LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
THE AGRICULTURAL LABOURER.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR.")
SIR,—I have read with great interest, in your number of the 14th inst., the letter of "A Radical Squire." It is in my view the best letter on the subject I have yet seen. He is quite right in saying that "the old feudal order is giving place to the new economical one throughout the relations of landlord, tenant, and labourer," and that" our true business is not to keep alive old forms which have done their work and are approaching inevitable dissolution, but to be ready hopefully, as well as honestly, to give up the old and accept the new, while making the transition from the one to the other as easy as possible."
,My great objection to the Agricultural Labourers' Unions is, not that I deny theright of the labourer to combine, but that' do not think they will assist in this work of transition, for they aim at reaching per saltum those results which can only be attained safely and without a severe shock to our social system, by a slower and more natural process. If left to itself, the change, as your correspondent says, "may be long in progress, but it is certain," and let me add, under natural conditions would be safe also.
I agree, too, with your correspondent, that "one of the first, if not the first, of the demands of the educated labourer will be for a proper house to live in, and this must be provided not by the charity of a paternal landlord, but on the same economical grounds as those on which the farmer is provided with his home- stead; no cottage fit for a man and his family to live in can be built for much less than £150."
This, however, opens a question of very great importance at the present moment, and one which I should be very glad to see practically discussed. I have taken some interest in it for many years. I have procured many plans of labourers' cottages, including the prize plans of some of the provincial agricultural societies. These plans are of greater or less merit, but they all fail to give us the information which upon "economical grounds" it is most important for us to possess, viz., the cost. I have frequently seen plans of cottages which it has been said could be built, or had been built, for a certain sum, but the moment I have attempted to verify these estimates and statements I have found some excep- tional circumstances which forbid their general application, or perhaps they have proved fallacious altogether. The item of hauling is generally left out of the calculation ; the timber, or tiles, or sand, or lime, or some other material, is frequently found by the landlord, and not included in the estimate, and so it becomes extremely difficult to form any reliable idea as to the precise cost of any particular plan. I be- lieve myself that the labourers' cottages throughout the country generally are so disgracefully bad, and that the necessity of replacing them by others is so urgent, that, whether we like it or not, we shall be driven to cottage-building in this country on a very large scale. Now, would it be possible to select some place in which all who take an interest in this subject might deposit copies of plans of any houses they had built themselves, with precise details of the actual cost incurred? We should then have an opportunity of benefiting by each other's experience, and much would have been done to determine the particular plan which combines the largest amount of needful accommodation at the smallest cost. I should be very glad myself to submit to the inspection of others the plan which, on the whole, I have found go farthest to solve this problem.
The question as to whether the cottages, when built, should be let in the first instance to the tenant of the farm, or to the labourer, has been much discussed; but, if the cottages be built, as your correspondent contends, upon economical grounds, they must, I think, be let to the tenant, because the object will be that they shall be near to the homestead and be occupied by labourers in his service, and this is best secured by their being in his own hands. It is all very well to say that the tenant in this case may abuse the power he will possess ; but all power may be abused,
and there is no reason why the farmer should be, in this respect, worse than other men. Moreover, as your correspondent shows, in the long run he will discover that his duty in this matter will be his interest also. The great evil which, I think, requires to be guarded against is, the abuse by the labourers of the addi- tional accommodation which it is proposed should be given him. Unless absolutely forbidden to do so, he will, I fear, in too many cases simply let out to others the additional rooms which have been provided for his family and himself. It will be very difficult altogether to prevent this, but, in due course of time, I have no doubt he will acquire a sense of decency and self-respect which will be the most effectual safeguard. Meantime, landlord and tenant should co-operate, as far as possible, to check this abuse ; and, if both be in earnest, they will generally be suc- cessful; but more will depend upon the tenant than upon the landlord, if, as I suggest, the cottages should be in his hands.
I do not quite understand whether "A Radical Squire" is of opinion that the labourer should enjoy a share in the interests and profits of the farm he cultivates. This view has been promi- nently put forward by the Speaker of the House of Commons, who thus furnishes another proof, if this were needed, of his kindly sympathy with the class whom he desires to benefit. But here we are treading on commercial grounds, and, as a commercial man,
I have no hesitation in saying that this idea is absolutely imprac- ticable upon any large scale. Even were it practicable, however, I doubt very much whether it would be to the interest of the labourer that his wages should vary with profits, and still less can
I see that participation in profits without participation in loss, if this is intended, would be consistent with the justice of the case.
I can see no more reason why the labourer should receive a share of the profits of the farm he cultivates than why the carpenter and the bricklayer, the timber merchant and the brick- maker should each receive a share in the profits of any house they severally contributed to build. I do not see why the labourer should not be satisfied with being paid for his labour precisely as the brickmaker is satisfied with being paid for his bricks, or the bricklayer for laying them. Each should receive the fair value of what he contributes, and the capitalist should receive the fair remuneration of his enterprise and risk. If the labourer has half an acre of land at a reasonable rent for his own use, he will not ask to share the profits of the farm.—I am, Sir, &c.,
ANOTHER RADICAL SQUIRE.