“Who was the happiest of men?” said Croesus to Solon. “Tellos,” answered the sage; “he was an Attic yeoman; he lived a good neighbour, and a good farmer, till his children had grown up strong, and comely, and honest, and then he died, fighting for Athens. The Athenians honoured him greatly.” – Herodotus, Book I. s. 20.

 The world has had great lights; Athens and Thebes, and the constellation of the Peloponessus, Lombardy, Switzerland, Holland, and America. Norway is a new planet – new and old. Older than history, new to us. A few years ago men spoke of Norway as the half-savage province of Sweden, wrapt in they could not tell what rudeness and gloom. At last a wise and honest man got some inkling of her. He went and saw her, and told us of her. We all wonder now why we did not know her before. She was long since as she is now, and therefore we doubt the account, which implies our ignorance; yet after all the secretness of Norway is no wonder. Seldom can we hear, save from a nation’s own voice, what its heart is full of, and how it lives; and yet the very happy talk most to themselves. He who has a comfortable home stays in it, but misery comes out into the thoroughfares, noticeable, and screaming. “Pity us,” cries Italy; “help us,” cries Ireland; “just God! is it thus thou scourgest the brave?” cries Poland. Circassia which wars, and Norway which lives at peace, yet all busy and godlike, weep not, ask not, tell not. There is no missionary like the wailing exile, and far nations listen to the clank of the slave’s chains. Again, the gaudy tribes who hire themselves to oligarchs and triumphant kings, and live for fame and appearance, have a thousand busy tongues and pens to tell of arts, and arms, and subservient muses. France, and Scotland, and England have empire or letters, or both, and console themselves by fame for the loss of virtue. But Norway sits alone, self-revering, not dependant upon fame, nor urged to complaint – nearly silent. She can keep herself from slavery, yet not from fame – it will come upon her unsought. Fame is one of the sorest temptations which the very good must suffer for the sake of others. May her unsought renown not corrupt Norway.

Greater part of the globe is not private property. The sea, with its fish harvests, has few and partial laws, such as national rights to certain fisheries, and the prohibitions on some coasts against catching pregnant or half-grown fish. Of land the most is still in the hands of nomad and hunting tribes – for instance, the huge oval of Asia, whose long diameter reaches from Kamtschatka to the Black Sea, also the larger part of Persia, Arabia, Syria, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

Europe[1], China, India, and much of America, are split into private holdings under more or less stringent laws of property.[2]

In the change from either a nomad, or a hunter, to an agricultural state, the soil remained the property of the tribe, though the crop was the property of the tiller. The patches of tilled land in Germany and Persia were, we know, possessed only until the harvest was reaped by him who sowed it. It is easy to see from what principles of our nature, how from strength, from habit, from foresight, from policy, land came to continue, first for years and then for life, in the possession of one man. At this stage property remained in Ireland to a late period; where, on the death of the head of a family, his land returned into the common stock of the clan, and at the same time land was distributed in such quantity as was convenient among his children.[3]

Thus was the first great code of property completed; the seed was always soon, for he who sowed was always to reap; while the redistribution on the death of every generation preserved the quality of conditions.

The next stage of landed property is to become divisible among the family of the possessor at his death. It still remained, and ever does remain, subject to the will and wants of the tribe or nation; but except in cases of gross abuse and monopoly, or of the wants of heirs, few nations (having once sanctioned inheritance) exercise their still undoubted right to resume possession. Much about the same stage, certain rights of mortgage, and even of sale, appear to have been given, or assumed. But in allowing inheritance, incumbrance, and alienation, society limited them.

Thus, as to inheritance, history tells us that a custom which we may call gavelkind (as opposed to primogeniture) was universal. The details were certainly various. In some sons and daughters inherited equally; in others the son only; in some the eldest son had a little more than the second, and the second then the third. In others the whole household, including uncles, aunts, etc., took shares; but in all laws, the Indian, the Jewish, the Greek, the Celtic, the Roman, the Persian, and the Teutonic, subdivision amongst the family was the rule, and such it remained in them all till conquest changed it.[4]

The rights of sale, and mortgage too, were subject not only to the principle of national ownership, but also of family inheritance.[5] In many cases the restraint on alienation was unqualified.

In others the land (as among all the Teutonic tribes) might be pledged or mortgaged, but not absolutely parted with; for either the family resumed possession on the death of the mortgager, or they had in the order of their relationship a right of re-purchase.

Among the Jews this right of re-purchase was never barred (save in case of houses in walled towns not belonging to Levites, where the redemption should be within a year), and moreover, on the fiftieth year, the trumpet of liberation sounded, the year of jubilee arrived, and each family resumed, without any payment, the lands of their fathers.[6]

Looking over all the early codes, it is safe to say from induction that land (where parted with by the tribe) was given as a strict inheritance for the support of a family in all generations, not the enjoyment of one; and also that, though tribes, partly from the late period at which Germany was separated from France; from physical circumstances in the country; from inferior genius, or ambition in its emperors; and lastly, from the quarrels with Rome, Germany retained the most valuable part of feudalism – the multiplication of small states. The German boor remained a villein long after villenage was abolished by law in France; but his condition, from causes which we cannot at present examine, was greatly superior to that of the freedman of France, and resembled that of the English yeoman.

Thus have we sketched the progress of feudalism, till modified in Germany and England, rejected by France, rotted away in Italy and Spain, and lastly, imposed in modern times (in the seventeenth century) by war, confiscation, and penal laws, upon that Ireland which had retained its primitive institutions until then.

Scandinavia has never suffered feudality. There the Teutons remained pure. “The Norwegians have always been freemen.”[7] In the ninth century we find among them the manners which Tacitus found in Germany. They were republican, yet hero-followers. The Vikings, who dwelt on the Norwegian coasts, had their wooden halls full of free and fierce warriors. The Scandinavians were in absolute possession of the soil. Like their brethren on the banks of the Danube centuries before, they had domestic slaves, the captives of their sword, not hereditary serfs. Under its native chief, each tribe held its own. Each freeman had his land, which on his death was divided amongst his children; ‘twas his own to use, his children’s to inherit. The conquest of Harold the Fair-haired, in the ninth century, was over the more turbulent of the sea kings, who bore away their manners and freedom to Iceland and Greenland; but over the nation Harold made no conquest, nor assumed its rights. Nor amid those changes of central government, which alternately gave Norway, Denmark, and Sweden supremacy over the other, were the social institutions of Norway destroyed. Sometimes they were encroached on, as by Christian the Second and Christian the Third of Denmark, in the beginning of the sixteenth century; sometimes aided, as by the judicial institutions of the late Danish government. And, after all, Norway remains almost alone, an unbroken experiment from time immemorial of the original and once universal law of udalism.

“The social order in Ireland is essentially bad, and must changed from top to bottom,” is the emphatic summary of Sismondi[8], and every peasant from Antrim to Cork says the same. Every one of every party confesses that something must be done. Everything that benevolence, everything that atrocity could suggest, has been recommended. But away with this probing, and irritating, and fiddling with Irish grievances. We must deal with the master-grievance. Ireland exists, and her millions toil for an alien aristocracy, her soil sends forth its abundance to give palaces, equipages, wines, women, and dainties to a few thousands; while the people rot upon their native land. What trifling, what madness, what crime, to talk of prosperity from railroads, and poor-laws, from manufacturing experiments, and agricultural societies, while the very land, ay, Ireland itself, belongs not to the people, is not tilled for the people! Redress this, and your palliatives will be needless, your projects will be realised. Leave this unredressed, and your “prosperity” plans may amuse or annoy the public, may impede or assist one or other of the foreign parties who alternately afflict us, but cannot make the sick nation well. But we pray attention to this, that all the plans, legislative and private, whereby it has been sought of late years to serve Ireland, proceed on this common falsehood, that it is desirable and possible to assimilate Ireland to England. Nay, more; we were said to be in a “transition state,” and poor-laws and public works were supported as helpers, midwives to the change. The English farms were large, and to make the Irish so being assumed to be desirable, gave rise to the two great plans for making consolidation of farms easy – viz., emigration and extermination. The agricultural societies came in the rear of these.

England’s population was chiefly manufacturing; hence the benevolent galvanism which thought to enable the hand-loom of the Liberty to compete (without legislative protection) with the steam engines of Manchester, fed as they are by the richest coal-mines on earth, sustained by the accumulated capital and skill of centuries, commanding the markets of the world.

If the condition of the Irish must be changed, there seem to be two states at all desirable. One of these is Udalism, which at once meets and conquers our ills. The other is a sort of pious Feudalism, which Mr. Blacker, Mr. Sadlier, and others have imagined. In this vision the once absentee appears resident in his Irish mansion, superior to the temptations of luxury and power. At present he has neither inclination nor (minded as he is) inducement to live here. He is of a different creed from the people. Is it possible to change his religion or that of the people? If not, how can that through sympathy arise without which a good aristocracy is impossible? Different sects may dwell kindly together; nay, without different sects there will be neither religious activity nor religious freedom; but without common religious sympathy, the tie of vassal and lord is fragile and uneasy. This alone seems an insuperable difficulty. But is not the whole design chimerical? The recollections, blood, and habits of the Irish landlords are utterly alien; they despise the people, the people hate them. Is it not flat nonsense to represent the absentee recalled to this contentious and uncomfortable province, rejecting his religious and political prejudices, giving up London notions and Paris habits, and dealing out justice, economy, and seed oats to his wondering tenants, who (safe in their low-rented possessions, by the kindness of their chief) learn from him farming, quiet, loyalty, and Church-of-Englandism? You will easier make bread out of our granite mountains than reclaim the alien landlords of Ireland. Their own bold resolve is more reasonable – to keep things as they are, and to coerce the people.

Ere we turn to the other alternative, which, hopeless of reclaiming the lords and squires, would cashier them, let us show that all the ordinary proposals which drive at assimilating us to England are worthless.

Now let no man take refuge in the details of his little plans. By the end and object of the “Irish-improvement” people, we must judge them; their emigration, their works, their poor laws, are all meant to be so many precursors of Anglicism. For the present we deal only with the economical condition of England; though we are even more ready to reject with scorn the notion of assimilating our morals, manners, or passions to those of any other people on the face of God’s earth; least of all would we wish to change the faithful, pure, natural, affectionate Irishman into that animal, John Bull.

England’s progress for the last two hundred and fifty years has been towards manufactures and large farms, each aiding the other. The village and cottage were deserted from the landlord’s oppressions, while the increase of trade, by giving the people support, prevented that agrarian war which is the natural and just consequence of driving the peasantry from the land. Yet statesmen and poets, from Sir Thomas More to Goldsmith, lamented it with sorrowful speeches, and warned England in vain. The vengeance seems not far off. The wrongs of Ireland and India, the wrongs of England herself, have appealed not in vain against the aristocracy; and in this the hour which they think triumphant, they are in peril. This generation shall hear “the howl in their halls, and the cry from their ships.” The large farms are maintained, but trade can support no more. Expedients may delay revolution, but they will be expedients giving the aristocracy a foretaste of their doom. The repeal of the Corn Laws will straiten their means, and may enable England to force her goods farther than ever, and support another million of artisans; but once that burst is over, she will have used her last reserve, and the people will fall back on the land, their native property and ultimate resource.[9]

But men still murmur, “Assimilate us to England.” Is it possible or desirable to do so? How are you to establish large farms? Emigrate, say the quacks. Exterminate, say the squires. To the latter our reply is short – Try it. “Clearing” has been tried every four or five years for the last century and a half. It was tried when our population was under three millions; when we were bowed by the memory of unsuccessful war, and weighed down by religious tyranny. “Clearing” was tried then in the hour of our weakness, and it utterly failed; levellers, and hearts of steel, right boys, white boys, terry alts, ribbonmen, rose against the clearers, encountered them, quelled them. It was a desperate internecine war, in which the peasants should slay or be slain. Who shall judge them? Ask Michael Sadlier, the great-hearted Tory, whom England sneered into his grave? “If they persist in this course, let them do so, but let it be at their proper peril.” Ask Gustave de Beaumont, who tells you “all your efforts will be sterile.” If you seek to “clear,” the people will resist. Resistance is the shield against oppression. But you will put down the resistance. Will you? What code more fierce, what army more numerous, what union amongst yourselves more close, will you procure now than you ever had before? The deliberate and repeated attempts of the English government to destroy your intended victims failed. No, no, give it up; give it up. The day even for attempts of the sort is past. The whole world gazes upon your iniquities.[10] England herself blushes at the horrid services she has done you, and is almost ready to bid you begone and tempt her not. The consolidation of farms by “clearing” is a subject not for argument but execration, – turn we away from it.

Send them to Australia; let them be shipped to America, says some emigration quack. We are not quite sure whether a cool project for unpeopling a country does not merit reproof without further inquiry. But why emigrate? Is the produce too little for the people? No. We export annually millions worth of food, and this while our country is agitated and miserably farmed. Just read too what Mr. Blacker says: –

“It appears that the county of Armagh contains 212,755 acres, and a population of 220,653 souls, and that the entire kingdom contains 17,190,726 acres, and 7,839,469 souls. Now, in the county of Armagh, by a recent survey, more than one-seventh of the surface is taken up by lakes and unprofitable land, and the remainder is, for the greatest part, indifferently cultivated; and yet the peasantry are better clothed, lodged, and fed than they are in most other counties in Ireland. I cannot therefore be accused of taking away from the comforts of the rest of this kingdom by taking the county of Armagh as a standard; and its proportion of unprofitable surface is not very remote, I believe, from the average of the others. If then, 212,755, the number of acres in Armagh, give a population of 220,653 souls, 17,190,726 acres, the entire contents of the kingdom, ought to give a population of 17,828,888, in place of 7,839,469, the population at present. It therefore appears that, supposing the other parts of Ireland to be as well cultivated as Armagh, it would support two and a half times the number of its present inhabitants, and be able to export provisions largely beside; for Armagh, notwithstanding its population, exports pork, butter, and grain, in great quantities.

But before deciding finally upon the population which the kingdom could support, it ought to be examined how far the county of Armagh (the standard taken) has arrived at its full complement; and in regard to this I would say, from a pretty general knowledge of it, that under an improved system of agriculture, and a regular rotation of crops, the produce would be treble of what it yields at present; and I think this may be practically proved, if I can show farmers, possessing land of an average quality, who, being induced to change their manner of cultivation in the way already described, are now receiving fully treble produce from the identical same farm to what it formerly yielded. But supposing it only to yield double as much, it would follow that the population of Armagh, if that beneficial change became general, might be doubled also, without in any degree lessening the comforts of the inhabitants, which increase being taken as the basis of the calculation, and applying it to the whole of Ireland, would make it adequate to the support of better than THIRTY-FIVE MILLION OF SOULS.”

Under what pretence can it be proposed to transport millions (for a less emigration would effect nothing) from a land which could support four or five times its present population, from a land which exports corn and meat, from a land which contains five and a half million acres of waste land, as good or better than those fields of Belgium which sustain a population two and a half times as dense as that of Ireland, from a land which only wants social justice and self-government to give comforts, nay luxuries, to its present inhabitants and their multiplying descendants, for many an age, from a lovely land, from a dear land, from fatherland? No, as long as these truths are known, nobody that has the people’s trust will ask them to emigrate; nay, let these truths be forgotten, and the people will still cling to the soil, like the infant to the mother’s breast, with the same instinct and the same fidelity.

It has been calculated that it would take seven years of the whole revenues of the Irish landlords to transport two millions of people to the nearest part of Canada. Will the landlords adjourn their existence for seven years to “consolidate” their farms? Knowing that in the end their incomes would be less (for the density of the population enables them to get high rents), it would be suicide for the men who only want their rents to diminish the population. Then has England twenty or thirty millions to spend in transporting the population of Ireland? We fancy not. Again, unless you employed the marine of Europe, it would take a dozen years to effect this emigration, and in the meantime millions more would be born, for utter poverty in the most prolific of states.

If, then, you can neither exterminate nor exile the people, you must, as you turn them off the lands in the progress to large farms, have profitable employment ready for them in manufactures. And will this accomplish your end? Not at all. As fast as you empty the cabins they will fill again; or faster perchance, for the unloaded spring rises above its steady height. So long as you leave independent poverty to a people with the morals and religion of the Irish, they will multiply beyond calculation, so that unless you could suddenly, in the course say of two or three years, remove the impoverished masses, and change the rest into substantial farmers, you would labour in vain.

But how can you realise even your own data? What will you make? Soft goods? Manchester is ready to sell them to all the world at three per cent, profit on her capital, and cannot. Or hardware? Birmingham is canting her stores, and can hardly get bidders. Have you coals? No. Have you capital to pay wages? Have you capital in machinery? No. Have you the hereditary skill, the shipping, the command of the markets that England has? No. What have you then? Cheap labour, water-power, harbours, and position for trade. All well and good; but are you serious in thinking water-power can compete with steam, and naked hands with the overflowing capital of England? Look, you say, to Germany competing with England. But how has Germany been able to do so? Thus; she had water-power and coals in abundance; she had labour as cheap as Ireland, and yet she long failed, and England gorged her markets. How then did she succeed? Come to the point! Thus, sir, thus; she had national government. She did as Ireland did when we had national government. She imposed duties or prohibitions on English goods. She was willing to pay a little dearer to her own manufacturer than to foreigners. The German farmer paid a little more for clothes, and furniture, and utensils; but he was saved twice as much, which he should have given in poor tax. And now comes the German’s reward (if manufacturing success be desirable); Germany has trained artisans, great factories, the home market a monopoly, and she therefore begins to undersell England. “Why not imitate her?” you say. Why not have a national protection against the competition of England? Why not have a national government? Good sir, we may differ about the use of manufactures, but when they give you so decisive a reason for our last cry, we won’t quarrel.

Let us pause on these much-desired manufactures, if it be possible to make yeomen (“bonder,” as the Norwegians say) of our peasantry. To us much meditating, it seems that if England have nothing to tempt us with but its manufacturing system, ‘twere better trust in God and remain as we are. The equal distribution of comfort, education, and happiness is the only true wealth of nations. What is it to the English father, with an emaciated body, that Manchester can sell cheap cottons, and Birmingham surpass the fame of Damascus? How gains he because Lord Buccleuch adds another ten thousand to his acres, and the riches of Lord Westminster shame the treasuries of kings? He is a weaver, or the worker in a dye-house, or an iron-worker, and was so from childhood. He grew up amid such revelations of God as the crash of stampers and the twirling arms of some bright steel Briareus can give, and among sickly faces and vicious and despairing looks, and he came home when a child to a weaver’s home. The field, the hill,[11] the tree, the corn, the lowing herd, the bleating lamb, the whistling plough-boy, the village church, he never knew. But he is a man, and is above circumstances. Partly ‘tis so, for heaven is merciful; but what a man! That withered, blotched thing, querulous as a sick noble, or desperately calm, stunned with noisy mill-work; filled to the top of his mind with cranks and yarns; trembling lest fashion, or the change of trade, or the competition of some wretch more desperate than himself, may end his hiring, and drive him to the poor-house. The poor-house! The prison for poverty, with its fancy and impertinent lodge, its elaborate starvation, its imprisonment not merely from the vague public through which he used (with some imitation of cheerfulness) to bustle along, but from the wife and children, who, poor and meanness-stricken as they were, were yet the only angels who had entered his tent and sat at meat with him, messengers from heaven reminding him of God.

Oh, no! Oh, no! Ask us not to copy English vice, and darkness, and misery, and impiety; give us the worst wigwam in Ireland and a dry potato rather than Anglicise us.

Home Manufactures we ask. Ay, HOME Manufactures, MANUFACTURES MADE AT HOME. Remember that ere the Factory System existed manufactures were carried on in the farm-house. If there were nothing to be said against large farms and large factories than that for some (disputed) increase of produce and economy, you deprive the farm-house of its motives to a useful and wholesome industry during those seasons when nature interrupts tillage, or in those classes whom sex or age unfits for the field, it were almost enough. But when we add that for this end you must sentence the majority of families to an unwholesome, debasing, and unhappy life in factories, enough is said. That frieze, spun in the farm-house, of winter nights, and wove by the country weaver (who is a bit of a farmer too), is precious in our eyes. This cloth from the mill tells of man and woman and tender child, all day long, from year’s end to year’s end, in a factory room, with nothing to ennoble, purify, or comfort them, and liable by the slightest change in the most changeable of things, trade,[12] to unsolaced pauperism.

Is it or is it not for the good and happiness of the people that provident yeomen, fed by their own labour, and clothed by that of the women of the farm-house, should be changed partly into country labourers for daily wages, without the education, independence, or virtue of yeomen, and partly into the poor, broken-bodied, broken-hearted denizens of a manufacturing town? But in the names of reason and humanity, why seek to create those large farms which can only be kept up by such devices as we have mentioned?

The answer invariably given is, “the produce is greater than from small farms.”

This answer is not true, nor, if it were, would it be sufficient.

Let us enumerate some of the errors in this. It assumes that the produce will be as great from the work of a few on one large farm as of many on several small ones.

Large farms are, and must be, worked by hired labourers. Let us contrast them with small ones, worked by the proprietors. The hired labourer has a direct interest (his personal comfort) in doing the least work for his wages; or if he work by the job, in doing it in the worst possible (or least troublesome) way. He who works on his own land never idles, never botches. His pride, his comfort, the support of his family throughout the year, depends on the quantity and excellence of his labour. He is up early, and down late. He drives his spade with an eager will, and scans every clod lest it be too big for the growth of his corn. How proudly he shows it to his neighbour! With what pains he strives to till according to the received system of his country!

We are not defending rack-rented labour against hired labour, for exactly the same sort of reasons which prevent the latter from being efficient weigh against the former.

But the principle is more general. The labour is in a great degree proportioned to the worker’s interest in its success. A man may dig his friend’s field as well as his own, or better, for love is as strong as selfishness; but what sympathy ties him to the interests of a rich employer? Proportionate to the interest in the work is the work. The effect of taxation in diminishing the eagerness of the labourer (even where it leaves him a large profit) is just as certain as that, when excessive, it will prevent the land from being cultivated at all, as we often see in the East. All taxes, tithes, and charges confessedly have this effect. If you are to till and reap, partly for yourself, and partly for men who are not you nor yours, you will not work as if you and yours were alone to be served.

Exactly similar in effect is rent. Why should I toil another hour (provided I have secured subsistence), when for every dig I give for myself I give two, or three, or four for others; how poor should be my reward for this huge labour?[13] Thus argues human nature. Ere we pass from this topic, let us notice, that in order to establish any system approaching to the English in Ireland you should establish the same relations between the aristocracy and people of Ireland as exist between the corresponding bodies in England. Whatever may be the vices of the English aristocracy, they are by choice and nature heavens-high above the corresponding class in Ireland. They are English to the back-bone. They are not “aliens in religion or language.” They are never the avowed foes of their tenants or labourers – they do not defame his faith, or insult his priest, or deny his country.

The English labourer may have a benevolent and sympathetic employer, rich enough to be liberal, having one creed, one country, with him, and if so, his labour will be the heartier, and his lot less irksome therefore, though he can never reach the firm bearing, the independent and brave virtues, of the yeoman proprietor. But take the case of the Irish tenant, who pays two-thirds or three-fourths of the produce as his rack-rent, or as Sismondi literally and justly translated it, “rente torturée,” torture-rent. Are you an Irish peasant? Then he who is the unsought and monopolising partner in your industry is one unconnected with you by blood, hostile to your creed, contemptuous towards your manners and customs, alternately (nay often, at one and the same time) the traitor and tyrant of your country, insolent to your joys, regardless of your sorrows. Must not this go with you to the field, and return with you to the cabin? Worn and withered is that once rosy girl you wedded, and old in sorrow are her infants; and as you leave your dreary wigwam to toil little for them, much for the proud alien who made them what they are, what thoughts are in your heart? To use the industry of the Irish is wonderful[14] – their patience miraculous. If they were not one of the most religious and least sensual people on earth they would form from their circumstances be the most despairing and savage. Toil as they may, the only labour to increase the rent. We repeat, it would madden any other people on earth.

In censuring the English system of wages, we much more condemn the rack-rent system of Ireland. Other things being equal, a system of tenancy is better than one of wages, for it is a step less in the scale of dependence; but a system of wages under the national aristocracy of England is better than a system of tenancy under the alien landlords of Ireland.[15] What then would be a system of wages under this last-named body? Something, if possible, worse than we now suffer. The wages system has broken the yeomen heart of England, though worked by her own gentry; what then would it be in Ireland, under an aristocracy so bad as to have reduced a tenantry to the last stage of misery?

Again we ask, is it probable that a man can exercise the same prudence, caution, and economy over two hundred acres that each small owner can over ten or twenty. In small proprietorships there is the provident eye and ready hand of a master (not above his work) over every few acres.

Will a rich man make the same effort, when he can only swell a large fortune by abandoning its enjoyment for hard farming, as a middling man, whose comforts and family hopes are so much on the fate of his little holding?

There are, however, two direct tests of the relative productiveness of large and small farms. One of these is the rent they pay. Now it is certain that lands let to small farmers pay higher rents than the same lands would if let in very large holdings, which can result only from the surplus produce being greater. This is so, even under the rack-rents of Ireland, which tend to put the tenant in the condition of a slave who labours for another. This contrast is much stronger between large farms and small proprietorships, and facts here afford a second proof that large farms are less productive. The parts of Europe in which cultivation and production are greatest are Belgium, Holland, Biscay, Piedmont,[16] all of which are divided into properties so small as in many instances to deserve the name of gardens rather than farms. Also compare France before the Revolution[17] with her present state, as consisting of small proprietors.

Remember, too, that the strength and power of England were sustained for centuries by her yeomen, her freeholders and copyholders, who were almost proprietors, when the rest of England was in little more than a state of nature; and again we ask you to admit that small proprietorships are more productive than small farms.

Tenancy (in the motives which it gives for industry in the labourer) is inferior to proprietorship; let us follow the contrast between tenancy and proprietorship a little further. The man who has a property for one year rent free will labour his best, but he will not provide for the future productiveness of his land; give it to him for ten years, and mark how cautious he is, with all his eagerness, least he exhaust the land; how many repairs and little improvements he makes, until he comes near the end of the ten years, and then see how he “takes the heart out of the land,” repairs nothing, improves nothing, and tosses it up a wreck. Give it to him for twenty years, and you extend his care and improvements for some eighteen of them. Give it to him and his for ever, and then there is no end to its care and no limit save means to his improvements; not for his own interest nor his own time only does he work. He is the friend and servant of posterity; his children and his grand-children become so many motives powerfuller than self-interest to make him improve that farm.

In proportion then to the permanence of his holding will be the caution with which the occupier will use the land, and the energy and care with which he will improve it.

Remember what we showed before, that a labourer for wages (besides the other ills of his position) is a comparatively wasteful and negligent workman, especially where there is little sympathy between him and his employer. And further, that in proportion to the interest which a stranger (be he tax gatherer, alien minister, or alien landlord) has in the crop and improvements, the motives for the tenant’s industry will lessen.

Put these together, and they amount to this – Make a man’s interest in his labour – perfect and permanent, and you do the best to ensure his industry and wisdom as a labourer. That is, make him proprietor of the land he tills.

The influence of the possession of a small estate on the family affections, on hardihood, on morals, on patriotism, are greater still; and the virtue and valour, the faith to God, and faith to country of the regions of Europe are found age after age when hunted from aristocratic empires, to have taken refuge among the small proprietors in small states, in Switzerland, in Lombardy, in Dalecarlia, in Biscay. But these ennobling effects of such a system are undisputed, the economical benefits have been questioned, and therefore we have dwelt most of them.

We have thus far explained our subject – we have followed property till it rose into udalism, and further followed it till it sunk into feudality. We have shown how undesirable and impracticable are the plans for Anglicising us (as if forsooth we had nor nature nor destiny of our own). Less minutely, but enough to justify our conclusions to thoughtful and observing men, we have contrasted the effects of wage-labour on the goodness and riches of man with the labour of him who tills his own little estate, and we have drawn a singular contrast between tenancy and proprietorship (i.e., feudalism and udalism).

Thus much of preface we thought needful, but whether needed or not it has exhausted our space, and we must postpone till next month those facts on Norway, the importance of rightly valuing, which has led us into this long discourse.


[The second paper consists almost entirely of extracts, chiefly from Mr. Samuel Laing’s valuable work, Journal of a Residence in Norway (London, 1836), and from authorities on the condition of the Irish peasantry. The prosperity of Norway and the unhappiness of Ireland, and the apparent causes of the vast difference in well-being which exists between these two agricultural countries, are now so generally known and understood that it is needless to reprint here the mass of evidence with which Davis supported his views of Udalism and Feudalism. He closes his discussion of the subject with the following words -]

Let us ask our readers whether any of the plans for improving Ireland, with which their ears have been ringing in these latter times, can for a moment compare with udalism? Will the peddling emigration, will the quackery of railroads and public works, will the cruel and chimerical “assimilation to England,” will poor rates and work-houses, will the romance of reclaimed landlords, or will savage attempts at “consolidation of farms” compare with udalism? Nay, take all these plans, combine them, twist them as you like, do your best with them, and say could they by possibility produce anything equal to udalism?

What are the evils under which our peasantry labour? Poverty. Give them land of their own to work on, they will then have motives to labour, and will soon cease to be poor. What else? Improvidence and recklessness. Give them the education which the possession of property gives, and they will grow prudent and economical. What else? They are subjects to an alien aristocracy, who have the administration of justice, local taxation and expenditure, and control over the representation in their hands. Make the mass of landlords proprietors instead of dependants, and the aristocracy will crumble in the presence of the people.

Quacks will talk about the law of gavelkind causing excessive subdivision of land. Whenever you hear one talk thus, ask him, reader, whether he can point out a single instance of it, and then tell him that gavelkind is the law of human nature, that it was the universal law of mankind, and that primogeniture was a garrison order of conquerors; tell him that when subdivision becomes too great on any form, some of the children will sell their shares; and finally, point to Norway, and say that there is an experiment of a thousand years of this gavelkind, and yet the Norwegian properties support the owners in greater comfort than any other people on earth.

We must unwillingly close this subject for the present. We have omitted much in our quotations from Mr. Laing, which would have interested those for whom we write, and we recommend them to read the book itself.

Those whom the people trust must cease to trifle with romantic schemes, and apply themselves, body, soul, and spirit, to the work of emancipating the peasantry. While the people remain feudal serfs they will be trampled beggars. Free the peasantry from the aristocracy. All else is vanity and vexation of spirit.

We do not venture to point out the means whereby this great salvation is to be worked out; but we must say this much, that we think the devices of a subtle policy will delay success. Also the adoption of any particular plan for Irish tenures we think mischievous, because premature. Some would postpone this tenure question to the hope of nationality. So would not we. So should no man, for tenure is a question of life or death with the people. Yet it is equally far from us to counsel the postponement of the national question to it; for though, were that hope realised, it would not (being political) cure the ills of tenure, which are social; yet inasmuch as the Irish landlords, if left alone, could not resist the popular demand for udal tenures, and while supported by a foreign army, will never yield to that demand, it may not be unwise to regard this political change as a good means to that social end. Some men may think that agitated alone the demand for proprietorship would end in some paltry and unprincipled compromise, but that if kept as an ulterior result of nationality, and agitated as one of its blessings, it will be won by the same effort – or failing, we shall keep our principles whole, and our rights uncovenanted, till all-redressing time gives us opportunities.

At all events, let the question be spoken of, written of, taught, preached, agitated, in fairs and markets, in church and by the fireside, in festivity and business (for it is a solemn subject, and worthy to engross us), and then, when the nation’s heart is full of godlike resolve, it will tell out in accents not to be mistaken, the means and the end, the will and the power, and the chains will fall from it. Of this we are sure, that unless they are fools or cowards, eight millions will not wish in vain.

[1] There are many remains of Nomadism in Europe; the Transhumanite system of Spain, and the summer emigration of the Norwegians to their “seaters” or hill pastures, are instances. The Laplanders are still mere nomads.

[2] The tyrannous and unsocial extent to which the laws of trespass are now carried in England are among the barbarities of what is falsely called civilisation.

[3] Vallancey, Collectanea. The state of property here described, united with a high civilisation, led to the quantity of corporate lands; such were the mensal lands of the Chief, the Corbes and Erenach’s Lansd, the Bard’s Lands, the Hospitality Lands for the Ballybetaghs (the hotels or caravanserais). Such institutions seem to confer many of the benefits of an aristocracy, without some of its dangers and evils. It is a mistake to treat the Irish chiefs as forming an aristocracy, for each clan was a nation, and each kingdom of the Irish Pentarchy was a confederation.

[4] See Numbers, chap. xxvi. Deuteronomy, chap. xxi. Plutarch’s Life of Solon; Sir W. Jones’ Attic Law; Boekch, Economic Politique des Atheniens. Laws of the Twelve Tables of Rome, in Terrasson; see also Plutarch’s Numa, and Arnold’s Rome. For the Chinese, see Ta Tsingleu Lee, and Davis’s Chinese, p. 137. Zendavesta, in Anquetil and Heeren. Institutes of Menu CIX., Articles 100 to 200. Sale’s Koran, and Sir. W. Jones on the Sirajiyyah, s. iii. 4. Tacitus de Moribus Germanorum. Simondi, Palgrave, and Turner on the Anglo-Saxons. All go to establish the assertion here made.

[5] See Mirabeau’s Speeches (Paris, 1792), vol. v. p. 498, for a very clear and able argument for compulsory gavelkind. This speech settled the adoption of that law in France. It was not delivered by Mirabeau, but given by him, when on his deathbed, to Talleyrand, who read it the day after Mirabeau’s death, amid the tears and shouts of the National Assembly.

[6] Leviticus, chap. xxv.

[7] “How glorious, how happy a victory!” – LAING.

[8] Economic Politique, p. 273.

[9] Here Davis is simply reproducing the well-known forecast of Carlyle. Nor is this by any means the only passage in which Carlyle’s influence on his thought is apparent. Indeed, all the Young Irelanders were ardent students of the English thinker who unintentionally, but most powerfully, confirmed their hatred of the rule of the British Parliament in Ireland by the scorn and anger which he poured upon its attempts at government on its own proper soil – ED.

[10] De Beaumont: – “In this country (Ireland) the poor man ought to preserve his pride; he humbles himself in vain before the rich, who enjoys his degradation without relieving his misery – Vol. i. p. 235.

[11] The loss of wealth by much of the soil being occupied by mountains is overpaid by the effects of scenery and wild exercise on men, not that the glory is in the mountain, but in the mind which sees God in these revelations of great power.

[12] “How frightful nowadays is the position of the father of a family, stripped of all means of existence, whenever a commercial crisis, a change in the direction of labour, or in the demand for it, or a stoppage of the work in which he co-operates, comes suddenly to reduce his wages, or throw him out of work. How frightful, above all, when the progress of industry offers him ten thousand objects of new employments of which education has taught him to know the value, and made necessary, too, which yet his poverty seems about to forbid him for ever.” – Morogues, p. 7.

[13] “We may hope that the day Ireland will have small proprietors most of her miseries will cease,” – De Beaumont, vol. ii, p. 198.

[14] “Really I am not inclined to think the Irish are an indolent people. I think that as far as spirit (of industry) is concerned, I would look with more confidence to the spirit of the Irish people in maintaining their independence than perhaps I should look to the population of either England or Scotland.” – Alexander Nimmo, Evidence, House of Lords, 1824.

[15] Yet see, on the English system, Cobbett, passim.

See also a smashing book, in Cobbett’s style, called Colonisation and Small Farms, by Colonel C. J. Napier, at present, we believe, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.

[16] See exact references on each of these in Alison on Population, Sismondi on the Agriculture of Tuscany, and the Communications on Belgium to the Board of Agriculture, by the Abbé Mann and M. de Poederlé, are amongst the most valuable original authorities.

[17] See Mr. Henry Bulwer’s Monarchy of the Middle Classes. Even Malthus says – “The effect of the revolution in France has been to make every person depend more on himself and less on others. The labouring classes are therefore become more industrious, more saving, and more prudent in marriage than formerly, and it is quite certain that without these effects the revolution would have done nothing for them.” – Essay on Population (second edition), vol. ii. p. 116.