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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


BB, Page 182.  Comparative Produce from Cultivation, and from Land in the state of Nature

To offer an agricultural comparison, taken from a Highland glen, may occasion a smile; but I may be permitted to mention the relative state of two glens high up in the Highlands, both of nearly the same extent and quality of pasture and arable land, with no difference of climate. The one is full of people, all of whom are supported by the produce. The other glen was once as populous, but is now laid out in extensive grazings, and the arable land turned into pasture. The population of the latter, compared with the former, is as one to fifteen, and the difference of rent supposed to be about four per cent. in favour of the stock-farming glen. But in the populous district, the surface is cleared, the soil improved, and the produce increased, merely by the strength of many hands, without expense to the landlord either in building houses or otherwise. In the grazing glen the soil remains in a state of nature, and large sums have been expended in building houses for the men of capital. The income-tax being removed, few direct taxes reach them, horses or carts being scarcely at all employed; whereas, in the populous districts, taxes are paid for horses, hearths, dogs, and for the manufactures which the people consume. The stock-farmer ought to send more produce to market than can be spared, where there are so many people to support, but does this additional marketable produce go to the landlord? Perhaps as much of this produce is laid out on the extended mode of living in the family and personal expense of the man of capital, as is consumed by the more numerous but more economical occupiers ; but that even they can spare a full proportion, is evident from the rent and taxes they pay, and the money required for their necessary supplies; the land, at the same time, supporting a numerous population who improve the soil, and give nearly as good rents to the landlord, and pay more taxes; consuming manufactures in the same proportion, and adding to the employment of those who prepare them; and producing from their small spots of land a sufficiency to answer all demands; and, above all, to maintain a robust, active body of men, ready to turn out in defence of the liberty and honour of their country. With all this the earth is cultivated and grain produced, and industry, and the improvements of men, are allowed full play. In the grazing districts, again, with less than one-fifteenth part of this population, few taxes are paid, few manufactures consumed, the soil is left in the state of nature, and the country apparently waste.

Conversing on this point at different times with judicious stock-farmers and graziers of capital, I asked if they could pay a rent equal to that of the small tenants in the populous glens. They answered, "Yes, certainly." Following up this question, I asked if they could pay the rent, still keeping the people, having no cultivation, and turning all the land to pasturage. The answer always was, Certainly not more than half the rent. When further questioned, why then did they turn their own farms to pasturage, when they saw and acknowledged the superior advantage of cultivation? To this the only answer was, That pasturage was more easily managed ; that, with ten men and twenty dogs, they would take care of all the sheep and cattle in the glen, which, under cultivation, supported 643 persons. In short, they fully acknowledged, that cultivating the land made this immense difference; but then they could not cultivate the farms without restoring the people, or employing a great many servants. They insisted, at the same time, that pasture is better adapted to wet climates, and more easily managed than cultivated fields, overlooking the strong and acknowledged fact before them, as well as many others of the same tendency. Their concluding argument was, that to improve the soil was the business of the proprietor, not theirs. If gentlemen allowed their lands to remain in a state of nature, without an attempt to improve or continue the cultivation, the loss was the proprietor's, and so long as they got their farms for the rents they could afford to pay in pasture, they asked for no improvement. [It may not be irrelevant to state, that, notwithstanding the recent depopulation of the higher glens, their inhabitants have always been more athletic, better limbed, and more independent in their minds, than the inhabitants of the lower glens; the soil in many of the higher glens is deep and rich, and when properly cultivated with lime, manure, and green crops, the corn is strong and productive, failing only in fold and wet autumns. The upper glens on Lord Breadalbane's, as well as those on many other estates, prove the superior appearance of the people and capability of the soil.]

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