VIII. THE HOUSE OF HANOVER.
This state of things had a double effect. Food is the result of two essential ingredients - land and labor. The diminution in the amount of labor applied to the soil, consequent upon the removal of the laborers from the land, lessened the quantity of food; while the consumption of that food in cities and towns, and the waste of the fertile ingredients which should be restored to the soil, tended to exhaust the land, and led to vast importations of foreign and the manufacture of mineral manures. I shall not detain you by a discussion of this aspect of the question, which is of very great moment, consequent upon the removal of large numbers of people from rural to urban districts; but I may be excused in saying that agricultural chemistry shows that the soil - "perpetual man" - contains the ingredients needful to support human life, and feeding those animals meant for man's use. These ingredients are seized upon by the roots of plants and converted into aliment. If they are consumed where grown, and the refuse restored to the soil, its fertility is preserved; nay, more, the effect of tillage is to increase its productive power. It is impossible to exhaust land, no matter how heavy the crops that are grown, if the produce is, after consumption, restored to the soil. I have shown you how, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a man was not allowed to sell meat off his land unless he brought to, and consumed on it, the same weight of other meat. This was true agricultural and chemical economy. But when the people were removed from country to town, when the produce grown in the former was consumed in the latter, and the refuse which contained the elements of fertility was not restored to the soil, but swept away by the river, a process of exhaustion took place, which has been met in degree by the use of imported and artificial manures. The sewage question is taken up mainly with reference to the health of towns, but it deserves consideration in another aspect - its influence upon the production of food in the nation.
An exhaustive process upon the fertility of the globe has been set on foot. The accumulations of vegetable mould in the primeval forests have been converted into grain, and sent to England, leaving permanent barrenness in what should be prolific plains; and the deposits of the Chincha and Ichaboe Islands have been imported in myriads of tons, to replace in our own land the resources of which it is bereft by the civic consumption of rural produce.
These conjoined operations were accelerated by the alteration in the British corn laws in 1846, which placed the English farmer, who tried to preserve his land in a state of fertility, in competition with foreign grain - growers, who, having access to boundless fields of virgin soil, grow grain year after year until, having exhausted the fertile element, they leave it in a barren condition, and resort to other parts. A competition under such circumstances resembles that of two men of equal income, one of who appears wealthy by spending a portion of his capital, the other parsimonious by living within his means. Of course, the latter has to debar himself of many enjoyments. The British farmer has lessened the produce of grain, and consequently of meat; and the nation has become dependent upon foreigners for meat, cheese, and butter, as well as for bread.
This is hardly the place to discuss a question of agriculture, but scientific farmers know that there is a rotation of crops, [Footnote: The agricultural returns of the United Kingdom show that 50 and 1/2 per cent of the arable land was under pasture, 24 per cent under grain, 12 per cent under green crops and bare fallow, and 13 per cent under clover. The rotation would, therefore, be somewhat in this fashion: Nearly one fourth of the land in tillage is under a manured crop or fallow, one fourth under wheat, one fourth under clover, and one fourth under barley, oats, etc., the succession being, first year, the manured crop; next year, wheat; third year, clover; fourth, barley or oats; and so on.] and that as one is diminished the others lessen. The quantity under tillage is a multiple of the area under grain. A diminution in corn is followed by a decrease of the extent under turnips and under clover; the former directly affects man, the latter the meat- affording animals. A decrease in the breadth under tillage means an addition to the pasture land, which in this climate only produces meat during the warm portions of the year. I must, however, not dwell upon this topic, but whatever leads to a diminution in the labor applied to the land lessens the production of food, and DEAR MEAT may only be the supplement to CHEAP CORN.
I shall probably be met with the hackneyed cry, The question is entirely one of price. Each farmer and each landlord will ask himself, Does it pay to grow grain? and in reply to any such inquiry, I would refer to the annual returns. I find that in the five years, 1842 to 1846, wheat ranged from 50s. 2d. to 57s. 9d.; the average for the entire period being 54s. 10d. per quarter. In the five years from 1870 to 1874 it ranged from 46s. 10d. to 58s. 8d., the average for the five years being 54s. 7d. per quarter. The reduction in price has only been 3d. per quarter, or less than one half per cent.
I venture to think that there are higher considerations than mere profit to individuals, and that, as the lands belong to the whole state as represented by the Crown, and as they are held in trust TO PRODUCE FOOD FOR THE PEOPLE, that trust should be enforced.