Studies of a Biographer/Arthur Young

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The name of Arthur Young suggests to most readers a discussion of the causes of the French Revolution. The importance of the famous Travels in France is in fact sufficiently shown by the frequent references of the most competent writers, both French and English. Mr. Morley, for example, declares that Young's evidence is of more value than all the speculations of Burke and Paine and Mackintosh—the English protagonists in the great controversy of the time. Young, again, had a great deal to say upon the state of Ireland in his day, besides being a leading authority upon the agricultural development of England. No one, however, need fear that this paper will lead him into profound economical, or political, or historical discussions. For the present purpose, I have rather to protest against a too probable inference suggested by these topics. Young's connection with them may probably lead those who know only his name to put him down summarily in the great class bore; to assume that he was only a ponderous professor of the dismal science, or an early example of that most estimable but not always lively species, the highly intelligent politician who travels in vacation-time, storing his mind with useful information to be radiated forth in lectures and essays, and excite the admiration of parliamentary constituencies. Young, no doubt, deserves that kind of glory in a high degree. What I wish to do is to call attention to the fact that he was also a human being—or what in our disagreeable modern slang is called a 'personality'—of great interest. He was not a walking blue-book, but a highly sensitive, enthusiastic, impulsive, and affectionate man of flesh and blood, whose acquaintance every sensible man would have been glad to cultivate. His last biographer congratulates the world upon the fact that he did not, as he was tempted to do, become a clergyman or a soldier. In either capacity his peculiar talents would no doubt have been comparatively wasted. As a soldier, he would probably have been known only by some ingenious but futile enterprise. Had he taken orders he might have rivalled the charm of some of his amiable contemporaries—Gilbert White of Selborne, for example,—and would have been a model clergyman of the good old patriarchal type; but he would hardly have made a mark upon theological speculation. Yet his actual career, however appropriate to his talent, was such as to draw a certain shade over his personal qualities; and as unfortunately he was not commemorated at his death in an adequate biography, they have, perhaps, not been sufficiently recognised. That a fuller recognition is possible is due in great part to Miss Betham-Edwards, who prefixed a short memoir to the last edition of his Travels in France (1892). Miss Betham-Edwards did her duty excellently; she not only appreciates his qualities but had access to unpublished sources, including diaries and letters of great interest. The necessary limits of a preface prevented her from doing more than drawing a sketch, life-like as far as it goes, which tantalises the reader by brief glimpses of possible filling up of details. These details are partly supplied by her more recent publication of Young's autobiography (1898). Young was not a Gibbon, and did not correct and rewrite four times over. Miss Betham-Edwards appears to have done her best by omitting superfluous digressions; and in any case, has given us a life full of interesting indications of character.[1]

Arthur Young was born on 11th September 1741. He was the son of a respectable prebendary, who was chaplain to Speaker Onslow, and both squire and rector of the parish of Bradfield, near Bury St. Edmunds. His mother, whose maiden name was Cousmaker, was the descendant of a Dutchman who had followed William III. to England. Miss Betham-Edwards suggests that the pleasant rural district in which Young passed his infancy may account for his love of scenery. Something more would be required to explain whence a man, descended from Dutch and East Anglian ancestry, derived the mercurial temperament which we do not generally associate with either country. Both father and mother, however, were handsome and intelligent, and we do not know enough of the laws of heredity to account for the appearance of this brilliant contrast to the ponderous squires of Suffolk and the three-breeched merchants of Holland. Anyhow, Arthur Young showed his qualities early. He learned little at his school, Lavenham—partly, he thinks, because he became so much a favourite with his teacher as to be spared the usual discipline. When he was about ten, however, he was already 'writing a history of England,' and at thirteen learning to dance and falling in love with the beautiful daughter of a village grocer. He was taken from school at the age of sixteen and apprenticed to a mercantile firm at King's Lynn. There he again fell in love, his first idol being the black-eyed daughter of a partner in the firm, who was taking music-lessons from Burney, then organist of Lynn, and best known to most of us as Mme. d'Arblay's father. He was already writing pamphlets and getting them published, receiving payment in 'books,' but apparently learned nothing of his proper business. At any rate, on his father's death in 1759, he left Lynn, 'without education, profession, pursuits, or employment,' and for want of other occupation, took a farm belonging to his mother at Bradfield. To improve his prospects, he married at the age of twenty-four (in 1765) a Miss Martha Allen of Lynn, neither the first nor second object of his adorations, which apparently it would not be easy to enumerate. He might have made a better choice. Mrs. Young is said to have been shrewish, and Young certainly regretted his precipitance. The marriage was unhappy from the first; and Young records that, even when his wife was in good health, she became all the more 'irritable,' and life a mere 'scene of worrying.' The lady was sister-in-law of Mrs. Stephen Allen, Burney's second wife, and stepmother of Miss Burney, who has left some characteristic touches. Young confided to Miss Burney a few years later, either from confidence in her prudence, she says, or from his general 'carelessness of consequences,' that he was the 'most miserable fellow breathing,' and that 'if he were to begin the world again, no earthly thing should prevail with him to marry.' On the whole, one might expect that a youth, who is bound to an uncongenial wife and proposes to make his living by farming, chiefly because he knows as little of any other employment as he does of agriculture, has made an unpromising start in life. But those who may have made such a prophecy had not taken into account Young's marvellous elasticity. He was one of the men who, if in the depths of depression at one moment, are sure to be at the height of exhilaration in the next. Nothing could permanently suppress or daunt him. Compensations were sure to turn up. If his wife was for the most part a thorn in his flesh, he was at least a most affectionate father. His own farming operations were as little successful as though his lot had been cast in the worst days of depression; but they entitled him to set up almost at once as an authority upon the theory of agriculture. He made tours, and published accounts of his observations. The result of his own experience was, as he puts it, 'nothing but ignorance, folly, presumption, and rascality' (the rascality, we hope, in spite of the grammar, was that of his neighbours); but he learned to judge of other people's farms, and his books were of most singular 'utility to the general agriculture of the kingdom.' He failed at his native place, after a short time, and immediately took a larger farm, and had to pay £100 to another man to take it off his hands, when his successor made a fortune out of it. At a third farm he spent nine years, with the sensation of having been all the time 'in the jaws of a wolf.'[2] He had, he says, tried 3000 experiments; and must therefore be reckoned wise if we may invert Darwin's criterion that a fool is a man who never tried an experiment. There is, however, such a thing as being wise for others instead of for oneself. Whether Young's general views were sound is more than I know. They were at least stimulating. He was becoming well known to agricultural reformers, and from 1773 to 1776 he travelled in Ireland, where he was, for a short time, agent to Lord Kingsborough's estates in County Cork. Whatever was the result to Lord Kingsborough, Young's experience was embodied in a book upon Ireland second only in value to the French travels. He settled again at Bradfield upon his mother's property, and there, after a time, started a new project. Next to the farming without experience, one of the most promising roads to ruin that can be suggested is starting a serious and scientific periodical. Young accordingly in 1738 set up the Annals of Agriculture, which was to be the organ of all benevolent men and good farmers. It certainly succeeded in so far as it attracted notice; and it is worth turning over, not only for Young's own articles, but because it contains contributions from many of the most distinguished men of the time upon important topics. The poor-laws, for example, are discussed by Jeremy Bentham and Sir F. Eden, the author of the leading book upon the subject. Another contributor, who conceals himself under the modest name of 'Ralph Robinson, farmer at Windsor,' was no less a person, as Young tells us, than George in. himself.[3] Young, however, has still to complain of his financial results. His circulation only amounts after seven years to 350; and he is still engaged in the familiar employment of flogging a dead horse. The Annals only just paid their way; but they spread his fame. His name on the title-page is followed by a list of titles which shows that he had received honours in France, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Among his admirers was the philanthropic Duke de Liancourt—the Anglomaniac French nobleman who announced to Louis XVI. that the fall of the Bastile was not a revolt but a revolution. On Liancourt's invitation Young made his famous French tours from 1787 to 1790.

The travels are most deservedly famous, but they have hardly been popular in the same proportion. In French, indeed, they have had a very large circulation; but in England they brought more fame than profit. They owe such popularity as they achieved to the advice of a very sensible friend. The tour in Ireland, said this adviser, had no great success, because it was chiefly a 'farming diary.' It was filled with elaborate statistics and tables of prices which presupposed a strong appetite for information in the reader. The right plan to gain readers was to put down the notes made at the moment as they occurred to him. The book might lose in solidity, but would gain in vivacity. Young fortunately took this advice, which deserves to be recorded as one of the few known instances of advice by which an author has actually profited. It was, in fact, singularly appropriate, for Young was essentially a man whose first impressions were the most valuable, as well as the most amusing. It is often better to know what a man thought than to know what he afterwards thought that he ought to have thought. 'I was totally mistaken in my prediction,' as he quaintly remarks in a note to his Travels, 'and yet, on a revision, I think that I was right in it.' That is, the facts which really happened were those which, at the time, were the most unlikely to happen. Few historical facts, indeed, are more interesting than the visions, never to be precisely realised, which animated the imagination of the first observers of great movements. Young, too, was better at observation than at reflection. When he revised his journals of former tours and cut out the personal elements, he was substituting a set of statistical diagrams for a concrete picture; and he filled the vacant space by economic speculations often of very inferior merit. Miss Betham-Edwards, indeed, declares, as it is natural for an enthusiastic biographer to declare, that Young instinctively anticipated Adam Smith, and Mill, and Cobden, and all the pundits of political economy. He was, if I may be pardoned for saying so, much too charming a person to deserve that equivocal praise. He is delightful by reason of his vivacity, his amiable petulance, and unconscious inconsistencies. The wisest philosopher, if he honestly put down his first thoughts, would be always contradicting himself. We get the appearance of consistency only because we take time to correct, and qualify, and compare, and extenuate, and very often we spoil our best thoughts in the process. What would not Mr. Ruskin lose if he cared for consistency? The price of suppressing first thoughts may be worth paying by a man whose strength lies in logic; but with a keen, rapid, impetuous observer like Arthur Young we would rather do the correcting for ourselves. His best phrases are impromptu ejaculations. 'Oh, if I were Legislator of France for a day,' he exclaims, at the sight of estates left waste for game-preserving, 'I would make such great lords skip again!' These sentiments, he assures the reader, were 'those of the moment,' and he was half inclined to strike out many such passages. It was because they were 'of the moment' that they are so impressive. Had he omitted them he would have taken off the edge of his best passages, though he might have expressed his later views more correctly.

This temperament, I need hardly argue, is not the ideal one for a political economist. His views should be expressible in columns of figures, and he should never let a vivid impression guide him till he has reduced it to tangible statements of loss and gain. He must deal in sober black and white, and be on his guard against the brilliant shifting colours which are apt to generate illusions as to the real proportions of the objects of vision. Young, indeed, was a sound economist, and that, no doubt, is what Miss Betham-Edwards means, in so far as he was a thorough Free-Trader. The 'whole system of monopoly,' he declares, 'is rotten to the core, and the true principle and vital spring and animating soul of commerce is Liberty!' That, however sound may be the doctrine, is the utterance of an enthusiast, not of a sober, logical reasoner. He was animated by the spirit of the contemporary philosophy. The great object of his idolatry was Rousseau. In his French travels he visits the tomb of that 'immortal' and 'splendid genius' whose 'magic' is teaching French mothers to nurse their children, and French nobles to love a country life. He denounces the 'vile spirit of bigotry ' which hunted Rousseau during his life as though he had been a mad dog. At Chambery he turns even from his economical speculation to something still more interesting, the house of the 'deliciously amiable' Mme. de Warens, and described 'by the inimitable pencil of Rousseau.' He sought for information about the lady, and could only discover that she was 'certainly dead.' In fact, as he produces a certificate of the occurrence of that event some thirty years before, there seems to be no reason for doubting it. With this enthusiasm Young found a keen interest in the writings of the French economists, whose theory of the surpassing importance of agriculture was more congenial to him than Adam Smith's rival doctrines. One of the most amusing episodes in his French travels records his visit to the scene of the labours of the great Marquis de Turbilly. The reader who is ashamed of not remembering the name may be comforted by finding that even in his own country the great man's memory had faded within twelve years of his death. Young, however, boldly introduced himself to the new proprietor of the estates, was introduced to one of Turbilly's old labourers, and went off happy with an autograph of the great marquis to be placed among his curiosities. Other pilgrimages of the same kind, to places connected with names faintly remembered, it is to be feared, in England, prove the keenness of Young's interest in the literature of his favourite subject. Young's belief in Free Trade implies his acceptance of the chief doctrine of the Economists, and his sympathy with the general movement of the time. Any one who should be surprised that Young as the staunchest of agriculturists was not a Protectionist would, of course, be guilty of an anachronism. In those days Adam Smith observes that the landowning classes are far more liberal than the manufacturers. England was only just ceasing to export corn, and Young was roused to his most indignant mood by the desire of the clothmakers to maintain restrictions upon the exports of English wool. What he really illustrates, indeed, is the spirit which we generally associate with the great revolution of manufactures, as applied to the contemporary development of agriculture.

Another variety of Young's enthusiasm makes a pleasant and characteristic contrast to his discussions as to the prices of corn and rates of wages. A genuine love of scenery breaks out in his English tours, though it is generally consigned to the notes, the text being preserved for the graver purposes of statistical information. It has, too, a peculiar turn which marks the man. It may be doubted whether our admiration for 'Nature' is really so new as we sometimes fancy. The old squire or country parson may have loved the forest or the moor as well as his descendants, though his love was unconscious. The scenery may have given a charm to his favourite pursuits, his fishing or his hunting, though he did not talk about it, or even know it. Scenery, even in poetry, was kept in the background of human figures, but was not less distinctly present. In Young's time, however, the country gentleman was becoming civilised and polished; he was building mansions with classical porticoes, filling them with pictures bought on the 'grand tour,' and laying out grounds with the help of Kent or a 'capability' Brown. He was beginning, that is, to appreciate the advantage of adapting the environment to his dwelling-place; and the new art of 'landscape gardening' was putting the old formal gardens out of fashion. Pope's garden at Twickenham had become famous, and Shenstone, as Johnson puts it, had 'begun to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters; which he did with such judgment and such fancy, as made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the skilful.' Johnson will not inquire whether this 'demands any great powers of mind,' but he admits that 'to embellish the form of nature is an innocent amusement.' Young, who was a most determined and indefatigable sightseer, had no misgivings about the 'powers of mind' required. He visits the houses of the nobility most conscientiously, gives little criticisms of their pictures, which have at least the merit of perfect simplicity, and falls into ecstasies over the 'embellishments of the form of nature.' He visited the Lakes at the time when Gray was writing his now celebrated letters, and his descriptions are equally enthusiastic, if not of equal literary excellence. He 'does' the neighbourhood of Keswick in the most systematic way; and, I am glad to say it to his honour, is not content without climbing to the top of Skiddaw. He complains gently, however, that art has not been properly called in to the aid of nature. He would like winding walks and properly-fenced seats, which should enable him to look comfortably from the edge of precipices, and be led to them as a well-arranged surprise. His eloquence is stimulated to the highest flights when he visits Persfield on the 'Why' (as he spells the river's name). There a judicious improver has laid out an estate in the most skilful way, so as to display the glories of the Wyndcliff and its neighbourhood. Young is almost carried off his feet by his delight, but he recovers sufficiently to intimate some gentle and apologetic criticisms. He gives us an aesthetic discussion as to the correct method of mixing the sublime with the beautiful in due proportions. Young's contemporary, Gilpin, remarks of the same place that it is not 'picturesque,' but extremely romantic, and gives a loose to the 'most pleasing riot of the imagination.' Nothing in the way of literature seems to keep so ill as aesthetic criticism; and we must not be hard upon these poor old gentlemen. They held that nature wanted a little judicious arranging and dramatising. At Wentworth he pronounces that the woods and waters are 'sketched with great taste,' and that the woods in particular have a 'solemn brownness' which is gratifying to the connoisseur. Young had not read Wordsworth, for obvious reasons, and when he wants a bit of poetry has generally to resort to Pope's 'breathes a browner horror o'er the woods.' He much approves of a statue of Ceres and 'a Chinese temple' which temper the rawness of nature at Wentworth; and elsewhere he gives another of his artless aesthetic disquisitions upon the proper theory of sham ruins. They ought, he thinks, to represent the real thing, and should not be made into mere places for tea-drinking. Whatever may be Young's limitations, however, it is impossible to doubt that his enthusiasm for the beauties of nature is as hearty and genuine as that of Gray or of any of the generation which learned its canons of taste from Wordsworth. At Killarney, for example, he is thrown into raptures of the most orthodox variety, and when he comes within sight of the Pyrenees Mr. Ruskin himself could not accuse him of deficient feeling. 'This prospect' (from Montauban), he says, 'which contains a semicircle of a hundred miles in diameter, has an oceanic vastness in which the eye loses itself; an almost boundless scene of cultivation; an animated, but confused, mass of infinitely varied parts, melting gradually into the distant obscure, from which emerges the amazing frame of the Pyrenees, rearing their silvered heads far above the clouds.' Young, one cannot doubt after reading this and other passages, would have been in these days an honorary member of the Alpine Club, as well as of his numerous foreign agricultural societies.

There is, indeed, one exception to his enthusiasm. He would not have accepted Scott's love of the heather. He always speaks of 'heather and ling' with a kind of personal animosity. They are signs of the abomination of desolation. His criticism of French chateaux shows both sentiments. He is shocked, and with sufficient reason, at the game-preserving wastes which surround them; but he is also disgusted, in a minor degree, by the want of proper landscape-gardening. Their great houses are often built in the purlieus of a town; and what might be made into beautiful grounds abandoned to the baser purposes of stables or other utilitarian erections. Young naturally has the eye of the country gentleman, as his successor Cobbett had the eye of the practical farmer. Neither could take the simply sentimental view; and in each, therefore, a most genuine love of country scenery is combined with an almost fanatical horror of a waste. Young would have sympathised with Cobbett's denunciation of the 'accursed hill' of Hindhead, which some of us now find to possess certain charms; or have approved Defoe's remark, that Bagshot Heath had been placed by Providence so near to London in order to rebuke the pride of Englishmen by showing that the heart of their own country could be as desolate as a Scottish moor. Young, however, approved what Cobbett has begun to dread, the application to agriculture of the same spirit which was creating the manufacturing system. His ideal was the improving landlord. He accepts Gulliver's maxim that the man who could make two blades of grass grow where one had grown before, could deserve more of his country than all the politicians put together. Young had, as he said, passed his life up to fifty in trying to fulfil that duty; and he was not less energetic afterwards. It sums up his whole code of conduct. Every political and economical project was to be estimated by its tendency to increase the produce of agriculture. Other ends are secondary. The sight of land which might bear corn and only produced ling vexes his very soul. He regarded Enfield Chase as a simple 'nuisance'—a scandal to the Government of the country,—and he calculates that Salisbury Plain might be made to grow food for the whole population. For sympathy, again, he looked to the country gentleman. Not one farmer in five thousand, he complains, ever read a book; he is not foolish enough to waste his missionary zeal upon them; but the country happily abounds with gentlemen-farmers, and they are the sources of all improvement. His heroes are Tull, who introduced turnips; and Weston, who introduced clover; and Lord Townshend and Mr. Allen, who introduced marling into Norfolk. Wherever he sees a gentleman who has the sense to devote himself to such labours, he pours out blessings on his head. I do not know whether he is most enthusiastic over the Marquis of Rockingham, who had taught the farmers of Yorkshire to grow better crops; or over the Duke of Bridgewater, whose great canal was among the first symptoms of the great manufacturing development of Lancashire. He has an incarnation of the spirit of improvement which was transforming England in his days; and there is something pleasant in his sanguine optimism as to public affairs, when his own little enterprises were anything but prosperous. The darker side of the great industrial revolution which was to alarm Cobbett was still hidden from him. The growth of pauperism, which began with war and famine at the end of the century, was still in the future. In the earlier period all patriots were still lamenting over an imaginary decline of the population, which could not be disproved by the imperfect statistics of the time. Young has to meet their jeremiads by rather conjectural figures, as well as by his own observations of growing prosperity on all sides. His views are often oddly different from those which came up with the next generation. He denounces the poor-laws partly on the familiar ground that they are demoralising incentives to idleness. But he hates them still more because they were, as he puts it, 'framed in the very spirit of depopulation.' He reckons it as one of the great advantages of Ireland that the absence of poor-laws encourages a rapid increase of the numbers of the people. No one could speak more warmly of the importance of improving the condition of the poor in Ireland and elsewhere, but he has no thought of the dangers which alarmed Malthus and the later economists. The one merit of the old poor-laws according to them was that the parishes had an interest in checking the growth of the population. That, according to Young, was the cardinal vice of the system. The great aim of the statesman should be an increase of population. The way to increase population is to take all fetters from industry. Cultivate waste lands; turn Salisbury Plain into arable fields; carry cultivation, as Macaulay hoped we should do, to the top of Helvellyn and Ben Nevis; make roads and canals; introduce threshing-machines and steam-engines, and population will increase with the means of employment. He is a little puzzled at times by the conflict of interests. Low wages, he remarks, are good for the employer; and he observes that, in London, wages are high. Therefore, he argues, the statesman should limit the size of London. There are other reasons for this. London is a devouring gulf; the deaths greatly exceed the births; it is actually eating away population, and should somehow be kept down in the interests of agriculture. Another symptom which vexes Young's soul is the enormous consumption of tea. Tea, in the first place, is debilitating generally, and therefore tends to diminish numbers; and, in the second place, it is unfavourable to agriculture. If all the money spent upon tea were spent upon corn, enough corn could be raised, as he calculates, to support four millions of people. Finally, the money spent upon tea is all thrown away upon the Chinese instead of supporting British industry. He is following the lead of Jonas Hanway, whose arguments to the same effect had provoked Johnson's famous eulogy upon his favourite beverage. Young was evidently rather vague in his political economy; though it would be unfair to take some of these obiter dicta, thrown out on the spur of the moment, as his definite conclusions. In another respect, Young is very unlike his followers. How are we to get rich? he asks; and his answer is, by increasing our debt of 140 millions to 200 millions. The additional sum, he explains, is to be spent on reclaiming waste lands. He wishes Government to interfere energetically, and complains bitterly that English statesmen have always neglected agriculture. England, as he tells a French friend, 'has had many Colberts but not one Sully.' Our husbandry has flourished in the teeth of our Ministers, and is far from what it would be had it received the same attention as trade and manufactures. Once more, to make two blades grow in the place of one is the ultimate object of all rational conduct, the tendency to produce that result the criterion of all policy, and energy in bringing it about the duty of all ministers, politicians, and private persons. All good things will follow.

Young's devoted and unflagging zeal, and his sanguine confidence in his principles is equally attractive, whatever the inconsistencies or rashness of his speculations. This must be remembered in reading his French travels. Young is generally cited as justifying the Revolution, and his later recantation regarded as one of the many instances of inconsistency due to the Reign of Terror. It must be observed, however, and it certainly does not diminish the value of his evidence, that Young was never a thorough political follower of the revolutionists. His real sympathy was with his Anglomaniac friends, Liancourt and his like. The question is, as he says in 1789, whether the French will adopt the British Constitution with improvements, or listen to speculative theorists. The result in the latter case would be 'inextricable confusion and civil wars.' Young's great merit is precisely that he records his impressions of fact so vividly and candidly that the value of his evidence is quite independent of the correctness of his political conclusions. I will not ask what those conclusions should be. Young's point of view is the characteristic point for us. The French conditions inverted his English experience. In England he has to be constantly lamenting the want of roads; but what roads there were were thronged. In France there are magnificent roads, but 'circulation is stagnant.' In Languedoc he passes 'an incredible number of splendid bridges and many superb causeways,' but a certain Croix Blanche is an 'execrable receptacle of filth, vermin, impudence, and imposition,' presided over by 'a withered hag, the demon of beastliness.' Not a carriage is to be had. In England you have towns of 3000 people cut off from all high-roads, yet with clean inns, civil hosts, and a postchaise ready at a moment's notice. Young wishes to have both the energetic Government and the energy of private enterprise. He admires the great public works of France, but is stirred to wrath by the apathy of the individual Frenchman. Though he is constantly acknowledging the courtesy of Frenchmen, and their superiority in many points of refinement, he is oddly annoyed by their taciturnity. He can never get any adequate conversation at a table d'hote. Possibly the excellent Young, who was clearly ready to talk to anybody, was a little impeded in France by the fact that (as we learn from Miss Burney) his knowledge of the language was limited, and he filled up any gaps by inserting English words with an imitation of the French accent. He could certainly make a speech under pressure, for he describes how he once pacified a suspicious mob, which thought that the inquisitive traveller must be devising schemes for taxation. He pointed out that in his own country the rich were taxed for the poor,—there was some good in the poor-laws, after all! But a further explanation is suggested by his lamentation over the surprising ignorance of their own affairs in the provinces. There were no newspapers and no political talk, even at the exciting times of the Revolution. Petty English tradesmen, he declares, were talking about the last news from France all over the country, before any interest in the matter had spread to the people directly affected. In English counties the newspaper circulated from the squire's hall to the farmer or the small artisan; but the French seigneurs formed no centres of superior enlightenment. They crowded into the towns and spent their rents upon the theatres; they only visited the country when they were banished; and then they turned great districts into mere wildernesses to be roamed over by boars, wolves, and deer. They made one blade grow where two had grown before. Young admired the English country gentleman as the active supporter and originator of all improvements. His French rival was a mere incubus, an effete 'survival.' In France, according to Young, half, if not two-thirds of the land was already in the hands of small proprietors. Peasants supplied the industry, and carried out what improvements there were. They illustrated his famous phrase, 'The magic of property turns sand to gold.' Meanwhile the great seigneurs do nothing; they receive quit-rents and enforce tallies and corvées, and all the oppressive incidents of feudal tenure. Young accordingly transfers to the peasantry the sympathy which in England he felt for the country gentleman. He did not object to the large proprietor as such; but to the proprietor, large or small, who did not do his duty by his property. He draws up an indictment against the French nobility, which is all the more impressive because it does not imply any preconceived political theories. At one moment he even approves of the French peasantry for seizing waste lands by force, and even wishes that the English peasantry were authorised to take similar steps. After all, waste land is the great evil of the world. But it is quite intelligible that from his point of view the actual course of affairs in France should have convinced him that too high a price might be paid even for the appropriation of a waste. In England, Young's zeal for agricultural improvements was never qualified. It must, he was clear, be good for everybody. He tells landlords that they are foolish for boasting of not raising their rents. To raise rents (within limits, he admits) is the best way of stimulating industry. His ideal person is a certain wonderful collier. The owner of the property had tried to improve the condition of his workmen by giving them small allotments of waste land. One of them worked from midnight till noon in the mine, and after his twelve hours spent eight more upon improving his bit of land, removing gigantic stones, and finally turning nine or ten acres into cultivated fields. Young celebrates this extraordinary feat of labouring twenty hours a day for several years with characteristic enthusiasm, and offers to receive subscriptions for the hero, which, we will hope, enabled the poor man to be less industrious.

At a splenetic moment during his French travels, Young, riding on a blind mare, just misses a meeting with Charles Fox, who had excited the wonder of the natives by his modesty in travelling with nothing but a postchaise, a cabriolet for his servants, and a courier to order horses. 'A plague on a blind mare!' exclaims Young; 'but I have worked through life, and he (that is, Fox) talks!' Young had talked a good deal too, especially on paper; but his momentary grumble was pardonable. His '3000 experiments,' and his various attempts to get out of perpetual anxiety had brought him little but reputation. George III., indeed, sent him a merino ram, much to his satisfaction; it proved that the king had just views of glory, and that a period was coming when 'more homage' would be paid to a prince for giving 'a ram to a farmer than for wielding a sceptre.' George III. soon found it necessary to devote more time to his sceptre than to his rams; but Young's career was more affected, happily or otherwise, by another influence. Sir John Sinclair was an ideal representative of the dismal science. He atoned for being an intolerable bore by doing some excellent work. He inherited a large estate in Caithness, and began his reign by assembling his tenants and making in one day a road over an inaccessible hill; and he set to work enclosing, rearranging farms, introducing fisheries, and generally rousing the primitive Gaelic population to a sense of the advantages of civilisation. He promoted agricultural societies, and introduced the 'long sheep' into the Highlands. His son tells us that due regard was paid in his improvements to the interests of the poor; that a tide of prosperity set in, and population increased rapidly. At any rate, Sinclair translated into practice Young's most cherished principles. Sinclair sat at the feet of Adam Smith; and travelled to Sweden and Russia in search of information; and wrote a History of the Revenue; and became a Member of Parliament. He began, in 1791, to publish a book of great value, the Statistical Account of Scotland. He is said to have been the first person to introduce the word 'statistical' into English; and this book, a collection of reports from the ministers of all the Scottish parishes, was of great importance at a time when people did not even know for certain whether population was increasing or declining. Sinclair, in 1793, persuaded Pitt to start the 'Board of Agriculture.' Arthur Young had bet the nineteen volumes of his Annals against the twenty-one of Sinclair's Statistical Account that Pitt would not consent.[4] He lost the bet, to his great satisfaction; for, though the Minister would only allow £3000 a year, Young was made secretary with a salary of £400. Now, with the help of Sinclair, he could set to work and, on however modest a scale, Government would at last set about producing those two blades of grass. Their first aim was to do in England what Sinclair had done in Scotland. The English clergy were to be asked to rival the Scottish ministers. But here occurred a significant difficulty. One of Young's pet theories was that tithes were an intolerable burthen to agriculture. He would not confiscate them, but would commute them for an increase of glebe. The English clergy, he explains, had so little to do that they naturally took to dancing and sporting, if not to still less decorous pursuits. Agriculture was the natural employment for them, as, indeed, it was the ideal occupation for every one. The clergy, however, suspected, not unnaturally, that gentlemen of these views might be insidiously attacking the tithes, and would probably be putting awkward questions. The Archbishop of Canterbury protested; and the Board had to be less inquisitive, and confined itself in this direction to publishing a number of reports upon the agriculture of counties. They tried, however, to promote their grand object by other means. The worthy Sinclair once made a joke—not, it is true, of the first water; but still, as it was his only joke, he naturally repeated it as often as possible. This was to give as a toast, 'May commons become uncommon!' He fully shared Young's mania. What is the use, he would inquire, of conquering colonies? Let us first conquer Finchley Common, and compel Epping Forest to 'submit to the yoke of improvement.' His son claims for him the merit of actually making the suggestion which led to the enclosure of Hounslow Heath. With all their energy, Sinclair and Young could never persuade Parliament to pass a General Enclosure Bill; but they claimed to have facilitated the process which went on so rapidly in their time. The common field system, the source of all slovenly agriculture according to him, was very rapidly broken up. Meanwhile, it is to be feared, the Board became rather a nuisance. It was a rather anomalous body, with no very definite functions; and it went about like an intrusive busybody, trying to stir up people in general by every means in its power. It offered premiums for inventions, and encouraged scientific writers to give lectures and produce books, and held meetings where good agriculturists might make each other's acquaintance; but it is said to have ultimately become a kind of political debating society, and finally expired (1822) two years after Young's death. In spite of their agreement upon the main point, Young soon found the chief of the new board to be far from congenial. Sinclair was a pushing, self-seeking person, stingy in money matters, industrious in the wrong direction, and as anxious to establish his own claims as to promote the true interests of agriculture. Young was relieved when for a time Sinclair was superseded. He returned to be tried, however, 'under promises of good behaviour,' at a time (1805) when Young was threatened with blindness and falling into melancholy.

Sinclair about 1810 returned to Scotland, where he got a good appointment and leisure for liberally bestowing his tediousness upon his countrymen and the world. He got up Highland games; promoted the use of the bagpipes, and defended the authenticity of Ossian. He gave advice to Scott in literary matters. He expounded his opinions in numerous pamphlets—his son gives a list of 367 of these productions,—and, finding the employment insufficient, spent his spare time in composing four gigantic cyclopædias, which were to codify all human knowledge upon health, agriculture, religion, and political economy. The first two alone were published, and I confess that I have not read nor even seen them. It appears, however, from The Edinburgh Review (October 1807) that the first fills four volumes of 800 closely printed pages apiece; marked, as the reviewer asserts, in the good old style, by 'indistinctness,' 'incredible credulity,' 'mawkish morality,' 'marvellous ignorance and a 'display of the most diffuse, clumsy, and superficial reasoning.' The reviewer gives as specimens Sinclair's remarks upon the advantage of taking butter with fish; and his proof that, although the stomach is an organ not remarkable for external elegance, it not the less requires careful attention in consequence of its delicate structure. Sinclair probably opposed a good solid stolidity to this heartless levity. He proposed that his work should be translated into the principal languages of Europe, and promised that it should add from ten to thirty years to the life of every attentive reader. Apparently he had the reward appropriate to gentle dulness, for it is said that five editions were sold—a sufficient answer to any review. Sinclair survived till 1835.

Meanwhile Arthur Young had a more pathetic end. His secretaryship had taken him to London, there his handsome presence and open-hearted, cordial ways made him acceptable in society, which he heartily enjoyed. But his life was cruelly darkened. He was tenderly attached to his youngest daughter 'Bobbin,' to whom, in her infancy, he wrote pleasant little letters, and whom he never forgot in his travels. 'I have more pleasure,' he says at the end of his first tour in France, 'in giving my little girl a French doll than in viewing Versailles,' and 'viewing Versailles' was no small pleasure to him. Her death in 1797 struck a blow after which he never quite recovered his cheerfulness. His friends thought that a blindness which soon followed was due to 'excess of weeping,' I do not know whether physicians would regard this as a possible cause of cataract. An operation for this disease was performed eleven years later, and recovery promised on condition of calmness. Wilberforce, coming to see him, told him of the death of the Duke of Grafton, now chiefly remembered by the abuse of Junius. The duke, however, became serious in his later years, and was one of Young's improving landlords. Anyhow, the news, or Wilberforce's comments, provoked a burst of tears which was fatal to Young's hopes of recovery. He retired to his native village, and sought for consolation in religious practices. He had upon the loss of his daughter studied religious books for sixteen or seventeen hours a day, and had been profoundly affected by Wilberforce's Practical View of Christianity. As he was forced to retire from business, he became a more zealous disciple, and tried to propagate his faith. He published little selections from the works of Baxter and Owen, and preached on Sunday evenings in a hall at Bradfield. 'There is still living (1889) a nonagenarian at Bradfield,' writes Miss Betham, 'who remembers his sermons.' The blind old man 'would get his back turned to his audience, and have to be put straight by his daughter and secretary.' He still worked at his favourite pursuit, and left ten folio volumes in manuscript of a History of Agriculture. He died 20th April 1820. The nonagenarian of 1889 is by this time, if he survives, probably a centenarian; but it is curious to reflect that we have still among us men of active minds whose careers overlap Young's. His enthusiasm refers to a strangely altered state of things. What he would think of the present state of England, of modern London, of the imports of tea, of the growth of population, and of agricultural depression, it is needless to conjecture. No doubt he would admit that some of his predictions have turned out badly, but he would perhaps hold not the less that he was right in making them. The short-sightedness of the most intelligent observers suggests comfort when one studies some modern prophets.

  1. Here and there the notes might be a little fuller, and some information might have been gleaned from a biographical dictionary. Thus, for example, the Anti-Jacobin mentioned at page 362 was not the famous journal edited by Gifford of the Quarterly, but its successor, a monthly magazine edited by a different Gifford. Readers might have been reminded that the 'Porcupine' mentioned in the same place was the famous Cobbett, still in his unregenerate days, and supposed to be inspired by the Tories. Young himself appears to have confused the two Giffords. 'Peter Pindar' did so, when he, to his cost, tried to horsewhip W. Gifford for an attack really made in the magazine of John Gifford. This confusion constantly reappears, and may be just worth a warning word.
  2. See also Young's statement in Annals of Agriculture, vol. xv.
  3. George III. was believed by Bentham to have been his anonymous antagonist in a newspaper controversy, and to this circumstance the philosopher attributed the king's lasting antipathy to the famous 'Panopticon.' Bentham, I guess, was the victim of a practical joke in this instance; but Young appears to speak from knowledge.—Autobiography, p. 112.
  4. A brief and interesting History of the Board of Agriculture has just been published by Sir Ernest Clarke, secretary to the Royal Agricultural Society.