Agriculture and other business

Agriculture and other business

I was tempted to post another excerpt from The Attack, but decided I’d rather explore the agricultural landscape in existence during the P&P time frame. I’ve been busy outlining plots for future stories, and the subject will feature rather prominently in one of them.

It seems to be a common assumption that Mr. Bennet was not well off. His daughters’ dowries were small and Ms Austen left me with the impression he was just scraping by, but are these widely held beliefs correct? Let’s take a look at the facts:

While we are never informed of the size of Longbourn, it is possible to make some educated guesses, based on his annual income of £2,000. This would probably have come from more than the rent derived from the tenants crop production, although that would have been growing due to changes in land management that greatly increased yields and the quality of the harvest. The introduction of equipment such as the seed drill, invented by Jethro Tull (minus the flute, although he was ‘Living in the Past’, and it is a great song, lol. I tried, but couldn’t find a way to insert a reference to ‘Locomotive Breath’, so I’ll settle for this), enabled higher crop yields due to straighter, more uniformly planted crop rows, and precise seed placement. Gone were the days of the tenant sowing crops by flinging the seeds to germinate wherever they landed. Mr. Tull was also a proponent of using the mechanical hoe, which meant that tenant farmers could protect their higher yields with a machine that killed the weeds threatening their crops.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, the estate owners enclosed their tenants’ plots with hedges, or fences of stone or wood. The practice was initially opposed by the poorer farmers because it interfered with the way things had been done for generations, and negatively affected their income. For the estate owners there were numerous advantages, chief among them being the protection barriers gave against weed infestations from neighboring plots, and keeping livestock or other intruders out of the planted fields.

Crop rotation was introduced, which meant that fields didn’t need to lay fallow every second year to regenerate. With proper cycling, what was depleted by one crop could be replaced by the next year’s planting, and so on down the line. This again increased yields, which had the added benefit of higher tenant earnings. It was not uncommon to have a tenant’s sons and daughters well educated, which in turn increased their standard of living. When the tenant passed away or retired, his son would commonly take over the farming of the lease, having inherited it from his father.

A note of clarification, in case anyone misinterpreted my previous sentence. A tenant’s sons could not inherit the land their father farmed, but they could inherit the lease on the land. The practice was beneficial for both the estate owner and the tenant. The master of the estate had continuity in the management of his fields, and the families had the security of knowing they would not be thrown out on their ear should the father or husband pass away.

Livestock was another area that saw higher yields. With better land management and bigger harvests, land could be set aside for pasture, meaning estates were able to increase the size of their herds. As different crops were planted, the livestock could be turned out onto the harvested fields to graze.  Animal husbandry, when it came to cattle, also progressed as the estates kept more animals. The larger herds enabled another source of income as pork, and beef especially, was offered for sale at lower prices and in greater commodities.

Timber harvesting and selling, as well as mining, was another source of revenue. Even though railroads were a few years in the future, a growing system of canals aided in shipping commodities to cities and markets a good distance away.

With all of these income sources, was Mr. Bennet poor, barely scraping by on his meager £2,000? According to the 1801 census, the top 6000 esquires, which is the class Mr. Bennet belonged to, averaged £1,500 per year, so his income was actually above average! Methinks (far-be-it from me to avoid an esoteric reference to Shakespeare. I have some class, although how much is debatable) the lack of dowries and other financial constraints alluded to in the book were a result of poor planning on his part, which he makes reference to in discussing the lack of dowries, or Mrs. Bennet’s mismanagement of her pin money and constant harping at her husband for more. She strikes me as the type of person who would spend like a drunken sailor as soon as the money hit her hand, and he seems to be a man who might have a difficult time reigning in his wife’s bad habits.

So to answer my original question, was Mr. Bennet a poor man? In my opinion, any poverty he and his family might have suffered was probably self-induced.

Now, as far as the pending release of The Attack, that is on track for July sixth, unless my video trailer is not ready, in which case the release will be pushed back. I had wanted to release it in June but I refuse to publish before the manuscript is as polished and professional as I can make it, and the offer of a free, professionally produced marketing ad was too good to pass up. I gave it to my betas and my editor, and was pleasantly surprised by the almost universally positive feedback I received. My ego was pleasantly inflated, so I’m at present trying my best to deflate the darn thing and look at my baby with an unjaundiced eye. I’m going through it again to fill some minor plot holes and listening to the novel on my phone. Jann suggested I do that and it has proved invaluable in identifying awkward passages and phrasing.

One last item before I wrap this up. I have decided to increase my output because I need to retire from the daily grind of going to work every day. My strength has not come back to the point that I can spend eight hours per day on a concrete floor. I am, therefore, looking for a few more beta readers, and thought this might be a good forum to start my search. I have three, but want to add to my total. If any of you would like to volunteer, or you know of someone who might like to read my manuscripts and give me honest, thoughtful criticism before they’re published, please let me know.

Okay, another last item. I had a photo shoot with my pup, with the intention of replacing my author photo both here and on Amazon. To that end, I would appreciate your opinion on the best of these four to use.

1    4

I am not anywhere close to photogenic, but Mabel is, so my plan is to use her so people don’t get scared by my less than handsome mug. I was lucky to have a wonderful photographer who took a liking to Mabel and got some great shots. Let me know which of these four you think I should use to update my author pages.

34 Responses to Agriculture and other business

    • I agree, but more because Mabel is looking at the camera, which loves her. She’s quite the photogenic pup.

    • I personally think the lion’s share of responsibility lies with Mr. Bennet. It was a man’s world, and he would have controlled the money, so if they’re broke he has only himself to blame.

  1. This should probably not be my order of importance, but it is what it is: 1) Super cool Jethro Tull reference! Working in Locomotive Breath would have been awesome, but rather a stretch for the Regency. LOL! 2) Your dog is gorgeous! What breed is he? and 3) Fabulous news on the new novel!!!! So very exciting, Colin. Glad all is well with you.

    • Thank you Sharon. To answer your questions: 1) I was tempted but as you said, it was too much of a stretch. 2)She is a Border Collie cross, the only breed I will consider adopting. Their intelligence and boundless energy are amazing. 3) I hope the novel sells as well as my editor and betas seem to think.

  2. #2

    Thanks for interesting post and research. Glad to hear you are feeling better. Mabel is very cute!

    • She’s a lot better looking than her human companion, that’s for sure. And #2 is the new photo for my Amazon author’s page and my Austen Author’s page. Thank you, everyone for your votes.

  3. 2, as it is the best shot of Mabel. Yeah, she’s pretty. This was a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I like #2 as you are both smiling at the camera. Thank you for the agriculture information you imparted. I agree that it is Mr. Bennet’s refusal to curb Mrs. Bennet’s spending and thus his refusal to save for the dowries. Looking forward to the new release and I especially hope you gain strength.

    • Thank you. In my opinion, Mr. Bennet deserves at least 50% and possibly more of the blame, but the situation is a community affair. Kitty and Lydia are also guilty of profligate spending, which he allows.
      The opinions about the best photo are so far unanimous, so I guess my new author photo is number 2.

    • Thank you. I think the choice has been made. I wonder if anybody has realized how much of a dog lover I am, and how much I adore this furry friend? No, I’m probably just imagining things.

  5. #2 is my favorite pic.

    Poverty is a relative term in the Regency. Two thousand pounds per year was a lot of money in that era (I thought). Minimum wage was about seventy pounds per year. And to have accumulated no dowries for five daughters after twenty-three years of marriage, well, that’s very telling. I say ‘no dowries’ because the only money promised to the Bennet girls is Mrs. Bennet’s inheritance from her father that will be settled upon them after Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are dead. Some of the interesting details that I have relied on in P&P include:

    Jane seemed to be the only daughter who was a horsewoman. This would have been a genteel skill for all the daughters to learn and it would have taken a horse away from its work on the farm with some frequency. The fact it was not done, says something about the family and the lack of discipline in the Bennet household. This all fits in with no governess being hired, no masters being hired, no one in the family learning to draw, only Elizabeth and Mary learning an instrument, etc. The two youngest girls appear to have no accomplishments whatsoever. So where does all the money go?
    Mrs. Bennet appears to try to compete with Lady Lucas, or at least Lady Lucas’s title. Mrs. Bennet tell us that her soup is 50 times better than what Lady Lucas served the prior week. Well, that takes money either to use better ingredients or to have better kitchen staff, or both. Mrs. Bennet also brags to Mr. Bingley when she calls at Netherfield to check on Jane that her daughters are not brought up to spend time in the kitchen (like the Lucas girls are). I would imagine that Lady Lucas runs a much more frugal household than Mrs. Bennet has ever managed to do.
    During Lydia’s elopement, we get an idea of how much money is spent to keep the Bennet girls in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Mr. Bennet estimates that Lydia costs him ninety pounds per year in board, pocket allowance, and gifts that pass continually from his wife to his daughter. This does not even include rent (since Longbourn is owned) and we know that seventy pounds per year is minimum wage. My budgeting bible is ‘A New System of Practical Domestic Economy’ published in 1823. It shows that a family of five could be supported in a very low way (no servants, no luxuries) on ninety pounds a year. And this is the amount allocated for food and frippery for each daughter!

    It’s a great backdrop for a family with five daughters and an entailed estate!

    • My bullet points did not survive my comment being posted. Sorry this looks like word-salad!

    • Thank you for the insightful comments. To be honest, my original idea for the post was more toward the role that livestock played in the agricultural economy of Regency England, but when I stumbled across the information regarding income my thoughts skewed in that direction. I don’t know if I suffer from ADHD, but I’m easily distracted.
      Thank you for telling me about the book. I now have it in Kindle and expect I’ll use it a lot.

  6. Great post! I think number two is good too although the ones with the dog looking up at you are cute too!

    • I’m thinking I’ll use number two. There seems to be a consensus developing regarding that photo. And to be honest, every photo she’s in is cute. She’s extremely photogenic. The camera loves her.

  7. Thank you for the interesting post, Colin. I have run across some of this information but not all of it. Nice reference material that I might use in the future. And I agree with you that Mr. Bennet’s problems with income was self-induced by lack of interest, lack of determination in controlling his family’s spending, and selfishness in pursuing his own pleasure instead of considering his family’s best interests. As to the photos, all are nice, but #2 has a bit of a smile and both are looking at the camera. Look forward to ‘The Attack’ and hope it does well. 🙂

    • What surprised me the most was learning that his income was actually above the average. Knowing this suggests, to me at least, that either he or his wife is spending more than they should. Of course in that period it was the estate master controlling the purse strings, so the blame can’t simply be attached to Mrs. Bennet.

    • Thank you. I see a pattern developing here, where everyone so far prefers the second photo. I agree, as it shows her pretty face the best.

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