Page images
PDF
EPUB

Cottier
Rents.

Book I. prietors of the soil, and those who cultivate it;
Chap. v.

but their common interest in the other forms of
peasant holding, is more direct and obvious, and
therefore more influential, upon the habits and feel-
ings of both tenants and landlords. The owner of
a serf relies upon the labor of his tenants for pro-
ducing his own subsistence, and when his tenant
becomes a more inefficient instrument of cultiva-
tion; he sustains a loss. The owner of a metairie,
who takes a proportion of the produce, cannot but
see that the energy and efficiency of his tenant,
are his own gain: languid and imperfect cultiva-
tion his loss. The serf, therefore, relies upon his
lord's sense of interest, or feelings of kindness for
assistance, if his crops fail, or calamity overtakes
him in any shape; and he seldom is repulsed or
deceived. This half recognized claim to assistance
seems, we know, occasionally, so valuable to the
serfs, that they have rejected freedom from the fear
of losing it. The metayers receive constantly loans
of food and other assistance from the landlord, when
from any causes their own resources fail. The fear
of losing their stock, their revenue, and all the
advances already made, prevent the most reluctant
landlords from withholding aid on such occasions.
Even the Ryot, miserable as he ordinarily is, and
great as is the distance which separates him from
the sovereign proprietor, is not always without some
share in these advantages. His exertions are felt
to be the great source of the revenue of the state,
and under tolerably well regulated governments,
the importance is felt and admitted, of aiding the

[merged small][ocr errors]

cultivators when distressed, by forbearance, and Book s. sometimes by advances'. The interests of the cot- Chap. v. tier tenant are less obviously identified with those Cottier of the proprietor: changes of tenants, and varia- Rents. tions of rent, are common occurrences, and the removal of an unlucky adventurer, and the acceptance of a more sanguine bidder, are expedients more easy and palateable to the proprietors, than that of mixing themselves up with the risks and burthens of cultivation, by advances to their tenants. In the highlands of Scotland, indeed, the chief assisted his clan largely. They were his kinsmen and defenders: bound to him by ties of blood, and the guardians of his personal safety. The habits engendered while these feelings were fresh, are not yet worn out. Lord Stafford has sent to Sutherland very large supplies of food. The chief of the isle of Rumsey supported his people to such an extent, that he has lately found it worth while to expend very considerable sums in enabling them to emigrate. But the cottier merely as such, the Irish cottier, for instance, has no such hold on the sympathies of his landlord, and there can be no question that of the various classes of peasant tenantry, they stand the most thoroughly desolate and alone in the time of calamity: that they have the least protection from the ordinary effects of disastrous reverses,

or of the failure of their scanty resources from any other causes,

1 Aurenzebe's Instructions to his Collectors. · See Emigration Report.

Book I. Chap. v.

Cottier
Rents.

Such are the disadvantages of this the least extensive system of peasant rents. The principal advantage the cottier derives from his form of tenure, is the great facility with which, when circumstances are favourable to him, he changes altogether his condition in society. In serf, metayer, or ryot countries, extensive changes must take place in the whole framework of society, before the peasants become capitalists, and independent farmers. The serf has many stages to go through before he arrives at this point, and we have seen how hard it is for him to advance one step. The metayer too must become the owner of the stock on his farm, and be able to undertake to pay a money rent. Both changes take place slowly and with difficulty, especially the last, the substitution of money rents, which supposes a considerable previous improvement in the internal commerce of the nation, and is ordinarily the result, not the commencement, of improvement in the condition of the cultivators. But the cottier is already the owner of his own stock, he exists in a society in which the power of paying money rents is already established. If he thrives in his occupation, there is nothing to prevent his enlarging his holding, increasing his stock, and becoming a capitalist, and a farmer in the proper sense of the word. It is pleasing to hear the resident Irish landlords, who have taken some pains, and made some sacrifices, to improve the character and condition of their tenantry, bearing their testimony to this fact, and stating the rapidity with which some of the cottiers have, under their auspices, acquired

Rents.

stock, and become small farmers. Most of the coun- Book I.

Chap. v. tries occupied by metayers, serfs, and ryots, will probably contain a similar race of tenantry for some ages. Cottier If the events of the next half century are favourable to Ireland, her cottiers are likely to disappear, and to be merged in a very different race of cultivators. This facility for gliding out of their actual condition to a higher and a better, is an advantage, and a very great advantage, of the cotteir over the other systems of peasant rents, and atones for some of its gloomier features.

Making allowances for the peculiarities pointed out, the effects of cottier rents on the wages of labor, and other relations of society, will be similar to those of other peasant rents. The quantity of produce being determined by the fertility of the soil, the extent of the allotment, and the skill and industry of the cottier; the division of that produce on which his wages depend, is determined by his contract with the landlord; by the rent he pays.

And again, the whole amount of produce being determined as before, the landlord's share, the rent, depends upon the maintenance left to the peasant, that is, upon his wages.

The existence of rent, under a system of cottier tenants, is in no degree dependent upon the existence of different qualities of soil, or of different returns to the stock and labor employed. Where, as has been repeatedly observed, no funds sufficient to support the body of the laborers, are in existence, they must raise food themselves from the earth, or starve; and this circumstance would make them

Cottier
Rents.

Book I. tributary to the landlords, and give rise to rents, Chap. v.

and, as their number increased, to very high rents, though all the lands were perfectly equal in quality.

Cottier rents, like other peasant rents, may increase from two causes; first, from an increase of the whole produce, of which increase the landlord takes the whole or a part. Or, the produce remaining stationary, they may increase from an augmentation of the landlord's share, that of the tenant being diminished to the exact amount of the additional rent.

When the rent increases and the produce remains stationary, the increase of rent indicates no increase of the riches and revenue of the country: there has been a transfer of wealth, but no addition to it: one party is impoverished to the precise amount to which another is enriched.

When, on the other hand, increased rents are paid by increased produce, there is an addition to the wealth of the country, not a mere transfer of that already existing: the country is richer to the extent, at least, of the increased rent: and, probably, to a greater extent from the increased revenue of the cultivators.

It is obviously the interest of the landlord of cottier, as of other peasant tenants, that an increase of his rents should always originate in the prosperity of cultivation, not in pressure on the tenants. The power of increase from the last source is very limited: from improvement, indefinite.

It is clearly too the interest of the landlord, that the cottier tenantry should be replaced by

« PreviousContinue »