Front Page Titles (by Subject) 357.: THE QUARTERLY REVIEW ON FRENCH AGRICULTURE  MORNING CHRONICLE, 13 JAN., 1847, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
357.: THE QUARTERLY REVIEW ON FRENCH AGRICULTURE  MORNING CHRONICLE, 13 JAN., 1847, 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE QUARTERLY REVIEW ON FRENCH AGRICULTURE 
For an account of the origin, text, and variants in this third in a series of four leaders, see No. 355. This unheaded second leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A third leading article in reply to the Quarterly Review, on French agriculture, in the Morning Chronicle of 13th January 1847”
(MacMinn, p. 67).
abwe showed on mondayb that the four millions of landowners in France who can be reckoned among peasant-proprietors, those whose holdings fall short of twenty acres, are computed by one of the best living authorities to possess on the average eight and a half English acres each,1 and that from no authentic documents can the average be brought much below that amount; a fact wholly incompatible with their being in the state approaching to starvation in which M. Rubichon and his reviewer would represent them. It is equally certain that if there is bad agriculture on these small estates, it is from some other cause than their smallness. Farms of this size are consistent with agriculture equal to any on the face of the earth. cWhoever doubts this, let him refer to any account of the agriculture of West Flanders, originally as barren a soil as is to be found in Europe, and in which a large proportion of the farms do not exceed from five to ten acres. If Irish testimony be wanted, listen to that high practical authority, Mr. Blacker:
I am firmly persuaded, that the small farmer who holds his own plough, or digs his own ground, if he follows a proper rotation of crops, and feeds his cattle in the house, can undersell the large farmer, or in other words can pay a rent which the other cannot afford; and in this I am confirmed by the opinion of many practical men who have well considered the subject.2
The farms of which Mr. Blacker is expressly speaking are those which vary from five to eight acres.c
We shall now, however, touch upon another kind of morcellement, which does amount to a serious inconvenience, and wherever it exists must have a strong tendency to keep agriculture in a low state. This is the subdivision, not of the land of the country among many proprietors, but of the land of each proprietor into many detached pieces, or parcelles, as they are technically designated. This inconvenience has been experienced in other countries besides France, as in the canton of Zurich, in the Palatinate, and (as respects holdings, though not properties) in Ireland. In France it is carried to so great an excess, that the number of parcelles is ten times the number of cotes foncières; and as there are supposed to be twice as many cotes foncières as proprietors, the curious fact is disclosed, that on the average of France the estate of every landowner consists of twenty fragments in twenty different places. The consequences are a subject of general and increasing complaint. Great loss of time and labour; waste of cultivable soil in boundaries and paths; the inaccessibility of many parcelles, without trespassing on other properties; endless disputes and frequent litigation, are enumerated among the evils; and it is evident what obstacles the small size and dispersed position of the parcelles, and their intermixture with those of other proprietors, must oppose to many kinds of agricultural improvement.
For a considerable portion of this evil the French law of inheritance may fairly be held responsible. A certain amount of it is inevitable wherever landed properties are undergoing a double process of division and recomposition: marriages, for example, must in general bring together portions of land not adjacent. But if parents had the power of bequest, the owner of twenty parcelles, even if he adhered to the spirit of the law of equal division, would give some of the portions entire to one child, and others to another. The law, on the contrary, must divide with exact equality; and as it is generally impossible to adjust the value of patches of unequal fertility, vineyards, meadows, arable, &c., so as to satisfy everybody, it continually happens, especially in the more backward parts of France, that when the settlement is made by division instead of sale, each co-heir insists on taking a share of every parcelle, instead of the whole of some parcelles; from whence, no doubt, the amazing multiplication of these little patches in many parts of France.
This evil, while it would not exist to any very material extent except under the peculiar French law of inheritance, is not inevitable even under that law. The enormous extent of sales of land, amounting in ten years to a fourth part of the landed property of France, are a clear proof that in general the adjustment of inheritances is not effected by a subdivision of the land, but by sale: which it needs scarcely be remarked, does not necessarily imply parting with the land, there being nothing to hinder the heirs themselves from becoming the purchasers. We have no doubt it would be found that this rational mode of executing the law is tending more and more to become universal. To hasten the undoing of the mischief which has been already done, the Government has been often urged (in some instances by Councils-General of Departments) to propose a law authorising the consolidation of landed properties by a general valuation and exchange of allotments in every commune in which the majority of the proprietors may apply for it; and unless the evil is seen to be correcting itself by a spontaneous process, nothing, we should think, can long prevent the adoption of so salutary an expedient.
That French agriculture, and the condition of the peasant population, are injuriously affected by this sort of morcellement is so far true, that it must considerably retard the improvement which might otherwise be expected, and which, in spite of all hindrances, does even now, to a great extent, take place. More than this we cannot admit. There are conclusive proofs of great and rapid improvement in some parts of France, and M. Rubichon and his reviewer have no evidence whatever of retrogression in any.
They produce tables of the average amount of different kinds of food consumed by the population; also tables of the number of cattle, the amount of produce per hectare of the different kinds of cultivation, &c., calculated from the official documents. These estimates, assuming their correctness (which, so far as that quality is attainable, we generally see no reason to discredit), are indicative, doubtless, of a low and backward state. But statistics are only evidence of the present. Where are the statistics of the past? That the agriculture of a great part of France is rude and imperfect is known to all Europe; but that it ever was better is an assertion opposed to all evidence, and we shall not take M. Rubichon’s word for it, no more than for the notion that the food and general condition of the mass of the people has been deteriorating from the time of Louis XIV, d if not earlier. At this last proposition we cannot repress our wonder. In the reign of Louis XIV, Marshal Vauban, a great authority with all who are themselves authorities, and even with M. Rubichon, estimated that one-tenth of the population of France were beggars, and five of the remaining nine-tenths little above beggary.3 In the same reign, Labruyère claimed credit for apprising the salons of Paris that a strange nondescript sort of animals, who might be seen in the fields, and were much addicted to grubbing in the earth, were, though nobody would suppose it, a kind of men.4 Some readers may remember the picture drawn by the old Marquis Mirabeau of the rural population in the middle of the eighteenth century;5 nor was Arthur Young’s, at the opening of the Revolution, much more favourable.6eWhile now,
the classes of the population who have only their wages, and who for that reason are the most exposed to indigence, are much better provided with the requisites of food, lodging, and clothing than they were at the beginning of the century. The fact may be established by the testimony of all who have a personal recollection of the earlier of the two epochs. If there could be a doubt on the subject, it might be dissipated by consulting aged cultivators and workpeople, as I have myself done in various localities, without meeting with a single opposing testimony: we may also refer to the facts collected on the subject by an exact observer, M. Villermé. (From a recent work by an intelligent writer, Recherches sur les Causes de l’Indigence, par A. Clément.)7e
M. Rubichon’s statistics comprise no returns of the rate of wages. We are quite willing that our case should rest upon the result of an inquiry into that one point.
As for agriculture, when it is recollected that, at the beginning of this century, in the greater part of France the culture of artificial grasses might be said to be unknown, and that the course of cultivation consisted solely of grain crops and fallows, it will be difficult to make us believe that, even in the most backward parts of the country, there has not been a considerable improvement from so miserable a level.
The blind zeal with which M. Rubichon presses everything into the service of his theory, in which he is faithfully echoed by his reviewer, makes them lay great stress upon the increase of roots, and other inferior kinds of culture, as a proof that the population is sinking to an inferior kind of nutriment;8 as if the same thing was not happening in England; as if it was not a necessary condition of an improved rotation of crops that other cultures should increase in a greater proportion than grain culture, and even at the expense, in some degree, of the inferior kinds of grain.
We have admitted, and again admit the unsatisfactory state of cultivation on a very great portion of the soil of France; but would it be any better if the estates were large? Is it any better now on the large estates? When M. Rubichon and his reviewer talk of the small properties as “creating a new Ireland in France,”9 his own pages make it known that the large properties, in the backward parts of France, are already an Ireland, in the very worst feature of Irish landed mismanagement, the system of middlemen. It is a general practice, according to M. de Chateauvieux, with the great proprietors of the central departments, to let their land en bloc to a middleman, usually an attorney or a notary, who sublets it in small portions on the métayer system, and is not only, as in Ireland, the hardest and most grasping of landlords, but having only a temporary tenure, and being no agriculturist, of course expends nothing in improvements.10 Of fifty-seven millions of acres cultivated by tenants, twenty-one millions only are held by farmers at fixed rents, and thirty-six millions on the métayer tenure; which in France implies all the defects with very few of the advantages of proprietary cultivation; the only exceptions being La Vendée and a few of the adjoining departments, where the large proprietors are residentf; a sort of patriarchalf relationship subsists between them and their tenants, and the métayers have in general, as in Tuscany, a virtual fixity of tenure. We do not believe it will be found in any part of France that the small properties are under a bad agriculture, and the large properties under a good one. They are both bad or both good. Where large farms exist and are well cultivated, the small properties also are well managed and prosperous.
And this brings us to the principal cause, both now and formerly, of the unimproved agriculture and scanty application of capital to the soil of France. This is, the exclusive taste of the wealthy and middle classes for town life and town pursuits, combined with the general want of enterprise of the French nation with respect to industrial improvements. It is truly, though epigrammatically, said somewhere in these volumes, by M. Rubichon, that the Frenchman, generally, knows but one way of getting rich; namely, thrift.11 He does not understand sowing money freely to reap it largely. This is the true cause why, when large properties are sold, they bring the greatest price by being much subdivided. The peasants, thanks to the Revolution, to the small properties, and to their own unparalleled prudence, are able to purchase land, and their savings are the only part of the wealth of the country which takes that direction. We are often told, that it does not answerg capitalists to buy land at the extravagant price which the passion of the peasantry for land induces them to give, amounting often to forty years’ purchase. It does not answer to pay that price, in order to live idly on the rent in Paris, or the large provincial towns. But if there was one particle of the spirit of agricultural improvement in the owners of the monied wealth which is so largely increasing in the manufacturing and commercial districts, few speculations would be more profitable than to buy land in many fertile and ill-cultivated parts of France, at even more than forty years’ purchase of its wretchedly low rental, which would soon be doubled or trebled by the application of capital, with ordinary agricultural knowledge and enterprise. If the petite culture is half as wasteful and unprofitable as is pretended, the profit would be proportional of substituting la grande culture for it. The thing would be soon done if the love of industrial progress should ever supplant in the French mind the love of national glory, or if the desire of national glorification should take that direction. But with a people who dislike rural pursuits, and in the pursuit of money-getting prefer the beaten ways, there can be no other farming than peasant farming.a
In one article more we hope to dispose of the remainder of the subject.
[a-a]1051[reprinted in CW, II, 439.38-444.24]
[b-b]MS We have shown [altered in ink]
[1 ]Lullin de Chateauvieux, Voyages agronomiques, Vol. I, p. 35; see No. 356, n5.
[2 ]Blacker, Prize Essay, p. 23n.
[d]MS [footnote:] It did deteriorate in the early part of the reign of Louis XIV, not because the peasants bought land but because they were compelled to sell it. “Au moment” says Michelet (Le Peuple, Chap. i [pp. 7-8]) “où nos ministres Italiens, un Mazarin, un Emeri doublaient les taxes, les nobles qui remplissaient la cour obtinrent aisément d’être exemptés, de sorte que le fardeau doublé tomba d’aplomb sur les épaules des faibles et des pauvres qui furent bien obligés de rendre ou donner cette terre à peine acquise, et de redevenir des mercenaires, fermiers, métayers, journaliers. . . . Je prie et je supplie ceux qui nous font des lois ou les appliquent, de lire le détail de la funeste réaction de Mazarin et de Louis XIV dans les pages pleines d’indignation et de douleur où l’a consignée un grand citoyen, Pesant de Boisguillebert, réimprimé récemment dans la Collection des Economistes. Puisse cette histoire les avertir dans un moment où diverses influences travaillent à l’envi pour arrêter l’oeuvre capitale de la France, l’acquisition de la terre par le travailleur.” [The reference is to Pierre le Pesant de Boisguillebert (1646-1714), Factum de la France (1707), in Economistes financiers du XVIIIe siècle, Vol. I of Collection des principaux économistes, ed. Eugène Daire (Paris: Guillaumin, 1843), esp. pp. 304ff.]
[3 ]Projet d’une dixme royale (n.p., 1707), pp. 3-4, by Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), Marshal of France. For Mounier and Rubichon’s use of Vauban see, e.g., Vol. I, p. 13.
[4 ]Jean de Labruyère (1645-96), “De l’homme,” Les caractères (1688), 4th ed. (Paris: Michallet, 1689), p. 333.
[5 ]Victor Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau (1715-89), economist, was father of the more famous Revolutionary statesman, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau. In the Mémoires biographiques, littéraires et politiques of the son, ed. Gabriel Lucas-Montigny, 8 vols. (Paris: Auffray, et al., 1834-35), the father’s comments on the rural population will be found at Vol. I, pp. 364-94, and Vol. II, pp. 186-8 (cf. CW, Vol. XX, p. 148 for Mill’s reproduction of Carlyle’s quotations of the portraits).
[6 ]Arthur Young, Travels during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789, passim.
[e-e]MS Compare this with any authentic account, or with the testimony of any observant resident or traveller, respecting their condition now.† [footnote:] †Vide supra, p. .
[7 ]Tableau de l’état physique et moral des ouvriers, 2 vols. (Paris: Renouard, 1840), by Louis Renée Villermé (1782-1863), French doctor and statistician, cited in Ambroise Clément (1805-86), French economist, Recherches sur les causes de l’indigence (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846), pp. 84-5.
[8 ]E.g., Mounier and Rubichon, Vol. II, pp. 82-3; Croker, p. 230.
[9 ]Mounier and Rubichon, Vol. I, p. 297; Croker, p. 230.
[10 ]Lullin de Chateauvieux, Vol. I, p. 49.
[f-f]MS , a primitive [altered in ink]
[11 ]The place in the volumes remains unidentified.
[g]MS to [added in ink]