Amazing articles on just about every subject...


British History - England on the eve of the Industrial Revolution (II) - County Elections - The gentry, their life and culture - The magistrates - The clergy - Universities and education - Justice.

( Originally Published 1922 )



Scotland in the Eighteenth Century.

Not only London, Westminster and a few of the less rotten boroughs, but a fair number of the counties, were the scenes of genuine political contests. Whereas in the boroughs the franchise was as irregular as an extravagant and comic fancy could have made it, in the counties an uniform franchise had been fixed by an Act of Parliament, passed while our expeditionary force was fighting Joan of Arc. Ever since that distant day the county vote had been the proud privilege of all freeholders possessing land to the annual value of forty shillings.

The county voters, therefore, tended to be independent men. Their ranks contained all the landed gentry, the yeomen farming their own land, and many substantial citizens of unenfranchised cities and urban districts, who formed a specially numerous class in counties like Yorkshire and Lancashire. It is true that Rutland had two members, and the largest shire had no more.' It is true that the borough members out-numbered the county members by four to one. But the county representation of England, unlike that of Scotland, at least gave some Parliamentary expression to a real section of popular feeling, even though in most counties it was mainly the feeling of the gentry. ` The voice of England,' it was said, ` spoke through her freeholders.'

The greatest Whig and the greatest Tory triumphs were both countersigned by the county members. In April 1780, when the House passed Dunning's famous Resolution that ' the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,' sixty-two members for English counties voted ` aye,' and only eight ` no.' And when, four years after, Pitt defeated Fox and North at the polls, the fact that the counties went with the young man and that the York-shire freeholders chose Wilberforce, in spite of the great Whig families, gave assurance that not the borough-owners only but England herself had turned against the Coalition. Finally, in July 1831, the English county members voted by ten to one for the Reform Bill that abolished the rotten boroughs.

Yet it would be a mistake to suppose that the counties were wholly free from electoral dictation. In some shires, where two or three great families, together irresistible, had agreed to divide the spoils of battle, no contests took place at all. In 1794 we read of Cumberland : ` This County is completely aristocratic. An election contest, which is said to have cost L100,000, happened in 1768, between the interests of the Duke of Portland and those of the Earl of Lonsdale. To prevent expences, these noblemen have agreed to send each one member.' And even in the most independent counties, though the contests were fought on political principles, the rival hosts were marshalled under the banners of great families who fought each other for the lead of the county, and who rode to the poll at the head of cavalcades of gentry and yeomen, their hats streaming with ribbons of yellow or blue.

This alliance between the spirit of aristocracy and the spirit of popular rights, each taking the other entirely for granted, was native of the soil of England. It was sanctified by custom, sport and hospitality, deeply pledged in the punch-bowl, renewed in the hunting-field and at the race-meeting. It was the natural offspring of a healthy society based on widely diffused small properties and on the absence of very obvious economic oppression of class by class. The political spirit of the eighteenth century was based not on the equality but on the harmony of classes. It was far removed alike from the rebellious Radicalism and the reactionary Toryism which soon afterwards sprang up from the combined effect of the Industrial and the French Revolutions. Chatham's ' loyal Britons ' had not yet become Burke's ' swinish multitude.' Poor and rich together took a patriotic pride in our ` free constitution,' which they continually contrasted with the slavery of continental countries.

In such a society the members of the upper class were singularly fortunate in their lot. A position of such complete social and political supremacy as theirs, so little challenged, and so closely identified in history and in popular opinion with the liberties of their country, has never perhaps been seen in any other age or land. In the government of the country and the Empire there was much to blame as well as to praise, but no aristocracy has ever better fulfilled the functions for the performance of which aristocracy specially exists, but in which it too often fails the intelligent patronage of art, philosophy and literature, and the living of a many-sided and truly civilised life by means of wealth and leisure well applied. They look down on us, those fortunate beings, from the canvases of Gainsborough and Reynolds, with a self-satisfaction triumphantly justified.

Unlike the French nobles of that day, the English gentry were not a caste, refusing to intermarry with the bourgeoisie or to put their younger sons into commerce. Unlike the French nobles, they were so far from being unoccupied, that they were overburdened with public affairs: they monopolised politics and administration, central and local, which in France was left to State officials. Unlike the French nobles, they rejoiced to live a country life on their estates : many of them, like Coke of Norfolk, became ` improving landlords,' breeding sheep, sowing turnips, enclosing fields, moving among their farmers with patriarchal familiarity: and all of them, what-ever else they did or failed to do, shot game or hunted the fox.

The smaller country houses contained all the year round the homelier squires, whose ideas of fashion and society were limited to an occasional visit with their family to the county capital or the nearest watering-place. The great country houses, which abroad would have been called palaces, received, for six months out of the twelve, the lords of London fashion and politics. From those centres of civilisation, Stowe or Woburn, Holkham or Althorp, the latest novelties of the age were spread among the more bucolic squirearchy around. By the end of the peaceful century the rough and ignorant Osbaldistones and Squire Westerns had disappeared. The small provincial gentry of the West, as drawn by Miss Austen at the close of the century, are nice in their gentility almost to a fault, and are all either well-read or accustomed to pay a conventional homage to the Muses. It is significant of much that, although duelling was still practised under carefully enforced rules, gentlemen were ceasing to wear swords in the early years of George III, because ` iron of itself draws a man on.'

The improvement of the upper class as a whole, in education and manners, had been assisted by the disappearance of the small squires, not far removed by wealth and outlook from the yeoman ; by the régime of ` Beau Nash ' at Bath as a school of politeness in the first half of the century; by the institution of circulating libraries ; by the increased habit of travel in search of antiquities and the picturesque abroad, and, with the advent of better roads, even in England. In September 1785 Gibbon was told that 40,000 English, counting masters and servants, were touring or resident on the Continent. Under Rousseau's influence, the dislike of mountains had so far diminished that every year more than one book on Swiss scenery was published in England, although Alpine climbing was still in the future. Already in 1788, according to Wilberforce, ` the banks of the Thames are scarcely more public than those of Windermere.' But few people except shepherds visited the mountain-tops that looked down upon the Lakes, and the day of Highland scenery had to wait for Walter Scott.

The English aristocracy were then the art patrons of the world. It was the custom of the great ` milords ' and wealthier gentry to spend one or two years between college and the beginning of their Parliamentary careers in making the ` grand tour,' living, not in English-speaking hotels, but in the polite dilettante society of French and Italian Courts. Here they formed artistic and antiquarian connections that lasted them a lifetime. They bought up the old masters then in fashion, and subscribed more heavily than the native princes to French and Italian books of engraving and éditions de luxe. A pile of novels and magazines was not then held to be sufficient mental pabulum for a party of ladies and gentlemen at an English country-house. Noblesse obliged everyone who was proud of his country home to have a large library and to fill its shelves with the best authors, ancient and modern. Nor did the owner and his guests leave them wholly unread, as is proved by the copious fragments of Virgil and Horace, Shakespeare and Milton that they deftly threw at one another's heads in Parliament, in conversation and in their private correspondence. They used their monopoly of social power to compel the world to regard Shakespeare as the greatest of mankind, and to accept Hume, Gibbon and Dr. Johnson as among the first citizens of the State.

Fashion and sport were not then divorced from intellectual culture. Fox-hunting, racing and even the heavy gambling of the period by no means excused their devotees from a gentle-man's duty to the Muses. Society, when Charles Fox was its leader, was as literary and as cultivated as it was fashionable, athletic, dissipated and political. It made the most both of town and country, body and mind. It had faults, of which drunkenness and gambling were the worst, but it lived a life more completely and finely human than any perhaps that has been lived by a whole class since the days of the freemen of Athens.

Rural England, which was then three-fourths of England, was governed by the absolute patriarchal sway of the Justices of the Peace. Of county self-government there was none, till the establishment of County Councils in i 8 88. Of parish self-government there was little left, except in. the organisation of the partially communist agriculture of the ' open-field ' system.1

The Justices of the Peace absorbed more and more judicial and administrative functions, thrust upon them by a Parliament composed of country gentlemen like themselves justices gone up to the national Quarter Sessions at Westminster. Indeed, the magistrates in the eighteenth century were hardly in any way controlled or inspected by the central authorities. Though nominees of the Crown, they in fact co-opted each other, for the Government accepted the recommendations of the Lord-Lieutenant, a local magnate primarily anxious to stand well with the squires of the county.

The office of Justice of the Peace had been established in Plantagenet times as a working compromise between the powers claimed by the Crown and the influence exercised by local landowners. Later on, the Tudor and Stuart monarchs had, for a period of two hundred years, tried to make these unpaid local magistrates subserve the purposes of a bureaucracy devoted to the partisan projects of the Crown. But this long experiment had broken down in the final crash of 1688. Thenceforward the Justices of the Peace may be said rather to have controlled the Central Government through the Houses of Parliament than to have been themselves under any supervision. Nominally State officials, they really represented feudal power tempered by civilisation and public spirit.

They were in fact responsible to no one, though they were subject to the bitter criticism of Fielding, Smollett and other writers. And their powers and functions covered all sides of county life. They administered justice in Quarter or Petty Sessions, or in the private house of a single magistrate. They kept up the prisons and the bridges. They licensed the public-houses. They administered the Poor Law. They levied a county rate. These and a hundred other aspects of county business lay in their absolute control. But they had not, for the multifarious purposes of justice and administration, any proper staff in their pay. Prisons and workhouses, like everything else, were farmed out to contractors, with results disastrous to efficiency and humanity.

In Westminster and Middlesex that is to say, in the greater London outside the jurisdiction of the City Magistrates-the amateur services of unpaid justices were inadequate to cope with so large and turbulent a population. The traditions of a more professional magistracy were started by the Fielding brothers in their office at Bow Street'. This led to the institution of Stipendiary Magistrates for Middlesex, at first out of secret service money, and in 1792 by Act of Parliament. But everywhere else, in town and country, the justices were unpaid.

At the time George III came to the throne, the justices who did most of the work in rural districts were substantial squires, too rich to be corrupt or mean, too proud to truckle to Government, anxious to stand well with their neighbours, but filled with all the prejudices as well as the merits of their class fierce to the point of cruelty against poachers, and armed with such a combination of powers that the occasional tyrant among them became an irremovable curse to the countryside. On the whole, they rendered England great service. Nevertheless, it was a misfortune that when the Industrial Revolution began to set classes in bitter opposition to one another, justice, administration and influence were entirely in the hands of one of the interested parties.

A characteristic feature of the eighteenth century was the number and prominence of clergy on the magisterial bench. Some of the most active, law-learned and beneficent of the justices were clergymen, and it was only after the close of the century that the violent partisanship of the Church against the new Radicalism brought the ' parson magistrate ' into popular odium in the days of Peterloo.

The clergy were at this time more closely identified with the squirearchy than ever before or since. The clerical aspect of their office was little emphasised by the prevalent philosophy of religion. All ` enthusiasm ' was condemned by well-bred persons and left to the Methodists. The fires of sectarian controversy that had blazed throughout the Stuart period and had flared up for the last time in Queen Anne's reign over the Sacheverell trial, had died down under the restraining influence of bishops appointed by Whig Ministers, whose motto in religious affairs was ` let sleeping dogs lie.' For a time the English clergy became the least clerical of priesthoods. The more public-spirited and ambitious among their number found an outlet for their energies on the magisterial bench, while many more hunted and shot and joined in the ordinary social life of the neighbouring squires.

In medieaval and in Stuart times, when the economic position of the clergy was bad, their ranks had been recruited largely from a lower class. But with the rise of tithe and the value of the livings, their social status had gone up. It became more and more the custom, as the eighteenth century went on, for a rich landowner to add to the value of the family living, build on a few more rooms to the parsonage, and appoint one of his own sons. At length the gentry and the parsons became fused into a single type; in reading Miss .Austen's novels, the most accurate of all miniatures of social life, it is often difficult to remember which of the young lovers is a clergyman and which a squire.

The Nonconformists, numerous only in the towns, even there enjoyed toleration but not equality. The sacramental test was designed to keep all save Church communicants out of municipal and magisterial office, and although the annual passage of an Indemnity Act allowed this law frequently to be evaded, the more conscientious Dissenters were in fact as well as law excluded. The close oligarchies that governed the towns were strongholds of Church and State, and seldom contained any but Churchmen. There were many other signs of religious inequality, most of which remained until the latter half of Queen Victoria's reign ; - the Dissenters were compelled to pay parish rates to maintain the Church fabric, though this was little objected to until the nineteenth century ; legal marriages could only be celebrated by clergymen of the established Church ; no service save that of the Prayer Book could be read over the dead; charitable and educational endowments were generally under the control of the clergy and used for Church people only ; the Universities were a Church monopoly, from the advantages of which Dissenters and Roman Catholics were excluded.

The new fact of religious life in the eighteenth century was Methodism. The mission of John Wesley, by its astonishing success, goes far to upset all generalisations about the subdued and rational spirit of the eighteenth century, for the very essence of Wesley's movement was ` enthusiasm,' and it swept the country. The upper classes, however, remained hostile to Methodism, and the established Church thrust it out to join its potent young force to that of the old Dissenting bodies. The ultimate consequence was that the Nonconformists rose from about a twentieth of the church-goers to something near a half. Wesley's Methodism became the religion of the neglected poor.

Eventually, too, Methodism reacted on the gentry in the polite and orthodox form of an evangelical movement inside the Church of England. But that movement, which under the leadership of Wilberforce had great effects both on society and on politics, was only beginning when the French Revolution broke out. In the earlier years of George III's reign, during the height of Wesley's missionary success, the upper class, and particularly the leaders of politics and fashion, were not distinguished by religious zeal or by strictness of life. The society of Gibbon, of Charles Fox and of the Duchess of Devonshire, had the faults and virtues of people who make the most of this world, leaving the next one to take care of itself.

In that age, so vigorous in agriculture and commerce, in scientific inventions and geographical discoveries, and adorned in art, literature and philosophy by the work of so many individual writers of genius, a creeping paralysis infected every established and endowed institution. This was mainly because the institutions had to fear no organised public opinion and no serious threat of change or reform. The resounding triumph of corporate rights and vested interests over the ill-advised attack of James II, though necessary to preserve our liberties in 1688, had for a long time afterwards the bad effect of freeing all privileged persons from any dread of inquiry or interference. As in the Parliamentary and Municipal system, so in the Church, sinecurism and absenteeism were rampant, and the better-paid posts were regarded, not as opportunities to do service to the community, but as provision made for the younger sons, the relations and clients of the ruling families. ` Parliamentary influence ' was the centre of a vast ramification of personal ' graft,' which decided the bestowal of all kinds of posts, civil and ecclesiastical, naval and military.

While all old-established institutions were more or less corrupted from their avowed purpose, it is not surprising that the University of Oxford should in this slumberous period have made very little pretence of fulfilling its functions. Early in the reign of George III a foreign visitor witnessed with amazement the Oxford examination as it was then conducted : ` The Pre-siding Examiner, the Candidate for a degree and the three Opponents came into the Schools and amid profound silence passed the statutory time in the study of a novel or other entertaining work.' The election of Old Sarum was not more of a farce. Oxford's most famous children have confirmed the judgment of strangers. Newman declared, with a slight exaggeration, that Oxford ` gave no education at all to the youth committed to its keeping,' prior to i 800, when a real examination for the degree was established. Gibbon, who had been there in the worst period, has left a terrible indictment. He ascribed the failure of the ancient Universities to the fact that their government ' still remained in the hands of the clergy, 'and he deplored the monopoly enjoyed by Oxford and Cambridge of all the University privileges in England, because, as he too truly remarked, ` the spirit of monopolists is narrow, lazy and oppressive.'

' Cambridge,' added Gibbon, ' appears to have been less deeply infected than her sister with the vices of the Cloyster.' But if Cambridge shone at all, it was only in comparison with Oxford. Owing to the permanent influence of Newton, the Mathematical Tripos was a real test of knowledge, and had normally to be taken by candidates for degrees, though the number of entries was very small.' It had an enduring effect on the intellectual life and traditions of the University, and attracted to Cambridge clever, poor boys from the small schools of Northern England. But on the walls of the Cam-bridge Colleges there is a singular absence of portraits of great men of learning between the period of Bentley and the period of Porson.

The number of students at the two English Universities was disgracefully low, not much more than half what it had been in the time of Laud and Milton, and a bare tithe of what it is to-day in spite of the modern competition of numerous other Universities. The decay not only of Oxford and Cambridge but of the schools that fed them was indicated by this decline in numbers, which was most marked at Cambridge.

Although they were the only Universities in England and Wales, Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholics were excluded from them by law.1 Instead of being the national centres of learning and instruction, they were little more than comfortable monastic establishments for clerical sinecurists with a tinge of letters; while young men of family, between Eton and the Grand Tour, and a number of more ordinary individuals designed for the Church, spent their time there very pleasantly, some with a great deal of drinking and cheerful noise, and some with a little reading of books. The progress of reform in Oxford and Cambridge in the nineteenth century has been greater than the progress of reform in any other institution that we have inherited from the distant past. The history of the two senior Universities of England is the strongest case that can be quoted by the conservative re-former, who thinks that the most corrupt of ancient institutions are always capable of adaptation to the needs of a new age, with-out breaking the vital thread of a great historic tradition.

A nation that could see with indifference the prostitution of its University endowments, was not very likely to set much store by primary or secondary education. And indeed the schools of England in the eighteenth century were a disgrace, whether compared with those of the past or of the future, or of contemporary Scotland. ` It has been estimated,' writes an eminent educational expert of our day,2 ' that the condition of our " public " or higher schools was worse between 1750 and 1840 than at any time since King Alfred. The grammar schools were largely derelict, often scandalous. Sometimes for half a century or more only half a dozen boys might have attended the school at some large centre of population.' The endowments of the secondary schools were to a large extent embezzled by absentee masters, imitative of the example set them by the official class in other spheres of Church and State. Matthew Arnold's exaggerated but useful complaint that ` our middle classes are the worst educated in the world,' would have been nearer to the truth, if uttered a hundred years before his day. As to the labourers, in the eighteenth century there was no provision for the education of their families, save a few Schools of Industry for paupers, and an occasional Dame's School, where children still too small to be useful in industry learnt to sit still and sometimes to read. It must be remembered that so long as the apprenticeship system was still vital, the training and discipline of boys and youths were not so completely neglected as the absence of schools would seem to us to imply.

Some, however, of the old endowed grammar schools were neither scandalous nor inefficient, for example the school at Hawkshead, where Wordsworth was so happily educated (1778-87) in the bosom of nature, and amid the healthy companionship of north-country yeomen's sons. The absence of organised athleticism,1 examination, inspection or competition, though it may have been bad for the public interest and for the average pupil, was good for genius, which flourished more when left to itself than it does under the constant pressure and excitement of our own day.

Only a small proportion of the people were properly educated, and most were not educated at all. There was no large half-educated class, and therefore the intellectual and literary standard of our ancestors was in some respects higher than our own. Though comparatively little was read, most of what was read was of value. The latter-day flood of newspapers, magazines and indifferent novels had not yet come to sub-merge literature and provide substitutes for thought and taste. Bad books had not yet driven out good ones. The modern as well as the ancient classics held a much greater place in the national consciousness than today. Shakespeare and Milton were familiar to almost all who could read and write. Common speech became interlarded with their phrases.

Dr. Johnson, too, was already a national hero in his life-time; Boswell only perpetuated his fame. It had been due in the first instance to his countrymen's reverence for literature, and to their interest in the problems of conduct, which he could discuss, as no one ever did so well in any other age or country, from the point of view of the plain man's thoughts and instincts. The nation, like Dr. Johnson, was serious, ethical and religious, without being either priest-led or puritanical. A very individualist form of Protestantism, based on Bible-reading, sermon-reading and private prayer, was perfectly compatible with the best sort of worldliness. Such was the religion of the ` middle English ' ; above floated a sceptical aristocracy; and below lay a neglected heathendom, to be redeemed by the Methodist mission.

The Inns of Court, on the road between the City and Westminster, were the seat of a learned trade-union that linked up the general public with the political and governmental world. The lawyers were still, what the clergy had once been, the organisation through which a clever son of the people had the best chance of rising to worldly greatness in an age of privileged aristocracy. The father of the remarkable man who became Lord Chancellor Eldon in i 80 i, had been apprentice to a coal-factor. The solicitors were in those days humbler folk than now, but their sons had certain obvious advantages over other people in starting on the more ambitious career of the Bar; several times in the eighteenth century the son of a poor solicitor became Lord Chancellor of the realm.

The much-admired British Constitution was explained to the world by the French philosopher Montesquieu, upon a theory that had some remarkable consequences on the framing of the Constitution of the United States. According to Montesquieu, British liberty was the result of the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial functions of government, which could not be exercised by the same persons in any free State ! But according to fact, the chief merit of the House of Commons was due to exactly the opposite cause, namely, that it controlled by its votes and largely contained within its walls the Executive and the Legislative together. So too, in spite of Montesquieu, the Judiciary who pronounced on the laws were in many cases the same people who made and who executed them. The Justices of the Peace were at once judges, administrators and local legislators. The Lord Chancellor was head of the Judiciary, a Cabinet Minister and a leading politician. Barristers entered the House of Commons to increase their practice and eventually to become Judges.

The real protection afforded to the liberty of the subject in the law-courts was that, since the Revolution, the Judges could only be removed by the Crown with the concurrence of Parliament and for definite misbehaviour. This good law, and the milder spirit of politics since 1689, had transformed for the better the conduct of English trials. Whenever public opinion, as represented on the juries, was hostile, Government could make nothing of trials for sedition or attacks on the Press.

This new relation of Government to justice in the cases where Government was most interested, had reacted favourably on criminal trials of all kinds. Trials, whether political or not, were already conducted in a manner much more fair to the accused. In France the Judges still consider it their business to act in some sort as prosecutor on behalf of an outraged society. In England, since the Revolution of 1688, the judges had adopted the attitude of impartial umpires in all criminal prosecutions. The national love of ` fair play ' encouraged this development.

But our criminal law, though not unfairly administered, was in itself a ` sanguinary chaos.' The idea of reforming the law in accordance with humanity and common sense, or even on any consistent legal principle, was opposed to the mental habits of the age in England. Irrational reverence for the letter of the law as received from the fathers, was common to nearly all the contemporaries of Blackstone,2 partly because the institutions of which Englishmen so proudly boasted were the legacy of 1689, the most conservative and legal revolution in history. But though no change in the Constitution, or in chartered rights however obsolete, was likely to be mooted, nor any legal change proposed on broad and novel principles, yet additions were constantly being made in detail to the Draconian severity of our criminal code. During the reign of George II and the greater part of the reign of George III, capital offences were multiplied at a rate exceeding two a year. It was said that if a country gentleman could obtain nothing else from Government, he was sure to be accommodated with a new capital felony. The fact was that the dangers to property resulting from the want of efficient police in that golden age of footpads, highwaymen and burglars, had driven a society uninstructed in the true psychology of crime into the grave error of threatening people with the gallows for every offence about which there was a temporary panic. And once passed, a new law became as sacrosanct as the rotten boroughs.

The haphazard list of two hundred crimes punishable by death, had not even consistent severity to recommend it. It was death to steal from a boat on a navigable river, but not on a canal. To cut down trees in a garden was a capital offence, and also to slit a person's nose ; but not so the most aggravated murderous assault which the victim managed to survive with nose intact. The unjust laws often resulted in a leniency as injurious to justice as the severity that had been decreed. Juries were unwilling to convict and witnesses to give evidence, in cases of theft that were capitally punishable. The burglar on his part was strongly tempted to escape the rope by murdering the householder who had witnessed his robbery. The chance of escaping capture for want of an efficient police, and in case of capture the uncertainty of what would happen in court, made a life of crime an agreeably exciting gamble.

Although only a small proportion of the death sentences pronounced were carried out, the number of men and women hanged in England every year was greater in proportion to population than on the Continent, where in the last half of the century several of the criminal codes underwent considerable revision, in accordance with the humane and scientific principles of Beccaria. But the good old English rule, inherited from earlier times, against inflicting death or extracting evidence by torture, still gave us an advantage over not a few continental countres.

The state of the English prisons, brought to general notice by the philanthropist Howard, who died 1790, was far worse than the average on the Continent. The terrible ' gaol fever,' the result of consistently insanitary conditions, was peculiarly scandalous in England. The prisoners, including forty thou-sand arrested every year for debt, most of whom were more unfortunate than criminal, were put under the absolute authority of gaolers who had taken the prisons on farm to make what they could out of the inmates. In some prisons nothing could be had for nothing, as not even a minimum allowance of food was supplied out of the public funds. The magistrates ' would not charge the county with the expense.' In other prisons the free food was filthy and inadequate. The debtor, the most innocent class of prisoner, was least able to purchase alleviation. Other men, who had been acquitted, or against whom no indictment had been brought, were frequently kept in prison for years because they could not pay the gaoler's fees.

The difference between England and Scotland was greater in the eighteenth century than it is today. But both countries, then as now, belonged to the same order of civilisation, distinct from Ireland or the Continent. A great part of what has been here said about England is true, with local variations, of Scotland also.

The Union of 1707 had left the Scottish law and the Scottish Church untouched, and permanently separate from the English. But it had united the trade and commercial privileges of North and South Britain, and it had merged the two Parliaments into one at Westminster. English and Scottish legislators sitting together, thenceforth made laws to apply either to Scotland or to England or to both.

The Scottish Parliamentary elections, both before and after the Union, were more farcical than even the English. The Scottish burgh members were none of them elected by the inhabitants, but all by the municipal corporations; and there was no municipal corporation in Scotland that was not a cooptive oligarchy. The county elections, unlike those in South Britain which were decided by the freeholders, were in the hands of small privileged bodies that did not even represent the landed wealth of the shire. The Government at Westminster, through the Lord-Advocate, was able to buy up almost every Scottish vote in Parliament.

The deadness of all political and municipal life, due to the want of representative institutions either central or local, resulted in Scotland's failure to take part in her own national drama of 1745. A few thousand savage and romantic tribes-men from the Highland mountains were allowed to occupy the capital and to march up and down the country at will with sword and target, while the civilised portion of Scotland took no vigorous steps either to further or to thwart their enterprise. It was English troops who suppressed the rebellion and broke up the tribal system in the Highlands. Scotland had been ` as one incapable of her own distress.'

It was a remarkable fact that Scotland, the most democratic and the best educated part of the British islands, had no representative institutions, either parliamentary or municipal, until 1832-3.1 Scottish democracy had been matured in the Kirk and in the Kirk alone. By the end of the eighteenth century, in a more secular age, that vessel was no longer able by itself to contain so strong a spirit.

The Presbyterian Kirk, at once so popular and so tyrannical, so jealous of free thought yet so eager to give education to all, had been reinstated by the Revolution of 1688, after being purified and hardened by the persecution of Claverhouse's ' killing times.' It inaugurated a period of severe and bigoted social discipline, which, combined with the poverty of the country and frequent famines, leaves the veil of gloom over the Scottish scene for fifty years after the accession of William. But as the eighteenth century goes on, the picture grows ever more cheerful. The laity threw off the stricter and more odious part of the discipline of the Kirk, and among the clergy them-selves the moderate and latitudinarian party began to triumph. At length the poet Burns came to harass the retreating rear-guard of old-fashioned bigots with his lively satire. In his day young people were able to dance ' promisky.' Witches were fast disappearing, with the minds that bred them. David Hume, instead of being burnt as an infidel, held a great position in the intellectual society of Edinburgh. He and Adam Smith put Scotland among the foremost of the philosopher nations in a philosophic age.

The Universities flourished as they did not in England, being the real cornerstone of a real edifice of national education. Learning was fostered among the people by the Church itself, which was in much closer touch with all classes and their needs than in South Britain of that day. :Every peasant with a clever son aspired, not without reasonable hope, to see him pass through the village school and the University into the sacred profession, which thus continued to be recruited from the people and to represent the best side of the national idealism.

If, in the English midlands before the enclosures, open-field agriculture was too little productive, the results of the system on the poorer lands of Scotland were yet more disastrous. Only in parts of the Lothians was wheat grown at all when the House of Hanover came to the throne. ` Oats,' wrote Dr. Johnson in his dictionary, ` a grain which in England is generally given to horses, in Scotland supports the people.' In housing, in economic conditions and in subjection to periodic famine, the Scot, when the century opened, resembled the Irish rather than the English peasant. Short leases discouraged agricultural improvement. The country, long ago well-forested, had become a treeless waste. The cattle were starvelings, often perishing for want of fodder. The small country gentry, known as ` pocket lairds,' partook of the general poverty; in the shortage of money they were paid chiefly in kind.

The first steps on the path of progress were taken by certain of the nobles and richer lairds who introduced long leases, broke up the open fields, and enclosed the land within dykes and stone walls. In so doing they prepared the way for wheat, roots and artificial fodder; for draining and manuring the poor soil ; for scientific breeding of sheep and cattle, and the whole apparatus of modern agriculture. Long plantations of fir arose on the waste, tempering the bitter wind to man, beast and crop. Before the Napoleonic wars, it had become apparent to all the world that the Scots were a peculiarly intelligent and highly educated people, capable of becoming not less but more progressive than the English farmers themselves. Early in the eighteenth century improving Scottish lairds had introduced English ploughmen and agriculturists to teach the new methods : in the nineteenth century the tide set the other way.

Wealth was flowing into the country from all sides, even before the Industrial Revolution. As soon as the Act of Union had opened the British Colonies to Scottish trade, Bailie Nicol Jarvie and his brother merchants of the great western port, previously with no handy outlet for their goods, made Glasgow flourish. Between 1700 and i 800 its inhabitants increased from about twelve to eighty thousand. Meanwhile the opening of free trade with England, and the turnpike movement in both countries, put markets at the door of Scottish agriculturists and manufacturing cottagers that enormously stimulated the general forward movement of the age. And finally, for evil and for good, there came the factories. In 1800 the revenue of Scotland was fifty times what it had been in 1700, while the population had only increased from about 1,100,000 to 1,600,000 souls.

All this progress was going forward while Scots were still generally despised and abused in England as proud and needy adventurers. The affair of 1745 had done little to remove this dislike and contempt, which formed a bond of union between Wilkes and Dr. Johnson. It was only in the age of Sir Walter Scott that England discovered once and for all that she was linked with a partner not inferior to herself.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com