1902 Encyclopedia > France > France: Roads; Railways; Navigable Rivers and Canals; Harbours; Agriculture.

(Part 5)


Roads. Railways. Navigable Rivers and Canals. Harbours. Agriculture.


Before referring to the state of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce in France, it is important to have an idea of the means ofcommunication by which the different productive districts are connected with one another. The minister of public works has the superintendence of all roads and ways, natural or artificial, by land or by water. a special department, called Administration des Ponts et Chaussees, assisted by a council with the minister as its president, is charged with the management of that important branch of public business; 569 engineers and inspectors, and 2153 inferior officials form the administrative staff.

Roads are either national, department, military, or vicinal (cross roads). National roads are kept up entirely at the expense of the public treasury. The departments have to provide for departmental roads and a portion of the military roads, the rest being charged on the state. As to cross roads, or chemins vicinaux, they depend, by an awkward anomaly, on the ministry of the interior, and are kept up by the communes, or, when of a higher importance by the departments. At the end of 1811 229 roads were classified as imperial roads. They extended over a length of 46,500 kilometers (28,894 miles). In 1815, after the territory of France had been brought back to its ancient limits, the length was only 27,200 kilometers (16,901 miles); in 1873 there were 223 national roads, giving a total of 37,304 kilometers (23,180 miles), 2627 kilometers (1632 miles) of which are still paved like a street. The average breadth of that class of road is 16 meters (52 feet 6 inches), 6 meters for the cause way, 6 for the sideways, and 4 for the ditches and embankment. Although the great extension of railways has somewhat reduced the importance of high roads, it has been calculated that the traffic has changed very little during the last twenty years. The departmental roads are not quite so wide as the national ones, their average breadth being 12 meters (39 feet). In 1872 their length was 46,939 kilometers (29,167 miles). Military roads were made in the west of France, after the last insurrection of Vendee. They are 28 in number, distributed in the departments of Charente-Inferieure, Ille-et-Villaine, Loire-Inferieure, Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe, Deux-Sevres, and Vendee, and extend to a length of about 1500 kilometers (932 miles).

A sum of nearly 34 millions of francs is spent yearly for the purpose of making new roads or repairing old ones. The chemins vicinaux, or cross roads establishing a communication between rural places not far distant from each other, are managed by a special branch of the department of the minister of the interior; about 3000 agents-voyers and 42,000 cantonniers or workmen are specially charged with the duty of keeping them in repair. In 1872 these roads, divided into three classes according to their importance, were 544,390 kilometers (338,273 miles) in length, and covered a surface of about 370,000 hectares (915,000 acres). To the very considerable resources which the communes must apply to the extension and repair of their rural roads the Government used to add a yearly grant of 11,5000,000 francs; but this sum has been reduced to 5,750,000 francs sinc3 1873. The Annales of the administration of the Ponts at Chaussees mention 1982 large bridges, of which 79 are cast iron. The chief are the bridges, of which 79 are cast iron. The chief are the bridge over the Gironde at Bordeaux, which has 17 arches, is 501 meters (1643 feet) in length, and cost 6,850,000 francs; the bridge of Cubzac, over the river Dordogne; the turning bridge of Penfeld at Brest; the bridge St Esprit, over the Rhone, with 18 arches on a length of 730 meters (2395 feet); those of Toulose, Libourne, Tours, and Rouen; the new bridge (Pont-Neuf) and the bridge of Iena at Paris; and the bridge of la Guillotiere at Lyons.


Although the system of railways in France is far from being so complete as in England and Belgium, the country is now traversed by great lines which connect together all the principal towns; and lines of less importance have been made, or will ere long be established, in every district. The chief lines, which are worked by powerful companies under the superintendence of the state, are – (1) the Chemins de fer du Nord, which run between Paris and Soissons, Boulogne, Calais, Rouen, Amiens, &c., traverse the coal districts of Picardy, and reach the Belgian territory at Quievrain and at Tournay; (2) the Chemins de fer de l’Est, from Paris to Strasburg, Mulhouse, and Basel in Switzerland, through Alsace, with branch lines to Sedan, Metz, Luxembourg, Rheims, Sarreguemines, &c., joining Belgian and Prussian railways at several points of the frontier; (3) the Cheminsde fer de l’Ouest, which traverse Normandy in every direction, and connect Paris with the towns of Brittany; (4) the Chemins de ferd’Orleans, which go to Nantes, Bordeaux, Limoges, Bourges, and Toulouse; (5) the Chemins de fer de Paris a Lyon et a la Mediterranee, which connect the valley of the Seine with that of the Rhone, and have branch lines to St Etienne, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenobloe, Toulon, Cette, &c., establishing regular and direct communication between France and Switzerland, - the railways of Savoy being also worked by the same company. Paris is the starting point and the administrative center of all these lines. Another great line worked by the Compagnie du Midi, starts from Bordeaux, which it connects with Cette and Bayonne, with branches between Bayonne, Toulouse, and Foix, Agen and tarbes, Tourlouse and Auch, Montpellier and Milhan, &c. Through this line Spain is brought into communication with France.

The other lines worthy of mention are – the railways of the Charentes, connecting La Roche-sur Yon, La Rochelle, Rochefort, Coutras, Angouleme, Saintes, Limoges, and St Jean d’Angely; the line from Chauny to St Gobain; the railway of the docks of St Onen, Paris; the line from Dunkirk to Fumay (Belgian frontier); those from Epinay to Velars, from Bethune to Lille, from Somain to Anzin and the Belgien territory, from Vitre to Fougeres, and from Perpignan to Prades; the Medoc railway; the Vendee railways; and the Chemin de fer de ceinture, which encircles Paris.

The capital required for the making of these railways has been calculated at not less than 10,000,000,000 francs – which gives, for a total length of 21,987 kilometers (13,662 miles), an average of 297,000 francs per kilometers, or 19,118 pounds per English mile. The state has granted and still grants large sums to the companies; but in return they are subjects to a tax in proportion to their traffic, as well as to other dues, which are a considerable source of revenue to the public treasury, the profit realized by it having been 55,942,330 francs in 1873. The yearly returns of the companies show an average income of 840 millions of francs.

Navigable Rivers

All navigable rivers are state property. A table is subjoined of the navigable rivers arranged by basins, with the length of their navigable course, and also of the canals and the small rivers which have been converted into canals. Owing to the cheap rate of transport by water, canal traffic has been but little injured by the extension of railways, this inexpensive way of conveyance being used for heavy goods whenever practicable. In 1875, 1,721,070,943 kilometers tons (about 1,748,500,000 tons avoirdupois) were carried by river and canal navigation, besides 176,551,434 cubic meters (230,933,000 cubic yards) of wood or bois flotte. The duties levied on these goods amounted to more than, 4,177,940 francs.



France is but very inadequately provided with harbours; her long tract of coast washed by the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay has scarcely three or four good seaports, and those on the southern shore of the channel form a striking contrast to the spacious maritime inlets on the English side. To begin from the north-east, Dunkirk has a small harbor, enlarged, however, by docks, and approached in the Dutch manner by a canal leading from the sea. Calais, one of the best ports on the coast, is not to be compared with Dover. Boulogne has a roadstead, which has been of late greatly deepened and improved. The port of Dieppe is exposed, and of course unsuitable for winter. The best mercantile harbor in the north of France, Le Havre-de-Grace, at the mouth of the Seine, has large basins and docks, formed at a very great expense. Cherbourg is now a port and arsenal of great utility and importance to the navy; its roadstead, extensive but open, has a sea-wall, affording protection from the swell of the sea; and its spacious dock, excavated since the beginning of this century, at an expense of 3,000,000 pounds sterling, is capable of containing fifty sail of the line. St Malo, on the north coast of Brittany, possesses a good and large harbor, with quays extending to a length of 2,955 meters (3231 yards); its entrance is protected by fortified islets. Brittany also possesses Brest, the great maritime port of Atlantic for the navy, and, in he south-west, Lorient. Proceeding further to the south we find Nantes, with its two ports at the mouth of the Loire, Paimboeuf and St Nazaire; Les Sables d’Olonne, now connected with Liverpool by a regular service of steamers; Rochefort, on the Charente, one of the great dockyards and naval stations; La Rochelle, a small but secure habor; and Bordeaux, where the Gironde is nearly equal in width to the Thames at London. From this there is no seaport worthy of mention until we reach Bayonne, a place of difficult access. On the Mediterranean, France has the ports of Cette, Marseilles (the most spacious and secure on the coast), Nice, and the great maritime port, arsenal, and dockyard of Toulon.


The rural population of France is equal to about a half of the total number of the inhabitants. The census of 1872 gave a return of 18,513,325, or 52-71 per cent. of the whole population. That number was divided thus: -


In the general description of the country, some information has been given as to the nature of the soil and its various kinds of produce, which must be supplemented here. The extent of agricultural improvement in France since the first Revolution has certainly been less than in England and Scotland, and it has been repeatedly said that this inferiority had its chief cause in the insignificant size of the occupancies, a feature of French agriculture which Arthur Young observed in his time, but which has been much increased by the obliging a father to make an almost equal division of his property amongst his children. It would be perhaps nearer the truth to say that generally the more fertile a country is the less care the inhabitants take to cultivate it, if we add to this the influence of the climate, which makes country people more frugal, and at the same time more indolent, we shall be able to account for the difference in the state of agriculture as between the northern and the southern provinces of France. It does not appear, however, that land thus divided produces less in proportion than large estates, and, notwithstanding the great progress that France has still to make, it is in an agricultural point of view as rich as any other country.

The Statistique Officielle gives a statement of the average value of landper hectare, and the average rent paid for it, distinguishing in each case three classes of land, thus: -
(1) Lands under tillage: value, 3066, 2175, 1355 francs; rent, 96,69, 45 francs; (2) meadows: value, 4151, 3958, 2022 francs; rent, 152,72 francs; (3) vineyards: value, 3564, 2638, 1783 francs; rent, 139,98,68 francs.

The value of wood varies from 2877 to 1435 francs for the forsts, and from 1081 to 569 francs for copsewoods.

The cultivation of grain has always been the chief business of French agriculturists. In 1873 about 13,000,000 hectares were under this crop, and in 1875 this had increased to about 15,000,000 distributed thus: -


Wheat sells at prices varying from 20 to 26 francs a hectolier (46s. 6d. to 60s. 5d. a quarter), and costs the agriculturist about 17 francs 50 centimes (40s. 8d. a quarter). The quantity which is produced in France, large as it is, does not meet the wants of the population, and several millions of hectoliters are every year imported from Russia, Prussia, Roumania, Spain, Italy, Egypt, and America.

The cultivation of meslin and rye is on the decline; wherever the progress of agricultural science had succeeded in making a poor soil more rich and fertile, wheat takes their place, as being better and more profitable.

The area allotted to barley has been much the same for a long period, and is likely to remain so. The same may be said of maize, which is especially cultivated in the east and south-west, and of buckwheat, which in Auvergne and Brittany forms no small part of the food of the inhabitants. Oats are extensively cultivated, and yield a good return; this crop was on the increase from 1815 to 1862, but has since been almost stationary.

Potatoes form a very important article, occupying in 1873, 1,176,496 hectares (2,907,290 acres), and yielding 120,410,929 hectoliters (331,274,554 bushels).

The other crops are tabulated here with the results they yielded for 1873: -


Meadows, both natural and artificial, are very numerous in France, and give a higher return than any other kind of land. Artificial meadows, sown with clover or Lucerne, have considerably increased in extent, as will be seen from the following comparative table: -


The vineyard cover 4.27 per cent. of the surface of France, and are one of the chief sources of its agricultural wealth. They are to be found, more or less, in every district, except in ten northern departments, viz., Calvados, Cotes-du-Bord, Creuse, Finistere, manche, Nord, Orne, Pas-de-Calais, Seine-Inferieure, and Somme. In 1862, according to statistical documents then published by the Government, the departments in which the vine was most extensively cultivated were – Herault (162,172 hectares), Charente-Inferieure (157,753), Gironde (126,22), Charente (100,008), Gers (94,790), Gard (94,200), Dordogne (87,252), Aude (81,869), Var (79,040), Lot-et-Garonne (69,166). The vintage of 1876 gave a total of about 41,846,748 hectoliters (921,033,017 gallons).

The census taken in 1872 gave 2,882,851 as the total number of horses, comprising 400,454 colts, 351,654 stallions of 4 years and upwards, 872,911 geldings, and 1,257,832 mares. The number of mules was 299,129, and of assess 450,625. The returns for the same year gave 10,023,716 head of cattle and 24,707,496 sheep. The goats, particularly numerous in Corsica and some mountainous parts, were 1.791,725. The addition of 2,500,000 beehives, of a total value of about 32,800,000 francs, 58,300,000 poultry of all kinds, and 2,300,000 dogs completes the enumeration in its principal divisions of the live stock of agricultural France.

In France the interests of agriculture are entrusted to a special minister. Under him are general inspectors, whose duty it is to visit the different parts of the country, and to report on their respective position and wants. These reports serve to determine the distribution of grants and rewards which the state dispenses every year. In 1869 the sum of money given as relief in cases of fires, cattle disease, and damage caused by storms, frost, or excessive drought, floods, and other accidents, amounted to 2,171,340 francs. As rewards, the state gives premiums to the owners of the best stallions and broodmares (826,000 francs in 1873); it supports by grants riding schools and establishments for training horses (160,500 francs), gives prizes for racehorses (404 francs), and distributes about 1,400,000 francs a year for the creation and maintenance of agricultural societies. The principal objects of these societies is the organization of provincial shows of cattle, implements, and agricultural produce, under the name of comices a gricoles. The Government has, besides, founded institutions that are entirely under its management and belong to the state. Such are the sheep-folds of Haut-Tingry (Pas-de-Calais) and Rambouillet (Seine-et-Oise), the cow-house of Corbon (Calvados) for the breeding of Durham cows only, and the haras or stallion stables. These stables, containing together about 1085 horses, and kept at an expense of 1,844,000 francs, are established in 22 central towns, and send stallions every year to 340 stations. Two great banking establishments have been founded in order to help those who are engaged in agricultural business. The one, the credit foncier, grants loans on land securities; these loans amounted for the year 1872 to 45,482,242 francs 60 centimes, divided among 1156 borrowers. The other, the credit agricole, which dates from 1860, discounts bills and lends on personal or other security but always with the objects of promoting the progress of agricultural pursuits. In 1872 this company negotiated bills to the value of 248 millions of francs. It paid the same year a dividend of 15 francs for each 500 francs share. The credit foncier, which is an older institution (1852), paid 35 francs for each share of the same value.

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