Matthew, P. National prospects. Farmer’s Magazine, Ser. 3 Vol 20 (1861, Jul-Dec), p.357-8
(Article dated Sept 13)
Matthew first discusses the bad harvest in Britain and Europe, and its implications, before attacking the British land tenancy system once again. He also considers the many examples of predictions of his that were ignored at the time.
The article originally appeared in the Mark Lane Express, before being copied in the Farmer’s Magazine as cited above. The first half of the article was carried in the Dundee Advertiser Wednesday 18 September 1861 and in the same newspaper two days later: Dundee Advertiser Friday 20 September 1861. The second half of the article, under the title “Mr Pat Matthew’s Anticipations of Modern Improvements”, was carried in the Dundee Advertiser Thursday 26 September 1861 and in the same newspaper one day later: Dundee Advertiser Friday 27 September 1861.
Matthew starts by reviewing the poor agricultural yields expected around the world that year, and the consequent cost to the British economy. He then refers back to an article titled “Greatest National Evil” he published in the Mark Lane Express some months previously, and lays out once again the disaster that might follow from mismanagement of British agricultural lands (including invasion by France!). He contrasts that with the huge benefits that would accrue from adopting his competition-based ideas for improving agricultural practices, a system that would be in line with “my Theory of the Law of Natural Selection”. A footnote states:
See my Theory of the Law of the origin of Species by natural competitive selection, published in my volume “Naval Timber and Arboriculture” more than thirty years ago, and again recently published by Mr. Darwin, when the intellect of the country has become more able or more willing to comprehend the subject.
Matthew then refers to his book Emigration Fields, and the prediction that it contained of the Irish Great Famine and his proposed solution of mass emigration (see also Matthew’s letters to the Prime Minister on the subject). His original suggestion was for the Irish to emigrate to Texas, but in this letter it has changed to California. California was under Mexican rule at the time Emigration Fields was written, so Matthew’s reasoning is unchanged – to bring the Irish to an under-populated Catholic territory, and to strengthen British ties with Mexico in order to limit American hegemony. Matthew also refers to other ideas of his on the design of warships, that were disregarded at the time but were now coming to pass (see also Matthew’s steam ram prediction). The reference to “Iron v. Wood” is unfortunately to an article which remains undiscovered:
Am I to expect my present advice will meet the same tardy and not very pleasant success as my recommendation did of steam rams without masts (the first who proposed such), the portion above water rounded like the half-section of an egg cut longitudinally, with metallic cover that shot might glide off; also of a fleet of strong steam-boats, armed with heavy artillery to throw explosive shot, in preference to our huge unprotected men-of-war, “from which (boats) one explosive shot, taking effect low down in the large exposed side of a three-decker, would tear open a breach sufficient to sink her almost instantly” – (see “Naval Timber”)? Or will it be disregarded as my article “Iron v. Wood,” published about 15 years ago, stating the great advantages of the former over the latter as material for war vessels, that an iron war steam frigate was the grandest object in nature? Copies of this were sent to the Lords of the Admiralty, and a late Minister for War mentioned to me he had been reading it. Yet no progress was made in the right direction, and the Russian war found us without a single gun-boat or mail-coated iron frigate.
Finally, Matthew refers to his ideas on efficient land drainage (also addressed in other articles), he rails against a tax on tiles that has acted to deter good land management, and he notes how his neighbouring farmers, after initially laughing at him, are now emulating his drainage techniques.
The full article follows:
The greater put of the harvesting being completed in Europe, as well as in our own country, we can now form a pretty accurate estimate of our year’s supply, of which accounts are not very flattering. Though in some districts in Scotland, Holstein, and Denmark there is a full average, yet upon the whole there will be a large deficiency. Throughout the South of Europe (with the exception of the distant southeast), the edible crop is now found to be nearly one-third defective. This is owing to the autumn or winter-sown cereals in their advanced state having been severely checked and dwarfed by the very inclement later spring, and by the maize crop — the staff of life of the poorer classes in the two peninsulas — being, in Italy especially, an almost complete failure, owing to the excessive summer heat and drought following upon the adverse later portion of spring. Again, in the North of Europe, the crops are found not nearly to come up to expectation, especially the rye and wheat. The severity of the winter, and a few uncommonly mild days in early spring, giving a start to vegetation, followed by severe frost in the later spring, greatly thinned the plant, and prevented tillering of the rye and wheat. And again, though in many districts nourished to a fair bulk by the fine showery summer, the premature ripening of the crops by excessive heat in the last half of July, following the heavy rains of the first half, has much diminished the expected yield, while the potatoes which form nearly the one-half bulk of the food of man, besides extensive pig feeding, have been blighted so early in the season, as most of them to be scarcely worth digging. From North America, owing to the destructive effects of intestine war and the deficiency in autumn-sown wheat in Canada and some of the Northern states, large arrivals are somewhat doubtful. At home we stand well in the cereals except wheat, which latter, as the crop in most districts is thin and defective in bulk, and at the same time is deficient in acreage, cannot be less than one-fourth under average. Hence an import will be required not much under that of last season. With regard to the potato crop, we still hope that a half may remain sound, which, as the acreage planted is large, would afford a considerable help during the nine months to come till a new crop appear. Taking our increasing population and our home deficit of food into consideration, our payments a second year of so vast a sum (some 30 or 40 millions sterling) for foreign food when our own country, were property protected, would more than supply her present population, and also that our cotton wool supply is fast coming to an end — no cotton manufacture exports to cover food import, with a large portion of our population thrown out of employment — our prospects are bad enough.
Thoughts of this, of the pinching and misery of our poorer countrymen — of famishing families during the coming winter in our cotton-manufacture districts — dwell upon our mind. Thoughts of this draw our attention strongly towards the necessity of doing all in our power to promote our agricultural interests. We have proof here of its utility. Will the thinking portion of the country longer tolerate the mischievous regulations of land occupancy, which preclude the laying out of capital upon the gradual enrichment of the British soil, whereby its productiveness could be more than doubled, and which prevent us from reaping the advantages we ought to derive from our foreign commerce affording consumers at hand? While every other kind of property is protected, that property and industry alone, of the greatest importance to the well-being of the nation, to the health and strength of the race, is left unprotected, and hence our lands remain comparatively unproductive. Several months ago, in a letter published in the Mark Lane Express, I entered fully into a consideration of this the GREATEST NATIONAL EVIL, and I am forced again, by the magnitude of the evil and its present most mischievous effects, to recur to it. In that letter I stated that the desire of the landlords to hold their tenantry in thrall, in indirect slavery, was one of the reasons why they prevented the farmer’s capital laid out upon land from receiving protection, while like every other property it paid for protection. But surely the landlords cannot themselves be conscious of the magnitude of the evil, or they would not persist in it. The plan I proposed was that every farm at the farmer’s entry should have its capacity of production of bushels per acre estimated by men mutually chosen, or by elected district valuators, and that if the tenant should by capital, skill, industry, raise the productive capacity of the farm to more bushels per acre, that the whole or a large portion of the excess should as a tenant-right belong to him. Let any person of sense, and acquainted with human nature, just think how strongly such a law would operate to draw out the skill, talents, and industry of the farmer, that he would do everything possible to procure capital to invest in improvement, and that it would also be a means of his being able to procure the loan of capital, that capitalists themselves would rush to become farmers, and that the rent of land as well at its value would, as a necessary consequence, rise. Another powerful stimulus to cause the farmer, were property protected, to do his uttermost to enrich his land, is the greater certainty it would give him of retaining occupancy, as the larger the sum he had to receive he would have the less chance of being expelled. But I need go no farther in pointing out the vast, the almost inconceivable increase to the nation’s wealth and nation’s security that would accrue. Should the British landholders, in their short-sighted selfishness and covetous greed of power, persist in the existing most unwholesome system of land occupancy, and thus, by restraining the natural development of the wealth, population, and power of the home empire, pave the way to a successful French invasion, they will justly merit the seizure of their lands, which would necessarily take place, as it once before took place in the memorable invasion of William of Normandy. I put the question to the landlords of Britain, Would not protection to property, capital, skill, &c, invested in the enrichment of your land, by emancipating the farmer and giving him something highly valuable to defend, tend greatly to bind society together, and render an invasion, even though successful in obtaining a safe landing, much more strenuously opposed ashore? I would ask these landlords, Is not the present system of land occupancy in England, the denying of protection to skill and capital laid out by the farmer in the enrichment of land, calculated to smother industry and improvement; and, being in direct op- position to my Theory of the Law of Natural Selection,* certain to lower the intellectual and industrial faculties, and repress the energetic spirit of the English farmer as a race? And is not the Scotch lease system only dooming the farmer to the labour of Sisyphus — alternately every few years engaged in rolling up the stone of improvement towards the distant top of the hill, the next few years to be rolled back to the bottom?
Am I to expect, in thus pointing out the extreme urgency of protection to our most important property, that my advice this time will be listened to? or will it be as I have before experienced in other very important cases? Eight years before the coming of the Irish famine, I pointed out in my work, “Emigration Fields,” that it was impending, and strongly recommended a means of prevention by a grand scheme of emigration of a million of the superabundant Irish people as a necessary relief. Had the Irish, at the time I proposed it, been encouraged to swarm off, a million of lives might have been saved, and the money which had to be expended in saving the lives of a great part of the survivors would nearly have effected the removal of a million, and put the swarm in a condition to live by their own exertions in the new country. Had my scheme been followed out, California would have been British territory as well as Victoria. I pointed out the west coast of North America, knowing and stating its wealth in the precious metals, and value as a Colonial field far superior to the east coast. Am I to expect my present advice will meet the same tardy and not very pleasant success as my recommendation did of steam rams without masts (the first who proposed such), the portion above water rounded like the half-section of an egg cut longitudinally, with metallic cover that shot might glide off; also of a fleet of strong steam-boats, armed with heavy artillery to throw explosive shot, in preference to our huge unprotected men-of-war, “from which (boats) one explosive shot, taking effect low down in the large exposed side of a three-decker, would tear open a breach sufficient to sink her almost instantly—(see “Naval Timber”)? Or will it be disregarded as my article “Iron v. Wood,” published about 15 years ago, stating the great advantages of the former over the latter as material for war vessels, that an iron war steam frigate was the grandest object in nature? Copies of this were sent to the Lords of the Admiralty, and a late Minister for War mentioned to me he had been reading it Yet no progress was made in the right direction, and the Russian war found us without a single gun-boat or mail-coated iron frigate. To this defect, particularly a fleet of gun-boats, Cronstadt and Petersburg owed their safety, not however to be regretted. The steam-ram and metallic cover was first followed by Napoleon, a not very pleasant result, and only now the Lords of Admiralty are coming round to see the utility of following “Iron versus Wood.” Am I to expect the same issue in this property protection, only after very great loss of time and wealth, as took place through ignorant legislation in regard to thorough drainage? It is now nearly half a century since I commenced thorough drainage of Carse clay. In a neighbouring farm, a cut 9 ft. deep was made through a flat Carse clay field, for laying pipes to bring in water to the farmstead, and I noticed that for about 50 yards on each side of the cut, while it stood open, no water stood or run in the furrows of the ridges, while at a greater distance from the cut, the furrows contained water. Upon this I commenced thorough drainage, the drains at a distance of between 20 to 30 yards from each other. Having here observed the wide effect of a deep cut, I made the drains pretty deep, about 7 feet at the outfall (the ground was quite flat), and 3½ feet at the upper end, with a declivity of about a foot the hundred yards, and these drains are yet efficient. In this, my work afforded much mirth to the neighbouring farmers. Being young, they considered me green, and it was 15 or 20 years before I was followed. I may mention here that, a heavy tax then existing upon drain tile, I was forced to use stones, to be brought a distance of 4 or 5 miles. I made the bottom of the drains, and for about 16 inches up, about 9 inches wide, and coupled with thin slate stones in the bottom, and filled in above these with broken stones from two to three inches diameter, reserving the smaller for the top, and covering the whole with gravel, the small riddled out, and sometimes riddled steam-engine cinders, so that neither mole nor rat could penetrate, or crumbling earth could get down, the depth of the stones being about 15 inches in all. As stones were distant, and cost much labour, I tried, if possible, to escape the duty upon tile, by using burnt clay, cut into thin slices, not in the form of tile, but found the duty could not be avoided. This tax, which only brought in a mere trifle, scarcely paying the collecting, imposed by our wise landlord Parliament, I have no doubt retarded thorough drainage in Britain for some 15 or 20 years, causing a loss yearly of several millions sterling. The loss, however, by the want of protection to farmers’ property is vastly more in amount When is it to cease? Are our Legislator-landlords and Government to remain as bigoted in evil and adverse to improvement as in the cases which I have specified?
Gourdiehill, Errol, Scotland, PATRICK MATTHEW.
* See my Theory of the Law of the origin of Species by natural competitive selection, published in my volume “Naval Timber and Arboriculture” more than thirty years ago, and again recently published by Mr. Darwin, when the intellect of the country has become more able or more willing to comprehend the subject.