Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Still fewer would have attempted it with success. Taking up Scottish internal history at the point of pure and complete Feudalism—of which he presents a striking, and we need scarcely add an attractive, picture—the author traces the slow but inevitable causes through which this semi-barbaric form of society came to be at length fused into civilization. The most marked epoch of change may be referred to the final expulsion of the Stuarts, in 1746, after which period the powerful Scottish nobles began to think of framing their lives somewhat more in accordance with certain new ideas which then broke in upon their minds: ideas chiefly inspired by their occasional intercourse with France and other countries; nevertheless, M. Lavergne is of opinion that the feudal

characterandsentiment lingered amongst the Highland

clans longer than in any other portion of Europe. Not until the introduction of more regular habits and agriculture, accompanied by the repression, by

vigorous efforts, of the old system of living on

plunder—had altered the condition of Highland life,
did the Lairds become aware how difficult a matter it
was to maintain honestly, in those poverty-stricken,
barren tracts, the multitudes which, under a more
ancient form of society, had proved a source of power
to the “chiefs of clans.” Accordingly, measures were
set on foot for the purpose of “thinning” their
estates of the now superabundant natives.
“It was in the Highlands that depopulation on a
regular system was carried forward, which depopula-
tion made much noise in Europe some thirty years
since. M. Sismondi, among others, doubtless with the
best intentions, but certainly not with the most clear-

.

[ocr errors]

sighted views, helped in his day to stimulate the
public disapprobation of this proceeding; neverthe-
less, although it may perhaps have been somewhat
roughly executed, the measure itself has been pro-
ductive of excellent results.” (p. 367.)
It so happened that the disposition to sweep off
the redundant mouths from large landed properties,
was displaying itself actively at the commencement of
the present century, just at which period the great bard
of feudalism, Sir Walter Scott, first rose upon the hori-
zon of literature. His captivating chivalric poems had
the effect of swelling the storm of opposition to the
schemes already in progress for bringing the moun-
taineers within the dreaded pale of prosaic institutions.
But in spite of this, and although earnest appeals were
made to traditional rights against the justice of the
expulsions (appeals in themselves far fromill-founded),
the great landlords, backed by the far-sighted co-opera-
tion of the Imperial Government, carried their purpose
through. Expedients were employed to mitigate the
hardship of the proceeding, and to facilitate the
removal of the exiles to other lands. A part were
regimented and blended with our regular army,
of which they have proved themselves gallant and
loyal members, whilst those who remained on their
native hills were induced gradually to adopt more
Settled habits, and to pursue more honest means of
living. -
Whoever will be at the trouble of following M.
Lavergne's lucid account of one of these memorable
transactions, exhibiting the effects of “clearing,” on
the largest scale, will, we are persuaded, be inclined
to yield a cordial assent to the judgment he delivers,
whether as “economist,” or as friend to civil order
and progress.
The passage we allude to relates the prodigious
detrusion carried out under the orders—we might
almost say under the reign—of the late Duchess
Countess of Sutherland, in the decade ending with
the year 1820.
Rarely has the exercise of power been attended with
results more beneficial. We regret to be unable to
reproduce the details of operations of which the fruits
have been prosperity, content, and moral improvement;
insomuch that already in 1825—“From the towers
of their feudal castle of Dunrobin, the heirs of Mhoir-
Fhear-Chattaibh looked down upon a spectacle of
thriving industry such as it never could have entered
the mind of their ancestors to conceive of.” (p. 378.)
Many suggestive observations accompany the history
of the transition we have been contemplating; among
them is one alluding to a somewhat analogous change in
England after the wars of the Roses (see p. 384). We
will terminate this episode with a passage quoted by the
author, in which sober reason is permitted to guide the
pen of a poet. “In contemplating a landscape bounded
by mountains,” writes Sir Walter Scott,” “rocks,
precipices, and forests assume, in a summer's evening,
the most delightful forms and colouring. It requires
an effort to recal to one's mind their actual sterility
and desolation. So it is with the mountaineers them-
selves. Seen from a distance and through the medium
of the fancy, how they affect the heart and imagina-
tion' Yet it must not be forgotten how incompatible

* In his History of Scotland.

[blocks in formation]

was Highland clanship with all progress, moral or religious, or with genuine freedom.” (p. 385.)

If we have dwelt somewhat at length upon the foregoing topic, it is because so vast a cluster of facts and deductions is involved in the consideration of the change from the romantic to the prosaic state of society—the substitution of flocks of sheep for tribes of brave and devoted, but lawless warriors.

“Should some stray descendant of the Highlander of yore be yet discerned here and there, perched on a crag, his traditional plaid flung over his shoulder, and droning out on his bagpipe some dolorous old ditty, it is not a fighting man whom you behold, but a shepherd; one no longer subsisting on plunder and war, but on the wages of the neighbouring farmer. Little can he tell you of the valiant deeds of his sires; but, to compensate for this ignorance, he will inform you how the lambing season has sped, and whether wools are “up.’ This is all which remains of a lost race.” (p. 379.)

This verbal paraphrase of Sir Edwin Landseer's picture of “Peace and War,” is not exhaustive, however. A handful of men still survive, whose peculiar organization, physical and moral, entitles them to be regarded as true Gaels. They are chiefly engaged, in connexion with richer sportsmen, in occupations germane to their former condition, such as hunting, and shooting, fishing, and exterminating the brute competitors of man, in the pursuit of “Ferae naturae.” And it is to be hoped that these few representatives of a race which will ever live in the picturesque traditions of distant periods, may never become really extinct.

The chapter on Ireland we must forbear to touch upon; partly because the mere sound of that name has generally had the effect of dispersing the stoutesthearted audience, and also because we cannot venture to devote more space to M. Lavergne's book. It will suffice to state that he has imparted to that hitherto hopeless subject as much interest as it is possible to connect with it; bringing into cheerful prominence

the improved prospects of Irish industry, together

with the benefits arising from the operation of Sir John Romilly's Act for disposing of encumbered estates.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »