FRANCE AND HER FOOD.
THE Edinburgh Review has astonished the world by ventilating the discussions in Paris, from which French intellect will not be debarred, upon the decline of the population in France. The survey is really somewhat appalling, although our quondam Whig oracle has but half unveiled the causes and the consequences. The broad statistical facts have been rendered already familiar to most of our readers by the quotations and comments of the press. During the last three periods of five years eaoh, the increase of the population of France has been progressively declining, from 1,200,000 in the first period, to 380,000 in the second period, 256,000 in the third ; while in England and Wales, it is computed that in the five years and a half subsequent to 1851, the population, which is only about half as numerous as that of France, has gained an increase of 1,157,000. In other words, the increase of the population in England and Wales is about nine times greater than that of France. But the increase in the department of the Seine, within the last five years, has been 300,000 souls ; which is more than the increase in the whole of the country. The population in the whole of France, therefore, omitting the capital, has absolutely decreased. There has been no depopulation by disease, by exhausting war, or by any of the ordinary causes of mortality. The writer in the Edinburgh .Review ascribes the striking decrease very greatly to the removal of the population from the rural districts to the towns, where it falls under a variety of influences adverse to increase. The enormous expenditure which the State, and the municipal bodies the tools of the State, has laid out in the improvement of towns, has drawn to thetis a large increase. It has been calculated that by the encouragement of speculation in the Paris Bourse, about 40,000,0001. has been added to the nominal value of the marketable stocks. The 40,000,0001. is practically distributed among a comparatively small number of individuals ; hence great positive increase to individual wealth, immense increase to luxurious consumption, and hence again two conditions apparently incompatible—an increased power of consumption in the towns with a diminished power of production in the country. "The truth is," says the Reviewer, that the vast apparent wealth of France under Louis Napoleon means that she has expended her money with extraordinary profusion, not that she has increased her savings or improved her capital." The efforts of the Government to remedy the distress thus occasioned—the police restrictions on the price of bread and on the price of butcher's meat in the towns—have at once stimulated consumption and checked production. It no longer "pays" the butcher to kill the finest animals ; his profit under the fixed price must be made by substituting an inferior article—cow beef or lean mutton. The crowding of the towns has raised rents, while France is feeling the want of hands to man her forces in every dirootion. The deficient crops of 1833-'6 were badly got in, for want of hands. The country cannot sustain the annual levy of 80,000 men to recruit the army, which had been going on for forty years of the peace without interruption. The war was abruptly terminated because the army was impatient to return home. The naval conscription, intolerably severe, renders the service dangerously unpopular. And France is choked in her military vehemence by this deficiency of recruits. The Reviewer leaves the economical and home consequences, as well as the causes, under an obscurity which the reader must penetrate for himself.
There are many points in this survey which are true enough, though we doubt whether they are not taken too absolutely. For example, the displacement of the population by the system of Louis Napoleon cannot have produced the present state of things. The greatest decline of the increase occurred in the five years ending 1851, before the Napoleonic period ; and the same process had then been going on for a considerable time. The displacement, and the other causes at which the Reviewer glances, may have assisted the general effect, but they are neither its original nor its largest causes. The Thnes adds the comminution of land under the modern French law of gavelkind ; and in convicting the Times of " exaggeration "—a convenient form pf continuing the discussion,—M. Le Play, the eminent economist, practically admits the tendency of the system to restrict enterprise and production. Still this is not the beginning. The chief cause in fact had long been notorious. It was held up as an example in this country, many years back, by a certain sect of the disciples of Mr. Malthus ; and it is admitted in the Edinburgh Review that the practical results of the virtue inculcated by those economists is attained in France. While the marriageable population of that gayly-disposed country does not hold itself in any degree bound to abstain from matrimony, it has been accepted as an absolute moral law, respected alike by prudential and smprudential, that the progeny of a marriage shall be limited to a number absolutely small and such as the parents have prearranged the means of supporting in a given condition of life. The economists who recommended that rule of practical morals were wont to enforce it by the assurance that it would tend to place each married couple in a position of greater material comfort; and such appears to be the ease in France.
"No doubt, these signs of increasing wealth are not altogether fictitious. A people as active, industrious, and ingenious as the French, blessed with
great natural advantages, and stimulated by the rapid progress of civiliza
tion, cannot fail to augment its resources. * • * • 'The general aspect and condition of the French rural population shows a marked improvement in the last twenty years. Every new house is better built and better arranged than the old cottage,; the blue linen blouse is not the only garment of the peasant winter and summer, but it is worn over good woollen clothing; the bread of the common people is whiter and purer, and consumption of meat increases."
The last remark, like so many others, must be taken with some qualification ; also the assertion that the sixty-six millions ster
ling invested in railways and other largo outlay of the French Government are merely so much profuse expenditure. Money is not the only form of capital ; and railways which the writer confesses to be cooperating to produce this steady improvement in the condition of the people,are as much a capital as money in hand is a capital. The writer has not dug deep enough into the cause nor has he looked forward into the consequences. Such a .calculation might lead us far : we might trace the adoption of the cause to a feeling of intense selfishness, or still more to an intense faith in pure materialist considerations ; and we might couple with the recognition of such materialistic morals the natural reaction which hag made the French people "take up with" the most fanciful of clerical superstitions and place the blindest reliance upon the power of one man. Let us stick as closely as possible to :the immediate points in issue. Louis Napoleon found the French in possession of manners and customs that brOught about this decrease of the population; he invented means of employing the population; he did not turn his attention to the means of recruiting it. His first object was to concentrate power in his own hands. He appealed to " theeleraocracy," to the army, to the trading classes' and he has converted all of them, in a certain degree to be his tools. He has given the democracy a mechanically limited power ; he has provided employment for the working classes; he has succeeded in developing a certain degree of commercial spirit and activity in a country strikingly " boutiquidre " but in no degree merchant;like. In all these directions he has attained some success, but to no extent has he rendered his system self-supporting. With the exception of the hoarding principle, he has not set himself to counteract any of the grand prejudices of the French people, neither the superstitions of the peasantry, nor the superstitions of the landed proprietors, nor of the manufacturers, nor of society in clinging to the mystic moral law which is now destroying the population of the empire. He has made trade active ; but he faltered when he approached the grand task of rendering it free, because there he encountered an indigenous French prejudice. He is building towns and draining the country of its labour • he is regulating the price of bread and meat, and prices are still rising, while the population look to him—to "our good Emperor "—for fresh supplies of cheap food; and if he fails in fulfilling their expectation, he confesses that he has not the power which he professed to take and which they believedhim to possess. In some respects the pressure is far greater than the Edinburgh Review has proved it to be. The consumption of butcher's meat has increased, but it is in the towns. The consumption of one species of meat, of pork for example, has increased per head of the population, but not at all in proportion to the exertions made for increasing the facilities,—the domestic supply expanding neither in proportion to market-accommodation nor to the demand, as shown in a long steadily rising price. The consumption of another article in universal demand—cheese—has been nearly stationa7 in Paris for a very long series of years. It has only increased in exact proportion to the population. But we know that the consuming power of certain towns, and still more of certain classes, has immensely increased ; so that other classes must suffer. Take another fact; the wine which a few years ago would have cost four shillings for a given quantity now costs eleven or twelve shillings; and the class of persons who used to consume it content themselves with a worse wine, -with corn brandy from England, or with Hollands. If you ascribe this to the failure of the wine crops, take potatoes, in which there is exactly the same rate of increase.
He has no choice but to go on. The pressure to which we have adverted applies to every part of France ; to the Western seaboard—to the Eastern and North-eastern land frontier—to the departments of the North—to the defsartments of the South—to towns of the interior, like Cambray or Toulouse—to towns of the seaboard, like Boulogne or Toulon. But in all these places, concurrently with the outspoken suffering created by the pressure, there is the most absolute and. distinct reliance upon "our good Emperor." The prosperity which is his work is attested by every traveller; the pressure, which it would be uneourteous to ascribe to him, is equally manifest; the provision for the future is equally looked for at his hand, and he must give it. The first step, then, is to begin the hard work of breaking through one indigenous prejudice of the French people, and to provision the class which is rendered mercantile without developing its country production, by means of an increased foreign exchange. M. Michel Chevalier is urging him to the reform ; England, within sight of his own shores, offers him the example ; and the sources from which we draw our gigantic fiemraissariat are equally open to himself. Beyond we cannot look. Who can pronounce the limits of the possible ? Louis Napoleon is using every exertion to turn the energy of Frame into mercantile channels, and, by a medium of intelligent patronage, to guide his country in the establishment of a self-supporting system. Should he fail?
ROYAL RilUSSIA.--The Times has hit it. King Frederick William always desires to show that he is in the very esthetics of the fashion. When military exploits are in vogue, he will sit listening to choral strains exciting enough "to inspire an oyster with the emotions of a dragoon" ; he is next found disputing with the doctors on theology or metaphysics ; but in a matter of money he is a practical man, and now "the Prince of Neuchatel" orders his Envoy to make a mock auction of his Swiss estate.
" What shall we airy for Neuchatel? Beautiful Swiss Canton, near the lake of that Dane; picturesque castle ; healthy situation ; swarming with tourists in the summer season. Shall we say 100,0001./ No bid 1 Gentlemen, consider the clocks. Let me say 70,0007.-50,0001. The feelings. of the vendor and the honour of the house oofflioranroidoerlturg ought be f lost s:ght.rotalogether. I sin not only dis t:74MM Why, !milkmen; really this is a mere trifient0,0001. No bid? aLoolT than that figure I cannot go; at that price I am instructed to buy the lot in. The chivalrous feelings of the vendor will net allow him to accept a lower price."