Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

find that the gross rental of the land of England and Wales amounted in the aggregate to 96,521,0491. Call the number of owners nine hundred and sixty-six thousand, and the gross rental ninety-six and a half millions, and you have a pretty close approximation to the facts as they stand. Supposing this income to be confiscated by the State, and remembering that it is already charged with a land tax of a million sterling plus an income tax of—shall we say-fivepence in the pound, not to speak of poor rates, highway rates, county rates, and the rest, and that the expenditure of the country can hardly be set down at less than eighty-five millions, think of the blank despair that would take hold of the weedy widows and desolate orphans when they applied for their share of the surplus, even with the additional eighteen millions thrown in which Scotland might be called upon to contribute from her broad acres.

But how is this income distributed ? Two-thirds of it is divided among people who are owners of less than 500 acres. Two-thirds of the remainder is absorbed by owners of less than 5,000 acres. The residuum comes to those whose estates exceed 5,000 acres, and whose number amounts to 874, or an average of about seventeen to every county from Rutland to Yorkshire.

But let us narrow our field of view. Come back to Arcady, and see how we stand. East Anglia, from being, as it once was, by far the richest province in the kingdom, has become perhaps the poorest district south of the Tweed. We have no minerals, no coal, no commerce, no manufactures, no great watering-places where aliens come and settle for six months in the year, bringing their money with them and leaving it behind them ; we have only our land. The returns give for Norfolk a grand total of 1,234,883 acres, and a gross rental of 2,408,7951. This tract of land is divided among 26,648 owners. Are these the landlords'? Sixteen thousand five hundred of them own less than an acre. Shall we leave these small owners out of account? Good! Then we must leave their rental out of account also. It happens to amount to an aggregate of over 500,000l. ; but we have still a million and a quarter acres and a rental of about two millions sterling to deal with. But, again, 85,000 acres belong to upwards of 7,000 small proprietors who own less than 50 acres ; shall we say that every struggling wretch who owns thirty or forty acres, mortgaged up to the hilt and hardly able to pay the mortgagee, is one of the landlords who are to be execrated and denounced as robbers ? Where are we to begin ? Surely not at the yeoman who farms 500 acres of his own land, and those 500 acres his all, in which every shilling he has in the world, and oftentimes many a shilling which he has not in the world, is invested.

I write from a parish which is one of a group of three lying side by side. The acreage of these parishes is respectively 2,541, 3,470, and 4,560. In the first there are fifty-two owners of the soil ; in the

[ocr errors]

second fifty-one, in the third eighty-nine. In no one of these parishes covering an area of more than sixteen square miles—is there any single estate that could conceivably support a country gentleman's mansion ; and in point of fact there is not a single resident proprietor who owns five hundred acres. Which of these 192 owners of the soil is to be classed among the victims whom it is advisable to sacrifice for the good of the community?

The closer you look at that ideal creature, the greedy, grinding, tyrannical, haughty, bloated landlord, the more Protean does he turn out to be; and in sheer despair, since we must draw the line somewhere, we will schedule every rogue who owns more than 1,000 acres as a member of that class of wicked men with whom we are concerned. In the county of Norfolk there are just 222 of these landlords, exactly half of whom own less than 2,000 acres, with an average of less than 1,300 acres apiece, and an average gross income of a little over two thousand

year. If these hundred and eleven gentlemen have nothing else to depend upon but their bare acres, with a capital mansion to keep up and a family to provide for, there is not a prudent tradesman in Oxford Street who would change places with any one of them; not one whose mere estates in land Barclay & Perkins could not buy up with their old iron hoops. There is no man in the community who is a poorer man than he who has to live in a country house and keep up appearances on fifteen hundred a year. It always has been so ; it was so in Horace's days in Italy, nineteen hundred years ago. Then, too, the poor gentleman was an object of compassion. It was easy to see in those days whether or not a man had a margin invested in consols or bank shares to fall back upon—the broad acres were then, too, a very bad investment; you had only to look at his fences, you need hardly ask to see his garden—the lucky landlords were they

Quorum
Conspicitur nitidis fundata pecunia villis.
It was easy to see, by the look of their houses,
They'd money at call-in the funds.

But if these first hundred and eleven Norfolk landlords have no more than their land, you may as well try to get blood out of a stone as try and make them build houses for other people's labourers.

We come down to the last hundred and eleven, owning an average of a little over 5,000 acres, with a rent-roll, now very seriously reduced, of a little over 6,0001. apiece. Here are your great Norfolk landlords.

In the county of Suffolk, again, more than a third of the land is owned by men whose holdings are under 500 acres, and it is to be feared that the great majority of these are in a financial condition that would move the pity of any human being except a townsman rabid with blind hatred of a class whose only crime is a morbid desire to live in the homes where their fathers lived and died. As for the

2

big men--the aristocrats who are supposed to give themselves airs-it is to be feared there are not a dozen of them in the whole of East Anglia at the present moment whose gross rental would amount to ten thousand a year. But when ignorant people talk of the great landlords, and propose that they are the men who may be called upon to do everything that needs doing and that others have left undone, they never seem to know that it is only upon the large estates that the labourer is decently housed, and only when the land is subdivided among a host of small proprietors that the poor are helpless and friendless, and the peasantry the dupes of every paid agitator who comes in their way. It is all very well to talk of coddling and pauperising the labourer. Do you seriously mean to lay it down that it is demoralising to a sick family to tide them over a difficulty by holding out to them the right hand of fellowship when they most need it? Is it demoralising to help the needy breadwinner in his distress, and to keep him out of the workhouse when labour is scarce and he is down in his luck, instead of handing him over remorselessly to the tender mercy of the guardians, who will virtuously present him with an order for the House, and bid him take that or starve? That is what the resident proprietor cannot bring himself to do. It is what no country clergyman who has any bowels and mercies' can bring himself to do without shame. We are bad political economists; Christ's gospel, which we have to teach and preach and live by, makes us, I suppose, thickheaded. Ay! and thank God the pernicious effect of that same gospel, together with other gentle influences more or less attributable to its power, acts upon the resident squire who lives among his people, and has known them from their childhood. His tenantry actually do not hate him-deluded yokels !—they do not even wish things other than they are. It was on Lord Kimberley's estate that a Georgian orator the other day was laughed to scorn, and tumbled off his tub; and it is notorious that rarely, except in the open parishes, do the demagogues make headway. But then in the close parishes the people are demoralised' by having decent dwellings which pay little or no interest for the money expended.

• I'll be baywnd as that there larned Doctor ain't never seen Helmingham,' said one. - Yow tell him from me as he wouldn't ha' talkt o' bad housen if he'd ever been to Helmingham!” “No!' broke in another, 'nor Stow-Bardolph neither, nor Creak, nor Honingham. Whoi! there's scores on 'em where—I mean to say-as the labourers are a deal better off than the small farmers in the tother places ! Exactly so, but these are just the places where, as I have said, the peasantry have less than nothing to complain of. These are the parishes where the landlord who is paramount has a heart and a conscience. These are not the open parishes, where the smaller owners are screwing and pinching, and where to the meanest and the neediest the labourer has to look for a place wherein to lay his head.

Meanwhile in these latter places the condition of affairs is abominable, and thus we are brought back once more to the old question. If we sweep away the condemned hovels, who is to provide habitable houses ? Not the State. The most extreme theorists do not yet venture to propose that. Not the landlords of 100 acres; they would be beggared en masse if you rated them to find cottages in the proportion of two apiece. Not the owners of 1,000 acres ; they would make mincemeat of their estates, and give away their fields to the first applicant rather than face the consequences of an impost which would mean to them inevitable ruin. If you throw the burden upon the man of 10,000 acres you throw it upon the only man who on his own domain has been and is doing all that needs to be done —Day, the man who in some cases miserable jealousy accuses of spoiling his labourers and pauperising them, doing too much for them, and making them above their station.'

Whether any beneficent landlord has been guilty of these atrocities, or any fussy Lady Bountiful has robbed the sons of the soil of their independence, I cannot tell. I for one am not afraid of too much good being done for any one class by another.

Theory thinks Fact a pooty thing,

And wants the banns read right ensuing ;
But Fact won't noways wear the ring

Without years of setting up and wooing. There will always be model schools, and model farms, and model parishes, which show what may be done without at all indicating what it is everywhere advisable to do. It is not necessary that in every parish there should be a condition of affairs such as may be seen at Sandringham. What the Prince of Wales may think proper to do upon his estate can be imitated only at a distance by men in the rank of subjects. Moreover, his Royal Highness is more than a mere landlord, he is more even than the heir to the throne; he is his father's son, and as such he has a wealth of memories which he is not likely to forget, as well as the consciousness of responsibility for the future that lies before him. Have we forgotten that, while some of the new lights were scarcely more than schoolboys, it was the Prince Consort who stood in the van of those earlier philanthropists who advocated precisely what we are pleading for now, the improvement of the dwellings of the poor, and who took the lead in providing them ?

But though it is not necessary, or even desirable, that every labourer's cottage should be an ornamental villa, or a model house, fitted up with all the latest improvements, it is a matter of supreme

3 The town architect's dodges are sometimes too cruelly clever. Three years ago I built a pair of labourers' cottages, and had them each furnished with a wonderful range that was warranted to do everything. So it did, except that it would not boil the potatoes, or bake the bread, or warm the children's toes. But it was marvellously economical of fuel. In ten days we took it out and put up the old Norfolk oven, a barbarous contrivance.

[ocr errors]

importance that we should do our utmost to stop the drain that is emptying the villages into the towns; and again I say that, unless large-hearted philanthropy comes to our aid, those parishes which most urgently need reform will be the last to receive it. If on the great estates there are shanties that are a burning reproach to their owners, down with them, say I, and speedily. Nobody will pity the wealthy landlord upon whom a tardy Nemesis comes at last.

But you cannot evict the labourers from the only houses they have to dwell in, and send them off in troops to take their chance. Reform, if it deserve the name, must not begin and end with destruction. To make a desert and to call it peace may be easy, but it is not statesmanship. Pari passu with the sweeping away abuses must march the substituting of something better in the room of that which we destroy. Condemn the squalid man-sty by all means, but the sty gone, there still remains the man.

Does it, then, really amount to this, that there is no alternative between throwing ourselves upon the National Exchequer, and sending the hat round ? I hardly venture to go so far as this. There is something of the "falsehood of extremes' in all sharp alternatives; we suspect a lurking fallacy somewhere. But this I do say emphatically, that we have here a case almost identical with that of our churches and our hospitals, the case of a need which it is the interest, the vital interest, of the community to supply, and by doing so to rescue a whole class from inevitable degradation, and raise it to a higher level of intelligence, self-respect, and what may be called social sentiment, than it has any chance of reaching under the conditions in which it is now living.

The housing of this class decently does not pay, cannot pay-any more than a hospital pays—any more than a church pays; where an investment can yield no return it must needs be written off under the head of unremunerative expenditure. In this reform philanthropists must not only help, but they must begin it, even at the risk of showing us here and there how not to do it. But country villages are communities on a small scale, and it would be extremely imprudent to do this work on a large scale, and flood the rural districts with money which had to be spent within a given time. The grand style will not do here. You gentlemen of the towns are too hurrisome, as we say, for us lumbering swains, who require a liberal preparatory notice before we can be got to move. You frighten us with your bustling ways. I met a great · Promoter' at the close of the Crimean war who was full of a dashing scheme for filling up the harbour of Sebastopol. “It's to be done sir, easy. Look at the map. Mountains all round, sir. Only a shovel and barrow business. Give me the contract; I'd take it to-morrow. No more Crimean wars

4 And oh those architects !

« PredošláPokračovať »