Images de page
PDF
ePub

A body of men, which does not probably exceed 4500, own more than 17,498,200 acres, or more than one-half of all England and Wales.

In Scotland the returns are still more startling. The total acreage of Scotland is 18,946,694 acres. One owner alone has 1,326,000 acres in Scotland, and also 32,095 in England, or a total of 1,358,548 acres.

A second owner has 431,000 acres, a third owner has 424,000, a fourth owner has 373,000, a fifth owner has 306,000. Twelve owners have 4,339,722 acres, or nearly one-quarter of the whole of Scotland; or, in other words, a tract of country larger than the whole of Wales, and equal in size to eight English counties, viz., Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, and Derbyshire.

20 owners have each more than 120,000 acres.

24 owners have 4,931,884, or more than one-quarter of Scotland.

70 owners have about 9,400,000 acres, or about one-half of Scotland.

171 owners have 11,029,228 acres.

While nine-tenths of the whole of Scotland, that is, of the whole of 18,946,694 acres, belong to fewer than 1700 persons.

The existence of these vast properties in Scotland has led to the depopulating of great tracts of country in order to create large deer forests. There is no return of their acreage, but the Hon. Lyulph Stanley calculates that much more than 2,000,000 acres have been cleared of hundreds of thousands of sheep, and depopulated, in order to make room for deer; or in other words, the homes and farms and food of thousands of families have been destroyed in order to feed the deer and encourage sport, and this in a country which is alleged to be so crowded as to make it absurd to suppose that any alteration in the Land Laws would enable the middle or labouring classes to acquire land.

But let us turn to Ireland. Here, also, the framers of the returns have reckoned leaseholds for more than 99 years as freeholds. And here, also, it is impossible to ascertain from the returns the number of yeomen proprietors who exist in the island. No doubt the number, spite of the sales of lands under the Encumbered Estates Act, the Land Act, the Bright clauses, and the Disestablishment Act is very small. But whatever the number, the returns do not enable us to ascertain it, for the reasons already given.

Now certainly one would have said a priori, that if there was any country in the world in which it was desirable to have a large and widely-distributed body of yeomen proprietors, that country was Ireland. Such proprietors, wherever they exist, are always found to be conservative in the best sense of the word, deeply interested in public peace and order, self-denying and saving, prosperous, and anxious to promote the good education of their children. In all countries where the Land Laws have allowed or promoted the existence of such proprietors, these results have invariably followed. Similar laws would be followed, as I believe, by similar results in Ireland. But not only are there very few such proprietors in Ireland, but the system of great estates adds, in Ireland, to its other evils one which is not experienced to any great extent in England or Scotland, namely, the evil of absenteeism. A large proportion of the great landowners of Ireland reside in distant countries, carry away the revenues of their Irish lands into those countries, and instead of spending those revenues among their Irish tenants and neighbours, in the promotion of Irish industries and in the improvement of their Irish tenants, spend them among other people, while their Irish tenants are left, without the support or countenance of their landlords, to the ten er mercies of agents, who are often strangers to Ireland.

But let us see what light these returns throw upon the division of land in Ireland.

The total area of Ireland is 20,159,678 acres.
452 persons own each more than 5000 acres.
135 persons own each more than 10,000 acres.
90 persons own each more than 20,000 acres.
14 persons own each more than 50,000 acres.
3 persons own each more than 100,000 acres.
I person owns 170,119 acres.

Of this

292 persons hold 6,458,100 acres, or about one-third of the island.

744 persons hold 9,612,728 acres, or about one-half of the island.

Taking the acreage of the 12 largest owners in each of the three kingdoms, we have the following result :

In England, the 12 largest owners hold in the aggregate 1,058,883 acres; and their respective acreages are 186,397— 132,996—102,785-91,024-87,515—78,542— 70,022 68,066—66,105—61,018—57,802—and 56,600.

In Scotland, the 12 largest owners hold in the aggregate 4,339,722 acres; and their respective acreages are 1,358,548 431,000 373,000-306,000

[ocr errors]

424,000 302,283-253,221-220,663-194,640-175,114—166,151

-and 165,648.

In Ireland, the 12 largest owners hold in the aggregate 1,297,888 acres; and their respective acreages are 170,119

— 156,974 — 121,353

118,607

114,881

[ocr errors]

101,030 95,008-94,551-93,629—86,321-72,915—and 69,501.

In the United Kingdom, the 12 largest owners hold in the aggregate no less than 4,440,467 acres, as the able summary published in the "Times" states.

Two-thirds of the whole of England and Wales are held by only 10,207 persons.

Two-thirds of the whole of Scotland are held by only 330 persons.

Two-thirds of the whole of Ireland are held by 1942 persons.

Of the remaining one-third, a great part will, at the termination of the leaseholds for the present remainders

B

of the original term for 99 years and upwards, revert to these great owners, with all the improvements made upon them by the expenditure of the leaseholders.

Mr. Froude, the enthusiastic advocate for the present system of Land Laws, says frankly, "The House of Lords does own more than a third of the whole area of Great

Britain. Two-thirds of it really belong to great peers and commoners, whose estates are continually devouring the small estates adjoining them."

This statement, by the landowners' one-sided and eager partisan, that the great estates, vast as they already are, are "continually devouring" the few remaining small agricultural properties, is borne out by the admission of one great landowner, Lord Derby, that "the class of peasant proprietors formerly to be found in the rural districts was tending to disappear." These statements are only too sadly true. There is no doubt that England once possessed a large class of independent, well-to-do, selfsupporting yeomen proprietors. Old writers treat it as one of the boasts of Old England that she had so many small freehold yeomen. Where are they now?

By our system of Land Laws we have been cutting away the base of our social pyramid, while nearly all other civilised countries have been pursuing an exactly opposite policy.

Since the French Revolution of 1789, the greater part of the land throughout the republics of Switzerland and France, the empires of Germany and Austria, and the kingdoms of Holland, Belgium, and Italy, has been released from its feudal fetters, and has in every such case begun immediately to break up into smaller estates. In all those countries the consequence has been, what it would be in Great Britain and Ireland, the division of the land into estates of all sizes, and the creation of a class of conservative, industrious, prosperous, and independent yeomen proprietors.

Lord Derby shows us by his returns what the condition

of the large estates is in Great Britain and Ireland, although he avoids showing what the effect of all this has been upon. our small farmers and upon our agricultural labourers.

It would be a most interesting subject of inquiry, had we only the means of following it out, to ascertain how each of the great estates came to be formed. How many were created by the industry and personal efforts of some ancestor; how many were the grants of sovereigns to their favourites; how many were gradually amassed by successive marriages of convenience; how many were obtained by ambitious statesmen, in the troublous times of our rough island story, by the attainder and death of rivals; how many were either created or immensely increased by grants of the vast possessions of the religious houses and of the Roman Church; how many were the results of our fierce and bloody civil wars and struggles. It would indeed be

a curious and instructive study. But they exist, and no one wishes to interfere with the just rights of property. The only question we all desire to have answered is, Is it for the common weal that the laws which affect land, and which, as I and many others affirm, have the same effect here that similar laws used to have on the Continent of Europe-viz., to keep the land tied up in great estates, and to prevent it from coming into the market as much as it otherwise would do-should be retained upon the statute book of Great Britain and Ireland?

Before leaving this division of our subject, let us for a moment consider what effect these laws have on the class of the peasantry in Great Britain. In the countries in which these laws have been repealed, the peasants and small leasehold farmers know that if they exercise sufficient selfdenial and thrift, and if they are successful in laying by their savings, they may look forward to the time when they may purchase a cottage, a garden, or a small farm of their This knowledge is an immense incentive to exertion, self-denial, and economy. Throughout the greater part of Europe, and in the most thickly-populated provinces of

own.

« PrécédentContinuer »