Title


[281] VISIT TO Z_____.

CHAPTER XI.

COUNTRY LIFE AND PEASANTRY.

Occupations of the Hungarian Country Gentlemen.—Silk-growing.—Merino Sheep.—Granary.—English Horses.—Hunting. —Peasants.—Peasant Cottages at Z—.—Arrangement-Furniture—Plenty and Comfort.—Contrast with other Villages.—Former State of Peasantry.—Urbarium of Maria Theresa.—Improved Urbarium of 1835.—Peasants not Serfs.— Evil Effects of present System.—Similarity of Urbarial Tenure to English Copyhold.— Grievances of the Peasantry.— Prospect of Improvement.

AN invitation to spend a few days with Count S_____ at Z____, a village at some distance from Pest, besides laying open to us something of the economy of country life in Hungary in its best state, led us to make inquiries into the condition of the peasantry, which corrected many erroneous opinions on that subject which we had previously entertained.

I need not describe the house and establishment of Z___; suffice it to say, that it was such as befitted a man of high rank and large fortune, whose tastes had been improved by foreign travel, but who did not on that account despise what was good in the habits and manners of his own country. Improvements in agriculture, the interests of his [282] FARMING IMPROVEMENTS. tenantry, politics, county business, and the sports of the field, divide the country gentleman's time in Hungary much as they do with us. Our host had been of late occupied in effecting a separation of his own land from that of his peasants ; for while they cultivated in common, as is the system in many parts of Hungary, he found it impossible to carry out any improvements on his own portion, or to induce them to co-operate with him. To effect this in peace, he had offered them the choice of the best parts of the estate, if they would only leave him his portion in one mass ; and he had at last succeeded in obtaining his object.

He had then introduced a better system of husbandry, and had planted some thousand mulberry-trees in different parts of his estate for the feeding of silk-worms. Though quite in its infancy, we found a very intelligent Italian at the head of the silk-growing, which promises ere long to be an important and lucrative undertaking. This year they had collected about sixty pounds of silk, worth 20s. the pound.

The steward showed us over the farm-yard, where we found a large flock of Merino sheep, collected in hovels to protect theist from the heat of the midday sun. The entire flock amounted to about twenty thousand, of course scattered over different estates. At the present moment this is the most profitable branch of agricultural industry ; it requires little labour, the produce is certain of sale, and it pays no duty on exportation. The ordinary [283] MERINOS. medium price is 100 f. c. in. per centner,44 or about 101. per cwt. ; though it fell in 1 837 to the half. The very first sorts sell at nearly double that price.

The chief danger in the cultivation of the Merinos is from disease, caused by unhealthy or over feeding. On very rich pastures they allow them to graze only a few hours each clay. During the four winter months they are kept entirely under cover, where the temperature is accurately regulated by the thermometer ; and are fed on dry food, consisting of corn, straw, potatoes, and dried leaves; the latter being found a cheap and good substitute for hay. Nothing can be more miserable in appearance than the Merino sheep ; every other point is sacrificed to the wool. The flesh is said to be coarse ; indeed, all mutton is held in such low esteem here that it is difficult to get it.

At one end of the farm-yard was a huge granary of many stories high, and capable of containing vast stores of corn. This is said to be a source of great profit here ; for, from the reckless extravagance of the peasantry, and the necessitous state of a great part of the nobility, the rise of prices in spring is always greater than in other countries, where a more regular commerce and more prudent habits provide against such exigencies.

44The centner of Hungary contains one hundred Hungarian pounds, or one hundred and twenty-five pounds avoirdupois ; and, therefore, when I use the cwt. for the centner, it is only a rude approximation.
[284] HORSES AND HOUNDS.

Our host was a great admirer of England, and had acquired many of our tastes, as his establishment sufficiently manifested; but there are so many of the present generation in Hungary who show the same inclination, that he can scarcely be regarded as an exception. In the stables we found six or seven English blood-mares, and several running-horses, under the management of a first-rate English trainer. One colt, bred in Hungary, and already a winner at Pest and Vienna, was very promising. He stood sixteen hands at least, was lengthy in the quarter, clean and strong in the bone, in fact, a racer all over.

From the stables we adjourned to the kennels, where we found eight couple of young harriers, besides a brace or two of pointers. Count 5 Lad formerly a pack of fox-hounds ; but the woods are so extensive, and a large bog so near, that the foxes almost always took refuge in the one or the other. The length of the winter, too, which commonly lasts four months, is a great impediment to bunting ; but, in spite of this, two subscription packs are kept,—one at Parendorf, near the north end of the Neusiedler Lake, and another at Fót, near Pest. I heard that one might almost fancy one's self in Leicestershire, when among the smart English grooms, top-boots, and scarlet coats, which are exhibited at a throw-off in the neighbourhood of Pest ; but, alas ! the large inclosures and the springy turf are wanting ; and, though the sands are tolerably sound galloping ground, bogs and woods are very awkward inter- [285] ERRONEOUS OPINIONS. ruptions. For the rest, Count S has good sporting on his own estates. His woods are well stocked with pheasants, hares, and rabbits, and at certain seasons of the year with woodcocks; his corn-fields with partridge and quail ; and the bogs with hosts of duck and snipe. I think I hear an old English squire exclaim, " Hem ! I do believe a man might live in Hungary."

Count S_______ now took us to see what gave him more pleasure, and of which he was evidently more proud, than of house, horses, or dogs : I mean his Magyar peasants.

Like most of my countrymen, when I first entered Hungary, I had some indistinct idea of a degrading serfage on the one side, and oppressive seigneurial rights on the other, as the relative position of landlord and tenant in- this country ; and, as a natural consequence, I had expected to find among the peasants nothing but misery, attended by the most abject submission or stifled hate. What I had already seen had tended a good deal to shake these first opinions ; and as we walked up the wide street of the village of Z , with its row of whitewashed cottages on either side, shaded by an avenue of acacias and walnuts, it was impossible to observe the comfortable appearance of everything around us without feeling convinced that I had been in error, though to what extent I could not tell. All I had lately heard, too, of the sacrifices which a noble was obliged to make to obtain [286] ERRONEOUS OPINIONS CORRECTED. possession of his own land, though I did not quite understand it, seemed to imply the existence of rights on the part of the peasantry which I certainly had not expected. But then, again, the very conversation I was listening to confirmed my former notions. The Count was detailing to us a host of oppressive laws and civil disadvantages under which the peasantry laboured, and the improvements which he hoped new laws and more extended rights would introduce among them ; so that when he stopped at the first door we came to, — that of a poor widow, — I was positively startled at the kindly feelings with which he was received, and the appearances of comfort which everywhere met my eye. The widow was poor, for she had lost her husband and her sons,—all except one, who was a soldier* and she had none, therefore, to aid her to till her little farm. But yet nothing like want was apparent in any part of her arrangements ; and her heart was glad, for the Count, had succeeded in obtaining the young hussar's discharge, and the mother's gratitude was warmly and affectionately expressed. From thence we crossed the street to the house of an opposite neighbour, a stout middle-aged man, and one of the richest peasants in the village. Joy sparkled in the good man's face as he doffed his broad-brimmed hat, smoothed down his long black hair, and kissed his master's hand, in delight to see him in his cottage. Nor must the English reader imagine that kissing [287] THE PEASANT'S COTTAGE. the hand is a servile salutation ; in Hungary, even the grown-up child always uses it to a parent ; and among the old-fashioned, it is still the customary compliment from a gentleman to a lady.

A number of cottages were entered, chosen as we pleased, or as chance directed; and, except some slight variations, the same aspect of comfort and plenty was presented by all. The cottage of the Hungarian peasant is, for the most part, a long one-storied building, presenting a gable only to the street, with an enclosed yard facing the whole length of the building. The gable end is generally pierced by two small windows—or rather peepholes, for they are very rarely more than a foot square—below which is a rustic seat overshadowed by a tree. The yard is separated from the street, sometimes by a handsome double gateway and stately wall ; sometimes by a neat fence formed of reeds or of the straw of the maize; and sometimes by a broken hedge, presenting that dilapidated state of half freedom, half restraint, in which pigs and children so much delight, where they can at once enjoy liberty and set at nought control.

Passing through the gateway of one of these cottages, we entered the first door, which led into the kitchen ; on either side of which was a good-sized dwelling-room. The kitchen, whitewashed like the rest of the house, was itself small, and almost entirely occupied by a hearth four feet high, on which was blazing a wood fire, with preparations for the [288] THE INTERIOR. evening meal. The room to the left, with the two little peep-holes to the street, was evidently the best room of the cottage, for it was that into which the peasant was most anxious to show us.

INTERIOR OF PEASANT'S COTTAGE
INTERIOR OF PEASANT'S COTTAGE

In one corner was a wooden seat fixed to the wall, and before it an oaken table, so solid that it seemed fixed there too ; on the opposite side stood the large earthenware stove ; while a third corner was occupied by a curious phenomenon,—a low bedstead heaped up to the ceiling with feather-beds. The use of this piece of furniture completely puz- [289] FURNITURE. zled us—to sleep on it was impossible; and we were obliged to refer to the Count. for an explanation, who assured us it was an article of luxury on which the Hungarian peasant prided himself highly. For sleeping, he prefers to lay his hard mattress on the wooden bench, or even on the floor; but, like other people who think themselves wiser, an exhibition of profuse expenditure in articles of luxury-feather-beds are his fancy — flatters his vanity. These beds are generally a part of his wife's dowry.

In the favourite corner we commonly observed - for the peasants of Z--- are Catholics--a gilded crucifix, or a rudely-coloured Mater dolorosa, the penatcs of the family; while all round hung a goodly array of pots and pans, a modest mirror, perhaps even a painted set of coffee-cups, and, sometimes, a drinking-glass of curious workmanship and of no ordinary dimensions. A Protestant peasant supplies the place of saints and virgins by heads of Kaizer Franzel, and Prince Schwartzenberg; and, not unfrequently, Buonaparte and Wellington look terrible things at each other across the room.

The corresponding apartment on the other side of the kitchen was furnished with more ordinary benches and tables, and served for the common eating- and sleeping-room of the family. Beyond this, but still under the same roof, was a store-room and dairy; and below it a cellar. The store-room well deserved its name ; for such quantities of taro (a kind of cheese), lard, fruits, dried herbs, [290] APPEARANCE OF THE PEASANTRY. and pickles laid up for winter use, I never saw; and in some houses the cellar was not less plentifully supplied, and that, too, with a very tolerable wine. The cow-house was rarely without one or two tenants; the stable boasted a pair, or sometimes four horses ; the pig-sties, it is true, were empty, but only because the pigs had not yet returned from the stubble-fields ; and to these most of the houses added sheep-sheds and poultry-pens, — presenting altogether, perhaps, as good a picture of a rich and prosperous peasantry as one could find in any part of the world.

The appearance of the peasant himself might, perhaps, strike a stranger's eye as somewhat rude. The fashion of his dress is uncouth, and its material is coarse; his hair hangs in braids or flowing locks upon his shoulders ; and his huge hat throws a deeper shade over his swarthy features; but speak to him, does he answer you with fear or rudeness? His strange costume, is it ill adapted to the climate of the country? Are there no signs of care and neatness in its adjustment ? Does not that elaborate embroidery on his fringed trowsers, and the gay lace on his jacket, tell of personal care, and a taste for harmless luxury? And do not these show that the man is neither a pauper nor a slave? Such appearances, it is true, are strange to our eyes; but let us not mistake them for signs of barbarism, lest others condemn us as ignorant for doing so.

Often slid our surprise break out, as not one, but [291] THEIR REAL POSITION. every cottage, presented in its turn the same picture of plenty and comfort ; nor could I help exclaiming, " If such be the state to which bad laws have brought the peasants of Hungary, for mercy's sake, my dear Count, do not attempt to alter them ! Would that our envied land could see all her children in the enjoyment of such abundance!"

" Be not too hasty in your judgment," said Count S ; " what you see here is obtained despite of bad laws, not in consequence of them ; before you leave the country you will probably see enough to convince you of the existence of more than a fair share of poverty and misery among our peasantry : besides, you forget that these men are the cultivators of the soil, and with you would become wealthy farmers, bestowing a good education on their children, and bringing them up to reputable trades and professions."

Nor, as I afterwards learned, was the state of the peasantry at Z___ merely the effect of the laws they lived under. Their position has many advantages. The soil they cultivate yields abundantly ; a market and means of transport for any excess of production is near at hand ; the village school has given to almost all the first elements of education ; they have been blessed for generations with wise and just masters; and they are now reaping the advantages of some useful reforms which Count S___ has himself introduced among them.

It would be easy to find a contrast to this. Take [292] CONTRASTS IN G--, a small village in the north of Hungary, difficult of access from the bad roads in the neighbourhood, and not favoured by nature with the richest of soils. The peasants love the brandy-bottle, and hate their landlord. The Baron B___ lives in Vienna, and lets his village to a greedy Jew, who grinds out of the people every particle of possible profit, no matter how injurious ultimately such conduct may prove to them or to their master. The dingy cottages are built of unhewn firs, carelessly put together, and plastered with mud on the inside; they rarely consist of more than two, and generally only of one chamber, where the whole family must live. Attached to the house is a shed for the oxen and pigs ; horses and sheep they have none. I must confess, 1 cannot speak so minutely of the interior of the cottages here as at Z___, for, in going towards one of them, I stepped up to the knees in a mess of putrefying hemp ; which, with the filthy appearance of the children crowding the threshold, effectually cooled my curiosity.

Such are the varieties to be found among the Hungarian peasantry ; nor have I in Z___ or G___ chosen exaggerated instances of either class. I could have cited the peasant whose proud and haughty bearing bespeak the feelings of the millionnaire,45

45 I believe Count Károly may boast the richest peasants in Hungary. Not long since, two of his villages purchased their entire freedom ; that is, compounded for ever their personal service for a fixed annual tax payable in money.
[293] OTHER PLACES. whose flocks of a thousand sheep and whose herds of snow-white oxen cover the plains; I could have taken the miserable wretch whose hut scarce protects him from the winter's frost, and whose one half-starved cow suffices to till the small plot of barren soil to which a hard fate has attached him ; but I have preferred a medium, which I think any Hungarian traveller will recognise as just.

Without stopping to analyse the causes of these varieties,—among which might probably figure the nature of the soil, the facility of communication, the religion of the people, and, above all, the character and conduct of the landlord himself,—I cannot quit the subject without some notice of the laws by which the peasants have hitherto been affected, and the changes which of late have been introduced into them ; for I believe it is in this way many of the faults and vices by which they are distinguished can be best explained, and I ant convinced that it is only by an improved legislation that these can be radically cured.

It was not till 1405 that the Hungarian peasant seems to have had a recognised civil existence. In that year it was first declared that the peasant should have the power to leave the place where he was born, in case he could obtain his lord's consent ; which consent, however, it was provided, should not be arbitrarily refused.

It must not be imagined that, because this was the first legal notice of the peasant's existence, he [294] FORMER STATE OF PEASANTRY. had formerly been treated as a mere slave. Slavery had been, in fact, abolished on the introduction of Christianity. Accustomed to the omnipotence of the law in our own country and times, we allow too little for the natural feelings of justice, the influence of fear, or respect for the common observances of society, in ages when that greatest barrier against wrong was wanting. If not law, custom had given the Hungarian peasant certain rights which could not be infringed with impunity; and, besides, it was the lord's interest— "ne omnis vasticitas, sine qua nobilitas parum valet, deleatur," as the preamble to an old act quaintly expresses it,— not to treat him with too great severity.

No other material change in the condition of the peasantry took place till the commencement of the sixteenth century, when the nobles, irritated by the excesses committed during a servile insurrection under Dosa, revenged themselves by reducing the whole peasantry to absolute serfage, " that future generations might learn how great a crime it was for the peasant to rebel against his Lord."46

Too great a severity defeats its own object ; and it was soon found impossible to maintain this cruel enactment in its full vigour. It was repealed in 1547, again re-enacted in 1548, and a second time

46After the insurrection of Wat Tyler, Richard addressed the peasants of Essex, "liuslici juidem fuistis et estis, in, Londageo perm enebitis, non id hactexus, sed iaecoeuparabiliter viliori."—HALLAM'S Middle Ages, vol. iii. p. 268.
[295] REFORMS OF MARIA THERESA. modified in 1556 ; but it was not till towards the end of the last century that the rights of the peasant were placed on a firm basis.

In the Diet of 1764, the third and last held under Maria Theresa, the grievances of the peasants were most strongly urged on the attention of the nobles, but no ameliorations were obtained : occupied with their own aflb.irs, those of the weaker classes were delayed to some future period. The next year, the natural consequences of the agitation of such a question without any step being made towards its solution, were manifested in a rising of the discontented peasantry in several parts of the country, and in the commission of the usual outrages before the forces of the Government could allay the ferment. Taking advantage of the alarm which these excesses had impressed upon the public mind, the great queen determined, by an act of arbitrary power, herself to apply the remedy to so crying an evil ; an act which, if it cannot be defended as strictly constitutional, will never want apologists among the friends of humanity.

The result of this determination was the celebrated Urbarium of Maria Theresa, the Magna Charta of the Hungarian peasantry. Partly a formal recognition of established customs, partly a grant of new rights, the importance of which was not at first perceived, this Urbarium, though Unsanctioned by the Diet, became virtually, and almost without opposition, the law of the land. After the death of [296] URBARIUM OF Joseph, when the Diet was again called together, it was adopted provisionally till a more perfect one could be framed, and so it continued till 1835.

One of the chief grievances of the peasantry in the time of Maria Theresa was the heavy taxation to which, for some years, they had been subject, and for which the almost constant wars in which the empire was engaged during this reign was a sufficient reason. The new Urbarium did not propose to lessen this burden ; but under the plea of rendering its pressure less irksome, and at the same time to defend the peasant against the oppression of his lord, it declared him not only at liberty to quit his land when he chose, but conferred on him the right to retain it as long as 1-e pleased on the fulfilment of certain conditions. To enable him to support the taxation, he was endowed with a kind of joint property in the soil.47

By this master-stroke of policy, one half48 of the land in Hungary was rendered for ever taxable. It is known to the reader that the Hungarian noble

47This principle had been announced by the predecessors of Maria Theresa in 1728, when it had met with the strongest opposition ; but it was now allowed to pass without a remark.
48Probably much more than one half is thus taxed and given (so to speak) to the peasants; for in many villages the whole land is in peasants' portions, and the only income to be derived from it by the landlord is a tenth of the produce and the labour. In Let, the nobles will one day find out that they have much less landed property than they fancy; albeit far more than they know what to do with.
[297] MARIA THERESA. pays no direct taxes, and that before this Urbarium the peasant had no right in the land ; so that had it pleased the noble, he could at any time—not, indeed, have prevented the peasant paying tax, but have deprived him of the power of doing so by retaking the farm into his own occupation. The case, however, was now altered. It was simply declared that the landlord could not deprive the tenant of his land, and that the latter could bequeath it (or its usufruct, to be verbally correct) to his children; so that in fact it became partially his property, subject only to certain conditions and restrictions of right. The vast importance of this change we shall see hereafter.

The relative rights and obligations of the peasant and his lord, as laid down in the Urbarium of Maria Theresa, stood pretty much thus :

1st. The peasant was no more attached to the soil, but could leave his farm and landlord whenever he thought fit, having first given due notice to the magistrate and paid his debts.

2nd. An entire peasant's fief consisted of a house and garden-ground, to the extent of one acre ; of an arable and pasture farm,—varying in different counties, and according to the qualities of the soil,49— from sixteen to forty acres of arable, and from about six to twelve of meadow land.

49There are four classes of land, divided according to its qualities, in each of which the quantity appertaining to an entire fief is different; and each class differs in almost every county, according to the population, value of land, cost of labour, &c.
[298] URBARIAL RIGHTS

3rd. The landlord50 could only dispossess the peasant—nor that without (Inc process of law—in case he had absolute need of the land to build his own house on,51 or in case of incapacity or refusal on the part of the peasant to fulfil his duties, or of his condemnation for heinous offence; nor could the landlord exchange the fief without giving another equally large and good.

4th. When there were vineyards, the peasant might retail wines from Michaelmas to St. George's Day; where there were none, to Christmas only.52 The peasant might cut wood for building and firing, and gather rushes on the property of his landlord without payment.

Soc mill, or the obligation to grind at the lord's mill, was forbidden ; as likewise all other demands than those specified by this law.

The peasant held this property, for such it really was, subject to the following conditions :

1st. The holder of an entire fief was bound to labour for his landlord, in every year, one hundred and four days, or if he brought a team of oxen or

50I use the word landlord, as that most directly answering to the Grand Herr of the Germans, the dominos terrestris of Hungarian Latin.
511 have stated elsewhere, that the youngest son has the right of retaining the paternal mansion ; and the privilege above-mentioned was therefore extended to the elder sons, who might otherwise be left without a dwelling-place.
52Retailing wine, as well as baking bread, grinding corn, killing meat, and distilling spirits, are rights of the lord.
[299] AND OBLIGATIONS. horses, fifty-two, from sun-rise to sun-set. This time it was required should be taken in one or two days weekly, as it might be, except during harvest, when it might be doubled for a certain time, though not increased in the gross amount ; and, moreover, one quarter of the labour was to be reckoned in the three winter months.

2nd. In like manner, the holder of half a fief performed half the quantity of service ; and the holder of a quarter, only a fourth : a mere householder rendered only eighteen days' hand labour.

3rd. Every four holders of entire fiefs were obliged, once yearly, to furnish a man and horse for a two days' journey, 53 the landlord paying the necessary expenses.

4th. Each peasant, for the liberty of cutting wood, was obliged to cut and convey to his landlord's dwelling one small cart-load of fire-wood.

5th. When the country was infested by beasts of prey (bears, boars, wolves, and foxes), the peasant was to assist in hunting three days, if required, in the course of the year.

6th. For his house, he paid two shillings yearly.

7th. Every fief was bound to pay yearly two liens, two capons, nineteen eggs, and one pound of butter, or eighteen-pence ; and every thirty fiefs together, one calf or three shillings in money.

8th. Should the lord or lady marry, or enter into

53Where there was no post, this was the means used for send- ing letters.
[300] SEDES DOMINALIS, any religious order, the peasant was obliged to make a present similar to the contribution in the former clause ; and the same if the lord was taken in battle and forced to ransom himself.

9th. For permission to distil, the peasant paid four shillings yearly for each still.

10th. Of all the productions of the soil, one ninth belonged to the landlord, except the produce of the second harvest, and the fruits of the garden. Of cattle, lambs, and kids, a ninth was also the lord's clue.

In order to enforce prompt obedience to these laws, the seigneur was empowered to inflict summary punishment on the refractory peasants, by means of his officers, to the amount of twenty-five blows ; for which, however, he was amenable to the laws if it was inflicted without due cause.

The Sedes Dominalis, — the Manor Court, — in which the lord or his representatives appointed the judges, was declared the legal tribunal for the settlement of differences between the peasant and his lord, as well as of those that might arise among the peasants themselves. There was a right of appeal to the County Court, and from that to the Statticalterei in Buda. In civil matters, the jurisdiction extended to all cases under the value of six pounds ; in criminal, to the infliction of twenty-five blows.

This has always been considered by foreigners a very gross injustice ; but, when the cause has been [301] ITS ADVANTAGES AND ABUSES. between peasant and peasant, T doubt if it has been felt to be so. I have seen the system in action, and have often admired it as a cheap, speedy, and satisfactory mode of administering justice. In quarrels between two peasants, nothing can be more natural than that they should refer to their landlord, who has both their interests at heart,—for, be it recollected, if the peasant is poor, the landlord soon becomes so too,—to settle it for them ; and it is but rarely he is not able to arrange it to their mutual satisfaction.

Where the landlord is himself a party interested in the process, the matter, however, assumes another character. Some Hungarian writers have alleged that the seigneurial right resolved itself into a simple refusal of the plaintiff's claim, which was of course referred to another tribunal, the County Court; that, in fact, the whole affair was little more than the serving a notice of action.

There was this important difference, however ; the right of appeal is undoubted, but it was what the Hungarian law-books call " extra dominium," without, in the meantime, arresting the execution of the first judgment; so that, if the refractory peasant had received his five-and-twenty blows, he might appeal against its injustice, but his master's cruelty had nevertheless enjoyed its savage indulgence.

If the County Courts, composed of magistrates, themselves nobles, might be supposed to have [302] UBRBARIUM OF 1835. favoured the noble, the Court of Buda, the court of last resort, has never been accused of such a tendency ; nay, in its desire to protect the weak, it has been often thought to have done injustice to the strong. In fact, it must never be forgotten that it has been the interest of the Crown to protect the peasant, because the peasant alone pays the taxes.

Such has been the law of landlord and tenant for the last three quarters of a century in Hungary. In the Diet of 1835, the Crown again proposed the question to the States, and a new law was passed.

The spirit in which the new Urbarium is conceived may be imagined from the avowed principle, that, where it was safe and proper, the nights of the peasant should he increased and his burdens diminished; but in no instance should his privileges, however attained, be curtailed. The small tithes, often a subject of vexatious oppression, were abolished, as well as gifts on extraordinary occasions. The long journeys, by which the peasants' cattle were injured, were given up. A number of other minor enactments were added, all in the same spirit ; and many of them rendered necessary, rather by the ingenuity of the dishonest, who found out a thousand ways of eluding the intentions of the legislator, than by any fault in the laws themselves.

Almost the only advantage gained by the landlord from the recent changes has been the establishment of his right to separate his land from that [303] IMPORTANT CHANGES. of his peasants, and to have it all in one piece. In many cases this has excited the greatest irritation among the peasantry, who are exceedingly suspicious of change ; and in one or two instances serious riots have taken place in consequence.

But the changes really most important are those which tend to confer on the peasant a right of property to the land he holds, and which more distinctly fix the liability to taxation on the property, and not on the individual or class. The power of removing a peasant is rendered more difficult. The peasant is declared henceforth to have the right of buying and selling the investitures, ameliorations, together with the right of enjoyment of peasants' fiefs ; the right, however, being hampered and restricted in various ways. In the absence of heirs-at-law,—if he has children, it is divided among them just as with the property of nobles,— he has the right to dispose freely of his property by will. The more important of these restrictions have in view an object humane in itself, but it is easy to foresee that they will have a contrary effect to that designed ; and, like all legal measures intended to establish an artificial check on the operation of natural causes as regards the disposition of property, must eventually yield to the wants of a progressing society.

Since the passing of this law, it can scarcely be said any longer that the peasant alone pays taxes ; for it is especially provided, that, should a noble [304] SEDES DOMINALIS URBARIALIS. purchase a peasant's fief, he is not only liable to all the labour and payments of the landlord, but also to all the taxes of Government, county rates, &c.

In his judicial character the landlord is much more restricted than formerly ; he can no longer inflict on the refractory peasant any corporeal punishment, and the only summary means left in his power of enforcing obedience to his orders is imprisonment from one to three days, he being obliged to support the prisoner during that time.54 The jurisdiction of the Sedes Dominalis has been restricted to cases between peasant and peasant, those between the peasant and his lord are from henceforth to be decided by the Sedes Dominalis Urbarialis ; a new court composed of five disinterested persons, among whom must figure the magistrate of the district, and one of his sworn men, the rest being named by the landlord, but the landlord himself, and his officers, are absolutely excluded. All the numerous disputes arising from the peculiar relation in which landlord and tenant stand to each other, — as, oppressive exactions and unwarranted ejectments, illegal judgments, and bodily injuries, on the one side ; or on the other, refusal to labour, the nonpayment of dues,

54As long as the system of paying rent in labour continues, it is absolutely necessary that the landlord should have a sum mary power of enforcing it : a strong reason for changing the system.
[305] PEASANTS NOT SERFS. wilful destruction of property, or personal insult, - are decided by this tribunal; which assembles on notice being given in the village itself where the offence has been committed, and proceeds by a verbal or written process to take cognizance of the matter. The right of appeal remains as before, though it will probably be much less frequently employed.

I have entered thus at length into the laws affecting the Hungarian peasantry, especially those which regulate their intercourse with their lords ; because I have been anxious to show that they are not, as strangers commonly suppose, serfs, nor their lords tyrants, with unlimited power over their lives and fortunes.

The rights of each are accurately defined, and a cheap and easy process exists for obtaining justice on either side. The rent paid by the peasant in labour and produce, instead of cash, is exceedingly small; and he is endowed with a right in the property, inconsistent even with our notions of the landlord's just claims. It is evident enough, then, that the Hungarian peasant is no serf—that the laws give him rights fixed and determinate; but it is yet a question whether they have all been wisely conceived.

I believe that many of these laws have an injurious effect on the character of the peasantry. The system of rent by robot or forced labour,—that is, so many days' labour without any specification of the quantity of work to be performed,—is a direct pre- [306] EVIL EFFECTS OF ROBOT. mium on idleness. A landlord wishes a field of corn to be cut; his steward sends out, by means of his Haiduks, information to the peasants to meet at such a field at such an hour with their sickles. Some time after the hour appointed a great part of them arrive, the rest finding some excuse by which they hope to escape a day's work; while others send their children or their wives, declaring some reason for their own absence. After much arranging they at last get to work; a Haiduk stands over them to see that they do not go to sleep, and between talking, laughing, and resting, they do get something done. Where horses are employed, they are still less inclined to hurry; lest they should tire them for the next day, when they use them for their own purposes.

Now how much does the reader suppose such workmen perform in one day ? Count S-- says, just one-third of what the same men can do easily when working by the piece; and he has accordingly compounded his peasants' one hundred and four days' robot for a certain amount of labour, which they generally get through in about thirty-four clays. Another evil of the robot is the ill-will it begets between the masters and the workmen : their whole lives seem to be a constant effort, on the one hand, to see how much can be pressed out of the reluctant peasant; and, on the other, how little can be done to satisfy the terms of agreement, and escape punishment. Mutual injury becomes a mutual [307] INJUDICIOUS LAWS. profit; suspicion and ill-will are the natural results.

The restrictions on the sale of peasants' fiefs, to which I before alluded, though evidently well meant, are equally injurious in their tendency. They exclude from purchasing peasants' fiefs the lord of the manor, or landlord, other nobles possessing parts of the same village, and the community or parish in corpore : while, in villages of forty entire fiefs, no one can purchase more than one fief; or in those of eighty, two ; or in those of one hundred and twenty, three ; and, even in the largest, four is the greatest number allowed to one person. The object is evidently to prevent the greedy speculator, the overbearing landlord, or even the saving industrious peasant, from grasping in his own power the whole property of a village, and thus reducing an independent peasantry to the state of tenants at will. Without pausing to examine whether the system of tenants at will does not produce greater happiness, as well as greater plenty, than that of independent holders, it is easy to see that these restrictions injure the peasant himself. In lessening the number of purchasers, they rob him of the value of his land ; by refusing him unlimited right of purchase in the same place, they check his industry and prevent his rising to a higher station ; while, by confining his farm to so small a size, improvement in agriculture becomes almost impossible.

Nor have they a less direct tendency to keep the [308] THE HUNGARIAN PEASANT whole body in a state of indolence. When one case of idleness is supported by the law independently of any personal efforts, the example of course influences a whole neighbourhood ; whereas were idleness followed by want and misery, and did industry unrestricted lead to wealth and independence, these effects would be most extensively felt. One peasant, become rich and independent from his own industry, would make fifty such. But this is one out of many instances we shall meet with of the results of that paternal affection, which takes care that its children shall not take care for themselves.

The present state of the Hungarian peasantry, and the tenure by which they hold their land, have a particular interest for the English reader, as they illustrate the origin of some obscure rights and customs in his own laws. I have been forcibly struck with some of these ; and, if I blunder occasionally in attempting to indicate them, the learned reader must pardon the errors of a nonprofessional annotator on so knotty a subject.

All landed property in England is either freehold or copyhold ; that is, either what was originally held by a homo liber (the noble of Hungary), and constituting a freehold, liberum tenementum,—or let by him to a villein, or peasant, on consideration of certain services, for which he held, as a title-deed, a copy of the entry in the manor roll, hence called copyhold; in other words, the fundus dominalis and fundus colonicalis of the Hungarian Urbarium. The very mode [309] AND THE ENGLISH COYYHOLDER. of conveying peasants' fiefs is similar to that practised with respect to copyhold. They are transferred by a simple writing, one copy of which remains with the lord of the village.

Now how similar were the states of society which gave rise to these analogous laws !

In some of our old copyholds,55 still preserved in their original form, the services to be performed are servile : in one case the holder must reap the lord's corn, in another he must repair his fences ; in some cases it is especially provided that the lord shall find the copyholders in meat and drink ; and, in an old Scottish tenure, the lord binds himself to pay the piper as long as the villeins work. The resemblance in this last point is most extraordinarily maintained,—the Wallack peasantry of Transylvania will not work without a bag-piper; and I am sure, were they to commute their days of labour for so much work, they would contract for meat and drink, and bag-pipes too.

We have in England some tenures, equally curious, by which a certain number of fat geese must be delivered at Michaelmas ; and, in like manner, in some parts of Transylvania the tenants are bound to furnish a certain number of aigrettes' or herons' plumes, and martens' furs, as yearly rent. The only

55These have been for the most part commuted for payment of money-fines at certain periods, mere nominal services, &c. ; and though the lord has still the right to reclaim in theory, it has been generally allowed to fall into disuse.
[310] COPYHOLDS. difference in the two cases is this, that with us no Urbarium ever existed, everything was left to private agreement ; accordingly it took from the Conquest to the time of Elizabeth to do away with absolute villeinage :56 while in Hungary, by one sweeping law, the nobles gave up their exclusive right over one half the land of the country, retaining only certain privileges which we have enumerated. As we shall show by and by, it requires but one simple law permitting, not enforcing—for that I hold to be unjust and imprudent—contracts, commuting personal service for a fixed tax, and the Hungarian peasant slides gradually into the English copyholder. I need not say to the English reader, that, for the most part, copyhold is now just as good as freehold. The theory still remains that they hold at the lord's will, but it is a complete fiction.

Our manorial rights, which still exist, and which always go with the Hall,—Curia Dominalis,—are the sole remains of seigneurial power in England : would that the Jura Domini Terrestris of Hungary had become equally innocent ! But enough of law.

Should these pages meet the eye of some philanthropic Hungarian, he may think that I have spoken too leniently of the conduct of the nobles to their peasantry, and found too much of good in the peasants' condition. He would be mistaken, however ; I both know and appreciate their wrongs.

56Absolute villeinage, or serfage, has not existed in Hungary for several centuries.
[311] PEASANTS' WRONGS. But he must recollect that T am writing for those who have hitherto believed then serfs. This is an opinion for which we Englishmen are not altogether to blame ; for in addition to our ignorance of Hungary, and our aptitude to compare it with Poland and Russia, the error is often fostered by the silly vanity with which some Hungarians themselves speak of their subjects and their vassals ; forgetting that, instead of impressing a foreigner with an admiration of their greatness, such remarks only fill him with disgust at their injustice. What renders it still worse is, that this language is sometimes used by men who talk loudly of the oppressions they suffer from Austria,—of attacks on their rights and privileges : they may talk long enough on such matters before they excite the sympathy of an Englishman, when they utter in the same breath complaints of the disobedience and insubordination of their own vassals !

No ! Hungarian peasants are not vassals ; but Heaven knows they have even still enough of injustice to complain of !

It is rare indeed that the poor, the ignorant, and the weak do not suffer from the oppression of the strong ; but in Hungary they have more than their share of the sufferings which ordinarily fall to the lot of humanity. Well might a Diet of the olden times exclaim, " Nulla res magis florenti quondam Hungariac statui nocuissc videtur oppressione colonorum, quorum clamor ascendit ju- [312] GRIEVANCES OF giter ante conspectum Dei ;" and that cry will still be heard at the throne of eternal justice.

I know well that the burdens of the Hungarian peasant are hard, and beyond all measure of justice. I know that, besides the dues he owes his landlord, he pays a tenth to the church, to the government a head-tax and property-tax, and to the municipality (besides his labour in the repair of roads and bridges, and the toll in crossing them) a heavy impost for the administration of justice, the municipal government, the maintenance of public buildings, and also the greater part of the burden of supporting an army of sixty thousand men. I know that the soldier is quartered upon the peasant; and that, besides giving up half his cottage for his accommodation, he is obliged, for one kreutzer (something less than a halfpenny) a day, to furnish him with fire, cooking, stable-room, and fodder,—not to mention the peculations and impertinences of which he dare neither complain nor avenge himself. I know that, in addition to this, he is obliged to sell his corn and hay at a fixed price for the use of the troops; and that, as this price was fixed many years ago, it is now generally below the market average, and in some years is only one-eighth of what would be obtained by a fair sale.

I know that, thus bearing all the burdens of the state, the poor peasant enjoys but few of its privileges. It is true, that it is difficult to deprive him of his farm, for in that government protects him, [313] THE PEASANTRY. for the sake of the tax it obtains from him ; that his complaints against his seigneur are often listened to with a willing ear, and for that also there is a reason which it is easy to divine ; that, by industry, he can generally obtain more than is absolutely necessary to supply the demands of nature ; and, in short, that were he to be reduced to that state of brutalism which some rulers think the ne plus ultra of human perfectibility in those they govern, he would be no doubt a happy creature. But, thank God ! the worst efforts of the worst rulers have not been able to crush all that is noble and great in man. I know that the Hungarian peasant feels that he is oppressed ; and, if justice be not speedily rendered him, I fear much that he will wrest it—perhaps somewhat rudely too—from the trembling grasp of the factitious power which has so long withheld it from him.

Nor do I forget that the Hungarian peasant is entirely excluded from all political power; that an artificial barrier, which no exertions of his own can enable him to pass, prevents the possibility of his aspiring to it ; that he can only hold landed property under servile and degrading restrictions ; that he can never hope to rise higher than the situation in which he is born ; that he is not equal with the noble before the law ; that he is liable to the infliction of imprisonment, and, till the last Diet, of corporeal punishment also, without fair trial ; and that, in all disputes with the noble, he is subject [314] PROSPECTS AND to the jurisdiction of those whose natural sympathies incline them to favour his adversary. I do not forget that he is thus deprived of the two feelings most sacred to a freeman, and the most carefully protected by a good government, —a sense of personal security, and a confidence in the fair administration of justice : but I know that this is still far removed from vassalage ; and when I look round the world, and would mark the spot where the poor and weak are not oppressed, alas ! I find it not.

But, in Hungary, I see prospects of better things to come. A great change has been begun, from which it is impossible any longer to recede ; and, if it be conducted wisely, I see a happy and glorious future for Hungary as the consequence. I see the nobles contented and wealthy ; I see the Government strong and feared abroad, because loved and respected at home; I see from the Hungarian peasants arise the future yeomen, the free possessors of the soil, the electors, the jurymen, the militiamen—the citizens in the noblest sense of the word, the bulwarks of their country in war, the guardians of her liberties in peace. It remains to consider how this vision will be accomplished.

I have already said that the act of the last Diet would eventually change the whole aspect of society in Hungary : the nobles showed by that act a spirit of self-sacrifice worthy of all praise ; little more is needed. The most simple remedy for existing evils [315] MEANS OF IMPROVEMENT. is this: let every peasant holding land be allowed to purchase a commutation of his services, tithes, and other obligations, either by a permanent tax or by a sum of ready money : let this confer on him not only free possession of the land, but entire independence of his lord : including, of course, independence of the Seigneurial Court,—for, as he would then have no duties towards his lord, his lord could have no longer any claim on him. Let every holder of an entire fief, thus enfranchised, become a member of the municipal and political body, — his stake in the country is surely sufficient, and his qualification depends on his property. The peasant land would still remain subject to Government and municipal taxes, and the enfranchised peasant would be equally liable to all the burdens of the state as the unenfranchised. Let Government encourage the peasantry on the Karneral (Exchequer) properties to purchase their enfranchisement by fixing a low scale of prices; the revenue would be the better for it, and the country could not complain.

If to this it be desired to unite the great political and national project of Magyarising the whole country, it is only necessary to annex to the enjoyment of political and municipal rights the condition of a knowledge of the Magyar language. This would be no hardship, for, as the law stands, all legal and political acts must be published in that tongue ; and it is evident that no one can be fit to take a part in them who does not understand it. This would effect [316] FUTURE PROSPECTS. more towards Magyarising Hungary than all the schools that can be established, — than all the coercive acts the Diet can pass. It would become every man's interest to learn Magyar ; the knowledge of the language would be in itself a kind of patent of nobility,—the ignorance of it a badge of servitude. What father would refuse his child the means of acquiring such advantages, and at so cheap a rate?

Some such measures as these are all that are wanted.

Let the nobles gradually yield the vexatious rights of seigneury, which bring little profit to them, but do much injury to others ; let them enable the peasant to purchase his freedom from service ; grant him independent justice ; as he acquires property, let him acquire consideration and rights ; leave men and things to act as circumstances show to be best, untrammelled by restrictions, unaided by privilege ; and the peasant of Hungary will soon occupy a position which may justly be envied by his fellows of any other part of Europe.

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