« PreviousContinue »
on conditions similar to those imposed upon the Book 1. persons in whose hands the task of cultivation Chap. vi. was first placed. Such are the serfs of the east, ,
Summary the metayers who cover the west of Europe, and of Peasant the ryots who occupy the whole of Asia.
When we look at those countries in which peasant rents have at any time prevailed, and observe their actual condition with reference to past, or probable changes, those rents shew themselves in four unequal masses. From the first division, they have already passed; spontaneous changes, gradually brought about, in slow succession, have obliterated all marks of the earlier and ruder forms of holding. A race of capitalists providing the stock, advancing the wages of labor, and paying fixed money rents, have taken entire possession of the task of cultivation, from which the proprietors are completely extricated. The portion of the earth's surface on which this has taken place is small. It comprises England, the greater part of Scotland, a part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, and spots in France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. In another part of the globe, we see the causes which have elsewhere produced the changes just referred to, still actually at work, but their results yet incomplete. Without
deliberate purpose on the part of any class, changes are quietly and silently taking place, through which the agricultural population are advancing to a position similar to that of the English farmers and laborers. This process may be observed in the west of Germany: there the serfs have for some ages been going through a sluggish process
Boor I. of transmutation into leibeigeners, hereditary tenants Chap. vi. with fixed labor rents, and not chained to the soil.
The leibeigeners are slowly assuming the character of Pleasant of meyers, subject to an unalterable produce rent;
a very few steps in advance will range the meyer by the side of the English copyholder; and then all the substantial effects of their former condition, as tenants paying labor rents, will have disappeared.
There is this material difference, however, between the past state of England, and the present state of Germany. In England, the tenants who on the disuse of the labor of the serf tenantry, took charge of the cultivation of the domains of the proprietors, were found on the land ; they were yeomen. In Germany, the tenants of the domains are offsets from the non-agricultural population, and their capital has been accumulated in employments distinct from agriculture. In England, the source from which the new tenantry proceeded, was large, and their spread rapid. In Germany, the source is smaller, and the creation of such a tenantry must be the work of a much longer period. But the change has been slow in both countries. Cultivation by the labor of the manerial tenants was very long before it finally disappeared from England: the legal obligation to perform such labor has glided out of sight almost within memory.
So too in those parts of Germany in which the progress of the relations between the proprietors and the tenantry is left to take its own course, it seems highly probable that a very long period will yet elapse before labor rents wholly disappear. Spontaneous changes in
the habits of nations usually take place slowly, and Book 1:
Chap. vi. occupy ages in their progress.
Gradual alterations in the mode of holding and Summary cultivating land, occupied by a peasant tenantry, Rents. are not confined to the countries in which labor rents prevail: metayers have, in some districts, given place to capitalist tenants, and in others are to be fouud in a state of transition; owning part of the capital, paying sometimes a fixed quantity of produce, sometimes a money rent, and preparing, evidently, to take upon themselves all the burthens and hazards of cultivation.
The two divisions of rents which we have just noticed, comprise, jointly, but a small portion of the earth. In them, as we have seen, a movement in advance of the cultivators themselves has taken place, which has proceeded from the insensible improvement of their condition, and has ended in one, and is likely to end in the other, in an alteration in the form of rents. But in that greater portion of the earth which remains to be noticed, there has been no spontaneous movement in advance, and there is no tendency to insensible change to be perceived. Yet in a small division of that larger portion very rapid alterations are in progress, in a different manner, and from a different cause. And this constitutes a third division of peasant rents, when classed with reference to their tendencies to change.
In the Eastern part of Europe, the people have never reached the means, or even the wish, of elevating their condition: the mode of cultivation and the relations between the proprietors and their
of Peasant Rents.
Book I. tenantry, might, apparently, as far as the exertions Chap. vi. of the cultivators themselves are concerned, have Summary continued unchanged while the earth lasts.
But, in these countries, the intellect and knowledge of the higher classes are far in advance of the apathy, and stationary ignorance, of the lower. The landed proprietors have been able to contrast the condition of their country and their property, with the state of more improved nations, and have become animated by a zealous desire of altering the condition of the peasantry, and the mode of conducting agriculture. This common spirit has produced, and is daily producing, a variety of changes; differing in detail with the actual circumstances of different districts, but having two common objects; namely, the elevation of the character and circumstances of the present peasant cultivators, and the improvement of agriculture on the domains held by the proprietors.
We have already seen, that the ultimate results of these various changes are yet problematical ; that whatever they may be, a long period of time will probably elapse, before they are fully developed
Abstracting, however, altogether from the three districts we have been considering, namely, that in which peasant rents have been actually superseded, that from which they are slowly disappearing, and that from which an attempt is making forcibly to expel them; there still remains a large fourth district: a vast unbroken mass, which no movement from within, and no influence from without, have yet brought to give signs of approaching change.
As the attention is naturally more caught by Boox I.
Chap. vi. what is stirring and in motion, than by things of greater magnitude and importance which are inert Summary and stationary, the countries in which alterations in Rents. the mode of conducting agriculture are in progress, attract observation much more readily than those which really present a more curious and interesting phenomenon; those in which the forms of occupying the soil first adopted, and the systems and relations of society founded on them, still prevail; in which the face of society has undergone for centuries as little alteration as the face of nature, and men seem as unchangeable as the regions they inhabit. The Ryots throughout Asia, and the peasants in a very considerable portion of Europe, are precisely what they have ever been. In spite of the fluctuations natural to all human institutions, and of the obvious disadvantages of their systems of cultivation, still they endure, and are likely to endure, unless some general movement takes place on the part of the higher classes, dragging the lower from their apathy and poverty ; or some insensible improvement of their condition, enables the lower classes themselves to begin a forward progress.
Efforts of the higher classes, to introduce forcibly improvements into the condition of the lower, are little likely ever to become general and systematic, over any great proportion of the earth's surface. To suppose a general diffusion of political knowledge and philosophy, dispelling everywhere the sluggish dreams of selfishness, may be a pleasing reverie,