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Before giving attention to the further advancement of agriculture, it is desirable to refer briefly to the period of depression which began in 1849 and lasted till 1852. The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, to the consternation of landowners and farmers, who declared that the ruin of British agriculture would inevitably result from the abolition of duties on imports. Their predictions were falsified, for, subjectonly to the interruption just mentioned, a long period of prosperity followed. This was not, however, as the Cobden Club would have us believe, because of direct benefit to agriculture from free trade, but because a series of events, which no one could have foreseen, occurred to neutralise the effect of the rapid growth of foreign competition which set in. In 1847, in spite of a great increase in the imports of wheat, the average price rose to 698. 9d. per quarter, as compared with 548. 8d. for 1846 and 508. 10d. for 1845. The reason was that the harvest of 1847 was a very deficient one. But, although there was another bad harvest in 1848, the average price of wheat fell to 50s. 6d., and in the following year there was a further drop to 448. 3d., while further depreciation in two more years brought the price to 38s. 6d. for 1851, the lowest price of the century down to that date. Barley and oats, after being as high as 448. 2d. and 288. 8d. respectively in 1847, fell to 23s. 6d. and 16s. 5d, in 1850. Meat and other animal produce, too, which had risen after 1836, fell considerably, in consequence of the severe commercial depression of 1848 and subsequent years. The predictions of disaster appeared at this juncture to have been only too amply fulfilled ; and a great outcry for the reimposition of the corn duties on the one hand and a reduction of rents on the other arose among the farmers.
We need not dwell upon the circumstances of this renewal of agricultural misfortune, as it was soon to pass away ;
but for a time it was severe. Mr (afterwards Sir James) Caird, who investigated it during a tour through thirty-two counties of England, occupying thirteen months from the beginning of 1850, pronounced it very serious. In some counties he found farms thrown on the owners' hands; in the Vale of Aylesbury dairy farming was declared to be the only profitable branch of agriculture; and in many districts land was being laid down to pasture. There were complaints of falls in the prices of meat and
dairy produce, as well as of those of corn, while wool had been down in value since 1847. The most interesting feature of Caird's English Agriculture in 1850–51 ' is the comparison which he draws between the existing circumstances of English agriculture and those of the days of Arthur Young, in whose footsteps to a great extent he travelled. He found the weekly wages of ordinary farm labourers averaging as little as 78. in a few of the southern, eastern, and western counties, but much higher in the north, rising to 13s. 6d, in Lancashire.
There are men still living whose ordinary weekly wages after they were married were only 78. a week, and many
who can remember the time of their boyhood, when wheaten bread was a rare luxury, and they subsisted chiefly upon black bread and rice. For the whole country Caird puts the average wage at 98. 6d., which he had reckoned it to be in 1846, just before the Corn Laws were repealed. The extremes were 6s. in South Wilts and 158. in one part of Lancashire. Dividing the country broadly into north and south, Caird puts the average wages at 11s. 6d, in the former division, and 8s. 5d. in the latter; whereas Young, in 1770, had estimated those of the former at 68. 9d. and those of the latter at 78. 6d. So far as the comparison can be relied on, it shows advances of 71 per cent, in the north, and of only a fraction over 12 per cent. in the south. It must be borne in mind that the wages given by Caird were those of day labourers, and that they did not include extra payments in money or in kind at harvest and other times. It
be taken for granted that there were more extras in 1850 than in 1770—in money at any rate. But still labourers were miserably paid in the southern twoz thirds of England, though they were not in such dire poverty as they had been under Protection in 1840, when wages were no higher and flour was 28. 6d. per stone. In 1850, flour was at 18. 8d., while sugar and tea had fallen in price by one half.
Although, of course, Caird found that great improvements in agriculture had taken place since Young's time, he also noticed that a large proportion of the land was still undrained, and that there was a great deal of poor and slovenly farming. The rent of land, he reckons, had risen 100 per cent. since 1770, and the wages of farm labourers 34 per cent. on the average, whereas the yield
of wheat had increased only 15 per cent., and its price not at all. He had no means of comparing the production of meat, wool, butter, and cheese in the two periods; but he allows for a considerable increase, not only because the numbers of the different classes of live stock had increased, but also because the animals had been improved in size, meatmaking and milk-producing capacity, and early maturity. Still he found that the advances in rent and cost of labour had been out of all proportion to the money returns of farmers.
It was not surprising that farmers attributed their misfortunes largely to the repeal of the corn duties, as the imports of wheat, including flour in wheat equivalents, had risen from 1,141,957 quarters in 1845 to 5,930,966 quarters in 1850. Imports of other kinds of corn had increased but slightly. Some idea of the extent of foreign competition in live stock for meat in those days is afforded by the trade returns of the period, showing imports of 62,738 cattle, 130,583 sheep, and 2119 pigs in 1849, about the same in 1850, and a few more cattle, with 14,000 more sheep, in 1851.
After touching 38s. 6d. per quarter in 1851, the average price of wheat began to recover in the following year, and reached 53s. 3d. in 1853, while barley and oats sold well after 1851. Beginning in 1852, indeed, there was a great and sudden advance in the prices of commodities generally, as the result of the influx of gold due to its discovery in California in 1848 and in Australia two years later. Agriculture shared in the great prosperity which commerce enjoyed, and the revival may be dated from 1852. Allowing that year for the turn of the tide, a decade of agricultural prosperity, which was probably more exalted than that of any other period of equal duration in this country, may be said to have set in with 1853.
Art. II.-THE POEMS OF CRABBE.
1. The Poetical Works of the Rev. George Crabbe, with his Letters and Journals, and his Life. Edited by his son. Eight vols. London: John Murray, 1834. 2. The Poems of George Crabbe. A Selection. Arranged and edited by Bernard Holland. London: Edward Arnold, 1899. The neglect and forgetfulness into which the poems of Crabbe have been allowed to fall is not creditable to the present generation of English readers and critics.
What does it mean? It will hardly do to assume that Crabbe has damned himself by inherent weakness and unreadableness. Critics who adopt that position will have to explain how it came to pass that he was a favourite author with a man of such vigorous intellect and independent judgment as the late Edward Fitzgerald ; how it was that Burke, on the mere perusal of the manuscript of one of Crabbe's earliest poems, immediately recognised its author as a man worth helping, and was confirmed in his judgment by Johnson ; how it was that in later years, and after the full development of his Crabbism, Byron should have held him worth such a compliment as the line
'Though Nature's sternest painter, yet the best'; best
, that is, among the ‘noble poet's' contemporaries. Though some of his literary judgments can hardly be accepted now, Byron at all events was the last person to be taken in by poetry which was either merely sentimental or merely formal and prosaic.
A more probable cause of the barrier between him and the sympathies of the succeeding generations may be found in his general literary form and style. He was, in this respect, as one born out of due time--not too soon, but too late. Living and writing well into The Time of New Talk' of the post-Revolution period, producing his later works as the contemporary of Byron and Shelley -Tales of the Hall,' his most important production, was not published till 1819)—he nevertheless retained to the last the literary impress of the eighteenth century. He wrote all his tales in the rhymed couplet of the Pope school, the recurrent see-saw of which became distasteful
to a generation in whose ears the music of Childe Harold' and Adonaïs' had sounded. He was a realist, too, just when realism was going out of vogue. He studied and depicted the trials, the follies, the tragedy, of everyday human life, just when the poets of the new school were teaching their readers to regard man as a somewhat irrelevant atom in a great pantheistic panorama. He describes a landscape (whenever he goes beyond the mere generalities of the eighteenth-century school) by a series of minute touches, often showing great accuracy of observation, but rather summing up the facts than conveying the sentiment of the scene. He rarely makes use of imagery, and when he does, it is only in the form of arbitrary illustrations, which, as Jeffrey somewhat acutely remarked, appear to have been selected and polished up as afterthoughts of literary ornament, having no essential or integral connexion with the composition—a criticism which Crabbe himself admitted to be correct.
If this is considered tantamount to an admission that Crabbe was no poet, it may be replied that by the same argument Pope was no poet, for nearly all that has been said above of the one would apply to the other. But Pope is read as an eighteenth-century poet, a brilliant literary artist, whom we admire without expecting from him qualities and feelings which were foreign to his school and period : he is at a safe distance. Had Crabbe been a contemporary of Pope he would probably have kept his place ever since, as a poet, no doubt, of less literary finish, of far less brilliancy and concentration of style, but as one possessed of qualities of sincerity and pathos which we look for in vain, or rather, which we never think of looking for, in the author of The Rape of the Lock.' But he brought the eighteenth-century manner too close to us; as a literary manner, it was out of date when he wrote; and the consequence is that he has been pushed aside by the middle and later nineteenth-century critics, who have apparently only regarded him as a weaker survival of the Pope school, and have ignored his matter in their dislike of his manner. Only on this supposition can one account for the curious perversity with which every reference to Crabbe in our contemporary critical literature seems to imply only a knowledge of his weak points, without any recognition of his remarkable observation of human life