MR. RIDER HAGGARD'S " RURAL ENGLAND."* -ANY one who has
read Mr. Rider Haggard's Farmer's Year knows that in this relation of the author's two years' itinerary through rural England is to be found considerable personal knowledge of the daily work and larger problems of farming, and descriptive powers of a very high order, capable of setting out in moving and appropriate language the needs of men who farm, and the matters which must engage their attention. Mr. Haggard is known also as a writer who holds strong views on certain matters of political economy which affect the land, and as one who has done much to draw public notice to the enforced removal, happily not accompanied by any general and widespread suffering among the class affected, of a proportion of the rural labourers from the country to the towns.
In laying before the public these two closely filled volumes the author conceives that he has been "building the chief corner stone into the labour of a life." If he has not succeeded in this ambition, it is not for want of effort. He has visited - twenty-four English counties, besides the islands of Guernsey and Jersey. As a record of present modes of farming, local custom, crops, prices, breeds of cattle, rating, transport, and rent of land his work will always remain valuable. It will also serve to impress the public with the claims of agriculture • to national consideration. But the book cannot be considered only as a well-written itinerary. It has been taken seriously, as the author clearly intended that it should be, as an important pronouncement on the present and future financial position of the whole landed interest of England. To that interest, from the highest to the lowest, the book and its conclusions have come as a blank discouragement. Its publi- cation two years after the inquiry began, when the author had not detected that matters were largely on the mend, is to be deplored. Nor is it difficult to show from its pages that its most gloomy and dispiriting conclusions are based on evidence given in circumstances which make it unreliable, and treated in a spirit which is scarcely judicial.
His chapter of conclusions contains thirty-five and a half closely printed pages of matter almost as discursive as the itinerary. In some respects these conclusions seem unneces- sary, for they repeat what has appeared in many chapters of the book. The following are typical :—" The impression left upon my mind by my extensive wanderings is that English agriculture seems to be fighting against the mills of God" (preface). "Possibly, after some national disaster too dread- ful to contemplate, a starving, broken generation may fly to . Protection to save them." "The dearth of agricultural labour
can mean nothing less than the progressive deterio- ration of the race." "Landed property is as a millstone about his [the owner's] neck." "The industry generally speaking is decaying." It is "a failing industry," "a decaying" industry, and a voiceless industry.
What, then, is the evidence on which this report, dis- couraging and depressing to the owners of land of all classes, is based ? It is based on interviews, mainly with (1) tenant farmers ; (2) landed proprietors, chiefly those who are farm- ing part of their own land. It is almost too common- , place to point out that the statements of tenants as to ' their profits are open to the gravest suspicion. If a tenant could get his land rent free he would put the addl- . tional sum into his pocket. If when he has had a bad year he can convince Mr. Rider Haggard or any other sympa- thetic inquirer that it is because the times are too bad to live in, there is always a chance of a lowering of rent. On the other hand, if he admits that he is doing well, there is none. There must be hundreds of interviews quoted in which the . tenant's view is stated as if it were from the well of everlasting verities, and no possible personal bias could influence it. When the tenant does admit that things are pretty good Mr.
• Bard England. By H. Rider Haggard. 2 vols. London ; Longmana and I Co. [36s. not.J Haggard generally quotes some pessimistic forecast as if it were valuable evidence. A Devonshire farmer, paying the excellent rent (from the landlord's point of view) of 2550 a year for two hundred and fifty acres of first. class land near Exeter, admitted that he was makine his rent and a living, and adding to the value of his stock,—i.e., his capital. After detailing his energetic and prosperous life, he "sums up" by saying that he hardly knew a farmer who was holding his own. "I've got four boys. I only hope they won't be farmers. It's a dog's life, in " Sir, a dog's it
life ! " In Oxfordshire, a by no means well-placed or very fertile county, he finds that the district "is holding its o
as most counties." There is not, indeed, much amiss. So Kr. Haggard tells us how he visited a place where "a quaint old grey rectory stood," which has "been ruthlessly destroyed and replaced by a modern building" which he does not much admire. But if the old one had stood, Mr. Haggard might have taken it as a text for a sermon on stagnation and decay. It is easier to tell some part of the tenant's position than formerly, because the tithe was paid by him, and tithe varies in amount. Now that the owner pays the tithe, the item of rent gives us some key to the gross return from land. Opening the book at random, we find the following entries for arable land :—Vol. Ii. p. 230: Lin. colnshire, clay lands, an average rent of 21 per acre. Vol. IL, p. 326: Yorkshire, 230 for nine acres ; 21 6s. an acre for three hundred and forty acres, for which, if cut up into fifty-acre lots, 22 5s. could have been had. Vol. II., p. 34: Cambridge- shire, 210 per acre (a fruit farm). Vol. II., p. 92: Hunting- donshire, 21 5s. to 23, but on poor uplands as low as 10s. VoL 1., p. 89: Jersey, 212 per acre (early-potato land). VoL L, p. 238: Somerset (Taunton), from 21 is. to 22. Vol. I. p. 480: Essex, 21 per acre. The above figures will give some idea of what they can and do pay, and represent the margin available on "a decaying industry."
It will be objected that the second source of information,
that from the landlords, is undeniable. They can have no possible, if unconscious, bias to make their position out worse than it is. That is not quite certain, for it has become some- what the fashion with landed gentlemen. Their statements are generally from their experience of farming their own land, or based on what is known as the "old rental" or "former rental," or the rent of 1870-75. In regard to the first, in which the profits made are frequently, though not always, poor, the land which they farm is usually what is unlet,—i.e., in nearly every case the worst land. They get tenants for the other. Consequently, they too often only speak of the results on land least suited for cultivation. There me also many owners who do very well by their land which is let, and others who make their farming pay. In a very average county. and not a good part of that—viz., North Northampton—Sir Charles Knightley receives an average of 21 4s. per acre in rent from a nine-thousand-acre property. It has fallen 30 per cent., but no one can say that a gross return of some 210,000 a year from an estate of this size shows that it repre- sents a "ruined industry." Again, the setting out of gross returns on one side and expenditure on the other may be quite misleading as to the value of the land. Land has no fixed value whatever. "The game," as the late Lord Russell of Killowen used to say, "is on the table." But there is no doubt that there is an average decline since 1875 of from a quarter to a third in value. But this does not mean that the land is valueless. Far from it.
In reading the chapter of conclusions we cannot help sur. mising that the writer does not distinguish his conclusions from his preconceptions. His personality colours every page,— a very interesting personality, and one which expresses itself in appropriate language. But his judgment seems constitution- ally pessimistic. He takes up from the first the line of the " disappointed man," in that he is a Protectionist, but sees no chance of Protection, though "whatever Free-trade may have done for the country at large, and I maintain that of this matter we do not yet know the full truth, it is certain that it has brought the land and the agriculture of England very near to the brink of ruin."
The three classes interested in land are the owner, tenant, farmer, and labourer. It is the logical order. But to sopetilnes invert gain a truer idea of a landscape, artists the. picture by means of a mirror. We will invert Mr. Haggard's feeder, and begin with his conclusions as to the labourer. The. labourers who remain on the land are known by every practical man to be better off than ever in the history of their class. The demand for them is great, the supply scarce, and though wages are still low in most (not all) parts of England, the extraordinary cheapness of boots, clothes, flour, meat, sugar, soap, and other necessaries helps them. They have constant work, cheap food, free education, and no taxes. Mr. Haggard gives just five lines to the bright side of the position of this, the largest numerically of any class of working men:—" To come to the third class—that of the labouring men —undeniably they are more prosperous to-day than ever they have been before. Employment is plentiful ; wages by com- parison are high—in some places higher than the land can afford to pay—food and other necessaries are very cheap." He then goes on to deplore that the labourer does not appreciate this.
The tenant-farmer, the second on the list, might be expected to figure in more . doleful wise. But he does not. When it comes to the point Mr. Rider Haggard says that "the farmers, with certain exceptions, do no more than make a hard living, and in many instances they are actually losing capital." We submit that it is well known that many farmers are making money; and it is equally certain that there are few lines of business in which capital is not risked and lost. Of how many professional men could it be said that they do much more than make a hard living ; and what kind of "hard" living is the farmer's? Mr. Haggard admits that he probably has a house rent free worth 250 a year. He might add that he keeps a servant or two generally, and a horse and trap. To live as a farmer with 24,000 of capital lives would cost a gentleman at least 2600 a year, representing a capital of 215,000 at 4 per cent. The farmer does it on a capital which represents 2160 a year at 4 per cent.
To sum up, we find that Mr. Rider Haggard's con- clusions are altogether too gloomy, and not justified either by the evidence which he lays before us or by the position of a large class of those who offered the evidence. The dearth of labour is serious, though not universal. The landlords have suffered a loss since 1875 of perhaps one - third of the letting value; but the position is now safer and values are tending upwards, though prices are unstable. In the last resort the owners, where they have enough land to make it worth their while, can farm all their good land themselves, and generally make a profit. If the estate is too small, then there is the alternative of selling, either to a large proprietor to be worked by him, or in parcels to small purchasers.
That Free-trade has ruined agriculture, and that Protection would restore it, are propositions which we cannot possibly assent to in view of the facts. We do not say that Mr. Haggard would insist upon the truth of these propositions, but we fear that many people will be inclined to infer them from his book, and may be thereby misled. But though we must make our protest against this aspect of Mr. Rider Haggard's book, we admit to the full not only its literary charm, but the great interest of much of the information contained in these volumes.