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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter IX


Prejudices of the Highland proprietors against Emigration: mistakes from which they arise

IF the preceding arguments are satisfactory it must appear very unaccountable, that the gentlemen of the Highlands should express such extreme aversion against emigration. Since the removal of the superfluous population is necessary for the advance of their rents, why (it may be asked) do they quarrel with that which is so beneficial to them? But those who reflect how very common it is for men to mistake their own interest, will not consider this as a paradox. The change that has taken place in the Highlands, is so extensive, its effects are so complicated, and so many circumstances have concurred to disguise their operation, that it ought not to excite surprise if they are not generally understood.

The prejudices which many persons entertain on this subject arise from the most patriotic, though mistaken motives. Ascribing the spirit of emigration to mere capricious restlessness, they deprecate in it the loss of the nursery of soldiers that has hitherto been found in the Highlands, not adverting to the decay of those causes from which that advantage was derived. They see the possibility of employing great numbers in works of productive industry, and overlook the distinctions which render these unsuitable to a great proportion of the actual inhabitants.

To these have in some instances been superadded mistaken views of private interest. Some proprietors, accustomed to the advantageous facility of recruiting, would wish to preserve this power, at the same time that they profit by the advance of their rents. A few individuals have perceived the incompatibility of these objects, and, unwilling to relinquish the antient splendour of a numerous train of dependants, have frankly resolved to make an adequate pecuniary sacrifice; but in a much greater number of instances this incompatibility has been overlooked, or seen indistinctly; and the consequence has been a train of inconsistent rnanagement, vibrating between contradictory motives.

The ideas of the Highland gentry have also perhaps been influenced by the very unjust cry that has been prevalent against themselves, and the unfavourable impressions, as to the tendency of their conduct, which the public have been led to entertain. The long continued indulgence of the land:-lords, the sacrifice of rent to which they submitted for so many years to preserve their people,. are little known beyond their immediate neighbourhood. It would be difficult to find a proprietor in other parts of the kingdom, who to please his. tenants; would accept a rent not half the value of his land. This has been done by many in the Highlands, and yet these gentlemen have been generally reputed severe landlords.

The old system of the Highlands, so long established and deeply rooted, could not be broken up without a great degree of popular odium. When any proprietor grew tired of the loss of :rent he sustained, and resolved to enjoy the full value of his estate, the clamours of the tenantry were loud against his unjust and oppressive conduct (as they deemed it), and were re-echoed from distant parts of the kingdom. When a populous valley was converted into sheep-walks, the author of the change was held up as an enemy of the public, who, for a sordid interest, promoted the desolation of his country; and the remote consequences through which these "partial evils" terminate in "universal good," were not to be seen by superficial observers.

The gentlemen of the Highlands might have repelled these aspersions, by appealing to the undeniable general right of landed proprietors to manage their property for their own advantage: but this argument was too much at variation with the established prejudices of their neighbourhood to be well received. Conscious, therefore, of the unpopularity of their conduct and sore under these impressions, they acted as if diffident of the justice of their own cause and, instead of meeting the question on fair and manly grounds, recriminated with accusations of capricious discontent on the part of the people, excited only by the artifices of men who had an interest to delude them.

Such motives of pique, and a remnant of the feudal pride which a numerous clan was calculated to inspire, have perhaps more influence than any view of pecuniary interest, in exciting a jealous antipathy against emigration in the minds of the more considerable proprietors of the Highlands; and this may account, for a singular contradiction that has been frequently observed. Many of these gentlemen have, in: their cooler rnoments, acknowledged, that the over-population of their estates was a loss to them, and, expressed a wish that a great proportion could be removed; and have nevertheless been warmed, even to indignation, when any of their own tenantry showed, a disposition to emigration. When their feelings have been foused, the phantorn of antient prejudices has put to flight every sober consideration of interest.

These impressions among the greater proprietors are sometimes perhaps strengthened by the clamour of certain persons among their dependants, or their neighbours of an. inferior order; some of whom have an aversion against emigration, founded on motives not altogether so honourable, though more active, as arising more immediately from views of pecuniary interest.

Among the few branches of’ business which furnish more or less employment for labouring people in the Highlands, is the manufacture of kelp, which, in some instances, constitutes a great part of the value of property. The sea—weed from which this article is made is cut on rocks along- the shore, which are sometimes annexed to the adjoining farms. In most cases, however, these rocks are reserved by the landlords, who let them from year to year, or rather employ labourers to make the kelp at a stipulated allowance per ton. Many gentlemen. feel on this account an immediate interest in keeping down the wages of labour, and therefore imagine the crowded state of population to be an advantage. Some go so far as to assert that if they had fewer hands, the making of kelp must be given up altogether, or at least that the increased expense of the work would reduce its nett value to a trifle. This may be; but the difference of expenses not all clear gain to the landlord: the season of kelp-making is but a few weeks. in the year; and in so far as any gentleman retains a greater number of people on his estate than full employment can be found for, he must do it by letting land to them below its value. In all the great kelp stations, the land is, in fact, made an object totally subordinate, and let at rents more inadequate to its real value than in any other parts of the Highlands.

Were an accurate comparison to be made,. it is probable that the proprietor would find it more for his advantage, on the whole, to pay the fullest price for the manufacture of his kelp, and to let his land at an adequate rent. But it is not in this light that the subject will appear to some other persons who are engaged in the business. They feel all the benefit of the low price of labour, while the sacrifice that is made to maintain that low price comes out of the pocket of another. We may add, that a great proprietor, of a liberal mind, would not allow his judgment to he warped by a difference of 10 or 15s. per ton on his kelp; but to the taksmen and other inferior people that difference forms a great proportion of their profit. Among them, therefore, we find a zeal approaching to fury, when any thing threatens to interfere with this interest.

To men of this class the depression of the price of labour appears an object of importance in other respects. If they have not kelp to make, they feel the same interest in keeping down the wages of their agricultural servants, or of those they employ to execute fences and various works of that kind. From these causes a considerable body of men feel a direct interest in repressing emigration; and it is not to be wondered at that their clamours should impose on the greater proprietors.

These gentlemen are only occasionally resident on their estates; and, feeling that their own. personal acquaintance with the internal state of the country is imperfect, are disposed to place too great a reliance on the opinions of others, whose practical information they believe to be complete, and whom they do not suspect to have interests so directly at variance with their own. This evil is much increased, by the practice (unfortunately too common with the proprietors of great Highland estates) of letting farms to their factors or land-stewards, and allowing them to engage in various petty branches of business, by which their interest is identified with that of the very people on whom they ought to be a check, and is set in op position to that of their employers


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