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TRAVELS IN FRANCE
BY ARTHUR YOUNG
DURING THE YEARS 1787, 1788, 1789.
AN INTRODUCTION, BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH, AND NOTES
Central, and Southern France,” fc., &c.
YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
T is with peculiar appropriateness that these famous travels
are once more given to the world. Just a hundred years ago the Suffolk squire accomplished his last journey, under circumstances without parallel in history. He had quitted Paris towards the end of June, 1789, having come to the conclusion that, with the constitution of the National Assembly “the whole business now seemed over and the revolution complete.” With true British coolness he pursued his agricultural inquiries, this time taking an easterly direction. On the ever memorable fourteenth of July we find him at Metz, leisurely as any modern tourist inspecting “what was worth viewing ” in the city. A few days later, on reaching Strasburg, he learns the great news : The Bastille has fallen!
The whole kingdom is now in a blaze. He sees famished mobs clamouring for bread; he hears of seigneurs fleeing from burning châteaux; he is roughly compelled to don the tricolour; his liberty, even life, are menaced; yet the imperturbable Englishman goes on. The wind carries his first cockade into the river;
purchases a second, taking care to have it securely fastened, and although naïvely confessing the discomforts of travel “in such an unquiet and fermenting moment,” the thought of turning back does not occur to him.
Alone, unarmed, ignorant of the various patois—sole medium of intercourse in rural districts—our inquisitive and dauntless traveller visits one out-of-the-way region after another, apparently unconscious, whilst narrating these unique experiences, that his conduct was little short of heroic.
The fittest introduction to the centennial edition of such a work is surely a survey of France in the present day-not made in the Rotunda of the British Museum or by the library fireside, but after Arthur Young's own fashion-the fruits of investigations as laboriously and lovingly pursued as those of my great predecessor. I have now followed in his footsteps for upwards of fifteen years, visiting and revisiting various parts of the country described by him so graphically on the eve of the Revolution. Let us glance at the contrasted picture of France under the ancien régime and under the Third Republic.
His earliest journey takes him in a south-westerly direction, through the Orleannais and the Berri, where for the first time he meets with métayage-"a miserable system,"he writes, “that perpetuates poverty and excludes instruction ;” and he goes on to describe the fields as “scenes of pitiable management, and the houses, of misery."
Throughout the entire work we find métayage, or farming on half profits, condemned in the strongest terms, yet nothing has done more to improve the condition of the peasant and of husbandry within the last fifty years. Métayage, indeed, which is but another name for co-operative agriculture, forms the stepping-stone from the status of hired labourer to that of capitalist; and whilst the métayer raises himself in the social scale, extensive wastes are by his agency brought under cultivation. So popular is “la culture à mi-fruits,” that, according to the census of 1872, 11,182,000 hectares were in the hands of métayers, and 9,360,000 in those of peasant owners. In 1880 a diminution is seen—18 per cent. of métayage to set against 21 per cent. of proprietorship. Some parts of France are far more favourable to agricultural partnerships than others. We find 27,484 métairies in the department of the Landes, 24,893 in the Dordogne, 11,632 in the Allier, 11,568 in the Gironde, whilst in the Haute Savoie and the Lozère they may be counted by the hundred, the last-named numbering 325 only. In most cases, be it remembered, the métayer owns a bit of land. Two conditions are necessary to success : in the first place, the fermiergénéral, or farm bailiff, must be dispensed with ; in the second, a good understanding is necessary between the two contracting parties—the one supplying land, stock, and implements, the other, manual labour, all produce being equally shared. From fifty to a hundred and fifty acres is found to be the most favourable size of a métairie.
i See, for full information, the contribution of M. H. Baudrillart of the Institut to the “ Revue des Deux Mondes,” Ist Oct., 1885, “Le Métayage en France et son avenir.”
We will now consider the present state of things in the Berri, a region about which Arthur Young has nothing to say, except that the husbandry was poor and the people miserable. As all readers of Georges Sand know well, it is a land of heaths and wastes, but the extent of uncultivated tracts is being reduced year by year. So rapid is the progress that the great novelist herself would hardly recognize certain portions of the country she has described so inimitably. What, then, must be the changes wrought in a hundred years? The transformation is partly realized by inspecting a pre-Revolutionary hovel. Here and there may be seen one of these bare, windowless cabins, now used as an out-house, and, in juxtaposition, the neat, airy, solid dwellings the peasant owners have built for themselves.
Four years ago I was the guest of a country gentleman near Châteauroux, chef-lieu of the department of the Indre, formed from the ancient Berri. Formerly owner of an entire commune, my host had gradually reduced his estate by selling small parcels of land to his day-labourers. He informed me that, whilst partly actuated by philanthropic motives, he was commercially a gainer. The expense of cultivating such large occupations was very great, and he could not hope for anything like the returns of the small freeholder. We visited many of these newly-made farms, with their spick-and-span buildings, the whole having the appearance of a little settlement in the Far West. The holdings varied in extent from six to thirty acres, their owners being capitalists to the amount of from two or three hundred to a thousand pounds. In each case the purchaser had built himself a small but commodious dwelling, and suitable out-houses. The land was well stocked and cultivated, the people were neatly and appropriately dressed, and the signs of general contentment and well-being delightful to contemplate. We next visited a métairie of nearly four hundred acres, and here the farmstead was on a large scale; the métayer employed several labourers who were boarded in the house, as was formerly the custom in certain parts of England, besides two or three dairymaids.