T. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) Leslie.

Essays in political economy online

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English would be such as La Marche, where English idiom, too, would require us
to say the March, or the Border. There is nothing to distinguish the case of
Auvergne from that of Normandy and Brittany, where the article is omitted in
English, though used in French.'

416 Aiivergne.

fresh from Switzerland to the Limagne, likely to be moved to
the enthusiasm of Sidonius Apollinaris by its scenery; especially
just after the harvest, when its corn-fields, like shorn sheep,
are bare and nnpicturesque. But the ancient could as little
have sympathized with the modern traveller's admiration for
Switzerland. What he loved was a land of corn and wine and
fruit, and that the Limagne is. His associations with gigantic
mountains, frowning rocks, tremendous precipices, deserts of ice
and snow, were horror, hunger, danger, and death. Auvergne
itself has mountains and rocks, which, picturesque as they are,
have few charms for those to whom they are associated only with
privation and hardship. A woman, of whom I asked my way
a few weeks ago in the highlands of Mont Dore, said, ' This is
not a nice country, wit ball these mountains and rocks,' adding,
with a horizontal movement of her hand, ' I like a flat country.'
Her associations with mountain scenery were black bread with
a few chestnuts and potatoes, water unreddened with the wine
at which Michelet sneers, hard times in winter, and hot and
weary work in summer, "odth only one preservative from thirst —
not to have a habit of drinking. ' Je n'ai pas I'habitude de
boire, ainsi je n'ai pas soif,' she replied to a question suggested
by my own feelings under a burning sun. In the plain of the
Limagne she knew that the labourer often owned the ground
on which he worked, might, if he pleased, drink the juice of his
own grapes, and might, if he sold, as Michelet says, the common
apples from his orchard in a distant market, instead of eating
them himself, get 450 francs to the hectare for them, with as
much more for the grass amidst which they grew. Having heard
an old woman in a cottage in the Limagne say to a visitor, to
whom she offered a slice off a huge melon, that she was very
fond of melons, which are cheap in that region, I asked my
friend on the Mont Dore mountain if she liked them. ' Je
les aimerais mieux,' she replied, 's'ils venaient dans les

A contrast full of instruction and interest, when viewed in
relation to its causes, between the mountain and the plain in
Auvergne, is the different distribution of landed property. In

Auvergne. 417

the mountainous districts of the Puy-de-D6rae, the term large
property — la grande propriete — is applied, as a general rule,
only to properties of a hundred and fifty acres and upwards ;
properties under forty acres being there classed as la petite
propriete, and those between forty and a hundred and fifty
acres as la moyenne propriete. In the Limagne, on the other
hand, from twenty to five-and-twenty acres make a large
pi'operty in popular thought and speech, and a multitude of the
small properties do not exceed a quarter of an acre. The soil
in this fertile plain has in the last two generations, especially
the last twenty years, passed almost wholly out of the possession
of wealthier and larger owners into that of petits proprietaires,
who cultivate it with their own hands. The Report on
the Puy-de-D6me, contained in one of the twenty quarto
volumes of the ' Enquete Agricole,' after referring to the want
of capital in the mountainous parts of that department, says,
' In the plain, the want of capital does not make itself felt, in
consequence of the sale of land in small lots, which has per-
mitted of the liquidation of property by paying off mortgages ;
but the species of proprietors has changed, and the man of
means, the former proprietor, has become a capitalist, who has
invested the proceeds of his land in securities.' This diversity
in the distribution of landed property results partly from
economic causes, partly from profound differences in the feelings
and ideas generated by opposite conditions of life in mountain
and plain. The economic causes are by no means the most
interesting, but they must not be overlooked. In the moun-
tains, on the one hand, both the comparative infertiKty of the
land and the nature of pastoral husbandry tend to maintain
comparatively large farms, and to prevent their being broken
up by sale in small parcels. In the Limagne, on the other
hand, the aptitude of the soil and climate for the production of
rich plants — the vine, for example — requiring minute cultivation,
and peculiarly suited to spade- husbandry ; the rise in the price
of such productions in recent years ; the rise, moreover, of
wages — adding nothing to the expenses of the cultivator who
employs no hired labour, but heavily to those of the large

2 E

418 Auvergne.

farmer ; — the increased gains and savings of both small culti-
vators and labourers, and their consequently increased purchases
of land, make a combination of causes tending to minute
subdivision. Adam Smith, remarking that it was a matter of
dispute among the ancient Italian husbandmen whether it was
advantageous to plant new vineyards, adds, that the anxiety of
the owners of old vineyards in France in his own time to
prevent the planting of new ones indicated an opinion that the
high profits of vine-growing could last no longer than the
restrictive laws which they had procured for that purpose. The
increased growth of the vine around Clermont-Ferrand in the
last five-and-twenty years shows what the small proprietors in
the Limagne now think on the subject. In the arrondissement
of Clermont alone, between thirty and forty thousand acres of
both hill- side and plain are now covered by vineyards, which,
formerly were to be seen only on certain slopes with the best

Yet, after allowing all due weight to the causes referred to,
it remains certain that causes of a totally different order have
powerfully contributed to the maintenance of larger properties
in the mountainous districts than in the plain, namely, the
greater strength in the former of ancient usage, old family
feeling, and religious sentiment in both sexes. In the plain
both the sale of land in small plots and the partition of
inheritances by the law of succession tend to break up family
properties ; in the mountain neither has hitherto operated
considerably. The Eeport of the ' Enquete Agricole ' on the
Puy-de-D6me makes no attempt to trace to their sources the
curious diversities of usage and sentiment which it describes ;
but the description itself is worth citing. ' The transmission of
property takes place in a manner essentially different in the
plain and the mountain. In the plain an inheritance is almost
always partitioned or sold when a succession (of more than one
child) takes place ; if partitioned, each of the heirs takes a part
of each parcel ; if it is sold, it is so in detail, and by the smallest
fractions, in order the more readily to find buyers. Everything
thus contributes to indefinite subdivision in the plain. In the

Auvergne. 419

mountains they cling to the conservation of the inlieritance
unbroken, and do all that is possible in order not to destroy the
work of the family, and not to divide the paternal dwelling.
The daughters willingly consent to take religious vows, and
renounce the patrimony of their parents ; those who contract
marriage agree to leave to the head of the family their share of
the inheritance. It is the same with the sons, of whom some
become priests, others emigrate, consenting not to claim their
share of the property ; and it is one of the sons who remains at
home, working with the father and mother, who becomes in
turn proprietor of the paternal dwelling. Thus the principle of
the law of equal partition is eluded, and it comparatively
seldom happens that the other children assert their claims, so
accepted is the usage in the manners of the mountain.'

In Auvergne, as in the department of the Creuse, one
reason for the great annual migration of the peasants to the
towns, which, in France, where there is no exodus to foreign
countries, goes by the name of emigration, is doubtless the
comparative unproductiveness of mountain land. It cannot
give bread to all the young men born on it. But a more
potent reason, in Auvergne, though one less in accordance with
old economic hypotheses, is that the younger sons, as the
'Enquete Agricole' states, seek a subsistence elsewhere, in
order to leave the property undivided to the elder brother ; or
occasionally it is the elder brother who emigrates, relinquishing
his share to a younger one remaining at home. Thousands of
Auvergnats are consequently to be found labouring in remote
cities, as masons, sawyers, porters, water-carriers, blacksmiths,
chimney-sweeps ; and it is a saying in the surrounding pro-
vinces, when some hard work has to be done, ' II faut attendre
le passage des Auvergnats.'

They have a character in French towns, and French novels,
for clownishness and stupidity, derived doubtless from the
nature of their occupations, as hewers of wood and drawers
of water. But they show no lack of native shrewdness,
according to my observation, when questioned on any subject.
And M. de Lavergne remarked to me lately, that the Auvergnat

2 E 2

420 Auvergne.

displays more sagacity in timing his migration than the peasant
of his own department, the Creuse — M. de Lavergne is deputy
for the Creuse — does. The Auvergnat leaves his home at the
beginning of winter, when the country is buried in snow,
returning in summer, when work of different kinds is going on.
The Creuse peasant, on the other hand, goes to Paris, Lyons, or
some other town, when summer is coming on, and comes back
in winter, when there is nothing to do. Michelet taunts the
Auvergne emigrants with bringing back some money, but
no new ideas. The sum they bring to the poor department of
the Cantal is put at five million francs (£200,000) a-year, in
the Report of the ' Enquete Agricole ' on that department — a sum
hardly to be despised. But the renunciation by the emigrants
of their share in the family property certainly shows, if not an
extraordinary imperviousness to new ideas, an extraordinary
tenacity of old ones, and in particular of two ideas which are
among the oldest in human society — subordination to the male
head of the family, and conservation of the family property,
unalienated and unpartitioned. The number of younger sons
from these mountains who become priests is a still more
remarkable phenomenon, though traceable in the main to the
same causes. M. Bonnet, of Clermont-Ferrand, being asked in
the course of his evidence before the ' Enquete Agricole,' what
was the proportion of young men in the plain and the moun-
tains, respectively, of the Puy-de Dome, who devoted themselves
to the clerical profession, replied, ' In the Limagne very few
young men devote themselves to the religious profession. It is
from the mountains they come. Half the clergy of the diocese
come from the arrondissement of Ambert.'

A few weeks ago, I happened myself to sit beside a party of
priests at dinner, and learned that four out of the six were born
in the Auvergne mountains, which likewise contribute largely
to recruit the convents with nuns. M. Bonnet, being asked
whether the mountain families do not induce the daughters to
take religious vows, in order to prevent the partition of the
family estate, replied, ' To that I answer in the affirmative.
The parents, in consequence of the piety which reigns in the

Auvergne. 421

mountains, are not sorry to see their daughters embrace the
religious profession, and at the same time to see the family
property thereby less divided. In general, the eldest son
remains at home, and the father frequently leaves to him the
part disposable by will. And when a daughter enters a convent,
if the portion she brings to it does not absorb her share in the
inheritance, she on her side usually makes her will in favour of
the already favoured brother.'

Thus in the Auvergne mountains at this day, ' the younger
brother sinks into the priest,' just as Sir Henry Maine describes
him as doing under the influence of primogeniture in feudal
society. The daughter, too, enters the convent just as she did
in the middle ages, and from the same causes which actuated
her then — family sentiment and male primogeniture on the one
hand, and * the piety which reigns in the mountains' on the other
hand, which is, in fact, a survival of mediseval piety, preserved
by certain conditions of life and environment. A reason, it is
true, sometimes assigned for the number of young women who
become nuns in the department of the Puy-de-D6me is that
there are no girls' schools in the mountains ; the daughters of
parents who can afford it are, therefore, sent to convents to be
educated, and the education they receive both unfits them and
gives them a distaste for the rude life of a mountain farmhouse.
They learn to make lace and embroidery, but not to mend
stockings or to make butter or cheese. It is, neverthless,
undisputed that religious feeling and family ideas fill the chief
place among the motives which lead both the daughters to take
vows, and the younger sons to become priests.

I have nowhere met with any attempt to trace to their
ultimate causes the curious social phenomena just described ;
but one may, I think, point with certainty to the difference of
environment and conditions of life in the mountain and in the
plain, as the source of the superior force of religion, family
feeling, and ancient usage in the former. On its moral and
social side, the contrast between mountain and plain is the
contrast between the old world and the new ; between the
customs, thoughts, and feelings of ancient and modern times.

422 Auver(/ne.

The principal sources of change and innovation in the plain —
towns, manufactures, trade, easy communication with, distant
places, variety of occupation and manner of life — are inoperative
in the mountains. Even iu summer, the mountain lies aloof
from the town and its life, communication between them is
tedious for people on foot ; the country carts are of the most
primitive make, and drawn by slow oxen or cows. Where a
heavy load has to be brought up hill on the best roads in the
department, for instance, from Clermont towards Mont Dore, I
have seen six horses yoked in a curious order to draw it — first
one wheeler, then two abreast, with three leaders in tandem.
In winter the whole mountain region is under snow, the roads
are often impassable, and the members of the mountain family
are shut up together with their dumb companions, the cattle.
Then the life of the mountain pastoral farmer is the same from
father to son, and from age to age ; the whole neighbourhood,
too, follows the same occupation, and leads the same life, so that
there is a surrounding mass of uniform and primitive usage and
thought. But the family is the earliest of social bonds, and it
is by studying it as it survives in places such as the Auvergne
mountains, that we can best realize something of the force of
that ancient bond, and something of the nature of the sentiments
which led to the patriarchal authority of the elder brother on
the one hand, and the conservation of the family property under
his guardianship and control on the other. Sir Henry Maine
calls the origin of primogeniture, as affecting the devolution of
land in the middle ages, one of the most difficult problems of
historical jurisprudence ; and it has a peculiar difficulty in
England to which he has not referred. How was it that during
a period when society was decidedly becoming more orderly, and
patriarchal rule was giving place to regular government, the
division of socage lands among all the sons was superseded by
primogeniture, the principle abeady established in the case of
land held in military tenure ? A tendency to uniformity in the
law, produced by the institution of itinerant royal courts, and
the bias of the judges, contributed probably to the change ; but
something more is required to explain it. The courts proceeded


Auvergne. 423

to make custom, instead of the old law of gavelkind, determine
the succession to socage lauds ; but the question follows, how did
a custom come into existence contrary to the old law, and to the
apparent interest of the majority of the family ? And the
existence at this day, in the Auvergne mountains, of a custom
directly opposed to the positive law of the land helps us to
understand how the English courts were supported by family
feeling in assuming a custom of primogeniture contrary to the
old law of division.

The force of religious feeling, ' the piety which reigns in
the mountains,' as M. Bonnet calls it in a passage cited above,
has its root, doubtless, partly in the same conservation of
ancient sentiment, thought, and belief, which gives the family
property to one son, partly in other ideas and feelings gene-
rated by the conditions" of mountain life. As the difference
between the mountain and plain is a phase of the difference
between the old world and the new, so is it a phase of the
difference between country and town. The mountain is, as it
were, the country in its rudest primitive form, while the plain
is, as it were, a great suburb of the towns it contains and has
continual intercourse with. The petit proprietaire in the
Limagne has the money-making spirit as strongly developed
as the town tradesman ; sometimes he himself lives in the
town, and in any case he has frequent transactions of buying,
selling, and other relations with it. But the money-making
and commercial spirit evidently tends to individualism, and to
the disintegration of the family ; and it has ever been found
also to foster a secular spirit and repugnance to sacerdotal
dominion. In towns, moreover, and also (though in a smaller
degree) in the surrounding plain, men see chiefly the power
of man, and unconsciously gather confidence from their own
numbers against both the powers of nature, which are supreme
in the mountain, and those supernatm-al powers which the
powers of nature suggest to rude minds. The difference be-
tween the force of religious sentiment and reverence for the
clergy in town and country in Catholic countries is striking.
One has but to look at the way in which a Flanders priest is

424 Auvergne.

saluted in the streets of Grhent, for instance, and at some miles'
distance in the country, for evidence of the opposite influence in
this respect of town and country life. At Clermont-Ferrand, the
respectable working-man commonly holds aloof from the clergy,
declines their aid, even when in need, and is averse from join-
ing societies for the mutual benefit of the members, because the
clergy take a part in their management. Indications of the
prevailing disposition in that town towards ecclesiastical au-
thority have repeatedly come under my notice. One day,
last September, I was reading a newspaper in a cafe, when an
old woman going by observed in tlie most sarcastic manner
and tone in reference to a person beside me, * Ce monsieur
appartient a Monseigneur I'Eveque, puisqu'il a achete la
Grazette d' Auvergne.' Pointing to another person, she con-
tinued, ' Ce monsieur-la appartient a Monsieur le Prefet,
puisqu'il a achete le Journal du Puy-de-D6me.' Then seeing
both journals in my hand, ' Voila un monsieur qui a achete
tons les deux. II ne sait pas encore a qui appartenir. C'est
une question difScile.' No old woman in the mountains of a
diocese which draws half its clergy from their youth could
have spoken with such levity of an episcopal dignitary. The
persistence in the Auvergne mountains of ancient ideas and
feelings on such subjects as both the clergy and family
property, notwithstanding that thousands of their peasants
spend half the year in large towns, affords an instructive
example, on the one hand, of the profound influence of physi-
cal geography on the mental constitution of man, and the
history of the different branches of the race, and, on the other
hand, of the operation of laws of human nature and motives
to human conduct, powerfully affecting the economic struc-
ture of society, the division of occupations, the amount and
the distribution of wealth, which are absolutely ignored in
what still passes with some professed economists for a science
of wealth.

Among the most active agencies in the town which rarely
reach the mountains in Auvergne is the newspaper, the in-
fluence of which at Clermont-Ferrand I have heard ecclesi-

Auvergne. 425

astics deplore, although they themselves employ it to the
utmost of their power. Arthur Young tells that he could not
find a single newspaper in a cafe in that town in the autumn
of 1789, though the air was alive with revolutionary rumours.
In the autumn of 1874 he might have found half-a-dozen in
any one of several cafes, besides having them pressed upon him
by newsvendors incessantly passing by. The local journals
are not sparing of rhetoric, or lacking in party spirit. The
number of the journal which the old woman called the organ
of Monseigneur I'Eveque, contained a furious article against
radicalism, of which the following passage is a specimen : — ' The
radical lives on hatred. Irritated against authority, irritated
against society, irritated against God, he hates everything, he
hates even himself. Hatred. devours him, and hatred supports
him. To glut his hatred he would give his life, and he wishes
to live only to glut it. He breeds, imbibes, and feeds on hatred;
and, like the garment of Nessus, it burns him, being in that
respect an anticipation of eternity.' If the Auvergne radical is
a good hater, it seems that the Auvergne ecclesiastic is so too.
M. de Lavergne, speaking of the immense subdivision of landed
j)roperty in the Limagne since 1789, and the vast increase in
the number of spade-cultivators, remarks in his * Rural Economy
of France ' that the prevalence of such severe manual labour
has a tendency to produce rough and violent manners. Such
manners certainly are sometimes exhibited in the Limagne, but
not by spade-cultivators only.

The minute subdivision of land during the last twenty-five
years in the Limagne, whatever may be its tendencies for good
or for evil in manners and other respects, assuredly cannot be
ascribed to over-population, once regarded in England as the
inevitable consequence of the French law of succession. It is
true that between 1789 and the middle of this century the
population of the Puy-de-D6me increased, as M. de Lavergne
says, from 400,000 to 600,000.* But later statistics supplied to
me by M. Adolphe F. de Fontpertuis, an economist well known

* Economie Eurale de la France, 4me ed., p. 364.

426 Aiivergne.

to English readers of the ' Economiste Francais ' and the
' Journal des Economistes,' exhibit an opposite movement —

1851. 1866. 1872.

Population of the Puy-de-Dome, . 601,594 571,690 566,463

And the Report of the ' Enquete Agricole ' on the department
states, ' All the witnesses have declared that one of the principal
causes of the diminution of the population is the diminution of
children in families. Each family usually wishes for only one
child ; and when there are two, it is the result of a mistake
(une erreur), or that, having had a daughter first, they desire to
have a son.' A poor woman near Royat, to whom I put some
questions respecting wages and prices, asked whether my wife
and children were there, or at one of the other watering-
places, and seemed greatly surprised that I had neither. She
thought an English tourist must be rich enough to have several
children ; but when asked how many she had herself, she an-
swered with a significant smile, ' One lad ; that's quite enough.'

Our conversation on the point was as follows : —

' Votre dame et vos enfants, sont ils a Royat .^ '

' Non.'

' Ou done ? a Mont Dore ? '

' Moi, je n'ai ni enfants ni femme.'

' Quoi ! Pas encore ! ! '

' Et vous, combien d'enf ants avez-vous ? '

' Un gars ; c'est bien assez. Nous sommes pauvres, mais
vous etes riche. Cela fait une petite difference.'

If over-population gives rise to tremendous problems in
India, the decline in the number of children in France seems
almost equally serious. If two children only are born to each
married couple, a population must decline, because a consider-
able number will not reach maturity. If only one child be born
to each pair, a nation must rapidly become extinct. The French

Online LibraryT. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) LeslieEssays in political economy → online text (page 39 of 41)