Page:The Land Question.djvu/14

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14

that was put on the land became the landlord's property, except in so far as checked by local custom. As the landlord could turn out the tenant and take his property, of course he was master of the situation. Protective duties made things worse, and the high but fluctuating prices of corn turned the farmer into a gambler, and made him offer enormous rents. The history of this country from 1760 to 1830—the period during which rents advanced by leaps and bounds, and the country squire changed from the homely bumpkin into the fine gentleman—is a melancholy period in the history of the labourer. The money-profits of agriculture were very great; there was enough to have given prosperity alike to the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer; but because the labourer was weak and the landlord powerful, the whole of the increase in income went to the landlord, and the labourer became even poorer than he was before; wages, at the end of the French war, being actually below starvation-point, so that they had to be supplemented in bread out of the rates. When therefore landlords complain of the present bad times, I ask myself whether the good times, which they unconsciously make their standard of Comparison, were not the result of injustice, and whether the rents they then received would not have been impossible if there had been anything like a fair distribution of the profits of agriculture. Therefore, in so far as the land difficulty merely means the unpleasantness of landlords not getting so large a rent as formerly—which is what it means to a good many representatives of the landed interest in the House of Commons—I put it by, as a matter which may indeed excite individual commiseration, but does not call for public attention.

The Existing Agricultural Depression.

But the existing agricultural depression means a great deal more than this. We sometimes hear it said, when the way is dark before us, that before things get better they must get worse; and probably something like the utter collapse of our present farming system was necessary before we could hope for a thorough-going land-reform. Now, however, things have really come to such a pass that people are beginning to open their minds, and to contemplate the possibility of changes which ten years ago would have been thought revolutionary. Owing to the succession of wet