1902 Encyclopedia > Arthur Young

Arthur Young
English agriculturalist and writer
(1741-1820)




ARTHUR YOUNG (1741-1820), a writer on agriculture and social economy, the third son of Rev. Arthur Young, rector of Bedingfield, in Suffolk, was born on 7th Septem-ber 1741. After having been for some time at a school at Lavenham, he was in 1758 placed in a mercantile house at Lynn, but showed no taste for commercial pursuits. He gave early evidence of literary inclinations by publishing, when only seventeen years old, a pamphlet On the War in Worth America and by beginning a periodical work, entitled The Universal Museum, which, however, was soon dropped hy the advice of Dr Samuel Johnson.
After his father's death in 1759, his mother gave him the direction of Bradfield Hall; and in 1767 he undertook on his own account the management of a farm in Essex. Possessing no practical acquaintance with agriculture, but being active-minded and of an inquiring turn, he engaged in experiments of various kinds, and embodied the results of them in A Course of experimental Agriculture, which appeared in 1770. Though Young's experiments were, in general, unsuccessful, he acquired in the process of making them a solid knowledge of agriculture ; and, writing in a lively style, he was able to make his disquisitions on the subject interesting to the public. He had already com-menced a series of journeys through different parts of England and Wales, and gave an account of his observa-tions in books which appeared from 1768 to 1770—A Six Weeks' Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales, A Six Mont/is' Tour through the Worth of England, and the Farmer's Tour through the East of England. He says that these books contained the only extant information relative to the rental, produce, and stock of England that was founded on actual examination. They were very favourably received at home and abroad, being translated into most Continental languages by 1792.
In 1768 he published the Farmer's Letters to the People of England, in 1771 the Farmer's Calendar, which has gone through a great number of editions, and in 1774 his Political Arithmetic, which was soon translated into several foreign languages. About this time Young acted as par-liamentary reporter for the Morning Post. He made a tour in Ireland in 1776, and drew up the results, with copious observations on the state of that kingdom, in the years 1776-79, publishing a quarto volume on them in 1780. In 1784 he commenced the publication of the Annals of Agriculture, which was continued for 45 volumes; this work had contributions from many authors, among whom was George III., writing under the nom de plume of Ralph Robinson. Young's first visit to France was made in 1787. In May of that year he went to join Rochefou-cauld-Liancourt at Paris, and accompanied by him and another gentleman travelled south to Bagneres de Luchon, making also an excursion into Spain. In November he was again in London; but in July 1788 he returned to France to study at leisure what he had before cursorily observed. He then saw the western part of the country, travelling alone on horseback, and came back a third time to see the east. The motive of these visits was " to make himself a master of their agriculture, that, if he found anything good and applicable to England, he might copy it." But he had an eye no less for political and social phenomena, and, traversing France in every direction just before and during the first movements of the Revolution, he has given us interesting and valuable notices of the condition of the people and the conduct of public affairs at that critical juncture. The Travels in France appeared in two vols. 4to in 1792. On his return home he was appointed sec-retary of the Board of Agriculture, then just formed under the presidency of Sir John Sinclair. In this capacity he gave the most valuable assistance in the collection and preparation of agricultural surveys of the English counties. In 1765 he had married a Miss Allen; but the union is said not to have been a very happy one, though he was of domestic habits and a most affectionate father. His sight failed, and he submitted to an operation for cataract, which proved unsuccessful. He suffered also in his last years from stone. He died in February 1820.
" To the works of Arthur Young," said Kirwan, "the world is more indebted for the diffusion of agricultural knowledge than to any writer who has yet appeared." To the same effect is the more recent testimony of Mr Hoskyns, who tells us that "the Farmer's Letters and Calendar, as well as the Tours, displayed the mind and pen of a master in his art, and went far towards laying the foundation of a practical agricultural literature." But it is as a social and political observer that Young is now best known to the reading public, and the books which have established his reputa-tion in these departments—his Tour in Ireland and Travels in France—are still full of interest and instruction.
He found that Ireland had " flourished for the last thirty years to an uncommon degree, more," he believed, "than any country in Europe "; and he protested against the turbulence of the population and the outcries of the gentry at a time when Ireland had "ex-perienced more favour from three sessions of a British parliament than from three centuries before." But he saw clearly and exposed unsparingly the causes which retarded the progress of the nation. He strongly urged the repeal of the penal laws which pressed upon the Catholics ; he thought, however, that their disabilities should be removed, not by a single measure, but gradually. He protested against the harshness with which the labouring classes were treated by their superiors, and denounced the middlemen as being, not merely a useless class, but by their oppression and insolent manners the chief causes of popular discontent. He condemned the restric-tions imposed by Great Britain on the commerce of Ireland, and also the perpetual interference of the Irish parliament with industry

by prohibitions and bounties ; of the latter he censured in specially strong terms the bounty on the inland carriage of corn to Dublin. He deplored the drain of rents and the neglect of their tenantry by absentee proprietors. The state of agriculture, generally low though improving, he found particularly unsatisfactory in Ulster, owing to the prevalence there of the linen manufacture, at that time carried on in the homes of the people, who were constantly divided between this occupation and the labours of the field. Emigration, he thought, was not sufficiently encouraged ; indeed it scarcely existed at the period of his visit. It had previously been practised to a greater extent, and, besides relieving the population which remained, had been useful in removing restless spirits who would have been troublesome at home. He favoured a legislative union of Ireland with Great Britain, though he did not regard such a measure as absolutely necessary, many of its advantages being otherwise attain-able, without incurring the risk of some possible inconveniences.
The soil of France he found in general superior to that of England, and its pjroduce less. Agriculture was neither as well understood nor as much esteemed as in England. He severely censured the higher classes for their neglect of it. '' Banishment (from court) alone will force the French nobility to execute what the English do for pleasure—reside upon and adorn their estates." Young saw the commencement of violence and outrage in the rural districts, being himself more than once in peril from popular suspicion. His sympathies began to take the side of the classes suffering from the excesses of the Revolution, and this change of attitude was distinctly shown by his publication in 1793 of a tract entitled
The Example of France a learning to England. Of the profounder significance of the French outbreak, as the commencement of a world-wide movement and a new era in social history, he seems to have had little idea, and thought the crisis would be sufficiently met by a constitutional adjustment in accordance with the English type. Yet he had much of the feeling which then inspired the Revolutionary actors, and, along with it, it may be added, something of the general sentimentalism of the period. Another enthusiasm he frequently exhibits—namely, for music, and especially for the Italian opera. But his master passion was the devotion to agriculture, which constantly showed itself. He strongly condemned the metayer system then widely prevalent in France, as " pierpetuating poverty and excluding instruction," as, in fact, the curse and ruin of the country. Some of his phrases have been often quoted by the advocates of peasant proprietorship as favouring their view. "The magic of property turns sand to gold." "Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden ; give him a nine years' lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert." But these sentences, in which the epigrammatic form exaggerates a truth, and which might seem to represent the possession of caputal as of no importance in agriculture, must not be taken as conveying his approbation of the system of small properties in general. He approved it only when the subdivision was strictly limited, and even then with great reserves ; and he remained to the end what J. S. Mill calls him, "the apostle of la grande culture." The French acknowledge the valuable services which his criticisms and counsels rendered to their agriculture. The directory in 1801 ordered his writings on the art to be translated and published at Paris in 20 volumes under the title of Le Cultivateur Anglais. His Travels in France were translated in 1793-94 by Soules ; and a new version by M. Lesage, with an introduction by M. de Lavergne, appeared in 1856. An interesting review of the latter publication, under the title of Arthur Young et la France de 1789, will be found in M. Baudrillart's Publicistes Modernes, 2d ed., 1873. (J. K. I.)








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