I have already mentioned that the clergy of the Established Church (none other were tolerated in Sutherland), all but Mr. Sage, were consenting parties to the expulsion of the inhabitants, and had substantial reasons for their readiness to accept wooly and hairy animals – sheep and dogs – in place of their human flocks. The kirks and manses were mostly situated in the low grounds, and the clergy hitherto held their pasturage in common with the tenantry; and this state of things, established by law and usage, no factor or proprietor had power to alter without mutual consent. Had the ministers maintained those rights, they would have placed in many cases, an effectual bar to the oppressive proceedings of the factors; for the strange sheep-farmers would not bid for, or take the lands where the minister’s sheep and cattle would be allowed to co-mingle with theirs. But no! Anxious to please the “powers that be,” and no less anxious to drive advantageous bargains with them, these reverend gentlemen found means to get their lines laid “in pleasant places,” and to secure good and convenient portions of the pasture lands enclosed for themselves: many of the small tenants were removed purely to satisfy them in these arrangements. Their subserviency to the factors, in all things, was not for nought. Besides getting their hill pasturage enclosed, their tillage lands were extended, new manses and offices were built for them, and roads made specially for their accommodation, and every arrangement made for their advantage. They basked in the sunshine of favour; they were the bosom friends of the factors and new tenants (many of whom were soon made magistrates), and had the honour of occasional visits, at their manses, from the proprietors themselves. They were always employed to explain and interpret to the assembled people the orders and designs of the factors; and they did not spare their college paint on these occasions. Black was made white, or white black, as it answered their purpose, in discharging what they called their duty! They did not scruple to introduce the name of the Deity representing Him as the author and abettor of all the foul and cruel proceedings carried on; and they had at hand another useful being ready to seize every soul who might feel any inclination to revolt. Indeed, the manifest works of the latter in their own hands, were sufficient to prove his existence; while the whole appearance of the country, and the state of its inhabitants at this period, afforded ample proof that the principle of evil was in the ascendant. The tyranny of one class, and the wrongs and sufferings of the other, had demoralising effects on both; the national character and manners were changed and deteriorated, and a comparatively degenerate race is the consequence. This was already manifest in the year 1822, when George IV. made his famous visit to Edinburgh. The brave, athletic and gallant men, who in 1745, and again more recently, in 1800, rose in thousands as the call of their chief, were no longer to be traced in their descendants. When the clans gathered to honour His Majesty on the latter occasion, the Sutherland turn-out was contemptible. Some two or three dozen of squalid-looking, ill-dressed, and ill-appointed men, were all that Sutherland produced. So inferior, indeed, was their appearance to the other Highlanders, that those who had the management refused to allow them to walk in the procession, and employed them in some duty out of public view. If their appearance was so bad, so also were their accommodations. They were huddled together in an old empty house, sleeping on straw, and fed with the coarsest fare, while the other clans were living in comparative luxury. Lord Francis Leveson Gower, and Mr. Loch, who were present, reaped little honour by the exhibition of their Sutherland retainers on that great occasion. Moral vices, hitherto almost unknown, began to make their appearance; and though the people never resorted to “wild savage justice,” like those of Ireland in similar circumstances, the minor transgressions of squabbling, drunkenness, and incontinency became less rare – the natural consequence of their altered condition. Religion also, from the conduct of the clergy, began to lose its hold on their minds – and who can wonder at it? – when they saw these holy men closely leagued with their oppressors. “Ichabod,” the glory of Sutherland had departed – perhaps never to return!
Letter 9., pp.21-22.
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