Page images
PDF
EPUB

session of their allotments, rights and privileges in Boox !.

Chap. vi. abundance, the landlords and sovereigns are willing to grant; and it would be extravagant to say these Summary grants are worth nothing: but that which is ne- Rents. cessary to enable the peasants to profit by their new position, that is, an immediate relaxation of the pressure upon them, an increase of their revenue, proceeding from a direct sacrifice of income on the part of either the crown or the landlord, is something much more difficult to be accomplished. In Prussia, the rent charge fixed upon the serf, now constituted a proprietor, forms, as we have seen, one of the heaviest rents known in Europe. And among the various schemes for improving the condition of the peasantry, afloat in the east of Europe,

I know but of one, that of the Livonian nobility, in which a direct sacrifice of revenue on the part of the landlords is contemplated as the basis of the expected amelioration”.

It is unquestionably the actual penury of the peasants, and the little which has been done to enable them to take the first steps to emerge from it, which have, in a great measure, frustrated all the hopes of augmented wealth and improved civilization, which have been entertained by the benevolent reformers of the north. It is this too, which has been the cause of the apathy with which the peasant has received the gift of political rights,

2 In that instance, the tenant who before owed half his labor to the landlord, is protected against the demand of more than two days in the week, or one third.

Book I. and which has made the various boons bestowed Chap, vi."

upon him almost nominal. Summary Abstracting then from the efforts of landlords of Peasant Rents. or governments, and looking at the whole extent

of that part of the globe which is at present languishing under the inefficient efforts of a depressed peasant tenantry, it appears that when once their circumstances have become reduced and their poverty extreme, nothing but a relaxation of the terms of their contract with the landlord, or a diminution of the burthens imposed by the state, can give them an opportunity of making that first movement in advance which must be the initiative of their new career. The difficulty of procuring such a relaxation, arising often from the necessities or the blindness, more rarely from the pure selfishness, of the landlords or sovereigns, is the real cause of the stagnation and inefficiency of the art of agriculture, and of the duration of the present forms of holding over a great part of the world. In the hands of a peasantry thoroughly depressed, cultivation may spread, but its powers will not increase; the people may multiply, but the relative numbers of the nonagricultural classes will not become much greater ; and abstracting from the increase of gross numbers, the wealth and strength of the population, and the elements of political institutions, undergo no alteration.

Such then, is the miserable cause which has maintained the rude forms of primitive holding so long and so extensively unchanged, and which seems unhappily to promise them a long period

of Peasant

of future dominion, over too many wide districts Book I. of the earth.

Chap. vi. We may observe on some small spots, of which Summary England is one, the effects of a different system. Rents. Agriculture is further advanced towards perfection, and hence arises a capacity of supporting much more numerous non-agricultural classes, which afford abundant and excellent materials for a balanced form of government; hence too, intellect, knowledge, leisure, and all the indications and elements of high civilization multiplied and concentrated. Were the whole of the earth's surface cultivated with like efficiency, how different would be the aggregate of the commercial means, political institutions, the intellect and civilization of the inhabitants of our planet !

The advancing wealth of a body of peasantry does not, however, always lead either to the permanent improvement of their own condition, or to an alteration in the constituent elements of society, or in the degree of its civilization. A rapid increase of the numbers of the cultivators, and after a time a peasantry equally poor as at first, and more numerous, are sometimes the result of an augmentation of the revenues of a peasant tenantry. More than one favorable circumstance must concur, to make the commencement of their prosperity a basis for a general advance of the nation, and for the progressive augmentation of its various elements of its strength and civilization. What those circumstances are, we shall have hereafter to observe, when examining the causes, which at different stages, and in different

M

Boox I. positions of society, promote or retard improved Chap. vi. habits in the body of the people. At present it Summary

is enough if we see, that the long endurance and of Peasant stationary state of peasant tenures over a great part

of the world, are mainly attributable to the state of poverty in which the cultivators have so long found themselves :—a state of poverty, which while it lasts, effectually prevents any movements in advance from originating with the peasants themselves, and which can only be relieved by such sacrifices on the part of other classes, as they are rarely able and willing to make.

While we have been reviewing the different classes of peasant rents, those facts have been studiously dwelt upon and reproduced, which shew that improvement in the efficiency of agriculture, followed by an increase of the territorial produce of a country, and consequently of its general wealth and strength, is the foundation on which a permanent and progressive increase in the revenues of the landed

proprietors can best sustain itself.

Strange opinions as to a necessary opposition between the interests of the proprietors of the soil, and those of the rest of the community and of the state, have lately been current. The fallacy of these it was thought would be more easily and more distinctly exposed by a simple exposition of facts, as they exist in the world around us, than by following those who have promulgated such opinions, into a labyrinth of abstract argument. The dogmas alluded to are sufficiently familiar to all readers of later writers on Political Economy. Their substance and their spirit may be collected from the following Book I. passages.

Chap. vi. “The capacity of a country to support “ and employ laborers, is in no degree dependent Summary

on advantageousness of situation, richness of soil, Rents. “or extent of territory.” “It appears, therefore, “ that in the earliest stages of society, and where

only the best lands are cultivated, no rent is ever paid. The landlords, as such, do not begin to “share in the produce of the soil until it becomes

necessary to cultivate lands of an inferior degree of fertility, or to apply capital to the superior “ lands with a diminishing return. Whenever this “is the case, rent begins to be paid; and it con“tinues to increase according as cultivation is ex“ tended over poorer soils; and diminishes according

as those poorer soils are thrown out of cultivation?.” “ An increase of rent is not, therefore, as is very

generally supposed, occasioned by improvements in

agriculture, or by an increase in the fertility of “ the soil. It results entirely from the necessity “ of resorting, as population increases, to soils of “ a decreasing degree of fertility. Rent varies in “ an inverse proportion to the amount of produce “ obtained by means of the capital and labor em“ployed in cultivation, that is, it increases when " the profits of agricultural labor diminish, and diminishes when they increases.” “The rise of “ rent is always the effect of the increasing wealth “ of the country, and of the difficulty of providing

1 Macculloch's Principles of Political Economy, p. 327. 2 Ibid. p. 282.

3 Ibid. p. 269.

« PreviousContinue »