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In estimating them, we labor under the great Book I.
. disadvantage of having to form our general conclu- Chap. v. sions from a view of a single instance, that of Ire- Cottier land. Did we know nothing of labor rents but what we collect from one country, Hungary for instance, how very deficient would have been notions of their characteristics.
The disadvantages of cottier rents may be ranged under three heads. First, the want of any external check to assist in repressing the increase of the peasant population beyond the bounds of an easy subsistence. Secondly, the want of any protection to their interests, from the influence of usage and prescription in determining the amount of their payments. And, thirdly, the absence of that obvious and direct common interest, between the owners and the occupiers of the soil, which under the other systems of peasant rents, secure to the tenants the forbearance and assistance of their landlords when calamity overtakes them.
The first, and certainly the most important disadvantage of cottier rents is the absence of those external checks (common to every other class of peasant rents) which assist in repressing the effects of the disposition found in all peasant cultivators, to increase up to the limits of a very scanty subsistence.
To explain this, we must, to a slight extent, anticipate the subject of population. It shall be as shortly as possible. We know that men's animal power of increase is such, as to admit of a very
Book 1 rapid replenishing of the districts they inhabit. Chap. v. When their numbers are as great as their terri
tory will support in plenty, if the effects of such a power of increase are not diminished, their condition must get worse. If, however, the effects of their animal power of multiplication are diminished, this must happen, either from internal causes or motives, indisposing them to its full exercise, or from external causes acting independently of their will. But a peasant population, raising their own wages from the soil, and consuming them in kind, whatever may be the form of their rents, are uni
, versally acted upon very feebly by internal checks, or by motives disposing them to restraint. The
. causes of this peculiarity we shall have hereafter to point out. The consequence is, that unless some external cause, quite independent of their will, forces such peasant cultivators to slacken their rate of increase, they will, in a limited territory, whatever be the form of their rents, very rapidly approach a state of want and penury, and will be stopped at last only by the physical impossibility of procuring subsistence. Where labor or metayer rents prevail, such external causes of repression are found in the interests and interference of the landlords : where ryot rents are established, in the vices and mismanagement of the government': where cottier
? Where the phenomenon can be observed of a mild and efficient government over a race of ryot tenants, as in China, they are found to increase with extraordinary rapidity.
rents prevail, no such external causes exist, and Book I.
Chap. v. the unchecked disposition of the people leads to a multiplication which ends in wretchedness. Cottier Cottier rents, then, evidently differ for the worse in this respect from serf and metayer rents. It is not meant of course that serfs and metayers do not increase till their numbers and wants would alone place them very much at the mercy of the proprietors, but the obvious interests of those proprietors leads them to refuse their assent to the further division of the soil, and so to withhold the means of settling more families, long before the earth becomes thronged with a multitudinous tenantry, to which it can barely yield subsistence. The Russian or Hungarian noble wants no more serf tenants than are sufficient for the cultivation of his domain; and he refuses allotments of land to any greater number, or perhaps forbids them to marry. The power of doing this has at one time or other existed as à legal right wherever labor rents have prevailed. The owner of a domain cultivated by metayers, has an interest in not multiplying his tenants, and the mouths to be fed, beyond the number necessary to its complete cultivation. When he refuses to subdivide the ground further, fresh families can find no home, and the increase of the aggregate numbers of the people is checked. The thinness of the population in ryot countries is ordinarily caused by the vices and violence of the government, and there is no question that this is what keeps so large a portion of Asia ill peopled or desolate. But when cottier rents have established themselves, the in
Book 1. fluence of the landlord is not exerted to check the Chap. v.
multiplication of the peasant cultivators, till an Cottier
extreme case arrives. The first effects of the inRents.
creasing numbers of the people, that is, the more ardent competition for allotments, and the general rise of rents, seem for a time unquestionable advantages to the landlords, and they have no direct or obvious motive to refuse further subdivision, or to interfere with the settlement of fresh families, till the evident impossibility of getting the stipulated rents, and perhaps the turbulence of
peasants starving on insufficient patches of land, warn the proprietors that the time is come, when their own interests imperiously require that the multiplication of the tenantry should be moderated. We know, however, from the instance of Ireland, the only one on a large scale open to our observation, that while rents are actually rising, a conviction that their nominal increase is preparing a real diminution, comes slowly, and is received reluctantly; and that before such a conviction begins to be generally acted upon, the cultivators may be reduced to a situation, in which they are both wretched and dangerous
The tardiness with which landlords exert their influence in repressing the multiplication of the people, must be ranked then among the disadvantages of cottier, when compared with serf or metayer rents.
Their second disadvantage is the want of any influence of custom and prescription, in keeping the terms of the contract between the proprietors and their tenantry, steady and fixed.
In surveying the habits of a serf or metayer Book I.
. country, we are usually able to trace some ef- Chap. v. fects of ancient usage.
The number of days' Cottier labor performed for the landlord by the serf remains the same, from generation to generation, in all the provinces of considerable empires. The metayer derived his old name of Colonus Medietarius from taking half the produce; and half the produce we see still his usual portion, throughout large districts containing soils of
different qualities. It is true that this influence of ancient usage does not always protect the tenant from want or oppression; its tendency however is decidedly in his favor. But cottier rents, contracted to be paid in money, must vary in nominal amount with the variations in the price of produce : after change has become habitual, all traces of a rent, considered equitable because it is prescriptive, are wholly lost, and each bargain is determined by competition.
There can be little doubt that the tendency to constancy in the terms of their contract, observable in serf and metayer countries, is on the whole a protection to the cultivators, and that change and competition, common amongst cottiers, are disadvantageous to them.
The third disadvantage of cottier rents is the absence of such a direct and obvious common interest between landlord and tenant, as might secure to the cultivator assistance when in distress.
There can be no case in which there is not, in reality, a community of interest between the pro