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A TREATISE ON THE LETTING AND OCCUPANCY OF LAND. - John Ramsay McCulloch, Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo 
Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1853).
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A TREATISE ON THE LETTING AND OCCUPANCY OF LAND.
Few things exercise so powerful an influence over the prosperity of agricultural countries as the nature of the contract entered into between the proprietors of estates and those to whom they let or assign them to be cultivated. Much of the superiority of English agriculture over that of France, and other Continental states, may be ascribed to the different customs which have been followed in this country with respect to the letting of land. And yet the tenure under which farms are held in a very large portion of the kingdom, might be materially improved. Nor do we well see how we can better fill up a few pages, than by briefly examining the conditions under which tenants may hold land, with the greatest advantage to themselves, the landlords, and the public.
When admitted to farms, tenants may hold at will, or from year to year, or under leases or other engagements, written or understood, for specified or indefinite terms. Of these methods, the superiority of the plan of letting lands, for specified rents, and a specified term of years, appears so very obvious, that it may be thought surprising it should ever have been disputed. Whatever their skill, or the amount of their means, agriculture will in great measure depend on the cogency of the motives which impel the cultivators to put forth their energies. And it is sufficiently evident that these will be greatly strengthened by securing tenants in the possession of their farms for reasonable periods; that is, for such periods as may enable them to adopt the processes, and to reap the profit of the outlays, required in good husbandry.
Where tenants have no such security, and may, as is at present the case in many parts of England, be turned out of their farms at any time, on receiving six months’ notice, without having any just ground for saying that they have been harshly or unjustly treated, it cannot be expected that they should undertake improvements. The hazard would be too great. They plough and sow according to the usual practice of the district; but they do nothing more. If they make any advances, they are such only as promise an almost immediate return. Those, how essential and advantageous soever, that require a few years before their cost is compensated, are never once thought of. It is almost needless to add, that agriculture, carried on by such tenants, makes no progress. They seldom have any idea of a better system; and, though they had, the tenure under which they hold would prevent its introduction.
No doubt, however, the term “tenants-at-will” is often most improperly applied. In a large portion of England, probably in two-thirds or three-fourths of the kingdom, the tenants are without leases. But it would be an abuse of the phrase to call the greater portion of them tenants-at-will. Owing to the customs in regard to occupancy in particular districts, to the practice followed on estates, and to the confidence placed in the character and promises of landlords, vast numbers of these tenants have no idea that they will be capriciously ejected, or that their rents will be improperly raised in the event of their undertaking any considerable improvements. This sort of tenure is extremely popular in England; and exists in various districts where agriculture is in a very advanced state, and where large sums have been expended by the tenants. But, notwithstanding its popularity, it is in many respects less advantageous than a tenure under leases of a reasonable length. There are, it is true, but few instances in which English gentlemen have degraded themselves by taking an unfair advantage of their tenants.1 But estates sometimes pass, by inheritance, from one line of proprietors to another with different views; and sometimes they are sold to those who may wish to subject them to an entirely new system. And, taking these and other contingencies into account, it cannot rationally be expected that the tenants will, speaking generally, be so liberal in their outlays upon improvements, as they would be if their possession were secured against all hazards for a certain number of years.
The interests of the public and of the landlords, as well as those of the tenants, are deeply involved in this question. It is needless, surely, to lay it down, that it is for the advantage of all parties that tenants should be industrious and enterprising. And no landlord who has a just sense of what he owes to himself and to society, will permit his estate to be occupied by slothful or inexpert tenants. But it is the vice of the system established in most parts of England, that it makes it very difficult for a landlord to get rid of such occupiers. He may be fully satisfied of their incompetency, but the rule of the estate has been to continue the old tenants; and were he to break through this rule, and to dismiss indifferent or bad tenants to introduce others of a superior class, he would be accused of acting harshly and unjustly; and would provoke a clamour and outcry, to which most gentlemen have the greatest dislike. And hence a main cause of the slovenly cultivation, and want of enterprise exhibited by the tenants of many estates and districts in England. But wherever leases are introduced, the connection between the landlords and tenants is limited to their endurance; and at their termination a landlord has it in his power, without provoking any remark or observation, to get rid of any incapable, troublesome, or unskilful tenant.
The difficulties which the prevalent English tenures throw in the way of those who may wish to get rid of questionable tenants, is not, however, their only disadvantage. It will be afterwards seen that the too low renting of land is, equally with its over-renting, an obstruction to improvement. And, despite the statements to the contrary, there is no doubt that, at this moment, a large portion of England is under-rented, the tenants being, in consequence, uninfluenced by one of the most powerful spurs to exertion. The same reasons which make so many landlords retain bad or indifferent tenants, hinder them from raising the rental of their estates to its proper level. They would be accused of treating their occupiers unjustly, of robbing them of the return due for outlays, and so forth. The plan of letting on leases for fixed periods gets rid of all these difficulties. The competition of the public raises rents to their fair value; and the occupiers must either exert themselves or go to the wall.
These results constitute a principal advantage of leases. In districts where they prevail, and where they are for proper terms, and embody the necessary conditions, there is universally a more efficient and improved system of husbandry than in districts where the tenants are rarely if ever changed.1 Such leases are eminently calculated to draw forth talent and enterprise; whereas under the favourite English tenure these are less in request, and those tenants who do not fall behind their neighbours are treated nearly as well as those who go forward.
The only plausible objection to the granting of leases for a specified number of years, takes for granted that the contract is really binding on the landlord only. When a farm is too low rented, the tenant, it is said, continues to enjoy this advantage during the lease; whereas, if it be too high rented, it is next to certain that the landlord will have to reduce the rent to what it is really worth. A transaction of this kind throws, it is contended, all the risk on the landlord, and gives all the advantage to the tenant; so that the only fair plan is to let from year to year, or at most for brief periods. But, though specious, this reasoning has no good foundation. The rents of farms held under leases, are, in the vast majority of cases, quite up to the mark, or beyond it, at their commencement. It may, however, happen that, after a few years of the lease have expired, a farm would let for more than the rent actually paid for it. If the rent be rated in money, it will of course be affected by changes in its value; and if it should decline, the rent will also decline. But when the rent consists of a fixed quantity of produce, convertible into money at the current prices of the day, it may reasonably be presumed, in the event of the farm becoming worth a higher rent, that this is a consequence of improvements effected by the tenant, which he would not have undertaken without the security afforded by the lease. And, unless this reasonable presumption be shown to be ill-founded, it follows, that in granting the lease the landlord made no sacrifice, but the contrary. He got all the rent which the farm was worth when let, while the security given by the lease, having stimulated the tenant to make improvements, the farm will bring a higher rent at its termination than it would otherwise realize.
It is, therefore, no more than equitable, that the extra profit derived from farms, held under leases of moderate duration, should belong to the tenants; for, if not in every case, it is certainly in the great majority of cases, the fruit of their industry, or skill, or capital. And though it be seldom practicable, or if practicable expedient, for landlords to compel tenants to pay the stipulated rent for farms, when it materially exceeds their real worth, there are no substantial reasons for impeaching the contract of lease, because of its being unfair. The inadequacy of a corn rent, convertible at the prices of the day, is in 99 out of every 100 cases, apparent only, it being occasioned by improvements effected by the tenant. Had there been no lease, or engagement equivalent thereto, these would not have been attempted, and the rent would not have appeared inadequate. All, therefore, that can justly be said in regard to the alleged want of reciprocity in leases, amounts to this, that if, through accident or simplicity, a landlord let a farm for less than it is worth at the time when the lease is effected, he will be unable to get the rent raised during its currency; while, if a tenant, from too great anxiety to get a farm, or exaggerated notions of its value, should promise more for it than it is really worth, it will, in general, be impracticable and unadvisable to hold him to his bargain. An inequality of this sort is really, however, entitled to but little attention. A tenant who has offered too high a rent for a farm, sustains, in most cases, a very serious injury before he gets it reduced, supposing, which is not always the case, that he succeeds in that object. But in the very rare case of a farm being let below its value, it is all but certain that the additional rent which might have been obtained for it is of trifling consequence to the landlord. The risks of parties so differently situated cannot be equalised. In truth, they are all, or mostly all, borne by the tenants; and it would hardly, in these circumstances, be equitable, even if it were otherwise desirable, for landlords to seek to compel them to abide by the letter of their engagements, and to go on paying greater rents than their farms are really worth. But it has been sufficiently shown, that while such conduct can hardly fail of being ruinous to the tenants, it is also highly injurious to the landlords. The latter had better borrow on the most usurious terms than attempt to eke out their incomes by sums abstracted from the capital of those engaged in the cultivation of their estates.
It is obvious, therefore, that leases for reasonable terms, and stipulating for fair rents, are beneficial alike to landlords and tenants. They give a sense of security to the latter, and inspire them with energy and enterprise. And while the improvements effected under their influence conduce, during their currency, to the advantage of the occupiers, they add to the permanent value of estates, and to their future rental. In almost every case, too, the granting of leases is immediately, as well as remotely, advantageous to the landlord. There is hardly an instance in which a farm will let for so much under an annual tenure as for a short lease, and under the latter the rent will be less than it would be were the lease extended to a reasonable term of years: Hence, in granting such lease, a landlord is not sacrificing present for the sake of prospective advantages; on the contrary, he is providing most effectually, not only for the future, but, in a still greater degree, for the instant increase of his income.
Length of Leases.—The expediency of granting leases being thus sufficiently established, their proper duration is the next point to be considered. This, however, is not a term which can be fixed by general rules. Pasture lands in good order may be advantageously let from year to year, or for short terms; and arable farms in a high state of cultivation and improvement, may be let for shorter periods than farms in an inferior condition. But, on the whole, it would seem to be the opinion of the most eminent authorities, that a term of nineteen or twenty-one years is, all things considered, the most proper for leases of arable farms in a medium condition. It is not, on the one hand, so extended as to tempt the tenant to delay commencing improvements, while, on the other, it is sufficiently lengthened to encourage him to make every fair exertion and outlay. And it has experience on its side, being the term most usually adopted in the best cultivated districts.
Supposing leases to be restricted to limited periods, such as seven or fourteen years, both of which are common terms in England, it is argued that it is possible, by the aid of proper conditions, not merely to hinder farms from being deteriorated, but to secure their improvement; and that such being the case, short leases must be advantageous to the landlords. But it is abundantly clear, that those who argue in this way, know little or nothing of the practical business of farming. It is, indeed, very generally allowed, that the shortness of the periods for which leases are usually granted in England, is one of the principal causes of their general unpopularity. It is needless to refer to those for seven years; for even fourteen years is too short a term to make it prudent for a tenant to make any very considerable outlays on unimproved or exhausted lands, or to subject them to proper rotations. Conditions may be inserted in the shortest leases to hinder farms from being over-cropped and otherwise mismanaged, and should never, indeed, be omitted. But it is visionary to suppose that any rules or regulations which it is possible to lay down, unless their observance be combined with the interest of the occupier, can be rendered an effective source of improvement. The most vexatious system of surveillance would not insure the faithful discharge of covenants unless the tenant supposed they contributed in some degree to his advantage. He might be taken bound to manure and fallow a certain portion of the farm, and to have another portion in green crop, etc., but if the lease were so short as not to allow him to reap the full benefit of these operations when properly executed, they would be performed slovenly and inefficiently, and with an eye only to appearances, or to the advantage to be derived from them during the existence of the lease. Everybody knows that the worst husbandry in England is found on farms held under short leases; and they are most frequently, also, at their expiration, out of heart, and in an impoverished condition.
It has sometimes been supposed that farming may be profitably carried on by subjecting land in a high state of improvement, to a severe course of cropping. But all competent authorities deny that such is the case; and contend that those farmers succeed best, who retain their lands in an improved state, and do not attempt to increase the returns of one year at the expense of those which are to follow. To insure this regular and only advantageous system of management, it is indispensable that leases should be of a reasonable length, and that the conditions preventing over-cropping and exhaustion, should be strictly enforced. But beyond this, all interference on the part of the landlord is mischievous. The industry and enterprise of the tenant will, under such circumstances, do all that can be done for the advancement of agriculture.
The endurance of a lease should not be made to depend on lives, or on any uncertain or contingent event, but should always be for a specified number of years. When otherwise, the security of the tenant is imperfect; and his operations are affected, in a greater or less degree, by apprehensions similar to those which influence tenants-at-will. Under a lease for a fixed term, the occupier knows what he is about. And by comparing the time which must elapse before any proposed outlay be compensated, with the length of the lease, he is able to estimate whether it would be for his interest to make it.
The expediency of granting leases for fixed and reasonable periods being thus established, we have next to inquire into the various methods of rating and estimating rents.
These may be classed under the following heads, viz., first, the rent may be paid in money; second, in a certain proportion of the produce; third, in a given quantity of produce—the amount in the last two cases being payable either in kind or in money at the current prices of the day; or fourth, on the corvée principle, by which the tenant engages to perform certain services for behoof of the landlord.
With respect to the first of these methods, or the payment of fixed sums of money, it would be one of the least exceptionable, were money always of the same value. This, however, is not the case; and all variations in its value necessarily affect, to the same extent, the value of the fixed payments to be made in it. Supposing the rent of a farm to be £100 a year, a rise in the value of money to the extent, say of 10 or 15 per cent., would occasion a corresponding rise in its amount; for, though the number of pounds sterling, to be paid as rent, continues the same, the value or cost of these pounds is increased. The converse of this takes place when money falls in value. In this case the rent is proportionally reduced, the tenant being benefited at the expense of the landlord, whereas, in the other, the landlord is benefited at the expense of the tenant. At present these considerations are entitled to more than ordinary weight; for we are now, most probably, on the eve of a very considerable alteration in the value of the precious metals. In leases for short periods, or for three, five, or even seven years, it may not, perhaps, be worth while to lay much stress on any change in the value of bullion which may be likely to take place in the interval. But in leases for nineteen or twenty-one years, or any greater period, it would be most unwise, under existing circumstances, to stipulate for money rents without providing some means of correcting any variation that may take place, during their currency, in the real value of money.
The discovery of the American mines, in the early part of the sixteenth century, sunk the value of the precious metals (and, consequently, of all payments that were fixed and rated in money), in the seventeenth century, to about a fourth part of their value at the former epoch. Many suppose that a similar reduction, in the value of these metals, has already commenced. But it is useless to form any à priori conjectures in regard to the ultimate influence of the late extraordinary discoveries of gold in California and Australia. Much must depend, not only on the permanence of the new supplies, but also on the progress of civilisation, and the demand for bullion. There is, however, quite enough in the existing state of things to put all prudent parties on their guard, and to make them provide, whether in the letting of farms for considerable periods, or in the purchase of perpetual annuities, or of those terminable at distant dates, against the loss which they may otherwise sustain from a fall in the value of money. In so far as respects rents, this desirable object may be easily effected, as will be afterwards seen, by rating them in fixed quantities of produce.
Besides the fluctuations incident to the value of the precious metals, money rents may be affected by changes in the weight and purity of coins, and in the value of such paper money as is made legal tender. Our experience, as well as that of most other countries, has shown that these are not mere speculative contingencies. The heavy depreciation of paper money between 1808 and 1815, occasioned a corresponding diminution in the rent of the farms let previously to 1808; while, on the other hand, the rise which took place in the value of paper in 1815, and subsequently, added proportionally to the rents of the farms which had been let during the depreciation.
It is not, perhaps, very likely that we shall witness a repetition of changes in the value of paper money similar to those experienced between the Restriction Act in 1797 and the restoration of specie payments in 1821. But there is no real security that such may not be the case; and as these changes, when they do occur, are injurious to the landlord or tenant, or both, it is for the interest of all parties to provide, in as far as possible, against their recurrence.
We come now to the second mode of fixing rent, or that which makes it a certain proportion of the produce. On a superficial view, this mode may, perhaps, seem one of the least objectionable, as it guards, in some measure, against the disturbing effects of variations in the seasons; for, supposing that the landlord receives as rent a fourth part of the produce, which amounts, in a good year, to 100 quarters and in a bad year to only 80, it is plain that 25 quarters in the former case are no greater, or are rather indeed a less, burden than 20 in the latter. It is contended, also, that a proportional rent cannot operate as any material check on the outlay on improvements. The tenant knows beforehand what proportion of the probable produce, arising from an improvement, will go to the landlord. Hence, he has only to consider whether it will yield, over and above this deduction, the ordinary rate of profit, and replace his capital during the currency of the lease. If it will do this, the fair presumption, we are told, is, that the tenant will immediately set about carrying it into effect.
But, notwithstanding what is now stated, this mode of fixing the rent of land, is probably the worst that can be devised, and it is difficult to suppose that the agriculture of any country in which it is adopted, can be in a really thriving condition. Practically speaking, tenants never make any considerable improvement, unless they are allowed to reap the whole advantage thence arising. It is in vain to contend that, as they know what proportion of the increased produce will go to the landlord, if the remainder be a due return on their capital, it will be for their interest to lay it out. Not one tenant amongst 100 would so act. There are always very considerable hazards to be run by improvers, and if to these were added the obligation to pay a half, a third, or a fourth part of the gross produce of improvements as rent, either none would ever be attempted by tenants, or none which required any considerable outlay, or where the prospect of a return was not very immediate. You cannot have a flourishing and improved system of agriculture, without securing the undisturbed possession of their farms to the tenants by leases of a reasonable length, and allowing them to reap, during their currency, the entire benefit of whatever improvements they may execute. If landlords encroach on either of these principles, or insist on immediately participating in the advantages of improvements effected by their tenants, they will certainly prevent their being undertaken. The influence of tithe in discouraging outlays, when it is commuted for a fixed money rent, is hardly perceptible; but, wherever it is exacted in kind, or fluctuates with the produce, it is equally powerful and prejudicial. Now, if such be the undoubted effect of a tax of a tenth, how prodigiously would its operation be increased were it three, four, or five times that amount, and rigidly exacted? And it is plain, that if rents were fluctuating quantities, forming a certain proportion, as a fourth, a third, or a half of the produce of farms, they would be, to all intents and purposes, identical in their operation on farmers and on agriculture with a tax of 25, 33⅓, or 50 per cent. Had such a mode of fixing the rent of land been generally adopted in Great Britain, it may be doubted whether agriculture would have been, at this moment, more improved than in the reign of James I. or Charles I.
Besides the influence of this method of letting in checking improvement and reducing agriculture to a mere system of routine, it is almost sure to lead to perjury and fraud. Rents which depend on proportions of produce, necessarily vary from year to year with the variations in the latter; and unless the landlord or his agent look very carefully after the proceedings of his tenants, he is sure to be cheated. Indeed it is hardly possible for him, do what he will, to obviate fraud. The tendency of this system is thus, in fact, twofold: first, to extinguish every germ of agricultural improvement; and, second, to imbue the agriculturists with some of the worst vices; leading them to found their hopes of advancement not so much on the exercise of their industry, as on their schemes to defraud the landlords.
But it is not necessary that we should argue this question speculatively. The practice of letting lands by proportional rents has been very widely introduced; and wherever it has been adopted, it has stopped all improvement and reduced the cultivators to the most abject poverty. Previously to the Revolution, about seven-eighths of the whole surface of France were occupied by metayers, that is, by a description of tenants paying a certain proportion, generally a half, and hardly ever less than a third part, of the produce to the landlord; the latter sometimes furnishing the oxen and other cattle used in farming, and a portion of the seed, and sometimes not. Even if we were unacquainted with the facts of the case, we might confidently pronounce, à priori, that such a system must have been ruinous. In England, it is not supposed that the rent of the land amounts to more than from a fifth to a fourth part of its produce. What, then, must be the effect of subjecting the occupiers of France, where rent is naturally lower than in England, to so excessive a demand as that of a half, or even a third part of the produce? Can any one be surprised to learn that French agriculture, at the æra of the Revolution, was in the most backward condition, and the tenants immersed in poverty and misery? Nor is this system less injurious to the proprietor than to the cultivator. The landlord gets, indeed, a large proportion of the produce raised upon his estate; but owing to the degraded condition of agriculture, and the wretchedness of the occupiers, caused by the exorbitancy of the demands upon them, the produce raised is comparatively trifling; so that the half which belongs to the landlord under this system is not nearly so large as the share falling to him would be were the rents moderate and fixed, and the tenants allowed to reap all the advantage of whatever skill and talent they might exert. The tenants having little or no interest in the proper treatment of the stock furnished by the landlords, the latter are perpetually losing by its mismanagement or destruction. “In this most detestable of all modes of letting land,” says Arthur Young, whose Travels in France and Lombardy contain a vast deal of information on this subject, “after running the hazard of such losses, fatal in many instances, the defrauded landlord receives a contemptible rent; the farmer is in the lowest state of poverty; the land is miserably cultivated; and the nation suffers as severely as the farmers themselves.” Where the stock is wholly furnished by the tenants, they are not, of course, so poor; but even in this case their condition is worse than that of day-labourers in England. Agriculture is at the lowest ebb, and no improvement is either attempted, or so much as thought of.
The Revolution changed many occupiers of land into proprietors, and lessened in so far the evils of the metayer system. Still, however, it is upheld, in its pristine vigour, in more than the half of France; and wherever it exists, the state of agriculture, and the condition of the occupiers, are quite as wretched as at the period described by Arthur Young.
In proof of this statement, we beg to subjoin the following passage from a valuable article on French agriculture, in the “Revue Trimestrielle” for April 1828.
“Where the proprietors do not cultivate their own estates, nothing has so much influence on their cultivation as the mode in which they are let. In France that mode is in general detestable. With the exception of Flanders, and of a very small number of provinces where the system of cultivation by rotation of crops has been long adopted, the duration of leases is far too short to enable the farmer to indemnify himself for the outlay which the introduction of a new system of cultivation would require, and to derive any profit from it. Indeed, in a very large part of the kingdom, in all the central provinces, farmers are hardly known. The land is cultivated by unfortunate metayers, who engage to occupy it for a period of three years, and to perform the various operations required in its husbandry, paying half the produce to the proprietor as rent. The metayer furnishes his labour, his ignorance, and his good appetite; the proprietor supplying an exhausted soil, the stock indispensable to its petty farming, the grain required for the first sowing, and that which may be required for the support of the metayer and his family until the first harvest. The metayer works, sows, reaps, and feeds on the produce. After he and his family are fed, the proprietor gets the remainder. Sometimes a middleman, under the name of a farmer, is interposed between the landlord and the metayer. This third party is, for the most part, a cunning inhabitant of the village, who agrees to pay the landlord a certain rent, independent of variations of harvests, acquiring in return a right to his share of the produce raised by the metayer. The middleman takes no part in the labours of cultivation, but he attends at all the harvestings of the metayer; he follows him to every market to get his half of the price of the produce. His art consists in getting more than his half; as he knows how to read and write, of which the other is most commonly ignorant, he is able to confuse the metayer’s accounts, and finally to plunder him. Under this master, who is constantly present, the condition of the metayer is still more miserable. The middleman, who has some capital, regularly pays the rent to the proprietor; he makes little speculations on the sale of his produce, and sometimes becomes rich. This division is very convenient for the proprietor, whom it releases from the necessity of all surveillance, and to whom it affords some security for the payment of his rent; but it is destructive of agriculture, because it keeps the metayer in a state of extreme indigence, who would cultivate less badly were he allowed to make any profits or savings in abundant years; it hinders him from ever rising to the condition of a petty farmer; it puts the reward due to labour into the pockets of fraud. Not less, perhaps, than a half of the whole kingdom of France is occupied by metayers; and the proprietors whose estates are so let, are hardly able to introduce a different system; for in the provinces where this miserable mode of occupying land is general, those who have capital and skill, and who consequently might cultivate land with advantage, become middlemen; so that the business of cultivation is entirely carried on by the poorest and most ignorant persons. Agriculture is there really the most abject and degraded of all employments.”
Such is the wretched state of French agriculture under the metayer system. “La France,” says the same writer, “est resté stationnaire dans presque tous les procédés de la culture.” And so long as this mode of letting land, and the equal partition of landed property amongst the children of proprietors is continued, it were idle to expect that it should improve. While these practices are permitted to subsist, France can enjoy no real prosperity; for no agricultural country can be prosperous, which is divided into small patches, occupied by a beggarly population, without either skill or capital; and who, though they possessed both, have little motive to exert the one or employ the other.
“The condition of the French metayers,” says a friend to this system, “is constantly the same; the son occupies exactly the same place as his father; he never thinks of becoming richer, and cares not for political changes. We are tempted to believe that we behold an Indian caste irrevocably attached, through the influence of religion, to the same trade and the same practices. In several provinces the metayers form nine-tenths of the population; and having continued stationary for four or five centuries, they are necessarily very far behind the rest of the nation.”1
An evil so deeply rooted, and so interwoven with the customs and habits of society, cannot be either easily or speedily eradicated. It may, however, be expected, that ultimately the landlords will open their eyes to their own interest, and see the propriety of exerting themselves to introduce a better system. To accomplish this desirable object, two things are indispensable: first, The granting of leases of a reasonable duration; and, second, The fixing of the rent in money, or in given quantities of produce. So long as the present mode of either granting no leases, or leases for only three years, and exacting a half or a third part of the produce as rent, is continued, it would be vain to expect that agriculture should make the least progress, or that the occupiers should ever rise above their present miserable level. The want of capital would at first prevent the land from being let in considerable portions, but as capital accumulated they might be increased. Where no tenants possessed of capital could be found, the landlords might do as they do at present, they might advance the capital to the tenants. But in this case the advance should not be made as a loan, but as a free gift. It is contradictory to suppose that a farmer will ever take the same care of capital belonging to another, that he will do of his own; and though the plan now proposed would occasion an immediate apparent loss to the landlord, it would prove in the end to be no loss, but an immense gain. It would give a stimulus to agriculture which it is not very likely to receive by any other means; and the landlord would be the great gainer by that improvement of his estate which the abolition of the present system, and the introduction of a better one in its stead, could not fail to occasion.
The metayer system is spread over most part of Italy, and it is there very little, if at all, less injurious than in France.
“If the intelligence with respect to the produce of wheat,” says Mr Young, speaking of Lombardy, “which I received be reviewed, it will be found at an average varying from five to seven and a half times the seed, generally between five and six: suppose the latter number, and we shall, with reason, be amazed at the miserable products of this rich plain, in everything except grass and silk. The average soil of England cannot be compared with the average soil of Lombardy, yet our mean produce is eleven times the seed, perhaps twelve. Every one must be curious to know the causes of such wretched crops: I attribute them to various circumstances; but the predominant cause must be sought for in the small farms, occupied either by little peasant proprietors, or, what is more general, by metayers. This abominable system of letting land is the origin of most of the evils found in agriculture, wherever the method prevails. Such poor farmers, who, in every part of Italy where I have been, are so miserable that they are forced to borrow of the landlord even the bread they eat, before the harvest comes round, are utterly unable to perform any operation of their culture with the vigour of a substantial tenantry. This evil pervades everything in a farm; it diffuses itself, imperceptibly to a common eye, into circumstances where none would seek it. There are but few districts where lands are let to the occupying tenant at a money rent, but wherever it is found, there crops are greater,—a clear proof of the imbecility of the metaying system. Yet there are politicians, if they deserve the name, everywhere to be found, who are violent against changing these metayers for farmers; an apparent depopulation is said to take place, and the same stupid arguments are heard that we have been pestered with in England, against the union of farms. Men reason against that improvement of their lands, which is the natural progress of wealth and prosperity, and are so grossly absurd as to think that doubling the produce of a country will deprive it of its people.”1
Cicero has somewhere said, that there is no opinion so absurd that it has not found a philosopher to support it; and it need not have surprised Mr Young that the metayer system has had its advocates. But what is more singular, they are not yet extinct. Sismondi, in his work already quoted, does not scruple to affirm that “cultivation by metayers, or occupiers paying half the produce, is one of the happiest inventions of the middle ages; that it contributes powerfully to diffuse happiness amongst the lower classes, to carry the soil to the highest pitch of cultivation, and to accumulate the greatest amount of capital upon it.”2 The reputation of Sismondi as an historian, must be our apology for noticing such statements. To suppose that a system of occupancy which robs the cultivator of almost all the fruits of superior industry and ingenuity, can either contribute to the advancement of agriculture, or the accumulation of capital, is a proposition of which it is needless to say more than that it contradicts and confutes itself. And, in point of fact, we are told by the late Italian economist, Gioja, in a review of Sismondi’s work, in the Biblioteca Italiana, that wherever agriculture is in a flourishing state in Italy, the land is occupied by tenants holding under leases, and paying fixed rents. The same economist published a treatise in 1803, entitled, “Discussione Economica sul Dipartimento d’Olona,” which, under the sway of the French, comprised Milan and the surrounding territory. The account which he has given in this work of the agriculture of the Milanese, is anything but flattering. Among the causes which have depressed it, Gioja lays the greatest stress on the too great division of the land, and, next to it, on the metayer system. “Industry,” says he, “is in proportion to the probable gain or loss; but when the metayer must give half the produce to his landlord, he has only half the motive to be industrious that he would have, and feels only half the injury from being idle that he would do, were he paying a fixed rent. It is plain, therefore, that industry must suffer by such a system; the object of the metayer is to cheat with address, not to farm better.”1 And he shows that this system, by preventing the accumulation of capital, has been one of the main causes that have led to that excessive subdivision of the land which has taken place in some districts, and which in Italy, as elsewhere, has had the worst consequences.
But it is not necessary that we should resort to the works of others for a refutation of Sismondi’s statements with respect to the good effects of the metayer system. One of his earliest works was a “View of the Agriculture of Tuscany,”2 in which he depicted the abject poverty and idleness of the peasantry under this, his subsequently favourite system, in the most striking terms. In the table of contents attached to this volume, the following occur among other references:—“Misery of the peasantry;” “those who hold under leases, more economical, and richer;” “all the metayers in debt;” “disadvantages of cultivation by metayers;” “metayers unable to execute their work at the proper time;” “contract careless and indolent habits,” etc. Speaking of the situation of the metayers in a bad year, Sismondi states:—
“As they possess nothing, they would then literally die of hunger (mourir de faim), if they were not assisted by the proprietors, who rarely refuse making them a loan upon security of the ensuing crop. Their debts are paid after the vintage, but before winter is over new ones are contracted. Of ten metayers there is hardly one to be found who owes nothing to his master.”
“The metayer lives from hand to mouth. He has rarely any corn in store, and still more rarely any oil or wine. He sells his oil when in the press, and his wine when in the vat. He has no provision of salt meat, butter, cheese, leguminous plants, etc. His kitchen utensils are of earthenware; and the furniture of his cottage consists only of a table and some wooden chairs, one or two boxes, and a miserable bed, on which father, mother, and children sleep. When the division of General Vatrain pillaged the Val di Nievole in 1792, the peasants reaped this advantage from their poverty, that when they had concealed their wearing apparel and their wives’ jewels, they had nothing more to lose.”
And such is their idleness, that “a hired labourer will execute three times as much work in a day as a metayer.”
Much has been said about the rich and beautiful appearance of the valley of the Arno (Val d’Arno), which is entirely occupied by metayers. But even here the verses of Addison are strictly applicable:—
When Arthur Young visited Italy, the occupiers of the Val d’Arno were so very poor, that the landlords were frequently obliged to lend them supplies of corn previously to harvest. And M. Lullin de Chateauvieux, who has given an interesting account of the agriculture of Italy in 1810-13, and whose leanings are rather on the side of the metayer system, shows that the condition of the occupiers of this famous valley had not improved in the interval.
“An immense population,” says he, “is supported on the produce of land thus distributed, but with extreme economy, and it is never able to lay by anything as a reserve against unfavourable years. It is neither the fertility of the soil nor the abundance that strikes the eye of the traveller, which constitutes the well-being of the inhabitants; it is the number of individuals among whom the total produce is divided, which fixes the proportion that each is able to enjoy. Here it is very small. I have thus far, indeed, exhibited a delightful country, well-watered, fertile, and covered with a perpetual vegetation. I have shown it divided into countless enclosures, which, like so many beds in a garden, display a thousand varying productions. I have shown that to all these enclosures are attached well-built houses, clothed with vines, and decorated with flowers; but, on entering these houses, we find a total want of all the conveniences of life, a table more than frugal, and a general appearance of privation. The occupiers of them are not the proprietors; they only farm them, paying in kind half the produce to the landlord.”2
In speaking of the metayers of Lombardy, M. de Chateauvieux observes,—“Always destitute of the means of acquiring capital, they remain stationary in their situation; the result is a torpor which nothing but the want of food can overcome.”3 In the most fertile districts of Naples, he found the metayers complaining of their abject condition. And, he adds, whenever the season happens to be unfavourable, they suffer the severest privations.
In ascribing the invention of the metayer system to the middle ages, Sismondi is not more accurate than in his estimate of its advantages. It is a system which might be expected to grow up in a rude state of civilisation, wherever large tracts of land had become the property of individuals. The advantages of granting leases of a reasonable length, at a fixed rent, are not then distinctly perceived either by the landlords or tenants; and it seems a plain and advantageous method for both parties, that the tenant should occupy and work the land, paying its owner a certain share of the produce. In Eastern countries this mode of occupying land has existed from the earliest period, and it also prevailed in ancient Italy. The early Roman farmers were, in fact, metayers. The stock on the farm belonged to the landlord, and the occupier received a certain proportion of its produce, varying according to its productiveness, in return for his labour in working it. The occupier of land upon these terms is called by Cato, the earliest of the extant writers De Re Rusticâ, a politor, or polintor, from his business being that of a cultivator or dresser of land; and sometimes a colonus partiarius, from his being in a sort of copartnership with the landlord, and entitled to a share of the produce of the land. This is the only description of farmers of whom Cato speaks. In his days, indeed, great part of Italy belonged to the resident owners of small estates, and was cultivated directly by them; the few large estates of the non-resident landlords being then more generally occupied by the slaves and servants of the owner, under the superintendence of a steward or bailiff (villicus), than by metayers. Cato mentions that, in his day, when the finest land was let to a politor, or colonus partiarius, he received an eighth part of the produce; that in the second best land he received a seventh; and in the third, a sixth.1 It will be observed, however, in accounting for the small share of the produce received by the Roman metayers, that, besides the land and live stock, the landlord furnished the seed and all the implements made use of on the farm. It is further conjectured by Dickson,1 and apparently with much probability, that the labourers on farms occupied by politors were mostly slaves, and that they were furnished by the landlord as well as the labouring cattle. And, besides his share of the crops of corn, or of the produce commonly so called, the politor, or colonus partiarius, had perquisites of milk, fruits and vegetables, and other minor articles, sufficient for the supply of his family.
This system, and the cultivation of land by slaves, were as hostile to the husbandry of ancient Italy, as the metayer system is to its modern husbandry, or prædial slavery to that of Russia. In the early ages of the republic, when the lands were generally divided into small portions, mostly occupied and farmed by their owners, agriculture was comparatively flourishing. But, instead of improving with the increase of capital and the size of properties, it gradually declined. The cause of this anomaly is to be found in the prevalence of the metayer system and of slave labour. Agriculture, carried on under such a mode of occupancy, and with such instruments, could not but degenerate. It was not, as Columella has observed, from an increasing sterility of the soil that the harvests had become less productive, but because the labourers, in the latter years of the republic, and under the imperial government, were mostly slaves, and because, from the prevailing mode of letting land, the farmers, even when free, had no sufficient motive to exert themselves.
Though cultivation by means of coloni partiarii was the most prevalent mode in ancient Italy, there can be little or no doubt that in the days of Columella there were free farmers, or liberi coloni, who occupied their lands under leases for money rents, somewhat in the mode in which farms are now occupied in England. This may be inferred from the statements in the eighth chapter of his first book, referring to the mode in which landlords should treat their tenants. That the rent paid by the latter was rated in money, seems evident from the circumstance of Columella recommending landlords not to be rigorous with respect to the term of payment, without, however, neglecting to demand the rent; because, as he observes, good debts, by not being called for, often become bad ones. It is likewise evident that the cattle upon the farms of the liberi coloni were their own property; for Columella gives as a reason for letting to such tenants, that when the landlord is absent, being obliged to trust the management to servants, the oxen and other cattle are ill-treated and ill-fed. But this, it is clear, could not have been a reason for letting, had the cattle upon the farm, after it was let, been the property of the landlord.1
No very satisfactory information can be obtained, in regard to the duration of the leases of farms occupied by liberi coloni. The public lands belonging to the state were let for periods of five years, and it is probable that such was also the usual length of the leases on private estates.
But, as already stated, the far greater part of Italy was occupied either by coloni partiarii, or by slaves or servants working on account of absentee proprietors; so that its agriculture, instead of improving, actually retrograded.
The preceding remarks will perhaps have satisfied the reader, that in whatever way the rent of land may be made payable, it should not be by a proportional share of the produce. This is the worst of all methods of fixing rent; and it is idle to look for flourishing agriculture or respectable tenants where it prevails.
We come now to the third method of fixing rents. In it the rent is rated in specified quantities of produce, usually made convertible into money at the ordinary prices of the day. And, though not free from defects, this seems, on the whole, to be the least exceptionable plan hitherto proposed. It affords the best attainable security against changes in the value of the currency, and it neither damps the tenant’s exertions, nor thwarts the progress of his improvements; for he knows that every bushel of corn he can raise beyond the fixed quantity payable to the landlord is entirely his own. It is defective, however, inasmuch as it imposes on the farmer the necessity of paying more than the fair value of his farm in unfavourable years; while, in favourable years, the landlord gets less rent than he ought to receive. But it is difficult—or rather, perhaps, impracticable—under any system, wholly to obviate the effect of these disturbing causes. We are, however, inclined to think, that under the free system now adopted in regard to the corn trade, the disturbances referred to will be comparatively unimportant; for it is no longer reasonable, seeing the immense variety of markets to which recourse may be had, to suppose that the fluctuations in our harvests should exercise anything like their former influence over prices. It is doubtful, therefore, whether it be really worth while to set about organising any scheme for obviating or lessening the influence of such inconsiderable oscillations. But if this should be thought desirable, it may easily be accomplished by fixing maximum and minimum prices; it being declared in the lease, that the produce payable to the landlord shall be converted into money, according to the current prices of the year; but that, in the event of their rising above the maximum fixed in the lease, the landlord shall have no claim to such excess of price. By means of this check, the tenant is protected from paying any very considerable excess of rent in scarce years. On the other hand, to prevent the rent from being improperly reduced in unusually plentiful years, a minimum price is agreed upon, and it is stipulated, that to whatever extent prices may sink below its amount, the landlord shall be entitled to receive the minimum price for the produce payable as rent. With a free trade in corn, and a system of this sort, rents would fluctuate very little indeed, and landlords and tenants would enjoy the highest degree of security. We may add that this is not a mere speculative opinion. The plan now proposed was extensively introduced many years ago, into sundry well cultivated districts, including East Lothian and Berwickshire. And the experience of the estates in which it has been adopted, has shown that it is as effectual as can well be desired, for the protection of both parties, and for securing the progress of improvement.
In fixing a produce rent for farms, especially if they be adapted to a mixed system of corn and stock husbandry, which is now the case with all except those which consist of heavy clay lands, it should not be rated in corn only. Butchers’ meat, wool, and dairy produce, are articles of the greatest importance; and it would be fair to all parties, that rents should be made to depend, to some extent, on them, as well as on corn. At present, the value of stock and dairy produce appears more likely to increase than that of corn; and leases for nineteen or twenty-one years, in which no reference is made to the former, may seriously compromise the interests of the landlord. Without, however, laying much stress on the contingent probability now alluded to, it is obviously proper, seeing in how great a degree cultivation depends on them, that rent should be rated partly in the products of stock, and of the dairy, and partly only in corn: in other words, it should be made to consist of certain quantities of grain, butchers’ meat, wool, butter and cheese; the whole being convertible into money at the current prices of the day. A mixed rent of this sort would give the maximum degree of security to both tenants and landlords. And though it might, at the outset, be attended with some little trouble, there would be no difficulty in carrying it out when parties had become familiarised with it.
Maximum and minimum checks might, if desired, be applied to butchers’ meat, wool, etc., in the same way as to corn. But this would make the plan too complex. And under a system of free trade, and with rents consisting of different articles, which may be supposed to vary in opposite directions, it would be quite unnecessary.
Anciently, in most countries, a very considerable proportion of the land not in the immediate possession of the owners was held by its occupiers on condition of their furnishing the owners with certain quantities of labour, or of services. In so far as these were of an agricultural character, they were commonly performed on the portion of their estates which the landlords retained in their own hands. This method of occupancy grew out of the state of the cultivators, in most European countries, after the destruction of the Roman power, and the establishment of the feudal system. They were then really adscripti glebæ; and the land was not valued so much for its fertility, its situation, or its cultivation, as for the number of serfs or villeins upon it. At the commencement of this system, and long after, the services exigible from the occupiers were quite undefined, and depended principally on the will of the lord. But a more regular system of law and government having been gradually established, the services demandable by the lords from their vassals, or the occupiers of their estates, were at the same time limited and defined. In those countries in which prædial servitude was early abolished, service rents speedily fell into disuse, and rents payable according to the metayer system, or money rents, were generally substituted in their stead. But in countries where prædial servitude kept its ground down to a comparatively recent period, or where it still exists, the nature and amount of the services rendered by the occupiers were regulated either by custom or law; and in the course of time, the occupiers acquired a sort of hereditary right to the lands they held, and could not be dispossessed so long as they paid the corvées or stipulated services due to the superior landlord. It is needless to dwell on the inexpediency of such a system. The labour which is performed by tenants on the grounds, and for the behoof, of their landlords, is sure to be very slovenly executed. Men never exert themselves with energy and spirit, unless they work on their own account, and reap all the advantages resulting from superior industry and enterprise. Where service rents prevail, the parties are in a constant state of contention. The landlords try to squeeze as much labour as possible out of the reluctant peasantry; and the latter, to satisfy the claims upon them with the least possible exertion. It is needless to say how a struggle of this sort is sure to terminate. It is invariably found, where labour rents are established, that the peasantry, when employed by the piece, execute about four or five times as much work as when they are engaged upon the lord’s lands. The waste of labour which it occasions is not, however, the only injurious circumstance in this system. While the occupier is liable to be called upon, at his lord’s pleasure, to render such services, extending over a large part of the year, as he may require, he cannot follow any regular or efficient plan of husbandry. There is in truth no portion of time, and but few articles in his possession, which he can confidently call his own. The security of property amongst the cultivators is completely subverted; and the progress of agriculture, and consequently of society, effectually arrested.
These sort of services, after having long ceased to be of any importance, are now wholly abolished in England. But in Scotland they were exacted, to a greater or less extent, down to a comparatively recent period; and, coupled with thirlage, or the obligation to grind corn at particular mills, had a very injurious influence. Happily, however, they are now rarely met with, except, perhaps, in some of the more backward Highland districts. Their abolition has been of the greatest service to agriculture. Scotch tenants, being relieved from every sort of service, secured in the possession of their farms by leases of a reasonable length, and left to pursue their own interest in their own way, subject only to restrictions preventing the exhaustion of the land, have exerted themselves with spirit and success, and carried agriculture to a pitch of improvement which could not previously have been supposed possible.
But though labour or service rents are no longer exacted in England, the obligation to protect, or at all events not to destroy, the game on their farms, is a species of feudal payment which may come under this head; and is a very serious annoyance to the tenants of many estates, and a great obstruction to good farming. It is no answer to a statement of this sort, to say that the tenant being aware, in entering to, or in agreeing to continue in, a farm, that he will have to preserve the game, will not fail to adjust his rent accordingly. As well might it be contended that tithe is no injury to the farmer, or obstacle to improvement, because its operation is known à priori. Whatever interferes with his management, lessens his crop, or hinders the tenant from reaping the full amount of any outlay, is injurious to him and to agriculture. And this is notoriously the case with game. In some instances, the injury occasioned by it, would hardly be compensated by the total abandonment of the rent. And not only this, but a constant irritation is kept up, and a feeling of disgust is generated in the breasts of those whose crops and pastures are injured to maintain a parcel of feræ naturæ, who belong to no one in particular, but who may, by a volition of their own, become the property of a dozen landlords in the course of the same day. To a little fair sporting there would probably be no great objection on the part of most farmers. But the amassing of vast quantities of game for the sake of a battue, which is as little entitled to be called sport as the slaughter of sheep in the shambles of Whitechapel market, is an abuse of the right of property which ought to be repressed by proper regulations.1 Game preserves, of the kind now alluded to, become public nuisances. They not only injure and irritate the tenantry on the estates to which they belong, but their mischievous influence frequently extends to others in the neighbourhood. And, in addition to all this, they are the great incentives to poaching. “Wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” Robbery, outrage, and murder, have always been, and most likely will continue to be, associated with battues and game preserves. The sooner, therefore, that such nuisances are abated, the better will it be for all parties.
The account which Lord Molesworth gives of the state of the peasantry of Denmark, at the close of the seventeenth century, may be taken as a fair specimen of the former state of that class in those countries in which prædial servitude was established.
“If,” says his lordship, “this be the case of the gentleman and burgher, what can be expected to be that of the poor peasant and boor? In Zealand they are all as absolute slaves as the negroes are in Barbadoes, but with this difference, that their fare is not so good. Neither they, nor their posterity, to all generations, can leave the land to which they belong; the gentlemen counting their riches by their stocks of boors, as here with us by our stocks of cattle; and the more they have of these, the richer they are. In case of purchase, they are sold as belonging to the freehold, just as timber trees are with us. There is no computing there by numbers of acres, but by numbers of boors; who, with all that belong to them, appertain to the proprietor of the land. Yeomanry, which is the strength of England, is a state not known nor heard of in Denmark; but these poor drudges, after they have laboured with all their might to raise the king’s taxes, must pay the overplus of the profit of the lands, and their own toil, to their landlords, who are almost as poor as themselves. If any of these wretches prove to be of a diligent and improving temper, who endeavours to do a little better than his fellows, and to that end has repaired his farm house, making it convenient, neat, or pleasant; it is forty to one but he is presently transplanted from thence to a naked and uncomfortable habitation, to the end that his griping landlord may get more rent, by placing another on the land that is thus improved; so that in some years ’tis likely there will be few or no farm-houses, when those already built are fallen through age or neglect.”1
The Queen Sophia Magdalen had the honour of giving, in 1761, the first example of a more liberal system to the Danish proprietors by enfranchising the peasants on her estates. She was immediately followed by Count Bernstorff, and subsequently by many other proprietors. In 1786, a commission was established for regulating and fixing the reciprocal rights and duties of the proprietors and serfs. And in 1793 a royal ordonnance was published, which promised considerable advantages to the proprietors who consented to sell a portion of their estates to the cultivators. The latter are now completely enfranchised. But labour rents are still pretty frequent, and a good deal of land is also let on the metayer system.
Labour rents were maintained down to a very late date in Hungary. Previously to 1764, the peasants of that country were in a state closely approaching to prædial slavery. But in that year, the famous urbarium of Maria Theresa was issued, the principal regulations of which are recapitulated by Mr Paget in his excellent work on Hungary.1 It conferred on the peasantry the jus liberæ migrationis; though in practice the value of this privilege was lessened by the various regulations which had to be complied with before it could be exercised. It also limited and defined the demands which could be made on the peasantry by their masters; and it was only in certain cases, and then by due process of law, that they could be ejected from their holdings. But though considerably improved, the peasantry, notwithstanding this urbarium, continued to be in a very abject condition. They were incapable of acquiring a right of property in land. And besides their payments in labour (Robot)2 and money to their landlords, they had to pay almost the whole public taxes, and were truly, as well as significantly, called the misera contribuens plebs. In 1835 and 1839, this system was farther and very considerably modified. Peasants were permitted to enfranchise their lands by buying up, at moderate prices, the rents due to their landlords, and taxes were made a charge upon the land, and not as previously a personal charge upon its occupiers. There can be little doubt, had this system been maintained, that in no very lengthened period the emancipation of the peasantry would have been effected without violence or disturbance of any kind. But a cautious and conservative policy of this sort did not suit the views of the revolutionary party which unfortunately gained an ascendancy in the Diet. A vote carried in 1848, abolished all labour rents, tithes, and other payments, founded on the urbarium of 1764 and subsequent laws; the indemnity to be paid to the proprietors who were thus unceremoniously divested of their undoubted rights, being, in the cant of the day, placed “under the guarantee of the national honour!” The government, under whose auspices this wholesale confiscation had been effected, was not long after suppressed. As yet, however, no settlement has been effected of the claims in dispute between the landlords and the peasantry. But it is believed that a compromise will take place, by which the robot or labour rent will be abolished, and a moderate money-rent, purchasable on easy terms by the peasantry, be substituted in its stead.
Prædial servitude is abolished in all the German provinces of the Austrian monarchy. The peasants may everywhere become proprietors.
In Prussia a very sweeping, and in some respects perhaps a too violent, though on the whole a beneficial, change has been effected, since 1807 in the occupancy of land. Previously to this period, when the reforms of Baron Stein and Prince Hardenberg commenced and the restriction was abolished, none but nobles or privileged parties could acquire estates. The peasantry or occupiers of land in Prussia were then divided into two great classes. The first class comprised those who had acquired a hereditary right to the lands held by them, on condition of their paying a certain rent to the superior lord, consisting sometimes of a portion of the produce of the land, sometimes of services, such as we have already described, and sometimes, and most commonly, of both. The second class consisted of those whose title to the lands they occupied was either for life only, or for a certain specified number of years; though by a most absurd law or custom, the proprietor could not at the expiration of such term resume the lands into his own hands, but was obliged to relet them to an occupier of the same class as the one who had left them! In order totally to subvert the feudal system, to give a stimulus to agriculture by relieving the occupiers from those servitudes which cramped their energies and fettered their operations, and above all, to interest the peasantry in the prosperity of the country, and, consequently, in the subversion of the foreign tyranny by which it was then weighed down, the government had recourse to very strong measures. It was enacted by the edict of 1811, that those peasants who held perpetual leases, on condition of paying certain quantities of produce, or of performing certain services on account of the proprietors, should, upon giving up one-third part of the land held by them, become the free unconditional proprietors of the other two-thirds. And with respect to the other class of peasants, or those who occupied lands upon life-leases, or leases for a term of years, it was enacted that they should, upon giving up half their farms, become the unconditional proprietors of the other half. The first part of this edict, or that which had for its object to relieve the hereditary holders of land from the payment of the produce and services to which they were subject, on surrendering a third part of their occupancies, seems entitled to every commendation. The abuses which it went to extirpate were so fatal to the public prosperity, and had, at the same time, become so inveterate, and so deeply entwined with the existing institutions, laws, and habits, that they could not have been destroyed by any less powerful means. But the other measure, or that which enabled the holders of farms under life-leases, or leases for a term of years, to acquire the absolute property of half the lands they occupied, on surrendering the other half, was an invasion of the right of property, for which no sufficient motive has been assigned, if it be not, perhaps, the desire of rousing the energies of the peasantry, in the desperate struggle in which Prussia was then engaged. And even this, one should think, might have been effected by less violent means. If the terms on which farms were let were objectionable, a law might have been introduced to amend the mode of letting; and as leases fell out, the abuses would have been gradually rectified without giving any violent shock to the security of property. But however objectionable in principle, this measure has, in connection with the other, given a strong stimulus to agriculture. The peasantry being relieved, or having it in their power to relieve themselves, from the burdens and servitudes to which they were formerly subjected, have begun to display an energy hitherto unknown. Notwithstanding the prejudices in which they have been educated, agriculture has made considerable progress. And there is good reason to think that this progress would have been much greater, but for the law of equal inheritance which prevails in Prussia as well as in France, and the introduction and extraordinary extension of the potato cultivation. The former has reduced the land in some provinces into portions so minute as not to admit of their being properly farmed; while the dependence of the population on the potato has tended to multiply their numbers beyond the real demand for their services, to lower their wages, and to expose them to the severest vicissitudes. It is to the circumstances thus briefly glanced at, that the extraordinary increase of population in Prussia since 1815 is mainly to be ascribed.1
Conditions in Leases.—Much difference of opinion has existed with respect to the expediency of inserting conditions in leases in regard to management. Those who are adverse to them argue that, being framed by the landlord, whose knowledge of the practical business of farming is seldom very accurate or extensive, they are apt to proceed on mistaken views, and are for the most part either vexatious or impossible; that their strict observance can rarely be enforced; that if it were, it would reduce the occupiers to the condition of machines; that it would prevent them from taking advantage of such discoveries as may be made during the currency of their leases; and that, having no means of escaping from the prescribed mode of management, they would cease to interest themselves in the progress of agriculture, and become indifferent to every sort of improvement. Dr Smith has given his sanction to these objections. He has proposed, indeed, in the event of a tax being laid upon rent, that it should be made to fall more heavily on farms the tenants of which are bound by their leases to a prescribed mode of management, than on others. Such conditions are, he says, the effect of the ill-founded conceit entertained by the landlord of his superior knowledge, and uniformly tend to the prejudice of agriculture.1
But these statements, though in part true, are in part also unfounded, and calculated to mislead. Conditions in leases are of two kinds: viz., such as are intended to promote the improvement of farms, and such as are intended to prevent them from being deteriorated. Unless, however, the conditions meant to secure the first object are easily enforced, are not opposed to the interest of tenants, and do not improperly interfere with or shackle their proceedings, they will, probably, do more harm than good. When leases are of a reasonable length, tenants may in general be safely left, during the first period of their possession, to follow out, with but little restriction, their own views in regard to the cultivation of their farms. But it is quite another matter with the four, five, or six years anterior to the termination of their leases. Conditions to regulate the extent of land under corn and green crops, and to hinder farms from being worn out and exhausted, may then become of the greatest service, and should in no instance be dispensed with.
This, it must be observed, is not a question which can be decided on the principle of leaving every one to be regulated by his own sense of what is most advantageous: For here we have two parties—the landlord and tenant—each with separate, and often conflicting interests. It is for the landlord’s interest that his farm should always be in good order, and more especially that it should be in good order when the lease is about to expire; inasmuch as the rent which it will then bring will depend very much upon its condition. But the tenant is in quite a different situation. His interest in the farm being limited to the period for which his lease endures, it will, speaking generally, be his object to make the most of it during that period, without caring about the state in which he leaves it. Although, therefore, restrictions in respect to the mode of cultivation in the early part of a lease of considerable duration may, perhaps, be fairly objected to, no landlord, who has a proper sense of his own interest, or who wishes to get his estate restored to him in good order, will ever let a farm without prescribing certain rules or regulations, which it should be imperative on the tenant to follow during the latter part of the lease. These rules may not always be the best that might be devised. But if they prevent, as they can hardly fail of doing, the land from being overcropped and exhausted previously to the expiration of the lease, they will effect an important object, and be in a high degree beneficial.
These conclusions are not bottomed on hypothesis only. Those who inquire into the state of agriculture in different periods and countries, will find that wherever tenants, holding under leases, or for definite terms, are left to follow out their own views, their farms are all but universally in an impoverished and exhausted state previously to the termination of their occupancy. “In Italy,” says Harte, “when the husbandman’s term of holding is nearly expired, it is his custom to ruin the vineyard he rents, by forcing the trees to bear till they become barren. Such treatment is called by the neighbourhood lascia podera, or adieu farm.”1 This miserable system is followed from the tenants supposing that there will be less competition for farms in a worn out state, and that, consequently, there will be less risk of their being disturbed, or having their rents raised. In some parts of England, about the middle of last century, the country people had a proverb,—
In other words, he that exhausts the land may continue in his farm for an indefinite period; whereas he that improves must pay an advanced rent, or be obliged to quit. But the fear of an increase of rent was, in ninety-nine out of every hundred cases, a mere pretence to excuse their own shortsighted rapacity. And yet this wretched practice is followed, down to the present time, in some of the finest English counties. Speaking of Berks, Messrs Grainger and Kennedy tell us that, “owing to the system acted upon, the soil, generally speaking, is very much out of condition. A tenant, up to the last one or two years of his lease, drives it as hard as he possibly can, and in fact leaves it entirely run out. Thus, the labour of several years is required to put it into anything like good condition; whilst, by the time A has brought his land tolerably round, his neighbour B, perhaps, intends to relinquish his farm; and thus is kept up the neglected appearance of the country. When a farmer cultivates his own property, it is, in consequence of this system, generally seen to the greatest advantage, like a fat sheep among a lean flock.”1
A vast amount of agricultural capital has been destroyed through the prevalence of this abusive practice. And of the various parties, including the public, the landlords, and the tenants, who are injured by it, the latter are probably the greatest sufferers. In entering to an impoverished or worn out farm, a large amount of capital has to be expended, and years of the lease exhausted, before it yield either rent or profit. And though a tenant may have the satisfaction, such as it is, of having wasted his farm before his lease expires, if he take a renewed lease, he will be the principal loser by the state to which he has reduced it; while, if he leave it to go to another, the chances are ten to one that he will find that the ignorance and cupidity of his predecessor have been quite as active as his own. And these consequences having been everywhere realised when the occupiers have been left at liberty to act on their own views, it is not, perhaps, going too far to say that such landlords as do not provide against them hardly deserve to have estates. There can, in truth, be no really good agriculture where the exhaustion of farms is not prevented. And though Smith’s censure of conditions in leases be true within certain limits, yet the want of such limits, and the unwarrantable inferences which have been drawn from it, have made it, in a practical point of view, highly objectionable.
The indefinite nature of the tenures under which a very large proportion of farms are held in England, prevents their occupiers from subjecting them to the sort of treatment which they would be sure to experience were they let for fixed periods, without any stipulations in regard to management. And this very circumstance powerfully contributes to the extension and prolongation of the tenures referred to. It must be admitted, too, that were it impracticable, without improperly tying up tenants, to hinder the exhaustion of farms held under leases, it would go far to show that, how advantageous soever in some respects, they are on the whole decidedly objectionable. There is really, however, no such impracticability in the case; and nothing, indeed, can be easier than to give tenants full scope for the exertion of their skill and industry, at the same time that they are hindered from scourging and exhausting their farms. That this may be done, is shown by the example of all the most improved and best farmed districts of Scotland, where leases for reasonable periods, framed on the principle now stated, are universal; and this, also, is the case in various parts of England. It is idle, therefore, to attempt to excuse the want of leases, by referring to the exhausted state in which lands held under them are sometimes rendered back to the landlords. This is making one abuse an apology for another. By a lease we mean a contract in which the just rights and interests of the landlord, as well as those of the tenant, are secured and protected. We repudiate all one-sided contracts; and such are those leases which, while they tie up the hands of the proprietors, authorise the tenants to scourge and exhaust the land. Any sort of tenure is preferable to this; and its abolition, and the substitution of properly devised leases in its stead, and instead of the indefinite tenures now prevalent in England, would be a signal improvement.
It has been supposed that the insertion of conditions in leases, with respect to management, is a modern invention. But such is not the case. It is not very easy, indeed, partly from the silence of the original writers, and their inattention to such subjects, and partly, also, from their having attracted but little notice from the critics and commentators of modern times, to get any very precise information with respect to the method of managing landed property in antiquity. In Lacedæmon, the lands were cultivated by the helots, who seem to have been in nearly the same condition as the adscripti glebœ of the middle ages. The Spartans were entitled to a certain share of the produce; but they could neither increase their demands upon the helots, nor deprive them of their possessions, so long as they paid the fixed burdens.1 In Athens, and other Grecian states, landed properties were not generally extensive, and the proprietors seem, in most instances, to have occupied them directly, most commonly employing slaves, but occasionally also free labourers, in their cultivation. But, though there are good grounds for thinking that this was the most usual, it was not the only mode of managing landed property. In Greece, lands were sometimes let on lease, as in England, for a considerable number of years, at fixed money rents, and under regulations which evince considerable knowledge of agriculture. Theophrastus mentions that it was usual, in the island of Thasos, for proprietors, in letting farms, to guard against the tenants exhausting the land by overcropping. Reynier conjectures, with much plausibility, that this mode of letting had not obtained in Attica; for if it had, Theophrastus would not have referred to Thasos for an illustration of the practice.2 But specious as this conjecture may appear, it has been ascertained to be without foundation. The attention of the learned world has, within these few years, been called to some inscriptions of unquestionable authenticity,3 brought from Greece a longwhile ago, and now in the University of Leyden, which have been strangely overlooked, that are decisive of this question. They do not refer to the practice of letting land in Attica, but are themselves real leases. One of these inscriptions was found near Mount Hymettus, and is dated in the fourth year of the 108th Olympiad, or 345 years before the Christian æra. It is a lease by the Aexonians, the towns’ people, or demos of Aexone, of a piece of land called the Philais, near Mount Hymettus, to a father and his son, for forty years, for 152 drachmas a-year. But as it is alike curious and instructive, we beg to subjoin a translation of this inscription.
“The demos of Aexone let on lease the Philais, to Autocles the son of Auteas, and to Auteas, the son of Autocles, for forty years, for 152 drachmas a-year; the said land to be farmed by them, or planted with trees, as they please; the rent to be paid in the month of Hecatombæon. If they do not pay it they forfeit their security, and as much of the produce as they stand in arrear. The Aexonians are not to sell nor to let the said land to any one else, until the forty years have elapsed. In case of loss on the part of the tenants, by hostile invasion, no rent to be paid, but the produce of the land to be divided between the Aexonians and the tenants. The tenants are to deliver up half the land fallow, and all the trees upon the land; for the last five years the Aexonians may appoint a vine-dresser. The lease to begin with respect to the corn land with Eubulus the Archon entering into office; but with respect to the wood, not before Eubulus goes out of office. The lease to be cut upon stone, to be set up by the magistrates, one copy in the temple of Hebe, the other in the Lesche; and boundary stones (ὅροι) to be set up upon the land, not less than two tripods on each side. And if a tax should be paid for the land to government, the said tax to be paid by the Aexonians, or if paid by the tenants, to be deducted from the rent. No soil to be carried away by digging of the ground, except from one part of the land to another. If any person makes a motion in contravention of this contract, or puts it to the vote, he shall be answerable to the tenants for the damage.” And there are some further stipulations with respect to the cutting of the olive trees, and the division of the price obtained for them between the Aexonians and the tenants.
This inscription or lease, shows conclusively that the letting of land for a money rent, for a considerable number of years, and under conditions with respect to management, was well understood in Attica. The terms of the lease are such as indicate an advanced state of agriculture. The clauses binding the tenants to have half the land in fallow at the termination of the lease, and authorising the Aexonians, or lessors, to appoint a vine-dresser for the five years previous to its expiration; the making different entries to the corn and vine lands; the provisions with respect to the damage that might arise from hostile invasions; and the prohibition of carrying away any portion of the soil to another farm, discover a disposition to protect, as far as possible, the just rights and interests of both parties. The lease cannot be objected to on account of its being for too short a term. In this country it would be thought too long.
The reader will find, in the valuable work of Boeckh, on the Public Economy of Athens,1 an inscription containing a lease of lands belonging to the Piræus, or port of Athens. It is dated in the 4th year of the 104th Olympiad, and is for ten years; the rent is made payable by equal portions, in the months of Hecatombæon and Posideon—the first and sixth months; the lands for the first nine years are to be cultivated according to custom; but in the tenth year the half only is to be ploughed. There are some additional stipulations with respect to the security to be given by the tenants; and the carrying away of wood and earth is prohibited.
We have no such precise information with respect to the letting of lands in ancient Italy. It would seem, however, from the statements of Columella, that when farms were let to liberi coloni, or free tenants, they were bound to a certain system of management. He recommends landlords to be more rigid in enforcing conditions than in exacting rent; for, says he, “ubi sedulò colitur ager, plerumque compendium, nunquam detrimentum affert, eoque remissionem colonus petere non audet.”1 Pomponius Festus says, that those who let lands were in the habit of stipulating that two corn crops should not be taken in succession.2
Letting by Auction and Private Bargain.—The letting of land by private bargain, rather than by auction, has been approved by the highest authorities, and is conformable to the best established principles. There are three evils to be avoided in letting farms: first, that they be not let too cheap; second, that they be not let too dear; and third, that they be not let to parties deficient in skill or capital. Letting by auction affords a sufficient guarantee against their being let too cheap; but while it affords no guarantee against their being let at too high rents, and to improper tenants, it is very likely to lead to both. There is an excitement at an auction which frequently makes even a cautious individual go further than he would do in his cooler moments, or under other circumstances. He sees parties offering more than himself for a farm which he wishes to possess. His first impression, most probably, is, that they over-estimate its value. But the fact that they are making offers which do not, perhaps, greatly exceed his, gives him a sort of adventitious confidence. He begins to think that the farm may really be worth more than he had supposed, and is led, step by step, to go considerably beyond the limit he had previously fixed upon. But the over-renting of land is an evil that should be carefully guarded against. If the rent of a farm be really too high, that is, if it cannot be paid by an industrious and skilful tenant, possessed of sufficient stock, without wholly abstracting, or even seriously encroaching upon that liberal return for his services and capital to which he is justly entitled, he gets disheartened, and loses all motive to exertion. The farm is badly managed; scourging crops are resorted to, and, in the end, it is thrown upon the landlord’s hand in a worn-out condition, and with a bad character in the vicinity.1 A proceeding of this sort is ruinous to all parties. And to obviate its occurrence, the best plan is for landlords to have their farms valued by competent, and not over-sanguine judges, and to let them, by private bargain, to approved tenants, at the rents they have specified.
It is not uncommon in some places, in letting lands by auction, for landlords to reserve the privilege of choosing among the three highest bidders. But neither of these parties may be a desirable tenant; and, unless there were something clearly objectionable about the highest bidder, it would be invidious to pass him over.
Some landlords who let farms in what they call a private manner, adopt a practice which is not a little questionable. They have a party in view whom they wish to prefer, and in the event of his offer being less than that of some one else, they communicate the fact to him, with an intimation which is perfectly well understood, though it may not be distinctly expressed, that if he amend his offer it will be accepted. This is an unfair proceeding, and tempts the party to offer more than he believes the farm is really worth. And this, as already seen, is a serious evil. When offers are privately taken for a farm, the highest should not necessarily be preferred; but that offer should be accepted which is supposed by good judges to be nearest to the fair value of the farm, provided it be made by a respectable individual, possessed of the requisite capital and skill.
Over-Renting and Under-Renting.—Whenever it is ascertained that the rent of a farm is too high, it should be reduced. In all cases, too, it will be for the advantage of the landlord to act on this principle without waiting till the tenant is dispirited, his capital wasted, or his credit shaken. The necessary reduction may be made in different ways. Sometimes the landlord makes a permanent and unconditional abatement; sometimes, however, the abatement is only made for a year or two; and occasionally, also, the landlord reserves power, at a future period, if he think proper, to demand payment of the abatement.
But a little reflection will serve to show that a permanent reduction is in all respects most advantageous for the landlord as well as the tenant. A temporary reduction, though absolute and liberal, affords no security in regard to the future. It gives no guarantee to those who may have any dealings with the farmer; and who, were the reduction permanent, might be willing to assist him. By reserving power to demand an increase of rent at any future period, the landlord supposes, perhaps, that he will be able to profit by any rise of prices which may take place in the interval; and this, no doubt, is the case. But he forgets that, in attempting to secure this future and contingent advantage, he destroys the independence and credit of the tenant, and impairs or paralyses his energy. No present liberality can give security for the future; and no tenant can act with confidence, or make outlays in the hope of a distant return, if his rent may be raised at the mere pleasure of the landlord. Nothing, therefore, can be a greater error, than to imagine that proprietors who make permanent abatements to tenants, whose farms are really over-rented, act inconsiderately in regard to their own interests. On the contrary, the plan which they follow is the most likely of any to maintain the value of their estates and the amount of their rent-roll at the highest average level.
But, while we deprecate the over-renting of land as being highly detrimental to agriculture, we are not of the number of those who think that its interests will be promoted by letting farms below their fair value. On entering on a lease, tenants should be acted upon by the stimulus of fear as well as of hope; and while, on the one hand, skill, industry, and economy should not be hindered, by too high rents, from securing to the occupiers a proper maintenance for their families, and an adequate return for their outlays, so neither, on the other hand, should rents be so low as to permit them to be either indolent or careless. It is difficult, in fact, to say whether the letting of land at too high or too low rents be most prejudicial. To make farmers leave off those routine practices to which they are so apt to be attached, and become really industrious and enterprising, they should, besides having the power to improve their condition, be made to feel, that if they do not make the requisite exertions, they will certainly be ruined. To satisfy ourselves that this is necessary, we need only contrast farms occupied by tenants at rents considerably below their fair value with those let at that value. Speaking generally, the condition and culture of the former are very inferior, indeed, as compared with the latter. The occupiers of the under-rented farms, being able to pay their rents, and make a little money without any unusual exertion, move on in the routine system to which they and their fathers have been accustomed; whereas necessity compels the occupiers of the higher rented farms to adopt every device, how novel soever, by which their produce may be increased, and the expense of cultivation diminished.
Arthur Young has some conclusive remarks on this point in his “Tour through the Northern Counties.” “A rise of rent,” says he, “ought not to be considered as a transfer of income from the tenant to the landlord, but rather as a creation of income. There is scarcely a track of country in the kingdom, in which a rise of rent to a certain pitch is not attended with a corresponding increase of product. Instances are everywhere innumerable of farms low rented, that have been occupied by none but slovenly, poor, and ruined tenants; whereas the same farms doubled or trebled in the rent, become the fortunes of succeeding occupiers. There is nothing in this difficult to be accounted for. High rents are an undoubted spur to industry. The farmer who pays much for his land, knows that he must be diligent or starve. Land of 30s. an acre must yield good crops, or its occupier be ruined. Whatever be the nature of the soil, that circumstance will make it yield them. In no part of England, where rents are low, is there good husbandry. Norfolk is not an exception: the waste parts of that county were thrown into very large farms; the soil would yield nothing without marling; consequently none hired it but men who were either rich or could command money. A first expense of three or four pounds an acre is, considering the value of ready money to a farmer, no low rent. Wherever land is under-let, twenty to one but the farmers are slovens, unless some such circumstance operates.”1
Many similar passages may be found in other parts of the same work, and in Young’s other publications. Indeed, all the most intelligent writers on agriculture are agreed in regard to the injurious influence of under-renting. We have already referred to the account given by Mr Caird of the Duke of Cleveland’s estate, which is let greatly below its value. In another part of his work the same gentleman writes as follows:—“Rent is very capricious, often more regulated by the character of the landlord or his agent, and the custom of the neighbourhood, than by the value of the soil or the commodities it produces. There is not a county in England where this is not exemplified. On one estate we shall find land let at 20s. an acre; and on the next, farms of the same quality and with the same facilities of conveyance, let at 30s. With farmers of equal skill and enterprise, this difference of rent remains in the pocket of the fortunate tenant who holds under an easy landlord. But exertion is generally the child of necessity, and the man who must pay 30s. is obliged to be industrious, while his neighbour may be indolent, and in that case the difference of rent is lost to all, because indolence leads to diminished production. The active and industrious man employs more labour to raise an increased produce, that he may be enabled to pay his higher rent.”2Subletting and Subdividing.—The question whether tenants should be permitted to sublet their farms, has been variously argued. It is alleged in its favour, that were it allowed, skilful agriculturists, with adequate means, would take unimproved or exhausted farms; and that, after bringing them into good order, and subletting them for a profit, they would take others, and so accelerate the progress of improvement. But it is contended by parties better informed on such matters, that this expectation neither has been, nor is at all likely ever to be, realised. The supposed speculation is too hazardous; and no prudent tenant will lay out money on improvements unless he has resolved to occupy the farm himself, or knows that he may sublet it to one of equal skill and means. There is no doubt, too, that the granting of power to sublet, tends in some degree to weaken the exertions of the occupier. When a man enters upon a lease for nineteen or twenty-one years, which he cannot transfer to another, he loses no time in undertaking such improvements as he supposes will be advantageous; for as he knows that his interest in the farm will terminate with his lease, he also knows that the longer the improvements are delayed, the less profitable will they be. But to produce this effect in its full extent, the lessee must be impressed with the conviction that he or his heir is to occupy the farm during the entire lease. Parties who might not avail themselves of the privilege of subletting, might nevertheless, were it granted, hesitate about it; and the effects of this hesitation would very soon appear in their management. It may, perhaps, be argued, that the concession of the privilege in question would not make a farmer lessen his exertions, seeing that the more they were improved, the higher would be the rent for which the lands would sublet. And this, no doubt, would hold good to a certain extent. But it must be recollected that a tenant bound to occupy a farm during the entire lease, has only to satisfy himself that an improvement will be profitable; whereas, if he may sublet, and intends to avail himself of that power, or is hesitating about it, his remuneration for any outlay will depend upon his being able to satisfy others that it may be returned with a profit. Tenants so situated, are therefore led, if they undertake any improvements, to attempt such only as most readily strike the eye, and appear advantageous; while those really more beneficial ones which they would have undertaken had they felt assured, from the outset of their leases, that they would have to hold the farms to their close, are not thought of at all, or are postponed to some future period.
But though, as a general rule, subletting should be prohibited, there are a few cases in which it may be advantageously allowed. If a man who has laid out a considerable sum on a farm, die during the currency of a lease, leaving a widow and a family of young children, it would be difficult to vindicate the policy of hindering them from subletting the farm in the event of their thinking it expedient. And, to obviate the hardship of such cases, and give additional security to tenants, it might be stipulated, in letting farms, that the lessees should occupy them during their own lives; but that, in the event of their death, their heirs might either occupy or sublet them.
Being contrary to the common law of Scotland, no farm, unless it be expressly authorised in the lease, which is seldom the case, can be sublet. For the reasons previously stated, this law has undoubtedly conduced to the advantage of agriculture. But instances have occurred, when, owing to the death of the tenant, and the want of any special provision to meet that contingency, it has been productive of considerable hardship.
In some, though luckily in but few cases, the power of subdividing, as well as of subletting, their farms, is granted to tenants. But no ordinarily prudent landlord will ever, under any circumstances, concede such a power. Where it is granted, a farm, which is not more than adequate for a single tenant, may, previously to the termination of a twenty-one years’ lease, and indeed of one much shorter, be divided among some ten or a dozen beggarly occupiers. And the situation of the neighbourhood may be such as to render it very difficult for the landlord to get rid of such parties, and save his property from ruin.
In Scotland, and some other countries, leases are considered in the light of an inalienable estate, and descend, unless special provision be made to the contrary, to the heir-at-law of the tenant, to the exclusion of assignees and subtenants. And, notwithstanding the apparent stringency of this law, it has been found to answer extremely well in practice. In other countries again, as in England, leases are regarded in the light of a moveable property, and unless prevented by a positive stipulation, descend equally to the children, and may be assigned to others. Here this regulation has not been productive of any bad effects, a circumstance which may be ascribed principally, perhaps, to the great extent of land occupied by tenants whose tenure does not depend on any precise agreement with their landlords, but on the custom of the estate or district. Farms held under these tenures, are not generally divisible amongst the children in the event of the death of the occupiers. And when estates are let on lease, or under equivalent engagements, it is customary to prohibit subdivision. In addition to these checks, the poor laws have inspired the landowners with a salutary dread of the too rapid increase of the agricultural population; and have made them take efficient measures to hinder the splitting of farms, and the building of unnecessary cottages.
In Ireland, where the law as to leases is the same as in England, but where the checks that have hindered subdivision and subletting in the latter did not exist, these practices have been carried to a ruinous extent; and did more, perhaps, than anything else, to injure agriculture, and to overspread the land with a redundant and a beggarly population.
It hence results, that in the leasing of land, subletting and assigning, except in the event of the occupier’s death, should be disallowed; and that the prohibition of subdivision should be a fundamental condition in all leases and tenures, whatever their description.
Entry to Farms.—There is a great difference in different places in regard to the conditions under which tenants succeed each other. The practice in Kent, and most part of the southern counties, is to oblige the entering to pay the outgoing tenant, by a valuation, for the crop on the farm, for work done in ploughing, fallowing, etc., and for manure and other items. Messrs Kennedy and Grainger have shown, in their valuable work on the Practice of Tenancy, that this custom is highly objectionable, and that it has a powerful influence in keeping agriculture in a backward and depressed state. It obliges the new tenant to pay for articles which, probably, he does not want, and for work which he has not superintended, and which, perhaps, is not well executed, or executed to his mind. In consequence, too, of this practice, a large proportion of the tenant’s capital is swallowed up at the moment of his entering the farm, and when, of course, it is of most importance that he should have his entire funds under his control. The gentlemen now referred to affirm that, “in many counties in England, a farmer entering upon 200 acres of land, with a capital of £1,500, has to pay, according to the custom of the place, £1,200 upon a valuation, and for stock, leaving him only £300 to carry on his business; whilst in the north, and in Scotland, a farmer may enter upon the same quantity of land, having no valuation to pay, with only £800, and, after stocking his farm to the best advantage, have the same sum left that the other has, with much better opportunities of employing it profitably.”1
The same gentlemen observe, in reference to Kent, where a very large sum has usually to be paid by the entering to the outgoing tenant, that “if his (the new tenant’s) first year turns out bad, he is irretrievably ruined; which is and has been the case with hundreds, who, having entered upon a farm with all the money they could raise, have nothing left to carry it on, in the event of declining markets, or a wet season, affording them an unfavourable price for the produce of their first harvest.”1
The sooner this practice is changed the better. In Scotland, the usual term of entry to a farm is Whitsuntide; the outgoing tenant having liberty to cut the crop, and to use the barns for its thrashing, but being obliged to leave the straw to his successor. The outgoing tenant is always compelled, by the terms of his lease, to leave a certain proportion of his lands in green crop or fallow; but for this the new tenant pays nothing; and as, speaking generally, the outgoing tenant enters into some other farm where the like practice prevails, no injustice is done to any one; while each commences operations with an unimpaired capital, which he disposes of according to the best of his judgment. This, and the plan of granting leases for periods of nineteen years certain, with judicious stipulations as to management, form the peculiar excellence of the Scotch system. “It is these that render estates in Scotland so much more valuable than in England, the rents in the former being nearly double what they are in the latter. It is true that in Scotland the tenants pay no taxes or rates; but, after deducting for this, rents would still be higher (allowing for the measure) by 5s. an acre, than they are in England; and, under the Scotch system, a farmer would derive a greater advantage from paying an additional 5s. per acre, than he would by entering upon a farm subject to a valuation, even at a deduction of 5s. per acre; thus making a difference of no less than 10s. an acre.”2
Claims for Unexhausted Improvements.—The previous statements appear to be pretty decisive in regard to the question, which has latterly been a good deal discussed, of allowing tenants about to leave farms, a claim to the value of unexhausted improvements. The recognition of any such claim would be most mischievous, and is, indeed, quite at variance with the principle of occupancy for specified terms. Tenants holding under leases for such terms are anxious, as already seen, to undertake all necessary works with the least possible delay, that they may derive from them the largest amount of profit. But if they could make a charge at the close of their leases, for unexhausted improvements, it would be comparatively indifferent to them when they began operations, and the undertakings most indispensable might be indefinitely deferred. Although, however, these results should not follow, as they would necessarily do from the introduction of this practice, it would give rise to others of a still worse description. The occupancy and improvement of land would be associated with all sorts of frauds and abuses; shams would be substituted for realities; and skilful impostors would fatten on pretended improvements. How is the value of what is called an unexhausted improvement to be ascertained? It is obvious that no fixed rule or standard can be appealed to in deciding upon such questions. They must be left to arbitration. And, considering how impracticable it is to ascertain anything of their real value, with the ignorance and the biases of those who would have to be taken for arbiters, full scope would be given to every variety of jobbing and trickery. Every one who knows anything of the nature of the valuations effected in England, though in general they comprise only the values of ploughings, standing crops, and collections of manure, must wish for their suppression. They are, in truth, a mere tissue of abuses. On this point the following statement by Mr Caird is quite conclusive:—
“In our letter from the West Riding we referred to a custom, existing in the southern part of it, of compensation to the out-going tenant for certain acts of husbandry and unexhausted improvements; or, as they are more briefly termed, ‘tenant right.’ In no other part of Yorkshire have we met with this custom; and we have not the slightest hesitation in saying, that any dispassionate observer who will compare the state of farming in that part where it exists with the general average farming of the East and North Ridings, where it never has existed, will at once affirm that it has not produced a better style of farming. On the contrary, the farming of the southern division of the West Riding is not to be compared in any single point with that of the wolds of the East Riding, or the better farmed lands along the Ouse and Humber, or in Holderness, or the North Riding. And we were assured by an extensive farmer of much experience in the West Riding, who has himself had to pay this tenant right, and is therefore familiar with its operation, that it leads to frauds of every kind,—which, in truth, cease to be counted frauds, inasmuch as the party who suffered at his entry feels himself justified in retaliating on his successor. Instances have been known of toll-men being bribed to sign for false quantities of manure as having passed through their bar; and it is quite common to secure the services of a valuator, not according to his character for skill and justice, but mainly in reference to his skill in getting up and carrying through a ‘good’ valuation. One absurdity of the system is, that five ‘dressings,’ or preparatory ploughings and harrowings, are, as a matter of rule, charged against the last turnip crop, though very possibly two or three such dressings at the utmost are all that a skilful farmer would himself bestow. So sensible are the valuators of the haphazard nature of their awards, that they, in rendering their account, specify each item for which a charge is made; but, to prevent unnecessary questions, they put down no sum opposite to that item, contenting themselves with a single and lump sum for the whole at the last. In what other branch of business would such a blundering system be tolerated? The best farmers are now desirous of having certain points restricted, and believe that it would be a benefit to their class if the landlords would purchase up and put an end to many of its vexatious exactions. An entering tenant who has to pay down in cash a considerable portion of his whole capital for a doubtful benefit, the return from which he cannot reap till he himself quits the farm, is greatly crippled in his means at the very outset; and it is notorious that some farmers are become so expert in the trade that they make a business of taking a farm for a few years, and then quitting it with a high valuation. We repeat that, to whatever other consequences this custom may lead, whether to landlord or tenant, it has not, in the southern division of the West Riding, conduced to superior farming.”1
Now, if such statements may be truly put forth with reference to the valuations which are at present made in England, what would they be if they referred to bygone outlays, to drains executed at some distant period, to manures already ploughed down and incorporated with the soil, or to twenty other things of which none could tell the value? And hence, whatever changes may be introduced into the tenures under which lands are held in England, it is to be hoped that the quackish proposal in regard to unexhausted improvements may not be one of them. It is altogether incompatible with anything like either good husbandry or fair dealing. And there is not even a plausible pretence in its favour; for, when tenants are secured in the possession of their farms for specified terms, it is their own fault if they make any outlays without an adequate return; and the loss they may in consequence incur, is but a proper penalty on their delay or ignorance, or both. Even in the limited extent to which the proposed scheme exists at present, it is found to be most injurious; and few things would do so much to facilitate improvement, as the total suppression of the payments that are now made by entering to out-going tenants.
Letting of Land by Fine.—Letting of lands for a number of years, generally seven, by fine (Scotticè grassum), was formerly customary in England; but is now rarely practised, except upon estates belonging to the church and the universities, where it still retains its ascendancy. It is one of the worst modes of letting that can be adopted. “This practice,” says Adam Smith, “is, in most cases, the expedient of a spendthrift, who, for a sum of ready money, sells a future revenue of much greater value. It is in most cases, therefore, hurtful to the landlord. It is frequently hurtful to the tenant; and it is always hurtful to the community. It frequently takes from the tenant so great a part of his capital, and thereby diminishes so much of his ability to cultivate the land, that he finds it more difficult to pay a small rent than it would otherwise have been to pay a great one.”1
The practice of letting land by fine was latterly beginning to make considerable progress in Scotland, at least on the estates of entailed proprietors. And had it been legal, it would, no doubt, from its giving heirs in possession the means of procuring an immediate advantage at the expense of their successors, have been pretty generally followed. Happily, however, the House of Lords found, on the question being brought before them, that the practice was illegal, and quashed a system inimical to agriculture and to the public interests. It seems highly expedient that the legislature should interfere to put an end to the practice of letting church and college lands by fine.
Tenant’s Right.—The prevalence of what is called “tenant right” in Ulster, and to a considerable extent in the other provinces, is a remarkable feature in the economy of Ireland. It has been defined by Mr Hancock, agent to Lord Lurgan, to be “the sum of money which the new occupier must pay to the old one for the peaceable enjoyment of his holding, or his good will.”2 It varies in value, according to circumstances, from £5 to £20, and upwards, per statute acre, and sometimes, in fact, is about equal in value to the fee-simple of the land. Different opinions have been entertained as to the origin of this singular right; by some it is said to have had its source in old feudal relations. But the better opinion seems to be, that it originated in payments made by tenants entering into possession for improvements made by those leaving the land; and that it has grown into a custom, enforced in cases where no improvement whatever has been effected, from land being all but indispensable to the existence of the occupiers, and from the odium which attaches to any one who takes land held by another.
But however it may have originated, it is a custom subversive, in great degree, of the right of property, and highly injurious. It would be to no purpose to repeat the arguments by which we have already endeavoured to show the inexpediency of allowing tenants to make claims for unexhausted improvements, or for work executed on farms during the last year of their occupancy. The recognition of such claims is good for nothing unless it be thought desirable to encourage fraud and litigation. In Scotland, where no tenant right exists, or ever was heard of, there is no disinclination on the part of the occupiers to lay out capital on improvements. And though it may be said that this is a consequence of their holding under leases for terms sufficient to secure them the full benefit of any outlay they may make, yet the want of leases is no excuse for attempting to introduce a claim for unexhausted improvements or for tenant right. If a man holding under a tenure, terminable at six months’ notice, choose, for example, to lay out money on furrow-draining, he takes upon himself the risk of such a proceeding. And this risk is, in the majority of cases, really but trifling. For landlords are well aware, that were they prematurely, and without good cause, to eject tenants who had improved their farms, they would not only be exposed to a storm of reprobation, but would effectually prevent another sixpence from being expended on their estates. It is in truth quite as much for the interest of the landlords as of the occupiers, that the latter should not be capriciously dealt with; and the conduct of the great majority of English landlords, shows that they are fully alive to the importance of this principle. It is only when estates are sold, or come into the hands of new proprietors, that the tenants run any very considerable risks; and it is the peculiar merit of leases, that they obviate these, and give perfect security to the occupiers.
But even if a recognition of a claim to unexhausted improvements were as beneficial as it would be mischievous, that circumstance would go for little or nothing in vindicating tenant’s right, as the phrase is now understood in Ireland. It is claimed on lands that have been notoriously deteriorated, and even when the tenants have been evicted for non-payment of their rents. It is now, in truth, neither more nor less than a customary fee or premium paid by the entering tenant to insure himself against outrage and assassination. And everywhere, except in Ireland, it would be seen to be for the interest of all classes that such a custom should be suppressed. Its existence is an undisguised invasion of the right of property, and a disgrace to government, whose functions it pretends to usurp. No doubt it contributes to hinder the eviction of the tenantry; and that is really one of its worst effects. It is a contradiction, and an absurdity, to suppose that landlords will either consolidate their estates into too large farms, or dismiss really deserving tenants. And this so-called right, by making it considerably more difficult to get rid of superfluous and improper tenants, is a principal cause of that subdivision of the lands, and of those bad practices which disgrace Irish agriculture.
The claim for tenant right, by swallowing up the capital of an entering tenant, has all the injurious effects which, it has been previously seen, result from letting lands by fine. It is farther injurious to the occupiers, and indeed to all classes, by its tendency to neutralise the difference between liberal and illiberal landlords. For a tenant entering to a farm belonging to a liberal and an improving landlord invariably pays a proportionally larger sum as tenant right, and conversely when the landlord is of an opposite character; so that the good qualities of the proprietors, under this preposterous system, really redound more to the advantage of the tenants leaving the estate, than of those who come to live upon it!
The comparatively flourishing state of Ulster has been ascribed to the prevalence in it of tenant right; whereas it is wholly a consequence of the greater industry and intelligence of the inhabitants, very many of whom are the descendants of English and Scotch settlers. Tenant right is quite as prevalent in some of the most backward and depressed districts, as in Down. And though, in certain cases, its influence may be overcome by countervailing circumstances, there can be no question that it is everywhere a most formidable obstacle to improvement and good management.
But, how desirable soever, it is not easy, seeing the universality of the practice, to suggest any means by which it may be got rid of. We are, however, inclined to think that this might be effected by the landlords, on a change of tenants, paying the tenant right to the outgoing tenants, and admitting the new tenants without any charge on that account, on their renouncing all claim to any tenant right on their leaving their farms, or being ejected from them. There would be no injustice to any one in an arrangement of this sort; and were it steadily acted upon, it would get rid of a practice which is highly detrimental to agriculture; and which, if let alone, will most likely end in the absorption of the entire rights of the present proprietors.
[1 ] Such instances do, however, occasionally occur; and were they not sufficiently well known, some very gross and not very distant ones might be specified.
[1 ] See, for a striking illustration of the mischievous effects of this system, Mr Caird’s “Account of the Duke of Cleveland’s Estate in Durham.” It is, and always has been, very low rented. The tenants are very rarely displaced; and some of them have held their farms, in a regular series from father to son, since the reign of Elizabeth. And yet, as might have been anticipated, the agriculture of the estate has been neglected, the tenants have not made money, and its too beneficent proprietor is complained of because he does not reduce the present inadequate rental.—Caird’s “English Agriculture,” p. 349.
[1 ] Sismondi, Nouveaux Principes d’Economie Politique, tome i. p. 196.
[1 ] Young’s “Travels in France,” etc., 2d edit. vol. ii. p. 216.
[2 ] Tome i. p. 192-194.
[1 ] Discussione Economica sul Dipartimento d’Olona, p. 54.
[2 ] Tableau de l’Agriculture Toscane. Geneve, 1801.
[1 ] Letter from Italy.
[2 ] We quote from Rigby’s translation, p. 78.
[3 ] Ibid. p. 46.
[1 ] De Re Rusticâ, § 137.
[1 ] Husbandry of the Ancients, vol. i. p. 60.
[1 ] Dickson’s “Husbandry of the Ancients,” vol. i. p. 74.
[1 ] It might be effected in the easiest and most unobjectionable manner, by means of duties, to which there could be no good objection.
[1 ] Account of Denmark in the year 1692. 4th ed. p. 54.
[1 ] Travels in Hungary, etc., i. 297, etc.
[2 ] Mr Paget has set the wretched effects of this system in a striking light; i. 306.
[1 ] It increased from 10,169,899 in 1816, to 16,285,013 in 1849.
[1 ] Wealth of Nations, p. 374.
[1 ] Essays on Husbandry, 2d edit. p. 160.
[1 ] On the Tenancy of Land in Great Britain, 2d edit. p. 145.
[1 ] Reynier, “Recherches sur l’Economie Publique des Grecs,” p. 247. Muller’s Dorians, ii. 32., Eng. Trans.
[2 ] Id. p. 377.
[3 ] Given by Boeckh in his work on ancient inscriptions, vol. i. p. 132, published at Berlin, at the expense of the Academy.
[1 ] Vol. ii. p. 15, Eng. Trans.
[1 ] Lib. i. cap. 8.
[2 ] “Restibilis ager,” he observes, “dicitur qui biennio continuo seritur farreo spico, id est aristato; quod ne fiat, solent qui prædia locânt, excipere.” See Recherches Historiques sur l’Agriculture chez les Romains, p. 82.
[1 ] See for a striking example of this, “Caird on English Agriculture,” p. 25.
[1 ] “Six Months’ Tour in the North of England,” iv. 343.
[2 ] “English Agriculture” in 1850-51, p. 477, the best work on the subject which has appeared since the “Tours” of Arthur Young. Mr Davis, in his “Agriculture of South Wales,” mentions an instance of a gentleman who expended £20,000 in improving the lands of his tenants, without charging them a sixpence of additional rent. He died; and his successor being of a different cast, left off improving, and tried what might be done by doubling rents! And Mr Davis says, that however painful to relate, this advance of rent, though considered oppressive in the first instance, did more to promote improvement and the interest of all parties, than all the benevolence of the preceding proprietor. “The tenants were now compelled to do themselves what another did for them before.”—Agriculture of South Wales, i. 165.
[1 ] Practice of Tenantry, Introduction, p. 16.
[1 ] Practice of Tenantry, p. 250.
[2 ]Ibid, Introduction, p. 16; and see post on the “Tenant’s Right” in Ireland.
[1 ] English Agriculture in 1850-51, p. 328.
[1 ] Wealth of Nations, p. 374.
[2 ] Occupation of Land Commission, i. 1483.