From Men, to Black Cattle, to Sheep

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Sometimes economic progress means moving from men, to black cattle, to sheep:

The mountainous region of the north of Scotland contained large tracts of moorland, which were anciently employed chiefly for the rearing of cattle. It was found at a later period that these extensive pastures might be employed with much greater advantage in the feeding of sheep. For this latter occupation the Highlanders were by nature and education as unfit as they were qualified for that of rearers of cattle. The result was, that the sheepfarmers of the south of Scotland made offers of large rents to the Highland chiefs, with which the Highland tenants, or tacksmen, were unable to compete; and the latter, being deprived at once of their lands and their occupation, left the country, with large numbers of those employed under them as herdsmen, and emigrated to North America and other foreign settlements.

Sir Walter Scott says that he can well recollect the indignation with which these proceedings were regarded by the ancient Highlanders. He says he remembers hearing a chief of the old school say, in sorrow and indignation, the words following: “When I was a young man, the point upon which every Highland gentleman rested his importance was the number of men whom his estate could support; the question next rested on the amount of his stock of black cattle; it is now come to respect the number of sheep; and I suppose our posterity will inquire how many rats or mice an estate will produce.”

It has not yet come to rats or mice; but red deer are superseding sheep. The clergyman of one parish said lately that within the last few years he has lost about one hundred and twenty of his small congregation, who have been obliged to leave the country where their forefathers had been settled for centuries, because their landlord, a man of enormous landed possessions, had resolved to turn a glen of some ten miles in extent into a deer forest. And it may be added that, in a late session of Parliament, the motion of a Scotch member for the equitable assessment of deer forests and other shooting grounds was set aside.

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