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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

V. Improvement

27. A Successful Example of Improvement, 1791

Texte intégral

1This is another extract of the Statistical Account of Scotland. See introduction to text 17.

2John Sinclair, The Statistical Account of Scotland: Drawn Up from the Communications of the Ministers of the Different Parishes Edinburgh, vol. 1, Edinburgh: W. Creech, 1791, p. 513-515.

Improvements. — [parish of Meigle]

Since the year 1745, a fortunate epoch for Scotland in general, improvements have been carried on with great ardour and success. At that time, the state of this country was rude beyond conception. The most fertile tracts were waste, or indifferently cultivated, and the bulk of the inhabitants were uncivilized. The education, manners, dress, furniture, and table, of the gentry, were not so liberal, decent, and sumptuous, as those of ordinary farmers at present. The common people, clothed in the coarsest garb, and starving on the meanest fare, lived in despicable huts with their cattle.

The half ploughed fields yielded scanty crops, and manufactures scarcely existed. Almost every improvement in agriculture is of a late date; for no ground was then fallowed; no pease, grass, turnip, or potatoes, were raised; no cattle were fattened, and little grain was exported. Oats and barley were alternately sown; and, during seven months in the year, the best soil was ravaged by flocks of sheep, a certain number of which were annually sold, and carried off to be fed in richer pastures.

The inactivity and indolence of tenants were astonishing. When feed-time was finished, the plough and harrow were laid aside till autumn; and the sole employment of a farmer and his servants consisted in weeding his corn fields, and in digging and conveying home peat, turf, and heath, for winter fuel. The produce of a farm, holding a proportion to those exertions, was barely sufficient to enable the tenant to pay his trifling rent and servant’s wages, and to procure for his family a scanty subsistence.

[…] To emancipate the inhabitants of this country from a state of barbarism, and to rouse a spirit of industry, was a bold and arduous enterprise. A gentleman, distinguished by his rank, fortune, and public spirit, undertook and accomplished the task. With a zeal and perseverance becoming an enlightened and liberal mind, he formed plans of improvement, inclosed farms with proper fences, banished sheep from infield grounds, combated the prejudices of his tenants, furnished them with marl, distributed premiums, and otherwise rewarded their exertions. The good effects of those measures soon appeared; and other proprietors imitated the example. In a few years, improvements were diffused through the whole country. The tenants, as if awaked out of a profound sleep, looked around, beheld his fields clothed with the richest harvests, his herds fattening in luxuriant pastures, his family decked in gay attire, his table loaded with solid fare, and wondered at his former ignorance and stupidity. The landlord rejoiced in the success of his schemes, and shared in the honours and profits of this new erection. The manufacturer, mechanic, and tradesman, redoubled their efforts to supply the increasing demand for the conveniences and elegancies of life.

In this parish considerable improvements have been made, but much remains to be effected.

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