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The Social and Industrial history of Scotland, from the Union to the present time
Eighteenth Century: 1. General Aspects


Looking merely on the surface, the eighteenth, compared with the seventeenth, might be described as a tame century. Apart from the two Jacobite Risings in 1715 and 1745, it is singularly undramatic. Politics lapsed to the level of the petty animosities of Whig and Jacobite and these gradually died away after the cause of the exiled Stuarts had received its death blow at Culloden. Jacobitism survived only in the romantic songs in which a sentimental allegiance to an impracticable ideal found pathetic expression. The Union from which so much had been hoped, and for which so much had been sacrificed, seemed for long a failure, and only five years after its consummation a proposal was made in the Parliament at Westminster to dissolve it. The eagerly expected prosperity did not come till well into the century. The people had not the same interest in politics as in the days when political and ecclesiastical affairs were debated and decided in the Scottish Capital. Scottish members and purely Scottish questions figured little in the greater assembly at Westminster, where Scottish interests were as viewed by English politicians from the standpoint of those of English parties. The limitation of the franchise to a handful of voters in both burghs and counties (about 4000 in all) deprived politics of the magnetic attraction of the days before the Union and the Revolution, when men and parties contended over questions of such far-reaching importance in Church and State. This political lassitude endured throughout the century when Scotland, in marked contrast to the previous century, submitted to the bureaucratic regime of "uncrowned kings" like Henry Dundas.

Happily, this stagnation was confined, except in the political sphere, to the first half of the century. The second half of it was a period of new vitality—which showed itself in a marked transformation of the national life. The Union at last proved its efficacy in the quickening of commerce, of which Glasgow was the great centre. Industry made a great bound forward in the rapid development of the linen, woollen, cotton, and iron manufacture to which the application of improved machinery and especially the inventive genius of James Watt gave a powerful impulse. Agriculture shared in the advance of other industries in a remarkable degree. Shipbuilding and the improvement of communication by land by the construction of roads and canals greatly favoured commercial and industrial expansion and social progress. In literature, science, philosophy, art, education, Scotland sprang from the mediocrity of former days into a brilliant position among the nations. Its social life also underwent a marked betterment in many respects as the result of the accumulating wealth which raised the rate of wages and the standard of living. Its religion lost much of its old narrowness and crudeness under the influence of a broader culture. The energy which in the previous century had exhausted itself with such grim intensity in violent political and ecclesiastical contention was directed into the channel of practical life. The second half of the eighteenth century equally with the seventeenth may be described as a period of revolution. Only the revolution takes the form, not of a convulsion of the body politic, but of a truly formative, if less obtrusive process of industrial and social advance.


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