Page images
PDF
EPUB

men, whose only business was to bring a small bag of apples, about a peck; one man brought a turkey, and not a fine one. What a waste of time and labour, for a stout fellow to be thus employed.

Travels in Switzerland, by W. Coxe, Vol. III. p. 145.Another cause of their wretchedness proceeds from the present state of property. Few of the peasants are landholders; as from the continual oppression under which the people have groaned for above these two last centuries, the freeholds have gradually fallen into the hands of the nobles and Grisons, the latter of whom are supposed to possess half the estates in the Valteline. The tenants who take farms do not pay their rent in money, but in kind; a strong proof of general poverty. The peasant is at all the costs of cultivation, and delivers near half the produce to the landholder. The remaining portion would ill compensate his labour and expence, if he was not in some measure befriended by the fertility of the soil. The ground seldom lies fallow, and the richest parts of the valley produce two crops. The first crop is wheat, rye, or spelt, half of which is delivered to the proprietor; the second crop is generally millet, buck-wheat, maaze, or Turkey corn, which is the principal nourishment of the common people: the chief part of this crop belongs to the peasant, and enables him in a plentiful year to support his family with some degree of comfort. The peasants who inhabit the districts which yield wine are the most wretched: for the trouble and charge of rearing the vines, of gathering and pressing the grapes, is very considerable; and they are so very apt to consume the share of liquor allotted to them in intoxication, that, were it not for the grain intermixed with the vines, they and their families would be left almost entirely des titute of subsistence.

Besides the business of agriculture, some of the peasants attend to the cultivation of silk. For this purpose they receive the eggs from the landholder, rear the silkworms, and are entitled to half the silk. This employment

is not unprofitable; for although the rearing of the silkworms is attended with much trouble, and requires great caution, yet as the occupation is generally entrusted to the women, it does not take the men from their work.

With all the advantages, however, derived from the fertility of the soil, and the variety of its productions, the peasants cannot, without the utmost difficulty, and a constant exertion, maintain their families; and they are always reduced to the greatest distress, whenever the season is unfavourable to agriculture.

To the causes of penury among the lower classes above enumerated, may be added the natural indolence of the people, and their tendency to superstition, which takes them from their labour. Upon the whole, I have not, in the course of my travels, seen any peasantry, except in Poland, so comfortless as the inferior inhabitants of this valley. They enjoy indeed one great advantage over the Poles, in not being the absolute property of the landholder, and transferable, like cattle. They are therefore at liberty to live where they chuse, to quit their country, and seek a better condition in other regions; a relief to which distress often compels them to have recourse.

Ibid. p. 143.——The cottages of the peasants, which are built of stone, are large, but gloomy, generally without glass windows: I entered several, and was every where disgusted with an uniform appearance of dirt and poverty. The peasants are mostly covered with rags, and the children have usually an unhealthy look, which arises from their wretched manner of living. Such a scarcity of provisions has been occasioned by last year's drought, that the poor inhabitants have been reduced to the most extreme necessity. The price of bread was unavoidably raised so high, that in many parts the peasants could not purchase it; and their only food was for some time a kind of paste, made by pounding the hulls and stones of the grapes which had been pressed for wine, and mixing it with a little meal. Famine, added to their oppressed situation, reduced the inhabitants to the lowest condition of human misery, and numbers perished from absolute want.

Gilly's Narrative and Researches among the Vaudois, &c. p. 129.–The other cottages we entered were of a very inferior order, and had but few of those little comforts, with which in England we desire to see the poorest supplied, and it was quite astonishing to compare the very rude and insufficient accommodations of these people, with their civility and information. In their mode of living, or I might almost say, herding together, under a roof, which is barely weather proof, they are far behind our own peasantry, but in mental advancement they are just as far beyond them. Most of them have a few roods of land, which they can call their own property, .varying in extent, from about a quarter of an acre and upwards, and they have the means of providing themselves with fuel, from the abundance of wood upon the mountains.

The tenure, upon which land is hired, requires that the occupier should pay to the proprietor half the produce of corn and wine in kind, and half the value of the hay. The indifferent corn-land yields about five fold, and the best twelve fold. They seldom suffer the ground to lie fallow, and the most general course is, wheat for two years,

and maize the third. The land is well manured from time to time, and the corn is usually sown in August or September, and cut in June. In the vale of San Giovanni, and in a few other productive spots, hay is cut three times in the year.

Ibid. p. 128.-On a crate suspended from the ceiling, we counted fourteen large black loaves, Bread is an unusual luxury among them, but the owner of this cottage was of a condition something above the generality.

VIII.

Note on Ryot Rents.

Col. Tod's services in Rajast'han were most distinguished. His elaborate work is a valuable contribution to

the literature of his country. Had I found that the facts collected by such a person really contradicted the opinions I have arrived at (in common, however, with the majority of those who have considered the subject), I should have been most ready to have re-examined those opinions, and perhaps to have abandoned them. But the conclusions which Col. Tod has drawn from his facts, seem to me to require considerable modification before they can be reconciled with the past and present condition of the rest of India, or indeed of Rajast'han itself as he depicts it. The Colonel thinks, that the relations between the princes of Rajast'han and their nobles are similar to those which existed, between the feudal nobility of Europe and their sovereigns; and that the ryots have an interest in the soil, which he calls a freehold interest : and this he magnifies and dwells on, with all the partiality of a man, who feels a good natured pleasure in exalting the institutions of his favorite Rajpoots.

The question to be discussed is, whether there is any thing in the facts produced by Col. Tod or others, to contradict the notion adopted in the text, that the soil of India belongs to the sovereign and to the sovereign alone, and that the occupiers have never, practically, any other character than that of his tenantry, except in some small districts, which form acknowledged exceptions to a general rule. The mere existence of a feudal nobility, so far from being inconsistent with the proprietary right of the sovereign, strongly confirms it. It is the one essential characteristic of a feudal system, that the land should be granted by the sovereign, and on certain conditions. In Europe the right of resumption slid out of the hands of the monarchs by imperceptible degrees. In Rajasthan it has never escaped them at all. Only a century and a half ago, so miserably unstable was the claim of subject nobles even to the temporary possession of any particular spot, that they were in the habit of changing their lands every three years. “ So late as the reign of Mana

с

Singram (10 generations ago,) the fiefs of Mewar wer actually moveable, and little more than a century and a half has passed since this practice ceased. Thus, a Rahtore would shift with family, chattels and retainers, from the north into the wilds of Chuppun, while the Suktawut, relieved, would occupy the plains at the foot of the Aravulli, or a Chondawut would exchange his abode on the banks of the Chumbul with a Pramara or Chohan from the Table Mountain, the eastern boundary of Mewar. “Such changes” (Mr. Tod says in a note,)

were triennial, and as I have heard the Prince himself say, so interwoven with their customs was this rule, that it caused no dissatisfaction : but of this we may be allowed at least to doubt. It was a perfect check to the imbibing of local attachment; and the prohibition against erecting forts for refuge or defiance, prevented its growth if acquired. It produced the object intended, obedience to the Prince, and unity against the restless Mogul”. — Tod's Rajasthan, p. 164.

Even now their rights remain much on the same footing. In Europe, the necessity of admission by the sovereign, the fine paid by the heir, and the renewal of homage and fealty, kept alive the recollection at least, of the past rights of the sovereign. In Rajast'han, an actual resumption takes place by the Rajah on the death of every chief: and is conducted in such a manner, as very impressively to exhibit the existing claims of the monarch, and the entire (legal) dependence of all derivative interests on his will. “On the demise of a chief, the prince immediately sends a party, termed the zubti (sequestrator), consisting of a civil officer and a few soldiers, who take possession of the state (quere, estate) in the prince's name. The heir sends his prayer to court to be installed in the property, offering the proper relief. This paid, the chief is invited to repair to the presence, when he performs homage, and makes protestations of service and fealty; he receives a fresh grant, and the inauguration

« PreviousContinue »