Life of William, Earl of Shelburne/Volume 2/Chapter 10

2879074Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, Volume 2 — X. Lord Shelburne on Men and ThingsWilliam Petty-Fitzmaurice



During the period of which the political history has been narrated, Lord Shelburne continued to employ his leisure in the management of his estates in England and Ireland. Some of his reflections on the subjects thus brought to his notice and on kindred topics will be found in the following paper:[1]


"Man is made to be dependent in some respects, independent in others. Religion, morality, and necessity, point out his duties to others. Pride, knowledge of life, and reflection, suggest those which he owes to himself, and confirm those he owes to society. It is the action and reaction of these duties one upon the other, which ensure a man's happiness and credit through life; but all combine in one fundamental principle, never to be departed from, to put yourself in the power of no man.

"Constitutional liberty consists in the right of exercising freely every faculty of mind or body, which can be exercised without preventing another man from doing the like. In the best Governments more or less of this liberty has been unnecessarily sacrificed through ignorance, indolence, or accident, and a man must wait a favourable opportunity to recover what his ancestors lose. But in private life, it is imbecility or madness ever to lose liberty, and it is always recoverable. No man can be trusted with power over another. The heads of the most sensible men turn with it, and lose both their sense and memory; while fools, who form the great majority of mankind, have neither of these at any time. No gratitude can withstand power. Every man from the monarch down to the peasant is sure to abuse it. A man therefore must be ever upon his guard against any weakness, accident, momentary necessity, or effusion of heart, which can lead him to put himself in the power of another.

"As long as money is determined upon by the universal consent of all nations and of all men, savages excepted, as the Anima Mundi, and the universal sign of intercourse, which quickens every thing upon which man is dependent, in the first instance for necessities, next for luxuries, and lastly for all power of doing either good or harm, so long the first thing for a man's consideration is the right ordering of his private affairs; or in other words, of his receipts and expenditure.

"Since the powers of the mind can never be counted upon as forthcoming upon every occurrence, great or small, public or private, and since every man who has any predominant passion, such as most men commonly have, is alive to that, and mostly dead to every other consideration; every sensible man must lay down certain rules to govern his conduct, by which to guard against surprise or the effect of momentary weakness. Instinct suggests certain rules to every man to guide his physical conduct, such as not to attempt to pass a river without being certain that the stream be not out of his depth; and experience, in like manner, suggests certain rules equally indispensable for the government of his social conduct.

"Of these rules, two are essential. The first is, to be bound for no man. No man can afford it. If he has an overplus he is bound to give it, and if he is called upon by any particular ties, he will find it cheaper nine times in ten to give a part, be it what it may, which he can afford, than to be bound for the whole. A man who desires another to be bound for him, must either have a bad heart and be a bad calculator, or else be a drowning man, who naturally catches at every twig, even at another man, though he is sure to drown him. It may serve as a warning to my own family to be told, that I have lost nearly £40,000 by being bond for other men, a great part of which I was obliged to borrow rather than put myself in the power of others, or ask others to be bound for me. If any one will take the trouble of computing this at the rate of compound interest, which in fact every man pays who borrows out of his natural line of receipts and expenditure, it will be seen to what a frightful sum it amounts, though it gives a faint idea of the embarrassments and disadvantages it occasioned to me, far exceeding the pecuniary consideration; and all the return I had was treachery, and a great deal of unjust public abuse.[2]

"The second essential rule is, to see with your own eyes. This is the more difficult, as it is the interest of every body about you to prevent it. Men bred to business and to struggle, who know the world, and are broke to mankind, and whose livelihood depends upon making the most which they honestly can of their respective situations, such are the men who contend with a proprietor. On the other hand the proprietor is most commonly ignorant of the world or at least of business, has been taught everything but order or right economy, his fortune is in general made, and he is either diffident, mild, and unused to look anybody in the face, especially upon money matters, or else vicious, dissipated, and extravagant,—or to say the best which can happen,—of an elevated mind, turned either to ambition or some liberal pursuit, or to splendour, or ease. He forgets or does not sufficiently comprehend that money is the grand foundation of the whole, and the general instrument, however sordid and contemptible the pursuit of it may be, if suffered to exceed due bounds, viz.: the purposes of order, and particularly if it becomes a sole passion; though physicians and many observers upon life have thought it the most healthy pursuit a man can have. Hence, to put gross dishonesty out of the question, agents, tenants, lawyers, neighbours, servants, all wish to be let alone.

"An agent, let him be ever so honest, keeps your money as long as he can; and makes every profit which he honestly, that is legally, can at your expense. The tenant uses every art to get his farm as cheap as he can, and having nothing else to think about, commonly succeeds against every gentleman who is not driven by distress to look very closely into his affairs. I have heard a sensible man observe, that you may go anywhere and be sure to be more welcome than upon your own estate, where every man appears by his looks to say, 'Do you suspect me?' A lawyer does not like to go through the fatigue of thinking. If he thought about the interest of every client who applied to him, either he would get very little money, or he would quickly destroy his constitution. A neighbour must be very void of the most general of all vices, envy, who can see with satisfaction a person come and eclipse him, and take from him by dint of property, the influence which he obtains by residence. A servant, let him be ever so honest, makes it a point of honour not to tell of a brother servant.

"It may be too much to say that these several descriptions of men are your natural enemies; but it must be remembered, that they live by the public, not by you, that they have other relations of life, that they do not come to you in the capacity of friends, where elevation of mind should be the first material, though they sometimes turn out so, and that elevation of mind is not to be expected from their education or situation, whatever particular instances there may be to the contrary. Every man who plays at cards, where honour is supposed to preside, counts the money he wins, let him play with whom he will; and no man trusts another with untold gold. How absurd therefore is it, not to examine the accounts of those who enter your service expressly to be accountable, and to make others so! It is true, there may be some exceptions; and there are men in most families who prove themselves capable of friendship, elevation, and disinterestedness; but you had much better play at faro, where the odds will be much less against you, than lay your account on meeting such exceptions, or trust to your own judgment and penetration; which if good, may enable you to judge of the talents of men, which they scarce know themselves, but never to reach their hearts, much less what they may do in particular cases, and how far they may be capable of resisting temptation, especially in moments of distress. Besides, many men are very good when well looked after, who left to themselves are capable of deviating gradually into every species of dishonesty. Sir William Petty was very well served, and left it among his advices to his sons, to continue to employ the same people, whom he had trained to the conduct of his affairs, and found honest and diligent in the management of them. They accordingly did so; but these very men, not being looked after, converted everything they could to their private advantage.

"There is still another consideration, which is that as the proportion of foolish to sensible men is beyond all calculation in the general mass of mankind, so nearly the same proportion of these characters exists in the professions. Parents destine children to this or that profession without considering their talents, or from misjudging, being commonly governed by some motive; and men are still less able to decide upon their own fitness, but are commonly either led by fancy and chance, or interest gets them strangely forward in life. But the worst of it is, that they are obliged to act the part of men who know, and the most foolish and most ignorant are commonly the most arbitrary, positive, and adventurous, both from motives of conceit, and to conceal their ignorance. This and want of time and application are the real causes of the perpetual blunders, which are to be found in every transaction of business (and I believe there is not a settlement in the kingdom without some), much more than the policy which is supposed to prevail in all trades, of making business out of business for their own emolument, or any positive dishonesty among agents. The attention of the principal in a great measure remedies all this. It may be said that the same proportion of foolish to sensible men holds good as to men of property, but it is incredible how much an immediate interest supplies the want of parts, and how much less it requires to judge of a man's own affairs than to judge of those of another. The eye of the most ignorant owner operates upon his agents like witchcraft. There is no describing or comprehending it but by trying it. Dishonesty is always cowardly and full of apprehension, always shrinking from the approach of truth and power, whereas honesty and truth show themselves in a thousand ways, and certainly predominate among mankind, where they are not counteracted by personal interest and ambition, else there would be no existence in the world. Besides all this, economy is a very narrow science. It requires no great sense, no parts, little or no sagacity or penetration, nothing but a very moderate degree of steadiness and clearness of head.

"The whole of economy in fact turns but upon two points, which if they be but once well established and punctually observed in any family (and they require little if any more power of mind, than to be sure to put on a clean shirt every day, or not to lay your hands upon another person's property), leave you free to every pursuit of body or mind, and to experience every duty with ease and cheerfulness, laying the only solid foundation of domestic happiness, and ensuring public consideration and confidence to a degree that is inconceivable; for all reputation comes from home. The two points are the simplest in human nature. 1. Half yearly receipts. 2. Weekly expenditure. Some separate observations may be useful upon each, but they will be found equally simple.

"1. Half yearly receipts. It must be always remembered, that agents will keep money if permitted, and tenants will not pay if they are not obliged. This has always been the practice in public and private business, and it is now more than ever so, on account of the number of country banks, which corrupt the whole country, by soliciting the custody of ever so small a sum, if it be but for a day, and by having recourse to this and a variety of other methods to circulate their notes, which must end in some great public calamity. To obviate this so far as regards your particular interest, it will be prudent on no account to receive or pay the notes of any country bank, but both to receive and pay in current coin.

"Rents are payable in England commonly at Michaelmas and Lady-day, and in Ireland commonly on the 1st of May and 1st of November.

"It is customary and reasonable to leave one half year in the tenant's hands, but any further indulgence will always be found as pernicious to the tenant as to the landlord, and in fact more so. If land is Jet too high, lower it. In case of any particular calamity, it may deserve distinct consideration. Wherever I have forborne longer, which was too often, till I came to see the consequences, it has always ended in the ruin of the tenant. But as there may be particular fairs and local circumstances, it may be right to give to the month of April and October to pay the English rents, and to June or July, to pay the Irish May rents, and so on in proportion, requiring the agents to state the circumstances, and to use their utmost endeavour to bring the tenants upon each estate to some precise day of audit within the above limits, which if the agent has no by-view to answer, must suit his convenience far better than receiving by dribblets.

"English agents must return their accounts by the 10th of May and 10th of November; and Irish agents by the 10th of August and 10th of February. But this is a point of so much importance, that if the English accounts are not received by the 1st of June and the 1st of December, and the Irish by the 1st of September and 1st of March, the agent who fails must ipso facto be dismissed, it being the hinge upon which the whole of your economy turns, and the least relaxation in which makes it impossible for the office at home to make you a general return of your whole receipt, which they must be always obliged to do on the 10th of September and on the 10th of March. Without this, one half year is suffered to run into another, and like putting off writing a common letter, if deferred endlessly, it hangs a weight upon the mind, or else is entirely forgot. Accounts accumulate, parties die, vouchers are lost, every circumstance is lost sight of, and frauds and carelessness are encouraged. An unprincipled man with the least ability sees that the odds are that he never will be detected; and an honest man with a spark of indolence, is drawn into ruining both you and himself. Whereas to prevent all this, the slightest possible effort of the mind is requisite, namely, to insist upon punctuality from men of business whose profession it is; the reasonableness of which cannot stand a moment's argument. After this is done nothing more is requisite than a cast of the eye, for the whole may be made linear.

"2. Weekly expenditure.—Private trade has but one character, and is never to be trusted. It must be governed by the character of the many and not of the few. The character of the many always has been and always will be that of dissipation and idleness. The tradesman partakes of this character, as well as his customer; and he will be always sure to take care of himself, which is constantly in his power, at the expense of the customer who does not pay regularly. His prices after a certain time never can be questioned. The honest tradesman, if he is not regularly paid, must charge accordingly. They cannot be blamed for it, nor do they deny it; and what interest must they charge to compensate the delay of 15 or 20 per cent. profit, the inconvenience of his advances breaking in upon his capital, and the risk attending other debts; all of which must comparatively fall upon the irregular customer: for whoever pays regularly can go from one to another after inquiring and comparing the prices at home or abroad.

"The memory of no man is equal to the numberless items wanted in the smallest family, nor can any man's prudence be always upon the watch against an accumulating account; and when it comes to be matter of recollection or dispute, no gentleman is a match for a tradesman. He ceases to be a gentleman when he is. But this is not all, if you owe a tradesman 100l. and he owes, which is often the case, 100l. to ten different persons, and cannot pay them, there is not an honest tradesman who will not think it fair, or at least is not involuntarily led to make what you owe him an excuse to each of the ten; so that presently you pass with the world for owing ten times what you do; for all character comes from home, the rest of the world being too indolent to inquire into the truth of those whose interest it is to speak in such cases. So that besides paying interest beyond that of any rate of usury, you insensibly lose both credit, which well supported is a mine in regard to money, and character, which is equally invaluable in other respects.

"Servants are but a poor check, for the proportion of sense to folly holds good in regard to servants as much, if not more, than to any other description; and how can you expect a servant to do for you what you will not do for yourself? Besides, servants are not proper judges: they only look to expenditure. They do not know, nor is it fit they should know, the amount of your receipt, much less the whole of your affairs, and the nature of your views. The best servants love to order, each in his own department, and to make that the principal subject of expense, nor can servants be brought to tell of each other, except it be for some purpose of intrigue or cabal.[3]

"Most articles of expense may be brought to as great a degree of certainty as your receipts, and there are none which will not average themselves after a little observation.

"No man can prescribe to another the nature of his expenses, any more than the conduct of his life, as both must depend upon his particular temper and character, and upon circumstances. If I was to live over again, I would provide for,

"1st. Hospitality; and of all articles of hospitality, for fire and candle light. A table is not quite what it was, though still a very powerful assistant, but I have observed it made up by exertion and ingenuity.

"Education of children comes under this head, for learning and knowledge of the world may be got abroad; but habits, manners, and principles, which in fact constitute education, can only be got at home and by example; and their fate depends in a great measure upon it; for as to fortunes, money is like seed; it is the soil, and not the quantity of seed, which produces.

"2. All manner of repairs.

"3. A degree of becoming representation, such as should harmonize best with my general views.

"4. Private expenses. Under this head it should be remembered, that a few hundred pounds judiciously bestowed from time to time through life, pay the best interest, and give most satisfaction of any expenditure, after that of hospitality and decency; but guard against granting annuities out of your own power, be the services what they may, either in the instance of tutors, agents, or servants. Let it be remembered that there is not difference enough between man and man, nor can one man do anything to serve another sufficiently important to make it worth while; especially in the case of purchased services, which, at least at setting out, proceed on other considerations than those of heart and sentiment. I speak distinctly as to this point, for I have been the dupe of it to a considerable amount, which I hope will prove a warning to those who come after me, and prevent them from purchasing experience at so dear a rate. I am sensible that the other sex forms another consideration. They are certainly objects of liberality and delicacy beyond any other relation in life, but it should be remembered what should make them so, is their being made up of heart and sentiment, and being insensible to interest and design. When it is otherwise, it must alter the nature of the connection to any man, who gives himself time for a moment's reflection. It may be laid down as a rule, that in all cases where confidence must be placed on one side or the other, it is just and reasonable that it should be on the side of the giver, and every man owes it to himself to insist on it. In case of death it is different, and it is highly becoming to reward services in proportion to their importance, by your own act, and not to leave those to whom you are virtually indebted, at the mercy of those who come after you, be they ever so honourable. There may be very particular cases where a separation takes place after a long connection, which may make it noble to render the party independent even of yourself, but it should be after and not before, and never conditioned for.

"5. What's called taste and fancies.

"All economy as I have already said, and consequently all existence in society, depends upon half yearly receipts and weekly expenditure. For this purpose, the following accounts must be punctually and obstinately insisted upon at the several dates which are stated, if none more convenient can be suggested; but, whatever they are, they should be fixed and unalterable.

"Weekly household expenditure, every Wednesday at —— o'clock.

"Monthly account of every other expenditure, and inspection of the banker's balance, the first Wednesday of every month.

"Half yearly abstract of all agents' receipts, on the second Wednesday in September and March.

"Annual abstract of the preceding year's receipt and expenditure, on the second Wednesday of March.

"Weekly accounts of work or any country expense should be sent you, wherever you are; and no tradesman to be paid who does not bring in his charge within the week for whatever is ordered, to the steward's office.

"By entering the four principal accounts in a book or books, the whole may be made linear, and a single glance of the eye suffices to any man who has resolution enough to know the state of his affairs at setting out, or to get it done for him, and to form a judgment of what he can and what he cannot afford to expend.

"Of all the follies the greatest is that, which formerly was practised and is still continued in some great families, that of having some considerable lawyer or some eminent man of business at a considerable salary to audit your accounts. There is a family whose fortune was entirely made by the father's auditing the accounts of different estates, which many of the owners were infinitely more capable of auditing. It is generally understood, that when a very great family in London found themselves much distressed, they could not, from motives of false shame, dismiss an auditor who had 400l. for 500l., for doing what they could so much better do themselves, besides saving the salary, which would have proved a very seasonable relief. Dealers in money, like butchers who deal in blood, lose all manner of feeling for that by which they get their livelihood, and it is next to impossible that men who serve many masters or indeed more than one, should be capable of much attachment.[4]

"Let it be always remembered that saints are rare to be found after a certain age, an observation which holds good even of the clergy.

"The Christian world has ever been divided into two parts, clergy and laity, distinguished both by dress and manners from each other. The clergy everywhere affect a superiority, and in consequence claim to be indulged with peculiar power and privileges. It was natural that when this pre-eminence was once established in the minds of the degraded laity, the clergy should get the countenance of the legislature for the framing of laws, not only to preserve their own dignity, but to prevent the interference of the people in ecclesiastical concerns. Hence ecclesiastical courts, ecclesiastical ranks and titles, ecclesiastical dress, all repugnant to the spirit of Christianity. The laity like brute beasts sit tamely under this usurpation. A man, if a priest or minister enters, is not a master of his own house; he must not thank God for the blessings of Providence at his own table; he cannot pledge his faith to a lovely woman without the interference of the priest; his offspring must be sprinkled by sacred hands, and at death he is not committed to his long home without another spiritual incantation.[5]

"That mankind should embrace the Christian or any other religion, and devote themselves to obey its dictates and cultivate its precepts from various motives, I can easily comprehend, or on the other hand, that a man after every investigation his faculties enable him to make, should sit down a perfect sceptic, I can easily comprehend; but how it is possible that the mass of mankind do not trouble their minds upon the subject, which they certainly do not, but follow each other like a herd of cattle going to a pond, is beyond all comprehension, and furnishes endless ground for reflection upon the nature of man, the purposes of his existence, and the limits of his faculties. I consider it as one of the happiest circumstances of my life, that I was able to make up my mind on this most important of all subjects, and that so decidedly, that an uneasy thought has never entered my mind after having once made it up. I consider man as placed in the midst of a beautiful garden containing fruits, flowers, plants, animals, in short everything the most lively imagination can desire, surrounded with great and inaccessible mountains. The wise part of mankind are content to remain in the garden, and quickly see that the door beyond is shut; the foolish part are continually struggling against nature, and trying to ascend. No man can observe the wonderful order which prevails throughout the world, but must be convinced that there was a First Cause. No man can reflect upon all he sees, without feeling that it is not intended, in this life at least, that he should know more. What has he then to do but to follow the dictates of his best reason, to do all the good he possibly can, to follow those rules and precepts in which all religions agree, and wait with patience and with confidence the will of the All-powerful Creator.

"To return to the management of property.

"In future it will be well in the first place to let no leases in England exceeding three years, and none in Ireland exceeding twenty-one. The arguments on the other side are specious, such as that tenants will not improve without leases; that by letting for lives in Ireland, the tenant continues improving to the last moment, not knowing how long his lease may last, whereas if it be for years they take care to get all they can out of the ground before the expiration of the lease, and to leave the ground heartless and exhausted; lastly, the loss of the character and reputation of a good landlord in the country; but these arguments I have learned by dear-bought experience to be fallacious and ill-founded.

"In the first place, tenants do not improve in general. Where it does happen, let them be paid for doing so, and not cheated out of their money, their industry, or their confidence. Let the character of a good landlord consist in doing strict justice in this respect; but what is still better, let it be the subject of a particular agreement, at the time when the improvement takes place. But examine, and it will be found universally that the rise of estates has not been owing to the improvement of farmers, but to the increased plenty of money, the increased price of every product, the introduction of manufactures, and the improvement of all communications and markets, advantages which should belong to the landlord, else he must be behindhand in his natural character of consumer.[6] It may be said that it is absolutely necessary to avoid the expense and trouble of building in regard to cottages and mills; but it will be shown hereafter, that cottages form the species of property of all others which should be kept in a landlord's power; and in regard to mills, there are many circumstances which will be found to repay very amply any extraordinary attention or expense which a landlord may be induced to bestow upon them in the common course. Where the question occurs about any extraordinary undertaking, the magnitude of the improvement will justify a distinct and separate consideration, to be confined to that one object only. Why is agriculture to be made the subject of gambling? It is of all others the profession which should be regulated by the most even justice.

"Lastly, as to the character of a good landlord. Indiscriminate indulgence, which generally gives the character of a good landlord, never fails to be attributed to its true motives, namely, either ignorance, timidity, or indolence. Since farming has become a trade, it ceases to become an object of liberality more than any other trade. It requires a capital equal to what most trades do. The question with a farmer is no longer simply what the ground produces, but what interest he can make of his capital in such ground and such a situation, all circumstances considered; besides what can be made by speculation upon the fluctuation of markets, in the manner of merchants and often of stockjobbers. A man is counted a sorry farmer who does not take all this into consideration.

"In regard to the landlord, farmers of course make the best bargain which they can. They are necessarily a shrewd, sagacious, advantage-taking description of men, who have but one thing to think of; whose common interest it is to keep down the value of land, and who have a perpetual communication with each other at markets. They have no education, and no character to preserve, except what is material to their dealings with each other. In consequence, they look to nothing but gain. They govern the voice of the country so far as regards their own purposes, it being nobody's business to contradict them except the landlords', who comparatively form a small body, inactive, ignorant, and timid. Besides, there is a general tendency to take part with the many against the few, always against the one. There is a false principle of justice and always popularity in this. But while a landlord thinks he is doing good by not raising his rents, and that he at least gains the esteem and goodwill of the country, it is the business of the farmers to persuade every one, and if possible the landlords themselves, that the best landlord is a hard one; that it is as much as they can do to live upon the rent; and that whatever may be their fortune, it is made some other way; in order to prevent the value of land from being known, and the general price of it raised, which must affect all farmers in their turn.

"But there is another description upon whom too much liberality can never be bestowed. If there was no other reason for raising rents, it would become an act of piety to do it, to bestow upon the cottagers or agricultural poor, the strength and wealth and glory of England, who must be the means of saving the country, when the misers of farmers have sold it (as they will any thing for the sake of lucre), and of restoring the race of men after the manufacturers have debased it. While the hoggish farmer grudges bread to every thing around him, and while the manufacturer abounds in wealth (from the upstart master, who finds himself possessed of a fortune, for which he was not educated, and consequently considers it only as the means of insolence, down to the wretched weaver, who knows no other use of high wages except to be idle two or three days in the week, or to ruin his constitution and that of his family by debauchery and spirits), the agricultural poor are dying through want, the prey of every disorder which results from poverty, filth, cold, and hunger, with laws intended for their relief, but so ill adapted to the present state of things and so shamefully executed,[7] that they only serve to multiply their numbers, to lower the few feelings they have left, and to stifle every exertion on their part.

"The agent, who has always his own advantage in leasing, will say that the cottages will tumble. Let the landlord build them. The custom now is for a wealthy farmer, tradesman, or mason, to pay a fine to a lord of the manor or any other landlord, for a small spot of ground, on which he builds a cottage, and hucksters it out to whatever poor men will give the most for it, no matter whom; by which means poachers, smugglers, thieves, and even highwaymen are sure to find a receptacle, where they are independent, and out of the power of anybody, till they become subjects of legal conviction; on their road to which they commit a variety of crimes, before a prosecuting officer or the law can reach them; whereas were the landlord to keep the cottages in his own hands, he would necessarily have a wholesome and natural authority over the poor, could govern their morals, and preserve the peace of the country in case of riots or any public disturbances, as numbers must decide. Again, by this means you will be welcome on your estate; your estate will be your own, your influence your own, and, what is more than all, the most numerous class of people will be your own, instead of your being an unwelcome stranger surrounded by upstarts and beggars.

"The second indispensable rule in regard to farms is, to make no promise whatever direct or indirect by word of mouth, but by writing, either yourself or by your agents; trusting nothing to memory, but insisting on no man being suffered to take possession without executing the instrument, whatever it may be, under which he is to hold. There is nothing so disagreeable as to trust, at least in business, to another man's word and consequently to his memory, except it be to have any man trust to yours. It compromises you perpetually with low people, who must necessarily have the advantage, and in Ireland it is the foundation of perpetual law-suits, and if a tenant once gets possession, it is at his option afterwards when he will sign his lease or agreement, or whether he will sign at all, by which you lose all the benefit, and he, as the law stands, has all the advantage of the lease.

"The third indispensable rule is to fix no rent whatever, without taking the opinion of at least two different men of business, one upon the spot and one from a distance. As it does not become respectable families to be perpetually raising the rents of the same tenants, where no particular reason calls for it, it is the more incumbent upon them when a landlord or tenant dies or retires, to get the full value; as the advantage afterwards is all on the tenants' side. For this reason it is material to suffer no tenant to make over his interest, or to have any thing to say in regard to his successor. A stranger's opinion is necessary to be added, because it is next to impossible that a resident agent be not under some influence, where he has no interest of his own; which however he most commonly has, or else he has some relations or friends who have, or is governed by the cry of the neighbourhood. Honesty and dishonesty have so many shades, that there are very few men who do not find out some salves for their conscience, especially in their own trade; but by employing two people always, you are sure to do away with a great many shades. Besides, a man from a distance naturally suggests improvements, the result of experience and general practice. I am persuaded myself, that a mixture of men as well as of soils, answers all the purpose of a wholesome fermentation; and a stranger will introduce strangers if necessary.

"The influence of feudalism can still be traced in all the arrangements of English property. We are still living amidst the dregs of it, and the same observation applies to the Governments of most European countries.

"I have been told by persons who have resided in Canada and Russia that the most disagreeable time of the whole year is the interval between winter and summer, when the ice begins to break, the roads for a time become next to impassable, and the country answers no purpose of utility or pleasure. I have often thought that most of the Governments in Europe are precisely in this situation. We have no modern instance of any country undergoing a complete, intentional, and systematical change. In most countries the changes are unintentional, without system and insensible. A form of Government which may suit a people in one century becomes totally unadapted to another. Government and people are perpetually changing, without either being aware of it, which of itself must produce confusion. Government becomes weaker and the people stronger insensibly. Consider the progress of the Government of England.

"I copied out of the oldest of the Privy Council Books the first page, which gives a more just idea of the mode of Government than a thousand histories.[8] The Feudal Government under the Tudors had already resolved itself into positive despotism. I have always wished to have time to examine into the sources and origin of Magna Charta and several laws about that time, and to compare the compass and liberal spirit of those laws with the extracts above mentioned. There is another point of which I have long wished to investigate the reason, viz.: that the Feudal Government was so universal; whether it came from any natural cause, or from some country whose history is lost in antiquity. Our Government continued a despotism administered with admirable wisdom by Queen Elizabeth, whose reign was the only example of regular Government which I can trace in our History. A democratical spirit or rather a spirit of freedom, began even then to show itself, but her resolution and sagacity knew how to keep it down without losing the affection of her subjects. See her speeches to her Army and her Parliament. At her death the two Governments of France and England were as nearly as possible the same. It is curious to observe how they came to take different courses, which I attribute to the different character of the sovereigns, at least as the principal cause.[9] France had the wonderful good fortune to have three sovereigns in succession, who were exactly calculated to raise their throne and country to the utmost pitch of grandeur, while the weak and bigoted house of Stuart, in the person of four sovereigns of that name, by their thirst and love of absolute power and their incapacity, kept us occupied at home, and laid the foundation of that liberty which will yet, I hope, stand many struggles, and by this means procured us what was more worth than all the French conquests and more adapted to our national character. Lewis XIII. had sense enough to stand by Cardinal Richelieu, though he disliked him. Charles I. abandoned and betrayed Lord Strafford—in every respect Richelieu's pendant—though he liked him. Lord Strafford's letters deserve to be read with a view to England and to Ireland. The Irish State Papers indeed will be found to contain the best information regarding the Court and country of England: the reason is simple, that Ireland being the dependent country, and not the seat of Government, everything was necessarily committed to writing. It will be seen in this interesting correspondence how ready Strafford was, from the love of power, to sacrifice both the religion and liberty of his country, while the little party about the Queen thwarted his every design, sometimes finding that he did not go fast enough, at other times using the sure argument against all able men, that he was too deep to be trusted. The fact is that all Courts and Princes have a dread of talents, and they consider ability and roguery as synonymous. It is a wonderful blessing that while almost all Princes make the extension of their Power the great object of their lives, the narrowness, jealousy and incapacity which for the most part characterises them, deprives them of the only means of accomplishing their object: an honest and capable Minister. Whenever they are driven by opposition or by difficulty to take one, from that moment they become his bitterest enemy, and are indefatigable till they get quit of him, and in many cases sacrifice him. They never want for instruments. Activity is a cheap commodity; liars and libellers, calumniators and intriguers, are always within call to prevent anything like reform. This is what Kings call governing! It has been the same in all times and in all Courts. Mankind never profit by experience. Dr. Franklin used to say that Experience was the school for Fools. The most profligate woman that walks the Strand can persuade any man that he is the first who has really captivated her. Such are men!

"It would be worth while to examine the lesser causes which have made the institutions of France and England take such a different bent from the time of Queen Elizabeth and Henry IV. I should like to know when and how it came to pass that all the rights of nobility should be conferred in England on the eldest son, while over the rest of Europe it has been extended to all the children, be they ever so many. The consequence is that every family in England has a mixture of aristocracy and democracy in it. The eldest brother is alone noble, the others all are people.

"It would have been happy if the right of primogeniture was destroyed altogether or never had existed. Of all the institutions which ever were invented, it is the most calculated to destroy all domestic and public comfort, as well as all public and private virtue. The eldest son instead of being almost a second father to his family, which nature intended him to be, becomes quite estranged from them; instead of being a pattern of order, sobriety, and industry, in the common course of human passions he is only an example to shun, and has neither feelings nor employments in common with them. In one short generation all younger brothers are sure to be driven from home to beg existence in the army, the church, or in the immediate service of the Court, or in commerce; instead of inheriting a proportionable share of their father's landed property, which is no more than their right, which necessarily would have the effect of attaching them to their native soil, and would be sure to afford them health and affluence, as well as independence both of body and mind. It might have been good, I do not say that it was, in the North of Europe from whence it came to us, where population overflowed and where they were under the necessity of sending out as many as possible to seek their fortunes elsewhere, a reasoning which does not apply to our times, when we have happily all America on the one hand, and the South of Russia, the finest country in the universe, on the other. There numbers are not only welcome but required, and add wealth from the moment of their arrival, for population, from that of men down to that of the lowest insect, is subject to general invariable rules, easily discovered and easily seconded and enforced.


"It may not be amiss to say a few words upon the subject of boroughs.

"Family boroughs (by which I mean boroughs which lie naturally within the reach of cultivation of any house or property) are supposed to cost nothing: but I am sure from my own experience and observation, that if examined into, they will be found to cost as much as the purchase of any burgage tenure whatever, by means of what I call 'insensible perspiration.' Like public taxes, the amount is not perceived for a great while, and by some people not at all, because it consists in paying always a little and most commonly a great deal too much on every article, and in every transaction you are confined to a particular set of tradesmen, and often to their connections in town, and can never control their charges. The rents of houses and lands must be governed by the moderation of voters. You must be forthcoming on every occasion, not only of distress, but of fancy, to subscribe too largely to roads, as well as every other project which may be started by the idlest of the people; add to this, livings, favours of all sorts from Government, and stewardships, if there is an intriguing attorney in the town, who under the name of your agent will deprive you of all manner of free agency upon your own property, and sometimes of the property itself, if it is a small one; without mentioning the charge and domestic disorder attending a great deal of obscure hospitality, and a never ceasing management of men and things. And after all when the crisis comes, you are liable to be outbid by any nabob or adventurer, and you must expect all that you have done to go for nothing, and the most you can look for is a preference. What can you say to a blacksmith, who has seven children, or to a common labouring man who is offered 700l. for his vote; or to two misers who are offered 2000l., which are all instances distinctly upon record at Wycombe since Mr. Dashwood's election?

"So far for arithmetical considerations, but this is not all.

"As nothing in the world is or can be in the nature of things fixed, all political institutions are perpetually though insensibly changing; and it is the business of sagacity to foresee and act upon every approaching change. The House of Commons under its present institution has had its day, and Parliament itself is no longer considered as Omnipotent as Lord Mansfield used to call it. As knowledge has spread and the representatives have become corrupted, it has ceased to impose, and has no longer the same confidence with the people. It may still do a little good or prevent a little harm of itself, but it is the public opinion which decides, which the House of Commons must obey, as every part of Government must in this and every country of Europe where it shows itself. The extinction of the old parties of Whig and Tory, the depression of the landed interest from the excess of taxes, the increase of trade, the wealth arising from it, as well as from the East and West Indies, leave individuals more at liberty to consider a seat in Parliament as a means of advancement; but these very circumstances give rise to and foment public opinion, which keeps the House of Commons in a greater state of dependence as a body than has ever been the case heretofore. The Crown, too, being now settled in the House of Hanover, without any apprehension from a Pretender, interferes in a very different manner from what it used to do, and naturally tends to meet the inclination of individuals, without considering that it is Punch whom it is buying, and that the puppet-show will continue only as long as public opinion does.

"It follows therefore from the whole of this, first, that you should never seek to extend your parliamentary interest. It is buying in a falling market, for in case of any constitutional convulsion, the change may happen in a moment; but if not, it must and is evidently taking place insensibly. Secondly, if a contest is inevitable, not for a small difference of expense or trouble to abandon or even risk any family interest such as you found it; but to calculate betimes, and according to circumstances to choose between the contest in question and purchasing elsewhere; or abandoning the whole upon public principles, by which I mean, appealing from the corporation or body of voters whoever they may be, to the town at large, and afterwards to the public upon grounds of ante-corruption, and upon principles of reason and freedom, and to consider the contest not as ended, but continued on a greater scale to the end of the chapter. Nothing is more easy, as you are acting all the time upon the defensive, in support of what you possess, and of rights which are generally presumed to belong to your property; besides, that power lost in one sense is power gained in another, for the moment you are unhampered with particular personal managements, everything becomes reversed, and you become the terror of evil doers, and your influence bears a just proportion to the extent of your property and the integrity of your conduct. It may be observed here, that towns will be always found the most open to conviction, and among them, the tradesmen and middling class of men. Next to them are the manufacturers, after which but at a great distance, comes the mercantile interest, for in fact they belong to no country, their wealth is movable, and they seek to gain by all, which they are in the habit of doing at the expense of every principle; but last of all come the country gentlemen and farmers, for the former have had both their fortunes and their understandings at a stand while every thing else has been in motion, and are obliged in consequence to sell their estates, and retire into towns, where they become different men, and better subjects, but leave the country unhappily not to great proprietors, for they reside only a few months in the year on it, but to the professions, who plunder it; particularly the country attorneys, the scourge of all that is honest or good, and the farmers, who uneducated and centered in their never ceasing pursuit of gain, are incapable of comprehending anything beyond it.


"This is not the place to enter into the political or moral state of Ireland. It may not be amiss however to observe that it becomes and interests any one, who has property in Ireland, to be acquainted with its general history. Its progress may be distinctly traced by reading the following Books: Hibernica, a Collection of Ancient Tracts, printed and published in Dublin, Moryson's Itinerary, Sydney's State Papers, Sir John Davis's Works, Sir William Petty's Works, Lord Stafford's Letters, Lord Chancellor Clarendon, and Ludlow's Memoirs on what regards Ireland, Lord Clarendon's (son of the Chancellor) Letters, Boate's Natural History of Ireland, and several MSS. in the library at Lansdowne House.

"The History of Ireland may be read to considerable advantage, and more than the history of most countries, for as every other country had always more or less of a settled government, their history consists of little more than an account of sieges and battles, except now and then some civil wars; whereas the History of Ireland is in fact a history of the policy of England in regard to Ireland, and will be found to give the best idea of the principles, knowledge and passions, which prevailed in each reign and characterized the times. It will be found to have always been the shame of England, as Sicily was of Rome and is now of Naples, and Corsica was of Genoa. God never intended one country to govern another, but that each country should govern itself. Ireland has of late made considerable progress, and I imagine its independence would more likely secure its dependence on England.[10] The circumstance of so many absentees residing in England is become a general complaint in Ireland, and it certainly is a grievance, but not for the reason which is generally given, that it draws so much money out of the country; for this is certainly more than balanced by the great saving in the expenses of Government, by the nature of its connection with Great Britain, the loan of capital, and many other advantages. But the real evil is, that the absence of the rich proprietors retards civilisation, the progress of manners, and many liberal improvements; for though the rich may in some respects set a bad example, yet upon the whole they soften and liberalise, excite industry, and make society by bringing men together, who polish themselves, enforce a due administration of justice, and keep down the professions, whose employment is to rob every country, and if left to themselves, naturally produce upstart manners and a total want of principle. But in fact, nothing as yet has taken its value in Ireland; agriculture itself is a century behindhand. The circumstance of middlemen, that is a landlord under a landlord, so much complained of and so justly and universally condemned, has been one stage in the progress of agriculture in all countries (as may be seen in several acts of parliament, which passed in England in Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth's reigns),[11] and is the natural consequence of want of capital; but when land takes its value, and when sufficient capital is either introduced or created to answer all the purposes of circulation, and estates become a marketable commodity, property must in its nature follow residence, and this evil must cease.

"It hurts me to do more than allude very generally to the non-residence of most of the clergy, the numberless sinecures, and pluralities, their general manners, the luxury and state which prevails too much among them, the coldness and lukewarmness of the best, who content themselves with delivering or preaching now and then some cold essay, or with publishing once in their lives some literary book and God knows how rarely they do so much, which has as little to do with the real duty of a parochial clergyman, such as you see it practised even in most Catholic countries, as so much Mathematics or Natural Philosophy. Can it be supposed that the newspapers will supply their place, and inculcate lessons which are calculated to make a man happy here and hereafter?

"But put conscience and all sense of duty out of the question, Jet the matter be considered with a view to the simple question of interest. Does any reflecting clergyman or friend of the Church suppose that nearly two millions of Catholics, open as they are to the practices of Foreign Powers who know well enough what a good cloak religion still affords, and how powerful an instrument it still remains, and 250,000 Dissenters with the example of America before their eyes, the only description in the kingdom capable of enthusiasm of character, situation, and connection, able both to concert and act, will long continue to pay tithes to such an immense amount, to the idle non-resident clergy of the small number which remains?

"Is there anything more likely to strike the minds of an awakened and active people, whose natural character is full of imagination and enterprise, who, fresh from so much political action, cannot be expected to settle all at once and become half-women, than the state of the Clergy and Church revenue? Is it not much better that they should occupy themselves so than cabal with France, Spain, or Austria, or for the Catholics and Dissenters to set to cutting each other's throats, which perhaps some cunning men might wish, as the best means of supporting the Protestant clergy in their overflow of wealth. What string is there For brilliant lawyers and intriguing politicians to touch, more likely to smite what's called the Public, and gain them that degree of confidence which they know how to carry afterwards to market. What question so safe and sure?

"Government are of themselves obliged to come to Parliament for a new system of Police. Does it require any great degree of foresight to see that the real causes of all the outrages must very shortly point themselves out, and that the truth will bolt itself out, where there is nothing to impede it. However unenlightened we are, we have certainly got the length of knowing that Agriculture and morals are the only true foundations of Free Trade or Police. Establish these better than any country in Europe, and your situation will make you masters of everything else. Every blessing will naturally follow, independent of treaties or negotiations at home or abroad. Ludlow says somewhere in his Memoirs, that Cromwell, speaking of Ireland, said that Ireland was clean paper in many particulars, where such laws might be enacted and justice so impartially administered, as to be a good precedent even to England itself.[12] He said that when they once observed property preserved and improved at an easy and cheap rate, they would never suffer themselves to be so cheated and abused, and yet it was not Cromwell's object to disunite England and Ireland.

"Will any reasonable and impartial friend of the Church pretend, that the clergy in their present state assist progress one hundredth part as much as they impede it. I earnestly wish that my Lords the Bishops and other wise men among the clergy would reflect before it is too late. Let them but consider for a moment the strength of the several works which they have to defend, and the numbers and circumstances of the army which they have, to defend them. I put all Philosophy out of the question; but it might be expedient in them to look back a little, and think how old the Reformation is, under what a variety of disadvantages it took place, how imperfectly it extended itself to Ireland, how barbarous all the jurisdiction of the Bishops' court is, how inconsonant with the law of the land, and how much more so with the temper of the times, what the conviction of all Europe is upon the subject of Ecclesiastical Rights, and what proceedings are now depending in different countries, but above all, where the citadel is to which they can retire in case of attack. If the subject is once started, it will run like wildfire!

"It is to be hoped that churches will be built everywhere in consequence of the encouragement already held out; if it is not sufficient, let it be increased. But supposing there be no Church, it is no excuse for want of residence. A clergyman may and ought to do a great deal of good out of his Church. Let every church preferment remain vacant for a complete year after it falls, and the income be applied in the first instance to such improvements as may be indispensably necessary to enable residency, and afterwards to the increase of small livings within the respective dioceses or within the kingdom, as may be judged most expedient. Let a Commission be appointed, composed of Bishops and Judges with the Lord-Lieutenant to preside, in order to regulate the extent of all parishes, so that each parish may come within the immediate superintendence of one clergyman. Let a Committee be appointed of both Houses to consider of a general commutation throughout the Kingdom for Tythe. Other regulations may still suggest themselves, but if this much was done I am satisfied it would avert the growing storm, and give the Clergy a new and I hope a perpetual lease of their situation. They would gain power and deserve it. Instead of looking to Government for support, they would be the support of it.

"In the management of property in Ireland, after thirty years' experience, I have found three rules proper to be observed. 1st. To be continually on your guard against the encroachment of agents. There is no gentleman in Ireland, let his fortune be what it will, who is above accepting and even soliciting the care of an absentee's affairs, except it be perhaps persons of the very first rank, and that only lately; which sufficiently explains the advantage which has been taken. There is no one whom you can employ, let his origin be ever so secure, except it be a man in trade, who will not sooner or later take upon himself the pretensions of a gentleman; and as to sending over some one from England, Sir Robert Wilmot used to say, that no one went to Ireland who did not lose his understanding in six months. After trying many experiments, I have found that the best and indeed only method of avoiding imposition is to employ two agents, one resident upon each estate, and the other to go over from six months to six months; which you may always have at two guineas a day, and will be found productive of various advantages to the tenants, as well as the landlord, and to the estate itself. But above all, care must be taken never to let any estate, without the opinion of at least two persons, and one a stranger unconnected with the country; and not to admit for a moment in any conversation or letter, the common jargon about confidence, in opposition to this system. An honest man never desires it.

"2ndly. To be always on your guard against law, as the spirit of litigiousness is not to be described. (See the case of Smith in Limerick, Colclough in Drinna, and Rice in the Queen's county; in no one of which the tenants had the smallest chance of success; nor could any of them afford the expense; notwithstanding which they incurred it in opposition to every remonstrance and every reasonable offer which could be devised.) In all poor countries, the people are litigious; but in Ireland the several laws of settlement and the Popery laws have left the country scarcely a habit of anything else; and law is in all respects more expensive, more confused, and more prolific in Ireland than in England. For these reasons never take a gentleman for tenant, and never suffer any land to be let to a tenant who rents land adjoining, as it always produces disputes about the boundaries.

"Suffer no tenant to take possession till both parts of his lease are executed, and suffer no agent to keep possession of any lease. For all the ordinary purposes, a memorandum, which he will keep of course, will suffice. If it is wanted in case of any lawsuit to be produced in court, it is always enough to produce it when the trial comes on, and it may be immediately returned to your depot of papers. There is a general persuasion in Ireland that there is no Englishman who may not be bribed or duped.

"3rdly. To grant no long tenures.—There are not only all the reasons against it in Ireland that have been already stated against it in England, but this strong additional one; that in Ireland nothing has taken its value, and everything is necessarily in a more progressive state than in England. In looking back, it will be found that our family have lost not less than 15,000l. a year by Sir William Petty's sons or their agents being drawn into acts of which they were not aware, the extent of which they never comprehended, and which after several expensive lawsuits commenced by themselves, as soon as they saw, terminated in establishing against them the several perpetuities in Dublin, Meath, King's County, Limerick, and Kerry, which appear distinctly upon the rental to exceed the above-mentioned sum; a sufficient warning to the family (especially if you take the trouble to examine the several proceedings now remaining in the office) to take care how they give anything under their hand, or make any profession or assurance which can be converted into a promise.

"As to lives in Ireland, it is all a fallacy. First three lives, which is the tenure contended for, is, as is well known, capable of being reduced by the tenants, though not to a certainty, yet to something very like it. Next, the fact is, men do not improve so much upon leases of lives as on leases for years, for this plain reason: the length of the tenure in one case induces them to take the easiest method of securing a profit with little trouble, by letting it out in small parcels to poor cottiers, who disgrace the land and impoverish it. Again if by accident a tenant occupies such an estate without being checked by his lease, whenever a life gets old, he is sure to prepare for the expiration exactly by the same methods as a tenant for years: in truth he goes further, for there is scarce an instance where a life holds out to an unexpected old age, where the tenant is not so afraid of not cheating you and the ground, that he cheats himself, for fear of 'not being up with you,' as he calls it. I have had applications made to me from Ireland, in the most impertinent manner, for abatements of rent or leases for lives; and when I have come upon the spot, the man has refused to give up his farm, and has asked that I should pay 400l. a year clear annuity for the lives of his three sons; without being able to prove or even to assert that he had ever laid out 50l. on the farm; nor had he then any improvement in contemplation or any intention of residing upon the farm. Such is my experience of the management of property in Ireland."[13]

  1. This chapter has been edited from a memorandum on his private affairs left by Lord Lansdowne, an incomplete letter on Ireland (apparently intended for publication), and several fragmentary papers among the Lansdowne House MSS., and one or two passages in the autobiographical fragments which do not belong to the history of events.
  2. From an entry in the Diary of Lady Shelburne, 1769, it appears that the transaction here alluded to was a loan to Lord Shelburne's private Secretary, Mr. Macleane, who had been a considerable sufferer by a sudden fall in the value of India Stock.
  3. As Sir Walter Raleigh and Cardinal de Retz used to say about servants. (Note by Lord Shelburne.)
  4. "Lord Shelburne used to tell me, that a man of high rank, who looks into his own affairs, may have all that he ought to have, all that can be of any use, or appear with any advantage, for five thousand pounds a year."—Boswell's Johnson, iv. 120.
  5. See a suppressed pamphlet by William Friend, M.A., Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. (Note by Lord Shelburne.) Compare Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. xv. "The progress of the ecclesiastical authority gave birth to the memorable distinction of the laity and of the clergy, which had been unknown to the Greeks and Romans. The former of these appellations comprehended the body of the Christian people; the latter, according to the signification of the word, was appropriated to the chosen portion that had been set apart for the service of religion; a celebrated order of men which has furnished the most important, though not always the most edifying, subjects for modern history."
  6. The argument apparently is that increased rents will be more wisely distributed by the landlord than increased profits by the farmer. For the further development of this position, see the passage below, beginning, "If there was no other reason for the raising of rents, &c."
  7. See the speech of Mr. Gilbert, March 27th, 1775, in moving for a Committee on the Poor Laws.—Parliamentary History, xviii. 541. Compare Lord Shelburne to Jeremy Bentham. Bentham's Works, x. 88.
  8. It is not clear to what Lord Shelburne refers. The first page of the oldest of the Privy Council Books (32 Henry VIII.) does not contain any entries which can be identified with the above passage.
  9. Compare Lord Shelburne to Jeremy Bentham. Bentham's Works, x. 195.
  10. See a letter from Lord Shelburne in the Life of Grattan, by his son, ii. 292, for his views on the above subject.
  11. The conversion of tillage into pasturage, caused by the increased demand for wool and the high rate of wages which followed the Black Death, is one of the leading features of the history of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in England. The graziers were often absentees, and either granted long leases to their tenants, or, as stated above, farmed out their estates to middlemen. A long series of statutes from the 4th Henry VII. c. 19, to the 39th Elizabeth, ch. i., attempted to check the change which was passing over the agriculture of the country and the results springing from it.
  12. "Said he, 'the sons of Zeruiah are yet too strong for us; and we cannot mention the reformation of the law, but they presently cry out, We design to destroy property, whereas the law, as it is now constituted, serves only to maintain the lawyers, and to encourage the rich to oppress the poor;' affirming that Mr. Coke, then justice in Ireland, by proceeding in a summary and expeditious way, determined more causes in a week than Westminster Hall in a year; saying further, that Ireland was as clean paper in that particular, and capable of being governed by such laws as should be found most agreeable to justice; which may be so impartially administered as to be a good precedent even to England itself; where when they once perceive property preserved at an easy and cheap rate in Ireland, they will never permit themselves to be so cheated and abused as now they are."—Ludlow's Memoirs, i. 319, ed. 1698. See also Vol. I. p. 18.
  13. In Arthur Young's Tour in Ireland will be found an account of Lord Shelburne's attempts to improve his Irish properties (Vol. I. ed. 1892, 223-225, 344-347).