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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXXVI.  - The Urban Invasion of the Country

COUNTRY life, with all its drawbacks, is the natural life ; and Nature, though expelled with a fork, will now and then return to the most cynical and selfish and sensual of city men. What a pleasure it must be to London slum dwellers to go a-gipsying once a year to the Kent hop-gathering? How glad are peers and commoners to scurry away on week-end excursions to the country by trains and motor-cars? How sadly washed - out by pursuit of pleasure become Society ladies, and how good it is for them to seek rest in the country and forget balls, operas, and all junketings and racketings of city life among trees and flowers, listening to the songs of birds? What a mistake they make if they rush off to the Continent instead of going to the far more pleasant rural retreats at home which belong to them, where they have duties to discharge? Well, the shooting season does fill halls and manors with owners and guests. And it is just to acknowledge that both classes of land-owning people the old and the new are far from being negligent in the discharge of their duty to those who live on their estates. Still the number of noblemen and gentry who spend the greater part of their time on their estates, and shun city life unless taken in small dozes, is not so large as should be desired for their own and their people's good, and for the union of classes and masses in a critical transitional period of national history.

The industrious, prudent workman who is earning daily wages can afford to pay one visit to the Continent. Paris and Rome, the Rhine, and even Egypt and Jerusalem, with Jericho thrown in, are quite within his reach. But why should his fancy roam so far away? Is it not far wiser for him to be content with what he can so readily find at home beautiful scenery, mountain air, and refreshing sea- breezes ? As a matter of fact, the well-to-do, comfortably-off, middle-class inhabitants of our Scotch cities and towns are not much given to roaming abroad. Neither are those of the wage- earning class, unless in the way of employment. It was not the case of old, but now "the Scot abroad" is usually one who has emigrated to a British colony, or one who holds a position in the public service or in a banking or business establishment.

There are many scenes of beautiful landscape in England besides the Lake district, which exhibits in miniature form, with the omission of sea lochs, firths, and rocky shores, the features of Highland scenery. The Scotch Borders, Wales, and Ireland put in rival claims to favourable comparison. But Highland scenery is alone and above comparison with anything of its kind in the United Kingdom, It laid its spell upon the stranger who saw it before railways had been dreamed of, and before passable roads joined glen to glen. The romance of Highland history likewise laid hold upon those who knew about it, or who merely observed with intelligence the picturesque peculiarities of the Highland people and their clannish propensities. The peculiar people romance has now almost become as shadowy as Ossian's ghosts.

As the Highlands became more and more accessible, the summer visitors grew from a small beginning into a host, divided into three classes, namely, sportsmen, passing tourists from all countries, and families and individuals from Scotch cities and towns, with some from a further distance, who came to the villages along the railways and to sea- side places, and took lodgings for the summer. Some of this third class built or bought houses for them- selves in the Highland summering resorts which they liked best, or which best suited their business or professional vocations, near enough to give the men week-end excursions to see the wives and families they sent away to summer in the country. The first of the invading classes were the sportsmen. A few of them appeared with the making of fairly good roads, and the opening of the Caledonian Canal, and the few grew into many on the coming of the railway. The circulating tourists and the day- trippers come and go, leaving no trace. The sports- men are quite free from innovating intentions, but most of them being Church of England people they innocently and unconsciously help to accentuate the ecclesiastical separatism of the upper classes from the masses, who are themselves separated by unreasonable ecclesiastical hedges. The third class are the mainstay of the Highland summer resorts, which grew up like Jonah's gourd the instant railways and steamers opened up the Highlands. They exercise a far more direct innovating influence on Highland character, habit, and language than the others. That, however, is not the fault of the visitors, but of Highland imitativeness. The good in the said influence is mixed with positive evil, or what in another generation, should it not be stopped, will strip Highlanders of their best Highland characteristics.

The Scotch town-folk who, to compare great things with small, use our summering resorts, as Highlanders of the olden times used their shealings, are douce and decent folk, as well as profitable and welcome visitors. Without them the extensive lodging accommodation provided for summer visitors would be a dead loss. As it is, too much of building for such visitors has taken place. The stream of the desirable class of visitors shrinks or swells according to the prosperity or depression of trade. There are, no doubt, many persons of independent means in the annual class of visitors, whom fluctuations in trade will not keep from coming every summer to the Highlands. But without those who depend upon trade the stream of visitors would shrink to a small rivulet, like a mountain burn during a severe drought. And more than those who had lodgings to let would suffer from the shrinkage. The inter- dependencies of all sections of modern society are as numerous and complicated as the mechanical inventions for manufacturing processes, and maintenance of trade and commerce to which compelling causes have driven us, like other manufacturing nations.

Laden with blessings is the annual retreat to what may be called Highland shealings, to denizens of cities and towns. From worries of professions and business cares, heads of families shake themselves free, and get a freshening feeling of youth renewed. Young men and maidens sauntering in woods or scaling mountains often step into a paradise of their own. It is happiest of all for the school children, emancipated from the yoke of crams and exams., and with unbounded capacity for making the most of novel and blameless enjoyment. The small trotters are amazed and delighted that they can run in a few minutes from houses to heather or bushes or crystal clear streams. The very babies wheeled about in perambulators fill their lungs with pure air, and with solemn round eyes look round them, and in a wordless way seem to be mightily pleased with the wonderful change in their surroundings.

The truth of the saying "God made the country, and man made the town," has been self- evident in all ages and in all lands. But for many ages in Scotland town and country life were of old more alike than they are now. It was not until the early part of last century that the present state of matters began at first almost imperceptibly, and then of a sudden grew into a sweeping flood, which swept away all the old relations of urban and rural districts. What were our ancient Scotch cities when James VI. set off to England to sit on the throne of Queen Elizabeth? Small places crowded with buildings within walls for defence, and, as a rule, commanded by castles belonging to or held for the King. In such a state they remained long after the union of the Crowns. They were the seats of learning, arts, crafts, and legislative judicial and administrative organisations. Their inhabitants, like those of the early and most heroic days of Republican Rome, were cultivators, or farmers, or owners of land near their walls, and as interested and skilled in rural matters as the country people themselves. It was the industrial organisation which steam power and mechanical inventions brought about in last century that drew a hard and fast line between urban and rural life, and made a sacrifice of rural interests to urban, or, in a broader sense, manufacturing and trading interests. As our industries were better organised and better capitalised than those of other countries, our enterprising traders poured British goods into the markets of the world, and forthwith our trade advanced by leaps and by bounds, and our cities and towns spread themselves out in a corresponding manner. So country life and country interests were complacently sacrificed or neglected until it began to dawn on a younger generation that other countries were, by tariff walls, getting up to us and ahead of us, and urban life was sapping out strength physically, morally, socially, and religiously. The town-dwellers who are able to escape once a year from smoke, bustle of streets, noise of machinery, and pressure of monotonous business to rustication places where they can breathe pure air, and where connection with Nature refreshes body and soul, have in Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, an infinite number of places of retreat from which to make a choice, each of which is more fitted to give the health benefits they are in search of, than a rush to Paris and a scamper on the Continent. And in their beautiful retreats they will have the additional pleasure of giving themselves credit for patriotism, because they spend their "outing" money in their own country. But they cannot help bringing with them into the country luxuries and habits of town life such as town clothes and foods, and house comforts which country people too readily imitate. This imitation is more damaging to country girls who take to domestic service in summering retreats, than to other natives. They are the best of domestic servants after a little training, and the most honest and trustworthy. So, many of them are drawn away by the visitor mothers of families into the cities and towns, where they meet with various fortunes some good and some evil. And those who do not go away, learn to turn their backs upon dairy and field work, and lose in health more than they gain in wages, neatness, and aped ladyism. Thoughtful students of vital statistics and scientific experts preach return to the simple life. They stand aghast when they look at the diminishing crop of children, infant mortality, and such signs of degeneracy as decay of teeth and defects of sight in so many of the children who survive infancy, and are to be the fathers and mothers of the next generation. The oculist, spectacle-maker, and the dentist have numerous clients, where they should not have them, in the ranks of the young. I cannot recollect a case of decay in a child's first set of teeth when I was a boy, and I knew many men and women who had their second set of teeth, full, or nearly so, in advanced old age. Country folk then lived on home-grown food, and women worked in youth and age more then they do now in the open air from early spring to the end of the harvest. The simple life is no longer what it used to be in the farmhouses, or in the crofter's or even the cottar's home. Oatcakes, barley scones, and porridge and milk, are not prized as they used to be Kail and fish keep their footing well, but tea and groceries and loaf-bread, which in my early days were luxuries sparingly used in country houses, are now classed as necessaries of life by farmers, farm servants, crofters and cottars. But enough of the simple life remains among the country folk for their own preservation, and the town folk who come to what I may call Highland shealings in summer are asking renovations in the best way open to them.

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