Images de page

any deed, or will, or mortgage. The whole income of the estate belonged to him. He married when he was about 22 years of age. Upon his marriage, deeds were executed which gave him only a life interest in the estate, and then settled the property on his children most strictly. That was 50 or 60 years ago. He had one child, and as soon as that child was 21 another deed was made giving that child only a life interest in the estate, and settling it after his death on the children he might leave in succession. The estate was divided into large farms and very valuable woods. Lord A was an extravagant and reckless man. He hunted the country. He kept open house. He lived as if his income were ten times as great as it was. He gambled, and lost heavily. He raised money on his life interest. He finally

fled from England deeply in debt and lived abroad. The remainder of his life interest, which was only worth the annual thinning of the woods, was sold to a Jew, who knew he would lose all as soon as Lord A- died. That state of things lasted about 40 years. The farmers had no leases and no security for any expenditure. They were unwilling to expend on the restoration or substantial maintenance of the farm buildings. The Jew would not spend, for he did not know, and could not know, when Lord Amight die. The gentleman who took the mansion would not expend upon it, because he could not tell when he might be turned out.

The Jew, in order to make as much out of the estate as he could, raised the rents as much as he could, and cut out of the beautiful park and woods far more timber than any unembarrassed owner would have done, and so the estate was damaged more and more year by year; the tenantry were prevented from dealing fairly by the land or fairly to themselves; there was no one to support the schools or the church, or to look after the large village of labourers upon the property. All social progress and all social prosperity upon the estate were put an end to. The farm buildings fell into decay; the land was not properly drained or

cultivated; the plantations were injured; the mansion. became dilapidated; and all this was caused by the deeds which the law had allowed the lord and his heir to execute.

If it had not been for these deeds, the estate would have been sold, either in one or in many lots, at least 40 years ago, and would have gone unfettered and unburdened into the hands of men who would have expended capital upon it and developed all its resources.

In my next letter I shall try to show what powers the law confers upon the landowners, and how the exercise of these powers prevents the sale or division of the large estates.



January 3, 1878.

I SHALL now proceed to try to explain what the Land Laws are, under which the condition of things described in my letter No. I has been produced.

The laws of which we are going to treat emanated from and are the offspring, so to speak, of the feudal system established in this country by the Conqueror and his successors in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Since those days a continued struggle has gone on-the people, assisted by the lawyers, seeking to modify them, or to find out means of evading them; the great nobles and sovereigns, who were interested in them, seeking to maintain or re-establish their stringency.

Sometimes one party gained ground in the struggle and sometimes another; but as time went on, the growing necessities of the nation and the increasing power of the middle classes effected many modifications. Then broke out the great French Revolution of 1789. It found the feudal system existing in much greater stringency abroad than in Great Britain and Ireland, and causing infinitely more misery among the middle and lower classes in foreign countries than our modified laws were doing in Great Britain and Ireland. It swept away the feudal laws, first in France, Belgium, and Holland, and then in Germany and the northern part of Italy, but it did not affect the modified feudal Land Laws which still existed in Great Britain and Ireland.

The great estates broke up on one side of the British Channel, but, thanks to the modifications which had been submitted to upon the other side, they not only continued to exist, but they also continued greatly to increase in size, and greatly to diminish in numbers.

It is no part of the object of these letters to trace out these gradual and very limited modifications. All I propose to show is, what those laws are, which at the present time oppose free trade in land, and prevent many of the great estates coming into the market, when, if it were not for these laws, they would undoubtedly do so. To state this in the shortest possible manner, they are :—

1. The laws which allow a landowner, by his deed, or by his will, to prevent his land being sold, or seized, or lessened in size, either during his own life, or for many years after his death.

2. The law which, if the landowner does not avail himself of his power to make such a deed or will, gives all his land, without diminution or charge, and in one undivided estate, to the landowner's next "heir." This is the law of "Primogeniture."

3. The laws which allow the landowner, without selling any portion of his estate, to let portions for long terms of years, from 99 to 999 years, and to subject them to all kinds of covenants, which affect these portions for generations after the death of the landowner, and after a change of all the circumstances under which the leases were made.

1. I will attempt to explain the first allegation.

Let me suppose that Lord D— has an estate in the North of England of 50,000 acres. This is a moderate supposition, when we remember the sizes of some of the English and Scotch estates. And yet how difficult it is to realise the meaning of these figures. A public park of 100 acres is considered a large and noble pleasure-ground for, even such a city as Manchester. But it would require 500 such parks to make an estate of 50,000 acres, and it would require 27 estates of 50,000 acres each, or 12,500 such

public parks of 100 acres each, to form an estate equal to that which is now, in these days, owned by the greatest Scotch landowner.

Let us suppose Lord D- to be 22 years of age and unmarried, and to be the legal owner of these 50,000 acres, without being fettered by deed, or will, or mortgage. In such case he would be able to give, or sell, or divide his estate just as he pleased.

Let us suppose he marries at 22 years of age. In such case the law enables him upon his marriage to make a deed giving his land to trustees, with directions to pay a certain sum per annum to his wife during her life, and the rest of the rental of the estate to himself during his life, and after his death to pay the rental to persons specified, to whom I will refer further afterwards.

If after this deed has been made Lord D turns out utterly reckless and extravagant, gambles, or goes on to the turf and falls hopelessly into debt, as Lord A did in the case mentioned in letter No. 2, his land cannot be sold, however expedient it may be that it should pass into the possession and management of better men. The income of the estate would go to pay the creditors. There would be no one during Lord D's life to perform the duties of a landlord; no one to give leases to the farmers, which would enable them to safely lay out money in improvements; there would be no landlord who could keep up the farm buildings or mansion, and the estate would fall into ruin, just in the same way as Lord A-'s actually did. Many an estate has been left for many years in such a position, owing to such a deed. In Lord A- -'s case, the estate continued in that state for about 50 years. But, further, besides allowing Lord D upon his marriage to tie up his land by the deed for his own lifetime, the law allows him to do much more.

Suppose that A., B., and C. are his children, or nephews, or friends, and that C. is an infant, 1 year old, when Lord D- dies. The law enables Lord D. -, by deed or will, -) is dead, A. shall

to direct that as soon as he (Lord D

« PrécédentContinuer »