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4.: Service Rents. - 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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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.
AN ESSAY SHOWING THE ERRONEOUSNESS OF THE PREVAILING OPINIONS IN REGARD TO ABSENTEEISM.
Having had the honour to be examined in 1825 by a committee of the House of Commons on the state of Ireland, I ventured to contend, that the outcry against absentee expenditure was unfounded, that it was not really injurious, and that it had nothing, or very little, to do with the distress so long prevalent in the sister island. On being published, this evidence was received with a loud burst of reprobation. Had I written an essay in defence of robbery or assassination, it could hardly have met with a more unfavourable reception. “Illogical,” “drivelling,” “unprincipled,” “venal,” and “profligate,” were not, by any means, the worst of the epithets that were applied to it, and to its author. And yet, singular as it may appear, all this boisterous indignation was directed against a very obvious application of those free-trade principles which have since happily gained the ascendant. It had previously been established, and is now universally conceded, that gentlemen who consume nothing in their families but what is brought from abroad, are quite as good, as useful, and as meritorious subjects, as they would be did they consume nothing but what is produced at home. And such being the case, it will require a sharper eye than has yet looked at this subject, to discover the great injury which is said to be done by their going abroad. If free-trade be a good thing, absenteeism cannot be a bad thing. And those who join the chorus in favour of the former, had better, if they would have it supposed that they know anything of the matter, say as little as possible to the prejudice of the latter. The subjoined essay is taken, with no very material variation, from the Eighty-fifth Number of the “Edinburgh Review,” November 1825. It helped to stem the torrent of abuse, and has yet to be answered.
With very few exceptions, most of those who have inquired into the causes of the peculiar state of Ireland, from Sir John Davis and Mr Laurence, down to Lady Morgan and Mr Southey, have joined in ascribing a large share of the poverty and turbulence of its peasantry to the non-residence of the principal proprietors. It must be admitted, too, that this opinion seems, at first sight, to be as well founded as it has been universal. The wealth which is sent abroad to absentee landlords and capitalists, seems to be entirely lost to the country; and to occasion a proportional diminution of its means of supporting and employing the people who remain in it; at the same time that the inferior classes lose the various benefits derivable from the residence of the gentry, and the protection and assistance which, it is taken for granted, they would afford them did they live on their estates.
But after weighing these statements, and giving the subject a good deal of consideration, we confess that we see no grounds for joining in the clamour which has been so long and so loudly raised against absenteeism. The character of the people of Ireland, and the peculiar circumstances under which they have in other respects been placed, are quite sufficient to account for their degraded condition. And it will not, we think, be difficult to show, that the non-residence of the landlords is, if not entirely innocuous, of so very little importance, that it may safely be left out of view in estimating the causes of Irish misery.
Absentee landlords are said to be injurious, first, and principally, because they spend that wealth in another country, which, were it spent at home, would afford employment to a number of tradesmen, labourers, and industrious people; and, second, because the country is deprived of the moral benefits which would result from their residence, and the peasantry left to be fleeced and plundered by those who have no permanent interest in their welfare, and whose only object is to benefit themselves. We shall offer a few remarks on each of these heads.
With regard to the first, or the disadvantage supposed to be occasioned by the landlords spending1 their incomes in another country, it will not, we think, be difficult to show that it is all but imaginary. The rents of the Irish absentee landlords are said to amount to four, or four and a half, millions. We suspect that this statement is a good deal exaggerated; but assuming it to be accurate, the primary question is, how are these rents remitted to them? Now, as there is no excess of specie in Ireland, and Bank of Ireland notes do not circulate in England, it is obvious that they cannot be remitted except by exporting an equivalent amount of Irish raw produce and manufactures. Were the absentees to return to Ireland, there would be an increased demand for commodities, or labour, or both, in the home market, to the extent of four, or four and a half, millions. But it is plain that this increase of demand in the home market, would be balanced by an equal diminution in the foreign market. And unless it were shown that foreign merchants trade for smaller profits than the home merchants, we must be satisfied, on the first blush of the matter, that the expenditure of those landlords who reside in London or Paris, it is no matter which, contributes as much to promote industry in Ireland, as if they resided in Dublin or Cork.
It may be said, indeed, that the rents of the absentees are neither remitted in specie, nor in bank-notes, nor in Irish produce, but in drafts on foreign merchants, or bills of exchange. But what, may we ask, is a bill of exchange? Is it not an order addressed to an individual residing in another part of the same, or in a foreign country, directing him to pay a debt he has already contracted, or is about to contract, to the drawer of the bill, to some other party specified by him? Notwithstanding their liberality, the merchants of England would hesitate not a little, before they furnished the Irish absentees even with four thousand pounds, without receiving an equivalent, that is, without receiving four thousand pounds worth of Irish produce. This, then, is the manner in which absentee expenditure operates. The agent of an absentee landlord, after collecting the rents of his principal, say £10,000, buys a bill of exchange with this sum from an Irish merchant. And the latter, in order to supply his correspondent in London, Liverpool, or Paris, on whom the bill is drawn, with funds to pay it, must, for it is in no respect optional with him, go into the Irish market and buy £10,000 worth of the raw or manufactured products of the country, and send them to the order of his correspondent. Where, then, is the difference to Ireland, in so far as the demand for commodities is concerned, whether the landlord be or be not resident? When resident, he expends his rent partly on Irish produce, partly on foreign produce imported into Ireland in exchange for Irish produce, and partly on wages. And when he is not resident, his agent pays it away for a bill of exchange of the same amount to a merchant, who lays it wholly out in the purchase of Irish produce fitted for exportation. The products and services bought are not the same in both cases; but the same sum goes in both to reward Irish industry and labour. However it may be turned or twisted, it will be found, on analysing any case that may be presented, that this is the whole difference, in so far as expenditure is concerned, between a resident and a non-resident landlord. The one exchanges his income for Irish commodities, or their equivalents, which he brings into his house in Ireland, and consumes there; the other also, through the merchants, who furnish him with bills, exchanges his income for Irish commodities, which, or the equivalents for which, he brings into, and consumes in his house in London or Paris. And, therefore, unless the mere locality of consumption be advantageous, it follows that the expenditure of that portion of the annual revenue of a nation, which is sent abroad to absentees, contributes as effectually to the general advantage as the expenditure of any other portion of revenue. It is never, in short, by sending abroad revenue, but by sending abroad the capital by whose agency revenue is produced, that nations are impoverished.
Though rents were remitted to the absentees in specie, it would not affect the previous reasoning. Ireland has no mines of gold or silver. If she send these metals to England or France, she must previously obtain them in return for an equivalent amount of Irish produce: and the gain on selling it to the merchants of California or Australia, will be quite as great as any that could have been realised by selling it to the landlords, had they remained at home. At bottom, the notions respecting absentee expenditure, differ but little from those so long prevalent with respect to the balance of trade. It is now above a century since Swift, not in jest, but in good sober earnest, informed his believing and admiring countrymen, that they had only about £500,000 of cash; and that, “out of this scanty stock,” they had to remit a nett million a-year to England! Those who believe in the possibility of such a state of things, may conscientiously think, that the poverty, the everlasting agitation, and the assassinations which distract and disgrace Ireland, are owing to its beef being roasted, and its linen worn, in London and Paris, rather than in Dublin and Cork.1
We have sometimes, indeed, heard it alleged, that it is a mistake to suppose that absenteeism increases the exports from Ireland; that they take place because its principal products are well fitted for the markets of England and other countries; and that, while the foreign demand for Irish products is not increased by the non-residence of the landlords, the home demand for them is very much diminished. This, however, is one of those unlucky statements which contradict and confute themselves. Let it be supposed—which is certainly not the case—that the exports from Ireland are not augmented in consequence of the remittances to absentees: It is, on this hypothesis, sufficiently clear, that the imports which would otherwise take place of English and foreign produce into Ireland must be diminished by the whole amount of the bills drawn in favour of the absentees; for it would follow, were this not the case, that the latter must either subsist on charity or on the air! If, then, the absentees were to return home, and the same amount of Irish produce were to be exported, all the English and foreign commodities, on which the absentees subsisted when abroad, would henceforth be imported into Ireland; and there could not, under such circumstances, be any increase of demand, how trifling soever, in consequence of their return, for Irish produce.
It is said, however, that these statements prove too much. That the same reasoning which shows that the remittance of rents to absentees is not injurious, will equally show that a tribute may be paid to foreigners without injury to those who pay it! But the slightest reflection will suffice to convince any one, that remittances to absentees are not identical with remittances on account of tribute, but totally and completely dissimilar. Suppose that a quantity of linen is exported from Ireland to Liverpool on account of an absentee: If the absentee return home, this exportation will of course cease; but what will Ireland gain by its cessation? His rent may no longer be employed to purchase linen; but if not, it will be employed to purchase other articles, which he will of course consume in his own family. The fact of his being in Ireland or out of it, neither adds to nor detracts from the means of living possessed by other individuals. So long as those who consume, and the value of the products which they consume, continue the same, a change in the place of consumption affects themselves only. The case of a tribute is in every respect different. If the remittances to Irish absentees were put a stop to, those to whom they are sent would return to Ireland, and would consume them there. But if the same remittances were sent as a tribute to a foreign country, there would not, in the event of its ceasing, be any one to return to Ireland; and there would, in consequence, be so much additional wealth left in the pockets of its inhabitants. Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd and contradictory than the statements so frequently put forth by Irish newspapers and demagogues, comparing the remittances to absentees to a tribute, and complaining of the injury which Ireland sustains in sending abroad so large a sum, for which she gets no return. It is quite obvious that she gets an ample return. The remittances in question consist of the rents of land, or the profits or interest of stock belonging to absentees; and in making them, Ireland discharges a debt which is justly due, and which she would equally have to discharge were the absentees to return to their estates. Suppose that the rental of an Irish property amounts to £1,000 or £10,000 a-year, it is a matter of indifference to Ireland whether the owner consume annually £1,000 or £10,000 worth of Irish commodities and services in Ireland, or have an equivalent amount of them sent to a London or Paris merchant on his account. To talk of a return in either case is absurd; unless by return be meant the extinction of a debt due to the party, which is quite as easily and as effectually discharged in the one way as in the other.
But the opponents of absenteeism contend that this reasoning involves a fallacy; that the greater portion of the raw produce and manufactures which are sent to absentee landlords, would have been exchanged by them, had they remained in Ireland, for the products of the various Irish tradesmen, for which every opulent individual must always have a demand; but that, when they live in London or Paris, they employ them in paying the wages of English or French tradesmen, who consequently gain an advantage at the expense of those of Ireland. Plausible, however, as this statement may appear, it is altogether fallacious. Suppose that any given number of landlords, residing at present in Ireland, and laying out their incomes partly on English manufactured goods and colonial products, and partly on products of Irish art and industry, emigrate to England or France; and suppose farther, that the identical Irish commodities which they are in the habit of using in Ireland are sent after them to their new residence: In this case, it is obvious, in the event of the absentees taking their servants along with them, that the wealth of Ireland would be in no degree affected by the change in their place of residence. And what, in point of fact, is the value of the difference between this hypothetical case and the actual case of the absentees from Ireland or any other country? When the Duke of Leinster leaves Carton to establish himself in Carlton Terrace, it is probable that the same articles may not be used by him in London that he would have used had he continued in Ireland. But if not, the difference is immaterial; for such of them as are English or foreign must be obtained, directly or indirectly, in exchange for an equivalent amount of Irish produce of some sort or other. How idle, then, to accuse absenteeism of weakening the stimulus to industry, and lessening the demand for labour!
Absenteeism may, and indeed most frequently does, occasion a partial change in the species of labour in demand. But this is all it can do; and for anything that we can, à priori, know to the contrary, such change may be advantageous. Raw produce and linen are the articles in which it is at present most for the advantage of Ireland to remit rents to absentees. And, supposing them to return to Ireland, a less amount of their rents would be laid out on these, and a larger on other things. But this would not occasion an increase of the total demand for labour; for if, under such circumstances, more people were employed in one way, fewer would be employed in another. If a non-resident landlord lay out his rent in the purchase of corn, which requires the labour of 100 men for its production; and if, on returning home, he lay it out in the purchase of manufactures, also produced by 100 men, the aggregate demand for Irish labour is nowise affected by the change.
Not only, however, would the demand for labour not be increased, but there are ten chances to one that it would be diminished by a change like that now supposed. A greater number of labourers are almost uniformly required to produce £500 worth of corn, than to produce £500 worth of manufactured goods. Our readers are aware that Smith’s theory of the superior advantageousness of agricultural industry, is founded on this circumstance, or on its being supposed that, when two equal capitals are employed, one in agriculture and the other in manufactures, the former affords employment to many more individuals than the latter. And those who dissent from this theory do not deny the assumption on which it is founded; but contend that it is not by the number of people which different businesses employ, but by the nett profit which they respectively yield, that their comparative advantageousness is determined. The recommendation of a system that would certainly occasion a considerable diminution in the demand for labour, is, however, a pretty good example of the Irish mode of providing employment for a people.
But, though they will not bear examination, the prevalent notions respecting absentee expenditure appear, on a superficial view, natural and well founded. When a wealthy landlord resides on his estate, there is generally, in some contiguous village, a number of little tradesmen and manufacturers who work on his account, and who, it is alleged, will be thrown out of employment, and left wholly destitute, in the event of his removing to another country. This statement is founded on an entire misapprehension of the nature of profits. Those who clamour against absenteeism, take for granted that retail dealers, tradesmen, and manufacturers, live at the expense of those who employ them, or who buy their products. Certainly, however, they do no such thing. They are not so very dependent as they are believed to be by others and by themselves. They are not maintained by the demand of the public, but by their own wits and industry. Of these they cannot be deprived; and as they have supported them hitherto, they will support them in all time to come. The bootmaker, who sells boots at 50s., which cost him only 40s. of outlay, does not make the 10s. of profit at the expense of his customers. He produces, in a given time, a pair of boots equivalent to, or worth in silver 50s., while the various expenses to which he is necessarily put in their manufacture, amount, when rated in the same medium, to 40s. And his customers all do the same; they all make similar profits in their respective businesses; that is, they produce quantities equal to 50, by an outlay of 40. Consequently, in exchanging corn, cloth, or silver for boots, one party gains nothing at the expense of another. Profit is, in every case, the result of more being produced in given periods than is consumed in them. The advantage of exchanging one commodity for another, consists in its enabling labour to be subdivided, and commodities to be produced, in the best and most expeditious manner.
The various manufacturers and tradesmen employed by a resident landlord, give him a full and fair equivalent for what they receive. It is not their interest, but his own, which he has in view in dealing with them. It is obvious, indeed, that all that the total cessation of the demand for a particular class of commodities can do, is to force those who produced them to employ themselves in some other way. And this is seldom a very serious injury, and is sometimes an advantage. Shoemakers, for example, do not live upon shoes. They produce them only that they may exchange them for other articles. And if, in consequence of their being brought more cheaply from abroad, the demand for shoes made at home were partly or altogether to cease, the makers would directly set about the production of those other articles, or of something else which they might offer for them.
This principle is quite decisive of the nature and value of the opinion of those who contend that, when a set of opulent landlords leave one country for another, the tradesmen and manufacturers whom they patronised lose all the profit which they made in their dealings with them. But it has been shown that the profits made by these and other tradesmen consist, in every case, of the excess or its value, of the commodities which they produce in a given time over those which they necessarily consume in the same time. Whether they directly use these commodities, or exchange them for others, has no more to do with profits than with poetry or painting. If an agriculturist obtain, at the end of a year, a return of 1,100 or 1,200 quarters of corn, and if the various outlays necessary in its production amount, when reduced to the same standard, to 1,000 quarters, his profits will be 10 or 20 per cent.: and this whether he sells his corn or eats it—whether he casts it into the ground as seed, or leaves it to rot on the surface. If the popular opinions with respect to the source of profits were really true, it would inevitably follow, inasmuch as they take for granted that all producers make their profits at the expense of some one else, that no additions could be made to capital, and that the capital now in the world must be very soon annihilated! If such were really the condition of mankind, they would not, in an economical point of view, fare one whit better than a set of tigers in a cage. They would prey upon each other, till only one survived, and he would die of hunger! It is a radical mistake to suppose that the idea, that profits depend on exchanges, is only partially erroneous; it is without even so much as the shadow of a foundation.
This principle shows, also, the error of those who contend that, though absentee expenditure may not be injurious when the rents of absentees are paid in money, and that money is laid out in the purchase of Irish produce, it would be injurious were rents paid in kind, and were the actual produce of which they consist remitted directly to the absentees. But at bottom there is no difference between these cases; and we have supposed that rents are paid in money, only because such is the case throughout Ireland. Let it, however, be supposed that the rent, paid in kind, of a resident landlord consists of a thousand quarters of wheat, or a thousand head of cattle. He will, it is plain, exchange a part at least of these articles for such other Irish, British, and foreign products as he has occasion for. Suppose, now, that this landlord transfers himself and his family to London, and that the sacks of wheat or head of cattle which would have been delivered to him at his seat in Ireland are sent to him in this city: In this case he will, of course, exchange them, or some portion of them, for an equivalent amount of English and other produce. But in what respect is this change injurious to Ireland? Whatever may be the place of their residence, the landlord and his family consume the whole value of their corn and cattle; and it is most probable that their consumption of Irish articles will be very little greater when they are resident than when they are non-resident. But whether this be so or not, is not of the slightest moment. The people of Ireland have, in either case, exactly the same amount of produce to subsist upon; the only difference that can obtain being that, when the landlord is at home, they may have more wheat and cattle, and fewer goods of other descriptions, and conversely when he is absent. But if, through a change of demand occasioned by absenteeism, the supply, whether of raw or manufactured produce, should become deficient or redundant, capital would be drawn to the deficient, and withdrawn from the redundant branch, till the equilibrium of supply and demand was restored.
In the event, then, of a landlord becoming an absentee, it may happen that few or none of the articles produced by the tradesmen and manufacturers with whom he dealt can be advantageously exported to the country to which he has gone; and the demand for these will, of course, proportionally decline. But wherever this happens, what is lost on the one hand is gained on the other; for the demand for some other variety of articles is equally increased. It must also be kept in view, that while the effective demand of the country continues undiminished, so does the capital by means of which the articles required to satisfy that demand are produced. Throughout this discussion we take for granted that absentees take no part either of their own stock, or of the stock of their tradesmen, along with them. These remain where they were, and are employed to support and employ labourers when the landlords are abroad, as well as when they are at home. It may happen that some of the hands employed by resident landlords may be forced, on their becoming absentees, to engage in new employments, and even to migrate to another part of the country. But, in a general point of view, these changes are unimportant; and they might equally arise from opening new branches of commerce, or from the employment of new or improved machinery.
For the reasons now stated, a village built in the immediate vicinity of a gentleman’s seat, generally declines on his becoming an absentee. That, however, is in most cases anything but an injury. The inhabitants of such villages are very generally poor, needy dependants, destitute of invention, and without any wish to distinguish themselves. But when the proprietors are absentees, they are forced to trust to their own resources, and either establish some sort of manufacture, or resort to those manufacturing and commercial cities where there is always a ready demand for labour, and where every latent spark of genius is sure to be elicited. Although, therefore, it be certainly true that absenteeism has a tendency to reduce the villages which are usually found in the neighbourhood of the residences of extensive proprietors, it is not on that account prejudicial to the country at large, but the reverse. “Stock and labour,” says Smith, “naturally seek the most advantageous employment. They naturally, therefore, resort as much as they can to the town, and desert the country.”
It should, however, be observed that these statements are only strictly true when absentees take their servants along with them. When these are left behind they require to be modified. The modification necessary in such cases is, however, extremely unimportant. It applies only to that portion of the earnings of household servants which they receive in the shape of board. If a resident gentleman expend £400 or £500 a-year on the money wages of household servants, he has so much less to expend on produce. In the event, however, of his going abroad and leaving his servants behind him, this £400 or £500 will be expended on produce of one kind or other, and will afford employment in its production to the whole or the greater number of the discarded servants. All, consequently, that they lose, or rather all that is lost by the class to which they belong, is their board and lodging in the houses of the absentees. And it is to be observed that this effect is only, if at all, sensible at the commencement of a system of absenteeism, and hardly even then, if the country be advancing. But trifling as it is, this is the whole extent of the injury, in an economical point of view, which it ever directly inflicts on the population. And it is so very insignificant, and so evanescent, that, in a practical point of view, it is hardly worth adverting to.
But the declaimers against absenteeism have yet another reason for the faith that is in them. They cry out, do you mean to say that Paris, Rome, and Brussels are not benefited by the expenditure of English absentees? But if you admit that they are benefited, must you not also admit, that London and Bath derive a proportional benefit from the expenditure of Irish absentees? And if so, does it not follow that Ireland loses whatever they gain? While, however, we admit the premises, we deny the inference which it is attempted to draw from them. We concede that London and Bath are benefited, though in a small degree, by the residence of Irish absentees; but we deny that Ireland loses what they gain, or that she, in fact, loses anything by their non-residence. If the products sent from Ireland to England on account of absentees, were those which they make use of, they would have no occasion to enter an English shop, or to give an order to an English tradesman; and it is rather difficult to see how, under such circumstances, their residence here could be of advantage to any one. But in this, as in other cases, absenteeism has the same influence as an increase of commercial freedom, or a better distribution of the labour of the world. The products sent hither from Ireland on absentee account are not for the exclusive use of the absentees, and they, also, cost less than if they were raised in this portion of the United Kingdom. And the advantage, whatever it may be, which we derive from the residence of the absentees amongst us, depends wholly on this circumstance, or on the fact of the commodities imported to defray their expenditure being produced more cheaply in Ireland than in England. Were this not the case, we should gain nothing by their residence; for if, on the one hand, they increase the demand for certain descriptions of British produce, they must, by bringing an equivalent amount of Irish produce into our markets, proportionally lessen the demand for some other descriptions of our produce. It is farther plain that, whatever England may gain in consequence of the better division of labour caused by the influx of absentees, Ireland, instead of losing anything, is on her part an equal gainer. The entire income of the absentees continues to be expended in the purchase of Irish commodities. There is, consequently, the same demand for them, as if the absentees resided at home. It is only, as already stated, the products in demand that are varied. And those which are required to defray absentee expenditure, are those best suited to the productive capacities of Ireland.
Suppose, still better to illustrate this statement, that an Irish gentleman resident in Dublin, pays bills of £400 or £500 a-year to his coach and harness-makers, shoemakers, etc. If this gentleman come to London, he will have a like amount to pay to the same descriptions of tradesmen in this city. But, then, it is to be kept in view, that the £400 or £500 that were in the former instance paid to the Dublin tradesmen, must now be paid to the linen-manufacturers of Belfast, or to the producers of those Irish articles suitable to the English market, sent here on account of the absentee. And they have rather antiquated notions of national advantage, who contend that it is as much for the interest of Ireland to employ her capital and labour in the production of articles in which England has an advantage over her, as it is to employ them in the production of those in which she has an advantage over England. A century ago, an argument, if we may so call it, of this sort, might have worn an imposing aspect. But we should have thought, had not their late yelping (for it deserves no better name) proved the contrary, that even the professional agitators would have been inclined to use it at present with some misgivings.
It may, perhaps, be said that, even were it otherwise innocuous, non-residence has the disadvantage, inasmuch as absentees escape taxation at home, of increasing the weight of the burdens which fall on the resident population. It is easy, however, to see that the influence of absenteeism over taxation, depends in great measure on the description of taxes levied in the country of the absentees. If its revenue were principally raised by taxes on property or income, or on exports, absentees would not escape them, and their non-residence would not, in this respect, have the influence ascribed to it. In Ireland, indeed, the revenue is almost wholly raised by taxes on expenditure. But then it is to be borne in mind, that nine out of every ten of the Irish absentees reside in England; and being, in consequence, subject to the assessed and other taxes, from which Ireland is unjustly exempted, they contribute more to the revenue of the United Kingdom than they would do were they resident.
Hence, as regards taxation, absenteeism from Ireland is advantageous rather than otherwise. And in regard to the absentees from England, the far greater number reside abroad from prudential motives; from a desire to retrench, or, by living less expensively than they could do at home, to repair shattered fortunes, and to make some provision for their families or younger children. The savings of such parties are sure, in the end, to centre in England, and will much more than compensate for the trifling, and all but imperceptible, inconvenience which may be sustained in the meantime from their not contributing to the taxes on expenditure.
If it were attempted, as has been proposed, to obviate the inconvenience now alluded to, by laying a peculiar tax on the incomes of absentees, it would stimulate such of them as had it in their power to carry their property abroad with them. And in such case, absenteeism would be rendered a serious evil. The question would no longer regard the spending of income abroad, but it would regard the transfer to the foreigner of the capital by which income is produced; and such transfer cannot be made, without proportionally diminishing the power to support and employ labour in the country losing the capital, and increasing it in the country which acquires it. Voluntary absenteeism, under an equal system of taxation, is never injurious. But if an effort were made to obviate an imaginary evil by imposing special taxes on the incomes or properties of absentees, a real grievance would be created, mischievous alike to the public and the absentees.
In every point of view, therefore, in which this subject can be considered, it appears obvious, that in so far as the question of expenditure is concerned, absenteeism is not injurious to a country. On the contrary, it is in the majority of cases advantageous. Its tendency is to turn industry into those channels into which it is most for the public advantage that it should be turned, and eventually to increase the national capital.
With respect to the second branch of this inquiry, or that which regards the disadvantages which are said to be occasioned by the want of that valuable example and protection which a resident landlord is supposed to afford to his tenants and dependents, it is not so easy to arrive at any positive conclusion. An extensive landed proprietor has undoubtedly the means, provided he have the inclination, of doing a vast deal of good. “A man of family and estate ought,” says Johnson, “to consider himself as having the charge of a district, over which he is to diffuse civility and happiness, and to give an example of good order, virtue, and piety.” We, however, have not to deal with landlords as they ought to be, but with them as they really are. The question respecting the alleged superiority of resident over absentee landlords in promoting civilisation and improvement, must be decided by an inquiry into the conduct of each class, and not by inferences drawn from what that conduct ought to be. Are the estates of the absentees worse managed than those of resident landlords? Are their tenants poorer, and more exposed to oppression? Are they more turbulent, and more disposed to engage in illegal associations and enterprises? If they are, then non-residence is in so far injurious; but if not, not.
We may observe, in entering on this inquiry, that there are several circumstances peculiar to Ireland, which render the moral effects of absenteeism very different there from what they would be anywhere else. The estates of the landlords of England and Scotland have either descended to them through a long line of ancestors, or have been fairly purchased from the rightful owners. The persons living on these estates, and their proprietors, have almost uniformly professed the same religious faith; generally speaking, their interests have been identified; and the landlords have been induced, as well from a regard to their neighbours and dependents, as from a wish to promote their own views, to behave kindly to their tenants and labourers, and to conciliate their confidence and esteem. But the relation subsisting between landlord and tenant in Ireland, has, as every one knows, been entirely dissimilar. Almost all the landed property of Ireland has been repeatedly confiscated. Its area is reckoned at about twelve millions of Irish acres; and the Lord Chancellor Clare stated, that eleven millions and a half of that number underwent confiscation during the seventeenth century! It is, therefore, no exaggeration to affirm, that nine-tenths of the proprietors of Ireland are either the lineal descendants of those to whom this confiscated property was sold or granted by the Crown, or of persons who have purchased their estates from them. And besides this original stain or defect in their title, those who obtained grants of confiscated estates were almost all Englishmen and Protestants.
Under such circumstances, it was not to be expected that any kindly feelings should speedily grow up between proprietors holding their estates by such titles, and the people of the country. The landlords trusted to the power of England to maintain them in the possession of their property, and looked upon the people, either as avowed and dangerous enemies, whom they had grievously wronged, or as semi savages, whom it was almost hopeless to attempt to civilise. And, on the other hand, the people considered the landlords as robbers, who had possessed themselves by force and injustice of the property of others, as enemies of their religion, and as being at once the instruments and the badges of the dominion of England over Ireland. Nothing but discord and bloodshed, could have followed from the residence of such landlords. And because the residence of the English and Scotch proprietors on their estates has proved highly advantageous by introducing a taste for elegancies and luxuries, and diffusing a spirit of refinement throughout the country, can anything be more inconsequential than to argue that the like effects would have followed from the residence of the Irish gentry? The prejudices to which we have alluded, are now, indeed, very much obliterated. But before the residence of the landlords in Ireland can be of much advantage, they must learn to sympathise with the people; to take a deep interest in the wellbeing of their tenants and cottiers, and in the cultivation and improvement of their estates; and to repudiate an increase of rent, or of political influence, if it must be purchased at the expense either of the one or the other.
With respect to the estates of absentee proprietors, it will be found, though there are numerous instances of mismanagement, that, on the whole, they are better managed, and are occupied by a richer and better class of tenants, than those belonging to residents. And this is really what an unprejudiced inquirer would have been led, à priori, to anticipate. Had the absentee landlords remained in Ireland, habit might have rendered them insensible to the abuses with which they would have been surrounded; and might have tempted them to tolerate the debasing practices, and engage in the worthless pursuits, by which so many of the resident gentry have ruined their dependents and themselves. But having been generally resident in England, where many of them have estates, they have witnessed the various advantages resulting from the fair and liberal treatment of tenants, and have had an opportunity of becoming familiar with improved systems of husbandry, and with the best modes of letting and occupying land. And however little they may have cared for their Irish dependents, a regard for their own interests would naturally make them attempt to introduce into their estates in Ireland a system similar to that which has been productive of so much advantage in England. This presumption is so reasonable, and follows so directly from the premises, that it is not to be defeated but by conclusive evidence to the contrary. And none such is to be met with. Seldom, indeed, can any one truly say,—
“Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor.”
It would be a libel on human nature to suppose that landlords or others, when aware of the wide difference between them, should not generally prefer a good to a bad system of rural economy, or that they should not exert themselves to extend the sphere of the former and to circumscribe that of the latter. And though there are exceptional cases, experience shows that this conclusion is, on the whole, perfectly well founded. The estates of Earl Fitzwilliam, the Marquis of Hertford, and the Duke of Devonshire, for example, are in a high state of cultivation, and occupied by affluent and independent tenants. And admitting that it would be improper to found any general conclusion on such cases, it would be easy to produce many similar examples. Mr Tighe, the intelligent author of the “Survey of Kilkenny,” states distinctly that “in many instances absentees are the best landlords.”1 And Mr Wakefield, who is unfavourable to non-residence, but who is too candid to conceal or colour any fact that makes against his own views, corroborates Mr Tighe’s statement. When noticing the county of Roscommon, Wakefield says, that the large property belonging to the then resident proprietor, Lord —, was the worst managed he ever saw. “I found every where cabins of the most wretched aspect, infamous stone roads, very minute divisions of land, and a superabundant and miserable population. I do not recollect to have travelled through any estate in Ireland which presented such a scene of desolation; and nothing astonished me so much as the multitude of poverty-struck inhabitants, from whom I could learn little more than that the estate belonged to ‘My Lord,’ whom they loaded with imprecations.”2
We beg it may not be supposed that we mean either to say or insinuate, that resident Irish landlords are all of this description. Like other classes, they are of a mixed character, and can show some excellent specimens. But it is not to be denied that, speaking generally, they have done little to promote the proper cultivation of their estates and the comfortable condition of their occupiers, both of which are a disgrace to civilisation. And though all non-resident landlords be not Fitzwilliams, Seymours, or Cavendishes, there are certainly but slender grounds on which to give the preference to those that are resident.
It should be recollected, in fairly estimating the conduct of absentees, that a large portion of the property in Ireland belonging to them, is let on perpetual leases. The tenants are thus in fact the real proprietors. The superior has no power to interfere in the management of the estate; when his quit-rent is paid, he has no farther claim on the property. A large proportion of the extensive tract of country belonging to the Petty family is thus let on perpetual leases, at a rent which does not exceed a third or a fourth part of its real value. Lord Doneraile has an estate in Cork for which he gets £2,000 a-year; but Wakefield says that it is worth £18,000 a-year to the perpetual tenants. Lord Kenmare, one of the absentees, has an estate in Kerry which brings him £8,000 a-year; but it is let on interminable leases, and his Lordship’s tenants, who are the real proprietors, get a profit rent of three or four times that amount. Lord Powis, another absentee, has an estate in the same county, from which he gets £1,900 a-year; but it is leased for ever; and the real proprietors relet the estate for a large profit. The estate of the Chandos family, lately in the possession of the Duke of Buckingham, and many more, are in the same predicament. And when such is the case, is it at all surprising that the nominal owners should decline living on estates over which they have no control, and which really belong to others? When an Act was passed in the reign of Henry VIII., everyway worthy of the period, compelling absentees to reside on their properties in Ireland, under penalty of forfeiture, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earls of Shrewsbury, Berkeley, and others, made a voluntary surrender of large tracts of land to the Crown, rather than comply with the provisions of so oppressive a statute. Should a similar Act be now passed, it would most probably have a similar effect.
It may, however, be supposed, that when the real proprietors of estates are resident, they will be ready to remedy grievances of which an absentee must necessarily be ignorant; and that they will at all events protect their tenants from being plundered by their agents or others. But this, we are sorry to say, does not seem to be the case. On the contrary, there is good reason to conclude, that the tenants of absentee landlords are subjected to less fleecing and extortion than those of residents. An English nobleman or gentleman would spurn the idea of having the occupants or the rents of his estates determined by the magnitude of the presents, or (to call them by their right name) bribes, offered to his lady, his daughters, his mistress, or his agents. But this disgraceful practice is, or was very recently, excessively prevalent among Irish resident landlords. As a sample of the protection afforded by them to their tenants, Wakefield tells us, that when a late noble proprietor of one of the best estates in Ireland appointed an agent, he borrowed of him £20,000. The agent, who was a man of principle, and who wished it to be clearly understood how he was to be repaid, and whether he was to follow the usual custom, and extort presents and perquisites of all sorts from the tenants, asked his employer in what manner he wished him to act. “Get all you can!” was the short and shameless reply.1
It has been often contended, that the system so much practised in Ireland, and so much declaimed against, of letting large tracts of land to a principal tenant, or middleman, authorised to relet them in smaller portions to the actual cultivators, had its origin in absenteeism. But this opinion does not seem to have any good foundation. The English noblemen and gentlemen who acquired large masses of confiscated property in Ireland, found their estates in the possession of a crowd of poor, uncivilised, and disorderly occupiers, whom it was impossible to eject, and of whose customs and modes of occupancy they were wholly ignorant. Such persons had no resource but to let their estates to adventurers, who were ready to meet such a state of things, and to make the most of it.2 The system, once introduced, has been continued. But it is wearing out, and is not more practised at this day on the estates of absentees than on those of resident landlords. Neither do we think that the middleman system is justly chargeable with many of the mischiefs which have been ascribed to it. There can be no question, indeed, that the underletting and subdivision of farms has been a curse to Ireland. But this practice was mainly a consequence of the former Irish law of landlord and tenant, and would not have been materially amended by the annihilation of middlemen. If a British landlord were to let an estate to a middleman, without putting any stipulations in the lease respecting the mode in which it was to be managed, he would have himself alone to blame if the middleman adopted an erroneous system. But the law of Ireland was recently (1825) in so deplorable a state, that a landlord who had let an estate ceased to have any control over it. And the most important stipulations in leases were openly trampled under foot and disregarded by the tenants, without the landlord having power to eject them, or to protect his property from ruin.
On Mr Blake, an eminent Irish lawyer, being asked by the Committee of the House of Commons, in 1825, whether, under the law of Ireland, a landlord would experience much difficulty in devising covenants, upon the efficiency of which he could rely, for the prevention of sub-letting, he answered, “I think he would find difficulties amounting almost to an impossibility.”1 When speaking of the consequences of this system, and of its disastrous influence over the landed property of Ireland, a very intelligent witness, Mr Staunton Rochfort, a magistrate of Queen’s County and Carlow, stated to the Committee of the House of Lords:—“I have three farms which have lately fallen out of lease in the County Galway, of about 400 acres each; they were each let to one tenant originally, and when they fell into my hands, I found from three hundred to four hundred inhabitants on each of them. What to do with them I really do not know; they are absorbing all the produce of the land, and paying me nothing; and without resorting to measures which common humanity prevents—turning them all off—I know not what to do!”2 Had the law of Ireland been similar to that which fortunately obtains in Scotland, this miserable result would not have taken place, except by the concurrence of the landlord; for, according to the Scotch law, the moment a subtenant is admitted into a farm, or an attempt is made to subdivide it, whether among the children of the occupier or otherwise, the landlord is entitled to have the lease cancelled, and the tenants ejected. And in the vast majority of cases, the apprehension of such a result is quite sufficient to prevent any attempt being made to defeat the stipulations in leases.
But this is not all. While the law of Ireland was thus, on the one hand, ineffectual to protect the finest estate from being parcelled into potato gardens, at the discretion of the tenants; it armed, on the other, the landlord with power to commit flagrant injustice and oppression: For, in the event of a middleman who had received payment of the rents due to him by his subtenants, becoming bankrupt while in arrear to the landlord, the latter was authorised to distrain the goods of the cultivators, and to force them to pay their rents over again to him! And instances every now and then occurred, in which the whole stock and property of the cultivators of extensive farms were driven to the pound, and sold to pay a debt which they had already discharged! We doubt whether the law of Algiers sanctioned any greater abuse. And until it had been put down, it was idle to expect that there should be security or prosperity in Ireland.1
From what has been stated, our readers will not, perhaps, be disposed to wonder when they are told that, generally speaking, the inhabitants of those districts in which there are most resident gentry, are often the most disposed to disturb the public peace, by engaging in illegal associations and enterprises. On Mr Maxwell Blacker, a King’s Counsel appointed to superintend the execution of the Insurrection Act in the counties of Cork and Tipperary, being asked by the Committee of the House of Commons, in 1825, whether there were more resident gentry in the former than in the latter, he replied, “That is no clue at all to trace the disturbances; for the disturbances in Cork prevailed most in that part that is most thickly inhabited by gentlemen. I judge of that by the number of magistrates I had officiating at Mallow; the disturbances extended from thence to Limerick, and raged about Doneraile and Mallow, and yet that part is, I conceive, as thickly inhabited with gentry as any other part.”1 And on being asked, whether that part of Cork which was least inhabited by gentry was not the quietest, Mr Blacker answered, that the western part, where there are almost no gentry, was nearly quite tranquil.2 Major Warburton, a gentleman of talent and respectability, who filled for some years the office of chief magistrate of the county of Clare, was examined at great length by the Committee, and gave the following information with respect to the influence of the residence of the landlords over the tranquillity of the country.
“In those baronies in the county of Clare, where there are a great many absentee proprietors, have they not been the most tranquil during your residence in the county?—Upon my word I think they have, as far as I know the position of the absentee property.
“In those baronies where there are few or no resident gentry, has not the tranquillity which prevailed been greater than in the baronies in which there have been a greater number of resident gentlemen?—It has.
“Are there any resident gentry in the barony of Ibrickin?—Very few indeed.
“Has not that barony been completely undisturbed?—That barony has been quiet since I went to the county, except immediately in 1816.
“Was not the part of the barony that was then disturbed, the very part where the few resident gentry resided?—It was.
“And the other parts of the barony remained undisturbed?—Yes.”1
Innumerable statements to the same effect might be produced from this and other evidence. But we apprehend that the reader will be disposed to consider those now given, coming, as they do, from gentlemen who had the best means of obtaining accurate information, as sufficiently conclusive.
We are, therefore, entitled to affirm that absenteeism, or the non-residence of the proprietors in Ireland, has not had the effects ascribed to it; that it has not lessened the demand for labour; and has had but little, if any, influence in retarding the moral improvement of the people. The poverty and disorders of the Irish are ascribable to very different causes; to the recklessness and improvidence inherent in their character; the prevalence of the Roman Catholic religion, and the ascendancy of a hostile priesthood; the indolence and insecurity induced by a dependence on so cheap and so precarious a resource as the potato; the want (only recently supplied) of a compulsory provision for the support of the poor; the excessive subdivision of the land; and a long course of misgovernment. Absenteeism is but little, if at all, more prevalent in Ireland than in Scotland; and yet none ever supposed that it was injurious to the latter. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that, cæteris paribus, absentee estates are preferred by Scotch tenants. The clamour against absentee expenditure is, in truth, as worthless as can well be imagined. It has no better foundation than the belief in witchcraft, or in clairvoyance, or in the efficacy of sham sinking funds.
SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF COMMERCE, TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY.
“Neque enim historiam proposui mercaturæ mihi scribendam, sed tantummodo illius umbram legenti exhibere.”
—Muratori,Antiq. Ital. Med. Ævi.
[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.
[1 ] It is to be carefully observed, that this discussion refers only to the spending of income, or to its outlay and consumption in housekeeping, and the expenses necessarily connected therewith. It must not be mixed up or confounded with anything else.
[1 ] It is singular how the palpable contradiction and absurdity of statements like the above did not make them be scouted by all reasonable persons, and awaken suspicions in regard to the alleged disastrous influence of absenteeism. But, instead of this, they were appealed to for a lengthened series of years, as if their authority had been unquestionable. In 1729, Mr Thomas Prior, the friend and correspondent of Bishop Berkeley and the Earl of Chesterfield, and a gentleman in other respects of great candour and good sense, published his treatise on “Irish Absentees.” Among other matters, it contains a list of the absentees, with an estimate of the sums annually remitted to each, the aggregate being £627,799, which, he says, is entirely sent to them in treasure; and then he adds, “This is so great a burden upon us, that, I believe, there is not in history an instance of any one country paying so large a yearly tribute (!) to another.”—(P. 20.) Mr Prior next goes on to show, that “the most sanguine do not reckon that we have £400,000 of cash now remaining (amongst us); and if so,” he reasonably enough concludes, “’tis impossible to subsist much longer under such a drain.”—(Loc. cit.) A sixth edition of this tract was published, with notes, in 1782, more than half a century after it had first appeared. And yet, notwithstanding the cash in circulation in Ireland had increased, in the interval, and in the teeth of this alleged drain of £628,000 a-year, from £400,000 to above £2,000,000, the statements put forward by Prior in the earliest editions are repeated, with a eulogy on their correctness, and on his sagacity and foresight! It would really seem, that in this, as in some other things, the universality and intensity of belief, have been directly as the folly and falsehood of the thing believed. Even so late as 1829, a right hon. gentleman was kind and considerate enough to commiserate the “discredit” we had “done to our logical powers,” by endeavouring to show the degree of weight to be attached to the statements of Prior, Swift, and others.
[1 ] Page 586.
[2 ] Vol. i. p. 274.
[1 ] Vol. i. p. 299.
[2 ] Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee of the House of Lords, on the state of Ireland, 14th April 1825, p. 59.
[1 ] First Report, 1825, Minutes of Evidence, p. 39.
[2 ] Minutes of Evidence before Irish Committee, p. 302.
[1 ] We are glad to have to state, that the law with regard to the occupancy of land in Ireland is now, and has been for a lengthened period, in a much more satisfactory state than in 1825. Subletting, unless by consent of the landlord, is now illegal, and may be summarily punished; and no subtenant, provided he have not been surreptitiously introduced, can be called upon to pay rent to the landlord, which he has already paid to the party from whom he holds.
[1 ] Minutes of Evidence before Select Committee on the State of Ireland, printed 11th February 1825, p. 67.
[2 ] Ibid.
[1 ] Minutes of Evidence before Select Committee on the State of Ireland, p. 151.