Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, and the frequent conscriptions which, in every part of the empire, were found necessary to supply the thinned ranks of the legions, the explanation is to be sought principally in the fact that landholders, living near the imperial city, derived immensely larger profits from the cultivation of land in pasturage than they could have realized by the cultivation of land in grain. That pasturage should thus prove more remunerative than agriculture, at least in the suburban districts, was but the natural and inevitable result of circumstances. On the one side the markets of Rome were choked with foreign corn, raised beneath the quickening sun of Africa, or near the banks of the Nile; on the other the soil at home was comparatively slow and churlish, while the wages for labour were enormous. Add to this the gratuitous distributions of bread among the populace. The monthly allowance decreed by Augustus was at a subsequent period converted into daily rations, and magazines, from which these were doled out to the whining descendants of Romulus, were established by government in various parts of the city. “At the appointed bour,' says Gibbon,* “ each citizen, who was furnished with a ticket, ascended the flight of steps which had been assigned to his peculiar quarter, or division, and received either as a gift, or at a very low price, a loaf of bread of the weight of three pounds, for the use of his family. Circumstances such as these furnish a clear and satisfactory account of the prevailing distaste for agricultural pursuits.

And if such was the state of things before the barbarian had yet set foot beyond the Alps, we may be assured that the presence of the Goth and the Vandal did not serve to promote habits of peaceful industry among the degenerate race whose sacred soil they invaded and overran. The confusion and disasters consequent upon the fall of the empire, made the cultivation of the land almost an impossibility.

“The Agro Romano," writes Sismondi, “now become a waste. had been long exposed to the ravages of the barbarians, who in 846 pillaged the Vatican...... For a hundred years almost all the hills which border the horizon from Rome were crowned with forts : the aucient walls of the Etruscans were restored, or rebuilt, from their ruins; the old hill-strengths where the Sabines, the Hernici, the Volscians, the Coriolani, had formerly defended their independence, again offered asylums to the inhabitants of the plains."

* Decline and Fall, vol. iii. c. 31.

Nor did the rural population reappear with the return of less barbarous, if not more settled times. The land seems to have been entirely in the hands of a few proprietors, who were more intent upon amassing wealth and consulting for personal aggrandisement than upon the common welfare of their country. In fact, it was in the possession of men who at least, in the baser features of their character, might be taken as types of Irish landlords ;-men who, if not checked by the humane and patriotic interposition of the Popes, would not only have ground the faces of the poor, but have made of them the veriest serfs.

“ With the first dawn of history in the middle ages,” says Sismondi, “we see the great house of the Colonna, master of the towns of Palæstrina, Genazzano, Zagorole ; that of Orsini of the territories of the republics of Veii and Ceres, and holding the fortresses of Bracciano, Anguetta, and Ceri. The Monte-Savili, near Albano, still indicates the possessions of the Savili, which comprehended the whole ancient kingdom of Turnus ; the Frangipani were mas. ters of Antium, Astura, and the sea-coast ; the Gastani, the Annibaldeschi of the castles which overlook the Pontine Marshes, while Latium was in the hands of a smaller number of feudal families than it had formerly counted republics within its bounds."

The depopulation of the Campagna, as we have seen, dates from a period long antecedent to the origin of the temporal sovereignty of the Popes. We have endeavoured to trace the causes which led to it. Besides the physical influence of the climate, and the frequent conscriptions necessary to recruit the legions, the decline, and, finally, the complete abandonment of agricultural pursuits, may, as we have proved, be regarded as the chief cause of this depopulation. We have, moreover, endeavoured to show that agriculture came to be neglected because in consequence of the great importations of foreign corn, it brought far less gain, and entailed far more labour than pasturage; because the Roman nobility, intent only upon self-aggrandisement, were ambitious of holding large estates, and commanding a large annuity, no matter what might befal the people. The evil which thus sprung up, at least as early as the reign of Tiberius, the incursion and ravages of the barbarian perpetuated; nor did the patriotism

or pacific spirit of the great Roman families during the middle ages tend to alleviate it. We are therefore fully justified in concluding that the desolation of the Campagna can in no manner be ascribed to the Papal government.

It may still, however, be alleged that the government of the sovereign Pontiff has been at least chargeable with neglect in not applying the resources at its disposal to the reclamation of the Campagna. Let us, then, briefly examine the question from this point of view.

It must, in the first place, be borne in mind that_the Agro Romano is the property of private individuals. It is divided into about three hundred estates, frequently rented by middlemen. The proprietors of these estates have upon all occasions vehemently resisted the cultivation of the Campagna. In 1790, Pius the Sixth issued a commission to ascertain the cause of this apparently inexplicable opposition on the part of the landlords of the Agro Romano, and the report of the commissioners goes far to make the opposition sufficiently intelligible. The proprietors could not consent to abandon pasturage and cultivate their land without subjecting themselves to heavy losses. It was ascertained, says Nicolai, that while the grain cultivation would, with difficulty, on an expenditure of 8,000 crowns, (2£2,000) bring in a clear profit of thirty crowns (£7 10s.) to the farmer, and nothing at all to the proprietor, the pasturage would yield, between them, a profit of 1,792 erowns. (£496.)* The report of this commission is undoubtedly authentie, and its accuracy has been personally tested and guaranteed by Sismondi.f It can afford little matter_for surprise, therefore, that the great capitalists about Rome should be anxious to leave the Campagna as it is, and that they should even offer active opposition to its cultivation. But why not disregard the selfish objections of the great capitalists, and make the interests of a few give way to the welfare of the community at large? Well, it is not always that even powerful governments can afford to set at nought the known and repeated wishes of a wealthy or dominant class. Is the English government indifferent to the private interests of the great capitalists of

* Nicolai, c. iii. 167. Sismondi, Essais, ii. 46, 47.

England, making them on all occasions, with cold and rigid impartiality, yield to the common good of the state ? The recent indignant denunciations of the one-sidedness of the French treaty are still ringing in the public ear. It might have been framed, we were told, with a view to putting money in the pockets of an oligarchy of Manchester cotton-spinners, or Birmingham ironmongers; but taken in connection with the income-tax, it seems to have been concluded in utter conteinpt of the interests of the industrial classes. Does the Euglish parliament in dealing with the question of the relation between landlord and tenant in Ireland evince a desire to settle it in a spirit of evenhanded justice ? Or, rather, has it not for years continued to behold the plain and acknowledged rights of an entire people unscrupulously sacrificed, not to the aggrandisement of great capitalists, but to perpetuate the despotic, odious ascendancy of an effete and obsolete faction ? Those who have watched the progress of the Irish tenant question in the House of Commons, since it was first introduced by Lord Stanley up to Mr. Cardwell's present effort at legislation, can perhaps appreciate the difficulty of the Papal government in having to deal with the landlords of the Campagna. An attempt to cultivate the entire Agro Romano would, as we have seen, be opposed to the wishes and the interests of the proprietors. What, then, is it competent for the Papal government to do? It may be within the range of their jurisdiction, absolutely speaking, to take the control of the Campagna out of the hands of the proprietors, and dispose of it themselves in such a manner as the supreme necessities of the state would require. Something of this kind was actually effected in Prussia at the commencement of the present century. At that time the social condition of the masses in Prussia presented a very close analogy to the existing agricultural serfdom, as well as to the political enthralment and degradation of the bulk of the Irish people. The country had been long ruled with a rod of iron by a grasping, grinding, worthless oligarchy, who had scarce a sympathy in common with the poor slaves by whom they were intensely hated, and whom they cruelly and systematically oppressed. Upon the accession of Stein and Hardenberg to power, came a great revolution. In 1807, the regulation which prevented peasants and tradesmen from acquiring land was abolished, and in 1811 appeared the famous edict

which enacted that all the peasants who held perpetual leases, on condition of paying certain quantities of produce, or of performing certain services, should, upon giving up one-third of the lands held by them, become the unconditional proprietors of the remaining two-thirds. And with respect to those who occupied lands upon life-leases, or leases for a term of years, it was ordained that they should, upon giving up half their farms, become the unconditional owners of the other half. This edict effected the most sweeping change that was ever peaceably effected in the distribution of property in any great state. And though the abuses which it went to eradicate were so injurious to the public welfare, and were at the time so deeply seated that they could not have been extirpated by any less powerful means, yet the measure was regarded, and in many respects justly, as a dangerous interference with the rights of individuals.*

Some such sweeping measure as this it might be within the competence of the Papal government to adopt with a view to the reclamation and repeopling of the Campagna. So obviously does this plan seem to apply to Ireland in the opinion of enlightened foreigners, that eminent writers, like Von Raumer and Gustave de Beaumont, have expressed their amazement that it has not been long since carried into practice. $ The adoption of such a course, however, would, in this country, be infallibly denounced as communism and downright robbery. Indeed, we ourselves should not hesitate to characterise it as violent and extreme. And yet to satisfy those consistent revilers, who habitually hold up the Papal government to obloquy, and who attribute the desolation of the Campagna entirely to the incapacity and negligence of a priestly, administration, it would be absolutely necessary to act upon and fearlessly apply this same obnoxious principle of the state's interfering with a high hand, to dispose of the property of private individuals, regardless alike of the remonstrances and the interests of the owners,

If the Papal government has not gone so far as thus to seize upon and virtually confiscate the estates on the Cam

* McCullocgh's Geogr. Dict. Art. Prussia. + Vide Mill's Principles of Political Economy on "Cottiers" in Ireland.

« ForrigeFortsæt »