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Some of his more famous sayings were "the magic of property turns sand into gold" and "give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years' lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert." Betham-Edwards (Miss Matilda Betham-Edwards, 1836-1919) published editions of IT is with peculiar appropriateness that these famous travels are once more given to the world.
Just a hundred years ago the Suffolk squire accomplished his last journey, under circumstances without parallel in history.
Two conditions are necessary to success: in the first place, the fermier-général, or farm bailiff, must be dispensed with; in the second, a good understanding is necessary between the two contracting parties—the one supplying land, stock, and implements, the other, manual labour, all produce being equally shared.
From fifty to a hundred and fifty acres is found to be the most favourable size of a métairie.
Although he was not always successful in achieving his goals, his writings contained very detailed observations and analysis of agricultural matters and were extremely popular. Upon his return from France he was appointed to the position of secretary of the Board of Agriculture in the British government in which capacity he organized the collection and preparation of agricultural surveys of the English counties.
Later in life he suffered from blindness brought on by severe cataracts and a failed operation to cure it.
His earliest journey takes him in a south-westerly direction, through the Orleannais and the Berri, where for the first time he meets with métayage—"a miserable system," he writes, "that perpetuates poverty and excludes instruction;" and he goes on to describe the fields as "scenes of pitiable management, and the houses, of misery." Throughout the entire work we find métayage, or farming on half profits, condemned in the strongest terms, yet nothing has done more to improve the condition of the peasant and of husbandry within the last fifty years.1 Métayage, indeed, which is but another name for co-operative agriculture, forms the stepping-stone from the status of hired labourer to that of capitalist; and whilst the métayer raises himself in the social scale, extensive wastes are by his agency brought under cultivation. We find 27,484 métairies in the department of the Landes, 24,893 in the Dordogne, 11,632 in the Allier, 11,568 in the Gironde, whilst in the Haute Savoie and the Lozère they may be counted by the hundred, the last-named numbering 325 only.
So popular is "la culture à mi-fruits," that, according to the census of 1872, 11,182,000 hectares were in the hands of métayers, and 9,360,000 in those of peasant owners. In most cases, be it remembered, the métayer owns a bit of land.
On the ever memorable fourteenth of July we find him at Metz, leisurely as any modern tourist inspecting "what was worth viewing" in the city.I have now followed in his footsteps for upwards of fifteen years, visiting and revisiting various parts of the country described by him so graphically on the eve of the Revolution.