permanent and irretrievable deterioration of the country, rendering it less valuable to its future inhabitants. The power of doing this injury to the community should never have been permitted to individuals (any more than the right to sell their estates to a foreign Government), but it has become so great a source of wealth and is so firmly established as one of the “sacred rights of property” that only by the complete nationalisation of the land does it seem possible to abolish it.
It must be remembered that almost every extensive country in the world possesses coal and iron, besides many other minerals, and there is therefore no adequate reason for permanently impoverishing our country by sending its minerals all over the world and thus robbing future generations; and this, not for the benefit of the whole community, but for that of the few individuals who have been allowed to monopolise the land.
It may be said that the price of coal and iron has not yet been raised by the exhaustion of our supplies; but this is very doubtful. It is an admitted fact that the enormous consumption of coal, both for export and in the manufacture of exported iron, has led to coal being now worked at much greater depths than formerly, and this necessarily implies greater cost of working, and consequently a higher price than would be necessary at less depths; and this extra cost must go on increasing as more and more of the coal at moderate depths is worked out. But there is another way in which the community suffers by this excessive export of minerals. The areas devoted to mining and smelting are thereby increased far beyond what is necessary for supplying our own wants, and this leads directly to the sterilising of large tracts of land, and besides renders whole districts hideous and unfit for any enjoyable human habitation. Many thousands of acres of good land are covered up with the “waste” from mines and the “slag” from furnaces, and are thus rendered permanently barren; while the extent of black country over which all natural beauty is destroyed must be reckoned by hundreds or even by thousands of square miles. Whatever part of this destruction and disfigurement is absolutely needed to supply our own wants we must submit to; but that more extensive portion which owes its origin to the excessive export of the very vitals of our land for the aggrandisement of landlords and speculators is a serious loss which should be checked, and a public nuisance which should be abated.
Concluding Remarks on English Landlordism.—I have now shown by a series of brief but illustrative cases that landlordism as it exists in England—that is, under perhaps the most favourable conditions possible to it—has produced, and is daily producing, evil results to every class of the community of the most alarming magnitude. It has also been made clear that these evil results do not in any way depend upon the absence of free trade in land, but that they depend essentially on the relation of landlord and tenant—a relation which gives a power to one citizen over the liberty and well-being of others which is incompatible with freedom, while it denies the right of Englishmen to occupy any portion of their native land except at the will and pleasure of its comparatively few owners. Further, it has been shown that the divorce of the working classes from the soil is the prolific parent of pauperism, vice, and crime; and that, as a mere question of national policy, it is essential that some means should be adopted to give every labourer, as well as every Englishman, a right to a portion of land at a fixed rent, for cultivation and home occupation. This can only be done by the abolition of private property in land and its complete nationalisation—undoubtedly a measure of a radical if not of a revolutionary character, but the evils to be cured are so gigantic and so deeply rooted that any less searching remedy would be powerless to effect a cure of the disease.
[i]A labourer on the estate of the Duke of Bedford, writing to the Bedford Record, states that he can only get an allotment of 20 poles of the worst land in the parish, at double the rent paid by the farmers. In other parishes fair land is let at three times the agricultural rate; and I am informed that in some parts of the New Forest allotments are paid for at rates up to as high as £16 an acre.
[ii]“The Tenant-Farmer” (1879).
[iii]Nineteenth Century, September, 1880.
[iv]See p. 4, Footnote.
[v]Prof. Thorold Rogers in Contemporary Review, April, 1880.
[vi]First Report of the Women’s and Children’s Employment Commission (1868), Par. 251.
[vii]This depopulation of estates and parishes has been going on for more than a century. Arthur Young described the operation of the old Poor Law in his time as causing universally “an open war against cottages.” Gentlemen bought them up whenever they had an opportunity, and immediately levelled them with the ground, lest they should become “a nest of beggars’ brats.” The removal of a cottage often drove the industrious labourer from a parish where he could earn 15s. a week to one where he could earn but 10s. Thus, as among the Scotch labourers of the present day, marriage was discouraged; the peasantry were cleared off the land, and increasing immorality was the necessary consequence. The effect of this system was actually to depopulate many parishes. The author of a pamphlet on the subject, Mr. Alcock, stated that the gentlemen were led by this system to adopt all sorts of expedients to hinder the poor from marrying, to discharge servants in their last quarter, to evict small-tenants, and pull down cottages. The duties of an overseer under the old Poor Law system in England are described by Dr. Burn to be—”Not to let anyone have a farm of £10 a year … To bind out poor children apprentices, no matter to whom or to what trade; but to take special care that the master live in another parish. … To pull down cottages; to drive out as many inhabitants and admit as few as they possibly can: that is to depopulate the parish, in order to lessen the poor rate.” (Godkin’s “Land War in Ireland,” p. 241.)
[viii]Appendix to First Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of women and children employed in agriculture.
[ix]That this is a necessary consequence of private property in land has been demonstrated with great force in Mr. George’s remarkable work, “Progress and Poverty,” of which some account is given in a later chapter. It has also been seen by some of our recent political economists, especially by Professor Cairnes, who writes as follows:—”A given exertion of labour and capital will now produce in a great many directions five, ten, or twenty times—in some instances, perhaps, a hundred times—the result which an equal exertion would have produced a hundred years ago; yet the rate of wages … has certainly not advanced in anything like a corresponding degree, whilst it may be doubted if the rate of profit has advanced at all. … We should be inclined to say it had even positively fallen. … Someone, no doubt, has benefited by the enlarged power of man over material nature; the world is, without question, the richer for it. … The large addition to the wealth of the country has gone neither to profits nor to wages, nor yet to the public at large, but to swell a fund ever growing, even while its proprietors sleep—the rent-roll of the owners of the soil.” (“Some Leading Questions of Political Economy Newly Expounded,” pp. 328-333).
[x]Brodrick, “English Land and English Landlords,” p. 234.
[xi]“English Land and English Landlords,” p. 237.
[xii]“English Land and English Landlords,” p. 420.
[xiii]That the evils of landlord-made law are still rampant among us is well shown by the manner in which the late Government dealt with the owners of house-property by means of their “Artisans’ Dwellings Act.” Professor Fawcett, speaking at Hackney on December 14th, 1880, said of this Act “that a more unfortunate measure, or one based on more radically unsound principles, has seldom been brought forward in Parliament. Under its provisions the owners of houses unfit for human habitation, instead of being punished for their neglect, have been compensated at such an extravagant rate that on six of the sites which have been already cleared the loss to the metropolitan ratepayers has been £643,000, and if the Act is permitted to remain in operation in its present form the loss will soon be more than £2,000,000. Many sites which have been cleared under this Act remain unoccupied because houses cannot be built under the conditions imposed by the Act. The people who have been driven out must find refuge somewhere, and districts which were before overcrowded become more overcrowded still. Difficult as it has been for the poor of London to provide themselves with suitable homes, the money which the carrying out of this Act has caused to be lost will have to be supplied by increased rates, and each addition to the rates makes the payment of rent more difficult for those of humble means.” This is a fine example of the difficulty of curing evils arising from the radically unsound principles that now prevail. With the land of the country in the possession of the State, and with free choice of sites at a cheap rate, as here proposed, no such overcrowding could ever have arisen; and even now, if true principles were adopted, the evil would soon cure itself.
[xiv]Report of Proceedings, 1870-1876—p. 27.
[xv]Nineteenth Century, March, 1877.