CHAPTER XV.



FAMILY COMMUNITIES IN THE MIDDLE AGES.



Chronicles, charters, chartularies of abbeys, customs, all shew us that in the middle ages there existed in France, in every province, family communities exactly similar to those which are found at the present day among the southern Slays. Until the fifteenth century we find no circumstantial details concerning these institutions; but, as M. Dareste de la Chavanne remarks, there is no period in the history of France at which there is not some text, revealing, in one phase or another, the existence of these communities.

We have no documents to tell us how they were formed, and opinions vary on this point. M. Doniol maintains in his Histoire des Classes rurales en France, that they were "created at one stroke as correlative to the fief," and adds that "this interpretation is the one given by the majority of authors whose study of law has been enlightened by a knowledge of history," and especially by M. Troplong in his book on Louage. M. Eugène Bonnemère, who devotes considerable attention to these communities in his Histoire des Paysans, is of opinion that they were developed under the influence of Christian ideas and on the model of religious communities. "Prompted by weakness and despair, the serfs formed themselves into groups, and thus associating themselves obtained possession of the soil, no longer in isolated independent ownership, but connected in aggregations of families." These explanations are manifestly erroneous. They rest on the evidence of the commentators of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, who were the first to notice these communities in France, but never suspected the remote antiquity of the primitive institution.

We must not look to circumstances peculiar to France and the middle ages for the origin of these associations, as they are found among all Slavonic nations, as well as among the Hindoos and nations of Semitic origin, and may be traced back to the earliest forms of civilization. Formerly, when all the territory still remained the common property of the village, the lots were periodically distributed, not among the individual members, but among the family groups, as is the custom in Russia at the present time, and was, according to Caesar, the custom among the Germans. "No one holds lands as his private property, but the magistrates and chiefs distribute them annually among the clans and families who live in community."(1) These cognationes hominum qui una cojerunt are manifestly family associations similar to those of Servia. German jurists are generally agreed that there did exist among the ancient Germans collective property of the family, a condominium in solidum based on the active and passive solidarity of the kindred. It was shewn, in the first place, by the obligation of the faida or vendetta:suscipere inimicitias seu patris, seu propinqui necesse est, says Tacitus (Germ., c. 21); secondly, it was shewn by the joint obligation to pay the composition, the Wehrgeld or Blutgeld, in which all the kinsfolk of the victim also participated: recepitque satisfactionem universa domus, Tacitus again tells us; thirdly, by the guardianship exercised by the head of the family, or munduald, whose position was similar to that of the Slav gospodar and the Russian starosta; fourthly, by the hereditary seisin which gave rise to the maxim of the middle ages: le mod saisit le vif son hoir. As Zacchariae says (Droit civil, 588), there was no individual property; but it was collective and constituted a community in solidum. All the kinsmen were proprietors; there was, therefore, no acquisition by right of inheritance as at Rome. There was rather a continuity of possession. "On the death of the munduald," says M. Würth,(2) "those who had been under his control either became heads of houses themselves, Selbmunduald, or else were placed under the authority of such chiefs. The seisin of those who remained under the mundium was transmitted with the same instantaneousness to the new munduald, the successor to the authority of the deceased one."

As the family community was the unit for the periodical partition, it naturally followed, when this partition fell into disuse, that the communities were owners of the soil, and they continued to exist in obscurity, resisting all destruction, until they attracted the attention of the jurists, about the end of the middle ages.(3)

Yet it is certain that the conditions of the feudal system were singularly favourable to the preservation or the establishment of communities, which were beneficial both to the peasants and their lords. There was no right of succession for mainmortable serfs, whose property at every death returned to the lord. On the other hand, when they lived in community, they succeeded to one another, or rather there was no opportunity for succession to occur; the community maintained an uninterrupted succession in its character of a perpetual civil person. "As a general rule," says Le Fèvre de la Planche,(4) "the lord was considered successor of all who died: he regarded his subjects as serfs and `mortaillables'; he only allowed them rights when in societies or communities. When they were in this community, they succeeded to one another rather by right of accrual or jure non decrescendi than by hereditary title, and the lord only inherited on the death of the last survivor of the community." Hence it was only in the association of the family group that a serf family could obtain property, and find a means of improving its condition by accumulating a definite capital. By means of cooperation, it acquired sufficient strength and consistency to withstand the oppression and incessant wars of the feudal epoch.

On the other hand, the lords found it greatly to their advantage to have for tenants communities rather than isolated households: as they afforded much better security for the payment of rent and for the performance of the corvée.(5) As all the members of the association were jointly answerable, if one of them made default, the others were obliged to discharge the payments to which he was liable. It is precisely this same principle, the joint responsibility of the workmen, which made possible the establishment of the popular banks to which the name of M. Schulze-Delitsch is attached. The promissory notes of an isolated artisan cannot be discounted, because the chances of loss are too great; but associate a group of workmen, establish a collective responsibility among them, based on capital produced by economy, and the paper of the association will find credit on the best terms, as it will offer full security.

Documents of the time shew us the lords universally favourable to the establishment or maintenance of the communities. "The reason," says an old jurist, "which led to the establishment of community among the mainmortables is that the lands of the seigniory are better cultivated and the subjects in a better condition to pay the lord's dues, -when they live in common than if they formed so many separate establishments." In many cases, the lords demand, as the condition of granting certain concessions, that the peasants should adopt the system. Thus, in an act of 1188, the Count of Champagne only grants the maintenance of the right of commonage on condition that "the children live with their father and share his fare." In 1545, the clergy and nobility get an edict issued, which forbids peasants, on escaping from mortmain, to become owners of land, unless they constitute a community. Up to the seventeenth century in la Marche, the landlords make indivisibility a condition of their metayages.(6)

The organization of these communities was based on the same principles as the Servian zadruga. The association cultivated a parcel of land in common, and inhabited the same dwelling. This dwelling was of large extent or composed of several buildings connected together, opposite which were built the barns and cattle-sheds. It was called celle (cella), and the name is preserved under different forms in a number of villages, as La Celle-Saint-Cloud, Mavrissel, Courcelles, Vaucel. The domain bore the name of the family, and even now properties are distinguishable by the article, les, which custom has retained before their name, as les Avrils, les Rollins, les Segands, les Bayons, les Bernards, les Avins, les Gault. The associated members were called "compains" (compani), because they lived of the same bread,"partçonniers," because each took his share of the produce,or "frarescheus," because they lived together as brothers. The community was called "compagnie," "coterie,"(7) "fraternité;"domus fraternitatis, in the Polyptique d'Irminon. Beaumanoir, the oldest author who gives any information on the juridical constitution of these communities, thus explains the term by which they are often designated: "Compagnie is constituted by our custom, by having a single common dwelling, the same bread, the same pot, for a year and a day, when the property of the several members is confused together."

In the Institutes coutumières by Antoine Loysel, published in 1608, several rules are still found relating to family communities (I. LXXIV.); "Serfs or mainmortables cannot make a will and have no right of succession, unless they live in community" (Edition Dupin et Laboulaye, t. I. p. 122). The lord succeeded to the serf, so that all agricultural work would have had to be carried on without the stimulus of a succession within the family group, if these agricultural communities had not existed. The serfs, living in community, and having the right of succession one to another, could also make a will in favour of one another, without impairing the rights of the lord. According to Lauriére, in his notes on Loysel's work, the serfs living in community have this right of succession, "because they possess their property jointly, so that the portion of any who die belongs to the survivors by a kind of right of accrual."(8) When the co-partners cease to partake of the morsel or the breads that is to say, when they set up a separate establishment, the community is at an end. The majority of customs favourable to the communities do not apply these rules rigorously. According to the custom of Nivernais (c. VII. art. 13), "persons in a state of mortmain are not regarded as having separated until they have maintained, for a year and a day, a hearth and home apart, separated and divided from one another." In La Marche the separation was only effected by the express declaration of the co-partners; when once separated, they could only constitute themselves into a new community with the consent of the lord.

Living in this community had so much importance in matters of succession, that at Paris in ancient times, Laurière tells us, the child who was in celle (cella, dwelling), and lived of the bread and fare of his parents, succeeded to the exclusion of the others. Article XXXIII. of Loysel says: "A single child, being in celle, receives mortmain." The child in "celle" alone inherited, and prevented the devolution on the lord by mortmain; and, according to the custom of several districts, the other children were enabled to succeed through him.

The community was generally recognized as existing in fact when the peasants inhabited the same house and lived "of the same pot" for a year and a day. It was only in later times and to avoid the growing process of partition, when the institution was already tending to pass away, that several customs required a contract to make immoveables common property. Certain customs only allow community where "there is relationship between the co-partners." This was obviously the original form of these agrarian associations; and it is only in later times, under the influence of the feudal system, that communities were constituted of persons who were not descended from a common ancestor.

Those who lived in the community succeeded to one another to the exclusion of relations not members of the society; and even a stranger, when once admitted to the community, as forming a part of it, prevailed over the kinsmen who were outside the community. Guy Coquille admits this principle after having previously called it in question. "On consideration, it seemed to me more reasonable to assert that the stranger to the community is regarded as absolutely excluded. For this rigorous law seems to have been framed in favour of the family, to keep it united, especially in the district where village-establishments cannot be maintained except by a large number of persons living together in community; and experience skews that partition is the ruin of families in a village. Since, then, the law speaks generally, and the presumption is that its intention was to preserve the family that they might not be dissolved, it seems we must follow the terms of the law, and say that the kinsman in the community alone succeeds."(9)

In another passage of his commentary he calls these agrarian associations families and fraternities. Elsewhere he expresses himself in these terms: "These communities are true families forming a society and university, and are maintained by the subrogation of persons either born within them, or introduced from outside."(10)

Communities which were formed tacitly, without inventaires, and which were continued indefinitely among the survivors, were called tacit (taisibles). As in the Slav zadruga, the associates elected a chief, the mayor, maistre de communauté, or chef du chanteau. The allotment of labour, buying and selling, and the administration and government of the community were in his hands; he exercised the executive power.

Guy Coquille, the old writer on customary law already quoted, describes in quaint terms how agricultural operations were earned on in these peasant associations. "According to the old system of husbandry, several persons were united in a family to carry on a cultivation, which is very laborious and entails many operations, in this country of Nivernais, which is naturally unadapted to cultivation. The task of some is to till the ground and prick on the oxen, lazy cattle, of which as many as six are commonly required to draw the carts. Others have to drive the cows and young mares to the pastures, others to take the sheep, and others to take charge of the swine. These families, composed of several persons, all of whom are employed according to their age, sex and capacity, are governed by one man, called the master of the community, and elected for this purpose by the rest. He directs the rest, goes to the towns, fairs or other places for the transaction of all business, has power to bind the personal property of his co-partners in matters concerning the welfare of the community, and his name alone is enrolled for purposes of taxation or subsidy. From these proofs we understand that these communities are true families or colleges, which, figuratively speaking, form one body composed of several members. The members may be distinct from one another, but by fraternity, friendship, and economic ties, are formed into a single body. As the ruin of these houses is the absolute, and inevitable result of partition and separation, it was enacted by the ancient laws of this land, alike in the case of households and families of serfs and of those households where the inheritance was held in bordelage, that those who were not members of the community should have no right of succession to the others, and likewise that there should be no right of succession to them."

They also elected a woman to take charge of all domestic matters and to direct the household. This was the mayorissa, who appears in the Salic law and also in the ancient chartulary of Saint-Père de Chartres. The French, more cautious than the Slavs, would not allow the mayorissa to be the wife of the mayor, for fear of mutual understanding between them resulting to the disadvantage of the association. When the daughters married, they were entitled to a marriage-portion, but they could claim nothing further from the community which they left. The same rule was observed in the Slav zadruga.

All agricultural operations were executed for the common profit. But each married couple had, in many cases, a small peculium, which could be increased by certain industrial occupations. The wife spun; the husband wove material of wool or flax; and so the family itself produced all that was necessary for its wants. There was little ground for buying and selling. Later, however, as industry developed, the communities no longer remained strangers to it. In entering on commerce they applied the principle of division of labour, distributing the profits also among all. Legrand d'Aussy, in his Voyage en Auvergne,(11) written in 1788, describes some communities as occupied in the manufacture of cutlery.

"Round Thiers, and in the open country, are scattered houses inhabited by societies of peasants, some of whom pursue the occupation of cutlers, while the others devote themselves to tilling the soil. Besides these single, isolated habitations, there are others more thickly peopled, in which the community is still more intimate. The hamlet is inhabited by the different branches of a family, devoted to agriculture. As a rule no marriages are contracted except between its members; and, under the guidance of a chief elected by itself and subject to deposition by it, it forms a kind of republic in which all labour is in common, because all its members are on a footing of equality.

"In the neighbourhood of Thiers there are several of these family republics, Tarante, Baritel, Terme, Guittard, Bourgade, Beaujeu, &c. The first two are the most numerous; but the oldest, as well as the most celebrated, is the Guittard family. The hamlet, which is formed and inhabited by this family, is to the north-west of Thiers at about half a league from the town. It is called Pinon; and this name has, in the district, prevailed over their proper family name, and they are called the Pinons. In the month of July, 1788, when I visited them, they formed four branches or households, containing nineteen persons in all, men, women and children. But the number not being sufficient for the cultivation of the land and other labour, they had with them thirteen servants, which raised the total population to thirty-two persons. The precise date of the foundation of the hamlet is unknown. Tradition makes its establishment date from the twelfth century.(12) The administration of the Pinons is paternal, but elective. All the members of the community assemble; a chief is elected by the majority of voices, who takes the title of `master'; and being constituted father of the whole family, is bound to watch over everything that concerns its welfare....

"The master, in his character of chief, receives the monies, sells and buys, ordains reparation, allots to each his task, regulates all that concerns the houses, the vintage and the herds; in short, plays the same part in the society as the father in his family. But this father differs from others, in that, having only a deputed authority intrusted to him, he is responsible to those of whom he holds it, and can lose it in the same way as he received it. If be abuses his position, or administers its affairs badly, the community assembles again and deposes him; and there are actual examples of this severe justice.

"The internal domestic details are entrusted to a woman. Her department is the poultry-yard, the kitchen, the linen, clothes, &c. She bears the title of `mistress.' She directs the women as the `master' directs the men; like him, she is chosen by the majority of votes, and like him may be deposed. But natural good sense warns these simple peasants, that if the `mistress' were the wife or sister of the `master,' and these two officers lacked the honesty necessary to their administrations, the two combined would possess a degree of power dangerous to the community. Accordingly, to avert such abuses, by one of the constitutional laws of the miniature state, it is declared that the `mistress' shall never be chosen in the same household as the `master.' The latter officer, as his name signifies, has a general supervision, and is invested with power of giving advice or administering reprimands. Everywhere he holds the place of honour: if he marries his son, the community gives a feast, to which the neighbouring communes are invited. His son, however, is only like the rest, a member of the republic, and enjoys no special privilege. When his father dies, he does not succeed to his honours,unless, indeed, he is found worthy of them, and deserves to be elected in his turn.

"Another fundamental law, observed with the greatest rigour, because the preservation of the society depends upon it, is that which regards property. Never, in any case, is property divided: all remains m a mass; no one takes by succession; and neither for marriage nor any other reason is there any division. Should a Guittard woman leave Pinon to be married, they give her six hundred pounds in money; but she forfeits all further claim, and so the general patrimony is preserved entire as before. The same would be the case if any of the young men should go to establish himself elsewhere.....

"Whenever their work does not necessitate their being apart, they labour together. They have a common room for their meals, a large and spacious kitchen very well appointed.. .They have constructed a recess in it which forms a kind of chapel, and contains figures of Christ and the Virgin. Here, every night, after supper, they join together in prayer. This prayer is only offered in the evening:in the morning each offers up his own privately, as the hours of rising vary with the various kinds of work.

"Independently of the hamlet, the Guittards are also owners of forest, garden and arable land, vineyards and large chestnut-woods. The soil is poor and produces nothing but rye; and the thirty-two mouths to be fed consume the whole crop, so that nothing remains to be sold. Moreover, these agriculturists, whose habits and life of labour inspire respect, perform great works of charity in the place of their abode. The poor never come to their door without being received, and never leave without being fed. There is soup and bread for them at all times. If they wish to stay the night, there is a bed for them :in fact, there is a room in the farm-building especially set aside for this purpose. In winter, hospitality extends even further. The poor then are lodged in the bake-house. They are fed and provided with a warm shelter secure from the cold.

"I shall never forget a simple answer given me on this subject by the `master' for the time being. Curious to learn the small details of the establishment under his direction, I went over the buildings with him. Passing through one court, I saw several large dogs, which at once began to bark. `Do not be afraid,' lie said, `they only bark to give me warning. They are not dangerous we train them not to bite.' `Why should they not bite?' I asked. `Surely, your safety depends on their doing so.' `Oh! a beggar often comes to us in the night time. At the noise of the dogs we rise to take him in; and we would not have them do him any harm, or prevent his entering."'

All contemporary authors, who have treated of these communities, assert that they secured to the peasants competence and happiness.(13) It appears that at the close of the middle ages, when a definite order was established in feudal society, agricultural production and the well-being of the rural classes had attained a far higher level than under the centralized monarchy of the seventeenth century.(14) Writers on customary law affirm that when the dissolution of these associations came to pass, it was actual ruin for people who had before lived in abundance. What shews that they must have been in harmony with the social requirements of the time, is that we find them in every province, in Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Poitou, Angoumois, Saintonge, Touraine, Marche, Nivernais, Bourbonnais, both Burgundies, Orléanais; in the Chartrain district, in Champagne, Picardy, Dauphiné, Guienne; alike in the east and the west; the centre and the south.(15) "The association of all the members of the family under one roof, on one property, with a view to joint labour and joint profits," says M. Troplong, "is a general and characteristic fact from the south of France to its opposite extremities." (Commentaires sur les société. civiles, Préface). We may, then, affirm that under the old system agricultural labour was carried on in all parts of France by cooperative associations of peasants, exactly as it is at the present time among the southern Slays. Thus in the middle ages, work in all its forms was executed by associations, by religious communities, by peasant communities, or by craft communities. Laferrière has succeeded in putting this fact in a strong light: "The spirit of association, revived by Christianity, extended its salutary activity over the customs of the middle ages. It was under the protection of associations of every kind, by community of labour and habitation, by corporations, by societies for public and private profit, and under the influence of the spirit of social and Christian fraternity inculcated by them, that the serfs, the poor labourers, the artisans and craftsmen, the commercial classes, the people of the towns and country alike, improved and developed their condition of life. Isolation would have been their death; association made them live and grow for better times."(16)

As to the time and manner of these family communities disappearing we have no information. Profound change in the social organism of the rural districts has always been effected gradually, without attracting the attention of historians. Up to the seventeenth century, terriers, and other titles, make frequent mention of societies of persons "with associated joint property." From the sixteenth century, jurists shew themselves less favourable, and, as time goes on, even hostile to the system of indivisibility. As soon as the spirit of fraternity, on which it was based, grew weak, this system gave rise to many difficulties and disputes, because it rested on custom and not on any written code. It had to encounter two sources of ruin: one in the spirit of individuality characteristic of modern times; another in the passion for clearness and precision in juridical matters, which the jurist imbibed from the study of the Roman law. Moreover, the successive disappearance of serfage and mortmain took away from these associations one of the most powerful reasons for their existence. So long as the serfs and gens de mainmorte had no right of succession except in the family community, they could not escape from the system of collective property; but, when once the rights of the lord were confined to receiving, under the form of various payments, the equivalent of the rent-service, the peasants could yield to the spirit of individuality which urged them to make independent properties for themselves by means of partition. The progress of industry, the improvement of roads and the extension of commerce also led the rural population to rouse itself and cast its eyes upward. New aspirations were sure to be fatal to institutions formed for the protection of cultivators subjected to the invariable rules of ancient customs.

Family communities survived from the earliest days of civilization up to a modern date. When the desire for change and improvement in everything took possession of men, they gradually disappeared with other traditions of earlier ages. Yet, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there still existed many of these rural associations:(17) terriers and acts of partition make frequent mention of them; but we find them exciting an almost universal hostility. A report presented to the provincial assembly of Berry in 1783, and analyzed by M. Dareste de la Chavanne,(18) proves clearly how the sentiments of egotism and individuality were to bring about the destruction of an institution, which could only last by mutual confidence and fraternal understanding. It is only in the most remote provinces, such as Nivernais, Auvergue, and Bourbonnais, that any trace of the system has been preserved to recent days.

The elder Dupin has described one of these communities, which he visited about 1840, in the department of Nièvre. The details which he gives are so characteristic that it may be well to quote them.

"The group of buildings composing the village of the Gaults is situated on a small hill, at the bead of a beautiful valley of meadowland. The principal dwelling-house has nothing remarkable in its exterior; in the interior, on the ground-floor, is a vast bail with a large fireplace at each end, the mantelpiece being as much as nine feet across; hut these dimensions are none too large to allow room for so numerous a family. The existence of this community dates from time immemorial. The titles, which the `master' keeps in a vault, go back beyond 1500, and they speak of the community as already an ancient institution. The possession of this corner of the land is retained in the Gault family, which, by the labour and economy of its members and the union of all profits, has accumulated a property of more than 200,000 francs; and besides this portions have been paid to females passing by marriage into strange families."(19)

M. Dupin points out very clearly the juridical features of these institutions:

"The capital of the community is composed of four parts: first, of the original land; secondly, of acquisitions made with savings for the common account; thirdly, of beasts and moveables of all descriptions; and fourthly, of the common cash. Besides this, every one has his pecudium, composed of his wife's portion and the property she has received by succession from her mother, or which has been given by gift or legacy. The community only counts males as effective members; they alone are included in the number of heads in the society. When the daughters marry a portion is given them in cash. The portions, which were originally very trifling, have risen in recent times to as much as 1350 francs. When once this portion is paid, the daughters and their descendants have no further claim on the property of the community. As to strange women who marry members of the community, their portion is not merged in the common stock, inasmuch as they are not intended to acquire any personal right in the community. When a man dies, he transmits nothing to any one by succession. There is a head fewer in the community, which continues unbroken among the others, and takes the portion, possessed by the deceased, not by any title of succession, but by right of non décroissement, or non-diminution. This is the original, fundamental condition of association. If the deceased leaves children, and they are males, they become members of the community, in which each is reckoned, not by hereditary title, the father having transmitted nothing to them, but from the sole fact that they were born in the community and for its benefit: if they are females, they have only a right to a portion. The peculiar, distinctive nature of these communities is well shewn. It differs from that of ordinary conventional associations, where the death of one of the members entails the dissolution of the society, as the industry pursued is optional, and personal capacity is requisite in such societies. The ancient community was of another character. It formed a sort of corporation or college,a civil person, like a monastery or borough, which is perpetuated by the substitution of new constituent members, without any change in the actual existence of the corporation, either in its manner of life or in the government of its affairs."

Further on, in the commune of Préporché, M. Dupin found traces of a community once numerous and flourishing, that of the Gariots. Since the revolution, it had effected a partition of its property, and the majority of the members had come to ruin. The large rooms had been divided; the great fire-place was also divided by a partition-wall. Their houses were dirty and poorly built. The inhabitants, ill-clothed and savage looking.

"At Gault, all was comfort, health, and gaiety; in the Gariot village, all was gloom and poverty.. .I certainly do not deny the advantage of separate property, and the benefits resulting from everyone having his house, his garden, meadow, and arable land, all well cultivated and well cared for. But well-directed association has also its advantages. I have pointed out its happy effects, and where it yet exists with good results, my hope is that it may survive with unabated vitality. I believe that, for the cultivation of their farms, it would be especially advantageous for the peasants to hold together. A numerous family is sufficient in itself for agricultural operations; if it is weak, it must be supplemented by hired servants, who require high wages, and consume the greater part of the profits, without giving the same attention to the cultivation of the soil or the care of the cattle, as the masters themselves would do. Moreover, the children by remaining with their parents, profit alike by their instruction and example; whereas, when separated from them and put to service too young, they are liable to corruption and often overtaken by destitution. On the other hand, the practice of frequent and excessive subdivision, produces a morcellement, such that the children of the same father can no longer live in the dwelling-house, and the fragments of land become too small to be well adapted to cultivation."

M. Doniol has seen several of these rural communities, and he boasts of their excellence as a "social institution," (Hist. des Classes Rurales, 2nd Edit. p. 164). M. Leplay, in his instructive work, L'Organisation de la Famille, shews minutely the position of a patriarchal family in Lavedan, and the evils brought upon it by its partial dissolution.

Emile Souvestre, in his work on Firnisterre, mentions the existence of agrarian communities in Brittany. He says it is not uncommon to find farms there, cultivated by several families associated together. He states that they live peacefully and prosperously, though there is no written agreement to define the shares and rights of the associates. According to the account of the Abbé Delalande, in the small islands of Hoedic and Houat, situated not far from Belle Isle, the inhabitants live in community. The soil is not divided into separate properties. All labour for the general interest, and live on the fruits of their collective industry. The curé is the head of the community; but in case of important resolutions, he is assisted by a council composed of the twelve most respected of the older inhabitants. This system, if correctly described, presents one of the most archaic forms of agrarian community. In 1860, the commissioners for the prize of honour for agriculture in the Jura were struck with a fact which the author of the report took care to put prominently forward: almost all the farms are directed by a group of couples, of patriarchal habits, living and labouring in common. There are, then, still existing here and there traces of the ancient communities, which for so many centuries protected the existence of rural populations; but, like those representatives of primitive Fauna which are on the point of disappearing, it is to the wildest and most remote spots that we must go in search of them. One cannot refrain from a feeling of regret, on thinking of the complete ruin of institutions inspired by a spirit of fraternity and mutual understanding unknown to the present age. Formerly they were the protection of the serf against the rigours of feudality; and, what was not less important, presided at the birth of small property, which is characteristic of the agrarian condition of France.

We shall see bow in England the nobility took advantage of its supremacy in the state to create latifundia at the expense of the small properties, which it gradually annexed as it made their existence more and more difficult. How was it that in France, where the nobility were armed with even more excessive privileges than in England, and the peasants were far more crushed and destitute of rights, a similar economic evolution was not produced? Why, even under the old system, did small property make such progress in the country where everything was against it, and disappear in that where political liberty seemed to afford it complete security? I have never yet seen any explanation of this striking contrast presented by the two countries. The chief cause seems to me to be that agrarian communities were preserved in France until the eighteenth century, whereas they disappeared at a very early date in England. So long as they existed, they formed an obstacle to the extension of the lord's domain: in the first place, because their existence was secure and their duration permanent; secondly, because the principle of collectivity gave them a great power of cohesion and resistance: and, finally, because their property was, one may say, inalienable, and was protected from excessive subdivision and the vicissitudes of partition resulting from succession or sale. If these associations could survive through the whole of the middle ages without material change, like the monasteries, it was because they had a similar constitution to the monasteries. Being corporations, they bad the perpetuity of corporations. When the peasants dissolved these communities, and created small rural property by partition, the nobility had lost all power of extension, and the Revolution was already at hand, which was to destroy their privileges and to afford the rights of the cultivators a full security. Between the moment when the members of the communities transformed themselves into small proprietors, and that when the Code Civil appeared to finally emancipate them, the feudal aristocracy, already enfeebled, had not had the time to employ its wealth and its supremacy for the enlargement of its domains. In England, on the contrary, communities ceased to exist at a period when the nobility were still all-powerful. The small proprietary cultivators found themselves isolated, and unable to defend their rights. Their lands were consequently usurped one after another by the lord of the manor. The agricultural population acquired individual property too soon; and so latifundia were constituted at their expense. If collective property had been maintained longer, agricultural associations on disappearing would have left in their place a nation of proprietors, as in France. It is a remarkable fact that by the agrarian system of primitive times falling into desuetude in England earlier than in other countries, the feudal nobility has been enabled to perpetuate itself there, and that it is the premature establishment of individual property which has prevented the creation of a rural democracy such as we see in France.



1. It may be of use to give the text of this important passage: "Nec quisquam agri inodum certum aut fines habet proprios, sed magistratus ac principes, in annos singulos, gentibus cognationibusque hominum qui una coterunt, quantum tis et quo loco visum est, agri attribuunt atque anno post alio transire cogunt." Caesar, De Bello Gallico, vi. 22.

2. De la Saisine, by M. Würth, procureur général at Ghent. Gand, 1873. See also J. Simonnet, Hist. et théorie de La Saisine, and Lehüeron, Inst. carol., p. 52.

3. Before this period we may from time to time snatch traces of the existence of communities. Thus we see, in the Polyptique d'Irminon, on the domains of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Près, an association of three families of tenants cultivating seventeen bonniers of land; but the commentators on customary law were the first to give precise details on this subject.

4. Traité du Domaine, Préface, p. 81. See La Commune agricole, par M. Bonnemère, p. 32 et seq.

5. "Mornac treats at great length of the communities of Auvergne and the neighbourhood," says Chabrol (Comment. sur La coutume d'Auvergne, vol. II. p. 499); "he considers them of great advantage to the progress of agriculture and for the assessment of public imposts."

6. For sources, we refer the reader especially to the three works already quoted of MM. Dareste de la Chavanne, Doniol, and Bonnemère, as well as the books of Troplong on Louage and the Contrat de Société. When a perpetual metayage was granted to the metayers, a guarantee that they would live in community was exacted. Dalloz (Jurisprud. génér.) quotes a title of 1625, imposing the condition that the lessees should have but "one pot, one hearth, and one morsel, and should live in perpetual community."

7. "This is a word found in many customs, and applied to village societies living together to hold of a lord some inheritance, which is said to be held in cotterie. It is particularly prevalent among the gens de main-morte" (Dictionnaire de Trévoux).

8. See Chopin, Paris, tit. Communautés, no 31;La coutume de La septaine de Bourges, Fornerium, art. 36;lib. iv. Quotidianorum, cap. 7, and the Glossaire du droit français, Vo Le chanteau et partage divisé. LXXV. "Un parti tout est paiti, et le chanteau part le vilain." LXXVI. "Le feu, le sel et le pain' partent l'homme mortemain."

9. Guy Coquille, Nivernais: Des Bordelages. See also Vigier, Angcumois, art. 41, and passim. Cout. de La Marche, 217, etc.

10. Des Bordelages, art. 18.Des communautés et associations, art. 3.

11. Vol. I. pp. 45595. Quoted by Bonnemère, La Commune agric. p. 89.

12. Chabrol, who also speaks of the Pinous, makes them go back "to the most remote times." On Auvergne, vol. ii. p. 499.

13. "It is in communities ibid. the mainmortables grow rich," says Denis Lebrun, Traité des Communautés, p. 17. "The labour of several persons united together," says Dunod, "is more effective than if they were all independent. Experience teaches us that in the province of Burgundy the peasants of mainmortable places are in much easier circumstances than those who live in the franchise, and that the more numerous the family, the more wealth it accumulates."

14. There is a complete study of this curious phase in the economic history of France, in a note of the Belgian historian Moke on La richesse et La population de La France au quatorzème siècle. See Mémoires de l'Académie de Belgique, vol. XXX.

15. The existence of these agricultural societies, so far from being an exceptional fact, was, on the contrary, general and constant until the eighteenth century. The following quotations admit of no doubt on this point

In La Marche there was no community between husband and wife, except by express convention; and yet G. Brodean, in his commentaries, tells us that "this custom is sanction and authority for communities and associations of relatives or strangers, and is for the maintenance of the family."--" These societies are not only frequent, but general, and even necessary, selon la constitution de la religion, inasmuch as the exercise of husbandry, which consists in tilling the ground and feeding cattle, requires a number of persons" (Guy Coquille, on Nivernais, p. 478).

"We have several of these societies in Berry and Nivernais, principally in the houses of mages, which, by the custom of the country, all consist of assemblages of persons living together in community" (Jean Chenu, on Arrêts de papon, 1610).

"Formerly," writes La Lande in 1774 (Cout. d'Orléans), "it was a general custom in this kingdom for a tacit association to be formed between several persons living in common under the same roof for a year and a day Tacit associations are more especially the rule in villages, where there are large families, which live in community under the command and direction of a chief, usually the oldest member of the society. We find clear instances in Berry, Nivernais, Bourbonnais, Saintonge, and other places."

"This kind of community and tacit association was formerly in general use," says Boucheul (Poitou, art. 231).

"Anciently, tacit association among persons living together, with common purse and common expenditure, was a universal custom in the kingdom, as is shewn, on the authority of Beaumanoir, by Eusèbe de Laurière in his dissertation at the end of the Works of Loisel, fol 12, 13" (Valin, Cout. de La Rochelle).

"Anciently," says Valin (La Rochelle), "tacit association between persons other than husband and wife, living together with joint purse. and joint expenditure was general in the kingdom."

"It seems," says Denis Lebrun in his Traité de La Communauté, "that we are compelled to admit this as a general usage in rural districts, where communities are so common, even in customs which do not mention them."

"The origin of these associations of inhabitants, such as we see them today," writes Dénisart in 1768, "is not well known. We may suppose they owe their origin to Christianity, which gradually diminished the rigour of slavery, in which the people were subjected to their lords. In France in the earliest days of the monarchy there were but two classes of free persons, the nobles and the ecclesiastics. All commoners were serfs."

"At the present day community is held in slight estimation," says M. Troplong (Commentaires des sociétés civiles, preface, passim). "The Romans spoke of them with enthusiasm, and put them in practice on a large scale...But the middle ages pre-eminently were an epoch of extensive association. This was the period which gave birth to the numerous societies of serfs and labourers, which covered the soil of France and made it productive. This period, too, multiplied the religious communities, whose benefits were so great in reclaiming land and establishing themselves in the midst of depopulated country. Then, probably, there was less talk of the spur of association than at present, but the spirit was active and energetic." These quotations arc borrowed by the author from M. Bonnemère, La com. rurale, p. 39.

16. Laferrière, Hist. du droit français, vol. ii. p. 591.

17. M. Préveraud states that in France the communities disappeared rapidly from the end of the i5th century. Very few survived till the eighteenth. Their few last representatives sold their lands to citizens of the towns or persons who replaced them by tenant farmers. L'Eglise et le Peuple by E. Préveraud, Paris 1872, p. 181.

18. The author of the report, who attacks the communities, declares that the one object of the members of them was mutual deception for the advancement of their private interest. "We may see," he said, "a member of a community buy or sell cattle on his own account, while the `master' of the community has not sufficient money to purchase an ox in the place of one that has died or been lamed. None of the partners lets his own gain be known; no one buys immoveables, and if they have hives or sheep, the knowledge that the affairs of the association are going to ruin is sufficient to make them conceal their moveable effects." The report further states, that, as each one wishes to benefit by the advantages of association without taking part us its expenses, it follows that with many hands very little work is done. Besides, the chief of the community administered and did not labour. The other associates, having no interests to manage, passed their lives in ignorance and inactivity. The picture is perhaps too gloomy; but, at any rate, it reveals two certain facts,the opposition which the existence of these communities encountered, and the spirit of individuality which was destined to bring their ruin. The same causes are acting in the same way at the present day among the Southern Slavs. Economic evolution is everywhere very similar, even in countries very distant and very different from one another.

19. Dupin, Excursion dans la Nièvre, 1840.