Reconstruction by Way of the Soil

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 3
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 4
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 5

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 1

by G.T. Wrench, originally published in 1946

I have been wrapped recently in concern for the terrible times humanity might face in the very near future what with war on the horizon, hatred run amuck, pestilence on the rise, the environment sickened, and stupid greed the primary motivator of the well-heeled amongst us. Then I discovered this loaned text in our library and was entranced by its breadth and scope though Wrench’s writings are very much the product of his own terrible time. We promise to reprint at least another segment of this important little book and more if you all so desire.

As for these times we find ourselves in; They are ours, after all, we are the architects of our time. If we can but direct our own small personal efforts towards a steady soft drumbeat and trickle of decency and right livelihood we will gradually correct the path of our own ship of fate. The life and work of each good strong dedicated small farm family will have tremendous positive recharging power for all. LRM


It will be clear to a reader, who, like a prospector sampling a face of rock, runs his eye down the page of Contents of this book, that its subject is a general one. It is, indeed, widespread both in space and time, yet in spite of its generality it cannot be said to be widely recognized; so little so, in fact, that to not a few it will appear a new subject. Men, under the advanced differentiation of the present, are apt to think of themselves as finished products, as soldiers, merchants, sailors, engineers, lawyers and so on; to speculate on what they, one and all, actually are, seldom occupies many of them for more than a few casual brevities of time.

Nevertheless, now that they are involved in a supreme crisis, now that, however complete victory may be, the future cannot be the replica of the past, it is inconceivable that men will not be forced to face fundamental questions, such as, in previous times of habit and routine, they were able to avoid.

They have already come to learn that this age, so distinguished for its scientific progress and its widespread knowledge has, in spite of these advantages, completely failed in its promise of peace and prosperity. Even in such vital social problems as feeding and employment, it has failed and failed signally. Men, who have now been forced to experience in their own persons, and therefore to reflect upon these two problems, are astounded that their settlement has been so definitely brought about by war. Where peace failed, war succeeded. The will of the people and the skill of organization have assured all of their share in the national food, and those who do hard manual labour can reckon on sufficient energy being given to them by their allowance to accomplish their work without the weariness that results from a partial starvation in essential foods. Why, then, is war so much juster in these respects than peace? What is lacking in times of peace, that comes into being in times of war? Is it that under the supreme strain of war against a powerful and ruthless enemy there arises in the homeland a peace, goodwill, and indeed a veritable brotherhood of man, which displaces the greedy competition, the covert hostility and the social barriers of peace that destroy the best qualities of country, blood and language? Does our civilization need war to make a decency of human conduct prevail?

Many answers have been given to these and kindred questions, but in order to look at them afresh, it is proposed in this book to review conditions, both historical and immediate, with a vision untarnished by the pride of the present, the pride attached to that in which one’s ego has its being. This is a hard saying, for all are tarred with the same brush, and none can claim impartiality exempting him from his heritage and the prejudice of circumstance.

Yet, if we are to enjoy a better communal and individual life after the war than before it, the attempt has to be made with the probity it demands.

To introduce the attempt is the object of this opening chapter, and to make this beginning we will try to look at men, not as final products, not as labourers, merchants, shopmen and the rest, not as rich and poor, sick and healthy, wise and foolish, but as they are, all and each, inseparably linked together in a common likeness, which will pervade the chapters of this book. This likeness is that they are all feeding animals, getting, mostly and daily, their life from the products of the soil. Like other forms of life, vegetable and animal, men are dependent for their existence upon the crust of the globular earth on which they live.

Men, however, possess a marked peculiarity which distinguishes them from other forms of earthly life. It is this — that they alone have been able to make themselves partners in the creative power of the soil. They alone are agriculturists or farmers, whereby they assure themselves the constancy of their food, clothing and other primal necessities in place of having to trust to the gifts of chance. They alone, amidst terrene life, have acquired a quota of mastery in creation.

In this ability to take a part in the creation of their necessities, men have gained something more than a repetitive increase of their food. They have gained an understanding, dim though it may be, of a relation between themselves and the powers which rule the universe and that minute part of it on which they live. They realize that to be partners in creation, they have to submit themselves to the unavoidable autocracy of these powers; they have to be, in their own language, creatures of the Creator, and as such, however headstrong and dominant they may be over weaker forms of life than theirs, they are, nevertheless, like them limited by the laws of their existence. Upon the basis of limitation, they are inevitably compelled to shape their individual and social lives. Should they transgress, they or their descendants are inevitably punished.

These rules and restrictions, under which mankind lives, are those of the nature of life and death. Life and death are the two essential conditions of terrene existence; they are the two different phases of this existence. The living ceases to be what is called living, but it is not lost to the cycle of existence but remains within it as a necessary part of it. In the condition which is called dead, matter is commonly in the soil or will eventually reach it. That which, by its life, has often had the power to lift itself from the crust of the earth, now returns to that crust. There it plays an essential part in promoting further life. In a word, there is no actual death as a permanent thing. There is a suspension of life. Death itself is but a phase of life, in which the dead matter returns to the soil, where it is reformed into living matter again. There is nothing that has once taken life from the soil, that will not, by reaching the soil, again become living. The dead leaf, that we see lying on the path at our feet, is not dead in the sense of being finished. Let it lie, and, through the creative agency of the soil, its substance will again enter into a blade of grass, a flower, an insect, bird or animal and so return to the kingdom of the living.

Life and death are, therefore, not separate entities, but phases of each other. The living has to respect the dead as a part of itself, not finally dead but living, and this respect has been expressed in the religious mind of man by various forms of reverence in which the innate eternity of life in its most highly developed form, that of the human soul, is recognized.

When man does not interfere and the soil is left to itself, it does not fail. Through it everything that has passed from a state of life is restored again to a state of life; nothing fails or is lost. In the philosophy of modern science, however, the seeds that life scattered upon the ground and do not fructify are stigmatized as failures, but those that grow into plants are dubbed the fittest, because they survive and expand into plants. Yet the other seeds survive no less; they re-enter cycles of life by other paths. Some even enter the very plants to which their fellow-seeds have given rise. So, for example, every one of the countless seeds of the elm that bestrew the ground in early summer, as well as the fittest surviving as elm plants, are not failures in the symphony of nature. In a musical symphony, each note, even the lowest and lowliest, fits. It is not a question of the fittest excluding or making superfluous the remainder. That is a wholly false outlook upon the processes of terrene life. Each has its place without which the whole is incomplete. Each has its place in a creative cycle, each passes from soil to plant and then, in many cases, to animal, and, after an interlude of death, returns to the creative realm of soil.

This is the symphony of nature and creation to which men as terrene animals are inevitably bound and yet not wholly bound. Though they themselves are products of the soil, yet through the possession of their intellect, they have become co-creators and, in their limited human sphere, fashioned in the image of the Creator. They can produce life other than their own. To do this in accord with the processes of creation, they must themselves be continuous and limited in production; they must act in harmony with the process as it exists on earth apart from them. Here they have to fit. They have to act within a process of balance. In it the living as a whole is balanced by the dead as a whole. In the living itself, its chief forms, vegetable and animal, balance each other. They are interdependent, and are incomplete without each other. In the exchange of vegetable and animal life with the enveloping atmosphere, a similar balance is effected. It has to be regarded as a whole of balanced parts and therefore partakes, in human phraseology, of the character of art. Nothing in it is isolated, everything belongs to the pattern. From this art of fitting within the whole, certain consequences necessarily follow. Wholeness or health — two words of a like origin and meaning — is one consequence.

This wholeness as a consequence has to be proved. Though it seems logical enough, yet little has been done to prove it in an age of unprecedented speed and discovery, of immense progress at a constantly expanding periphery, which by distance has almost shut men’s ultimate terrenity from their vision.

We are to-day no longer whole or healthy physically or mentally. In the careful work of the Peckham investigators it has been established that the vast majority of us are subnormal. We seem to have broken away from the great primary fact of our existence, namely, that we are first and foremost terrene animals, and, until we regain that fact and put it into practice, we cannot expect our social and individual lives to be whole. Our civilization, threatened with destruction as we know it to be, has to be healed — another word meaning whole — and to be healed it has to be overhauled and reconstructed in its relation to the soil that provides it with the means of existence.

This was the task that in dim outline presented itself to the author when, as a medical student, he was appalled by the crowded gatherings of the out-patient department of a large London hospital. ‘Why disease? What then is health?’ were the questions that often vexed him. To answer them he had not the opportunity, nor the tenacity which truly great men have in pursuing an object that is to them a consuming passion and for which they will forgo the pleasures of life, and end — God knows how often — in destitution and despair. For that heroic life he had not courage, but the questions did not entirely leave him and it was when he had leisure in which to retire for a space of years, brought to an end by the war, that he was able to gather material for the answer to this first question of correct terrene being: ‘Is there a relation of man to the soil which assures his health?’

The answer came as a decided yes, and in the instances he was able to gather, he found that a group of men could acquire health if they gave to the soil, from which they lived, all the food and water it required, and if they did not weaken it by exceeding the limits of the creative powers which nature had allotted to it.

His chief lesson he gained from a little, shut-away people called the Hunza, to whom he was attracted by what Sir Robert McCarrison, who knew them well, wrote of them: ‘They are long lived, vigorous in youth and age, capable of great endurance and enjoy a remarkable freedom from disease in general.’

His further inquiries opened out a prospect of intense interest and even beauty such as their own mountain valley, amidst the vast mountains of the Karakoram in Northwest India, possessed. He found that they pursued a close attention to the soil, which strangely enough, seemingly related them to a time of the golden age of agriculture. As a strengthening of this supposition, he found that their present farming recalled to that most cultured of mountaineers, the late Lord Conway, the unsurpassed farming of pre-Spanish Peru, the remnants of which he has seen and which caused another well-cultured explorer of these gigantic relics, Mr. O.F. Cook of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the U.S.A. Department of Agriculture, to exclaim: ‘Agriculture is not a lost art, but must be reckoned as one of those which reached a remarkable development in the remote past and afterwards declined.’ The glowing pages of Prescott’s second chapter in the Conquest of Peru seem to shine again amidst this little people, huddled between the highest congress of great mountains that uprises from our globe.

The author found that this people meticulously preserved the rule of return; they were, indeed, the source of the understanding of the ultimate nature of the soil and man and of the warp and woof of life and death, to which he has referred a few pages back. Nothing that once got life from the Hunzas’ soil was ever wasted but all, from the least fleck of wool, the fallen leaf, the broken nutshell, to human refuse itself, was gathered and, after suitable preparation, returned to the soil for its food. He found that the Hunzas paid the same heed to water, which, by means of their principal aqueduct, the Berber — itself famous far beyond the limit of their own small country — they brought with it silt from a glacier snout to their terraced fields. Of the Berber, Lord Conway wrote: ‘The Alps contain no Wasserleitung which for volume and boldness of position can be compared to the Hunza canal. It is a wonderful work for such a toolless people as the Hunzakats to have accomplished, and it must have been done many centuries ago and maintained ever since, for it is the life-blood of the valley.’ Here, too, they were like the people of Peru, of whose water-ways, stretching for hundreds of miles athwart the slopes and precipices of mountains, Prescott wrote: ‘That they should have accomplished these difficult works with such tools as they possessed is truly wonderful.’

The words ‘many centuries ago’ led the author to further inquiries. He found that Professor N.I. Vavilov, of the Institute of Applied Botany, Leningrad, had discovered that the area of which the Hunza Valley forms a part ‘is one of the most important primary world agricultural centers, where the diversity of a whole series of plants have originated’. The people of ancient Peru, according to Mr. Cook, also produced a wonderful series of plants in the secluded valleys of the Andes and so made them the most important originating agricultural center in America.

Here, then, within the precincts of British-supervised India, was a people who brought quite a marvelous message from the remote past, a past that justifies the tradition of the Golden Age, a past of perfect relations between men and the soil. The Hunzas had created a symphony of nature. As each note, however humble, has its proper place in a symphony of Beethoven, so even the humblest fallen leaf, each drop of water have their place in the symphony of Hunza. The author learnt from its example that the work of the Hunza, too, was an art in its original sense from aro, to ‘fit’. He learnt that farming is an art and something infinitely wider than scientific agriculture. It is way of life itself.

So much for health, such health and the constant cheerfulness of wholeness, which the Hunza now enjoy. There are many other examples of this health still extant on the globe, all of them in places remote from our Western civilization. To those who are attracted by this, at present, novel meaning of genuine health, the author unblushingly commends his little book of a hundred and forty odd pages, The Wheel of Health, in which these examples are also recorded. It is an essential subject to understand for any who feel the need of a reconstruction by way of the soil.

Nevertheless, it cannot be gainsaid that such small and remote examples are scarcely likely to have much effect on those upon whom this reconstruction by way of the soil is now urged. It seems that one is doomed to stir one’s readers by the negative proof of the devastation and sickness that the modern era has brought to the soil and the feeders of its products, rather than by isolated proofs of wholeness, health, cheerfulness and well-being.

Before, however, entering upon the long path of negative proof, there presents itself a second positive element of construction, which is complementary to the meticulous care of the soil. This is the form in which the men of that meticulous care served the soil. The form was that of family farming.

The family as a group is but a human complement of the soil itself, both family and soil recreating life. The family is human continuity and the soil is vital continuity. Continuity of the family necessitates marriage as the mode of the bond of the woman to the soil; marriage bringing sons and daughters to the service of the land. It is the land that gave its particular meaning to the farming family; it is its creative power that united itself with the creation of the farmers’ children. Marriage, the bearing of children, the apprenticeship of children, the respect of children for their parents and their ancestors, the care that is bestowed by the elders on the present generation because it is to repeat itself in future generations, all this wholeness of life finds its true significance in continuous family ownership or inherited right to the land. It is, then, the land as family property, or in lesser and more dependent degree, the craft as family property, requiring the work of the family for their continuity, which primarily gives stability to men and women making a people.

This right the people of ancient Peru possessed. Their self-governing communities or ayullus, settled in ownership of limited areas of land, existed from remote antiquity. They were the basis of the autocratic state, and they themselves constituted an agrarian communism collectively holding the land. The uniting of the ayullus was effected by the rulership of the principal ayullu or royal family community. By far the majority, too, of the Hunza families—and the Hunza are also an ancient people—are freeholders, subject in their unity to the rulership of the Mir. The greatest of these peoples of family farming are our allies, the Chinese. Their empire is by far the most stable and continuous in the world’s history and it was originally founded in the long distant past upon family property or right to the land.

It was to their revered sages that the Chinese have always attributed their Tsing Tien system, the system of the nine fields. A square of land was divided by drawing two lines across it from side to side and two up and down, as in the nursery game of noughts and crosses. Nine squares were thereby formed, eight outer and one central square. The eight outer squares of land were allotted to eight families, the center square was worked co-operatively and its produce given to the government officials as a tax in kind.

This division into nine squares was symbolic of the principles of the sages. Where it could be, it was, no doubt, carried out. But it was not rigid. The soil is not so similar in character that it can be divided with such exactness. One square might be less readily cultivated than another; one family might be larger than another. So adjustments were made; for example, if one family had several and another no sons, one or more sons of the first might be adopted by the second family. Adaptations were made, but the principal and standard measurements remained. It was considered by the sages as the principle of choice for the reasons that it promoted co-operations, close social relations, mutual production, easy exchange of commodities, unified customs, saving of individual expenses, and it related the work and life of the families to the officials of the nation by the work which the combined families undertook on the central field. This central field could also be adjusted within limits; it could be enlarged or diminished according to the general fortune of the province or nation.

The nine squares within a square symbolized a simple planning and basis of life, which, without doubt, as opposed to change, progress and instability, produced a stability now inconceivable to our Western minds trained in its opposites. We have been accustomed to regard it as stagnation. Since we have become confused and disillusioned with progress and the disasters which it has brought and with which it further threatens almost all mankind including the Chinese people themselves, we have come to think of them historically with more interest and approval, but nevertheless as something so distant and foreign to us that their methods and history cannot really affect us.

Yet, if nature is limited if man cannot pass certain boundaries or exceed certain controls without entering upon generations of disaster and even human extinction, then some such stable system as that of the Chinese takes upon itself a very different aspect in the measure of human wisdom. It may be that it will then appear as a natural human system, in scale and endurance the greatest achievement in the partnership of intelligent man and nature upon the earth. It was one that long ago attained a certain finality, a completion such as a great art work, a great cathedral or temple reaches. The building needs care, love and daily attendance and sometimes renovation, but it cannot be made more beautiful. It reaches its excellence and, though time may make it more revered and loved, its very excellence shows that it had, from the very beginning, a power of duration within it. A great art has this duration. It is not subject to frequent change as is science. Changes fail to improve it. Recasting a symphony of Beethoven would not make it more but less beautiful, but the devotion with which it is played supports its beauty as human generations pass.

It is in this sense that we should, I believe, try to estimate and understand the Tsing Tien system. It is a national thing on a great scale that has kept within the limits imposed by nature. Through this system the Chinese sages produced and continued a productivity from the soil unexcelled elsewhere, and, from humanity, a community of peasant-family farmers, the largest in numbers, the most skilful, the most contented and the most peaceful amongst the peoples of mankind. The Chinese have, of course, had their misfortunes and occasional catastrophes. They have been beset by people without any settled system such as they enjoyed. Large landowners have from within sometimes destroyed the rights of the peasants, but the Tsing Tien system has been the thread upon which has been threaded period after period of their long history. ‘The whole history of government administration of agriculture in China’, writes Dr. Ping-Hua Lee, in volume 99 of the Studies in History of the Columbia University, ‘coincides with the history of the Tsing Tien system, for it started with this system of land tenure. Its vicissitudes, its crises and epochs were timed by the abolition or re-establishment of the system…It is fortunate for the economic historian that the history of the Tsing Tien system is coincident with China’s political history.’

Thus in the small body of the Hunza and in the large body of the Chinese, much broken by the near past and present havoc, we have rare survivals, instances of skilled and continuous life within the limits that are set by nature and the land; a fitting of skilled mankind into the life-cycle.

The Chinese had not the stupendous secluding mountain wall of the Hunza, but as far as men’s power could reach, they made such a wall, the Great Wall fortress, stretching for 1,500 miles to shut out the Tartar. They had not the control of their water supplies from their sources as had the Peruvians and the Hunza; the floods of their great rivers have their origins in huge ranges of stripped hills mostly outside their control. Yet in spite of these foes of secured stability, their system endured until it was finally worn down by the constant attrition of contact with the West. Although it has been the West and its ways that have broken up this system of stability, nevertheless sufficient of it is known, owing to the Chinese historical habit, to see in it the supreme example of the Wisdom of the East in contrast to the Science of the West. The Tsing Tien has been the chief historical system of a human partnership with the soil. In it was secured for century after century the comprehensive range of both the minuteness and grandeur of this partnership, which has by no Western writer been better expressed than by the well-known words of Hasbach in his unique History of the English Agricultural Labourer, 1920. ‘Trifles’, he wrote, ‘are the very objects of the small cultivator; he has everything near him and under his eye, makes use of every small advantage, cultivates every corner, has the help of his wife, and brings up his children to be the most useful the country produces. Such men serve the land as it should be served, never stinting themselves, and as absorbed in their service as any priest in his religion.’ Upon this basis stable civilizations of conservation have been and can be built.


Rome and its civilization constitute the progenitors of the civilized Western world; consequently, without a knowledge of Rome’s relation to the soil, it would not be possible for us to extract from history the principles of reconstruction from the soil.

We have to study history, because in no other way can we tell what the Roman land was like and how it looked. History reveals that if, by some magic, we could transport ourselves back to the days of the early Latin farmers, we should see a picture of a well-populated countryside with the land divided up into a number of small farms, often not exceeding five acres in extent. As each small farm had to support a family, the farming, we should see, was intensive; in other words, each particle of soil would be in use, so that the fields appeared quite crowded with a variety of crops. The whole food of the family would come from the farm, and not only the food of the family, but that of some of its domestic animals. By day we should see the various members of the family hard at work upon the farm, the males — and sometimes females — busy upon the land itself, and the womenfolk in the home and dairy. We should see also a large number of villages with a pleasant light of prosperity shining upon them. Other things would also be there of great importance, soon to be described, some of which could be seen, and some found under the earth.

Then let us be allowed to look at the same land some five centuries later. The picture is now quite different. We should see but few villages and few small farms, and upon the farms we should see what farmers call foul fields and even land that was derelict. In place of the small farms we should see mainly orchards, vineyards and dairy farms. It would, indeed, be quite clear to us that the main object of this different form of farming was to supply fruit, grapes, olives, milk and cheese to the people who did not work upon the farms or in the villages at all, but who lived in the proud, neighbouring city that had now become the chief city of all Italy and was soon to become the capital of the Mediterranean world. We should also see that these estates were no longer worked by Latin farmers, but by quite a different sort of men, clearly not Italians, and men lacking the buoyancy and freedom of the older farmers. We should, indeed, have reason to rub our eyes, for some of these men, incredible though it might seem to us, would be shackled with iron and some even chained to each other while they worked. These were the slaves, some of whom were strong, fierce men and some weak and depressed. These two pictures we should see; the first would be that of family farming, the second that of capitalistic farming.

Transporting ourselves to a yet later date, we should see a third picture. The land is now swampy and derelict, and its most significant product swarms of mosquitoes, which caused the fevers that permitted only a few wretched men and cattle to scrape together some sort of livelihood and that visited, with lethal effect, the inhabitants of the great but waning city itself. This would be the picture of debased soil fertility.

Now let us see how history explains these three pictures.

Of the farming of their ancestors in Latium the later Romans had no history. Nevertheless, a strong tradition existed, and that tradition placed both farming and farmers very high. In the words of the elder Cato, to call a man a good farmer was in the past the best commendation, the highest praise.

Now this praise in the pages of De Agricultura must have been read a host of times without more than a general significance or regretful sentiment being attached to it. But modern discovery has shown that it had a very sound, practical significance. The high esteem of the men of ancient Latium for good farming and the facts concomitant with it were not sentimental; they have been summed up under these words: ‘It is impossible, after surveying such elaborate undertakings, to avoid the conclusion that Latium in the sixth century (B.C.) was cultivated with an intensity that has seldom been equaled anywhere.’ This is the statement of a modern authority. In short, the tradition of the later Romans about the wonderful farming of their ancestors was not founded upon sentiment, but upon fact. By the time of Cato and later writers, a good deal of sentiment had entered and a good deal of fact had slipped away. These later Romans knew that their ancestors had been great farmers, but they do not seem to have known the greatest part of their work. That has been revealed by modern investigators and particularly by the excavations of Monsieur M. R. L. la Blanchere, published in 1893 in Memoires presentes par divers savants a l’Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres. Professor Tenny Frank, the above-quoted authority in An Economic History of Rome, 1927, summarizes this remarkable paper, which can be itself read in the library of the British Museum. The excavations reveal that Latium was the home of a farming which it might well be said, has seldom been equaled anywhere. It was a farming related to the great farming of ancient Peru, the farming of Asia Minor in its prolific days, the farming in which Professor Vavilov researches, the farming of the Hunza, the farming indeed of many or even all great countries of the world in a time when farming reached a height from which almost all of them later fell so steeply as to have become oblivious to it.

Professor Tenny Frank begins his book on the economic story of Rome where it should begin, namely, in the soil of Latium. On the one hand, that soil was singularly rich, rich as the loess soil of the Chinese and the alluvial soil of the Egyptians were rich. It had not their depth, but it had the exceptional contribution of the ash of some fifty craters, which are within twenty miles of Rome. On the other hand, it was placed in a perilous situation if men were to neglect it. It was a wide band or plain, the Campagna, situated between the sea and the steep Alban and Apennine mountains. Upon these mountains rain at certain seasons fell heavily. When there were trees on the slopes, then the rain in its fall was broken by leaf, twig and branch into the spray before reaching the soil. Where the trees were cut down freely or where the slopes were too steep for them to grow, the storm-rain reached the earth to beat upon it and send muddy freshets sweeping down to the plain. The short rivers between the mountains and the sea became torrents loaded with silt. Sometimes their mouths and the direct discharge of the water to the sea were blocked and swamps took the place of welldrained land.

Farming in this country, therefore, depended above all on one great feature of farming, proper drainage. Against heavy rain falling upon precipitous hills, men had to protect the soil if they were to be great farmers of it. The men of the Latium were great farmers and they accomplished astonishing things.

Monsieur la Blanchere, excavator in Latium, revealed in part what the farmers did. He found an extensive engineering system of water-control and drainage, numerous relics of drains, tunnels and dams. ‘By diverting the rain waters from the eroding mountain gullies into underground channels’, writes Professor Frank, ‘the farmers not only checked a large part of the ordinary erosion of the hillside farms, but also saved the space usually sacrificed to the torrent-bed. It would be difficult to find another place where labour had been so lavishly expended to preserve the arable soil from erosion.’ Noting the finely trimmed polygonal masonry of the dams, largely made of blocks weighing half a ton each, the professor adds: ‘It is impossible, after surveying such elaborate undertakings, to avoid the conclusion that Latium in the sixth century B.C. was cultivated with an intensity that has seldom been equaled anywhere.’

The men of Latium, later to be known after their capital city as Romans, began their unequalled story with a tremendous vital force, that of an exceptional and well-treasured soil. One can immediately realize the vigorous and profound respect for farmers and farming which characterized the Roman poets, prose writers and statesmen of much later ages, and their looking backward to their ancestors as men of exceptional fibre and character derived from their farming. They looked back to something exceptional in seeking for the origin of the firm strength of Rome.

These great farmers, who protected their land from the torrential invasions of the climate, had also to protect it against the invasions of human beings, not neighbours merely, but those who had come over the Alps and Apennines in search of land. The farmers then proved themselves great warriors. Farmer and warrior contended within them, but as successes in war grew, so the warrior factor transcended that of the farmer, and the type of farming changed. The number of small farmers, able to keep themselves and their families well on less than five acres of intensive farming, decreased. From the point of view of the soil, indeed, the story of Latium, Rome and its empire, was largely a race between warriors gaining land by conquest and exploitation, and farmers losing it by enforced, inferior ways of farming and by erosion. But, amongst the splendour of Rome’s achievements, this basic quality of her story had hardly been perceived. The rebelling soil was there all the time, and, in the end, it was the rebellious soil that broke the strength of the warrior.

It is very understandable that, if farmers were liable to be called up for national service as warriors, intensive, personal farming suffered. The farms could not be kept in good condition when many of the men, who worked upon them, were away at the wars.

This drain began with the wars the Romans fought in or about Latium, but it only became critical at the time of the terrific struggle of Rome against Carthage and particularly as the result of the fifteen years of Hannibal’s warfare within Italy itself. That led to an immense destruction, not only of the farmer-warriors themselves, but of water-channels, drainage, farm buildings, roads, bridges, trees and other props of intensive farming.

When the war was over, the government of the victorious but exhausted Romans was faced with the question of the reconstruction of the land.

Now at the same time that this question became paramount in Roman Italy, it also became paramount in China. The Chinese Empire of that time was situated in the middle part of the Huang Ho (known to us as the Yellow River) basin and the great territories on either side of it. To protect his empire against the warriors of the Tartars, the famous Chinese Emperor, Chin Chi Huangti, resolved to build a huge, fortified wall. To build it, he had to procure vast numbers of labourers and these he had to take from the land. So he abolished the Tsing Tien system and the inalienability of the land, which was the essential part of it, turned the peasants from their holdings and sold the land to all able and willing to buy. In both the Roman dominion and that of Chin Chi Huangti the land was the chief source of wealth. The rich men, therefore, readily bought the land of the dispossessed peasant families. So, after the second Punic War in Italy and the building of the Great Wall in China, the rulers of Italy and the rulers of China were faced with the same question, a question the most momentous perhaps of all questions in the final story of mankind upon the earth: Shall the common form of farming be by owners of small holdings or shall it be that of large estates owned by a small class of wealthy men?

The Chinese chose the former method. The great Chin Chi Huangti lived out his day, but immediately after his strong hand had been removed by death, revolt broke out, his son was slain and the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220) brought with it the long struggle between the imperial ministers, who aimed at the restoration of the Tsing Tien system of small family holders, and the new aristocracy of large landowners of Chin Chi Huangti. The struggle was long and bitter, but in the end, save for some large estates which the land itself dictated as needful, the Tsing Tien system was restored.

This restored also the Wisdom of the East, for the direct relation of the great majority of Chinese subjects to the creative soil was the ultimate basis of the Wisdom of the East.

In Italy the same struggle occurred. It was also prolonged and bitter, but always, if slowly, success turned away from small family ownership.

In the peace that followed the conflict with Hannibal, the Roman statesmen strove to turn the current back to the traditional ways of their forefathers, but Rome’s conquests and the great influx of foreign slaves to work the land in the place of the dispossessed peasants, in addition to the injury to the soil wrought by the war, weighed heavily in favour of the wealthy classes. To all the land was the chief source of wealth. There were, at that time, no large manufacturing towns, and little commerce, for, in the words of Professor Tenny Frank, ‘the ancient world has no record of any state of importance so unconcerned about its commerce as was the Roman Republic’. On the other hand, in favour of the small landowners, was the firmly rooted belief that those who worked upon the land were also the finest warriors and the chief strength of Rome’s military power.

The great Roman writers were fully aware of this. Cato the Censor (234-149 B.C.) staunchly maintained that it was the farmers and tillers of the soil who made the best citizens and bravest soldiers. Varro (116-27 B.C.) voiced the same conviction that country life in its form of peasant-farming was the chief strength of the State. Cicero eulogized the farmer-citizens, who left the plough to save the State, and used his unequalled art to protect working farmers, whose extinction was threatened by the growth of wealthy proprietors. Virgil used the persuasion of poetry to exalt the culture of the land by the hands which possessed it. Horace, like the greater poet, proclaimed the older type of farming as the best. Columella, at the time of the Emperors Claudius and Nero (A.D. 41-68), declaimed against the poverty of the land, which resulted from handing its cultivation over ‘to the unreasoning management of ignorant and unskillful slaves’. Pliny, the Elder, who wrote about the same time as Columella, championed those who worked their own land against the owners of the latifundia or great estates, who abandoned the work upon the land to slaves and for their own part only lived in their country houses when they could entertain house parties of their friends. How was it, he asked, there was so great a fertility of the soil in the past that seven jugera (a little over four acres) were held to be sufficient for a farmer and his family? His answer was that in those days the lands were tilled by the hands of generals and soldiers. ‘Whether’, he questioned, ‘it was that they tended the seed with the same care that they had displayed in the conduct of wars and manifested the same diligent attention to their fields that they had done in the arrangement of their camp, or whether it is that under the hand of honest men everything prospers the better by being attended to with scrupulous exactness?’ The conception lasted up to the time of Vegetius, in the fourth century, who bitterly regretted the abandonment of the ancestral ways, when he saw the poor quality of the military recruits.

The great Roman writers of the latter part of the Republic and the early part of the Empire, then, had a passion and a hope for the reconstruction of the family ownership of the land not only because the farmers were the healthiest, most honest, and most diligent members of the State, as well as its best farmers, but because in times of danger they made the best soldiers.

The military leaders of the late republic were equally convinced of the value in character and physique of the farming class. When the supply of farmer-warriors failed, there seemed to be only one alternative and that was to start with warriors and, as a reward for their services, to give them land to farm. Marius was the first to give the twist from farmer-warriors to warrior-farmers. He overthrew the tradition that only the propertied classes were worthy to fight for their country, enlisted the proletariat, especially those who were living on the land, and rewarded their services with a gift of land. Slaves were never enlisted. Their grievances were too great and their numbers too many for any Roman to dare or even dream of such a dangerous experiment.

When the change to empire brought its long years of peace, its good government, its roads, its reliable civil servants, its self-governing city states served by an unequalled zeal on the part of public-minded citizens, its greater humanity towards slaves, and such prosperity that, of the best part of these first two centuries (from the death of Domitian in A.D. 96 to the ascension of Commodus in A.D. 180), Gibbon could write, ‘If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he could without hesitation name’ that between these two dates, even then, the emperors, almost without exception, strove to revive the small family holdings. Augustus and his successors planted colonists on the land; Nerva spent millions in purchasing land for small farmers; generous laws dealt with the food of the agricultural classes; veterans were given free allotments; and Pertinax allowed squatters to occupy uncultivated fields even upon imperial estates, and to possess full ownership if they brought them into cultivation.

Nevertheless, in spite of these desperate endeavours to reconstruct personal farming, the power of money prevailed. The small farming class continuously and literally lost ground and the wealthy class as continuously gained it. In the place of the generous laws of the first two centuries of the empire, there came the restrictive laws of the last two centuries. Agricultural slaves were bound to the land. Heavy impositions and innumerable duties or liturgies were loaded upon the large class of curiales, or members of the senates of the city-states and large villages. This class of curiales included the landowners. As the demands of revenue became more exacting, membership of the curiae was made hereditary. The curiales, harassed by innumerable officials, duties that could not be fulfilled, poverty which withheld money from the land and forced them more and more to exploit their deteriorating soils, sought by every means to escape from their ruinous property and its duties. ‘Many of them’, wrote Abbott and Johnson in Municipal Administration in the Roman Empire, 1926, ‘abandoned their property and fled. Others sought to enter some vocation which would give them exemption from municipal charges. The emperors strove to check this movement by binding the curiales to their place of origin, and by forbidding them to enter any of the privileged professions.’

These measures failing, laws were then passed under which all the property of the curiae, whose members managed to escape, was made liable for the accustomed dues, the burden then falling on the less fortunate owners. Failure in payment led to the confiscation of property and its transference to the imperial estates which rapidly increased in all parts of the empire, and the tenants of which were exempted from municipal liabilities. Some also fell to the owners of the great latifundia, who were strong enough to resist the demands of the tax-gatherer or to hand on the burden of taxation to their tenants, who had originally sought their patronage as the only way of escape. The coloni or voluntary tenants were also bound to the soil and ‘in the fourth century were reduced almost to the level of agricultural slaves’. ‘The only class in the municipalities not affected by imperial legislation was the proletariat. The practice of Rome in maintaining this parasitic element by private charity was unfortunately widely copied, and imposed a serious charge on the civic budget. Not only that but the glamour of ancient urban life attracted labour from the farms and other industries where a bare living was gained by arduous toil. In the city one could be fed at the expense of the State, and when the capitatio plebia (a tax imposed by Diocletian on the working power of a man in good health) was removed from the residents of the towns, we cannot wonder that the urban movement went on apace’ (Abbott and Johnson).

All this downward career was both accompanied and caused by the continuous depletion of soil-fertility. To this Italy, the imperial mother-country, was the most exposed, and upon her soil the story of its effect was most mournfully unfolded. In the early days of Rome seven jugera (4 ¼ acres) were found sufficient for a family, and this was the original assignment given to the coloni as tenants of the state. Gracchus found it advisable to increase the assignments to thirty jugera. The fall in fertility due to the war against Hannibal forced upon much Italian land the necessity of large ranches devoted to the raising and feeding of domestic animals or to orchards, and this necessity justified economically the brutality of the ‘Enclosures’ of that time, under which land that had previously grown good crops of grain was taken from evicted small farmers by the wealthy classes and cultivated as ranches. This, in its turn, confirmed the dependence on the masses upon imported corn. Caesar, as an evidence of the soil’s further depletion, raised the assignments to sixty jugera, and Columella, writing about A.D. 60, asserted that a fourfold return of grain was unknown on Italian farms. Finally, in the third and fourth centuries the debasement of the soil completed itself. Much of Latium, once the parent of the sturdy strength of the Latin fathers, became a pestilential swamp. Provinces, which had once been the native land of formidable legions, were almost bereft of the human species. Flourishing towns dwindled to villages and disappeared. The proletariat of Rome ceased to exist.

The capitalists of the western capital did not await the complete degradation of Italy. They transferred their capital at the call of Constantine the Great (? A.D. 288- 337) to a new capital city on the shores of the Bosphorus, a city situated midway between the rich wheat lands that ringed the Black Sea and the inexhaustible fertility brought annually in the Nile flood. Abandoned Italy fell to Odoacer in A.D. 476.

Now this story will be found to be fraught with meaning to those conversant with or, by a perusal of these pages, about to become conversant with the past story of agriculture in England and the present state of agriculture throughout the British Empire and other countries of Western civilization. Amongst other things, they will also see the perilous significance of the attempt of the Nazis to conquer the world and bind subject peoples to slavery upon the land. This subjection of the land, against which so many of the great Romans vainly strove, advanced steadily and irresistibly as an inevitability of a civilization which valued the soil as a commodity producing money, not as the very creator of the life and health of man.