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THE LAWS OF LAND.*
MR M'CULLOCH's book introduces us to a question much debated in this age of class jealousy. As soon as we open it, we are straightway environed with "a barbarous noise of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes, and dogs," amid whose jargon of phrases rises loudest and most frequent the cry of "commercial principles." It is a great grievance, it seems, that land should not be disposed of according to "commercial principles ;" that hill and holt, and moor and dale, should not pass from seller to buyer with the same readiness as candles and calicoes. Truly we have enough, and more than enough, of these same commercial principles in all walks of thought. Even the pulpit is not free from them. Politics are positively smothered with them. Ethical science, with the shallowisms of Paley and Bentham round her neck, struggles feebly with them. The book-keeper is abroad every where, with an indestructible faith in double entry. The Spirit of the Age wears a pen behind his ear, and sits on a high stool with three legs. That the prevailing commercial principles should have been so long excluded from the absolute possession of our laws of land, and that those laws should have preserved to a time like this so much of their feudal character, is a notable proof of the adaptation of the laws to the general requirements of the community, and of the steadiness of that social system which is so essentially linked to the maintenance of these laws.
The cry of complaint to which we have above alluded, is inspired by many diverse motives. As Mr Cochrane's ragged followers flocked to Trafalgar Square to denounce the incometax, so many a man takes up the shout against the law of primogeniture and entail, as tying up lands and restricting their sale, who never had the wherewithal to purchase a single acre if all broad England was in the market. On the other hand, the purse-proud citizen, sore that ready money is not yet quite at the top of the tree, and that he does not receive the same consideration at St James's as in Change Alley, delights to have some grievance whereon he can vent his spleen; and really, in some stolid instances, persuades himself that he is kept out of the land which his gold could buy, through the agency of aristocratical laws, as if George Robins had been a mythical personage, or the advertisements of Farebrother, Clark, and Lye were a mockery and delusion.
But the largest class of assailants are those who come to the debate fortified with certain specious economical arguments, generally derived from a one-sided view of some particular effect of these restrictive laws. To the demolition of these objectors Mr M'Culloch's work is more immediately addressed; and very effectually, in our opinion, does it accomplish its end. He has not, perhaps, treated the subject so widely as it might have been treated: he has not entered into the indirect social influences that might be
* A Treatise on the Succession to Property vacant by Death. By J. R. M'CULLOCH, Esq. London: Longmans, 1848.
VOL. LXIV.-NO. CCCXCIII.
traced to our system of the laws relating to land; but the economical part of the question he has grasped most completely, and supported by most able and practical reasoning.
We must, we suppose, look for the text of the work, not where the text is usually found, but at the end. The following sentence, which is almost the concluding one, may be taken as the leading proposition of the work:"A powerful and widely-ramified aristocracy like that of England, not resting for support on any oppressive laws, and enjoying no privileges but which are for the public advantage, is necessary to give stability and security to the government, and freedom to the people. And our laws in regard to succession being well fitted to maintain such an aristocracy, and, at the same time, to inspire every other class with the full spirit of industry and enterprise, to change them would not be foolish merely, but criminal, a lèse majesté against the public interests."-P. 172.
It must not, however, be supposed from this remark, that any portion of the work is appropriated to a set defence of government by means of an aristocracy. By an aristocracy we mean the deposition of political power in the hands of men of leisure and education, as opposed to the tendency of the Reform Bill, to transfer the governing functions to the "practical" men of the trading and moneyed interests, and the analogous claims of Chartism, founded on Jack Cade's complaint, that the "king's council are no good workmen." In England, we are pretty sure to have an aristocracy-that is, the influences which affect government and legislation will emanate principally from that class which is socially at the head of the nation; and the question is, whether we are to have a mere moneyed aristocracy, or one qualified by those mixed and undefinable conditions which, more than any thing else, act to keep down the growing and eager ascendency of wealth per se. Among the safeguards of such an aristocracy as we have described, not the least powerful is to be found in the laws discussed in the work before us. M'Culloch, as we have said, assumes the importance to the country of preserving the present characteristics of British aristocracy; and he therefore
proceeds at once to show how the laws on which he treats operate for this preservation, and to rebut the objections advanced against them on the score of their relations to other classes of the community.
One of the most frequent of these objections is, that the laws in question tend to diminish the productiveness of the land, and thereby inflict a serious injury on the community at large; that they prevent, in many instances, the landlord from granting leases to his tenant beyond the term of his own life; that the tenant, in consequence, is not willing to incur the outlay of drainage and other expensive improvements, because he is not secured by a lease; while the landlord, on the other hand, will not enter into these expenses, because he does not feel the same interest in his limited ditional fee-simple. estate which he would in the uncon
Note first of all the logic of this argument. The tenant, it seems, will not spend his money in draining without a lease. As, however, a lease would suffice to induce him so to do, we might naturally suppose that the landlord's estate for life, or in tail, would be at least an equal inducement. These reasoners, however, aver, that the landlord is only to be tempted by the unrestricted fee. According to this progressive scale, it might be fairly argued, that the tenant, on becoming lessee for years, would still require the landlord's life-interest; and the latter, when seised of the fee, would decline the requisite expense, except on a guarantee of immortality, and justify himself by Horace's authority,
Sit proprium quidquam puncto quod mobilis horæ
Permutet dominos, et cedat in altera jura."
But the general scope of an argument may be just, though clumsily stated and fallaciously supported. We are, however, at no loss for experiments on the largest scale whereby to test the theory here noticed. We have English agriculture, subjected to a limited law of entail, contrasted on the one hand with Scottish agriculture, under a law of perpetual entail, and on the other with that of France and its compulsory gavelkind.