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Chapter X.: WHAT JOE HARPER SAW ABROAD. - 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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WHAT JOE HARPER SAW ABROAD.
“I have a piece of news for you,” said my father, one day after dinner.
“The news always comes with the dessert,” observed my mother, smiling; “and a very pleasant dessert it is for people who live in a country village.”
“When it comes after dinner,” said I, “it is certain it can be nothing of supreme importance, because if it was, papa could not keep it to himself till then.”
My father laughed, and said he had a good mind not to tell me at all, that I might see whether he could not keep a piece of good news to himself.
“Perhaps I know it already?” said I.
“That is impossible,” replied he; “for I was the very first person to whom it was told, and that was less than an hour before dinner. But come; let us hear what you think it is.”
“Nay,” said I, “that would be letting out my secret: but if you will tell half, perhaps I will declare the rest.”
“Well, then; the gardener tells me his daughter Maria is going to be married—”
“To Joe Harper,” I instantly added.
“Who told yon, Lucy?”
“I have known it these three years.”
“Impossible, nay dear. It was settled only this morning.”
“Well; I knew that they were attached three years ago, and that Joe was constant, and brought hack a true heart.” And I told the story.
“I am glad you can keep a secret, my dear. But as to keeping a secret from you, that I am afraid is impossible.”
“Nay, papa, I could not help seeing what was before my eyes; and I assure you I did not pry.”
“No; you only laid circumstances together, and fancied a pretty love story out of them.”
“And as true as it is pretty, papa. But I know nothing more than the fact of their attachment; so pray tell us all you can:—when they are to marry and where they are to live, and—”
“And how they are to live,” added my mother; “for that is the most important question.”
My father told us that Joe had received high wages while abroad; and had saved a considerable sum. It was not yet settled what he was to do with it: but he had the choice of two or three occupations, for any of which he was well fitted. He added that Maria wished to consult my mother about their plans.
My mother was ready to do anything she could for young people for whom she had a high respect and regard.
Joe Harper had the offer from his master of a small farm, if be chose to employ his capital in stocking it; but Joe had seen so much of the danger and difficulty incurred by beginning to farm without sufficient capital, that he did not choose to venture. As for borrowing a little to add to his own and buying a very small property, as his father hinted that he might, he would not for a moment listen to it. He declared that he knew small properties to bring nothing but ruin, if they were the only dependance of the labouring man; and that if he had a legacy to-morrow of a farm of fifty acres, he would sell it immediately, unless a very pretty capital in money were left with it. This was said in the hearing of two or three neighbours who were curious to know what he had seen abroad that gave him such a horror of small properties.
“I have seen more misery than I could easily give you an idea of: and that, too, in spite of the most indefatigable industry. In Languedoc, a province of France, there are mountains which are cultivated to the very top, by means which no one dreams of here. But those who cultivate them are miserably poor, because each possesses a piece of ground which can never, by the best management, be made to maintain a family. I have seen people carrying earth in baskets on their backs to the top of a mountain which was of itself too rocky for anything to grow upon it.”
“That puts me in mind,” said the sergeant, “of what I have heard about China. The people there are too numerous for the produce of the land, and therefore many are in the lowest depths of poverty. I am told that it is no uncommon thing there for a man to take possession of a ledge of rock which cannot be got at but by his companions letting him down by a rope from the mountain top. They let down baskets of earth to him, which he spreads to a sufficient thickness, and then sows his seed, and he and his neighbours share the produce. There he hangs, poor creature, in the heat of the day, toiling on the burning rock, to raise a quantity of food which would not be thought worth the trouble of a day's work in England.”
“But,” inquired a neighbour, “why do they spend their labour in any such way? There must be some better means of getting their bread.”
“In such a case as that in Languedoc, of which I was speaking,” said Joe, “the people are attached to the soil from its being their own. It is the custom there for families to divide the paternal property; and hence arises all this poverty. A man with a family may be well off with a farm of two hundred acres, and his two sons may do well enough on one hundred each: but when this one hundred is divided among five children, and then again among their five children, it becomes too small to be tilled with any advantage. And yet these young folks are deceived by the notion of having landed property; and they marry when the land is divided into roods, as readily as if they had a fine estate.”
“Surely, Joe, that cannot be?”
“It is perfectly true, I assure you. I have seen a family as much attached to half and even a quarter of a rood as if it had been a hundred acres.”
“But that is downright folly.”
“I can imagine, however, that it is hard to give up a bit of land that has been in the family for generations.”
“But what happens at last?”
“They are obliged at last to sell, of course, and betake themselves to other employments. They are wise if they begin to sell soon enough.”
“I have heard,” said the sergeant, “that the reason why we find so many Swiss in other countries is, that the land is divided and divided again, in the way you describe, till the people cannot live upon it.”
“In Switzerland,” said Joe, “they do not commonly go on to the last moment before they sell. When a small farmer leaves his estate among his children, it is common for the eldest of the richest son to purchase their slips of land from his brothers and sisters, while they find a subsistence in other countries as soldiers, valets, tutors, and governesses.”
“And why not in their own?”
“Because Switzerland is a poor country, and there is not capital enough in it to employ its population.”
“I have often wondered,” said one, “wily we hear so much of Swiss regiments in the armies of other countries.”
“And Swiss governesses are often met with in France and Germany, and even in England: and gentlemen travelling abroad are frequently attended by a Swiss servant.”
“They cannot love their country as other people do, or they would not leave it so readily.”
“Indeed, you are quite mistaken there,” cried Joe. “There is no nation upon earth more attached to home and country. Did you never hear of a certain air of which the Swiss are very fond, and which affects them so much when they hear it played in foreign lands, that it is dangerous to indulge them with it?”
“It was forbidden to be played in the hearing of a Swiss regiment,” said the sergeant, “lest it should make the men desert. When they heard it, they cast themselves down on the ground, and some seemed half dead with the violence of their emotion,”
“How beautiful the music must be!”
“Not particularly so to us, any more than our “God save the King” is to them: but its power lies in the recollections it calls up. It its the air which sounds along the mountain pastures when the cows wander home in the evening: so, when the exile hears it, he thinks of the glorious mountains of his country, glowing in the setting sun. He hears the lowing of the herds: he sees the pretty cottage in a sheltered nook, and remembers his brethren and friends; and these recollections are too much for him.”
“No wonder,” said the sergeant. “But I believe they seldom banish themselves for life.”
“No: they have a hope of saving enough to support them in their latter days, in their native province. But it is a very hard case; and a man will bear much before he will submit to exile, even from his paternal estate. In one place, in France, I saw several horses with a man attending each, with pannier-loads of sea ooze which they were carrying many miles to manure their little fields. In another place, I saw women cutting grass for their cows by the side of the road, in harvest time: and this was in a rich country too.”
“It is a pity there was no large farmer in the neighbourhood to employ them to better purpose.”
“So I thought when I saw a stout, hearty man walking seven miles to sell two chickens, which would not bring him more than a shilling a piece, as he told me.”
“Why, they would not pay the wear of his shoes and their own feed—to say nothing of his time and labour.”
“But I cannot see, Joe,” said his father, “why these people should not keep their bit of land, and labour for others also. It is what some of our cottagers do.”
“They are above it, father, sometimes; and in most cases there is no work for them. It is generally found that those who have been brought up to a little estate of their own never do labour with heart and good will for other people. A man would rather dawdle about his own little farm, fancying that there is something for him to do, than let himself for a labourer. He will look for a hole in his hedge, he will carry earth in a basket to the top of a mountain, he will walk ten miles to sell an egg, and he will be content with twopence a day on his own ground instead of half-a-crown on another man's, if he is born to call himself a landed proprietor. It frequently happens, however, that there is no employment for him elsewhere: for where these small properties abound, there are not many large: so that the population is, in those places, far too great in proportion,—not perhaps to the land,—but to its productiveness.”
“Do you mean to say that there is this poverty wherever there are small properties?”
“By no means. In some districts the soil is so fertile that it repays most amply whatever laborer is spent upon it. On the banks of certain rivers, and sometimes throughout a whole province, the little farmers are very comfortably off as long as they make their children provide for themselves by some other way than cutting the land into strips. But I think I may say that wherever capital is required to improve the soil, and wherever an estate is liable to be divided into roods, or half and quarter roods, such a possession is more of a curse than a blessing to the owner and to society.”
“I suppose, Joe,” said a bystander, “that you are as great an admirer of the law of primogeniture as any true Englishman should be? Of course you are, as yon say so much against small properties.”
“I do not see how the one follows from the other,” replied Joe. “On the contrary, I utterly disapprove of the interference of the law in the disposal of private property.”
“Only contrast France and England,” said the sergeant, “and see what opposite mischiefs the meddling of the law has caused in both. In France, there is a law of succession which divides estates in certain proportions among the children of a family, independently of the will of the father; and the consequence is, that the land is subdivided to such an extent as to discourage the improvement of agriculture, and to expose the nation to many of the ills Joe has been describing, except where the heirs are prudent enough to prevent the evil by private agreement. In England, the law of primogeniture has encouraged the accumulation of property in a few hands to a very mischievous extent. Our noblemen embellish their parks, and plant woods to a certain distance round their mansions; but the rest of the property generally suffers for the enormous sums spent on a part, and is left unimproved. There are far too many estates in this kingdom too large to be properly managed by the care of one man, or by the reproduceable capital of one family.”
“The days are past,” said Joe, “when every true Englishman must uphold the law of primogeniture.”
“Well, then, Joe, letting the law alone,—I suppose you like the custom of primogeniture?”
“Little better than the law, neighbour.”
“What security would you have then, against such subdivision of property as you have been groaning over for this hour past.?”
“A security as strong as any law that ever was made,—the feelings of a parent guided by experience. Those feelings have been stifled too long by a law and a custom which neither principle nor policy can justify; but let them have fair play, and you will find that a man will be as unwilling on the one hand to prepare for his great-grandchildren being impoverished by the division of the land, as, on the other, to turn all his younger children adrift for the sake of enriching the eldest.”
“What would you do, then, if you could govern in this matter?”
“I should leave parents to dispose of their property as they would, trusting that if they had a perfectas freedom of willing, they would provide for their estates being kept of a proper size, even if they could not trust their children's prudence. There are many ways of doing this. There might be directions that the land should be sold, and the purchase-money divided; or a legacy of land left to one of the children charged with portions or annuities to the rest; or an injunction that the family should form a sort of joint stock company, and cultivate their property by a union of their shares. There are many other arrangements, some of which have been tried, and some have not,—every one being more just and politic than the institution of primogeniture.”
“So much for the father, and his feelings and interests,” said the sergeant. “Now let the children be considered. is it in the least likely that they should set their hearts upon making their family property yield as little as possible? Will they not be anxious to prevent their property wasting till it melts away before it reaches the third generation from them?”
“Besides,” said Joe, “it never happens that all the members of a family have a mind for the same occupation. It would be strange, indeed, if all the sons, be they soldiers, sailors, professional men, or tradesmen, and all the daughters besides, should take a fancy to leave their employments for the sake of cultivating their land themselves; and if they either sell or let it, it may as well be to a brother as a stranger. O, depend upon it they have every inducement of interest and of principle, to keep the family estate entire, and need no law to oblige them to it.”
“But Joe, the shares of rent or annuities would become so small in time by subdivision that it would have nearly the same effect as dividing the land, would it not?”
“They would be sold before they dwindled down so far,” replied Joe: “you know there is not the same dislike to selling where the legatees do not live upon their shares as there is where they cultivate them with their own hands. There are examples enough in France of such family sales among prudent heirs to convince us that people here would find it their interest to let the landed capital of the family accumulate up to a certain point,”
“If the Swiss had ever known what might be done by the accumulation of capital and by its judicious application,” said a neighbour, “I suppose they might make their estates worth more than they are.”
“Switzerland will not always be the poor country it is,” said Joe, ” for the people, primitive as they still are in many of their customs, have learned, and will learn yet more, what may be done by an economy of labour and a union of capitals. I saw one very pleasant instance of this. The little farmers keep cows in the pastures among the mountains, where there are no families near to buy their milk, or butter, or cheese; so that, some years ago, it cost them much labour and time to find a market for the produce of their cows. One poor woman, who kept some cows, six or eight miles from Geneva, carried the milk there every day for sale.”
“Six miles and back again to sell milk! Why, she had much better have been dairy-maid to some considerable farmer who would have paid her good wages.”
“To be sure. But they manage these things better now. There are large public dairies established, to which the neighbouring cow-keepers bring their daily stock of milk, which is returned to them in the form of butter and cheese; a certain quantity being kept back for payment to the owners of the dairies.”
“That is a very clever plan, and a great convenience to the people, I dare say.”
“Very great; but they would still be better off, in my opinion, as labourers in the service of some great proprietor.”
“We shall never make a farmer of you, Joe,” said his father. “You used to have a great mind for it; but now you seem quite prejudiced against it.”
“Not so, father, I hope. I think it one of the pleasantest occupations in the world; and if I had as much money as Mr. Malton, or even a good deal less, I should like nothing better than to be a farmer. The whole nation, the whole world is obliged to him who makes corn grow where it never grew before; and yet more to him who makes two ears ripen where only one ripened before. The race at large is indebted to the man who increases the means of subsistence in any way. My objection is to the imprudence of beginning to farm without a sufficient capital of land or money: and I do not see how a man that does so is more excusable than one who commits the same fault in trade.”
“Well, please yourself, son. You have gained your little money honestly, and it would be hard if you might not do what you like with it: and you seem to have thought a good deal about prudence, and about different ways of going through the world honestly and comfortably.”
“I should have travelled to little purpose, father, if I had not.”