The English Peasant and Agricultural Labourer
The English peasant first appears in Engleland as an individual with a strong bent for independence. Engleland was the southern part of the thumb of land that projects itself between the North and the Baltic Seas, the northern part being the land of the Jutes or Jutland.
The dwellers in Engleland, writes Mr. John Richard Green, in his Short History of the English People, 'seem to have been merely an out-lying fragment of what was the Engle or English folk, the bulk of whom lay probably along the middle Elbe and on the Weser', and he adds that they were allied to peoples occupying a wide tract reaching to the Rhine and collectively known as Saxons.
Mr. Green does not, however, speak of the fascinating theory of Henri de Tourville, who gives the name of 'particularist' to these Nordic peoples, because they were people of the small or particularist families of husband, wife, and children as opposed to the large joint families of fathers, their sons and grandsons and their wives and children. Henri de Tourville, in his Histoire de la Formation Particulariste, believes this small family came into being in the following way: some Teutonic or Nordic people reached the plains of Sweden and in their search for undisturbed homes, passed on over the mountains and settled along the fiords of Norway.
Anyone who has voyaged up these fiords must have been struck by the patches of bright green cultivation that are set between the precipitous mountains and the sea water of the fiords. They are like unequally spaced gems of emerald. He will also have been struck by the smallness of the greater number of them. Nevertheless, what is grown on them and the fish of the fiords still form the food of isolated families.
These families were small or particularist owing to the sheer limitation of vegetable food. When the families of a fiord grew too large, the younger members gathered together, stocked a few ships and voyaged southwards, seeking land for themselves in fiords farther south, in the projecting thumb of Denmark, in the northwestern river-lands of Germany, and finally in the island of Britain. In the new settlements, the love of independence led to the persistence of the small family system.
However this system actually arose, it has been of great significance in the world's history. It is the oddity as opposed to the customary large or joint family; it is independent individuality as opposed to dependence on joint opinion; and a very strong oddity it has proved to be. However rude and rough these early Engles may have been, there are few Englishmen now who will not be thrilled, when they read how Tacitus, coming from the great city-world of Rome, was struck by the jealous independence of each farmer and his family in their settlements. 'They live apart,' he wrote, 'each by himself, as woodside, plain or fresh spring attracts him.'
They could not, however, be quite independent. Dangers from other peoples sometimes threatened them and they then joined together, chose a chief and took to arms. They were fierce fighters and, when they arrived in Britain under their captains, they drove the Britons westwards or slew them, and took their land, until once more they were independent farmers at peace. They were the forerunners of similar settlers in America, Australia and New Zealand.
But, before the coming of the Norman Conqueror, these farmers, says Green, lost most of their peace and much of their independence. They had so many wars that warrior-kings and their military subordinates had become a standing feature of their society. For greater protection against invaders, like themselves in race, they had to submit to larger associations, and eventually one kingdom. They lost their spontaneity of action and had, as a condition of existence, to attach themselves to a lord or thegn of the King's party. 'The ravages of the long insecurity of the Danish wars aided to drive the free farmer to seek protection from the thegn,' wrote Green. 'His freehold was surrendered to be received back as a fief, laden with service to its lord. Gradually the "lordless man" became a sort of outlaw in the realm. The free churl sank into the villein, and changed from the freeholder who knew no superior but God and the law, to the tenant bound to do service to his lord, to follow him in the field, to look to his court for justice and render days of service in his demesne.'
The coming of the Conqueror, William of Normandy, increased and confirmed the subordinate position of the English farmers, by giving them foreign conquerors as their lords. The tendency to the establishment of the authority of the aristocrat 'was quickened by the conquest', wrote Green; 'the desperate and universal resistance of his English subjects forced William to hold by the sword what the sword had won, and an army strong enough to crush at any moment a national revolt was necessary for the preservation of his throne. Such an army could only be maintained by a vast confiscation of the soil. The failure of the English risings cleared the way for its establishment; the greater part of the higher nobility fell in battle or fled into exile, while the lower thegnhood either forfeited the whole of their lands or redeemed a portion of them by the surrender of the rest.' Land became the property of the King, who rewarded his followers and bound them in their interests to his, by gifts of land as private property. The Norman aristocracy received many estates, scattered so that they could not constitute a dangerously strong local power, but even 'the meanest Norman rose to wealth and power in the new dominion of his lord'.
So William initiated land as the private property of an aristocratic caste of landowners, and the peasants became bound to the land as serfs.
England was, humanly speaking, a very small country at that time. The population was some two million at the time of the Conqueror and two and a half million at the time of Edward III. The total area of cultivated soil was small, the greater part of the land being forest and therefore possessing undisturbed its primal vegetative cover. The farming was backward as the slow growth of the population reveals, and, compared to that of more enterprising countries on the Continent, it remained backward for many centuries. Nevertheless, it produced a life-cycle which, though of low grade, preserved within itself a certain stability and was free from pronounced waste.
When a balance between the English and their Norman conquerors was brought about by time, the features of an association based upon the soil, with which readers are now largely acquainted, came into being. The farming was carried out by a method of large estates. These estates were called manors and the heads of the estates were the lords of the manor. Under them the people worked, with various grades of right to the land, by which one and all got their food and home directly from the land. The country as a whole was in a condition of 'Natural Economy', not 'Money Economy', and such commonplaces of the country of to-day as are capital, labour, competition, employee, had no meaning. The family or associative method was everywhere. A man might employ labour, but he worked himself with those he employed and he ate the same foods as they did. The manor was, indeed, like a large family. It was a self-contained community and the land itself was the father and mother of the community. The lord of the manor represented a personal government, but he was not able then to do with the land what he wished. His position was that of chief functionary, and not that of slave-owner as in post-Punic Italy.
The land was worked on a common plan. There were no separate fields, but one large open space marked off into strips by balks. The lord of the manor would often have his strips amongst those of the villagers. In such cases the community was a true community, in which the land was alike to all. But in other cases the personal land of the lord of the manor was not amongst but separated from that of the villagers. The community was then almost, but not quite, a true community based upon the soil.
In addition to farming by the manor system, the most or only educated section of the people, the monks of the Church, contributed to the national farming the benefits of their devotion, learning and art.
William Cobbett has given an account of the special character and quality of the monasteries and their meaning in an agricultural civilization, in The History of the Protestant Reformation, written over a hundred years ago. He said: 'Nor must we by any means overlook the effects of these institutions on the mere face of the country. That man must be low and mean of soul who is insensible to all feeling of pride in the noble edifices of his country. The monastics built as well as wrote for posterity. The never-dying nature of their institutions set aside in all their undertakings every calculation as to time and age. Whether they built or planted, they set the generous example of providing for the pleasure, the honour, the wealth and the greatness of generations upon generations unborn. They executed everything in the very best manner: their gardens, fishponds, farms, were as near perfection as they could make them; in the whole of their economy they set an example tending to make the country beautiful, to make it an object of pride with the people, and to make the nation truly and permanently great. Go into any county and survey, even at this day, the ruins of its, perhaps, twenty abbeys and priories and then ask yourself, "What have we in exchange for these?"'
To their practical farming, the monks brought the help of the classic writers of Rome, of Cato, Varro, Columella and others, whose works in Latin they were able to read. They were cultured farmers, to whom the spiritual side of creation appealed with especial significance. It was they who instituted improvements and preserved a standard in medieval farming. It was they who harboured that endeavour to do well, without which the work of the mass of men tends to decline. It was they who built roads and bridges, and maintained traffic by opening their monasteries as places of temporary rest and hospitality to all travellers, rich or poor; they who drained marshes, reclaimed wastes, and improved livestock. It was they who filled in what one might call the full composition of a soil-based civilization by giving it the vision of religion, the art of the temple, and the culture of studentship. They also defended, as far as they could, the independence of the peasants, and supported them in their efforts to rise out of serfdom.
The lords of the manor were the worldly heads of the people. They supervised and directed the division of the land, saw to the upkeep of cottages and buildings, presided over schooling and apprenticeship, arranged marriages, punished slovenly work, dealt with quarrels and crimes, checked short weights and the adulteration of grain and beer, arranged for the exchange of goods, and directed the relations of the villagers with the outer world which began on the farther side of the forest that bounded the manor.
We now come to the introduction of 'Money Economy' to the land.
At the time when the manor system flourished best, the lords of the manor were the paternal chiefs of the villagers. But they also had a number of rights which belonged to a conquest and were, in fact, derived from the Norman Conquest. It was these rights that made their precedence in the village something different from that of the village assembly, which is the common form of village rule and which constitutes the true freedom and independence of the partners of the soil. The lords of the manor had the right to exact a varying amount of enforced work from the villagers; they exacted fees for the services of the manorial court; they had the right to sell timber from the estate, to permit strangers to take up land, to mill and even bake the people's bread; and, their class being the lawmakers of the country, they were able to pass such laws as the Statute of Merton in A.D. 1236, which gave them a right to enclose certain lands of the villagers for their own use. In brief, they were indisputable masters; they prolonged the Conquest indefinitely and thereby prevented the villagers of England from getting complete freedom of property in the land they cultivated.
There was one other privilege of the lords of the manor which was a direct contradiction of the freedom of the soil to terrene man. It was this. They had the right to fold, not only their own cattle, but also those of the villagers, on their land. They became the manurial, as well as the manorial lords of the estates, and everyone in the village, of course, knew that their lords robbed them of food, when they took the manure.
The lords of the manor, judged from the basis of the soil, became thereby life-robbers in the midst of the village. They were manurial robbers long before they became open robbers and pillagers under Henry VIII. By their theft or privilege, whichever it be called, their land received a greater and the villagers a less fertility and, in accordance with this change in the soil, there came into being a change in the human beings. A difference in quality entered. The rich, fed by a more fertile soil, were better in physical quality. The level of the people generally was degraded. Rich and poor became not only a thing of measurement by money, but a visible physical condition.
There is nothing perhaps that has to be made more clear than this: that the first separation leading to the divided classes of employers and employed, of rich and poor, with the poor dependent not on the soil but on the rich, was a separation of farm dung. It was a personal sequestration of life-elements. It was not a crime in English law, but in terms of the soil, a lethal type of crime eventually to lead to disasters for the robbed. Immediately, owing to it, the life-cycle of the lord's demesne was improved, that of the peasants' land was diminished. 'On land which was inadequately manured,' wrote the late Lord Ernle, in English Farming, Past and Present, 1922, 'and on which neither field-turnips nor clovers were known till centuries later, there was no middle course between the exhaustion of continuous cropping and the rest-cure of barrenness.' Much of the land had to lie fallow, unused and uncultivated until it recovered its strength, a natural part of which the lords of the manor had taken from it. The aristocracy needed the extra wealth which this sequestration of life-elements brought them. The crime was forced upon them by their luxury and expenses as courtiers and as warriors in the Crusades and French wars. They became, consequently, exactors, not protectors, of the soil, and they displaced the old Natural Economy of the manor for the new Money Economy.
The more enterprising and frugal villeins of the manor, supported by the Church, saw in this need of their lords the opportunity to satisfy their cravings for independence. With the surplus they achieved by their ability, they won their freedom from service to their lords and they became tenants by the payment of rent. They took over land, too, from the least efficient of the manor's farmers and worked it with the previous owners as labourers, thereby becoming in the manor the Kulaks in the Mir, to speak in Russian terms.
Thus, during the slow break-up of the manor system owing to the introduction of the new Money Economy, the people of the manor came to be divided into four classes; the first was the lords and their families and personal dependants; the second the tenant farmers; the third the villeins, who did not become tenants; and the fourth those who failed to support themselves upon the land that had been allotted to them, and who now worked for their more successful brethren for a wage paid in kind or in money. This fourth class are often spoken of as the class of free labourers, because they were to some extent free to sell their labour. Their freedom was very limited, being due to their poverty, which compelled them to use it, as labour uses its freedom to-day, in binding itself to this or that master. They lost their right to the land and to the stock which had been their capital. Their value was relative to their abundance or their shortage. Only when there was a great shortage of labour, such as that which followed for many scores of years the destructive Black Death of the middle of the fourteenth century, did their wages exceed the cost of their necessities. Thorold Rogers called the fifteenth century the golden age of the English labourers or farm-workers measured by the relation of their wages to the prices of their necessities.
The freedom that these relatively high wages brought was defeated by the continuous decline of the soil of the land in the early Tudor period. Lord Ernle wrote: 'Land had depreciated in value; rents had declined; farming had deteriorated; useful practices had discontinued; cattle were dwindling in size and weight; the common pastures had become infected with "murrain"; the arable area of open fields had grown less productive, and without manure its fertility could not be restored.'
Desperate measures were required to save the land and the measures undertaken were those dictated by the ascendant Money Economy. In Roman Italy, after the Punic Wars, the deterioration in fertility of the soil led to the substitution of family-owned farming by large estates, the latifundia, and large landowners. In Tudor England the same substitution of latifundia for small family farming also took place. In post-Punic Italy, acquisitive men seized the lands of weakened farmers with complete disregard of the law. 'The whole system', Mommsen tells us, 'was pervaded by the utterly unscrupulous spirit characteristic of the power of capital. ... Roman capital was gradually absorbing the intermediate and small landed estates in Italy as well as in the provinces, as the sun absorbs drops of rain.' In Italy, the large number of slaves acquired by Rome's conquests, hastened the process, for it was easy for large landowners to break right away from their own fellow- countrymen, and, leaving them to their fate, to engage foreign slaves for the service of the Italian soil. In England the process of the eviction of peasant family farming was not completed until the industrial era itself.
In both cases, as on similar occasions elsewhere in history, the social change was in the nature of a conquest. A group of acquisitive men, who had got money by other ways than those of direct agriculture, acted as conquerors. They overthrew the peasants' customary rights in the soil as the basis of the State and made land a commodity to be purchased by the richest bidder. In Italy these acquisitive men were the Equites or Knights, who had acquired great wealth by acting as middlemen in the newly acquired realm of Rome, and who were to form the chief part of the aristocracy of the eventual empire. In England the acquisitive men, who overthrew the agricultural basis of the State and with it the Church and the monks, became the new aristocracy of Tudor England. In both cases also there were statesmen and other leading men, who set themselves against the 'terrible measures' under which the independence and rights of the farmers and of the free labourers were to succumb. Such were Wolsey, More, Latimer, and Queen Elizabeth and her Ministers amongst the English. Nevertheless, in spite of all such efforts the great living fact about a soil remained and that fact was expressed by Ernle in the words: 'Without manure its fertility could not be restored.' Dung had to save the soil, and the quickest way to dung the land was to enclose it with hedges and breed and put upon the fields sheep and cattle. Fortunately, the acquisitive men were attracted to this method by the price that British wool fetched upon the Continent. It was this opportunity for more wealth that made them seize the land of the small men and of the monasteries and with the expenditure of their capital turn it into sheep farms. It was unquestionably good for the soil, but it entailed a brutal punishment to the small farmers, and farm labourers, whose only sin had been that they had submitted originally to the enclosing of the lord's demesne upon the manor and the robbery of the dung of their animals for the land of the manor's lord. So, a new aristocracy arose upon the human relics of a system that had failed and the brilliant later Tudor period of English history followed.
From that time the proletariat and pauperism became the familiars of social England. No appreciation of the value of the small holdings appeared. There was no Prince Kropotkin at that time to make what would have seemed an insanely preposterous statement that, with the intensive farming of small holders, the British soil might support a hundred million inhabitants. Nothing was known of the rich results of the Chinese peasants, who were so skilled in the use of water and who followed the rule of return with such meticulous care. Nothing was known of the agriculture of the fallen Arabic Empire. The Tudor world was deeply stirred by what Green calls the New Learning, but the New Learning did not bend down to the humble giver of life, the soil.
For the further story of the English agricultural labourer, the -only authoritative history in English that I have been able to find is A History of the English Agricultural Labourer, by Dr. W. Hasbach of the University of Kiel. It was first published in 1894, translated into English in 1908 and reprinted in 1920.
Where enclosure occurred, Hasbach says, a proletarian class appeared. English agriculture from the fifteenth century, when rich commercial men began to buy out owners living on their land, was 'sacrificed to the interests of industry'.
He gives a full account of the second great period of enclosures, that of the eighteenth century. It was in the latter part of this century that the genius of the English and Scotch brought in a new epoch, that of the machine. The power of the machines effected a revolution. Manufacturing towns grew up and multiplied, and the demand for food put a premium on the land. The Tudor enclosures had only affected a limited area, but now there was a far greater cry for new and undeveloped land and for the deteriorated land, on which the poor crops and poorer cattle revealed the need for capital and manure. In the pre-machine part of the eighteenth century, Enclosure Acts were few; in Anne's reign two, in George I sixteen, in George II two hundred and twenty, but in the latter part of the century, when George III reigned, there were three thousand five hundred and fifty-four. In the fifty years before George III 337,876 acres were enclosed; at the end of his reign 5,686,000 acres had been enclosed.
As in the times of the Tudor, there was a great improvement of the soil enclosed. Robert Bakewell (1725-95) transformed raw-boned cattle and lean sheep into animals twice the size; from 1776 on, Thomas Coke of Norfolk proved the capacity of capitalistic mixed farming to carry treble the livestock and to produce rich crops of wheat in place of scanty rye. Turnips were grown for winter feed of the cattle and clover for the improved feeding of the soil. Earnest farmers followed these great examples. Nevertheless, the main impulse to the enforcement of enclosures was the opportunity of acquisitive men to rise quickly to great wealth. It was this that gave the movement its brutality and the character of a civil war between one section of the people and another. Though the swords of the fortune hunters were sheathed in legality, they were none the less keen when unsheathed and so, says Hasbach, enclosures were 'not seldom changed into a national curse'. It was the better class of inhabitants of rural areas who appreciated local opportunities of seizure, and it was therefore 'squires, parsons and lawyers who were the chief owners and benefiters'.
Though peasant-ownership-farming survived in some few parts of England, in general 'yeomen farmers and peasant proprietors ceased to exist; they drifted to the towns and sank into workers at a daily wage. Not only small holdings but the lesser tenancies gradually vanished in a universal system of large estates and farms.' This quotation is from Richard Green.
The agricultural labourers in this period reached the nadir of their fate. They had no protection from the Church and the monasteries, as they had when Catholicism was the religion of England; their cottage industries had been supplanted by the new machines of the towns; the days of an agricultural labourer trades union were yet to come. They were utterly helpless and hopeless. They were not even slaves, ensured by their masters as regards board and bed. The landowners ceased to pay wages in kind, in other words in food, because food fetched higher prices in the towns and the yeomen who had once filled the village markets, were no more. Their food was almost confined to wheaten bread, which, being wholemeal, supported life. Their wages were miserably small, so small that the parishes often had to add to its pittance an allowance from the rates. Because of this the parish authorities hired out the labourers, and sometimes, says Ernle, 'the paupers were paraded by the overseers on a Monday morning, and the week's labour of each individual was offered at auction to the highest bidder'.
The labourers presented heart-rending pictures to their bravest champion, William Cobbett. Here is one taken from his Rural Rides in 1821. 'The labourers are miserably poor. Their dwellings are little better than pig-beds, and their looks indicate that their food is not nearly equal to that of a pig ... The land all along here is good. Fine fields and pastures all around; and yet the cultivators of these fields are so miserable ... When I see their poor faces present as nothing but skin and bone, while they are toiling to get the wheat and the meat ready to be carried away to be devoured by the tax-eaters; I am ashamed to look at these poor souls and to reflect that they are my countrymen, and particularly to reflect that we are descended from those amongst whom beef, mutton, pork and veal were the food of the poorer sort of people.'
This degradation of labourers on the land was essentially English. It did not happen in England's neighbour, the Netherlands. Nathaniel Kent travelled in the Netherlands, and, in his Hints to Gentlemen of Landed Property, A.D. 1775, tried to awaken the said gentlemen to this fact. In the Netherlands, he wrote, there was an astonishing quantity of provisions, and as one of his broad hints to the Gentlemen of Property, he recorded that the holdings were all small and the cultivators on equality. This degradation, therefore, only happened in England. And even then, strangely enough, it was not inevitable everywhere in England itself. That indefatigable traveller on behalf of agriculture, Arthur Young, at one time the zealous champion of Enclosures, but later of the opposite opinion, discovered 'with great delight the life of the small proprietors of Axholme' (Report on the Agriculture of Lincoln, A.D. 1799)
Now the singular fact about these small proprietors of the Isle of Axholme was that they were not English but Dutch. They were a bit of the Netherlands transplanted to England. Their ancestors had been transplanted in the Isle of Axholme more than a century before Young visited them. The Isle was a swampy property of 46,000 acres between three rivers in Lincolnshire, and had the good fortune of belonging to one of the most cultured and educated men of his time in England, Charles I. Charles had knowledge of the small holders of the Netherlands, and he called some of their families over to England to drain the Isle of Axholme and cultivate it. They were true intensive peasant-family farmers, who, as Hasbach wrote, took every small advantage, cultivated every corner, had the help of their wives, brought up their sons in their footsteps, and 'serve the land in the way it should be served, never stinting themselves and as absorbed in their service as any priest in his religion'. So these peasant-families caused Axholme to flourish, and it was flourishing when it delighted the eyes of Arthur Young at the time of the degradation of the small English proprietors and their expulsion by the Enclosures.
Axholme is still flourishing. Sir Rider Haggard in his Rural England, 1906, welcomed its 'almost inexhaustible richness ... it will produce magnificent crops of wheat, potatoes, celery, or whatever it may be desired to grow'. Mr. Gilbert Slater, yet later, in the Making of Modern England, 1934, seeing heavier crops in the Isle than he ever saw elsewhere, drew the conclusion that the men of the Isle of Axholme had abundantly justified their stout refusal to submit to enclosure in the eighteenth century. 'Not only are the open fields of the Isle of Axholme exceptionally well cultivated at the present time, but the island serves as a training ground in practical and effective farming, and men who begin as labourers there frequently become large farmers elsewhere.'
These skilled, independent men met with strong resistance from the English farmers who tried to expel them, but they inherited a tradition of soil-protection and feeding, which gave them great faith in their own work. They knew its superiority and they have not changed. Their ancestry 'affects the physical appearance and accent of the inhabitants of the present day' (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th edition).
The English labourers, in the early part of the nineteenth century, on the other hand, had lost all courage. They were an unprotected proletariat. In the times of their prosperity and independence, says Hasbach, 'they had avoided early marriages and abstained from multiplying as a mere proletariat does; whereas now all such evils appeared'. This, he goes on to say, with great significance to all narrow-visioned reformers who wish to increase a population, this is the answer to Malthus, who failed to recognize the psychological elements (despair of the future and of freedom) in the rapid increase of population. 'The error was immense.'
Hasbach places the beginning of the slight recovery of the English agricultural labourer at 1834, in which year a Poor Law stopped the parish allowance to advantage the farmers and made them, the farmers, pay the whole of the labourer's wage. Actual paupers were put in the workhouse. But the real betterment, he found, was in two things, allotments and trade unions.
About this time certain kindly farmers gave allotments of land to their labourers for their own use and were glad to find that, instead of making them work worse on the farmers' lands, they worked better. The eternal truth that everyone likes to be able to pride himself on his own work glimmered into being again and, from being proud of the crops they raised on their own land, these humble men and their wives and children took pride in the crops they raised on their masters' land. They did so well on their private land that when a Government Report in 1843 pressed for the extension of allotments by law, the farmers complained that they had difficulty in getting enough cheap manure as the labourers wanted it for themselves. The labourers in a very small way were, in fact, turning the scales against the old lords of the manor who had started their troubles by stealing their soil-food.
In 1872 the labourers, under Joseph Arch, started a trade union, and 'considering the character of the labourers and their natural isolation they were at first very successful'. But their efforts to get better wages were defeated by the farmers, who summoned unemployed workers from the towns and impoverished Irishmen for harvesting, hop-picking and other unskilled work in the busy seasons.
'After a long period of depression the unions sprang into life again in the year 1890.' We find them going to the root of the matter in their attempts to free land from the dominance of money. They supported the Land Restoration League, which wished to put a tax upon rent and increase it progressively until it absorbed and eventually abolished rent, and thus achieve the aim of Henry George. Agricultural and urban unions began to work together to prevent town labourers frustrating rural strikes and vice versa. Though poverty, ignorance and isolation of their members kept the rural unions back, they always 'gave expression to the labourers' desire for land'.
Allotments remained the most recognized form of relief. In 1889 a Parliamentary Committee on Small Holdings, with Joe Chamberlain as Chairman, reported, with 'farsightedness and objectivity', that a well-to-do peasantry was beneficial to any country, nationally, socially, and economically, and this was supported by the Central Chamber of Agriculture maintaining that, whereas large farming was suitable to sheep and corn, small holders were suitable to other types of farming.
'The theory that the agricultural population in general was unconquerably attracted by the towns cannot be seriously maintained.' 'The labourers did not depart where allotments could be obtained, where good houses could be had at a fair price,' and where some independence thereby was theirs. They preferred to live in villages to having cottages on farms. Yet, with the village life, the younger generation began to show themselves discontented. 'The old semi-feudal relationships of the English village were no longer quite pleasing to the younger generation,' who were more willing to migrate to towns, chiefly, or even solely, because on the land there was so little chance to raise themselves socially.
Hasbach ends with a review of the labourer from 1894-1906, and in these last pages the light of hope is dulled. The prospects of betterment did not mature. The generation that was content with allotments, good wages and decent cottages almost died out. The new generation 'altogether despises the position of an agricultural labourer'. 'He is at the bottom of the social scale,' and knows it; whereas in a town a man can lose identity among the masses of the inhabitants'.
As a result of his study, Hasbach came to the belief that little or no permanent betterment in the lot of the labourer had been attained. He could not avoid the impression 'that, in spite of the talk of better wages, the lot of the agricultural labourer in many parts of the midlands, south, south-east and south-west, where often the houses are wretched and both allotments and small holdings are wanting, is such that he is strongly induced to turn his back on the land, even though his sense of self-respect is comparatively undeveloped'. While the labourer strives for a humble independence, it is definitely the end of many people 'to place a proletarian class at the disposal of the farmer, believing such a step was in the interest of the employers'. No statesman had arisen capable of viewing the picture as a whole or of 'estimating the total probable result of any measure'. 'Hitherto failure has attended all attempts to apply to the problems of agricultural labour the principles which have been effective in the realm of industrial labour.' The consequence has been the demoralization and depopulation of the countryside. Facts show that the system of the large farm cannot meet the crisis. Hasbach's final advice is the greatest possible extension of small and middling holdings.
So ends this most instructive and unique book.
Between 1906, when Hasbach ended his story, and the present day, England has fought in two Great Wars; in both her people have been aroused to the perilous state of their food supply; in both they might and almost certainly would have been starved into submission, had it not been for supplies sent to them by the people of the U.S.A. In the first war there was a wise increase of allotments to increase food. Powers were given to local authorities to acquire land by compulsion for allotments, and their number leaped from 130,536 acres to 1,330,000 acres. In the interval of peace that followed, much land went out of cultivation. The great efforts to increase the production of food before and during the second Great War are too well known to be recounted here. How far we are from the knowledge of how to feed our soil, and how it can best be cultivated, these two great crises have revealed. In no country is a reconstruction by way of the soil more needed than in our island. We have a large population; we need a large fertility of the soil to render our population safe and healthy. We need to free ourselves from robbery of the soil.
Table of Contents
3. The Roman Foods
4. The Roman Family
5. Roman Soil Erosion
6. Farmers and Nomads
I. The Land
II. The Nomads
III. The Farmers
IV. Nomadic Migrations and Farmers
7. Contrasting Pictures
8. Banks for the Soil
9. Economics of the Soil
10. The English Peasant and Agricultural Labourer
11. Primitive Farmers
14. 'Earth Thou Art'
15. Sind and Egypt
17. East and West Indies
18. German Colonies: The Mandates
19. Russia, South Africa, Australia
20. The United States of America
21. A Kingdom of Agricultural Art in Europe
22. An Historical Reconstruction
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