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Chapter VIII.: SMALL FARMING. - 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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“See the results of the judicious application of capital,” faid my father, one fine spring day, when I rode with him and Mr. Malton round the thriving property of the latter. After enjoying the view of the manifold tokens of prosperity which surrounded us, we were struck by the appearance of a field which looked by far less flourishing than any we had seen.
“What is the matter here, sir?” said my father. “What have you been doing to keep back this field while all the rest have been improving?”
“Pray do not take this field for one of mine. It belongs to neighbour Norton; and I am afraid that, cheap as he has bought it, he will find it a dear bargain.”
“I feared,” said my father, “that he would not have sufficient capital to keep his land in good condition.”
“Look here,” said Mr. Malton, “this next field is his too, and there he is among the labourers. You may know him now, poor fellow, by his shabby looks. Those labourers are mine, and they appear more creditable, every one, than he. And there is not one of them that does not live in a better house than that of his. That is his cottage yonder. What a tumble-down place for a landed proprietor to live in! Better call one's-self a labourer, in my opinion, and have plenty to eat, and a whole roof over one's head, than pinch and starve for the sake of owning a couple of fields.”
“Yes, indeed. But how does it happen that your labourers are at work in his field?”
“Why, you see the thing is this. He cannot afford a team to plough his field, and he has not sheep to eat off the crop of turnips, (if he had one,) and to manure it; so he meant to let the land lie fallow. I thought this a great pity, so I offered to plough and sow it, if my sheep were allowed to eat off the turnips; by this plan he will have his land manured, and returned to him in a good state, while I shall have an equal advantage on account of my sheep.”
“Surely,” said I, “people who cannot afford a team and a flock of sheep should not attempt to farm?”
“To be sure they should not, Miss Lucy; and much less to have land of their own. And in these days, when tillage has been so much improved, it is utterly, impossible that a man who has little money at command can bring his crops to market on the same terms with one who has much. You have no idea of the great expense of making land as productive as it can be made.”
“I have heard,” I replied, “that many noblemen and rich gentlemen, who are fond of agriculture, have lost thousands upon thousands of pounds in trying new plans upon their lands.”
“Aye, aye; that is in trying experiments, for which we farmers are much obliged to them, I am sure. We look on while they are making the trial, and have the benefit of their experience. If they succeed, we adopt their plans; if they fail, we take warning. If the small farmers would look on too, they would learn a good lesson; they would see how impossible it is to make the most of land without money, or labour, which is money's worth.”
“In these days,” said my father, “when so much advantage is gained by the division of labour, no one man, and no one family, can do justice to a farm, be it ever so small. It is incalculable what is gained by substituting division of labour for division of land. In former times, Lucy, the proprietor or occupier of thirty or forty acres was thought a substantial farmer. He and his family performed all the requisite labour, even down to making his implements, except, perhaps, the plough. His rickety harrow was stuck full of wooden teeth; the harness was made of withy, or of horse-hair, twisted at home. The wicker baskets, the wooden spoons, the beechen bowls, were made by the men in the winter's evenings; while the wife and daughters carded, and spun, and wove the wool of the flock.”
“But was not the change from those ways to the present very gradual?”
“Yes. The division of labour began in the towns, and farmers found the advantage of buying their utensils and clothing before they put the division of labour in practice in their tillage. They knew little yet of the advantage of providing a succession of employments on their farms, or of portioning out the work to the best advantage. The work of tillage all came on at once; two or three teams were required for a short time, and then the horses were done with, and turned out to graze till harvest, and the plough was laid up till the following spring, and the men, after being excessively busy, looked round for something to do. Now one team suffices for the same quantity of land, as the crops are successive, and a much smaller amount of labour, continually employed, achieves more than under the old system of husbandry.”
“But surely this is a division of time, and not of labour.”
“I was going to add, my dear, that the two advantages can be combined on a large farm, while they cannot on a small one. Norton does what he can by arranging a succession of labour, but its division is out of his power, while Mr. Malton practises both.”
“You may see Norton,” said Mr. Malton, “one day hedging and ditching, another time getting lime for manure, and then obliged to look after his few sheep while the land is wanting him; the ploughing, sowing, cutting, and threshing, all resting on him: while on my farm such of these things as ought to be done at the same time, are so done, while yet there is a constant succession of employments for men and cattle. You may see lime-burners, drainers, hedgers, shepherd's, cowherds, hogherds, ploughmen, and threshers, all busy, helping on the grand work, and nothing standing still. We do not leave one piece of land neglected while we take care of another: every rood is improved; the waste brought into cultivation; the cultivated enriched, and used for one purpose one year, and for another the next. This is the way to make farming answer.”
My father observed that it was a proof what could be done by the vigorous application of capital, when fallows were banished from some districts. Mr. Malton replied, “Our ancestors would scarcely have been persuaded that that was possible; and some folks abroad will hardly believe, at this day, that our best husbandry is found on our poorest soils. But it is a fact, and a glorious fact, because it shows what labour, and capital, and skill can do. If the land had been to this time in the hands of little farmers, this would not, and could not, have been done. What little farmer would ever have covered his whole farm with marl, at the rate of a hundred or a hundred and fifty tons an acre? How should such a man as Norton drain his land at the expense of two or three pounds an acre? Can he pay a heavy price for the manure of towns, and convey it thirty or forty miles by land carriage? Can he float his meadows at the cost of five pounds an acre? It cannot be, you see, that any very small capitalist can compete with a large one.”
My father observed, that convertible husbandry was quite out of the question on Norton's property.
“To be sure,” replied Mr. Malton. “You see, Miss Lucy, it used to be the way for one man to own a certain extent of corn land, and another of pasturage; and, in those days, they did not see the advantage (which is a very important one) of making the corn land into pasture, and growing grain on the grazing land: and this plan can be pursued only by those who have large flocks, as well as a good deal of both sorts of land. Then, again, a farmer must grow a great variety of crops, and maintain all sorts of animals useful in husbandry, in order to make the most of every thing that is produced; for soil of different qualities produces different crops, and these crops feed different flocks and herds; and they must all change and change about continually.”
“What has been your course here?” inquired my father, pointing to a fine piece of grass-land.
“A five years' course. First year, turnips—second, barley, laid down with clover—third, grass to cut—fourth, grasss to feed—fifth, wheat. Next year, we begin with turnips again.”
“I suppose,” said I, “it costs a great deal to keep your flocks and herds, independent of their food?”
“More in one year than Norton has to lay out on his whole concern: and one bad need have capital for this part of one's business; for the profitable management of live stock is by far the most difficult branch of farming. But see what capital and skill have done here too! It is a great thing that improved tillage has doubled the quantity of fodder raised upon any extent of soil; but it is a yet greater that double the quantity of animal food can now be sent to market as the produce of the same quantity of fodder.”
“And is this really the case?”
“It is, indeed; and all owing to the attention paid to the breeding and rearing of cattle by those who could afford to try new methods.”
“The improvement in the implements of husbandry,” observed my father, “is not less remarkable; and this we owe to the large farmer.”
“It is at our cost,” said Mr. Malton, “that new and improved implements, and men to use them, have been sent for, from one end of the kingdom to the other. Some have sent their men into distant counties or abroad, to learn new methods of tillage. What folly it is to suppose that little farmers can farm to the same advantage as people who can adopt all these improvements!”
“If all our farmers were men of little capital,” observed my father, “we should have much less variety of produce in the market, and should therefore be liable to famines, as in old times.”
“I have often wondered,” said I, “why we are free from those apprehensions of famine which disturbed our forefathers so often.”
“It would have been well if they had suffered from nothing worse than the apprehension, my dear. Our ancestors cultivated little besides grain; and a bad season cut off all their crops at once: while, at present, what is fatal to one crop, may not injure another; so that our supply of food is not only more varied and agreeable, but it is no longer precarious. We can form no idea in these days of the intense interest with which harvest weather was watched three centuries ago.”
“We farmers were not ridiculed then for grumbling about weather,” said Mr. Malton, laughing; “for we had the whole nation grumbling with us in a wet season or a drought.—There is another consideration which we have not mentioned. As small capitalists cannot wait for their money, the supply of corn in the market would be very irregular if it depended upon them. They must bring their corn to market and sell it at once,”
“Then I suppose,” said I, “that in plentiful years there would be too much, and in unfavourable seasons too little, if we had no rich steward, like Joseph, to garner it up, and distribute it as it is wanted?”
“Not only that,” said my father, “but there would be too much every autumn for the good of the farmers, and too little every spring for the good of the people. It is always a pretty certain thing that as much of a good article as can he brought to market will be consumed; but the price, while it is plentiful, would fall so low as to injure the producer; while afterwards, when the people are in want, the producer would have nothing to bring to market. Thus it would be if all were small capitalists; but now, large capitalists, who can afford to wait for their returns, keep back their corn in plentiful seasons: for which those who are compelled to sell are much obliged to them; and the people are no less obliged to them for regulating the supply.”
Mr. Malton looked pleased at this acknowledgment of the obligation the community are under to large farmers.
“So you see, Lucy,” said my father, “that if it were not for large farming, our moors and morasses, and indeed all our inferior soils, would still have been barren: we should have been liable to frequent scarcities; our breeds of cattle would not have improved; and we should have no idea how prolific the soil might be made, or how incalculable a sum of human life may be sustained by it. If the people who rail against the owners of large productive capitals could but be convinced of this, they would soon grow ashamed of their complaints.”
“Perhaps so, father; but surely it is hard. upon the small farmer to go down in the world in spite of all his labour; and it does not seem fair that he should be driven out of the market by his neighbours because he begins the world with less capital than they.”
“Begging your pardon, my dear, that is a more foolish remark than I should have expected from you. When we reason upon subjects of this kind, it is not our business to take the part of one class against another, but to discover what is for the general good; which is, in the long-run, the same as the good of individuals. We are not now taking the part of the large farmers against the small (though Mr. Malton is riding beside us), nor of the small against the large (though we are full of pity for poor Norton); but the question is, how the most regular and plentiful supply of food can be brought to market? If it be clear that this is done by cultivation on an extensive scale, we ought not to wish for the continuance of small landed properties, but rather that their owners may apply their labour and capital where they will meet with a better return. We are all sorry for the little farmers, and nobody more so than Mr. Malton; but the more clearly we see that they suffer through a mistake, the more anxious we must be that the mistake should be rectified.”
“I am sure,” said Mr, Malton, “it gives me great concern to see a man like Norton growing poorer and poorer every year; but I know that it is partly his own fault, because he must see that his mode of tillage can never answer. If I had his lot now in my own hands, I would serve him, not by doing anything to his two fields, but by employing him on good wages. In the one case the help I should give would be all at an end in a year or two; in the other, he would soon be in possession of the comforts of life, and might lay by a provision for his old age; while, at the same time, he would be serving me and society at large by giving up his land to be made more productive.”
“I am aware,” said I, “that an industrious labourer is a benefactor to society.”
“And what more honourable title need a man desire?” exclaimed my father. “Is it not better to deserve this title, and to possess the comforts of life, than to starve on the empty name of a landed proprietor?”
“But is it not a hard thing,” I persisted, “for a man who is born to a few acres to give them up? I do not pretend to justify, Norton's ambition. He might have been content as he was; but it must cost a man a severe struggle to part with his fifty or hundred acres when his fathers tilled them before him.”
“I have no doubt of it, my dear. Such a man should consider what his plan of life is to be. If he has only himself to care for, and a little capital in his pocket, let him remain upon his land, keep it up, and improve it by the saving of his returns if he can. If he has not capital to do this, his duty to the public requires that he should not let his property degenerate. If he has a family to provide for, it becomes his duty to do his best for them— even at the expense of his pride, if need be.”
“His pride should be,” said Mr. Malton, “to maintain his children in decency and comfort; this is a pride worth having.”
“After all,” said my father, “it is not so much that a man loses his rank in these days by becoming a labourer, as that the employment of a labourer has become more honourable than formerly.”
“There is one question more,” said I, “that I want to ask; and it is, why there should be a scarcity in a bad season, even if all our farms were small? lf, in other countries, there is more corn grown than is wanted, why should not we supply ourselves from them? Would not it be a mutual advantage?”
My father smiled as he replied,
“You have no idea on what a wide subject your question touches. If I were to tell you all the whys and wherefores on that question, we should not have done by dinner-time.”
“If you are getting upon the Corn Laws,” said Mr. Malton, “it is time I was wishing you good morning.”
“Not till I have spoken to you about a little affair in which I want your advice,” said my father. “I will not detain you five minutes.”
While they were talking, I endeavoured to discover what there was remarkable in my question. It seemed to me the simplest thing in the world that if there was too much corn in one country and too little in another, the want of the one should be supplied from the abundance of the other. While I was meditating, my father called out,
“Come, Lucy, your horse is in a reverie as well as yourself, and we shall see you both fall presently, if you do not wake up. Mr. Malton says, ‘Good day,’ and we must make the best of our way home; so now for a canter.”
We cantered till we reached the village.
Miss Black's window looked very gay at this time. She had been to M—to see the fashions at the rooms of a milliner who had been to see the fashions in London. The caps and bonnets were of quite a new make; and there were smarter ribbons and flowers than I had ever seen at Brooke before. She had also another apprentice, and had lately enlarged her show-room.
“I wonder what has happened to Miss Black!” I observed. “She really makes a grand display now.”
“A very good thing has happened to her, I fancy,” said my father. “She has more customers, and those customers are richer. Those gay hats and caps came out of Mr. Malton's hedges and ditches, if you know what I mean by that.”
I supposed he meant that some new families had come to settle at Brooke on account of the demand for labourers; but I should not have thought they were people who could spend their wages in millinery.
“Nor are they,” said my father, in answer to my doubt; “but they spend their wages in bread, milk, beer, meat, and groceries; and, at the same time, cottagers who lived on potatoes formerly are rising in the world, so as to be able to afford themselves these comforts. Their custom helps on the butcher, the baker, and the publican; and Harper told me the other day that he sells twice the quantity of groceries that he did five years ago. So the wives and daughters of these trades-people can afford to dress themselves in Miss Black's fashions; and thus Mr. Malton's money comes round to her.”
“I wonder where it will go next!”
“It is well spent, I believe; for Miss Black is a very good woman. I can tell you that some of her savings are in the hands of a brother at M—. who, by increasing his capital, is able to improve a very promising manufacture.”
“So she receives the interest, and increases her capital every year, I suppose, till she will have gained enough to enable her to leave off business. This money seems to have done good in every stage of its progress. I am very happy to see Gray's children, for instance, well shod and coated. I like to observe the bustle in Harper's shop, and his daughters look very well in their better style of dress. It is pleasant to see Miss Black prospering, especially as it is a sign of the prosperity of the place. This money is not given away by Mr. Malton either; it brings him in more than he pays away.”
“All this stir, therefore, my dear,—this prosperity, which strikes you so much,—is pure gain; and it proceeds from the inclosure of Brooke common.”