Traditions, Writings, &c., pp.53-75.

It may be new to most English readers to learn that MacMhurich, Clanranald’s bard, long afterwards composed a Gaelic satire on national music. In this the “coronach of women” (no longer that of men, be it observed), and “Pìob gleadhair,” the pipe of clamour, are called the two ear sweethearts of the black fiend – a noise fit to arouse the imps; and other epithets are used fully as bitter and coarse as anything in Dunbar’s “Daunce.” 

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Dancing to pipe music is a Scotch custom at least as old as the days of James the Fourth. It is a custom which still prevails in Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Scotland. 

Dunbar in his Testament of Kennedy throws some light upon the manners and customs of Carrick, a Celtic district of Ayrshire. He makes a brother churchman, with whom he held poetic jousts, desire that no priests may sing over his grave. 

“Bot a bag-pyp to play a spring, 
Et unum alewisp ante me; 
Insteid of torchis, for to bring 
Quatuor lagenas cervisiae, 

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Within the graif to set sic thing, 
In modum crucis juxta me, 
To fle the feyndis than hardely sing 
De terra plasmasti me.”

So the poet knew the sound of the ‘bag-pyp,’ and thought it an instrument ‘fit to fle the feyndis,’ as many lowlanders do still, but it was the music which a beer-drinking churchman would delight to hear “playing a spring.” 

It seems that beer, not whisky, was old Scotch drink. 

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C.E. 1471 Caxton’s press set up at Westminster. 

C.E. 1474 First book printed in England.

C.E. 1501 About this time, the beginning of the sixteenth century, Gavin Douglas, bishop of Dunkeld, inscribed a poem to James the Fourth, and wrote – 

“I saw Raf Coilyear with his thrawin brow, 
Craibit Johne the Reif and auld Cowkellpis sow, 
Anf how the wran came out of Ailysay, 
And Piers Plewman that made his workmen few 
Greit Gowmacmorne and Fyn MaCoul, and how 
They suld be goddis in Ireland as they say. 
Their saw I Maitland upon auld Beird Grey, 
Robene Hude and GIlbert with the quhite hand, 
Howo Hay of Nauchtan flew in Madin land.”

The verse is quoted in the Report on Ossian, and p.170, Hist. Of Scottish Poetry. It is part of ‘the Palis of Honour,’ an allegorical composition, in which the poet introduces every famous personage of ancient or modern times, sacred or profane, of whom he knew anything; all the classical poets – Brutus of Albyon, Friar Bacon, Chaucer, and mob of poets and their heroes. So here are two of the heroes of Ossian in good company at this court of honour, but even then their history was known to the author only by hearsay.

There is consequently a good deal to be found about Fionn in old times in the Lowlands, but nothing, so far, of the poems which are referred to. It so happens that some older than that period have been preserved. While polished bards, Highland and Lowland, were exercising their wit on such compositions as are found in old manuscripts, the “savage” Celtic people were repeating their own old ballads, and these were simple and free from the smallest tinge of coarseness. So far as I know anything of old Gaelic poetry, there is nothing to be likened to the satires above referred to. 

C.E. 1527 Bishop Percy, speaking of an Earl of Northumberland who died about this time, observes that he lived at a time when many of the first nobility could hardly read or write their names.

C.E. 1512 to 1529 Dean MacGregor’s MS. Was written at Lismore in Argyleshire.1 It is not written in the Gaelic character and it seems to have been spelt by ear for the benefit of English or Scotch readers. Amongst other matters it contains 11,000 lines of poetry, some attributed to Oisein and his comrades, some to bards of the period, including Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, who fell at Flodden, 1513, and Lady Isobel Campbell, daughter of the Earl of Argyll, “8th MacCallan Mor:” she was sister to Lady MacLean. Part of this manuscript has been deciphered and translated, and is in course of publication, and the editors will describe it. It probably is a collection written from dictation, and gives, according to the writer’s ability, a faithful representation of the current language and traditional poems of the district of Lorne in the sixteenth century. I have seen a few sheets of this publication, and these prove beyond question that the groundwork of the first book of Temora had been made the subject of a Gaelic poem which was written down more than three centuries ago, but the poem of 1807 is not there. This manuscript, then, disposes of a great deal of the Ossianic controversy, and clears the ground. A great many of the incidents in Temora, even minute details, are given in a poem attributed to Allan MacRoyre, in 1530, and some of the same incidents are in the Irish poem attributed to Pisin in the twelfth century; but Temora is attributed to Ossian who lived in the third; some twelve hundred year before Dean MacGregor wrote; and it seems highly improbable that a long and well-known traditional poem should have escaped the Dean’s notice, while a short one on the same subject was written down. Lorne is close to Morven, but there is no mention of Fingal or his kingdom. It is thus proved that Fionn and his heroes are not simply creatures of MacPherson’s brain, or worthies who belong exclusively to Irish romance; and it seems probable that some one has added a “gal” to Fionn, and given him a kingdom, in the same way that the Gaelic name Temair has been expanded to Temora and contracted to Tara since 1391.

It is proved that “Earse” was a written language three centuries ago, and has altered but little since, and that Johnson and his followers erred in many things. It is proved that old materials existed in Scotland from which some one might have concocted at least one book of Temora without stealing from Ireland. And the out-and-out supporters if the antiquity of the Gaelic of 1807 are bound to produce something like Temora as it now stands in some manuscript, equally old, though it has been ingeniously suggested that the great traditional poems were then so notorious and so well preserved that no one would take the trouble to write them down or multiply copies. The Gaelic, then, of the poems of Temora, as published, was probably put together by some Gaelic bard who lived between 1530 and 1763, when the Gaelic of the 7th book of Temora was printed, though Oisein lived and sung long before the twelfth century. It remains to be seen whether the probable date of the published poems of 1807 cannot be more accurately determined. 

Dean MacGregor’s Ms. was partly written in Argyleshire, and some of the Gaelic poetry contained in it is attributed to Duncan MacCallein an dygriddir (Duncan, son of Colin the good knight), who fell at Flodden, and some to two ancestresses of the family of Argyll. 

The following is a translation of six lines, which Mr. MacLauchlan was good enough to copy and spell for me from the Lismore MSS., and which are there attributed to ‘Ysboll ne Vc. Kellan’ (Isabel, daughter of Colin’s son):- 

Woe worth! whose ailment’s love, 
Why-so-èr, 
I utter it. 
‘Tis hard from a partner to part; 
Sad is the case 
In which I am. 
That love which is given unknown, 
Since It’s my wonted 
Garden for lays (light-ray in rhyming
Unless I plant passion betimes, 
My flower will be 
Blighted and thin. 
That man to whom love is given, 
And must not be told 
From on high (out aloud
For him was I put into pain. 
Heigh ho! for me (“gymi”) 
‘Tis a hundred woes. 
                          woes. 

The rhythm indicates the division, and so do the assonances. 

Mairg dha ‘n galar an GRÀDH 
G bith fath 
Fa’n abrain E 
Deacair sgarachdain r’ a PHÀIRT 
Truagh an cás 
‘s a bheileam FHEIN. 

Several lines contain words whose sound, now-a-days, would admit of a double or treble meaning, and some of these might be distorted by one who was led to expect something wrong, but there is no coarseness in this quaint little ditty; and if this be all her poetical sin, the poor lady’s character has been sadly maligned. 

This class is amorous, moral and satirical, not Ossianic poetry; but if the nobility of those days who spoke Gaelic, composed in Gaelic, and wrote poems similar in spirit to those which were current at court, there were Ossianic poems of a different stamp then current amongst the people. If it can be shewn that nobles continued to use the language at a later date, it becomes not only possible but probable that some species of Gaelic poetry, different from popular ballads, but founded on Celtic traditions, might have sprung up in Scotland before the times when Shakspeare and Milton flourished in England, or even later, and yet before MacPherson’s time. If it can be shewn what were the manners and customs of the district in which lords and ladies wrote Gaelic poetry about these times, the kind that would be apt to please may be surmised. From the genealogy of the Argylls, from which I have quoted in the text, I copy the following passage relative to Lady MacLean, sister of Dean MacGregor’s poetess: – “She, according to common report, was exposed by her husband, the laird of MacLean, upon a bare rock in the sea, called Lersker, near the Island of Lismore, in view of the castle of Duart, that she might perish by the return of the tide, but people from on board a boat providentially passing that way, upon hearing the cries and shouts of the lady in distress, took her on board, and restored her to her friends, although, at the same time, these very men who were employed to expose the lady to the mercy of the sea returned to Duart Castle, where John Gorm, the first of the family of Lochnell, a boy of three or four years of age, was with his aunt, the Lady MacLean, whom they had left upon the naked rock. And as soon as they had entered the castle of Duart they kindled a great fire on the middle of the hall floor, and formed themselves into a circle around the fire, and caused strip the boy John Gorm naked, and placed him between them and the fire, when the boy, by reason of the heat, was forced to run around the fire, while each of them, as he passed within the circle, rubbed his naked skin with an hot roasted apple, which occasioned blue spots on the boy’s skin ever after, for which he was called John Gorm, or blue John. His nurse, though she ran into the hall in a furious manner, could not enter into the circle to preserve the child’s life, until by means of one McGilvra of Glencannell, who had more humanity than the rest, and who, as they stood in a circle with their feet close, opened his legs a little (for he durst do no more for fear of suspicion), she rushed through the man’s legs, and, entering the circle, snatched up the boy, and carried him off straight to the shore, which is hard by the walls of the castle, where, finding a boat at hand, they made their escape, and Providence so ordered matters that John Gorm and his nurse were out of danger before their enemy had full room to reflect upon their flight, for which cause the laird of MacLean was killed at Edinburgh by John Campbell, the first of the family of Calder, brother to Lady MacLean, and uncle to John Gorm, the first of the family of Lochnell, who, as soon as he saw the laird of MacLean, he thrust the sword, sheath and all, through his body. These things gave rise to a song composed in these days (take up MacLean and prick him in a blanket).” 

The main incidents of this story were all told to me by an old woman in September 1861. She speaks hardly any English and is very old, and, like many of her class, speaks oracular predictions now and then. It is to be hoped that she knows the future as well as she remembers the past. 

“Earl Archibald was slain at Flodden.” So says the Argyll genealogy, whence this story is taken, of the days when Dean MacGregor wrote, and Henry VIII. reigned, and Lady Casselis composed amorous Gaelic poetry, if she be the lady meant by the family history. There was a lady called “Magrate nan oran” (or something which looks like it), “for her inclination to rhyming,” who was a younger daughter of “the last Lord Lorn of the name of Stewart,” and married Colin Earl of Argyll, Glenurchy’s pupil, about 1460. But whoever the composer of these songs may have been, the fact remains, that before the times of Shakspeare, lords and ladies composed Gaelic poetry, and Dean MacGregor wrote some down as theirs; and they were people of a class likely to be affected by the court literature of their day and country, some of which was rude enough. 

Now “Ossian’s poems” are distinguished by a peculiar vein of sentimental grandeur and melancholy, and the popular manners and customs of the east and west in these days do not accord with such spirit. Short, stirring, wild martial songs, like the current Ossianic poems, or political, or controversial, or amorous ballads, might suit the taste of the grim soldiers who roasted a boy, but a long epic would surely set them fast asleep; so unless the gentry or clergy wrote “Ossian,” we must abandon the sixteenth century, and, as the builder of Taymouth said, “birz yont.” But it must not be forgotten that, amidst all the ribaldry of ballads of that time, there is much beauty of feeling and sentiment in the lowland Scotch poetry of the clergy; and Shakspeare wrote as he did, although the amusement of roasting men had been pushed to the extreme about his time in England. 

C.E. 1535 Sir David Lindsay composed satires against the clergy, some of which were acted before James the Fifth and his Queen, and are exceedingly coarse. In one of these compositions, a pardoner is introduced with reliques for sale, amongst which are the following:- 

“Heir is ane relict lang and braid, 
Of Fyn MacCoull the richt chaft blaid, 
With teith and al togidder; 
Of Collins cow heir is ane horne 
For eating of Mak connals corne, 
Was slane into Balquihidder.” 
In one of his interludes he says – 
“But dowt my deid yone man hes sworne, 
I trow yone be grit Gow Makmorne.” 
In another composition the poet says –  
“Stewart of Lorne will carpe richt curiouslie.” 

And hence it appears that he knew something of west country tradtions, and mayhap alluded to the Stewarts, of whose works some are preserved. Fyn MacCoull and Gol MacMorne were clearly known to the poet and his audience, if “Fingal” was not mentioned by this author. Colin and MakConnal and their cow might be a reference to some well known story about a feud; but a horn that was a “relic” must have been that of a famous cow, and there are plenty of such animals in the old stories mentioned by Professor O’Curry, in one of which (“The tain” above mentioned) MacCumhal plays a part. But, however he got there, Fyn went to court about 1535, and was presented by Sir David Lindsay in a dress of motley for the second time. (Hist. of Scotch Poetry, p.376 & 425).

C.E. 1530 A manuscript attributed to John Beaton, one of the family which furnished the Macdonalds of the Isles, and even kings of Scotland, with physicians for several centuries, is preserved with other MSS. at Edinburgh. These are supposed to have belonged to the Beatons, and contain medical, metaphysical, and mathematical discussions, all in Gaelic. If the dialect and character be Irish, it proves that early Irish and Scotch learning were identical, for this was part of the library of a Scotch family who flourished about this time. This also gives a clue to the knowledge of Gaelic matters, which Scotch courtiers who could not now speak Gaelic, evidently possessed.

C.E. 1549 A provincial council of Scotch clergy were so scandalized by the flood of ballads poured out against them, that they enjoined every ordinary to search for them, and take steps for the punishment of the offenders who sang them. (Hist. of Scotch Poetry, p391).

C.E. 1550 The first book was printed in Ireland – the liturgy by Humphrey Powel.

C.E. 1565 In Lemoine’s history of printing, it is stated that an Irish liturgy was printed in Dublin for the use of the Highlanders of Scotland. ‘Reid’ supposes this to be an error. I have not heard of a copy, and the book meant probably is  

C.E. 1567 Carswell’s Gaelic prayer-book, printed at Edinburgh in Roman type. Of this, there is a copy at Inverary, which I have seen. It is the first printed Gaelic book extant; and in the preface it alludes to the habits of the Highlanders of Scotland, who then composed stories about the ‘Fianaibh,’ etc. It proves that the reformed clergy set their faces against the old heroic traditions which Dean MacGregor had striven to preserve thirty-seven years before, and which some of the reformed clergy now condemn.

C.E. 1568 George Bannatyne collected Scotch poetry, and his manuscript is the chief source whence a knowledge of old Scotch poetry has been gleaned. MacGregor’s far earlier Gaelic collection has been well known for a century, but such has been the neglect of everything genuine and Gaelic, that till now its contents have hardly been thought worth attention.

From Bannatyne, Ramsay drew his materials for the Evergreen, published 1724; and he “altered, added to,” and “retrenched” his originals “with extreme licentiousness.” (Hist. of Scotch Poetry, 416.) 

It seems hard then to blame MacPherson as if he were the only man of his time who mangled old poetry to make new, and never to look at old authorities to see what was the truth. The fault has been as much on the Gaelic side as the other; but that fault is about to be amended. 

C.E. 1571 First book printed in the Irish character with a press and types got from Queen Elizabeth. It is a catechism; and, so far, it appears that Gaelic Scotland was a-head of Ireland in the literary race, for the first known Gaelic book was printed in Edinburgh.

C.E. 1579 to 1582 Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenurchy delighted in, and is supposed to have twice transcribed a ponderous romance, which is at Taymouth – “the Buike of King Alexander the Conqueroure,” a translation of the great French “Roman d’Alexandre,” executed by Sir Gilbert Hay, c. 1460, and extending to about 20,000 lines. This old knight died 1631, aged 86; he is styled Black Duncan of the cap, and his history is given in the black book of Taymouth, and in Sketches of Early Scotch History by Cosmo Innes. Here then we have foreign romances creeping in amongst the aristocracy of the West Highlands, in the very family whose ancestors had composed Gaelic poetry.

C.E. 1594 Mr Donald Monro, high dean of the Isles, wrote a statistical account of the Western Isles, which was printed in 1818. The first island mentioned is “Manain,” or Man in “Erishe,” which was “ordynit by Fynan, King of Scottis, to the priests and philosophers, called in Latin Druides, in English Culdees, and Kildeis; that is, worshippers of God; in Erish, Leid Draiche; quhilks were the first teachers of religion in Albion.” 

So here is another Fyn mixed up with Druids and Culdees, Paganism and Christianity, and located in that stronghold of the Fairies, Man. 

No. 161 is the “Pigmies’ Ile,” in which the Dean had found “in a small kirk” the small round heads of small men. So here were the fairies themselves. The houses of a small race still exist in the Islands. 

Martin also mentions these small bones (page 19) as these of “Lusbirdean,” and I have many Lewes stories about pigmies. 

Dean Monro gives very little about the manners and customs of the people of the islands, but he tells that they used to catch seals with certain “great doggis” in Loch Gruinart in Islay, which must have been a curious scene.

C.E. 1598 About this time the Black Book of Taymouth was written in Latin and Scotch. 

C.E. 1603 New Testament printed in Irish, and dedicated to James the First. 

In this year a manuscript was finished by Ewan MacPhail, at Dunstaffnage, in Lorne; it contains a prose tale “concerning a King of Lochlin, and the Heroes of Fingal;” and a poem which seems, from the lines quoted, to be part of No. LXXIX., which is still traditionally preserved, and was written down by Dean MacGregor in 1530. I have seen this Dunstaffnage MS. and can hardly read a word of the old writing.

C.E. 1631 Sir Duncan of Glenurchay died; and in that year Calvin’s catechism was printed in Roman type in Gaelic at Edinburgh, so the reformed clergy were making efforts to reform the Highlanders, and they had already condemned the ‘lying stories about Fin ma Cowl,’ which they probably supposed to be like the lowland ballads of the time; so profane literature of the old school was held at a discount all over Scotland; everything was changing, and the good was confounded with the bad.

C.E. 1633 About this time, a correspondence took place which has been published by Mr. Cosmo Innes in his Sketches of Early Scotch History (pp.341-394), 1861, The correspondents are – Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurchy, Juliane Campbell, his wife, daughter of Hew Lord Loudon, the Marquis, and Earl of Argyle, who were both subsequently beheaded, and Margaret Douglas, Argyle’s wife. It is a curious measure of the feeling of the writer of the Argyle genealogy, that he has omitted all mention of this death on the scaffold, with which, as Mr. Innes remarks, these “were subsequently honoured.” 

The spelling of the letters is obsolete; they give a curious picture of the times, and they are well worth perusal, but the reason of the correspondence is what concerns me. Argyle and his wife Margaret Douglas are anxious that their son Lorne should have a thorough knowledge of what they called “Erise,” which Irish and Scotch Gael call Gaelic; and they send the young chief of the Clan Campbell to his relative to Balloch, now Taymouth, where his foster father, writing of his tutor, considers it – “requisit he be ane disceite man that is ane scollar, and that can speik both Inglis and Erise, quharof I think thair may be had in Argyll,”

Accordingly, Lorne and Maister Jhone Makleine set off with “Duncan Archibald, and tuey horse with him, on to Mr Johen, and on for my cariage;” soon after the “thretie day of September” when “Archibald Campbell of Lorne” wrote to his “louing foster-father” from “Inderaray,” and Mr. Johen having misbehaved himself, some one else was procured to superintend his studies. His mother, Margaret Douglas, writes 14th December 1637 – “I heair my sone begines to wearye of the Irishe langwadge. I entreat yow to cause holde hime to the speakeing of itt, for since he has bestowed so long tyme and paines in the getting of itt, I sould be sory he lost it now with leasines in not speaking of it.” 

On the 14th Junii 1639, Margaret Douglas wrote to “Glenurchy” to Balloch for her son, and he came by the house in Glenurchy to Inverary with a sufficient company, if his mother’s letter was attended to. It does not appear from his accounts that he wore the Highland dress; his tutor did. 

“Item, given to Mr Johnne McLen, pedagogue to my Lord Lorne’s sone, in September 1633, ane hewit plaid, pryce xii. lib.” Item, the 18th of Junii, to be coat and brekis to him (my Lorde’s sone), x. quarteris of fyne skarlet, xviii. lib. the ell, xlv. lib. Item, ane pair of silk stockings, “and there are ‘French bever hats, orange ribband points, and a Spanish pistolet’ for the young lord.” 

Now, from all this gossip about historical personages of Western Argyle, it would seem that Gaelic was still the language of the Highlands, the language which one who was to command its people ought to know, but that some of the nobility now had to learn it, and wore “brekis.” 

This then would seem to be a time for collecting all that could be got together, and modelling it into some connected shape, a period when Gaelic was a studied language, and when noblemen who spoke it delighted in the romance of Alexander, and all this took place in the immediate vicinity of “the woody Morven” where “Fingal” was supposed to reign, and in the district where discreet persons could be found acquainted with Gaelic and English. 

There is no trace of the Ossian of 1807 to be found amongst any known writings of this time; but if the Bannatyne MSS. and some others had been destroyed, most early Scotch poetry would have been lost. Tradition has not preserved the “Palice of Honour,” or “The Daunce,” though it has retained far older ballads. 

C.E. 1645 A deed of fosterage was written in Gaelic between Sir Norman MacLeod and John Mackenzie, which proves that Gaelic was then used in legal documents in the west. 

C.E. 1655 A miscellaneous collection of poems on various subjects, “partly Scots, and partly Irish, was written by Eamonn MacLachlan.” These are said to be very good.

C.E. 1659 First fifty Psalms printed in Gaelic. 

C.E. 1681 Colville, in the Whigg’s Supplication, published in London (Part II, page 24), gives a version of a story which has some resemblance to the legend in No. LI., though it is not like Ossian’s poetry:- 

One man, quoth he, oft-times hath stood, 
And put to flight a multitude; 
Like Sampson, Wallace, and Sir Bewis, 
And Finmacowl, beside the Lewis, 
Who in a bucking time of year, 
Did rout, and chase a herd of deer, 
Till he behind, and they before, 
Did run a hundred miles and more, 
Which, questionless, prejudg’d his toes, 
For Red-shanks then did wear no shoes, 
For to this day they wear but calf ones, 
Or if older, leather half-ones. 
He chased them so furiouslie, 
That they were forced to take to the sea, 
And swam from Cowal into Arran, 
In which soil, though it be but barren, 
As learned antiquaries say, 
Their offspring lives unto this day. 

I may add, that at this day men still point out Dun Finn in Arran, and explain “Ar-ainn” to mean Ar-fhinn, Fin’s land; and that Cowal, which sounds like MacCowl, is still brimful of Fenian traditions. On West Loch Tarbet are places called “Leaba Dhiarmaid,” the bed of Diarmaid; “Dùn ‘a choin duibh,” the fort of the Black Dog, which is a curious old fort in a wood, and is said to be the place where Bran killed the black dog, as is told in the well-known ballad. Near that is “Tor an tuirc,” the boar’s heap, where, according to tradition the boar was killed by Diarmaid; and all these places are below “Sliabh-ghaoil,” to which “Diarmaid,” or, according to others, “an old hunter,” addressed these lines when he was dying. They are known to many about Tarbet:- 

Sliabh mo chridhe ‘s an sliabh ghaoil, 
Innis nan crodh laoigh ‘s nan each. 
Esan cha tearn a nuas, 
Mise cha d’ theid suas am feisd. 
 
Mount of my heart and the mount of love, 
Isle of the calving cows and the horses. 
It will never descend, 
I will not mount up for ever. 

Another place in the district is called “Leum na muice,” the swine’s leap; and other similar names abound, which, together with Colville’s verses, shew that Fingalian legends have been localized in the west for a long time.2

C.E. 1684 Kirk’s edition of the Psalms has four lines of poetry which are quoted, page 21 of the report of the Highland Society on Ossian, and which may be thus closely translated:- 

“Go leaflet boldy forth 
 With God’s pure songs arouse them yonder; 
 Hail the generous land of Fionn, 
 The rough bounds and isles of the stranger.” 

Inseabh-Gall, the Hebrides were so called from their Norse masters. This then proves that Scotland was considered to be the land of Fionn eighty years before MacPherson published anything.

C.E. 1690 First Irish version of the Bible, printed for the use of the Highlanders of Scotland; 3000 copies, Roman type.

C.E. 1691 A manuscript written by a MacLean, at Ard Chonail, on Lochowe, in Argyleshire, contains tales and poems, one on the imprisonment of Archibald Earl of Argyll, at Edinburgh, about 1680.

This MS. is described in the Highland Society’s report. So Gaelic continued to be written during the seventeenth century by Scotchmen in Scotland, they used it in legal documents, wrote tales about the ancient heroes, and poetry of various kinds; but the poems of 1807 are not yet found. 

This was written (apparently) in the Scotch dialect, so it would appear that there was a popular and a cultivated dialect, both of which were supposed to pass current in Scotland. 

C.E. 1703 Martin, a Lewes doctor, wrote an account of the Western Isles, which gives a great deal of information about the ways of the people. At page 217 he speaks of the traditions of Fin MacCoul’s, a great giant, whom he mentions as a well-known personage who had exercised his valour on the inhabitants of Ar-Fyn or Fin’s stronghold, which is the derivation given for Arran.

The standing stones are mentioned as confirmation of this story. 

It so happens that the ground about many of these stones was lately searched, and it seems that they really do mark burial places of the stone period. Human bones, charcoal, and flint implements, were found about the centres of circles, in whose circumference four large stones or more are placed. 

In one case the bones were much broken, and placed in a small grave about two feet long, scooped out of the rock. The bones were of the ordinary size, and did not appear to have been burned; so, unless the body was cut to pieces, it is not easy to make out how it was buried close to this grave, in a place called Dun Finn, Fin’s fort. This seems to place Fionn in the “stone period,” when iron was rare, and elk survived in Britain, according to the antiquaries. Popular tales and songs appear to do the same. 

C.E. 1720 Clanranald’s bard wrote in the “Irish” hand in the islands. 

C.E. 1740 First Gaelic vocabulary printed. Macdonald’s.

First work published in the then Scottish dialect of Gaelic – Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, translated by an Argyleshire minister. (Celtic Gleanings, p.138.) So far, then, the printing press had been employed solely in the cause of religion, and anything in the nature of profane Gaelic literature had been condemned in the first book printed in Scotland. 

C.E. 1740 Or thereabouts, a Mr. Farquharson made a Gaelic collection about Strathglas, which he subsequently compared with MacPherson’s English, which he pronounced to be a bad translation of good poems which he had.

C.E. 1751 Alexander MacDonald’s volume of songs, reprinted 1764 and 1802. These were much read and eagerly sought at the time, which proves that the old taste for native poetry was not extinct amongst the people.

C.E. 1756 Jerome Stone’s translation of Fraoch, of which the original Gaelic was recovered from his papers after his death, and is given in the report of the Highland Society (Appendix, p. 99). It still survives in fragments, in 1860, in Scotland, amongst the most unlearned classes. Stone was an Englishman, and his translation is a paraphrase, but faithful. 

It was first published in the Scots Magazine, and is an indication of the taste of the period. Attention had been called to Gaelic poetry and the Gael by the battles of 1715 and 1745. The first who translated made a paraphrase, and thought more of himself than of his original; and almost every attempt since made to translate Gaelic into English, or English into Gaelic, has been of this kind. 

Mr. Pope’s collection was made.

C.E. 1763 He was minister of Reay, and his manuscript contains a poem which can be traced in Temora; “Erragon,” called Dibird fli Lathmon; Cath. Gaur, with the death of Oscar; Duan Dearmot, an elegy on the death of that warrior, which was sung by an old Campbell, who, when he did so, always took off his bonnet in respect for his ancestor. These, and many other pieces, were sung in 1763 by people who had then never heard of MacPherson; but I have pieces, under the same names, which were still sung in 1860. It is not said that any of these correspond exactly with MacPherson’s published translations, but Mr. Pope compared them with his originals, and recognised those above mentioned in MacPherson’s English. Were I now to read the first book of Temora for the first time in English, I should in like manner recognise my traditional version of the “death of Osgur,” though it is not the Gaelic of 1807, nor Gaelic from which the English of 1760 could have been translated.

It seems, then, that during the eighteenth century, and before MacPherson’s time, attention had been drawn to the manners and customs, poetry and amusements of the Highlanders, who, in 1715 and 1745, had startled England and the Lowlands out of their propriety; and the first bit of direct evidence which tells strictly for the authenticity of MacPherson’s translation dates from about a period when some collector might be expected to cater for the public taste, as Stone did. I think it highly probable that some one before MacPherson may have done that which Dr. Smith tells us he did after him, namely, gather all he could get, and tinker it according to his own notions of what an old Gaelic poet ought to have written in the third century, but, with the exception of the Farquharson manuscript, I have found no mention of any thing to support MacPherson’s publications, so far, either in manuscript or print, though MacPherson’s heroes pervade a whole series of early documents and Gaelic literature of all ages, Scotch and Irish, and his poems include bits which are clearly old. 

 

1  Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1856, p.35; 1831, p.317, Papers by Donald Gregory, Esq., and the Rev. Thomas MacLauchlan. Report of the Highland Society on the poems of Ossian, etc., passim, 1805. 
2  Hist. Of Scotch Poetry, p.276.

7 thoughts on “Traditions, Writings, &c., pp.53-75.

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