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ART. XIII.—A Letter to Philip Pusey, Esq., M.P., on General Drainage and Distribution of Water. By J. B. DENTON, Land Agent. Ridgway.
THIS Letter is in answer to the question, What can now be done for British Agriculture? and advocates a general and uniform system of Drainage throughout the kingdom, with a profitable distribution of the surface and drainage waters, and the refuse of towns. The same gentleman's "Outline of a Method of Model Mapping" was lately noticed by us, and considerable space was allotted in our pages to extracts from it, on account of the economical as well as curious points which the pamphlet presented. In that publication Mr. Denton was led to offer sundry remarks relative to the data which the uses of the Plan and the Section afford to the agriculturist for draining, irrigating, and the application of surface waters. To these agricultural subjects he again returns; and although he may ride his hobby stoutly, or be too sanguine as a projector, or contemplate possible and profitable measures, but of such sweep and enterprise as cannot reasonably be expected to be realized in our generation, yet the ends proposed and the processes described as necessary to those ends, are so important and striking that the scheme appears to have a right to be at some length detailed in our journal. At a moment when the Corn Laws, the condition, the prospects, and the efforts of the agricultural interest are the theme of the keenest discussion and most discordant opinions, no suggestions which are in any considerable degree feasible, and which have such a large object in view as the salvation and permanent prosperity of that interest, can decently be treated with indifference; and when, besides, the points raised fall not within the range of those that have been worn to rags, or that have excited violent contention, but, on the contrary, are pleasant, curious, and in some degree novel, we feel ourselves the more called upon to invite attention to the present Letter.
Mr. Denton, at the commencement, offers some general yet pertinent remarks on British cultivation, its protection and advancement, in way of explanation of certain points necessary to be borne in mind, in order to the proper appreciation of his proposed system. His observation that many of the legislative enactments intended for the benefit of the agriculturists have been merely bounties on the cultivation of lands not worth cultivation, is obviously correct. But this is not all; like every other erroneous principle or practice, the evil fruits of such a preposterous and fictitious state of things must sooner or later be felt, and will assuredly be witnessed on the total repeal of the Corn Laws. The plough will then be withdrawn from the inferior lands now in forced cultivation, to the ruin of those
who have cultivated them. It is therefore necessary that tenants, landlords, and parliament-men be instructed how to avert the threatened evil," and turn the bane into a blessing." Now, Mr. Denton not only argues that a very considerable portion of the inferior land to which he alludes is capable of being brought into a state of fertility and profitable culture, but that many acres now lying waste are capable of the same beneficial change; "and this not by the fiat of the legislature, though they must give commencement and union to the measure, but by that knowledge of the subject, and hearty devotion to the furtherance of it, which are the only means whereby any profession or pursuit can be rendered more valuable, either in an individual or national point of view."
Mr. Denton maintains that the country can grow sufficient food for its population. He says,
Considering our advantages, we ought to have a very considerable surplus of corn, instead of a deficiency; for we have the means of growing it, if we would turn them vigorously into execution. It is admitted that it is now rather late to make up altogether for our past want of energy; but it is not too late for taking care of the future. The evil day may come upon us, and we may enter into a war with France and America, 1,500,000 quarters of wheat annually short of our necessary supply, independently of Scotland and Ireland. In such a case, the ports of both continents would be shut against us, while we should have to victual fleets and armies. What would be our rce in such an emergency? Clearly the bringing of more waste land under culture, and cons onsequently much higher prices and greater loss to the cultivator, while we were less able to pay the one, or bear the other. The increase of population in England and Wales, from 1821 to 1831, was sixteen per cent., and the increased produce of wheat per acre is averaged at about eighteen per cent. for the whole country, so that, in the present state of things, the quantity of wheat has increased faster than the population by about two per cent. But it must be borne in mind, that, while the increase of population is founded upon authentic documents, that of the quantity of corn is only assertion; and as the number of consumers of wheaten bread has in several parts of the county increased faster than the population, it is probable that the demand bears as great a ratio to the supply, as it has done since the general peace. 3,800,000 acres is considered the breadth of land which is annually under wheat in England and Wales, and, according to the highest estimates, the average annual produce of this is 34 quarters, or 26 bushels an acre; in the whole, 12,350,000 quarters annually. The consumers of wheaten bread are estimated at 14,000,000, and allowing a quarter of wheat to each individual, which is considered the average consumption, we find that rather more than a million and a half of quarters are annually deficient. This deficiency is the grand argument of the opponents of the corn laws; and, therefore, to show how this may be made up, and thus disarm that party of their grand argument, would be a triumph to the cause of the agriculturists.
Mr. Denton goes on to observe that where drainage is properly conducted, one quarter of wheat is added to the annual produce; and he calculates that five-sixths of the land under wheat crops may, by being drained, yield a quarter more per acre on an average, which will be a little more than 3,000,000 of quarters annually. He regrets that there are no means of estimating the quantity of these lands with anything like accuracy; and in relation to this want of information, he interrogates and suggests in the manner following:
Sir, permit me to appeal to you, and to other influential members of the legislature, whether the increasing demand for statistical information, to enable us to get at the truth upon this and other great public questions, is not of sufficient importance to be obtained and granted at the public expense. Why, permit me to ask, is not every document obtained by the nation avowedly for national purposes, so framed as to be available to every purpose which such a document can serve? Why is there not an accurate report of the produce of the land taken decennially along with the census of the population? Would not the usefulness of the ordnance map be greatly increased, by inserting in it information which is much wanted, but nowhere to be found? At present, it is a correct topographical delineation, showing the positions and shapes of the more important hills and mountains, the woodlands, parks, and other features of the surface. There is no notice taken of what land is under the plough, or what is not, or what is fit or unfit for tillage; nor are the elevations above the level of the sea indicated, except in cases of extraordinary heights; and yet these are points upon which every one who is concerned in the resources of the country and their improvement, should be well informed, and the ordnance map is the vehicle in which much of this information might be expected. The information most wanted in this great national document, is, the position and quantity of cultivated lands, with their subdivision into arable and pasture, and the geological formation of the subsoils, but more especially correct data for ascertaining how water may be most advantageously distributed over the surface of the country. This last is most essential information, not only with reference to the best mode of applying a general Drainage Bill, but as intimately concerned with the most valuable improvements of the land, whether as arable or pasture. On this subject, we have no information to guide us, and therefore we know not the capabilities of the undulated surface of the country. As suggested by Mr. Dudgeon, in his article of British Agricultural Statistics, the time of taking the census would be a very proper time for collecting accurate information, respecting the culture of land; and if, in addition to this, we had the requisite data for ascertaining the best general mode of drainage, and distribution of the drainage and surface water, improvement would never be carried on in the dark, as is too often the case at present.
Even as it is, England is singularly favoured as an agricultural country. Our grain crops alternate with the most valuable grasses, and other green food for cattle in the stall. From these and the straw, and small grain not marketable, we obtain more animal
matter for our fields, and more and better animal food for ourselves. All these of course would diminish with a decrease of corn, and this would be the beginning of national poverty." Mr. Denton therefore holds that the quantity and quality of our cattle depend on our quantity of corn, and that the corn, in its turn, depends on the number and value of our domestic animals. This is an important idea; and in connexion with it he gives us the calculation we are next to quote relative to Prussia and Britain, taking for his guide in part, certain reports found in Jacob's "Agriculture of Northern Europe."
The principal species of domesticated animals, and the only ones that furnish manure in quantities worth mentioning, are horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs. Mr. Jacob, in his report on corn and its production, in the countries immediately south of the Baltic, found, from the official returns, that in the three provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, and Pomerania, having a surface of 25,500,000 acres, the total number of all these animals was 4,395,384. The British islands, according to the accounts, which, though not correct in some of the minor instances, are near approximations on the average, have a surface of 77,000,000 acres, and the total number of domesticated animals is 49,000,000.
Comparing these, we have more than 3 times as many domesticated animals, on an equal breadth of land, as there are in those parts of Prussia; and, of course, supposing all other circumstances equal, more than 3 times as much of the land can be manured in Britain as in Prussia; but the British animals are of superior breeds, and the stall-feeding of them increases the quantity of manure in a much greater ratio than the number; and therefore I do not exceed the truth, when I state that, independently of our dense population, and the sewerage of our towns, which I shall notice afterwards, we have five times the quantity of manure to the same breadth of land that they can have in Prussia.
Immediately before proceeding to give us his view of the data and the means for carrying out his drainage and distribution scheme, Mr. Denton thus speaks of the moment at which he writes as respects the fitness of the present opportunity for such a measure:
No time more favourable than the present could present itself for the consideration and adoption of these most desirable objects. Our Corn Laws are on the eve of alteration, and are, in the opinion of many, in jeopardy of total repeal; the tithe cart has been for ever banished from the field of the farmer; the Poor Laws have secured an equitable apportionment of labour, and effected a reduction in parochial expenses; and the discussions and attention bestowed by land-owners upon these subjects, have produced inquiry, and a knowledge of the resources of the country, which could not have been suggested by less important measures; whilst the unusual fall of rain during the last twelve months has, by inundating the country, and injuring the autumn-sown wheat, made the farmer alive to the necessity of some general system of drainage, and to the correcting of
past inattention to the main outfalls of rivers. In addition to these, I would further remark, that as Government has promised to introduce a Bill for the sewerage of towns, to supersede that of the Marquis of Normanby, an opportunity such as is never likely again to occur, presents itself of securing to the land as manure the refuse of the towns, of which there are in England and Wales 230 with populations varying from 262,000 to 20,000, exclusive of the metropolis, producing annually above 3,000,000 tons of disposable manure, capable of enriching an area of 1,000,000 acres. By a junction of the plan I propose for drainage of land with the measure for the sewerage of towns, the levels and outfalls would be so managed as to effect the object. If the legislature should sanction and direct this truly national undertaking, land-owners and occupiers would unite in carrying it out with spirit and effect in the subordinate drainage of their lands; and the productiveness of the country would, from that time, become susceptible of the beneficial application of all those various improvements which mechanical science and chemical knowledge could suggest.
There are, according to Mr. Denton, three subjects which an improving farmer ought to understand: these are the stimulating energies of light, heat, and water. Of course he is speaking with reference, in a considerable sense, to sorts of scientific knowledge. Water is obviously far more than the other two elements under the controul of the cultivator. To be sure, with regard to light, the very improvements which are most imperative, such as draining, weeding, and clearing, will have some influence in preventing fogs and shades; whilst as to the heat of manures, the growth of plants, and shelter in the form of belts of plantations, his agency may be considerable. But it is over water that his power chiefly extends. Not that he can increase or diminish it; but he can regulate and distribute the element, as if with a fantastic playfulness at once indispensable and beautiful. His occasions and scope are surfaces and seasons; the points for his study, that the water "be in the most wholesome state, and co-operate with other natural and artificial causes in producing the most healthy, vigorous, and profitable vegetation, both on tillage lands and pasture." With regard to water and draining we further copy out these paragraphs:
As no species of plant cultivated in Britain for human food, or for that of domesticated animals, vegetates in stagnant water, the cultivator can derive no benefit from it, but rather the reverse, unless where it is accumulated or stored up in tanks or ponds to serve some useful purpose, such as that of collecting a fertilizing sediment, or for use as a power in turning machinery, or performing some other labour. Living water, or water in a state of motion, is what is required for the production of useful vegetables; and wherever this is not supplied naturally, art must be called in to assist. Stagnant water is always injurious, whether it stagnates on the surface, or in the soil or subsoil; and, therefore, the portion of it