Sharefarming Disappears from the Documents in the Eighteenth Century
What happened to letting to halves, and other forms of sharefarming, in the eighteenth century? In the 1770s Adam Smith, as we have seen, dismissed métayage as a practice so long in disuse in England that he knew no English name for it, while Arthur Young, a decade later, claimed that the very success of English agriculture rested on the absence of such a system.1 How had a practice, prevalent less than a century before, disappeared from view? None of the county reports, drawn up in the 1790s for the newly formed Board of Agriculture, contain any reference to métayage, and as far as we know, Smith and Young are the only English authors to have commented on the practice at this time.2 They were not challenged in their observations until John Stuart Mill wrote favourably on métayage in the 1840s, criticizing Young for his ‘extremely narrow view of the subject’.3 However, Mill accepted Young’s contention that métayage was not an English practice, and on those grounds he did not advocate its adoption in England, preferring a revival of peasant proprietorship. Significantly, when proposing peasant proprietorship, Mill felt obliged to explain the term and its virtues as Englishmen were ‘profoundly ignorant’ of the idea. Steeped in the language of agricultural improvement, led by landlords and tenants, they had progressed so far beyond their peasant origins, that they had no knowledge or understanding of the social condition of peasants or mode of life, and little interest either.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Risk Sharing Large Farm Family Labour
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