Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tinuous progression; so that when we at length did
make an effort onwards, she had got the start of us by
three-quarters of a century.” (p. 158.)
The author affirms that, two hundred years since,
France was, in every respect, in a better state than
England, not even excepting what regarded agricul-
ture. Sully, to be sure, formed, in his time, the very
antithesis of our modern statesman. He would, we
verily think, have hung up the “Bagman,” if he had
caught him jogging along the highway, instead of
crowning him with civic garlands as we now do. On
the other hand, Sully was a warm patron of the plough,
promoting agricultural industry with all his power,
and that with the happiest success.
“A writer of that period, Olivier de Serres, has
bequeathed to us an admirable work, attesting the
universal élan (or movement forward); the author, a
Protestant nobleman, Seigneur of Pradel in the Viva-
rais, had lived retired on his country estates during
the religious and political troubles of those times.”
His book was dedicated to Henri Quatre, and M.
Lavergne pronounces it not only the most ancient,
but the best treatise extant in modern language!
(p. 159.)
“All recognised maxims of good farming were
already known to the contemporaries of Olivier, and
his precepts might well serve to guide our own
cultivators of to-day.” (p. 160.)
Why France did not persevere in the path of
scientific cultivation, and what calamitous hindrances
arose on that path, M. Lavergne briefly but impres-
sively explains. We would advise our readers to study
this portion of his work carefully. A whole book

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

could not more clearly trace the course of national
decline, and its incontestable causes, than this truly
mournful chapter of only a few pages.
About the period at which Olivier produced his
valuable book on Agriculture, French gentlemen of
rank and condition habitually spent their lives on
their “Terres;” forming, with the labouring classes,
a social whole, now remembered only by faint
traditions, but the disappearance of which M.
Lavergne regards as a national misfortune.” We
happen to have also heard an eminent French writer
(M. Alexis de Tocqueville) state this fact as incon-
testable, adding that the “débris” of hundreds of
country “chateaux,” as well as of lesser residences
(termed in the provinces “Gentilhommeries”), still
exist in all parts of France. So that the taste for
country life was, at a period not farther removed from
us than a hundred and fifty years, probably as widely
diffused among our neighbours as amongst our own
people. We have already said that agriculture, accord-
ing to M. Lavergne's opinion, was decidedly better
understood by the French than by the English during
the seventeenth century, the former even supplying us
with corn out of their abundance (p. 162). Subse-
quently, however, the picture becomes reversed.
Having achieved our great change, from enslavement
to constitutional government, in 1688, English pro-
ductive industry “draws ahead,” whilst the exhausting
effect of Louis XIV.'s prodigality, with his reckless
extortion of the means of expenditure from his too
patient people, becomes painfully manifest. During

* Note on Madame de Sévigné.

the latter half of the eighteenth century it is England which supplies France, and that to a considerable extent. A contrast is thus drawn between the then condition of the two nations:–“The English people, happy, and proud of their government, confiding in its protection, and labouring with activity; our people, ruined, humiliated, oppressed; turning aside from industrial occupations of which they are not permitted to enjoy the fruits, and feeling towards their rulers nothing but hatred and contempt.” (p. 162.) It is pleasing to observe with what admiration this intelligent writer regards the course of our past domestic history; but we are sadly afraid that a closer acquaintance with the internal economy of England— still more that of Scotland and Ireland—during the eighteenth century, would dispel much of the envy with which our institutions are viewed. For the conduct of the Government during that century, especially during the whole reign of George II. and the earlier portion of the reign of George III, was in every way disentitled to the respect and affection of the English people. Indeed, the interesting contributions to our domestic history which have made their appearance, in the shape of personal memoirs,

during the last twenty years, supply ample evidence

of how little we owe to the paternal care of our monarchs, or the purity and wise administration of our ministers, until the period when the reins of power were grasped by the younger Pitt. The distinguishing, and in fact the most valuable attribute of the English Government, is its non-interference with individual action: that is to say, it suffers its subjects to produce at their discretion; protecting the results of such industry by law, taking for State purposes but a fraction of them, and this only through and with the consent of the Commons House of Parliament. The check thus exercised over the expenditure of the State absolutely regulates the amount of our military force; and it was to this vital element of security, more than to anything else, that we formerly owed the preservation of our political liberties. No one but a native Englishman comprehends how infinitely small is the direct action of the executive government in this kingdom. Four-fifths of the prodigious progress made in the arts of life, and in the scientific application of the capacities of nature to production, have been effected by private citizens. The incessant working of the British mind in a practical direction leads to a gigantic total of results, such as could never be reached by any but a free community, it is true; but it is the character of the people and not their government which has achieved the social greatness of England. Whether our mercurial neighbours would ever devote themselves, body and soul, to the work of enriching themselves, at the price of sacrificing the taste for present enjoyment, as well as of stifling the development of the imaginative faculty, it is very difficult to conjecture. Our impression is that they would not, under any system of government, become the slaves of that passion for acquiring wealth by which most Englishmen are subjugated. For example, here is a man, himself lately a professor of agronomic science, who, although his studies lead him to feel the liveliest interest in the march of productive cultivation, nevertheless finds, in the

[graphic]

actual position of England, no small ground for
healthy regret at beholding the changes which are
creeping over her rural features.
Although a master of “Tabular demonstration,”
and a skilful hand at statistical computations, his
French turn of thought revolts at the eternal appa-
rition of “the shop.” Poetical sentiment is never wholly

smothered by the balance sheet, whilst the growing

necessity of drugging mother earth, and of dosing her with nasty compounds, turns his heart chilly. M. Lavergne not being an Englishman, he can see that which no native sees, or rather that which no native chooses to see—i.e., the inconvenience resulting from a superabundant population. It is this ever-present fact which lies at the bottom of half the difficulties of our internal administration; including that of the countless larvae of infant felonry with which no vigilance, no legislative apparatus ever can effectually cope, at least in free England. Anditis not less the parent of those ingenious devices which science is now invoked to apply to the

latent capacity of the earth. After adverting to the

stupendous laboratory of Mr. Lawes, near St. Albans,
for compounding medicaments wherewith to whip up
nature, exhausted by the ordinary methods of produc-
tion, M. Lavergne goes on to say:-
“That which sufficed yesterday will not satisfy the
wants of to-day. The produce of to-day will fall
short of the morrow's demand. Fresh calls must be
made upon the earth, our common parent, for addi-
tional treasures, and unless she can be forced to yield
them, famine, depopulation, and death await us.”
And a little further on he remarks that, “such is
the growing conviction in England of the necessity of

i

« AnteriorContinuar »