Puslapio vaizdai

an evil.

possible advantage bears no proportion to the risk, were it risk alone that would be incurred, and not the certainty of dearth, the probability of famine, and the imminent danger of a servile war.

Beware,' says Ben Jonson, of dealing with the Belly; the Belly will not be talked to, especially when he is full; then there is no venturing upon Venter. Still less is there any venturing upon him when he is empty! There is cause enough, God knows, for anxiety in our dependence upon the seasons,-cause enough, God knows, for ominous apprehensions and for fearful prayer, when we consider the ways of Providence, and call to mind our national sins. Under the merciful dispensations of that Providence, the progress of society had rendered this country as secure against famine as good husbandry, national industry, and a settled order of things can render any nation in the ordinary course of nature. Let us beware how we incur a needless, a voluntary, a wilful danger, for the delusive hope of rendering bread cheap, and of extending our manufacturing system,-doubly delusive, because neither object could be attained, and each, if attained, would be

The assertion that low prices are, in this country, an evil, will not be deemed paradoxical by those who peruse Mr. Barton's pamphlet. That gentleman introduces a most curious and important inquiry into the effects of prices upon the rate of mortality, with these remarks:

• It is generally assumed by the advocates for unrestricted importation, that every decline in the price of corn contributes directly to the welfare of the labouring classes, by enabling them to obtain a larger supply of the comforts and conveniences of life. This would indeed be the case, if we could consider the amount of a labourer's earnings as a fixed quantity, uninfluenced by the state of demand for labour. But, in fact, the rate of wages is affected in a very sensible degree by the price of corn, and the collective income of the whole of the labouring classes in a still greater degree. Persons residing in agricultural districts, and having daily opportunities of observing the condition of the poor about them, can testify, that in times when the price of corn has been lowest, not only have the occupiers of land been reduced to difficulties, but the labourers in their employ severely distressed by the difficulty of obtaining work. It would not, indeed, be easy for the most careful and impartial inquirer to discover by direct observation the amount of distress inflicted by any given fall in the price of corn on the body of agricultural labourers; still less to determine how far the same reduction of price may occasion a corresponding improvement in the condition of the manufacturing labourer, such as to compensate, at least in degree, the sufferings of the agriculturists. For. tunately, however, we have a criterion of the comparative pressure of poverty at different times,-a criterion of great accuracy as well as


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sensibility, if employed with proper precautions,-in the varying rate of mortality. Not that the mortality of any single year, or even of a. small number of years, would afford any such criterion; for undoubtedly the health and longevity of the people are affected by a variety of causes unconnected with the price of corn ;-by the severity or mildness of the seasons, by commercial prosperity or distress, and by other causes, more, perhaps, than it would be easy to enumerate. But in proportion as we extend the number of years from which our average is drawn, the influence of these perturbing causes is progressively diminished; and by an application of some of the simplest methods of the Calculus of Probabilities, we can even determine with great nicety how far the effect of such extraneous causes is excluded in any given

I determined, therefore, to examine whether any sensible connexion can be traced between the price of corn and the rate of mortality in different years.'—Inquiry, pp. 1-3.

Comparing, by a series of cautious calculations, the number of deaths and marriages with the price of wheat, during the forty years from 1780 to 1820, Mr. Barton comes—by the surest data and the clearest deductions—to the following conclusions :

“That the extremes of high and low price are both unfavourable to the comfort and health of the labouring classes. That of the intermediate prices, that is most favourable which approaches to the higher extreme. That the extreme of low price is chiefly fatal in agricultural districts. That, even in manufacturing districts, the extreme of low price is unfavourable to human life, though to a much less extent than in agricultural districts. That the number of marriages increases regularly and progressively as the price of corn declines; excepting at the extreme of low price, when it again slightly diminishes. And, as the general result of the whole of the preceding facts-that sleadiness of price is the great desideratum. A vast difference takes place in the total mortality of a given series of years, whether the price oscillates within narrow limits above and below the mean ; or, on the contrary, touches occasionally on the lower; though the average price of the whole period may be the same in both cases. A middle price is most contributive to the welfare of the poor, or a price rather approaching to the higher limit.'--Pp. 22, 3.

He shows that nearly seventy thousand lives are destroyed, on an average, within the limits of this island, in one year, by a reduction of the price of wheat from 100s. to 50s. per quarter. These are not theoretical opinions ; they are strict deductions from official returns, the most ample, the most elaborate, and the most accurate that have ever been produced in any country.*

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* Yet M. Adolphe Quetelèt, director of the Brussels Observatory, was asked before the select committee on parochial registration, if he did not think that we in England are in a state of great destitution of much important political and economical knowledge.' And to this choicely worded question, M. Adolphe Quetelètreplied, 'Lately at the philosophical meeting at Cambridge, it was the subject of discussion; I heard from


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At the extreme of low prices, the mortality of the agricultural districts is greater by 17 per cent, than that of the manufacturing. At a middle price, they become nearly equal. At the extreme of high price, the mortality of the manufacturing districts is greater than that of the agricultural by 16 per cent.' (p. 11.) All these proportions rise and fall with almost exact regularity through all the gradations of price upon which the results have been calculated. But low prices produce also in manufacturing districts an increase of mortality, increased drunkenness being then the apparent cause, during those years when the manufacturers were in good employ, and provisions cheap.

These consequences are shown by experience to have resulted from the low price of agricultural produce, without taking into the account the effect produced upon the poor-rates, and the commensurate growth of discontent, insubordination, and incendiarism. The consequence of the further reduction expected from those measures which the political economists and the antibread-tax societies' are endeavouring to force upon the government, would be to throw much of our inferior land out of cultivation. Observe the consequences ! A Wiltshire steward and land-surveyor was asked by the Committee ·

Could you raise sheep for any useful purpose, or for any profit, if you had not at the same time a remunerating profit for your corn ?A. Certainly not.—Q. So that—if by any circumstance the corn land was thrown out of cultivation, in consequence of any supply being received from abroad, or by any other means -could the farmers possibly produce meat for the markets of the towns, unless they had encouragement which enabled them to cultivate the corn lands?—A. Certainly not. Wiltshire is a breeding county; the great object of keeping sheep is for manure; and there is more corn grown in Wiltshire than in any other county, according to the extent of the county, in consequence of the immense quantity of sheep that is kept; and they are bred to be grazed in other counties. The graziers in many other counties come into Wiltshire and Hampshire, for sheep to be grazed for the London markets; and if corn gets to a ruinously low price, not only must that land go out of cultivation, but the sheep stock will be very several distinguished persons, that there was a general complaint of the imperfection of the elementary population documents of this country, and that their imperfection led strangers who wrote on England into great mistakes. It is, indeed, a subject of wonder to every intelligent stranger, that, in a country so intelligent as England, with so many illustrious persons occupied in statistical inquiries, and where the state of the population is the constant subject of public interest, the very basis on which all good legislation must be grounded has been never prepared. Foreigners can hardly believe that such a state of things could exist in a country so wealthy, wise, and great.' -p. 121. M. Adolphe Quetelèt was exanıined through the erpretation of Dr. Bowring,' and as his knowledge of the English language may, therefore, be little or none, was probably entirely ignorant of what bad been done in this branch of sta. tistics, when he delivered this modest opinion,


much reduced.-Q. Does not the raising of sheep depend upon the alteration of their crops, upon their turnips, upon their seeds, and all those crops that accompany

the cultivation of the soil in raising corn ? -A. The moment the farmer loses his capital, he cannot sow any of his artificial grasses or turnips for the sheep stock. The stock of sheep is only kept a proportion of the year upon down pasture, but (the rest of it) upon artificial food.'-- Agricult. Rep. p. 68.

In these days, then, the deficiency in food caused by the decay of tillage could not be supplied by converting the arable land into pasture, even if men were to be ejected to make room for sheep, as in the merciless age of the Reformation. But look at the effect of this decay upon the agricultural population !

• I cannot,' says another witness, • contemplate the poor lands of the country going out of cultivation, without the most fearful anticipations. Any measure having that effect would throw the mass of the labouring population out of employment. If, in land of this character, which, while it yields little rent to the owner, is made to bear crops only by extra labour, manure, &c.—if the population be now redundant, more than can be employed ; how must it be if the lands principally employing them be thrown out of cultivation ? Those lands cannot support an idle population; and the payers and receivers of rates would together be thrown upon the richer districts, which could not support the additional weight. The result is most appalling, but I think quite inevitable. Cultivation of this land, though it may not be profitable, if it can be cultivated without loss, it is important to the employment of its population. Looking at its being left uncultivated, is looking upon certain ruin to all classes indiscriminately. No difference of rent, or reduction of prices, could prevent the catastrophe.-Q. Then you think that the effect of a fixed duty of 8s. upon wheat would be to throw land out of cultivation ?-A. I think so; and that the effect of throwing the poor land out of cultivation, however it might be produced, would have the effect of swallowing up the profit, first upon those lands, and ultimately upon all others. There is no doubt but such a duty would produce a ruinous effect upon all the lands of the country.-Q. What do you think of free trade ?-A. It is in my view too appalling to think of at all!'Ibid. p. 584.

If a ninth part of the land now cultivated for corn were thrown out of cultivation, this, it has been calculated, (p. 165,) would throw out of employ between nine hundred thousand and a million persons, dependent upon agriculture for their present means of subsistence.

• This,' says Mr. Barton, “is admitted by the advocates of free trade; and is, indeed, represented by them as a national benefit. “Whereas,” they say, “ it costs a year's labour of three men to raise a given quantity of corn on our inferior soils, we might purchase an equal quantity of foreign corn for manufactured goods with the labour of two men,--thus, one-third of the cost might be saved."

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" That is, I reply, supposing the same hands now employed in raising corn can be employed in producing manufactured goods. For if we are obliged to maintain the three hands formerly engaged in tilling the poor land, and two manufacturers into the bargain, it seems to me that we have made an unprofitable change. Is it supposed, then, that the ploughmen no longer wanted in Sussex might travel to Manchester, and there find employment as cotton-spinners ? Surely such a proposition is too absurd to require serious refutation. The slightest attention to facts might show that a district overburdened with population is scarcely ever relieved, unless by the cruel process of extermination. Not one in a thousand of the inhabitants of the agricultural districts would migrate to the manufacturing counties--nor probably one in a hundred of their grand-children, or great grand-child

“Of all commodities,” observes Adam Smith, “ the most difficult of transport is man.” And, I may add, that of all men, the most difficult of transport is an agricultural labourer. Nor would the increased pressure of poverty tend, in a sensible degree, to check the growth of population in the ruined parishes. On the contrary, a state of hopeless wretchedness renders men almost as careless of making provision for their future offspring as the beasts themselves.

• The practical result, then, of the adoption of a system of free trade would be, that, instead of saving the maintenance of one labourer in three, we should have to maintain two additional hands without any addition to our annual produce.'- Inquiry, p. 28-30.

Of all the evils which press upon this kingdom, the increase of pauperism is, at this time, the most urgent ; and that whatever tends to depress the price of agricultural produce must have the effect of throwing more land out of cultivation, and more hands out of employ, must be plain to every man's understanding. The labourers who are deprived of employment must be supported as paupers ; and heavy as the burden of supporting that class at present is, how or by whom is it to be borne, if hundreds of thousands be added, as they thus inevitably would be, to its already formidable numbers ?

• In the event of the removal of the existing restrictions on the importation of corn,' says Mr. Barton, “it is evident, then, that the support of the agricultural labourers thrown out of employment by the change must fall on the community ; but it may be doubted what part of the community would be compelled to bear the burden. If any property capable of taxation remained in the parish in which these labourers happened to be settled, that property, as far as it goes, would of course be rated for this purpose ; but when it is considered that, in many of the poorer parishes, the rates already exceed 20s. on the pound, it is evident that such a resource would prove quite inadequate. The unfortunate people of these parishes, reduced to despair, and with the prospect of dying of hunger before them, would, in such circumstances, probably join together in bands to pillage the neighbouring


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