The mention of
“Retainers versus Bondagers” in the previous chapter reminds me of
the comparative social position of East and West country farmers, of
whom it used to be said — “An east country farmer is better off than
a west country laird.” But this saying, which was once so trite and
true, has, within recent years, been completely reversed. For
whereas the east country farmer, with his heavy loam soil, could
employ grieves, bondagers, ploughmen, &c., to do his manual work,
and leave to himself the comparative life, of a country gentleman,
he is now doing so at such a ruinous loss, that recently the highest
authority on East Lothian farming asserted, that not 10 per cent, of
them are solvent!
Contrast this with the formerly hard-worked petty lairds of West
Calder, and kindred moorlands, where the laird and his family did
the manual toil on their own lands, until the valuable treasures of
nature were discovered beneath the soil, in the shape of coal,
ironstone, lime, shale, &c., so marvelously compensating for the
barren surface, which could barely support their sheep and cattle,
out of which they had to eke a living.
The moral seems to be, that “every dog has its day,” while time
changes all things.
But will this commercial prosperity, of which West Calder has had
such a wonderful share, last for ever? I trow not! for her
agricultural prosperity is on the decline, and fields that were
formerly cultivated are now rapidly going to waste; for the present
insidious policy that was invented to support commerce at the
expense of agriculture is slowly but surely sapping the very
foundations of both, and both will have a common downfall, unless a
sounder policy is pursued; for the present is but the expedient of
“robbing Paul to pay Peter,” and the Nation qua Nation does not save
one single sixpence per annum by its present fiscal arrangements.
For imperial taxation is growing at the rate of 1.5 per cent., and
local expenditure at the rate of 6.0 per cent., while the population
is only increasing at the rate of 0.9 per cent.
Yet, with this damaging fact ever present to those whose business it
is wisely to rule this nation, we find that the political
legerdemain has become an excruciating science— like a man wriggling
out of a bog. So we take the tax off one thing and put it upon
another, (only to find ourselves in a deeper lix,) a ad still the
tax gatherer extorts more than ever;—we change it from a Malt Tax to
a Beer Tax, and, at one fell swoop, one million more sovereigns go
with it per annum ; while all the time we are led to hug the
delusion with complacent fondness—like the man who was so pleasantly
bled to death, that he believed he was getting well, as he felt less
and less pain, till at last the silver cord snapt!
I write this in no spirit of controversy, but simply as a student of
history, noting the past, present, and probable course of events,
and that only in so far as it concerns the subject in ha^id,
viz.—Whether West Calder has reached the zenith of it prosperity or
This question is more or less agitating the whole community of West
Calder parish at the present moment, as it did upon a former
occasion, in the time of Dr Muckersy, and before free trade, so
called, was adopted.
He refers to it under the heading of “Character and Manners of the
People” (see chapter V.), and I venture to repeat the extract here,
for the sole purpose of calling particular attention to the matured
opinion of a former generation of the inhabitants of West Calder.
Dr Muckersy says—“The people of this parish have been particularly
blamed for disaffection to the present Constitution. From the state
of society in which they are placed, the representation of any kind
of oppression, whether real or imaginary, is apt to affect their
minds. This, however, is but a momentary impulse; for when they find
that the chief articles of life by which they are supported are not
subject to taxation, and that what they bring to the market is
raised in value by the very system of which they are taught to
complain, the good sense of the parish is soon brought to prevail
against the designs of those who would mislead them.”
May like good sense be granted to the present inhabitants of West
Calder, so that their now languishing commercial and agricultural
industries may be restored to prosperity, and so handed down to
That I am not needlessly referring to this subject is evident from
the intense depression that has overtaken both agriculture and
commerce in the present year (1884-5), and that in the presence of
plenty of capital and an exceptionally good harvest; yet, strange to
say, an enormous amount of distress prevails all over the country,
and which seems to deepen and spread rather than disappear.
Yet there is one consolation left, which cannot be too highly
applauded, viz., that those who have this world’s goods have freely
given thereof to their less fortunate brethren.
And, amongst others, the Laird of Badds, who, although non-resident
in the parish, has not forgotten to distribute more liberally than
ever his annual donation of coals to the poor.
What threatens to further depress the commercial prosperity of West
Calder is the free import of foreign petroleum from the undeveloped
regions in the Caucasus, and Trans Caspian provinces, which are now
being opened by the Russian Government, who are presently expending
enormous capital on a combined railway and steam-boat route
constructed for military and commercial purposes.
The petroleum trade from the Black Sea to the rest of the world is
expected to be of such vast dimensions, that the Shipowners Society
of Newcastle recently held a meeting to discuss the subject, when it
was mentioned that foreign capitalists were already bestiring
themselves in the matter; and that if British shipowners allowed
foreigners to secure this traffic, the monopoly gained thereby would
ultimately drive British shipping entirely from the Black Sea and
Of course petroleum can never supplant paraffin, in all its uses,
but it will supplant it in many of them, and hence lower its
commercial use and value.
And, to my knowledge, some of the wisest business men in the parish
think an equitable duty should be placed upon foreign petroleum, for
its advent will shake “Oil Shares” like the rattling of dry bones;
and the wages of workmen will also “go by the board”; so that, ere
long, some future historian or poet will ramble through this parish
and meditate on the cold hearths and ruined homes of something
greater, and hence more saddening, than Goldsmith’s “Deserted
The battle of “Free Trade v. Protection” is again being fought, and
many eager champions are entering the lists. What the outcome may
be, time alone will tell.
No doubt, free trade and the steam engine combined have done great
things for this and other countries—but famine and plenty— good
years and bad years—peace and war— pestilence and freedom from
pestilence— come and go as regularly as they did in the days of old,
and will so long as the world lasts. But what is wanted is prudent
rulers, like Joseph in Egypt.
There never was a height but there was a hollow behind it; and we
are now like a ship in the trough of the deep, and if other ships
are there it only increases the danger!
But let us look one fact straight in the face, and try to discover
what it so strangely portends, viz.—In the year 1882 the population
bf the United States was 50,156,000, while that the United Kingdom
was 35,241,000 only. Yet the United Kingdom had a greater taxation
and expenditure, viz.—Taxation, £88,494,000; expenditure,
£88,395,000— (surplus, £99,000). Whereas the United States, with the
larger population, only raised by taxation £84,668,000, and only
spent £53,746,000, leaving the enormous surplus in favour of the
United States exchequer of £30,322,000—a sum so enormous that, with
a few years’ accumulation thereof, they will be at a loss what to do
with. And all this while from import duties alone, in the above year
they raised for revenue purposes j^45,029,000, while this country
only raised £19,657,000 from a like source—import duties.
This is surely food for reflection, amidst conflicting interests!
I will conclude this chapter with the following extract, which is
culled from a newspaper, and give it for what it is worth:—
“Mr C. J. Kennard, M.P., and Free Trade. At Salisbury, on Saturday,
Mr C. J. Kennard, M.P., referring to Free Trade, asserted that the
protectionists’ magnet in other countries was extracting from this
country its capital, energy, and labour.
What was the explanation of Free Traders to the fact that
capitalists, bag and baggage, were abandoning Free Trade shores for