Page images

The adjustment of the position of two of the persons in the agricultural trinity-viz. the landlord and the tenant-does not appear to present insuperable difficulty on the lines foreshadowed by the Selborne Committee. In considering the position of the third person—the labourer—the Committee give little help. They were not unmindful of him, but in the main their recommendations were directed to the object of facilitating his rise to independence-e.g. as a small-holder-rather than to an improvement of his status as a wage-earner. But it is obvious that the continuance of the present system implies the employment of manual workers in numbers which will always constitute them the majority of those who live by the land. If the tripartite system is to remain, the position of the labourer, no less than that of the landlord and tenant, must also be adjusted to the new conditions. In the march of progress, industrially, socially, and agriculturally, the land-worker has not kept pace. Notwithstanding his acquisition of political rights, and some amelioration of his personal circumstances, he is relatively in a worse position than he was two centuries ago.

• Under the older system, peasants were rarely without some real stake in the agricultural community; they were not members of an isolated class; they were not exclusively dependent on competitive wages for their homes and livelihood ; they were seldom without opportunities of bettering their positions; they had not before them the unending vista of a gradual process of physical exhaustion in another's service. Under the modern commercial system, the conditions from which peasants were generally free are those under which the average agricultural labourer lives, though exceptional men may struggle out of their tyranny. They have no property but their labour. Even of that one possession--such are the exigencies of their position-they are not the masters. If they fail to sell it where they are now living, or if they lose employment by a change in the ownership or occupation of the land on which they work, they must move on. ... They may be indispensable, but it is only as wheels in another man's money-making machine.'

Thus Lord Ernle summarised the position ten years

* · English Farming, Past and Present.' Rowland E. Prothero.


ago, and thus, in general terms, the problem may be stated now. The first essential is to recognise that there is a problem to be faced and solved. Some means must be devised whereby the wage-earners can be incorporated, so to speak, in the agricultural system, and not remain as & mere appendage to it. They must in some way be given a direct interest in the fruits of their labour. present their only interest in the success or failure of the undertaking in which they are an indispensable factor is the fear of uneinployment. They can have no sense of personal concern in the production of the land or of the prosperity of the industry. The difficulties of the problem are patent and very great, so much so that many regard them as insuperable. Nevertheless, they must be confronted and overcome, if the present land system is to survive under the political and sociological conditions of the immediate future. As in the case of landlord and farmer, the key-note of any harmonious adaptation to the new conditions of national life is the development of the sense of responsibility. But responsibility cannot be based on altruism. No human being can feel responsibility for an enterprise in which he is only a wheel in the machine. He must have a tangible interest in the direction of the machine, an interest which is not only monetary but also, in one way or another, recognises the relation of wage-payer and wage-receiver as that of partnership and of mutual dependence. Employers insist that labour depends on capital; workers insist that capital depends on labour. Both are right, but both are reluctant to admit the consequence of the two propositions, viz. that mutual dependence means not domination or subservience but partnership.

No one who has given the most superficial study to the question can be insensible to its practical difficulties. The field of agricultural history is strewn with failures by well-intentioned persons who have attempted to carry out schemes based on this principle of partnership. As a dialectical exercise nothing is easier than to demonstrate its impracticability as applied to farming. But human relationships are not determined by dialectics; they are controlled, in the long run, by the aspirations, the sentiments, the actions of men and women. And, in my

belief, the continuance of the present land system depends fundamentally on a re-adjustment of the relationship of farmer and labourer, on a basis which recognises, not in rhetoric but in concrete terms, their inter-dependence.

All this, it may be recalled, is founded on the assumption that the system of landlord, tenant, and labourer is worth preserving as the dominating method of carrying on agriculture in this country. That, as it seems to me, is the present-day issue, and I have suggested that its preservation depends upon certain readjustments. It is common to talk of the 'ruin of agriculture' if this or that is done or left undone. That is not the issue. It is easy to ruin agriculturists, but it is not possible to ruin agriculture. It is inconceivable that any densely populated country will in the long run allow its agricultural land to be left unused. Land may for a time, as in the nineties,' become derelict; and it is possible that this might again happen temporarily on a larger scale. But a few years, though they may involve the disappearance of a number, or even of a class, of individuals, are negligible in the life of the nation. Under some system or other, agricultural land will be utilised for food-production. The question is what system? The present system has slowly developed from the past, adapting itself, from generation to generation, to the changing conditions of national life. It represents a revolution, but a revolution which has extended over centuries. The history of British agriculture records one revolution, not of the kind which works gradually, but of the kind which is sudden, sharp, drastic, and, for the time, disastrous. That revolution came from the outside, by the invasion of the Black Death. Between the evolutionary and the catastrophic revolution the choice should not be difficult-if the choice be given.



1. De Scribe à Ibsen. By René Doumic. Paris, 1893. 2. Essais sur le Théâtre Contemporain. By the same.

Paris : Perrin, 1905. 3. Le Théâtre Nouveau. By the same. Paris: Perrin, 1908. 4. La Vie au Théâtre. By Henry Bordeaux. Four

Series. Paris : Plon-Nourrit, 1910-1919. THE history of the drama in France is longer and more continuous than in any other nation.

In the survey, it offers itself as a series of epochs, each marked by original personalities, variation of the technique previously employed, and changes in the morals and manners reproduced on the stage. At the present moment, we find a large group of playwrights established in popular favour, and no small number of those who are often styled Les Jeunes, as if by way of encouraging them to inaugurate that new epoch which is so constantly demanded, to discover that new formula of the drama which is so persistently elusive. But these latter have their way of being not altogether so young, nor yet so novel and revolutionary as they could wish; while their elders not only hold the position they have won, but are also alert to use such new methods as may seem to offer fair possibilities. In any case it is plain that both groups are in direct descent from Augier and Dumas fils. The current form of the play is that Comédie de Mours,' that dramatic comedy, which Augier and Dumas initiated and ably developed. If we are at all to understand the drama of to-day, we must first reckon with these masters, whereof the one withdrew from active production in 1878, after "Les Fourchambault,' and the other in 1887, after 'Françillon.'

The Comedy of Manners, as it shaped itself in their bands, was a form highly eclectic and accommodating. It was adequate to the exhibition of the national qualities. It allowed all clearness and logic, the full play of wits, the desired rapidity of movement. If the age was one of analysis, of scientific observation, herein was room afforded for all sorts of competency in the study and presentation of the individual and of society at large. Historical drama, classic and bourgeois

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

tragedy, the comedy of tears, and more of the like, went to the making of it. It was the outcome of ingenious theories and experiments put forth and essayed by many dramatists during the course of a century or more.

Le Sage, Sedaine, Beaumarchais-to mention only these among rivals celebrated or obscure-had contributed to the formation of this Comedy. The very failure of Romanticism served it and furthered it, for Romanticism could not hold the boards and the attention of a French public. With Dumas the elder, there was dramatic instinct and fertility running to waste, and with Hugo lyrical intensity lavished upon childish melodrama. So it was, and is, judged. And presently another element came to be added. Scribe organised the comedy of intrigue. Irritated critics declared and the declaration is still re-echoed-tbat character was sacrificed by him to plot, and that he lacked all sense of literature and style. But at least he was high master of technique; and such mastery is not to be overlooked, is indeed of lasting value. The supreme dramatist, said Dumas fils in deliberate assurance, would be one who knew mankind like Balzac, and the stage like Scribe. At all events, Dumas and Augier were able so to fuse together the comedy of manners, the comedy of intrigue, the bourgeois drama or tragedy, as to satisfy the sense of reality. Here at length was the individual and society fitly observed and reproduced; the clash of character so exhibited that the audience must pass from mood to mood of laughter and tears, of curiosity, of suspense or prevision how things will end for these folk who have compelled its attention. And since the French audience, conformably with the French spirit, applies logic to life, typical cases were so presented that this or that social question of immediate pressure received an answer—an answer which might be paradoxical, a defiant challenge to answer otherwise, or might issue from the well-balanced judgment of common sense.

The standing and value of Augier and Dumas are generally recognised. For the present purpose it may be enough to state that they represented the two sides of the French spirit-Augier the Romanised Celt, and Dumas rather the Frank, the man of the North, imaginative, subjective, personal. Both were in full reaction against

« PreviousContinue »