The story of this stalwart and skillful Scotch farmer, George Hope,
enables us to understand what agitators mean by the term "landlordism."
It is a very striking case, as the reader will admit.
George Hope, born in 1811, was the son of a tenant farmer of the county
of East Lothian, now represented in Parliament by Mr. Gladstone. The
farm on which he was born, on which his ancestors had lived, and upon
which he spent the greater part of his own life, was called Fenton
Barns. With other lands adjacent, it made a farm of about eight hundred
acres. Two thirds of it were of a stiff, retentive clay, extremely hard
to work, and the rest was little better than sand, of a yellow color and
incapable of producing grain.
Two or three generations of Hopes had spent life and toil unspeakable
upon this unproductive tract, without making the least profit by it;
being just able to pay their rent, and keep their heads above water.
They subsisted, reared families, and died, worn out with hard work,
leaving to their sons, besides an honest name, only the same inheritance
of struggle and despair. George Hope's mother tried for years to
squeeze out of her butter and eggs the price of a table large enough for
all her family to sit round at once, but died without obtaining it.
At the age of eighteen years, George Hope took hold of this unpromising
farm, his parents being in declining health, nearly exhausted by their
long struggle with it. He brought to his task an intelligent and
cultivated mind. He had been for four years in a lawyer's office. He had
read with great admiration the writings of the American Channing; and he
now used his intelligence in putting new life into this old land.
The first thing was to acquire more capital; and the only way of
accomplishing this was to do much of the work himself. Mere manual
labor, however, would not have sufficed; for he found himself baffled by
the soil. Part of the land being wet, cold clay, and part yellow sand,
he improved both by mixing them together. He spread sand upon his clay,
and clay upon his sand, as well as abundant manure, and he established a
kiln for converting some of the clay into tiles, with which he drained
his own farm, besides selling large quantities of tiles to the
neighboring farmers. For a time, he was in the habit of burning a kiln
of eleven thousand tiles every week, and he was thus enabled to expend
in draining his own farms about thirteen thousand dollars, without going
in debt for it.
He believed in what is called "high farming," and spent enormous sums
in fertilizing the soil. For a mere top-dressing of guano, bones,
nitrate of soda, or sulphate of ammonia, he spent one spring eight
thousand dollars. These large expenditures, directed as they were by a
man who thoroughly understood his business, produced wonderful results.
He gained a large fortune, and his farm became so celebrated, that
travelers arrived from all parts of Europe, and even from the United
States, to see it. An American called one day to inspect the farm, when
Mr. Hope began, as usual, to express his warm admiration for Dr.
Channing. The visitor was a nephew of the distinguished preacher, and he
was exceedingly surprised to find his uncle so keenly appreciated in
that remote spot.
It is difficult to say which of his two kinds of land improved the most
under his vigorous treatment. His sandy soil, the crop of which in
former years was sometimes blown out of the ground, was so strengthened
by its dressing of clay as to produce excellent crops of wheat; and his
clay fields were made among the most productive in Scotland by his
system of combined sanding, draining and fertilizing.
One of his secrets was that he treated his laborers with justice and
consideration. His harvest-homes were famous in their day. When he found
that certain old-fashioned games caused some of his weak teetotalers to
fall from grace, he changed them for others; and, instead of beer and
toddy, provided abundance of tea, coffee, strawberries, and other
dainties. When the time came for dancing, he took the lead, and could
sometimes boast that he had not missed one dance the whole evening. In
addressing a public meeting of farmers and landlords in 1861, he spoke
on the subject of improving the cottages of farm laborers. These were
some of the sentences which fell from his lips:--
"Treat your laborers with respect, as men; encourage their self-respect.
Never enter a poor man's house any more than a rich man's unless
invited, and then go not to find fault, but as a friend. If you can
render him or his family a service, by advice or otherwise, let it be
more delicately done than to your most intimate associate. Remember how
hard it is for a poor man to respect himself. He hears the wealthy
styled the respectable, and the poor, the lower classes; but never call
a man low. His being a _man_ dwarfs, and renders as nothing, all the
distinctions of an earthly estate."
The reader sees what kind of person this George Hope was. He was as
nearly a perfect character as our very imperfect race can ordinarily
exhibit. He was a great farmer, a true captain of industry, an honest,
intelligent, just, and benevolent man. He was, moreover, a good citizen,
and this led him to take an interest in public matters, and to do his
utmost in aid of several reasonable reforms. He was what is called a
Liberal in politics. He did what he could to promote the reform bill of
Lord John Russell, and he was a conspicuous ally of Cobden and Bright
in their efforts to break down the old corn laws. He remembered that
there were about five thousand convictions in Great Britain every year
under the game laws, and he strove in all moderate and proper ways to
have those laws repealed.
And now we come to the point. A certain person named R. A. Dundas
Christopher Nisbet Hamilton married the heiress of the estate to which
the farm of George Hope belonged. He thus acquired the power, when a
tenant's lease expired, to refuse a renewal. This person was a Tory, who
delighted in the slaughter of birds and beasts, and who thought it
highly impertinent in the tenant of a farm to express political opinions
contrary to those of his landlord. George Hope, toward the end of his
long lease, offered to take the farm again, at a higher rent than he had
ever before paid, though it was himself who had made the farm more
valuable. His offer was coldly declined, and he was obliged, after
expending the labor and skill of fifty-three years upon that land, to
leave it, and find another home for his old age.
He had fortunately made money enough to buy a very good farm for
himself, and he had often said that he would rather farm fifty acres of
his own than to be the tenant of the best farm in Europe. This
"eviction," as it was called, of a farmer so celebrated attracted
universal comment, and excited general indignation. He left his farm
like a conqueror. Public dinners and services of plate were presented to
him, and his landlord of many names acquired a notoriety throughout
Europe which no doubt he enjoyed. He certainly did a very bold action,
and one which casts a perfect glare of light upon the nature of
George Hope died in 1876, universally honored in Scotland. He lies
buried in the parish of his old farm, not far from the home of his
fathers. On his tombstone is inscribed:--
"To the memory of George Hope, for many years tenant of Fenton Barns. He
was the devoted supporter of every movement which tended to the
advancement of civil and religious liberty, and to the moral and social
elevation of mankind."