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THE ADVANTAGES OF A COUNTRY LIFE.
By Rev. J. W. LAKE, L.S.A., sometime Editor of the Land Union Journal.
THE tremendous overgrowth of our town population, and the serious diminution of the population of our rural districts, are facts that are just now forcing upon the minds of statesmen of all political parties the pressing necessity which exists for providing some legislative remedy which may tend to equalize the distorted balance. In our large towns unskilled labour, owing to this influx from rural districts, has considerable difficulty in finding remunerative employ, and as a consequence a large amount of distress prevails. For many of these men employment could be found in our country districts, if only a system of allotments and “small holdings" should prevail. The former, already in partial though increasing operation, would supplement the labourer's wage, and would furnish employment when the farmer's work was slack; the latter, a holding of say four to ten acres, would, if cultivated wholly or in part as a market garden, raise the labourer a step higher in the social scale, and would give him a sense of independence that would sweeten his employ by the knowledge that he was working, not for others, but for himself, and that he now possessed a stake in the country. In his recent speech at Birmingham, Lord Salisbury, after alluding to the injury which the commerce of this country sustains from the protective tariffs of other countries, said, “We have our own troubles in our own rural districts, and from the same causes. Throughout large territories in this country there is now no longer the same employment for labour that there was, and the result is the constant diminution of employment in the country districts, and a constant drain of labourers to the towns, through grass and pasture being substituted for arable lands, and this change means that in every small farm where such an operation takes place, three or four families are let loose upon the world without employment, and have to seek such a desperate remedy as may be found by crowding still further the already overcrowded towns.” A great deal of truth attaches to the well-known saying of Cowper, “God made the country, but man made the town"; for we find that while it is mainly necessity that drives the multitudes who forsake the peaceful quietude of our rural districts to dwell amid the stir and bustle and turmoil of our large towns, it is pleasure and choice that attracts successful and well-to-do families, the moment they are able to do so, to exchange town life for a dwelling amid rural scenes. The suburbs of our great cities, with their rows of palatial residences and spacious grounds, the tens of thousands of the middle and comfortable classes who tenant the rows of modest villas with greenhouse and garden, show how many seek to combine the advantages which either has to offer—to dwell amid scenes of rural quietude and beauty, and yet within easy distance of the attractions and advantages of town life. Wealth is most readily made and accumulated in our populous cities; and those who have to live by labour to earn their daily bread, and who struggle by economy.
and self-denial to make provision for their old age—these cannot choose their dwelling-place, these must flock where employment is plentiful, must live in towns amid a dense population, and often in narrow and unwholesome streets. And here, where great wealth is made, poverty of the direst description often abounds. It is possible, however, that by a process of home colonization remunerative employment may in our own country be provided for all. If cities are overcrowded, the fields are ready to give rich response to the labourers' toil. It was well said by Charles Kingsley, speaking of those who had been successful in their business pursuits, “that whatever wealth they drew from the city, they took care not to live in it. As soon as a man gets wealthy now-a-days, his first act is to take to himself a villa in the country. Do I blame him 2 Certainly not! It is an act of common sense. He finds that the harder he works the more he needs of fresh air, free country life, innocent recreation; and he takes it and does his city business all the better for it, lives all the longer for it, is the cheerfuller, more genial man for it.” But what of the necessitous poor—of the thousands who vainly beg for leave to toil 2 or those hundreds of thousands whose weary tasks and scanty wages bind them in iron chains to the workshop and the slum ? Well, the large and philanthropic heart of Kingsley had a thought for these. He tells us that when he sees employers enjoying these advantages, leaving the crowded city for the quietude and enjoyment of rural scenes, the feeling arises within him, “Oh that the good man could have taken his workmen with him.” “Taken his workmen with him " I assure you that after years of thought I see no other remedy for the worst evils of city life. “If,” says the old proverb, “the mountain will not come to Mohamed, then Mohamed must go to the mountain"; and if you cannot bring the country into the city, the city must go into the country. The rural labourers who migrated from our villages did so attracted by the higher wages and the exciting pleasures to be obtained in towns. They found, however, an overstocked labour market, and employment consequently scarce. And then commenced the difficulties and miseries of town life. The narrow and dingy courts leading out of some equally wretched street in the slum quarter, where the heavens are shut out from sight, and where the bright sunshine seldom penetrates; the single room whose rent more than doubles the rent of a country cottage; the coarse and brutal language and the sickening sights and sounds of intemperance, immorality and crime from which it is scarcely possible to escape, constitute surroundings amid which it is almost a hopeless task to preserve honesty of life, nobility of character, or the charm of domestic purity and joy. In these large towns we have plain and palpable evidence of a huge surplus population for whom no seat is found, not merely at Nature's feast, but even at Nature's simplest repast, who are destitute alike of food or home, because no employment can be found whereby a living could be earned. The first and natural provision which Providence has
made for those whose lot it is to live by labour is the
tillage of the soil, causing the earth to give its increase and to enrich the world by giving forth its abundant fruits. As it is, however, in rural districts the eye wanders over a vast expanse of country, where often scarce a human being can be seen, and, save here and there a village home, no sign of human habitation can be found. Here the thought at once strikes us of the full meaning of those memorable words, “The harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” Where then lies the remedy that will effectually relieve the congested condition of our overcrowded and pauper-laden cities 2 Sir J. Gorst, M.P., addressing a political meeting at Manchester on this subject, observed that people who once went from the country into the large towns seldom returned again; and he asked, “Could not the obstacles to that re-migration be removed 2 Why could not certain inducements be held out to a man to return to the place of his birth, such as the acquisition of a piece of land if he wished to acquire it 2 What was now wanted was the development of the Allotments Acts, and that class of recent legislation, so that those who wished to put their labour into the land should have land into which to put it.” Public opinion at the present time is running very strongly in this direction, and there is every reason to believe that the life of the rural labourer will soon be brightened by the realization of his dearest wish, viz., the possession of a piece of land which is virtually his own to till, the tenancy of which is legally secured to his possession so long as he fulfils its conditions. And here the labourers will be enabled by their industry and thrift to win for themselves, not riches, perhaps, but the modest competence that will not only supply the bare, necessaries of existence, but that will gladden their lives and brighten their homes with not a few of the comforts and luxuries that our modern civilization so richly supplies. Our statesmen are now bending their energies to devise a plan of home colonization; to provide land for the labourer's tillage, and to assist him with funds, so that, by a system of gradual purchase, his farm may