The church and the highlands

Download 1.31 Mb.
Size1.31 Mb.
1   ...   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   ...   61

1 These latter remarks apply, of course, more to the in­habitants of the Outer Hebrides than to the inhabitants of the mainland, whose material condition, however, is in numerous cases very far indeed from being that of the proverbial " bed of roses ".

There is also the moral aspect of agriculture to consider. Its economic aspect holds out little encouragement to the inhabitants of the Highlands and Isles to prosecute it to the extent advocated by some of our well-wishers ; and I venture to think that, from the point of view of the State also, the devotion of larger numbers of our countrymen to this form of employment would be equally mistaken and injurious. I am aware, of course, that the familiar cry of " Back to the land!" is exceedingly fashionable just now ; and that any one who may venture to question its perfect reasonableness and utility is not likely to secure a patient and tolerant hearing, at all events in those quarters from which it most frequently hails. Nevertheless, I venture to question the discretion of this cry, which, it seems to me, has even something more of the unthinking parrot about it than such popular utterances—the current vocal coin of the Vox Populi -usually have. No one can possibly regret more than I do the de­population of the rural districts in favour of the great towns and the consequent deterioration in respect of both the numbers and quality of the Highland population. But to assume that the evil is to be removed by simply damming up the straths and glens, and so creating a purely arti­ficial state of affairs within their circumscribed areas, is a proposition which is not entitled to take high rank even as a means of shirking an admitted difficulty; whilst as a preliminary to preparing the ground for a serious legislative effort it is not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with statesmanship. The depopulation of the Highlands and Isles proceeds on grounds which are altogether apart from mere sentiment, and has nothing to do with facilities for prose­cuting agriculture. It is more a social than an economic movement; and were you to raise your parliamentary dams in every strath and glen in the Highlands to-morrow, you would not thereby appreciably diminish the prevailing poverty of those districts, which, I repeat, has nothing whatever to do with facilities (granted or with­held) for practising agriculture, but is the con­sequence of social tendencies, plus a long series of political ills, which have their origin in the centuries behind us.

Politicians and philanthropists of the popu­larity-hunting order are fond of patting husbandry on the back. They think that agriculture produces fine men, and that the only conceivable destination for a superfluity of such is the army. A more silly and mischievous notion, and one which our race should more firmly discourage, it would be difficult to discover. If any such ulterior motive really underlies the numerous schemes (all highly visionary and unpractical, it seems to me) whose avowed object is to " fix the peasant to the soil," then, assuredly, the fans et rigo of all this flattering attention on the part of politicians and others would do well to have nothing whatever to do with them.

The Highlands have been too long regarded as a kind of nursery or forcing-house for the army, whose shabby treatment of its own in the past fully justifies the dislike and suspicion with which it is presently regarded by the bulk of the Highland population. As a race, we have had our stomach full of fighting. Thanks to circumstances over which we had no control, our history is little better than a record of perpetual feud and blood­shed; and the " fighting spirit of the Highlands," however well it may sound in romance, on the boards of the music-hall stage or in a war-office hand-bill, is not a possession of which any sensible Highlander has reason to be proud ; nor is it one which any truly patriotic individual will seek to encourage, at all events to the extent which, for purely selfish reasons, is evidently ardently desired by its promoters, with their host of interested aiders and abettors.

But, apart from any such consideration as the above, the undoubted tendency of agriculture to " put on flesh" is not at all a point in its favour. Healthy men are necessary to a state, and, no doubt, the useful breed is deserving of all suitable encouragement; but to devote a whole people to agriculture simply in order that Parliament may be able to pass them physically " sound " does not imply a particularly exalted view of a people who have already proved themselves capable of the highest performances in the crafts and the arts, but whom adverse political conditions have re­duced to a state of helpless ignorance, incapacity and poverty. Agricultural people are notoriously slow-witted, and, if statistics may be relied on, their moral status, in Scotland at all events, would appear to be no wise superior to their intellectual attainments. Overmuch handling of neeps and potatoes would seem to have a singu­larly crushing and deadening effect on mind, morals and manners, however ennobling to the flesh their traffic may be. The low view of agriculture taken by our ancestors is abundantly justified by experience of agricultural communities, which, for the most part, are neither celebrated for morals, nor remarkable for intelligence; and that even some Highlanders should appear to desire the consummation aimed at by Government of] " fixing the people to the soil" in the interests of] agriculture, and in the hope, presumably, of thereby staying the depopulation of the rural districts, shows how completely even Highlanders themselves have departed from their original] notions, and how completely centuries of neglect and misgovernment have crushed and exhausted the national spirit of our people.

The kings of Scotland (from David I. down-] wards) applauded and encouraged agriculture,] because they knew full well the moral and sociaj effects which it had (and still has) on those who! were engaged in prosecuting it. On pretence that the pastoral life favoured the growth of a restless] spirit (which was inimical to the best interest! of the state) they passed laws compelling the] practice of agriculture, without the slightest rel gard, in many cases, to the suitability of thai employment to their people, or to the fitness on their people to that occupation. The inevitable effect of these laws, where they were observed! was, in many instances, to condemn by Act of Parliament whole communities (which by training] and temperament were fitted for far better thingsl to an agricultural life, which they not only neg3 lected but despised. Especially with regard to] the Highlands and Isles (whenever the government of the day chose to take their " improvement" in] hand, which rarely happened unless they were] more than usually unruly) were our kings and] parliaments particularly forward and aggressive with] their "cure-all" nostrums, of which compulsory! agriculture, plus "education" (as understood in] Fifeshire or Edinburgh), were ever prime favour-] ites. The effect of these drastic measures (it was lan age in which even the honest watch-dog was ■subjected to Act of Parliament!) was to unsettle our people, and reduce them yet further in the political and social scales; for by setting our forefathers' noses to the grindstone of agriculture, land of other compulsory callings—equally unsuit­able to climate and distasteful to temperament where the Highlands were concerned—whether Ithey liked it or not, the natural avenues of their capabilities and attainments were cruelly and prematurely cut off, and the whole people, by being familiarised with the notion that they were not, as they imagined, a peculiar people requiring particular handling and treatment and outlets for their genius, brought off from the idea of prosecuting •those callings in which they formerly excelled. The pfolly of the policy of Square Pegs and Round Holes —in other words, of treating Scotland as a political whole—a complete national entity, that is to say-— was never more strikingly or forcibly illustrated than in regard to the Highlands and Isles, which, linstead of being made the object of special legisla­tion (were such needed), were ruthlessly condemned to the same species of employment as obtained in &he Lowlands, through the initiative and enterprise ■of our kings. The art of government has made considerable progress since those evil days, in which to hint at the folly of attempting to fatten ithe goose on the self-same food as was designed to produce that effect in the gander would have amounted to a species of economic high treason, v& it did not actually come under the head of contempt of the sovereign authority, punishable % fines and imprisonment or the usual quartering. "But that the spirit of the old Adam is still strong within many of us, at all events, is proved con­clusively by the proposals which are made from] time to time and which have for their object the] "patching up" of the Highlands and Isles by] means of this or that "cure-all" industry. Even] Parliament seems strangely reluctant to part witH its belief in the absolute soundness of the " cure-all'l theory, as every one who gives any attention to the] proceedings of that body knows full well. '^^J is still a tendency abroad to prescribe for political diseases the compound remedies in which even tha best and most intelligent of our ancestors believed! Whether or no this tendency is a result of thè] almost universal practice of taking patent medicines] in the shape of " cure-all" nostrums, or whether the] habit alluded to above is merely a reflexion of the] other I have glanced at, I am really unable to say;' but without a doubt the day of the specialists, though it may be dawning, is not yet; and until! that day comes—and surely the Highland^^H any one, should pray for its advent—theiijrauj^H and his remedies will reign, if not supreme, at all] events with a power and authority which are now to be questioned. Meanwhile much might be] done to discourage centralisation, which is the] evil of which the Highlands and Isles have most] cause to complain, for out of centralisation proceed] parliamentary inquiries, Boards of Agriculture,1! "Congested" Districts officials and much other] odious (and useless) excreta exceeding dear to] the " official mind ". No doubt it is but justice] that the system which produces the ills should] send its henchmen out into the world to do some| thing to cure them, though to be sure there is al suggestion of the comic about such justicg^B cannot fail to appeal to the ardent admirer of] Gilbertian opera or Alice in Wonderland.

Centralisation is the enemy of small and struggling communities because it necessarily can take no heed of their individual requirements, which, being complex and many, escape its atten­tion. Centralisation may be the key to success in foreign affairs, but it cannot possibly be so with regard to home questions which require not " plain business men " (as Lord Rosebery seems to think) but specialists in order to their successful handling—specialists, that is to say, without hobbies to ride, who have the interests of the community, rather than those arising from place and profit, at heart, who are thoroughly in touch and sympathy with the people, know their history and know their capabilities as well as our government departments, crown officials, and so forth now know their limitations and trade on them.

To return, however, I venture to think that agriculture as a panacea or "cure-all" for the Highlands, and Isles stands condemned. As a subsidiary and a collateral industry it may well take rank amongst our people, much in the same manner as Lamb who, if I am not mistaken, was an accountant to trade, classed the noble but, alas ! unprofitable profession of letters—that is to say, by no means as the staff of life, but as a supple­ment to more profitable means of keeping body and soul together. To seek to elevate agriculture to the position of principal industry in a country which is not only reputably but demonstratedly unsuited to its successful prosecution is not only waste of time, but, by misleading those who can ill afford to be led astray, is cruel and unsound policy as well, and will be sharply resented, if I mistake not, by such as are deceived by this new­found Highland Will-o'-the-Wisp, so soon as they come to their senses and realise that all the promises and pledges held out to them are little better, little more substantial, than the winds which swept through Tara's ruined halls.

(To be continued.)


The author of the following verses is known in Mabon, Cape Breton, as Iain Mac Dhòmhnuill Mhic Iain, or John MacDonald, son of Donald, son of John. He emigrated from the Braes of Lochaber in the year 1834, and died in his adopted home about fifty years ago. He came out in the ship Janet, which sailed from Tobermory, and landed her passengers at a port formerly known as Ship Harbour, now Hawkesbury, on the Strait of Canso (a narrow strip of water which separates Cape Breton from the mainland of Nova Scotia). So much I gather from a song composed by him shortly after his arrival in this country. It runs in couplets, the first, second, and last of which are:—

An Tobar Moire thog sinn siul, 'S ghabh sinn cùrsa bho'n chors'.

'Fagail Albainn na stùc Bha sinn tùrsach gu leoir.

Dh'fhàg sinn " Seonaid " Ship Harbour 'S càball fo sròine.

The land to which " Iain Sealgair " came in the early thirties was but newly settled. Here, as elsewhere, colonial life, in its early days, was marked by a certain freedom from restraint, which verged at times upon lawlessness. It must not, however, be supposed that the scene depicted by the bard in the sixth stanza was one often to be witnessed, even in those early days. The great bulk of those who came hither from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland were simple, frugal, sober people, full of faith and of the holy fear of God. " Led by God's hand," as Father Donald Xavier MacLeod, himself a con­vert from Presbyterianism, so well says in his History of the Devotion to the Blessed Virgin in North America, "hither they set sail from the shelter of towering Scaur-Eigg, from the shadow of sacred Iona, from Mull and wild Tiree, from Uist and Skye, of gray mists,

Share with your friends:
1   ...   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   ...   61

The database is protected by copyright © 2019
send message

    Main page