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Book Ii but can hardly afford any ground for rational anvi
ticipation. The proprietors of the serfs of Eastern Summary, Europe have made, it is true, vigorous efforts, but
they were stimulated by the intolerable burthens and embarrassments which the old system brought upon themselves, and nothing short of such a stimulus would make such efforts general.
The Italian or Spanish nobles shew no symptoms of being roused to take the lead in altering the terms on which their estates are used: even the French noblesse, before the revolution, were quite passive under the evils and losses which the condition of their metayer tenantry made common. The native princes of Asia are little likely to be reformers in the agricultural economy of their country. We see how little the Anglo-Indian government has effected in this respect.
But if the higher classes are little likely to display general activity as reformers, then, as the foundation of future improvements in the circumstances of the cultivators of a large part of the world, there remain only such alterations for the better, as may insensibly take place in the condition of the lower classes : such benefits as they may win for themselves amidst the silent lapse of time and every day events.
If this is seen, it must be perceived at once, that the actual state of penury and misery, which makes the cultivators helpless, and keeps them destitute, is the great obstacle to the commencement of national improvement; the heavy weight which keeps stationary the wealth and number and civilization of a very
large part of the earth. I believe this, indeed, to Book I. be only one case of a general truth, with which, Chap. vi. in our future progress, we shall become more familiar, that the degradation and abject poverty of Peasant the lower classes, can never be found in combination with national wealth, and political strength. But when the lower classes exist in the character of peasant cultivators, this is more strikingly true than elsewhere. In poor countries, of which the non-agricultural population bears a very small proportion to the husbandmen, it is usually in vain to expect, that the additional capital and skill necessary to effect great national improvements in cultivation, can be generated any where but on the land itself, and among its actual occupiers. If once, therefore, the peasantry are so far reduced in their circumstances and character, as to have neither the means, nor, after a time, the wish or hope, to acquire property and improve their condition; the state of agricultural production, and the relative numbers of the non-agricultural and other classes must be nearly stationary; and, under such circumstances, all plans for the advancement of agriculture, and improvement of the condition of the peasants, which are not founded on the principle that the means of the cultivator are to be, in the first place, enlarged, prove, almost necessarily, abortive. Laws which confer upon him political rights and security, are in themselves a mere dead letter, while poverty weighs him down, and keeps him fast in his position. The French metayers had long ceased to be subject to the arbitrary power of the proprietors :
of Peasant Rents.
Book 1. their persons and properties were, with some exChap. vi.
ceptions, as secure as those of any class in France ; Summary yet their condition, and the character of their cul
tivation were, at best, stationary, and, in some districts, certainly declining. It was the one great object of the French economists, to substitute for this class of cultivators, capitalists paying money rents, and the fault of their plans, for accomplishing their purpose, was this, that instead of recommending measures for the general transformation of the metayers themselves into capitalists, they founded all their hopes of effecting the change they thought so all important, on the removal of the metayers, and the gradual spread of capitalists, from the districts in which they had already established themselves. This was a process, which could only have gone on at all under a very favourable state of the markets for agricultural produce, and which, it will be clear, must have taken ages to complete, if we consider the small part of France occupied by capitalists, and the very large proportion of her surface tilled by metayers. The transformation of the metayers themselves was less difficult, but it was opposed by the moral obstacle we are speaking of, which forms the real impediment to the progress of improvement, under all the forms of peasant rent. It required a distinct sacrifice of immediate income, on the part of the proprietors or the government. The metayers were oppressed by taxes, more than by rent: the share of the landlord in the produce had never been increased; but the exactions of government from the tenant's portion, had reduced him
to the state of misery which Turgot describes. To Book I, enable the cultivators then to amend their circum- Chap. vi. stances, to accumulate, and ultimately to change their Summary form of holding, it was necessary to begin by lighten- Rents. ing the actual pressure on them: to effect this, either the government must have remitted part of its taxes, or the proprietors have consented to pay part of them, and to relinquish thus a part of their own revenue.
On the side of the state, public necessity, partly real, and partly assumed by ministers who did not foresee to what point they were driving the population; on the part of the proprietors, what Turgot is pleased to call the illusions of self interest ill understood, prevented such a remission of the burthens of the peasantry as might have enabled them to make a start in advance: they continued therefore poor, inefficient, stationary; and the agricultural resources of the state were stunted and stopt in their growth with the peasantry. In spite of the miseries of that revolution, through which the freedom of the cultivators from their ancient oppressions has been earnt, the revenues of the body of agriculturists have so increased, that France consumes more than three times the quantity of manufactured commodities she did before the revolution, and her non-agricultural population has doubled.
These facts tell at once how much she lost in strength and wealth, by the feebleness of the agricultural efforts of the peasantry under the old regime. But convulsions like that which in France destroyed the relations between landlord and tenant, and converted a large portion
of Peasant Rents.
Book I. of the metayers into small proprietors, are not to Chap. vi.
be counted on in the ordinary course of human Summary affairs; and when once either the exactions of
landlords, or of the state, or indeed any other circumstances, have reduced a peasant tenantry to penury, the same difficulty constantly opposes itself to the commencement of improvement. No one is willing to make, no one ordinarily thinks of making, a direct sacrifice of revenue, for the
augmenting their actual means; and nothing short of that will enable them to start. In India, the Anglo-Indian government have been creditably ready to give more security and more civil rights to their Indian subjects than they before enjoyed; but when it became a question of direct sacrifice of revenue, notwithstanding the clearest conviction in their own minds, that the population would be increased, cultivation improved, and the wealth and resources of their territories rapidly multiplied, still the exigencies of the government would not permit them to remit the actual rents to the amount of 25 per cent., or 15 per cent., even to ensure all these confessed ulterior advantages; and therefore they concluded that the state of cultivation, and the poverty of the tenantry must continue as they were'.
From the same causes, the posterity of the emancipated serfs of eastern Europe are shut out from the possibility of forming a body of capitalist tenants, fitted to take charge of the cultivation of the domains of the proprietors. Personal freedom, hereditary pos
See Buchanan's edition of Smith, Appendix, p. H 86