Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: EXTORTION. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
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Chapter V.: EXTORTION. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
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Before two years were over, the experiment of a close exaction of tithes was considered by good judges to have been fairly tried, and to have produced consequences as apparent as could be expected to arise in any given case.
First. There were three law-suits.—The vicar was plaintiff in a cause where his late friend, Sir William Hood, was defendant. He claimed tithe for the produce of a portion of the Abbey Farm; (or suffered under the imputation of doing so, from still keeping the secret of having let his rights to Peterson.)
The Lamberts were not a little astonished at such a claim being made on their tithe-free farm: but the vicar alleged that the exemption ceased when the land was turned to other uses than those which prevailed when the exemption was granted. The prescription was at an end, he contended, when, as in this case, land which was in a state of tillage when exempted was converted into pasture land. Much trouble was given to the Lamberts, at the same time, by their being called upon to show the requisites for the exemptions which had never been disputed;—that the lands they held had been really abbey lands, and that they had been immemorially discharged of tithes. Another suit was instituted against Mr. Parker, to set aside a modus with which all parties had hitherto been pretty well satisfied. By this modus,—or composition whereby the layman is discharged from rendering his tithes, on his paying in lieu there of what immemorial custom, or the custom of the place, directs,—Mr. Parker paid fourteen pounds for produce which, paid in kind, would have yielded twenty. He had often thought himself unlucky in his bargain in comparison with some who had a good bargain of their modus, paying two-pence an acre, as their ancestors had done; or a fowl instead of the year’s tithe of eggs: but he had little expected that the vicar would lodge a complaint in a court of law of the modus being too large. It accorded with six out of seven of the rules which constitute a good and sufficient modus; but it violated one. It was certain and invariable: it benefited the tithe-taker only: it was different from the thing compounded for: it did not discharge from the payment of any other species of tithe: it was, in its nature, as durable as the tithes discharged by it: and it was immemorial without interruption; that is, it had existed from the beginning of the reign of Richard the First, which is the period fixed by the law as “the time of memory.”
All this was indisputable; but the seventh condition was, that the modus should not be too large;—that it should not be a rank modus. If Mr. Parker had been paying four shillings, instead of fourteen pounds, the modus might have been held a good one; but this was so doubtful as to be supposed worth contesting, according to the decision, “the doctrine of rankness in a modus is a question of fact to be submitted to a jury, unless the grossness is obvious.”
The third suit was of more consequence than either of the other two. It had always been believed in the parish that the glebe land, which was now annexed to the vicarage, had been once upon a time offered and accepted as a substitute for the lesser tithes of a farm at present occupied by one of the most respectable of the parishioners. Now, however, for the first time, Mr. Pratt was called upon, either to show evidence of such a bargain having taken place under all due formality of circumstance, or to pay full tithe. Mr. Pratt was indignant when he ceased to be astonished, and refused to pay the tithe unless he had the glebe land back again. This was refused; and the law, as of course, was made the arbitrator between the parties.
Every body in the parish who paid a composition, now began to hunt up the evidence of the ordinary having consented to it; of its being old enough; and of its not having run on for a longer term than twenty-one years, or the lives of three parsons.
These proceedings did not improve the influence of the clergyman in the parish. One after another of his flock wandered away to the Friends’ Meeting house. There was talk of encouraging the methodists to build a chapel, though an attempt to do so had failed three years before. Subscriptions were withdrawn from the parochial library which the vicar had set up: and in proportion as the law-suits were discussed, did the respect with which he was once regarded change into rudeness. Few heads were uncovered before him. Men turned their backs at his approach, and the women did not look up from their work when the children gave notice that he was passing by. He bore this, as he said, very patiently; praying to God to turn the hearts of the flock once more to true religion and reverence for the church. He declared himself resigned to having fallen on evil days, and could wait till his parishioners should repent of their treatment of him. He heroically adhered to his habits, amidst the change of times; taking his walk past the houses which were chalked with maledictions on him, and over the green where every one put on a solemn look as soon as he came in sight. Alice could never prevail on him to go round by the back lanes, though is was evident that she suffered much pain, if not absolute terror, whenever she was his companion amongst his alienated people.
Those who suffered most, next to the vicar and his daughter, were perhaps the Lamberts. Through the exterior of calmness which they considered it a religious duty to preserve, it might be discerned that their lightness of heart was gone. No lads could well be merrier than Charles and Joseph used to be; and their mother’s influence was formerly more frequently exerted in mildly chastening their mirth than in any other way. When they had masqueraded, under pretence of amusing Alice, or from singing a ‘ditty’ in the farm-house parlour had advanced to some high thoughts about the cultivation of music, she had told tales of the sobriety observed in her young days. Now, her endeavour was to cheer them when they came in dispirited from their farm. She now asked for ‘a ditty,’ and taught them two or three which their father used to sing to her before they were born. She encouraged Joseph to use his pretty talent for drawing, and was always ready to be read to when Charles seemed disposed to take up his book in the evenings. It was the least she could do, she thought, to keep up their spirits as well as her own, since she had sanctioned their taking the Quarry Wood farm, which seemed likely to run away with the gains they had made on the Abbey Farm; and with more besides, if this season should turn out one of as great scarcity as was apprehended. It was the least a mother could do, while discouraging Charles from marrying Henrietta Gregg till his prospects should clear, to make his home as little irksome as possible, and occupy his thoughts with other things besides his love and his disappointments. Some people thought (and they declared the vicar to be on their side) that the ill success of the Lamberts on the Quarry Wood farm was no more than might have been expected from their having any thing to do with such an infidel as Mr. Mackintosh; and they had little pity, in some quarters, for their failure: but they thought the whole might be sufficiently accounted for without supposing that a special judgment had overtaken them. Thus much, at least, was true: that no disasters had befallen them in their management of the abbey farm, though Mr. Mackintosh was their landlord; and that the Quarry Wood farm might have been made to answer if it had been tithe-free. The natural conclusion was that the tithes of the church were to blame, and not the infidelity of Mr. Mackintosh.
The rent of the Quarry Wood farm was low; and this had been the chief temptation to the Lamberts to take it. They were aware that it required much improvement, and were prepared to lay out a good deal of capital upon it. The composition for tithe which had been formerly paid was very moderate, and every body had supposed that it would, as a matter of course, be continued. But the new tenants had not been in possession half a year, before Peterson found means to set aside the composition, and gave notice that he should demand tithe in kind. They hoped that, at least, their improvements would remain exempt for seven years, according to the statute:—a vain hope; as it was proved that the land, though long left in wild condition, was not what the law would call barren. The tithe seized the first year swallowed up so much of the returns as to leave by far too little to pay for the enclosures. There was, indeed, so much capital thus locked up that the young men declared they should have let the land alone if they had known how they were to be taken in about the tithes. The same was the case with an extent of wood land which they had stubbed and grubbed, and made fit for the plough. As it had borne wood, it was not ‘barren’ land, and it came under the tax. Of course, the improvements were put a stop to presently, amidst many regrets that the money had not been employed on some far inferior land on the tithe-free farm. It had better have lain idle in their iron chest than have been thus expended to a loss. If they had known more than they did of the history of tithes, they would have been better aware of the policy of idleness under such a system;—that idleness, both of labour and capital, on which tithes offer a direct premium. They would have known that the cultivation of flax and hemp in Ireland was suspended till a low modus was fixed by law, under which it has flourished ever since. They would have known that the production of madder was long confined to the United Provinces, which, being Presbyterian, offered no ecclesiastical tax on its cultivation; and that its growth in England began from the time when, by a special provision, 5s. per acre were to be taken in lieu of tithe of madder. They would have known that the reason why Edward VI. exempted barren land from tithe for seven years was, because, without this provision, the land would never have yielded at all, either to the public or to the church. They would have known how tremendous is the waste, to the public, to the farmer, to the landlord, and eventually to the church, by a method of taxation which causes worse land to be cultivated while the better lies waste—by a method of taxation which reaches land untouched by rent, and which, by absorbing a larger and a larger share of profits which are perpetually decreasing, raises prices to a degree quite inconsistent with the prosperity of all the parties concerned. If the Lamberts had duly studied the tithe question, they would have foreseen the disasters which must arise, instead of being taught by bitter experience. Their case was just this;—and it is a fair specimen of what is taking place wherever the tithe system is adopted.
The best land on their two farms yielded an equal produce. As the Quarry Wood land paid tithe, they would have been obliged to raise the price of their corn so high as to cover the cost of the impropriator’s share, as well as the expences of cultivation, if this had not been already done by the body of tithe-paying corn growers. Corn was already dearer in the market, by the parson’s share, than it would have been if the parsons had had no share. The produce of the abbey farm brought in a larger profit through this elevation of prices; but this circumstance had been considered in fixing the rent; and the surplus profit went, not to the Lamberts, but to their landlord, in the shape of higher rent. Thus far, they neither lost nor gained. The consumers of corn lost, and Mr. Mackintosh gained. The same took place on a few inferior kinds of land. But there was soil which would have paid profits of stock as well as rent, if there had been no tithe, but which should have heen left uncultivated (because tithe would swallow up the profits) if the Lamberts had been aware of the claim which would be advanced by the parson. On this soil their labour was lost: landlord and parson being paid, nothing remained for them. This land, therefore, was to be let out of cultivation; and the capital and labour employed upon it were transferred to an inferior kind of land on the tithe-free farm, which required a much larger expenditure to produce an equal return. In this case, the Lamberts lost by their unprofitable expenditure of labour and capital; and nobody gained. A yet lower quality of soil was next taken into cultivation, requiring a yet larger proportionate outlay of capital and labour, and yielding a sufficient return to the cultivator only because it was exempt from rent as well as tithe. The rise of price, caused by the relinquishment of the better land for the sake of cultivating the worse, was injurious to all the three parties, and particularly to those—viz., the Lamberts—who had to pay the most wages. It would have answered incalculably better to have paid over to the church the capital which was arbitrarily buried in the lower soils, than that portion of produce which caused it to be so buried. Rent would have been equalised between the two estates; prices would have kept their natural elevation; the better soil would have been tilled, and the worst let alone; the parson would have had as much gain and cheaper bread; the landlord would also have had cheaper bread, and a larger rent for the one estate, as well as a smaller for the other; and the Lamberts would not have lost on the one hand by being deprived of their profits, and on the other by the rise of wages. The only persons anywhere who had ground for unmixed rejoicing in this state of things were the landlords of none but tithe-free estates. By the rise of rent, they gained, and they alone: and their gain was by no means in proportion to the collective loss of the other parties. But it was a curious fact that, while the church was complained of (and justly) on all hands, for the tremendous injury occasioned by its tithe system, the benefits of it went into the pockets of landowners amidst the hills and dales of Scotland, where a commutation long ago placed them beyond the hazards of the desperate game; and of all who could take their stand on abbey lands, or on some lucky ancient modus, or equally happy modern composition.
From the circumstances of the case, the Lamberts suffered all the injustice which must accrue upon the first institution of this most pernicious tax. When it has been long enough paid to become calculable, it is allowed for in the rent, and falls next, like other land taxes, on the landowner—the person most able, from the perpetual tendency of rent to rise, to bear the burden. But it is not long a burden to him, except as a consumer; for, as it operates in increasing the expense of cultivation, it raises prices; and the consumer ultimately pays. The hardship of a new institution, or, as in this case, of a revival of tithe, is very great upon the tenant, and is a sufficient exponent of the pernicious nature of the impost. The lease of the Quarry Wood farm had not many years to run; but the experience of the first two years, and the opening of the third, left the prospect of the young farmers anything but bright. The present spring had been most unfavourable to the crops. The doubt was whether so much rain was not rotting the vegetation in the ground. The view from the summer-house was dreary,—of sodden fields, and lanes lying under water. The very wall-flowers languished for want of sun, Mrs. Lambert found when she one day climbed the hill: but they did not droop like her poor son Charles, whom she found there, looking out of the window, with his head leaning on his hand, and listening to the patter of rain-drops which again began to fall, and to drop from the broad thatch into the little dell over which the summer-house projected. It was a dispiriting thing to wander over the lands of Quarry Wood farm, and see enclosures deserted when half finished, and fields from which golden harvests had been anticipated, grown over with briars and thistles. It was in such a place that Mrs. Lambert met Joseph, one April afternoon, when the twilight was settling down.
“What hast thou got there, mother?” said he: “A heavy load for thee to carry.”
“Not so heavy as large. These stringy, branchy roots make a fine blaze to drink tea by; and I thought it a pity this one should lie and rot yonder. But thou hast thy hands full, seemingly. Where art thou taking that poor thing to?”
It was a ewe, very near its time of yeaning. Joseph explained that Peterson’s eagerness about where the ewes couched and fed had put into his brother’s head and his own a device which it was very well to have thought of. In the next parish, tithes were only half the amount that they were in this; and Charles and he had prepared the bit of land they had in that parish for their ewes. The animals were now being transferred thither, gradually and quietly, lest Peterson should set up a plea of fraudulent removal. The lambs would remain there till the tithing was over: and it was much to be wished that there was room for all their flocks till shearing time should have also passed.
“But I am afraid we must go a long circuit, before we can get to the ground,” continued he. “This field is too deep in wet for the poor thing to cross. ’Tis like a ditch, from end to end.”
“I should not have thought there had been rain enough of late to soak the meadow in this way,” observed the widow.
“Except by filling the drains,” replied Joseph. “They are choaked up, too, from our having left the whole concern hereabouts to itself, this year. But how in the world am I to get this animal over? She will make herself heard with her bleating after the flock.”
“These are strange times, surely, Joseph, when a ewe may not bleat her own bleat, and when a son of mine skulks under a hedge on his own farm.”
“And the cause is full as strange, mother,—fear of man. I little thought to fear men; but there are two that I would go a mile round to avoid.”
“And they would say it is because thou art trying to cheat them;—in the very act of carrying thy ewes to yean out of their dominions.”
“Let them say so. It is not such a charge that I fear. Disclaiming, as we do, the ordinance of a priesthood altogether, my conscience leaves me free to put my beasts to couch and feed where it is most convenient, without regard to the parson. My fear is that I should hate those men. They injure me, and I cannot resist; and I have lost patience of late. I would rather walk close under my own hedge, and keep my ewe from bleating than speak, even to myself, as I hear some speak of the collector, and of the vicar, who countenances him in his strictness.”
“I sometimes think that if the vicar’s wife were still living, she would be rather uneasy about his terms with his people. She would hardly like his being much from home after dark.”
“So, that has struck thee too, as well as Charles and me. It was only this morning that I was saying to Charles, that perhaps it is a blessing that Alice is too young to have such fancies as she may live to suffer from. I suppose she is in bed and asleep when he goes and comes through that lonely lane at the back of the vicarage, as he visits his brother of an evening. That lane is hardly the place for a man who has so many enemies.”
“I trust thou hast no apprehension of anything worse than a few insults; or at most a beating, to show contempt.”
“Indeed, I thought of something much worse. There is less contempt than hatred of this man. He is so persuaded that he is right in all that he does that it is impossible to despise him as if he defied the inward witness: but he is the more hated as people see no end to their troubles with him. If I am not mistaken, there are some in the parish who have diligently inquired his age; and not precisely for the purpose of wishing him many happy birth-days.”
“Is the ewe by thy side?” asked Mrs. Lambert, in a low voice, and peering through the gathering twilight; “or was it something else that I heard stirring in this ditch?”
It was not the ewe, but Peterson, who had come, as he said, over a gap in the hedge. In the darkness, it would have been impossible to make out whether he had heard anything of what had been said. Mrs. Lambert therefore asked him.
“Friend, didst thou hear what we were talking about?”
“Tones of voice tell as much as words, mistress: and I wonder at a plain-spoken person like you calling me ‘friend,’ when both you and I know that you hate me like the devil. However, I am going to make you hate me more still, I fancy. Mr. Joseph, you have let this land go to waste in a very sad way; and a field yonder, too. The water stands a foot deep in this meadow; and my children play hide and seek among the whins yonder, where you might have corn growing, if you would.”
Joseph supposed he might do as he pleased with the land till his lease was out.
“But my employer is not to suffer for your neglecting your land. The law makes a distinction between land that is really barren, and that which is needlessly inundated, or overgrown with briars. ‘The field of the slothful,’ you know. My eldest girl got her frock so torn with your briars, that she brought a pretty scolding upon herself, I can tell you.”
“Send her up to me, and I will mend her frock,” requested Mrs. Lambert. “I will give her a new one if thou wilt let my son alone as to whether there shall be briars or anything else in his field.”
“No objection in the world, ma’am, if he pay the due tithe.”
“I’m sure thou art kindly welcome to a tenth of the water in this field, and of the stones in the one above,” observed Joseph. But this offer was declined, and the old composition for these two fields proposed instead.
Before there had been time for the dispute to proceed further, a strange sound from the church tower arrested Peterson’s attention. The bells seemed about to be rung, and Peterson was gone.
What the occasion of rejoicing could be, the Lamberts did not know; nor did they very much care. They had grown listless about good news, and were now most anxious to conclude the business of the evening. As Peterson had crossed the meadow, it must be possible for them and their charge to do so too. The little ridge which stood out of the water was found, and, one by one, several of the teeming ewes were removed and penned into their new inclosures before Joseph went home; and no tormentor appeared.
Joseph told his mother that the labourers who had cut the osiers for hurdles had been questioned whether the article was intended for sale or gift, or for use on the farm. The labourers were glad to be able for once to repulse the tithing man, whom they were weary of having for ever at their heels. There was no small pleasure in seeing the meek animals comfortably provided for on the outskirts of the farm; as if they were as conscious as their owners of the inhospitable character of the parish whose bounds they had crossed. It does not appear that lambs know a tithing-man by instinct; but Joseph put expressions of pity into his farewell for the night which might seem to imply that he felt them to be fellow-sufferers with himself under the rule of the parish tyrant.
After running home in the dark, with sleet pelting in their faces, the mother and son liked the aspect of their house, with its old-fashioned windows lighted from within.
“See what it is not to wear curled hair,” cried Mrs. Lambert, wiping the cold drops from her short, grey locks, combed straight down on her forehead. “If I had had such ringlets as some fine ladies, now, what a figure my sons would have thought me all this evening, with hair as lank as a melancholy queen’s in a tragedy! I call it neat as it is.”
Joseph had not observed his mother’s hair, he was so taken up with examining a letter which had lain among the tea-things on the table. He guessed its contents; and they were indeed such as would have damped a far greater cheerfulness than could arise from the aspect of a warm parlour on a chilly evening. Mrs. Lambert’s only sister, a widow, was dead, and had left five children with a very inadequate provision, if any.
When Charles entered, a short time afterwards, he knew from the first glance at his mother, sitting with crossed hands and a countenance of placid gravity, that something was the matter. Joseph was standing in the chimney corner, gazing into the fire. Charles looked from one to the other. His mother roused herself.
“We are not made to choose our own duties, son,” said she. “I know that it is thy wish to be a husband, Charles; and Joseph and I wish it for thee. But here are thy five cousins left helpless. Their mother is dead; and while I live, they must be my children, as much as you. I must take them into this house, and let them eat at my table.”
“And do you think we will not help you, mother? I will go to-morrow and bring them; and if it shall please God always to disappoint me, I must bear it as well as I can.”
“I hope he will let it be with thee as it has been with me, Charles. All the worst troubles that I have known have been unlooked for; and every thing that I have particularly dreaded has turned out better than I expected. I know that this is a blow to thee, though thou bearest it well at present. I hope that thou wilt not have to wait so long for Henrietta as we now expect.”
“I wish thou wouldst not speak of me, mother, when I know that this death is a matter of great concern to thee. When my aunt was last here, and every one said that she looked more like thy daughter than thy sister, we did not think that we should not see her again.”
The crossing of the hands again, and the slight change of countenance showed that this subject was very painful. Next to her sons, there was no one in the world that Mrs. Lambert loved so much as this sister—many years younger than herself, to whom she had been, in early life, as a mother.
Presently she moved about, much as usual, doing all that she would have done if no bad news had come,—only with somewhat more gravity and silence. She did not forget to put on the dry root to burn; and it blazed and crackled as busily as if it had been ministering to the comfort of the merriest tea-party in the world.
“There are the bells again!” cried Charles. “I thought I had stopped them. I wish thou wouldst go down, and try to stop them, Joseph.”
There was an odd reason for the ringing of these bells. A stranger who had been seen loitering in the parish for a day or two was supposed to be the person who had told the publican that the vicar had received a remonstrance from his ordinary respecting his strictness in the exaction of his tithes; and that it was probable that he might be removed ere long, to give place to some one more acceptable to the parishioners. The publican had made the most of the news; and some of his customers, warmed with his good ale, had sallied forth, and found easy means of setting the bells ringing. Peterson was trying in vain to silence them, when Charles went down to enquire; but Charles had prevailed where the tithe-gatherer had met with only defiance. The bells, however, were now ringing again.
Joseph thought that enough had been done. In a better cause, he would not have regarded the sleet and the north wind that he must encounter in his way to the church; but he now preferred sitting in the chimney corner, hearing the merry peal by fits, as the gust rattled at the window and passed on. Besides, his mother wanted him to help to lay plans for these orphan children.
When the Lamberts had been more prosperous than they were now, they had planned an enlargement of their house, which was scarcely large enough for themselves, and would have required an addition on Charles’s marriage, if only from respect to Henrietta. It was particularly conveniently placed for receiving an addition of two or three rooms on the south side; and a pretty parlour, with a bay-window, was to have ornamented the dwelling. Prudential considerations had caused the scheme to be given up; but this evening it was revived. Charles produced the plans which his brother had drawn, and which he had hoped would next see the light in Henrietta’s service. He suppressed a sigh when his mother’s decided pencil scored out the bay-window; and he roused his best powers of judgment to discuss the necessary questions of convenience and economy.—There was some good brick clay in one corner of the farm, and timber enough for their purpose; and the young men thought that, by dint of their working like labourers, and their mother’s superintending during their unavoidable absence, the enlargement of their dwelling might be effected without any very ruinous expense. The brick making was to be set about immediately, if the weather should but prove fine enough. Bricks were very dear this wet season; and the supply now wanted must be made at home, if possible.