(Original letter and publication date unknown)
Matthew warns once again against the current system of farm-tenure in Britain – “our greatest national evil” – for preventing “protection to capital” and “irrecoverably exhausting the vegetable mould, the mother of fertility”. His letter was originally printed in The Farmer.
Full text follows:
AN ERROL FARMER ON THE BACKWARDNESS OF AGRICULTURE.— The following communication from the pen of Mr Patrick Matthew, Gourdiehill, Errol, appears in this week’s Farmer. I was surprised that in alluding to the backwardness of agriculture in Britain, under such opportunities of a market at hand, you did not state the actual case. What you say regarding the want of capital for agricultural improvement is correct. Everybody knows that capital cannot be forthcoming where unprotected. You know very well that under the present farm-tenure there is no protection to the vegetable mould, nor to the capital necessary to be invested in enriching it under aration, even to preserving it from exhaustion. Without leases only hand-to-mouth culture can carried on, and with leases, at the end of the lease, the farmer generally thinks it his interest to exhaust the soil as much as is in his power. The landlords of Britain who do not cultivate their own lands — and generally landlords cannot cultivate their own lands advantageously — exemplify the dog in the manger, who cannot eat the provender himself, nor will allow others who can! They, by not giving protection to capital, &c.. invested in the more permanent improvement of the land, prevent such being invested. Every other investment capital, such as in manufacturing industry, is highly protected, and the superior eminence of British manufactures over most of those on the Continent is mainly the result of the superior protection of invested capital, &c., which the insular position and mastery on the seas has given. But the most important investment of capital of all is unprotected — that laid out in the improvement of the soil! The cause of the backwardness of British agriculture is evident, and unless the cause removed by a valuation in grain or cattle of the productiveness of the land at entry and issue, and the creator of the improvement receive the value of the improvement, the cause of our greatest national evil will continue — not only not improving but irrecoverably exhausting the vegetable mould, the mother of fertility.