LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
FARM LABOURERS AND THEIR COTTAGES.
[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR:1 Sra,—While I heartily agree with all you say in your article in last week's Spectator, on " The Labourers of Blenheim," both as to the rights of those and all other agricultural labourers, and as to the character of the Blenheim manifesto, I venture to point out that you have raised, without solving, a question which, if it is as puzzling to other landlords as it is to me, is worth farther discus- eion,—I mean the question whether a landowner should let his -cottages to the farmers or to the labourers themselves. I gather from the Blenheim manifesto that the Blenheim estates have been hitherto managed on the beneficent-paternal-despotism principle : this principle has failed to work, and the great father in his wrath .gives up his children to a despotism in which he expects and wishes them to find neither beneficent nor paternal, but purely economical. The intention is to crush the rebels into submission, though perhaps not without the hope that they may, through severity, be brought to their old contentedness again,—at the best a thoroughly mistaken and bad intention. But is the act itself— the making over the cottages to the farmers—wrong ? I will not discuss the question hypothetically, nor by generalisations, but state it as it exists on my own small estate, leaving other landlords to judge whether my case is not their own. If I cannot altogether shut my eyes to the suspicion that I should get just as good rents for my farms, and also save a good deal of profitless outlay, if I pulled down my existing cottages and built no new ones, still I do assume, and as far as I can act on the assumption, that I ought to have a sufficient number of cottages for all the labourers on my farms, and that these should be as near the farms on which the men work as is compatible with their being near the school and the church and the other centres of social village life. Now, if I keep the cottages in my own hands, what is to be done when the labourer leaves the service of the farmer he has been hitherto working for ? As the cottages are only sufficient for the estate, if I allow the labourer to remain my tenant, the man who takes his place with the farmer may have to walk two -or three miles daily, to and from his work. Is that right, I will not say morally, but economically? We are looking at the ques- tion on the ground of rights, rights which ought not to be crushed, and which you and I hope will not always be crushed, by paternal government ; and I would ask, has not the labourer when he enters the service of a farmer the same right to demand a good and convenient house as to ask good wages ? and has not the farmer the same right to require cottages as he has to require farm buildings from his landlord when he takes a farm ? And though it is possible that the farmer may use the cottages (as the Blenheim manifesto suggests he should use them) as a screw to keep down wages, is it not also not merely possible, but certain, that if —still on economical grounds—he wishes to have good, that is, intelligent, steady, and contented labourers, he must be able to offer them proper houses as well as proper wages ? It is vain to suppose that the landlord can go into the merits of each case, and decide whether the farmer or the labourer is to blame, and whether, therefore, the latter shall keep or lose his cottage. It may be that neither is to blame, that it is the plainest yet hardest of all cases, that the man is past work ; but how does this affect the economical necessity that the farmer's work should be done, and that he should be able to remunerate properly the new man who undertakes the work,—that he should find him a house near at hand, and not re- quire him to walk five or six miles a day outside his work ? If the labourer holds his cottage directly from the landlord, the landlord cannot turn him out as long as he pays his rent, and he gains accordingly, at the cost of the farmer and the labourer in the farmer's service ; if the cottage is held from the farmer, the farmer certainly is the better for that arrangement, and the labourer in his service ought to be, and for the most part is so, but at the cost of the man who leaves that service. The dilemma is real, but I do not think it will be solved by any attempts to make the paternal government of estates and parishes more living and effici- ent. That paternal government is dying a natural death ; the old order is giving place to the new ; and all we can do—all we should wish to do—is to make the transition as easy as possible by personal consideration and kind treatment of the individual cases which come within our power of help. At least so it seems to me. If I were a great man, with great surplus revenues, I might afford to invest money to pay two per cent, in cottages enough not only for all the labourers on my estate, but also for the old and infirm who cannot and the drunken and lazy who will not work ; though even then I suspect that those surplus revenues would have to come from work done some- where out of sight, under the pressure of a poverty as miserable as that which might be visibly relieved. But be this as it may, there are very few of us who have such surplus revenues ; most landowners must be content to manage their estates on economical, not feudal, principles, and to provide cottages for the labourers, as well as homesteads for the farmers, because they are wanted for the proper cultivation of the land. I believe indeed that we shall in the end " turn our necessity to glorious gaiu,"—that under cover of the economical relationship which is superseding the feudal, a truer, while simpler relationship of man to man is growing up, and will grow up more and more, between farmer and labourer, and between landlord and both. But meanwhile I think the land- lords must let their cottages to the farmers. If I am wrong, I wish you would set me right.—I am, Sir, &c.,
A RADICAL SQUIRE.