Front Page Titles (by Subject) 346.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 22 DEC., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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346.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 22 DEC., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
Mill’s scheme of waste-land colonization had been discussed in a leading article in the Globe and Traveller, 15 Dec., 1846, p. 2, from which the following quotations are taken. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirty sixth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 22d Dec. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 65).
the advocates of waste lands colonization in connection with peasant proprietorship need no longer complain of having to fight with shadows. As the proposal gains ground, the objections of some and the doubts of others are gradually working themselves into shape, and in time the question will have a chance of being rationally discussed. The Globe in a recent number has adverted to the subject in a tone between doubt and dissent. Our contemporary is not satisfied that a large advance of the national capital “would be economically and reproductively employed in the manner indicated. It may be so, but it requires more evidence and more examples than have been furnished.” He admires our “boldness in overleaping, per saltum as it were, all the unavoidable preliminary difficulty and doubt of the operation, to say nothing of the limited extent of benefit after all effected, if effected.” The passage being short, we shall quote the whole remainder of it:
We do not need to decry the condition of those countries where small properties exist, and which we may consider to have remained in, or reverted to, an accustomed and primitive condition. For our part, indeed, we cannot doubt, notwithstanding Mr. Laing’s enthusiasm, that the purely agricultural condition of Norway is anything rather than progressive, or, in all points, satisfactory.1 A people with whom it is not an unfamiliar expedient to mix their “bread-stuff” with saw-dust, cannot enjoy a condition of well-being quite so superior to the vulgar aids of commerce as appears at first view; and M. de Sismondi’s pictures of primitive rural felicity are mingled in all his writings with jeremiades on the changes change of times tends to produce.2 The question is, whether a favourite system of rural economy can really be reproduced at will “without any loss to the public.”3 This is what we can hardly admit to have yet been shown by all those who have said it—or rather, who have assumed it a work for the state of admitted feasibleness.
It is a great help to our argument when any who differ from us will take the trouble to let us see where the shoe pinches. But in our contemporary’s case it seems to pinch so equally everywhere, that we hardly know at which end to attempt easing it. He seems as much in doubt on the points on which we should have thought doubt was impossible, as on those on which it was natural and to be expected. For example, a great part of his apprehension seems to be lest the public should lose money by the proposed operation. He is afraid, apparently, lest the improvement of the waste lands should not pay. It is really too much to charge people with assuming, and not proving, such a thing as this. One cannot be always slaying the slain.4 A time comes when things may be considered as sufficiently proved. Let our contemporary ask any one who has paid any attention to the subject. Let him consult any of the voluminous reports by public officers, committees, or commissions, expressly on the point. He will find in these no lack of the “examples” he desiderates; but it positively weakens the case to rest upon examples what is grounded on the opinion of all competent judges and on public notoriety. The thing would have been done long ago by the landlords for their own profit, if they had not been wanting in three requisites—capital, enterprise, and concert. These three conditions the Government can supply. The Globe does not surely doubt that the reclaimed land will bear a rent which will repay to the State, as it would have repaid to the landlord, an ample profit on the outlay, even if tenanted on no better principle than the miserable cottier system. Besides, as the work would be done by the labourers whom the State is already maintaining without any profit or advantage whatever, it would really cost the State nothing. All this is so clear that no one now seems to hesitate about the propriety of turning some part at least of the relief expenditure into this channel. For whose benefit to do it, and on what tenure the land shall be thereafter held, are the points about which opinion is not yet unanimous.
“The limited extent of the benefit effected,” if effected at all, is the next difficulty with our contemporary. He must mean, we suppose, that there is not space enough on the waste lands to locate more than a small part of the surplus population. We believe, on the contrary, that the measure, if vigorously and not languidly carried out, together with the other improvements which it would facilitate, would make over-population in Ireland for many years to come a thing of memory alone. The time is not arrived for the discussion of details. But we must declare our opinion, that Mr. O’Brien’s fifty thousand families,5 and even the seventy-five thousand of the Repeal Association6 (though either of those numbers subtracted from the labour market would be no inconsiderable ease to it), are a wholly inadequate estimate of the numbers which might and ought to be accommodated on the reclaimed land. It may be very desirable that the allotments should not be under twenty acres; but it is impossible to have everything that is desirable. All other considerations ought to be subordinate to that of making room for the greatest number of the people who can be supported in comfort. With the present habits of the Irish peasantry, it is perhaps even better that the size of the farm should not be sufficient to enable the holder to support a family in comfort without a considerable degree of labour and perseverance. Both the moral and the economical advantages of peasant properties may be enjoyed in considerable proportion, even where many of them are not of sufficient extent to make the proprietor wholly independent of the labour market. Such is the condition of a great part of the proprietor-peasantry of France, even in its happiest provinces. Since our contemporary likes examples, we will give him a pleasing one. Near Langeais on the Loire, Mr. Inglis, in a pedestrian tour, was overtaken by a countryman:
He was going to work on some gentleman’s property about a mile forward, and as we walked along, I questioned him as to his condition. He said he did not see how any man could be happier than himself. He had a wife and three children, and loved them all; and he had enough to give them. He was employed in field labour every day till three o’clock, and received 25 or 30 sous, according to the species of the labour. When he returned home he looked after his own little kingdom, for he possessed as much land as supplied him with bread, and sufficed to keep a cow and a couple of pigs. In fact, said he, J’ai tout ce que je désire. Contentment like this is rarely found in England; but the man, I have no doubt, spoke as he felt. I asked him if he was contented with the Government? All governments, he said, were alike to him, so as they kept at peace, and allowed him to live at home.7
Was this man’s land of no value to him, although during two-thirds of his time he worked for hire? Would he have been the same happy man without it, or if he had held it, like a parish allotment, as a tenant at will? Observe too the state of wages which co-exists in Touraine with the general diffusion of landed property. For two-thirds of his day’s work this peasant received from a shilling to fifteen pence; as much as a Dorsetshire labourer receives for the whole of his, and in a much cheaper country. We do not rest our case upon single instances, but we desire to warn those who share our opinion, that they should not pitch their notions too high with regard to the extent of provision in land which is necessary to give a peasant proprietor the feelings of happiness and independence.
The Globe next doubts the authority of M. de Sismondi, because his writings contain “jeremiades on the changes change of times tends to produce.” We know not who is a competent witness, if the testimony of one of the most accomplished, instructed, and intellectual men of his time, respecting things which he had all his life observed and studied, is to be overruled because he avowedly disliked some of the features of our commercial civilization. The Globe calls his representations “pictures of primitive rural felicity,” just as if he was dreaming of things long past, instead of testifying to what took place under his own eyes. In his eulogies on peasant properties, M. de Sismondi was not extolling a thing past from dissatisfaction with the present; on the contrary, it was the intelligence, independence, and comfort which he saw in the present, under the system of peasant properties, and even under the far inferior system of the Tuscan métayers,8 which made him, even to excess, distrustful of those modern tendencies which he identified with doctrines destructive of all this virtue and happiness. It is assuming a great deal, however, to number the destruction of peasant properties among “the changes change of times tends to produce.” It is not change of times, but false economical doctrines, now on the wane, which threatened to subvert the social state so justly prized by Sismondi; and it really seems to us, looking at Europe on the whole, that it is the large properties rather than the small which are vanishing before the spirit of the time.
Among so many doubts, the one thing which the Globe “cannot doubt” is (of all things in the world), the “satisfactory condition” of the agricultural population of Norway. We did think that the case of Norway was universally conceded to us—so much so, that we have not thought it necessary to say anything about it, except an occasional allusion.9 But we have no objection to enter at large on the condition of Norway, since we are challenged to it. It will require something more to shake the admitted fact of the enviable condition of the Norwegian peasantry than to remind us of the substitutes to which people may occasionally be driven in a country over a great part of which corn will not grow; while in all parts the climate is so precarious, that it can scarcely be said that there is any sure reliance on getting bread at all.
[1 ]Samuel Laing, Journal of a Residence in Norway, During the Years 1834, 1835, and 1836 (London: Longman, et al., 1836), pp. 49-50.
[2 ]For Mill’s comments on Sismondi, see No. 340.
[3 ]William Smith O’Brien, “The Landed Proprietors of Ireland. Letter IV, Drainage and Improvement of Land,” Morning Chronicle, 15 Dec., 1846, p. 3; this passage had been quoted in the evening of 15 Dec. in the Globe’s leading article.
[4 ]Cf. John Dryden, Alexander’s Feast (London: Tonson, 1697), p. 4 (l. 68).
[5 ]The figure is given in O’Brien’s article quoted in No. 338.
[6 ]For the basis of the estimate, see No. 342, n2.
[7 ]Inglis, Switzerland, the South of France, and the Pyrenees, Vol. II, p. 285.
[8 ]For Sismondi’s remarks on the métayer system, especially in reference to Tuscany, see the sixth essay of his Etudes sur l’économie politique, Vol. I, pp. 278-330, from which Mill quotes in Principles, CW, Vol. II, p. 298.
[9 ]See Nos. 311, 316, and 339.