Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 58

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Letter LVIII



About a fortnight is now elapsed, since we left the capital of Scotland, directing our course towards Stirling, where we lay. The castle of this place is such another as that of Edinburgh, and affords a surprising prospect of the windings of the river Forth, which are so extraordinary, that the distance from hence to Alloa by land, is but forty miles, and by water it is twenty-four. Alloa is a neat thriving town, that depends in a great measure on the commerce of Glasgow, the merchants of which send hither tobacco and other articles, to be deposited in warehouses for exportation from the Frith of Forth. In our way hither we visited a flourishing iron-work, where, instead of burning wood, they use coal, which they have the art of clearing in such a manner as frees it from the sulphur, that would otherwise render the metal too brittle for working. Excellent coal is found in almost every part of Scotland.

The soil of this district produces scarce any other grain but oats, lid barley; perhaps because it is poorly cultivated, and almost altogether uninclosed. The few inclosures they have consist of paultry walls of loose stones gathered from the fields, which indeed they cover, as if they had been scattered on purpose. When I expressed my surprize that the peasants did not disencumber their grounds of these stones; a gentleman, well acquainted with the theory as well as practice of farming, assured me that the stones, far from being prejudicial, were serviceable to the crop. This philosopher had ordered a field of his own to be cleared, manured and sown with barley, and the produce was more scanty than before. He caused the stones to be replaced, and next year the crop was as good as ever. The stones were removed a second time, and the harvest failed; they were again brought back, and the ground retrieved its fertility. The same experiment has been tried in different parts of Scotland with the same success—Astonished at this information, I desired to know in what manner he accounted for this strange phenomenon; and he said there were three ways in which the stones might be serviceable. They might possibly restrain an excess in the perspiration of the earth, analogous to colliquative sweats, by which the human body is sometimes wasted and consumed. They might act as so many fences to protect the tender blade from the piercing winds of the spring; or, by multiplying the reflexion of the sun, they might increase the warmth, so as to mitigate the natural chilness of the soil and climate — But, surely this excessive perspiration might be more effectually checked by different kinds of manure, such as ashes, lime, chalk, or marl, of which last it seems there are many pits in this kingdom: as for the warmth, it would be much more equally obtained by inclosures; the cultivation would require less labour; and the ploughs, harrows, and horses, would not suffer half the damage which they now sustain.

These north-western parts are by no means fertile in corn. The ground is naturally barren and moorish. The peasants are poorly lodged, meagre in their looks, mean in their apparel, and remarkably dirty. This last reproach they might easily wash off, by means of those lakes, rivers, and rivulets of pure water, with which they are so liberally supplied by nature. Agriculture cannot be expected to flourish where the farms are small, the leases short, and the husbandman begins upon a rack rent, without a sufficient stock to answer the purposes of improvement. The granaries of Scotland are the banks of the Tweed, the counties of East and Mid-Lothian, the Carse of Gowrie, in Perthshire, equal in fertility to any part of England, and some tracts in Aberdeenshire and Murray, where I am told the harvest is more early than in Northumberland, although they lie above two degrees farther north. I have a strong curiosity to visit many places beyond the Forth and the Tay, such as Perth, Dundee, Montrose, and Aberdeen, which are towns equally elegant and thriving; but the season is too far advanced to admit of this addition to my original plan.