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1862e Econ/Evol/Des/Mld

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Matthew, P. Protection to property. Farmer’s Magazine, Ser. 3 Vol 22 (1862, Jul-Dec), p.412-3

(Article dated Sept 10)
This article was originally printed in the Mark Lane Express on September 15 1862 (we know this because it is referred to approvingly in a letter to the Irish Farmers’ Gazette, 8 November 1862, p.7 col.2 (pdf image)).

Matthew repeats his views on the evils of the British system of land tenure, including the mismanagement of the “vegetable mould”. He predicts a civil revolution if it is not corrected in time. He speculates on a separate evolutionary history for the “landlord-legislator” elite. In a footnote, he explains why he did not do more to publicise his evolutionary ideas after On Naval Timber and Arboriculture.

This is yet another piece (with the same title as the previous one) railing against the British system of land tenancy, presided over by “despot landlord-legislators”. Again, he predicts that “this will, if not reformed, lead to a land revolution similar to that of France some seventy years ago, or sink the glory of the British empire”. He laments that only one other correspondent, even older than he, has taken up his cause in the pages of the Mark Lane Express: “Is there no vigour, no independence, no spirit of liberty in the young or middle-aged, to denounce, to put down evil in high places?” Again, Matthew warns of dire consequences to the “vegetable mould”: “How preposterous, how absurd to expect improvement, or even maintenance, of the present condition of the vegetable mould, without protection to capital employed in enriching it, and necessary for its maintenance!” The result, Matthew predicts, will be a famine so catastrophic that it might strip Britain of all civilization.

Matthew repeats his claims (see “National Prospects”) to have predicted the Irish Great Famine in his book Emigration Fields, and further claims that he was the first to announce its onset, in a letter written to Sir Robert Peel in the Standard. He repeats his claims to have been the first to foresee steam gunboats and steam rams, and the superiority of iron to wood for war vessels (see also Matthew’s steam ram prediction). Finally, he notes: “to which may be added that, in the highest field of science he has left his mark (a solution to the problem of species), which will remain when all the landlords of the present age are forgotten” (see also his title page to Schleswig-Holstein).

Matthew then suggests that a good landlord would act in the same manner as natural selection does in nature. This passages also contains one of the very few instances of Matthew directly referring to a “Deity”. For Matthew, this term is very closely related to the idea of Nature or Mother Earth — these terms he uses much more frequently.

As Nature does in the case of “natural selection” — cultivating every species into the highest health and strength, and best possible adaptation to circumstances, to their field of life, and removing the weaker and not adapted — so the landlord, his own interest impelling him, would form a constant guardian to remove every imbecile farmer incapable of enriching the vegetable mould and increasing production, and to place an energetic man of skill and capital in his stead. To act aright here will not be difficult. The imbecile will be easily removed, the energetic improver not. How enviable a position for the landlord — “To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land” — so far to walk in the steps of Nature, of Fate Mother, of the Deity, in following out the law of selection.

Matthew then returns to the idea that the landlord-legislator class descends from ancestors who were subject to nature’s law of natural selection. But now due to adverse practices such as marrying women for beauty rather than intelligence, and due to the “established fact, that mind, energy, genius is more transmissible from the mother than from the father to the son”, the ruling class might not be able to adapt themselves to rapidly changing social circumstances. However, in another reference to design and purpose in the universe, all this may be part of nature’s plan:

Here I would remind our landlords that they occupy their present position from some superior ability of parentage (good or evil), and those of more ancient elevation from parentage thrown uppermost in more trying times as the boldest or the wisest; that as surely as their progenitors rose, so will they fall under “Nature’s law of selection”, provided they do not conform themselves to the change of circumstances now in rapid progress. The deterioration may, however, be so great, from a calm world and strength of the law not affording the ancient energy of race a sufficient field for exercise, or from the law of entail necessarily smothering it, that they may not be able to conform to circumstances. This I cannot help, and must leave the work to Nature. It is an established fact, that mind, energy, genius is more transmissible from the mother than from the father to the son. And superior men in high station naturally select personal beauty in preference to mind in the female; the strong-minded woman also selects her opposite. This is a provision of Nature to keep up the equality and liberty of the genus homo.

Matthew then urges Britain’s landlords to fulfil man’s purpose for being in this world – to do good:

…to fulfil the purpose, shall we say, of man’s trial condition on earth, as a moral agent

Matthew ends with a pledge to the working classes, that he has their well-being at heart as well (with another reference to Lamarckian ideas on transmitted ancestral instincts):

The working-men may rest assured that, while the writer endeavours to improve the condition of the landlord and farmer, they are not forgotten. Their well-being and improvement lurk at the bottom of his mind, and, whatever his thoughts may be about, struggle to get uppermost — so much as seem an innate idea, or transmitted instinct from ancestors who had the nation’s well-being for their vocation. In “Emigration Fields” he has so far broached his scheme of utilizing colonization so as keep the labour market in a wholesome state, and do away with strikes. All that is needed is organization.

In a footnote, he refers to his ideas on evolution, and to why he did not publicise them further at the time:

The writer has not been much used to speak of what he has done. For more than thirty years after the publication of “Naval Timber and Arboriculture” he never, either by the press or in private conversation, alluded to the original ideas therein brought forward, knowing that the age was not suited for such. And even now, notwithstanding the great teaching influence of our cheap daily press, such is the power of sham, bigotry and prejudice over the editors of these, directly by perverting their own minds, or indirectly by perverting their candour, honesty and truth in accommodation to the reader’s prejudices, together with the subserviency of the Editors to power and place that he is not sure the age is yet ripe. He was so far of this opinion, that he did not speak of these original ideas till driven to do so in protecting them as his.

This article is the last known article that Matthew published in the Farmer’s Magazine. The reasons for this are unknown. Perhaps (and this is no more than speculation) the increasingly vehement rhetoric against the “landlord-legislator” elite, not to mention his direct swipe at the “perverting” of editors in the passage above, proved too much for the journal’s editors. It’s worth noting that many, if not all, of the articles carried in the Farmer’s Magazine were in any case originally taken from the Mark Lane Express (a journal which currently has, unfortunately, no online archive).

The full text follows:

PROTECTION TO PROPERTY,

SIR,— Protection to properly in a densely-peopled country includes protection to life; for without protection to property misery and destruction would follow, till man was thinned away and reduced to the savage stage. Evidence of this decline is visible in various regions of the earth, where a former dense population had sunk back to that of a few wandering savage tribes under the incubus of despotism; or, in other words, want of protection to property — mark me — such a want of protection to the industrious producers of property in the property they create, or are capable of creating, as we find on the part of our despot landlord-legislators, which crushes down the energy and industry of our farmers, and is greatly diminishing our rural population, it is this landlord-despotism — this incubus upon farmers’ industry and production, which has prevented agricultural industry and production in Britain from keeping pace with manufacturing industry and population; and, as I have before stated, which will, if not reformed, lead to a land revolution similar to that of France some seventy years ago, or sink the glory of the British empire.

The writer has before him work in other important fields, and, being already beyond the usual term of human life, it is necessary to make the best use of his time. He therefore hopes that younger men will take up the subject of protection to property created by the farmer in improvement of the soil. It is with regret he has observed only one other person, a man of some fourscore years, take up this question of protection to properly in the Mark Lane Express, a question beyond all others the most important to the national well-being, and which the motto of that honest paper calls upon them to do. It augurs not well for the rising energies of Britain that such a subject should be left to the old. Is there no vigour, no independence, no spirit of liberty in the young or middle-aged, to denounce, to put down evil in high places? Is it only those so old as, in a manner, to be released from the indirect slavery, that dare speak out? Silence, under slavery, in such an intelligent and powerful class as the farmers of Britain is more ominous — more to be dreaded than speaking out. The slave can be punished for speaking out. The sole man that has had spirit openly to join in this, states he has been a farmer for sixty years; and the writer has been so for fifty-six years. Are we to have none to succeed us in warring against the enemies of British liberty and British progress. It is not from ignorance of the magnitude or debasing character of the evil that aid is wanting: every farmer knows its character. Why is aid wanting? Is it manhood that is wanting? Must the evil go on to convulsive cure? This is no myth to sham and play with; no creature of the ideal, but a dire reality. Here there is no room for dispute or difference of opinion. We have before us a breach of that for which government was instituted, of that which is necessary to the formation and existence of property — protection. This want of protection affects the most important property of all — the most necessary to the existence of civilized man. How preposterous, how absurd to expect improvement, or even maintenance, of the present condition of the vegetable mould, without protection to capital employed in enriching it, and necessary for its maintenance! It is vain to attempt to protect vegetable mould by written lease, by rules and restrictions on cropping. Such will only act as restrictions upon the outlay of capital and skill in improvement, as restriction on production of food, and only be productive of quarrel and litigation. Nothing but actual legal right of the farmer to the improvement he, and he only, can create in the soil, will bring forth improvement of the soil and increased production. Where is the landlord, where is the man of common sense, who will say nay to this? And, this admitted, which is the landlord so dead to his country’s good, to the good of his fellow-creature, who will go on in his present mischievous course? He has before him a clear and distinct path of right and of wrong — a rising or descending path for himself and his country, of which to choose — the one leading to improvement, British freedom, plenty, contentment, security; the other (facilis descensus averno), a continuation of indirect slavery, leading to famine, disaffection, destruction; for it is not probable that a system, entailing degradation of race, and decline and fall of the British empire, will be submitted to by the British people. 1 repeat, it is betwixt these two paths that our landlords have to choose. So sure am I that the present chronic disorder will soon resolve itself into a curative fever — an effort of nature to relieve herself — and perhaps effect a more radical cure of landlord despotism and landlord prevention of improvement than the plan I suggest, that I am doubtful whether I do not do wrong in projecting reform; whether it would not be better to allow things to take their natural course. It is, however, my duty, if possible, to reform evil. It belongs to nature to crush it. Yet such must be attended, in this manufacturing nation, with so great destruction of property and life of the innocent, far exceeding that which took place in France, that I anxiously desire salutary reform. Two years ago how few in the American States were aware of the impending destruction! Modern civilization cannot submit to slavery, whether direct or indirect. Facts have shown that the writer is no idle dreamer. His predictions of the Irish famine a number of years before it took place, and his letter in the Standard to Sir Robert Peel, in the autumn (he thinks) of 1845, stating that the disaster had arrived (the first who saw it), that twelve millions sterling would be required to preserve human life (the actual sum expended by Government), and that a high responsibility rested upon Sir Robert to repeal the corn laws, which Sir Robert did; but did not follow the previous warning and scheme of colonization, in alliance with Mexico, published by the writer eight years previous, which would, in a great measure, have prevented the famine, given Britain California, placed Mexico under a steady efficient Government, able to protect property, rendering improvement practicable, have incalculably benefited Mexico, and prevented the United States’ and French intrusions; his statements, some thirty-two year back, that our old men-of-war were useless, and his recommendation of steam gunboats, steam rams (the first suggested), sloping sides, metallic cover, no rigging; also his published article, about sixteen years ago, of which a copy was forwarded to the Lords of the Admiralty, pointing out the superiority of iron to wood for war vessels. All these are evidence he is no idle dreamer: to which may be added that, in the highest field of science he has left his mark (a solution of the problem of species), which will remain when all the landlords of the present age are forgotten. The writer mentions these in simple duty (he could state more), as affording some claim — some presumptive proof that his ideas and scheme merit the consideration of the landlords of Britain.* He attempts to change the position of the landlords from mere incubi upon agricultural improvement into valuable supervisors and stimuli of farmer improvement, bringing landlord interest to coincide with landlord duty — converting landlords from ministers of evil into ministers of grace. As Nature does in the case of “natural selection” — cultivating every species into the highest health and strength, and best possible adaptation to circumstances, to their field of life, and removing the weaker and not adapted — so the landlord, his own interest impelling him, would form a constant guardian to remove every imbecile farmer incapable of enriching the vegetable mould and increasing production, and to place an energetic man of skill and capital in his stead. To act aright here will not be difficult. The imbecile will be easily removed, the energetic improver not. How enviable a position for the landlord —

“To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land!” —

so far to walk in the steps of Nature, of Fate Mother, of the Deity, in following out the law of selection.

Here I would remind our landlords that they occupy their present position from some superior ability of parentage (good or evil), and those of more ancient elevation from parentage thrown uppermost in more trying times as the boldest or the wisest; that as surely as their progenitors rose, so will they fall under “Nature’s law of selection,” provided they do not conform themselves to the change of circumstances now in rapid progress. The deterioration may, however, be so great, from a calm world and strength of the law not affording the ancient energy of race a sufficient field for exercise, or from the law of entail necessarily smothering it, that they may not be able to conform to circumstances. This I cannot help, and must leave the work to Nature. It is an established fact, that mind, energy, genius is more transmissible from the mother than from the father to the son. And superior men in high station naturally select personal beauty in preference to mind in the female; the strong-minded woman also selects her opposite. This is a provision of Nature to keep up the equality and liberty of the genus homo.

So desirable is the former-occupation naturally — so very desirable would it become under a wholesome system, a free system of occupancy — the farmer free to improve the land he cultivates by having his improvements protected, and to remain a British freeman, not, as at present, a landlord- slave, that plenty of farmers of skill and capital would be forthcoming. Is it possible to contrive a better scheme for calling out the energies of our food producers, gradually improving the soil, and giving our landlords what they so much need — something useful to do — some good to do — some evil to avoid — to fulfil the purpose, shall we say, of man’s trial condition on earth, as a moral agent? Here, the only possible barrier to the advantageous working of the scheme — of placing the landlord and tenant in a true position — would be too high a rent, which would entirely defeat the object in view. The tenant with too high a rent would not be sure he was protected in his outlay, and if his hopes of success gave way, his energies would sink, and he come to bankruptcy — the land, unless attended to in time, would be sterilized instead of fertilized, and the landlord would in consequence be obliged to content himself with even a less rent from another tenant than what at first would have been workable with advantage to both landlord and tenant. The writer has taken wheat as perhaps the best measure of value of the fixed rent; but, if the proprietor preferred the pound sterling, of course such would save some trouble in converting the wheat into money. He may here mention, that during the fifty-six years he has followed agriculture, the rent of land has not varied much, taking into account the change of the value of money by Peel’s bill, &c. Only a little higher during the first eight years, owing to the war. Since then rents fell a little for about thirty years, and for the last twelve years we have had a slight rise; but with again at present a disposition to decline. Except in the case of extensive European war, or general failure of crop throughout the grain-exporting countries, and consequent prohibition of export, food, or, what is nearly the same thing, rent, may be expected rather to fall than rise in value. The means of transport, both by sea and land, by means of steam railways and iron ships, not so liable to decay as those of wood, is becoming more facile and cheaper; while, as machinery comes to be more perfected, and our impoverishing crushing landlord despotism abolished, manual labour will become more expensive. We must keep in view the capacities of production of Russia, that under protection to person and property that country is capable of raising grain to supply all Europe, even though its population were doubled that there is no natural impediment to prevent four hundred millions of acres of the richest level land being brought under aration by the steam plough; and that should the beneficent Emperor be able to manumit labour from landlord thrall (a pest there as well as here), vast supplies will be forthcoming at a comparatively low price. The great valley of the Mississippi affords even a larger extent of level productive land. All things considered, the probability is, that rent in Britain will rather decline than rise. Even with the advantage of the steam plough and other improved machinery, the demand for rural labour will under the proposed scheme be increased. Besides, there will be other means operating to raise the price of labour. Provided the working-men follow out the scheme of colonization which the writer intends to lay before them, there will be a considerable rise in the price of labour. The working- men may rest assured that, while the writer endeavours to improve the condition of the landlord and farmer, they are not forgotten. Their well-being and improvement lurk at the bottom of his mind, and, whatever his thoughts may be about, struggle to get uppermost — so much as seem an innate idea, or transmitted instinct from ancestors who had the nation’s well-being for their vocation. In “Emigration Fields” he has so far broached his scheme of utilizing colonization so as keep the labour market in a wholesome state, and do away with strikes. All that is needed is organization.

The only opposition attempted to be advanced against my scheme of protection to farmers’ property is, that it would not be easily worked, and give cause to litigation. Litigation would perhaps take place, provided the law or act regarding it was made by lawyers, with a view to create litigation. That it would be difficult to work is an error; on the contrary, it would require little working, and remove all cause of quarrel betwixt landlord and tenant: it would only be an exceptional, rare case that would require any work. Let the fixed rent be fair, not mischievously high, so as to require every few years an abatement, as at present, of thirty or forty per cent., and almost no case of trouble in ejecting a tenant would occur. Of course, a regular valuation at entry of everything would be necessary.

Gourdie Hill, Sept. 10, PATRICK MATTHEW.

——————————
* The writer has not been much used to speak of what he has done. For more than thirty years after the publication of “Naval Timber and Arboriculture” he never, either by the press or in private conversation, alluded to the original ideas therein brought forward, knowing that the age was not suited for such. And even now, notwithstanding the great teaching influence of our cheap daily press, such is the power of sham, bigotry and prejudice over the editors of these, directly by perverting their own minds, or indirectly by perverting their candour, honesty and truth in accommodation to the reader’s prejudices, together with the subserviency of the Editors to power and place that he is not sure the age is yet ripe. He was so far of this opinion, that he did not speak of these original ideas till driven to do so in protecting them as his.

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