The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39
The Lands Of Ireland
The Lands Of Ireland.
The Memories Of The Past.
There has been a famine in Ireland, and after the famine sedition, and now we are resorting to coercive measures. This is not a new experience in Ireland. On the contrary, there has always been a dismal uniformity in the past relations of England and her subject country; and a subject country Ireland is, for never at any time has she endured the English yoke otherwise than as the felon bears his fetters. Ireland hungers, she starves, not because she is poor in resources, but because her heart's blood is being sucked by England. Ireland murmurs and resists, then we English coerce, and afterwards concede a little with a bad grace, and get no thanks, as surely we do not deserve them. Now might it not be worth England's while, for the sake of her own credit and her own material interest, to incur some preliminary expense in order to convert Ireland from a source of constant confusion, weakness, and disgrace into a prosperous neighbor with whom she might drive a profitable commerce? The thing could be done—there is no doubt whatever about that—only it would cost money. Money it would cost. One cannot hope very often to obtain what is worth a great deal for little or nothing. People who promise that are, usually speaking, quacks. But by incurring an expense, not exceeding what we are able to afford, we might spare the Irish much undeserved suffering, if that counts for anything, and obtain for ourselves much glory, if that counts for anything; but over and above all that, which is no doubt difficult to estimate in pounds and shillings, we could get back our own again in the shape of material wealth, full measure, brimming over. There is nothing in the physical characteristics or geographical situation of Ireland, or in the temper of her people, to prevent her from becoming a large producing country, and the best of neighbors to us.page 24
There are evidently three points of view from whence to regard the Irish problem: the Irish, the English, and the foreign. The two first-named are necessarily prejudiced in opposite directions; the third may be, but need not be, ignorant. Now it is mark worthy, though by no means strange, that Englishmen—almost all of them—see the problem in one light, and foreigners in another. Englishmen are generally ready to acknowledge that Ireland has her grievances, but they fail to see, what foreigners almost always see, that Ireland has not so much grievances as a grievance, insomuch that to do everything for Ireland excepting one thing, and to leave that undone, were as good as doing nothing. I was never but once in Ireland, many years ago when a boy; but I remember the response of a Dublin policeman to a query of my companion's: "That, sir! that's the bank, sir; that's where we kept the money when we had it." Aye, but when one has not got it. Why then, to be sure, one needs no bank, as the farmer having no crops requires no granaries. A great convenience, sans doute. Methinks I find occasion for gratitude. So evident is the real state of the case to foreigners that even religious prejudice does not blind them to it. The Abbé Perraud, fervent Catholic as he was, writing in 1861, naturally denounces the established church, yet he does not regard that as the grievance of Ireland, nor does he for a moment suppose that disestablished would much allay the general discontent. Now we have tried tinkering legislation for Ireland, and it never avails anything. Unless, therefore, we are prepared to resort to a radical remedy we must expect the future of Ireland to be what the past has been. Hunger and discontent will reign there, only alternated with famines, accompanied with rioting and agrarian crime; and whenever England is in difficulties there will be rebellions, and all these riots and rebellions will have to be quenched with blood, and for all this cost of life and treasure we shall have nothing at all to show; we shall be in the same situation after it as we were before, we shall not have advanced an inch towards pacifying Ireland. We must make ready to meet the same emergencies by the same means again and again continually, unless accident should accomplish for us what our own wit has failed in doing.
Nothing can be more inconsequent, nor yet more super- page 25 fluous, than to attribute the woes of Ireland and the vices of the Irish to the inherent tendencies of the Celt. The objections to this explanation are manifold. The Irish often reform with surprising celerity when they emigrate. The Teutons of Ulster very generally exhibit the same faults as the old Irish, and sink into the same misery when under the same territorial regime, and similar causes have led to similar results in different parts of the Continent, as anyone with a knowledge of human nature might have anticipated. And lastly, the people of the Scottish Highlands, of Wales, of the south-western counties, of the Channel Islands, and of some of the most flourishing departments of France, are all of them Celts, like the Irish, and yet the last two named, at any rate, are not only exempt from the special failings of the Irish, but they are even remarkable for the opposite virtues. The citizen virtues are not the growth of a day, and the Irish cottier of the past has had no more inducement to practice those virtues nor opportunity to cultivate them than a Negro on the Savannas, nay, he has actually had less.
The man who dares not wear a decent coat lest his rent should be increased, to what end should he do anything but snatch any passing pleasure of the hour? Capacity and fidelity will generally win some favors for the very slave with a hard master, but the thrifty and industrious cottier farmer, at the mercy of a griping middle man, in a purely agricultural country, has positively no advantage whatsoever over the idle and improvident. One man tills the soil, another reaps the fruits of all his efforts. Could surer system be devised for demoralising both? The rule of equity of the code Napoleon, taken from the code of Justinian, qui ne permet pas de s' enrichir aux dépens d'autrui, was absolutely reversed in Ireland prior to the Act of 18G0.
That Irishmen should long to see Ireland, as Robert Emmett said, take her place among the nations, is of course to be expected, and although the best foreign writers are agreed in regarding the project as impracticable, yet it seems to me to be against human nature to expect that they ever will relinquish this ambition, nor can I see why it should not be ultimately gratified. It certainly does not pay England to hold Ireland as a conquered province; and, page 26 on the other hand, an independent Ireland, suffering nothing from England and having no distrust of her, as she need have none when democratical ideas shall have taken the place of Jingoism, will have no enmity against England and no inducement to favor a foreign invader, much less could she be so mad as to contemplate aggression single-handed.
Naturally, Englishmen do not generally think the question worth discussion, or, at any rate, not worth serious discussion. One Englishman, however, has argued the point through the whole of three long volumes, and I should think that that argument must be surely, in its way, unique, at least as proceeding from the pen of a man of superior parts and understanding. Mr. Froude commences his "English in Ireland" by identifying might and right. After this I do not understand why he should have troubled to write his book, for, upon this view, every apology must be cither superfluous or vain, nor yet do I comprehend the advantage of having two words to express the same idea. Of course, Mr. Froude's dictum gives the coup de grace to morality as commonly understood. Undeterred, however, by any of these considerations, Mr. Froude perseveres, and his contention throughout his book is precisely as follows: We English have now been engaged for upwards of seven centuries in the attempt to govern Ireland but with almost no success; and during the whole of that very lengthy period, never at any time, not for a single decade, a year, six months, scarcely in any individual measure, unless during the reigns of Henry VIII., Elizabeth and Cromwell, or when we gave ear to the sage counsels of George III., have we ever done anything else at all but blunder and tyrannise, tyrannise and blunder. We do not improve; we do not learn by experience. On the contrary, never have we shown ourselves so conspicuously incompetent as during the present century. I am stating Mr. Froude's opinion, not my own. And, therefore, argues Mr. Froude, are we bound to persevere in the attempt, having thus shown our superiority, and, I rather think, likewise from philanthropical motives. Although, to say truth, Mr. Froude is rather shy of philanthropy. He considers philanthropy a not ill medicine to be administered at times, but subject to the doctor's orders and in homœopathic doses. After having hung half the inhabitants and pitch-capped the remainder, page 27 a mild dose of philanthropy, for which they will doubtless have an appetite, may not prove dangerously relaxing to the pitch-capped survivors, at the least if they be not too papistical or in case there be found ten righteous Orangemen in the vicinity, and not the shadow of a shade of a priest or a mass-book within forty leagues round. Certainly Mr. Froude is not singular in his distrust of priests in general, and Catholic priests in particular. He would find a large following on the Continent. For, with a few exceptions, where priests are known the best, they are liked the worst. Yet the Irish priests have always been as worthy a body of men with as great merits and as few faults as is perhaps consistent with the character of any priesthood. Nor is it correct to say that Catholicism is necessarily a persecuting faith. There have been instances to the contrary. There have been such upon the Continent, and Ireland herself is such an instance, for although individual Irish Catholics have often perpetrated shameful outrages upon their religious rivals, yet the Irish Catholics as a body, although they have had ample opportunity to persecute, have never used it. And Mr. Froude is indiscreet in throwing this charge against Catholicism, because what is not true of that form of Christianity is true of another, namely, Mr. Froudes' own favorite Calvinism. In Geneva, in Scotland, in Ulster, in the New England States, wherever that grim creed of that dark man, his hands dyed crimson and his soul in shade—wheresoever that creed has been in power it has invariably shown itself intolerant. Who has not heard of the Blue Laws of Connecticut? whereas, upon the other hand, it is a fact that Maryland under Catholic rule was the most liberal state in the Union, and Protestants should blush to know that it was at one time the only state where the Quakers could find a refuge against Protestant persecution.
Moreover, whatever we may think of the respective merits of Catholicism and Calvinism, of one thing there can be no question, that persistent and savage persecution of the Irish Catholics has always notably failed of its purpose. No, it has not failed of its purpose, but only of its pretended purpose. In its genuine designs it has been eminently successful. It has inflicted a great deal of suffering, and effected a great deal of spoliation. But it is precisely since we have page 28 gradually discontinued that shameful policy—which was never dictated, whatever Mr. Froude may say, by any statesmanlike considerations, but simply by religious bigotry, hate and greed—it is precisely since we have discontinued that policy that the reverence of the Irish peasants for their priests has begun to abate. Who that knows anything of the great English middle class does not know that spirit which has eaten like a canker into it, and which has rendered and still renders persecution possible in England, notwithstanding the natural generosity of the people? It is the very spirit of the murderer of Servetus.
Even the very bigots themselves, nowadays, usually attempt to conceal their designs behind some mask. They have not enough audacity openly to advocate religious persecution, but Mr. Froude advocates it in its most unrelenting form; he sticks at nothing, at no violence, at no cruelty, at no measures, however open to exception, and this, not with the excuse of a perverted enthusiasm, but in favor of a creed in which he himself has no belief whatever. How to account for this strange phænomenon? Well, there are some men with a twist of temper which makes it necessary to them to be conspicuously singular. What to do? Bigotry is always common, and liberality has ceased to be very rare. Accordingly, Mr. Froude must needs strike out for himself a new departure. His choice is ingenious. He selects to combine a philosophical scepticism with the advocacy of the most illiberal measures and the glorification of the most illiberal men. Bigotry, cruelty and impracticable obstinacy—these are among the qualities which recommend a man to the favor of Mr Froude. He has selected for his beau ideal of heroism and sagacity (God save the mark!) George III. He would have chosen M. Jourdain if that worthy gentleman had been historical.
For a criticism of Froude's book, and especially of his manipulation of evidence—which would have done more credit to a smart attorney than to a man of Froude's mental calibre—I must refer the reader to Lecky's "History of England in the Eighteenth Century."
In order to comprehend the ideas and feelings of the Irish, it is necessary to know something of the history of the past, for the poor Irish cottier lives much in the memories of the past, having neither joy in the present nor hope in the future. page 29 And it is likewise necessary to know something of the great famine, and, furthermore, to remember what sometimes really appears to be forgotten, that this famine is not an event which took place in the times of Henry the Second, or Elizabeth, or Cromwell, or William of Orange. The men are breathing, feeling, loving, hating in America just now, whose parents, whose wives, whose very children, so recent is it, perished of hunger at that time. Supposably most people have heard something of the famine, something of the ghastly horrors of it, and of the admirable patience of the people. It is customary even among foreign writers to extol England's generosity to Ireland during the famine time. But if anyone have regard to the past relations of the two countries, if anyone bear in mind that England had plundered Ireland of her lands, had robbed her of millions and millions of wealth, had crippled all her resources, paralysed all her industries by a system which Burke bitterly complimented for its vicious perfection, and, furthermore, that England was annually in receipt of more than five millions from Ireland in shape of the rentals of the absentees, for which Ireland got no quid pro quo in any shape whatever, even until the very year when the famine commenced—if anyone have regard to these considerations, I think that he must pronounce the aid afforded by England to Ireland in the hour of her bitter need (only a little over ten millions), to have been niggardly to a degree beneath contempt, whilst the blundering administration of it really reduced its value below zero. Moreover, England never thought of giving anything except a few paltry thousands until half the mischief was accomplished, until thousands and tens of thousands had died of hunger and the famine fever. But what business has England to speak of charity at all? Never, never in any single year has Ireland been a recipient of England's charity. The balance has always been upon the other side. I am aware that some have argued (what will not some people argue?) that the abstraction of the rentals of the absentees does no hurt to Ireland; and there was an article in one of the Contemporaries for 1880 in which it was argued, by "an Irish landlord," that at most Ireland could lose no more than the business profits on the money. Into what sort of queer muddle the worthy gentleman had got his brain I cannot tell; but I should think that nothing can be more page 30 evident than this, that since all the money leaves Ireland and none ever returns, Ireland loses the gross amount. Once the money has quitted the country, whether it realise cent, per cent, of business profits or be put in an old stocking, is all one to Ireland.
Everyone knows what came of the famine. As usually happens, when the emergency arises, the impossible was accomplished, and sufficiently to have satisfied Chateaubriand himself. Funds were raised in England, Scotland, and upon the Continent and in America, but chiefly in Ireland, and ship after ship set sail from the ports of Dublin, Belfast, and Queenstown and Liverpool freighted with overstock tenantry. I desire to draw the reader's particular attention to that last phrase. It is taken from an advertisement which used to appear in some of the papers of the time, but it strongly reminds one of the language of a well-known school of economists. Ricardo asks in one of his works: "Providing a country have the same amount of gold and material wealth, what possible difference can it make whether it contain eight or ten million inhabitants?" upon which Sismondi comments with as much truth as wit: "Verily no more is required but to have your king dwell alone on his island and turn a crank to get all his work done." Mill actually endorses Ricardo. It is melancholy to find men accustomed to scientific thought failing to see that it is one thing to enunciate the principle which has acquired the name of Malthusianism, although it was familiar to the ancients, to Aristotle and others, and quite another to ignore, as Malthus did not, the worth of human life. Well, when the string of emigrant ships charged with overstock humanity reached right across the ocean, and the harbors on both sides were clogged with the famine-stricken, then the Times and the Pall Mall Gazette threw up their caps and shouted, and Disraeli said in the House of Commons with a leer of satisfaction: "Well, the Irish have now gone with a vengeance." Yes, they had gone. The shores from whence they sailed were lined with their weeping loved ones, and from the ships there sounded a cry and then a curse: "We must go; we must leave you now, but we will come back again."
Our author statesman was never a malevolent man, and I have no doubt that, other things being equal, he would just as lief that the expatriated Irish were waxing rich page 31 in the streets of New York and Chicago, Quebec and Montreal, as sizzing upon the Devil's gridiron, or gathering in big ricks of grain and maize upon the fat prairies of Ohio and Illinois, as hungering upon the drear wastes of Connaught. I make mention of the two places where Cromwell recommended the Irish to betake themselves. Connaught in Cromwell's days had not much advantage over hell, its dismal bogs and wilds being better suited as an abode for curlew and grey plover than for human beings. But the desideratum with the large party whose ideas Disraeli voiced was to have got done with Ireland and the Irish. But have we got done with the Irish? On the contrary, with our mislearned political economy and our deliciously naif policy of exporting the tenantry, as one gets rid of overstock hogs or bullocks, we have raised up to ourselves two Irelands in the place of one, a lesser and a greater, a weaker and a stronger; seven millions of Irish in Ireland poor and cowed by tyranny, and eight millions of Irish in America, not so poor and not cowed by the tyranny, and linked in a bond of hate against the English. The incendiarism of Irish incendiaries is milk and water compared with the language of the Irish World, the Irish American, and several other papers of less ability, but, if possible, still more violence, which are published in the great cities of the States and Canada, and have a wide circulation, and, which, moreover, are read, not with the lukewarm interest of the ordinary newspaper reader, but as one reads a letter from a distant friend.
"Breathes there a man with heart so dead"—etc.
"A true-born Irishman's a contradiction."
If a devoted constancy to a failing cause can ever merit our admiration, if we cannot help but join in the spirit of the memorable scene when the loyal soldiers sang, "O Richard! O mon roi! l'univers t'abandonne!" even although it were apropos of so ridiculous a person as Louis XVI., how much rather should we not be able to refuse our sympathy to the stubborn patriot who casts a miserable prudence to the winds and throws in his lot with his people, hurls the gauntlet down to destiny, hopes against hope, and wrestles with despair, like Emmett, O'Brien, Mitchel. Of humbugs like O'Connell, whose big words were sounding bladders, I do not speak.
Philosophers and economists may ridicule patriotism, and call it, like Schopenhauer, "Die thörichte Leidenshaft und die Leidenshaft der Thöre," but statemen can neither afford to ignore it or to dispense with it, and the generation which has seen Mazzini and which has likewise watched the amalgamation of the Germanic peoples will hardly see the last of the uprisings of nationalities. Few passions stir us more, and there is none more generous to which the vulgar rise than patriotism. Many of the most moving passages in the Hebrew psalms and prophets are patriotic, and there is nothing in the Gospels to surpass "And thou, Jerusalem."
There are plenty of sources of information about the famine crisis, without going to John Mitchel or back numbers of the Nation, against whom one need hardly caution the English reader. To mention a few. There are the back numbers of the Times and the Pall Mall Gazette, and the other chief organs of English public opinion, which may be trusted, at least, not to exaggerate the woes of Ireland. page 33 The Times had an attack of Liberalism, and averred that the landlords reclaimed their privileges with a grip of iron, and denied their duties with a brow of brass, and so on in the too well-known style, of course overstating the faults of the landlords. Then there are the Parliamentary Debates in "Hansard," especially some remarkable orations by Mr. Macaulay and Lord John Russell, whose zeal for Ireland knew no bounds. Mr. Macaulay denounced English tyranny with adjectives of seven syllables. Those two gentlemen, in fairness one is bound to say, were at that period out of office. Upon the occasion of their coming into office, their thermometers dropped all at once below zero. "Pauperism," an economical work by Mr. Fawcett, contains an account of the famine. Mr. Fawcett was in Ireland during the famine years as an agent for the ever ready charity of the Quakers. Mr. Trevelyan contributed an article to the Edinburgh Review for 1851 upon the famine crisis, full of facts and figures, and since published separately. The Abbé Penauds "Etudes sur l'Irlande Contemporaine" has an account of the famine, and Léonce de Lavergne, the celebrated economist, who died last year, has written of it in his "Economie Rurale de l'Angleterre," and Jules de Lasteyrie, in a long article in the Révue des deux Mondes for July, 1853.
Traditions handed down from the old days of the Brehon code still exert a marked influence upon the opinions and sentiments of the Irish, nor need we wonder that such should be the case when we remember that Brehon usages were widely prevalent in Ireland even so recently as the reign of James I. Under the Brehon code the lauds were held in common, and the Brehon chieftain, although he might be a violent and rapacious man, was still at the least a man occupying an intelligible status in society, having the necessary business of government to execute, and not, like the modern landlord, a fainéant quartered upon the soil, returning no quid pro quo in any form for the immense revenues which he receives, and having no apparent raison d'etre in the social economy—a thing which, as Mill said, was never contemplated in any well-devised system of land-holding.
However, I will not occupy space with anything more than a mere reference to the Brehon code, because, of course, no page 34 legal claims of the present flay are traceable back to it, and not O'Connell himself, upon the hill of Tara, would have proposed a return to Brehon institutions.
One sometimes hears the modern land law of Ireland spoken of as a feudal law, but utterly incorrectly. Feudalism was at the least a system, whereas that new-fangled thing, modern landlordism, is devoid of all system. The existing law has been altered, and altered, and altered since feudal days, until in the process it has lost all method and all principle, as is so liable to happen, and especially in a country like Great Britain, where, shameful to say, the law has never been codified." There existed a close analogy between the feudal baron and the feudal king, but no manner of analogy between the feudal baron and a mere owner of personal estate. The baron was not an irresponsible owner of his lands, but he owed services to his liege lord representing the State, and likewise to his serfs. These latter he was sometimes able to shirk, but not always, for his liege would enforce their observance on him. Thus the Irish landholders were several times mulcted in heavy fines for absenteeism by the English kings, and Henry VIII. actually went the whole length of threatening recalcitrant absentees with the confiscation of their estates, nor does it appear to have occurred to anyone that in so doing he had exceeded his rights as liege lord. As was perhaps to be expected, the semi-feudal monarch who aspired with some success to render his government a paternal government, pursued a partially socialistic policy, the very same as has been favored by Irish patriots of later times. Instead of exporting the overstock tenantry he put a veto on overstock landlords.
Irresponsible ownership of land is no more a feudal principle than it is a Brehon principle. What is it, then? It must have had some paternity. Yes, it is a Manchester principle. But what is Manchester trying to do? Why, Manchester is trying to fit the square block into the round hole. Manchester persists in treating the landed gentry simply as property-holders, but never, cither in their own eyes, or in the eyes of others, have they been so regarded. Those sentiments of pride and dignity which still attach to the hereditary possession of the soil, whence have they originated? Beyond all doubt they are associated with government. Those sentiments are proper exclusively to page 35 rulers and to the members of a ruling class. A feudal aristocracy which does not govern has no raison d'être. Well, the English aristocracy was once a feudal aristocracy, but it is so no longer. What has it become? No one can say. It is, as the saying goes, neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. The feudal baron's revenues, however large, were not raised at all upon the principle of renting, but upon the same principle as the sovereign raises his, and if the land laws had been made to square with the principles of 1688, what the modern landlord would have been entitled to would have been simply a liberal salary in return for his public services, and he would have had no more business to rackrent his tenants and go and spend the money upon foreign shores than the sovereign has to wring the last penny of taxation from his people and carry it away. But the modern gentry have been relieved of almost all their public obligations, excepting supplying the poulterers with hares and pheasants, and, with magnanimous disinterestedness, chastising the poachers upon one another's estates—not, of course, those upon their own estates, else there might be some suspicion of partiality. The post of the modern landlord has thus been reduced to within an ace of a sinecure. So that the curious inquiry presents itself—How much pay does a man deserve for doing nothing? However, I owe it to myself to add that in saying this my sole intention is to expose the monstrous nature of the existing situation. Not for one moment do I deny that the English people, having raised expectations in the minds of the landed gentry which ought never to have been raised, is yet bound to gratify those expectations. It must therefore effectuate at its own proper cost, and not at the expense of the aristocracy, any changes in the law which may be judged desirable.
It is idle to say in defence of landlordism that with a model landlord, a model agent, and model tenants the system works tolerably. Despotism itself may not work amiss with a model king, model statesmen, and a model people. In order to work well, landlordism requires qualities in ordinary men which all experience proves that ordinary men do not possess. Qualities, moreover, intellectual as well as moral, and qualities which it is not always at a man's option to possess if he even desire it. And, besides, the Irish landlord system does not always work well page 36 even under the most favorable conditions. Some of the absentees are personally above all praise. Their absenteeism is simply due to the fact that they have found themselves saddled with conflicting obligations, and they have done the very best which under the circumstances was possible. They have taken a genuine interest in the welfare of the people, and have sunk large sums of money in permanent improvements without charging an extra shilling of rent, although they could have easily obtained it. I am the first to pay a tribute of respect to such men. True, in all this they have simply done their duty; but, then, there are only some men who ever think of doing those duties which they are not compelled to do.
A propos of that last reflexion one sometimes hears it urged as an apology for game that it induces the gentry to reside upon their estates, or at any rate to visit them in the shooting season. Induces them! Should a man be induced to do his duty? Ought he not rather, if possible, be made to do it?
Free Sale of Land.
The measure known as the three F's is aside from the scope of my argument. I will only say of it, therefore, that it is evidently a compromise devoid of all system and all principle, and which can never possibly prove a permanent solution of the Irish problem. But in regard to a fourth F, much spoken of, namely free land—that is to say, the rendering of the sale of land cheap and easy by means of a system of registration, what would result therefrom? The analogy of the Continent seems to show that it would lead to a wide extension of peasant proprietorship. Arguments to the contrary are usually based upon a mistake about the facts, upon the belief, namely, that laud of equal quality is generally dearer in Great Britain than upon the Continent, whereas the reverse is true. Mr. Jevons, in the Fortnightly Review, argues that free land would not extend peasant proprietorship in England, because the tendency is for large owners to buy and small owners to sell, and he thinks that increased facilities of sale could no more alter this than large pipes will make water run up hill. At present large landowners are eager buyers of petty parcels of land adjoining their estates; but I believe they are often page 37 obliged to buy such parcels at a fancy price, which seems to show that the anxiety is all on one side. It does not appear to me by any means clear that increased facilities of sale, which are all in favor of the small purchaser, as compared with the present law, would not change this state of things. There is no existing class of peasant farmers in England, but with free land such a class might arise, and from the analogy of the Continent it appears as though small buyers will give a better average price for land than large buyers. The obvious advantage of peasant proprietorship, namely, that the peasant works for himself, appears to more than counterbalance, at least in the peasant's own eyes, the equally obvious disadvantages of it. Co-operation may remove or diminish some of the drawbacks of the small farm system, but by no amount of co-operation, short of merging the small farms into large co-operative farms, can the small agricultural capitalist ever rid himself of all or of some of the most considerable of those drawbacks.
Regarding the matter from the public stand-point, two questions present themselves, namely, whether peasant proprietorship, supposing it to result from free laud, would be an improvement upon the existing system, and, whether it be the best system attainable. To say that peasant proprietors live, and are satisfied, and are morally superior to farm laborers—granting it to be true—does not dispose of the problem. Statistics show a better return of crops in England than in any country under the small farm system, and this is a head point.
But there is another aspect of the question quite equally important. The peasant proprietor is said by his friends to be a very good citizen. He might be much worse, but he also might be better. He is pretty sure to be to some extent soundly conservative, but he is very likely to be also to some extent unsoundly conservative. The proletariat of Lyons, Paris, and Marseilles will not soon forget that the man of the 2nd of December leaned upon the peasantry. The women of the peasantry are often priest-led, and the men, although seldom very believing, have yet seldom that jealousy of sacerdotalism which is wholesome. As compared with farm laborers generally, peasant proprietors generally are doubtless very intelligent and ambitious. The peasantry of the Swiss Cantons are enthusiastic for educa- page 38 tion, and grudge neither time nor money for it, an throughout France and Belgium I believe it is appreciated.
But whatever may be the defects or the merits of the peasants themselves—and I am far from having a low opinion of the morally educative advantages of the life—we must always bear in mind that they together with their families will seldom amount to so much as fifty per cent, of the population. Even where towns are fewest there will always be a large class outside, a large unpropertied class. Even in Ireland itself, if all her cottier farmers should be converted into proprietors, there would still be a very large proletariat outside. I believe that it is not generally known how numerous a proletariat class Ireland has. Thus wherever peasant proprietorship prevails the population will be split into two hostile camps. And will the proletariat under this system be any more conservative, or satisfied, or pacific than even under an aristocratic regime? I should rather suppose the contrary.
Nationalisation of Land.
The scheme for nationalising the land meets with but little favor. It may be, however, that even among Radicals the opposition to it, or distrust of it, proceeds more from the inertia of Conservatism than from any reasoned objections to it. The utter strangeness and novelty of the project must be conceded, because of course a government property in land, as it would now have to be constituted, would bear no manner of resemblance to the rude Socialism of half-barbarous times. It must be allowed, however, that if the project be practicable it would possess some very important advantages. 1. It would provide the State with a certain and perpetual source of a very large revenue. 2. It would secure a means whereby the unearned increment in the value of the soil would continually accrue to the public exchequer without trouble. 3. By drawing revenue from the land, it would case the burdens of the poor and afford more hope to them than any other system. 4. It would give more unity to the people than any other system. 5. It would diffuse the prime citizen virtues of ambition and Conservatism more widely among the people than any other system.page 39
The lands of Great Britain have always been public property in the theory of English law. And there has always been some recognition of the fact that the irresponsible and absolute ownership of land is inconsistent with any degree of public liberty, for the plain reason that the land actually is the country. It is the country and it is more beside; it is the sole source of all material wealth. It is evident that a people which should possess all imaginable privileges, except to walk upon the ground and eat the bread which grows on it, would subsist in a condition of slavery the most absolute and the most unqualified. Valuable privilege, indeed, to go where one will and do what one will, providing always that one can compress one's self into no dimensions and subsist upon nothing. Such is the vaunted liberty of the proletaire, the only liberty which the law guarantees him outside the workhouse or the jail. I really wonder that the religious do not think it blasphemy for a man to tread upon the ground and say, "This land is mine;" for a man to say to men, "Ye shall not walk on God's fair earth saving through my permission." It is scarcely a figure of speech that Emile de Lavelaye, in his "Propriété Primitive," calls the soil "La mère nourricière de la race humaine."
To lay claim to be privileged to be idle, useless, even imbecile, and to dispense with the aid of free men, and, notwithstanding all this, to bear despotic sway over broad tracts of fertile country, pastured with cattle, tended by servants or by slaves—this is the last insanity of pride and egoism. It has been attempted at various times, and has always resulted in disaster, but, happily, nothing so disastrous as its own success is possible. It was attempted in the Roman campaign, and was applauded by the elder Cato, a man who has been held up as a pattern of public and private virtues, but who was in fact a hypocrite, and whose humanity we may estimate from a precept which he has left in favor of selling off old broken-down slaves, upon which Plutarch comments that some men are more tender of their working oxen. By following the counsel of men of this stamp, the patriciate of the campaign brought things to such a pass that the farmers had nothing left to lose, and those men formed the legions of Cæsar. Cæsar fell beneath the daggers of Brutus and his co-assassins, who perpetrated that page 40 outrage, not to free Rome, but to enslave her to the members of their own order. Cæsar fell, but the assassins did not succeed in their intent, not even in averting the empire, much less in perpetuating their own iniquitous regime. Well, times and men have changed, and Mr. Parnell is not Cæsar, nor would I for a moment compare the English-Irish aristocracy with the decaying aristocracy of Rome. Yet Mr. Parnell's movement may prove as fatal to landlordism in Ireland as Cæsar's sway was to the Roman patriciate, and to that extent I venture to state that many an Englishman's heart goes with him, national prejudices and antipathies notwithstanding.
The great obstacle to the nationalisation of the land is the circumstance that it must inevitably be at the least a full generation before the chief benefit of the measure could be realised.
If the lands were let by the State upon long leases, I see no reason to fear but what quite as much capital would be attracted on to it as on any other system, and that the tenants would show quite as much energy and ambition as any peasant proprietors. Nor is this mere matter of theory. Immense sums of money have been sunk in houses, and even costly public buildings, upon land let upon ninety-nine years, or even shorter leases, and expensive farm improvements have been executed, especially in Scotland, upon very much less favorable terms. There would be no objection to granting long leases, but there would be no need whatever to make them so long as a hundred years.
Whatever we may think of the advisability of nationalising the land in old countries, in new ones, I think, there can hardly be room for doubt. It is a gratifying sign, therefore, that there is an energetic society established in New South Wales to oppose the further sale of the public lands. Never was political society actuated by purpose at once more far-seeing and more practical. The Government of the United States, on the other hand, is throwing about the public lands right and left with a reckless prodigality which may lead to trouble, and a similar policy is being pursued in Canada.