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Full text of "The literature of the Scottish Gael"

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THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 



THE LITERATURE OF THE 
SCOTTISH GAEL 



BY 



THE REV. DONALD MACLEAN, 

AUTHOR OF ' THE HIGHLANDS BEFORE THE REFORMATION ' ; 

' DUTHIL : PAST AND PRESENT'; 'TRAVELS IN 

SUNNY LANDS,' ETC. 



»• • > • 

'• • • •. . t *,» * • ' ', ", 



EDINBURGH AND LONDON 
WILLIAM HODGE AND COMPANY 

1912 



JU,L\ kjL^S^^AA^ 



PREFACE 



i'WN 



Students have often asked me where they could get a 

suitable book on our Gaelic Literature. I invariably 

directed them to Professor Magnus Maclean's book on The 

Literature of the Highlands, to Professor Blackie's book on 

the Language and Literature of the Highlands of Scotland, to 

articles in the Encyclopcedia Britannica (11th ed.)? and 

Hastings' Encyclopcedia of Religion and Ethics, and recently 

to a short but valuable paper by the late Dr. George 

Henderson on the ' Literature of the Highlands, 1500-1745,' 

in the Home Life of the Highlanders, 1400-1746. They 

complained of the price of the first of these as being beyond 

what they could easily afford ; and of the others as not 

being always within their reach. This hand-book is an 

attempt to meet the demand and circumstances of such 

students, and the probable wish of others interested in 

Gaelic literature — literature with which alone it deals. 

Collectors of rare Gaelic books may also find within its pages 

something to interest and help them. The three articles 

which form the book appeared in the Celtic Review, and 

are now reproduced by the kind permission of the editors 

and publishers. 

D. MACLEAN. 

Ebinbuegh, November 1912. 

265377 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

The Literature of the Columban Church — The Antifhonary of Bangor — Liher 
Hymnorum — Leabhar Breac — Mediseval Romantic Literature — The 
Ulster Cycle — ^Tho Leinster-Munster Cycle — Where Found — Problems 
of Origin — Features of the Literature — Its Influence on Later Religious 
Literature and on Religious Beliefs — Carswell's Liturgy — Mediseval 
Cultivation of Literature — Books published between 1500 and 1745 — 
Bedell's Bible — Kirk's Bible and Psalms — Rev. Dugald Campbell's Trans- 
lations — Dean of Lismore's Book — Fernaig MS. — Oral Literature — 
Medical Literature of the Beatons and M'Conachers — The Bards — Their 
Intense Nationalism — Their Range — Absence of Dramatic Writings and 
Love-Songs — Probable Causes ...... 1-22 

II 

Culloden and After — ^The Origin of Canadian Literature — Factors in the De- 
velopment of Literature — The S.P.C.K. and Bounty Schools — The 
Catholic Church and Irish — Zimmer's View — The Influence of Protestant 
Churches on Gaelic — James Macpherson and the Ossianic Controversy — 
The Demand for Gaelic Literature — Literature published between 1745 
and 1830 — Theological — Homiletical — Devotional — Catechetical and 
Confessional — Anthological ( sacred ) — Anthological ( secular) — Educa- 
tional — The Bible — An Analysis of the Literature — Grammars and 
Dictionaries — Franklin's Way to Wealth — Shaw and Paine's Eights of 
Man — The Declaration of Rights of Men and Citizens of the National 
Convention of France, 1793 — Dugald Buchanan — Dr. James McGregor 
— Rev. Peter Grant — An Analysis of their Poetry — Mysticism in Gaelic 
Sacred Poetry — Donald MacRae — Elegiac Poetry — The Defects of 
Secular Poetry examined — Its Probable Cause — Ljrric Poetry — Descriptive 
and Interpretative — Alexander M'Donald — John Roy Stuart — Duncan 
Ban Maclntyre — WiUiam Ross — Ewen MacLachlan — The so-called Bac- 
chanalian Poems — RaiUery, Irony and Sarcasm in Gaelic Poetry — 
Rob Donn ........ 23-53 



viii THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 



III 



PAGE 



Published Literature since 1830 — Influences at Work — The Celtic Chair in 
Edinburgh — The Education Act of 1872 — The Comunn and its Mod — 
The ' Golden Age ' of Gaelic Prose — Periodical Literature — Specimens 
from the Masters of Gaelic Prose — The Advance in the Quality of Litera- 
ture — Philology — Drs. Cameron, MacBain and Watson — The Religious 
Poets of the Victorian Era — John Morison — Dr. John MacDonald — 
Minor Religious Poets — Collections of Religious Poetry — ^The Secular 
Poets — William Livingstone — Ewen Maccoll — John Campbell of Ledaig 
—Neil Macleod, ' The Skye Bard '— ' The Beauties of Gaelic Poetry '— 
An t-Oranaiche — Rev. A. Maclean Sinclair's Collection — Mr. M. C. 
Macleod's Collection of Modern Gaelic Bards — The MacDonald Collection 
of Gaelic Poetry — Miss Frances Tolmie's Collection of Folk-Songs — Trans- 
lators of Gaelic Poetry — The Distribution of GaeUc Literature — The 
Importance of the Study of Gaelic Literature .... 54-80 



. » • • • » 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

I 

There is substantial evidence for the belief that the monks 
of the Celtic Church in Scotland were bookmen and scholars. 
What remains of their scholarship we have in the manu- 
scripts in the British Isles and the Continent encourages 
the deserved admiration that sees through the thick mist 
of the intervening ages earnest students sedulously investi- 
gating the sacred writ, and bringing their acquired and 
native talent to bear on the problems that confront them. 
The virihty, stamina, and self-respect that characterised 
our race owe not a little to the infusion into our veins of 
the blood of those intrepid sailors from the lands of the 
North, who scoured our seas and harried our coastline. 
Yet we deplore the Norse barbarity that assigned to the 
fire and to the sea the achievements of this devout scholar- 
ship. What would we not give to have now in our posses- 
sion records of those monks' outlook on hfe and its intricate 
problems, their view of the pagan religion and the general 
status of society, as well as the wit and humour that gave 
life a charming ease and a soothing relief. In the three 
well-known books — the Antiphonary of Bangor, written 

A 



2 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

before 691 ; Liber Hymnorum, transcribed about the latter 
half of the eleventh century ; and Leahhar Breac, transcribed 
before 1411 — we have litanies, invocations, and poems of 
adoration, which bear more directly upon the work of the 
Clu-istian preacher, and indicate much literary merit as 
well as deep religious feehng. But there must have been 
much more than those produced in the collegiate schools 
of lona and Applecross, at the disappearance of which we 
feel a deep pang of regret. 



Medieval Romantic Literature 

In the Ulster cycle of literature that revolves round 
the central figures of Conchobar and Cuchulinn, we have 
presented to us, with a precision which is substantiated by 
classic writers who were observers or recorders of the events 
portrayed, a history of the pre-Christian social life of the 
Gaels. Here we have depicted to us the wars of mighty 
monarchs and petty kings, tribal jealousies, and inter- 
tribal rivalries, the roistering Ufe in the sumptuous hall, 
the happy buoyancy of the Ufe of the chase, the striking 
ethics and coarse morality, and the undoubted chivalry and 
heroism of pagan people living in pagan culture and in- 
fluenced by pagan sentiments. Tlie Leinster-Munster cycle, 
with Fionn and Ossian as its central figures, develops at a 
later period, and flows down to us, gathering colour and 
substance from the vicissitudes of conquest and defeat that 



THE LITEHATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 3 

characterised the periods through which it streamed, and 
increasing in vohime until it takes such a prominence in 
the popular estimation as ousts entirely the earlier cycle. 
This latter cycle has its origin sunk in deep and almost 
impenetrable obscurity. The solvents that have been 
brought to bear on the problems that surround its rise 
have not yet succeeded in proving to us that these wonderful 
romances rest upon an historic basis. Their supposed origin 
in the second or third centuries does not coincide with the 
historical facts disclosed within the texts. The books which 
supply us with the ballads that surround Fionn, Ossian, 
Caoilte, Oscar, Diarmaid and Grainne are : the Dean of 
Lismore's book, Leabhar na Feinne ; Campbell's Tales of the 
West Highlands ; Dr. Cameron's Reliquice Celticce ; and the 
collections of manuscripts not transcribed in the latter 
book, but available in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, 
and elsewhere. Here, then, we have a great heroic-mythic 
romance. The heroes in the ballads are men of gigantic 
proportions, before whom ordinary mortals are but insignifi- 
cant entities. They achieve superhuman feats of strength 
and bravery, distance is no barrier to their movements ; the 
raging ocean, the towering hills, and all else in Nature form 
no impassable barrier to their efforts. Always chivalrous 
and courageous, boundless generosity is perhaps their chief 
attribute, as Caoilte sings of the lordly Fionn : ' Were but 
the brown leaf which the wood sheds from it gold, were but 
the white billows silver, Fionn would have given it all 



4 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

away.' Who are the prototypes of this race of warriors ? 
has been asked, but no satisfactory answer has been given. 
Have we here impersonated gods of an earUer paganism ? 
The doctrine of incarnation is prevalent among the Celts. 
Fionn himself re-incarnated is Mongan. The descent of 
the gods to confer the primary attributes of manhood is 
found among Australian aborigines. Their Byamee, through 
the minor deity Wooroomah (God of wind), descends, and 
a boy becomes a man. Survival of a similar belief is still 
discoverable in the superstitious conception of our people 
in regard to the development of the human embryo. 
Another phase in the development of the heroic ideal is 
foiuid in the double names of most of the heroes connoting 
seemingly contrary views and ideals which are combined 
in an effort to harmonise opposing principles ? Fionn is 
also Demne. Cf. IMars, Vintios, Zeus, Pluto, Poseidon, etc. 
Have we not here, in fact, the gods reconciled in persons 
that express the ideals and aspirations of the people rather 
than an organised warrior band raised among the tribes 
of the Scottish kingdom to resist and oppose Lochlannich ? 
That this latter word signifies not only the Norse, but any 
opponents of the people that dwell in the lochs or in the 
inaccessible swamps of their land, and ever a threatening 
and dangerous foe, gives colour to the contention of his- 
torical and exegetical criticism that here we have a mythical 
romance without any basis in history or prototypes for its 
warriors, but which, hoAvever, contains within it those aspects 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 5 

of social life and religion that the poets of the period thought 
fit to commit to story. But it is conceivable and even 
probable that Fionn and Ossian had their protot3rpes in 
men who sprang from the race, and who, because of certain 
high qualities that clearly differentiate them from the 
common stock, were at once invested by the popular fancy 
with the attributes of the gods, and adored as such. A 
clear analogy to this is foimd in the reverence accorded 
by the Lycaonians to Barnabas and Paul, whom they 
recognised as Jupiter and Mercurius respectively. Such a 
deifying of heroes affords the most reasonable and natural 
basis for the hero-worship which finds ample expression in 
the Ossianic ballads, in the magniloquent paneg3n:"ics of 
post-mediseval poets, and in the exaggerated elegies of more 
recent date. The warrior chief conceived by the idealising 
fancy of the mediaeval Gael is ' Braver than kings ; foremost 
always, of vigorous deeds, a hero brave, untired in fight, 
leopard in fight, fierce as a hound, of woman beloved.' 
The chieftain of feudal times, and ministers and ' men ' of 
a more enlightened age have each and all been extolled 
and assigned such a place in the popular imagination that 
differs from that of the heroes of this romance not so much 
in nature as in degree, and in objectivity more than 
subjectivity. 

Generally those romances introduce us to the social 
life of the community in later pagan times and during the 
early Middle Ages. We have stories of the chase, in which 



6 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

the people revelled. We have warfare, but not so exhaus- 
tively or precisely delineated in details as are other aspects 
of the passing history. We have bounteous hospitality 
and a patriotic chivalry ; and further, the contrast between 
Christianity and paganism, or of the opposing principles 
that were struggling for victory, which appeared at times 
in sharp and bitter antagonism. It is a striking feature of 
the romances that those of the earlier or pre-mediseval ones 
show a contrast between Christianity and paganism im- 
personated in Ossian and Patrick, which presents ideals in 
closer alliance with the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- 
turies than with the Middle Ages. In pre- and post- 
mediaeval times the attitude of Christianity is that of an 
uncompromising opponent of the prevailing paganism — it 
gives it no quarters — while in the middle period both look 
at each other with apparent self-satisfying complacency. 
There is wanting in the middle period on both sides that 
precision of statement and differentiation of the causes that 
stand opposed the one to the other which present them- 
selves in the other periods in language that may be harsh 
on the one hand, and frankly barbarous on the other, 
but which nevertheless indicate a vitality and a reality which 
impress upon the reader that here there are evidences of 
Christianity's youthful vigour in its first impact with 
paganism, as well as the certainty of faith and lofty ethics 
which sprung into lively exercise and fully developed during 
the post-reformation centuries in which the later manu- 



THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 7 

scripts bearing the romances were written. This indomi- 
table paganism reaches the highest level of defiance in the 
truly anthropomorphic conception of God with which 
Ossian rails at Patrick : — 

' Were my son Oscar and God 
Hand to hand on the hill of the Fianns, 
If I saw my son down 
I 'd say that God was a strong man.' 

The dilBference in the ballads of the middle period may 
truly be ascribed to the spirit of an age of moribund or 
decadent spiritual life rather than to the assiduity of any 
harmoniser who in his story might gloss over the prevaihng 
thought in order to reconcile opposing principles. Still, 
all the ballads that cluster round Ossian are wonderfully 
homogeneous in characterisation, in locale, in themes, and 
personages. Differences are more marked in style of expres- 
sion, and in the tone and vigour with which thoughts are 
uttered. But through them all, there is a sensitiveness 
to nature that is impressive, there is a gentle pathos, a 
soft tone of melancholy that sometimes rises to a shrill 
cry of poignant yearning for the return of the days that 
are gone. There is a joyous bound, an intimate fellow- 
ship with animal life, a rush into the glamour of what is 
remote and illusory. And there is nothing in contemporary 
European Hterature that expresses the passion of love with 
such keen intensity as this song of Grainne for her beloved 
Diarmaid, which is as old as the tenth century : — 



8 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

' There lives a man 
On whom I would love to gaze long, 
For whom I would give the whole world, 
Son of Mary ! though a privation.' 

Though a heathen heroine proclaiming love by the Son of 
Mary presents a disturbing anachronism which would suggest 
the anxiety of a Christian redactor to enhance the charm of 
the imhappy wife of Fionn, that does not in the least 
invalidate the genuineness of the poem which was redacted. 
This solitary poem, in which we have Grainne's deep and 
intense love for Diarmaid, gives a gHmpse of what is really 
a sweetening and reheving tone, colouring the generally 
sombre romance of life in those far-off days. Nevertheless, 
those distant ages have transmitted to the modern Scot 
a good deal of their spirit, discernible in the sympathy 
with Nature, and love for the woodland, for the moimtain 
and the sea which find expression in the literature of modern 
times. Their influence on our religious literature is even 
more marked. The claim of the Druidic priesthood to 
control the elements by means of incantations imposed 
upon the Christian missionaries the necessity of proving 
the superior powers of Christ, as being greater than the 
greatest Druid ; hence the origin of those invocations 
which were so potent in the sphere of the miraculous, and 
which have invested the early missionaries with such super- 
human qualities as have made the record of their lives 
transmitted to us as fabulous as that of any modern necro- 



THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 9 

mancer or ancient Druid priest. The Luireach means a 
corslet or breastplate. Patrick's hymn, and hymns of a 
similar character, were intended to form a shield of defence 
against forces visible and invisible of varying degrees of 
animosity and hostility. This form of invocation, many 
examples of which are found in Dr. Carmichael's Carmina 
Gadelica, have been succeeded by the charms which up 
to the present day are the analogous instrument used for 
similar purposes. The eschatology of our forefathers did 
not escape this influence. The pagans' view of hell was 
a place of exposure and cold. This conception arose un- 
doubtedly from the chmatic conditions that prevailed, 
where the most extreme penalty that could overtake a 
mortal would consist in being the shelterless victim of the 
roaring tempest, the piercing winds, and the dark and 
dismal night. This view of a place of torment is seen 
in the Christian hymnology of the Middle Ages, in the 
Fernaig Manuscript of 1689, and in David M'Kellar's poem 
of 1752, and others. In one of our oldest and most beautiful 
Gaelic hymns we have this expression : — ^ 

' It were my soul's desire 
Not to know cold hell.' 

Duncan MacRae of Inverinate, writing before 1688 of the 
Day of Judgment, thus describes the condition of the 

lost : — 

' They shall depart so sadly 

Into cold hell where there is coldness.' 



10 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

And another old poet says : — 

' What a fool to choose cold hell, 
The cave of prickly thorns ! 
I shudder at the thought 
Of hell cold and wet.' 

The pagan view of heaven was a land of eternal youth, the 
abode of warrior cliiefs and princes — a green and sunny isle 
floating somewhere in the Western Ocean, where the sun 
ever shone, and which bid defiance to the blowing horns 
of the howling tempest. Peace midisturbed prevailed, and 
the joyous buoyancy of a continuous youth formed the 
ideal of perfect happiness after which even the pagan mind 
had striven. 

1500-1745 

When Bishop CarsweU published Knox's Prayer Book 
in Gaehc in 1567, he ushered in the first period of printed 
Gaelic literature, and deserves the enviable distinction of 
being the father of the printed literature of the Scottish Gael. 
His pious aim in publishing this book Avas to provide material 
for the guidance of the people in devotion. Now it is a 
canon of criticism that literature postulates a knowledge 
of letters, and it would certainly have been futile and a 
vain, self-sacrificing, ordinance on the part of this first 
editor to throw the product of arduous labours on a com- 
munity that were incapable of making use of the publica- 
tion. Ireland and Scotland were poHticaUy, socially, and 



THE LITERi^TURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 11 

linguistically identical. There was a community of interest 
in the common heritage, and a free intercourse of thought 
and aspiration. Harpists, bards, story reciters, and scholars 
crossed and re-crossed, and it is safe to say that in no part 
of Britain was there such a mass of ancient literature and 
a keener cultivation of it. To suggest, as Lord Rosebery 
did at the recent celebrations at St. Andrews, that the 
overthrow of the Northern Celts at Harlaw in 1411 was 
the conquest of barbarism by civiHsation, is evidence of 
palpable ignorance or an ignoring of the potency of letters 
and literature as factors in civilising races. During the 
supremacy of the Lords of the Isles over large tracts of the 
north of Ireland and the whole of the north and the west 
of Scotland, colleges of learning were encouraged by these 
petty monarchs: and from the suggestive reference in 
Carswell's dedicatory epistle to ' the learned men in Alban 
and Eireand, skilled in poetry and history and some good 
scholars,' there is clearly indicated the prevalence of letters 
among the people in his day, while the further reference to 
' those who prefer and practice the forming of vain, hateful, 
and lying earthly stories about Tuatha de Dhanond and 
about the sons of Milesius, and about the heroes of Fiann 
Maccumhil, and about many others whom I shall not 
number or tell off in detail ' puts beyond any reasonable 
doubt that there existed a mass of Uterature, either in 
manuscript or orally recited, which unfortunately has not 
been transmitted to us. It would have been interesting 



12 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

to know the stories about the ' many others ' here referred 
to, and what these stories reflected of the Hfe and ways 
of the community at the time. 

Following upon Carswell's book, of which only three 
copies are now known to exist, one of which — the Duke of 
Argyll's — was sold a few years ago in a London saleroom 
for £500, the next book to appear in Gaelic is Calvin's 
Catechism, translated in Argyllshire, 1631 ; the first fifty 
Psalms, translated and published by the Synod of Argyll 
in 1659. Kirk's Psalter appeared in 1684 ; Lawrence 
Charteris Catechism in 1688 ; Kirk's Bible, 1690; Nicolson's 
Historical Library, 1702 ; Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, 
translated by the Rev. Mr. MacFarlane, 1725 ; Confession 
of Faith, 1725 ; Macdonald's Vocabulary, 1741. At the end 
of Kirk's Bible there are a few pages of vocabulary, and 
attached to the fifty Psalms of 1659 is a Shorter Catechism, 
and to the complete Book of Psalms in 1694 is also added a 
Catechism. Not less than eight editions of the Psalms 
and the Catechism passed through the press before 1745. 
In the Dean of Lismore's book, which came to light at a 
much later date, we have religious poems. The Fernaig 
Manuscript, published in the Reliquiae Celticce, contains also 
many pieces composed about 1689 of a religious and 
political nature. We have the Book of Clanranald Mac- 
vurich, which contains to a large extent the history of the 
wars of Montrose, Ossianic ballads, and eulogies of living 
heroes of the Clan Donald. But this is by no means the 



THE LITER ATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 13 

entire literature of the period. It is the small beginnings 
of printed literature, traversing only a short, and in many- 
respects an unfruitful, period. When John Reid published 
the Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica in 1832, the entire literature of 
the Highlands then amounted to four hundred and sixty 
volumes, including editions and reprints, but now it has 
reached nearly fifteen hundred and fifty. The only printed 
material of the period under review is what has already 
been referred to. Before now the Gaels of Ireland were 
gradually separating politically and linguistically from 
the Gaels of Scotland. With the gradual advance of the 
Reformation the gap between both was widening, but 
the Highlands were awakening to a deeper interest in 
religion and letters. It is not therefore surprising that 
the entire output is of a religious character. 

Although it is admitted that we owe our Christianity 
to Ireland, it is not sufficiently recognised that we owe also 
to the same country the divine oracles that enshrine it. 
In 1602 William O'Donnel published the New Testament 
in Gaelic with type supplied by Queen Elizabeth, which is 
the first published edition of the Scriptures in that lan- 
guage either in this country or in Ireland. Bishop William 
Bedell, an Englishman, prominent as a Protestant and as 
an indefatigable Churchman, was appointed Provost of 
Trinity College, Dublin, in 1627, and was raised in 1629 
to the bishopric of Kilmore and Ardagh in Ireland. He 
addressed himself soon after his enthronement to the 



U THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

praiseworthy enterprise of getting the Scriptures into the 
language of the people. These are his own words in his 
biography : — 

' Aiid surely it was a work agreeable to the mind of God that 
the poor Irish, being a very numerous nation, besides the greater 
half of Scotland, and aU those islands called Hebrides, that lie in 
the Irish Sea, and many of the Orcades also that speak Irish, should 
be enabled to search the Scriptures (as others) that in them 
they might find the way that leads to everlasting Ufe, which they 
could never do whiles the Scriptures remained a sealed book to them/ 

In this work he was helped by Murtach King and Owen 
O'Sheridene. His translation was published in 1685, and 
two hundred copies of Bedell's Bible were sent for distribu- 
tion among the families in the Highlands of Scotland. 
Robert Kirk of Balquhidder, who has not received deserved 
recognition at the hands of his countrymen, conceiving the 
difficulty that people might have in reading the Bible in Irish 
characters, undertook and finished transcribing the whole 
Bible and New Testament into Roman letters in 1690. So 
laborious and industrious was this man, both in the transcrip- 
tion of the Bible and in the translation of the Psalms, that 
he adopted the novel device of preventing himself from fall- 
ing asleep, when engaged with his task, by holding a piece 
of lead in his mouth over a basin of water, whose splash 
summoned his mental activities into livelier exercise, llius 
indirectly, as has been noted, the Bible has come to us 
from across the Channel. But it should not be forgotten 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 15 

that the charge of neglect against the clergy of Scotland 
in the field of literature, and in providing the sacred Scrip- 
tures for the people, is not entirely warranted by the facts, 
for we find the Rev. Dugald Campbell of North Knapdale, 
at the direction of the Synod of Argyll, translating the 
Pentateuch and some other parts into Gaelic before Novem- 
ber 1660, and he was advised to proceed immediately with 
the translation of Ecclesiastes. His manuscript, which 
has not been pubHshed, has had a chequered career, and 
is now believed to be deposited somewhere in the neighbour- 
hood of Sydney, New South Wales. 

The literature under review has flowed down to us in 
two parallel channels, widely separated, refreshing and 
fertilising the same soil. This soil is the Highland people. 
In the one channel flowed the religious and sacred writings 
and sayings ; in the other, the purely secular. Between 
the two there was a difference in ideals, in ethics, and 
morality. The one appealed to and tried to uplift man 
on his spiritual side, the other largely addressed itseK to 
the human emotions and feelings, and developed the 
sensuous in man. The unfortunate antagonism that 
appears between these two in our literature was hurtful to 
both. The religious writers and readers, instead of assimi- 
lating the truly beautiful elements in the secular, ostracised 
it as a whole because of certain gross defects in parts. This 
tended to make the secular more coarse, and helped in- 
directly to introduce into it that immoral realism that is 



16 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

a painful feature of later poets. Still it is true that both 
contributed their share in developing that mental culture 
and personal characteristics that distinguish our people 
to-day. To the religious we look for the history of ecclesi- 
astical questions and problems, and in them we find invalu- 
able aid to a true appreciation of the controversies of the 
time. A poet, in the Book of the Dean of Lismore, who is 
an eyewitness, speaking before 1512, says : — 

' I myself, Robert, went 
Yesterday to a monastery, 
And I was not allowed in 
Because my wife was not with me.' 

This naively suggestive allusion indicates the state of public 
feehng towards the questionable morality within the 
monasteries that is worth more than volumes of present- 
day apologetics or ingenious critical discussions. Nor need 
one hesitate for a moment to affirm the sturdy Episcopacy 
of Duncan MacRae of Inverinate (1688), who wrote : — 

* But keep us united 
In this thy true faith 
From the haverings and lies 
Of Presbyterian and Priest.' 

The development of theological thought within the com- 
munity we find reflected in the religious poetry of the 
period, of which there is a considerable quantity of varying 
merit. The progress of Reformed thought can easily be 
traced. The invocations and poems of adoration gradually 



THE LITEHATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 17 

give place to that introspection which reaches its full 
development in a later period. The doctrine of sin, of 
judgment, the atonement, retribution, and the like are 
referred to, but of real didactic verse we have little. The 
teaching poets had not yet arrived. 

When religion in its various aspects impresses a people 
for the first time, it is itself also invariably impressed. 
Amalgamating the enthusiasm of the new convert, it gives 
gaiety to his joy, tone to his ecstasy, and gloom to his 
melancholy. Though it destroys the credulity of scepticism, 
it may exaggerate the credulity of superstition in the mind 
that is neither enlightened nor analytical. Thus the pro- 
phecies of such men as the Brahan Seer, a crystal gazer 
who was born in the island of Lewis in the beginning of 
the seventeenth century, were indeed an important part 
of our oral literature. They were accepted by a religious 
people whose joy or gloom having been intensified by mental 
concentration on the newly discovered prophecies of revela- 
tion impels them to give credence to whatever makes a 
fair claim to come within the region of the prophetic. On 
this assumption can we fairly account for this class of litera- 
ture, whose rise synchronises with the introduction of the 
Christian faith, and its decay with the advance and enlight- 
ened knowledge of that faith. 

Concurrently with the published literature, there floated 
among the people the medical literature of the M'Conachers, 
M'Beaths, or Beatons, comprising discussions on the physical 

B 



18 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

sciences, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, and metaphysics, 
oral traditions and romances, as weU as a mass of poetry 
that reflected the passing phases of life. Among the con- 
tributors to this stream of literature, we have such men 
as Maclosa O'Daly, chief sage or poet of Eirin and Alba, 
died 1185; Muiredhach Albannach, died 1224; Tadg 
O'Higgin, died 1448 ; and others. Later, we have James 
Macgregor, the Dean of Lismore, with his brother Duncan, 
1512-26 ; Dmican Macrae of Inverinate and his two clerical 
brothers, and the Macvurichs ; Domnull Mac Fhionnlaidh 
na Dan, who flourished in the early part of the seventeenth 
century ; and to this period belong M'Intyre — the Bard of 
Macintosh — Maclean of Duart, Margaret Maclean, the 
middle of the seventeenth century ; Nicossain of Uist, John 
Macdonald, Ian Lorn, 1620-1710; Archibald Macdonald, 
1688 ; Angus Macdonald, Mary Macleod, 1650-1720 ; Brian, 
the Assynt poet ; Julia Macdonald, 1670-1709. We have 
also Lachlan MacKimion, died about 1734 ; Murdo Mathe- 
son, bard of Seaforth ; Roderick Morrison, the bhnd 
harper ; John Mackay, the hereditary family piper of 
Gairloch, and others. The most eminent of these is un- 
doubtedly Mary Macleod. With her advent in the field 
of poetry came a marked change on the intricate and diffi- 
cult metrics of the old Gaelic poetry. She, too, is the 
sweetest, most precise, and perhaps the most elegant of our 
poets. Her verses glide on with a soft and gentle smooth- 
ness, like waters running over the surface of polished stones. 



THE LITER ATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 19 

She describes to us the hfe in the halls of the high chiefs 
with a precision that marks the poem as a contribution to 
the history of the period. She eulogises the great men of 
the day. The chase, the mountain, the stag and homids, 
and the social condition of the people surrounding the hall 
of the chieftain are all brought before our vision with dis- 
criminating and intelligent interest. John Macdonald, Ian 
Lom, has the honour of being the first of the long line of 
Jacobite poets. He is a satirist and a eulogist according 
to the subject which he handles. Montrose and the heroes 
of the Macdonalds are described in language and diction 
of high praise. His satires have a tone of asperity about 
them. Still his contribution to literature is of historical 
importance and high literary value. The other poets, like 
those in the Fernaig Manuscript, are deeply religious and 
strongly Jacobite as are nearly all the poets of the people. 
Peering across the vista of the ages, and looking to the 
literature that we have surveyed from early dawn till the 
end of the period under review, we find contributors to it 
from among the men whose intellects have been tutored in 
the schools, and from among the unlettered rustics of the 
country. The former may have been bound by the literary 
convention of their times, the latter broke through these into 
fresh fields. The illiterate poets, like Mary Macleod and 
others of that class, are perhaps the most interesting, as 
being the most true to human nature. They lay in the lap 
of Nature, with their ear to her throbbing heart and their 



20 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

hand on lier pulse. They watched the seasons' changing 
moods : they heard the sigh of the wind, the soft melan- 
choly murmur of the waves upon the shore. The thunder, 
the storm, the moods and fancies of men, the tragic, pathetic, 
and comic in the drama of Hfe, they have depicted to us in 
the poetry which has been transmitted. The class of poetry 
which predominates in this entire mass is the panegyric or 
eulogistic. The chieftains of later days are glorified with- 
out any fear of exaggerating their virtues, their courage, 
and their chivalry. This is what we might expect, for the 
spirit of Gaelic poetry is one of praise. The heroes of the 
Ossianic period may have been glorified impersonated gods ; 
their successors in the popular imagination were real men, to 
whom, however, glory and honour are ascribed in a similar 
imstinted fashion. The fervour of intense nationalism per- 
vades the whole ; but the outlook is narrow, and prevents 
a worthy appreciation of forces and personages that oppose 
the national spirit and aspiration. We have songs of the 
chase, with the joy attached thereto ; we hear the clash of 
arms, and we see the carnage. Songs of industry and waulk- 
ing songs have their note of practical interest, and reach 
their sublimest form during this period. Tlie genealogical 
tree mingles with feats of valour and local social life of the 
people in songs that depict the varying phases of existing 
conditions. We have boat songs of three grades. Tliere 
are lullabies too — so different from those of modern times ; 
a tone of melancholy softness pervades them. Tlie thought 



THE LITER ATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 21 

of fear more than anything else seems to ring through them, 
and the effect of fairy beUef comes into clear relief. There 
are no dramatic writings worthy of the name, nor are there 
lengthened epics with sustained power and a magnificent 
display hke those of ancient Greece, and what is even more 
striking, we have but few love-songs. True it is that Grainne 
long ago expressed her love for Diarmaid with a passion 
and intensity unparalleled in hterature of the time. With 
the Dean of Lismore we find no such tenderness. His seven 
pieces that treat of women are satires of a bitter character. 
The chief satirist in the collection reaches the depth of his 
depreciation of womankind in the words : ' I dislike a table 
where a woman sits ; may my curse amongst women rest ' ; 
and yet again : ' It is best to have nothing to do with 
women.' There are occasionally pieces during the early 
post-Reformation period, such as Maclean of Duart's love- 
song (sixteenth century), which can equal, in the beauty of its 
description and the intensity of its affection, any of the 
best known love-songs of a later age : — 

' As the topmost grain in the ear, 
As sapling that in young wood grows, 
As the sun that hideth the stars, 
So art thou among women.' 

But the absence from the hterature of any appreciable 
quantity of such songs must be traceable to aspects of religion 
and morahty which had been transmitted from the early 
pagan times of matriarchy. It is Grainne that expresses her 



22 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

love for Diarmaid. Here is a sidelight thrown upon the facts 
of history which show the loose and unchecked relationship 
of womankind with man in pagan times, when the priority 
of the choice of spouse lay with the woman rather than 
with the man. This view of the social relationship filtered 
even through Christian ethics and morality down to the 
reformed times. The Norse invasion, too, had its baneful 
effect upon the morals of the people and the status of 
woman as is still observable in their subordination in those 
parts of the country where the Norse sway was felt strongest. 
The ethics which liberated woman from this thraldom, and 
elevated her to her position in the family and in society 
have been the outcome of the Reformed Faith, and not 
imtil the latter half of the eighteenth century was their 
effect clearly felt upon the literature of the Scottish Gael. 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 23 

II 

1745-1830 

The debacle at CuUoden which terminated the wasteful 

devotion of a splendid fidehty was more inglorious, and 

less beneficial, to the victors than to the vanquished. The 

genius of the people that had hitherto expressed itself in 

wars and conquests, in feats of personal valour, and in 

charging ' the enemy as fleet as the deer,' now found room 

for expansion in other spheres. The feuds and conflicts, 

the jealousies of ruling chieftains, and the restlessness 

incidental to all these, were not fitted to foster an interest 

in Hterature and art. After the collapse of the Stuart 

cause, the Highlanders, with the rest of Scotland, gradually 

awoke to a true appreciation of their new opportunities, 

the wider outlook afforded by these, and the possibilities 

for asserting their power in other domains of life than 

those in which it had already excelled. The power of 

the chieftain was broken, the clan system was largely 

abohshed, and with it slowly disappeared the pupilage 

which was its peculiar feature. Improved means of 

communication brought the north more in touch with the 

commercial centres of the south, the standard of living 

was raised, cattle gave way to sheep, tillage was improved, 

and agriculture showed signs of prosperity. 

As early as 1770, there were large emigrations 



24 THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

from the Uists and Skye to the Dominion of Canada. 
These people carried with them the traditions of their 
homeland. They were knit together by that almost 
indissoluble bond of blood, which attached them not 
merely to one another, but to their common traditions — 
hence the origin of the Gaelic printed literature of Canada. 
Of all the factors that helped to develop literature, 
none is perhaps more worthy of grateful recognition than 
the work of the teachers of the S.P.C.K. and the Bounty 
Schools. In a Report of the former, of date 1729, it is 
stated that the teachers of those schools must be persons 
of piety, loyalty, and prudence, having a complete know- 
ledge of literature, and that in that year there were not 
less than seventy-four teachers having under their care 
three thousand scholars. One of the directions given to 
the schoolmasters was that as soon as the scholars could 
read comparatively weU, the masters should teach them 
to write a fair and legible hand, and also instruct them in 
the elements and most necessary rules of arithmetic, that 
they might be rendered more useful in their several stations 
in the world, but that they teach no Latin nor Irish. 
Although for political purposes, the Gaelic language was 
barred as a study, and Latin probably from ecclesiastical 
reasons, there is good cause to believe that Gaelic ^ was 

^ This authentic example from the old-time schoolroom may serve to illustrate the 
point. '(Jiocl is ciall do '■^ generation" Chailein, arsa maighstir Sgoil. ' Sron daimh na 
tairbh arsa Cailean.' ' What is the meaninj; of generation, Colin, said the schoolmaster. 
The nose of an ox or a bull, said Colin.' The answer was prompted by a wag. 



THE LITEKATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 25 

made the medium of instruction, and that in this way 
phraseology was stereotyped, and the language of the 
Catechism and the Bible became the language of the 
common people. Zimmer shows that a deadly blow was 
given to the Irish language by the Catholic Church, inasmuch 
as the faithful children of the Holy Father were robbed 
of their most sacred possessions through the ignorance of 
their priests, who thought themselves too good to speak 
the language of their people. The opposite, however, 
holds true in regard to the Gaelic of Scotland, inasmuch 
as preaching holds a most prominent part in the order 
of the Protestant service. Further, the reading of the 
Bible, the Catechism, and other religious books, and the 
catechising of old and young individually, were carried 
on in the language which the people could best understand. 
Quietly, amidst the many turmoils of political convulsions, 
these teachers of the church were sowing the seeds of 
religion and helping to retain and perpetuate the language 
of the community, until, as in the Highland glades the 
spring flowers show their heads after the winter's snows 
have thawed away, a luxuriant crop of national litera- 
ture blossomed with the most seductive hues after the long 
and cloudy day and the dreary night of political unrest. 

It must not be forgotten that James Macpherson, 
during this period, like a brilliant meteor, shot across 
the literary firmament, dazzling the eyes of the European 
litterateurs with the Epics of Ossian. His writings were 



26 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

the subject of a stern and bitter strife. They were 
exhaustively scrutinised and subjected to a most critical 
analysis, which had the effect of drawing the attention 
of many scholars to the possible sources from which 
Macpherson had derived his writings, and in creating an 
interest in, and an enthusiasm for, the ancient language 
and literature of the Gaels, which have not yet ebbed out. 

The Reformed Faith was established now, not merely 
in the State, but also in the affections of the people. The 
waves of religious revival that sprang up in the south rolled 
onwards to the northern counties, and to the utmost 
limits of the Lewis, Skye, Easter Ross, and Caithness, 
which were aU more or less affected. An enthusiasm for 
the Bible, and for religious books containing the doctrines 
of grace, sprang up with these awakenings, which could only 
be satisfied by providing a suitable literatui'e for the people. 
The Gaelic Bible, the Catechism, and Confession of Faith 
were in their hands ; excellent translators were busy ; and 
from the native soil itself sprang up men of repute, who 
were able to sing in the vernacular devout songs of 
encouragement and warning to anxious believers. These 
are the chief features in the development of the literature 
of the Gael in this period, which is the richest in the history 
of the Gaelic language ; and in view of the circumstances 
of the times, and the large part which religion held in 
the thoughts and lives of the people, it is not to be 
wondered at that religious books greatly predominated. 



THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 27 

The entire literature of the time is approximately classified 
as follows : — 

Theological.— Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, 1750, 
and three other editions before 1830 ; Sum of Saving Know- 
ledge, 1767 ; Menzies's Christian Doctrine, 1781 and 1815 ; 
Alleine's Alarm to Sinners, 1781, and five other editions 
before 1830 ; and the Saints Pocket Book, 1823 ; Guthrie's 
Great Interest, 1783 and 1832; the Christian Soldier, 
1804 ; Thomas A Kempis's Imitation of Christ, 1785 ; 
Rev. Daniel CampbeU's Sufferings of Christ, 1786 and 
1800 ; Shepherd's Christian Pocket Book, 1788 ; Duncan 
Lothian's the Pope and the Reformation, 1797 ; Dodsley's 
Economy of Human Life. 1806 ; Boston's Fourfold State, 
1811 and 1825 ; Doddridge's Rise and Progress, 1811 and 
1823; One Thing Needful, 1811 and 1812; Salvation by 
Grace, 1813; Covey, An Account of, 1813; Gilfillan on the 
Sabbath, 1813 ; Dyer's Christ's Famous Titles, 1817 ; Newton, 
Life of, 1817; Bmiyan's Pilgrim's Progress, 1812 and 
1819 ; Hannah Sinclair's Letter on the Christian Religion, 
1819 ; Richmond's Dairyman's Daughter, 1822 ; Bunyan's 
Barren Fig Tree, 1824; Bunyan's Death of Mr. Badman, 
1824; Bunyan's World to Come, 1825; Bunyan's Sighs 
from HeU, 1825; Faith and Salvation, 1825; Brook's 
Apples of Gold, 1824 ; Beith on the Antibaptists, 1824 ; 
Colquhon's Covenant of Grace, 1826; Flavel's Token 
for Mourners, 1828 ; Eraser on Baptism, 1828 ; Dunn's 
Life and Conversion, 1829; Munro's Life of Dr. Love, 



28 THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

1830 ; Heavenly Footman, 1829 ; Gospel Compulsion, 
1830. 

HoMiLETiCAL. — Crawfofd's Sermons, 1791 ; Sermon to 
Women, 1795 ; Isaac Watts' s Sermon to Young People, 
1795 ; Broughton's Sermon, 1797 and 1804 ; Rev. Hugh 
MacDiarmid's Sermons, 1804 ; Dr. Dewar's Sermons, 
1805, 1829-30 ; Blair's Sermons, 1812 ; Burder's Sermons, 
1821 ; Rev. Malcolm MacLaurin's Exhortation, 1822- 
1826 ; Spence's Sermon on Infant Baptism, 1825 ; 
Seventeen Sermons, 1827 ; Rev. Duncan Grant's Address 
to Children, 1829 ; the Gaelic Preacher, 1830. 

Devotional. — Church of England Book of Common 
Prayer, 1794 and 1819 ; Office of Communion, 1797 ; 
Dr. John Smith's Prayers for Families, 1808 ; Rev. William 
Smith's Sacred Lessons, 1810 ; Saints' Pocket Book, 1823 ; 
Earle's Sacramental Exercises, 1827 ; Innes's Instruction 
for Young Enquirers, 1827 ; Peter Macfarlane's Collec- 
tion of Prayers, 1829. 

Catechetical and Confessional. — Shorter Catechism, 
Synod of Argyle's (five editions before 1745 and forty-eight 
other editions before 1830) ; William's Shorter Catechism, 
1773, 1779 and 1820 ; Isaac Watts's Catechism for Children, 
1774 ; the Reformed Catechism, 1779 ; Young Communi- 
cant's Catechism, 1798 and 1811 ; Mother's Catechism, 
1798 (and eight other editions before 1830) ; Brown's 
Catechism for Children, 1799, 1802 ; Shorter Catechism 
with Proofs by Morrison, 1800 (and six other editions 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 29 

before 1830) ; Gray's Catecliisni, 1813 ; Thomson's Sacra- 
mental Catechism, 1813 and 1825 ; Dr. Ross's 1820 ; Mac- 
Kenzie's Church Catechism, 1821 ; Campbell's Catechism 
on Christ's Kingdom, 1824 ; Key to First Initiatory, 1827 ; 
Beith's Catechism on Baptism, 1827; Dr. MacDonald's, 
1829 ; MacBean's, 1829 ; Confession of Faith, 1756, 1757, 

1816-1821. 

Anthological {Sacred).— Bsivid McKellar's Hymn, 
1752; Hymn of Praise, 1752; Dugald Buchanan, 1767 
(and fourteen other editions before 1830) ; Duncan Mac- 
Fadyen's Spiritual Hymns, 1770; Duncan Kennedy's 
Collections of Hymns, 1786; Duncan Macdougall's 
Spiritual Hymns, 1800 ; William Gordon's Spiritual Songs, 
1802; Hymn of Praise by a Christian in Argyleshire, 
1803 ; Alec Clark's Christian Hymns, 1806 ; Dr. Dewar's 
Hymns, 1806 ; Angus Kennedy's Hymns, 1808 ; Rev. 
Peter Grant's, 1809 (and seven other editions before 1830) ; 
Margaret Campbell's Spiritual Hymns, 1810 ; John Rose, 
Collection of Hymns, 1815 ; Donald Matheson's Spiritual 
Hymns, 1816, 1825 ; Inverness Collection of Hymns, 1818 
and 1821 ; Archibald Maclean's Spiritual Hymns, 1818 ; 
John Munro's Collection of Hymns, 1819; Dr. James 
MacGregor's Spiritual Hymns, 1819 and 1821 ; Ronald 
MacDonald's Hymns, 1821 ; Donald Macrae's Spiritual 
Hymns, 1825; Donald MacKenzie's Spiritual Poems, 
1827 ; Hugh Eraser's Spiritual Hymns, 1827-1830 ; John 
Morrison's Spiritual Hymns, 1828; John MacDonald's 



30 THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

Embarrassment of the Church of Scotland, 1828 ; John 
MacDonald's New Year Gift of Hymns, 1829. 

Anthological (Secular). — Alexander Macdonald's 
Poems, 1751, 1764, and 1802 ; James Macpherson's Temora, 
1763 ; Duncan Ban Mclntyre's Songs, 1768 (second and 
third editions in 1790 and 1804) ; Ronald Macdonald's 
Collection of Songs, 1776; 1782 and 1809; Forrest's 
Mrthful Songs, 1777; Lothian (D.) Poems, 1780; Gilhes's 
Collection of Songs, 1780-1786 ; Smith's Ancient Songs, 
1780 ; Peter Stewart's Songs, 1783 ; Hill's Ancient Erse 
Songs, 1784 ; Angus Campbell's Songs, 1785 ; Brown's 
Congratulatory Poem, 1785 ; Alexander Cameron's Songs 
and Poems, 1785 ; Margaret Cameron's Songs and Poems, 
1785 and 1805 ; Smith's Dargo and Gaul, ancient poem 
of Ossian, 1787 ; Young's Ancient Gaelic Poems, 1787 ; 
Kenneth MacKenzie's Songs, 1792 ; Alexander Macpherson's 
Songs, 1796 ; Duncan Campbell's Songs, 1798 ; Allan 
MacDougall's Songs, 1798 and 1829; Donald Dewar's 
Songs, 1800 ; Inverary Ballads, 1800 ; Christian and 
Donald Cameron's Poems, 1800 ; MacGregor's Songs, 1801 
and 1818 ; John MacKenzie's Green Book, 1801 ; Robert 
Stewart's Songs, 1802 ; George Gordon's Songs, 1804 ; 
Duncan Cunningham's Songs, 1805 ; Inverness Collection of 
Songs, 1806 ; Ossian's 3 vol. edition (H. S.), 1807 ; Donald 
Macleod's Songs, 1811; Peter Macfarlane's Songs, 1813; 
Turner's Collection of Songs, 1813 ; Donald Macdonald, 
A Song on Napoleon, 1814 ; Alex. Campbell, Albyns 



THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 31 

Anthology, vols. i. and ii., 1816-1818 ; Macallum's Ossianic 
Poems, 1816 ; E. MacLachlan's Metrical Effusions, 1816 ; 
Walker's Songs, 1817; John Maclean's Songs, 1818; 
Macgregor's Melodious Warbler, 1819 ; Rev. D. Macallum's 
Songs, 1821 ; Alex. Mackay's Songs, 1821 ; B. Urquhart's 
Song to H. S. London, 1827 ; James Munro, The Songster, 
1829, The Jewel, 1830; Translated Songs, 1829; Rob 
Donn's Songs, 1829; Allan Mclntyre's Songs, 1829; 
WiUiam Ross's Songs, 1830. 

Educational. — Macdonald's Gaelic Dictionary, 1741 ; 
Shaw's Grammar, 1778, Dictionary, 1780 ; Rev. Patrick 
Macdonald's Gaelic Airs, 1781 ; Mackintosh's Proverbs, 
1785, and 1819 ; Franklin's Way to Wealth, 1785 ; Robert 
Macfarlane's Gaelic Vocabulary, 1795 ; A. Stewart's Gram- 
mar, 1801-1812 ; Rose of the Field (periodical), 1803 ; Robert- 
son's Gaelic Dictionary, 1803 ; MacLaurin's Text Book, 1811 ; 
Peter Macfarlane's G. and E. and E. and G. Vocabulary, 
1815 ; School Books, Class 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions, 1816 ; 
Elements of Gaelic, 1816 ; Rational Primer, 1819 ; Rev. 
F. MacBean's SpeUing Book, 1824-25-27; Four editions 
(Class II.) S. P. C. K. School Books, — General Assembly 
School Books, 1824 ; Armstrong's Gaelic Dictionary, 
1825 ; Currie's GaeUc Grammar, 1828 ; Highland Society's 
Dictionary, 1828 ; Dr. Norman Macleod's Collection for 
Schools, 1828 ; Neil M-'Nish on Preserving Gaehc, 1828 ; 
Highland Messenger (periodical), 1829-1830. 

The Bible. — N. T. 1767 (and several other editions 



32 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

before 1830), O. T. in four parts, 1783-1801 ; 0. T. and 
N. T. 1807 (and various other editions before 1830) ; 
Pulpit Bible, 1826 ; S5aiod of Argyle's Psalms in metre, 
7th ed. 1751 ; Macfarlane's ed. 1753 (and twenty other 
editions before 1830) ; Macfarlane's version Avith Brown's 
notes, 1814 ; Smith's version 1787 (and twenty- two other 
editions before 1830) ; Smith's Psalms, 1801 (suppressed) ; 
Ross's version, 1807 (and four other editions before 1830) ; 
General Assembly's version, 1826 (and four other editions 
before 1830). The Bible (0. T.), ed. 1783-1801, fixed the 
standard of Gaelic orthography, and it can be safely said 
that what the authorised English Bible was to English 
literature, even more than that was the Gaelic Bible to 
the literature of the Highlands. 

The religious literature arranged under the above cate- 
gories is largely translation. The theological books are 
translations of classical puritanic compositions, and the 
number of editions through which these passed is suffi- 
cient proof of their wide circulation, and of the interest 
of the Gaelic community in them. The evangelical 
doctrines were new and fascinating to the people as a whole. 
Scottish theology did not occupy the prominence which 
English theology did, yet Boston's Fourfold State was 
a household work among the Highlanders. It was such 
books as these that formed the staple food of the mind of 
the devout Highlanders, and their attitude to religious 
movements and creeds was defined for them by the theo- 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 33 

logical opinions therein discussed. It is surprising that 
none of the Highland clerg}^^, who had full mental and 
educational equipment for the work, did not systematise 
and formulate their religions doctrines in the language of 
the people. No effort is discernible to discuss theologically 
the great doctrines of the Atonement, Justification by 
Faith, and others, which entered into the basis of the 
religious thought of the time. When Daniel Campbell 
of Glassary published his book on the Sufferings of Christ, 
which passed into fourteen editions before 1851, it was 
in the English language this was done, even though this 
devout and earnest Christian minister was, in the esteem 
of his brethren, capable of translating the Confession of 
Faith into Gaelic, and also the Psalms and Paraphrases. 

The department of Homiletic literature shows the same 
sterility as far as native ability is concerned ; yet it is 
only here we have the few original books there are in 
circulation about this time. Of these the Sermons of 
MacDiarmid are understood to be translations from a 
Scottish divine, while the Popular Sermons of Dr. Blair 
are also translations. The latter served as valuable 
pulpit aids to the indolent and indifferent clergy, of whom 
there are many in every age. Of this class, the minister 
of Lochalsh, who was a greater expert in the chase than 
in the pulpit, is a striking example. While in the homiletic 
literature we have largely the ethical teaching of the old 
and new moderates, in the theological literature, circulated 

c 



34 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

by the directors of the society schools, only evangelical 
thoughts, conceptions, and doctrines have been put in cir- 
culation, a fact which seems to indicate that the reading 
public differed from their preachers in matters of faith 
and doctrine. 

The Devotional literature comprises prayer books and 
communion addresses, and is not extensive or important. 
The striking feature of the Catechetical literature is the 
vast number of editions through which the Shorter Cate- 
chism passed, and the variety of these editions. Tliis 
little book, which circulated perhaps more than any other 
outside the Psalm Book and the Bible in the Highlands 
of Scotland, Avas the great medium of instruction in the 
schools and in the family. 

It was at this period that the first attempt was made 
at a scientific study of the language, and now we have 
the beginnings and development of grammars and diction- 
aries, both of which passed through the printing presses, 
and with these unquestionably began a real and successful 
apphcation of scholarship to the scientific study of the 
Gaelic language. Dr. Stewart's grammar still holds its 
own, while the dictionaries are still consulted with benefit 
by students. That monumental work, the Higliland 
Society Dictionary, which owes much of its value to the 
erudition of Dr. Mackintosh Mackay, is not likely to be 
superseded. The books issued to the schools are numerous 
and largely contain religious pieces, weU printed, in good 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 35 

idiomatic Gaelic, while the dawn of the rich periodical 
literature is ushered in by the appearance of the Rosroine. 
The literature which is comprised under this group con- 
tains very little of a purely secular character, and nothing of 
a philosophic nature. Even the social and economic move- 
ments of the country found no expression in the literature of 
the Gael, beyond a translation of Franklin's (Dr. Benjamin) 
the Way to Wealth. This booklet, which created con- 
siderable stir in the English-speaking world, and formed 
the basis of Adam Smith's introductory chapters to the 
Wealth of Nations, was translated into Gaelic at the 
instigation of the Earl of Buchan, who writes a preface 
to the book. The Colonies were attracting the interest 
of statesmen as well as opening up fields in which the 
Highland population could find happy settlements. 
Whether this pamphlet was in the interests of emigra- 
tion or not, it is difficult to determine, but it is interesting 
as being the only one of its kind of which any copies are 
now known to exist. In Dr. W. L. Mathieson's recently 
published book the Awakening of Scotland, p. 124, 
the statement is made that Paine' s Rights of Man was 
translated into Gaelic and distributed in the North. This 
statement cannot be verified for the good reason that the 
book was not pubUshed. If it were published it is not 
at all likely that a book which caused such commotion 
in the English-speaking world would have been unknown 
in the Highlands. Copies of the English edition, how- 



36 THE LITER A.TURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

ever, circulated as far north as Stornoway. But it is 
interesting to record that on 16th October 1824, Thomas 
Hardy, formerly Secretary of the London Corresponding 
Society, wrote to Francis Place, the well-known reformer, 
as follows : ' At the same time you will receive a copy of 
the Declarations of Rights of Men and Citizens adopted 
by the National Convention of France, 23rd June 1793, 
translated into Gaelic by the Rev. Dr. Shaw, and printed 
at my expense. Some of the copies have lain by me for 
many years. It has now become a curiosity.' — (Place's 
Collection, British Museum; addl. MSS., No. 27816 
F. 233. ) This hitherto unknown Gaelic work cannot be found 
among Place's collection. Yet in view of Hardy's direct 
and clear statement it is impossible to doubt that the 
translation was effected, though probably never circulated. 
The translator, ' Dr.' Shaw, is in all probability the 
Rev. William Shaw (1749-1831), the lexicographer and 
grammarian. But Shaw, though an M.A. of Glasgow 
and B.D. of Cambridge, is not known to have been a 
Doctor of Divinity, Medicine, or Law. Shaw, who was 
ordained at Ardclach in October 1779, demitted his charge 
in August of the following year and removed to London. 
There he came in contact with the famous men of letters 
of the time. Among them was Dr. Samuel Johnson, who 
bade farewell to Shaw, as the latter was proceeding north 
to collect for his Dictionary, in this characteristic fashion : 
' Sir, if you give the world a vocabulary of that language, 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 37 

while the Island of Great Britain stands in the Atlantic 
Ocean your name will be mentioned.' Shaw, influenced 
by Johnson, renounced Presbyterianism, and entered the 
Church of England as Rector of Chelvey, Somerset, 1795. 
He graduated B.D. of Cambridge, 1800. It should be 
noted that Paine co-operated with Condorcet in drawing 
up the famous Declaration. 

It is in the field of poetry that the Highland literature 
shows the richest products, of which Highlanders can 
boast neither vainly nor unjustifiably. Among Gaelic 
religious poets, Dugald Buchanan (1716-1768) occupies a 
position of incontestable supremacy. In the lucidity of 
felicitous style, in the majestic flow of sublime concep- 
tions, in the vivid realism of personified abstractions, 
in the impressive grandeur of massive imagery, and in 
the graphic and dramatic effect of intense fervour, his 
poems not merely excel the best efforts of the creative 
power of religious Highland poets, but they can bear 
comparison with similar classics of other languages. If 
one reads his Day of Judgment with a painful feeling of 
harsh and overawing severity, it must not be forgotten 
that the poet was under the dominion of an overmastering 
passion for the salvation of men, which he expresses in 
an effort to produce on the mind a deep impression of the 
issues of good and ill, and the reality of the judgment 
of God. He aims at quickening the mental torpor of 
his countrymen with startling conceptions of the magni- 



38 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

tude, the variety, and infinite shapes and degrees of sin, 
the efficacy of the Sacrifice of Christ, and the faithful- 
ness of His free and sovereign grace, borrowing from the 
Bible and from nature the figures and images necessary 
to emphasise his central theme — the awful demerit of 
sin. Demons and imbelievers in hopeless misery are 
depicted with the clear realism of a visible procession. 
The doom of the world and the destiny of the race, the 
being and attributes of God, the atonement of Christ, 
and the ineffable glory of the Judge moving in stately 
majesty to the last great assize, the eternal bliss of the 
blessed, and kindred themes, which hitherto were hidden 
in the turgid sentences of the various theological schools, 
are now brought by this poet of faith and genius, in his 
grand bursts of imagination and feeling, within the circle 
of the common thoughts of the people, and translated 
into their language with the first perfect accents of modern 
Gaelic speech. The kind of criticism that condemns the 
poet as if he cherished a perverse severity, is an ungenerous 
appreciation of the closing appeal of his prologue to the 

Day of Judgment : — 

' And bless to every one this song 
Who will in love its lessons learn,' 

and of his tenderness and suppressed emotion as he recoils 

from entering on the painful duty of describing the state 

of the lost : — 

' We may put down their grievous cry 

In such harrowing words as these.' 



THE LITEEATUHE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 39 

Though at times his imagery may be uncongenial, and even 
fantastic, no one can read the poems of Buchanan without 
a feeHng of wonder at the subUme proofs of undeniable 
genius that accumulate with a closer study of the serious 
vehemence of his deep thoughts on the world that is, and 
the mysteries of the world unseen. 

Dr. James Macgregor (1759-1830), the pioneer-missionary 
of Nova Scotia, who was also a Perthshire man by birth, 
ranks perhaps next to Buchanan as the poet of the sublime. 
The great doctrines of grace formed his themes. In 
spontaneous heart gushings, overflowing with tender affec- 
tion for his expatriated countrymen, in vigorous harmonious 
verse, he succeeds in adapting these great themes of revealed 
religion to the attractive melodies of the people. The 
best and most polished of his poems are : On the Transla- 
tion of the Bible, The Gospel, The Complaint, The Last 
Judgment, and The Righteousness of Christ. Most of 
his poems were composed, he says himself, ' when travelling 
the dreary forests of America.' In addition to a collec- 
tion of hymns, he translated into Gaelic, but did not publish, 
the Confession of Faith, more than one himdred of the Psalms 
of David in metre, and most of the Scottish Paraphrases. 

Next in popularity to the poems of Buchanan are those 
of the Kev. Peter Grant (1783-1867), Baptist minister of 
Grantown-on-Spey. Though lacking the imaginative 
power of the Rannoch poet. Grant nevertheless succeeded 
in a marked degree in clothing the brighter aspects of the 



40 THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

evangelical faith in such winsome and felicitous verse as 
touched the tenderest chords of his countrymen's hearts, 
and kindled their devotional feeling into a burning flame. 
Grant showed unmistakable signs of being influenced by 
Isaac Watts. 

The output of Gaelic verse was very considerable 
and of varying merit. These poets were all didactic, 
and rhymed utterances were the usual vehicles for ex- 
hortation and warning. They were a valuable adjunct 
to the Church. Their themes, which were nearly always 
borrowed from revelation, were developed with an in- 
tensity of feeling, severity of tone, penitential sorrow, 
and self-depreciation, as reflected not merely the sternness 
of environment, but also the deep religious convictions 
of the writers. The mystical element in the religion of 
the Highlanders has not been reflected in their poetry in 
proportion to its prominence in their mode of thought 
and severe introspection. This is due undoubtedly to 
the influence of Buchanan, the founder of modern sacred 
poetry. His themes were borrowed, and his method was 
followed by nearly all his successors. The phenomenon 
of mysticism did not find a place in the practical teachmg 
of that poet. Mackay of Mudale, Matheson of Helmsdale, 
Mrs. Clark of Badenoch, John Maclean of Caolas and Nova 
Scotia, and some others show traces of it, but unques- 
tionably its best exponent was the iUiterate weaver and 
poet of Petty, Donald MacRae (1756-1837). Amongst 



THE LITEEATUKE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 41 

the works of God in providence and grace he moves softly 
and solemnly, delicately tracing as he proceeds the unfold- 
ing of the Divine purposes, interpreting their meaning, 
and causing his picture to glow with his own warm and 
earnest mysticism. As if afraid of the vagaries of the 
imagination, he proceeds to express his own experience in 
this striking description and definition : — 

' She, flying and soaring 
Like a bird in the skies, , 
Spurns the restraining 
Of her fleshly desires. 

Eggs for quick hatching 
In her presence I found ; 
By an hour of her brooding 
Her chicks chuckled loud. 

Quick hatching, I said. 
But what gain I thereby. 
If the least trifling word 
Sets my passion on fire. 

She, flattering and kind, 
Drags me unwilling aside. 
And drugs my poor mind 
With world shadows that glide.' 

He was quick in repartee, and his humour and happy 
disposition always served him to good purpose. 

Elegiac verses form a considerable proportion of the 
large output of the poetry under review. Men and women 



42 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

of piety, who left a deep impression on the age, are ideaHsed 
in fluent language, subdued by touches of moving pathos, 
and vague, indefinable sorrow, so characteristic of the 
intense concentration of the Gaelic bard, continuing 
entrenched in the seclusion of his own isolated world, 
quite unaffected by any external developments. Satire 
was also freely used by those religious poets as a moral 
corrective. MacLauchlan of Dores (1729-1801) with right- 
eous anger vigorously lashed the abuse of card-playing, 
with its baneful associations, and succeeded in largely 
uprooting the practice. Donald Matheson of Kildonan 
(1719-1782), whose reproving satires were popularised by 
their sprightliness and chiming melody, wielded great 
influence as a purifier of his countrymen's morals. The 
burning ecclesiastical questions of the period, such as the 
abuse of patronage, the religious apathy, and the worldli- 
ness of the ministry, have received the attention of the 
satirists. Unhappily an element of fierce vindictiveness 
is painfully evident, but it is wholly confined to the satires 
which celebrate the conflict between the separatist section 
of that unlicensed order of pious religious speakers known 
as the ' men,' and the organised ministry.^ 

» Peter Stuart (1763-1840), catechist in Strathspey, Strathdearn, and Strathnairn, 
a native of Caithness, thus attacks the ministry in his song ' Oran na Cleir ' : — 
' Bind sud na ciobardan bronach truagh 
A thog an stiopan as an luath, 
Air son biadh is eudach is onoir shaoghalt, 
Ghabh craicin chaorach gu mealladh sluaigh.' 
The Rev. John Macdonald, minister of Alvie from 1806 till his death, fulminates 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 43 

The religious poetry was to a large extent discursive 
and argumentative, and many of the poems are theological 
dissertations, which were intended and fitted to instruct 
the people in the doctrines of the Reformed faith. For 
the poets wielded a great influence, and they were useful 
auxiliaries to the Church in disseminating evangelical 
doctrines, and in formulating the religious views of the 
community. At times the poetry rises to a sublime 
height, and although pieces of adoration and devotion are 
not too conspicuous, a spirit of deep devoutness moves 
through the whole. As a part of the literature of the 
times, it is the most valuable and interesting, not only 
as proving the genius of the bards, but as reflecting phases 
of rehgious thought which, with the changing times, have 
fallen into abeyance. 

It was during this period that secular poetry reached 
the zenith of its imaginative brilliance and the nadir of 
pernicious suggestiveness. The poets reflect the spirit of 
their age, and the dark stains on the beauty of their 
wonderful creations may only be the reflection of the con- 

against Peter Stuart, whom he describes as Graidhean in a long anonymous poem 
entitled The Wolf Unmasked, of which the following verse is a mild example :— 

' Feumaidh muilt-fheoil as cearcan 

Bhi gle phailt air a bhord an ; 

Feumaidh bior a bhi laimh ribh 

'S toil le Graidhean feol rosda ; 

Feumaidh buideal le siucar, 

Air son fliuchadh an scornan 

Measg a chuideachd is fiughail 

Mar am burn bhi 'ga dhortadh.' 



44 THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

ventions of their time. William Ross, who was restive 
under the moral restraint of the 'Pauline Creed,' was a 
precentor in the parish church of Gairloch, an officer 
whose moral character should defy the finger of scorn. 
Yet the minister of religion here condoned the moral 
delinquencies of the local laird, the sire of a numerous 
progeny (not all born of wedlock), in the local presbytery, 
on the ground that the delinquent had presented a ' mort- 
cloth ' to the parish. Members of that same reverend 
court had on another occasion their gravity disturbed 
much more than their moral sense by the rehearsal of an 
obscene song by William Mackenzie, the cripple Catechist 
of Gairloch, who appeared before them in his own behaK. 
Alexander Macdonald, who could apparently with equal 
facility, and with as little remorse, forsake his wife as his 
creed, poured out his wild and coarse efiusions in the ears 
of a people whose spiritual guide dared to publish a pamplilet 
on adding to the strength of Britain by fornication. While 
acknowledging that the ethical code, by which high and 
low regulated their lives, had not yet attained to that lofty 
standard by which indecency in speech is condemned as a 
breach of high moral principles, an indiscriminate lauda- 
tion of all the poets of this period would be a distinct 
disservice to the literature of the country. Without 
minimising their rude defects while treating of human 
nature, it should not be forgotten that they could control 
the baser passions of their own, and its great resources 



THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 45 

served them nobly in translating nature and life into those 
glowing and fascinating literary achievements that have 
won for them a fame that will die only with their race. 
In forming a true estimate of this poetry, without having 
regard to the unimpeachable or impeachable morals, or 
other extraneous merits or demerits, of the authors, the 
task must be undertaken with sympathetic interest and 
an intelligent knowledge of the music and meaning of 
words which form the external expression of the poets' 
intuition, rapture, and swift vision. Any effort at classi-"^ "A 
fying those poets under the categories of Jacobite, Amorous, 
Bacchanalian, Ethical, etc., is more pedantic than precise, 
and ignores the patent fact that all poets were the exponents 
of the race spirit that incarnated in the family tie which 
stifled all political expansion, opposed alien ideas, and 
invincibly resisted foreign rule. They were amorous, like 
most people, by an instinct, which is not confined to them 
alone. They were Bacchanalian by reason of an inherited 
trait of character by no means accurately described as 
sordid. The poets, in fact, embodied the genius of a 
nation which they expressed with such intensity, passion, 
and force, in those wonderful images of their creative 
power as truly claims for this period the name of the golden 
age of Gaelic poetry. This Ijrric poetry is more accurately 
designated under the heads of descriptive and interpre- 
tative. It was in the power of vivid description that the 
poets rose to the full measure of their stature. Foremost 



\ 



46 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

among the secular descriptive poets is Alexander Mac- 
Donald {circa 1700 — ?). With a nature composed of the 
dual elements of ferocity and tenderness, his poems show 
equally striking contrasts. Sugar Brook is the anti- 
thesis of the Birlinn of Clan Ranald, and the Elegy to 
the Dove is an arresting contrast to the Song to the 
Clans. The Birlinn is generally acknowledged to be the 
masterpiece in Gaelic poetry. The description is truly 
wonderful. The fierce conflict of the elements seemed 
to appeal to his turbulent spirit ; while the ' lusty 
and sinewy, stout and stalwart caUants,' who strain their 
' knotty muscles ' in a defiant venture with the challeng- 
ing tempest, could never have been drawn by a physical 
derelict. The creaking of thafts, the cracking of spars 
and pins, the snapping of cordage, the boiling rage of 
baffled waves, and the deep yawning sea troughs, are 
perhaps the counterpart of a violent mental agitation, 
and an inward alertness and rapidity of motion and action. 
The scene has a distinctness and realism that is ever 
faithful to the reality of the borrawed images. The poet 
projects his own personality into his work through the 
medium of a vigorous imagination so successfully, that 
his thrilling achievement has a vitality and naturalness 
that secure it a permanence independent of its merit as a 
skilful adapting of musical and picturesque phraseology. 

But none of the bards has so effectively woven the 
elements of pathos into their versification as John Roy 



THE LTTEHATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 47 

Stuart of Strathspey (eighteenth century). Nor is he 
excelled as an interpreter of the feelings of pain, resent- 
ment and remorse. The gloom of the caves and fast- 
nesses of his native land is transmuted to a mournful 
dirge piquant with sorrow. Baffled and battered, he, 
true to the Celtic character, resigns to destiny, and 
translates the depressed mood of the pensive soul of 
defeated Jacobitism into angry growls of no hope. 

Keenly sensitive to the feelings that nature can inspire, 

Duncan Ban Macintyre (1724-1812), that unsophisticated 

child of nature, caresses the Ben with all the affection of 

real filial attachment. He smooths her wrinkles and 

decks her with resplendent glory. Never did a bride go 

forth to meet the bridegroom bejewelled and spangled 

as she. Coire Cheathaich and Ben Dorain reflect ideaUsm 

as well as that close affinity' between man and nature 

which characterised the youth of the Celtic people. 

Nature's mystic voice vibrates on sympathetic chords, and 

the dulcet notes, in perfect harmony of sounds, are lilting 

to the outer world on waves of choice words without a 

jarring note. Not less successful is he in his description 

of woman. Woman had slowly come to her own under 

the external influence of civil and religious laws. Impelled 

by the Celtic spirit that ever seeks after the ideal, the 

poet pursues the eternal illusion beyond his reach and grasp, 

but not beyond his thought. The ideal woman — Mari 

bhan Og, for example — is drawn with great delicacy and 



48 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

intimacy, and with a wealth of detail, fittingly arranged, 
with the aid of apposite similes from nature, into a perfect 
image intermediate between man and the supernatural 
world. Not only in her external aspect is she depicted, 
but also in her inward life of emotions and feelings, and 
always flawless. When the bard's spirit had been liberated 
from its confinement within the circle of the family of 
the chieftains, it spread abroad and idealised heroes of 
the common stock with equal vigour and effect. The 
elegiac poetry is full of this. 

WiUiam Ross (1762-1790) is unrivalled as an inter- 
preter of the emotion of love in its ecstasy and depression. 
Though less original ^ in his descriptions than many poets 

I William Ross was apparently a copyist of William Mackenzie, the Lochcarron 
poet, who preceded him by at least a generation, as can be seen from the following 
comparisons : — 

(a.) ' Gur bachlach, dualach, casbhuidh, cuachach 

T-alt mun cuairt an ordugh ; 
'San tha gach ciabh mar fhainn air sniamh 
'S gach aon air fiamh an oir dhiubh.' 

(Mackenzie, Nighean Fliir na Comraich.) 
* 'S bachlach, dualach, casbhuidh, cuachach, 
Caradh suaineas gruaig do chinn, 
Gu h-aluinn, boidheach, faineach, or bhuidh 
An curaibh seoghin san ordugh grinn.' 

(Ro^s, Feasgair Luain.) 
{!)) ' Do sheang shlios fallainn mar an eala 

No mar channach sleibhe.' (Mackenzie.) 

' Sheang shlios fallain air bhla cannaich, 
No mar an eal' air a chuan.' (Ross.) 

(c) ' Siunnailt t-eugais 's tearc ri fhaotainn 

Gur tu reul nan oighean.' (Mackenzie.) 

' 'S tearc an sgeula siunnailt t-eugaisg 
Bhi ri fhaotainn 'san Roinn Eorp.' (Ross.) 

Besides these, there is a whole verse borrowed by Ross in his ' Praise of the High- 
land Maid ' from Mackenzie. 



THE LITEHATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 49 

of less repute, in accurate analysis of the tender passion, 
as well as in elegance, fluency, grace of diction, and pene- 
trative notes that go to the very heart, he occupies a 
place all his own. Behind his rapturous ecstasy ' a tear is 
not slow to glisten.' In Feasgair Luain the one follows 
the other in quick succession. The buoyant hope and 
gleaming eye give place to pining love and leaden-eyed 
despair. In all his love-songs he is always at his best as 
an interpreter. 

Ewen MacLachlan (1775-1822) described and inter- 
preted the seasons. Though his classic lore occasionally 
stiffens verses otherwise flexible and smooth, his poems 
deserve the high place they have held among his country- 
men. His adaptation of the melody of the Swan on 
the Lake to a theme different from that to which the 
music was first set, shows a susceptibility to, and a fine 
appreciation of, the beautiful in nature characteristic of the 
true poet. 

In the poetry of this period, the strictly pastoral falls 
short, both in point of quality and quantity, of what might 
be expected of poets with a quick eye to catch the simple 
scenes and events in pastoral life and nature. StiU the 
life in the shelling, the milkmaid, and the reapers, have 
been represented with the vividness and simplicity of real 
idyllic charm. 

The bottle, the bowl, and the cup have been decreed 
worthy of the praises of those that invoked the muses. 



50 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

The so-called Bacchanalian poems are numerous, and as 
literary productions merit high praise. Wild carousals 
and noisy scenes round the drinking-table are features of 
the social life of the eighteenth century of such common 
occurrence that the poets, as faithful chroniclers of all 
phases of life, are valuable moral statisticians. Is there 
anything in the character of the Celt that fairly explains 
this ? Has his environment anything to do with it ? 
Have we here a craving for that form of gaiety which 
produces a forgetfulness of hard conditions and sad destinies? 
If it be true, as Renan alleges, that ' the essential element 
in the Celt's poetic life is the adventure — that is to say, 
the pursuit of the umknown ; an endless quest after an 
object ever flying from desire,' then the marked tendency 
to quafi the cup can be partially at least accounted for 
by ' an invincible need of illusion innate ' in the race. One 
poet, so far removed in religious thought from Renan as 
Dugald Buchanan, gives a definition of the drimkard's 
heaven in striking accord with that of the Breton critic, 
when he declares that it consists in the joy of 

'The dizziness of drink in the brain.' 
It is not the sordid appetites, or gross sensuality, that are 
being satisfied, but the cravings for the illusion of an 
unreal world. 

At a time when every clachan had its poet, and every 
poet was a reflector of the hard conditions of his age, it is 
not surprising that a sad solemnity should pervade the 



THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 51 

mass of poetry under review. Yet there are bursts of 
brilliant raillery to be met with here and there. Life 
and manners are seldom attacked in the unkind spirit of 
cold cynicism, though frequently with irony and sarcasm. ^ 
Vice, folly, and hypocrisy met with trenchant and railing 
exposure. The harshness of even the vindictive pieces is 
smoothed by a mocking use of wit and humour. John 
Mac Codrum (1710-1796) holds a high place as a humorous 
satirist. His song on the Widows, and on Donald 
Ban's Bagpipes, are perhaps the best of their class. But 
the greatest of the satirists is undoubtedly Rob Donn 
(1714-1778). Though not lacking in the power of clear 
and accurate description of nature and human life, he 
showed the best aptitude in searching analysis of character 
and motives. Faults, defects, and even physical infirmities, 
are lashed by him with a severity, and even irreverence, that 
appear at times to be unnecessarily cruel, and in language 
that occasionally savours of vulgarity and even borders 
on blasphemy. Reid, the bibliographer, manifestly 
ignoring Dr. Mackintosh Mackay's magnificent tribute to 
Rob Donn's character and worth, fastens the stigma of 
unpopularity and immorality on the poet — a stigma that 
is unjust both to the poems, and to the devout and pure- 

^ This is how the famous Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie, minister of Lochcarron from 
1781-1819, humorously bids farewell to bad lodgings : — 

' Tha tinn fo'm, fo'm, fo'm, 
Tha tinn fo'm eirigh 
'S fagam lite thana phlucanach, 
Bhios aca 'n tigh na h-eigin.' 



52 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

minded scholar who edited them. As Avriters since 
Reid's day, following the unhappy lead, have been inclin- 
ing to an estimate of the poet's character by no means 
flattering, it may not be out of place to record this hitherto 
unpublished narrative. ' The late Dr. Gustavus Aird of 
Creich took great pleasure in relating the following fact, 
to which he attached much importance, as showing how 
Rob Domi was regarded by some of the outstanding 
Christians of his day in the Reay country. Dr. Aird's 
father, when a young lad, was in the habit of spending 
some time with his maternal uncle, the Rev. George Munro, 
the saintly minister of Farr. When Rob had occasion 
to be in the parish, as was often the case, he seldom or 
never passed without calling at the manse, where he 
was always pressed to stay for the night or longer. At 
family worship he was invariably asked to take part, and 
he and his host alternately engaged in prayer. This 
information Dr. Aird got from the lips of his father, who 
had frequent opportunities of meeting the famous bard. 
The inference is plain. Rob must not only have con- 
ducted himself with propriety, but was also looked upon 
as a pious man, at any rate in his latter days, otherwise 
the godly Mr. Munro would never have asked him to 
lead the devotions at the family altar.' ^ Rob Donn's 
satire on the two miserly brothers, who lived together, 

^ I am indebted to the Rev. Donald Munro, Free Church minister, Ferintosh, 
for this interesting narrative. 



THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 53 

died together, and were buried together, would by itself 
immortalise his name. For where in any language is the 
span of worthless human lives so contemptuously and 
effectively compressed as in this neatly drawn cipher ? — 

* At least, as far as others knew, 

They never went the pace. 
But neither did they anything 

That folk would reckon grace ; 
Begotten, born and bred, they grew 

Together side by side, 
A stretch of time passed over them, 

And in the end they died.' 



54 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 



in 

1830-1912 

From 1830 there has issued from the printing houses in 
Scotland and Canada a steady stream of Gaehc hterature 
which, though in comparison with the output of Enghsh 
Hterature it is as a mountain rivulet to a mighty river, varies 
in quality, expression and tone as much as the sounds of 
the rushing burn among the jagged rocks differ from its 
mellow plash upon the polished flags. In the intervening 
decades the output of Gaelic books, reprints and editions 
was approximately as follows : — from 1830 to 1840, 106 
volumes ; from 1840 to 1850, 164 volumes ; 1850 to 1860, 
115 volumes; 1860 to 1870, 142 volumes; 1870 to 1880, 
169 volumes ; 1880 to 1890, 98 volumes ; 1890 to 1900, 
111 volumes ; 1900 to 1912, 80 volumes. This literature 
takes to some extent its colour from certain epochs in the 
life of the people, such as the Disruption of the Church of 
Scotland, the passing of the Education Act, the fomiding 
of a Celtic Chair in the University of Edinburgh, 
the renaissance following the inauguration of An Comumi 
Gaidhealach and its Mod, and certain industrial move- 
ments affecting the social life of the commmiity, such as 
the traversing of the country with railway lines. Literature 
which deals with human affairs generally chronicles events 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 55 

and problems, and essays to discuss, interpret and solve 
these. This is particularly true of the literature that 
gathers round the Church, there being the relatively large 
number of thirty volumes in this category, apart entirely 
from religious books which came into existence as a result 
of this movement. In this special literature incidents are 
recorded and questions affecting opposing interests are 
discussed, visualising protagonists in the controversy, and 
emphasising the importance and significance of the points 
in the disputes from the viewpoint of the various writers. 
First we hear the sound of battle unmistakably, but in the 
later literature we have merely the echoes of the battle 
sound, while the spirit of controversy itself seems to move 
more gently under the restraining influences of changed 
times. 

The passing of the Education Act brought a great 
change over educational affairs in the Highlands. The 
schools of the Churches gave place to the schools of the 
public. This transformation from the old order of things, 
when the Gaelic language was a commoner medium of 
instruction than it became after 1872, did not, how- 
ever, adversely affect the output of Gaelic literature, as 
is shown by the striking fact that in the decade between 
1870 and 1880 we have a larger output of Gaelic books than 
in any period of the same duration in the history of Gaelic 
printed literature. An analysis of the books which appeared 
during this decade also affords reasons to assume that the 



56 THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

stimulus given to general education had an indirect influ- 
ence other than adverse upon Gaelic literature ; but, as 
affecting the spoken language, the question of how largely 
it was ignored finds sufficient answer in the experiences 
of those who were taught in schools, where prejudice against 
the Gaelic tongue arose from the ignorance of the teacher 
of its value as a means of culture. 

Unquestionably when Professor Blackie had succeeded in 
endowing in the University of Edinburgh the Celtic Chair, 
which has been so honourably occupied by Professor 
Mackinnon, Gaelic language and literature began to be 
approached with the scientific method which had charac- 
terised the study of other languages. This academic study 
of the spoken speech helped to destroy old prejudices 
against the language, and fired the sons of the Highlands 
with a new enthusiasm for their native tongue. The 
ministry of the Highlands, who more than any others make 
use of the speech as a medium of instruction, have, as a 
result of the facilities offered by the University of Edin- 
burgh, ceased from being linguistic illiterates in regard to 
their own language ; and the eighteenth century minister 
of Applecross, who required his precentor to read for him 
his Psalms, has no present day counterpart. To this 
source is to be traced, too, the numerous scientific studies 
in Gaelic which have appeared in publications of varied 
forms and sizes, and which indicate the precision and 
certainty of higher culture and scientific knowledge. 



THE LITEHATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 57 

Notable among such publications is the revised version 
of the Gaelic Bible. 

It is too soon yet to trace the influence of An Comunn 
Gaidhealach and its Mod on Gaelic writings, although there 
is a disquieting decrease in the output of Gaelic books since 
1900. The depressing effect of this discovery is counter- 
acted by the undoubted fact that the quality of the litera- 
ture is of a much higher order. Many of the writings of 
the nineteenth century were ephemeral, and, as contribu- 
tions to the literature of the people, were of no real import- 
ance. The output now is generally otherwise, and has 
about it the elements that guarantee permanence. The 
Comunn with the liveHness of their enthusiasm have 
already stirred up the people in many parts of the country 
to an appreciation of their own speech, and this revival of 
interest will undoubtedly have the effect of preserving, not 
merely, what remains, but of encouraging such a close study 
of the language as has been formerly very largely a feature 
of foreign scholarship alone. The opening up of the High- 
lands by railways has had its own effect in introducing, as 
it did, the southern speech, and in the commingling of two 
languages so wide apart, with a resultant patois which is 
neither pleasing nor elegant. With this also has come 
lessened interest in reading the Gaelic language. 

The beginning of the period under review ushered in 
the dawn of the golden age of Gaelic prose. When Campbell 
pubUshed the Tales of the West Highlands (1860-62), he 



58 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

gave us stories of the past with which the dull monotony 
of life, on the marge of the sighing seas and in the hollows 
between the sullen hills, was relieved. The stories are 
written from oral recitation, and are valuable, not merely 
as records of the distant past, but as preserving for us 
idioms and phraseology used by the common people, thus 
affording a mine of immense value to the linguistic folk- 
lorist. Earlier than Campbell is Lachlan Maclean's Adam 
and Eve (1837), a book which is of infinitely greater value 
for its idioms and excellent style than for its conclusions. 
Maclean was full of delicious humour, and approached the 
question of deciding the relative antiquity of Gaelic and 
Hebrew with some knowledge of both languages, and 
arrived at his conclusion in favour of the seniority of Gaelic 
by a process of reasoning which need not be described, but 
which, nevertheless, is presented to the reader in exquisite 
Gaelic. The Rev. Angus Mackenzie, a probationer of the 
Free Church, published in 1867 the History of Scotland^ 
which is but a translation of Mackenzie's history with 
the same title. The translation is that of an exact and 
competent writer with full command of expressive and 
idiomatic Gaelic. We have later the Folk Tales and Fairy 
Tales of Rev. James Macdougall of Duror (1910), \vritten 
in easy and flowing diction. But greater than any of these 
is Mr. Donald MacKechnie (1836-1908), whose book Am 
Fear Ciuil, published in 1904 and 1910, furnishes us with 
perhaps the most terse and crisp examples of prosody in 



THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 59 

the language. He is a master of the mechanism of lucid 
writing, and has applied the exactitude of modern know- 
ledge of the Gaelic language to the reproduction of common 
incidents and events in life with a humour that saves exact- 
ness from being pedantic or dry. But our great mine of 
modern prose consists of the following periodicals : — 

Periodicals.— The Rose of the Field, 1803; The 
Highland Messenger (24 Nos.), 1829-30 ; The New Messenger, 
1835-6; Cuairtear nan Gleann (40 Nos.), 1840-3; Cuairtear 
nan Coillte (Ontario), 1840; The Witness (An Fhianuis, 
36 Nos.), 1845-50; The Satirist, 1845; Teachdaire nan 
Gaidheal, 1844; The Mountain Visitor (25 Nos.), 1846-50; 
Caraid nan Gael (5 Nos.), 1844; Caraid nan Gaidheal 
(Inverness), 1853; An t-Aoidh Miosail, 1847-8; The Gael, 
1871-7 ; An Cuairtear Og Gaidhealach (Antigonish), 1851 ; 
The Celtic Magazine, 1876-88; The Banner of Truth, 
1872-4; Free Church of Scotland Quarterly, 1875-93; 
The Witness, 1893-1906; Free Presbyterian Magazine 
(bilingual) from 1893 ; Free Church of Scotland Monthly 
Record (bilingual) from 1900 ; Cuairtear na Coillte, 1881 ; 
Monthly Visitor, 1858 ; Gaelic Supplement to Life and 
Work ; The Highlander (6 Nos.), 1881-82 ; The Highland 
Monthly (Inverness, 51 Nos.), 1889; and at Oban, 1885; 
Mac Talla (Sydney C. B.), 1892 ; Scottish Celtic Review 
(4 Nos.), 1881 ; Celtic Review from July 1904 ; Guth na 
BUadhna, 1904 ; An Deo Greine from Oct. 1905 ; An Sgeu- 
laiche, 1909 ; and the short-lived Gaelic newspaper Alba. 



60 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

Colums of Gaelic matter appear regularly also in the Oban 
Times, The Northern Chronicle, The Highland News, and 
occasionally in The People's Journal. 

Dr. Norman Macleod, Avho gathered around him valuable 
coadjutors in many of these periodicals, is looked upon by 
many as the father of modern prose. Lacking the finished 
equipment of the present-day writer, Macleod had certainly 
the faculty, like his contemporary novelists, of transfigur- 
ing the life of the common people in all its pathos and joy, 
in its unsophisticated simplicity, and in its clinging tenacity 
to the receding past. His dialogues in this connection are 
inimitable, and while it is necessary to make allowance 
for the irrepressible enthusiasm of Professor Blackie, the 
Greek scholar has a right to be listened to when he says 
that these Dialogues are ' marked by the dramatic grace 
of Plato and the shrewd humour of Lucian ' ; and again — 
' which for graceful simplicity and profound pathos is 
second to nothing that I know in any language, unless 
indeed it be the account of the death of Socrates in Plato's 
Phaedo, and some well-known chapters in the Gospel of 
St. John.' 1 

Dr. Mackintosh Mackay (1793-1873) moves with grave 
and stately majesty, as he discourses in the Fianuis on the 
ecclesiastical problems of his day. Dugald Macphail 
(1819-1887), better known by his pen name ' Muileach,' 
was a poet of repute, as well as an elegant prose writer, 

' Language and Literature of the Highlands of Scotland, pp. 315, 329. 



THE LITEHATUP.E OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 61 

whose smooth and flowing sentences appealed to the most 
fastidious critic. Mrs. M'Kellar (1834-1890), although 
she lacked spontaneity, could express herself with vigour, 
and fluently, both in prose and poetry. Rev. James 
Macdougall, Duror, writes in a smooth and flexible style. 
Sherifl Nicolson (1827-1893) enriched the literature of the 
Highlands by his enlarged edition (1881) of that quint- 
essence of Highland wisdom and wit, the Proverbs, com- 
piled by Mackintosh. The accurate knowledge of the 
brilliant Sheriff manifested itself in the pages of a book 
that has made him the benefactor of all students of High- 
land character. In the published sermons of the Rev. 
John Macalister, we have the irritating peculiarities of the 
dialects and idioms of Arran in unrelieved faithfulness. 
Among the translators of English prose, none has laboured 
with more painstaking industry than Alexander Macdougall 
of Glenurquhart. In the upper reaches of that Strath 
this teacher spent his evenings, summer and winter alike, 
in translating the works of Dr. John Owen. The transla- 
tions are as severely accurate and unbending as the theology 
of the famous Puritan. The fruit of his industry appears 
only in part in the three volumes published, viz. Communion 
oftheSaints {IS7 6), The Person of Christ ( 1884), and P^aZmi^^? 
(1896), for, alas, an apathetic peoplehaveenforced the confine- 
ment of the larger portion of his work to the manuscript 
over which this tireless student toiled unremittingly, and 
all for love of Gaelic and theology. For the same reason 



62 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

a splendid translation of a portion of Dr. John Brown's 
Bible by the Rev. Alexander M'Coll of Lochalsh still 
remains hidden in the pages of an unpublished manuscript. 
Among living prose writers and translators of prose there 
are not a few whose efforts merit praise. 

Professor Mackinnon has concluded, and few will 
venture to differ from him, that the four masters of Gaelic 
prose style are — Drs. John and Norman Macleod, Lachlan 
Maclean, and Donald Mackechnie. An example of the 
prose with translation of the last three of these writers is 
now given : — 

' Bheachdaich mi gu h-araidh air aon duine dall, aosmhor a 
bha 'n a shuidhe air leth, a's triuir no ceathrar de chloinn ghillean 
mu'n caiurt da, a sheana ghairdeanan thairis orra, iad a' feuchainn 
CO 'bu dluithe a gheibheadh a stigh r'a uchd, a cheann crom os an 
ceann, 'fhalt liath agus an cuaileanan dualach donna-san ag amaladh 
'n a cheile, agus a dheoir gu trom, frasach a' tuiteam thairia orra, 
Dluth dha aig a chasaibh bha bean thlachdmhor 'n a suidhe ag 
osnaich gu trom ann an iomaguin broin ; agus thuig mi gu 'm b'e a 
fear-posda a bha 'spaisdearachd air ais agus air aghart le ceum 
goirid agus le lamhan paisgte. Bha sealladh a shul luaineach neo- 
shuidhichte, agus 'aghaidh bhuairte ag innseadh gu soilleir nach 
robh sith 'n a inntinn. Tharruing mi dluth do'n t'seann-duine, 
agus dh' fheoraich mi dheth ann an caoimhneas cainnt, an robh 
esan ann am feasgar a laithean a' dol a dh-fhagail a dhuthcha ? 
' Mise,' deir esan, ' a dol thairis ! cha 'n 'eil ! Air imrich cha teid 
mis gus an tig an imrich a tha 'feitheamh oirnn air fad ; agus an 
uair a thig, co an sin a theid fo m' cheann do'n Chill ? Dh 'fhalbh 
sibh ! dh 'fhalbh sibh ! dh'fhagadh mise 'm aonar an diugh gu dall 
aosda, bhrathair, gun mhac, gun chultaice ; agus an diugh— la 



THE LITEEATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 63 

mo dhunach, Dia 'thoirt maitheanais domh — tha thusa, 'Mhairi, 
mo nighean, m'aon duine cloinne, le m' oghachan geala, gaolach, 
a' del ga m' fhagail.' (Dr. Norman Macleod, An Gaidheal, iii. 
Leabh 294). 

Professor Blackie's translation : — 

' My attention was specially drawn to one old man, old and 
blind, who was sitting apart from the rest with three or four little 
boys round about him, his old arms stretching over them, while 
they were trying to come as near as possible to his breast, his head 
bending over their heads, his long grey hair and their curly brown 
locks loosely mingling together, and the big tears rolling down his 
cheeks. Near him, close to his feet, was a handsome woman, sitting 
and sobbing as under some heavy affliction ; and I guessed that 
it was her husband who was walking up and down with a short 
hurried step and his hands folded. His eye had a wild and un- 
settled look, and the disturbed expression of his countenance 
showed plainly how little peace there was in his mind. I drew near 
to the old man, and asked him in a gentle voice if he, in the evening 
of his days, was going to leave his native country. " I," he said, 
" emigrate ! Not I. I shall not move from my earthly home till 
I go to that land to which we must all go some day ; and when my 
hour comes to go who is there now that will put his shoulder under 
my head and help to carry me to my last resting-place ? Ye are 
gone ! Ye are gone ! and I am left alone, blind and old, without 
brother, without son, without stay or support ; and to-day — day 
of my sorrow ! God forgive me, — you, Mary, my daughter, my 
only child, with my dear, beautiful, bright-eyed grandchildren, 
you are going to leave me ! " ' 

From Lachlan Maclean's Adam and Eve : — 
' Tha an obair so air do shonsa, a Ghael fhialaidh a chridhe 
dhirich — thusa aig am bheil eolas air an t-sinnsireachd chliutaich 
ris am bheil do dhaimh — air na blaraibh a chuir iad — na buaidhibh 



64 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

a thug iad — agus an cliu a choisinn iad aims na laithibh a dh'fhalbh 
— air mar chriothnaich rioghachdan an domhain roimh gliarbh 
thairnein an airm, agus a gheill iad le urram do gliliocas an comh- 
airle ! — mar chunnaic eirigh na greine greadhnachas an cuirtean 
rioghail, 'sa rinn Mactalla gairdeachas ri ard chaithream am feachd 
— tha an obair so air do shonsa. 

'Ma bheir i riarachadh dhuitse cha do chaill an t-ughdar a 
shaothair, agus cha'n'eil e 'g iarraidh ort diog a chreidsinn nach do 
chreid e fein romhad — oir, theid e gu bas le dearbh-bheachd gu'm 
b' i Ghaelig a cheud chanain, agus an Ian dochas gur h-i bheir 
buaidh anns an t-saoghall thall. 

' Aon fhocal, agus 'se so e : gabh lethsgeul mearachdan a chlo- 
bhualaidh, tha iad lionmhor : gabh lethsgeul laigse an ughdair, 
tha i mor ; agus ! cuir air an athair cheart i, oir cha robh lamh 
riamh no corrag m'an obair a leanas ach an lamh so.' 

Translation : — 

' This work is for you, generous and upright Gael — you who 
know the illustrious progenitors from whom you have sprung — the 
battles they fought, the victories they had achieved, and the praises 
they had won in the days gone by — how the nations of the world 
disappeared before the thunders of their arms, and how, too, they 
yielded to the wisdom of their counsel — how the rising sun beheld 
the excellence of their royal courts, and Echo rejoiced at the 
resonant tramp of their hosts — this work is for you. 

' If it will please you, the author has not laboured in vain, and 
he does not ask you to beheve a syllable which he does not believe 
himself, for he will die convinced that Gaelic was the first language, 
and fully persuaded that it will prevail in the other world. 

' One word, and it is this — excuse the mistakes of the press, 
they are many — excuse the defect of the author, for it is great, 
and oh ! father it on the proper person, for no hand nor finger but 
this touched the work that follows.' 



THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 65 

From Donald Mackechnie's Am Fear-Ciuil : — 
' Latha de na laithean, thainig e (an cat) steach's eun 'na bheul, s' e 
'g a leigeil fhaicinn do gach neach a bha mu 'n cuairt. 'Nuair a thainig 
e far an robh mise rug mi air, 's dh' innis mi dha nach robh mi idir 
buidheach dheth ; nach b'i sin an seorsa sithinn a bha dhith ormsa ; 
's a bharrachd air sin, gu robh Achd Parlamaid an aghaidh a bhi 
marbhadh eun as eugmhais cead laghail air a shon ; 's na faicinn-sa 
a leithid so de sheilg a rithist, gu'n cuirinn maoir is madaidh a' 
bhaile 'na dheigh. " Fhaic thu," arsa mise, 's mi crathadh mo 
chorraig r'a shroin, " b'fhearr leamsa eisdeachd ri ceilear an eoin 
bhig sin fad choig mionaidean, na ged bhiodh tusa, 's do chompan- 
aich a' seinn domh fad choig raidhean." Tha amharus agam nach 
do leig Tomas dheth, uile gu leir, a bhi sealg nan eun, ach thuig e, 
maith gu leoir, nach robh chu aige ri fhaotainn air a shon, 's leig e 
dheth a bhi toirt dachaidh na cairbh.' 

Translation : — 

' One day he (Thomas, the cat) came in with a bird in his mouth, 
showing it to all who were about. When he came to me, I caught 
him and told him that I was not by any means pleased with him ; 
that such was not the kind of venison I wished for ; and more than 
that, an Act of Parliament prohibited the killing of birds without 
legal permission ; and if I should again see such a hunting trophy I 
would set the town officers and dogs after him. " Observe you," 
I remarked, shaking my finger before his nose, " I would prefer 
five minutes of that little bird's singing to a year and a quarter of 
your caterwauHng and that of your companions." I suspect that 
Thomas did not entirely cease from hunting birds, but he under- 
stood perfectly well that he would not curry favour by persisting, 
so he discontinued carrying home the spoil.' 

In the branch of the literature that bears on the scientific 
study of the language, vast progress has been made during 
the decades under review. The grammars of James Munro 

E 



66 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

and Stewart were good. Dr. Maclauchlan's enlargement 
of Stewart's was an improvement, and later we have a 
competent grammar by Reid, and helpful guides to the 
study of the language from L. Macbean and Macbain and 
Whyte. Dictionaries have also increased. There is one 
among them which deserves recognition, were it only for 
the herculean labour involved in its production. Ewen 
Macdonald, whose real name is Edward Dwelly, an English- 
man, has finished, after thirty years of arduous toil, a 
Dictionary of three volumes, containing one thousand pages 
and over eighty thousand words — a Dictionary of which he 
was author, compositor, illustrator, and publisher, and in each 
department of the work the result reflects the greatest credit 
on him. The story of this work reads like a romance. 

As far back as 1872, Professor William Geddes, after- 
wards Principal Sir W. Geddes of Aberdeen University, 
in an address to the Celtic Society of that University, which 
was published in the same year, on the 'Philologic Uses 
and Advantages of a Knowledge of the Celtic Tongue,' 
arraigns the Scottish students for their neglect of the study 
of the Gaelic language, particularly in the branch of com- 
parative Philology : — 

* The Celtic is now duly installed in what may be called the 
hierarchy of Aryan tongues. Pritchard, in his work on the Eastern 
origin of the Celtic nations, established the affinity. Pictet, of 
Geneva, has done much in the same direction ; but the work has 
been fully performed by four Germans — Bopp, Zeuss, Ebel, and 



THE LITERATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 67 

Schleicher. A fifth might be added, DiefPenbach, whose works 
contain a mine of historic facts as to the Celtic races. To match 
against these four Germans we have only one, or it may be two, 
worthy of being conjoined in the same rank, and the French another ; 
and yet the Germans have not in the Fatherland a single Celtic - 
speaking village ; while France and Britain have whole provinces 
of Celtic speech, so that here, as elsewhere, " the last are first and 
the first last." ' 

At this time, however, it should not be forgotten, that 
that Scottish pioneer in Philology, Rev. Alexander Cameron, 
LL.D. (1827-1888), of Brodick, was already busy in this 
field. He was a disciple and follower of Professor Windisch 
of Leipzig, and Dr. Whitley Stokes, though not in a slavish 
sense. He made precision a feature of his study, and 
might indeed be looked upon as almost a martyr to accuracy. 
He would break a lance over a comma, and in a fierce con- 
troversy with Drs. Thomas Maclauchlan and Clark, he 
evinced signs of his unmistakable erudition which, in the 
light of later scholarship, proved him to be far ahead of 
his opponents in the linguistic controversy. In the monu- 
mental work Eeliquice Celticce (1892-94), and in the Scottish 
Celtic Review, to which he was himself chief contributor, 
there are abmidant proofs of the industry and scholarship 
of one who was the first in this country to trace scientifi- 
cally the origin and history of the language. Following 
upon him came Dr. Alexander MacBain, a scholar of 
high repute, whose Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic 
Language of 1896 (second edition 1911) compressed Conti- 



68 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

nental and British researches in this field into a Dictionary 
which is the first of its kind in the language, and which 
opens up a new era. 

Dr. W. J. Watson of the Royal High School, Edinburgh, 
has applied himself with conspicuous success in the same 
field of philology, in an effort to elucidate the meanings of 
place-names in the country. His book, Place-Names of 
Boss and Cromarty (1894), is a valuable contribution, 
inasmuch as it unfolds not merely the history of the words, 
but the history of the commmiity, ecclesiastically and 
socially, that lived around the places that are so named. 

At the beginning of the Victorian era the religious 
poets were still singing on congenial themes. Among the 
most outstanding poets of the period was miquestionably 
John Morison, blacksmith, preacher, and poet of Harris. 
An untutored metaphysician and psychologist, he probed 
life and conduct with the sharp instrument of a keen 
intellect, and gave expression to his subtle thoughts in 
poems of prodigal fulness. There is a remarkable blending 
of idiom and thought, a wonderful weaving and winding 
of expression, in all the works of this imaginative genius, 
that rightly entitle him to a high rank among Gaelic sacred 
bards. In the * Ark,' the ' Young and Old Man,' and that 
gem of Gaelic poetry ' lonndruinn,' we have presented to us 
grand movements of the soul and intellect of a man who 
moved in the mysteries of faith with courage and sinceritj^ 
The echoes of pulpit mysticism are found in the written 



THE LITEEATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 69 

language of this troubled soul. The * lonndruinn ' has been 
compared to Newman's * Lead, Kindly Light.' Souls very- 
far apart and moving in very different directions, had this 
at least in common— that yearning and longing for a peace 
that still lay outwith their religious experience. This is a 
translation of verses of the * lonndruinn,' by the late 
Dr. George Henderson : — 

' When, as I did refrain for long, 
Age smote my bones and sorely ; 
Age smote my song with silent wrong, 
Age smote me long and lowly : 
Not as of yore, in weakness strong, 
Time but prolongs my story — 
Grief and death's bond to me belong. 
Save Heavenly Son restore me. 

My heavy heart adds to my smart, 
Like to a hart when wounded ; 
My steps abound, but still I start, 
And fall athwart confounded : 
Though all around I seek the High'st, 
No one is nigh or round me. 
To smite sweet chords upon my lyre 
And so in sighs I 'm grounded. 

• • • • • 

Each hour and hour I weep and grieve, 

And fret in melancholy. 

That sin and folly do deceive 

And oft bereave me wholly 

Of Thee, though lovingly I 'd wreathe 

My sins with leaves of holly. 

Till songs I 'd weave and sunlight breathe 

The dew beneath the olive.' 



70 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

Dr. John Macdonald of Ferintosh, the famous Apostle of 

the North, was also a poet of repute. Meditative, hortative, 

and didactic, his poetry moves on with easy expression and 

pleasing melody. Evangelical teachings, of which he was a 

master, are translated to the people in phrases which have 

become popular. Perhaps the best known of all his poems 

is the ' Christian,' whose fine consolatory notes have been 

often the means of conveying much comfort to Zion's 

pilgrims. The following examples are from a translation 

by Rev. Professor John Macleod, M.A., of Edinburgh : — 

' 'Twas their hope and living faith that led them to confess on earth 
That they were unAvelcome strangers in the world that gave them birth ; 
For they sought a better country and a heritage divine, 
And with joyful soul they saw from off the hills its glory shine. 

Little wonder though the flesh should tremble as it nears the shore 
Of the Jordan while the darkness groweth lonesome more and more ; 
For before me is the ocean without bank or further side, 
Everlasting and unmeasured by the sun or flowing tide. 

Close the tie is and mysterious that has ever bound in one 
Soul and body : yes, the knot is one that 's hard to be undone. 
But the time will come when death shall loosen it, and then the tomb 
Shall its share have, for the tenant leaves behind his earthly home.' 

(The Christian on the Banlca of Jordan.) 

'But the blessings of the land how can I ever tell them o'er ? 
For 'tis full to overflowing with its milk and honey store ; 
And the Lord's own kindly eye is on it all throughout the year, 
And the folk that live therein are satisfied with endless cheer. 

Its inhabitant shall never say that he is sick or sore. 

Ne'er complain of desolation or of famine on its shore ; 

And the more his heart of evil wearied him his whole life long, 

Now the greater is his gladness and the louder is his song. 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 71 

Loud he '11 join with all the ransomed in their song of praise to God, 
Who from everlasting loved them and eternal life bestowed ; 
They shall never more by Babel's waters sit with harp unstrung 
But will join in song of triumph, tuneful harp, unfaltering tongue.' 

{The Christian across Jordan.) 

There were others, too, who were playing upon their 
harps, such as the deep and mysterious Donald Mackenzie 
of Assjnit ; Rev. Duncan Maclean of Glenorchy, whose 
rare bardic efforts have not received the meed of apprecia- 
tion they deserve ; Rev. Duncan Maccallum of Arisaig ; 
Rev. Duncan Macdougall of Tiree ; Rev. M. Macritchie 
of Strathy ; and among the laity, poets like John Mackintosh 
of Strathspey ; James Macbean of Inverness ; George 
Mackay of Roster, and a number of others, who, though 
less known, enjoyed deserved popularity among the com- 
munity where they lived. The most eminent of the elegiac 
writers of this period was Rev. Dr. Blair of Pictou (1815- 
1893), a competent linguist and an earnest preacher. His 
elegies on John Macmaster, Rev. John Kennedy, and Dr. 
Macdonald are perhaps the best in the language. 

The student of religious poetry will find the cream of 
the sacred poetry of the Highlands during this period in 
collections such as the Sacred Poetry of the North, by John 
Rose (1851), and the Collection of Hymns, by Dr. Archibald 
Kelly Maccallum (1894). But reflecting an older period 
than these is the monumental Carmina Gadelica of the late 
indefatigable Celtic enthusiast. Dr. Alexander Carmichael. 
Here are incantations and hymns of many periods, and if 



72 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

the lichen-covered ruins that occupy such conspicuous spots 
in the Highlands are silent witness -bearers to the feuds 
and internecine wars of a past civilisation, these hymns 
and incantations, embedded in many instances in archaic 
expressions, crystallise the beliefs of votaries of successive 
cults that pursued each other through the long vista of 
prehistoric and historic times. In this collection the 
student of philology, of comparative religion, and of ecclesi- 
astical history, will find much to reward a diligent search. 

Although it is commonly stated that the noontide glory 
of Celtic poetry had disappeared before the Victorian era, still 
this can be accepted only with modification. If the sunset 
is slow and gradual, so also is the decline of Gaelic poetry, 
and if in this period the poets have not drunk from the full 
horn as indiscriminately and unconfined as those of the 
post-rebellion period, we have nevertheless in the early 
Victorian era men of outstanding worth in this field of 
poetry. William Livingstone (1808-1870) was obsessed 
with hatred for things Saxon, and allowed his poetry to be 
deeply tinged with this dislike. Yet he was a poet of rare 
power, and manipulated the idioms of the language and 
the language itself to fine effect, making free use of con- 
sonantal assonance to a jingling melody. He was irritable 
and passionate, and is the only Gaelic poet of later times 
who had nothing to say of the tender passion ; and he has 
also the distinction of being the only dramatist in the whole 
galaxy of Gaelic bards. He could write with moving 



THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 73 

pathos as well as with terrible fierceness. Ewen MaccoU 
(1808-1898), who was born in Lochfyneside, and lived in 
Liverpool, New York, and Toronto, had, from his varied 
experiences, a wider outlook on life, which is reflected in 
his songs. With more fancy and thought than imagina- 
tion and feeling, he moves with remarkable suddenness 
among contrasted objects and ideas with a brilliance that 
is more dazzling than pleasing. Dr. John Maclachlan 
(1804-1874), the physician poet of Morven, and James 
Munro (1794-1870) of Fort William, have also contributed 
to the literature poems which, for their charm, grace, and 
moving sentiment, are worthy of ranking with those of 
the former two ; and among the poets of the people they are 
not far behind the greater masters of the previous age. 
Angus Macdonald of Glenurquhart (1804-1874) was a good 
poet as well as a magnificent singer. 

John Campbell, bard of Ledaig (1823-1897), who was 
a sweet singer, with ardent love for happy childhood and 
for nature, sang with verve of the beauties of his Highland 
home, and Highland scenery, in many verses that are 
destined to continue popular with those who appreciate 
the grace of easy diction, and the piquant flavour of humour. 
Of his home in the Highlands he sang : — 

Is trie mi cuimhneach air tir mo dhuthchais, 
Air tir nam beanntan 's nan gleanntan urar 
Air tir nan sgarnaichean arda ruisgte 
Nan creagan corrach 's nan lochan dubhghorm. 



74 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

Air sruthain chaisleach nan caran lubach 
Ri mire 's gleadhraich feadh bhac is stucan ; 
No ruith gu samhach 's a ghleannan chiuin ud, 
'S an doire cballtuinn gu teann 'g an dunadh. 

An eidheann dhuslach mar sgail-bhrat uaine 
'S a' gheamhradh 's fuaire fo shnuadh a fas, 
'S i dion le 'sgiathan nan ard chreag Hath ud, 
Mar gu'm b'e h-iarrtas an cumail blath. 

An tonn ri cronan air cladach comhnard, 
Le morbhan boidheach toirt ceol gu reidh. 
No 'g eirigh suas dhuinn le toirm an uamhais, 
'S an cath 'na cbuartaig 'ga sguab do'n speur. 

Sud tir a' cliairdeis 's an d'fhuair mi m'arach 
'S am bheil a' Ghaidhlig is aillidh fonn ; 
'S i tbogadh m'inntinn 'nuair bhithinn tursach, 
'S a dh' fhagadh sunndach mo chridhe trom. 

* Dear land of my fathers, my home in the Highlands, 

'Tis oft that I think of thy bonnie green glens, 
Thy far-gleaming lochs and thy sheer-sided corries. 
Thy dark-frowning cliffs and thy glory of Bens ! 

Thy wild sweeping torrents, with bound and with bicker, 
That toss their white manes down the steep rocky brae ; 

Thy burnies that, babbling o'er beds of the granite. 
Through thick copse of hazel are wimpling their way. 

Thy close-clinging ivy, with fresh shining leafage, 

That blooms through the winter and smiles at the storm. 

And spreads its green arms o'er the hoar}'- old castle 
To bind its grey ruin and keep its heart warm. 

That sweet-sounding plash of thy light-rippling billows 
As they beat on the sand where the white pebbles lie. 

And their thundering war when, with whirling commotion, 
They lift their white crests in grim face of the sky. 



THE LITER ATUKE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 75 

The land I was born in, the land I was bred in 
Where soft-sounding Gaelic falls sweet on the ear ; 

Dear Gaelic, whose accents take sharpness from sorrow 
And fill me despairing with words of good cheer.' 

Lieutenant-Colonel John Macgregor, M.D., traveller, 
physician and zealous Celt, has the happy faculty of 
breathing his sentiments in verses that rhyme sweetly. 
But among the later poets, Neil Macleod, the Skye bard, 
is easily chief. In comparison with the greater masters 
of poetry in the language, he occupies a place not far 
behind the best. It is not a paltry fastidiousness that 
deplores the immoral impurities that stained the achieve- 
ments of these masters, but from all such Neil Macleod 
is as free as the clean run salmon is of the parasites of the 
ocean. He depicts nature with idyllic beauty. A gentle- 
ness of spirit suffuses the whole, and gives that touch of 
indescribable attractiveness to his poetry which always 
fascinates. His verses have the grace of easy diction, and 
the charm of forcible simplicity. Whether describing the 
glen, the wood, or humorously depicting the frailties of 
the old maid, he is always pure and clear as the limpid 
waters of the stream, and free from any form of vindictive- 
ness or cruel raillery. Among the poets he is the only 
one who saw the fourth edition of his published works. 
This alone sufficiently emphasises the impression he has 
made upon his race, and future critics of Gaelic poetry will 
doubtless endorse the judgment of his own generation. 



76 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

Collectors of Highland poetry have been busy following 
the example of collectors of a former period, and as far 
back as 1841 John Mackenzie of Gairloch produced his 
Beauties of Gaelic Poetry. Although it has been alleged, 
and that correctly, that he gives only eight poems which 
were not previously published, he nevertheless deserves 
praise for his success within the limits of his knowledge, 
and for the amount of light he has thrown upon the lives 
of the poets with whom he deals. Mr. Archibald Sinclair 
with An t-Oranaiche (1876-7-8-9) places the Highlander 
under a debt of gratitude for accumulating poems that 
would probably have disappeared from view. The indus- 
trious Canadian historian and genealogist, Rev. A. IMaclean 
Sinclair, has laboured successfully in this field also, and 
pubhshed collections of real value in 1890,1892, 1896, 1898, 
and 1900. Mr. M. C. Macleod issued in 1908 his Collection 
of Modern Gaelic Bards. It has a value all its own as 
having gathered in handy form the verses of the living and 
recently deceased bards. Revs. A. Macdonald of Kiltarlity 
and Killearnan in their massive book of The MacDonald 
Collection of Gaelic Poetry have given us the toil of many 
years of skilful gleaning in the field of Highland poetry. 
Although the poets here are not all of the Clan Donald, 
and though we have here many poems already published, 
still the variants and the numerous meritorious songs of 
little-known poets invest this collection with special value. 
A unique contribution to the literature is Miss Frances 



THE LITERATUKE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 11 

Tolmie's collection of Folk Songs in the Journal of the Folk 
Song Society, December 1911, whose great value is appro- 
priately expressed in the words of the learned editor of that 
journal : * It opens a mine of interest and delight to musicians, 
poets, f olklorists and historians, and undoubtedly forms one 
of the most important contributions yet made towards the 
preservation of the purely traditional music and poetry of 
our British Isles in general, and of Scotland in particular.' 

Mr. Kenneth Macleod has contributed considerably to 
the Celtic Review and other periodicals and books. To him 
is largely due, from a literary standpoint, the value of The 
Songs of the Hebrides. He is a true collector and folklorist, 
and at the same time a writer of original Gaelic prose and 
verse of great excellence. Of him much is expected. 

There have been many translators of Gaelic poetry at 
work, including Blackie, Shairp, Nicolson, Pattison, Buch- 
anan, MacNeil, White, MacBean, Macf arlane and others ; and 
Dr. Dugald Mitchell's Book of Highland Verse (1912) is 
a splendid anthology of such translations, and of English 
verses relating to the Highlands. 

In 1832 Reid, the bibliographer, wrote : ' Ere half a 
century elapses, it [the Gaelic] will have shared the fate 
of the Waldensian and the Cornish and have become subject 
of history alone.' Three-quarters of a century have passed, 
and the language is still vigorous and the prophecy false. 
In 1903, Professor Magnus Maclean ^ saw the near dis- 

^ The Literature of the Highlands, p. 205. 



78 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

appearance of the bards in oblivion, but the efforts of 
living poets rob these sad forebodings of their immediate 
realisation. The end is not yet, nor within sight, and 
the bards will continue interpreting and describing. For, 
while the north wind sighs in the birch tree as of yore, 
and the cotton flower jauntily tosses its stainless white 
head in the moorland breeze that wafts the myrtle's 
stimulating fragrance, why should not the spirit of poetry 
continue to express itself in the mournful dirge, in the 
innocence of happy purity, and in refreshing melody ? 

The literature reviewed has been issued to the world 
from centres so far removed as Geelong in Australia, Anti- 
gonish and Toronto in Canada, and Aberdeen, Tain and 
Wick in Scotland, but the greater part was published in 
Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness ; yet there is scarcely 
a publishing centre in the country from which some has 
not been issued. This literature, although not very large, 
has a deep interest of its own for students of the language 
and for patriots. It was produced against many prejudices 
and in the midst of numerous difficulties — difficulties which 
cannot be better illustrated than by this translated extract 
from a prefatory note to the spiritual songs of William 
Gordon, a soldier in the Reay Fencibles, published in 1802 : 
' When you are reading the verses that follow, remember 
that I had no place in which to write or study them, but 
the barrack and among my fellow-soldiers. The only time 
I applied to them was the time between parades. I did 



THE LITEKATUEE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 79 

not cease from the duties I had to perform as a soldier. No 
wonder then though there should be mistakes in my work.' 
In this literature can be found what Matthew Arnold called 
' the lineaments of the Celtic genius.' It is the key to the 
heart of the Highlander, to the mysticism of his life, to his 
devoutness and religious conservatism, and to those peculiar 
features of his character which form a phenomenon almost 
unintelligible to the foreigner. The grand songs of the 
people's poets, whether secular or sacred, have percolated 
through all countries where the wandering children of the 
Gael have pitched their tents. In village and in clachan, 
on the seaboards at home and the outer extremities of this 
mighty Empire, in the prairies of America, these songs have 
cheered the heart of many a pilgrim. On the verandah in 
an Australian homestead, a Skye man conjures up the 
scenes of his happy childhood, as he sings : — 

* When the simmer bricht returnin' 

Decks each grove and budding tree, 
When the birds amang the branches 

Are a' pipin' loud and free ; 
And the bairnies fu' o' glee 

Pu' the roses in the den, 
! 'twere delight tae wander 

In my bonnie native glen. 

In my bonnie native glen, 

In my bonnie native glen, 

! 'twere dear delight tae wander 

In my bonnie native glen. 



80 THE LITERATURE OF THE SCOTTISH GAEL 

At the early peep o' mornin', 

When the grass was wat \vi' dew, 
Amang the woods o' hazel 

Gaily sang the shy cuckoo ; 
An' the calves clean daft wi' joy 

Gaed a' friskin' roun' the pen ; 
Now we 've nae sic scenes o' gladness 

In my bonnie native glen.' 

I saw a copy of Alexander Macdonald's poetry that did 
duty at the mines of Ballarat and Johannesburg. An old 
lady in the sub-tropics of Australia rehearsed in my hear- 
ing verse after verse of Dugald Buchanan's poems, trans- 
porting herself in the very act to the happy days of childhood, 
round the peat fire in far-away Lochaber. These songs 
have been sung by the shepherds on the lonely moors, and 
by the fishermen on the rolling deep. From lip to lip they 
have been wafted across hill and dale from one generation 
to another. The intensity of their feeling has fired the 
spirit of many a forlorn Gael. This literature deserves 
to be studied. No student of the language can speak with 
authority who has not dipped deeply into this treasure ; 
and the future historian who will portray Highland life or 
character in its many vicissitudes, in its depression and in 
its joy, will fail to do so accurately unless he studies 
diligently the literature of the Scottish Gael. 



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