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It is this doctrine which Mr. Thornton contests: and his mode of combating it is by adducing case after case in which he thinks he can show that the proposition is false; most of the cases being, on the face of them, altogether exceptional; but among them they cover, in his opinion, nearly the whole field of possible cases.

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Mr. Brodrick, in one of the essays which the Irish land question has elicited from distinguished Englishmen, mentions with something of surprise, as a fact of which his inquiries in the island have convinced him, that fifteen and ten-acre farmers in Ireland pay a higher rent than larger farmers, with at least equal punctuality. The truth is that they generally produce more; and that the consolidation of farms means the diminution of crops, the extension of grazing, and, sooner or later, the exhaustion of the soil. The table in the note, taken from the last volume of Irish agricultural statistics, affords conclusive evidence that cultivation decreases, and increase, in exact proportion to the size of farms. It may be true that not a few of the small holdings which have disappeared in recent years were, soil and situation considered, too diminutive; but they were so because the best land has been generally given to large grazing farms; and because the same error which has made landowners look with disfavour on small farms, has led them to drive them to the worst ground and the worst situations, and to limit unduly both the duration of their tenure and the amount of land left to them. The consolidation of farms, in place of being an advance, has involved a palpable retrogression in Irish husbandry and in its productiveness.

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Let me alter my supposition. After the colonist has held his land for some years, he removes and occupies a different spot. A new colonist comes in, and seats himself on the vacated ground. Can we imagine the first occupant hereupon to send him word, not to intrude on his private property, but to go elsewhither? I think not. The new comer would reply, that empty ground is open to all; that the first was free to use, to occupy, to keep; but what he has left he cannot keep. At the utmost he might hope to receive some thankoffering from the new comer, as soon as it proved convenient, as an acknowledgment of the advantage derived from his predecessor’s labours. But any claim on his part to be regarded as the owner of the soil would be treated with contempt. ‘What!’ the stranger would reply, ‘did you create the earth? or why is it yours? You used it while convenient, you abandoned it when convenient; and it is now mine as much as it then was yours.’ . . . . . .

50 Essays: A Portable Anthology / Edition 5