The Metayer is a peasant tenant extracting his own wages and subsistence from the soil. He pays a produce rent to the owner of the land, from which he obtains his food. The landlord, besides supplying him with the land on which he lives, supplies him also with the stock by which his labor is assisted. The payment to the landlord may be considered, therefore, to consist of two distinct portions: one constitutes the profits of his stock, the other his rent.
The stock advanced is ordinarily small. It consists of seed; of some rude implements; of the materials of others which the peasant manufactures; and of such materials for his other purposes as the land itself affords; building timber, stone, &c. and occasionally of some draft animals. If not assisted by the productive powers of the soil, by the machinery of the earth, this stock would either be wholly insufficient for the permanent maintenance of any laborers, or, turned into some other shape, it would provide for the temporary support of a very small number. When applied, however, to assist the peculiar powers of the earth, this small stock is found sufficient to enable a numerous body of laborers permanently to maintain themselves; and in the produce of their industry the landlord shares. The produce which the possession of land has thus enabled him to acquire, and which without the land he could not have acquired, is that portion of the annual produce of the labor of the country which falls to his share as a land-holder. It is rent. The rest is profits. In the more advanced stages of civilization, it is easy to decide in each particular case, what proportion of the landlord's revenue from a metayer farm is rent, and what proportion profits. In the ruder stages, it is more difficult; but we shall have occasion to advert to this hereafter.
The existence of such a race of tenantry indicates some improvement in the body of the people, compared with the state of things in which serf rents originate. They are entrusted with the task of providing the food and annual revenue of the proprietor, without his superintending, or interfering with, their exertions.
The metayer, then, must be somewhat superior in skill and character to the serfs, whose industry can be safely depended on by the proprietor, only while exercised under his direct control, and whose rents are therefore paid, not in produce, but in labor. But still the advance of stock by the proprietor, and the abandonment of the management of cultivation to the actual laborers, indicate the continued absence of an intermediate class of capitalists; of men able to advance from their own accumulations the food of the laborer and the stock by which he is assisted; and thus to take upon themselves the direction of agriculture. The metayer system indicates, therefore, a state of society, ad vanced, when compared with that in which serf rents prevail; backward, when compared with that in which rents paid by capitalists make their appearance.
It is found springing up in various parts of the world, engrafted occasionally on the serf rents we have been reviewing, and more often on the system of ryot rents we have yet to examine. But it is in the western division of continental Europe, in Italy, Savoy, Piedmont, the Valteline, France, and Spain, that the pure metayer tenantry are the most common, and it is there that they influence most decidedly the systems of cultivation and those important relations between the different orders of society, which originate in the appropriation of the soil. Into those countries, once provinces of the Roman Empire, they were introduced by the Romans, and, to discover their origin in Europe, we must turn back our eyes for an instant on the classical nations of antiquity.
Of Metayer Rents in Greece.
Greece, when it first presents materials for authentic history, was, for the most part, divided into small properties cultivated by the labor of the proprietors, assisted by that of slaves. But before we observe how this state of things led the way to the establishment of metayer rents, it should be remarked, that relics of a system which even in those days bore the marks of antiquity, and was becoming obsolete, were still to be seen in many districts of Greece.
Irruptions from other countries, as to the details of which the learned dispute in vain, had, previous to the aera of historical certainty, filled several provinces of Greece with foreign masters. These people, in some instances at least, found the original inhabitants acquainted with agriculture, the toils of which they had no inclination, perhaps not sufficient skill, to share. They converted therefore the husbandmen into a peculiar species of tenantry, differing from the serf tenantry of modem Europe in this, that though attached to the soil, and a sort of predial bondsmen, they paid, not labor, but produce rents, and belonged, in some remarkable instances, not to individuals, but to the state. These tenants were called in Crete Periaeci, Mnotae, Aphamiotae; in Laconia Periaeci and Helots; in Attica Thetes and Pelatae; in Thessaly Penestae, and in other districts by other names.(1)
The produce rents, which this tenantry were bound in Crete to pay to the government, enabled the legislators of that island to establish public tables in the different districts, at which the free men and their families were fed.(2) This institution Lycurgus established or renewed at Lacedaemon, where the tables were supplied by the produce of the industry of the Helots; and wherever Syssitiae or common tables can be traced, it is at least probable, that they were supplied by a similar race of tenants.
In Attica, the existence of the Thetes or Pelatae (as this tenantry were there called) exercised no such influence on the general habits of the citizens as it did in Crete, in Sparta, and in other Dorian states; and when they were restored by Solon to personal freedom, though not to the political rights of citizens, the alteration led to no striking results.(3)
It requires indeed some little attention to discern their past existence among the Athenians; and the details of their condition are now perhaps out of the reach of research. was the name applied indifferently, it should seem, both to the share paid as rent and that retained by the Thetes. The rent usually consisted of a sixth of the produce, hence their name of µ, sometimes it was a fourth, and then the Pelatae were said . The Penestae of Thessaly were a body of similar tenantry. With the exception of the districts occupied by this peculiar species of tenantry,(4) and of the lands belonging to towns which seem often to have let for terms of years at money rents, the lands of Greece were very generally in the possession of freemen, cultivating small properties with the assistance of slaves.
Slaves were very numerous. Men distributed like the Greeks into small tribes of rude freemen, surrounded by similar tribes, probably exhibit the pugnacious qualities of human nature in the highest degree known. It has often been observed with truth, that in such a state of society the appearance of domestic slavery indicates a considerable softening of the manners. When warrior nations have found out the means of making the labor of captives contribute to their own ease, they preserve them. Before they have made such a discovery they put them to death. Among the North American Indians, the labor of no man will do more than maintain himself; no profit is to be made of a slave; hence, unless the captive is selected to take upon himself in the character of a son or husband the task of protecting and providing food for a family deprived of its chief, he is invariably slaughtered. Some tribes of Tartars on the borders of Persia massacre all the true believers who fall into their hands, but preserve all heretics and infidels; because their religion forbids them to make slaves of true believers, and allows them to use or sell all others at their pleasure.
The Greeks used the slaves, with which their frequent wars supplied them, in all kinds of menia and laborious occupations, and a notion that such occupations could not be filled without slaves, became so familiar, that even their acutest philosophers seem never to have doubted its accuracy or justice. A commonwealth, says Aristotle, consists of families, and a family to be complete must consist of freemen and slaves,(5) and in fixing on the form of government, which according to him would be most perfect, and conduce the most to the happiness of mankind, he requires that his territory should be cultivated by slaves of different races and destitute of spirit, that so they may be useful for labor, and that the absence of any disposition to revolt may be securely relied on.(6) The condition of Africa is now in this particular, much like that of Greece then. One of the late travellers was explaining to an African chief that there are no slaves in Eng land. "No slaves," exclaimed their auditor, "then what do you do for servants?"
In Greece the labor of cultivation was at first shared between the master and slave. This must always be while properties are small; and accordingly it was so in Latium. Cincinnatus would have starved on his four acres, had he trusted to the produce slaves could extract from it, and neglected to lay his own hands on the plough. But as civilization went forward in Greece, properties became enlarged. The proprietors clung to cities; where popular governments offered to the active duties to perform, and objects of ambition to aspire to, and to the indolent and voluptuous every species of pleasure, made more seducing by all the embellishments that could be created by a taste and fancy, which seem to have belonged to those times and to that people alone. By such occupations and amusements many of the leading Grecians were so engrossed, that they refused to give up even the time and attention necessary to command their household slaves.(7) Those who still attended to the management of their farms must have found the task difficult and hazardous. Xenophon has left an accurate picture of the mode in which the Grecian, gentlemen of his day conducted the cultivation of, their estates. In one of the dialogues of the Me morabilia, Socrates relates a conversation he had had, with Ischomachus, who was by the confession of all, men and women, foreigners and citizens, , an accomplished and good man. Ischomachus details those particulars of his domestic economy which had principally earned for him this general praise, and explains at large his management of his household, his wife, and finally his estate. It appears in the progress of the dialogue, that the estate of Ischomachus was within a short distance of Athens, that he rode to it very frequently, paid it much personal attention, and superintended all its arrangements with great care. While cultivation was carried on under the superintendance of such men; while proprietors freed from all necessity of personal labor, liberal, learned, and wealthy, sedulously applied the powers of their minds to agriculture, the art made rapid progress, and a succession of writers on the subject appeared in various parts of Greece, whose works evidenced both the quantity of intellect applied to the unfolding the resources of the soil, and the actual progress of cultivation.
But causes which destroyed this system of managing the land were silently at work. Even Isehomachus was obliged to rely much on his or overseers; slaves who were very carefully trained as bailiffs, like the Roman villici. All estates, however, could not be like his within a ride of the capital; the more distant were necessarily confided almost wholly to these managing slaves; and their management, unless they differed utterly from all other slaves similarly trusted, must have been very generally careless and bad. As Greece too became consolidated, first by the Macedonian, then the Roman influence, the possessions of individual proprietors naturally extended themselves over a larger space, and profitable management by slave agents must have become more and more impracticable. At last a tenant was introduced who, receiving from the landowner his land and stock, became responsible to him for a certain proportion, usually half, of the produce: and the proprietors gave up finally all interference with the task of cultivation. These new tenants were called mortitae, and they are called so still in Greece.
The precise date at which they began to supersede the cultivation by proprietors is not known. It is supposed by some that this happened after their connection with Rome, and that µ, which is not a word of ancient or classical Greek, was a translation of the Latin phrase colonus partiarius. But we can see so distinctly the same internal causes which led to the creation of the Roman tenantry acting in Greece, that it is probable the mnortitae appeared there as soon, if not sooner, than the coloni partiarii among the Ro mans, and that the word µ was suggested by µ, which we have seen was the name of the produce rent paid by the ancient Thetes of Attica. However this might be, by such a tenantry the surface of Greece was gradually occupied; they survived the Mahometan conquest, and the lands of the Turkish Agas were very generally cultivated, before the present disturbances, by Grecian mortitae or metayers.(8)
On Metayers among the Romans.
The causes which introduced metayers into Italy were precisely similar to those which ultimately established them in Greece. The Romans began by sharing with their slaves the toils of cultivation. As: the size of estates enlarged, their owners became the superintendants of the labor they before assisted. In this stage the art of agriculture was deeply studied in Rome, as it had been in a similar stage in Greece, by a class of men well qualified to carry it far towards perfection. The works of fifty Greek writers on agriculture were known to the Romans,(9) and those of several Carthaginians. Of these last, one, Mago, was marked by the honorable distinction of having his works translated into Latin in obedience to a formal decree of the Senate.(10) Roman works on agriculture were less numerous than the Greek, but they were the productions of eminent men, beginning with Cato the censor (qui eam latinè loqui primus instituit, Col.) and including Varro and Virgil. The great poet was far from being the last among the cultivators of his day, and has even, in a few remarkable lines, recommended that alternate husbandry, and substitution of pulse and green crops for fallows, which is the main basis of the most important improvements of our own times.
Alternis idem ton sas cessare novales,
Et segnem patiere situ durescere campum;
Aut ibi flava seres, mutato sidere, farra,
Unde prius betum siliquâ quassante legumen
Aut tenuis fetus viciae, tristisque lupini
Sustuleris fragiles calamos silvamque sonantem.
Geor. Lib. I. 1.71.
As the empire became larger, the size of estates increased; and when they were scattered over pro vinces which reached from Britain and Spain, to Asia Minor and Syria, the superintendance of the hnsbandry carried on upon them became burthensome and inefficient,(11) and even the task of training properly the villici or managers was abandoned, and the lands given up in some measure to the discretion of an inferior class of slaves. The immediate consequence was such a deficiency in the produce, that some strange and unknown cause was supposed to be enfeebling the fecundity of the earth itself. Among even the more eminent Romans, while some talked of a long continued unwholesomeness in the seasons, others were inclined to a superstitious belief,. that the world was waxing old, and its powers decaying that the exuberant crops reaped by their forefathers bad been the produce of its youthful strength; and that the sterility which then afflicted it was a symptom of its decrepitude.(12) Columella saw more distinctly the real cause of the falling off; he describes in a passage which has been often quoted, the malpractices of the slaves on those distant farms, which it was not easy for the proprietor often to visit; and though himself an indignant advocate for the more general practice of agriculture, as the most liberal and useful of arts, he concludes by recommending that all such estates should be let. "Ita fit ut et actor et familia peccent, et ager saepius infametur: quare talis generis praedium, si, ut dixi, domini praesentiâ cariturum est, censeo locandum."(13)
A race of tenants then gradually acquired possession of the surface of Italy and the provinces. They were of various classes, but the coloni partiarii or medietarii, metayers, seem always to have been favorites, and the terms on which they cultivated to have appeared the most just and expedient. Pliny, having tried, it seems, some other form of contract with his tenantry, and finding it answer ill, announces in one of his letters his determination to adopt the metayer system as the best remedy. "The only remedy," he says, "I can think of is, not to reserve my rent in money but in kind (partibus), and to place some of my servants to overlook the tillage, and to take care of my share of the produce, as indeed there is no sort of revenue more just than that, which is regulated by the soil, the climate, and the seasons."(14)
The system thus praised, ultimately prevailed throughout the provinces of the empire; and in the western part of Europe, was never wholly extirpated by the convulsions which accompanied its downfall. In many instances indeed the first violence of the barbarians put to flight all regular industry, and into the wilderness which they created they were obliged to introduce labor rents and a race of serfs. The feudal system too, and the numerous body of arrière vassals it gave birth to, changed the occupation of much of the country. But still, thick as the darkness was, which covered for a time the remains of Roman civilization, its effects were never wholly lost. The language, the customs, the laws of the provincials still survived, and sting. ling at last into influence they communicated much of their character to that mixed race which has arisen in western Europe: in different degrees in different countries, but enough in all the principal kingdoms to distinguish their inhabitants broadly from the more primitive race to the eastward of the Rhine.
The class of metayers was probably never any where wholly destroyed, and as time softened the character of the conquerors, and introduced some degree of confidence and security into their relations with the subject cultivators, industry began to return to its old employments. It was always an object gained by the landlord, if he could substitute a produce rent, and a tenant whom he could trust with the whole task of cultivation, for a rude serf like the German or Slavonic boor, whose labor he could rely on, only while he himself enforced and superintended it. Metayers therefore spread themselves: the domain lands of the proprietors fell generally into their hands, and they re-acquired that general, though not complete, possession of the agriculture of western Europe, which we see them in a great measure still retaining.
On Metayer Rents in France.
The province of Gaul was violently affected in all its social relations, by the various irruptions and final predominance of the barbarians. The gradual establishment of feudal tenures, and the introduction of serfs and labor rents, were two of the most important effects of the change of masters. The number and species of feudal tenures, were multiplied to a strange extent in France by the practice of subinfeudation; which had been checked in England, but prevailed widely on the continent. The seignoral rights, and the rents and services to which they gave rise, were ranged by the French lawyers under 300 heads, the subdivisions of which they state to be infinite.(15)
Some of these multiplied rights no doubt were engrafted on the more simple relation of the serfs to their landlords; for as the feudal system became familiar to the people, the notions and phraseology to which it gave birth, extended themselves to a multitude of relations and objects, quite foreign to the original aim of the system itself. Thus on the continent annuities in money or corn were granted as feuds, and occasionally even the use of sums of money,(16) and in England the copyholder, whom we can distinctly trace to the villein or slave, was admitted to swear fealty and do homage to his lord much in the manner of the military tenants; a practice which still continues. Thus also, those admitted to degrees at our Universities do feudal homage to the Vice-Chancellor. By a similar abuse of feudal forms, some of the serfs in France no doubt ranked at last amongst the manorial tenantry of the Seigneur, and their relation was considered to be a feudal one.
But besides the serfs thus gradually assimilated to vassals, there were other serfs whose state of slavery was as distinct and undisguised as that of the Russian cultivators is now: they existed for some time in considerable numbers, and continued to exist in several provinces up to the era of the revolution. We will say something of these before we proceed to the metayers. They were found on the estates of the crown, of lay individuals, and of ecclesiastics, under the name of mainmortables, which was used indifferently with that of serf, and appears to have been considered synonymous with it. They were attached to the soil, and if they escaped from it, were restored by the interference of the tribunals to their owners, to whom their persons and those of their posterity belonged. They were incapable of transmitting property: if they acquired any, their owners might seize it at their death: the exercise of this right was in full vigor, and some startling instances led Louis XVI. to make a feeble attempt at a partial emancipation. Proprietors, exercising their droit de suite as it was called, had forced the reluctant tribunals of the king to deliver into their hands the property of deceased citizens who had been long settled as respectable inhabitants in different towns of France, some even in Paris itself; but who were proved to have been originally serfs on the estates of the claimants. The contrast between the condition of these poor people and that of the rest of the population, became then too strong to be endured; but though the naturally kind feelings of Louis appear to have been roused upon the occasion, he ventured no farther, than to give liberty to the serfs or mainmortables on his own domains, and to abolish indirectly the droit de suite, by forbidding his tribunals to seize the person or property of serfs, who had once become domiciled in free districts. In the edict published by the unfortunate monarch on this subject, he declares that this state of slavery exists in several of his provinces, and includes a great number of his subjects, and lamenting that he is not rich enough to ransom them all, he states that his respect for the rights of property will not allow him to interfere between them and their owners, but he expresses a hope that his example and the love of humanity so peculiar to the French people, would lead under his reign to the entire emancipation of all his subjects.(17)
To return however to our immediate object, the metayer tenantry. In spite of the cultivation by vassals and serfs, and that at one time doubtless to a very considerable extent, the metayers had in their possession before the revolution four-sevenths of the surface of France.(18) Another one-sixth or one-seventh was in the possession of capitalists finding their own stock and paying money-rents.(19) The remainder was held by the proprietors, or by serf or feudal tenantry.
The terms on which the French metayers held their farms, differed much from age to age: these variations do not immediately strike the eye of an observer, because the nominal rent, and nominal share of the tenant, have changed but little, and the metayer still very generally takes that portion of the produce, viz, the half, from which his original name of medietarius was derived. But while the metayer tenant pays nominally the same rent, his own share of the produce may be diminished in two modes: by his being subjected to a greater quantity of the public burthens: or by the size of his metairie being reduced. By this second mode of reduction, I am not aware that the French metayer suffered much: fifty acres was not an unusual size for a metairie; in poor districts they comprised a much larger quantity of land.(20)
By the first mode of reducing his share of the produce, that is, by the increase of the public burthens which he had to bear, the metayer suffered to an extent, fatal both to his own comforts and to the prosperity of agriculture; a circumstance, which had a great share in converting the peasantry into those reckless instruments of mischief, which they proved in many instances to be, during the revolution.
The Taille was an imposition which the French antiquaries think they can trace to the age of the Emperor Augustus;(21) we know that it was levied by the barons on their vassals during the ages of feudal anarchy; by the sovereign as sovereign, that is beyond the limits of his own domains, as early as 1325: that it became under Charles VII., in 1444, an annual tax, and continued afterwards to be the main branch of the revenue of the kingdom.(22) It was meant to be levied according to the means of the contributor, and was extremely defective both in its principle and mode of imposition; but even these defects would not, perhaps, have made it intolerable, had it not been for its gradually increasing amount, which at last almost absorbed the daily bread of the peasant. It would have been well for these poor people had that proved true in their case, which has lately been promulgated with great confidence as an universal truth, namely, that when once certain habits of life are established among a population, a diminution of their means of subsistence is followed invariably by a slackened rate of the increase of their numbers, and a consequent rise of wages, which restores them to their former position. Theirs was a different lot. As the command of the French peasants over the means of existence became less, their habits altered, but their numbers did not decrease; some one was always found ready to occupy a metairie, "parceque, (says M. Destutt de Tracy, in describing their misery) il y a touj ours des malheureux qui ne savent que devenir."
The mode in which the taille gradually produced the degradation of the peasantry, is feelingly, and, no doubt, accurately described by Turgot,(23) in his correspondence with the ministers, while intendant of the Limosin.
After remarking, that while the cultivator really received half his produce, he had the means of becoming gradually a small capitalist, and ultimately of providing the stock and paying a money-rent, he observes, that if the tax had from its origin been laid on the landholders, this natural progress of events would not have been deranged, and would have procured to the owner the enjoyment of his revenue, without any care on his part: but that the taille was at first a species of poll-tax, and very light, from which the nobles were exempt: that as the tax increased, it became necessary to levy it in proportion to the means of the cultivators, which were calculated according to the extent of their occupations, a method by which the privilege of the nobles was eluded: that while the imposition was moderate, the metayer paid it by retrenching his comforts; but that the tax increasing constantly, the portion of the cultivator was so much diminished, that at last he was reduced to the most profound misery. These reflexions, he says, explain how it came to be possible, that the cultivators should be plunged into the excess of misery in which they then existed in the Limosin and Angoumois, and perhaps in other provinces of "petite culture." That misery he declares is such, that on the greater part of the domains, the cultivators had not, after paying their taxes, more than from 25 to 30 livres to spend annually for each person, (not in money, but reckoning the value of all that they consumed in kind); often they had less, and when they could subsist no longer, the proprietor was obliged to contribute to their maintenance. Some proprietors, he adds, had been at last forced to perceive, that their pretended exemption had been much more mischievous than useful to them; and that an imposition which had entirely ruined their cultivators, had fallen back wholly on themselves. But the illusions of selfinterest ill understood, supported by vanity, had long maintained their ground, and were only dissipated when things were carried to such an excess, that the proprietors would have found no one to cultivate their lands, if they had not consented to contribute with their metayers to the payment of a part of the imposition. That custom had begun to introduce itself into some parts of the Limosin, but had not extended itself much : the proprietor yielded to such an arrangement only, when he could find no metayer without it; and even in that case the metayer was always reduced to what was strictly necessary(24) to prevent his dying from hunger.
The tax evidently did not begin to move from the shoulders of the laborer to those of the employer, till the first had been gradually reduced to the minimum of subsistence, and then only moved to such an extent as was necessary to preserve to him that minimum.
The revolution converted many of these metayers into small proprietors, but they still abound in France; and their condition seems to have altered for the better, less than might have been expected from the changes which have taken place in the system of taxation. Mr. Destutt de Tracy, a member of the Institute, and peer of France under the Emperor, who states himself to have been for 40 years proprietor of a domain farmed by metayers, gives a wretched account of their condition, and states that he is acquainted with metairies, which have never, in the memory of man, supplied the food of the metayers from their own half of the produce. As his description is the most authentic account of this tenancy as it exists at present in France, I subjoin it.(25)
"Ils forment ce que l'on appelle communément des domaines on des metairics, et ils y attachent frequemment autant et plus de terres qu'il n'y en a dans les grandes fermes, surtout si l'on ne dedaigne pas de mettre en ligne de compte les terres vagues, qui ordinairement ne sont pas rares dans ces pays, et qui ne sont pas tout-à-fait sans utilité, puisqu' on s'en sert pour le pacage, on meme pour y faire de temps en temps quelques emblavures afin de laisser reposer les champs plus habituellement cultivés.
Le propriétaire est donc reduit a les garnir lui-même de bestiaux, d' utensiles, et de tout ce qui est necessaire a l'exploitation, et y établir une famille de paysans, qui n' ont que leur bras, et avec lesquels il convient ordinairement, au lieu de leur donner des gages, de leur abandonner la moitié du produit, pour le salaire de leurs peines. C'est de là qu'ils sont appelès metayera, travailleurs moitié. Si la terre est trop mauvaise, cette moitié des produits eat manifestement inauffisante pour faire vivre, même miserablement, le nombre d'hommes necessaire pour Ia travailler; ils s'endettent bientôt, et on eat oblige de lea renvoyer. Cependant on en trouve toujours pour lea remplacer, parce qu'il y a toujours des malheureux qui ne savent que devenir. Ceux-là même vont ailleurs, oû ils ont souvent le même sort. Je connais de ces métairies, qui de memoire d'homme n'ont jamais nourri leurs laboreurs au moyen de leur moitié de fruits."
It appears by an article in the Foreign Quarterly, published while these pages were in the press, that in spite of the multiplication of small proprietors since the revolution, metayers are supposed still to cultivate one-half of France. Their actual condition is little improved, it appears, by the change which has taken place in the system of taxation, and their sufferings are aggravated by the spread of a class of middle-men (always existing to some extent) who without changing the terms on which the actual cultivator holds the soil, pays a money-rent to the proprietor, and grinds and oppresses the tenant to make his bargain profitable. The condition of the French metayers has been treated of with some fulness. This will enable us to review more rapidly the same class of tenantry existing in other countries, and differing from the French only in local peculiarities.
On Metayer Rents in Italy.
The decline of the power of the Roman and Byzantine Emperors in Italy was gradual and slow; the shade of her great name seemed to suspend a shield for a time before the precincts of the ancient capital. Both the language and the history of the Italians indicate, that the alterations in the habits and in the mechanism of society, produced in the original seats of the empire by the final change of masters and intermixture of races, were much less violent and general than those which took place in the distant provinces. From many districts of Italy it is probable that the coloni medietarii never disappeared, and that the peasants who now cultivate the soil have succeeded to them in an unbroken line. The large grazing farms of Lombardy, the tracts of the Campagna, the maremnae which occur on the coast, are occupied by capitalists; for wherever large herds of cattle are to be maintained, neither the peasant nor the landlords are able to supply them. But in spite of these, and perhaps other exceptions, Italy, from the Alps to Calabria, is still covered with metayers.(26) The metairies of Italy are less than those of France. Their extent will every where be governed by what the landlord supposes to be his interest: if it is an object with him that his estates should not have fewer hands than are equal to its complete cultivation, so it is an object with him, that it should not have more. The number of acres which a metayer and his family can manage, must depend much on the course of crops and mode of tillage. In France the system of cropping, once universal in Northern Europe, still prevails extensively; that is, corn crops while the land can bear them, and then fallows, or leys of some years standing, with some waste ground for pasture. On such a plan a family require and can manage a considerable tract. In Italy the rotation of crops practised by the Romans is still carried on; the legumina recommended by Virgil are extensively cultivated, and the cattle are often fed from the produce of the arable ground. On such a system, a much smaller quantity of land will employ and maintain a family. Metayers are always found ready to accept a subdivision. For reasons we shall have to explain presently, those motives to a voluntary forbearance from early marriages which affect the higher classes in all countries, and all classes in some countries have rarely much influence on a peasantry receiving the wages of their labor in the shape of raw produce raised by themselves. Such are metayers: their multiplication as, we have seen in the case of France, usually goes on till they are stopped by the smallness of their maintenance, or, as more often happens, by the policy of the proprietors refusing to subdivide lands, already supplied with labor beyond the point they deem most advantageous to themselves.(27) The metayer farms in different parts of Italy are of different sizes; those of Tuscany include about ten acres. But in Naples they do not exceed five, and the tenants there pay two-thirds of the produce as rents. Their climate and soil enable them to do this: the first permits them to dispense with many things which are strictly necessaries elsewhere, while the earth with bounteous fertility produces eight crops in five years, in fields shaded at the same time by a profitable forest of fruit trees and vines. Still, making ample allowance for these advantages, one-third of the produce of five acres must yield a miserable subsistence to a peasant, subject all the while to the exactions of a needy government, and of an aristocracy armed with all sorts of mischievous powers and privileges, and extremely inclined to abuse them. The Tuscan metayers are considered to be best off, and near Florence have a considerable appearance of ease, which is attributed partly to the manufacture of straw hats, an employment very general among them. But at a distance from the town, their circumstances are wretched; their food coarse, bad, and scanty; and their penury such as keeps them in a state of perpetual debt to the landlords for food or assistance of different kinds.(28)
Mr. Coxe, who some years since visited the Valteline, and Mr. Gilly, who more lately was among the Vaudois, give a miserable account of the poverty of the metayers. In the provinces of Spain in which they most abound, they are said to be extremely poor. The cultivation of the Canary Islands is in their hands.
In Afghaunisthaun, a race of tenants is found called Buzgurs,(29) who seem to differ in no respect from the metayers of Western Europe. This is a singular instance in Asia, where this tenancy, although sometimes partially engrafted on Ryot rents, is perhaps in no other spot to be found existing in its pure form. But Afghaunisthaun is a strange land, in which, from the peculiarities of its geographical and political condition, fragments of almost all the civil institutions known in the rest of the world continue to co-exist in a state of confusion approaching to anarchy.
Summary of Metayer Rents.
Upon comparing the metayer with the serf, it is obvious that he has many advantages: his being entrusted with the whole care of the cultivation is a circumstance which not only indicates his supenor estimation in society, but brings with it substantial improvements in his condition: we have noticed that the forced labor of the serf supposes some power of summary coercion in the master, without which, cultivation could hardly go on. But the metayer is freed from the galling superintendance of the proprietor, and the terms of their connection do not make such a summary power necessary. That, of the metayers, many were once slaves there can be little doubt; they are, and have been for some ages generally, I believe universally, freemen; and the sovereigns of the different countries in which they exist, have been able in most cases so far to extend the power of the royal tribunals, as effectually to secure their persons and effects.
Another advantage of the metayer, which in practice, it is to be feared, is less than might be hoped, is this; that, as the landlord's rent depends upon the amount of the produce, he has an obvious interest in preventing the energy or the means of the tenant from being lessened by oppression. A half starved metayer must needs be a bad agent in a cultivation, on the efficiency of which the proprietor's revenue depends, and the losses of which he must share. But what Turgot calls "the illusions of self-interest ill understood," or in plain terms, perhaps, the covetousness and ignorance of the proprietors, have prevented the tenant from reaping all the benefit this consideration might have been expected to secure to him. While the taille in France, for instance, could be extracted from the tenant, we have seen that he was made to bear it, though it kept him on the verge of starvation; and in other countries, either the too great subdivision of the soil, the increase of the landlord's proportion of the produce, or the saddling the tenant with burthensome conditions as to the taxes, have left him in a state of great and helpless depression. Still the common interest he has with the landlord in the success of his industry is never wholly without its effects. When reduced to extremities, the tenant has a patron to apply to, who cannot for his own sake let him perish, or even suffer beyond a certain point;(30) and in calamitous seasons, advances of food and other necessaries by the landlords are almost universal.
But if the relation between the metayer and the proprietor has some advantages when compared with that between the serf tenant paying labor rents and his lord: it has also some very serious inconveniences peculiar to itself. The divided interest which exists in the produce of cultivation, mars almost every attempt at improvement. The tenant is unwilling to listen to the suggestions of the landlord, the landlord reluctant to entrust additional means in the hands of a prejudiced, and usually very ignorant tenant. The tenant's dread of innovation is natural; he merely exists upon a system of cultivation familiar to him: the failure of an experiment might leave him to starve. This dread, however, makes it almost impossible to introduce improvements into the practice of the metayers. Arthur Young witnessed many attempts made by amateur agriculturists on their own estates; and concludes his account of them by declaring, that with metayer tenants, the common system of the country must be adhered to, be it good or bad.(31) While the tenant is frightened at a change of system, the landlord hangs back, with a hardly less mischievous reluctance, from the advances necessary to carry on efficiently any system whatever. When stock is to be advanced by one party, and used by another for their common benefit, some waste and carelessness in the receiving party, great jealousy and reluctance in the contributing party, follow naturally. The proprietors, (says Turgot,) who only advance stock because they cannot avoid it, and who are themselves not rich, confine their advances to what is most strictly necessary; accordingly, there is no comparison to be made between the stock advanced by a proprietor for the cultivation of his metairies, and that used by farmers in districts cultivated by capitalists.(32) We know, however, from other authority, that the capital to which that of the metayers was thus decidedly inferior, was itself extremely scanty.(33)
Where the proprietor, are needy, careless, or absent, the case becomes of course much worse. "In bad years, (Turgot remark.) the proprietor is obliged to feed the metayers, for fear of losing all he has advanced. This mode of management requires on the part of the proprietor continual attention, and an habitual residence: accordingly, if it is seen that the share of a proprietor are in the smallest degree deranged, or if he is obliged from any cause to absent himself his metairies cease to produce him any thing. The estates of widows and minors usually relapse into waste."(34) When we remember the number of proprietor. who were necessarily absent from military duties or other causes, and add them to the widows, and minors, and persons whose affairs were deranged, the list of estates either very badly cultivated, or not cultivated at all, will appear formidable indeed, and we are prepared to hear without surprise "of the exhausted state of the province" and the "abandonment of many metairie estates for want of cattle, and the inability of the proprietors to provide stock."(35)
The causes which, under the eyes of Turgot, produced these effects in the Limosin, must act more or less in all the metayer countries of Europe, and must produce much of the poverty to be observed in them.
Metayer rents may increase, it is clear, from two causes, from an increase of the whole produce effected by the greater skill or industry of the tenant, or from an increase of the landlord's proportion of the produce, the amount of the produce itself remaining the same. When rent increases, and the produce remains stationary, the country at large gains nothing by the increase; it. means of paying taxes, of supporting loots and armies, are just what they were before: there has been a transfer of wealth, but no increase of it; but when metayer rents increase, because the produce has become larger, then the country itself is richer to that extent; its power of paying taxes, of supporting fleets and armies has been increased; there has been an increase of wealth, not a mere transfer from one hand to another of what before existed. Such an increase of rents indicates also another increase of wealth as extensive, and more beneficial, which is found in the augmentation of the revenues of the metayers themselves, whose half the produce is augmented to precisely the same extent as the landlord's.
The existence of rents upon the metayer system, is in no degree dependent upon the existence of different qualities of soil or of different returns to the stock and labor employed. The landlords of any country who, with small quantities of stock, have quantities of land, sufficient to enable a body of peasant laborers to maintain themselves, would continue to derive a revenue as landowners from sharing in the produce of the industry of those laborers, though all the lands in the country were perfectly equal in quality.
In metayer countries the wages of the main body of the people depend upon the rent they pay. The quantity of produce being determined by the fertility of the soil, the extent of the metairie, and the skill, industry, and efficiency of the metayer, then the division of that produce, on which division his wages depend, is determined by his contract with the landlord. In like manner the amount of rent in such countries is determined by the amount of wages. The whole amount of produce being decided as before, the landlord's share, or the rent, depends upon the contract he makes with the laborer, that is, upon the amount deducted as wages.
Of the three large classes of peasant rents, metayer rents prevail the least extensively. They spread over a portion of the cultivated surface of the earth considerably less than those in which labor rents or ryot rents predominate. But they occupy countries which have long been the seats of nations eminent in the foremost ranks of civilized people, and which are likely for many ages to be among the most distinguished depositaries of the knowledge and the arts of mankind.
These too are agricultural nations: that is, by far the greater part of their productive population is employed in agriculture. The extent of their wealth must be mainly dependent, therefore, on the success of their agriculture, and the success of their agriculture will be determined in a great degree by the nature of the conditions under which the land is occupied, and by the character of their tenantry.
Not only the wealth of a nation, but the composition of society, the extent and the respective influence of the different classes of which it consists, are powerfully affected by the efficiency of agriculture. The extent of the classes maintained in non-agricultural employments throughout the world, must be determined by the quantity of food which the cultivators produce beyond what is necessary for their own maintenance. The agriculturists of England for instance produce food sufficient to maintain themselves, and double their own numbers. Now the existence of this large non-agricultural population, the wealth and influence of its employers, and of those persons who traffic in the produce of its industry, affect in a very striking manner the actual elements of political power among the English, their practical constitution, and their national character and habits. To the absence of such a body of non-agriculturists and of the wealth and influence which accompany their existence, we may trace many of the political phenomena to be observed among our continental neighbours. If the agriculture of those neighbours should ever become so efficient, as to enable them to maintain a non-agricultural population, at all proportionable to our own, they may perhaps approximate to a social and political organization similar to that seen here. At all events they will have the means of doing so. I am giving, it will be remembered, no opinion on the desirableness of such an approximation, but there can be no question as to the striking effects the change must produce on their habits and institutions, and on the amount of their national strength and external influence.
That no very marked change in the efficiency of agriculture, and in the relative numbers of agricultural and non-agricultural population will take place in any nation, while the metayer system remains in full force, is what we are entitled to assume, from the view we have already taken of the inherent faults and of the past effects of that system. The actual prevalence of metayer rents therefore, their modifications, their gradual progress in some cases towards different forms of holding, in others, the sturdy resistance the system offers to the assaults of time and even to the wishes and the efforts of those, who would willingly rid themselves of it; these are all circumstances to be studied carefully by those who would discern the causes of the actual state of some of the most interesting countries in Europe, or speculate upon the progress of future changes either in their political and social institutions, or in their relative strength and power as nations.
To these claims to an attentive examination we add another of not less importance, which has been already incidentally mentioned, namely, the strict connection which metayer rents have (in common with the other systems of peasant rents) with the wages of by far the larger portion of the industrious population of countries in which they prevail. This connection brings their effects into close contact with the comforts, the character and condition of an important division of the great family of mankind, and is alone sufficient to secure to them, in all their details and variations, the anxious attention of the statesman and practical philanthropist.
1. This sketch of the tenantry peculiar to early Greece might have been made more extensive and perhaps more precise. They may be traced in many other districts, and some distinctions might certainly be drawn between the classes named: but this is a subject into the details of which it would be difficult to enter, without either launching into lengthy discussion, or stating shortly as facts, what are really only conjectures. Those who may wish to follow the matter up to the original testimony, on which all conclusions relating to it must rest, may consult Ruhnken's notes on the words , and in his edition of the Platonic Lexicon of Timus, two notes relating to the institutions of Laconia and Crete, affixed to Göttling's edition of Aristotle's politics; and above all Miller's elaborate history of the Dorian states, a valuable work, for a translation of which the English public are about to be indebted, and very deeply indebted certainly, to Messrs. Tuffnell and Lewis. While referring to the two last of these German writers, it may be right to mention that there are one or two points on which I must venture to dissent from their conclusions: these are shortly noticed in the Appendix.
2. Aristotle's Politics, Book II.
3. Boeckh, however, seems of opinion that at one period of the history of Attica, all the cultivators of its territory were Thetes. (Vol. I. p. 250. English Translation.) They may have been so; but it is impossible, I think, to read the fifth book of the Memorabilia, (the µ ) of Xenophon, without feeling persuaded, that in his days the very memory of such a state of things was gone. The Thetes continued to exist as a class in the state long after they had ceased to be its exclusive cultivators, if they ever were such.
5. Pol. Book I. Cap. iii.
6. Aristot. Pol. Book VII. Cap. x. If these cannot be obtained, Aristotle expresses a wish for barbarian perioeci (compounds of the serf; metayer, and slave) of similar dispositions.
7. Arist. Pol. Book I. Cap. iv. Those who are able to escape these vexations, procure a steward to undertake the task; while they themselves attend to politics or philosophy.
8. See Historical Outline of the Greek Revolution published by Murray, p. 9. "The nominal conditions upon which the christian peasant of European Turkey labours for the Turkish proprietor, are not oppressive: they were among the many established usages of the country adopted by the Ottomans, and the practice is similar to that which is still very common in all the poorer countries of Europe. After the deduction of about a seventh for the imperial land-tax, the landlord receives half the remainder, or a larger share, according to the proportion of seed, stock, and instruments of husbandry which he has supplied."
9. Columella, Book I Chap. i.
10. Ibid. Book I. Chap. i.
11. Col. Book I. chap. i. Nam qui longinqua, ne dicam transmarina rura mercantur, velut haeredibus patrimonio suo, et quod gravius est, vivi, cedunt servis.
12. Col. Book I. chap. i.
13. Col. Lib. I. chap. vii.
14. Plin. Epist. Book IX. 87. It appears from another letter that the most expensive stock supplied to the tenantry by the proprietors consisted of the slaves.
15. Dict. de Finance, Vol. II. p. 115.
16. Hargreave and Butler's Notes on Coke upon Littleton. Sect. 800. Note on Tenants in common.
17. For this edict, see Dict. des Finances, at the word Mainmorte.
18. This is the calculation of Dupres St. Maur, sanctioned by Turgot. Adam Smith states five-sixths. Turgot, Vol. VI. p. 209. Smith, Vol. II. p. 92. Edition of 1812. Arthur Young thinks seven-eighths, Vol. 1. p. 403.
19. Arthur Young, Vol. 1. p. 402.
20. Arthur Young however, it is right to mention, came to a different conclusion. "The division of farms," he says, "and the population is so great that the misery flowing from it is in some places extreme." Vol. 1. p. 404. he gives some instances: but it may be questioned whether these were not small proprietors or feudal tenants.
21. Dict. des finances. Discours Preliminaires, Part VII. and Tom. III. p. 687.
22. Dict. des Finances, Tom. III. p. 638689.
23. By Vauban in the Dixame Royal, and in the "Detail de la France," with more detail and animation; but these descriptions are less exclusively applicable to the Metayier peasantry than Turgot's.
24. Ainsi, même dans ce cas-là, le metayer est toujours réduit à ce qu'il faut précisement pour ne pas mourir de faim. Turgot, Tom. IV. p. 277. Memoire presented to the Council, Oeuvres de Turgot, Tom. IV. p. 271, 272, 274, 275.
25. Destutt de Tracy Traité D'Economie Politique, p: 116.
26. That is, where the lands are let: small proprietors are not uncommon.
27. There are, however, parts of Tuscany where it is the custom for the eldest son only to marry, but no restraints of this kind have prevented the Italian metayers, generally, from increasing till their numbers became fully equal to the demands of the proprietors, and in many cases really burthensome to agriculture.
28. Arthur Young's Travels in France and Italy. Appendix. These volumes contain much detailed information on the situation of the metayers in Lombardy and Tuscany.
29. Elphinston's Caubul. Vol. 1. p. 471.
30. Turgot. Destutt Tracy. Arthur Young.
31. Arthur Young's Travels in France.
32. OEuvres de Turgot, Tom. IV. p. 267.
33. Arthur Young.
34. Turgot, Tom. VI. p. 203, 204.
35. Ibid. Tom. IV. p. 802.