"That wise and honest traveller."
by Matilda Betham-Edwards
IT is with peculiar appropriateness that these famous travels are once more given to the world. Just a hundred years ago the Suffolk squire accomplished his last journey, under circumstances without parallel in history. He had quitted Paris towards the end of June, 1789, having come to the conclusion that, with the constitution of the National Assembly "the whole business now seemed over and the revolution complete." With true British coolness he pursued his agricultural inquiries, this time taking an easterly direction. On the ever memorable fourteenth of July we find him at Metz, leisurely as any modern tourist inspecting "what was worth viewing" in the city. A few days later, on reaching Strasburg, he learns the great news: The Bastille has fallen!
The whole kingdom is now in a blaze. He sees famished mobs clamouring for bread; he hears of seigneurs fleeing from burning châteaux; he is roughly compelled to don the tricolour; his liberty, even life, are menaced; yet the imperturbable Englishman goes on.
The wind carries his first cockade into the river; he purchases a second, taking care to have it securely fastened, and although naïvely confessing the discomforts of travel "in such an unquiet and fermenting moment," the thought of turning back does not occur to him.
Alone, unarmed, ignorant of the various patois—sole medium of intercourse in rural districts—our inquisitive and dauntless traveller visits one out-of-the-way region after another, apparently unconscious, whilst narrating these unique experiences, that his conduct was little short of heroic.
The fittest introduction to the centennial edition of such a work is surely a survey of France in the present day—not made in the Rotunda of the British Museum or by the library fireside, but after Arthur Young's own fashion—the fruit of investigations as laboriously and lovingly pursued as those of my great predecessor. I have now followed in his footsteps for upwards of fifteen years, visiting and revisiting various parts of the country described by him so graphically on the eve of the Revolution. Let us glance at the contrasted picture of France under the ancien régime and under the Third Republic.
His earliest journey takes him in a south-westerly direction, through the Orleannais and the Berri, where for the first time he meets with métayage—"a miserable system," he writes, "that perpetuates poverty and excludes instruction;" and he goes on to describe the fields as "scenes of pitiable management, and the houses, of misery."
Throughout the entire work we find métayage, or farming on half profits, condemned in the strongest terms, yet nothing has done more to improve the condition of the peasant and of husbandry within the last fifty years. Métayage, indeed, which is but another name for co-operative agriculture, forms the stepping-stone from the status of hired labourer to that of capitalist; and whilst the métayer raises himself in the social scale, extensive wastes are by his agency brought under cultivation. So popular is "la culture à mi-fruits," that, according to the census of 1872, 11,182,000 hectares were in the hands of métayers, and 9,360,000 in those of peasant owners. In 1880 a diminution is seen—18 per cent. of métayage to set against 21 per cent. of proprietorship. Some parts of France are far more favourable to agricultural partnerships than others. We find 27,484 métairies in the department of the Landes, 24,893 in the Dordogne, 11,632 in the Allier, 11,568 in the Gironde, whilst in the Haute Savoie and the Lozère they may be counted by the hundred, the last-named numbering 325 only. In most cases, be it remembered, the métayer owns a bit of land. Two conditions are necessary to success: in the first place, the fermier-général, or farm bailiff, must be dispensed with; in the second, a good understanding is necessary between the two contracting parties—the one supplying land, stock, and implements, the other, manual labour, all produce being equally shared. From fifty to a hundred and fifty acres is found to be the most favourable size of a métairie.
We will now consider the present state of things in the Berri, a region about which Arthur Young has nothing to say, except that the husbandry was poor and the people miserable. As all readers of Georges Sand know well, it is a land of heaths and wastes, but the extent of uncultivated tracts is being reduced year by year. So rapid is the progress that the great novelist herself would hardly recognize certain portions of the country she has described so inimitably. What, then, must be the changes wrought in a hundred years? The transformation is partly realized by inspecting a pre-Revolutionary hovel. Here and there may be seen one of these bare, windowless cabins, now used as an out-house, and, in juxtaposition, the neat, airy, solid dwellings the peasant owners have built for themselves.
Four years ago I was the guest of a country gentleman near Châteauroux, chef-lieu of the department of the Indre, formed from the ancient Berri. Formerly owner of an entire commune, my host had gradually reduced his estate by selling small parcels of land to his day-labourers. He informed me that, whilst partly actuated by philanthropic motives, he was commercially a gainer. The expense of cultivating such large occupations was very great, and he could not hope for anything like the returns of the small freeholder. We visited many of these newly-made farms, with their spick-and-span buildings, the whole having the appearance of a little settlement in the Far West. The holdings varied in extent from six to thirty acres, their owners being capitalists to the amount of from two or three hundred to a thousand pounds. In each case the purchaser had built himself a small but commodious dwelling, and suitable out-houses. The land was well stocked and cultivated, the people were neatly and appropriately dressed, and the signs of general contentment and well-being delightful to contemplate. We next visited a métairie of nearly four hundred acres, and here the farmstead was on a large scale; the métayer employed several labourers who were boarded in the house, as was formerly the custom in certain parts of England, besides two or three dairymaids.
Artificial manures and machinery had here come into use; and if the culture could hardly be described as high farming, the land was clean and very productive. The cordial relations of "bailleur" and "preneur," or owner and métayer, testified to the satisfactoriness of the arrangement.
Not to be outdone by their rustic neighbours, the artizans of the Berrichon capital have, with few exceptions, become free-holders also. Suburban Châteauroux has, indeed, been appropriated by this class: the brand-new cottages and semi-detached villas on the outskirts of the town representing the thrift of the mechanic—an instance of self-help and sobriety hardly equalled throughout France. The houses were not only built for, but by their owners, in spare moments—another fact illustrating the innate economy of the French working man.
In purely agricultural districts of the Indre, land has quadrupled in value within the last forty or fifty years; near the towns, of course, the rise has been much higher.
Poitou is described by Arthur Young as "an unimproved, poor, and ugly country. It seems to want communication, demand and activity of all kinds." The ancient province of Poitou comprises La Vendée; but if we turn to the three carefully drawn maps appended to the original edition of the French Travels, we find the very name, so conspicuous a few years later, omitted altogether. Such a blank need not astonish us. "Who had so much as heard of La Vendée before 1793?" asks a French historian of the Vendean war. "Was it a province, a river, a mountain? Was it in Anjou, Brittany, or Poitou?" Nobody knew, and, till the outbreak of the insurrection, nobody cared to inquire. Only one road traversed the entire country—that from Nantes to La Rochelle—and on the creation of a department, it was found absolutely necessary to build a town as chef-lieu, none of sufficient importance existing. Waste, brushwood, heath and morass, with here and there patches of rye and buckwheat, occupied the place of the fertile fields and rich pastures that now rejoice the eye of the traveller in Bas Poitou. The transformation of recent years is startling enough. On the occasion of my first visit to this province fifteen years ago, many towns of the Vendean plain and Bocage were only accessible by diligence; since that period, railways have intersected the country in all directions—even the out of-the-way little town of Fontenay-le-Comte, so precious to the archæologist, has its branch line, whilst schools, railway stations, and other buildings of public utility have risen in all directions. Niort, chef-lieu of the Deux Sèvres, part of the ancient Bocage, and scene of the most terrible guerilla warfare of the Blancs and the Bleus, now possesses a railway station worthy of a capital. It may be briefly described as a town of 22,000 and odd souls, without a beggar. No rags, dirt, or vagrancy meet the eye in these clean, wide, airy streets. The Vendean costume still prevails, and whilst all is primitive, rustic, and provincial, evidences are here of immense and rapid progress. The immediate entourage of the town is one vast fruit and vegetable garden, the property of peasant owners. Melons, tomatoes, and peaches ripen in the sun, purple grapes cluster yellow walls, and luxuriant vegetation on all sides testifies to a highly favoured climate and soil. The produce of these market gardens is renowned throughout France. Two hundred acres are given up to the culture of the onion only.
La Vendée is a region of large tenant farms, and one visited by me in the neighbourhood of Niort may be accepted as a fair sample of the rest. The occupation consisted of four hundred and fifty acres, let on lease precisely as in England. For sixty-five years it had been held by members of the same family—a fact speaking volumes for both owner and tenant. It had consisted in part of waste, let at a nominal rent to begin with, the sum being raised as the land increased in value. Mule-rearing for Spain is one of the chief resources of La Vendée, and we were shown upwards of forty young mules of great beauty, varying in value from £30 to £80. The entire stock of the farm numbered seventy head of mules, horses, cows, and oxen, sixty sheep, besides pigs and poultry. Vineyards cover a tract of 30,000 hectares in this department, but here, as in many other places, the phylloxera had wrought entire ruin, only the blackened stocks remaining. The tenant farmer I name, as is almost universally the case, owned a small portion of land. Very likely, had inquiry gone back a generation or two, we should have found métayage the beginning of this prosperous family, their stepping-stone from the condition of day-labourer to that of capitalist.
Much larger holdings than the one just described exist in this part of France, and if the traveller takes a south-westerly direction from Niort to the sea coast, he will see a succession of large walled-in farmsteads recalling the moated granges of the Isle of Wight, the size and extent of the buildings attesting the importance of the occupation.
Of Languedoc Arthur Young writes in a very different strain. The picture, indeed, drawn by him of peasant owners round about Sauve and Ganges, in the department of the Gard, may well bear comparison with the traveller's experiences to-day.
"An activity has been here," he writes, "that has swept away all difficulties before it, and has clothed the very rocks with verdure. It would be an insult to common sense to ask the cause. The enjoyment of property must have done it. Give a man the secure possession of a black rock and he will turn it into a garden."
Here it is necessary to put in a word of explanation. Our author sets down one-third of French territory as belonging to the peasant at the time he wrote. This is one of the few errors of a very exact writer. In reality only a fourth of the soil belonged to the people before the Revolution, their little holdings having been acquired by means of incredible laboriousness and privation. The origin and development of peasant property throughout France can only be touched upon here. We must go very far back, farther even than the enfranchisement of the serfs by Louis le Hutin, in order to trace the progressive transfer of land.
The Crusades, especially that of St. Bernard, brought about a veritable revolution in the matter of land tenure. The seigneurs, impoverished by all kinds of extravagance, then sold portions of property, not only to rich bourgeois and ecclesiastics, but to their own serfs, for the purpose of furnishing the necessary equipment. Many nobles thus succeeded in procuring ransom, forfeiting patrimony for their soul's good. The small owner by little and little contrived to better his position, and in the Etats Généraux of 1481, summoned by the great Anne of France, for the first time we find free peasants taking part in a legislative assembly. The Tiers Etat as a political body already existed.
In the words of a living authority lately quoted, peasant property, far from being a device invented all of a piece and carried by force of law, dates from a period long anterior to the Revolution. In some places the number of small parcels of land has hardly changed from early times. The sale of church lands had by no means the effects attributed to it. About one-third of these consisted of forest, which was added to the state, another third consisted of buildings and town property, the remaining third, consisting of land, was sold in the lots actually existing without being divided at all, and the purchasers were for the most part well-to-do bourgeois.
These observations have seemed appropriate, as much confusion still exists on the subject among ourselves. That peasant property is the direct creation of the Revolution appears to be the generally accepted theory in England. Had Arthur Young's travels been read here with the attention paid to them by our French neighbours, such an error would have been cleared up long ago.
The Gard, of which our traveller gives so glowing a description, is by no means one of the most favoured departments. The phylloxera and the silkworm pest have greatly affected the prosperity of both town and country, yet the stranger halting at Le Vigan, or making his way thence to Millau in the Aveyron, finds himself amid a condition of things usually regarded as Utopian—a cheerful, well-dressed, self-supporting population, vagrancy unknown, and a distribution of well-being perhaps without a parallel in any part of Europe. Again and again will occur to his mind the famous passage with which Virgil concludes his second Georgic, that beautiful picture of pastoral happiness, which if imaginary in old Roman days, is so often realized in the rural France of our own.
Next Arthur Young visits the Landes on his way to Bordeaux. Here extraordinary changes have taken place within the last twenty years; what then must be the transformation wrought during the course of a century? Plantations, the sinking of wells, drainage, and irrigation, are fast fixing the unstable sands, making fruitful the marsh, and creating a healthful climate and fertile soil. Early in the present century the land here was sold "au son de la voix;" in other words, the accepted standard of measurement was the compass of human lungs. The stretch of ground reached by a man's voice sold for a few francs. Crops are now replacing the scant herbage of the salt marsh, and the familiar characteristic of the landscape, the shepherd's stilts, are already almost a thing of the past. The échasse, or in patois, chanque, a word dating from the English occupation, and derived by some authorities from "shank," is naturally discarded as the morass is transformed into solid ground. Six hundred thousand hectares of Landes planted with sea-pines produce resin to the annual value of fifteen million francs.
This noble tree, the pinus maritima, is here achieving a climatic revolution similar to the changes effected by the febrifugal Eucalyptus in the once fever-stricken plains of Algeria. The cork-tree, or chêne-liège, has proved equally effective. Many arid tracts are now covered with magnificent forests of recent growth, not only affording a source of revenue, but transforming the aspect and climatic conditions of the country. Only an inconsiderable proportion of the Landes remains in its former state.
Arthur Young's second journey takes him through Brittany and Anjou. Here also advance has been so rapid within our own time that the traveller revisiting these provinces finds his notes of ten or fifteen years ago utterly at fault.
"Landes—landes—landes" (wastes, wastes, wastes), "a country possessing nothing but privilege and poverty," such is the verdict passed by the Suffolk squire on Brittany in 1788. The privileges were swept away with a stroke of the pen twelve months later; the poverty, though an evil not to be so summarily dealt with, has gradually given way to a happier state of things Of no French province can the economist now write more hopefully.
Were I to renew my acquaintance with the friendly tenant farmers of Nozay in the Loire Inférieure, described by me elsewhere, or the hospitable freeholders of Hennebont in the Morbihan, I should without doubt find many changes for the better. The sabots into which the bare feet of both master and men, mistress and maids, were thrust a few years ago, have been replaced by shoes and stockings. Wheaten bread and butcher's meat find their way to many a farmhouse table. Cookery has improved. Wages have risen. Dwellings are built on a more wholesome plan. Intellectual progress, whilst hardly keeping pace with the spread of material well-being, is yet satisfactory in the extreme. When interrogated by travellers of our own day in French, the Breton peasant would shake his head and pass on. Only the ebbing generation now remains ignorant of its mother tongue.
One curious omission must have struck most readers of the French travels. This quick and accurate observer who takes note of every object that meets his eye, who traverses the three historic highroads, diverging to the right and to the left in quest of information, never by any chance whatever mentions a village school. Had such schools existed we may be sure that he would have visited them, bequeathing us in a few graphic sentences an outline of their plan and working. The education of the people was a dead letter in France at the time he wrote. Here and there the curé or frères Ignorantins would get the children together and teach them to recite the catechism or spell a credo and paternoster. Writing, arithmetic, much less the teaching of French, were deemed unnecessary. The Convention during its short régime (1792-1796) decreed a comprehensive scheme of primary instruction, lay, gratuitous and obligatory, but the initiative was not followed up, and the first law on the subject carried into effect was that of 1833. How slowly matters advanced in Brittany may be gathered from an isolated fact. So late as 1872 two-thirds of the inhabitants of the Ille and Vilaine could neither read nor write. It remained for the Third Republic to remove this stigma, and within the last eighteen years schools have sprung up in all directions. The department just named numbered in 1884 between seven and eight hundred alone.
Agricultural progress has been more rapid. Rotation crops and four-course farming have long superseded the ruinous method of sowing the same crops, generally buckwheat or oats, for several years in succession, followed by an equally long period of fallow. Arthur Young's corner-stone of good farming, a fine piece of turnips, may now be seen here as at his native Bradfield. Artificial manures and machinery are used instead of the dried leaves and antiquated implements once in vogue. Upper Brittany has won for itself the name of the granary of western France, from its abundance of corn. The Breton breed of horses and cattle is second to none throughout the country. Between the years 1840 and 1880 upwards of 400,000 hectares of wastes have been brought under cultivation, and the process of clearing goes steadily on.
To many causes are due this transformation of a region so long stationary. Foremost stands the great agricultural college of Grand Jouan, near Nozay, in the Loire Inférieure, founded in 1830. Our Suffolk farmer sighed for such an institution, and predicted the advantages that would accrue generally from training schools of practical and theoretic agriculture. Such schools, alike on a large or modest scale, the latter called fermeécole, are now scattered all over France, Grand Jouan, precursor of the rest, still retaining pre-eminence. Its object is twofold: firstly, to form good farmers, gardeners, land-surveyors, and agricultural chemists; secondly, to develop the progress of agriculture by the introduction of the newest machinery and the most improved methods, by farming high, in fact, for the benefit of outsiders. The curriculum occupies two years and a half; day students, many of whom belong to the peasant class, are received at a cost of two hundred francs yearly.
"It is Grand Jouan that teaches us to farm," remarked a tenant farmer of the neighbourhood to the present writer in 1875, when showing, with no little pride, a field of turnips grown upon a layer of bone phosphate.
The spread of railways, the creation of roads and other facilities of communication, must be taken into account, also the great advantages enjoyed by Brittany in respect of climate. Magnolias and camellias flourish out of doors all the year round at Nantes, and arrived at St. Pol de Léon (Finistère) in November, the tourist finds the soft air and warm sunshine of the south. The fruit and vegetables of Roscoff and other equally favoured spots produce sums that would have appeared fabulous a few years ago, much more in Arthur Young's time. The strawberries of Plougastel alone bring an annual return of half a million francs. These market gardens, varying in extent from two or three to twenty-five hectares, are the property of peasant owners, but here as elsewhere a great variety of land tenure is found.
Métayage, whilst existing in the Côtes du Nord and the Loire Inférieure, is not regarded with much favour by the Breton. Tenant farming and ownership are more congenial to his somewhat uncompromising temperament. The domaine congéable, a contract dating from the twelfth century, and of universal acceptance fifty years ago, is now found only in Finistère and the Morbihan. Nothing could be simpler than this arrangement—the owner handing over his land in return for a small rent, the farmer becoming possessor of outbuildings, if erected at his expense, stock and crops, both parties being at liberty to separate under certain conditions, one of which was the reimbursement of outlay. It will easily be seen that such a system would work well whilst the land possessed little value and capital was scarce. Nevertheless, the domaine congéable is still to be found in what we may well call a land of survivals. Two of these unfortunately form a serious stumbling-block to progress, and seem likely to outlast the picturesque costumes, the old-world traditions, even the ancient speech of the French Bretagne. Beggary and intemperance, from time immemorial, have degraded a population characterized by many sterling qualities. So far back as 1536 we find severe edicts against drunkenness in Brittany, comprised in the celebrated judicial reforms of François I. and his legists. According to this Draconian code, for the first offence the punishment was a term of bread and water diet in prison; for the second, flogging; in case of incorrigibility, loss of ears and banishment.
Orphanages, industrial schools, benefit societies, and other philanthropic measures are combating the first evil. The second, it is to be hoped, will disappear with the gradual spread of education and material well-being.
Great is the change that awaits the traveller in sunny, light-hearted, dance-loving Anjou. The Breton peasant, taciturn, reserved, yet hospitable, will set before his guest the best his larder affords—cyder, rye-bread baked weeks before, hard cheese, curds and whey; in Anjou the housewife brings out a white loaf, fresh butter and jam, wine, even liqueur. A lady tourist unaccompanied may safely entrust herself to a Breton driver. Throughout the long day's journey across solitary regions he will never once open his lips unless interrogated. But the English visitor in an Angevin country-house is soon regarded as a friend by all the neighbours. Many and many a time, the labours in the field over, the merry supper taken out of doors ended, have I been invited to join the peasant folk in the joyous round. Accompanied only by the sound of their own voices, and needing no other stimulus, for ball-room a stretch of sward, for illumination the stars, young and old forget the long day's toil and the cares of life in these innocent Bacchanalia. Ofttimes the dance would be prolonged till near midnight, the presence of a stranger apparently adding zest to the festivity; but no matter how hilarious the mirth, how open-hearted the sense of fellowship, no unseemly jest, no indecorous word, jars our ears.
"Maine and Anjou," writes our traveller, "have the appearance of deserts," and he goes on to note one feature of the country which even in our own time is apt to convey an idea of poverty. Throughout the department of the Maine and Loire, formed from the ancient Anjou, may still be seen those cave-dwellings or Troglodyte villages which astonished Arthur Young a century ago, ready-made habitations hollowed out of the tufa or yellow calcareous rock abounding in the department. Sometimes in our walks and drives we have the backs of the houses towards us, and see only their tall chimneys rising from behind the hedges. Elsewhere we come upon a vast cave, in shape like an amphitheatre, containing half-a-dozen cottages or human burrows, crops and fruit-trees flourishing overhead. But already in 1875 the darkest and most comfortless subterranean chambers had been abandoned, and on revisiting the country fourteen years later, I found neat, new dwellings everywhere springing up, the homes of peasant farmers built by themselves. In the commune of St. Georges des Sept Voies I visited several new houses constructed at a cost varying from £80 to £250, in every case most of the work being achieved by the owner. One well-to-do peasant was building for himself an eight-roomed house, or what in England would even be called a villa, with flower-garden in front, parlour, kitchen, and offices on the ground flour, above, four airy bedrooms.
In the Maine and Loire the land is much divided, very few farms consist of a hundred hectares, by far the larger proportion of three or four only, or closeries. Yet between the years 1833 and 1870 the value of land showed a rise of 50 per cent., and since that period progress has been far more rapid. The creation of roads and railways, the use of artificial manures and machinery, the cross-breeding of stock, had in 1862 given the Maine and Loire the fourth rank among French departments, whilst in 1880 it stood first as a corn-producing country. Wine, corn, and fruit are largely exported, and the slate quarries of Angers, the linen manufactories of Cholet, employ thousands of hands, and bring in vast revenues, the latter in 1869 reaching the total of fifteen million francs.
The desert that saddened Arthur Young's eyes may now be described as a land of Goshen, overflowing with milk and honey. The peasant wastes nothing and spends little; he possesses stores of home-spun linen, home-made remedies, oil, vinegar, honey, cyder, wine of his own producing. So splendid the climate, so rich the soil, that the poorest eats asparagus, green peas, and strawberries every day when in season, and, as everyone owns crops, nobody pilfers his neighbour. The absolute security of unguarded possessions is one advantage of peasant property, the absence of pauperism, another. Each commune charges itself with the maintenance of its sick or aged poor, provided no members of their own family are able to undertake the duty. The hatefulness of dependence and the strong inducements to thrift held out by secure possession of the land, render these public burdens comparatively light. As a rule only intemperance or an accumulation of misfortunes reduce the French peasant to accept alms.
The third journey covers an enormous area, and takes our traveller into regions widely divergent both in respect of scenery, population, and resources. He begins with Champagne, traverses Alsace-Lorraine, as the forfeited departments of the Upper and Lower Rhine are now called, makes his way through the Jura, Burgundy, the Bourbonnais, Auvergne, obtains a glimpse of the Rhône valley, visits the Papal state of Avignon and the Comté de Nice, familiar in these days as the Riviera, at the time he wrote, an appanage of Savoy.
It is curious that, although fully recognizing the existence of peasant owners and, as has been seen, rendering ample justice to their thrift and laboriousness, he never seems to have inspected any of the tiny holdings passed on the road. Probably the poor people, humiliated by want and all kinds of wretchedness, would have resented such an intrusion, feeling, in Scriptural phrase, "Verily to see the poverty of the land art thou come." In our own day nothing flatters the flourishing farming folk of the Seine and Marne more than the visit of an inquiring stranger. They are never too busy to be courteous, and the curious in agriculture need not hesitate to put a string of questions. What a contrast is presented by that recorded conversation with a peasant woman of Mars-la-Tour (Meurthe and Moselle) and chance acquaintance made with a housewife of eastern France at the present time!
Arthur Young describes his interlocutor as miserably clad, bent with toil, and although youthful, wearing a look of age, whilst the story she poured out, was one of hopeless struggle and unmitigated hardship. The farmeress of the rich cheese-making country of Brie en Champagne still works hard, drives to market with her eggs and butter, and even upon occasions lends a hand in the harvest field. But on Sundays and holidays her neat cotton dress is exchanged for a fashionable toilette; her children receive a liberal education; when her daughters marry, they have a dowry of several thousand pounds. With beaming satisfaction and genuine hospitality she welcomes an English visitor, offering new milk or cordials, delighted to show her household stores of linen, her dairy and poultry yard. Upon one occasion, after a long ramble amid the cornfields and vineyards near Couilly (Seine and Marne), I entered the shop of a village baker, and asked for a roll. The mistress very kindly invited me into her back parlour, brought out excellent bread, Brie cheese, the pleasant wine of the country, refusing payment. Hospitable instincts are fostered by prevailing ease and well-being. The little towns of this department all possess public baths, personal cleanliness is a noteworthy feature, and beggary is nil. Here, however, we have under consideration one of the wealthiest agricultural populations of France—the sale of cheese alone at the Meaux market reaches the sum of six or seven million francs yearly. Fruit and vegetables are largely exported, the village curé, as well as his parishioners, adding to income by the sale of pears and greengages. "You have come only just in time, ladies," said the vicaire of one of these villages to myself and friends, bent on making a purchase, during the summer of 1878; "almost all my greengages are ordered for the English market. Ah! those English, those English, they monopolize everything: our best fruit, and the island of Cyprus."
The rich red rose, erroneously called Provence rose, was in reality introduced here by the Crusaders, but no longer forms an article of commerce. Provins, ancient capital of La Brie, from which the rose derived its name, is as picturesque a town as any in the country.
The popularity enjoyed by Arthur Young on the other side of La Manche need not astonish us. Yet one passage of these Travels can but raise painful reflection in every conscientious and patriotic mind. Nothing can be more painful to ardent sympathizers with France and French character than a sojourn in Alsace-Lorraine. The sorrowful, indeed agonized clinging of born Alsatians to the mother-country, once witnessed, can never be forgotten. But who is able to read the following passage by an English traveller in the Rhine provinces just a hundred years ago, without some change of feeling?—
"In Saverne," writes Arthur Young in 1789, "I found myself to all appearances in Germany. Looking at a map of France and reading histories of Louis XIV. never threw his conquest or seizure of Alsace into the light which travelling into it did; to cross a great range of mountains; to enter a level plain inhabited by a people totally distinct and different from that of France, with manners, language, ideas, prejudices and habits all different, made an impression of the injustice and ambition of such a conduct much more forcible than ever reading had done; so much more powerful are things than words." Now-a-days, if you question a blue-eyed, fair-haired, square-built peasant girl of Alsace-Lorraine as to her origin, she will glance round shyly to assure herself that there are no unfriendly listeners, and proudly reply in the tongue of her primitive ancestors, recently the conquerors of the fatherland, "Ich bin Französisch geboren" (I am French by birth). When spending an autumn in Alsace-Lorraine five years ago, I found Mulhouse still a French town in every respect but name. "Nous sommes plus Français que les Français" (we are more French than the French themselves) was the universal sentiment of rich and poor expressed without reserve in English hearing. A system of repression only to be compared to the Russian rule in Poland, and wholesale immigration of born Prussians, is gradually forcing a hated nationality upon this population so susceptible and so warm-hearted, uniting the graces of the French character with the sturdy qualities of the Teuton.
Thrice unhappy Alsace! In the position of a beautiful and richly-dowered orphan—alike the darling and the prey of one jealous foster-parent after another—the ill-fated country seems doomed to perpetual disenchantment and betrayal; her affections no sooner firmly implanted than they are torn up by the bleeding roots.
Of Franche-Comté not much is seen, the traveller's plans being disarranged by local disturbances. He does, however, pass through the departments of the Doubs and the Jura, formed from the ancient domain of Mary of Burgundy. Here, again, we who know every inch of the road are struck by what at first appears an unaccountable omission. No reference is made to the numerous village industries which now characterize the country, not only from the economist's point of view, but also adding peculiar features to the landscape. In the remotest valley of the Jura, breaking the solitude of pine forests, mingling their din with the roar of mountain torrents, is now heard the sound of mill-wheels and steam hammers, tall factory chimneys not a little detracting from scenery inimitably described by Ruskin. Whilst the majority of the inhabitants lead a pastoral life, and cheese-making is carried on everywhere, hardly a hamlet but possesses its special manufactory or handicraft. Turnery and wood-carving at St. Claude, gem polishing at Septmoncel and Oyonnax, clock and spectacle making at Morez, employ thousands of hands; whilst among exports of lesser importance figure wadding, gum, clock cases, bottles, and baskets. Many of these trades are pursued by the craftsman at home and on his own account. Hours alike both pleasant and profitable have I spent in these cottage ateliers, chatting with my hosts as they worked, the clean little room opening on to a tiny garden, the baby and the kitten sporting in the sun.
The wood-carvers are veritable artists, and their elegantly carved pipe-stems find their way to the remotest corners of the earth.
Diamond polishing and turnery were carried on in the Jura several centuries ago. For the most part, however, village industries, as well as village schools, were ignored by Arthur Young, because they did not exist. When, in 1789, he passed within a few miles of the marvellously placed little cathedral city of St. Claude, the all-puissant count-bishop, inheritor of the rich abbey and its seigneurial dependencies, had only just been compelled to enfranchise his forty thousand serfs. These bond-servants of a Christian prelate, whose cause the so-called atheist Voltaire had pleaded magnanimously in vain, were up to that time mainmortable—that is to say, if childless, they had no power to bequeath their property, which accrued to the seigneur.
The country was not without resources, but its revenues did not enrich the tiller of the soil. From early times the white wines of the Jura were celebrated throughout France. "I have some wine of Arbois in my cellar," wrote the gay Gascon, Henry IV., to the Duke de Mayenne on their reconciliation, "and I send you two bottles which I think you will not dislike."
The pretty little town of Arbois is worth visiting, not only for the sake of tasting its matchless wine, but also for its scenery—the valley of the Cuisance is indeed a corner of Eden. The soil is poor and the land minutely subdivided in the Jura, yet the condition of the peasant is now one of comparative ease and entire independence. Both morally and intellectually these mountaineers rank high among the rural population of France. An excellent notion of the mental capacities of the small land-owners may be obtained by attending a sitting of the Juge de Paix. The skill and readiness with which they state their cause and act the part of their own advocate are remarkable. For the most part the quarrels among neighbours arise from contested boundaries; the judge, after patiently hearing both sides of the question, settles matters for once and for all by visiting the spot, and in person fixing the landmarks.
The villages of the Doubs, especially Ornans, home of the painter Courbet, so picturesquely placed, are also active centres of industry: kirsch, fabricated from cherries of local renown, absinthe, tiles, nails, wire, are largely manufactured, to say nothing of the Gruyère cheese, the staple product of Franche Comté. The Revolution in a few years metamorphosed entire regions. From this period dates the famous watch-making commerce of Besançon. Introduced by the Convention in 1793, it is now carried on so extensively that out of every hundred watches manufactured in France, eighty-six come from the chef-lieu of the Doubs. In 1880 the number of hands thus employed reached a total of 46,000. The Bisontin watchmaker often works on his own account; and here, as at Châteauroux in the Indre, is witnessed a striking example of thrift among the artizan class. Many of these working watchmakers contrive by dint of extreme laboriousness and economy to purchase a vineyard or garden in the suburbs. They build a summer-house, or even châlet, and with wives and children there spend Sundays and holidays amid their fruit and flowers.
From Franche Comté our traveller reaches Burgundy and the Bourbonnais. In the neighbourhood of Autun (Saône and Loire) he tells us that he looked for fat farmers, and found only starving métayers. The department is neither pre-eminent in the matter of agriculture nor of social advance, yet it is a sight now-a-days to see "the fat farmers" at the September fair of Autun. From early morning they pour into the town, some in gigs or hooded carriages, with wife and children, others on foot, and the greater number driving their cattle—the splendid white oxen known as the Morvan breed. These peasant farmers wear under the blue blouse shining broad cloth, and betake themselves at midday to the first hotel in the place, there to enjoy the table d'hôte breakfast; but no sooner is business over, without losing a moment, untempted by fireworks and other entertainments, all set off homewards. Such experiences enable us to understand the stability and solid wealth of the French farmer. He is not above work, and does not disdain the uniform of labour.
The same strict attention to daily concerns is seen on the occasion of a general election. Just before attending one of these cattle fairs of Autun I happened to be staying at St. Honoré-les-Bains, in the adjoining department of the Nièvre, when an election took place. The peasant farmers, although the day was Sunday, performed their electoral duties with the utmost despatch, and returned to their homes.
Much of the scenery of this part of France has an English look. We see fields set round with lofty hedges, winding lanes, sweeps of gorse and heather, alternately recalling Devonshire and Sussex. Here are found tenant farms, large properties cultivated by their owners, small holdings parcelled out among the peasants and métairies.
It was inevitable that a traveller in Arthur Young's time should miss many objects of striking interest on the way. The first itineraries of France seem to have been inspired by the Englishman's example—I allude to the voluminous works of Millin and Vaysse de Villiers published in the early part of the present century; the departmental system had not as yet created a French map, or, in the strict acceptance of the word, French geography. Archæology was a dead letter, and very little interest was felt, even by educated people, in the scenery or curiosities of their native land. Thus he halted at Auray, and there was no one to point out the great stone avenues of Carnac and the dolmens of Locmariaker; he passed through Alsace, ignoring the famous shrine and grandiose site of St. Odille, extolled by Goethe in his poetic reminiscences. Arrived at Autun, he was within easy reach of Avallon, so nobly towering over the beautiful valley of the Cousin, and of the abbey church of Vézélay, unique in splendour and of unique renown. Here, too, he was on the threshold of the little Celtic kingdom of the Morvan, where village communism, as existing among patriarchal tribes, remained in force till our own day, and where the stalwart husbandman still throws over his shoulder the Gallic sagum, or short cloak, worn by the contemporaries of Vercingetorix. The last village commune was broken up in 1848. The inhabitants of this most picturesque, but unproductive, country depend largely on industrial earnings, many migrating to Paris and other towns, and there pursuing various trades during part of the year. The curious "flottage à bûches perdues," or floating of loose logs, a speciality of the Morvan, gives work to thousands of men, women, and children at certain seasons.
A wretched village occupied the site of the world-famous iron-foundries of Le Creusot, when Arthur Young journeyed from Autun to Nevers in 1789. These works, now covering a superficies of three hundred acres, and employing ten thousand hands, have developed into a town almost tripling the respective populations of the above-mentioned towns, chefs-lieux of the Saône and Loire and the Nièvre.
From "the mild, healthy, and pleasant plains of the Bourbonnais," he passed into Auvergne, obtaining a glimpse of "the rich Limagne," of which Mr. Barham Zincke has given us an exhaustive account. The Velay is rapidly traversed, and the château of Polignac visited, already deserted by its owners, the thankless protégés of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. From its ruined battlements and prison towers, the tourist now beholds a heart-quickening scene of rural ease and smiling fertility; far and wide the beautifully cultivated plain, with its varied crops, not one inch of land wasted, the whole forming a brilliant patchwork of green fields and yellow corn, whilst dotted here and there are neat little homesteads and pasturing flocks and herds.
From Le Puy, chef-lieu of the Haute-Loire, in spite of wretched inns and troublous times, Montélimar on the Rhône is reached, at that time belonging to Dauphiné, in our own, cheflieu of the Drôme. Here he describes "mountains covered with chestnuts and various articles of cultivation, which in districts not waste or volcanic, are waste, or in a great measure useless." Until the ravages of the phylloxera, the choicer vineyards of the Drôme sold at the rate of 60,000 francs the hectare; but the manufactures of Crest and Romans now constitute the chief wealth of this department.
Next he visits Avignon and the country of Venaissin, described as "one of the richest districts in the kingdom," and followed by a picture of Vaucluse no traveller has as yet surpassed. It was not till two years later, be it remembered, that the Papal state of Avignon and the little Comté Venaissin were incorporated into French territory at the request of the inhabitants, forming, with the principality of Orange and a portion of Provence, the department of Vaucluse. The supersession of madder by chemical dyes, and the phylloxera have of late years greatly diminished the revenues of this wealthy region, which, if visited in summer, almost persuades the stranger that he is in the East. Nothing can be more Oriental than the veteran figtrees, the peach orchards, the olive groves, all veiled with finest white dust beneath a burning blue sky.
Here may be said to end Arthur Young's survey of France on the eve of the Revolution, an enterprise altogether original, and carried out under extraordinary circumstances. We need not feel astonishment at the great popularity enjoyed by his work on the other side of the Channel. Whilst many fairly educated English folk have never so much as heard the author's name, it is familiar to every schoolboy in France. The Suffolk squire's scathing summing-up of the ancien régime, "Whenever you stumble upon a grand seigneur, even one that is worth millions, you are sure to find his property desert," is cited in the elementary histories for public schools approved by the minister of education. Whilst, moreover, English students have been hitherto compelled to resort to the British Museum or wait long and patiently for an expensive copy of these Travels to turn up at a secondhand bookseller's, unabridged edition after edition has appeared in Paris.
Arthur Young did not hesitate to tell his French readers some blunt home-truths, apparently taken in excellent temper; his journal must be described, for all that, as one long, graceful acknowledgment of courtesies and hospitalities, recorded in an age when anything like international friendship was rare indeed.
The book has greater claims upon French sympathy. In spite of certain reservations, it is a vindication of peasant property and the Revolution, the two cardinal points of French belief. From the first page to the last, he sets down the abject wretchedness of the people and the stagnant condition of trade and commerce to bad government. But another adage of our "wise and honest traveller," his famous axiom, "The magic of property turns sands to gold," equally with improved administration, must account for the contrasted picture that now meets our view. By the light of after-events he was led to modify his ideas concerning the establishment of a democracy in France. But he had already given his experiences to the world; he could not undo the effect of his published work, and the observations summed up in his final chapter, to quote a great living critic, were "a luminous criticism of the most important side of the Revolution, worth a hundred times more than Burke, Paine, and Macintosh all put together. Young afterwards became panic-stricken, but his book remained. There the writer enumerates without trope or invective the intolerable burdens under which the great mass of the French people had for long years been groaning. It was the removal of those burdens that made the very heart's core of the Revolution, and gave to France that new life which so soon astonished and terrified Europe."
Into Arthur Young's services to agriculture we have no space to enter here. They have been briefly indicated by the brilliant, but all too rapid, historian of the English people. "The numerous enclosure bills," writes Mr. Green, "which began with the reign of George the Second, and especially marked that of his successor, changed the whole face of the country. Ten thousand square miles of untilled land have been added, under their operation, to the area of cultivation, while in the tilled land itself the production had been more than doubled by the advance of agriculture, which began with the travels and treatises of Mr. Arthur Young."
His claims are not only those of a foremost agriculturist, an indefatigable promoter of the arts of peace, a citizen of the world in the widest acceptation of the name. He had pondered long and deeply on those social and political problems that occupy thinkers of our own day. Eminently practical, he yet indulged from time to time in the loftiest idealism. "Why may not the time come," he writes in an early work, "when the whole world shall be in a state of knowledge, elegance, and peace?" Scattered throughout his writings we find, side by side with a statesmanlike grasp of facts, veritable flashes of inspiration, a deep philosophical insight into the possibilities of human progress.
My warm thanks are due to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Young, grandson and granddaughter-in-law of the great agriculturist, without whose kind assistance the following memoir could not have been written. The materials were placed at my disposal whilst enjoying the hospitality of Bradfield Hall, the modern mansion occupying the site of Arthur Young's old home.
I also beg to express my indebtedness to M. Paul Joanne, and other obliging correspondents, French and English.