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 landlordism.
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.”