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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

A Great Scientist’s Small Holding.
Dr. A. R. Wallace on Land Taxation.
(S751b: 1912)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An interview by F. E. Green printed on page 4 of the 19 November 1912 issue of The Daily Citizen (London & Manchester). To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S751B.htm .

     It was so mild that I breakfasted out of doors, eating honey garnered from the heather. The air was redolent with pine and bracken. The purple, fading heather stretched for miles down to Poole, where the harbour glistened like an inland lake. Beyond, the shadowy hills of Purbeck guarded the entrance to the Channel.

     It was on such a site that I talked with one of England’s greatest scientists. On the garden gate I found, inscribed with simple austerity, the great name "A. R. Wallace." He was in his library, starting to write a new book with all the zest of a junior reporter hot on the scent of some wonderful story--yet he is in his ninetieth year!

     A Daily Citizen lay upon the table. His eyes twinkled as he caught my glance.

     "I prefer that," he said, "to the Daily _____."

     "What is the new book about?" I asked, hesitatingly, fearing close contact with spirits.

     "The Labour Unrest," answered Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace. "An article I wrote some time ago is now being extended into a book."

The Ways of Bumbledom.

     The subject brought us immediately back to the land. Then it was that Dr. Wallace recounted to me the story of the amazing document he sent in to the Dorsetshire County Council making application for a small holding. He stated his age, 89; his experience, 65 years of gardening and science; and he got the village postman to attest the uprightness of his character! He wanted to experience just what the labourer would have to undergo at the hands of a reactionary county council. One would have liked to watch the puzzled faces of bucolic councillors.

     He had to wait nine months before anything was done, and then the county council stated that the waste heathland that grew now only gorse and heather (for which Dr. Wallace was prepared to pay 10s. an acre at the outside) might be let to him at £2 an acre--with the addition of a possible compensation to the present tenant in 1913! The only access to the land is by way of a cart-track, and the present tenant is probably paying a shooting rent only over this heathland!

     "Of course I rejected the offer," said the doctor. "But it proved conclusively to me the failure of the Small Holdings Act when administered by a council like the Dorsetshire County Council. This county council inquisition is worthy of the Russian autocracy. It is preposterous to treat a countryman, who is naturally cautious and industrious, with suspicion. The very fact that a man applies for land on which to work shows that he has character, without any further evidence. Besides, the cultivation of the land helps to build up character, and these county councillors overlook the fact, too, that if the applicant has a family he brings with him to the soil potential capital."

     "What were you going to do with the land, may I ask?"

     "I wanted to experiment with waste land and to plant an orchard there for my son."

     I referred to Dr. Wallace's book on "Land Nationalisation."

Land Purchase.

     "I understand you do not belong to the Single Tax School," I said.

     "No. I have always opposed it. The Single Taxers fail to see that there is as much monopoly in capital as in land. It was 30 years ago that I published my book on 'Land Nationalisation,' and I should still like to see what I then proposed acted upon now. What I proposed years ago would, if carried out, prevent small-holders being saddled with useless heavy expenditure in the form of perpetual rent. I proposed that any man who wanted an acre of land should have it, if he chose, fronting the public high road--reasonable consideration being shown towards private gardens and the curtilage of homesteads. Those who want more than an acre should have it behind the first acre, and so on. By making use of the county council roads in this way we should save the enormous expense of road-making on the small-holding estates. The rent should be arranged between someone appointed by the applicant and someone selected by the council, and only when the two disagree should some paid official be called in."

     "How do you consider the taxes should be raised for land purchase?"

     "Well, I was very interested in Mr. Lloyd George's Budget. I was more interested in the Finance Act than in any Act of Parliament that I can remember. Unfortunately, though, the Chancellor seemed to lack the courage to carry out his Radical ideas consistently. The super-tax stopped short too soon. The tax on incomes should have been increased until it reached 20s. in the £. I would, for example, commandeer for national purposes every £1 of unearned income over £100,000 a year, and exempt all incomes from taxation under, say, £1,000 a year, and free every necessity, even tobacco, from taxation. Every man is entitled to comforts, but not to luxuries without paying the full penalty. By the way," he added reflectively, "I make one qualification with regard to my remarks concerning the Single Tax. If it had been applied to the virgin land of the Western States, I think it would have kept in check the depredations of the Eastern capitalists."

     As I rose to go, and looked out of the window, my eye lighted upon the expanse of gorse and heather specially selected for cultivation by this extraordinary scientist, and as I turned to look at the fragile figure peering through spectacles I marvelled at this wonderful man’s place in the universe.

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