Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: hannover—agriculture. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2
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CHAPTER V.: hannover—agriculture. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 2
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Hannover an agricultural country.—Agriculture of economists.—Farm at Coldingen.—Sheep.—Shepherds.—The family.—Agriculture of the marsh lands.—A mode of mending the land.—Farmers respected.—Bauers contemned.—All follow the same agricultural methods.—Right of pasturage.—Course of crops.—Mode of paying wages.—Prices.—Implements.—Impediments to agriculture.—Origin of tithes.—Manners of female peasantry.—A custom of the bauers.—Plantage at Hannover.
Hannover is said to be an agricultural country; which merely means, that the people still remain in that first state of improvement in which men, after having wandered with their flocks, erect fixed habitations, and cultivate the ground, but have neither capital nor ingenuity to establish extensive manufactories, and to carry on commerce. It does not mean that the Hannoverians are more skilful agriculturists than other people, and that their ground is better cultivated; it means, that they are merely agriculturists. They praise this state of their country, as subjecting them to fewer fluctuations of fortune than that in which people unite agriculture with manufactories and commerce. “They may be, and have been, overrun by a destroying enemy, and the country was restored in a year or two to its former state of prosperity.” By this nothing more is meant, than that the mass of the people live in such a constant state of deprivation, that they can never descend much lower, and never fluctuate to higher enjoyments. The enemy found nothing to take from them but provisions; the land still remained for them to cultivate, and the ensuing harvests supplied them again with food. In this estimate it is totally overlooked, that to increase industry is to augment food and people,—the means of enjoyment and defence,—and is to give them something more valuable to contend for. The Hannoverians have been alarmed by the distress which has existed in Britain, and which is frequently attributed to our manufactories and commerce. But employing different kinds of labour to supply different wants, never can produce poverty and distress. And for the benefit of mankind, in order that no species of industry may be unjustly brought into discredit, those social regulations ought to be exposed to censure, which have inflicted on us so much poverty and distress. All the different kinds of productive labour must be beneficial, but the manner in which its produce is distributed in the society is distinct from the labour itself, and is the result of social regulations. From confounding these two things, and from being serious in wishing well to their country, I have heard several clever men in Hannover express a wish that they might not become a commercial people. They thought it an evil; and as some of them had some influence on the government, this mistaken view may ultimately be really injurious to the whole.
My object in this chapter is, to give a general, and I would fain hope, an accurate idea of the state of agriculture, and not to describe the management and the improvements of any individual, and take them as the criterion of the whole. At the same time I shall notice any improvements that I know, in order to make the general idea correct.
The three classes of cultivators, mentioned in the last chapter, pursue different plans of cultivation. The large farmers have in general extensive rights of pasturage. They keep large flocks of sheep, grow artificial grasses, turnips, and other succulent roots, and lay down a part of their land as meadows, that they may have an abundance of hay. The bauers may sometimes sow a little clover, or lucerne, or spergel, but they seldom have meadows, and keep no more cattle than is necessary for their work, and than the common lands can feed. They keep sheep only in those countries where extensive heaths are favourable to feed them. There are some other exceptions, such as a whole meyer uniting a distillery and a public-house with his farm, and thus being enabled to keep more cattle; but, in general, the bauers keep only the horses necessary for their work, and the number of cattle which can be fed on the common lands. There is therefore a radical difference between the husbandry of the different classes of cultivators.
At one of the large farms the land was divided into two portions. The first had no fallows, but the following rotation of crops:—1st year, hoed or drilled summer fruit. 2d, Wheat or rye, over which clover was sown in the spring. 3d, Clover. 4th, Wheat or rye. 5th, Barley or peas. 6th, Oats, or sometimes rye;—then as before. The whole land under this course is dunged twice. The other course was, 1st, Fallow, as a preparation for 2d, Rape seed. 3d, Wheat or rye. 4th, Rye, dunged. 5th, Flax. 6th, Rye, dunged. 7th, Beans, dunged. 8th, Rye. 9th, Oats; and then comes fallow again. These courses were followed on the farm of Mr Amtman Meyer, at Coldingen. The soil was a brown-coloured loam, free from stones, fruitful, easy to work, and easily kept clean; but in wet weather it quickly became foul, if neglected. A large portion of meadow land bordered on the Leine, and was subjected to be overflowed by that river. The land under tillage was more elevated. This farm was hired of the crown, and situated about eight miles from the town of Hannover. It contained altogether about 2600 acres, with a right of pasturage over extensive meadows, from the time they were mowed till the 15th of May, when they were laid down for hay. Seven pair of horses and eight of oxen were kept as working cattle. No cattle were fattened. A portion of the land was let for feeding cows, the superior tenant not liking the trouble of this part of husbandry. His favourite pursuit, and that which rewarded him best, was sheep, of which he had about 2200 head.
The original breed were the small German sheep, which, from being numerous in the neighbourhood of the Rhine and Saxony, are called Rhenish or Saxon sheep. They were crossed by Merinos, and now bear fleeces as fine as those of the Merinos themselves, weighing on the ewe, 2 or 2½, and on the ram, 4 or 4½ pounds. No attention was paid to fatting the carcase, wool being the principal and only source of gain. The peace, and communication with England, had enhanced its price, and the last shearing had been sold so high as 4s. 7d. per pound, which was nearly double its former price. The carcase weighs on an average 40 pounds, the larger ones 60, and sells for about 9s. to 15s.
The shepherds were all dressed in long white linen coats, and white linen small clothes, and wore large hats cocked up behind, and ornamented by a large steel buckle. They all looked respectable and clean. They were paid in proportion to the success of the flock, and had thus a considerable interest in watching over its improvement. They received a ninth of the profits, but they also contributed on extraordinary occasions, such as buying oil-cake for winter food, when it was necessary, and such as buying new stock, a ninth of the expences. The head shepherd had two-ninths of the profits.
Some other workmen on this farm were paid in proportion to their labour. The thrashers, for example, were paid with the sixteenth part of what they thrashed. Other labourers were hired by the day, and they received about 7d. In harvest time they may make 8d. Some are paid by the piece, and then receive at the rate of 2s. for cutting and binding an acre of corn.
A water communication might have been had from this farm to the town of Hannover, and from there all over the world, but the magistracy had stopped the river by a stone wall at some distance above the town, in order to supply the town mills with a sufficiency of water. It should have been done by a lock. All the country above the wall is now excluded from the advantages of a water communication, and all its produce must be brought to Hannover by land-carriage. In a country of commercial enterprise this would have been an evil, in Hannover it was neither noticed nor complained of. With this diminution of the natural advantages of the farm at Coldingen, it would perhaps be impossible to find land more favourably situated than it. A skilful and enterprising hand could command at pleasure the waters of the Leine, but they fertilized or wasted at their will. The bailiff was a good farmer; the farm was kept in very good order, according to the common practices, but I did not observe much of that animated seeking after improvement which distinguishes enterprising men. Yet it would be unjust not to mention the care with which the breed of sheep and their wool have been improved. Great expence had been incurred to bring rams from Saxony and from Spain, and the whole of the sheep were of the improved breed.
Consistently with the plan of mentioning such improvements as I have heard of, I may here add to those already mentioned, that Mr Amtman Wedemeyer at Katlenburg, and Mr Backhouse at Göttingen, are both good agriculturists, who are acquainted with the writings and the practices of the greater part of Europe, and pursue the best practical methods of cultivation which are known.
I should do injustice to the hospitality with which I was entertained, if I neglected to record it. Mr Amtman Meyer, the tenant of the farm at Coldingen, is one of the best agriculturists of Hannover; and though other occupations prevented him from accompanying me, he sent his steward over his farm, and was politely ready to give me every information my previous knowledge enabled me to ask. We are possibly in England rather given to believe, that the people of other nations are less affectionately attached to the comforts of home than ourselves, and that the decencies and charities of a domestic circle are nowhere observed but in England. From the many well-ordered amiable families which I have seen in Germany, I am disposed to think we underrate our northern neighbours in this particular. An attention to order in their domestic arrangements is common to the Germans; and of this the family of Mr Meyer was a good specimen. I partook with them of a well-ordered family dinner, and passed the afternoon agreeably entertained by the urbanity and politeness of their conversation. His son had been in the English service, his daughter was intimately acquainted with our language, and the whole family resembled the family of a well-educated country gentleman. Before sitting down to table, all the persons, standing behind their chairs, threw their eyes on the ground, and asked in silence a blessing on the meal. This is a common custom all over Germany. In the Catholic countries the very poorest people, carriers, servants, and others, when they come from the stable, or when they run in from the harvest field to dine, plump down on their knees, take off their white caps, turn their faces to a corner, and repeat a long prayer. No one begins to eat till all have said grace. When the meal is finished all again go on their knees, and return thanks. In the northern and Protestant parts of Germany kneeling has not been seen. Few people, however, sit down to meals without a short prayer, nor rise from them without a compliment. That you may have a good appetite is the morning’s wish, and that the meal may be blessed, Gesegnete Mahlzeit, is universally the wish at rising from table.
As the farmers of free property are very generally confined to the marsh lands, and to Friezland, and as the soil, situation, and agriculture of these districts are the same, in describing the agriculture of the second class of farmers, I shall necessarily describe the agriculture of the marsh lands.
The land under the plough in the districts on the Elbe is generally divided into long slips fifty feet wide, between each of these slips is a ditch which extends the whole length, and the land between the ditches is laid up round, so that every precaution is taken to keep it dry. The ditches supply rushes and coarse grass, which are used to litter the cattle.
Fatting cattle for Hamburg is one of the pursuits of the farmers of the marsh land. Sheep are little attended to, each farmer keeping only so many as supplies his own family with wool and milk. Every day-labourer has one or two, which he uses for the same purpose. They are constantly chained in pairs, and pick up their living on the dikes and other unenclosed spots. When the labourer cannot command such a spot, he is obliged to hire from the farmers so much land as will feed his sheep, but this is a favour not always obtained. The sheep of the marsh lands are much larger than the sheep before mentioned. They weigh, when fat, from 80 to 100 lbs. and bear a coarse fleece of from 5 to 6 lbs. weight. From being more kept for their milk than to fat and kill, they are very generally poor, and when sheared, look most wretchedly. They resemble the marsh sheep of Britain. The only cheese made in any part of Hannover, except Friezland, is made from sheeps’ milk, and the shepherds say that the wool of the animals milked is never so fine nor so abundant as when they are not milked.
Throughout Germany, every body possessing a little spot of ground makes it his first object to cultivate himself every thing his family needs. The people do not seem yet to have attained a thorough conviction that, if it be cheaper, it is better to buy than to grow. This state of mind may be promoted by the communication not being rapid, and the markets not certain, but each man prides himself as on a point of honour, in supplying his own wants, without having recourse to his neighbour. Individuals are like the rulers of nations, who imagine the happiness of their subjects will be endangered by a mutual and cheap supply of wants, and they, therefore, preserve a surly independence, not only at the expence of much labour, but of all the kindnesses and affections which grow out of men assisting each other. According to this principle, each farmer grows, amongst other things, so much flax as supplies the consumption of his own family.
With these little exceptions, the great objects of the marsh land farmers is to fatten cattle, and grow corn and seeds. Meadow land, consequently, lets for more money than any other, and much is kept in grass seven or eight years. It is then broken up, and, 1. oats is sown on it; 2. wheat or rye; 3. wheat or beans, and the land is dunged; this change of crops continues without intermission till the land has got foul, generally with couch-grass. On an average, this is every ten years. It is then fallowed till June, when it is sown with rape seed. To prepare for this crop, it is ploughed at least six times, and very often nine, and it receives a large quantity of dung. At this time, also, the land is mended by another means. The soil is composed of three distinct strata, which are every where found like the deposits of three overwhelming floods, but lying at unequal depths. The first is clay, mixed with sand, and is very fruitful; the second is a stiff cold clay, that is said to be absolutely unproductive; the third is very fine white sand, mixed with the blue slime of the rivers, and with the remains of vegetable substances. The third strata is usually found at a depth of from three to ten feet, and when mixed with the clay at the surface, renders it more productive. To procure this sand, holes of six feet diameter are sunk, till it is reached, when it is thrown out, and the second strata of cold clay thrown back to supply its place. Many such holes are made in a field, till a sufficient quantity of the sand has been spread over the surface. Sometimes the ditches supply enough, and the process then resembles precisely that which has been practised in Lincolnshire by Mr Cartwright.∗ It appears that the material employed both on the shores of the Elbe and in Lincolnshire, has a great resemblance, and is found lying in a similar situation. Such a practice has long been in use on the marsh lands belonging to Hannover; and it appears to have been suggested to the farmers there by observations similar to those which suggested it to Mr Cartwright. It was found in digging the ditches, and it was thought that the sand would loosen and render the clay easier of cultivation.
Although artificial grasses grow luxuriantly, they are very little used. Clover is sometimes sown on the fields, intended to be laid down, but it is mowed as green food, or fed off, and never made into hay. The reason assigned for this is, that the cattle will not eat it when they can get grass-hay. There is little occasion to cultivate it, because there is much land lying on the river, or in other places, of which every farmer has his portion, which will serve no other purpose but to grow hay.
There are some parts where the land, once under the plough, is never laid down to grass. This is the case particularly in Hadeln, where the course of crops is constantly, 1. wheat, 2. beans, 3. rye, 4. and 5. rape or cole seed, then again follows wheat, and so on, without intermission; of course, the rape implies a partial fallow, as it is not sown till between the months of July and August, and till then, the land is repeatedly ploughed, cleaned, and manured.
In Friezland a rotation of crops similar to this last is followed, but here the inhabitants approximate more to the customs of Holland, keep quantities of cows, and make butter and cheese. Much land has there been recently won from the Ems, which possesses a vast degree of fertility. It is said to give back rape seed three hundred times multiplied, and barley sixty, when the fourth part of this is reckoned in ordinary land the usual increase. The Friezland or Dutch breed of horned cattle is celebrated for its size, beauty, and for the quantity of milk the cows give. This breed, with the cattle from the Tyrol and Switzerland, are favourites in other parts of Germany, and they are brought from these countries to improve the breed of the native cattle. The inhabitants of Friezland have been at great expence in gaining their most fertile marsh, and no portion of it is left uncultivated. Both here and in Hadeln, so well as an uninitiated man can judge, I should describe the agriculture as excellent, and it is excellent without any theory. The people are not writers, and they are said to have no books on agriculture. They speak the language of Germany, and may, of course, have German books, but their cultivation has preceded the knowledge of the rest of the country, and it is said to have been entirely effected without agricultural writers.
In Friezland, and the marsh lands, the farmers are men of respectability, and so are the farmers in Switzerland, Holland, and Britain, but in every other country of Europe the cultivation of the ground is, in some measure, a degradating occupation. It is more honourable to be a mercenary soldier than an industrious man. Such prejudices cause that idleness, that haste to escape from labour, and that profligacy which the rulers of the world are so ready to attribute to nature rather than to their own systems and opinions. In Germany this prejudice is particularly strong; a large farmer may be respected, but a bauer is a term synonymous with stupid, and is used as a reproach to children; soldiers are knights, but bauers are Knechts or slaves. They have apparently been regarded by the other classes of the community as beneath them, and boys in their sport, and magistrates with their laws, think they may mock and oppress the bauers. Thus it was very generally the custom for the magistrates of the towns to fix the price of all the produce of the land when it was brought into the town for sale, and thus boys and girls say, “The bauers ought to be made to sell cheaper, The bauers are for us to laugh at.” Labouring under the disadvantages of being contemned by the society, it is not extraordinary that they should yet be reproached as superstitious, and as dull, and ignorant, nor that it should be found necessary to tell them, “that butter is neither made nor spoiled by witchcraft,” and “that to keep their cattle in good order, good feeding, and not sorcery, is necessary.” Many superstitious notions are attributed to them, such, for example, as this. They believe that trees which have a whisk of straw bound round them by a naked man at the first moment of the new year, are sure to be fruitful. I saw each fruit tree in a small orchard, near Hannover, ornamented with such a whisk, and I was assured it had been done by the owner naked at midnight on the first of January. It is the agriculture of the bauers of which I am now to speak.
There is one mode of cultivation, the three years’ rotation of crops, which is common nearly to all bauers. In fact, they are very often obliged, and were formerly much more obliged than at present, to follow precisely the same mode. In general, some persons possess the right to herd cattle on the lands of the bauer, and they are consequently obliged to leave them fallow every third year. I have met several instances of this, and to shew that it is general, I shall translate a sentence from a German author. At the same time, it must be remembered, that this is one of those pernicious rights which have been in several places abolished. “In most districts, domanial and noble properties have a right to herd their cattle, that is, they may send them on the land of the bauer, and he is obliged to leave his fallow unemployed, and must not plough it before St John’s day. Lately, this right is in many places abolished, and he is now permitted to employ a part of his fallow in raising summer crops for his cattle.”∗ Wherever this right exists, the system of cultivation is the same. Winter corn follows the fallow, the bauer may choose whether he will sow wheat or rye, but winter corn he must sow. The land over which this right of pasturage extends is generally divided into three large portions, and each of the peasants has a part of each portion; so that the land belonging to each is situated in different places, and the fallowing takes place on each of the large portions alternately. Not only the domanial and noble properties have this right, but also the properties of corporations. The land belonging to Göttingen, for example, is subject to it, so that the land on one side of the town is always sown with winter corn, on another it is sown with summer corn, and on the third it lies fallow. Where such rights exist, or existed, there the agriculture could not improve, and it must be precisely the same at least through the whole of the district over which the right extended.
The rotation of crops here mentioned is that which the bauers generally follow. They have fallow, then rye or wheat, and then oats, barley, peas, or beans, and then again fallow. Where the above right of pasturage does not exist, the bauers begin to employ their fallow for some summer crops, and this takes place, particularly near towns, or when, from other circumstances, they can command manure. Another course of crops I have met with was, 1st, Fallow, employed for potatoes, flax, or some such crop; 2d, Wheat or rye; 3d, Lentcorn; and 4th, Rye or beans. But in general the three year rotation, with unemployed fallow, is common to the peasants throughout the greater part of Germany.
The utility of leaving land fallow at any time is much questioned since the introduction of so many succulent roots in the common system of husbandry, and it is only justified for strong clay soils. Throughout the north of Germany the soil approaches sand rather than clay. Never but in one spot, in the neighbourhood of Münder, did I see what may be called stiff clay; of course fallows are, in this country, according to the improved husbandry, quite unnecessary. They were imposed on the bauers by the laws. It must, however, be remarked, that their general poverty, and their want of cattle, does not allow them to make those improvements, and to provide such a quantity of manure as is necessary to cultivate the ground without occasional fallows. The right of herding, however, destroyed in a great measure the utility of fallowing, because the bauer was not allowed to plough and cleanse his field till it was late in the spring. Of course, the greater part of Germany may be described as being imperfectly tilled. This right alone made, and makes, the whole tillage defective.
In some parts buck-wheat is much cultivated. The grains of this corn, if it deserve the name of corn, is made into grits, and into pancakes, and forms the food, particularly the suppers, of most of the inhabitants of the sandy and moory districts. The peasants have also, in these districts, large flocks of sheep. The extensive heaths are useful for no other purpose but to feed these animals. They cultivate their ground, 1st, with rye; 2d, rye; 3d, oats or buck-wheat; or, 1st, rye; 2d, oats or buck-wheat; and 3d, rye. The ground is then left for four or five years, and fed off during that time by sheep. It is then broken up, and again cultivated in the same manner.
In the greater part of northern Germany most of the bread is made of rye, consequently this grain is cultivated more than wheat. Almost all the bauers cultivate such a quantity of flax as their wives and families can spin. In the provinces of Göttingen, Grubenhagen, Hildesheim, and Kalenberg, and in many other parts of Germany, tobacco is extensively cultivated. The ground in which it is to be planted is well dunged and prepared towards the middle of June. It is then planted in rows, two feet apart. It is raised from seeds in hot-beds. When it succeeds it is one of the most profitable crops. It requires too much care to be grown by the large farmers. It rather improves than injures the ground, but the peasants like to plant it on the same spot repeatedly. They cultivate several seeds for the sake of oil, such as rape and cole seed, but more particularly the white poppy. The seeds of this plant supply the oil which the bauers most commonly use both for salads and for their buck-wheat pancakes. Tobacco, flax, and poppies, added to the crops we cultivate, give the German bauers an advantage. They have a greater choice of different fruits.
When these people keep sheep, the shepherd is usually employed rather by the village than by any one individual. The shepherds themselves own a certain number of sheep, in proportion to the extent of the flock. The bauers find food for these sheep during the winter, and, moreover, give the shepherd twelve Klaffters, a measure equal to a cord of wood, and about eight shillings and a penny per year. In another instance, the shepherd received yearly two sheaves of rye, two shirts, and coarse linen for a jacket and trowsers, but no money whatever. He owned, however, forty sheep, from which the greater part of his sustenance was derived. In another instance, a shepherd looked after the flocks of three farmers, and he received about nine bushels of rye per year, and they were to feed twenty sheep for him during the winter. In another instance, the shepherd kept the flocks of five farmers, and he lived with them, alternately changing his quarters every week. Each one gave him a lamb and twelve shillings per year. He also received a suit of clothes. Most generally the shepherds have an interest in the flock, or they have sheep of their own, whether the flock belongs to some opulent man or to several bauers. “Sometimes they have a sixth or an eighth part, sometimes they own from sixty to eighty sheep.”∗ Farm-servants are very generally paid in produce of some sort or another, which shews tolerably well the state of the country as to communication and money. I am far from affirming that this is altogether a bad state of things. Servants and labourers, when the peasants have any, live in, and form a part of the family. There is none, therefore, of that disparity of condition which is found in countries where the agricultural labourers are paid in money.
Several examples of wages for agricultural labour have been already given, and I shall here add some others. Thrashers are usually paid with a proportion of the thrashed corn. They receive from the thirteenth to the sixteenth part, in proportion to the quality of the grain. It is reckoned that a man must gain 1 scheffel, about 1½ bushel, of winter corn, and 1½ or 2 scheffel of summer corn per week, to enable him to support a family. Ten marien grosscher, or 10d. per day, is the highest wages for common labour which I any where heard of. Most generally, and the rate very seldom varies, it is 6d. 7d. and 8d. Women receive from 4d. to 6d. This is the price paid for digging ground, which is hard labour. It is also paid for by the piece, at the price of 1½d. the square rood. I have met instances of people reaping corn, who were to be paid with a certain quantity of flax seed. I have found the same price given for labour in Saxony, in Prussia, and in Hannover, and the book I have before quoted, Der Angehende Pachter, gives the same prices. Wheat was at the same time selling for about 4s. 10d. an English bushel; rye for 4s. 3d. barley 3s.; and oats 1s. 9d.; beef was from 3d. to 4d. per pound; veal from 2½d. to 3½d.; mutton from 3½d. to 4½d.; a bushel of potatoes cost about 9½d.
I have met no accurate accounts of the quantities of corn produced in the whole of Hannover, but such accounts as I have seen I shall here give. In 1806 the produce was, of
This last country exports, on an average, 5600 last of barley; 700 last of wheat and rye; 800 last of peas and beans, and 60 last of buck-wheat, yearly. Bremen also exports above 40,000 wispel of different sorts of grain, and Lüneburg exports the value of 15,000 Thalers in buck-wheat and oatgrits yearly.
I have seen models, at the house of an ingenious mechanic in Hannover, of most of the new invented agricultural implements of Britain. They are known to all the theoretical men, but I never met with any in use. Agricultural writings are much read, and very plentiful, in Germany, and the readers are acquainted with every European improvement. The plough in common use is a simple but convenient instrument. It has two low wheels; the beam is straight; the share cuts nearly horizontal, and the mould-board, which is fixed always, turns the furrow on the same side. When a piece of land has to be ploughed, it is divided into strips, and when each strip is not already well risen in the middle, the outer part of the strip, at each side, is first ploughed, so that every furrow may be turned towards the center, and the middle furrow may be the last made. The consequence is, that the surface of every strip forms the segment of a circle; and when a large plain is so ploughed, as it were in common, these segments of a circle form regular undulations so far as the eye can see. Two horses and one man work these ploughs, although I have seen six horses employed in the marsh lands near Hamburg, with two drivers both riding. This plough costs from 16s. to 28s. The large farmers sometimes plough with two oxen, but the peasants, except in the sandy districts, where oxen can be turned on the commons, invariably use horses. When they are very poor, and have no horses, they sometimes employ their cows. Two or more join their stock, and, with four cows, they manage to plough very well. When the occupier is too poor to keep a team, or occasionally to hire one, he works his land with the spade, and much land is dug. An elderly peasant, close to the town of Hannover, pointed with exultation to his field of flax, and told me “to observe how much better it was than that of his neighbour; but he is a young man, and is lazy; he ploughed his piece of ground, and I dug mine. My wife and daughter weeded it, and you see how well it looks. I can get my living off my acre, but my neighbour, I am sure I do not know what he does.” Ploughing appears to me to be well and expeditiously done. The peasants make no other water-courses than those which are made by turning the ground to the center, and the consequence is, that ground which lies low very often produces nothing but coarse grass where corn has been sown. Draining, as a part of husbandry, is only beginning to be practised, and has not yet descended to the peasants, who sometimes ask “what the gentleman means to grow in his under ground ditch.” The plough mentioned must have been a long time in use, because it is common all over Germany, and it appears to me to be superior to the common large wheel ploughs, with shifting mould-boards, of the south of England, though not equal to the Rotheram, or Mr Small’s, or the swing ploughs.
In Friezland they have a plough fully equal to these. It is, I believe, known in England as the Dutch plough, and as the origin of Mr Rotheram’s plough. It is without wheels, and though fit for that heavy marsh, is worked by two horses, and is so light that I lifted one without difficulty.
In the sandy districts the people have another instrument to answer the purpose of a plough, called a Haken, which is very simple. It has neither turning, nor mould-board, nor wheels; the share is long, pointed at the end, and then broad and flat. It is only fit to scratch the sand with. The iron share costs about 3s. 4d. The peasants make the wooden part themselves, during winter, and when they buy it complete its price is only about five shillings.
I only saw one two-wheeled cart employed in agriculture throughout the country. All the work is done with light four-wheeled waggons, drawn by two or four horses. They consist of three broad planks, the bottom one of which is permanently fixed to the two axle-trees; the side ones are moveable, and one of them is always taken off when the contents of the waggon have to be thrown out. Four-wheeled waggons, besides being heavier of draught, are more difficult to turn than carts, and they cannot well be made to turn up so as to throw their contents on the ground. But their disadvantages are so well known that I need not discuss them. The mechanical ingenuity of the Germans, though it has long been great, seems to be only employed to build temples to frivolity and folly, and is seldom occupied with the houses or business of men. Accordingly, many of the common instruments, such as carriages, hand-barrows, boats, waggons, and a thousand others, are awkward and ill adapted to their purposes, while musical clocks, harmonicons, and panharmonicons, are most ingeniously made. I never saw any very good cutting instruments, but walking-sticks, that serve as tubes for pipes, with a compressing pump at one end to make a fire, and a machine at the other for impaling without destroying the beauty of insects, are common.
Scythes and sickles are like our own; but there is a sort of sickle in Friezland different from ours, and which appeared to me to be superior. There is also in the same country a very convenient sort of shovel-cart, drawn by horses, which is used to distribute expeditiously and equally, over the surface of the whole field, the earth which is thrown out of the ditches. I despair of being able to convey by writing an accurate idea of these implements, and therefore I do not attempt to describe them. These are not the only parts of the agriculture of Friezland which makes that country apparently worthy of a visit from some of our agricultural gentlemen.
Generally all sorts of grain are sown broadcast. Beans I have seen sown in rows by the hand, the holes being made by an instrument that had a row of ten or twelve wooden spikes. I doubt if a man could make the holes with it so fast as with a single iron crow, and if the ground were hard this instrument would not pierce it.
The only manures which I saw employed were common dung, the refuse of salt-pans, and once or twice lime. In the sandy districts, where very little straw is to be had, it is customary to pare turf with heather growing on it, and to lay it in large heaps in the yards and sheep-stalls and stables.
In some parts of Hildesheim there are hedges and hedge-rows of trees. Isolated farm-houses and villages are generally surrounded by trees. Forests cover the hills, but most of the cultivated land is destitute of both hedges and trees. As no instance has been met with of the peasants cultivating turnips,—as they rarely drain their land,—as they have no hedges to make—their agricultural labours are much simplified. After the winter corn is sown, till the following 1st of March, they have nothing to do in their fields, and rarely visit them. During the winter months they thrash their corn, which requires, however, but little time, and is very often done so soon as it is harvested. Those who have teams, and live near wood or peat, and near towns, employ themselves in carrying fuel to them. Many, indeed most of them, weave linen. The want of hedges seems to save a great deal of labour, and there is a much smaller place as a nursery for weeds and destructive animals, but it somewhat diminishes the beauty of the country. The union of weaving and farming is an example of imperfect division of labour.
The 1st of March is the commencement of agricultural labour. “Then we break loose,” says the farmer. A day has also been mentioned when the meadows are no longer to be fed off. And almost every distinct branch of farm business has some particular day on which it is commenced. Thus, the cows and sheep are not allowed in many places to go on the common lands before the 23d of April, St George’s day. This was to many of the poor beasts a joyous day; they had been shut up all the winter, and were glad again to breathe the free air. Some few old animals seemed attached to their dirty stalls, and often turned their heads back, and bellowed their melancholy adieus; but the young ones frisked and bounded past all the power of the cow-herds, maid-servants, boys, and girls, and spectators of the village, to keep them in order. How changed did they become in a few days! When the novelty and pleasure were over, they went and came with so much regularity as a well-disciplined regiment performs its evolutions. Fixed days for work mark a general similarity in the habits of the people. They also designate a rude and a superstitious people. For they regulate their labours by only a general sort of fitness in the seasons, and often sacrifice valuable time for the sake of following the calendar of the priests.
There are some little customs connected with the common lands, that I may here mention.— A cow-herd, and often also a swine-herd, are appointed and paid by each village, who come regularly round every day sounding their horns, and collect the cattle to lead them to the pasture, and who bring them home at night. When there is any necessity for watchmen, these herds do that duty, and in winter sound their horns every hour. At Christmas a new Vorsteher and a new bull are chosen in every parish; and it would appear from the examples I have seen, that these latter, like some other candidates for the favours of the sex, were of foreign extraction.
There is one little practice connected with agriculture which I cannot forbear mentioning, though I never saw it, because it accords with the German character. The first corn of every harvest which enters any town is usually conducted in triumph. The waggon which carries it is decorated with flowers, the people go out to meet it, and they accompany it into the town in a gay and joyous manner.
From the superiority of the agriculture of the marsh lands, where the property is free, and the farms of a moderate size, it is easy to be inferred, that neither the large nor the small farmers of the rest of Germany are best calculated for the improvement of their art. The large farmers are generally either noblemen or amtmen, who possess knowledge, but want that stimulus to exertion which is derived from a necessity to labour. They keep establishments which are too large to be perfectly superintended and guided by one person. Their situation in society does not depend on the produce of their farms, and they are not therefore extremely anxious to make so much money by them as possible. On the other hand, the small farms and the poverty of the bauers impose on them a constant necessity to labour. Their theoretical knowledge cannot extend beyond mere reading and writing, and such little facts as they may pick up in the routine of providing for the cares of the passing day. The single fact, that by far the greater number of them unite some other occupation, principally weaving, with farming, shews clearly, that neither good cultivation nor improvements in agriculture can be expected from them. Their farms are too small, and they are too poor. The manner, therefore, in which the land is divided and appropriated in Germany necessarily causes defective husbandry.
Many of the causes which impede the improvement of agriculture in Germany are similar to those which impede it in other parts of Europe. That great cause, the contempt with which the occupation of the bauer is treated by chambermen and soldiers, has been mentioned; and I shall only here add two, one of which is common to the rest of Europe, but seems to weigh peculiarly heavy in Germany; and the other is peculiar to some parts of that country. The first is tithes, which are still very generally and rigorously collected in kind. Some instances have been met of compensation. They no longer belong to the clergy, but to the sovereign or to the nobles. They principally, however, belong to the sovereign, who shews himself to be, according to his language, the father of his people, by his care to gather their harvests into his barns. Fruits grown on the fallow are not subjected to tithes. They appear, however, to fall peculiarly heavy on the German peasant, from the distribution of property. In other countries farmers have a command over labour; and though the labourer may suffer, the farmer gains from his toil a portion of that tithe he must pay; but the bauer is both farmer and labourer, and he suffers all the loss which in other countries is divided between these two classes. Whatever takes any of his produce from him, helps to keep him so near the verge of want, that it is peculiarly pernicious to him, and to the art he practises.
Christianity was forced on the people of northern Germany at a time when writing was common; and the origin of tithes in that country is perhaps better known than in any other. They were imposed by a conqueror. The zealous Charlemagne subdued the Saxons, and he made it a condition of the peace which he gave them, that they should become Christians, and give tithes to the priest. They have had a similar origin in other countries, or were won from credulity by cunning working on the fears it had artfully inspired.∗
The power which the magistrates possess in many districts, to employ the bauers in mending roads, or corvees, is a cause which is peculiar to some parts of Germany. The ill effects of this, as the Germans call it, gezwungene Arbeit, is too well known to make it necessary for me to do more than again mention that it exists.
The Jews are some of the largest capitalists of Germany; and the law, which in many parts of northern Germany, in Hannover, for example, though not in Prussia, forbids them to hold land, and, I believe, even to take it in mortgage, must prevent them vesting their capitals in agriculture, and thus impede its progress. They can have no good security for money lent on land. This is a palpable instance of the venom of anti-social regulations corroding the body-politic from which they issue.
I have frequently made observations on the manners of the bauers, and I shall here add something further on the subject. With the exception of some parts of Westphalia and of Oldenburg, they invariably live in villages. Their houses have very frequently the same form, and their insides are laid out somewhat in the same manner as those of Friezland, which have been already described, but they are smaller. At some particular corner you find a crib bed for the man who looks after the horses, when one is kept, and his bedding consists as much of the provender of his cattle as of blankets and sheets. In the bauer houses there is little other furniture than a stove, a stool, a table, and the cooking utensils. Chimneys are very rare. The smoke finds its way out under the roof, or at any hole it meets with, or it is deposited as tar and soot on the beams and rafters. Generally the houses are built of an oak frame, filled in with closely rammed clay or bricks. They have high thatched roofs. Fires are very frequent in most parts of Germany, and, owing to this manner of building, when once they break out, it is impossible to stop them. The government of Hannover has commanded that houses shall be built of bricks, and covered with tiles. But a family which cannot command these materials must not, on that account, be left without a roof, and accordingly, in spite of this command, I have seen people, after a fire, again building their houses with wood, and again thatching them with straw.
The Germans have now been collected into towns for at least ten centuries, and still longer into villages, and one is almost tempted to believe, that, in the latter, the same form of building is preserved which the first rude settlers adopted. The progress of man in all the arts which minister to the comfort of life is necessarily slow in those countries in which military foppery, operas, and learned trifling, is thought, by him who rules the taste of the country, to be the only things worthy of his patronage. In such countries, the great mass of the society have absolutely not enough common sense to know how to preserve themselves and their property. Their own wants and comforts are the last things to which they can attend. All their time is occupied in ministering to the profusion and luxury of others. How rude and insecure is the house of the bauer, and yet, after toiling for ages, he has neither means nor knowledge to build himself a more convenient habitation. The single fact, that the great mass of the productive part of the population of Europe is involved in comparative ignorance and poverty, is a reproach to the class of men who have so long undertaken to guide them in the ways of knowledge and wealth. The bauer is not insensible to his interest, but he wants the means to follow it. Within a few years he has much improved his agriculture, he has adopted the cultivation of tobacco and potatoes, and he is only stupid and ignorant because he is degraded by the opinions of society. After these remarks it must still be allowed that a German bauer is somewhat superior to an English agricultural labourer, and in comfort, and in the scale of civilization he is much superior to an Irish peasant.
Village roads correspond with the houses; when they do not lead to an amt-house, they are in general most wretched. In the vicinity of Hannover itself, they are sometimes so bad, as almost to have the appearance of canals. In the villages and small towns, the inhabitants of which are agriculturists, all the dunghills are placed in the streets. A similar custom exists in France, and in some of the narrow streets there, the only road was over heaps of smoking putrefaction.
The ancient Germans are said to have respected their women almost to adoration, and perhaps the poorer women, without now receiving this respect, continue to deserve it. The wives and the daughters of the bauers perform with them all the labours of the farm. They dig, and sow, and reap, and plough, and thrash, just as the men do, except that the men reserve to themselves the lazy honour of going with their horses. But they do much more than the men, they look after their houses, and no sooner have they nothing else to do, than they turn to their spinning-wheels that always stand near them ready to be used. Men may be, and very often are, seen idling away their time, but it is a rare thing to see an absolutely idle German peasant woman. They quite merit what Schiller has said of them, which is in many points an accurate picture of their employments.
It is possibly a necessary consequence of having so much to do, that the female peasantry are by no means clean either in their persons or their houses. Their hair appears only to be arranged for baptisms, marriages, and other feasts, and at all other times to be matted, dishevelled, and dirty. Their clothes on working days are utterly neglected, they are dirty, torn, and negligently put on. They are generally short, have broad faces, with a want of expression, and seem much more calculated for constant labour than for one moment’s love.∗ When the women of Germany are collected in towns, they are pretty and well made, and the female peasantry of the north are only ill favoured from the labour they perform. It is perhaps impossible to calculate how much the happiness of both sexes would be increased if the women had only so much time to spare from their toil as might be required to keep their persons and their houses clean, and so much knowledge as to enable them to know the value of doing this.
When they go to church, or to market, they put on gay clothes, and hang their ornaments in their ears, but so soon as they come home, the ornaments are carefully laid away, the rags and the dirty clothes are again resumed, as if they dressed themselves for the world, and not for their families and friends. It is a strange feature in the character of ignorant people, that they are anxious, by every little sort of attention, to obtain the good word of a stranger, or the respect to a person whom they may see once a month, and they never give themselves the least trouble to please those with whom they constantly live. They buy ornaments, and want food, clothes, and firing. They give gluttonous feasts on one day, and are half starved the rest of the year: and vanity seems stronger even than hunger.
I have mentioned at page 188, Vol. I. an instance of their amusements, and it is customary in winter evenings for the lasses to collect with their spinning-wheels at some one house, and the young men follow them, to talk and amuse themselves. They are a social people, and such an assembly is a pleasant sort of party, without any of the expence or brutality of drunkenness.
Quietness, patience, and submission, seem eminently characteristics of the female peasantry. In their houses, or abroad, or in the markets, where they collect in great numbers, each one bringing her own few eggs, or fowls, or skeins of thread, or sausages, or whatever else she has to sell, you never see a quarrel, and seldom hear a loud or an angry word. There is the buzz of a multitude, but no voice rises above it.
All the peasantry can read and write; though they are said to use the latter only to record what money is due to them, and the former only to amuse themselves with those scandalous anecdotes, generally of the bar or of the church, which are thickly strewed in the calenders. I have mixed with them, as much as a stranger well could, who did not understand their language; (for Low German, or some provincial dialect, is what they speak;) I have occasionally seen them read their Bible, but never discovered any signs of much knowledge amongst them. I have heard of a journal kept by a bauer in Mecklenburg, but it may be doubted, with all the schools belonging to Hannover, to be afterwards described, if the country ever did or ever will produce, under the present form of government, such men as Burns, Bloomfield, and Hogg.
Talents and animation do not by any means belong to them. I always found them civil and friendly, but calm and dull. Whether I stopped to talk to them when they were at work, or met them in public-houses, or entered their own dwellings, or had them as companions on any road, they always answered all my questions very civilly, but without warmth, without interest, and almost without remark. My being a perfect stranger, and different from themselves, seemed to cause very little surprise, and to call forth few questions. I have often told them I came from afar, and endeavoured to excite their curiosity, but it very rarely went beyond asking me what corn we grew in England, or if our’s was not a fine rich land. They are guilty of few errors or absurdities, are very humble before the amtmen and their superiors, and rarely express any other discontent than at the dearness of what they have to buy and the cheapness of what they have to sell. They are too regular and mechanical to allow any thing more to be said of them, than that they eat, drink, sleep, labour, and speak, with a sort of sulky civility and composure.
They have one custom, which appears to have arisen from the services they were and are still bound to perform for their landlord, which is probably worth mentioning. The regulations concerning it are precise, and I know several instances of it. So soon as a bauer grows elderly, and no longer well able to do all the active and laborious part of the work, he resigns his farm to his son, preserving to himself a part of the house and a certain income. He can only preserve, however, a certain part of the house and income; and though he may divide what he has himself gained among his other children, he cannot give from the farm, Meyer Hof, any of the stock, or implements necessary for its cultivation. This seems a sort of regulation which makes the heir and his parents in a manner independent of one another, and not unfrequently sets discord between them. There can be no rules for the division of property which will ever be of equal value with leaving it entirely free. It ought to be disposed of according to the discretion of the owner.
I must mention in this chapter one establishment which is of itself very good, and which has introduced into the kingdom, by the care of the government, a great variety of useful and good fruits; but it at the same time shews what imbecility of mind is produced among a people by that unlimited interference which has been described as characterising the government of Hannover. The people, of themselves, had not sense enough to establish a common nursery for fruit trees. What superb establishments of this kind are met with near London! What care is taken to rear and propagate the most delicious fruits! Compared to these, that of Hannover is trifling; but these are private establishments for the purposes of gain, and that is a royal establishment for the benefit of the subjects. It is known by the name of the Plantage, and is situated at Herren-hausen, two miles from Hannover. It is cultivated at the expence of the sovereign, though fruit trees may be purchased at it. Several thousand young trees are annually given to some particular parts of the country where they are most wanted, and the amtmen distribute them to certain parishes, and to those people who need them. If it were possible for one moment to forget, that the power to perform such acts of beneficence towards the people is in reality derived from extorting their substance from them; if it could be supposed that governments and sovereigns create those things they are so free to bestow, there is nobody who would not be ready to worship the givers as above humanity. Now they can only be regarded as re-bestowing, with large professions of bounty, the twentieth part of what they have before taken, that they may enjoy in peace the remaining nineteen parts.
[∗]See General View of the Agriculture of Lincolnshire, by the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, p. 301.
[∗]Lehrbuch des Ackerbaus und der Viehzucht, von G. H. Schnee. Halle, 1815.
[∗]Der Angehende Pachter, Halle, 1817.
[∗]I transcribe the passage which relates the above fact. The historian had before described the conquest. “Insonderheit schien es den Sachsen lästig, dass die Priester der Religion, die man ihnen aufdringen wolte, zugleich einen Zehnten ihrer Früchte haben sollten, Ungeachtet Carls Freund der Engländer Alcuin, selbst Carln rieth, darauf nicht zu bestehen, wurde es doch als eine Bedingung des Friedens mit durchgesetzt; wiewohl es doch haum scheint, dass diese Zehnten würklich in allgemeine Uebung haben gebracht werden können.”—Pütter, Vol. I, page 67.
[∗]The following is the opinion of a German on this subject, but as he appears to have been a southern German, his opinion may also be suspected of partiality. “Blue eyes, and fair hair, are throughout more frequent than black eyes and hair. There is little expression in the features, but much heaviness and sloth; no where are there so many faces which say nothing as among the peasantry of the flat country. Fine forms must not be expected, and where these are found, the hard work which the females are compelled to perform soon destroys them. In great towns, and among well educated people, charming countenances, and regular forms, are met with as in other countries. But even here, that fire, that life, that spirit, which give the greatest charm to female beauty, and which are found only in southern climates, are entirely wanted.” Länder und Volkerkunde, Vol. XIX. p. 58.