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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter III


Consequences of this change on population, through the prevalence of pasturage, sheep-farming, and engrossing of farms.

IN one very important circumstance, the ancient state of the Highlands differed remarkably from the rest of the kingdom,— every spot was occupied by nearly as many families as the produce of the land could subsist.

In other parts, and indeed in every civilized country where landed estates are on a large scale, we find no more people upon a farm than are reckoned necessary: for carrying on the work that must be done upon it. This is the natural result of the operation of private interest. The proprietor lets his land to the tenant who will give him the highest rent for it; and the tenant manages it in the manner that he expects will produce him the most profit. For this purpose, he must raise as much produce, but with as little expense, as possible: to avoid expense, he must employ no unnecessary hands; must feed no superfluous mouths. The less of the produce is consumed upon the farm, the more he can carry to market.

From these causes, the population in all those parts of the kingdom which are merely agricultural, is reduced much below the proportion of people which the country could feed; while particular spots that are favourable for manufactures have accumulated a population greatly exceeding what the produce of the immediate vicinity, could maintain. There the superabundant produce of the agricultural districts finds a market; there any superabundant population may expect to find employment.

Where there is no employment but what arises directly from the cultivation of the land, the country is more or less peopled according to the mode of cultivation. A highly refined agriculture, that approaches to gardening, will employ a considerable population, though not equal to that of a manufacturing district. In the ordinary style of agricultural management, less labour being bestowed on the land, fewer people will be required, and fewer will find a maintenance. This will be still more the case where a great proportion of the land is in grass; and even in countries entirely devoted to pasture, a difference will be observed; as a dairy farm will require more hands than the same land employed for mere grazing.

When we inquire therefore what population may be maintained in any district, we have not merely to ask what the country could produce, or how many inhabitants that produce could maintain; the essential. point is, to know what employment it can afford, and under what mode of management the land will be most profitable to the occupier. To examine the Highlands of Scotland by this test, let us consider what are the other parts of the kingdom to which it bears most resemblance. If in any of the mountainous districts of England, we find a considerable population collected in one spot, it's where a number of hands are required for working mines, or where the abundance of coal has led to the establishment of manufactures. In the Highlands there are few mines, and these of little consequence: the Country is entirely destitute of coals; and though the inhabitants have an opportunity of supplying themselves with peat or turf from the mosses, yet this is by a process so expensive and precarious in a rainy climate, that this fuel is by no means a complete substitute for coals, and is of very inferior value: The Highlands are therefore on a par with the mountains of the South of Scotland, and those on the borders of the two kingdoms, with a great part of Cumberland and Westmoreland, of North Wales, and some other mountainous districts in England:—in all of these, the soil and climate forbid the extension of tillage, while the scarcity of fuel has discouraged manufacturing industry.

In such mountainous regions, the most profitable employment of land is universally found to be in rearing young cattle and sheep, which, at a proper age, are bought by farmers in more fertile Countries; and fattened for the butcher. Few of these mountains are entirely destitute of spots in which cultivation might be practicable; but it is found more advantageous to keep them in grass, as the numerous flocks which a range of mountains can feed in summer, require some better pasture in sheltered situations for, a retreat in winter. For these reasons, judicious farmers attempt little cultivation, except in so far as it can be rendered subservient to the accommodation of their flocks; and those who have tried more have been obliged to acknowledge, that the expense of labour, combined with. the loss of their winter pastures, has overbalanced any profit arising from their crops.

These reasons have still more force in the Highlands, where the climate is more adverse to the production of grain, and renders a reserve of winter pastures still more indispensable. From the prevalence therefore of the same circumstances, it must be expected that the lands will fall into the same general style of management; and that in the Highlands, as in the Cheviots or in Tweeddale, a few shepherds, with their dogs, will, be found sufficient for all the profitable work of an extensive range of land.

Ever since the introduction of sheep-farming into the Highlands, there has been a very unequal struggle between the former possessors of the lands, and the graziers. It would be difficult, perhaps, to quote an instance where the old tenantry have been able to offer a rent fully equal to that which their competitors would have given. In many instances, indeed, the fear of such competition has induced them to stretch their utmost nerve, and to make offers, which left from the produce of the land a bare subsistence for themselves. The indulgence of the landlords has often induced them to prefer these offers, when they could certainly have procured higher; and in these cases, the tenants have, perhaps, found their situation better than they had just reason to expect. The great and continual rise that has taken place in the value of every species of produce, and of none more than grazing cattle, has enabled them to pay their rent with tolerable ease, and even to accumulate some savings, though in no proportion to the profits of the sheep-farmers, during the same period.

That this new system, however, is adapted to the natural circumstances of the Highlands, is sufficiently proved by its rapid and continual progress; nor can it be doubted that, from the same causes, it must ultimately prevail throughout all the mountainous parts.

On the first introduction of sheep-farming, it was confined to a few adventurous individuals, who being accustomed to it in the South of Scotland, had penetration to observe the vast field which was open to them, and firmness to persevere, notwithstanding the multiplied obstacles which opposed them. Having a great extent of country in their choice, they selected only such farms as were peculiarly adapted to their purpose, and such as they could bargain for at a rent extremely low in proportion to their real value. During all this period, therefore, the old occupiers had to contend with a competition, partial, and comparatively feeble. The case is now altered, and the graziers are so multiplied as to enter into competition with one another, and to give a rent as fully proportionate to the value of the land as in the rest of the kingdom.

The first sheep farmers, like all who introduce new and successful modes of agriculture, reaped great profits, extended their capital, and have naturally been induced to employ it all in the same manner. Their success has also attracted others from the South of Scotland. The more sagacious of the inhabitants of the country itself saw the benefits they might derive from a similar mode of management. The small proprietors of land were among the first to imitate it; and some of them have taken the whole, or the greater part of their estate into their own possession. Many of the tacksmen have also discarded their superfluous cotters and subtenants, and imitate the active industry of the strangers,

The success that has hitherto invariably attended the practice, has been an inducement to all those in the Highlands, who can command any considerable capital, to engage in the same business; and the remarkable rise that has taken place in the value of produce within the last few years, has led them to offer rents, which are considered by the best judges as the utmost, if not beyond what the average rate of prices will enable the farmer to pay. Hence the competition with which the old occupiers have to contend, has risen to a pitch which they cannot possibly resist; and the conclusion is inevitable, that, as fast as the current leases expire, the whole or nearly the whole of this body of men will be dispossessed.

The cotters are scarcely more likely to hold their place; because, though a few may be requisite, yet the number usually employed on any farm under the old system, was in comparably greater than a grazier has occasion for. The rents that are now to be paid, will not allow the occupier to submit to any unnecessary expense: the families to be maintained on the ground must, for his own interest, be reduced to the small number who are sufficient for the tending of his flocks.

The tract of country known by the general name of Highlands, is not every where mountainous; and there are situations where in all probability, sheep-farming will not prevail. In some parts the country consists of low hills, more adapted for pasturing black cattle than sheep; in others, there is a great proportion of arabic land; but the climate is generally a discouragement to tillage, even where the soil and situation. oppose no obstacles. —The Western Coast and Isles are subject to such excessive rains, that a crop of grain can scarcely be secured without damage, or at least not without great expense, difficulty, and uncertainty. Under these circumstances, the farmer will certainly find it for his advantage to keep the greatest part of his arabic land in pasture: and, though the tending of cattle may require rather more labour than that of sheep, a grazing of any kind, when managed with economy, can afford employment to very few people in comparison with the numbers hitherto maintained under the old system of the Highlands.

The same general principle is applicable even to the districts where agriculture can be carried on to advantage: in no part will cultivation require all the people whom the produce of the land can support. Where farms are very small, the proprietors will, in every situation, find it for their interest to throw several into the hands of one man. The occupier of a minute portion of land, who, without any other source of profit, can raise little more produce than enough for his own consumption, has no means of paying an adequate rent. One man constantly employed might accomplish all the work of cultivating several of these small possessions. When they are thrown together, the farmer is enabled, merely by diminishing the number of superfluous mouths, to send a part of the produce to market; and from the same land, without any addition to its fertility, to afford a better rent to the landlord.

The further enlargement of farms throws them into the hands of men of education and efficient capital, who, by following improved modes of cultivation, increase the productiveness of the soil: thus, according to the observation of Dr. Adam Smith, "the diminunation of cottagers, and other small occupiers of land, has, in, every part of Europe been the immediate forerunner of improvement and better cultivation." This the Highland proprietors have already begun to experience; and a tendency towards the accumulation of farms, is very observable in the agricultural districts, as well as in those devoted to pasturage.

Hence a number of small occupiers of land must be dispossessed. Where large farms are already’ established, many of the people, who were thought necessary in the feudal times, and have since been suffered to remain on the land, will, under any system of cultivation, be found superfluous as workmen, and dismissed. All of these have been hitherto enabled to live by possessing land at a rent below its value: directly or indirectly they are a burden on the proprietors; and unless some new and profitable employment can be devised for them, they must continue to be a burthen as long as they remain in the country.

To this the proprietors certainly will not long submit; and therefore a great part of the present inhabitants of’ the Highlands must in one way or another seek for means of livelihood totally different from those on which they have hitherto depended.

Though there has been a continual progress towards this state of things, it has never till now taken place to its full extent. The new modes of management have reached their full maturity in but a small proportion of the Highlands. From those parts where they are of more recent introduction, emigrations have taken place on former occasions, but not to such an extent, as to produce a sensible diminution of the inhabitants. Thus the change of system has yet to produce its entire and unimpaired effect in a country still teeming with the superabundant population accumulated by the genius of the feudal times.


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