METAYAGE SYSTEM, the cultivation of land for a proprietor by one who receives a proportion of the produce. The system has never existed in England and has no English name, but in certain provinces of Italy and France it was once almost universal, and is still very common. It is also not unusual in Portugal, in Greece, and in the countries bordering on the Danube. In Italy and France, respectively, it is called mezzeria and metayage, or halving the halving, that is, of the produce of the soil between landowner and landholder. These expressions are not, however, to be understood in a more precise sense than that in which we sometimes talk of a larger and a smaller half. They merely signify that the produce is divisible in certain definite proportions, which must obviously vary with the varying fertility of the soil and other circumstances, and which do in practice vary so much that the landlord's share is sometimes as much as two-thirds, sometimes as little as one-third. Sometimes the landlord supplies all the stock, sometimes only part the cattle and seed perhaps, while the farmer provides the implements; or perhaps only half the seed and half the cattle, the farmer finding the other halves taxes too being paid wholly by one or the other, or jointly by both.
English writers were unanimous, until J. S. Mill adopted a different tone, in condemning the metayer system. They judged it by its appearance in France, where it has never worn a very attractive aspect. Under the ancien regime not only were all direct taxes paid by the metayer, the noble landowner being exempt, but these taxes, being assessed according to the visible produce of the soil, operated as penalties upon all endeavours to augment its productiveness. No wonder, then, if the metayer fancied that his interest lay less in exerting himself to augment the total to be divided between himself and his landlord, than in studying how to defraud the latter part of his rightful share; nor if he has not yet got rid of habits so acquired, especially when it is considered that he still is destitute of the fixity of tenure without which metayage cannot prosper. French metayers, in Arthur Young's time, were " removable at pleasure, and obliged to conform in all things to the will of their landlords," and so in general they are still. Yet even in France, although metayage and extreme rural poverty usually coincide, there are provinces where the contrary is the fact, as it is also in Italy. Indeed, to every tourist who has passed through the plains of xvm. 9 Lombardy with his eyes open, the knowledge that metayage has for ages been there the prevailing form of tenure ought to suffice for the triumphant vindication of metayage in the abstract. An explanation of the contrasts presented by metayage in different regions is not far to seek. Metayage, in order to be in any measure worthy of commendation, must be a genuine partnership, one in which there is no sleeping partner, but in the affairs of which the landlord, as well as the tenant, takes an active part. Wherever this applies, the results of metayage appear to be as eminently satisfactory, as they are decidedly the reverse wherever the landlord holds himself aloof.
In France there is also a system termed metayage par groupes, which consists in letting a considerable farm, not to one metayer, but to an association of several, who work together for the general good, under the supervision either of the landlord himself, or of his bailiff. This arrangement gets over the difficulty of finding tenants possessed of capital enough for any but very small farms.
See further the section Agriculture in the articles FRANCE, GREECE, Italy, etc.; and consult). Cruveilhier, tude sur le m&tayage (Paris, 1894).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)