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OBSERVATIONS

ON THE PRESENT STATE

OF THE

HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND, &c.

times.

1. Independence of the Highland Chieftains in former Internal state of the country resulting from that circumstance.

THE state of commercial refinement and regular government, to which we are accustomed in England, has been so long established, that it requires some effort of imagination, to form a distinct idea of the situation of things under the feudal system. We must look back to a distant period of time, the manners and customs of which have gradually disappeared, with the causes which gave rise to them, and have left few traces of their existence. This has also been the case, to a great degree, in the Low Coun

try

of Scotland; but the in the Highlands has been

progress of society very different. It

must not be forgotten, that little more than half a century has passed, since that part of the kingdom was in a state similar to that of England before the Norman conquest. When we look back to the condition of the Highlands before the year 1745, the differences which still exist between that and the other parts of the kingdom are easily accounted for. There is much more reason to be surprised at the progress that has been made by the inhabitants in these sixty years, than that they should not have accomplished to its full extent the change, which in ́ other parts has been the work of many centuries. The feudal system has been abolished; but the customs that arose out of it are not forgotten, An act of parliament, supported by a military force, could destroy the one; time only can eradicate the other : and in every peculiarity of the Highlanders, we may trace the remnants of this former state of the country, or the effects of its rapid change.

Though the conquests of Cromwell, and the issue of the rebellion in 1715, gave a check to the independence of the Highland chieftains, yet it is well known that, till after the year 1745, it was never completely overthrown. Before that period, the authority of law was too feeble to afford protection. The obstructions to the execution of any legal warrant were such, that it was only for objects of great public concern that an extraordinary effort was sometimes made to overcome them. In any ordinary case of private injury, an individual could have little expectation of redress, unless he could avenge his own cause; and the only hope of safety from any attack was in meeting force by force.

In this state of things, every person above the common rank depended for his safety and his consequence on the number and attachment of his servants and dependants: without people ready to defend him, he could not expect to sleep in safety, to preserve his house from pillage, or his family from mur

der; he must have submitted to the insolence of every neighbouring robber, unless he had maintained a numerous train of fol lowers to go with him into the field, and to fight his battles. To this essential object, every inferior consideration was sacrificed; and the principal advantage of landed property consisted in the means it afforded to the proprietor of multiplying his dependants. By allowing his tenants to possess their farms at low rents, he secured their ser⚫vices whenever required, and, by the power of removing any one who was refractory, maintained over them the authority of a monarch. The sacrifice of pecuniary interest was of very inferior importance, and was not a matter of choice; for any proprietor, who should have acted on contrary principles, losing the attachment of his people, would have been left a prey to the violence of his neighbours.

The Highland gentlemen appear to havebeen so anxious on this subject, that they never ventured to raise their rents, however much

the circumstances of any case might make it reasonable: the tenant in fact paid his rent not so much in money as in military services; and this explains the extraordinary difference between the apparent value of land in the Highlands, in former times, and at present. The small rentals of the estates forfeited by the rebels of 1745 have often been remarked with surprise, and have been contrasted with the great value of the same lands at present; but were the rent of these estates at their utmost actual value to be all laid out in employing labourers, at the rates now current in the north of Scotland, the number of men to whom they would furnish wages and maintenance would not be very different from that of the clans who came out from them in the rebellion*.

The value of landed property was, in these times, to be reckoned, not by the rent it produced, but by the men whom it could send into the field. It is mentioned indeed of one of the chieftains, that being questioned by a * See Appendix [A.]

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