Images de page

contrast most strongly in this respect with the English and Scotch. I seldom went among a field of labourers in England or Scotland, especially if they were women, without some coarse joke or indecent leer. It is the reverse in France. The address even of the poorest (I do not at all exaggerate) is as polite as that of the best people you find in a city; so far from soliciting money, they have refused it in repeated instances when, for some little service, I have offered some compensation. Count de Gourcy told me again and again that even the most humble of them would consider it an offence to have it offered them. I do not believe there ever was a happier peasantry than the French, and they are pre-eminent for their industry and economy."

Is it possible to offer much higher praise than this of the effects of the French system, and is it possible to find a witness more thoroughly competent and trustworthy to give it? It must be remembered that Mr. Coleman was writing about 1842. Since that time the yeomen and peasant farmers of the Continent have vastly improved their modes of culture, their knowledge of agriculture, and the amount of produce they win from the soil. And since he wrote in 1842 of the primitive and somewhat rude implements of the small proprietors, they have been learning gradually, over the whole of these countries, how to avail themselves, by co-operation and association, of expensive machines and mechanical contrivances similar to those employed in England and Scotland by the great leasehold farmers. With respect to this, Mr. Cliffe Leslie, who has studied the French system and who is personally acquainted with France, gives some very interesting and valuable evidence in his essay on France published in "Systems of Land Tenure in various Countries," (p. 302). The passage is well worthy of perusal and study for many reasons, as the reader will perceive. He says: "In the departments immediately surrounding Paris, large farming is to be seen in the highest perfection, of which the reader, who has not visited them, will find a description in M. de Lavergne's

'Economie Rurale de la France.' Yet, after noticing several magnificent examples, he adds-While la grande culture (i.e., farming on a great scale) marches here in the steps of English cultivation, la petite (i.e., farming on a small scale by the owners themselves) develops itself by its side and surpasses it in results.' The truth is, as we have said, that the large and the small farming (i.e. by the owner of the farm) compete on fair terms in France, which they are not allowed to do in England, and the latter has, to begin with, a large and ever-increasing domain, within which it can defy the competition of the former. The large farmer's steam engine cannot enter the vineyard, the orchard, or the garden. The steep mountain side is inaccessible to him, while the small farmer can clothe it with vineyards; and the deep glen is too circumscribed for him. In the fertile alluvial valley, like that of the Loire, the garden of France, his cultivation is not sufficiently minute to make the most of such precious ground, and the little cultivator outbids him, and drives him from the garden; while, on the other hand, he is ruined by attempts to reclaim intractable wastes, which his small rival converts into land of superior quality. Even where mechanical art seems to summon the most potent forces of nature to the large farmer's assistance, the peasant contrives in the end to procure the same allies by association; or individual enterprise finds it profitable to come to his aid. It is a striking instance of the tendency of la petite culture to avail itself of mechanical power, that the latest agricultural statistics show a larger number of reaping and mowing machines in the Bas Rhin, where la petite culture is carried to the utmost, than in any other department. Explorers of the rural districts of France cannot fail to have remarked that la petite culture has created in recent years two new subsidiary industries, in the machine maker on the one hand and the entrepreneur on the other, who hires out the machine; and one is now constantly met, even in small towns and villages, oldfashioned and stagnant-looking in other respects, by the

apparition and noise of machines of which the large farmer has not long been possessed."

Mr. Richardson, who in 1878 published a long and elaborate work, entitled "The Corn and Cattle producing Districts of France," and full of the most interesting details collected by himself in his travels through France, says (see p. 400): "The use of machinery is becoming more general; threshing machines have long been in use, and in the arrondissement of Melun (250,000 acres) there were, in 1873, seventy reaping and twenty-five mowing machines. The number has increased rapidly since then. It is becoming the practice of the smaller farmers to engage with the larger ones for the hire of implements, and also for them to club together for the purchase of horses and utensils, thus forming a kind of agricultural association.... Steam power in doing field-work is not at present in much use, but it is making progress. . . . M. Decanville is making steam ploughs at his iron works, suitable for French farms, less expensive than those of English workmanship."

Another charge is brought against the French system of compulsory subdivision, viz., that it necessarily forces the division of the farms to such an extent that it becomes impossible to farm the small divided plots with any advantage. That this is the case in some instances I do not deny, where the proprietors are wanting in intelligence, or where family disputes occur; but what I do deny is that this is the necessary or usual consequence of these laws.

In many parts of Switzerland, the small landowner farmer, with his 10, 20, or 30 acres, has a roomy, substantial, comfortable Swiss cottage built on his land, generally surrounded by his kitchen garden, where he raises his fruits, vegetables, and a few flowers. About 100 yards from his cottage stands the cow and goat shed, a thoroughly substantial building, constructed of pine logs fitted together in the ingenious and strong Swiss style. The interior of this has a boarded floor slanting from each side towards the middle, where there is a wooden drain or channel, by which every

drop of liquid manure is conveyed away to the receiving tank. Above the shed there is a large loft, where the hay and dried leaves are stowed for the winter provision of the cows and goats. I have constantly taken shelter in these sheds, and admired their cleanliness and their comfortable accommodation for the small farmers' cattle. Now the farm, with this house and farmstead, does not really divide among the children, spite of all that law may say. The children make their own arrangements, one paying off the others, either at once or by degrees, and the others going to service, to the towns, or to other pursuits. But the Swiss, be it remembered, have been long well educated, and are thoroughly intelligent.

Let us, however, turn to another set of intelligent and educated class of small yeomen farmers, owning their own farms, and subject to the French system of Land Laws; I mean the so-called "bonder" of Norway. And here I quote from Mr. Thornton's admirable work, “A Plea for Peasant Proprietors," (second edition, p. 82). He says:

"The bonder of Norway, for instance, have from time immemorial been owners of their respective farms, which, moreover, have always been legally liable to division among all the children of a deceased proprietor; yet the division of land has made so little progress in the course of many centuries that very few estates are under forty acres, and very many are above three hundred acres, independently of an extensive tract of mountain pasture belonging to every farm. Some idea of the condition of the farmers may be formed from the following particulars respecting the farm servants. These, if unmarried, are lodged in an outhouse adjoining their master's dwelling, which it resembles in appearance, neatness, and comfort; they are allowed four meals a day, consisting of oat or bean meal, rye bread, potatoes, fresh river and salt fish, cheese, butter, and milk; and once or twice a week they have meat, sometimes fresh, but more frequently in the shape of salt beef, or black puddings. At one of their meals they have also beer, or

a glass of potato spirits. Their money wages, in addition to all this, are about 4 d. a day. A married labourer lives on the outskirts of the farm in a cottage of his own, generally a good loghouse of four rooms, with glass windows, which is held on lease for the lives of himself and his wife, together with a piece of land large enough for the keep of two cows or a corresponding number of sheep and goats, and for the sowing of six bushels of corn and three quarters of potatoes. . . . It need scarcely be said that a houseman, as a married labourer of this kind is called, is in a very comfortable situation; in fact, he wants few if any of the comforts which his master possesses; his house, though smaller, is as well built; his food and dress are of the same materials. The peasant proprietors, like their servants, are satisfied with articles of home growth, and are little desirous of foreign luxuries. They build their own houses, make their own chairs, tables, ploughs, carts, and harness. Their wives spin their own flax and wool, and weave their own linen and woollen cloth; almost everything they use is the produce of their own farms, except glass, pottery, ironware, sugar, coffee, spices, and tobacco." After showing that, if the Norwegian farmer's family did not employ themselves through their long winters in making the articles mentioned, a great part of their time would be wasted, instead of being, as now, most profitably employed, Mr. Thornton continues: "Although the mode of life of the Norwegian country. people may be somewhat rude, it would be difficult to find a happier race; they enjoy plenty and are content; they care little for outward show, and are exempt from the painful desire to outvie their neighbours, which makes many wretched in the midst of wealth."

But the fact which I am most desirous of impressing on my readers' attention in this interesting passage is, that the Norwegian farms, although subjected to the same laws as those of France, do not subdivide in any extreme or inexpedient manner. And it is probable that this will also be the case in France, as education advances among the peasant classes

« PrécédentContinuer »