JOHN STUART BLACKIE, Emeritus-Professor of Greek in the University of Edinburgh (74)—examined.
45824. The Chairman.
—I believe you desire to begin by reading a statement ?
—Yes, I thought that was the shortest way, and the way also to prevent looseness of language. But before doing so I wish to make an explanation first, how it was that I, who am neither a crofter nor the son of a crofter, nor a landlord nor the son of a landlord, happen to take an interest in this matter. About thirty-five years ago I stayed in Braemar, and wandering about the many glens there, I saw an immense number of
ruined cottages —a perfect desolation. Being a person of some human sympathy, I dropt a few tears over that desolation, and wrote a few sonnets and poems, which I called Braemar Ballade. A gentleman whom I met at the time said to me—' Blackie, poetry is of no use ; but I have a connection with the Times newspaper, and if you write a letter to the Times I will get an article to back it up.' ' Oh, oh/ said I, and I wrote a letter, and an article in the Times came down to back it. Then there was a row, and for six weeks afterwards my whole breakfast table was deluged with papers about the desolation in the Highlands.
45825. Will you forgive me if I ask you to have the kindness to make your statement rather in the form of a communication to the Commission than as a speech ?
—Yes, I am merely making an explanation how I took up the matter at all.
45826. Yes, but do so in a less demonstrative manner, if you can ?
—But I cannot adopt an artificial manner. I was merely going to say that I thought, on account of this deluge of letters upon my poor head, there must be something rotten in the state of the Highlands. I shall first state the facts of the case, as I have learned them by pedestrianising over the Highlands for thirty years and more, and also the political, social, and economical aspects of the case as they appear to me; and, secondly, I shall state the remedies which appear to me to be appropriate and necessary.
1. Facts of the case.—
(1) It is a fact that many districts of the Highlands once thickly populated, are now either lying in a state of complete desolation, strewn over with ruins of human dwellings, or swallowed up in some huge holding by the creation of which the native population seem to have been extruded.
(2) It is a fact that in other districts of the Highlands a number of extremely poor people have been huddled together into unkindly corners, which now labour under the evil of excessive population—an evil, however, which, on the face of the land, is manifestly owing, in many districts, more to a-want of proper distribution of the population than to any absolute excess over the number which it could naturally support.
(3) It is a fact that the natural population of the glens in which the desolation is visible, has either been disposed of in the way just alluded to—by huddling them into unkindly corners, in favour of strangers, or by shipping them off to America, or by sending them to languish and rot in small Highland townships adjacent to the depopulated districts, or to drag out an unhealthy and deteriorating life in the back slums of and other great manufacturing cities.
(4) It is fact that while in some cases emigration to America or to the colonies was and is highly beneficial, both to those who remain at home and to those who go abroad, the process of thinning the native population of the hills was often resorted to without cause, and generally overdone. There was room as well for a moderate emigration as for a further distribution of the remaining inhabitants in districts where the whole population has been mercilessly swept away. It is no less true, as has been suggested from various quarters, that part of the Hebridean population might be wisely disposed of as fishermen, if the proper training, encouragement, and facilities were supplied from influential quarters; but there would still remain room for an agricultural population, occupied mainly with grazing, and with the natural adjunct of a certain amount of tillage in oats and green crops where the soil and situation were more favourable.
(5) It is a fact that the crofter system, which grew up naturally in the lands, as contrasted with the large farm system natural to the Lothians, and other such districts of the lowlands, has been curtailed of its fair
proportions by the undiscriminating doctrinaire rage for large farms, which led landlords and factors to seize upon the hill pasturage, which was a necessary adjunct of the crofter system. It has often been said that large farms were absolutely necessary for sheep farming ; but this is a mistake; under proper direction, small farmers by the club farm system could pasture sheep on the braes, just as scientifically as a burly farmer from Dumfries or Hawick. The big farms created by the cruel evictions which at different periods have left their baleful marks on the record of Highland economy during the last hundred years, were necessary only to enable a few Lowland adventurers to grow suddenly rich on the ruin of the native inhabitants of the glens, and to save factors and commissioners and their underlings from the trouble of dealing in a kindly, considerate, discriminating, and Christian way with the poor man, from whose toil they drew their rents. On the other hand, I have not the least wish to deny that in some parts of the Highlands, from neglect and inconsiderate indulgence, and generally from a want of wise and firm administration, crofts were allowed to grow up too small for affording the means of subsistence to a family, even when assisted by extraneous employment, as fishing or otherwise. For these a process of moderate consolidation into larger crofts of various sizes is recommended ; but this consolidation must not take place violently in favour of one big stranger, but in a gradual, well-calculated, and humane fashion in favour of the native inheritors of the soil; while it must, at the same time, always be borne in mind that big men cannot do without little men in this world, and that care should always be taken, in every well-managed estate, to have a considerable number of small crofts to act as subsidiary means of subsistence to ploughmen and other labourers.
(6) It is a fact that, while under the kindly clan system which prevailed in the Highlands previous to the unfortunate rising of the '45, the crofters were allowed to bring down a deer or hook a salmon on occasions, or gather sticks from the wood, and enjoy other natural freedoms; the game laws have now been made so strict that the crofter is absolutely deprived of all these kindly perquisites, and is made in many ways painfully to feel that while the game is cultivated and cherished on the soil, the human being is scarcely tolerated, and no compensation has ever been made to the poor man for these encroachments of the rich.
(7) It is a fact that while the position of the crofter has in these various ways been made less favourable from year to year, his rent has in not a few cases not been diminished in proportion j but, on the contrary, it has sometimes been raised so as to keep him on the verge of starvation, and without hope in this world; while, at the same time, the improvements made by the sweat of his brow have, by the operation of unjust laws, been appropriated by the landowner.
(8) It is a fact that while, according to every principle of justice, laws should be made to protect the weak against the strong, the British laws of landed property have been made by the strong to make the strong stronger, and are radically and throughout one-sided and unjust.
(9) It is a fact that, in the face of the political axiom, that absolute power placed in the hands of any class of human beings is sure to be abused, the Highland crofters have been placed practically under a legally authorised power, which has no qualification but the accidental goodness of the person who exercises it. By the British land laws, as acted on in the Highlands, full swing is given to any kind of severity, harshness, and insolence in the lords of the soil, their agents and underlings, without any possibility of redress.
(10) It is a fact that while the principles of the clan system, of which the influence is still felt in some districts of the Highlands, favoured the local population, and cherished in an eminent degree those feelings of mutual love and esteem which are the only firm cement of the social structure, the principles of the so-called commercial system and of the feudal law are essentially selfish and unkindly, and tend to dissociate the upper from the lower strata of society in a manner most prejudicial to the health of the body social. Under the operation of these essentially selfish principles, our landholders have been degraded into land-dealers and dealers in game and rent-gatherers, and the feeling of loyalty in their dependants, as a natural sequence, has utterly perished.
(11) The commercial system of holding forth money as the chief good has taught the landlord to disown all territorial duties to the population whom lie was appointed to guide and encourage, and accustomed him to the idea that residence has nothing to do with the possession of land, and that the practice of being a habitual absentee attaches no moral stigma to the landholder. Absenteeism in the Highlands has grown up pretty much in the same way as in Ireland, and has produced its natural effects, —first in depriving the district of the best part of its natural life blood, and then in establishing the system of government by factors or agents, and their underlings, which by the very nature of the thing is systematically severe and accidentally generous.
(12) Under the operation of these various forces, the character of the Highlander and his value as a social integer is being gradually deteriorated. Having no independence of position guaranteed by law, he can have little independence of character; instead of a stout and self-sustained manliness, a cringing servility and fear of consequences is apt to become a ruling trait in his character; if he is cunning, it is because he dare not be bold; if he is lazy, it is because he is working for another, not for himself, and because he has no careful continuity of training from his natural guides, and where he has not been oppressed, has been systematically neglected and discouraged, and has no security that he will be allowed to reap the fruit of his toil. Thus our false system not only banishes the best part of our Highland population, but corrupts those who remain ; our army is deprived of its best material, our domestic establishments of their best servants, and the Queen's Majesty of her most loyal subjects. The natural result, indeed, of the whole treatment to which the Highlanders, under the operation of unjust land laws, economical doctrinairism, and commercial greed, have been subjected, has been to extinguish loyalty where it was naturally warm, and to sow the seeds of discontent where loyalty was traditionally at home.
(13) Next to the doctrinaire mania for large farms, which depopulated so many beautiful Highland glens, the aristocratic rage for deer forests has in these latter days come into the foreground to extinguish the last spark of hope in the breast of a Highlander that he may be allowed to set a free foot on his native heath. From being the natural adjunct of a resident proprietorship, deer forests have become an article of mountain merchandise, carried on in a style not seldom, disgraceful to our Christian civilisation, and degrading to our British aristocracy ; and under the influence of this aristocratic rage, our landholders, finding that Highland wool does not bring so much in the market as it did at the beginning of the century, and that the large farm system is in this way beginning to show its natural hollowness, have not scrupled to hand over whole counties to be-used as a playground for English and American Nimrods, who have no interest in the country except to keep as many deer as possible on the hills, and as few men as possible in the glens, and to allow no cows in the neighbourhood of their deer range, that might yield some honest milk to enrich the blood of a stunted and a starved population. And all this has been done, as already stated, in perfect accordance with English land laws, which give all power to the strong, and no protection to the weaker members of society.
(14) But it is not only the honest crofters that must thus retreat from the land marks, on which the omnipotent Nimrod so triumphantly disports. Our purple bens and our green winding glens, that were once as free to the foot of the pedestrian as the breeze that blows over them, are now fenced round with iron railings, or guarded by jealous gamekeepers; and not a botanist can pick up a fern, nor a geologist split a rock, nor an artist sketch a cascade, nor a rhymer spin a verse, nor a traveller in search of health
whiff the mountain breezes, for the sacred fear of " disturbing the deer," and curtailing the sport of a few idle young gentlemen. And this in an age when the tide of democracy is advancing all round at a rapid pace, and requires no additional momentum from artificial rights which plant the self-indulgent pleasures of the few in direct antagonism to the best interests of the great mass of the population.
(15) It should be mentioned under a separate head, though it is not a fact into which the Commissioners may have had particular occasion to inquire, that the treatment which the Gaelic language has received from the Central Board in London is only one proof amongst many of the utterly unsympathetic style in which the poor Highlanders have been treated by their social superiors. A certain, not uninfluential class of ignorant persons have been foolish enough to say that the Gaelic language is the curse of the country, and that it ought to be rooted out violently. This silly idea suiting, as it did admirably, the mechanical notions of education fashion- able with a central board, measuring everything by red-tape, seems to have been influential in excluding the reading of the Gaelic Bible, and the rich lyrical poetry of the Gaelic tongue, from the favoured columns of the inspectorial reports; whereas the real truth is, that not the Gaelic language is to be blamed for anything that is unfortunate in the social intercourse of the Highlands, but the Highland landlords, commissioners, and factors, who will not take the trouble to learn even a smattering of the language of the people on whose ground they dwell, and by the sweat of whose brow they are supported. The appointment of persons as commissioners and factors over extensive Highland estates, who are utterly ignorant of the language, feelings, and habits of the people, is one of the greatest blunders habitually perpetrated in the management of Highland properties. People who really wished to gain the love and confidence of their people would never neglect the study of the language which is the natural highway to their affections.
(16) I hope that no person who hears this statement, and these views, will be so uncharitable as to suppose that I am one of those unreasonable persons who deal in sweeing denunciations of whole classes of men. I know there are not a few good landlords, with kindly and considerate factors, in the Highlands, especially among those in whose hearts the milk of human kindness, inherited from the palmy days of the Highlands, has not been curdled into the sour by the worship of a glittering materialism, and the sophistries of an ambitious political economy usurping the throne of ethical and political science. These landlords know, and by their kindly conduct practically acknowledge, that their business is not to make money, or to make poaching impossible by stamping out the local population, but simply to make their people comfortable and contented. As good members of society they know that there is no such thing as an absolute right of property in the social system; that no good citizen can do what he likes with his own, but only what is good and profitable for the community of which he is a limb; and that property in land specially exists, not for the selfish pleasure of the man who owns it, but for the good of the people, who live upon it, in whose well-being the community has a vital interest. But what the views just stated imply is simply this, that there cannot exist a widely spread disaffection among a loyal, hardworking, religious, and law-abiding people —a race of mountaineers second to none to be found in the whole breadth of Europe —without some good cause or causes; and what these causes have been I have endeavoured to interweave in the statements of the facts that have come under my own observation. I am perfectly aware that other causes, over which neither landlords nor land laws had any control, have contributed towards the extrusion of our stout race of Highlanders from their native seats; but this never could have taken place to the extent which now fills every patriotic heart with sorrow, had not the blood of our landholders been poisoned, and the social conscience debauched by the long-continued action of unequal, unfair, and oppressive land laws. The harsh and violent things that were done in our bonnie green glens, at various times, the so-called land improvers who are now giving an account of their stewardship, I have no doubt were done sometimes with the best intentions. But hell is paved with good intentions; and these, though they may palliate the personal guilt, cannot diminish the public wrong, nor prevent a just Providence from running its appointed curse of chastisement. Great sinners are seldom aware that they are great sinners till the day of retribution comes; but, when it does come, as recently in Ireland, they are made to feel it sharply; and in these cases, the saints, I freely confess, are sometimes unavoidably punished with the sinners, which of course, it is not quite easy for the saints to understand. I wish now to state my remedies. I assume that the mountain peasantry of the Highlands are a race that ought not to be lightly sacrificed, either that a few Lowland speculators may make enormous fortunes by sheep farming, or that a few aristocratic young gentlemen may have an unhindered range of the glens for the sake of chasing deer. I believe on the best grounds that the peasantry of a country, and especially the mountain peasantry, are, to borrow a phrase from cattle breeders, the very best human stock that the nation possesses. If the game are worth preserving, the people are much more. I assume also that the principle of laissez faire in this case cannot be allowed to rule; things have drifted long enough the wrong way; also that the doctrine of free contract as between an omnipotent Highland landlord and a poor crofter is at once a sophism in economical science, and in practice a delusion and a mockery. If the people are to be preserved on their native land they must be preserved on some principle of which economical science, as taught by a certain narrow-minded and heartless school in this country, knows nothing; they must be preserved, as the Irish people have been preserved in Mr Gladstone's Bill of 1881, by regulations suited to the peculiar circumstances of their case. The policy of the future, therefore, if we are to have the Highlands at all for any purpose but a recreation ground for English Nimrods, must be a policy directly the reverse of what has led to such lamentable consequences in the past. Instead of a race of serfs and menial dependants and stunted starvelings, we must foster and cherish a race of stout-hearted and stout-thewed independent mountaineers, who will be the glory and stay of this country, as the Tyrolese are of the Austrian empire'; and this desirable result can be achieved only by marching boldly forward on the lines marked out by the far-sighted legislation of the present Premier in his Irish Land Act of 1881. No two cases can be imagined more parallel than the economic state of the western half of Ireland and that of our Highlands and Islands; and, if there be a Strathnaver in Sutherland, the memory of which, at the distance of more than half a century, curdles the blood of every true-hearted Highlander, there is a Dunveagh in Donegal that responds to it with a fearful similarity of grim portraiture. I consider, therefore, that for the regeneration of the Highlands, and the recovery and restoration of that noble race of mountaineers, whom the narrow and selfish policy of past generations has in great measure lost to us, we must —
(1) Take for our guiding star the famous three F's; fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale, which have set the stamp of legislative wisdom on the Land Act which is now the law in the sister island. Of these three F's the two first are absolutely necessary to give the mountain farmer that independence, security, and encouragement which are necessary to distinguish him from a serf, the slave of arbitrary command, and a servant dismissible at will; and the third, the right of assignation of a lease, or tenant-right as they call it in Ulster, seems the necessary sequence of the commercial relation which so many modern landlords have acted upon in their dealings with their 'tenants. In extending to the Scottish Highlanders the generosity and justice which characterise the Gladstonian Act of 1881, we shall not only have the benefit of the Irish experience of the operation of that Act, but we shall have to apply it to a system of legal machinery, which will be at once less costly and more satisfactory than that which could be looked for in Ireland, and to a people as distinguished for reasonableness, orderly conduct, and peaceableness, as their Celtic brethren on the other side of the Channel, suffering under three centuries of a social cachexy, have unfortunately been for the contrary.
(2) A Royal Commission should be appointed to make a survey of all the lands in the Highlands and Islands which, since the evictions and forced emigrations of the last hundred years, have been denuded of thejr natural population ; and to consider and report under what financial conditions and economical regulations these tracts of land could be distributed in small farms of various sizes, according to circumstances, in such a fashion that the loyal subjects of Her Majesty in that quarter may have cause to be thankful to the Government that shall have allowed them to live with peaceful industry on the roods which were reclaimed by the spade and purchased by the blood of their forefathers.
(3) This Commission will be specially required to report in how far deer forests, which have always existed in the Highlands as the natural adjuncts of hill property, have in these recent days been allowed to encroach on land which could be profitably employed for pasturage or tillage, to the benefit of the native Highland population, and the advantage of the public and further to report whether the enormous sheep farms in the Highland glens, now leased to south country farmers, could not be at once more patriotically, and more in accordance with good economic principles, distributed amongst native Highlanders from overcrowded districts, acting on the club farm system, of which the details are well known to practical economists.
(4) The game laws, which are no doubt absolutely necessary, unless game is altogether to vanish from the hills, as trout fishing has almost vanished from the Tweed, must be so qualified that the small farmer shall feel that his well-being is not systematically sacrificed to the recreations of the landowner and his friends. This implies that the braes adjoining to Highland crofts shall, as in olden times, be free for pasture to the crofter; and that if deer or other wild animals from the mountain shall be found encroaching upon his turnip field or otherwise, he shall be entitled to bring them down.
(5) Furthermore, as deer forests, even under restrictive regulations, such as do not at present exist, are naturally at war with the development of social life and economic culture of the Highlands, and are besides, properly labelled under the head of luxuries of the rich, they ought to be taxed with a heavy percentage, the produce of the tax to be employed in raising the salaries of the schoolmasters, and improving the furnishing of the schools in the county to which the deer forest belongs.
(6) That all the uncultivated ground of the Bens and glens, whether occupied by deer or by sheep, shall be open freely to the foot of the pedestrian, whether travelling for health or recreation, or for the sake of physical science and observation of nature.
(7) That in order to diminish as much as possible the evils of absenteeism and of vicarious administration of gigantic estates by factors and land agents, the land laws of this country, and especially the laws of succession in land, shall be changed in the-direction of a larger distribution and a more free transmission of property in land all over the country. Our present land laws, by which a monstrous accumulation of landed property in the hands of a few is artificially encouraged, are, historically considered, merely a badge of conquest from the Conqueror downward, maintained and cherished by every device that the love of power, the pride of pedigree, family vanity, and the ingenuity of lawyers could invent. Economical value they have none, except of course, accidentally, as in the well-known case of my noble friend, his Grace of Sutherland, who expended many hundred thousand pounds of income, derived from his Staffordshire estates, on the improvement of his Highland property. But in themselves, and without the accident of exceptionally good men, they tend rather to the waste and mismanagement, neglect and depopulation of large tracts of country that might otherwise enjoy the benefits of resident proprietorship. In order to attain this desirable distribution of landed property, now perniciously locked up in the hands of a few, it is by no means necessary to plunge into the opposite extreme of compulsory division so familiar to Englishmen in the example of France. The revival of the old Norman law of limited primogeniture, as it exists still in the Channel Islands, will serve all practical purposes, presenting as it does the golden economical mean between the French morcellement and the monstrous accumulation artificially fostered by the English and Scottish law. Whether, in addition to such a change in the law of succession to landed property, an absentee tax should not be laid on all proprietors who do not reside on their properties for at least six months in the year, may be a doubtful question. Important exceptions to the range of such a tax obviously would require to be made. Nevertheless, personally I am in favour of such a tax. Its imposition would emphatically express the sensibility of the State conscience to aristocratic and plutocratic offences, and act as a salutary reminder of their territorial duties to a class of persons who are only too apt to forget them.
45827. Having heard your statement, particularly with reference to strictly economical principles as applied to the management of land and the evils attached, according to your belief, to the large areas of land in the Highlands devoted to either sheep farms or to deer, I was desirous of asking you what your own practical suggestions might be for the remedy of the evils attached to large farms and large forests; but, I understand, you have relegated the contrivance of remedies for those evils to another Royal Commission of which I may not be member. Well, although you contemplate the nomination of another Royal Commission to deal with these questions, you have perhaps your own opinions about them?
45828. In that case I should like you to state those opinions. We have, for instance, heard a great deal of the evils attached to the area of large farms in the north, to the number of farms in the possession or occupancy of the same individual, and to the non-residency not only of the proprietor but even of the farmer. Now, I would like to know from you what limitations, if any, you would recommend on public liberty, so to speak, in reference to a single person taking farms and not residing on them?
—Well, I think I have indicated that. I name another Commission, because I do not think that under the present law anything can be done. We have what I call the right of the rich to over-ride the poor, and the .
strong to over-ride the weak, but if that Commission were to report they would say— Here is a district in the possession of a south country farmer from which the population has been excluded. We ordain, by the power of Parliament, that the proprietor shall distribute that among a certain number of native farmers.
45829. But, speaking of your own personal opinion, your opinion is in favour of limiting the area by law which may be held by any individual tenant ?
—According to circumstances. I believe, in the terms of a letter written to me by the Duke of Argyll many years ago, that a proper mixture of large, small, and medium farms, according to circumstances, is a wise custom.
45830. I have no doubt the Duke of Argyll would repeat the expression of the same view, but I don't know whether he would be in favour of allowing the law to prescribe that ?
—I know he would not. He is a landlord, and I am not.
45831. Well, you are in favour of a law prescribing the limits of land to be occupied by individuals ?
—I consider there is too much freedom to all sorts of persons in this country, and too little Government, and that we would be the better of Bismarck fen tell our landlords what to do. I mean I would say
—'Here is a piece of land that might be advantageously subdivided for the accommodation of the inhabitants, and it would be for your pecuniary advantage that it should be subdivided.'
45832. Would you also be in favour of a legal obligation on the part of the tenant to occupy his holding and live there?
45833. A legal obligation?
—Most distinctly. No man is entitled to desert the post where God has put him. If he makes money out of it, let him live there.
45834. But reverting to the question of deer forests, would you be in favour, if asked by this future Commission —I speak of your own personal opinion —of prohibiting the exclusive appropriation of land to deer at all, under all circumstances ?
—No. There are parts of the Highlands which naturally and always were deer forests. The greatest Highland poet, Duncan Ban, was a gamekeeper and an excellent deer stalker. But I would have a survey made to see how much land had been encroached upon that was not naturally deer forest.
45835. Have you any distinct idea of the principles upon which the limitation of deer forests could be founded? For instance, could it be founded with reference to elevation ?
—That is one element, of course.
45836. But this is merely suggestive on my part. I want to know if you have any distinct idea on what principle the limitation of the exclusive appropriation of the land to deer would be founded ?
—The principle would be based on exact knowledge and observation and survey of the spot, and seeing from the nature of the ground and the nature of the soil what the country was worth and must be worth for ever; and also historically, what part of that land now occupied as deer forests contains good grass and good soil which had been occupied and could be occupied by crofters for pasture and for tillage. It could be done by survey by scientific men—agricultural men.
45837. And you would be in favour of withdrawing such portions by law from the exclusive occupation of deer ?
—Most distinctly. Let them know they are the enemies of the native population, and pay for it.
45838. Now, speaking of the abusive formation of the deer forests, and the recent abusive extension of forests, which I understand you to affirm, can you give me any examples within the last thirty years of any place in which small tenants have been removed for the direct purpose of forming deer forests ?
—Why, it is a general fama in the Highlands ! I did not personally take notice of instances, but I am sure Highlanders would be able to tell you. It is a fama. For instance, I remember when I was passing through Ross-shire not long ago, I saw what was originally a large sheep farm, but the sheep farm did not pay, and now it has become a deer forest. Of course the people were not kicked off, but the system made them go away.
45839. But surely it is very desirable we should not report upon a fama. It is very desirable we should get accurate statements of individual cases in order to measure the practical hardship inflicted on men by the system. Now, I have been constantly asking this question, and there are one or two cases which I am at the present moment reserving in my own mind, but I have not been able, except in those cases, to find one single example in which men—except sheep farmers —in which small tenants have been removed almost within the memory of men living —I mean within thirty years—to form a deer forest?
—Because the deer forest comes to supply the big farmer's place very often. In many cases the farmers have told me that the deer came into their ground and ale their oats and turnips, and they had no remedy. One old woman told me when I asked her why she did not complain— They gave me a good hint that if I complained they would turn me off to-morrow.'
45840. That is a separate question, but I want to come to the question whether, in recent years, Highlanders have been turned out of their holdings to make room for deer ?
—That there have been formal evictions I do not know. You will know much better than I do, because you have been taking the evidence. I have not read it, though I mean to do so when it is published. I don't know that there have been recent evictions, but that the deer forests have been encroaching upon land that originally, and not long ago, belonged to the people, I know. As I say, it is a fama. A fama does not arise out of nothing. I did not take notice of the special cases. What I took notice of was that once a sheep farm occupied a whole glen, and now it is all let as deer forest. I do not say there was formal legal eviction.
45841. I do not mean legal eviction, but I refer to removal. I cannot ascertain that in the Highlands, in your lifetime or mine almost, there has been any removal of small tenants, Highlanders, for the purpose of making a deer forest, but there are many examples of persons being removed for the purpose of making a sheep farm ?
—Well, that would be simply for this reason, as I said before, that the men were removed to make way for the sheep, and the sheep were removed to make way for the deer.
45842. The sheep are removed to make way for the deer; and when that is the case, when Highlanders are not removed, but when Lowlanders and Lowland sheep are removed to make a deer forest, is your objection to a deer forest as strong?
—Yes, if Lowlanders hold the glens with their sheep I would tell the Lowlanders to be off,—after a certain number of years the lease shall terminate, and it shall be divided amongst native Highlanders if they choose to take it. If they do not, let the Lothian farmer come back. I want to give the land, back to the people who held it, if it can be done, and I do not see why it should not. If the big farmers were not to have their leases renewed, and the Government were to say 'this land shall be divided among crofters,' I don't see any harm in that.
45843. You have spoken of the evils attaching to the eviction of small tenants—Highland tenants—for the purpose of forming large sheep farms in the hands of Lowlanders and others; and that is, perhaps, the chief subject of complaint that you have mentioned. Now you have said, in another part of your paper, that the application of the principles of the Irish Land Act is one of your principal remedies. Is there any provision whatover in the Irish Land Act by which either an existing small holding can be enlarged or by which an over-crowded township, for instance, can be relieved by the constitution of new small holdings elsewhere ?
—I believe not.
45844. Therefore, in so far the Irish land Act would be totally inapplicable ?
—It would be deficient as applied to the Highlands. I think the Irish Land Act would apply to Scotland with modifications and qualifications of very great consequence. I speak of the great lines of it.
45845. It would not apply in those respects as a remedy of the evil ?
45846. Now I want to know from you whether you think or do not think that the application of the Irish Land Act in the Highlands might, perhaps, create another evil which you would deprecate—I mean fixity of tenure and free sale as applied to small holdings in the Highlands. I will assume that these two principles are applied—fixity of tenure and free sale. We have seen whole regions of the country in which there are a multitude of crofts below £2 and £ 3 of annual rental, inhabited by people in some respects in a great state of depression and distress. Now, do you think it would be a wise thing to give those people a right to fixity of tenure and the right of disposing of their holdings to other persons in the same class as themselves, and thus perpetuating the class which we want to get rid of?
—I looked thoroughly into that subject when recently in Ireland, and I think it is very likely that the Irish Land Act, while applying beneficially to what I call farmers of substance, and farms of a certain size, would not apply at all, or not act well, or might perpetuate the evil, when applied to such a very degraded and almost lost population as you find in some of the worst parts of the Highlands.
45847. I don't say degraded ?
—Well, they are socially not much worth. In the same way I say that if the three principles of the Irish Land Act,—fair rent (which means a rent not to be fixed by landlords), fixity of tenure, and free [sale
—were to be applied to Scotland, they might not apply to all parts equally, or to all the Highlands equally. They might depend a good deal upon some previous regulations made with regard to size and subdivision of farms. I certainly hold that subdivision of a farm ought not to be allowed. Before these principles were applied to the Highlands there ought to be a distinct report about the variety of tenures in different parts of the Highlands, and they might be applied with extensive reservation.
45848. So there would be a considerable reservation ?
—Certainly; always where there is common sense there are reservations and modifications.
45849. I think your advice would not go to the indiscriminate and immediate application of the principles of the Irish Land Act, but rather to the coutrivance of some system embodying what is good in the Land
Act, but modified in its application to the Highlands?
—You talk the most perfect good sense, and it is my own opinion.
45850. You spoke with reprehension, as I understood, of the principles of free contract, because those principles are scarcely applicable, according to your view, between the strong and the weak; but now would you carry that so far as to prohibit the power of free contract between the proprietor and the poor man for the reclamation of waste land ? We have seen, for instance, on Lord Lovat's property and elsewhere, a considerable, I may say an immense, development of cultivated land executed under absolutely free contract between the proprietor and the small tenant, founded upon a nominal rent, or no rent, during a considerable period of years —a contract freely entered into between a good proprietor and a good tenant, by which the tenant is reimbursed for his industry by sitting, it may be for nineteen or for thirty years, without paying rent, and at the end of that period a new valuation is made. Would you prohibit such a free contract as that ?
—I am perfectly aware of that. But laws are not made for good proprietors, but for bad proprietors. If all landlords were as reasonable as that nothing would require to be done, but I don't think it is right and proper to allow freedom of contract in every case —to allow those who are strong in position and money to have the poor people at their mercy —through the accident of a man being a good man. I would make all these things liable to certain land regulations, with certain rates to be fixed by commissioners. That might be called Prussian and Bismarckian. Well, I wish we had a little of Prussia and Bismarck here. I would not allow the common people to be at the mercy even of good landlords, because the majority of them may be bad.
45851. Have you considered this—if the people wish to enter into such contracts, and if the landlord wishes to grant them, and in that way to increase the comfort of the people and extend cultivation, if the State stepped in and prescribed certain limitations and provisions, might not the landlord be much less disposed to give the people opportunities of improvement?
—That is quite possible ; I admit that.
45S52. Might not the interference of the State in that way tend to prevent the improvement of the people and the development of cultivation?
—In certain cases, but not in all. In the main I am in favour of the rent not being fixed by the landlord. It should be fixed by an impartial party.
45853. Might not the landlord in that case be prevented from doing good in the form he thinks right ? Might he not be disposed to use his land for purposes of pleasure and for purposes of sport, which you deprecate?
—Well, but don't you see the people would be able to use it for good purposes, because they would get their land at a less rent, and they would do for the land what they could not have done otherwise. But that is quite possible. I have heard people saying in Ireland that because they had not absolute power any more, and could not get as much rent as they had been getting, they would go away and invest their money in England or America. Well, if the landlords choose to desert their post for the loss of £100 or £200, let them do so; but I still say it is not a safe thing to intrust the landlords with the fixing of the rent in the general case.
45854. You have spoken, as it were, in favour of the liberation of land by allowing the land to be more freely broken up and more freely disposed of. I presume you mean the removal of such limitations as settlement and entail, and so on, and putting the land as much as possible into the market and promoting its division. Supposing that to be done, are you sure, having regard to the immense wealth of many persons in this country, and the power of capital, that the result might not be the concentration of the land in the hands of the capitalist, instead of its diffusion among the poorer classes ?
—I am perfectly sure that some people's rage for land, with plenty of money, would make them buy up whole counties. Still I provide for that by laws of succession. 1 create distribution by succession.
45855. But still for the whole lifetime of a rich man one of those counties might be bought up and used for purposes of sport and otherwise, and you trust to the next generation to remedy the evil ?
—It could not be worse than it now is.
45856. Don't the laws of settlement and entail in some degree preserve small properties in ancient families, and promote in that way the distribution of land ?
—Every evil has an incidental good, it is quite true.
45857. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have often heard, have you not, the question of migration started as a relief, to some extent, of the state of matters in the Highlands ?
—That is what I call distribution.
45858. Has there not been a deal of migration going on from the Highlands for a great number of years to our large cities ?
—That kind of migration! Yes, of course there has been, but I mean migration to uninhabited parts.
45859. Has that migration which has taken place, in many cases involuntary upon the part of the people
—has it, in very many cases tended to the deterioration of the race ?
—It must do so. No human being could be brought up in such good circumstances as the Highlander, on the bens, and the bracken, and the braes. It is impossible for , with its whole sanitary appliances, to make such a man as is made on the Highland hills. It cannot be.
45860. Then the migration you recommend is not a forced migration to large cities, but a migration to the country parts, where they can cultivate their lands and live in comfort and happiness ?
—Which were originally occupied by them, and are now occupied by the big farmers.
45861. So, when it is sometimes objected that migration is something very novel, there has been, in point of fact, a kind of migration going on for the last century into the large cities ?
—Yes, and quite right so far, but it should not have been encouraged so much. It was overdone, because they got no encouragement at home.
45862. I should like to ask you one or two questions of a historical character. You have spoken more than once about the severity of the land laws, and how they have acted oppressively towards the people; are you aware that some time after 1746 and 1747 —the abolition of the Heritable Jurisdictions Act—to have people upon a man's land was considered of less importance than it was before ?
—Certainly it was. The laird was of less importance himself.
45863. Are you aware that a considerable part or a good deal of some of the Highland estates was forfeited to the Crown and placed under the charge of what were called the Forfeited Commissioners ?
—Yes, I am aware of that.
45864. Are you also aware that on these forfeited estates there were planted factors—a race you don't seem to be friendly to in all cases —are you aware there were factors appointed?
—I think it must have been so, but I don't know it as a fact.
45865. Can you tell me this as a matter of history, whether or not, with regard to the factors and others that were placed by the commissioners upon the forfeited estates, part of their duty was to endeavour to improve the state of agriculture upon the estates upon which they were placed?
—I am not aware of that historically. My knowledge relates more to the existing factors. I did not study that point historically.
45866. Then you are not able to answer me yea or nay on this point?
—I don't think I can answer you many questions of curious minute history on these matters.
45867. Can you answer this question in the affirmative or in the negative, whether carrying out their instructions, these factors or commissioners were the first evictors of the Highland people?
—-1 cannot tell you. I understood always the first eviction, or, as I would say, emigration, was voluntary. In the first emigration the Glengarry people deserted their homes because they would not live in such a country—because they had lost all their dignity and honour —but I don't know when the first eviction was. I think the first was Glen Dessary, but it is very difficult to get information about these old evictions.
45868. Then you are not able, of your own knowledge, to say whether or not the factors upon the forfeited estates were the first evictors of the Highland people ?
—No, I cannot say that of my own knowledge.
45869. Yon are aware that about the end of the last century the system of large sheep farming came very much into vogue?
45870. Are you aware, or have you heard, that it was a very common thing for people to be tried at Inverness and Edinburgh for sheep stealing ?
—Well, I am a bit of a lawyer, and I think I have heard of that.
45871. Have you heard of this—and it is an important point as illustrating what the effect of the laws in favour of sheep was upon the people—is it not a historical fact that people over and over again have been executed at Inverness for killing a sheep and eating it?
—I have always understood that the whole Scotch law was most severe and monstrous and inhuman, just as in the case you mention. I never inquired particularly, but it is a well known fact to students of law that people were hanged for sheep stealing.
45872. So that the penalty for killing a sheep was as severe as for killing a man?
—Of course; it was not the man they cared for, but the sheep.
45873. May I go the length of asking you this question, whether judges in those days were not in the habit of breaking out into the most violent language as to the atrociousness of a poor man who was starving
killing a sheep ?
—I have no doubt many of the legal gentlemen with wigs now before you will be able to explain all about that better than I can. It is quite notorious they used all kinds of language on the bench in those days ; they were sometimes more than half drunk.
45874. Without any alteration upon the law or laws of Scotland, a more humane feeling has long prevailed, and without any abolishing of the old law whereby a man could be hanged for sheep stealing, could it be possibly imagined that any judge now would do such a thing? Has it been long in desuetude ?
—Quite impossible. It could not be.
45875. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You referred to Glen Dessary as the first instance of eviction. Was it not the case that the population voluntarily migrated to the lower part of Lochaber at the time the Caledonian Canal was made, for the purpose of procuring work ?
—What I know of Glen Dessary is from Principal Shairp of St Andrews, who wrote a poem on Glen Dessary, and he always represented it to me as a violent eviction, but I could get no documents, and he had no documents to give me, though he wrote the poem. Poets can do without documents sometimes. He was extremely fervid against the cruelty of that eviction, and he referred me to the son of au old shepherd that he had spoken to, but I could not get hold of him, so I know nothing about Glen Dessary. If I could have got real knowledge about Glen Dessary or any others, I would not have brought forward so prominently as I did the Strathnaver business, because I don't wish to injure the feelings of a respected colleague, and I could not get any other about which there was written evidence to bring forward.
45876. Professor Mackinnon.
—I suppose, whatever the history was or whatever the motives were, there is no question that now there is a very great amount of land that was once in the possession of the people which is so no longer?
—I have walked over whole tracts of desolate country. I remember in Mull walking over such a tract with a landed proprietor who was one of the best—and the best are always those that speak Gaelic. We were passing through an old ruin of perfect desolation, and he said,' I thank Heaven that I have not to think of that desolation on my deathbed.'
45877. The amount of land in the possession of the people is, in your opinion, very much too small ?
—I think it was most unwise to send away the people in that way for the sake of making money by sheep farming, with no consideration for their consuetudinary rights as holders of the soil.
45878. And their holdings now are very small ?
45879. Do you think the thing could adjust itself without any change in the law?
—It is possible men are becoming more reasonable. I remember a factor in Sutherland told me they had overdone the large farms, and that they would have to subdivide them; and I was told by a gentleman in Ireland whose father or some other relation had made immensely large farms, that he thought it had been overdone. I presume, therefore, they are beginning to come to reason, and besides the voice of humanity is a little more strong in the present generation.
45880. You said that laws were made for bad landlords but not for good. I presume that when those stringent laws would be made the good landlord would not think it too hard to have to do under a statute what he did formerly voluntarily ?
—The good landlord would think it too hard. No man likes to lose power. I know some of the best landlords in Ireland who are violently against Gladstone's law, and, therefore, I say the good landlord would object. No man likes to lose power. It is a pleasing thing.
45881. But you think that the disease is so desperate that it would require such a remedy as a change in the law ?
—I said before that a landlord ought not to be intrusted with fixing the rent or making a bargain with poor tenants.
45882. And your idea of the future is that the holdings of the small tenants should be larger, and made up to a reasonably sized farm, all over the country?
—I think so.
45883. The great want just now is, that there are no middle class people between the very poor small crofter and the very big farmer ?
—There is a want of a middle class over the whole Highlands, through the mismanagement of a hundred years. There is a want of a middle class. There is no society.
45884. From your knowledge of these parts, especially in the Western Islands, don't you think that even with all reasonable re-arrangement of the surface of the land among the people in that way, there are still
too many people in some places ?
—Certainly ; and there ought to be a wise system of emigration established under Government supervision; and there should be a fund, of which part should be paid by the Government and part by proprietors in the neighbourhood who are relieved by it.
45885. But such a system should go on hand in hand with settling matters at home ?
—Yes, certainly. Whenever emigration takes place you should take care and make proper laws against subdivision —against large farms, and to prevent too small subdivision occurring again. There ought to be laws to prevent these extremes, and the Government should insist upon landholders dividing their land in a rational way. I am sure that often the landlords did not know what was done at all. It was done by factors probably to please themselves and their friends, and to save themselves trouble. I know quite well it was to save themselves trouble.
45886. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How do you think the rent ought to be fixed?
—Quite simply. The sheriff in Scotland is a man that can be trusted with anything —but not alone —the sheriff with two valuators, one appointed by the landlord, and the other by the tenant; and that would practically be the same as the present land courts now sitting in Ireland, only much cheaper and much better. In an Irish land court I visited in Kenmare the president was a lawyer, not a sheriff, and the other two were valuators. I think the thing could be done perfectly simply; only the principle of rent altogether, even as applying to large farms, might require revision if we had a new and philosophical kind of legislation. But I see, practically speaking, no difficulty. It would be quite cheap. £100 or £200, in addition to the sheriff's income, would not be objectionable.
45887. You have been accused, Professor Blackie, of uttering sentiments that were more or less mischievous in the Highlands?
—Who accused me?
45888. Have you, in your own conscience, been guilty of any such thing ?
—There is a certain class of people in this world who if you give them a thing with the right hand are sure to take it with the left. They will misunderstand and misapply and distort what I say. It is the habitual practice of the newspapers to do so. If you don't happen to belong to their party, they make a business of distorting and abusing everything you say. It is their business. They are just drunk with the wine of faction. My own conscience is perfectly free. I never told anybody not to pay rent. I never told anybody to shoot landlords from behind a hedge; what I have stated is that it was a strange thing that the Irish, who were guilty of such things, should get lollypops, while the quiet Highlanders got stripes and nothing else.