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Chapter III.: GEORGE GRAY IN THE WAY TO PROSPER. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
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GEORGE GRAY IN THE WAY TO PROSPER.
One fine September morning, on returning from a ride with my father and Frederick, I was surprised to see from a distance what an animated scene our common presented. There were groups of children; but they were not flying their kites. There were many women; but they were neither cutting furze, nor tending their cows. Men were arriving from all sides, seeming disposed to see what was going forward, rather than to sit down to dinner at home.
We put our horses to a canter, and soon arrived at the scene of action. The people were observing the motions of the surveyors, who, accompanied by Sir H. Withers and Mr. Malton, were settling the boundaries of the land to be inclosed. The variety of countenances plainly declared how various were the feelings with which the proceedings were viewed. I was myself so sorry that the time was come when ugly hedges and ditches must spoil the beauty of my favourite walk, that I could not wonder at some of the lamentations I heard around me, or at the sour looks with which the strangers were regarded.
“It's a fine thing,” said one, “to be a baronet. It's a fine tiling to have one's own way with parliament, and to do as one likes with land that belongs to people Who can't defend their right to it.”
“It's a fine thing to be a great farmer,” cried another. “There's Mr. Malton, who has so much land that it takes him hours to ride through it—he is able to get as much more as he likes because he is rich. Parliament never asks whether the land he wants belongs to anybody else, or whether he has not enough already; but as soon as ever he wishes for more, he gets it.”
“Remember that he pays for it,” said a neighbour. “He takes no unfair advantage of anybody. You have no reason to complain, for you. have no right of common; and if we who have choose to exchange ours for a bit of land, what is that to anybody but ourselves? I say it is very wrong in you to make your neighbours discontented without reason.”
“You say so,” retorted the other, “because you hope to get work under the surveyors. I hear you have hired yourself out as a labourer already, and I wonder you choose to have any thing to do with such a business. If my boy had the offer of work on this spot to-morrow, he should not take it.”
“Then somebody would soon be found to take it instead,” replied the neighbour. “It will be a happy chance for many of our labourers; and I do not believe any body will be the worse in the end for Mr. Malton's being richer.”
“How should that be, if He takes the money out of our pockets?”
“That is the very thing that I deny. I say he puts money into our pockets in return for our labour; and out of the ground and our labour together, he gets back more money than he paid to us. So that he grows richer without making us poorer.”
When we joined the gentlemen who were talking with the surveyors, Mr. Malton was observing that he was sorry, but not very much surprised to remark how much discontent existed among the people on account of this new proceeding.
“One cannot expect,” said Sir Henry Withers, “that they should look forward beyond the present inconvenience to the future profits in which they will share with us. All that they think about now is, that their cows cannot feed where they have fed; but if thev could see how, in a hundred years, a multitude of their descendants will be supported by the produce of your fields, and how the value of the land will be increased by my plantations, they would wonder at their own complaints.”
“They will not trouble you much, Sir Henry,” replied Mr. Malton. “You and your ancestors have always been allowed to take your own way in this neighbourhood. It is with me that they are the most angry; but I can bear it because I see where the mistake lies, and that time will explain it. It is natural enough that men should like being proprietors better than being labourers; and because I laid several small fields into one farm, they fancy I have injured the former proprietors; though they would find, if they chose to inquire, that the very men who were starving on land of their own, are now flourishing on the wages I give them. Now, in times like these, the friends of the people will think more about how to satisfy their wants than to flatter their pride.”
Frederick and I looked at one another, wondering how it could happen that a man should be richer without land than with it; but as my father seemed to agree with Mr. Malton, we supposed there was something more in the matter than we saw. My desire to understand the opinions of the gentlemen made me attend to whatever was said this morning or at any future time on the subject of this important inclosure, I had many opportunities of learning what my father's opinions were and why he held them; for it was a common practice with his neighbours to come to him for advice when they were in doubt, as well as for assistance when they had need. On the present occasion, so much of his time was taken up in arguing, explaining, and advising, that he jokingly said he thought he must call the inhabitants together to hear a lecture, or conduct a public disputation. My own convictions, from all that I heard, were, that no man can be properly regarded as an enemy to the public who so manages his capital as that it may produce the largest returns, whether that capital consists of ten thousand acres, with droves of cattle and spacious granaries, or of half an acre with a single pig. If a man obtains his property by fair purchase, and makes it produce the utmost that it can, he is a friend to the public as well as to himself and his family; since production is the aim of all such management, and the interest of every individual in the society. I therefore looked on the baronet as a public benefactor when I saw him planting his pines, beeches, and alders here, and his oaks and chestnuts there; because I knew that a vast increase of capital would be the result. I looked on Mr. Malton as a public benefactor when I saw him draining and manuring his new land; because I foresaw that these tracts would afford food and work to hundreds of a future generation. I looked on every labourer as a public benefactor who put his wages out to increase, either on his slip of garden-ground, or in improving the condition of his cow and pigs, or in the Savings Bank. Every man who assists the accumulation of cattle is a public benefactor, because he improves the fund for the employment of labour, and adds to the means of human subsistence and comfort, it was now George Gray's turn to try what he could do for society by improving his own condition. He was now a capitalist; and it remained to be seen whether he could, by prudence in the outlay and by saving, make his capital accumulate.
On the Monday morning he brought his boy Billy, according to appointment, to take the lowest place among our domestics. The lad was much abashed at being shown into the parlour; and being besides rather sorry to leave his brothers and sisters, and much encumbered with his shoes and stockings and other new clothes, he turned very red, twirled his hat round and round, shifted from one leg to the other, and at last, on being spoken to, began to cry. His father told him he ought to be ashamed of himself for crying before the ladies; but that only made the matter worse. My mother, wisely supposing that the best way to stop his tears was to give him something to do, took him into the garden and shewed him how to weed the flower-beds. His father did not immediately take his leave, but said that he wished to consult his Honour on a matter of some importance, if his Honour had time to listen to him.
My father laid down the newspaper and was ready to hear.
“I believe you know, sir, that every body who keeps a cow on the common is offered a bit of land in exchange for the grazing and fuel?”
“Half an acre each, I understand, Gray.”
“Yes, sir. Half an acre each; and we may have it at the back of our cottages, or farther on the common, Whichever we like.”
“So I hear; and you may sell it to Mr. Malton, on fair terms,;if not inclined to keep it.”
“There is another person too, sir, who has offered me the same price as Mr. Malton; and I think, being a friend, he should have it if I sell it at all. My neighbour Norton has a mind to begin upon a farm of his own; and this, to be sure, is his time, when land may be had cheap.”
“I hope he will take care what he is about,” replied my father. “He is doing very well now, I believe. Why cannot he be satisfied without running risks?”
“Why, sir, he has saved money for the first outlay upon the land; and I suppose he understands his business very well, having practised it so long on Mr. Malton's ground. And you know every body likes to be an owner as soon as he can.”
“Many a proprietor wouhl be glad to be a labourer again, in times like these,” said my father; “and I wish Norton may not feel that by and by. However, that is his own concern, and neither you nor I have any business with it. Do you mean, then, to sell your allotment to him?”
“That is what I wished to consult your Honour about. Harper told me yesterday that he has settled his bargain already with Mr. Malton, and that you approved of it; but I hear this morning that you have advised one or two of my neighbours very differently.”
“I have given different advice where the cases were different, and I have always mentioned my reasons, so that my neighbours might have the power of judging for themselves. If you know my reasons, you can easily guess what I should recommend in your case.”
“I did not hear, sir, why you advised them as you did; and I supposed that what was good for one would be good for all.”
“By no means, Gray, till all are rich or poor alike, and otherwise circumstanced in the same way. A shopkeeper, like Harper, may find it convenient to have a cow, while he is at no expense for it beyond building a shed and paying a trifle for having her driven home, and at no trouble but having her milked; but it becomes a very different matter when he must cultivate a piece of ground to provide food for her. His time is taken up with his business, and he knows nothing about the management of land; so that he must employ labourers; and the utmost profit of a cow would not repay him for this. I think, therefore, that he and our other shopkeepers have done wisely in selling their land and their cows.”
“But you think, sir, that Sam Johnson should keep his half-acre?”
“Yes. I think he is in favourable circumstances for making it answer; and I have advised him to get another cow, if those of his neighbours who are without will agree to take milk of him. Johnson's wife knows how to conduct a dairy; his children are growing strong enough to give him help in his tillage; and being a labourer, he has many hours at his own command which a shopkeeper has not. So, if he works hard and manages cleverly, I think he will make a good profit of his allotment; and so may you, for the same reasons.”
“Would you have me sell milk, sir?”
“No. I should think one cow and a couple of pigs are enough to have on your hands, as your children are young, and your wife much occupied with them. But milk is an article of so much importance in a large family, and the produce of a cow such a comfortable, thing to depend on, that I am always glad to see a labourer able and inclined to make the most of it.”
“I have often thought, sir, that there was no telling what would have become of us if it had not been for our cow.”
“You will find her of much more use to you when she is properly fed. Her milk will be twice as good and twice as plentiful when her food is raised from your own land; especially if your wife knows how to manage her.”
“Pray,” inquired my mother, who had just entered the room, “has your eldest girl learned to milk and churn?”
“Why no, ma'am; but I think it is time she should. She might help her mother much that way.”
“Indeed she ought; and if you like to let her come here at milking-time, our dairy-maid shall teach her to milk. Very few people are aware how much the value of a cow depends on the skill of the milker.”
Gray bowed, and thankfully accepted the offer.
“I believe, sir,” he said turning to my father, “that I shall keep my bit of land, or part of it. But I shall want a little money, you know, to lay out upon it at first; and I have no means of getting that but by selling a part.”
“It seems a pity to sell,” said my father, “because as your boys grow up, you will be able to make a profit of the whole, perhaps. I am not sure, either, that you will want money at all. I will come down to your cottage and see the condition of the land and of the place altogether, and give you my opinion upon it.”
When Gray was gone, my father and mother agreed that it was a good opportunity of trying what could be done for the welfare of a large and very poor family by clever management on their side, encouraged by advice, and countenance on ours. We hoped to improve their condition, without either lending or giving them money; and they were industrious and tolerably prudent, and we ourselves much interested for them. My father was not a man to forget his promises, or to keep his neighbours waiting for the performance of them. The same same evening we directed our walk towards Gray's cottage.
The ground was declared to be of a promising quality, and was conveniently situated behind the cottage It was Gray's intention to fence it immediately, and turn in his cow to bite off the grass and help to manure it. But the great difficulty was to feed his cow through the winter, as his own land would not be ready for many months, and the small pickings from the lanes and hedges would go but a little way. My father promised to consider the matter; and went on to examine the state of every part of Gray's premises. The cowshed was in bad repair. There were holes large enough to admit the wind and rain: the floor was wet and uneven, and not paved, as the floors of all cowsheds ought to be. My father showed Gray the advantage of having the ground slope a little, and told him how easily he might manage to pave it with stones (which are to be had every where), and to mend the thatch with heath and furze from the common. He advised that a pit should be dug near the shed, and close by where the future pigstye was to be, to collect the manure; and that the sweepings from the cottage floors, the collections which the children might make from the roads, and the wash and boilings of all sorts, should be thrown into it to increase the stock. Gray seemed willing to receive and act upon all his advice, especially when he found there was no need at present to lay out money upon his land. He declared that he did not grudge labour, nor care how hard he worked, if he could have a fair prospect of bettering his condition.
“Such a prospect I think you have,” observed my father, “if you really do not mind hard work. But we have laid out a good deal for you. Here you have, besides your regular work, to fence your ground, and repair your shed, in the first place; and I should not wonder if you must pay for the subsistence of your cow this winter by extra labour.”
“I should be very glad to do so, sir, rather than part with her; and by this time twelvemonth, perhaps, I may see my way before me better than I do now.”
“Indeed I hope you will, Gray; and then we shall see you living upon something better than potatoes. Potatoes are very good food in part; but I like to see a hard-working man enjoying his bread and beer, and sometimes a dish of meat. If you manage to keep a pig, this will be in your power. In the mean time, do not be uneasy about how your cow is to be fed this winter. She will have the range of the common for two months to come: and I advise you to get on with your fencing and repairs before that time is over.”
My father represented to Mr. Malton the difficulty of the cottagers about keeping their cows through the first winter. The number of these animals was very small, as most of the villagers had sold theirs to the neighbouring farmers; and, as the common was to be open for some time, and a bite of grass was to be had in the lanes, the quantity of turnips required for the cattle would not be great. It happened too that Mr. Malton wanted more labourers on his new land than he could easily obtain; so that the wages were somewhat raised, and he was glad to employ all who were willing for a greater number of hours in the day. It was presently settled, to Gray's great satisfaction, that he should pay for the feed of his cow by two hours extra work per day, as long as Mr. Malton could so employ him.