Occupying Ownership

Alfred Russell Wallace :
Land Nationalisation
Its necessity and its aims (1882)

The results of occupying ownership as opposed to those of landlordism.

Summary of the evils of the landlord system—occupying ownership defined—the advantages of occupying ownership—results of occupying ownership in Switzerland—co-operation of occupying owners in Norway—occupying ownership in Germany—improvement of the soil under occupying ownership in Belgium—effects of occupying ownership in France—the labourers of France under occupying ownership—results of occupying ownership in the channel islands—general results of occupying ownership and those of landlordism compared—results of landlordism in Italy—results of landlordism in Spain and Sardinia—the occupying owner under extremely unfavourable conditions—large farms versus small not the question at issue—various objections to peasant-proprietorship answered by facts—the final argument in favour of landlordism shown to be unsound—beneficial influence of ownership on agriculture—the conclusion from the evidence.

In the preceding chapters the many, and serious, and widespread evils resulting from the divided interest in land of landlord and tenant have been illustrated by some typical cases; and these evils have been shown to result, not from any special ignorance or ill-conduct of individuals, but to be inherent in the system itself. The great landlord is necessarily a monopolist and a despot. The land is his own to be dealt with as he pleases; and the greater the income he can derive from it, the greater share he can secure to himself of the produce of others’ labour upon it, the more respect and admiration he usually receives. In every step he takes to secure this end he is supported by the power and majesty of the law. His tenants have no rights on the soil but such as he allows them. Whatever added value their labour has given to the land, in the absence of special agreement becomes his and not theirs. If they offend him in any way, if they refuse to act against their political convictions, if they are too demonstrative in their claims for religious equality, he may—and not unfrequently does—eject them from the house in which they and their fathers were born, and from the land which they have industriously tilled for generations—more for his benefit than for their own.

To the entire system may be applied the severe judgment which Mr. Charles Russell passed upon it as regards Ireland:—”It may as a whole be truly said that it seems to have been contrived, as if by a malevolent genius, to develop the worst qualities in the national character, and to repress the best—contrived to encourage idleness, thriftlessness, insincerity, and untruthfulness. To me the wonder is, not that the faults of the Irish (English) people exist as they are, but that they have managed to retain so much that is estimable, so much that is kindly in their nature, so much befitting the natural dignity of men.”

Occupying Ownership Defined.—Let us now turn from this radically vicious and unjust system to its opposite and correlative—occupying ownership.[i]It is often alleged that if you abolish landlords you must revert to one dead level of peasant-proprietorship; but this is not the case. The essential evils of landlordism do not in any way arise from large farms as opposed to small ones—from cultivators possessed of large capital as opposed to those who have little or none; but they arise solely from the relation of landlord and tenant—from one man letting land in order to get the largest income he can from it, and another hiring it temporarily to extract what he can from it before the time comes when he may be called to give it up. The evil is of the same nature, and often of the same degree, whether the landlord owns ten thousand acres or only a hundred, whether he lets it out in farms of five hundred acres each or in allotments of an acre or less. The true opposite of landlord and tenant—two persons with conflicting interests—is owner and occupier combined in the same person, or “occupying ownership.” This ownership may be of the nature of freehold or of copyhold; but, in order that all the evils of landlordism be avoided, it must be secure and permanent; it must be transmissible to a man’s children or heirs; and it must be freely saleable or otherwise transferable. The one thing to be aimed at is, that the occupier and cultivator of the land be also the virtual owner; that all the fruits of his labour shall be secure to him; that the increased value of the land given by permanent improvements shall be all his own. To ensure this, subletting under any form or disguise must be prevented, or it is evident that many of the evils of landlordism will again spring up. Mortgages or other encumbrances on the land (except to a limited proportion of its value and repayable by instalments in a moderate term of years) must also be forbidden, because a farmer whose land is heavily encumbered, and who, on failure to pay interest in a bad year, may have his land taken from him, has little more power or inducement to make permanent improvements or cultivate in the best manner than the mere tenant-at-will under a landlord. These conditions are, as yet, not fulfilled in their entirety anywhere; but there is a large body of evidence to show what good effects are produced by that portion of them involved in ordinary occupying ownership; and these effects are so striking and so instructive, and form so remarkable a contrast to the evil results of the opposite system, that they need to be carefully considered. Having done so, we shall be in a position to explain the mode by which our existing system of landlordism may be best abolished, and a sound and well-guarded system of occupying ownership be established in its place.

The Advantages of Occupying Ownership.—The advantages of peasant proprietorship (or the occupying ownership of small farms) are of two kinds, economical and moral. These have been dwelt upon by many writers, both English and foreign, and have been the subject of several important works. It will be here only necessary to give a few of the illustrations and conclusions of these writers, many of which are admirably summarised in “Mill’s Political Economy,” Book II, Chap. VI; and from this work, and the more recent volume of Mr. Brodrick, many of our facts and quotations will be taken.

Of all countries in Europe Switzerland affords, perhaps, the best example of a good land-system, in which almost every farmer owns the land he cultivates; and the result is well shown in the following extract from Sismondi’s “Studies in Political Economy.”

Results of Occupying Ownership in Switzerland.—”It is from Switzerland we learn that agriculture practised by the very persons who enjoy its fruits suffices to procure great comfort for a very numerous population; a great independence of character, arising from independence of position; a great commerce of consumption, the result of the easy circumstances of all the inhabitants, even in a country whose climate is rude, whose soil is but moderately fertile, and where late frosts and inconstancy of seasons often blight the hopes of the cultivator. It is impossible to see without admiration those timber houses of the poorest peasant, so vast, so well closed in, so covered with carvings. In the interior spacious corridors separate the different chambers of the numerous family; each chamber has but one bed, which is abundantly furnished with curtains, bedclothes, and the whitest linen; carefully kept furniture surrounds it; the wardrobes are filled with linen; the dairy is vast, well aired, and of exquisite cleanness; under the same roof is a great provision of corn, salt meat, cheese, and wood; in the cow-houses are the finest and most carefully tended cattle in Europe; the garden is planted with flowers; both men and women are cleanly and warmly clad; all carry in their faces the impress of health and strength. Let other nations boast of their opulence. Switzerland may always point with pride to her peasants.”

In case we may think that this delightful picture is exaggerated by national pride, let us compare with it the following account by an observant English traveller—Mr. Inglis:—

“In walking anywhere in the neighbourhood of Zurich one is struck with the extraordinary industry of the inhabitants in the cultivation of their land. When I used to open my casement between four and five in the morning to look out upon the lake and the distant Alps, I saw the labourer in the fields; and when I returned from an evening walk, long after sunset, as late perhaps as half-past eight, there was the labourer mowing his grass, or tying up his vines … It is impossible to look at a field, a garden, a hedging, scarcely even a tree, a flower, or a vegetable, without perceiving proofs of the extreme care and industry that are bestowed upon the cultivation of the soil.” And again, describing a district now well known to English tourists, he says:—”In the whole of the Engadine the land belongs to the peasantry, who, like the inhabitants of every other place where this state of things exists, vary greatly in the extent of their possessions … Generally speaking, an Engadine peasant lives entirely upon the produce of his land, with the exception of the few articles of foreign growth required in his family, such as coffee, sugar, and wine. Flax is grown, prepared, spun, and woven without ever leaving the house. He has also his own wool, which is converted into a blue coat without passing through the hands of either the dyer or the tailor. The country is incapable of greater cultivation than it has received. All has been done for it that industry and an extreme love of gain can devise. There is not a foot of waste land in the Engadine, the lowest part of which is not much lower than the top of Snowdon. Wherever grass will grow there it is; wherever an ear of rye will ripen there it is to be found. Barley and oats have also their appropriate spots, and wherever it is possible to ripen a little patch of wheat the cultivation of it is attempted. In no country in Europe will be found so few poor as in the Engadine. In the village of Suss, which contains about 600 inhabitants, there is not a single individual who is indebted to others for what he eats.” It is true that in other parts of Switzerland there is abundance of pauperism, but the fact remains that wherever the land is occupied by peasant proprietors, there industry, ease, and comfort prevail.

Co-operation of Occupying Owners in Norway.—Equally conclusive is the testimony of Mr. Laing as to the occupying owners of Norway. He says:—”If small proprietors are not good farmers, it is not from the same cause here which we are told makes them so in Scotland—indolence and want of exertion. The extent to which irrigation is carried on in these glens and valleys shows a spirit of exertion and co-operation to which the latter can show nothing similar.” And after giving details of the miles of wooden troughs to carry water to the small fields on the mountain-side, he adds:—”Those may be bad farmers who do such things; but they are not indolent, or ignorant of the principle of working in concert and keeping up establishments for common benefit. They are, undoubtedly, in these respects, far in advance of any community of cottars in our Highland glens. They feel as proprietors, who receive the advantage of their own exertions. The excellent state of the roads and bridges is another proof that the country is inhabited by people who have a common interest to keep them in repair. There are no tolls.”

Occupying Ownership in Germany.—We will now turn to Germany, and here we have the testimony of another well-known English writer and traveller, the late William Howitt. Speaking of the Rhenish peasantry, in his “Rural and Domestic Life of Germany,” he says:—”The peasants are the great and ever-present objects of country life. They are the great population of the country because they are themselves the possessors … The peasants are not as with us, for the most part, totally cut off from property in the soil they cultivate—they are themselves the proprietors. It is, perhaps, from this cause that they are probably the most industrious peasantry in the world. They labour early and late, because they feel that they are labouring for themselves … The German peasants work hard, but they have no actual want. Every man has his house, his orchard, his roadside trees, commonly so heavy with fruit that he is obliged to prop and secure them all ways, or they would be torn in pieces. He has his corn plot, his plots for mangel wurzel, for hemp, and so on. He is his own master; and he and every member of his family have the strongest motives to labour. You see the effect of this in that unremitting diligence which is beyond that of the whole world besides, and his economy, which is still greater … The English peasant is so cut off from the idea of property that he comes habitually to look upon it as a thing from which he is warned by the laws of the large proprietors, and becomes in consequence spiritless and purposeless … The German bauer, on the contrary, looks on the country as made for him and his fellow men. He feels himself a man; he has a stake in the country as good as that of the bulk of his neighbours; no man can threaten him with ejection or the workhouse so long as he is active and economical. He walks, therefore, with a bold step; he looks you in the face with the air of a free man, but a respectful air.”

Admirable Cultivation Under Occupying Ownership.—Now let us call another witness to the condition of another part of Germany. Mr. Kay, well known for his long study, from personal observation, of the condition of the various populations of Europe, says of Saxony:—”It is a notorious fact that during the last 30 years, and since the peasants became the proprietors of the land, there has been a rapid and continual improvement in the condition of the houses, in the manner of living, in the dress of the peasants, and particularly in the culture of the land. I have walked twice through that part of Saxony called Saxon Switzerland, in company with a German guide, on purpose to see the state of the villages and of the farming, and I can safely challenge contradiction when I affirm that there is no farming in all Europe superior to the laboriously careful cultivation of the valleys of that part of Saxony.” And after giving a picture of the perfect condition of the crops, the total absence of weeds, the excessive care of manure, and other details, he goes on:—”The peasants endeavour to outstrip one another in the quantity and quality of the produce, in the preparation of the ground, and in the general cultivation of their respective portions. All the little proprietors are eager to find out how to farm so as to produce the greatest results; they diligently seek after improvements; they send their children to agricultural schools in order to fit them to assist their fathers; and each proprietor soon adopts a new improvement introduced by any of his neighbours.” And the general result of Mr. Kay’s observations is thus summed up:—”The present farming of Prussia, Saxony, Holland, and Switzerland is the most perfect and economical farming I have ever witnessed in any country.”

Improvement of the Soil Under Occupying Ownership in Belgium.—Belgium is another striking example of what can be done, under the most adverse circumstances, under the influence of property in the soil. Much of the country consists of loose white sand just like the sands of a sea-shore. This sand has been so greatly improved by laborious cultivation and manure that it cannot be distinguished from soil naturally of good quality. The most highly cultivated part of this country consists of peasant properties managed by the proprietors either wholly or partly by spade industry; and Mr. M’Culloch says that—”The cultivation of a poor light soil, or a moderate soil, is generally superior in Flanders to that of the most improved farms in Britain … In the minute attention to the qualities of the soil, in the management and application of manures of different kinds, in the judicious succession of crops, and especially in the economy of land, so that every part of it shall be in a constant state of production, we have still something to learn from the Flemings.” And he shows by minute calculations and estimates how it is that a man and his family can live and thrive on the produce of six acres of land.

Effects of Occupying Ownership in France.—France is often referred to as an example of the ill-success of small farms, even when owned by the farmers themselves, owing to the extreme subdivision of property enforced by the French laws. Mr. M’Culloch, writing in 1823, predicted that within fifty years France would become “the greatest pauper warren in the world,” and share with Ireland the honour of furnishing hewers of wood and drawers of water to other countries. Yet almost exactly at the end of the fifty years France suffered devastation by war and had to pay a war-indemnity of unparalleled magnitude. And it was the savings of her peasant-proprietors that enabled her to do this with marvellous ease, and to recover from a state of collapse with a celerity and completeness which astonished Europe. The celebrated Arthur Young, a strong advocate of large farms, who travelled in France in 1787-89, whenever he finds remarkable excellence of cultivation, never hesitates to ascribe it to peasant property. Speaking of a district near Dunkirk, he says:—”Between the town and Rosendal is a great number of neat little houses, built each with its garden, and one or two fields enclosed of most wretched blowing dune sands, naturally as white as snow, but improved by industry. The magic of property turns sand to gold.” And again:—”Going out of Gange, I was surprised to find by far the greatest exertion in irrigation which I had yet seen in France … An activity has been here that has swept away all difficulties before it, and has clothed the very rocks with verdure. It would be a disgrace to common sense to ask the cause; the enjoyment of property must have done it. 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.”

Again, take his description of the country at the foot of the Western Pyrenees:—”A succession of many well-built, comfortable farming cottages, built of stone and covered with tiles; each having its little garden, enclosed by clipt thorn hedges, with plenty of peach and other fruit trees, some fine oaks scattered in the hedges, and young trees nursed up with so much care that nothing but the fostering attention of the owner could effect anything like it. To every house belongs a farm, perfectly well enclosed, with grass borders mown and neatly kept round the corn-fields, with gates to pass from one enclosure to another. There are some parts of England (where small yeomen still remain) that resemble this country of Béarn; but we have very little that is equal to what I have seen in this ride of twelve miles from Pau to Moneng. It is all in the hands of little proprietors, without the farms being so small as to occasion a vicious and miserable population. An air of neatness, warmth, and comfort breathes over the whole. It is visible in their new-built houses and stables; in their little gardens; in their hedges; in the courts before their doors; even in the coops for their poultry and the sties for their hogs. A peasant does not think of making his pig comfortable if his own happiness hangs by the thread of a nine years’ lease.”

This same author is often quoted on the other side, as an opponent of small farms, even when in the hands of peasant-proprietors; though what he really says is, that the farming in many of these small farms in France is exceedingly bad. But this is owing to ignorance only, which may be easily amended, not to want of industry; and we must remember that the time he speaks of was just before the French Revolution, when the people were subject to the most oppressive taxes, restrictions, and exactions, and were kept in profound ignorance.[ii]Yet, note what he says of the farms he is supposed to be condemning:—”It is necessary to impress on the reader’s mind that though the husbandry I met with, in a great variety of instances on little properties, was as bad as can be well conceived, yet the industry of the possessors was so conspicuous and so meritorious that no commendations would be too great for it. It was sufficient to prove that property in land is, of all others, the most active instigator to severe and incessant labour. And this truth is of such force and extent that I know of no way so sure of carrying tillage to a mountain top as by permitting the adjoining villagers to acquire it in property; in fact, we see that in the mountains of Languedoc, &c., they have conveyed earth in baskets, on their backs, to form a soil where nature had denied it.” These extracts are surely sufficient to prove that the celebrated Arthur Young, like the other writers whose opinions and observations have been adduced, gives his testimony in the most forcible manner in favour of ownership as against tenancy, on every ground of economical, social, and moral superiority.

The Labourers of France under Occupying Ownership.—That the labourer no less than the farmer is elevated and improved by the possession of land is shown by a more recent writer. Dr. Ireland, in his “Studies of a Wandering Observer” tells us, that—”At Die, a town of 4,000 inhabitants, there are about 500 proprietors of land, the properties being of all sizes, from two-and-a-half acres upwards, but generally small. The peasant-labourers have been generally improving since the Revolution in wealth, comfort, and intelligence. They ate black bread, and now they eat brown; they wore rags, and now everybody is decently clad. Their wages have doubled, while the price of corn has only risen one-fifth. The peasant proprietors are gradually becoming richer. A frugal and sober family in fifteen or twenty years generally manages to put by £600.”[iii]

Result of Occupying Ownership in the Channel Islands.—One more example we must give, and one especially valuable because it is nearer to our shores, and actually under our own government—that of the Channel Islands. Mr. William Thornton, in his “Plea for Peasant Proprietors,” speaks thus of the island of Guernsey: “Not even in England is nearly so large a quantity of produce sent to market from a tract of such limited extent. This of itself might prove that the cultivators must be far removed above poverty, for being absolute owners of all the produce raised by them, they, of course, sell only what they do not themselves require. But the satisfactoriness of their condition is apparent to every observer. ‘The happiest community,’ says Mr. Hill, ‘which it has ever been my lot to fall in with is to be found in this little island of Guernsey.’ ‘No matter,’ says Sir George Head, ‘to what point the traveller may choose to wend his way, comfort everywhere prevails’ … In the whole island, with the exception of a few fishermen’s huts, there is not one house so mean as to be likened to the ordinary habitation of an English farm labourer … Beggars are utterly unknown … Pauperism, able-bodied pauperism at least, is nearly as rare as mendicancy.”

Mr. Brodrick, writing on the subject only last year, with all the latest information at his command, shows how economically successful is the agriculture. He says:—”If we judge of success in cultivation by the produce, we find that a much larger quantity of human food is raised in Jersey than is raised on an equal area, by the same number of cultivators, in any part of the United Kingdom. Not only does it support its own crowded population in much greater comfort than is enjoyed by the mass of Englishmen, but it supplies the London market, out of its surplus production, with shiploads of vegetables, fruit, butter, and cattle for breeding. Even wheat, for the growth of which the climate is not very suitable, is so cultivated that it yields much heavier crops per acre than in England; and the number of live-stock kept on a given area astonishes travellers accustomed only to English farming. Nor are these only the results of spade-husbandry, for machinery is largely employed by the yeomen and peasant-proprietors of the Channel Islands, who have no difficulty in arranging among themselves to hire it by turns.” Mr. Brodrick, like every one else, traces this wonderful success and prosperity to the land-system of the country. The soil is naturally rather poor and the climate is no better than on our own southern coasts, yet, he tells us, the land “yields an amount and variety of produce which seems fabulous to persons conversant only with tenant-farming on the grand scale, not merely because it is more liberally manured, but also because it is studded with orchards, vineries, and other profitable hors d’œuvres of agriculture, which nothing but the magic of property will call into existence. The same lesson is taught by the abundance of markets, the substantial character of the dwellings, even down to the humblest cottages, the magnitude of the public works, the dress and diet of the labouring classes, the comparative rarity of pauperism, and other signs which betoken a happy and thriving community.”

General Results of Occupying Ownership and those of Landlordism Compared.—Now, when we consider and weigh carefully this unvarying mass of testimony as to the happiness and well-being that everywhere prevail among peasant-proprietors or occupying-owners, and compare it with the facts already adduced as to the condition of our own agricultural labourers, and our wide-spread pauperism; with the chronic starvation of Ireland, and the landlord-made deserts of the Highlands; with our wretched building-lease houses; with the scarcity of milk, butter, fruit, and vegetables in all our country towns and villages; and add to this the difficulty that any Englishman of moderate means finds in getting a small plot of land for his personal occupation and enjoyment,—the only conclusion any rational and unbiassed thinker can arrive at is, that modern landlordism is the greatest curse that any country can groan under; that it is utterly incompatible with freedom; that it takes away the chief incentives to industry and thrift; that it creates poverty, pauperism, and crime, and checks all real progress in civilisation or in national prosperity.

Will it be said that Englishmen alone are not fitted for a system which succeeds alike in Norway, in Belgium, in Germany, and in France? The equal success of the yeomen of Cumberland and Devonshire, and of Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen alike, in every colony where they can obtain land, contradicts the absurd and libellous statement; while the industry and thrift our labourers display whenever a little land is granted them, even as tenants at fair rents and very imperfect security, shows what they would do under the more favourable conditions of an absolutely secure and permanent tenure. Even the much abused Irish themselves, who are supposed to be lazy because they are Celts, at once become industrious when they see a fair prospect of being allowed to retain the produce of their labour. Mr. Jonathan Pim gives the following illustration on the personal testimony of a friend:—”Within a few miles of the town of Wexford is a range of rocky hills, called the Mountain of Forth. They are about seven hundred feet above the sea, are exceedingly rugged, bleak, and sterile, and are naturally almost destitute of soil or vegetation. It was probably for this reason that the district remained in a state of commonage until within the last thirty or forty years. It is now sprinkled with little patches of land, many of them on the highest part of the mountain, reclaimed and enclosed at a vast expense of labour by the peasant-proprietors, who have been induced to overcome extraordinary difficulties in the hope of at length making a little spot of land their own. The surface was thickly covered with large masses of rock of various sizes, and intersected by the gullies formed by winter torrents. These rocks have been broken, buried, rolled away or heaped into the form of fences. The land when thus cleared has been carefully enriched with soil, manured, and tilled. These little holdings vary from half an acre to ten or fifteen acres. The occupiers hold by the right of possession; they are generally poor; but they are peaceable, well-conducted, independent, and industrious; and the district is absolutely free from agrarian outrage.”[iv]

In another part of his work Mr. Pim says: “It is well known that much waste land has been brought under culture for several years past. This has been effected chiefly by allowing cottiers to take in a portion of the mountain side; and when they had tilled it for a few years, and partially reclaimed it, calling on them either to give it up to the landlord, or to pay a rent. In some cases they probably retained it, and became permanent tenants; but in others, they gave it up, and commenced anew, not unfrequently ending near the top of the mountain, at the bottom of which they commenced many years before. Thus cultivation crept up the mountain sides, or encroached on the secluded valleys heretofore untilled. This mode of reclamation required no capital on the part of the landlord. The cottier or tenant was the sole agent. He obtained a bare subsistence by very severe labour, and rarely effected any improvement in his own condition.”

Here are facts, coldly stated as if they were of the most ordinary nature, which are yet sufficient to make one’s blood boil, in view of the actual condition of Ireland and the reckless accusations against its people. Is it not truly pitiable to think of these poor people, working all their lives at the endless task of reclaiming mountain land, with no other prospect than to have the fruits of their labour taken from them the moment it becomes worth the taking? What would not these people effect, if they had that legal security for the products of their own labour to give which is held to be the first duty of even the most rudimentary government, the first condition of any social or material progress? Can we have any doubt that they would soon rise to that state of well-being, order and contentment that everywhere else prevails when the tillers of the soil have full and complete security in its possession?[v]

Results of Landlordism in Italy.—Lest, however, it be supposed that there is something specially favourable in the soil, or the climate, or the character of the people in the countries we have referred to as examples of the admirable results of occupying ownership, let us take a glance at the other side of the picture; for it must not be supposed that over the whole Continent peasant-proprietorship prevails. Landlordism, as with us, is often predominant, and wherever it is so there is misery and discontent in the place of happiness and peace. Over large portions of Italy there are still, as in the times of the Romans, latifundia, or large estates farmed by middlemen and cultivated by labourers and tenants-at-will. In a recent work on Italy, by M. de Laveleye, he speaks of—”Naked and desolate fields, where the cultivator dies of famine in the fairest climate and on the most fertile soil, such is the result of the latifundia. Economists who defend the system of huge properties, visit the interior of the Basilicata and Sicily if you want to see the degree of misery to which your huge properties reduce the earth and its inhabitants.”

Their condition is further shown by the following extract from a petition of the peasants of Lombardy, in reply to a Ministerial circular warning them against the dangers of emigration:—

“What do you mean by the nation, Signor Minister? Is it the multitude of the miserable? Then we, indeed, are the nation. Look at our pale and emaciated faces, at our bodies exhausted by excessive labour and insufficient food. We sow and reap the wheat, but never eat white bread. We cultivate the grape, but never drink its wine. We raise the cattle, but never taste meat. We are clad in rags. We dwell in dens of infection. We freeze in winter, and in summer we starve. Our only nourishment on Italian soil is a handful of maize, made costly by the tax. The burning fever devours us in the dry regions, and in the wet ones we are the prey of the fever of the marsh. Our end is a premature death in the hospital, or in our miserable cabins. And, in spite of all this, Signor Minister, you recommend us not to expatriate ourselves! But can the land, where even the hardest labour cannot earn food, be called a native country?”

That this is not exaggeration is proved by the prevalence of pellagra, a frightful form of leprosy brought on by unwholesome food. M. de Laveleye says:—

“Twelve and eleven per cent. of the Lombard and Venetian population are smitten, and those who are not actually struck by the plague are debilitated by the bad nourishment. The statistics of the conscription for the Army give horrifying results. In 1878 the report of General Torre shows that the number of conscripts excused for constitutional infirmity was 20 per cent. in Lombardy and 18 per cent. in Venetia … Thus, in the fairest country in the world a fifth of the population, in the flower of their life, are incapable of military service, in consequence of extreme poverty … The Commission of Inquiry on the subject of the pellagra says, ‘The cause of this malady is extreme misery, so that under the medical question we find the social question.'”

And in a recent report to the Italian Government by Dr. Ruseri (as quoted in the Daily News, April 16th, 1881) we have the following statement:—

“Since 1856 the condition of the agricultural population, in spite of the improvement in other respects that has taken place, has remained much the same. In the neighbourhood of the thriving city of Milan are to be found the poorest labourers of Lombardy, for many of whom even polenta is a luxury. In Puglia the agricultural labourers live in small cottages of one room, and sleep in the clothes they have worn the whole day, for they never undress, on a bare mattress in a niche left in the wall. They are put under an overseer, who furnishes them daily, at the expense of the proprietor, with about two pounds of bad black bread each. They work from dawn to sunset, and have no other food, except during harvest, when about two quarts of small wine is added to their fare, in order to enable them to undergo the extra fatigue. The condition of the peasants in the Basilicata is no better. There they collect at evening in the towns or villages, living in damp cellars or caves. Often a whole family possesses but one bed, upon which men, women, children, and old people sleep pell-mell.”

Yet wherever fixity of tenure, or peasant-properties exist, there, in Italy as elsewhere, the utmost prosperity prevails. M. de Laveleye says:—”I know of no more striking lesson in political economy than is taught at Capri. Whence come the perfection of cultivation and the comfort of the population? Certainly not from the fertility of the soil, which is an arid rock … Before obtaining the crops, it was necessary, so to speak, to create the soil. It is the magic of ownership which has produced this prodigy.”

From the facts presented in different parts of Italy alone M. de Laveleye arrives at the very same conclusion as we have reached from examination of similar facts in the British Isles, that the prosperity of the country is a question of the establishment of a body of independent cultivators of their own land instead of a population of dependent, and therefore improvident and wretched, peasants, who have no security for the enjoyment of the fruits of their labour.

Results of Landlordism in Spain and Sardinia.—In Spain also the greater part of the land is held in large estates strictly entailed, so that the great mass of the people are deprived of all interest in the soil. These vast estates are generally managed by stewards, anxious only to remit money to their masters. The land is ill cultivated, and the peasantry are indolent and poor.[vi]In Sardinia the same causes are followed by the same results. Arthur Young says:—”What keeps it in its present unimproved situation is chiefly the extent of estates, the absence of some very great proprietors, and the inattention of all … The peasants are a miserable set, that live in poor cabins without other chimneys than a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.” And at a much later period M’Culloch still writes: “The division of the island into immense estates, most of which were acquired by Spanish grandees, the want of leases, and the restrictions on industry, have paralysed the industry of the inhabitants, and sunk them to the lowest point in the scale of civilisation.”

The Occupying Owner under Extremely Unfavourable Conditions.—The evidence, therefore, on this point appears to be absolutely conclusive: wherever we find large estates cultivated by tenants-at-will, there is bad farming, discontent, and pauperism; wherever we find the land cultivated by its owners or permanent occupiers, there we find industry, economy, great productiveness, content, and comfort. Climate, soil, civilisation, government may vary, but the results of these two systems of land-tenure never vary in kind but only in degree. And we must remember that in no country are the conditions so favourable to the complete success of occupying ownership as they might easily be made. Bad fiscal regulations, compulsory division of inheritance, and oppressive taxation often interfere; while nowhere is the mortgaging of the land forbidden; and thus the cultivator of his own farm may often be hampered by want of capital, cramped by having to pay interest equal to a high rent, and be living under a sense of insecurity hardly inferior to that of a tenant-at-will. Yet with all these disadvantages, the difference of the two systems stands out in prominent relief—on the one hand insecurity, with idleness, poverty, and discontent; on the other hand “the magic of property which turns sand into gold.”

It is true that even the peasant proprietor is often miserably poor, but when this is the case it is invariably due to the bad conditions and unnatural restrictions under which he labours. This is strikingly shown over a large part of North Germany, where the old common-field system of culture has led to each farm or holding consisting of a vast number of distinct plots or strips, which are scattered about over the whole parish and no two of them contiguous. Mr. Baring Gould, in his valuable work “Germany Past and Present,” states that sometimes a farm of about 50 acres will consist of 1,000 bits of land, distributed over the whole surface of the parish. This is an extreme case, but the strips are often only seven yards wide, sometimes only three or even one yard! None of these are fenced, so that all domestic animals, even sheep, have to be stall fed, and then the sheep produce no wool and very poor mutton. These farms are transmitted from a father to his sons, and their frequent division has led to the minute division of the separate plots, so that each heir may have a share of each quality of land. In addition to this the individual farms are too small, while they are often heavily mortgaged to Jews, who advance funds for the portions of some members of the family when the owner dies. Mr. Baring Gould thus describes these farms:—”In almost every parish are a large number of small proprietors, existing on the fragments of a parcelled farm. They have too little land to allow of their keeping a horse or oxen, consequently they have to depend on the great bauers for the tilling of their land and the carting of their harvests. These little holders have to pay dear for this hire, and they can often only obtain it too late in the season. They are behindhand with their ploughing, and their crops are not carried till bad weather sets in. An English labourer lives in luxury compared to these small farmers, who drag on in squalor and misery, bowed under debt to the Jew who waits to sell them up.”

It is clear enough that this want of success is due to the utterly abominable conditions under which these poor people live—conditions handed down to them from the past and from which they are unable to escape. Yet even here they have advantages which neither our agricultural labourers nor our factory-workers possess—that of independence and personal interest in their work. Mr. Baring Gould says:—

“The artisan is restless and dissatisfied. He is mechanised. He finds no interest in his work, and his soul frets at the routine. He is miserable, and he knows not why. But the man who toils on his own plot of ground is morally and physically healthy. He is a freeman; the sense he has of independence gives him his upright carriage, his fearless brow, and his joyous laugh.”

These cases in which occupying ownership is a comparative failure are therefore instructive, because we find that the failure depends wholly on adverse conditions of custom or law—conditions which no sane man would adopt in establishing a system of land tenure, but which would necessarily lead to adverse results under any system. This is pre-eminently a case in which the exception proves the rule. For it is an exception, the rule being that wherever the conditions are only in a very moderate degree favourable, we find those striking results of prosperity, contentment, order, and general well-being which we have already set forth on the unimpeachable and consistent testimony of a large body of competent observers.[vii]

Large Farms versus Small Not the Question at Issue.—The opponents of any alteration of our system of land-tenure in the direction indicated by the evidence here adduced usually evade the real point at issue by treating it as if it were solely a question between small and large farms. They endeavour to show that large farms can be cultivated more economically and produce larger returns than small ones, and that therefore “peasant-proprietorship” is wasteful, and should be discouraged. To this there are two valid replies. In the first place, the objection is not applicable to the proposals here advocated, which are, to secure occupying ownership in farms of any and all sizes that there may be a demand for, not in small farms for peasants only; and, in the next place, the allegation of the inferior productiveness of small farms under equally favourable conditions with large ones is not only not proved, but is directly opposed to all the evidence. The small farms of the Channel Islands, of Belgium, and of the Palatinate surpass in productiveness those of equal areas in the best examples of large English farms; while the political, moral, and social superiority of peasant proprietors to mere agricultural labourers is so overwhelming, that even if the produce were in some cases smaller, there could be not a moment’s hesitation in preferring the well-being of the whole rural population to the increased wealth of a few capitalist farmers and great landowners.[viii]

Various Objections to Peasant-Proprietorship Answered by Facts.—Another objection sometimes made is that land cannot be efficiently cultivated and permanently improved without capital, and that peasant-proprietors have usually no capital. Here again the facts are against the objectors. In several countries, notably in Norway, in Jersey, and in Switzerland, co-operation has effected quite as much in these respects as the most lavish expenditure of capital in a country of large estates.[ix]Moreover, occupying owners need not necessarily be without capital, and most certainly they will expend it with more judgment and more confidence, than either a landlord ignorant of practical agriculture or a tenant without any permanent interest in the soil. The scheme of land-tenure here advocated (as will be seen further on), owing to the prohibition of mortgages, renders the application of capital to the land far more easy and more likely to be general than under any existing system.

It has also been objected that peasant-proprietorship leads to too rapid increase of the population, and must thus soon produce over-crowding and pauperism. But here again the facts are all the other way. Nothing is such a powerful check to early marriages as the need of first obtaining a farm sufficient to support a family; and in every country where peasant-properties largely prevail the age of marriage is higher than among our agricultural labourers. John Stuart Mill has brought a mass of interesting evidence to bear upon this question, and the reader who desires to become acquainted with it is referred to his “Political Economy,” Chap. VII, or to Mr. Thornton’s “Plea for Peasant Proprietors,” Chap. II, where the subject is fully examined by the light of history and experience.[x]

The Last Argument in Favour of Landlordism Shown to be Unsound.—Yet one more objection must be noted, and this is perhaps the weakest of all, though it is made much of by the advocates of landlordism. It is said that by abolishing landlords and transferring all the land to peasant-proprietors the great advantage will be lost of a wealthy and educated man in every parish, whose interest it is to promote good feeling no less than good agriculture, and whose refinement and talents tend to elevate and improve the whole population. Now, waiving all objection to this as a true picture of the average landowner and country gentleman, we must first note that, according to the corrected returns given in Mr. Brodrick’s work, there are only about 4,200 great landowners and squires in England and Wales (owning considerably more than half the total area of the country), while there are 10,000 parishes; so that, allowing for the number of non-resident landowners, and the still larger number of those who, being only occasionally resident, leave the management of their estates to their agents, it is evident that only one parish in four or five can now enjoy the supposed advantages of the resident influential landowner. In the next place, what reason have we to suppose that all (or the greater part of) these country gentlemen would quit their ancestral houses and lands if they no longer derived their income mainly from the rents of farms? They could still have their own houses and grounds and home-farms, which, if they were really fond of agriculture and had no other estate to manage, they would probably make larger than at present and cultivate with more care and personal attention. Would such a man be of less value in a district because he had lost the despotic power he formerly possessed over his tenants and labourers? Would not his advice carry more weight and his example have more influence, as the best educated, the most gentlemanly, and the richest man in his parish, when his advice would be wholly disinterested and his neighbours would be influenced by genuine respect for his abilities and his character? Then again, if we look at the number of separate mansions now belonging to the same owner, and, except perhaps for a few weeks in the year, occupied only by servants, and remember that each of these would almost certainly be occupied by a resident gentleman owning and cultivating a greater or less extent of land, we should here have a decided increase of that beneficial influence in country life which our actual landlordism sometimes, but by no means always, exerts.

Beneficial Influence of Ownership on Agriculture.—Yet more important is the consideration that the class of English farmers would itself be greatly improved, and would perhaps exert an influence quite as beneficial as that of the existing squire. For each of these would be the potential owner of the land he cultivated, and every improvement in its value or enjoyability would be his own. The same land would then, as a rule, be cultivated by the same family generation after generation, and this would certainly lead to improvements such as none but a permanent occupying owner would ever think of making. The poorer land would be planted for timber, the more sheltered and otherwise suitable with fruit trees. The farmhouses would be improved and beautified; and the whole character of many parts of our country would thus be altered for the better. Farmers of this class, unhampered by any tenancy restrictions, with a good knowledge of agricultural chemistry, and often with the experience gained by visits to the United States, to European countries, or Australia, would introduce new modes of culture, would make experiments with new crops, and thus do more to develop the capabilities and increase the production of our land than has been or ever can be possible under the old system of landlord and tenant, with its conflicting interests, its divided responsibility, and its mutual jealousy, which throw obstacles in the way of all advances in cultivation and render many of the most important kinds of permanent improvement all but impossible.

This is well shown in the contrast between the Eastern States of America and England. The former have felt the pressure of competition by the Western States almost as much as we have; but wherever the farmer cultivates his own land he has adapted himself to the circumstances by a more varied system of cultivation, leading to a considerable increase in the total value of farm produce. Mr. Brodrick tells us that, though only half as much barley was grown by Massachusetts farmers in 1875 as in 1865, and only one-third as much as in 1855, the yield per acre rose during this period from nineteen and a half bushels to twenty-five and a half bushels, and a similar increase was realised in wheat, oats, Indian corn, beet-root, and potatoes. In the meantime the production of milk was far more than trebled. The total value of the farm products of Massachusetts in 1875 exceeded their value in 1865 by 8,000,000 dollars, notwithstanding the stress of western competition and the general reduction of prices. No such power of adapting our agriculture to new conditions has been exhibited in England, nor was it possible to tenant farmers hampered by restrictive covenants and with no permanent interest in the soil.

That English farmers, however, are equally capable and energetic when they have the inducement and the means of being so, is shown by the example of Mr. John Prout, who, nearly twenty years ago, purchased a farm near Sawbridgeworth, in Hertfordshire, and has since cultivated it himself so as to compete successfully in wheat-growing with America, obtaining during the whole of that period fair interest on his capital and a good profit besides. This has been effected by a system of cultivation which no landlord would ever have permitted; and though there is some difference of opinion as to whether this can be carried on indefinitely, the fact seems to be admitted that his later crops are even better than his earlier ones, and that the cleanliness and general character of the soil has been greatly improved. The great fact to be noted is, that while tenant farmers are being everywhere ruined and hundreds of farms are going out of cultivation, an occupying owner has been able to pay the equivalent of rent in interest on capital, and to obtain a handsome average return for his agricultural skill and personal supervision.[xi]

The Conclusion from the Evidence.—We thus see, not only that an overwhelming mass of evidence, afforded by the chief civilised countries in the world, proves the vast superiority of occupying ownership to landlordism as it exists with us; but, further, that every objection urged on behalf of landlordism only serves more clearly to bring out the numerous advantages—political, social, and moral, as well as merely economical—of occupying ownership, whether exhibited in small, in moderate, or in large farms.

_______Continued: Low Wages and pauperism the direct consequences of unrestricted private property in land

[i]“Occupying ownership is treated of in this chapter, not as a system to be generally adopted, for it has many evils, but as the only existing system which affords us actual examples of the advantages of that permanence of tenure and secure possession of the increased value due to the occupier’s labour and expenditure, which would be universal under Land Nationalisation.”

[ii]The French peasants were heavily taxed on the profits of their farms, which profits were assessed by the collectors at their pleasure; and as the taxes were farmed out, the condition of the peasant was exactly analogous to that of the subjects of Turkey at the present day, and in both cases it was necessary to conceal all signs of wealth or even of comfort. There were also edicts against weeding and hoeing, lest the young partridges should be disturbed, and the very best of all manures was prohibited lest it should give a flavour to the game which fed upon the peasants’ corn! The peasants were also subjected to forced labour both for the Government and for the lords of the manor; and because, under these conditions, the peasant proprietors of France were not prosperous, peasant-proprietorship itself was alleged to be a failure! (See Thornton’s “Plea for Peasant Proprietors,” p. 114.)

[iii]Corroborative evidence in the same direction is afforded by the following statements given in Mr. Thornton’s “Plea for Peasant Proprietors”:—?? ” Mr. Henry Bulwer remarks that by far the greatest number of indigent is to be found in the northern departments, where land is less divided than elsewhere and cultivated with larger capitals” (p. 132).? ” Mr. Birkbeck (in his tour in France) noticing that on the road from St. Pierre to Moulins the lower class appeared less comfortable, found on inquiry that few of the peasantry thereabouts were proprietors” (p. 133).? ” Mr. LeQuesne, who, when asking the causes of the smiling productiveness of Anjou and Touraine, received for answer that the land was divided into small parcels, noticed that the houses of the country people there were remarkable for their neatness, and indicative of the ease and comfort of their possessors” (p. 133). 

[iv]“Condition and Prospects of Ireland” p. 280. 

[v]The example above referred to is especially valuable as showing that large areas of mountain land may be reclaimed by the simple process of allowing peasants to reclaim it; and if they are secured in the whole increased value they give to it, it seems difficult to place limits to what may be done. The usual proposal is that land should be first reclaimed at the expense of the landlord or of Government, and that then peasants should be settled on it at rents proportioned to the money expended. But this is both unnecessary, wasteful, and unfair to the peasants themselves. The cost of reclamation by hired labour would be far greater than when it is effected by the occupying owner, who can do it bit by bit, at times when he would otherwise be idle, and therefore at a minimum of cost. Moreover, he knows best exactly what and how much to do; whereas large schemes of reclamation on the plans of engineers or agriculturists are sure to involve much work which is needless, and much that will be done in a needlessly expensive fashion—and for all this the poor peasant will be saddled with a needless amount of perpetual rent! It is a most essential principle that all reclamation and improvement on land let to a peasant on a permanent tenure should be done by himself, not for him by others. If he wants help, a small loan, at fair interest and repayable by instalments, would be the only proper mode of giving it. 

[vi]M’Culloch’s Geographical Dictionary, art. Spain. 

[vii]An article has recently appeared in the “Contemporary Review” on “Peasant Proprietors in France,” in which a very discouraging account is given of the peasants in some parts of Savoy, more especially as regards the discomfort and dirt of their dwellings. The adjacent Departments of France are also remarkable for the dirty habits of the people, but this depends more on custom than on want, and is often no indication whatever of poverty. It must be remembered that Savoy has been till recently very isolated, being cut off by the Alps from Piedmont, to which it formerly belonged; and the ignorance which even now widely prevails in Italy was perhaps there exaggerated, and may have checked the outflow of the surplus population and the influence of new ideas and habits. It is clear from the article itself that the properties are often too small, and also that they are in some cases let out to tenants on the metayer system; while there is a total absence of details as to the average size and character of the tenures and the political and social surroundings, present and past, which renders it impossible to form an accurate judgment as to the real condition of the population.

[viii]The evidence on this point is conclusive. Mr. C. Wren Hoskyns, M. P., in his work on “The Land Laws of England,” says: “It is obvious, almost to a truism, that the occupation which most resembles ownership itself must, by the imperative laws equally of the soil and of human instinct, be the most profitable to both parties by the uninterrupted progress of improvement and addition to the land.” Dr. Ireland, in his “Studies of a Wandering Observer,” says:—”People find that a man who puts his own work into his land, or employs his whole attention in directing a few workmen, can make a great deal more out of it than the scientific farmer, who has to struggle with the weary negligence of bands of day-labourers.” M. Passy, in his “Systems of Cultivation in France and their Influence on Social Economy,” gives the following as the result of his investigations:—”1. That in the present state of agricultural knowledge and practice it is the small farms, owned by the farmers, which, after deducting the cost of production, yield, from a given surface, and on equal conditions, the greatest net produce; and, 2. That the same system of cultivation, by maintaining a larger rural population, not only thereby adds to the strength of a State, but affords a better market for those commodities the production and exchange of which stimulate the prosperity of the manufacturing districts.” And of the character of the cultivation by peasant-proprietors, M. Passy says: “They carry into the least details of their undertaking an attention and care which are productive of the most important advantages. There is not a corner of their land of which they do not know the special qualities and capabilities, and to which they do not know how to give the peculiar treatment and care it requires,” and after comparing some of the best English agricultural counties with an extensive area of the north of France, he states that the net produce of the latter is the larger of the two. M. de Laveleye, in his Essay on Systems of Land Tenure, shows that the small peasant-proprietors of Belgium and Flanders use an enormous quantity of manure, and obtain crops far surpassing those of the best large farms in any part of the world. In Switzerland, wherever the Government have sold to peasants the land which formerly belonged to the State, “very often a third or a fourth part of the land which was before let out to farmers produces at present as much corn, and supports as many head of cattle, as the whole estate formerly did when it was cultivated by leasehold tenants.” Mr. Thornton’s “Plea for Peasant-Proprietors,” and Mr. Kay’s “Free Trade in Land,” are literally crowded with facts of the same character as these and leading irresistibly to the same conclusion. Notwithstanding this mass of evidence, English writers still maintain that English agriculture is more advanced and more productive than that of France, grounding their conclusions solely on the average crop of wheat. To one such writer the following letter, which appeared in the Daily News (Dec. 28th, 1881), is a complete reply and full explanation:—”Mr. Caird and other writers have recently asserted that ‘the average wheat crop in England yields 28, as opposed to 18 bushels to the acre in France;’ thus attempting to prove that the English system is the most productive in a national point of view. I submit that if we examine the effect of the English and French systems of land tenure on an entire province, consisting of good, indifferent, and waste soil, we shall arrive at a very different conclusion. In France the peasant proprietor (aided by his family, and thus commanding the cheapest possible labour) will successfully attack land of the very poorest description and bring it into cultivation. It may possibly produce but five bushels to the acre, but it repays the ‘owner.’ In the French official returns of cultivated land the average is thus brought down to a very low figure. In England such poor soil is as a rule left waste, simply because it will not repay cultivation—i.e., it will not produce rent after maintaining the farmer and labourer, and, as the English proprietor cannot command either cheap labour or apply the stubborn energy and minute attention and thrifty habits of the French peasant proprietor, we see immense tracts in England left in a state of nature which in France would be gradually but surely reclaimed. The French peasant cannot afford hedgerows, waste land, and game preserves, but he is the owner of his own farm, and devotes all his energies to its improvement. He is consequently the backbone of France in more than one sense.—I am, Sir, yours truly, French Resident.” A further demonstration of the superiority of the French to the English system of land-tenure is afforded by one whose facts at all events will not be disputed—Mr. Gladstone. In his speech at West Calder he makes the following important remarks:—”A peasant proprietary is an excellent thing to be had, if it can be had, in many points of view. It interests an enormous number of the people in the soil of the country and in the stability of its institutions and its laws. But now look on the effect it has on the progressive value of the land. What will you think when I tell you that the agricultural value of France—the taxable income derived from the land, and therefore the income to the proprietors of that land—has advanced during our life-time far more rapidly than that of England? . . . While the agricultural income of France increased 40 per cent. in thirteen years [from 1851 to 1864], the agricultural income of England only increased 20 per cent. in thirty-four years [from 1842 to 1876] … What I do wish very respectfully to submit to you is this—this vast increase in the agricultural value of France is not upon the large properties, which, if anything, are inferior to the cultivation of the large properties in England, but it is upon these very peasant properties which some people are so ready to decry.”

[ix]See on this point the evidence adduced by Mill and Fawcett in their works on “Political Economy.” 

[x]In Prof. Fawcett’s “Political Economy,” the same view is strongly maintained. 

[xi]“English Land and English Landlords,” p. 296; Daily News, Feb. 9th, 1881, where an excellent account of Mr. Prout’s farm and its results is given.