HISTORY OF LANDED PROPERTY IN ENGLAND AND CHINA.
The history of property in England is an exact repetition of the history of property at Rome. In both cases small holdings were invaded by the latifundia. In England, the progress of inequality and the feudalization of the soil were effected in the most regular and complete method. There can be no doubt that originally Great Britain was occupied by agrarian communities similar to those of Germany. Caesar tells us that the Britons lived on flesh and milk: so that the pastoral system must have prevailed, as well as common pasturage, which is the ordinary condition of it. As we have already seen, numerous traces of the ancient community still subsist; but by the Anglo-Saxon period, which is the earliest point to which ancient charters allow us to go back, the social organization was already much modified. Inequality and class distinction were introduced. The manor was constituted, and took the place of the old association of equal, independent cultivators. At an early period, a few illustrious families had more serfs, and more cattle, and obtained a larger share in the re-partition. The war-leaders, developed into hereditary kings, succeeded in gradually appropriating the right of disposing of waste lands as grants. The common land of the different clans (ager publicus) or folcland, was regarded as royal domain, cyninges folcland, and the king disposed of it, either alone, or with the consent of the national assembly or witan.(1) Thus registered private property, or bocland, was developed. In the tenth centuryeven before the Norman conquestthe mark had been already transformed into the manor, although the term was not yet in use. The country was covered with a great number of domains (maneria), of very different extent, from the maneriolum of one plough to the latifundium of fifty ploughs. The lands dependent on the manor were in some cases still mixed up with those of the cultivators, or else lay side by side with them.
Although, since the Roman invasion, the soil was never common property subject to periodic repartition, private property was still submitted to many restrictions. Only the village, with the orchard and garden attached to each house' was enclosed. Hence the name of town, zaun, or "fence," given to the cluster of dwellings.(2) All the inhabitants had to assist in keeping up the fences(3) intended for the protection of the village and of the flax-gardens against domestic animals grazing at large. The German villages in Transylvania are to this day surrounded by a fence, and the entries closed by a barrier.
The cultivated portion of the communal territory was divided into three parts, successively devoted (1) to rye, (2) to oats, and (3) to lying fallow. In each of these portions, every proprietor had one or more lots, and all these lots were subject to the general compulsory rotation of crops, the Flurzwang. They had to be all sown in the same way, because they were given up to common pasture at the same time. These scattered lots originated in the old periodic partition, but they had by degrees become private property. The two portions occupied by rye and oats were temporarily surrounded by a wooden fence,(4) which was thrown down on Lammas day. These barriers were thrown down by the assembled crowd, amidst songs and shouts of joy. This momentary return to the primitive community was one of the chief festivals in the country. The herds then took possession of the whole land of the village.
As the arable land produced no fodder for the cattle, a wide extent of pasture land was necessary to provide grass for the summer and hay for the winter; and this pasture land was occupied in common. Each family had a share in the portion laid for hay; and the cattle of the whole commune were pastured indiscriminately on the remainder. The laws of Edgar speak of common pasturage, as the ordinary property of every village or tunship. There is also frequent mention, in documents of the time, of the common forest.(5)
Certain remote districts retain the ancient agricultural system, by which every portion of the territory was successively brought under cultivation, by a rotation of eighteen or twenty years, without any permanent distinction between arable and pasture land. This was the primitive rotation in Germany, and is still practised on the fertile steppes of Russia, as well as on the barren plateau of the Ardennes and the virgin forests of Brazil, wherever, in fact, there is sufficient space.
The agricultural systems just described lasted in England till the commencement of the present century, and many traces of them still exist. William Marshall, who described exhaustively the rural economy of England, writing between 1770 and 1820, speaks as follows on the subject:
"A very few centuries ago, nearly the whole of the lands of England lay in an open, and more or less in a commonable state. Each parish or township was considered as one common farm; though the tenantry were numerous
"Round the village in which the tenants resided lay a few small inclosures, or grass yards, for rearing calves, and as baiting and nursery ground a for other farm stock. This was the common farmstead, or homestall, which was generally placed as near the centre of the more culturable lands of the parish or township as water and shelter would permit.
"Round the homestall lay a suit of arable fields, including the deepest and soundest of the lower grounds, situated out of water's way, for raising corn and pulse, as well as to produce fodder and litter for cattle and horses in the winter season.
"And, in the lowest situation, as in the water-formed base of a rivered valley or in swampy dips, shooting up among the arable lands, lay an extent of meadow grounds or `ings,' to afford a supply of hay for cows and working stock in the winter and spring months.
"On the outskirts of the arable lands, where the soil is adapted to the pasturage of cattle, or on the springy slope of hills, less adapted to cultivation, or in the fenny bases of valleys, which were too wet, or gravelly water-formed lands, which were too dry, to produce an annual supply of hay with sufficient certainty, one or more stinted pastures, or hams, were laid out for milking cows, working cattle, or other stock which required superior pasturage in summer.
"While the bleakest, worst-soiled, and most distant lands of the township were left in their native wild state for timber and fuel, and for a common pasture, or suit of pastures, for the more ordinary stock of the township, whether horses, rearing cattle, sheep, or swine, without any other stint or restriction than what the arable and meadow lands indirectly gave; every joint-tenant, or occupier of the township, having the nominal privilege of keeping as much live stock on these common pastures m summer as the appropriated lands he occupied would maintain in winter.
"The appropriated lands of each township were laid out with equal good sense and propriety. That each occupier might have his proportionate share of lands of different qualities, and lying in different situations, the arable lands more particularly were divided into numerous parcels, of sizes, doubtless, according to the size of the given township and the number and ranks of the occupiers.
"And, that the whole might be subjected to the same plan of management, and be conducted as one common farm, the arable lands were moreover divided into compartments, or `fields,' of nearly equal size, and generally three in number, to receive in constant rotation the triennial succession of fallow, wheat (or rye) and spring crops (as barley, oats, beans and peas)."
Sir Henry Maine expresses his surprise at the number of traces, that he has met with, of the former existence of collective ownership and joint cultivation.(6)
In many counties turf-grown ridges, or baulkes, are still to be traced, which formerly separated the three fields of the triennial rotation. These baulkes were so long, that in some villages they measured as much as eighty acres, although not ten feet in breadth. In several counties, a large portion of the land is not enclosed, but is divided into open, intermixed fields. According to Marshall, "in Huntingdonshire, out of a total area of 240,000 acres, 130,000 were commonable." The agrarian organization in England and Germany are, therefore, precisely similar. In the Anglo-Saxon period, although the lords had already more extensive lands together with certain privileges, the condition of the cultivators was easy, and very general equality prevailed among them. The Anglo-Saxon hide, the ordinary portion of each family, with its virgata terrae, contained from sixteen to fifty acres, according to the fertility of the soil. It was sufficient to produce the corn necessary for the support of the family. The wide extent of the common pasturage enabled them to keep large herds, and there was plentiful supply of wood. The first wants of life were therefore abundantly supplied for every one.
The result of the Norman conquest was to increase the power and wealth of the higher classes, and to lower the condition of the mere free man. The Saxon kings had already, from time to time, disposed of waste land and so reduced the domain of the communes; .but the Norman sovereigns, regardmg themselves as proprietors of the whole soil, by right of conquest, made much more frequent grants, and the greater part of the folcland was converted into terra regis or royal domain. This usurpation was especially directed against the forests.
Another circumstance contributed to the growing dependence of the cultivators. In Greece and Rome, as well as in India and Germany, we find the precarium, that is, land granted for a term of considerable lengthfor life, or for several livesa rent in kind being reserved. The oldest Anglo-Saxon documents mention the Laenland, land granted to peasants, who were bound to render cattle, corn, poultry or eggs, or else to execute certain agricultural operations on the manorial lands. These cultivators, it seems, were attached to the soil; or, at least, the domain was sold "mid mele end mid mannum." Their condition, therefore, resembled the Russian serfs.(7) After the Norman conquest, the lords of the manor made use of the predominance given them by the habit of bearing arms, to reduce the free cultivators more and more into the condition of vassals. The economic constitution of the manor was as follows. The dwelling of the lord, curia manerii, aula dominii, was more or less extensive and well built, according to the wealth of its owner. The territory dependent on it was divided into two parts; one being granted to the vassals, terra hominum, tenentium; the other being farmed directly by the lord, terra dominica, or demesne lands. The terra dominica was cultivated by the corvée of the vassals, who had to provide the oxen for ploughing, and to sow, reap, mow, and gather in the harvest.
Among the cultivators there were distinct classes. In some manors, the lord had granted the cultivation of a portion of the terra dominica to tenants, who were called tenentes de dominico. Their tenure was only a temporary one. There were first the villani, whose condition resembled that of the Russian serf; they had a portion of the soil, sufficient for their subsistence, but they had to cultivate the lord's land, to make his hay, and reap and gather in his harvest. Next there were the free tenants, liberè tenentes or tenentes in libero socagio, and the liberi socmanni, who merely owed the lord smaller payments in kind or labour. The rent to be paid by them was often nominal, consisting of a fowl, a pair of gloves, or a flower. Their holding was also the old plot, sufficient to support a family, the hide or virgata terrae, of which the extent varied from sixteen to fifty acres. Those, who held only half this, were called socmanni dimidii, or dimidii liberi homines. These were the old free men. Finally, those who had still less land, or had nothing but their dwelling house, were designated cotarii, or cotmanni, because they inhabited a cot or cottage. The lord granted out the right of cultivating the waste lands, which formerly belonged to the village, reserving certain rents, at first in kind, then frequently from the thirteenth century in money. Tenants holding these lands are called in old documents isti qui tenent de novis essartis. The enjoyment of the forest and pasture land remained collective and undivided between the inhabitants of the village and the lord; but the latter had already usurped the eminent domain, which he was later to convert into full ownership. The meadow lands were generally divided every year among the inhabitants. The arable land had become private property; but all the customs of the old agrarian community were maintained. Every one had plots in the different fields of the rotation. These fieldsand not the several plotswere surrounded by an enclosure, at which all were bound to work. The peasants combined their forces, and cultivated their lands, as well as those of the lord, according to a cooperative system imposed on them by the requirements of agricultural labour. To till the soil, they harnessed eight oxen, or four horses and four oxen, to the plough. If the peasants had not enough beasts, two or three of them united together to form a team.
The population being very thin, the portion of cultivated land was far smaller than the uncultivated. Collective enjoyment, therefore, extended over the greater part of the territory: and even the arable land, as soon as the harvest was gathered in and the enclosures thrown down, became common pasture again for all the cattle of the village, tended by a single herdsman. As Nasse remarks(8) with great justice and penetration, the inequality resulting from the constitution of the seignorial manor must not be confounded with that which followed from the introduction of feudalism. The relations of the lord of the manor with his tenants, whether villani, socmanni or cotarii, were purely economic. The payments which the tenants owed to the manor were really a payment of rent for the land, over which the lord claimed a right of ownership or eminent domain. This subordination of the tenants to the proprietor, or of serfs to the lord was established, with the aid of the kings, in the same way as in Germany, and more recently in Russia, without any conquest subjecting vanquished to vanquishers.
The relations of the feudal hierarchy were likewise based on grants of land; because, in the absence of taxation, a grant of enjoying a portion of land was the only possible method of rewarding a service, or duty. Nevertheless, the feudal hierarchy was preeminently political. It constituted the state organization; for the benefice was originally granted for life to the count or marquis, who governed a town or district; to the man of arms who owed military service; or to the vassal who was bound to appear and aid his sovereign in judging or administering. It was only in later times that the benefice became hereditary; while military service, originally imposed on every free man, became the condition of enjoying a fief. The feudal system, being at its full development at the time of the conquest of England by the Normans, was applied there in a more complete and systematic manner than anywhere else. It was admitted in theory that the sovereign was now proprietor of the whole soil, and henceforth all land was considered as granted by the sovereign. For this reason Blackstone, and other jurists, admit even now that English soil is the property of the Crown. The Anglo-Saxon lords, remaining in possession of their domains, became the conqueror's vassals, like those of his companions, to whom he had actually granted confiscated property. There was no longer any free allod; all lands were comprised in the network of feudal tenures. This was not the case in Germany, and still less so in Holland and Scandinavia. There, side by side with the seignor and the feudal manor, village communities at first, and peasant proprietors subsequently, maintained their independence for centuries, and, in some provinces, even to the present day.
The complete feudalization of property in England had two results, which at first sight seem contradictory. On the one hand, it led to the preservation or re-establishment of political liberty, because, royalty being from the first very powerful, the nobles allied themselves with the bourgeois to limit its power and to found the parliamentary system on the traditional type of the witan, the Germanic thing or mallus. On the other hand, it was singularly favourable to the development of inequality and the extension of latifundia, because a share in the judicial and legislative power was given to the lords, while elsewhere such power was exercised by the kings, for the advantage of their prerogative and at times in favour of the middle classes, whose support was sought by the Crown. Mr Cliffe Leslie,(9) M. Nasse, and Mr David Syme(10) have described in detail this remarkable economic evolution, the final result of which has been to concentrate the possession of the soil of England in the hands of a few thousand families.
To sum up rapidly the phases of the continued progress of inequality. After the conquest, the corvée became more and more severe. The tenant, who occupied a virgata, owed the manor three or four days' labour a week, from the first of August to Michaelmas; and two or three days during the rest of the year. He was bound besides to plough the land one day a week, as well as to sow and harrow it when ploughed. He also owed extraordinary services, to gather in the hay and harvest, to cart wood, or dig ditches. The lord's domain did not form a compact whole. It was composed, like the cultivator's virgata, of a large number of scattered parcels in the, three fields of the rotation, these being also the lots of the old partition. In many localities, the ]ord endeavoured to break in on the indivisibility of the arable, and, by means of forced exchanges, formed for himself a separate domain which he enclosed.
The fief having been granted by the sovereign to the lord, the latter assumed, as a consequence, that the whole soil belonged to him. He did not, on this account, suppose himself able to despoil the peasants of the enjoyment of their lands or of their right of using the common forest and pasturage, but these rights were regarded as servitudes exercised over the property of the lord. In consequence of this usurpation, the lord began to enclose, for his own use, all that portion of the communal pasturage, which was not required for the wants of the tenants. The Statute of Merton in 1235, and the Statute of Westminster in 1285, decided that the complaints of the tenants, liberè tenentes, against the usurpations of the lord of the manor were not to be allowed, when it was shewn that ipsi feoffati habeant sufficientem past uram quantum pertinet ad tenementa sua. As to the rights of the villani, there is nothing to shew that the law protected or even recognised them. The lords made large use of the privilege granted them by the Statute of Merton, to extend their private domain.
There was also another custom, calculated to enrich them further. This was the jus faldae, in virtue of which the tenants were obliged to fold their sheep on the lord's land, so as to manure it abundantly. Under the primitive triennial rotation, manure from the stable was rare, as the beasts were nearly always out at grass. The result, therefore, of the jus faldae was to impart to the lord's land the elements of fertility which it took from the tenants' lands. The same custom enriched the one and impoverished the other.
From the thirteenth century, there commenced in the agrarian situation of England a slow and gradual revolution, which at first seemed favourable to the cultivators, and yet ultimately produced a remarkable reduction in their number. It gave them liberty, and, at the same time, took away their property.
In England, which, in consequence of its geographical position, is essentially a commercial country, the use of money became common earlier than elsewhere. Thus, in the thirteenth century, we find in the registers of property belonging to churches and monasteries, that payments in labour were commuted for money rents. So the lease gradually replaced the corvée; and, at the same time, the lord had agricultural labour carried out on his demesne land by hired labourers.
After the great plague, which carried off considerable numbers of men, wages rose to such a point, that a special law, the Statute of Labourers, was passed, fixing the wages at two pence per day in winter, and three pence in summer; and compelling the labourer to work at this rate under pain of imprisonment. The lord of the manor, having to pay these high wages, did not find it so profitable to cultivate his land himself as to let it. This is why we find, that in the sixteenth century servile tenancies had almost entirely disappeared.
The position of the cultivators, in a juridical point of view, was at the same time improved. The villani, instead of being liable to the corvée at the lord's caprice, became what the law of the time styles "tenants by copy of the court roll," and, in later times, "copyholders." As the courts of justice decided, in the time of Edward IV, that copyholders could not be evicted, so long as they fulfilled the obligations prescribed by custom, such tenants acquired a permanent possession, and came to take a place by the side of the socmen and yeomen already enfranchised. The fixed money rent, which they had to pay, soon became less burdensome in consequence of the depreciation of the coinage.
Thus, towards the end of the middle ages, when serfage elsewhere was becoming more burdensome, there was formed, in England, a numerous class of proprietor cultivators, living in comfort, and independence, and comprising an infinite series of degrees, from the squire, who was scarcely distinguishable from the noble, to the cottier, or rustic labourer, who likewise had his house and field. It was this yeomanry, which made the power of England, and conquered the French Chivalry in the wars of a century. Hallam says, it is the proud independence of this noble stock of free socage tenants that has given so marked a stamp to the national character, and established so much freedom in our constitution. A chronicler, whose evidence Mr Cliffe Leslie adduces, uses the following terms to describe the position of yeomen possessing property at a rental of £6 sterling in the money of the period. "These commonly live wealthily, keep good houses, and travail to get riches. They are also for the most part farmers to gentlemen, or at the least artificers, and do come to great wealth, insomuch that many of them are able and do buy the lands of unthrifty gentlemen, and often setting of their sons to the schools, to the universities and to the inns of court, or otherwise leaving them sufficient lands whereby they may live without labour, do make them by those means to become gentlemen. These were they that in times past made all France afraid."
Thus, in Saxon times, the island was peopled by free men, proprietors and warriors, regulating their own interests and administering justice.. After the Norman conquest, feudalism reduced the greater number to slavery or to a state of great dependence; but gradually they get their payments in labour or kind rigidly defined; commute them for pecuniary rents, not subject to increase, and so regain a sort of property.
To-day, strange as it appears, there hardly remain any of these independent proprietors,of the yeomen who fought so valiantly for the greatness of their country abroad, and for her liberties at home. At the end of the seventeenth century, though much reduced in number, there were still 160,000, forming with their families one-seventh of the, population. A few were mid to exist a short time back in the lake district; and Mr Fawcett, in his book On the British Labourer, tells us he knows of localities where, a century ago, they existed by hundreds. At the present day, the noble and powerful class of yeomen seems extinct: large property has absorbed its last representatives. It is a repetition of the history of Roman latifundia. In Longfellow's poem, Hiawatha, embarked on his vessel, disappears in the rays of the setting sun, and passes away to the regions whence there is no return; it is a picture of the red man becoming extinct at the approach of the white. But the yeomen were of pure Anglo-Saxon blood. They were owners of the soil; possessed of competence; they had survived the conquest, and been emancipated from the yoke of feudalism. Why did they disappear at the very time when the power and wealth of England were increasing? And how comes it that the rural bourgeoisie, which everywhere else increased in numbers and influence, ceases to exist in the one country where modern liberty and civilization were first established?
Several causes have been favourable to this great revolution which passed unnoticed; although its result, as Mr Morier remarks, has been to make England the only civilized nation, where property in land has been entirely taken from the hands of those who cultivate it. Mr Cliffe Leslie enumerates the more important of these causes with great precision. According to him they are these:
(1) Confiscation of their ancient rights of common, which were not only in themselves of great value, but most important for the help they gave towards the maintenance of their separate lands.
(2) Confiscation to a large extent of their separate lands themselves, by a long course of violence, fraud, and chicane, in addition to forfeitures resulting from deprivation of their rights of common.
(3) The destruction of country towns and villages, and the loss, in consequence, of local markets for the produce of peasant farms and gardens.
(4) The construction of a legal system based on the principle of inalienability from the feudal line, in the interest of great landed families, and incompatible with either the continuance of the ancient, or the rise of a new class of peasant landholders..
(5) The loss, with their territorial lands and rights, of all political power and independence on the part of the peasantry; and, by consequence, the establishment and maintenance by the great proprietors of laws most adverse to their interests.
(6) Lastly, the administration by the great landowners of their own estates in such a manner as to impoverish the peasantry still further, and to sever their last remaining connection with the soil.
Several of these causes began to produce their effect in the middle ages. When the corvée was transformed into a rent paid in money, the lord of the manor began the war against small property. From the moment that he had no claim on their service, but only to so much an acre, it ceased to be to his advantage to have many vassals. It was, on the contrary, more convenient for him to deal with a single large lessee, than with several small tenants; and it was to his profit to reduce the number of persons entitled to exercise a right over the pasture land and the forest of the domain. He, therefore, strove by any means to unite several holdings into one large farm. As early as the fourteenth century, the archives of the Church of St Paul mention several examples of this grouping of several holdings into one.(11) Harrison, in his Description of England at the beginning of the Holinshed Chronicles, shews how "our great encroachers" transformed numberless small holdings into vast sheep walks.
The considerable rise in the price of wool, in the fifteenth century, determined the lords of the manor to let nothing prevent their extending the grass lands at the expense of the arable. They had recourse to clearances, such as have been carried out more recently in Ireland. They attained their object in this way. The demesne land, as we have seen, consisted of numerous parcels intermixed with those of the tenants, and subject, like theirs, to the compulsory rotation. When they effected a new partition, so as to transform their domain into a large farm under a single tenant, they united to it a portion of the tenants' lands, and so disorganized the whole of the old agrarian constitution. By appropriating vast extents of the common land, they ruined, or at least made more difficult, cultivation by small proprietors, who were impoverished by having less wood, and less pasture for their cattle. If a famine, or a bad harvest occurred, there was nothing for them to do but surrender their property to the lord, who united it to his own domain. The numerous prosecutions, instituted against those who had thrown down enclosures, shew to what an extent the peasants suffered. In the end of the fifteenth, and throughout the sixteenth century, the destruction of small holdings and the conversion of arable into grass lands aroused the most violent opposition. A law of Henry VII., in 1488, prohibits the destruction of farm buildings which are let with, twenty acres of land. "Many houses and villages," says the preamble of this law, "are now deserted. The arable land which belonged to them has been enclosed, and turned into grass land; and idleness is becoming general. Where two hundred people were living but lately by their labour, two or three shepherds are now to be seen." Bacon commends this law because its object was "to keep the plough in the hands of the owners and not hirelings." Four similar laws were passed under Henry VIII, which is evidence how powerless they were. One orders the re-building of the houses that had been demolished, and the return to the plough of the lands which had been taken from it. Another commands the building of houses for every cultivated area from thirty to fifty acres in extent. The law of 1634 is intended to stop the overrunning of sheep. "A few individuals have accumulated in their own hands enormous extents of land, on which they feed countless flocks. Some among them possess from ten to twenty-four thousand sheep. Consequently, cultivation is abandoned, and the country depopulated."(12)
Bishop Latimer, in his famous sermon On the Plough, preached before the court of Edward VI (1549), reproaches the nobles for being inclosers, graziers, and rent-raisers, transforming the yeomanry into disinherited slaves; the shepherd with his dog, he exclaimed, has taken the place of the vanished inhabitants. Bernard Gilpin accuses the gentlemen of want of gentleness: "Driving the unfortunate from their homes is no crime in their eyes." In 1551, the bishop of Rochester presents a petition to the king, in which he complains that two acres out of three are taken from cultivation, and that the rural population will soon resemble "the serfs of France more than the old, prosperous yeomanry of England."(13)
After the death of Henry VIII., the protector Somerset instituted an extraordinary commission to examine the situation, and to seek a remedy. The most active member of this commission, John Hales, drew up a report, in which the condition of the rural districts is depicted in the most gloomy colours. "We can see nothing but houses in ruins and cultivators without homes; sheep and oxen have taken their place. The king can no longer find soldiers, and has to employ foreign mercenaries." This commission, which aroused so many hopes, had no result. The nobles were too powerful: witnesses were afraid to give evidence against them. The country people durst not appear, or were not summoned. Bills were submitted to Parliament, ordaining the division of the large farms, and limiting the amount which the proprietor might cultivate himself: but they were not passed.
Commencing with the great insurrection of the peasants in 1549, there were numerous local risings throughout the sixteenth century, all with the same object, the destruction of the enclosures which deprived them of their lands.
In the reign of Elizabeth, the price of wool still rising, the clearances and expulsion of the cultivators in no way abated; and the destruction of small properties has continued to our own days, by means of the "Enclosures Acts," passed successively from 1710 to 1843. These laws, which allowed the lords of the manor to enclose for their own use the common lands, wrongly regarded as their property, brought into private domain 7,660,413 acres,(14) or one-third of the cultivated area of England, which in 1867 amounted to 25,451,626 acres. This immense amount of land was taken from the enjoyment of the cultivators almost without indemnity. In 1845, Lord Lincoln could assert in Parliament, without contradiction, that, in nineteen cases out of twenty, the House had disregarded the rights of the peasant, not from any feeling of antagonism, but from sheer ignorance. The country people could not produce, before the committee which discussed the laws, any proof of rights reposing merely on custom, nor could they pay counsel to defend them. They only learnt that they were dispossessed, when the enclosures, erected by virtue of Act of Parliament, prohibited access to the lands which they had used from time immemorial. The legislature ignored the existence of rights derived from the ancient mark organization. It allowed the lord of the manors eminent domain; and thought, with economists, that the common lands should be surrendered to the more productive efforts of individual activity. In the middle ages and in the sixteenth century the copyholders had been despoiled of their property, because their title of occupation was deposited in the records of the manor, against the usurpation of which they had to defend themselves; and also because the judges all belonged to the class of their adversaries, who employed fraud, violence, and corruption, to attain their object.
Until the eighteenth century the legislature endeavoured to preserve small properties. The laws of Henry VII. ordained that every cottage should have four acres of land belonging to it. They tried to enforce this rule for a long time, but to no purpose. In 1627, in the reign of James I, Roger Crocker was fined for building a cottage on his domain of Frontmill, without the prescribed four acres. In 1636, Charles I. nominated a commission to devise a means of enforcing the ancient prescription. Cromwell renewed the prohibition against building a house without allotting at least four acres to it. In the first half of the eighteenth century complaints were made that the dwellings of the agricultural labourers had not at least one or two acres.(15)
In the eighteenth century, on the contrary, legislation becomes favourable to large properties. The large landed proprietors took advantage of their power in Parliament to confiscate, by means of Enclosure Acts, all the domain of the ancient folkland. This was not effected without protest: and numerous writings appeared on the subject. "In a large number of parishes in Hertfordshire," writes an indignant pen, "twenty-four farms, averaging from 50 to 150 acres, have been formed into three ."(16) "In Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire enclosure of common lands has been effected on a large scale, and the majority of domains so formed have been converted into pasture, so that, where there were formerly 1500 acres of land under the plough there are now but 50. Ruins of houses, barns and stables, are the only traces left of the old inhabitants. In many places hundreds of houses with the families have been reduced to eight or ten. In the majority of parishes where the enclosure only dates from the last fifteen or twenty years, the number of proprietors is but small compared with that which cultivated the soil when the fields were open. It is not uncommon to see some four or five rich cattle-breeders usurping recently enclosed domains, which were previously in the hands of twenty or thirty farmers, and a large number of small proprietors and rustics. All the latter and their families have been expelled, together with a number of families whom they employed and supported."(17) It was not only waste lands, but those also which had been cultivated, either in common, or on payment of a certain rent to the parish, that neighbouring landowners annexed under pretext of "Enclosure." "I am now speaking of the Enclosure of lands and fields already under cultivation. Even the writers who support Enclosures are agreed that, in this case, they reduce the area of cultivation, raise the price of provisions, and lead to depopulation And, even when applied only to uncultivated lands, the operation, as at present practised, deprives the poor of part of their means of existence, and encourages the development of farms which are already too large."(18) "When the soil," says Dr Price, "falls into the hands of a small number of large farmers, the small farmers" (whom he has elsewhere designated as so many small proprietors, living themselves and their families on the produce of the soil they cul tivate, and the sheep, poultry, pigs, &c., which they depasture on the common lands) "the small farmers will be transformed into so many persons compelled to earn their living by labouring for others, and to go to the market to purchase what they require. More work will, perhaps, be done, because there will be more restraint... Towns and manufactures will increase, because more persons will be driven there in search of occupation." "In fine," to quote his summing up of the general effect of Enclosures, "the position of the lower classes of the population has `deteriorated in all respects. The small proprietors and farmers have been reduced to the condition of day-labourers and hirelings, and at the same time it has become more difficult to earn a living in this condition." This usurpation of the common lands and the agricultural revolution consequent upon it were, in fact, so severely felt by the rural labourers, that, according to Eden himself an ardent advocate of Enclosure, between 1765 and 1780 their wages began to fall below the minimum, and had to be supplemented by government aid. "Their wage," he tells us, "was insufficient for the first necessaries of life."
In the last years of the seventeenth century the yeomanry, a class of independent cultivators,the "proud peasantry," were still flourishing. It was this class that constituted the strength of England in the middle ages, and to it she owed her superiority over France. At the end of the eighteenth century the yeomanry had disappeared.(19)
The dispossession of the old proprietors, transformed by time into mere tenants, was effected on a large scale by the "Clearing of Estates." When a lord of the manor, for his own profit, wanted to turn the small holdings into large farms, or into pasturage, the small cultivators were of no use. The proprietors adopted a simple means of getting rid of them; and, by destroying their dwellings, forced them into exile. The classical land of this system is Ireland, or more particularly the Highlands of Scotland.
It is now clearly established that in Scotland, just as in Ireland, the soil was once the property of the clan, or sept. The chiefs of the clan had certain rights over the communal domain; hut they were even further from being proprietors than was Louis XIV. from being proprietor of the territory of France. By successive encroachments, however, they transformed their authority of suzerain into a right of private ownership, without even recognizing in their old co-proprietors a right of hereditary possession. In a similar way, the Zemindars and Taluqdars in India were, by the act of the British government, transformed into absolute proprietors. Until modern days the chiefs of the clan were interested in retaining a large number of vassals, as their power and often their security were only guaranteed by their arms. But when order was established, and the chiefs, or lords as they now were, began to reside in the towns and required large revenues rather than numerous retainers, they endeavoured to introduce large farms and pasturage.
We may follow the first phases of this revolution, which commences after the last rising under the Pretender, in the works of James Anderson(20) and James Stuart. The latter tells us that in his time, in the last third of the eighteenth century, the Highlands of Scotland still presented a miniature picture of the Europe of four hundred years ago. "The rent" (so he misnames the tribute paid to the chief of the clan) "of these lands is very little in comparison with their extent, but if it is regarded relatively to the number of mouths which the farm supports, it will be seen that land in the Scotch Highlands supports perhaps twice as many persons as land of the same value in a fertile province. It is the same with certain lands as with certain monasteries: `The more mouths there are to feed, the better they live."' When, in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century, they began to expel the Gaels, they at the same time forbade them to emigrate to a foreign country. so as to compel them by these means to congregate in Glasgow and other manufacturing towns. In his observations on Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1814, David Buchanan gives us an idea of the progress made by the "Clearing of Estates." "In the `Highlands," he says, "the landed proprietor, without regard to the hereditary tenants" (he wrongly applies this term to the clansmen, who were joint proprietors of the soil), "offers the land to the highest bidder, who, if he wishes to improve the cultivation, is anxious for nothing but the introduction of a new system. The soil, dotted with small peasant-proprietors, was formerly well populated in proportion to its natural fertility. The new system of improved agriculture and increased rents demands the greatest .net profit with the least possible outlay, and with this object the cultivators are got rid of, as being of no further use. Thus cast from their native soil, they go to seek their living in the manufacturing towns...."
George Ensor, in a work published in 1818, says: "They (the landed proprietors of Scotland) dispossessed families as they would grub up coppice-wood, and they treated villages `and their people as Indians harassed with wild beasts do, in their vengeance, a jungle with tigers Is it credible that in the eighteenth century, in this missionary age, in this Christian aera man shall be bartered for a fleece or a carcase of mutton, nay, held cheaper?... Why, how much worse is it than the intention of the Moguls, who, when they had broken into the northern provinces of China, proposed in council to exterminate the inhabitants, and convert the land into pasture! This proposal many Highland proprietors have effected in their own country against their own countrymen."(21)
M. de Sismondi has rendered celebrated on the Continent the famous Clearing executed between 1814 and 1820 by the Duchess of Sutherland. More than three thousand families were driven out; and 800,000 acres of land, which formerly belonged to the Clan, were transformed into seignorial domain. Men were driven out to make room for sheep. The sheep are now replaced by deer, and the pastures converted into deer- forests, which are treeless solitudes. The details of this new transformation are to be found in Mr Robert Somers' book, Letters from the Highlands, London, 1848, which appeared first in the form of letters in the Times. The Economist of June 2, 1866, said on this subject:"Feudal instincts have as full career now as in the times when the Conqueror destroyed thirty-six villages to make the New Forest. Two millions of acres, comprising most fertile land, have been changed into desert. The natural herbage of Glen Tilt was known as the most succulent in Perth; the deer-forest of Ben Aulden was the best natural meadow of Badonock; the forest of Bleak Mount was the best pasturage in Scotland for black-woolled sheep. The soil thus sacrificed for the pleasures of the chase, extends over an area larger than the county of Perth. The land in the new Ben Aulden forest supported 15,000 sheep; and this is but the thirtieth part of the territory sacrificed, and thus rendered as unproductive as if it were buried in the depths of the sea."
The destruction of small property is still going on, no longer however by encroachment, but by purchase. Whenever land comes into the market, it is bought by some rich capitalist, because the expenses of legal enquiry are too great for a small investment. Thus large properties are consolidated; and fall, so to speak, into mortmain, in consequence of the law of primogeniture and entails. In the fifteenth century, according to the Chancellor Fortescue, England was quoted throughout Europe for the number of its proprietors, and the comfort of its inhabitants.(22) In 1688, Gregory King estimates that there were 180,000 proprietors, exclusive of 16,560 proprietors of noble rank. In 1786, there were 250,000 proprietors in England. According to the "Domesday Book" of 1876, there were 170,000 rural proprietors in England, owning above an acre; 21,000 in Ireland, and 8,000 in Scotland.(23) A fifth part of the entire country is in the hands of 523 persons. "Are you aware," said Mr Bright in a speech delivered at Birmingham, August 27, 1866, "that one-half of the soil of Scotland belongs to ten or twelve persons? Are you aware of the fact that the monopoly of landed property is continually increasing, and becoming more and more exclusive?"(24)
In England, then, as at Rome, large property has swallowed up small property, in consequence of a continuous evolution unchecked from the beginning to the end of the nation's history; and the social order seems to be threatened just as in the Roman empire.
An ardent desire for a more equal division of the produce of labour inflames the labouring classes, and passes from land to land. In England it arouses agitation among the industrial classes, and is beginning to invade the rural districts. It obviously menaces landed property, as constituted in this country. The labourers, who till the soil, will claim their share in it; and if they fail to obtain it here, will cross the sea in search of it. To retain a hold on them they must be given a vote; and there is fresh danger in increasing the number of electors while that of proprietors diminishes, and maintaining laws which render inequality greater and more striking, while ideas of equality are assuming more formidable sway. To make the possession of the soil a closed monopoly, and to augment the political powers of the class who are rigidly excluded, is at once to provoke levelling measures and to facilitate them. Accordingly we find that England is the country where the scheme of the nationalization of land finds most adherents, and is most widely proclaimed. The country, which is furthest from the primitive organization of property, is likewise the one where the social order seems most menaced.
The history of property in China and at Rome is very similar to that which we have just sketched for England. The oldest Chinese chronicles represent that country as having already arrived at the agricultural stage; but private property was not yet applied to the soil. The land was divided among all those who were capable of cultivating it, that is, among the inhabitants between twenty and sixty years of age. Each valley had an independent administration, and elected its own chiefs; the sovereign being also elective. These officers had certain lands assigned to them, the produce of which enabled them to live according to their dignity. This is exactly the same system as we have seen in Germany. From the year 2205 B. C. the empire became hereditary.(25) The provincial chief also usurped a hereditary right of succession. The sovereigns made grants of land reserving certain rents, and the lords in turn did `the same. A kind of feudalism was thus established; the property cultivated by the peasants, however, continued to be divided among the families proportionally to the number of hands which each could command. In the partition, the distance of the lands was taken into account, and a smaller portion given in those which were nearer at hand. One lot in nine had to be cultivated for the benefit of the State by the families who obtained the remaining eight. The system of common lands, gun-tjan, was maintained until about the third dynasty, 254 B.C., and lasted to our own times in the remote districts of Corea. Private property was introduced by the house of Zin: but gradually, as the chronicles tell us, the rich usurped all the lands, and then let them to the ejected cultivators, reserving half the produce as a rent. The government has since, at different times, had recourse to agrarian laws to augment the number of proprietors. The most remarkable and most general of these laws is that promulgated by the Tan dynasty (619907). Every individual, provided that he had a separate house, received a portion of land in perpetuity; and a second piece temporarily, conditionally on his being in a position to cultivate it. The portion assigned to the different classes varied according to their rank and dignity. The private property was inalienable, except in extreme cases. Life estates returned to the State, to be re-distributed. This system did not long remain in force; about the year 1000 it gave way to absolute private property, which, notwithstanding the Mantchou conquest and revolutions, has survived to the present day.
Landed property, therefore, in the evolution of centuries, has passed through similar phases there to those which it has traversed in the West.
1. Document of the year 858. Kemble, Cod. Dipl. 1, 104. Ego rex cum consensu ac licentia meorum optimatum.
2. The dwelling-house itself bore the name of town, from being surrounded by a hedge. In cyninges tune,on eorles tune ("In the house of the king," or "of the earl").Laws of Alfred, I. § 2 and § 13. The farmyard also bore the name "town." See the excellent work of E. Nasse, Ueber die mittelalterliche Feidgemeinschaft in England.
3. The laws of king Ina rendered any one, who was careless in constructing his share of the fence, responsible for any damage caused by cattle. The old Jute law of the year 1240, III. c. 57, Van thünen the makende (of the construction of fences) explains in detail the obligations of the villagers as regards the keeping up of fences surrounding the houses or the village. See, as regards Germany, Von Maurer, Geschichte der Frohnhöfe, III. p. 195.
4. In Domesday Book there is frequent mention of forests set aside to supply the necessary wood for these enclosures. Silva,nemus ad clausuram, ad sepes,ad sepes reficiendas,rispalia ad sepes.See General Introduction to Domesday Book, by Sir H. Ellis, 1833, Vol. I. p. 100, quoted by Nasse.
5. See Kemble, Cod. Diplom., Nos. 179190, 241, 805, 432, 843, 1142, 1281.
6. Village Communities (1878}, p. 88.
7. This is precisely the condition of the German serf as described by Tacitus: "Ceteris servis, non in nostrum morem, descriptis per familiam ministeriis, utuntur: suam quisque sedem, suos penates regit. Frumenti modum dominus, aut pecoris aut vestis, ut colono injunqit, et servus hactenus paret: cetera domus officia uxor ac liberi exsequuntur."
8. See M. Nasse's instructive article in the Contemporary Review, May, 1872, Village Communities.
9. Land Systems in Ireland, England and Continental Countries. London, 1871.
10. Landlordism, by David Syme. London, Trübner, 1871.
11. See Nasse, Ueber die mittelalterliche Feldgemeinachaft..
12. For all this, see the work, of Nasse, already quoted.
13. Sir Thomas More echoes the same complaints:"Noblemen and gentlemen, yea, and even certain abbots, not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits that were wont to grow to their forefathers and predecessors of their lands, leave no ground for tillage. They inclose all into pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down towns, and leave nothing standing. And as though you lost no ground by forests, chase lands, and parks, those good holy men turn all dwelling-places and all glebe-lands into desolation and wilderness."
In the Utopia, a strange country is mentioned where sheep devour men. Bacon, in his History of Henry VII., boasts of the acts of Parliament and the wisdom of the King, checking the usurpations of the great, the effect of which was to take the common lands from the inhabitants, to destroy the dwelling-houses, and to depopulate the country.
14. The encroachments of lords of the manor on commons have been carried on in our own days. Some very curious details on this point may be found in a letter addressed by Mr Shaw Lefevre to the Times (17 Nov. 1874) with regard to Epping Forest. Going back no further than 1851, 559 illegal enclosures had been made in this forest, which was common property in which the city of London had the right of common pasture. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood were entitled to gather fuel there in winter, on this condition, however, that every year on December 11, at midnight, the oldest of them should fix his axe in one of the trees. A story is told of a certain Lord of the Manor who wanted to interrupt this prescription. On the given day he invited all the inhabitants to a supper, hoping to make them drunk, and make them forget the exercise of their right. An old man, however, stole away and fixed the axe in the forest. Later bn a common workman named Willingdale resisted for thirty-seven years the enclosure made by the lord of the manor of Loughton. "It was about this time that great portions of Epping Forest were arbitrarily enclosed. In one single manor of that Forest the lord of Loughton, who was also rector of the parish, enclosed no less than 1300 acres of common. Sir Thomas Wilson, the Lord of the Manor of Hampstead, commenced the enclosure of that much-frequented common, and demanded £400,000 as the market value of it. The late Lord Brownlow enclosed 500 acres of Berkhampstead common with iron rails, and added them to his park. Queen's College, Oxford, was similarly advised by its solicitors to appropriate two important commons in the south of Londonviz. Plumstead Heath and Bostal Heath, besides a smaller open space, known as Shoulder-of-Mutton Green. An enclosure was also made of Tooting Graveney Common. If these proceedings had passed unnoticed, there can be no doubt that in a very short time all the commons in and round London would speedily have disappeared."
The City of London, in an action to stop these encroachments, gained its ease. A judgment of November, 1874, declared illegal all enclosures effected since 1851 on an extent of 3200 acres. At the present time the magistrates of the City betake themselves annually with great pomp to the Forest, in recollection of the right of hunting which they formerly exercised there. According to Mr Shaw Lefevre, there still remain, within a radius of fifteen miles from London, sixty commons of an average area of 130 acres, and 120 smaller commons with an average area of 20 acres. The thirty-second Report of the Enclosures Commission (1877) estimates that there still remain in England 2,000,000 acres of common land. Since 1845, 600,000 acres have been enclosed. See an excellent article by Miss Octavia Hill: "The Future of our Commons," Fortnightly Review, Nov. 1877.
15. These details are borrowed from Karl Marx, Das Kapital, c. xxiv. It is perhaps too severe a picture of the concentration of property in England, but a great number of curious, and perhaps little known, quotations may be found in it. See also H. Penis, Tendances actuelles du prolétariat européen, in the Revue de Philosophic positive, March 1872 to January 1875.
16. Thomas Wright, A short Address to the Public on the Monopoly of Large Farms, 1779, p. 25.
17. Addington, Enquiry into the Reasons for or against Enclosing Open Fields. London, 1772, pp. 37, 43, passim.
18. Dr B. Price, Vol. II. p. 155. Consult too Forster, Addington. Kent, and James Anderson (Karl Marx, Das Kapital. p. 756).
[After considerable search in the library of the British Museum I have been unable to find the original of these works, and am therefore compelled to retranslate most of the passages here cited,]
19. See A Letter to Sir T. C. Bunbury, On the High Prices of Provisions, by a Suffolk Gentleman, Ipswich, 1795; p. 4. A violent partisan of large farms, the author of the treatise An Enquiry into the connections of Large Farms, &c., London, 1773, himself says (p. 133): "I most lament the loss of our yeomanry, that set of men who really kept up the independence of this nation; and sorry I am to see their lands now in the hands of monopolizing lords, tenanted out to small farmers, who hold their leases on such conditions, as to be little better than vassals ready to attend a summons on every mischievous message." Karl Marx, Das Kapital, p. 752.
20. James Anderson, Observations on the means of exciting a Spirit of National Industry. Edinburgh, 1777.
21. George Ensor, An Inquiry into the Population of Nations, London, 1818, pp. 215, 216. See Karl Marx, Das Kapital, p. 759.
22. De Laudibus Legum Angliae, Cap. 2956.
23. See note A at end of volume.
24. See an excellent article by Mr Shaw Lefevre, in the Fortnightly Review, Jan. 1877. 5,000 persons own two-thirds of the country, or an average of 10,000 acres each. See also Mr Cliffe Leslie. Even the partisans of large properties cannot deny that they devour small properties. "It is quite true," says Mr Froude, "that about two-thirds of Great Britain belong to great peers and commoners, whose estates are continually devouring the smaller estates that adjoin them."
25. These details are borrowed from a resume of the memoirs of the Russian mission at Pekin, by M. J. Sacharoff. See Revue Germanique (first year).