Arthur Young

From Academic Kids

This article is about "Arthur Young", the 18th century writer. For the policeman, see Arthur Young (policeman). For the American inventor and philosopher, see Arthur M. Young.

Arthur Young (September 11, 1741 - April 20, 1820) was an English writer on agriculture, economics and social statistics.

In his day Young was famous as a writer on agriculture and on political economy; he produced around 25 books and pamphlets on agriculture and 15 books on political economy, as well as many articles. He was famous for the views he expressed, as an agricultural improver, political economist and social observer. The Encyclopedia Britannica article reproduced below brings out this side of Young's work.

More recently attention has moved to the small print of his writings and Young has been studied for his methods of investigation. Stone (1997) presents him as a pioneer national income statistician, continuing the work of Gregory King who had lived a century before. Young produced three estimates of the national income of England, in his Tour through the North of England, Farmer's Tour through the East of England and in his Political Arithmetic. Brunt (2001) emphasises the way Young collected his information and presents him as a pioneer of sample surveys. Young influenced such contemporary observers of economic and social life as Eden and Sinclair.

The entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica reads as follows.

Arthur Young (1741-1820) was an English writer on agriculture and social economy, second son of the Rev. Arthur Young, rector of Bradfield, in Suffolk, chaplain to Speaker Arthur Onslow. After being at a school at Lavenham, he was in 1758 placed in a mercantile house at King's Lynn, but showed no taste for commercial pursuits. He published, when only seventeen, a pamphlet On the War in North America, and in 1761 went to London and started a periodical work, entitled The Universal Museum, which was dropped by the advice of Samuel Johnson. He also wrote four novels, and Reflections on the Present State of Affairs at Home and Abroad in 1759. After his father's death in 1759, his mother had given him the direction of the family estate at Bradfield Hall; but the property was small and encumbered with debt. From 1763 to 1766 he devoted himself to farming on his mother's property. In 1765 he married a Miss Alien; but the union is said not to have been happy, though he was of domestic habits and an affectionate father. In 1767 he undertook on his own account the management of a farm in Essex. He engaged in various experiments, and embodied the results of them in A Course of Experimental Agriculture (1770). Though Young's experiments were, in general, unsuccessful, he thus acquired a solid knowledge of agriculture. He had already begun a series of journeys through England and Wales, and gave an account of his observations in books which appeared from 1768 to 1770—A Six Weeks' Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales, A Six Months' Tour through the North of England and the Farmer's Tour through the East of England. He says that these books contained the only extant information relative to the rental, produce and stock of England that was founded on actual examination. They were very favourably received, being translated into most European languages by 1792.

In 1768 he published the Farmer's Letters to the People of England, in 1771 the Farmer's Calendar, which went through a great number of editions, and in 1774 his Political Arithmetic, which was widely translated. About this time Young acted as parliamentary reporter for the Morning Post. He made a tour in Ireland in 1776, publishing his Tour in Ireland in 1780. In 1784 he began the publication of the Annals of Agriculture, which was continued for 45 volumes: this work had many contributors, among whom was George III, writing under the nom de plume of "Ralph Robinson." Young's first visit to France was made in 1787. Traversing that country in every direction just before and during the first movements of the Revolution, he has given valuable notices of the condition of the people and the conduct of public affairs at that critical juncture. The Travels in France appeared in two volumes in 1792. On his return home he was appointed secretary of the Board of Agriculture, 1793 just formed under the presidency of Sir John Sinclair. In this capacity he gave most valuable assistance in the collection and preparation of agricultural surveys of the English counties. His sight, however, failed, and in 1811 he had an operation for cataract, which proved unsuccessful. He suffered also in his last years from stone. He died on the April 20, 1820. He left an autobiography in manuscript, which was edited (1898) by Miss M. Betham-Edwards, and is the main authority for his life; and also the materials for a great work on the Elements and practice of agriculture.

Arthur Young was the greatest of all English writers on agriculture; but it is as a social and political observer that he is best known, and his Tour in Ireland and Travels in France are still full of interest and instruction. He saw clearly and exposed unsparingly the causes which retarded the progress of Ireland. He strongly urged the repeal of the penal laws which pressed upon the Catholics; he condemned the restrictions imposed by Great Britain on the commerce of Ireland, and also the perpetual interference of the Irish parliament with industry by prohibitions and bounties. He favoured a legislative union of Ireland with Great Britain, though he did not regard such a measure as absolutely necessary, many of its advantages being otherwise attainable.

The soil of France he found in general superior to that of England, and its produce less. Agriculture was neither as well understood nor as much esteemed as in England. He severely censured the higher classes for their neglect of it. "Banishment (from court) alone will force the French nobility to execute what the English do for pleasureóreside upon and adorn their estates." Young saw the commencement of violence in the rural districts, and his sympathies began to take the side of the classes suffering from the excesses of the Revolution. This change of attitude was shown by his publication in 1793 of a tract entitled The Example of France a Warning to England. Of the profounder significance of the French outbreak he seems to have had little idea, and thought the crisis would be met by a constitutional adjustment in accordance with the English type. He strongly condemned the metayer system, then widely prevalent in France, as "perpetuating poverty and excluding instruction"—as, in fact, the ruin of the country. Some of his phrases have been often quoted by the advocates of peasant proprietorship as favouring their view.

  • "The magic of property turns sand to gold."
  • "Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years' lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert."

But these sentences, in which the epigrammatic form exaggerates a truth, and which might seem to represent the possession of capital as of no importance in agriculture, must not be taken as conveying his approbation of the system of small properties in general. He approved it only when the subdivision was strictly limited, and even then with great reserves; and he remained to the end what John Stuart Mill calls him, "the apostle of la grande culture".

The Directory in 1801 ordered his writings on the art to be translated and published at Paris in 20 volumes under the title of Le Cultivateur anglais. His Travels in France were translated in 1793/1794 by Soules; a new version by M. Lesage, with an introduction by M. de Lavergne, appeared in 1856. An interesting review of the latter publication, under the title of Arthur Young et la France de 1789, will be found in M. Baudrillart's Publicities modernes (2nd ed., 1873).


There is a chapter on Young as an economic statistician in

  • Richard Stone Some British Empiricists in the Social Sciences 1650-1900, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

On Young as a survey statistician see

  • L. Brunt The Advent of the Sample Survey in the Social Sciences, The Statistician, 50,(2001),171-190.

Resources and external links

The National Portrait Gallery has 5 portraits of Young


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