THE land of England does not belong to the landlords. An enormous proportion of it is entailed,
and the so-called proprietors are in reality only tenants for life, without the power of selling, or of determining who their successors or heirs shall be. Many estates are also burdened with settlements,
jointures to widows, or sometimes provisions for younger children; or mortgaged for the debts of
long-deceased owners. I recollect an earl who had to pay out of his nominal income the jointures of
three countesses, the widows of his predecessors. The reigning countess told me she could not afford
a house in London till the last of these ladies died; but they were long-lived, and kept up their establishments near Grosvenor Square while she was forced to remain in the country, or live for only a
month or two of the season at an hotel in town.
I knew another nobleman, whose father and uncle had so encumbered a splendid property that proceedings were taken to satisfy the creditors. It was impossible to sell, or to disturb the rights of the heir ; so the estates were placed in the hands of trustees, who managed them for the benefit of all concerned. A certain allowance was made to the nominal possessor and his eldest son, who made out the best they could with their stipend; but on the death of the earl the new man came unencumbered into possession of 90,000 pounds a year, with no obligation to pay the debts of his father. As the creditors were aware of this contingency when they advanced the money, they only suffered a loss the possibility of which they had voluntarily incurred.
Entail is a deliberate invention of the aristocracy to preserve the land in the hands of the few, at the expense not only of the other members of great families, but of the community at large and its individual members. If it is impossible to sell, it is, of course, impossible to buy, and rich men desirous of becoming "landed gentry" have often been for years unable to enter the territorial aristocracy. The importance of those who are called "the great" in England depends in a large degree on the possession of land. The wealthiest tradesmen, merchants, bankers, brewers, find their consequence incomplete until they can purchase estates and rank with the county families. To keep these new people out is one of the objects of the system of entail.
Nevertheless, of late years, they contrive to find their way within the exalted company; and then immediately proceed to entail their newly acquired possessions. I knew a rich Jewish gentleman, the son of a banker, whose father left half a million pounds to be invested in the purchase of an estate, and half a million more to build a house. The son complied religiously with his father's injunction, and bought a property that had been in a single family seven hundred years; he put one of the costliest mansions in England on the site of the Crusader's manor-house; and the entail of these modern Jewish gentry was so strict that napkins and towels had to be replaced, whenever worn out, by the tenant for life, that the establishment might descend to the successor in undiminished splendor. But the son died childless, and the estate went to his nephew, who had seven daughters and no male heir. The line so carefully provided for is likely to become extinct, and the property scattered among females who will carry it into other families.
Half a million pounds, however, were left to a married sister, who herself instantly "made an eldest son," as the English say ; that is, she entailed the bulk of her fortune on one child, although she had four. But the irony of fate pursued the family, and this eldest son died unmarried before his mother. A younger and delicate boy is the only male representative in the coming generation, and he cannot succeed to the name, being in the female line.
In spite of patrician precautions, the vicissitudes of fortune continue. I was once taken to a stately mansion in Cheshire, whose ancient timbers proclaimed the gentility of the master, for they had been laid in the times of the Henrys. The story that was told me in this venerable structure was piteous to aristocratic ears ; but let democrats determine. The present proprietor had no sons by his first wife, and at her death he settled the property absolutely on two infant daughters, intending solemnly never to marry again. But, alas for human constancy ! long before the daughters were grown he had another wife and a son. But the entail was irrevocable. One daughter was dead and the sister inherited all, and the anomaly, hateful in English eyes, is presented, of a son bearing an ancient and honorable name but penniless, while his sister inherits the family seat, the heirlooms, and the jewels. The son absolutely goes out into the world like an adventurer to earn his bread; and all good aristocrats lament the hardship which gives to a daughter the property that in every other case would descend to the son, and leaves to him that poverty which, according to English rule, should be reserved for daughters alone.
The famous Holland House was entailed as long as possible, but at last there was no one to entail it to. The last Lord Holland left no son, nor legitimate daughter, not even a collateral heir to his title or estates, and the grand old mansion where Addison wrote and Charles James Fox was a brother's guest, where the symposia were held that Macaulay described, and where, even in the present decade, the royalty and aristocracy of England are annually received at the most brilliant out-door parties of the century Holland House is the absolute property of Lady Holland, herself no born owner of the name, no daughter of the family, but a stranger whose title comes by marriage. This peeress is poor for a noblewoman, and has bargained with a distant and wealthy connection of the family, the Earl of Ilchester, a Fox-Strangways by name to leave him Holland House in her will, on condition that he pays her during her life 7,000 a year. By this ignoble huckstering in an illustrious family, the time-honored structure is still preserved to the blood and name of those who made it historical a shabby substitute for entail.
The entail and the settlements reduce the nominal income of a tenant for life, sometimes by half. They affect not only his power of disposing of the property, but his ability to improve it ; for this tying up of land often prevents the so-called owner from raising money to drain, or plant, or build. There are proprietors who cannot cut down a tree without the consent of the heir. Many are entirely unable to develop the resources of their land, to improve the cottages of their peasants, to stock the farms for the tenantry solely because of the entail. Thousands of landlords would be enriched to-day if their estates could be broken up and sold. Their debts could be paid, the property vastly improved, the whole country benefited ; but all this is prohibited in order to continue the existence of a privileged class who cannot, if they would, get rid of their property, even to increase their fortunes. Entail is the incubus that rests on all owner, farmer, and laborer.
The importance of keeping consequence and power in the hands of a few, is so much considered that even if an estate is not entailed by will or settlement, the law steps in to enforce the sacred principle of primogeniture, and whenever a man dies without a will the eldest son inherits all the land. More even than this : in order to limit the ownership of the soil every impediment is placed by the State in the way of transfer. The formalities on the sale of land are numerous and intricate and obligatory, and purposely contrived to complicate and obstruct a change of owners. The legal fees are enormous, and one of the most difficult things to do in all England is to purchase landed property. The consequence is that even if poor people accumulate enough for the purchase money, they are frightened from the attempt by the charges and difficulties ; and the possession of land becomes one of the greatest of luxuries. Then too the income is small; two per cent, is a high rate of interest on land, and only the rich can afford to invest their money in this way.
The tendency, therefore, is steadily to the disappearance of small estates and the accretion of larger ones. The poor man's acre is swallowed up in his rich neighbor's domain. The class of yeomen, or small farmers owning their own properties, has almost vanished. The tenant farmers have replaced them, holding their acres by a yearly lease dependent on the good will of the master for a renewal. This is the tenure of a large proportion of the farm land of England to-day.
And this system is not only the result of circumstances, the consequence of past events now uncon- trollable or irreversible ; it is the object and aim of present legislation and politics. Some years ago the condition of the landlords in consequence of entail was so disastrous, that the State was compelled to intervene, but instead of breaking up the entail or facilitating in any way a change of ownership or the sale of land, the expedient resorted to was of quite another sort. The Government lent to the landlords, making the debt a charge on the land. A Parliament, composed to a large extent of landlords, voted to lend themselves money at easy rates in order to improve their lands, but refused to do anything to render the sale easy, or in most cases possible.
The State or the class that has hitherto controlled the State is determined to maintain the aristocracy; and nothing renders the aristocracy so secure as the system of entail. Abolish this, and the whole edifice tumbles. It is the underpinning and the foundation stone. [As Written]
RANK AND TITLE
THE PRINCE OF WALES
AMERICANS AT COURT
THE CROWN IN POLITICS
QUEENS' PERSONAL CHARACTER
SERVANTS' HALL PRECEDENCE
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES
A NOBLEMAN INDEED
POMPS & VANITIES OF CHURCH
CHURCH & STATE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LITERATURE & THE LORDS
THE LONDON SEASON