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party would be fairly and fully warned, instead of a tenant being trapped, as now, by ignorance into a heavy expenditure, all of which goes to the benefit, not of himself, but of the landlord.


I hope it will not be supposed that I am about to say a word against all game laws, or against that love of sport which draws away the legislator from his wearing and trying midnight labours, the merchant and man of business from his office and his desk, the man of fashion from the town, the student from his books, and the lawyer from his courts and crowds, and induces them all for a few months or weeks every year to spend the day in pure air and in exhilarating and bracing exercise, and makes them forget for a time the toils, frets, and labours of their lives. I have spent too many happy and healthy days in this way not to appreciate their immense value to our race and nation. It is not of all this I write. Nor do I think that it is unjust that, if a peasant, or any other man, enters on my land and shoots or steals my pheasants or other game, he should suffer for his act. But certainly, in these as in all other cases, one would wish that the offenders against the game laws should be tried as fairly, and punished as considerately, as offenders against any other branch of English law.

No judge on our English bench would dream for a moment of trying any case in which he was even remotely interested. Even if only a small shareholder in a railway, he objects to sit and try a cause to which that railway is a party. But the landowners have been strong enough to secure for themselves the right of trying and adjudicating upon many game-law offences, in which they all, as a body, are deeply interested. It is true that Squire A. would not try a poacher who had committed an offence upon his own estate, but he sits and tries a poacher who has committed an offence upon the adjoining estate of Squire B., and so

they help one another. I was, a few years ago, at a dinnertable in London, opposite one of the kindest and most genial of men. He had for many years presided as chairman at the quarter sessions of a great game-preserving county. He told us, in his hearty way, that it had often happened to him, that men charged with various offences had been tried before him at sessions where the case was so weak, that he had turned to his brother justices and said, "Oh, there is really no sufficient evidence against this man," and that he had been answered, "Oh, you must not let him off, he's a damned poacher!"

In some poaching offences one landowning justice may sit alone, and, without jury or any check, try game offenders and impose sentences which practically entail the utter ruin of the offender's family and the destruction of his good name for ever. In other cases, two landowning justices must sit together. But what chance of mercy, or of really fair trial, has a known or suspected poacher before such a tribunal? I remember the great and good Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, over whose land I often shot, once saying to me, "A poacher has no chance of mercy before these tribunals. I have often had to protest against the sentences pronounced by my brother justices for really trivial offences."

And truly, though I do not wish to excuse the offence of poaching, we ought to look at the temptation to which the peasant is exposed. The love of sport, which is as strong in his breast as in the squire's, and the stimulus he receives continually by the muttered complaints of the farmers against the undue quantity of game-these are in league to tempt the poor peasant to dream that there is a vast difference between shooting or snaring game and stealing poultry.

That others, besides himself, also think there is a great difference, is surely shown by the fact that some of the best of landlords and of men, now and then, as I have known, select as a trusted and well-paid gamekeeper, and as the

companion of their pleasant and healthful hours of sport, a man who, up to the time of such selection, has had the wellearned reputation of being the most successful poacher in all the country round.

But there is another view of this game-law administration which I would have your readers calmly consider.

The fact that the landowner is practically made by the law, in many cases, preserver, prosecutor, judge, and punisher, stimulates the rancour of the landowner against the poacher, and hardens his heart. I have told what Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton said; let me narrate what I myself have seen.

Some years ago I was invited to spend a day or two with the steward of a great nobleman, distinguished by his learning, his generosity, his philanthropy, and great statesmanlike qualities. But on his vast estates he was one of the keenest of game preservers.

One afternoon my friend took me up to the hall, to see the young pheasants in their pens. There were hundreds nearly ready to be turned into the preserves. While we were looking at them the head-gamekeeper said to me, "Would you like to go and see the dog we hunt the poachers with?" I hardly realised his question, but we all walked up to a yard surrounded by high walls. In one corner of this yard was chained, by a long heavy chain, fastened to a great block of stone, one of the largest and fiercest-looking dogs I ever saw in any country. When it saw us, though its master was among us, it did nothing but run in a semicircle, straining its chain to the uttermost, uttering a kind of shriek of fury, and foaming from the mouth. I never saw such a sight. I got near to the door of the yard, and kept my hand on the latch, while the gamekeeper said, "Now, sir, if that chain broke, one of you would be a dead man in a minute." I said, “But you don't mean to say you hunt poachers with that horrible beast?" "Oh yes," he said, we do, but we muzzle him. But even then, if we did not get up quickly, he would


strangle a man he had got down, for he rams his snout into the man's neck, and if his muzzle were not tight, he would get hold of the fellow's skin, and begin tearing it off."

Is comment necessary on such a story? But is such a landowner fit to be a judge in any poaching cases? Surely those who are so intensely keen after sport should not be trusted with the trial, and still less with the punishment of the offenders. I never could understand what difficulty there could be in sending all game-law offences to the admirable and independent County Court judges, except, indeed, the one fact that the class of landowners are strong enough to keep this jurisdiction in their own hands.


Another singular and most unfortunate consequence of these Land Laws is the unwillingness they naturally create in the minds of nearly all landowners to grant leases to their tenants. The landowners know that they are in a most singular and favoured position—that it is immensely to their interest to stand by one another and to foster the political power of their class, in order to protect their vast privileges, and that the most effectual way of doing this is by controlling the county elections, and securing, as far as possible, a majority of landed-interest members in the House of Commons. They could not do this if their tenants were really independent. The tenants would be practically independent if they could obtain leases for 21 or more years. And for this reason the landowners for the most part refuse leases, and often give their tenants to understand that they must vote "right." There are fewer farms than there are applicants, and there is consequently no difficulty in letting the farms from year to year on these conditions. This enables the landowner soon to get rid of a tenant who ventures on independent action. But look how the want of a lease operates. When the tenant leaves, he practically forfeits, if he has laid out much capital, nearly all he has

expended in improvements on his farm. All expensive. drainage works, or works for the collection and utilisation of the sewage and manure, or improvements of farm buildings, erection of agricultural machinery, &c., generally go to the landlord, without any compensation, when the tenant is turned out. How then can a tenant of capital venture on extensive outlay or improvement, without any real security that he will reap the return, nay, without any security that he will not lose his outlay? All great writers on agriculture bewail this state of things, and it is only necessary to compare the vast superiority of a farm held under a long lease, with a similarly-sized farm held without lease, from year to year, to see how prejudicially the system operates, both on the state of the farm and on the enterprise and character of its occupier. Many of the farmers themselves have long felt this most bitterly, so bitterly that the present Government attempted to appease them, to some extent, by passing one of the most delusive Acts that was ever designed-I mean the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875. This Act pretends to give to the farmers a right to compensation for unexhausted improvements, but the Government took care to render the Act practically a nullity by not making it compulsory on the landowners. Instead thereof the Government enabled the landowners to avoid being bound by its provisions whenever they pleased. Nearly all landowners have already done this in nearly all parts of the kingdom, and consequently the farmers are practically just in the same position as before. This shows most remarkably the strength and union of the landowners in both Houses of our Legislature.


As in the case of leases, so in the cases of the county franchise and of education, the vast privileges and power which the landowners' class possess, owing to the Land Laws, make them very naturally, with some bright and patriotic

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