Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 63

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Letter LXIII

To Dr LEWIS.

DEAR DOCTOR,

The peasantry of Scotland are certainly on a poor footing all over the kingdom; and yet they look better, and are better cloathed than those of the same rank in Burgundy, and many other places of France and Italy; nay, I will venture to say they are better fed, notwithstanding the boasted wine of these foreign countries. The country people of North-Britain live chiefly on oat-meal, and milk, cheese, butter, and some garden-stuff, with now and then a pickled-herring, by way of delicacy; but flesh-meat they seldom or never taste; nor any kind of strong liquor, except two-penny, at times of uncommon festivity — Their breakfast is a kind of hasty pudding, of oat-meal or pease-meal, eaten with milk. They have commonly pottage for dinner, composed of cale or cole, leeks, barley or big, and butter; and this is reinforced with bread and cheese, made of skimmed-milk — At night they sup on sowens or flummery of oat-meal — In a scarcity of oats, they use the meal of barley and pease, which is both nourishing and palatable. Some of them have potatoes; and you find parsnips in every peasant's garden — They are cloathed with a coarse kind of russet of their own making, which is both decent and warm — They dwell in poor huts, built of loose stones and turf, without any mortar, having a fireplace or hearth in the middle, generally made of an old mill-stone, and a hole at top to let out the smoke.

These people, however, are content, and wonderfully sagacious — All of them read the Bible, and are even qualified to dispute upon the articles of their faith; which in those parts I have seen, is entirely Presbyterian. I am told, that the inhabitants of Aberdeenshire are still more acute. I once knew a Scotch gentleman at London, who had declared war against this part of his countrymen; and swore that the impudence and knavery of the Scots, in that quarter, had brought a reproach upon the whole nation.

The river Clyde, above Glasgow, is quite pastoral; and the banks of it are every where adorned with fine villas. From the sea to its source, we may reckon the seats of many families of the first rank, such as the duke of Argyle at Roseneath, the earl of Bute in the isle of that name, the earl of Glencairn at Finlayston, lord Blantyre at Areskine, the dutchess of Douglas at Bothwell, duke Hamilton at Hamilton, the duke of Douglas at Douglas, and the earl of Hyndford at Carmichael. Hamilton is a noble palace, magnificently furnished; and hard by is the village of that name, one of the neatest little towns I have seen in any country. The old castle of Douglas being burned to the ground by accident, the late duke resolved, as head of the first family of Scotland, to have the largest house in the kingdom, and ordered a plan for this purpose; but there was only one wing of it finished when he died. It is to be hoped that his nephew, who is now in possession of his great fortune, will complete the design of his predecessor — Clydesdale is in general populous and rich, containing a great number of gentlemen, who are independent in their fortune; but it produces more cattle than corn — This is also the case with Tweedale, through part of which we passed, and Nithsdale, which is generally rough, wild, and mountainous — These hills are covered with sheep; and this is the small delicious mutton, so much preferable to that of the London-market. As their feeding costs so little, the sheep are not killed till five years old, when their flesh, juices, and flavour are in perfection; but their fleeces are much damaged by the tar, with which they are smeared to preserve them from the rot in winter, during which they run wild night and day, and thousands are lost under huge wreaths of snow — 'Tis pity the farmers cannot contrive some means to shelter this useful animal from the inclemencies of a rigorous climate, especially from the perpetual rains, which are more prejudicial than the greatest extremity of cold weather.