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BOOK I. but though the naturally kind feelings of Louis Sect. 4. appear to have been roused upon the occasion, he ventured no farther, than to give liberty to the serfs or mainmortables on his own domains, and to abolish indirectly the droit de suite, by forbidding his tribunals to seize the person or property of serfs, who had once become domiciled in free districts. In the edict published by the unfortunate monarch on this subject, he declares that this state of slavery exists in several of his provinces, and includes a great number of his subjects, and lamenting that he is not rich enough to ransom them all, he states that his respect for the rights of property will not allow him to interfere between them and their owners, but he expresses a hope that his example and the love of humanity so peculiar to the French people, would lead under his reign to the entire emancipation of all his subjects'.
To return however to our immediate object, the metayer tenantry. In spite of the cultivation by vassals and serfs, and that at one time doubtless to a very considerable extent, the metayers had in their possession before the revolution four-sevenths of the surface of France. Another one-sixth or oneseventh was in the possession of capitalists finding their own stock and paying money-rents. The
1 For this edict, see Dict. des Finances, at the word Mainmorte.
2 This is the calculation of Duprés St. Maur, sanctioned by Turgot. Adam Smith states five-sixths. Turgot, Vol. VI. p. 209. Smith, Vol. II. p. 92. Edition of 1812. Arthur Young thinks seven-eighths, Vol. I. p. 403.
3 Arthur Young, Vol. I. p. 402.
remainder was held by the proprietors, or by serf or Book I. feudal tenantry.
The terms on which the French metayers held their farms, differed much from age to age: these French variations do not immediately strike the eye of an observer, because the nominal rent, and nominal share of the tenant, have changed but little, and the metayer still very generally takes that portion of the produce, viz. the half, from which his original name of medietarius was derived. But while the metayer tenant pays nominally the same rent, his own share of the produce may be diminished in two modes: by his being subjected to a greater quantity of the public burthens: or by the size of his metairie being reduced. By this second mode of reduction, I am not aware that the French metayer suffered much: fifty acres was not an unusual size for a metairie; in poor districts they comprised a much larger quantity of land1.
By the first mode of reducing his share of the produce, that is, by the increase of the public burthens which he had to bear, the metayer suffered to an extent, fatal both to his own comforts and to the prosperity of agriculture; a circumstance, which had a great share in converting the peasantry into those reckless instruments of mischief, which they proved in many instances to be, during the revolution.
4 Arthur Young however, it is right to mention, came to a different conclusion. 66 The division of farms," he says, " and the population is so great that the misery flowing from it is in some places extreme." Vol. I. p. 404. he gives some instances: but it may be questioned whether these were not small proprietors or feudal tenants.
The Taille was an imposition which the French Chap. iii. antiquaries think they can trace to the age of the Emperor Augustus'; we know that it was levied by the barons on their vassals during the ages of feudal anarchy; by the sovereign as sovereign, that is beyond the limits of his own domains, as early as 1325: that it became under Charles VII., in 1444, an annual tax, and continued afterwards to be the main branch of the revenue of the kingdom2. It was meant to be levied according to the means of the contributor, and was extremely defective both in its principle and mode of imposition; but even these defects would not, perhaps, have made it intolerable, had it not been for its gradually increasing amount, which at last almost absorbed the daily bread of the peasant. It would have been well for these poor people had that proved true in their case, which has lately been promulgated with great confidence as an universal truth, namely, that when once certain habits of life are established among a population, a diminution of their means of subsistence is followed invariably by a slackened rate of the increase of their numbers, and a consequent rise of wages, which restores them to their former position. Theirs was a different lot. As the command of the French peasants over the means of existence became less, their habits altered, but their numbers did not decrease; some one was always found ready to occupy a metairie, "parceque, (says M. Destutt de Tracy, in
1 Dict. des finances. Discours Preliminaires, Part VII. and Tom. III. p. 637.
2 Dict. des Finances, Tom. III. p. 638-639.
describing their misery) il y a toujours des mal- BOOK I. heureux qui ne savent que devenir."
The mode in which the taille gradually produced the degradation of the peasantry, is feelingly, and, French no doubt, accurately described by Turgot3, in his correspondence with the ministers, while intendant of the Limosin.
After remarking, that while the cultivator really received half his produce, he had the means of becoming gradually a small capitalist, and ultimately of providing the stock and paying a moneyrent, he observes, that if the tax had from its origin been laid on the landholders, this natural progress of events would not have been deranged, and would have procured to the owner the enjoyment of his revenue, without any care on his part: but that the taille was at first a species of poll-tax, and very light, from which the nobles were exempt: that as the tax increased, it became necessary to levy it in proportion to the means of the cultivators, which were calculated according to the extent of their occupations, a method by which the privilege of the nobles was eluded: that while the imposition was moderate, the metayer paid it by retrenching his comforts; but that the tax increasing constantly, the portion of the cultivator was so much diminished, that at last he was reduced to the most profound misery. These reflexions, he says, explain how it came to be possible, that the cultivators should be
3 By Vauban in the Dixame Royal, and in the "Detail de la France," with more detail and animation; but these descriptions are less exclusively applicable to the Metayer peasantry than Turgot's.
BOOK I. plunged into the excess of misery in which they Chap. iii. then existed in the Limosin and Angoumois, and perhaps in other provinces of "petite culture." That French misery he declares is such, that on the greater part Metayers. of the domains, the cultivators had not, after paying
their taxes, more than from 25 to 30 livres to spend annually for each person, (not in money, but reckoning the value of all that they consumed in kind); often they had less, and when they could subsist no longer, the proprietor was obliged to contribute to their maintenance. Some proprietors, he adds, had been at last forced to perceive, that their pretended exemption had been much more mischievous than useful to them; and that an imposition which had entirely ruined their cultivators, had fallen back wholly on themselves. But the illusions of selfinterest ill understood, supported by vanity, had long maintained their ground, and were only dissipated when things were carried to such an excess, that the proprietors would have found no one to cultivate their lands, if they had not consented to contribute with their metayers to the payment of a part of the imposition. That custom had begun to introduce itself into some parts of the Limosin, but had not extended itself much the proprietor yielded to such an arrangement only, when he could find no metayer without it; and even in that case the metayer was always reduced to what was strictly necessary to prevent his dying from hunger.
1 Ainsi, même dans ce cas-là, le metayer est toujours réduit à ce qu'il faut précisement pour ne pas mourir de faim. Turgot, Tom. IV. p. 277. Memoire presented to the Council, Euvres de Turgot, Tom. IV. p. 271, 272, 274, 275.