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THE SYSTEM OF MEZZADRIA.
N these days, when the possession and the participation of land
is so prominent a subject of discussion, I think that a few words upon the Italian land-laws will be acceptable ; and I have seen of late so many incorrect allusions to and deductions from imperfect conceptions of the system most accepted in Italy—the system which is called the mezzadria—that I imagine it may be well to place a more correct description of this system before the public in England. A little while ago a clever Liberal journal declared that everywhere throughout Europe save alone in Great Britain the peasant had a fixed right to the soil, and spoke, as many others have done, of the Italian mezzadria as though it were a sort of communism. No idea can be more erroneous; and nowhere, I think, is the right of the landlord enforced more stringently, or do the customs allowed him remain more strongly coloured with feudalism, than in Italy, where the mezzadria so largely prevails and is so imbedded in the national habit that no other land system would be tolerated in the country generally and Tuscany in especial.
The peasant, in law styled colono parziario, in common parlance contadino, is supposed by the journalists of the English press to be a part-proprietor of the soil and to have inalienable rights thereto. In point of fact the colono is only a tenant paying in work instead of money and dismissible at will at any pleasure of his master's, the dismissal being only subject to the law thus far, that it must be given at the close of the agrarian year (November), and must allow a year's warning or notice. The colono parziario is defined in law as “one who cultivates land under the obligation to divide the fruits thereof” : "partiarius colonus et lucrum et damnum cum domino fundi partitur.” The contrast between peasant and landlord is defined by Marosini as “one bilateral ; in which the one side accords the soil to be cultivated, and the other is obliged to cultivate it for a quarter of its proceeds." But in this contract there is nothing which prejudices or in any manner weakens the landlord's right to the soil, or confers on the tenant anything more than a passing and partial possession of it.
The peasant, entering upon the farm he has engaged to cultivate, is bound by the law to furnish : first, bestiame, that is, all animals needful for agricultural labour, and in sufficient number, to provide manure sufficient for the soil ; second, all instruments and objects needful for cultivation or production, such as forks, spades, waggons, spinning-wheels, ox-carts, and to maintain all these in due order; third, one half the seed necessary for sowing, this last is an innovation under the new Code or Patria Codice; fourth, all expenses needful for the cultivation of the fields and the harvesting of its produce: when he requires a helper, he must pay for one. As well as this, he must make any necessary plantations, keep clear all ditches, drains, and water springs; must fetch and carry all materials for repairs, and take what is required to his master's house, and, what is still more onerous, must execute all work ordered by his Commune on the public roads adjacent to him. These are his obligations : in return he has a right to one half of the product of the soil ; but the mulberry leaves belong to the landlord alone, as do the woods, with the exception of such wood as the colono may need for fuel, for vinestakes, or any other farm-purpose ; in the woods he may pasture his animals, but must not sell any wood or dispose of dead wood without his padrone's permission ; neither can he cut the grain or gather the grapes or the olives until his padrone gives permission and indi. cates the date.
It will be seen, therefore, that the position of the peasant under the laws of mezzadria is by no means one of liberty ; still less does it resemble in any way a semi-proprietor's hold on the land. He has no hold whatever, and is subject to dismissal at any moment; then, though he must receive notice from November to November, he cannot work upon the farm after March ; when he has found a new farm he must live on the old and go and labour on the new from March to November. When the old and the new farms lie far apart, this of course entails great additional fatigue upon him. The colono in his own household is master ; his sons and daughters, other relatives perhaps, and his garzone, or helper, are all obedient to and dependent on him, but each has a right to an enjoyment in the proceeds of the common labour, except the garzone, if there be one, who is paid and fed. In turn, the massaro, or cappocia, as the head of the house is called, is subject to the landlord even in matters of domestic interest, and there are unwritten laws between them which are as binding as any in the Code. No one of the sons can marry without the landlord's permission ; and, what is harder, must marry whether he wish it or no, if the landlord think any other woman is wanted on the farm. This seemingly intolerable interference with personal freedom is submitted to quite meekly, so great is the force of habit.
A young man I know was yesterday abruptly ordered by his padrone to get a wife because another woman was wanted in the house ; though he knew none whom he liked, and though he and all his family were strongly averse to having a new inmate, he went humbly off to the municipality with a girl chosen for him by his master. As a rule, the marriages of the peasantry are made for them by their masters in a rough and ready way, as those of Napoleon's officers were arranged by his iron will. A young man could of course refuse ; but as the refusal would be followed by the dismissal of him and his, it is a thing of which no one ever dreams.
Another youth that I know was happy and prosperous in a service he preferred to husbandry ; his father was a colono, and as one of his brothers died, his padrone ordered him back to fill the vacant place ; he went submissively and left the career he preferred for ever. If he had not gone, his father would have been sent off the farm. It never occurs to the Italian that this is tyranny: he is by nature docile and submissive. In return, all the exhortations and intimidations of the Code do not hinder him from cheating his landlord in all manners and at all seasons whenever he gets a chance. It is his mode of selfcompensation.
The chief protection that the law gives him is that if he have debts he cannot be put in prison for them (i.e. cannot be hindered from working), and his instruments of labour cannot be sold by any creditor except by his landlord. Any right to the soil it does not give him ; and it recognises but very slightly any title of his to compensation for improvements that he may have made. Last year a hardworking family that I know well was dismissed from a farm they had occupied for five-and-twenty years because the estate had changed hands and the new owner fancied new people. In this instance the massaro had with his own unassisted labour cleared a large area of oak-scrub and planted it with olives; he received no compensation for his exertions, which were only bearing their first fruits as he was forced to leave them, and he dared not have recourse to law, which is so precarious and costly that its very name is terror. He found a fresh farm some seven miles off, and from March to November had to tramp with his family to and fro, night and morning, over these seven miles between the two farms ; living perforce on one, working perforce on the other. It is his son who is now being compelled to marry as I have described above. The sons, indeed, are under great subjection, both before the law and by the
force of habit ; for if the head of the family be in all things subject to his master, so is no less the son to the father. By the supreme decision of the High Court of Florence so late as 1868, it was finally decided that the son could not be even the associate (socio) of the father, but must ever remain under the paternal jurisdiction and authority; and that the son is legally bound to help the sire affectionately in all labours agricultural, and must be content to receive from his progenitor nutriment and support without even demanding account of the fruit of his work. The famous lawyer, Bandi, laid down as law that to recognise any equality as associates (soci) between father and son was to lessen all paternal authority, introduce the spirit of speculation, which would swiftly destroy the spirit of affection, and would put an end to that harmony which alone renders the family moral and happy. “ Filium non esse socium patris .... inter patrem et filium civilis obligatio oriri non potest, et pater una eademque persona cum filiis est " (Mihalarius). “Inter patrem et filium simul habitantes operam et industriam conferentes, non censetur civita societas ; nam inter patrem et filium civilis non consistet obligatio. inter patrem et filium unam efficientem personam ministerio juris, non consistit societas” (Lanchius). The father of the family has a dominion quite absolute over all those forming his household. No appeal against his orders or his arrangements is allowed. He on his part is bound always to keep in view the general good, always to act as becomes a padre de famiglia, and always to compel each to perform his or her due portion of labour without favour or hindrance. “ Institorem eam debere in negotiis socialibus adhiberi diligentiam, quam bonus paterfamilias assolet in rebus propriis praestare. Hoc igitur officium institoris faciendi utilia et inutilia praetermittendi” (Lanchius).
On the other hand, as I have shown, the padrone, as the landlord is called in common parlance, has great and severe powers over the massaro and his household ; and although the law decrees that he shall not molest vexatiously and needlessly his contadini, yet the law allows him all right to control and direct the manner of agriculture, because, as it is expressly said, the owner has a perpetual interest, and the cultivator only a temporary one, in the land. This is precisely the view of property in land which is so much disputed in these days, but which has never been contested in this the oldest of the agricultural countries of Europe. The right of the proprietor is protected in every way by the law, and it is considered that the master of the soil is the natural person to ordain the treatment that the soil shall receive. Of such liberty as the tenants now clamour
for in England, not to say Ireland, nothing is known or recognised in the patria Codice. The right of the landowner passes before all others. Even, as I have shown, a considerable exercise of what in other countries would be considered as tyranny is allowed to him in consideration that (the soil belonging to himself) he will be injured irrevocably if it be dealt with ill. This is surely a juster view than that taken by the modern method of sacrificing the landlord in toto to his tenants and their interests.
Whether the mezzadria be a system under which the landlord really obtains all he might obtain out of his estates is another question. Italians are wedded to it for the most part, and Tuscans will not even contemplate the possibility of any other mode of culture. When, as in times past, the peasant families dwelt on the same lands for many centuries, and affectionate and feudal ties connected the massaro with the padrone, the results of the system were, no doubt very much more beneficial to both than they are now, when the contadini are constantly changed, like any other servants, and in lieu of any personal attachment have only a keen self-interest to guide them. Even upon estates where the coloni remain unchanged, the whole system is poisoned by a third factor, of whom the law takes no cognisance save when it says that the agent of the landlord is to be accounted as equal in the right to direct and order with the landlord himself. This third factor is the fattore, or bailiff. It is not too much to say that this intermediary is the curse of the rural communities and the cause of most of the ruin that befalls Italian nobles and gentlemen. All the powers that the law accords to the landlord he delegates to his steward. By law the master is the person who is to keep all accounts of debit and credit between himself and his peasantry, all record of work done and of value received. Actually, of course, these are kept by the fattore, who, residing close to the farms (for if a landlord have several estates he has several fattori), is always on the spot to see what is done and what is spent or made. The indolence and the amiability of Italian gentlemen have combined to let entire power slip into the hands of these agents or bailiffs, and if the massaro suffer extortion at their hands of the steward, none the less does the padrone suffer from wholesale robbery. It is a common case to see the gentleman grow poorer, the steward grow richer, every day. In one instance that I know of, the fattore has bought his master's estates ! In every relation of life the Italian, gentle and simple, submits to a dominance that would drive any other man into rebellion in twenty-four hours, and the submission of the landlord to his agent is only one phase of this