Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

modes of cultivation more diversified, so that all her eggs are not stored in a single basket; on the other hand, agriculture and manufacture are not separated into distinct districts. The squalid haunts of English trade are surrounded at the best by blackened wastes; in French Flanders dense population and high farming advance hand in hand. At the doors of factories, at the brink of coal-pits, is some of the best cultivated land in the world, land which affords recreation and profit to thousands of artisans. The importance of this feature in its bearing on the happiness of the industrial population and on the alleged pulverisation of the French soil can hardly be exaggerated.

To attempt within the limits of a single article a detailed picture of the varied rural economy of France would be an impossible task. We propose first to sketch the history of her agricultural progress; and, secondly, to glance at the existing condition of the cultivators of the soil, in order to see whether the varied relations of labour with land which prevail in France have stood the strain of agricultural depression better than the uniform system of landlords and tenant-farmers with which we are familiar in England. some future occasion we hope to point out some of the features of her farming practice which may interest English agriculturists.

On

Traces still linger of the primitive method of common field husbandry upon which, in France as well as in England, was superimposed the feudal system. In Marche, for instance, the border country of no man's land' which separated the roitelet of Bourges from his English rival in Aquitaine, are to be found family communities grouped in villages consisting of from ten to twenty houses, inhabited by men of the same name who farm their private properties and enjoy the use of common lands. The Department of the Creuse, which represents part of this district, contains about 3 million acres. Of this, 1,900,000 acres are owned by peasant proprietors, and 650,000 acres are held in common. Interesting as it would be to trace the growth of this system out of the primitive viilage community, and to follow the steps by which it was almost universally exchanged for some form of feudal tenure, our present object is rather to sketch the growth in importance and efficacy of the despised practice of agriculture.

At first in France, as well as in England, the monks were the only pioneers of good farming. The North of France owes some of its agricultural pre-eminence to the start which

it obtained through the great monastic establishments with which it was studded. Already in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the monasteries had begun to reclaim the vast forest of the Ardennes which stretched from the east to the sea coast. In other districts their influence proved less advantageous. La Brenne in Berri, like the Vale of Evesham, was sacrificed to their desire for grain crops when pasture was the natural source of wealth. Yet even here it has been to the monks of St. Cyran and Méobecq that the Brennois owes the pisciculture of the district, with its three wellarranged ponds à menu, à norrain, and à gros poisson.

6

With the fourteenth century begins the literature of French farming. And here, on the threshold of the history, appears a distinctive difference in point of developement between French and English agriculture. Charles V. caused the treatise of Crescentius of Bologna to be translated into French, and paid 1,000 livres tole rustique Jean de la Brie, dit le Bon Berger,' for his Livre de Berger.' Thus, while in England the gentry succeeded the monks as pioneers of agriculture, in France it is the State, whether represented by the monarchy, the empire, or the republic, which followed the Church in promoting the progress of good farming. The sixteenth century witnessed a general impulse to the study of farming. It was now that Herrera in Spain, Tarello in Italy, Heresbach in Germany, Fitzherbert and Tusser in England wrote upon the subject. In 1554 Charles Estienne, a member of the illustrious family of printers, published his Prædium Rusticum,' which was the first methodical work on French agriculture. It contains disquisitions on everything necessary for the maison rustique, descends into such details as the management of mouches à miel, and concludes with a curious chapter on sport and on birds and beasts of chase. As Googe translated Heresbach, so Gervase Markham made an English version of the Prædium Rusticum.' The gentry began to pay attention to the cultivation of the soil. Fitzherbert found relaxation from his judicial labours in farming; Michel de l'Hôpital solaced his exile from court with his farm at Etampes. One other book of importance belongs to this period. In 1563 Bernard Palissy, the Huguenot potter, wrote his Recepte veritable par laquelle tous les hommes de la France pourront apprendre à multiplier et augmenter leur trésors. It may be compared with Fitzherbert's treatise on enclosure, and Markham's Improvement of the "Weald of Kent.'

Religious wars checked further progress. When peace was restored, Henry IV. and Sully laboured to promote a better state of things. Strong in the faith that arable and pasture farming are the nursing-mothers of a State and the true gold mines of Peru, they protected agricultural implements from seizure for debt, offered rewards for the reclamation of wastes, opened out new roads, and urged the adoption of new crops and improved practices. Nicot had already introduced the tobacco plant; the potato was known as food for cattle; beetroot, hops, and forage crops were ready for use, but their value was little understood. To destroy the wolves which devoured sheep by thousands, Henry revived the louvetiers whom Francis I. had instituted; to improve the French horses he organised the State breeding establishments. In Olivier de Serres, Seigneur du Pradel, the father of French agriculture, the king and his adviser found an able coadjutor. At Henry's request, De Serres wrote a treatise on the silkworm. But his great work is his Théâtre d'Agriculture,' published in 1600. He wrote of the beetroot: Le jus qu'elle rend en coulant est semblable au sirop à sucre.' It was two centuries before his hint was taken, when France was thrown back by the loss of her colonial sugar supplies upon her native resources. He also insisted on the value of sainfoin, and introduced it into the Vivarais. Arthur Young was an enthusiastic admirer of the great French agriculturist, made a pilgrimage to his birthplace, Villeneuve de Berg (Ardèche), and subscribed to the statue then being erected to his honour.

Once more a dreary interval elapsed during which agriculture remained stationary. Colonial and commercial enterprise, or foreign aggrandisement, absorbed the energies of the ministers of Louis XIII. and Louis XIV. As in England so in France, little use was made of the new crops which subsequently enriched the country. No care was bestowed on the improvement of live stock; horses alone received attention; the Government haras date from the seventeenth century, and the only important work published in the period is the Parfait Maréchal' of Jacques de Soleyssel. Yet the name of Dom Pierre Pérignon of the Abbey of Hautvilliers, near Epernay, who died in 1715, deserves to be venerated as the inventor of champagne. The tide of fashion set in the direction of Le Nôtre's improvements, who laboured to show how

[ocr errors]

'L'Art peut subjuguer la Nature rebelle.'

The patronage of Louis XIV. was reserved for this 'Capa'bility' Brown of the seventeenth century, and for Jean de la Quintinie, the first kitchen gardener of the day.

On the peasantry the reign of the Grand Monarque inflicted cruel hardships. The frequent risings of the Jacqueric in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries proved that even the proverbial patience of a rural population was limited. Throughout the sixteenth century rebellions had been frequent; Guienne had had its Piteaux in 1541, and Auvergne its Gauthiers in 1562; in 1594 Périgord was harried by the Croquants, whose name passed into a common expression for a 'poor wretch: '—

'Passe un certain croquant qui marchait les pieds nus.'

But the peasants had never before known such misery as between 1680 and 1750. In 1697 they were obliged, as Boisguilbert states in his ' Détail,' to sell the land which they had painfully acquired in the two preceding centuries. Famine was chronic in rural districts; bread made of fern-leaves was the diet of the peasantry, and they died like flies. The winters of 1709 and 1740 were two of the severest ever known; the cattle plague which visited the country in 1747 carried off its victims by the thousand; taxes grew heavier every day, and their incidence fell exclusively on the industrial classes. The nobility flocked to Paris, became absentees, and vied with one another in lavish display, for which the peasant paid. Campaigns abroad denuded the country of its strength; at home the wars of religion or of the Fronde had turned districts, like Berri and Sologne, into deserts; the peasantry wandered over the country, listless, livid spectres, neglecting their land because they had no certainty of reaping its fruits, living on roots and herbs. Vauban, in his Dîme Royale,' states that one-tenth of the people were beggars, and that five-tenths of the remainder could give no alms because they were starving. The revocation of the edict of Nantes destroyed hundreds of local industries which had eked out the earnings of the peasantry. Thus, to take a single district in the North of France, the hat factory of Neufchatel near Caudebec, the paper-mills of Vire, the cloth works of Coutances, the pin factories of Conches and Laigle, were either wholly or partially closed. The old Burgundian saying applied in the seventeenth century to many parts of Central France :

6

'En mil trois cent quarante et huit

A Nuits de cent restèrent huit.'

Even the measures taken by the Government to prevent the recurrence of famine aggravated the evil. Everything was sacrificed to corn; the time for sowing was fixed by law; vineyards were ploughed up; no new crops could be introduced; the impoverished soil became more and more exhausted.

The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed a complete change. We turn, as it were, from the sombre etchings of La Bruyère to the smiling pictures of Watteau. The best side of the reign of Louis XV. and of the ascendency of Madame de Pompadour is the encouragement offered to agriculture. The period from 1750 to 1789, in spite of many dark features, is the brightest we have yet reached in the history of French husbandry. Farmers felt the spur of commercial progress. Political science and philosophy combined to encourage agriculture. Law's disastrous enterprises had so shaken the old commercial system, that France welcomed with delight the theory that Quesnay and the physiocrats pushed to extravagant lengths, and believed land to be the only source of wealth, and tillers of the soil the only productive labourers. The Encyclopædists and Rousseau stimulated the love of rural life by their doctrine of a return to nature. Country pursuits became a passion:

'Choiseul est agricole et Voltaire est fermier.'

Agriculture was officially recognised as a department of the administration in 1759. The agromanie was encouraged not only by Louis XV., his mistresses, and his ministers, but by men of science like Buffon. Sèvres china presented its idyllic pictures of Arcadian felicity; and Voltaire, the darling of the hour, wrote

'Et l'on ne doit pas moins pour le soutien du trône
A la faux de Cérès qu'au sabre de Bellone.'

Enlightened prelates, like the Archbishop of Bordeaux or the Bishop of Agde, who introduced into Lower Languedoc the African sheep of the race barbarine, vied with the lay peers in agricultural zeal. The Marquis de Turbilly was the Townshend of the new movement, and offered the best example of a reforming landlord. He improved his estates near La Flèche, reclaimed wastes, and incited his tenantry to healthy rivalry. He was the adviser of Louis XV., and of Bertin, the first Minister of Agriculture, and his Mémoire sur les défrichements' (1760) was studied by Arthur Young. A host of agricultural writers sprang up, among

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »