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land is singularly bare for that midland district, and the few
names that mark it are mostly of towns which Edward the Elder
founded as a military frontier. Few, indeed, are the charters
that record gifts of land in its rich pastures; scanty and late
the names of monastic foundations that sprang up in it."
" A great district popularly called the desert stretched from
Durham through the West Riding [of Yorkshire] to the Peak
[in Derbyshire ;] and to a period as late as the twelfth century,
contained no town of importance. . . The site of Durham was
occupied by a thick wood in the twelfth century. Down to a
much later time, a lamp used to be hung from the old steeple of
All Saints, York, to guide travellers across the forest of Galtres.
The Domesday Survey tells us that in Derbyshire five ' hundreds '
out of six were heavily wooded ; and that in Lancashire a quar-
ter of a million of acres was covered with a network of dense
woods." With the Normans begins a new era for these mid-
land shires. " Generally the north of England, Kent and Glou-
cestershire, were the parts most thickly peopled under the
Romans, while under the Saxons Wessex and the eastern coun-
ties were on the whole the best governed and developed. . .
From Derby, with its one borough, to Wiltshire, with at least
eight and perhaps sixteen, or Suffolk with six, is a great ascent.
But it points to different conditions of country." " With the
Norman dynasty came new conditions of national life. Wiltshire


and Somersetshire declined in relative importance. . . Under
King John Lincolnshire alone contributed a fourth of the
exports between Newcastle and the Land's End. The mid-
land districts of England were now neither desolate nor mar-
tial." Yet we still find districts now fertile named in mediaeval
history as morasses that threatened the destruction of armies;
and the rich grain-fields of South Lancashire were in the reign
of Elizabeth a quagmire that daunted the antiquary Camden.
Oliver Cromwell was one of a '.' company of adventurers " that
undertook to drain the fen of Huntingdon and Cambridge shires
by diking the channel of the Ouse.

Northumberland during the Roman period was densely set-
tled; Roman remains are numerous; Roman cities were fre-
quent and of great size on its '' naturally sterile " soil. It
afterwards sank into comparative unimportance. The eastern
lowlands of Scotland were at first an outlying part of this king-
dom ; the castle of Edinburgh is built on the site of a North-
umbrian fortress designed to defend the northern frontier.

§ 117. The earliest history of the kingdom of Scotland goes
back to the occupation of the Western Highlands by Scotch
tribes from the north of Ireland and their subjugation of the
Picts. But the prehistoric remains, such as the subterranean
dwellings and villages on the upper reaches of the river Don in
the slopes of the Highlands, go still farther back. " The coun-
try is crowded with hill-forts, small and great; they may be
counted by hundreds. They cousist of mounds of earth or
stones, or both, running round the crests of hills." Every spur
of the Cheviots is crowned with remnants of old fastnesses whose
builders are unknown to us.

As to the Irish occupation of the Highlands it has well been
gaid that l£ one acquainted with the agricultural resources of the
north of Ireland at the present day, might question the induce-
ment of a people to leave that region for the sake of settling in
Western Scotland. But it is observable of the Celts as of other
indolent races, that the elements of value to them arc not the
resources capable of development through industry and enter-


prise, but those which offer the readiest supply of some of the
necessaries of life. . . The geological character of the country
would supply them with a limited quantity of alluvial soil for
immediate cultivation. It was found on the deltas of the moun-
tain streams, on the narrow straths around their margin, and
occasionally in hollows containing alluvial deposits, which might
have been the beds of ancient lakes. These patches of fruitful
ground the first immigrants would find ready for use. Modern
agriculture has indeed been able to add very little to their area,
and has wisely determined that sheep-farming is the proper use
of those tracts of mountains among which the alluvial patches
are thinly scattered. It is a curious coincidence worth remem-
bering, that those very lands in Northern Ireland which the an-
cestors of the Scots Highlanders abandoned, were in later times
sought and occupied by Scots Lowlanders as a promising field
of industrial enterprise."

See Burton's History of Scotland, Chapter V. (Edinburgh, 1873).

As in English history, we find a Celtic kingdom (Strathclyde)
occupying the western hills and Cumberland, while the more
fertile Lothians lie open to the invader and yield to the Teutons
with hardly a struggle. But even in the Lothians the richer soils
— as along the Tweed — are of more recent occupation and were
forests and swamps two centuries ago.

§ 118. The comparatively bare and now insignificant islands
that lie around the coast were once prizes. The Romans seized
the Orkneys and perhaps established a garrison there, and the
remains of cyclopean works attest a still earlier occupation of
the Islands. In the Ossianic traditions they formed a powerful
kingdom. In the middle ages they were pledged to the King
of Norway as security for a sum of money that would now
more than purchase their fee simple. To the west lie the far
more barren Hebrides, which, with the Isle of Man, Dublin and
the south east of Ireland, once formed a powerful Danish king-
dom. These islands, once " rich and powerful," we find after-
wards " sinking into poverty," while the others have merely


"preserved a respected position in the British Empire, as main-
taining a valuable and industrious population."

The Duke of Argyle, President of the Cobden Club, in his
book about Iona tells us the story of the settlement of that
island and the adjacent highlands. " At a time," he says,
"when artificial drainage was unknown, and in a rainy climate,
the flats aud hollows, which are now generally the most valuable
portions of the land, were occupied by swamps and moss. On
the steep slopes alone, which offered natural drainage, was it
possible to raise cereal crops. And this is one source of the
error which strangers so often make in writing on the High-
lands. They see the marks of the plough high up upon the
mountains, where the land is now very wisely abandoned to the
pasturage of sheep or cattle; and seeing this, they conclude
that tillage has decreased, and they wail over the diminished
industry of man. But when those high banks and braes were
cultivated, the richer levels below were the haunts of the otter
and the fishing-places of the heron. Those ancient plough-
marks are the sure indications of a rude and ignorant hus-

" In the eastern slopes of Iona, Columba and his companions
found one tract of land which was as admirably fitted for the
growth of corn, as the remainder of it was suited to the support
of flocks and herds. On the north-eastern side of the island,
between the rocky pasturage and the shore, there is a long
natural declivity of arable soil, steep enough to be naturally
dry, and protected by the hill from the western blast.

" And so here Columba's tent was pitched and his Bible
opened, and his banner raised for the conversion of the

§ 119. Ireland (as that best of judges Arthur Young says),
taken acre for acre, is more fertile than England. Yet in her
earlier history, when the whole population consisted of a few
hundred thousands gathered into clans, its " pressure upon land
and food " caused frequent famines, and led to large emigrations
into what we regard as the poorest parts of the sister island.


Such was the exodus of Scots that established the Celtic king-
dom of Dalaradia, and laid the foundation of Scottish nation-
ality. Such also was the invasion and occupation of North
Wales by the Gadhelic or Irish kingdom of Gwyuned, just
about the time of the Saxon incursions on the east.

The Scotch and English colonies in the north had a long
struggle with the natural obstacles to settlement, among which
want of drainage and consequently malaria and agues were the
chief. Within the memory of people now living, large districts
have been brought under culture, and the yield of the land im-
mensely increased wherever the density of population was such
as to make it both possible and worth while. The malarious
type of disease — includiugthat offspring of the union of hunger
and malaria, typhus fever — have comparatively disappeared.

§ 120. We pass to the habitat of the Teutonic race. Bel-
gium is naturally divided into the Flemish and the Walloon
provinces. In the former Flemish is spoken ; in the latter
French, but both are of the Teutonic stock. The territory of
the former, with the exception of a strip of alluvial soil along
the seashore, is one of the most sterile that has ever been sub-
jected to human agriculture, and yet one of the most productive,
if not absolutely the most productive in the world. It owes
this to the vast condensation of population on its surface, to the
division of its soil into petty farms, to the vast outlay of capital
on their cultivation, and to the high state of intelligence and
consequently of agricultural skill. It is here that the vast
population of Belgium is chiefly condensed ; here were situated
the great medieval cities that once gave Belgium her industrial
predominance. The eastern part of the region, the sterile
Kempen, where even modern skill and science has repeatedly
failed in extorting a remunerative crop from the soil, was in the
Middle Ages covered with rich abbeys. It abounds in ruins
that belong to a still earlier period, many of them uow covered
by the growth of the peat soil. At the beginning of our era
this great district seems to have been pretty fully settled, and
the oldest traces of Belgian cities and castles are found here.


Both the alluvial lands reclaimed by dykes along the sea-
coast, and the Walloon provinces on the south, are by nature in-
comparably richer than Flanders. But both are of later occu-
pation, are inferior in agriculture, and support a much scantier
population. The rich Hesbayenne region, the finest in the coun-
try, was mostly covered with forests down to the present century.
The farms are large, the capital expended on an acre is far less,
the yield of produce much smaller. The appearance of the
country is much inferior to that of the northern provinces,
which have the look of a carefully-cultivated garden.

At the extreme south, we come upon the Ardennes region,
which extends into France, — a series of mountains and valleys,
now looked upon as comparatively worthless, but much sought
after in earlier times because it possessed a limited quantity of
alluvial soil in the hollows and along the streams. Here the
Franks long paused before advancing to the low lands of France.
Here in all probability the Niebelungenlied was composed by a
Frankish minstrel.

See La Economie Rurale de la Belgique par Emile de Laveleye (2d
Edition, 1863).

§ 121. In Holland we have a living monument of the growth
of man's power over nature with the growth of numbers. In
Roman times the population was so poor that the empire ex-
empted them from taxation ; the chief food was fish. The
narrow and barren Hauptland was the chief province — a line of
dry peat bogs between the Zuyder Zee and the ocean. The vast
dykes which defend the land from the encroachments of the sea,
as yet were not, and about the beginning of the ninth century,
the whole province of North Friesland, stretching from the
Zuyder Zee (then an inland lake) past Heligoland to the coast
of Schleswick, was swallowed up by the ocean, leaving only a
few sandy islands to mark its outline. As numbers grew the
sea-liue was fixed and steadily maintained, the marshes were
drained, woods cleared away, and even inland lakes emptied into
the ocean. The area between the peat-bogs and sandy beaches
of the Frisians and the dry upland wolds of the Saxons was


occupied, and Holland became one of the richest countries in
Europe and still remains such.

See Niebuhr'a Naehgelasaene Schriften, Hamburg, 1S12.

§ 121. Germany consists of three very different regions ; the
first and more southern lies in the Alpine mountain system; the
second extends down to the less elevated Hercynian mountain
system ; the third consists of extensive plains between the moun-
tains and the sea, part sand cast up by the ocean, part alluvium
deposited by the rivers. The earliest history of Germany is the
history of the states that occupy the upland region ; and the
most marked transition is the transfer of population, political
importance and even literary pre-eminence from the older states
in the south to the younger states of the north — a change con-
summated in the establishment of Berlin as the capital of the
new German Empire.

In the earliest times the Germans seem to have been settled
exclusively in the mountains and the intermediate valleys. That
these mountains contain no lateral valleys was a great obstacle
to the advance of the Komans, who were also deterred by the
vast forests that covered a large part of the country. On the
slopes of the Hartz Mountains Hermann aud the Cherusker de-
feated the army of Varus. In these times, when the upland
populations were far less dense than at present, we find the Ger-
mans forced by want and famine to seek an abode in other coun-
tries. The passage of Batavian and Saxon tribes to the coast
of the North Sea took place in historic times and seems to have
been along the dry, sandy wolds that intersect the morasses of
lower Westphalia — morasses that Niebuhr still found unre-
claimed. Bremen was founded by Karl the Great, — a castle
among the forests on the Elbe. The Frisians indeed spread
along the coast and, with an expenditure of labor that was won-
derful for that time they, by diking and draining, reclaimed
many marshy and fertile districts. Such was the country of the
Stedingers on the Weser below Bremen, where the staunch free-
men were brought under feudal rule (a. d. 1235) only after a
prolonged struggle with the pretended sovereigns of the country.


The plains that lie south of the Baltic were slightly if at all
occupied by the Germans in the earlier ages. A country of
lakes and woods, of marshy jungles, sandy wildernesses inhabit-
ed by " numerous wild beasts and perhaps some shaggy Ger-
mans of the Suevic type " as Pytheas of Marseilles saw it B. c.
327. So few were they that after the migration of nations that
broke up the Roman Empire " those northern Baltic countries
were left comparatively vacant, so that new immigrating popula-
tions from the east, all of Sclavic origin, easily obtained foot-
ing and supremacy there." They " were of the kind called
Vandals or Wends ; they spread themselves as far west as Ham-
burg and the ocean, — south also far over the Elbe in some quar-
ters," finding no hindrance for the most part, nor likely to find
any till they approached the slopes of the Hartz. A. D. 928
the German emperor Henry the Fowler began their conquest
and established four great margravates to overlook their country,
and after two centuries and a half of hard fighting the Germans
were the masters. Without driving out the Wends — who in-
deed clung mostly to the islands and the reaches of dry sandy
beach — they found room for a vast body of Teutonic colonists,
who began diking rivers, draining marshes, turning quagmire
and moss into pasture and comland, and bringing the richest
lands of the empire under cultivation. Hence the rise of
Mecklenburg, Pommerania, Posen, Prussia and Brandenburg.

§ 123. The two Scandinavian peninsulas were comparatively
populous countries at a very early period, so that the pressure
of population upon land and food was considerable. Yet the
people were but a fraction of their present numbers at a
time when their poverty necessitated a law that all the sons
except the eldest should seek a home and a living by piracy
on the sea or by invading some other country. " The notion
of Scandinavia as a cradle and workshop of nations (officina
gentium) recurs perpetually for centuries onward in history.
. . . Nothing authorizes us to conclude that the northern
countries have ever been more populous than they are now;
rather the contrary might safely be laid down. But it is not the
less certain that Scandinavia contained, if not a great, yet a re-


dundant population, larger than the land was able to support "
(Greijer). Hence the vast bodies — Goths, Normans, Lombards,
Angles, Jutes, — that poured down upon other parts of Europe,
founding new kingdoms or plundering all the coasts as far as
Constantinople. In the early history of Sweden, the more
northern and barren provinces exercised a decided preponder-
ance, imposing their name and their language upon the whole
peuinsula, just as the dialect first of Swabia and then of Thu-
ringia became the literary dialect of German. Equally marked
is the early preponderance of the narrow sandy peninsula of Jut-
laud. " For 150 years Sweden was consigned to anarchy and
wretchedness, degraded into an appendage to Denmark, a coun-
try less extensive and [now] less powerful than itself. The clear-
ing of the forest, the settlement of the land, the progress of the
useful arts were effectually obstructed."

§ 124. In America, the Pilgrim Fathers and the Puritan
colonists fixed their homes on the barren shores of Massachu-
setts Bay ; and even when they penetrated the county to found
new commonwealths, they chose high and dry spots like New-
port and New Haven. The richest soils under cultivation in New
England were reclaimed within fifty years. Other lands, quite
as rich, if not richer, lie unfilled, while old mountain settlements
in Berkshire county and other districts are being emptied of
their inhabitants and ancient farmhouses left untenanted. But
much of the long-occupied lands have grown in fertility, as agri-
cultural methods and appliances have been improved. " Our
soil," says Emerson, " is capable of as great and increased pro-
ductiveness as that which England has attained. Concord is
now one of the oldest towns in the country, — far on now [1858]
in its third century. The selectmen have once in five years per-
ambulated its bounds, and yet in this year a very large quantity
of land has been discovered and added to the agricultural land,
and without a murmur of complaint from any neighbor. By
drainage we have gone to the subsoil, and we have a Concord
under Concord, a Middlesex under Middlesex, and a basement-
story of Massachusetts more valuable than the superstructure.


Tiles are political economists. They are so many young Ameri-
cans announcing a better era and a clay of fat things."

Mr. Emerson sees the bearing of all this, for he adds: "There has
been a nightmare brought up in England, under the indigestion of the late
suppers of overgrown landlords and loomlords, that men bred too fast for
the powers of the soil, — that men multiplied in a geometrical ratio, whilst
corn only in an arithmetical. The theory is that the best land is taken
up first. This is not so, as Henry Carey of Philadelphia has shown, for
the poorest land is the first cultivated, and the last lands are the best
lands. It needs science to cultivate the best lands in the best manner.
Every day a new plant, a new food is found. Thus political economy is
not mean, but liberal, and on the pattern of the sun and sky ; it is coin-
cident with love and hope. It is true that population increases in the
ratio of morality, and the crops will increase in like ratio."

§ 125. In New York the first lines of settlement ran along
the dry and sandy hills from Manhattan Island and the High-
lauds to the Mohawk valley. The settlements on the edge of
that beautiful and fertile region are much older than those within
it. Rich and fertile districts like Geneva have not a history of
more than seventy years, while the more remote and less fertile
lands along the Pennsylvania line were settled very early, their
elevation and their consequent exemption from malaria being an
especial recommendation. The New York farmer of our days
finds that " knocking the bottom out of a swamp " is one of the
most profitable things he can put his hand to, and his less-know-
ing neighbors stare at the crops that follow.

New Jersey was preferred by the first Quaker settlers to the
■west bank of the Delaware, because of the abundance of her
]i»ht, sandy soils, which were the more easily got at. Hundreds
of their clearings, which have long been abandoned, may be
found in these districts. The Swedes across the river followed
suit. They built Christiana, Lewistown, and other towns of
Delaware that have become decayed and insignificant places.

§ 126. Penn had the same preference for high land. His
first choice for the site of Philadelphia was twelve miles farther
north. The early maps of the province show us miles of small
farms running from the city along the tops of the ridges, while
the richer and lower lands on each side are marked as uncleared


and uncultivated. Hence the origin of the Ridge Road. A large
part of the banks of our rivers above the city, are still unsafe as
building-sites, while below us lie undrained swamps that will yet
be the farm-gardens of our city. Much of the best land in the
interior of the state is still unoccupied, especially in the valley
of the Susquehanna, while comparatively barren places on the
slopes of the Alleghenies and its related ranges were settled at
a very early date. The old roads of the state go twisting about
as if in search of hills to clamber along — even in the limestone
valleys, where there is no malaria — while the new ones run
along the streams and through the valleys.

The vast immigration, from the north of Ireland that went on
during last century found homes in the Alleghenies and its
spurs, which they entered through Pennsylvania and North Caro-
lina, and then spread over the whole Apalachian system from
what are now the Oil Regions to Huntsville in Northern Ala-
bama. Their choice was not prompted by want of better lands, —
for such lay unreclaimed on both sides of the mountains; — nor
by indolence (as Mr. Burton charges upon the Irish settlers of
the Scotch Highlands), for no race is more industrious ; — nor by
any special safety of their position, as they had to bear for half
a century the brunt of our Indian wars. They took the lands
that lay most open to them, as did their brethren, who passed
by Maine to settle the Granite state.

§ 127. The same course of settlement may be traced in every
Western state. Everywhere the rich valley-lands are avoided
as the seat of malaria. In Wisconsin the first settlement was
made in the patch of highlands called the Blue Mound, and the
lines of settlement ran out along the sandy hills as in the east.
The richest and the most fertile spots on the prairies were in
earlier times the sloughs or " wet prairies " — the terror of travel-
lers, but now under combined and patient exertion " fair as the
garden of the Lord." One such in Southern Illinois, occupied
by Paisley weavers turned American farmers, recalls the most
carefully tilled bits of the British Islands. This whole district,
commonly known as Egypt, and spreading from the Mississippi


far east of the Wabash, is perhaps the richest in the whole
North. Yet the Southern planters on their way to occupy Mis-
souri, passed it by in disdain, and left it to " poor whites " of the
South, who occupy such dry and sandy ridges as they find
accessible, where the rudest agriculture suffices to supply their
very primitive wants. The rich creek bottoms are inaccessible
to its rude and scanty population, who have hardly any notion
of their value and no capital sufficient to master them. A mau,
whose lands if rightly tilled would feed a New England town,
will live in a log-hut of two rooms, with a loom and spinning-

Online LibraryRobert Ellis ThompsonSocial science and national economy → online text (page 11 of 38)