A farmer's son.

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The publication of an essay on tlie question of the agri-
cultural labourer has long been in contemplation by the
writer of the following pages, in order to meet — though
it may be only in a small degree — the unfair representations
to wliich agriculturists have so long been subjected.

The substance of what is contained in this Essay was,

in great part, written several years ago ; and it has been

carefully re-considered in connection with the events

which have recently taken place in the agricultural


F. H. D.

June, 1873.


In the present day, much is said about advance, progress,
and civilization. And with these ideas constantly before
the mind, people are apt to indulge in a feeling of profound
self-satisfaction when they read of the fallacies and false
beliefs of earlier ages. And, doubtless, this is a feeling
very gratifying to human vanity.

Yet, at the present time, there are multitudes of people
in this country, who, with all simplicity and sincerity,
are cherishing beliefs almost as baseless and absurd as
some of those of earlier ages. The popular idea respecting
the agricultural labourer is little better than a myth.

Nor need we w^ondcr at the existence of false beliefs at
the present time. There is nothing new under the sun,
neither is there anything old. All ages have had their
false beliefs, and it is not surprising that this fact is true
of the nineteenth century.

But false beliefs cannot last for ever in England, any
more than they could in ancient Greece or ancient Home.
It requires a hard struggle to get people to accept the
truth, especially when the truth makes against their own
interest, or their own self-esteem. And, in this country,
such has been the feeling with regard to the land, that it

seems almost as though people would for ever close their
ears against hearing the truth on agricultural questions.
Still, (but, oh! how late!), people are beginning to open
their eyes to the truth respecting the agricultural labourer.
There are signs of hope when an advanced liberal paper
says, " There are counties where the agricultural labourer
can live in decency and comfort ; " and when an organ
specially devoted to the interests of the working classes
says, ''It is the opinion of the Industrial Employment
Association that agricultural labourers, as a class, have
the surest prospect of ultimate competence and prosperity
at home and in the colonies."

The extension of education, cheap postage, the electric
telegraph, even the press, and especially increased facilities
for inter- communication, have done something to open
men's minds to the truth on this question, and towards
dispelling those grotesque ideas of rural life which have so
long held possession of the public mind. There has been
an interminghng of persons, and there has been an inter-
change of thought. Many of the agricultural population
have come from the country to town ; and many of the
town population — such as those who formerly were shut up
in towns, and often almost confined to their own streets —
have gone forth and seen for themselves something of real
rural Hfe, and are beginning to learn with their eyes that
which formerly their ears refused to hear, or which reached
them only in its misrepresented form. The meetings of
agricultural societies have greatly aided the process. And
the recent movement on the part of the labourers themselves,
has done more perhaps than anything else to show the
falseness and absurdity of the popular views respecting the
agricultural labourer.

And so, by various means, and in various ways, rays of
light on this question are being diffused. Gradually the
the truth is forcing itself home. Still, the myth lingers,
and is likely to linger — as all fallacies do — long after the
general belief has passed away. But, though it lingers, it
is going, and must soon be practically gone. Many old
ideas have given way to new ; and this old belief is giving
way to a truer and a more accurate estimate of the
agricultural labourer, just as the belief in witchcraft and
in portents of nature, has given way to a truer and purer
belief, both rehgious and scientific. With the advance of
the knowledge of facts, the truth — the real truth — will
force itself to the front, in spite of all opposition. And,
if once the truth on this subject is known, the public mind
will be disabused of one long- cherished error, and an act
of justice will be done to the employers of agricultural

The subject of the agricultural labourer has long engaged
public attention ; and the events of the past year have
brought it forward with especial prominence. We have
been constantly hearing comparisons between his position
and that of other labourers, much to his disadvantage.
We have been constantly hearing of the prosperity and the
intelligence of the town labourer, and of the poverty and
the ignorance of the agricultural labourer. The former
has been held up as the embodiment of prosperity and
intelligence, the latter as the embodiment of misery and
stupidity. Comparisons have been drawn to show that the

position of the agricultural labourer is wretched beyond
that of all others ; and he himself has been represented
as physically, mentally, and morally inferior to all other
classes of' the community ; while charges, j:he most grave,
have been brought against landlords and farmers in con-
nection with this subject. "Writers in public papers,
religious teachers, platform orators, and a host of lesser
magnates, have joined in the same outcry. No terms have
been too strong to represent the state of the agricultural
labourer as degraded and poverty-stricken; and no terms
too strong to denounce those who are charged with having
brought about, or at least perpetuated, this state.

But, unfortunately, only one side of this question has
hitherto been heard. The press, the pulpit, and the
platform, have been almost entirely in the hands of people
not engaged in agriculture ; and who, to say the least,
have spoken with insufficient information. Except that
occasionally some one has, in the face of public opinion,
dared to defend the position and character of the agricul-
tural labourer, the public discussion of this question has
been carried on mainly by people who neither know the
agricultural labourer nor have to pay him, and who,
unhappily, have too often made it their business to be
antagonistic to everything and everybody connected with
the land. Agriculturists have had no chance of defending
themselves, and that has been accepted as truth which has
been the most loudly proclaimed.

And it is a melancholy thought that the statements
made on this subject have gone forth to the whole country,
and not to this country only, but to the whole world, and
have been actually believed.

Xow, we ask, is it right, is it just, nay, is it wise to speak
on questions before investigating the facts? Surely the
first thing to be done by a man who would discuss a
question is to make himself thoroughly acquainted with
the facts. And on agricultural questions, facts have been
systematically ignored.

Now this is a question which requires to be looked
at fully.

It is well known to those acquainted wdth the subject
that agricultural affairs, to be understood, must be taken
as a whole. They are unique. They stand on a basis
separate and distinct from that of all others : in fact,
persons not acquainted with them have not the slightest idea
of them. To form a correct judgment on the question of
the agricultural labourer, there are many points to be con-
sidered. To deal fairly with it, it must be looked at in
all its entirety. It is not enough to quote individual
cases, or the position of individual labourers ; all the
circumstances connected with the general subject must
be taken into consideration. And the proof must be
proof of its own kind. It will not do to apply commercial
principles to the question : and there is nothing strange or
unnatural in this. The fact is, in treating of any question,
the mode of treatment must be 'sui generis. You can
no more judge of agricultural questions by commercial
principles, than you can judge of chemical questions by
mathematical principles, or a question of religious experi-
ence by scientific principles. A mathematical question
must be treated on mathematical principles, and a chemical

question on cliemical principles. A mathematical proofs
though, perfect in its own case, would be quite useless
to solve a chemical question, or a chemical proof to solve
a mathematical question. Just so with agriculture —
agricultural questions must be treated on agricultural

We cannot admit, however, that the burden of proof
on this question lies on the side of farmers ; for a man
is not bound to answer every charge that may be brought
against him, otherwise he might be constantly engaged in
rebutting charges. The oniiH 2)rohandi lies on the other
side. But since these charges have been so long followed
up, are still being made, and are of so serious a nature,
it may be for their own satisfaction to do so ; and, indeed,
farmers gladly accept any opportunity of defending them-

Nor can we admit that we are bound to meet the
demands of self-constituted judges and critics. "We cannot
admit that we are bound to accept their standard, any
more than they are bound to accept ours. Though we
assert that our standard of life for the labourer is quite
as high as theirs.

Farmers are often blamed for the state of the agricultural
labourer. But the fact is, it is a state which has gradually
grown up in the natural course of events. It is better
than preceding states ; and if it is unsatisfactory, all that
can be said about it is that the world has not improved so
fast as we could have wished. A change has been going
on in the agricultural world. This change is due to the
general circumstances of the times ; and the causes which
have led to it have been quietly working for some years.
It will go on in proportion to its own inherent life. It

needs not the assistance of agitators, nor the help of
officious friends. And, on the other hand, if it has vitality,
resistance will be ineffectual to stop it. Further than
this, and a fact of more importance, it does not even con-
demn the past. Heart-burnings, recriminations, and hard
speeches, are unnecessary. It is the old giving place to
new — the new suited to the new circumstaoccs in perhaps
about the same degree as the old was suited to the old
circumstances ; but in its turn probably destined to become
the old, and then give place to a future new.

Undoubtedly there is much room for improvement in the
agricultural world, as in the other sections of the com-
munity. And farmers are prepared to meet the requirements
of the new condition of things. But when an indictment
is brought against the whole body of farmers on the ground
of unsatisfactoriness in the state of the agricultural labourer,
they repel the indictment. If the state has been, or is,
unsatisfactor}^, farmers never caused it ; they had not the
power to alter it ; they do not wish to perpetuate it ; and
if it is altered they will be gainers by the alteration.

The facts of the case are simply these : — In times past
there was a large surplus population in the agricultural
districts. These had to be provided for. Our manufacturing,
commercial, and mining transactions were very limited,
compared with what they now are. Emigration was
availed of to a much smaller extent than at present. Con-
sequently the surplus population was not withdrawn from
the agricultural districts. The natural result was that
wages were low. But on the other hand the number of
labourers employed was large in proportion to the work
done and to the value of the produce. In addition to this,
many who were not employed had to be maintained, to a


great extent, at the expense of farmers. So tliat it was
not a cheap state of affairs for farmers. It was not a state
which they had any reason to wish to perpetuate on money
grounds. The state of the labourer was the natural out-
come of circumstances ; and these were circumstances which,
so far as regards the farmer, do not seem to be fully met
by the ordinary laws of supply and demand; inasmuch
as the people had to be maintained, chiefly by the land,
whether they were required for labour or not. The problem
which agriculturists had to solve was not a question as to
what rate of wages would pay best. It was not a question
which could be decided by abstract principles of pohtical
economy. The state of affairs was an absolute necessity.
It may be better to pay six men twenty shillings a week
each than to pay ten men twelve shillings each, but then it
must be only on condition that the other four are not left
to starve, but have been previously provided for.

At the present time there is great commercial prosperity.
Moreover, the facilities for emigration are numerous, and
are largely availed of ; consequently the surplus population
is drained off from the rural districts. Besides which there
have been great improvements in agriculture. The natural
effect of these changes is now, and may be still further
in the future, an increase in the wages of agricultural
labourers. But there is no reason to think that hereafter
labour will be relatively more costly to farmers than it has
been in the past ; rather the reverse.

And this new condition of things will be decidedly better
both for farmer and labourer ; and the tendency of things
should always be towards perfection. And the only point
we urge is this, that, though this state may be better than
the past, farmers could not have brought it about them-


selves. It is absolutely necessary for people to adapt
themselves, to some extent, to the circumstances in which
they are placed. It would be unwise to endeavour forcibly
and prematurely to break through a system to which
labourers have been long accustomed. It would be unwise
to suddenly introduce a plan for which people are not pre-
pared. It is better that events should be left to unfold
themselves in their natural order. Indeed, a radical change
in the social condition of a large body of the people, or a
radical change in a long- established system, can only take
place by a gradual process, and it must be the natural
outcome of circumstances. When a movement for such a
change does come, it is irresistible ; and if allowed to work
in its natural course, both employer and employed fall in
with it naturally, or at least they quickly learn to adapt
themselves to it.

But though the surplus population is being drawn off
from the agricultural districts, and though the change
which is taking place promises to produce a state better
than the past, no one knows when wc may have a return
of the old state. And it is quite conceivable that in the
future a condition of things may arise in which we may
be glad to return even to the feudal or co-operative system ;
just as in some international disputes we have returned to
the system of arbitration. We have no reason to feel sure
that our national prosperity will continue for ever. We
have no reason to feel sure that trade and commerce will
always flourish with us. Our stores of mineral wealth may
fail ; and trade and commerce may desert our shores as
they have deserted other countries. Should this occur,
with a large population in a small country, what would
become of the people ? A vast body would be thrown out


of employ. Now, it is not a man's business Lere to amass
wealth ; but, at least to some extent, man is his brother's
keeper, and is bound to preserve his fellow-creature from
starving, if in his power to do so. But the closed factories
and the deserted mines could not contribute to the support
of the needy, and hence the burden would fall on the land.
The people would have to be supported, chiefly by the land,
either vdth. work or else without work. The money available
for their support would be limited, even though pushed to
the extreme point, as it has been in the past in the case of
farmers. And if a larger number have to be maintained
out of the same amount of money as had formerly been
divided among a smaller number, the amount for each must
be less. The natural consequence would be a return of
that state which has already existed, and which has been so
much decried ; not that the farmer wished it ; not that he
would be a gainer by it ; not that he had wrong ideas on
the subject of political economy ; but because circumstances
made it inevitable. If this is not likely to be the case in
the future, it is possible ; and at least it helps to explain
the past.

After all that has been written and said on this subject ;
after the many and serious charges that have been made ;
how is it that farmers still persevere in the same course ?
Surely it would have been impossible for them thus to
persevere year after year if the case had been as it has been
represented. The answer is simple : The spirit of a man
will sustain him. There is a faith which will enable a
man to face the whole world ; and when a man knows he's


right, you may bring a thousand charges against him, and
they will not move him ; if he knows that they are not
founded on truth, he will ho able to bear them all. Farmers
have this faith. And in all life's problems the men of
faith will win.

Again, if it be true that town labourers are so much
better off than agricultural labourers, if it be true that
they are in such a thriving condition, how is it that wo
hear such a continual complaint ^ Surely it is strange
that with all their money, and all their intelligence, there
is such a constant outcry, and that often for the very
means of subsistence. Whence come all these murmurs
which for ever fill our ears ? We hear of distress, discontent,
grumbling, strikes with all their attendant evils, trade
disputes, ill-feeling between class and class, want of employ-
ment or emplo}Tiient which hardly yields the means of
subsistence, and other evils. In spite of all that is said
about high wages, there cannot be a doubt of the existence
in our large towns of a lamentable state of destitution and

And if these people are so intelligent, how is it they have
not done something better for themselves ? Surely there is
something wrong in the system, and agriculturists may
well be on their guard against those who wish to introduce
the commercial system into the agricultural districts.

In considering this question, the following points deserve
notice ; and they seem almost as though they must in
themselves be sufficient to convince any impartial mind :

The public statements made on this subject come almost


exclusively from people unconnected with agriculture, who
neither know the agricultural labourer nor have to pay

As these statements come chiefly from one side, the best
cases of town labourers have been given, and the worst
cases of agricultural labourers — the highest paid in the
former case, and the lowest paid in the latter.

"When people unconnected with agriculture become
connected with it, and thus have a chance of seeing for
themselves and of knowing the truth, they generally confess
that they have been mistaken on this subject.

But there are three main points to be considered :

(1) Money is not a perfect standard by which to esti-

mate the position of the agricultural labourer.

(2) The pay and position of the agricultural labourer.

(3) The ratio of wages to profits.

Money is not a perfect standard by which to estimate
the position of the agricultural labourer. And it is very
necessary to insist on this point, for we are continually
hearing the money wages (or the supposed money wages)
of agricultural labourers compared with the money wages
of other labourers, as if it were merely a question of money,
and as if money had the same value everywhere.

It may be very well to refer to the money wages of the
agricultural labourer, if the whole subject is understood ;
but to quote those wages as a perfect index of his position
can only lead to false conclusions.

Money is not, nor can it be, a perfect standard of com-
parison by which to judge of the relative positions of two
men, except those two men live under exactly similar
circumstances, and the prices of all articles for which they
have to pay are the same to each. If money alone is to


be the standard of comparison, then both circumstances
and prices must be the same to place two people with the
same amount of money in the same position. Thus, if two
men are engaged in a profession, under the same circum-
stances, and one makes £2,000 a year and the other
£4,000, it may fairly be said that the position of the
latter is twice as good as that of the former. Or, if there
are two tradesmen in the same street, and in the same
class of trade, and one makes £300 a year and the other
£600, it may fairly be said that the position of the latter
is twice as good as that of the former. Similarly, if there
are two workmen living and working under similar cir-
cumstances, one earning £1 and the other £2 a week, in
this case also, as in the preceding two, the relative positions
may be judged of by a purely money standard, and the
position of the latter may fairly be said to be twice as good
as that of the former. In each of these three cases the
conditions given are similar : hence the justice of the
comparison on a money basis. In all three cases money is
a fair standard, because the people compared live under
the same circumstances. But, in cases in which the con-
ditions are not similar, a just comparison can only be
established by taking into consideration all the circum-
stances connected with each side, and giving a just weight
to each and to all. Certainly, money is not a just and
perfect standard of comparison between two classes so
differently situated as town labourers and agricultural
labourers. It is quite a fallacy to compare these two
merely by their money wages, the whole of the circum-
stances under which they live arc dissimilar; the whole
system of town life is totally difierent from that of agricul-
tural life. It is a comparison resting on a false basis.


Nor is this a principle whicli touches the labourer alone.
It is a principle running through the whole agricultural
world. Take the three classes into which the agricultural
^orld is divided ; money alone is not a just standard of
their position. It is not so in the case of the landowner.
The owner of land gets only a small money return for the
■capital invested in his land — two or three per cent., seldom
so much as three and a-half per cent. The merchant and
manufacturer, with their money invested in mercantile and
manufacturing undertakings, reap a much high percentage,
often a very much higher. Yet, taking the men of com-
mercial interests on the one side, and landowners on the other,
would anyone venture to say that the former are in any
true sense better off than the latter ? It is true they get
more money, and for the accumulation of capital they have
the advantage. And it is a fact that in the commercial
"world large money fortunes are made. But if money is only
a means to an end, then it is doubtful whether, with all
their money, they are really better off. Suppose a landed
proprietor with land which produces a clear money income
of £10,000 a year. Suppose also a merchant, whose
business produces an income of £10,000 a year. AYould
anyone say that the positions of these two, even in a
material point of view, are at all equal because their money
incomes are the same ? Look at the case. Not to speak
of leisure, wide-spread influence, and numerous social
advantages, the landowner has a mansion, park, and
gardens at his command; he has at hand rural sports,
such as riding and shooting, and many other enjoyments
and pleasures. These he accepts in lieu of a larger amount
of money, papng for them by the large amount of capital
invested. But on the other side, if the merchant wishes to


have a country mansion and park, and to have all the
pleasures of rural life for himself and family, these things
will cost him a large sum of money ; and, by the time he
has paid for them, he will find his £10,000 very much

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