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------,---------THE RURAL…


THE RURAL EXODUS. Dear Mr. Editor,—I he correspondence in your' columns on the xii.vjdLib aitd paper of Mr. Reynolds which has gi\ eu ui.'c to it, prove very interesting reading. That there iff a Rural Exodus all lLr^, but iiie cause- of it and the remedy for it appear to ba ques- tions about which there is wide divergence of opinion. I suppose .11 are agreed tlia* on the, whole those who leave our rural districts go into our evergrowing v- ■ "■ r •<Vnfion statistics do not account fur a great number of them. The questions for solution appear to me, therefore, to be reduced practically tO' two, namely, Why do paople leave the country for the town? How may we induce them to' return ? The brief answer to the first question is that many go because they will, and more go be- cause they must. To some the many social ad- vantages which !.(J\\ ¡;Ff" siioti; induce- ment. They see that the town dweller en-- joys the privileges of easy and continual inter- course with a number of his fellows, of better and more sanitary dwellings, of education by means of libraries, classes and conversation, of a wider and more varied life. When they contrast these with the quiet monotoTiv of the country, the insanitary and inconvenient cottages of the peasantry, the comparative isolation and absence of every help or induce- ment to cultivate the mind which the farm hand generally experiences, they are filled with a longing, especially if they are young, to ex- change the "simple life" of the country for the more "strenuous life" of the town. Others go because they must. The conditions of modem agriculture make it impossible for numbers of them to find constant employment at remunera- tive rates, and they go to the towns ir he hope, almost in the certainty, of earning i B" cient to keep themselves and their For, notwithstanding the unemployed prob- lems that vex our towns and cities, strong, hardy healthy countrymen, if sober and in- dustrious, are welcomed in every manufactur- ing town and readily employed. The great change which the last century saw in our national life, by the enormous develop- ment of our manufactures due to the invention and employment of complex machinery. ha& contributed more than anything else 1u de- populate our rural districts. The factory sys- tem, which, as we know it to-day, is practically a product of the nineteenth century, calls for the massing of men in towns, and if we glance over a recent map of our country, we it thickly dotted over with large towns that, 120 years ago, were but villages, if they existed at all, and whose growth is due to some vast industry rendered possible only by the intro- duction of machinery. The growth of these industrial centres could take place only at the expense of the rest of the country; and the cornfields of England have given of their best, not only of wheat but also of men, as a. sac- rifice, on mechanical altars, to our national "goddess of getting on," as Mr. Ruskin calls her. England has possibly for ever, to be an agricultural nation, and has become predominantly commercial and industrial. But a vast change of this kind of necessity could not take place without some reaction. Agriculture, deprived of its labour market, makes good the loss by the introduction of machinery, and invention is stimulated to still greater efforts. As might be expected, labour- saving appliances became the order of the day, in agriculture as in every other branch, and we find that the farm of to-day with a. machine, a pair of horses, one man to drive them, and sometimes another to look after the sharpen- ing of the blades, will mow more hay or corn in one day than his father or grandfather did with ten times tho number of men with scythes. A result of this worth mentioning is that since machinery is expensive as well aa expeditions, large farms are more economic- ally managed than small ones, for, of course, the more work you have for a machine the better it pays. Seeing this the tendency soon manifested itself to absorb the small holdings into the neighbouring farms, and in Northi Pembrokeshire to-day there are large farms which are made up of two, three, or four smaller ones. If these farms are better tilled and managed now, under one owner, which is very doubtful, that they do not support as J* many people, is not doublful at all. It is a dead certainty. The extensive enclosure of commons which took place in the early years of the nineteenth century, just when, in many districts, manufactured goods displaced domes- tic industries, tended still further to drive the peoplo away from the land. In this connec- tion also I feel tempted to quote the words of Mr. R. E. Prothero, an authority on the his- tory of agriculture. "Up to the close of the eighteenth century it was the exception rather than the rule to find the cultivators of the soil dispossessed of all rights over the land they cultivated. The characteristic feature of the period in review (1802-1832) is that within its limits this excep- tional condition became the almost exclusive rule. Between the years 1802 and 1832 ther existing system of British farming, by which the land is owned by landlords, occupied by tenants, and cultivated by labourers, became practically universal. In this country it has been so long established as to make the pre- sent generation forget that, in anything like its present extent, it is not yet a century old." This wide social revolution, which has taken place among us has naturally intensified com- petition, and agriculture, like every other in- dustry, finds itself in the thick of the fight. So keen is the rivalry that were a farm adver- tised "to let" in this issue of your paper the owner of it would find twelve to twenty eager applicants running after it before the week's end. Each one of them would be so anxious to secure it that he would try to outbid his fellows in the amount of rent he was willing to pay. Can we blame the landlords for taking advantage of their opportunity, and obtaining the most advantageous terms? They are, after all, but greedy human beings like ourselves, ever ready, as we are, to reap where they have not sown, and gather where they have not strewed. Personally, I condemn the system which makes it possible, rather than the men. I cannot blame the leech for sucking blood, but I object to his doing so from the back of my neck. The tenant, settled in his farm, often finds- that he has made a grcivous error in his calculations: that the experience and skill he possesses is not sufficient to bring out of his holding the promised rent to the landlord and still leave sufficient to keep him and his family in comfort. It often happens also that he is without the necessary amount of capital to properly stock a farm of the size he has taken, and, since he cannot well ask for re- duced terms, he struggles on as best he can with labour second or third rate in quality and quantity, because he cannot afford to employ better; thankful if he can scrape through the year without getting far into debt. He lives a life of toil and care, of pure slavery, to put a handsome sum yearly into his land- lord's pocket. Neither Tariff Reform nor any other nostrum of the kind will remedy this state of things, for while farms may be let to the highest bidder, as they often are now, and competition for possession of them is so keen, whatever relief a special arrangement of the tariff may be made to bring to agriculture will only be added eventually to the sums the competitors are ready to offer for tenancies; i.e., will find its way, with all the other profits, into the landlord's pocket. That the Small Holdings Act is a partial remedy I agree with Mr. Reynolds. I do so not because I think we shall benefit greatly by inducing a few thousand townsmen to settle again on the land, desirable though this majt be, but because I see in the Act two principles which, if further extended, will do more than anything else to relieve agricultural distress and induce the labl -Hers to return. The first is the substitution cthe State for the private landlord; and the second is the elimination of financial competition for the tendency of a holding. If I have read the Act aright the small holdings and allotments are to be let, not for the highest figures that may be offered for them, but at a rent which shall adequately cover all expenses of acquirement by the County Council, and no more. The present small holders in the neighbourhood of Letters- ton generally pay more per acre for their land than the large farmers, and this purely, in my opinion, because there is so much keener com- petition for the possession of the smaller ones, a far greater number of people feeling them- selves capable of taking a small holding than a farm. My letter has already reached such a length that I cannot here discuss the merits of various schemes for getting the land once more into the possession of the people; but in closing I would emphasise this, that the best and, I believe, the only way to bring the people bact to the land is to give the land back to the people.—Yours truly, H. A. WILLIAMS. Letterston, January 18th, 1908.