Young, Arthur (1741-1820)

Arthur Young (1741-1820) was an 18th century English writer who is best known for the detailed accounts he published of his "travels" in England, Wales, Ireland and France on the eve of the revolution. After he inherited his father's family estate in 1759 he began experimenting with agricultural improvements in order to maximise output. Although he was not always successful in achieving his goals, his writings contained very detailed observations and analysis of agricultural matters and were extremely popular. He began with A Course of Experimental Agriculture (1770) based upon his personal experiences and then traveled widely, commenting on the state of agriculture in Britain and France. The following books were the result: A Six Weeks' Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales (1768), A Six Months' Tour through the North of England (1770), Farmer's Tour through the East of England (1771), A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779 (1780), and Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789 (1792). He also published a number of reference works on agriculture and farming which went through many editions and were translated into several European languages. These included the Farmer's Calendar (1771), Political Arithmetic (1774), and the 45 volume Annals of Agriculture (1784-). Upon his return from France he was appointed to the position of secretary of the Board of Agriculture in the British government in which capacity he organized the collection and preparation of agricultural surveys of the English counties. Later in life he suffered from blindness brought on by severe cataracts and a failed operation to cure it.

Young was a pioneer in the detailed observation of economic conditions in the countryside and the collection of statistical data relating to agriculture. Although modern historians dispute the reliability of his data and the conclusions he sometimes draws from them they recognise the important work he did in beginning the modern collection and analysis of this material. Young is also noteworthy for the sheer luck of being in France on the eve of and during the early part of the French Revolution. He was able to provide in his dairies close observations of the social, political and economic conditions of the French countryside as it was convulsed by violent revolution. This makes his Travels in France (1792) particularly valuable to historians.

Politically, Young was a liberal reformer. He urged the repeal of the penal laws which discriminated against Catholics, he condemned the British regulation of Irish commerce, and criticised the Irish Parliament's industrial policy of prohibitions and bounties. He was a staunch supporter of property rights in agriculture as a means of reducing poverty. Some of his more famous sayings were "the magic of property turns sand into gold" and "give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years' lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert."


Works by the Author

Young, Arthur, Travels in France in 1889 (listed as the 2nd ed.), 1890 (3rd ed.), 1892 (4th corrected ed.). Ed. Miss Matilda Betham-Edwards.

Works about the Author

Allen, Robert C. and Cormac Ó Gráda, "On the Road Again with Arthur Young: English, Irish, and French Agriculture during the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic History 48 (1988): 93-116.

Brunt Liam, "Rehabilitating Arthur Young," Economic History Review 56 (2003): 265-99.

Gazley, John G., The Life of Arthur Young, 1741-1820. Philadelphia Philosophical Society, 1973.

Mingay, G.E. (ed.). Arthur Young and His Times. London: Macmillan, 1975.

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