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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 10297

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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ONE of the most distinguishing features between commerce and agriculture and agriculture undoubtedly is the marked indifference shown to the value of time by the small followers of the latter, compared to the respectful treatment it receives at the hands of the members of the commercial world. To look at their relative movements one would think that the farmer was the man who carried on his business under cover, instead of being the one who exposes all his capital to the weather. It is a rare thing to see a farmer-even in hay time-in a hurry. If the returns could be obtained we dare say it would be found that three-fourths of the people who are late for railway trains are farmers.

In these accelerated days, when even the very street waggon horses trot, they are the only beings whose pace has not been improved. The small farmer is just the same slowly moving dawdling creature that he was before the perfection of steam. Never punctual, never ready, never able to give a direct answer to a question; a pitchfork at their backs would fail to push some of these fellows into prosperity. They seem wholly lost to that emulative spirit which actuates the trader to endeavour to make each succeeding year leave him better than the last. A farmer will be forty years on a farm without having benefited himself, his family, his landlord, or any human being whatever. The last year's tenancy will find him as poor as the first, with, in all probability, his land a great deal poorer. In dealing, a small farmer is never happy without a haggle. Even if he gets his own price he reproaches hiself when he returns home with not having asked a little more, and so got a wrangle. Very often, however, they outwit themselves entirely by asking so much more than a thing is really worth, that a man who knows what he is about, and has no hopes of being able to get the sun to stand still, declines entering upon an apparently endless negotiation.

See lawyer Hindmarch coming up the High Street at Halterley fair, leading his great grey colt, with his landlord Sir Moses hailing him with his usual "Well my man, how d'ye do? I hope you're well, how much for the colt?"

The lawyer's keen intellect-seeing that it is his landlord, with whom he is well over the left-springs a few pounds upon an already exorbitant price, and Sir Moses, who can as he says, measure the horse out to ninepence, turns round on his heel with a chuck of his chin, as much as to say, "you may go on." Then the lawyer relenting says, "w-h-o-y, but there'll be summit to return upon that, you know, Sir Moses, Sir."

"I should think so," replies the Baronet, walking away, to "Well my man-how d'ye do? I hope you're well," somebody else.

A sale by auction of agricultural stock illustrates our position still further, and one remarkable feature is that the smaller the sale the more unpunctual people are. They seldom get begun under a couple of hours after the advertised time, and then the dwelling, the coaxing, the wrangling, the "puttings-up" again, the ponderous attempts at wit are painful and oppressive to any one accustomed to the easy gliding celerity of town auctioneers. A conference with a farmer is worse, especially if the party is indiscreet enough to let the farmer come to him instead of his going to the farmer.

The chances, then, are, that he is saddled with a sort of old man of the sea; as a certain ambassador once was with a gowk of an Englishman, who gained an audience under a mistaken notion, and kept sitting and sitting long after his business was discussed, in spite of his Excellency's repeated bows and intimations that he might retire.

Gowk seemed quite insensible to a hint. In vain his Excellency stood bowing and bowing-hoping to see him rise. No such luck. At length his Excellency asked him if there was anything else he could do for him?

"Why, noa." replied Gowk drily; adding after a pause, "but you haven't asked me to dine."

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" replied his Excellency, "I wasn't aware that it was in my instructions, but I'll refer to them and see," added he, backing out of the room.

Let us fancy old Heavyheels approaching his landlord, to ask if he thinks they are gannin to get a new barrun, or anything else he may happen to want, for these worthies have not discovered the use of the penny-post, and will trudge any distance to deliver their own messages. Having got rolled into the room, the first thing Heels does is to look out for a seat, upon which he squats like one of Major Yammerton's hares, and from which he is about as difficult to raise. Instead of coming out with his question as a trader would, "What's rum? what's sugar? what's indigo?" he fixes his unmeaning eyes on his landlord, and with a heavy aspiration, and propping his chin up with a baggy umbrella, ejaculates-"N-0-0," just as if his landlord had sent for him instead of his having come of his own accord.

"Well!" says the landlord briskly, in hopes of getting him on.

"It's a foine day," observes Heavyheels, as if he had nothing whatever on his mind, and so he goes maundering and saunte

ring on, wasting his own and his landlord's time, most likely ending with some such preposterous proposition as would stamp any man for a fool if it wasn't so decidedly in old Heavyheel's own favour.

To give them their due, they are never shy about asking, and have always a host of grievances to bait a landlord with who gives them an opportunity. Some of the women-we beg their pardon-ladies of the establishments, seem to think that a landlord rides out for the sake of being worried, and rush at him as he passes like a cur dog at a beggar.

Altogether they are a wonderful breed! It will hardly be credited hereafter, when the last of these grubbing old earthworms is extinct, that in this anxious, commercial, money-striving country, where every man is treading on his neighbour's heels for cash, that there should ever have been a race of men who required all the coaxing and urging and patting on the back to induce them to benefit themselves that these slugs of small tenant farmers have done. And the bulk of them not a bit better for it. They say "y-e-a-s," and go and do the reverse directly.

Fancy our friend Goodbeer, the brewer, assembling his tied Bonnifaces at a banquet consisting of all the delicacies of the season-beef, mutton, and cheese, as the sailor said-and after giving the usual loyal and patriotic toasts, introducing his calling in the urgent way some landlords do theirs-pointing out that the more swipes they sell the greater will be their profit, recommending them to water judiciously, keeping the capsicum out of sight, and, in lieu of some new implement of husbandry, telling them that a good, strong, salt Dutch cheese, is found 10 be a great promoter of thirst, and recommending each man to try a cheese on himself-perhaps ending by bowling one at each of them by way of a start.

But some will, perhaps, say that the interests of the landlord and tenant-farmer are identical, and that you cannot injure the latter without hurting the former.

Not more identical, we submit, than the interests of Goodbeer with the Bonnifaces; the land is let upon a calculation what each acre will produce, just as Goodbeer lets a public-house on a calculation founded on its then consumption of malt liquor; and whatever either party makes beyond that amount, either through the aid of guano, Dutch cheese, or what not, is the tenant's. The only difference we know between them is, that Goodbeer, being a trader, will have his money to the day; while in course of time the too easy landlord's rent has become postponed to every other person's claim. It is, "O, it will make ne matter to you, Sir Moses," with too many of them.

Then, if that convenient view is acquiesced in, the party submitting is called a "good landlord" (which in too many instances only means a great fool), until some other favour is refused, when the hundredth one denied obliterates the recollection of the ninety-nine conferred, and he sinks into a "rank bad un." The best landlord, we imagine, is he who lets his land on fair terms, and keeps his tenants well up to the mark both with their farming and their payments. At present the landlords are too often a sort of sleeping partners with their tenants, sharing with them the losses of the bad years without partaking with them in the advantages of the good ones.

"Ah, it's all dom'd well," we fancy we hear Sir Moses Main-chance exclaim, "saying, 'keep them up to the mark,' but how d'ye do it? how d'ye do it? can you bind a weasel? No man's tried harder than I have!"

We grant that it is difficult, but agriculture never had such opportunities as it has now. The thing is to get rid of the weasels, and with public companies framed for draining, building, doing everything that is required without that terrible investigation of title, no one is justified in keeping his property in an unproductive state. The fact is that no man of capital will live in a cottage, the thing therefore is to lay a certain number of these small holdings together, making one good farm of them all, with suitable buildings, and, as the saying is, let the weasels go to the wall. They will be far happier and more at home with spades or hoes in their hands, than in acting a part for which they have neither capital, courage, nor capacity. Fellows take a hundred acres who should only have five, and haven't the wit to find out that it is cheaper to buy manure than to rent land.

This is not a question of crinoline or taste that might be advantageously left to Mrs. Pringle; but is one that concerns the very food and well being of the people, and landlords ought not to require coaxing and patting on the back to induce them to partake of the cheese that, the commercial world offers them. Even if they are indifferent about benefiting themselves they should not be regardless of the interests for their country. But there are very few people who cannot spend a little more money than they have. Let them "up then and at" the drainage companies, and see what wonders they'll accomplish with their aid!

We really believe the productive powers of the country might be quadrupled.

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