Page:The Land Question.djvu/8

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that, when a piece of land is sold, the purchaser's lawyer has often to look through a document half-a-foot thick, called the Abstract of Title, to see what charges have been made upon the land for the last sixty years; for if these are not cleared off they will run with the land, and the purchaser will be liable, after he has got the land, for the payment of all of them. These mortgages and charges are the things that make the expenses attaching to the sale of land so heavy. Without them there would be but little law in the matter, and the expenses would be comparatively small. Now the effect of requiring all mortgages and charges to be made public would be as follows. Landowners would see that, as there was an end of the secrecy they value so much, and the encumbrances on their property were published to all the world, they might just as well abandon the fiction of territorial immutability, and condescend to part with enough of their estates to make them really masters of what they retained. Thus, instead of the squire raising a mortgage of £5,000 here and £5,000 there for setting up his younger sons, and charging his lands with say £300 per annum for his widow, and £150 for each of his unmarried daughters, he would put portions of the estate into the market as occasion or opportunity arose, with benefit to his neighbours who might want to buy, and without injuring anybody or anything except that social superstition that what a county-family once has had it is bound for ever to retain.

Contracts relating to Land.

And now I have done with the strictly legal part of our subject. There is a school of land-reformers who consider that when the old legal artifices put in the way of the sale of land are removed, and you have what I may call permissive free trade in land, everything that can be done has been done, and that it is a mistake to seek for more by legislation. I wish to speak with respect of this school of land-reformers, which numbers among it men like my friend Mr. Brodrick, men who took up the question while the public were still indifferent to it, and who did a great deal in clearing away popular prejudice by dint of honest argument. I wish to speak with respect of this school of political economists, but I cannot myself agree with them. Looking at the actual facts of