Labor Rents, or Serf Rents.
The landed proprietors of rude nations usually dislike, and are unfit for, the task of superintending labor, and if they can rely, through the receipt of produce rents, on a supply of necessaries suited to their purposes, they uniformly throw upon the peasant the whole business of cultivation. But their being able to do this in security supposes in the tenants themselves, some skill, and habits of voluntary and regular labor: they must be trust-worthy too, to a certain extent. There is, however, a point in the progress of civilization, below which the body of the people do not possess these qualifications: when, though driven to agriculture by their numbers, they still possess many of the qualities of the savage; and are not yet ripe for the regular payment of produce or money rents; because their ignorance, their impatience of toil, and their improvidence, would expose the proprietor to considerable danger of starvation, if he depended on their punctuality for the support of himself, and his household.
However averse to the employment, the proprietors may be, they must in this stage of society, take some share in the burthen of conducting cultivation. They may contrive, however, to get rid of the task of raising food for the laborers, who are the instruments of that cultivation. They usually set aside for their use a portion of the estate, and leave them to extract their own subsistence from it, at their own risk. They exact as a rent for the land thus abandoned, a certain quantity of labor, to be used upon the remaining portion of the estate, which is retained in the hands of the proprietor. Such is the expedient which seems generally to have suggested itself to the owners of the soil, while the laborers have been in this state of half civilization, and while no capitalists yet existed.
In the Society Islands, the chiefs allot to their tenants about sixty acres of land each. The rent paid for these consists of work done for a certain number of days at the call of the chief on his own demesne farm.(1) They are perhaps the rudest people among whom this mode of occupying and cultivating the soil can be observed; and it is instructive to remark among these Islanders of the Antipodes, the necessities of their position giving birth to a system, which was once nearly universal in Europe, and which still prevails over the larger portion of it.
Arrangements somewhat similar to these exist in some of our West Indian Islands, between the negroes and the owners of the estates to which they belong.
But the people by whom labor rents were established on the widest scale, and were communicated to the vast countries in which they did, or do, principally prevail, were the nations of Eastern Europe, the inhabitants of the deserts of Germany, and the wastes beyond the Vistula. Some of the tribes, who invaded the lower empire, had begun to resort partially to agriculture for subsistence before the period of their irruption, and it is probable that this system was even then not unknown to them; but however this may have been, they certainly established it most extensively throughout their conquests in Western Europe; and when their own fastnesses, the wastes from which they had migrated, became more regularly peopled and settled, this was the mode of cultivating the land, which universally prevailed there. It prevails there still. In their conquests westward of the Rhine, it took for a time strong hold of the habits of the people to whom they introduced it, has left deep traces in their laws, and yet lingers in particular spots; but from this portion of Europe, the peculiar circumstances of some nations, and the advance of civilization in all, have repelled the system, which has given place to other forms of the relation between proprietors and tenants. In the countries eastward of the Rhine it is still found paramount; not wholly unbroken, and shewing every where symptoms of gradual or approaching change, but fashioning still the frame of society, and exercising a predominant influence over the industry and fortunes of all ranks of people.
These labor rents may, with some little extension of the ordinary use of the term serf; be all called serf rents.
As labor or serf rents have gradually receded from the West, so it is on the western extremity of the countries in which they still prevail, that their decomposition is the most advanced. To observe them, therefore, in their complete state, we must go at once to the east of Europe, and begin with Russia, and may trace them thence, gradually decaying in form and spirit through Hungary, Livonia, Poland, Prussia, and Germany, to the Rhine, on the borders of which they melt away into different systems, and are no longer to be recognized.
On Labor or Serf Rents in Russia.
In Russia the peasants, who are settled on the soil, receive from the proprietor a quantity of land, great or small, as his discretion or convenience dictate, from which they extract their wages. They are bound to work on the demesnes of the landowner three days in the week. The obligation would be light, were it not for the results it has led to. In Russia this mode of occupying the soil has established the complete personal bondage of the peasant: he has become, with all his family and descendants, the slave of the lord. Such too has been the result of similar relations between the proprietor and his tenants, wherever they have prevailed among semi-barbarous people and feeble general governments.(2) Prom the countries westward of Russia the same state of bondage, once common, is disappearing by degrees. In Russia, as in its last strong hold, it still subsists entire.
It is not difficult to trace the steps by which labor rents prepared so generally the servile condition of the peasants, and covered Europe during the middle ages with a race of predial bonds-men. A rude people dependent upon their own labor or their allotment for their support, were often exposed, from the failure of the crops or the ravages of war, to utter destitution. The lord was usually able, out of his store-houses, to afford them some relief, which they had no means of repaying but by additional labor. From this and other causes, the serf did, and does, perpetually owe to his lord nearly the whole of his time.(3) Besides this, they were mainly dependent on him for protection from strangers and from each other. From his domestic tribunal, he settled their differences and punished their faults with an authority which the general government was in no condition to supersede, and which became at last sanctioned by usage and equivalent to law. The patriarchal authority of the Highland chiefs had no other source. In them it was at once dignified and moderated by supposed ties of blood. Elsewhere it received no such mitigation. Their time and their persons being thus abandoned to the will of their superiors, the tenantry had no means of resisting further encroachments. One of the most general seems to have been, the establishment of a right by which the landlord, providing the serf with subsistence, might withdraw him altogether from the soil on which he had placed him, to employ him elsewhere at pleasure. Then followed an understanding that the flight of a serf from the estate of his landlord, employer, and judge, was an offence and an injury. This once sanctioned by law and usage, the chains of the serf were rivetted, and he became a slave, the property of a master. In Russia he is so still: but successive modifications have every where else re-endowed him with at least some of the privileges of a freeman.
The descent of the peasants towards actual servitude did not perhaps, in every case, follow the precise track here marked out. The nations with whom labor rents originated in Europe were familiar with domestic slavery before they resorted to agriculture for subsistence, and some of their first tenants were doubtless already slaved. But when we observe, not a portion of the people, in a state of slavery, but the whole body of peasantry in a wholly agricultural nation, as in Russia and formerly in Hungary, it is then impossible not to believe that such extensive servitude has closed gradually round their race. The Russians themselves contend, that the bondage of their peasantry was not complete, till so late as the reign of Czar Boris Godounoff, who mounted the throne in 1603.(4)
In the Georgian provinces of Russia, the owner receives from the peasants a mixture of produce rents and labor: they work for him only one day in the week instead of three, and pay one seventh of the crops raised on their allotments.(5) With this and perhaps other local exceptions, the body of Russian serfs who are actual cultivators, pay labor rents, nominally at the rate of three days labor in the week, for their allotments, but in fact their condition has degenerated into a state of complete personal bondage, and the demands of the proprietor, though influenced by custom, are really limited only by his own forbearance. The money commutation of these labor rents, when they are permitted to make one, which they very generally are, is called like the payments from the personal slaves, obroc or abroc, and is completely arbitrary, and settled by the master according to his suspicions of their ability.(6)
But even in Russia, the bondage of the serfs, although more entire than elsewhere, is yet, as respects a large body, perhaps half of the peasantry, in a state of rapid change. That change has originated with the government. The existence of very extensive crown domains may perhaps be considered as an indication of a backward state of civilization. In other parts of Europe, they will usually be found small in proportion to the advance of the people in wealth and numbers. The domains of the Russian sovereign are immense, and perhaps more than equal the estates of all his subjects. This fact is indicated by the number of royal serfs: of these, in 1782, ten millions and a half belonged to the crown. To extract labor rents from such a body of people, that is to employ them, as they are employed by subjects in raising produce for the benefit, and under the superintendence, of their owner, was a work clearly beyond the administrative capacity of any government. Induced therefore partly by the necessity of the case, partly, we may believe, by a wise policy, the Russian government has attempted to establish on the crown domains a different system of cultivation, including an almost total abolition of labor rents, and a voluntary and very considerable modification of the sovereign's power, as owner of the serfs. The villages inhabited by the peasants of the crown have been formed into a sort of corporations; the surrounding lands are cultivated by them at a very moderate fixed rent or abroc: the serfs may securely acquire for themselves and transmit to others personal property, and what is a more important privilege, and one not always conceded to their class in neighbouring countries of more liberal institutions, (in Hungary for instance), they may purchase or inherit land.(7) In the tribunals instituted especially for the management of their corporations, two peasants, chosen by the body, have a seat and voice with the officers of the emperor.(8) But the right to their personal services has not been wholly abandoned. The serf is so far attached to the soil as to be forbidden to leave his village unless with a special licence, which is only granted, when granted at all, for a limited term. The Russian monarchs have manufactures and mines conducted on their own account. The serfs on the crown lands are still liable to be taken from their homes and employed on these. They are hired out occasionally to the owners of such similar establishments as it is thought politic to encourage; and in some of the foreign provinces united to Russia, though not lately, it should seem, in Russia proper, they are liable to be sold, or to be given away, or granted with the soil for a term, to individuals whom the court wishes to enrich. Could this large portion of the population of the empire be thoroughly emancipated, completely freed from oppression, and enabled to collect and preserve capital, Russia would soon have a third estate and an efficient body of cultivators, fitted gradually to bring into action her great territorial resources. The tenants on the royal domains already appear to be, on the whole,(9) in a condition superior to that of the serfs of individuals, but the progress of their improvement is retarded by causes not likely soon to lose their influence. However earnestly the Emperors of Russia may shake off the character of owners of slaves, they will evidently be obliged for some generations to retain that of despots, and there is some danger, that the ordinary defects of their form of government will mar their really humane efforts as landed proprietors. The officers of the Russian government are proverbially ill paid; oppression and extortion still afflict the peasantry, and the condition of the serfs of the crown is sometimes even worse than that of the slaves of the neighbouring nobility.(10)
In the mean time, the insensibility for which the body of the Russian peasantry have been renowned, seems to be giving way. Soon after the accession of the present Emperor, many of the tenants of the crown refused to pay their abrock or rents, and the serfs of individuals to perform their accustomed labor. A proclamation appeared, reproaching them with entertaining unreasonable expectations of being released from rents and services altogether, and threatening them, in a style which it must be confessed is truly oriental, with severe punishment if they even petitioned the Czar on such subjects again. But we must not judge the conduct of the Russian court by the harsh language of a proclamation issued on such an emergency. The spirit in which the Czars have dealt with their serfs has hitherto been evidently paternal. The form of their government is theoretically bad; but Russia offers at present no materials for forming any not likely to be worse, and the gradual improvement in the condition of such a people, however slowly we see it proceed, is probably, after all, safer in the hands of the monarch, than it would be in their own, or in those of their masters the nobles.
On Labor Rents in Hungary.
In Hungary, the nobles alone are allowed to become the proprietors of land, either by inheritance or purchase. They constitute about one part in twenty-one of a population of eight millions.(11) Of the other inhabitants, a great majority are peasants; for in 1777 there were only 30,921 artizans in Hungary, and their number is said to be not much increased.(12) These peasants occupy about half the cultivated surface of the country,(13) and all pay labor rents.
Till the reign of Maria Theresa, their situation was nearly similar to that of the Russian serf. They were all attached to the estates on which they were born, and subjected to services and payments wholly indefinite. That Princess set the example of an earnest attempt to elevate their character, and improve their circumstances; and the example has been followed in the neighbouring countries with zeal certainly, if not always with judgment or success. The results of her own efforts were extremely imperfect, and not always free from mischief: but it must be remembered, that those efforts were much cramped by the influence which the Hungarian constitution enabled the proprietors to exercise, in thwarting or modifying her measures for the emancipation of their ten an try.
By an edict of hers, which the Hungarians call the Urbarium, personal slavery and attachment to the soil were abolished, and the peasants declared to be "homines liberae transmigrationis." On the other hand, they were declared mere tenants at will, whom the lord at his pleasure might dismiss from the estate. But an interest in the soil, though denied to them as individuals, was attempted to be secured to them as a body. The lands on each estate, before allotted to the maintenance of serfs, were declared to be legally consecrated to that purpose for ever. They were divided into portions of from 35 to 40 English acres each, called Sessions.(14) The quantity of labor due to the proprietor for each session, was fixed at 104 days per annum.(15) The proprietor might divide these sessions, and grant any minute portion of them he pleased to a peasant; but he could stipulate for labor only in proportion to the size of the holding: for half a session 52 days, for a quarter 26 days, and so proportionably for smaller quantities.
The urbarium of Maria Theresa still continues the magna charta of the Hungarian serfs. But the authority of the owners of the soil over the persons and fortunes of their tenantry has been very imperfectly abrogated: the necessities of the peasants oblige them frequently to resort to their landlords for loans of food; they become laden with heavy debts to be discharged by labor. A long list of customary payments of flax, poultry, &c. are still due, which swell this account: the proprietors retain the right of employing them at pleasure; paying them, in lieu of subsistence, about one-third of the actual value of their labor:(16) and lastly, the administration of justice is still in the hands of the nobles;(17) and one of the first sights which strike a foreigner on approaching their mansions, is a sort of low frame-work of posts, to which a serf is tied when it is thought proper to administer the discipline of the whip, for offences which do not seem grave enough to demand a formal trial.(18)
But while the regulations of the urbarium have secured thus imperfectly the interests and liberty of the peasant, they are extremely embarrassing to the proprietors. A part of each estate is irrevocably devoted to the maintenance of the laborers, and that not fixed in reference to its extent and wants, but decided by the number of peasants who happened to be on it at the time of the edict. On some estates, as might be expected, the sessions devoted to the peasantry maintain more laborers than are now wanted. The labor rents, to that extent, are worth nothing to the proprietor, and unless he has an adjacent estate to employ the serfs upon, he gets nothing but the flax, poultry, and small produce payments to which they are liable. Some estates are wholly occupied by useless laborers; on others there are too few; and from the many ties which still connect the serf and his landlord, an interchange between different proprietors is rare, while from the unwillingness of the peasants to quit their hold, such as it is, upon the soil, free labor, is still more so. All this part of the arrangement is evidently clumsy and inexpedient: it is probable it originated in a compromise between the wish of the Empress to secure the peasants some interest in the soil, and the dislike of the nobles to establish the independence of their serfs. The diet only confirmed the urbarium at first provisionally, till something better could be devised.(19) It appears from Schmalz, that similar attempts on the part of the sovereign, to secure to the peasants, as a body, the occupation of any land once cultivated by them, were common throughout Germany, and originated in the exemption of the lands cultivated by the nobles from direct taxation: when land once got into the hands of the peasant, it was available to the public revenue: hence many laws existed in different states, which forbade its resumption by the proprietor, without securing a definite interest in it to any individual tenant. Such laws necessarily created complicated and anomalous interests in the soil, and in many instances left in no hands any authority over it, which could be a sufficient basis for the most obvious improvements.(20)
Such a system, however, as established by the Urbarium, is still nearly universal throughout Hungary, and there is little immediate prospect of a change.
On Labor Rents in Poland.
The Polish serfs, before the partition, seem to have been in a condition very similar to that of those of Hungary before the edict of Maria Theresa, differing little, if at all, from that of the Russian slave;(21) but from the dark fate of Poland, the system of labor rents now presents itself, in different parts of what once formed that kingdom, under a considerable variety of modifications. In the portions seized by the partitioning powers, the arrangements between landlord and tenant have been influenced by the very different measures adopted by each in their own dominions; while in what may now be called Poland proper, which became a Russian province at a later date, a system has arisen which is peculiar to it.
When in 1791 Stanislaus Augustus, and the States were preparing a hopeless resistance to the threatened attack of Russia, a new constitution, adopted too late, established the complete personal freedom of the peasantry. This boon has never been recalled. But this constitution did no more for them: it secured them no interest in the land they occupied: it did not even stipulate, like the Hungarian regulations, that a definite portion of the soil should be unalienably devoted to the maintenance of their class; but it left them to arrange their contracts with the landowners as they could. Finding that their dependence on the proprietors for subsistence remained undiminished, the peasants shewed no very grateful sense of the boon bestowed upon them: they feared that they should now be deprived of all claim upon the proprietors for assistance, when calamity or infirmity overtook them. This loss they thought more than balanced the value of an increase, to them at first merely nominal, in their political rights. It is only since they have discovered that the connection between them and the owners of the estates on which they reside is little altered in practice, and that their old masters very generally continue, from expediency or humanity, the occasional aid they formerly lent them, that they have become reconciled to their new character of freemen.
But although bestowed upon a people so far sunk as to be ignorant of its value, the gift of freedom has already developed its importance among them. Since the date of the emancipation of the Polish peasantry, another alteration in the laws has taken away the exclusive right of the nobles to be pos sessors of the soil, and introduced a new class of proprietors. These have been, on the whole, more diligent in pushing cultivation than their predecessors on their estates, and their enterprises have already created an increased demand for labor. The effects of this have shewn themselves in the only manner in which, in a country so occupied and so cultivated, they could shew themselves, in increased wages, obtained by increased allotments of land granted on the reserve of less labor, and with every encouragement to the peasantry to use their freedom, and migrate to the estates on which their labor is most wanted.(22)
On Labor Rents in Livonia and Esthonia.
The state of the peasantry in Livonia is remarkable, because it presents the results of a deliberate experiment on the best means of gradually converting a serf tenantry into a race of freemen.
Till the reign of Alexander the condition of the Livonian peasantry was similar to that of the Russian slave. The servile condition of the cultivators had attracted some attention under the Empress Catharine, and she had encouraged the men of letters in her dominions to communicate their ideas on the best means of gradually modifying it. M. de Boltin, M. de Kaïsarof, and M. de Stroïnovaky, successively wrote upon the subject. The work of the last written in Polish was translated into Russian: it entered into a detailed account of the measures proper to prepare and forward what was treated as a great and useful reform. Nor were these notions confined to literary men, or to individuals. In 1805 the whole body of proprietors in Esthonia agreed among themselves on some preliminary regulations for the peasantry on their estates, which, it was avowed, were meant to pave the way to their ultimate emancipation. These regulations received a formal sanction from the Emperor. The alterations in Livonia began a year earlier, and seem to have originated in minds equally alive to the importance of a change, and to the practical reasons for its being effected gradually. Their object appears to have been, to elevate the serf by degrees, and while that elevation was in progress, to retain considerable control over him, partly for his own advantage, partly to secure the interests of the proprietors. The personal liberty at first conceded to the peasant was much less complete than that of the Hungarian and Pole, for he was still attached to the glebe, and had no power of chusing his employment or residence. But a benefit was bestowed more important in the outset than freedom itself, to persons so wholly dependant on the soil for subsistence; a benefit which had been withheld from him in Hungary and Poland: every individual peasant was invested with a secure interest in the allotment of land which he cultivated.
The edict of the Emperor finally legalizing these regulations appeared in 1804. The Livonian serf was declared the hereditary farmer of the land he occupied. The rent was fixed in labor, to be performed on the domain of the proprietor. It was to leave the peasant master of at least two-thirds of his time. If this labor rent should at any time be commuted for a money payment, the amount of that payment was limited and fixed, and it was never to be increased. A lease was to be granted on these terms, irrevocable, and only subject to forfeiture in case the rent should be two years in arrear; and then only after the decision of a legal tribunal, which was to direct the lease to be renewed to the next heir of the defaulter. Some rights of cutting both firewood and timber for building, in the proprietors forests, were also reserved to the serf. He was enabled to acquire property in moveables or land, and to marry at his own discretion.
With all these privileges, however, lie remains attached to the soil. He can no longer be sold away from it, but he is sold with it, or rather the benefits arising from his compulsory occupation of his allotment are sold with the rest of the estate: he is subject to a correctional discipline of fifteen lashes.
On the whole, these regulations do credit to the good feelings and good sense of the framers of them. The emancipation of the serf is incomplete; but it would have been evidently rash to have abandoned at once all control over the industry of so rude a race; on whose exertions the subsistence of the proprietors themselves, and the whole cultivation of the country, must for some time depend.(23) The successful results to be looked for from such an experiment could not be expected to appear at once; but it is unpleasant to observe the little effect apparently produced in fifteen years. Von Halen, who travelled through Livonia in 1819, observes, "Along the high road through Livonia, are found at short distances filthy public houses, called in the country Rhartcharuas, before the doors of which are usually seen a multitude of wretched carts and sledges belonging to the peasants, who are so greatly addicted to brandy and strong liquors, that they spend whole hours in those places, without paying the least regard to their horses, which they leave thus exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and which, with themselves, belong to the gentlemen or noblemen of the country. Nothing proves so much the state of barbarism in which these men are sunk, as the manner in which they received the decree issued about this time. These savages, unwilling to depend upon their own exertions for support, made all the resistance in their power to that decree, the execution of which was at length entrusted to an armed force."(24)
The Livonian peasants, therefore, received their new privileges yet more ungraciously than the Poles, though accompanied with the gift of property, and secure means of subsistence if they chose to exert themselves. Subsequently their discontent appears to have taken a different turn. They are said to have constituted a part of the peasantry, against whom that edict of the Emperor Nicholas was directed, which accuses the serfs of wishing to throw off all rents and services at once.
SECTION VI. Of Labor Rents in Germany.
We shall understand better the present state of labor rents in Germany, if we previously recall to mind the downward progress of similar systems in other countries, from which they have disappeared gradually; because we shall then see distinctly the successive steps of that slow demolition, the progress of which Germany now in its different parts exhibits in many various stages.
We may take England for such a previous instance. Thirteen hundred years have elapsed since the final establishment of the Saxons. Eight hundred of these had passed away and the Normans had been for two centuries settled here, and a very large proportion of the body of cultivators was still precisely in the situation of the Russian serf.(25) During the next three hundred, the unlimited labor rents paid by the villeins for the lands allotted to them were gradually commuted for definite services, still payable in kind; and they had a legal right to the hereditary occupation of their copyholds. Two hundred years have barely elapsed since the change to this extent became quite universal, or since the personal bondage of the villeins ceased to exist among us. The last claim of villenage recorded in our courts was in the 15th of James I. 1618. Instances probably existed some time after this. The ultimate cessation of the right to demand their stipulated services in kind has been since brought about, silently and imperceptibly, not by positive law; for, when other personal services were abolished at the restoration, those of copyholders were excepted and reserved.(26)
Throughout Germany similar changes are now taking place, on the land; they are perfected perhaps no where, and in some large districts they exhibit themselves in very backward stages. A short description of the condition of one state will make that of others intelligible; allowance must of course be made for an indefinite variety of modifications in the practice and phraseology of different districts.
The domain lands, those which in Hungary Poland and many German states are still cultivated by the nobles themselves, are generally in Hanover let for a money rent to persons who occupy the domain as a farm, and have the benefit of the services which the peasant tenants are bound to perform. Some of these larger tenants, under the name of Amtmen, exercise the important territorial jurisdiction, still invested in the nobles, and kept alive and distinct even on the demesnal possessions of the crown.(27) The amtmen are not usually practical farmers themselves, but lawyers or officers of government, the only classes which seem to possess capital for such undertakings. They reside sometimes in towns, and employ stewards or bailiffs to look after their very large farms.(28) These stewards are the best practical farmers in Germany, are usually well educated (often in the agricultural institutions); and are inferior in general and professional knowledge to no set of cultivators in the world.
It would be well for the strength and prosperity of Germany, if its soil were universally under such management. But by far the larger proportion, it has been loosely said four fifths, is occupied by a class of men called collectively Bauers. These, under another name, are the serfs, who in Poland, Hungary, and Russia, form the laboring tenantry of the nobles. When the laws are recollected, (passed as before remarked for fiscal purposes) which in many German states forbade the cultivation by the proprietor of any land which had once been in the hands of a bauer, the spread of this order and the proportion of the land occupied by them will not appear extraordinary. In some parts of Hanover these men now present themselves in two distinct classes, with a variety of subdivisions. They are called Leibeigeners and Meyers. The leibeigeners are in the state of the English villeins, when his labor rent had ceased to be arbitrary, but was still paid in kind, after his hereditary claim to his allotment had been recognized. The leibeigener pays a labor rent, in kind, and cultivates the lands of the landlord, for a certain number of days in the year; brings home the lord's wood, performs other services when called upon, and is subjected to some most burthensome and vexatious restrictions as to the mode of cropping his land, which must be so arranged as to leave one third always in fallow, for the proprietor's flocks to range over. But still the conditions on which he holds the land are fixed; and it descends to his children. He is much in the position in which the Livonian proprietors have lately placed their serf tenants, except that he is not tied to the soil.
The meyer tenant is a bauer whose labor rents have been commuted for money or a corn rent, and in some cases for a definite portion of the crops: though he is still liable to some trifling services. The proprietor cannot raise the rent, nor can he refuse to renew the lease, unless the heir be an idiot, or the rent in arrear: but as this tenure in many instances is modern, the rent often amounts to nearly the full value of the land. This tenure is gradually displacing that of the leibeigeners, and the tenant under it is much in the position of the English copyholder, when he had ceased to perform services in kind, and before his quit rents had become a mere nominal payment. The meyer pays a fine on alienation.
In some cases the whole of an estate is occupied by meyers and leibeigeners, and the proprietor has no domain land at all.
The bauers throughout Germany are nearly all free: chained by many ties to the soil, they are no longer the property of its proprietors, or legally confined to the spot they cultivate. But they have gained this freedom, not, as in England, by the gradual wearing out of their chains, but by the determined exertion of their sovereigns. A woman, Sophia Magdalena of Denmark, gave, in 1761, one of the earliest examples of this spirit. Between 1770 and 1790, it was followed by the Margrave of Baden and other minor princes. In 1781, Joseph II. abolished slavery in the German dominions of Austria. Since 1810 it has ceased in Prussia, and very lately in Mecklenburg.(29)
The higher classes have partaken largely for many generations of the general civilization of Europe. To their lothing at the degraded condition of their inferiors, the latter owe an emancipation from personal thraldom, of which in some cases they hardly yet feel the full value. At the moment in which they became free men they become in some instances small proprietors, subject to a perpetual rent charge. To their forcible investment with this character in Prussia, we shall hereafter have occasion to advert.
Having now traced the system of labor rents from Russia to the Rhine,(30) we may quit it. Fragments of it indeed still subsist to the westward of the Rhine; the relics for the most part of a storm and inundation, which have passed over and away; but they are thinly scattered, and cease to give any peculiar form and complexion to the relations between the different orders of society.
Of these fragments however, one of the most interesting to us, subsists, under a very primitive form, in a corner of our own island. In the northern Highlands, the chief seems never to have been able to introduce either produce or money rents, exclusively, that is, to trust his people with the task of producing subsistence for himself and his households. Each chief therefore kept in his hands a considerable domain; the remainder of his country was parcelled out among the tacksmen or inferior gentry of the clan, and these again divided it among a race of tenants, who paid a large proportion of the stipulated rent in labor, poultry, eggs, and articles of domestic produce, exactly sumlar to those which form a part of the dues of the Hungarian peasant. In their rent rolls, servitude is included as a prominent and important article. The interest of the proprietors has led them, since 1745, to substitute for this race of tenantry, extensive sheep farmers. The cultivation of the old tenantry appears to have been slothful, ignorant, and inefficient, and their situation extremely miserable: but still these northern serfs, whose spirit had never been subdued by personal bondage, clung fondly to their homes, and have been removed, we know, only by a difficult and painful process.
The agent of the Marquis of Stafford has published an account of the changes now taking place in Sutherland, which contains a very interesting picture of the habits, character, and circumstances this system had produced there.(31) Its last relics are however fast wearing away, and when a few leases to existing tacksmen have expired, labor rents will finally disappear from Great Britain.
It has been common to speak of the services due from serfs throughout Europe as feudal services, and of the relation between them and the proprietors as part of the feudal system. This is by no means correct. The feudal ties originated in a plan of military defence, made necessary by the circumstances, and congenial to the habits, of the barbarians who had quartered themselves in Western Europe. The granter of a feud deliberately divested himself on certain specified conditions, of all right to the possession of the land which he abandoned to his vassal. The object in labor rents was produce alone: they arose in Europe as in the Society Islands, from a mode of cultivation which the rudeness of the people made necessary, if any rent at all was to be exacted from them: and the proprietor never deliberately divested himself of the right of resuming, at his pleasure, the possession of the allotments occupied by his serfs; though usage and prescription permitted, in the course of ages, a claim to hereditary occupation on their part to establish itself. The feudal system, with its scheme of military service, and nicely graduated scale of fealty and limited obedience, never made much way to the east of Prussia. But it is precisely in those eastern parts of Europe, that labor rents have prevailed the most widely and the longest. It would not indeed be difficult to shew, were this the place for it, that the multiplication of the feudal vassals who were freemen by virtue of their tenure and their swords, prevented labor rents from ever prevailing so exclusively over the surface of western Europe, as they have always prevailed, and do now prevail, over its eastern division.
Summary of Serf Rents.
We have observed serf rents, in the different countries in which they still prevail, and as they have been variously affected by time and circumstances. It will be convenient, perhaps to recall in a short summary the most marked features common to the system in all its modifications, and to collect into one view the general principles suggested by the facts to which we have referred. This plan we shall pursue with the other divisions of peasant rents, as we successively arrive at them.
Dependence of Wages on Rents.
The most marked feature of a system of serf rents, is one which it has in common with all the forms of peasant rents; and that' is, the strict connexion it creates between the wages of labor and rents. The serfs constitute the great body of laborers in eastern Europe. The real wages of the serf, the wealth he annually consumes, depend on what he is able to extract from his allotment of land; and this again depends, partly on its extent and fertility, partly on the culture he is able to bestow upon it. But the labor he can exert for his own purposes is limited by that which he yields as a rent to his landlord. This varies of course in different countries, and occasionally from time to time in the same country, sometimes directly and avowedly, sometimes indirectly and almost insensibly. Thus in Hungary, the number of days labor nominally due from the peasants for each session of land, is doubled in practice by the commutation into labor of many other dues, all trifling, and some very indefinite. In most places too, the authority of the landlord enables him, at very inadequate prices, to command, in addition to the labor formally due to him, as much of the peasant's time and exertions as he pleases. Where claims upon his time are thus multiplied, the ground of the serf must be imperfectly tilled, and after a certain point, with each advance in the exactions of the landlord, the produce of the peasant's allotment, his real wages, must become less.
To understand, then, the condition of the serf laborers and the causes which determine the actual amount of their wages, a detailed account is necessary of their contract with the proprietors, and of the manner in which that contract is practically interpreted and enforced. This active influence of the nature and amount of the rents they pay on the revenues and condition of the labouring class, is one of the most important effects of the existence of a system of labor rents. We shall find however the same effect, produced in a somewhat different manner, characterizing peasant rents in all their forms.
Inefficiency of Agricultural Labor.
The next prominent feature of a system of labor or serf rents, is peculiar to that form of tenancy: it is, its singular effect in degrading the industrious habits of the laborers, and making them inefficient instruments of cultivation.
The peasant who depends for his food upon his labor in his own allotment of ground, and is yet liable to be called away at the discretion and convenience of another person to work upon other lands, in the produce of which he is not to share, is naturally a reluctant laborer. When long prescription has engendered a feeling, that he is a coproprietor, at least, in the spot of ground which he occupies, then this reluctance to be called from the care of it to perform his task of forced labor elsewhere, is heightened by a vague sense of oppression, and becomes more dogged and sullen. From such men who have no motive for exertion, but the fear of the lash, strenuous labor is not to be expected. Accordingly, the exceeding worthlessness of serf labor is beginning to be thoroughly understood in all those parts of Europe in which it prevails.
The Russians, or rather those German writers who have observed the manners and habits of Russia, state some strong facts on this point. Two Middlesex mowers, they say, will mow in a day as much grass as six Russian serfs, and in spite of the dearness of provisions in England, and their cheapness in Russia, the mowing a quantity of hay which would cost an English farmer half a copeck, will cost a Russian proprietor three or four copecks.(32) The Prussian counsellor of state Jacob is considered to have proved, that in Russia, where every thing is cheap, the labor of a serf is doubly as expensive as that of a laborer in England.(33) Mr. Schmalz gives a startling account of the unproductiveness of serf labor in Prussia, from his own knowledge and observation.(34) In Austria, it is distinctly stated, that the labor of a serf is equal to only one third of that of a free hired laborer. This calculation, made in an Able work on Agriculture (with some extracts from which I have been favored), is applied to the practical purpose of deciding on the number of laborers necessary to cultivate an estate of a given magnitude. So palpable indeed are the ill effects of labor rents on the industry of the agricultural population, that in Austria itself, where proposals for changes of any kind do not readily make their way, schemes and plans for the commutation of labor rents are as popular as in the more stirring German provinces of the north.
Labor rents have another bad effect on the national industry: the indolence and carelessness of the serfs are apt to corrupt the free laborers who may come in contact with them. "The existence of forced labor," says Schmalz, who lived in the midst of it, "habituates men to indolence; every where the work done by forced labor is ill done: wherever it prevails, day laborers and even domestic servants perform their work ill."(35) A striking example of the mischievous influence of the habits formed by these labor rents, occurred lately in the north of Germany. A new road is at this time making, which is to connect Hamburgh and the Elbe, with Berlin; it passes over the sterile sands of which so much of the north of Germany consists, and the materials for it are supplied by those isolated blocks of granite, of which the presence on the surface of those sands forms a notorious geological puzzle. These blocks, transported to the line of road, are broken to the proper size by workmen, some of whom are Prussian free laborers, others leibeigeners of the Mecklenburg territory, through a part of which the road passes. They are paid a stipulated sum for breaking a certain quantity, and all are paid alike. Yet the leibeigeners could not at first be prevailed upon to break more than one third of the quantity which formed. the ordinary task of the Prussians. The men were mixed, in the hope that the example and the gains of the more industrious, would animate the sluggish. A contrary effect followed; the leibeigeners did not improve, but the exertions of the other laborers sensibly slackened, and at the time my informant (the English engineer who superintended the road) was speaking to me, the men were again at work in separate gangs, carefully kept asunder.
In Prussia, before 1811, two thirds of the whole population consisted of leibeigeners, or of an enslaved serf tenantry, in a yet more backward state.(36) In other parts of eastern and northern Europe, similar classes compose a yet larger proportion of the people. Upon their hands, either as principals, or as the most essential instruments, rests the task of making the soil productive, the only species of industry yet carried on to any great extent. The inefficiency of this large portion of the productive laborers of the community, their dislike to steady exertions when working for others, their want of skill, means, and energy, when employed on their own allotments, must have a disastrous influence on the annual produce of the land and labor of their territory, and tend to keep their country in a state of comparative poverty and political feebleness; which great extent, and the cheapness of human labor and life for military purposes, have only partially balanced.
Inefficient Superintendence of Labor.
The next peculiarity of a system of labor rents very considerably aggravates the bad effects of that inefficiency, which seems the inseparable characteristic of the, labor of serfs. This peculiarity is the lax superintendence, the imperfect assistance of the landed proprietors; who are necessarily, in their character of cultivators of their own domains, the only guides and directors of the industry of the agricultural population.
The Russian, Polish, Hungarian, or German nobles, elevated, when not corrupted, by the privileges and habits of their order, have seldom inclination to bestow attention on the detail of the labors of husbandry; and perhaps yet more seldom the means of saving capital and using it.(37) Seed produced from the estate is sown by the labor of the tenants, who in due time gather the harvest into the barns of the proprietor. This process is repeated in a slovenly manner, till the land is exceedingly impoverished,(38) and is continued while there is a prospect of the smallest gain. These operations are contrived and directed as clumsily and negligently as they are executed.
There are exceptions no doubt; a few individual proprietors devote themselves with zeal to the improvement of agriculture. This may always be expected. When a similar race of tenantry occupied England, Robert de Rubs, the chamberlain of the Conqueror, distinguished himself by improvements which he introduced upon his estates, of sufficient consequence to induce the historians of the age to hand down his name to posterity, as a public benefactor. On looking now at the different countries of eastern Europe, we shall find a sprinkling of men who are the Robert de Rulos' of their day; but it would be hopeless and irrational to expect, that a race of noble proprietors, fenced round with privileges and dignity, and attracted to military and political pursuits by the advantages and habits of their station, should ever become attentive cultivators as a body.
There remains for them the expedient of educating and employing able and scientific managers, and on a few of the large estates, belonging to rich proprietors, this is very carefully and well done. But the training and employing such a class of men, is first very expensive, and is then nearly useless unless they can be supplied freely with capital as the means of carrying into effect the improved systems which they have been taught. These circumstances confine to narrow limits the number of estates conducted by such a description of managers; and taking large districts only into account, the paucity of mind and skill, steadily applied to agriculture, and the poor use which is made of the reluctant labor of the peasantry, furnish another striking feature of the system of cultivation by a serf tenantry.
Small numbers of independent Classes.
The two circumstances just pointed out, the indolence of the laborers, and the inefficiency of the directors of labor, are causes which make the agricultural produce of countries cultivated by serfs, extremely small when compared with their extent. It follows that, even where the whole of the raw produce raised is consumed at home (which from other causes it rarely is), still, after the peasantry have been fed, the numbers of the non-agricultural classes maintained, are small.
We have seen that in Prussia two thirds of the whole population were bauers: in other parts of the east of Europe, the numbers of the classes not connected with agriculture are yet smaller, compared with the extent of their territory, or the gross amount of their population. In Hungary, we have observed that there were but thirty thousand artizans when there were eight millions of inhabitants, and no where does the number of the class which is unconnected with the soil reach the size at which it may be observed in countries cultivated under better systems.
Authority of Landlords over Tenants.
Another marked and important effect of a system of labor rents, is the constant coercion which is necessary to make it to any extent efficient, and the arbitrary authority this circumstance throws into the hands of the landlords, under any possible modifications of the tenure. We have seen that at one stage of their progress throughout Europe, the serfs have almost universally been at one time actual slaves. This extreme state of things has indeed changed, except in Russia alone. But the authority of the proprietors over the serfs, exercised through the medium of judicial tribunals, in which the nobles are the judges, has not ceased to be extremely arbitrary. While the system of labor rents exists to any practical purpose, this can hardly be otherwise. While large domains are cultivated by agricultural labor, due from a numerous tenantry, the necessary work must be delayed, embarrassed, and frequently altogether suspended, if a law-suit before independent tribunals were the only mode of settling a dispute with a reluctant or refractory laborer.(39) Hence the judicial power has rarely, if ever, been abandoned by the proprietors, even where the personal freedom of the serf has been recognized. The Hungarian noble still exercises criminal and civil jurisdiction by his officers. Even in Germany, where the authority of the general government has made more way, and where the system of labor rents is in a more advanced stage of decomposition, the whole country till very recently was covered by domainial tribunals, which were at one time divided and multiplied. to such excess, that the jurisdiction of some of them is said to have comprehended only a dwelling-house, and as much ground as is found within the line marked by the water-drip from the eaves.(40) On the estates of the sovereign and of large proprietors, this authority is usually administered by the Amtmen, who, either as tenants or stewards, have charge of the domain.
In the west of Europe, as in France for instance, the pride of the nobility, and the connivance or indolence of the government, kept these tribunals in existence, long after the altered relations of the cultivators and their landlords had made them useless: but in the east of Europe it would really be difficult to dispense with them: and where the sovereigns are alive to the inconvenience of these petty tribunals (which they do not seem always to be), they will hardly venture on depriving the proprietors of all summary authority over their tenantry, while any considerable portion of their territory is made productive by the use of labor rents alone. So naturally does the usefulness of this jurisdiction of the proprietors accompany the existence of labor rents, that I perceive by the public papers, in some parts of the Danish dominions, where a general commutation of these rents has taken place, the proprietors have made a voluntary offer to the crown of abandoning their judicial authority altogether.
The serf, however, who is liable to have claims upon his time and labor interpreted, and summarily enforced, by the person who makes those claims, can never be more than half a freeman, even when he has ceased to be wholly a slave.
The Power and Influence of the Aristocracy.
The subjection of the serfs to the proprietors, under all the modifications of their tenure, throws inevitably great power and influence into the bands of the landed body. The landholders themselves may enjoy very different measures of political freedom. We may observe them, wholly unawed by the crown, exercising the wild licence of the Polish nobility; or, when united with other states under a powerful sovereign, as in the case of Hungary, still able to maintain the privileges of their order with a degree of independence which the government feels it would be impolitic to provoke, even though it were possible to overwhelm it: or we may see them, as in Russia, so circumstanced, that legal bounds to the power of the sovereign are unthought of. Still in all these different cases the power of the aristocracy over the mass of the people creates a moral influence, which must be felt by the general government, and, if not obeyed, must to some extent be attended to. From this influence, even the absolute government of the Russian Emperor receives an unacknowledged but powerful check, sufficient to distinguish it from an Asiatic despotism, to ensure a wholesome dominion to forms and usages, and to prescribe decency and limits even to caprice and injustice. Amidst the mischiefs incident to this mode of occupying the soil, this political effect must be distinguished as being, when reacting on a strong general government, the source of benefits to the people which are important though imperfect. It has for many centuries staved off unlimited despotism from a large portion of Europe.
As the general government becomes feeble, the influence of such an aristocracy may be expected of course to shew itself more active and dominant; and then there are doubtless instances of its assuming the form of a national evil.
Want of Popular Influence in the Political Constitution of such Countries.
The small numbers and small importance of the classes who are independent of the soil, the absence on the soil itself of any class like our farmers, the abject dependence of the serfs on the proprietors, make any real influence of a third estate in the constitution of countries in which labor rents prevail utterly nugatory. The government of such countries must be shared by the sovereign and the aristocracy: it may be shared very unequally; they may control each other in different degrees; bat on their joint authority alone the public power must rest. Tracing back the history of our own country we observe, that while a similar system prevailed in England, the absence of any efficient third estate, made our government a rude mixture of monarchy and a landed aristocracy, struggling fiercely, and each threatening to extinguish the other in its turn. It is the very same want of a third estate, which makes it so difficult to establish in many continental nations, those imitations of the actual English Constitution, which we have seen of late frequently attempted. Before the people of eastern Europe can have governments, of which the springs and weights really resemble those of the English, a space of time must elapse sufficient to introduce very different ingredients into their social elements. Till then, we may expect to see yet more well-meant attempts of sovereigns and nobles end in disappointment. And when society has undergone the necessary change, serf rents, we may venture to predict, will have been superseded, and will have ceased to exist: except perhaps in some obsolete shapes and names, from which, as in the case of the copyholds of England, all life and power have departed.
What determines the Amount of Labor Rents.
The value of serf or labor rents, the advantages which the proprietor derives from the lands allotted to the serfs, depend partly upon the quantity of labor exacted, and partly upon the skill used in applying it. The proprietor, therefore, may increase the rent of the land held by his serfs, either by exacting more labor from them, or by using their labor more efficiently.
If more labor is exacted from the serf, he is in fact thrust farther downwards in the scale of comfort and respectability; his exertions become more reluctant, more languid, and inefficient; the proprietor gains little by his increased services; the community gains nothing by the rise of rents; for if the lands held by the proprietors be better tilled by the additional culture bestowed upon them, those held by the serfs must be worse tilled when labor is withdrawn from them. The second mode of increasing the rents of the lands held by the serfs, the using the labor of the tenantry more skilfully and efficiently, is attended by no disadvantages. It leads to an unquestionable augmentation of the revenues of the nation. The lands held by the proprietors produce more, those held by the serfs do not produce less. But the unfitness of the proprietors, as a body, to advance the science of agriculture, or improve the conduct of its details, makes this mode of increasing the rents derived from the Lands which the serfs hold, rare. It would be visionary to count upon it as the source of any general improvement in the revenues of the landed class.
A change from Labor Rents to Produce Rents always desirable.
The illusory nature of all attempts to increase labor rents by exacting more and more labor from the serfs, and the repugnance of the proprietors, as a body, to the task of increasing their revenue by the better application of the labor due to them, make us conclude that the substitution of produce or money rents is the only step by which the interests of the landlords of serfs can be substantially and permanently promoted. It is impossible to cast an eye on what is passing in the east of Europe without seeing how deeply this is felt by the proprietors themselves. The irksomeness of the task of superintending the operations of agriculture, the uncertainty of their returns, and the burthensome nature of their connexion with their tenantry, make them every where anxious for a change. To these motives we must add first, the gradual increase in some districts of the prescriptive rights of the serfs to the hereditary possession of their allotments; which makes them more unmanageable and less profitable tenants; and then the example of western Europe, with which the proprietors of its eastern division are familiarly acquainted; and which presents to them a race of landlords freed from almost all the vexations and embarrassments with which the management of their own estates is encumbered. In the desire of the proprietors for a change, the governments have joined heartily. A wish to extend the authority and protection of the general government over the mass of cultivators, and to increase their efficiency, and through that the wealth and financial resources of the state, has led the different sovereigns always to co-operate, and often to take the lead, in putting an end to the personal dependence of the serf; and modifying the terms of his tenure. To these reasons of the sovereigns and landlords, dictated by obvious self-interest, we must add other motives which do honor to their characters and to the age, the existence of which it would be a mere affectation of hard-hearted wisdom to doubt; namely, a paternal desire on the part of sovereigns to elevate the condition, and increase the comforts, of the most numerous class of the human beings committed to their charge; and a philanthropic dislike on the part of the proprietors to be surrounded by a race of wretched dependents, whose degradation and misery reflect discredit on themselves. These feelings have produced the fermentation on the subject of labor rents, which is at this moment working throughout the large division of Europe in which they prevail. From the crown lands in Russia, through Poland,(41) Hungary, and Germany, there have been within the last century, or are now, plans and schemes on foot, either at once or gradually to get rid of the tenure, or greatly to modify its effects, and improve its character; and if the wishes, or the authority, of the state, or of the proprietors, could abolish the system and substitute a better in its place, it would vanish from the face of Europe. The actual poverty of the serfs, however, and the degradation of their habits of industry, present an insurmountable obstacle to any general change which is to be complete and sudden. In their imperfect civilization and half savage carelessness, the necessity originated which forced proprietors themselves to raise, the produce on which their families were to subsist. That necessity has not ceased; the tenantry are not yet ripein some instances, not riper than they were 1000 years agoto be entrusted with the responsibility of raising and paying produce rents. But as the past progress and actual circumstances of different districts are found unlike, so their capacity for present change differs in kind and degree. Hence the great variety observable in plans for altering the relations between the serf tenantry and their landlords. Such a variety is exhibited in the Urbarium of Maria Theresa, in the edict by which the views of the Livonian nobility were made law; in the constitution of Poland, and in the decrees of the sovereigns of smaller districts. The ameliorations produced by these steps are valuable, if, after having worked successfully for some time, they prepare the way for two great measures which are the aim of all parties in a more advanced state of society, that is, first, the general commutation of the revenue derived from the allotments of the serfs into produce rents, and then, the establishment on the domains held by the proprietors themselves of a race of tenantry able to relieve them from the task of cultivation, and to pay either produce or money rents. But these results are difficult and distant. The manner in which such a change was effected in England, is that in which it is most easy and safe. It was the growth of centuries; it took place insensibly: the villeins we know gradually assumed the character of copyholders paying fixed dues, which again were slowly commuted for money: in the mean time, the growth of the free population multiplied the numbers of hired laborers, by whose assistance the proprietors might cultivate their domains, without serf labor; and the increase and progressive prosperity of an intermediate class of agricultural capitalists supplied, after a long interval, a race of men fitted to relieve the proprietors from the charge of agriculture altogether, and enabled to pay their rents in money from the increase of internal commerce, and of the market provided by non-agricultural classes for their produce. A process similar to this has been going on in the western part of Germany, though it is yet far indeed from being complete there. The enslaved serf has become a free Leibeigener with fixed services: the Leibeigener is changing gradually into a meyer, whose services are commuted for produce or money; some few(42) free laborers exist, and are hired by the proprietors who farm their domains; and of these domains a new race of tenantry are in some instances beginning to take possession, advancing the necessary capital, paying money rents, and discharging the land-owners from all share in the task of cultivation.
In the mean time, it is not surprising that the sovereigns and proprietors of countries further east, who see this process hardly begun amongst themselves, and know that it may take centuries to complete itself, should feel impatient of such delay in the career of their improvement, and determine forcibly to anticipate the slow advance of unpurposed change.
The Prussian government has taken the most decisive and extensive measures in this spirit. Throughout a great part of Prussia, the serfs had acquired prescriptive rights, either to the hereditary possession of their allotments, or to the occupation of them for life; rights, which though imperfect, made any marked change difficult. To declare the serfs mere tenants at will, would have had the appearance of great harshness, and could not probably have been attempted on a large scale, without violence and convulsion. To declare them proprietors of the soil they occupied, was not doing justice to the fair claims of the landowners. The government steered a middle course. In 1811 labor rents to the east of the Elbe were suppressed, and it was decided, that the peasants who had acquired an hereditary right to their allotments should pay the proprietors a third of the produce: that those who had only a claim to a lifehold possession should pay half the produce: the peasants were to find all capital and to pay all expences and taxes.(43)
These rents are heavy: half the produce, the tenants providing capital and paying all expences, is the heaviest rent known in Europe,. with the exception of those paid by the Neapolitan metayers, whose soil will bear no comparison with the Prussian sands, and is in fact unrivalled for productiveness and easy tillage. It is not surprising that some of the serfs should have declined to accede to the arrangement, although it delivered them from a state of virtual(44) bondage, and guaranteed their right to possession.
Two great objects were sought by this arrangement; the improvement of the condition of the peasantry, and the promotion. of good agriculture among the proprietors. Its immediate effects have been to divide the surface of the country between a race of small proprietors subject to a heavy rent charge, and a body of large landholders farming their own domains. That the condition of the peasants will be at first improved, supposing them not to be weighed down by the rents, is sufficiently clear; their future progress, however, justifies some apprehensions: they are exactly in the condition in which the animal disposition(45) to increase their numbers is checked by the fewest of those balancing motives and desires which regulate the increase of superior ranks or of more civilized people, and if the too great subdivision of their allotments is not guarded against in time, they will probably, in the course of a very few generations, be more miserable than their ancestors were as serfs, and will certainly be more hopeless and helpless in their misery, since they will have no landlord to resort to. In the mean time a race of free laborers will doubtless spring up, with whose assistance the proprietors may institute a better course of husbandry on their domains, but they will still have to provide capital, attention, and science, and in the two first of these it is to be feared that, as a body, they will always be deficient. More advances must be made by them in money than when they cultivated with the assistance of their serfs, and this circumstance will increase their difficulties and multiply the chances of their failure. After all, the task of cultivation is ungenial to them. Their objects with never be fully attained till a race of tenantry appears, able to advance the necessary capital and undertake for a money rent. These are likely to appear slowly in Prussia, even though they should appear there much less slowly than in some of the surrounding nations. The body of the peasants, it is tolerably evident already, will not grow rich enough to supply them, and they must spring out of the bosom of other classes. The comparative numbers, and therefore joint wealth of these, are small, and the process, by which they can become the farmers of all the domains of an extensive country, must be slow indeed.
In the mean time, there will be great differences in this respect between different parts of Germany. Amtmen, who occupy the land, not as agents, but tenants, are already common in some states: in others almost unknown. Those districts of course will profit the most rapidly and largely by the late changes, which were approaching themselves to the condition in which they are now placed, and were provided with some of the elements of a new and better state of things. Those in which the actual changes were prepared by no spontaneous advances, will for some time disappoint, it is to be feared, in a great degree, the benevolent impatience of those statesmen, who wished to speed them forcibly in paths of improvement, which they are not full grown and strong enough to tread steadily.
Leaving however individual instances, and surveying the whole broad mass of labor rents throughout that larger division of Europe in which they still preponderate, either entire, or in different stages of decomposition, it will be sufficiently obvious, that some ages must elapse, before those new elements of society are perfected, and that better state of things matured, in which this mode of tenure is destined finally to merge. For a long and indefinite period now before us, therefore, the ancient system of serf rents, modified in its forms, but enduring in its effects, will imprint much of their character on those imperfect institutions which are slowly springing up from its decay. The future progress of eastern Europe, the sources of its wealth, and strength, and all the elements of its social and political institutions, will continue to be mainly influenced by the results of the gradual alterations now taking place in those relations between the proprietors and cultivators of the soil, which have hitherto formed the rude bond by which society has been held together. The progress, however, of this, the larger part of the most important division of the globe, must for some generations be a spectacle of deep interest to us, to their immediate western neighbours, and to all the nations, in fact, who have hitherto kept the lead in the career of European civilization. We see the masses of people `who occupy the eastern and northern division of our quarter of the earth, stirring and instinct with a new spirit of life and power, beginning to acquire fresh intellect and a less shackled industry, and to unfold more efficiently the moral and physical capabilities of their huge territories. They already assume a station in Europe somewhat proportioned to the extent of their natural resources; and the fate of those nations which have hitherto been the depositaries of the civilization of the modern world, is for the future inseparably connected with events, which the career of these powerful neighbours must engender. We cannot but see how intimately the course of that career is dependent on present and future changes in the system of labor rents, and for this cause surely, if for no other, that system deserves the careful attention of all who may apply themselves to the task of explaining the nature of the rent of land, and examining its influence on the character and fortunes of different nations.
Those indeed, who value what is called political economy, chiefly because it leads to an insight into the manner in which the physical circumstances, which surround man on earth, develope or sway his moral character, will feel interested on yet higher grounds in tracing the effects of a system, springing out of that common necessity, which, for a long period in the growth of nations, binds the majority of their population to the earth they till; a system, which has continued for a series of ages to stamp its peculiar impress on the political, the intellectual, and moral features of so large a division of the human race.(46)
1. Appendix III.
2. Sweden and Norway must be excepted. No information, written or verbal, which I have been able to collect, has made me feel satisfied that I understand the real history of the changes in the tenure, or in the mode of occupying the soil, which have taken place in those countries. I can only suspect that the progress of Sweden in these respects has resembled, in some measure, that of the German nations: while that of Norway has been distinct and very peculiar. Labor rents, however, under various modifications have been, and are now, known in both countries.
3. See Brights description of what takes place in Hungary even now, although the Austrian government has interposed to protect, to a certain extent, the right of the peasantry. Bright's Hungary. p. 114. Appendix IV
4. General Boltin was encouraged by Catharine II to publish (in Russia) some researches on the origin of slavery in Russia, and as such was his conclusion, it rests certainly on no mean authority. Before the time of Boris Godounoff, General Boltin asserts, that the only real slaves in Russia were prisoners taken from an enemy, and that the peasants were reduced to slavery (asservis) after that epoch. Storch, Vol. VI. p. 310.
5. See Gamba, Voy. dans la Russ. Tom. II. p.84.
6. Heber (late Bishop of Calcutta) quoted by Clarke, Travels, Vol. I. p. 165. The peasants belonging to the nobles, have their abrock regulated by their means of getting money; at an average throughout the empire of eight or ten roubles. It then becomes not a rent for land, but a downright tax on their industry. Each male peasant is obliged by law to labor three days in each week for his proprietor. This law takes effect on his arriving at the age of fifteen. If the proprietor chooses to employ him on the other days he may; as, for example, in a manufactory; but he then finds him in food and clothing. Mutual advantage however generally relaxes this law; and excepting such as are selected for domestic servants, or, as above, are employed in manufactories, the slave pays a certain abrock or rent, to be allowed to work all the week on his own account. The master is bound to furnish him with a house and a certain portion of land.
7. This privilege was given in 1801, and in 1810 the peasants of the crown had purchased lands to the value of two millions of roubles in Bank assignations. During the same period, all the other classes (not being noble) had only purchased to the amount of 3..611..000 roubles in the same paper money.
8. For a more detailed account of these alterations, see Storch, Vol. VI. Note xix. p. 266.
9. Storch, Vol. IV. p. 299.
10. Storch, Vol. IV. P. 296.
11. Bright's Hungary, p. 110. The population of Hungary amounts by the last returns to nearly ten millions.
12. In the year 1777, the whole number of handicraftsmen, their servants, and apprentices, in Hungary, amounted to 30,921; and this number does not seem, by more recent partial calculations, to have been much increased.Bright, p. 205.
13. Ibid. p. 118.
14. The size of these sessions seems to have differed in different parts of Hungary, probably in proportion to the fertility of the soil.
15. Besides this he must give 4 fowls, 12 eggs, and a pfund and a half of butter; and every thirty peasants must give one calf yearly. He must also pay a form for his house; must cut and bring home a klafter of wood; must spin in his family six pfund of wool or hemp, provided by the landlord: and among four peasants, the proprietor claims what is called a long journey, that is, they must transport 20 centners, each 100 French pounds weight, the distance of two day's journey out and home: and besides all this, they must pay one-tenth of all their products to the church, and one-ninth to the lord.
16. Bright, p. 115.
17. Storch, Vol. VI. p. 308. Bright.
18. See Bright.
19. Storch. Vol. VI. p. 308.
20. Schmalz, Econ. Polit. (French translation, Vol. II. p. 109). Sans doute, ce sont les proprietaires eux-mêmes, qui ont donné lieu à la defense qui leur a été faite de reprendre leurs fermes des mains de leur paysans, parce qu'ils ont cherché, et qu'ils sont parvenus, A se faire dégrever des impôts que les paysans paient à l'état, et qu'en conséquence, l'état a interêt à s'opposer à ce que les fermes en métairies ne soient pas reunies au bien noble du seigneur foncier, et affranchies par là de la perception de l'impot.
21. Till the reign of Casimir the Great, about the middle of the 14th century, the Polish nobles exercised over their peasants the uncontrouled power of life and death. Three days' labour was their usual rentBURNETT's View, of present State of Poland, p. 102.
22. See Mr. Jacob's First Report, p. 27. The Appendix to this Report contains some detailed returns from the managers of Polish estates, and taken with Mr. Bright's book, presents a perfect picture of the practical working of the system of labor rents in Poland and in Hungary. For a graphic sketch of the state of manners and morals it has produced, the reader may consult Burnett. In Poland, in Austria, and other parts of Germany, the proprietor's domain, with his implements, animals, and capital of all sorts, are sometimes let at a low money rent to a tenant, together with the right of exacting and using the labor due from the serfs. The superior tenant is, in Poland, very often a younger branch of the family, occasionally a stranger. This substitution of another person as cultivator of the domain, leaves, however, the labor rents of the serfs (our present object) precisely where they were. It is considered a very disastrous mode of disposing of the domain: the stock and capital are usually, as might be expected, ruined at the expiration of the lease; it is not now practised extensively; though it appears from Mr. Jacob's Second Report, to be now spreading in the North-west of Germany. It may, however, possibly prove hereafter, one stepping-stone to a different system; and if the dilapidation of the stock could be effectually guarded against, it most probably would do so.
23. For an instance of the bad results of a benevolent but ill-judged attempt at a hasty and complete emancipation, see Burnett, page 106.
24. Narrative of Don Juan Von Halen, &c. Vol. II. p. 88. Don Juan was mistaken as to the date of the decree, which had been issued since 1804 by the Emperor Alexander, for partly emancipating some of the Livonian serfs.
25. Eden, Vol. I. p. 7. Appendix V.
26. See 12th Charles II. c. 24.
27. Hodgskin, Vol.11. p.5. "The Amtman frequently unites," &c.
28. Hodgskin, Vol. II, p. 90.
29. Schmalz, Vol. I. p. 104.
30. On the very poor soils in the German provinces west of the Rhine, labor rents still, I am told, prevail.
31. Those who wish thoroughly to understand the spirit and effects of the old Highland modes of dividing and cultivating the soil, and the consequences of the violent change effected since 1745, may consult the work of Lord Selkirk, published in 1805, entitled "Observations on the present state of the Highlands of Scotland, with a view of the causes and probable consequences of Emigration;" it will be round able, interesting, and instructive.
32. Schmalz, Economie Polit. French translation. Vol. I. p. 66.
33. Schmalz, Vol. II. p. 103.
34. Vol. II. p. 107.
35. Schmalz, Vol. II. p. 107.
36. Jacob's Germany, p. 235.
37. The Russian government, hoping to remedy this last defect, established a bank for the express purpose of advancing loans to the nobles to be employed in improving the cultivation of their estates. The experiment did not succeed. The nobles were observed to grow suddenly more expensive, but their estates remained as they were. Storch, Vol. IV. p. 288.
38. Jacob's First Report.
39. See Jacob's Germany, p. 342, for an instance of the manner in which the rights of the proprietors are frustrated when they are by chance driven to the tribunals. The Saxon courts of justice seem to be actuated, when they have an opportunity to interfere between proprietor and tenant, by the same bias towards freedom which did honor to those of England, and seem too to approach their object with much of the astuteness which suggested some of our own legal proceedings.
40. Hodgskin, Vol. II. p.6. In Hanover, some of these minute patrimonial courts have been abolished; but there are still, or were, so late as 1819, no less than 160 local tribunals on the royal domain, besides all those belonging to individual proprietors and to towns.
41. In the work (several times before quoted) of Mr. Burnett, of Baliol College, Oxford, entitled "A View, of the present State of Poland," the reader will find some curious details of the state of loathsome moral degradation to which the Polish peasants are reduced. The author was for some time private tutor in a Polish family.
42. They are very few.
43. Different statements have been published as to the terms of this general commutation. Schmalz, however, who was "conseiller intime" of the King of Prussia, and Professor "du droit public" at Berlin, must be considered unquestionable authority. Schmalz, Vol. II. p. 105.
44. Personal bondage had legally ceased to exist from the 10th November, 1810. Schmalz, Vol. II. p. 103.
45. The actual disposition of the population to increase with extreme rapidity shews that these apprehensions are far from fanciful. See Jacob's Second Report.
46. When these pages were first written, I had not seen the Second Report of Mr. Jacob, which has since been published in a form suited to general circulation. That gentleman has lately been on the spot, and has cast his extremely acute and practised eye upon the actual condition and probable progress of the agricultural portion of eastern Europe. He has come to results remarkably similar to those which I had ventured to suggest from a more distant and general knowledge of their circumstances. The still predominant influence of labor rents the general want of capital among the proprietors: the rapid increase in the numbers of the peasant cultivators which has been taking place since their dependence on the landlords has been less servile: the feeble beneficial effects on agriculture and on the general composition of society which in twenty years have sprung from the strong measures of the Prussian government: the difficulties which every where oppose themselves to all sudden changes in the old system of cultivation: the strong apparent probability that the future progress in the eastern division of Europe will not, with all the efforts that are making, be much more rapid than that of this country when emerging from a similar state of things; all these are points on which I can now refer with very great satisfaction to the local knowledge and authority of Mr. Jacob, in support of the suggestions I have here thrown out. See Second Report passim, but more especially 140 and the following pages.