"The Gaelic poems which were published in 1807, from a manuscript in the handwriting of James MacPherson, differ very widely indeed from those which are handed down by tradition; very widely indeed from all known traditions about the Fenian heroes current in the Highlands. The kingdom of Morven is unknown either in traditional poems or stories. These do not represent the Fenian heroes drinking on all occasions out of shells, they frequently drink out of vessels of gold or silver, as the case may be. The traditional
[paragraph continues] Fionn is not that grave, stately, Solemn, ostentatious, old monarch which he is in the Ossian published by MacPherson; but a being of more human sympathies, possessed of strong feelings and passions-a hero that might have been a brave, generous, chieftain, who was not entirely free from the frailties that flesh is heir to. Popular poetry or tradition never describes him as a venerable old monarch, with hoary locks, nor does it allude to his being aged, or weakened by old age. The death of all the other Fenian heroes is recorded, but there is not the least hint given of Fionn's death.
He is said to have been occasionally seen in Eilean na h-oige, the island of youth, also called An t-Eilean uaine, the green isle--an island which Hebrideans believe to be located somewhere west, and which many of them believe to have seen. The people of Islay believe it to be situated west of Islay of course; the people of Barra, west of Barra; the people of Uist, west of Uist; and the people of Harris, west of Harris; many are they who have had the good fortune to see this blessed island. I conversed in youth myself with old people. who did see it off from Portnahaven, in Islay, on a fine evening; but I have never yet had the good fortune to see it myself, though I have often seen the evening clouds piled up like hills on the horizon.
It is told that a Jura man, who owned a small vessel, once met a man on the pier at Greenock, who engaged the ship at a certain freight, to carry him and a cargo to the westward of Islay. The bargain was struck, and the cargo put on board, and they sailed round the Mull of Cantire, and through the Sound of Islay, where a thick fog came on. They got through the Sound and bore away to the westward, and, after a few days, they
found themselves one morning close to land. They cast anchor and went to sleep, and when they awoke the man and his cargo were gone. The Jura skipper did not like to lose his freight, landed, and walked up to a large house, where he found "sean duine mor cròsgach"--a large, big-boned old man-seated in an arm-chair, who offered him a drink. The drinking vessels were so large that the skipper could not lift them, so the big man called his daughter to give him a draught, and a girl came in and raised the vessel ("soitheach"), and he took a long drink of beer. He told his story, and the big man asked him if he could recognise the man who had engaged the ship. He said he could, and a number of people were sent for, and passed in review before him. At last the delinquent appeared, and was recognised, and made to pay the freight, upon which he thrust his finger into the skipper's eye, and put it out, saying, "If I had done that to thee before, thou wouldst not have known me." 1
The inhabitants then made the Jura men brush every particle of the dust of the island from their feet, and sent them away with their money; and when they sailed, the island seemed to disappear in a mist. This Jura man, it is said, was well known afterwards, and was blind of an eye, and the big man is supposed to be "FIONN."
In Berneray, near Harris, a similar story is told of men still alive, but it wants much of the marvellous element. The men, as it is said, took a cargo from
[paragraph continues] Stornoway to an island, supposed to be Eilean uaine, the green isle. They sailed westwards, and left the cargo, part of which was salt, got their money, and returned, after being required by the inhabitants to shake off every particle of the dust of the island which stuck to them.
There are many other stories current relative to these islands, "Eilean na h-oige," and "An t-Eilean uaine," the island of youth, and the green island, wherein Fionn is supposed still to dwell with his warriors. 1
Blessed were they who could get to this Celtic paradise; for were they to land they would become as young as they were at twenty; fresh and blooming, and without gray hairs, or wrinkles, or ailments. A more comfortable and cheery habitation certainly this would be than the MacPherson "Ossian's" cloud palaces and mist promenades; his railways of moonshine rivalling Mahomet's narrow bridge across the gulf to
paradise, which, though not broader than a needle, the faithful trip over safely. Although the ancient Hebrideans, subsequent to Norwegian sway, were very good sailors, and sometimes very good pirates also, as ransacked towns and villages on the mainland could well testify, they do not seem to have been over fond of aerial voyages; but preferred to stick to salt-water sailing, and chose rather to hope for a retreat in some pretty green mythical western island than for lofty habitations in the cold frosty regions of the upper air.
The traditional Fenian poems consist of pieces of various length, interspersed through prose narration; both poems and narration constituting what is usually Called "Eachdraidh na Feinne," the history of the Feinne. The prose narrative is varied, and consists, at one time, of common conversational language, at another of measured prose, a species of composition midway between prose and verse. Explanations and genealogies are given in ordinary conversational language, as well as other minor details; exciting circumstances are delineated in a more rhetorical style, while the most momentous events, such as are mainly connected with a great and important action, are given in verse. The verse itself varies widely, and as the subject is more elevated, it becomes more musical and metrical. The terms "duan," "dan," and "laoidh," are employed to distinguish the various kinds from each other. The laoidh (lay) is the most musical, and is generally sung to a simple, plaintive air. In the greatest number of cases it describes a tragic event, the death of a hero, or some other serious calamity. These poems are connected with each other by prose narrative, and stories, so as to make something like one united whole of the Fenian traditions. All these poems are of a narrative character, dwelling almost entirely either on
human or superhuman action, and never referring either to animal or inanimate nature further than it is connected with human passion, sympathy, or interest. There are no long addresses to inanimate objects of nature; neither are there any refined speculations on human life and existence; there are no sentimental speeches on fame or glory. The men of the ballads fight not for glory, but in defence of some disputed right, or to avenge an insult, or to resist oppression, or to protect a woman in distress.
In these lays, similes and metaphors are very sparingly used; but this appears to result more from the intensity of interest belonging to the subject, than the want of power on the part of the poet; as similes and metaphors are very plentiful in these long epic tales which treat of like subjects. This will appear readily on looking over "The Knight of the Red Shield," No. LII., and "The Slim Swarthy Champion," No. XVII. C, in the West Highland Tales. The language of the old ballads is exceeding choice Gaelic, pure, idiomatic, chaste. There is no trace of Anglicism, or of classic idiom; it is the Gaelic of the people, but still purer and more elevated than that of common conversation, and with obsolete words interspersed. Clearness and conciseness distinguish these from the great mass of published Gaelic poems and songs; which bear evident marks of belonging to more modern periods, both in language and matter, and whose authors are known; very few of the more modern poems being at all comparable to the ballads in these qualities. These later compositions are frequently tautological, and profuse in epithets, abounding sometimes in long tedious lists of adjectives or adverbs, which make them look more like a vocabulary than a regular poem This is the case with regard to the war song of
the battle of Harlaw, composed about 1411; much of Coire an easain, composed by the Piobaire dall, or blind piper; some of MacDonald's Song to Summer; a large portion of his Moladh Moraig; much of Coire Cheathaich by MacIntyre, and a large portion of his Beinn Dorain. In these poems there are scarcely any words to be found borrowed from English, and in this respect they form a strong contrast to all that has been published of the works of Scoto-Gaelic poets who flourished from the fifteenth century down to the present day. We find the word puthar, power, in the songs of MacMhuirich, Clanranald's bard, who lived in the seventeenth century. In the songs of Mari, nighean Alastair Ruaidh (Mary, daughter of Alexander Roy) MacLeod of MacLeod's bard, we find the English corruptions, purpas, purpose; subsaint, substance; and yet her songs are, and justly, allowed to be written in very pure Gaelic. The peacock figures as a simile also in one of her songs. In the poems of John MacDonald, usually styled Iain lom (bare-faced John, from his beardless face and impudence), who lived in the time of Montrose in the seventeenth century, we meet with the words Lieutenant, Lady Murray, Whitehall, adbhansa, advance; geard, guard. In the songs of MacMhaighstir Alastair, who took an active part on the side of Prince Charles in 1745, we find the words standard--moision, motion; canain, cannon. In MacIntyre, who lived at the same time with MacDonald, we meet with the words coitseachan, coaches; deasput, dispute; phairti, party. Such words are not to be found in the traditional poems ascribed to Ossian, or in those other pieces which belong to the same class. But yet in every-day conversation nowadays, we find such words as chorner, corner; ghig, gig; dhisturbadh, disturbing; phortmnanteau, trunk,
steamboat, railroad, story, confoundadh, drainadh, chaidsigeadh, catching, and hundreds of other distorted English words which hardly ever find their way into the old ballads, though constantly used by the people who repeat them. Here then is a strong contrast between these ancient poems, and the works of those who have been considered the best bards of the Highlands for the last three centuries. 1
In comparing these ballads with the compositions of the more modern bards, the dignified simplicity of the language of the former becomes quickly apparent. Although their language, so far as regards inflection and structure, is modern, yet there are words and phrases which appear to be more ancient, and which are now obsolete, and these, as well as the absence of English corruptions, distinguish them from all other Scoto-Gaelic poetry; and with regard to peculiar phrases, and curious antiquated words and expressions, they strongly resemble the popular Gaelic tales.
The offensive weapons described are spears, "cranntabhaill" swords, and darts; there is hardly an allusion to bows and arrows; few to agriculture, to bread, corn, or to any kind of food, connected with an agricultural life. The food described is the produce of the chase. Deer and boars, and some species of deer which does not now exist, and which is supposed to be the elk, "Lon," are the animals generally hunted; and dogs are the only domestic animals frequently mentioned. 2
These are mentioned with as much affection as Byron's dog--that animal, so faithful and so true to man, which has never been convicted either of treachery, insincerity, or ingratitude. Byron, Campbell, and the traditional Ossian agree in this. The events related are at times probable, at others improbable or impossible;
The ELK (Norse, ELG; Lapp, SARV), copied from ''The Natural History of Norway,'' by Pontoppidan, Bishop of Bergen. Gaelic, according to Armstrong, LON.
EILID, according to translators of the Bible, ''Ossian,'' and modern poets, means a hind or roe.
at times superhuman, at others human, which evidently tends to shew that these poems unite many periods, and that probably they have embodied the substance of more ancient poems. At times huge giants and weapons are mentioned, such as--
Bha seachd troidhean arm air liad,
S ochd troidhe diag air fad ann.
Seven feet was he in breadth,
And in length he was eighteen feet.
A remarkable feature in these poems is the magnanimity and gallantry which distinguish their heroes, though mixed with much barbarism and fierceness. There is fair play given to the enemy; and when he is not fighting with them, he is invited to their feast; if he falls in battle he is honourably buried, and receives credit for his bravery; his memory is cherished, esteemed, and loved, for his valorous deeds. Women are always protected and treated with courtesy; nor is there the least hint given that they were either kept in bondage, or doomed to slavery; on the contrary, their wishes seem to have been considered as something to be gratified, but never to be contradicted; and yet some of the women who repeat such poems work hard as field labourers, and the men are of the poorest classes.
In their ballads the incidents are few, but elevated, and the narration flows along in an easy, simple, but dignified strain. No tedious verbosity mars or interrupts the vigorous character of the poetic stream. Rapidity seems to have been the chief aim of the ancient bards, and the action rolls along like the impetuous torrents of their own mountain country. There is no vagueness, no mistiness, no obscurity; the action is as vividly clear to the mind's eye as the landscape is to the eye itself on a bright summer day. The introduction is always abrupt and simple, and this is the character of mostly all Scoto-Gaelic poetry; for in this manner all known Gaelic bards, learned and unlearned,
begin their songs and lays. They invoke neither spirits or muses, but begin at once. If these ballads do not abound in long sentimental speeches, still genuine touches of true feeling are to be found most exquisitely and tersely expressed. In a warlike age the passions are strong, and not often under proper restraint. Strong attachments and resentments belong to the men of such an age. They are by turns fiercely cruel and nobly generous, but both their cruelty and their generosity are manifested in acts rather than in words. That sentimentalism which is rich in words and poor in deeds was but little known in those days. There is a sentimentalism which is after all but a poor shadowy substitute for genuine feeling. It showers oceans of tears on distress, but will not move a hand to relieve it; it gives soft and commiserating words to the needful, but clings firmly to its gold and silver; it pities in sighs, but not in sovereigns. Sterne wrote the Sentimental Journey, and lamented in dolorous strain over a dead ass, but he allowed his poor old mother to pine away in prison, and advanced not a stiver to procure her liberty. Though these lays are void of this tinsel, they possess what is really more valuable--truthful delineation of human nature, of lofty bravery, and of true and real feeling. Popular poetry has no morbid sentiment, and the people are kind to each other.
Besides the ballads, which form part of what is usually called "Eachdraidh na Féinne," the, history of the Feinn, there are numerous traditional ballads and scraps of poetry similar to them in character, which treat of giants, enchantments, and supernatural deeds; some which treat of fairies, and fairy lovers; some of the loves of men and women. Short passages, stanzas,
and lines of poetry, ascribed to Ossian, are even still recited through a great many parts of the Highlands, and tales about the Feinn, interspersed with verse, are yet to be heard in many districts from old men. There are very few old Highlanders that cannot even now say something about Fionn and his heroes; how they fought and died. Proverbs, old sayings, and puzzles, are connected with their names. A proverb, which is heard at almost all convivial Highland meetings, is "Cha do dhi-chuimhnich Fionn fear a dheas laimh riamh," Fionn never forgot his right hand man. Rocks, hills, streams, and places are called after the Feinne. Surnames are derived from them; such as MacDhiarmaid, the son of Diarmaid; MacGhill Fhaolan, the son of the servant of Faolan (MacLellan); MacGhill Earragain, the son of the servant of Earragan (MacLergan); MacOisean, the son of Oisean; MacCuinn, the son of Conn (MacQueen); and generally the Feinne and their exploits pervade all Celtic Scotland and all Gaelic tradition.
If these poems be not ancient in substance, how is it that they differ so widely from the works of the best of the modern Scoto-Gaelic bards? How is it that they have not mixed up with other songs and poems? How is it that guns, powder, and modern dresses have not crept in? How is it that we have no lieutenants, captains, and colonels, dukes, marquises, and earls amongst the Feinn? How is it that we have none of the scriptural allusions and quotations which are scattered so plentifully through the works of Gaelic poets in general? How is it that we have nothing new in the ballads, while prose tales have altered with the age? We might expect that modern poets would have armed Fionn with a musket, or culverin; or even have made
him and his followers use cannon. I heard a story told of Fergus the First, king of Scotland, in Barra, in which that ancient monarch was armed with a gun; strange that the Barra people never thought of arming Fionn and Diarmaid with one a-piece, more especially as these warriors are much more popular in that island than Fergus the First.
Much of the groundwork of these ballads, as well as the substance of many Fenian tales and traditions, are embodied in the Gaelic Ossian published from MacPherson's manuscript, but there everything has undergone an entire change. We have no longer the simplicity of the traditional poems; smoothness of versification is almost entirely wanting, and the idiom of the language is every now and then violated. Inversions abound, such as we find in learned English poetry, and words are so wrenched out of their general meaning, as to be unintelligible to the generality of Highlanders; but while this is the case, there are but few ancient or obsolete words. In this respect this Gaelic contrasts with that of traditional ballads. The difficulty of understanding the epic poems does not lie in ancient forms of speech, or in old obsolete words, but in the strange liberty that is taken with words by using them in quite a new way, and in arranging them in a manner that is incomprehensible to those whose native language the Gaelic is, unless they happen to know English, or some classical tongue. In many lines the words only are Gaelic; the structure has nothing to do with that language. The sentences may be English, or Latin, or Greek, may, in fact, be specimens of a new universal language, but they are not Gaelic. Vagueness and obscurity abound everywhere, and like the darkness of night which makes hills and dales appear
like lofty mountains and deep ravines, these poems impress a person, before he has examined what he has been reading, with something akin to sublimity. Some lines prove to be nonsense when closely examined. Bad grammar and violated idiom abound everywhere. Adjectives of more than one syllable are placed before substantives, which is much the same as if we were to say in English, "There is a horse beautiful; O what a house elegant!"
Heroes always drink out of shells, lead a hunting life, and address one another more like modern sages than barbarians. A teacher of ethics could not be more sententious or moralizing than they are.
"Màile" for mail is a frequent term, but it is a mere English corruption; luireach is the Gaelic word. On reading a line, containing this word, to an acquaintance, he understood it to mean màl, the bag of the bagpipes. This word does not occur in the popular poems, and is hardly known to Highlanders in general, in the sense in which it is used here. Endless passages might be quoted to illustrate the preceding statements.
In Carthonn, page 55, occurs the line--
"Tri giubhais ag aomadh o'n torr."
This is exactly what might occur to a person translating the English expression "three firs," but no name of any species of wood is ever used in Gaelic to designate a tree; we must say--
"Tri craobha giubhais," three fir trees, and so with other trees. It is bad Gaelic to say--
"An cluaran glas air chrom. nan càrn."
The green thistle on the bend of the cairns; for "crom" is never used as a substantive, and means "bent."
"Mall ag aomadh mu uaigh an t-seòid."
(Slow inclining about the grave of the hero) is bad Gaelic. "Mall" in this line would require "gu" before it to make it an adverb, and good Gaelic.
"Tha mo chlaidheamh crith mhosgladh gu cheann."
My sword is shaking waking to its hilt. This line, as printed, is nonsense, but the idea of a sword quivering and awaking is good, and a small change would make the line Gaelic.
In "Gaol nan daoine," page 75, the following line occurs:--
"Gu Selma nan lan-bhroilleach òigh."
"Lan-bhroilleach" is here placed before the substantive, which is incorrect, and very bad Gaelic; the term is altogether very awkward, for were we to say, "nan òigh làn-bhroilleach," it might convey the meaning of a maiden full of breasts, instead of full-breasted; but there is a Gaelic expression commonly used to convey the idea intended.
"Dh' aom a shleagh ri carraig nan cos" is bad.
"Aom" implies motion into an inclined position, and this line means "his spear toppled towards the rock of crannies," not "his spear leant against a mossy rock," which the context shews was the intended meaning.
In p. 108 of Fingal occurs the line--
"Cuchullin nan gorm-bhallach sgiath."
Cuchullin of the shields blue spotted, which arrangement of words violates Gaelic idiom.
Duan 4th, p. 264 of Tighmora--
"Thainig i le suilibh caoin,
A measg chiabh a bha taomadh gu trom."
"She came with mild eyes among locks that were pouring out heavily." These lines make no sense either in English or in Gaelic, but they are intended to describe mild eyes amongst flowing locks.
Tighmora Duan 7, p. 507-
"Tha 'n speur an losgadh nan reul," means--
"The sky is in the burning of the stars," but is probably intended to mean that the sky is in a blaze with stars.
Carthonn, p. 63.
"Chunnaic oigh Dan uchd glana na tréin," means--
"The maiden of the clean chests saw the heroes."
"Thaom iadsa' chéile 's a' bhlàr," means, to a modern Highland ear, "They poured themselves out into each other in the battle."
These are a few examples of passages which seem to me obscure, improper, or nonsensical; they might be multiplied considerably.
The language of the printed Ossian of 1807 differs entirely from that of the traditional ballads now ascribed to Ossian; it differs entirely from that of other published Scoto-Gaelic poetry, except Dr. Smith's Sean Dana, Mordubh, and a few other pieces published by Gillies, Stewart, MacCallum, etc., and the language appears to be more tinged with foreign idioms even than Sean Dana, or any other Gaelic publication which I have read, Mordubh and some modern translations from English only excepted; it differs entirely from Gaelic as spoken at present in the Highlands; and it differs entirely from that of the Irish Ossianic poems
which have been published by the Irish Ossianic Society. All these have a common bond, a common idiom, a common structure, though they differ in minutiae, and the common general idiom is seldom violated by any of these.
Lastly, the Gaelic of 1807 differs from any specimens of ancient Gaelic which I have seen, but, there are some passages in it which strike me as good specimens of Gaelic and of poetry.
On examining other Gaelic poetry which has been published, it will be observed that it undergoes a gradual change in character from the more modern to the more ancient. The style and language alter as poems recede from the present day, and as it may be of some interest to the English reader to know something of this class of Gaelic poetry, it may not be out of place to give a short account of some few of the best known bards, and of a few of their works which bear upon Ossian.
We have Gaelic bards even in our. own day, and these describe the life and manners which they observe around them-the dress, arms, food, drink and habits of the day. Peasant bards are by no means extinct in the Highlands, and if their composition be not poetry of any great merit, they generally contain good sense and sprightly humour couched in pretty smooth verse. Almost every Highland district has even yet a bard who enjoys a fair amount of renown in his own neighbourhood, and among his own class. Hector Boyd, who narrated to me so many tales, is reputed a bard in Barra; in North Uist, Christian Macdonald, of whom I received several tales, is highly esteemed as a poetess. I was recommended to call on a man near Stornoway who is rather famous in Lewis, and whose
name reached me even in Barra, a hundred miles away I know some even in my own neighbourhood in Islay though I have been told somewhere that Islay never produced a bard. To this I replied, that probably that was because the calling was not now respected there; as a proverb current in the island would lead us to infer:--
"Bàrd, a's ceàrd, a's filidh."
A bard, a tinker, and a musician, which is the meaning of these words in Islay now.
In examining the works of modern Gaelic bards, we find that figures and phrases, nay entire verses, have been, considered common property. The same similes and phrases are used by all; and sometimes a new song is but an old one with new names and a few alterations. An old song seems to have been considered good material for a new one, exactly as the stones of an old house are taken to erect another, and Druidical circles are broken up to make farm-steadings.
It was quite a custom in the Highlands, and that not long ago, to meet for the purpose of composing, verses. These were often satirical, and any one who, happened not to be popular, was fixed upon for a subject. Each was to contribute his stanza, and whoever failed to do his part was fined. Whenever a verse happened to be composed that was pretty smooth and smart, it took well, as might be expected, and spread far and wide like ill-natured satire elsewhere. An exact counterpart of this custom prevailed among the ancient Icelanders, many of whom were descended from men: who emigrated from the islands where the custom still survives. The Burning of "Njal," whose name is now a common one in the Highlands, and is pronounced
nearly according to the English value of these letters, took place in 1011, and many of the tragical events recorded in the "Njal Saga" grew out of a ballad composed and sung at a meeting of neighbours in the house of Gunnar of Litherende. 1
Stanzas were at times added to old songs, and others were altered, but such alterations were not often successful, as old men and knowing critics objected. It was only when they possessed superior merit that they passed current; but as the Highlanders have a great veneration for their old ballads, any alterations made upon them gave offence, and were rejected with indignation. This spirit must have helped to preserve these.
Recent Gaelic songs describe the manners of our own times, the dresses, arms, and professions of the day, but allude to past ages, and often mention the Feinne as well-known heroes.
Among the latest bards, some of whose work have been published in the "Beauties of Gaelic Poetry," is DONALD MACDONALD, who was born in Strathmore, Ross-shire, in the year 1780, and who died of cholera in 1832. Two of his songs only are published, one to Napoleon Buonaparte, and another to his sweetheart. In the song to his sweetheart, figure the words parson and seisoin. It is full of amorous sentiment; he must die without his sweetheart; the silver of Europe and the gold of Egypt would not avail without her.
The song to Buonaparte begins in rather a lofty strain; the bard stands on the pavement of Edinburgh and sees the banners flaming in the sun; he hears the guns, and he stays listening to them; he hears the echo of the rocks replying to them with joy; he hears music
in every house; he sees bonfires on the hills. It is heard from the gasaidean (gazettes), read everywhere, that Buonaparte had to fly. Righ Deorsa, Cæsar and his legions, the most of the Highland clans, the ten plagues of Egypt, Fontenoi, Morair Hundaidh, Diuc Earraghael, Diuc Mhontrose, Hanobher, chomannda (command), retreat, are names and words that embellish this modern Gaelic lay.
ALEXANDER MACKINNON is another bard that was nearly contemporary with the preceding. He was born in Morar, Arisaig, in the year 1770, served in the 92d regiment, and fought in the battle of Alexandria, where he received three severe wounds, which disabled him for any future service. He died at Fort-William in 1814, at the age of 44. His songs are composed on the army, and on the battles fought between the French and British. He is extremely fluent in language, and his verse is very smooth. He seems to have been desirous of writing pure Gaelic, and avoiding English words; for Sydney Smith is called Mac a Ghobha, Smith's son; but for all that we have comisari. He compares Abercrombie to Fionn--not Fingal:
"Mar Fhionn a' mosgladh sluaigh,"
Like Fionn arousing hosts.
The names Alexandria, Aboukir, Abercrombie, occur. Sasunn, England, is mentioned as a place,
"Far am faigh sin leann am pailteas."
Where we shall get ale in plenty.
The poet describes the shock of battle with graphic vividness, and speaks like an eye-witness.
The style of EWAN MACLACHLIN, though he was classically educated, and composed in four languages,
does not differ much from that of the other Gaelic bards; whom he seems to imitate closely. Though he helped to prepare the Gaelic Ossian for the press, and transcribed many old manuscripts into the Roman hand, he has taken very good care, not to imitate the Gaelic of the Ossian of 1807, in the least, in his songs. These are composed in pure and beautiful Gaelic; though, like the most of the Gaelic bards, he indulges in excess of epithets, many of his lines consisting of strings of adjectives or adverbs. Phbus, Bhenus and Eolus lent their aid to the well-instructed classical Gaelic bards, as they do to the classical bards of other countries. Though the poet apparently has endeavoured to keep English out as much as possible, still he has failed, for a few English words have entered, such as pacar, will be packed; sign, for one of the signs of the Zodiac.
JOHN SHAW, Loch Nell's bard, was born 1758, and died 1828. Among his songs is one to Fionnla Marsanta, Finlay the merchant, who seems to have had some antiquarian taste and who dug up some old Druidical burying places, Carn nan Druidhneach, the Druid's Cairn. Of this act the poet expresses his disapprobation, and denounces Finlay for his conduct in very bitter words. There is a song to Buonaparte, whom the bard defies in strong language, enumerating the brave soldiers that were to meet him on British ground, and telling the hero of Marengo how he was to be treated; by--
"Na shracas t-eanchainn agus t-fheoil,"
Those who will rend thy brain and thy flesh.
A very pretty love song is also amongst his compositions.
We have in the song of Finlay a description of blasting
rocks with gunpowder, which seems to have a double meaning.
"Bhi cuir fudair anns na creagan,
Chuireadh e eagal air bòcain
Bhi gan tolladh leis an tora,
S bhi gan sparradh leis na h-òrdan."
"Putting powder into rocks,
It would terrify the bogles
To bore them with the jumper,
To be driving them with hammers."
Tobacco comes in also--
"Tha Dughall trom air an tombaca."
Dugald is heavy on the tobacco.
The narrators of stories and reciters of verses in the Highlands are generally fond of the weed; one storyteller makes a raven chew tobacco; but no reciter of Fenian poetry ever makes Fionn, Diarmaid, or Goll use the weed in any shape. The following English corruptions occur in the songs of this bard--bhaigeir (beggar); bhlastidh (blasting), fudair (powder), reisimeid (regiment), volunteers; and the dress of the volunteers of that period is concisely and graphically described. Boinneidean, bonnets; cotaichean sgarlaid, scarlet coats; suaicheantas an righ, the king's arms; cocard de dh' ite 'n eoin, cockade of the bird's feather; and this is a true description of the dress of that period.
There is an allusion to a well-known weapon of a preceding age which had fallen into disuse, to the poet's regret;--for he says--
"S na 'm biodh againn mar bu dual duinn,
Lann chinn Ilich air ar cruachain, p. 169
A sgoltadh an ceann gan guaillean,
Ga 'm bualadh le smuais nan dorn."
O had we as we ought to have
Islay-hilted blades upon our thighs,
Could cleave their heads down to the chin,
To smite them with the pith of fists.
ALLAN MACDOUGALL, Ailean dall, was born 1750, and died 1829. One of his songs is to Glengary, "Luchd bhreacan an fheilidh." Those of the tartan dresses (now called belted plaids) are mentioned as those that would rise with Glengary their chief. "Fuaim fheadan," the sound of chanters, and "binneas theud," the melody of strings, are mentioned as pleasing to the chief, who therefore enjoyed pipe music, and that of stringed instruments. In his songs to the shepherds, who were not favourites with the poet, he says of them that they have a Lowland screech in their throats crying after their dogs, and earnestly desires to keep them out, and not let their nose in, the reason being given in the following lines:--
Bho nach cluinnear aca stori,
Ach craicinn agus cloimh ga reic,
Cunntadh na h-aimsir, 's gach uair
Ceannach nan uan mu 'n teid am breith."
Since no tale is heard with them,
But of skins and wool to sell,
Telling the seasons and every weather,
Buying the lambs before they are born.
[paragraph continues] This, then, was not an age of pastoral Gaelic poetry, and the poet seems to have foreseen what has happened.
The poet has a song to whisky also, in which he
dwells on the wonderful virtues of that drink like a man who likes it. "It is delightful music to hear its murmur coming out of the stoup, heaping the cuach; excellent to excite to dancing in the winter time; it would make an old man hold up his head; it will make a soldier of the coward; it will bring out conversation at meeting and assembling; it is an unblundering physician; the children of the Gael have no disease or ailment that it will not heal." But there is another song composed to drunkenness, in which the serious effects of the favourite cordial are very feelingly expressed. The whole drinking bout is delineated with great animation. The man loses his strength; his sight fails; coming home in the dark he falls on his back in the midden. Morning brings disgrace; his breast is in flames, the rest carrying him home, believing all the time he was strong; till at last he had lost his wits. After this come reflections on the folly of drinking and of emptying the purse. So modern Gaelic bards have been given to moralizing, and jollity, war, and love-making, but so far there is nothing in their compositions like the Fenian ballads, or the sentimental poems concerning their heroes whose authors are unknown.
WILLIAM ROSS was born in- Broadford, parish of Strath, Isle of Skye, 1762; and died in 1790. He was grandson, by the mother's side, to another celebrated bard, known as the blind piper. At school he studied the classical languages, and in his songs the polish of the man of education may be traced, as his style is refined and cultivated, though remarkably natural and easy. The reader may perceive, without much difficulty, that he exerted his utmost endeavour to write his native language with purity and elegance. In his poetry we trace something like the gay, amorous strain of Moore,
though not his richness of fancy; the spirit of the classical poets may be readily traced in his verses. Some passages in his love songs are real gems, the force of the following lines could not easily be rendered in translation:--
Tha deirge 's gile,
Na gnùis ghil éibhinn
Rinn ceudan airtneulach."
The following gives the idea, but the spirit is gone:--
"In her fair blythesome face, which has made hundreds long and grieve for love, the red and white are sporting with each other, and gently struggling for mastery."
The Gaelic diminutives, which make this verse so pretty, have no English equivalents.
He composed an elegy on the death of Prince Charles, whom he calls "An suaithneas bàn," the white badge. This elegy shows how deep the feeling of attachment to that unfortunate scion of an unfortunate house, had sunk into the hearts of the poet and his countrymen. The following are a couple of stanzas from this pathetic poem:--
Nis cromaidh na cruitearan grinn
Am barraibh dhos fo sprochd an cinn;
Gach beò bhiodh ann an strath na 'm beinn
A caoidh an co'-dhosgainn leinn.
Tha gach beinn gach cnoc, 's gach sliabh,
Air am faca sinn thu triall,
Nis air call an dreach 's am fiamh,
O nach tig thu chaoidh nan cian."
Now the sweet lyrists will bow
Their heads on the tree-tops in woe;
All that live on hill or plain
Their common loss with us bewail.
Every hill, and mount, and moor,
Upon which we saw thee move,
Now have lost their sheen and beauty,
For thou wilt not come back for aye.
This differs widely from the spirit and metre of Ossian, both traditional and published.
The Highland dress is a favourite theme with Ross, as with other Gaelic bards. In a song, which fits the music of a reel, he rejoices over the Act of Parliament which repealed the Act forbidding the national costume, and gives a glimpse of Highland manufactures, which still survive in spite of spinning jennies. He says-
Thainig fasan anns an Achd
A dh' ordaich pailt am féileadh;
Tha éridh air na breacanan
Le farum treun neo-lapanach.
Bidh oighean thapaidh sniomh 's a dath,
Gu h-éibhinn ait le uaill;
Gach aon diu 'g eideadh a gaoil fein
Mar 's réidh le' anns gach uair."
A fashion has come with the Act
That ordered kilts in plenty;
There's raising of the tartan plaid
With dexterous busy noise.
Smart maidens now will spin and dye,
With mirth and fun and pride;
Each one adorning her own true love
As always is her joy.
This bard has also a song to whisky, and another to "Macnabracha," the son of malt. Whisky is drink, par excellence, which would raise the mind to politeness; and not "druaib na Frainge," the trash of France, by which he means wine; it will make the maidens speak, however modest; it will put gentleness in the boy; it will make the carl amorous. An t-Olla MacIain, Dr. Johnson, according to the bard, took a glass of it himself, notwithstanding his Greek and Latin, and thereby impaired the power of his tongue.
"Dh' fhàg mac na bracha e gun lide,
Na amadan liotach dall."
Mac malt has made him speechless,
A thick-speaking blinded fool.
Classical names are interspersed through all his compositions, while Greek and Roman deities are favourites. Phbus gilds the mountains, Flora covers each hill and dale with flowers; his sweethearts have all the qualities of Diana; Cupid throws his arrows with a lavish hand, the flames excited by the love-god are to be quenched only by yielding to Venus and Apollo; and the nine play their part. But English corruptions are not to be found, and the Gaelic is very pure and correct. Ross is not so profuse in epithets as the other poets, but he has enough to be in character with them.
DUNCAN MACINTYRE was born in Glenorchy 1724, and died in Edinburgh in 1812. The first of his ballads is composed to the battle of Falkirk, fought between the royal forces and the Highlanders who joined Prince Charles. The battle is described with very great graphic power; and though the bard fought upon the royal side,
it is evident, from his song, that the Prince, and those who followed him, had a warm corner in his heart. His own flight, and that of his party, is told so as to lead us to think that he was not at all displeased with the result. "As a dog," he tells us, "chases sheep while they are running down the face of a glen, 1 so were they scattered on our side;" the horse of the enemy were well shod, well bridled, and marked out for murder. Moreover, be tells us also--
"Bha ratreud air luchd na Beurla;
S ann daibh fein a b' éiginn teicheadh."
The outlandish speakers retreated;
It was they who had to flee.
Another song of his is composed to the musket, in which he personifies that weapon, calling it his sweetheart, and enumerating all its good qualities. "Seonaid" (Janet) is her name, and "George" is her grandfather. In Gaelic there are but two genders, so that every inanimate object is personified in ordinary speech, hence formal personification is seldom found in the poetry of the language. The poet tells that he scours his musket himself, and puts oil on it; that he puts it to his eye, and that it will not miss fire; it will keep him in drink in the alehouses, and it will pay each stoup that he buys; it will keep him in clothes and linen; so that he may lay the cares of the world aside.
One of the longest of his pieces is "Beinn Dorain," which is very much admired. It imitates a pibroch, and the stanzas vary exactly as the pibroch does; some of them being in a slow, and others in a quick
measure. The poet is very happy in his verse, which is exceedingly smooth and fluent. This poem is entirely descriptive. Whatever is interesting about this mountain, which gained so much of his admiration, is given with great minuteness. The wood, the deer, the hunt, the wild flowers, and herbs, are portrayed with great vividness; still there is an excess of epithets, which is tedious. MacDonald composed a piece of the same kind previous to this, which Macintyre has imitated; but, in fact, the measure is but a mere extension of the poetical parts of the long heroic tales which were in those days, and still are, so abundant in every district of the Highlands. The measured prose of those tales resembles a pibroch, as may be seen by glancing at the tale of "The Slim Swarthy Champion," W. H. Tales, vol. i. "Coire cheathaich" is a beautiful descriptive poem, full and circumstantial, but less tedious than Beinn Dorain.
The following specimen will give an idea of this species of poetry, though translation cannot convey the original vigour of the reader:--
"Tha bradan tarra-gheal 's a' choire gharbhlaich,
Tha tigh'n o'n fhairge bu ghailbheach tonn;
Le luinneis mheamnach a' ceapadh mheanbh-chuileag,
Gu neo-chearbach le cham-ghob crom;
Air bhuinne borb, is e leum gu foirmeil;
'Na eideadh colgail bu ghorm-glas druim;
Le shoillsean airgid, gu h-iteach, meana-bhreac
Gu lannach, dearg-bhallach, earr-gheal sliom."
There's a white-bellied salmon in the rough grassy corry,
Coming from the sea of the wild raging waves; p. 176
With stalwart leapings catching the little flies,
Unfailingly, with his bent crook'd nose.
In the raging current as he leaps so cheerily,
In his gallant array of the blue-gray back,
With his silvery spangles well finned, and fine spotted,
Scale-i-ly, red-spotted, white-tailed, and slim.
This is genuine Gaelic poetry of a man who could read nature, though he could not read books; and his countrymen have done well to erect a monument to Duncan Macintyre near his favourite glens, at the head of Loch Awe.
In one of his love songs is the expression "Deud gheal iobhraidh," white ivory teeth; while his own occupation of huntsman is portrayed for us in the following lines:--
"Mharbhainn duit geòidh,
A's ròin, a's eala,
S na h-eòin air bharraibh nan geug."
I'd kill for thee geese,
And seals, and the swan,
And the birds on the tops of the twigs.
In his song to the Black Highland Watch, in which the bard beautifully delineates the exploits of that regiment, they are mentioned as dressed-
"Le 'n osanan breaca
S le 'm breacana 'n fhéil,"
with chequered hose and with belted plaids; armed with "glas lann," gray blade; "s an dag," and the pistol,
"Gan tearmunn nan sgéith,"
Without protection of shields, p. 177
"Le 'n gunnacha glana,"
With their glancing guns,
"Spoir ur air an teannadh
Gu daingeann nan gleus,"
new flints tightened firmly in their locks; biodagach, daggered; fudarach, supplied with powder; adharcach, supplied with powder-horns; 1 so he describes the dresses which he saw; but, yet, in a song composed in praise of the Marquis of Breadalbane, occur the lines--
"S tu thog na ciadan
A shliochd nam Fianntan;"
It is thou who hast raised hundreds
Of the offspring of the Fenians;
from which it appears that the poet considered his countrymen to be the descendants of the Ossianic heroes.
He has a song to breeches, in which he complains sadly of being obliged to wear them; the tightness about the knees he considers extremely inconvenient.
"Putanan na glùinean,
As bucalan gan dùnadh,"
Buttons in its knees,
And buckles enclosing them.
Like Ross, Macintyre rejoiced at having the dress of his country restored, and at being no longer obliged to wear-
Cota ruigeadh an t-sàil,
Cha tigeadh e daicheil duinn."
A coat that would reach the heel
It would not become us well.
Chuir sinn a' bhrigis air làr,
S cha d' thig i gu bràth a cùil."
We have laid down the "breegis" on earth,
She will never come out of the nook.
Then comes something more agreeable--
"Osan nach ceangail ar ceum,
S nach ruigeadh mar reis an glùn."
Hose that bind not our stride,
That reach not the knee by a span.
The Highland dress is a principal theme with all the bards that flourished at the same period with Macintyre. They grieve deeply for being deprived of it; praise it as the finest, the most becoming, and the most convenient of all garbs. Breeches, black hats, and long coats, are made the subjects of keen satire; and the bard taxes all his wits to make the lowland dress the most ludicrous and the most contemptible that can be conceived. Like other poets of the same period Macintyre composed bacchanalian songs, mostly in praise of whisky, but there is one to brandy, from which it appears that the Gaelic poet by no means coincided with Burns in his opinion of this drink, for he does not call it burning trash, but praises it.
In his "Moladh Dhun-Eideann," the praise of Edinburgh, the appearance of the city, and the dress of the period, are described by the poet in his happiest manner,--
"S iomadh fleasgach nasal ann
A bha gu suairce, grinn:
Fudar air an gruagan," etc.
Of the ladies he says--
"Stoise air na h-ainnirean
Gan teannachadh gu h-ard."
"Buill mhais air eudainn bhoidheach."
"Brog bhiorach, dhionach, chothromach,
S bu chorrach leam a sàil."
Many a gentle youth was there
That was polite and kind,
Powder upon their hair, etc.
Stays upon the demoiselles,
To tighten them above.
Beauty spots on pretty faces.
Shoe pointed, tight and elegant,
And tottering seemed the heel.
There is no gas mentioned, for there was none; but what there was the bard tells--
"Bidh lochrainn ann de ghloineachan,
A 's coinneal anns gach ait."
There will be lanterns of glasses there,
And a candle in every place.
"Clous na Parlamaid"--the Parliament Close--occurs.
So Macintyre described what he saw, in good Gaelic verse, which fits the music of his time, and alluded to
the Ossianic heroes as to something well known to everything, though of a past age.
ROBERT MACKAY, a native of Sutherland, usually called Rob donn, Brown-haired Robert, was born in the year 1714, and died 1778. His Gaelic is full of English words, but there is no trace of English idiom. Among his songs is one in praise of Prince Charles, in which the prince is compared to Solomon in wisdom, to Samson in strength of hands, and to Absalom in beauty. There is a song, but not one of praise, to long black coats, "Oran nan casagan dubha." Mackay is one of the keenest of Gaelic satirical poets. The following English corruptions are found in his songs--line, parlamaid (parliament), pension, sergent, chomision (commission), choilair (collar), gabharment (government), prise (prize), strainsearan (strangers), tric (trick), ranc (rank), fhine (fine), bhataillean (battalion), election, chomrad (comrade). While all these English words have crept into this bard's composition, his Gaelic is, at the same time, strictly grammatical and idiomatic. The only allusion to the Feinn in his songs, is in the case of a servant whom he has nick-named Faolan, but that is enough to shew that he knew about the Feinne.
LACHLAN MACPHERSON of STRATHMASIE, was born in the year 1723, and died in the latter end of the eighteenth century. Four songs of his are published in the "Beauties of Gaelic Poetry," and some are in Gillies. One is a lament for Hugh MacPherson of Cluny; one is a coarse satire on drunkenness; another, called "A' Bhanais Bhàn, " the white wedding, is a very humorous song, in which a newly-married couple, well advanced in years, are the subject; another to breeches, is rather indelicate. The language of MacPherson is entirely free from English words or corruptions; it is
pure, grammatical, and idiomatic, whatever the ideas may be. The character of his poetry is that of the other popular bards, and bears not the least resemblance to that of the Ossian of 1807. In his lament, to Cluny he introduces the nine muses. The following is a specimen of his verse, from the White Wedding--
Labhair fear na bainse féin,
Tha dath airgeid oirnn gu léir;
Ciod an cron tha oirnn fo'n ghréin
Mar dean fear beurra rann oirnn?"
The bridegroom he spoke up himself,
We are all of a silvery hue;
What ails us beneath the sun,
Unless a ribald rhyme us?
It is said that a copy of the seventh book of Temora, in Gaelic, still exists in the handwriting of this bard, with all manner of corrections written in. The Gaelic of the seventh book, as published, is very different indeed from Strathmashie's songs, and it is hard to believe that he was the author of Ossian. There is no peculiarity in the idiom of the songs to countenance this theory, which has been adopted by many.
JOHN MACCODRUM was noted in his day for his knowledge of the Fenian poems. Sir James MacDonald of Sleat, in a letter to Dr. Blair of Edinburgh, dated Isle of Skye, 10th October 1763, says of him., "I have heard him repeat, for hours together, poems which seemed to me to be the same with MacPherson's translations."
MacPherson met him on his way to Benbecula, and asked him, "Am bheil dad agad air an Fheinn?" This mode of putting the question is fully as ambiguous as
many passages of the Gaelic Ossian of 1807, for it may mean either, Do the Feinn owe thee anything? or, Dost thou know anything about them? The bard considered. it a fit subject for his humour, and replied, "Cha'n 'eil, is ged do bhitheadh cha ruiginn a leas iarraidh nis." "No; and though they did (owe me anything) it would be vain to ask it now." The poet's banter rather wounded MacPherson's dignity, so he cut short the conversation and proceeded. If the people of Uist were the same race then that they are now, a collector of MacPherson's temper would have very little chance of obtaining either poems or stories, though they were as, "plentiful as blackberries in August;" for whoever expects to be, successful in getting stories there, must cultivate patience and good humour, take a joke and make one; and, if he does that, he may be assured that he can get plenty of fun, as well as wit as brilliant and sparkling as he could meet with in Green Erin, provided he understands Gaelic. There is a lampoon composed by this bard to the bagpipe of one Domhnull bàn, Fair-haired Donald, which is exceedingly humorous, and in which he says--
"Shearg i le tabhunn
Seachd cathan nam Fiantan."
It withered with yelping
The seven Fenian battalions.
But he says, that the Gael loved the pipes as Edinburgh people ti (tea), though this old and execrable pipe had weakened for the first time--
"Neart Dhiarmaid a's Ghuill."
The strength of Diarmaid and of Goll.
Turcaich, Turks, Gearmailtich, Germans, Frangaich,
[paragraph continues] Frenchmen, figure in this bard's verses. Scripture names are frequent. The names, Righ Phrussia, King of Prussia; Troidhe, Troy; Roimhe, Rome, are also found.
So this bard noticed the small circumstances which mark the manners of his own time, such as the tea-drinking of Edinburgh, and referred to the national music of the Highlands; and to the old heroes as equally well known.
ALEXANDER MACDONALD was born in the beginning of the eighteenth century. He joined Prince Charles in 1745, and many of his songs are composed in praise of the prince and of his cause. His language is exceedingly vigorous, and his poetry is impassioned. Classical names, as well as English words, are freely used, but there is not the least trace of classical imitation in his style, which is as characteristically Gaelic as can be. His songs begin in the same abrupt, simple manner, as those of the most illiterate bards do; and, like the most illiterate of them, he is guilty of an excess of epithets. His pieces composed to nature are purely descriptive. There is one long poem, composed to a ship, remarkable for the manner in which it brings out the power of the poet, and the conspicuousness of the language. Much of this bears a strong resemblance to the description of the sailing of boats in Gaelic tales. The bagpipe he prefers to the harp, which he calls Ceol nionag, maiden's music. Whisky and the national garb have received his greatest attention.
Phbus does good work for the bard, Eolus will send good strong winds, and Neptune will smooth the ocean. Mars is also busy. Venus and Dido are equalled by his beauties. Telesgop (telescope), sign Chancer, sign Thaurus, Thropic, Chapricorn, Gemini, Mars, puimp (pomp), are terms that occur. Bacchus does not pass
without notice either, for mention is made of "Altair Bhachuis," the altar of Bacchus. Scripture names are frequent. In this respect this bard differs from those who composed the Ossianic poems.
JOHN MACKAY, usually called "Am Piobaire dall, "the Blind Piper, native of Gairloch, Ross-shire, was born in the year 1666, and died in 1754. His versification differs considerably from that of the bards of the eighteenth century being a good shade nearer to that of the Fenian poems. The language also seems to be a good deal older than that of MacDonald or his contemporaries. He makes several allusions to the Ossianic heroes
"Mar Oisian an deigh nam Fiann,"
Like Oisian after the Fiann.
"Mac righ Sorcha, sgiath nan arm,
Gur h-e b' ainm dha Maighre borb."
King of Sorcha's son, shield of the arms,
That his name was Maighre borb--
which-is a quotation from an old ballad which is still repeated.
"S dh' imich o Fhionn a bhean fhéin; "
And his own wife went off from Fhionn;
which alludes to the story of Graidhne.
Scripture words abound, such as "Gu'm beannaiche Dia," may God bless; "beannachd Dhé," the blessing of God.
The Gaelic of this bard is idiomatic, and not a single English word is to be found in his poems. In his "Coire an Easain," are strings of epithets, which peculiarity, as has been already observed, pervades the compositions of all the known modern Gaelic bards,
The drinking vessel mentioned is corn, a horn, and the drink, wine, not whisky.
RODERICK MORISON, commonly called "An Clarsair dall," the Blind Harper, a native of Lewis, was born in the year 1646, and died at an advanced age. His Gaelic is altogether free from English words and idioms, but is less ancient in structure than that of Mackay, the blind piper. Drinking is mentioned, but the kind of drink is not named. The word stóp, stoup, occurs. The following terms relating to the Christian religion are found:--La Caisge, Easter Day; "Seachduin na Ceusda," the week of the Crucifixion; "Dhireadh a' Charbhais," the end of Lent; and these mark the existence of Catholicism.
LACHLAN MACKINNON, native of Skye, flourished in the middle of the seventeenth century. His language is remarkably pure, and without the least trace of foreign idiom; nor is there an English word to be met with in his verses. In a song composed in praise of a young lady, "Diarmaid" is alluded to--
"Fhuair thu 'n iosad buaidh o Dhiarmaid,
Tha cuir ciad an geall ort."
Thou gotst in loan a gift from Diarmaid,
That puts a hundred in pledge to thee.
[paragraph continues] This alludes to the beauty spot on Diarmaid's brow, which no woman could see without loving him.
In a satirical song on a certain dagger, the following reference is made to the enchantment of the Feen, W. H. Tales (XXXVI.):--
"Bu mhath 's a' bhruthainn chaorainn i,
'S an coannag nam, fear mor;
'S e Fionn thug dh' i an latha sin,
At t-ath-bualadh na dhorn."
Good was it in the Rowan burg,
And in the big men's strife;
It was Fionn who gave it on that day,
The next stroke in his fist.
The next stanza tells how many men Fionn slew on the occasion; so the poet implies that the dirk in question was a weapon of the time of the Feinne. "Breacan" and "Feíle," tartan plaid and kilt, are mentioned as the dress worn by the Highland chiefs of the poet's time.
NEIL CURRIE, native of South Uist, was born in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and was an old man in the year 1717. In the few pieces of his which are published, we have an insight into the manners of the time. There is the word "puthar," from the English word power. Brandy, French wines, and wax candles, are spoken of as luxuries with which the bard was familiar at the house of his chief. Among the musical instruments mentioned, are the bagpipes and the fiddle. No allusion is made to beer or whisky.
JOHN MACDONALD, usually called Iain Lom, lived in the reigns of Charles I. and II. and died at an advanced age, about the year 1710. His language is full of English corruptions, but is fairly grammatical; yet, upon the whole, in smoothness and elegance of expression be falls far short of a great number of the other bards. As a satirist he has no rival. Scripture names are very frequent in his pieces.
MARY MACLEOD, native of Harris, was born in the year 1569, and died at the advanced age of 105. Her language and verse are remarkably fluent and easy. English words abound, but the idiom is very pure. The harp, chess, and the tales of the Feinne, are mentioned as amusements common in MacLeod's castle. The bow
is spoken of as an offensive weapon then in use, while fire-arms, targets, and swords, meet with their due meed of praise. Scripture names abound.
Many old songs, by known and unknown authors, describe battle-axes and bows, and these may be referred to a period later than the Fenian period, and earlier than that of the bow. Bows and spears are mentioned together in some ballads; spears drop out, and bows are named along with battle-axes; in others, and further on, bows, battle-axes, and firearms, are mixed up together.
The following are lines recited in Islay, and assigned by tradition to the time of the battle of Traigh Ghruineart, fought between MacLean and MacDonald in the reign of James the Sixth:--
Fhir na feusaige ruaidhe,
Gur trom do bhuille 's gur cruaidh e
Bhris thu leithcheannach mo thuaighe
S gad rinn thu sin 's math leam buan thu."
Man of the russet beard,
Heavy is thy blow and hard;
Thou hast broken the broad side of my axe;
And though thou hast, long mayst thou live.
How the old Highlanders fought with axes we learn from Barbour's Bruce, book second, in which the following expressive lines occur:--
"But the folk of the other party
Fought with axes fellyly;
For thai on fute war ever ilkane,
Thait feile off their horss has slain,
And till some guiff they wounds wid."
An old war song exists, styled, "Prosnacha catha Chloinn Domhnuill le Lachunn, mor MacMhuirich Albanaich, la Catha Harla," "Battle incitement of the MacDonalds, by big Lachunn, son of Albanian Muireach." MacMhuirich or Currie was Clanranald's bard, and this song is said to have been sung by him at the battle of Harlaw. It consists of seventeen stanzas of unequal length, and every word in each stanza begins with the same letter of the Gaelic alphabet, which has but seventeen letters. The particle gu is prefixed to every word, which makes them all adverbs, and so every line of the song begins with g. The Roman order of the letters is followed; that is, a, b, c, etc., which is not the same as the Oghum, or old Gaelic alphabet. The whole is a list of adverbs, excepting two lines at the beginning, and eleven at the end, expressive of various military virtues, all set to a lively quick measure. 1 The number of lines is 336.
The following is the last stanza of this curious old song:--
Gu urlamhach, gu urmhaiseach,
Gu urranta, gu uraluinn,
Gu urchleasach, gu uaibhreach,
Gu uilfheargach, gu uaillfheartach,
Gu urchoideach, gu uabhasach,
Gu urrasach, gu urramach,
Gu urloisgeach, gu uaimhshlochdach,
Gu uachdarach, gu uallach,
Gu ullamh, gu usgarach,
Gu urmhailleach, gu uchdardach, p. 189
Gu uidhirnichte, gu ughdarach,
Gu upagach, gu uilefhradharcach,
Gu upairneach, gu urghleusach,
Gu urbhuilleach, gu urspealach,
Gu urlabhrach, urlamhach, urneartmhor,
Gu coisneadh na cathlarach,
Ri bruidh'ne ur biughi,
A Chlanna Chuinn cheudchathaich,
Si nis uair ur n' aithneacha,
A chuileanan confhadhach,
A bheirichean bunanta,
A leoghuinan langhasda,
Do laochraidh chrodha, churanta,
Do chlannaibh Chuinn cheudchathaich,
A chlannaibh Chuinn cuimhnichibh,
Cruas an am na h-iorghuil."
So dexterously, so gracefully,
So actively, so haughtily,
All-wrathfully, so yellingly,
So hurtfully, so dreadfully,
So zealously, so grave-pit-ly,
So readily, so jewelled,
Bustlingly, right trimmed-ly,
Eloquently, dexterously, all-powerfully,
To win the field of battle, p. 190
For the telling of your glory,
Children of Conn of a hundred fights,
This now is the hour to know you,
Ye furious whelps,
Ye stout dragons,
Ye splendid lions,
Ye standards of stout battle
Of brave gallant warriors,
Of the children of Conn of the hundred fights,
Children of Conn remember
In the time of battle hardihood.
The arms used at the battle are indicated in various lines throughout the piece. It is worth remark that no fire-arms are mentioned in the Owl, which is supposed to be still older than the Battle Ode.
"Gu cuilbhaireach, gu cruaidhlannach,
Gu sgabullach, gu srolbhratach,
Gu reimeil, gu ughfheinneach,
Gu suilfhurachair, gu saighid gheur,
Gu scianach, gu spionach,
Gu scaiteach, gu sciathach,
Gu tuadhbhuilleach gu tarbhach."
So culverined, so steel bladed,
So scabbarded, so silk bannered,
So powerfully, so Feinne king like,
So knife armed, so pullingly,
So choppingly, so shieldly,
So axe blow-ly, so bull-like,
So eye-watchingly, so arrow sharp-ly.
A "CHOMHACHAG," the Owl, is an ancient piece, published in Gillies, and also in the "Beauties of Gaelic Poetry." It is attributed to one DONALD MACDONALD,
a celebrated hunter, who lived before the invention of fire-arms. This piece approaches nearer to the Fenian poems in character than anything to be found in the compositions of the above-mentioned bards. In one of the stanzas, there is an allusion to the confessional
"Deansa t-fhaosaid ris an t-shagart."
Make thy confession to the priest.
The erection of a mill is spoken of as something notable:--
"S rinn e muillean air Allt-Larach."
And he made a mill on Allt-Larach.
The hunting life is delineated with glowing enthusiasm, and the various animals of the chase, as well as domestic animals, are enumerated--"eilid," the hind; "feidh," deer; laogh, calf; meann, kid; earb, roe; lach, duck; gadhair, hounds. Bogha, bow, is frequently named, but no other offensive weapon. The Fenians are introduced in one line--
"Chi mi Strath-Oisein nam Fiann."
I see the Strath of Oisean of the Fiann.
Though there is a reference to drinking, no special drink is named. Among the animals, there is no mention of "lon," which so frequently occurs in the Fenian ballads, and which is supposed to be the elk.
In this poem we meet with much of the poetry of nature, but it is very different from that which is found in the Ossian of 1807, or in Dr. Smith's "Seann Dana" (old poems), but it is similar in kind to that which is found in the compositions of the bards already quoted, to that of the Blind Piper, of MacDonald, and of Macintyre. It is descriptive, but neither philosophical nor
contemplative. Natural objects are not so much matter of speculation as of feeling. The poet speaks of them as something that he strongly loves; something to which he is strongly attached; and which he praises as he does his friends, his home, or his country. When this Gaelic bard speaks of inanimate objects, he does it like those above named, he speaks as if they were his familiar friends-we think they live, and that they are in his mind by the fireside along with him. He enumerates every beauty and excellency connected with them; not so much because he admires the beauties that he finds in them, but because he loves them. This is the species of poetry which proceeds from the Celt's strong attachment to home and country-from that feeling which makes him sigh for his native home in a foreign land, though successful in life, and surrounded with comforts-that feeling which inclines him to prefer the barren heaths, foaming cataracts, and rugged mountains of the Highlands to the fairest lands on which the sun shines.
In following the long list of Scoto-Gaelic bards from the present day to the author of "A Chomhachag" (The Owl), we find the spirit of this poetry uniform and unaltered. From Macintyre's "Coire cheathaich" (the Corrie of Mist), to "A Chomhachag" (The Owl), it is very much the same in character. The following quotation from "The Owl" will illustrate what has been said:--
"Creag mo chridhe 's a' chreag ghuanach,
Chreag an d' fhuair mi greis de m' àrach;
Creag nan aighean 's nan damh siubhlach;
A' chreag urail, aighearach, ianach.
Chreag mu'n iathadh an fhaoghait;
Bu mhiann leam a bhi ga taghal, p. 193
Nuair bu bhinn guth gallain gaodbair
A' cur gràidh gu gabhail chumhainn.
S binn na h-iolairean mu 'bruachan;
S binn a cuachan, 's binn a h-eala;
A's binne na sin am blaoghan
Ni an laoghan meana-bhreac, ballach."
Crag of my heart, the lightsome rock,
The rock where I was partly reared;
Rock of the hinds and roving stags;
Rock that is verdant, and gay with birds.
The rock which the hunting shout encircles
To haunt it would be my joy,
When the voice of the baying hounds was sweet,
Urging the herds to a narrow pass.
Sweet sound the eagles in its braes;
Sweet are its cuckoos, and sweet its swan
Sweeter than all is the bleating
Of the spotted, fine-speckled fawn.
How different is this from the address to the sun and similar poetry in Ossian; yet it will be found to be the same in character with MacDonald's, Macintyre's, and all other modern Gaelic bards. The germ of it is to be found in the Fenian ballads, as, for instance, that line in the Lay of Diarmaid-
"S gur truagh m' aghaidh ri Beinn Ghulbann."
From the traces of this style to be found in these old poems, it has expanded into its more modern form.
In the works of all these bards, which extend over a period of several centuries; for one piece, composed as a war-song for the Highlanders who fought at Harlaw,
is referred to the same date, 1411, the manners of each age are delineated. There is a difference in the language corresponding to each period, but that difference is inconsiderable. The bards belong to different parts of the Highlands, but no marked difference of dialect appears in their compositions, and this agrees with the prevalent opinion among Highlanders that good Gaelic is something definite, though they are not unanimous with regard to the district where good Gaelic is to be found. The difference in spoken dialects is more in pronunciation, accent, and the use of certain words in one place rather than another, than in grammatical structure or idiom. In reviewing the compositions of these known bards, we observe that, as a rule, the earlier the period the purer is the language, and the freer from English words. The idiom of the language found in this poetry is very far removed from English, and, on that account, it is very difficult to transfer the meaning of a passage accurately into English, and much more so to give its force and spirit. Though the works of these modern bards differ in language from the Fenian ballads, they vary in words rather than in idiom. The versification differs, but the songs approach the ballads nearer, the older they are; almost all these modern poems contain allusions to Christianity and scripture names. No superhuman deeds are mentioned, nor anything out of the range of probability; but when we look at "Mordubh," and the other poems of the same class, we perceive a style that stands far apart from all these, and from the Fenian ballads. Between the language of the Fenian poems, that of the works of the known bards, and that of spoken Gaelic, there is a common bond of union that is easily discovered; the others are something apart.
The preservation of these Fenian ballads for many ages may, at first sight, appear incredible, more especially when successive generations of poetry relating to historical events have died out, and when we have so little concerning the chiefs and warriors that flourished in Scotland during the seventh, eighth, ninth, and successive centuries, down to the fifteenth. We have no traditional ballads that refer to the wars of Wallace and Bruce, hardly a tradition relating to them. All these great men have passed away from the Highland popular mind as if they had no existence, and yet these prehistoric traditions remain. How is it that no succeeding poetry, no national history, has been able to supplant them? If they kept their ground in the midst of the compositions of successive ages, we must surely admit that they possessed a peculiar merit suiting those times, that they were superior to anything new that was produced, or at least that they were more fitted to take hold of the feelings of all periods. It may be asked were they not the compositions of modern bards? Those bards, so far as we know their history, quote them as something older than their own times. Granting that they are not the compositions of any known bard, may they not have been the compositions of bards previous to those, but still of a period not very remote--of the monks of a certain period? Had they been the compositions and inventions of such men, was it likely that there should be so little reference to religion, and to known general history, in the ballads which give the history of the Feinne, as told by Oisein amongst his dialogues with St. Patrick on religious matters, or as they are more commonly now sung, without these pagan polemics. In monkish compositions, Greek and Roman history are often present, and there is much in these
poems which we can hardly think monks would be inclined to encourage. When then was this poetry composed? Was it in the tenth century? If so, what was the poetry of the Gael previous to that century? Had they any? Roman writers answer--"The Caledonians went to fight the Romans singing war songs;" but we are not informed what they sang, though we may surmise. Did Fenians or Fenian traditions exist in the time of the Caledonians? If so, probably there were Fenian ballads then also, and these may be the old ballads of the Caledonians modified, developed, and altered, but preserved from undergoing any radical change by popular veneration down to our own day.
Why these have been so well preserved, and have outlived so many historical periods, may be accounted for by their universality. Highland chiefs were at war with each other, and lasting animosities subsisted between them. A song in praise of a certain chief was not likely to be acceptable to an inimical clan. A ballad in praise of clan Chattan would not please the clan Kay. A poem that extolled the exploits of Robert Bruce, would meet with but a cold reception among the Macdougalls of Lorn, or among the dependants of the Comyns of Badenoch. The bard that would run the risk of praising the merits of James the First among the Grahams, or among the dependents of those relatives of his own whom he had so cruelly executed, might risk having his tongue cut out, but the Fenian ballads could be sung anywhere. They were not likely to excite any feud, or awaken any old grudge, or recall any former disgrace. They were not calculated to wound either a reigning dynasty, or the partizans of a fallen one; and, indeed, during those wild times, when every man's hand was against his brother, what better code of honour
could have existed among such fiery elements. When chiefs violated the principles of chivalry, and honour, and fair play, what better check could we conceive as a moral restraint upon their wild passions from the traditions of the Feinne, whose name is still the watchword for fair play. "COTHROM NA FEINNE," "Fenian's advantage," a fair field and no favour.
To the list of modern bards who refer to the Feinne, may be added the name of Evan MacColl, the Lochfine-side bard, who published a volume of very creditable English and Gaelic Poetry in 1836. At page 94 is a Gaelic stanza, which may be thus closely translated:--
And thou there standing all lonely,
As Oisian after the Feinne;
Small time, and thou followest kindred,
Oh Dun! death's strong hand is upon thee.
The Dun meant is "Castail Donnain," in Loch Dubhaich in Ross-shire. Other references also occur, and it may be generally said that there is hardly a Gaelic book that does not contain such references. William Livingstone, the Islay bard, who published clever poems in 1858, often mentions the Feinne.--J. F. C.
To this let me add the letter of a labourer, who has a good head and small learning, but knows his own language well.
Douchlais, 28th October 1861.
Sir,--I received your letter of the 24th Saturday last.
There is a good many words in Ossian's poems that is not common in modern Gaelic. I have Dr. Smith's Gaelic book, and I got it from a man because that there was so many words in it which he did not know the meaning of, and I understand them.
Them (the poem) that I heard repeated corresponds with those that is in the book.
I am quite convinced that the English was taken from the Gaelic, and not the Gaelic from the English.
It would be quite absurd to think that a man would spend his time studying old Gaelic for to translate English prose, and put it in Gaelic verse, and choose the words as they were spoken about seventeen hundred years ago: it would be a very laborious task; and if the publication was printed, the publisher would be a great loser by it, as so few would buy it, because they did not understand it; and none would be able to do it, unless he was a first-class Gaelic scholar, and a good poet; and also he would have to read some other poems, as old as Ossian's for to find the measure of the metre, as some of them is composed to a measure that is not used in modern poetry. I understand the Gaelic of the published books. I understand the words separately.--
JOHN DEWAR. 1
To this let me add a letter from Mr. Torrie, now a student at Edinburgh College, who has collected stories for me, and lives in Benbecula.
BENBECULA, SOUTH UIST,
19th October 1861.
MY DEAR SIR,--As I have conversed with almost all those from whom POEMS have been collected in this quarter, I flatter myself that I am now in a position to furnish you with my quota of information on this interesting subject.
Besides these POEMS which have been collected, the proof sheets of which I have perused, a great variety of other poems, which go under the name of "Ossian's Poems," are commonly recited by the people. A few of these I have already sent you; and I have still in my possession two long ones, called respectively--"Teanntachd mhor na Feinne," and "Cath mac Righ na Sorcha." "Laoidh Dhiarmid," "Laoidh Fhraoich," "Laoidh an Amadain Mhoir," "Mhuileartach Bhuidhe," and "Laoidh a Choin duibh," are, however, the most common. Fragmentary pieces of these I have heard recited by some of our highest class; but those who have them most entire, are, comparatively speaking, the poorest and most illiterate in the land--those from whom they might be the least expected--so circumstanced that they have had no access to books, and even should they have, the most of them could not make any use of them. Neither were they in a position to mingle among those who could read, and had books. Books, however, which contain collections of Ossian's Poems, are not so common here as might be expected. None of the reciters that I have met, ever heard of Gillies', MacCallum's, or Stewart's. I have never seen any of these in the islands; and if they are to be found at all, it is with those who prize them too much to lend to such of the poorer classes as could read, to run the risk of being disfigured with black drops, and sure to have the not very agreeable odour of peat-reek. Donald Macintyre, Aird, Benbecula, the best reciter of poems that I have met, and who can read Gaelic well, never saw any book of the kind until I shewed him Dr. Smith's collection. I have traced out another copy of Dr. Smith's at Iochdar, which was presented to one Peter MPherson, a bit of a poet, by the Reverend Duncan MLean, now Free Church
[paragraph continues] Minister at Glenorchy, when missionary here about thirty-five years ago. Every person with whom I have conversed about Ossian's Poems, and who knows anything about them, admires them very much, and believes them to be the genuine composition of Ossian, as pure as might be expected, considering that they were handed down by tradition, and consequently lost a great deal of their pristine splendour; and received additions which, instead of adding, detracted considerably from their original merit. I believe there are very few in the Highlands, especially adults, but know something of Ossian's Poems. Like the "Popular Tales," which are universally found throughout the Highlands, Ossian's Poems have formed a very important part of the Highlanders' pastime through the long winter nights. When on my way home from Edinburgh last spring, I read "Laoidh Dhiarmid" to a few in Skye. They remembered to have heard it before; and some old men remarked that, when they were young, tales and poems were very common, and regretted very much that they were so much out of vogue with the present generation. I never met with any of Ossian books there but one, the Rev. Mr. MacLauchlan's "Gleanings," presented to a "guide" by an English tourist. I never heard of any Irish book containing these pieces in the islands, nor have I ever seen any myself. As I have not MacPherson's, which is the best known of them all, nor Gillies', nor Stewart's, I cannot say whether those who repeat, recite passages a la MacPherson, a la Stewart, or a la Gillies. Donald Macintyre recited to me a poem entitled "Cath MacRigh na Sorcha," which I find in Dr. Smith's collection, note page 176. They resemble each other very much; in some passages the language is the same; Macintyre's version, however, is longer, though Dr. Smith's, upon the whole,
is more beautiful. In the course of a conversation lately with a gentleman of no mean authority, on the Ossianic controversy, be expressed his surprise that the anti-Ossianics would use such futile arguments as that MacPherson was the author of these poems, or that the people get them from books, while he himself had a distinct recollection of bearing one Rory MQueen, commonly called Ruairi Ruadh, who was a catechist in this parish, recite poems which can be found in MacPherson's. This M'Queen died about thirty years ago at the advanced age of eighty. He had a great many of Ossian's poems which he learned when a boy by hearsay, and with which he afterwards used to entertain his hosts when travelling from village to village on his catechetical visits. A niece of his, who now resides at Paible, North Uist, has the same hereditary talent which procured her uncle more celebrity than his catechetical acumen. This MacQueen was no less than fifty years of age when MacPherson's Gaelic was published, and fifty-seven before Stewart's, or MCallum's appeared. In whatever way, therefore, people came to have these poems, it is a well-known fact that they never got them from books, for nothing can be more patent than the fact that these poems existed long before MacPherson's, or Stewart's, or MCallum's, or Gillies', or Miss Brookes' came into existence. Nor is it consistent to suppose that MacPherson, were he really the author of the poems, would give them unto the world as the composition of Ossian, while they were of themselves sufficient to raise him to the pinnacle of fame, and establish his name as the greatest poet that Scotland ever produced. I do not believe, however, that these minor pieces are the composition of Ossian. They differ as much from them a school-boy's attempts at painting do from the
sublime efforts of Raphael or Michael Angelo. As to the question whether these are Irish or Scotch, I cannot give a definite answer. After some reflection, however, my opinion preponderates to the latter, for though there are some words and phrases which to me were unintelligible until the reciters explained them, and which they considered Irish, still I would not be justified in calling such ballads as contain them Irish, on the slender ground of this more "ipse dixit," for they may have retained that much of the language in which they were originally composed, and which may have been the dialect common in Scotland at that time. They are apparently very old, and it is possible at the time they were composed the language of both countries was the same, considering they had one common origin. By whom they were composed, or at what time they were composed, cannot, with any decree of certainty be determined, They stretch back into a period of whose history I know very little, and, consequently I am precluded from adding more.--Meanwhile, I remain, yours very faithfully,
D. K. TORRIE.
J. F. Campbell, Esq., etc., etc.
To this let me add the opinion of a Highlander, who had had much to do with the publication of Gaelic books, and lives in a city.
62 ARGYLE STREET, GLASGOW,
November, 9, 1861.
My DEAR SIR,--In compliance with your request, I will now proceed briefly to give you my opinion of the poems attributed to Ossian and other ancient Celtic bards. Although a doubt never crossed my mind regarding
the genuineness of these productions, yet after a careful investigation of the subject, I have now a more definite and satisfactory impression of the matter than I had heretofore. I believe that, "Fingal fought, and that Ossian sang," as firmly as I believe any other historical fact. I have now the same opinion of them that I had thirty years ago, when I first began to take an interest in these matters, namely, that such individuals lived many centuries ago, and composed poems that have been handed down from generation to generation by oral recitation, and that many of these fragments have been collected and translated into English, and published by Mr. James MacPherson of Badenoch, exactly a hundred years ago, and by others since, such as Dr. John Smith of Campbeltown, Duncan Kennedy, Hugh and John MCallum, etc. I believe all that is truly poetical and ennobling in MacPherson's translation are the productions of Ossian and other great bards of the same era; but while I believe and maintain all this, I gave it as my humble conviction that MacPherson used unwarrantable liberties with his originals. Ossian never composed "Fingal " and "Temora" as they are given by him, and it would be much more to the credit of our country had he given these fragments just as he collected them, without linking them together as he has done, and called them "Epic Poems." I also complain of MacPherson for excluding passages which accorded not with the theory which he wished to establish, and thus endeavoured to fix the Fingalian era according to his own fancy; but this is not the worst--I have a graver charge than any of these to bring against him. I have no hesitation in affirming that a considerable portion of the Gaelic which is published as the original of his translation is actually translated back from the English. I
have discovered this by the aid of fragments (no doubt genuine) published in the Highland Society's Report. These fragments begin at page 192, and end at page 260. A literal translation is inserted on opposite pages, with MacPherson's translation in foot-notes. MacPherson's translation is pretty faithful, with the exception of omitted passages, which under other circumstances might be supposed to have been translated from a different version; but when we are presented with the Gaelic, purporting to be the original, the deception is too transparent to pass undetected. I am aware that this assertion is detrimental to the honesty and veracity of Mr. MacPherson, and perhaps to the character of those who superintended the publishing of the Gaelic after his death, but I affirm this as my honest conviction of the matter; and any Highlander of ordinary intelligence may satisfy himself on this point by comparing the Report and MacPherson's Gaelic. From this, and other circumstances, it is evident that MacPherson determined to appropriate to himself the literary glory of these productions. If not, why bequeath in his "last will and testament" £1000 to defray the expenses of publishing Ossian's poems in Gaelic, English, and Latin? This fact, I think, ought to exonerate those superintending the Gaelic, as they were merely carrying out his request as his executors.
But, notwithstanding all I have mentioned, we are indebted to Mr. MacPherson for what he had done. He was the first to draw the attention of foreigners to those wonderful compositions, and others following his example, matter has been collected and preserved that would have been for ever lost. Mr. MacPherson's translation, in my opinion, is superior to the paraphrase of Dr. Smith; but the Gaelic of Dr. Smith is genuine,
with the exception of his emendations and occasional interpolations, where he thought the sense required it, and which he candidly acknowledged. Dr. Smith being a ready poet, and a thorough Gaelic scholar, spared no pains in making his "Seann Dàna" worthy of the patronage of his countrymen; and no wonder although he was disappointed when his labours were not sufficiently appreciated.
There are other parties who have done some harm, alleging that they were the authors of some of the compositions which passed as Ossian's. Mr. Kennedy claimed some of his collection as his own. Mr. M'Callum of Arisaig published a volume of Gaelic poems and songs in 1821, in which he gives a "Seann Dàn" under the designation of "Collath," which in course of time was honoured by a place in "The Beauties of Gaelic Poetry," the editor endorsing it as an ancient poem; but in 1840 Mr. MCallum published a new edition of his poems, and very coolly "removes the deception," using his own words, and avows himself the author of "Collath," and very modestly retains the fulsome notes which he himself appended to it on its first appearance. It is doubtful if the author would have been so ready to remove the deception had "Collath" not been so highly honoured by the editor of the "Beauties." Mr. MCallum added a third part to "Mordubh," and 259 lines to the second part more than is given in Gillies' collection. He does not say that the supplement to "Mordubh" is his, neither do I charge him with imposing on the reader by this; but I am not satisfied that either the first, or last, or any part of "Mordubh" is genuine.
I have mentioned these circumstances in order to remove, so far as I can, all that has the appearance of suspicion or doubt about the matter; but all the deceptions
that have been practised do not affect the sterling worth of the poems of Ossian any more than the base coin affects the value of the real one. It will only make those into whose hands it may come try it and make sure that it is genuine.
It may be objected, "How could so much matter be preserved on the memories of the people without the aid of letters?" Those who have lived in the Highlands for any length of time know well how these productions have been preserved. In former times Highlanders bad very little else to remember; or, rather, they did not remember much else. Socially disposed, they spent much time together; on the long winter evenings they assembled in a certain house, rehearsed and listened to these records of Fingalian achievements which were thus interwoven with their mental development. Hence the continual opposition manifested by the religious instructors of the Highlanders to "Sgeulachdan" and Ossianic poetry. These teachers had serious difficulties in getting the attention of the people, in consequence of their minds being pre-occupied and absorbed by this ancient lore.
Bishop Carswell, in 1567, complains of those who spent their time and intellect in perpetuating the records "concerning Tuath de dannan, Fionn MacCumhail and his heroes, rather than write and teach and maintain the faithful words of God, and of the perfect way of truth." But Mr. Robert Kirk, of Balquhidder, who published the first metrical Gaelic version of the Psalms in 1684, is more charitably disposed towards the Fingalians. (See page 71.)
The assertions of Bishop Carswell are fully borne out by the well-known Christian poet, Peter Grant of Strathspey,
who composed about forty years ago. He says in Gearan nan Gaidheal:"--
"An t-Sàbaid ghlòrmhor bu chòir a naomhadh,
S tric chaith sinn faoin i o cheann gu ceann,
Le cainnt ro dhiomhain mu thiomchioll Fhianntaibh,
S gach gnothach tiomal a bhiodh 'n ar ceann ;
Air cnuic 's air sléibhtean, 's na tighean céilidh
Bhiodh-mid le chéile a' tional ann,
Ach cha b'e 'm Bìobal a bhiodh 'ga leughadh
Ach faoin sgeul air nach tigeadh ceann."
The glorious Sabbath that should be hallowed,
Oft spent we in trifling from end to end
With useless chattering about the Feeantain,
And each timely matter that was in our mind.
On knolls or hillsides, or in visiting houses,
We would be together all gathering there;
But 'twas not the Bible that was read there,
But a silly tale told without an end.
I think these quotations prove two things; first, that Ossian's Poems are older than James MacPherson; and second, that it is not a matter of astonishment that Highlanders could preserve so much of the poetry of former ages, seeing that they applied all their mental powers in remembering and perpetuating it. I cannot, indeed, wonder at the clergy, teachers, and catechists opposing the "conventicles" (to use an ecclesiastical term) for rehearsing and hearing Fingalian lore, as the practice interfered so much with their usefulness. But these traditions served a purpose, and accomplished their mission; and like other dispensations of antiquity they passed away. They were the "elementary schoolbooks" of the Celts in bygone ages; they helped to
strengthen and expand their memories, and to sharpen their intellects; and the morals inculcated by them were generally sound. Those who are familiar with our national proverbs and maxims, must acknowledge that the men who first uttered them, and those who gave them currency, studied human nature deeply. The Highlanders had also many, problems and riddles, as you are well aware, that required much ingenuity and application to solve. I will refer you to one of these as a specimen; it goes under the designation of "Aireamh Fir Dhubhain." You will find it, I think, in Stewart's collection. There is much truth in what Dr. MLeod of St. Columba, Glasgow, uttered on one occasion, although he was laughed and sneered at by some for it:--"Even the superstition of the Highlanders, dark and wild as it may appear, had a happy tendency in forming the character of the Gael." Undoubtedly it had; and while I am anxious that my countrymen should possess knowledge that will be more serviceable to them in time, and shall make them happy in eternity, I am ready to pay my tribute of gratitude to the memories of the teachers of former generations, for inculcating a sense of the instability of everything in this world, and the folly of expecting much from creature comforts--for the love of country and kindred, and for the noble, generous, and hospitable spirit they infused into society--the fruit of which I, in common with my countrymen, am reaping in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
It is evident that the learned pride of many of our Anglo-Saxon neighbours was roused on the appearance of the Ossianic fragments. They could not conceive how an unlettered people could produce such poetry; but they ought to have remembered that the knowledge of letters is but one avenue for conveying knowledge to
the human mind. I have met and associated with individuals who had "book knowledge" in abundance, but yet had neither the sense or the wit of some who knew not the letters of the alphabet, and could not be consulted with equal advantage in a case of emergency. A knowledge of letters, and of the English language, is the essence of all knowledge and wisdom in the estimation of the "Gall." These two items are certainly requisites in our education; but it is doing the Celt great injustice to conclude that because he is ignorant of these he must be very stupid and ignorant of everything. Highlanders have serious difficulties to contend with, which require indomitable courage and perseverance to overcome. A young Celt leaves his native hills with scarcely a word of English "in his head," and comes to the Lowlands. In course of time he masters the language of the "Gall," competes with him, and often beats him on his own soil. There is no evidence of inferiority of intellect in this.
Fearing that I have done more than what you wished me to do, I remain, my dear Sir, yours faithfully,
To this let me add the opinion of a Highlander who has been stationed in many districts of the country as an excise officer; a gentleman of good education, and well able to write Gaelic and English, who has been kind enough to collect stories, etc. for me.
"It is well known that, in the absence of literature, men supply the deficiency by tales, which may be of their own creation, or that of ages long gone by. It were strange if the imaginative, the sensitive, the enthusiastic
Gael were without his. Strange it were if the children of the mist themselves were without this poetic element in their constitution. But it is not so. In all ages the Celtic tribes have been noted for their tales, poetry, and music, and all these are characteristic. They breathe the same melancholy sadness, the same enthusiastic wildness, and the same daring chivalry. Their tales are pure and simple, their poetry is assuredly that of nature. It is wild and romantic, sensitive and sad, affectionate and kind. Their music is known and admired all over the world.
There are all sorts of Highland tales--fabulous, and romantic; fairy tales, and tales of superstition, family tales, tales of gallant deeds, and, I regret to say, tales of deadly feud.
The Highlanders distinguish between all these. To the fabulous tales they give no credence, but merely repeat them because they are curious. The romantic tales they do not exactly believe, but think they might possibly be true. Fairy and superstitious tales are not now generally believed. But family tales, feudal tales, and tales of other years form the history of the Highlanders. These they believe, and repeat with pride. A Highlander always takes pride and pleasure in the noble actions and gallant deeds of his country. His own clan is a special pride to him. It is his standard of honour, and he would as soon tell of anything disreputable to his own family as he would to his clan. His clan may be few now, its members may be scattered to all ends of the earth, but he speaks of it when it was a clan, and he recounts its fall with sorrow and regret. These tales are generally to be found amongst the poor and unlettered people. They cherish the memory of their fathers; they tell their tales, recite their poems, and
sing their songs; they have the pride and generosity of their fathers, and, alas! the penury consequent on their fathers' misfortunes. These tales are to be found amongst the old. For obvious reasons, the young do not take the same interest in them. Consequently these relies of antiquity must necessarily be lost, and scarce a trace of them be found in another generation or two.
These old men and women are, indeed, generally poor, but they have generally seen more comfortable circumstances. Their houses may not be perfect specimens of architecture, but they are of kindness and hospitality. Their furniture may not be comfortable, according to the modern acceptation of the term, but it suffices for their use, and every article is endeared by family associations. Their dress may be humble, but it can boast of having been teazed, carded, and spun by a wife or a daughter. It may not be fine, but it is comfortable, and it is, notwithstanding, pleasant enough to look upon. Their fare may not be over plentiful, but the stranger is always welcome to a share of it.
They are never rude, boorish, or vulgar, uncivil, disrespectful, or insolent. On the contrary, they are naturally civil and deferential, but they are naturally reserved. This I have experienced. I have often gone to old men, and although I was told they had the greatest stock of old lore of any in the place, yet they would either equivocate, or maintain the most provoking silence. They would much rather know who I was, if they did not know me, and why I was so desirous to get sgeulachdan faoin sheana bhan--old wives' silly tales. I had always to wait till I had gained their confidence. To shew them that I was interested in their tales, I have often told them one myself--perhaps one I had got a few days before? If they knew of any expressions
belonging to the tale which I had not, they would repeat them at my request. Thus I have often got many valuable additions.
Fabulous tales are the most difficult to get, not because they are the rarest, but because they are unwilling to tell them to strangers. Historical tales are the easiest to get. They are known everywhere, and, more or less, by every person. "Sgeulachdan na Feinn," or the Fingalian tales, are very common. Clan or historical tales, and those of the Fingalians, are the most admired. These are believed in, and consequently talked of seriously. Many of these correspond to a nicety with Ossian's poems. But many more have no coincidence with them.
I met an English tourist in summer, and we had occasion to speak of Fingal's Cave in Staffa. He said very authoritatively that Fingal, Ossian, and his compeers must have been all fiction--in short, mere creations of MacPherson's own fancy; that no person ever heard of Ossian till MacPherson's days; that no MSS. of Ossian's poems were ever seen; and, finally, that they were never known to exist amongst the people. This was certainly a new theory to me, but, like many others, I saw that the gentleman who felt himself at liberty to speak thus freely of Ossian's poems, did not take the trouble to examine for himself. That he heard or read of this, and believed it. I told him that hundreds of years before MacPherson existed, the poems of Ossian were well known, and alluded to in writing; that MacPherson stood exactly in the same relation to Ossian as Pope did to Homer, or Dryden to Virgil; that MSS. of Ossian's poems were well known to exist in the Highlands long before MacPherson's time. That some of those MSS. were to be seen at an eminent London publisher's
at the very time Dr. Samuel Johnson was declaiming against the authenticity of Ossian's poems; and, lastly, I told him that, so far from it being at all true that Ossian's poems were not known amongst the people, if he would have the goodness to accompany me, and in less than five minutes' time I would bring him to a man who could repeat hundreds of lines of Ossian's poems.
While speaking of MacPherson, I may state that many Gaelic scholars think he might have done greater justice to their darling Ossian. Without averring that MacPherson might not have rendered Ossian much more effective, I think he has done remarkably well. He has deserved the gratitude of every Highland heart, and of every man of taste.
Ever since I remember myself I remember hearing of the Fingalians. Who that has lived in the Highlands but must necessarily have heard the same. Their exploits, bravery, and battles have been the theme and admiration of Highland seanachaidhean from time immemorial. That these may have been exaggerated is possible, that they had a foundation in fact is unquestionable.
I have frequently questioned old men concerning the Fingalians in almost all parts of the Highlands, from Cape Wrath to the Mull of Cantyre. If they had heard of them--what they heard of them--and if they believed in them? I have never in one single instance met a negative. All had heard of them, and all firmly believed in their existence. Some could give me anecdotes of them, some tales, some their poems, and all could give me something. I could mention scores, but I must necessarily confine myself to a few examples.
1. Dugald Bàn Mac a Chombaich, i.e., Colquhoun, Port-Appin, is, I should think, somewhat over seventy
years of age. He is a most decent old man. He could tell me lots about the Feinn. He heard much about them when a boy. They were believed in, and their memory honoured by his fathers, and he could see no reason why he should not do the same. I took down a few tales from him. One of them I had taken down previously from a decent old man in Islay, who lives at Cultorsay. Another was about Diarmad, how he killed the wild boar, and how he was killed in turn.
Diarmad was a nephew of Fingal, and one of the handsomest men amongst the Fingalians. He had a "Ballseirc," or a "Gràdh-seirc"--a beauty-spot on his forehead. To conceal this he was obliged to wear a vizer. Otherwise be was in danger of committing sad havoc amongst the tender hearts of the Fingalian fair. This is alluded to by one of our Gaelic poets. The passage may be thus translated--
Thou hast from Diarmad got a charm,
And beauty rare, divine;
A hundred souls are bound to thee--
A hundred hearts are thine.
This is a very common tradition that the Campbells are descended from Diarmad, and hence their crest--the wild boar's bead.
2. Alexander Macdonald, Portrigh, Skye, is eighty-four years old. Heard a great deal about the Feinn when young. Ossian's poems were quite common in his day. Had lots of them himself, and even yet can repeat a good deal. I took down some from him. Amongst other things, part of "Laoidh na Nighin." This old man was serving with the Rev. Mr. Stewart, who kept, he said (if I remember right), two clerks employed collecting the poems of Ossian throughout the country.
3. Donald Stewart, Ardfhraic, Skye, is ninety-two years of age. He is still hale and cheerful, and his faculties quite unimpaired. He is a quiet unassuming man, and is altogether a fine specimen of a fine old Highlander. He remembers well the days of his youth. Great and sad changes have come over the country since then. He heard much about the Feinn. Heard often the poems of Ossian. They were quite common in his day. Every person knew them, most could recite them, and all admired them. As long ago as he can remember anything, he remembers distinctly how the people used to collect to each other's houses in the long winter nights. They used to tell tales of all descriptions, sing the songs of their fathers, and recite the poetry . of Ossian. The old men recited while the young listened. Those who were the best recited, and all endeavoured to excel. They took a special pleasure in this, and in impressing the memory of the young with what they were reciting. Some of the men were very old. They said they got them from their fathers when they were young. That their fathers--that is, the old men of their day--told them they had those tales, traditions, and poems, from their own fathers. That Ossian's poems were then as well known and as much admired as anything at all could possibly be.
Assuming, then, that some of these men were as old as Donald Stewart is to-day, when he was a boy, we have thus direct and truthful evidence of the authenticity of the Poems of Ossian for the last one hundred and eighty-four years. What more need be said!
From Donald Stewart, of whom I have often heard, but whom I have only once seen, I got some curious old things. I shall endeavour to see him again ere
long, when I have no doubt I shall get extracts from him of Ossian, in all his purity.
4. Kenneth Morrison, Trithean, Skye, is old and blind. I need scarcely mention that he heard much of Ossian in his young days. A very decent old man, John Macdonald, lain MacIain Eoghain, Talamhsgeir, Skye, used to come to Kenneth Morrison's house. This John Macdonald died more than twenty years ago. He was about eighty when he died. He was a very good poet, as were his fathers before him, and so are his sons. One of his sons, who composed some very popular songs, died some years ago.
4 a. John Macdonald was a passionate admirer of Ossian. He had a great many of his poems, and could recite them most beautifully. Wherever he went he was welcome, and every person was delighted to get hold of him. He was a very pleasant old man, but his recitals of his darling Ossian fascinated all. His own house was full every night, and whenever he visited any of his friends he was literally besieged. He oftentimes came to see Kenneth Morrison, and when he did, Kenneth Morrison's house was sure to be crowded--literally crammed. From him he learned the most of what he has of Ossian's. He has forgotten the most, but he has a good many pieces yet. Amongst other pieces, I have got from him "The Death of Oscar," "Ossian's Address to the Sun," "Fingal," the beginning of Duan iv. Also, "The Arms," and "Laoidh an Amadain mhoir," as in Smith's "Sean Dana." I have got another piece from him, entitled "Bàs Chaoiril"--Caorreal's death. Caorreal was a son of Fingal and brother of Ossian. He and Gaul, the son of Morni, disputed. They fought, and Caorreal fell. 1
5. An old man, whose name I cannot just now recollect, and who is now dead, lived at Toat, opposite Airdeilbh, Lochalsh; he was very old, and died some years ago; he had known almost incredible quantities of Ossianic poetry. I have been assured by more than one who knew him intimately, that this old man had as much Ossianic poetry as would take him whole days in the recital; yet he could recite for whole nights together without the slightest hesitation, with as much ease as he could pronounce his own name. Like all the rest of his class, he used to say that he heard Ossian's poems from old men when he was a boy; that they were perfectly common, and much admired in his day; that every person knew them; that most recited, and many sung them. This old man is understood to have given a great deal of Ossianic poetry to MacPherson's followers.
6. I have the pleasure of knowing a much respected, enthusiastic Highlander, a member of the Glasgow Ossianic Society, and a clergyman, who has many Fingallian airs; he is himself an accomplished musician, and a fond admirer of the airs and poems of Ossian.
Although I have frequently heard the poems of Ossian half-recited, half-sung, I never heard them before set to music. I can, however, assure those who have not had this privilege of hearing them, that the Ossianic airs are wild, melodious, and altogether most beautiful; they are typical of the poems.
7. Mr. Donald Nicolson, parochial schoolmaster, Kilmuir, Skye, had a great deal of Ossian's poems; his father, he assured me, had more Ossianic poetry than all ever MacPherson translated; and even he himself, when a boy, could repeat what would form a tolerable sized volume. These he heard from old men in the long winter nights; he personally was acquainted with
many old men who could repeat lots of Ossian's poetry. These old men declared that Ossian's poems, in their day, were known by every person, and by every person admired. Mr. Nicolson says that much, and deservedly, as Ossian's poems, as given to the world, are admired, they are much inferior to the versions he was in the habit of hearing in boyhood; that he is of opinion MacPherson must have got his versions, generally speaking, from different reciters; I have heard others say the same. I believe those collected by Smith and some others, are generally thought to be purer versions than those collected by MacPherson.
Thus I have given the names of many unquestionable witnesses to the authenticity of Ossian's poems. Did necessity require it, I could easily give ten, aye, twenty times more. 1
If the ancient Highlanders had not their gods and goddesses like the Greeks of old, they had what was much more natural, their heroes and heroines. If they had not an invulnerable Achilles, they bad their magnanimous Fingal; if not their bewitching Juno, they bad their Dearsagrena, whose resplendent beauty was like that of the sun. If they had not their Apollo, they had their venerable Ossian, "the sweet voice of Cona," the darling of Highland hearts.
If it should be said that Ossian exaggerates the gallantry, the bravery, the magnanimity of his heroes, why, Homer does the same. If there is poetic license, why should it be denied to those who knew no restraint but that of nature. "Saul slew his thousands, and David his tens of thousands;" and why should not their enemies fall before Ossian's heroes, "like reeds of the lake of Lego," and their strength be terrible.
We have not only their names accurately handed down to us, but the names of many places were derived from those of the Fingalian heroes. There is Gleann Chonnain, Connan's vale; and Amhain Chonnain, Connan's river, in Ross-shire; and even Gleann Bhrain, Bran's-vale, in honour of Fingal's celebrated dog Bran. There is a Dun-Fionn, Fingal's height or hill, on Lochlomond. There is Sliabh nam ban Fionn, the Fingalian fair women's hill, in Liosmor.
Liosmor, it is said, was a favourite hunting place of the Fingalians; and there is even a tradition amongst the people, that here they had some of the very best sport they ever had. There is nothing improbable in this. Game must have been once very abundant in Liosmor; there are traces still to be found; antlers of the deer, the bison, and the elk, have been found in the bogs; these were of immense size. There is in Liosmor a place called Larach tigh nam Fiann, the site of the Fingalian's house; it is a large circular mound, of perhaps eighty yards diameter, and surrounded by a deep foss. There is a deep well inside, possibly it may have been used for the purpose of entrapping game. Dr. Livingstone, Gordon-Cumming, MacKenzie, all Highlanders by the by; and, if I remember right, Park, give a description of similarly constructed places amongst the Africans. Perthshire is replete with
reminiscences of the Fingalians; there is Cill Fhinn, pronounced in Gaelic and written in English, Killin, "Fingal's tomb", here, tradition says, Fingal is buried. In the neighbourhood is Sornach-coir-Fhinn, "the concavity for Fingal's boiler." Sornach means thin oblong stones raised on end in the form of a triangle; a fire is placed between, and here the culinary operations are carried on.
In Strathearn is the village of Fianntach, of or belonging to the Fingalians; in the neighbourhood are numberless cairns raised to the memory of Fingalian heroes. These cairns are the "gray mossy stones" of Ossian.
"Carn Chumhail," CUVAL'S cairn, was opened some years ago and found to contain an immense stone coffin; near this was "Ossian's tomb." In 1746, when General Wade formed the road through the county, it came across this spot. A deputation waited on the General, asking if he would take the road to a side so as not to disturb the last repose of "the first bard of antiquity." The General, however, did not find it convenient to comply with this very reasonable desire. Perhaps the engineering would not admit of it; and perhaps he had a secret desire to put the merit of the tradition to the test. Certain it is that the inhabitants of the surrounding country collected; they opened the grave, and there, sure enough, found the mortal remains of their loved Ossian. The coffin was composed of four large flag stones set on edge, covered over by another large massy stone. They lifted all with religious care and veneration, and with pipers playing the wail of the coranich they marched in solemn silence to the top of a neighbouring hill. There, on the top of that green heathery hill, they dug a grave, and there laid the last
mortal remains of Ossian, the sweet voice of Cona, the first bard of antiquity; and there they are likely to rest! no rude hand will touch them, no desecration reach them there.
There is a place in Glenelg called "Iomaire nam-fearmor," the tall or big men's ridge. Tradition says that two of the Fingalians were drowned whilst crossing Caol-reathain, and that they are interred here. A gentleman, an English gentleman I believe, who was travelling in the Highlands, heard of this tradition; he hinted that the tradition had no foundation, and, it is said, made many gratuitous remarks on Highland traditions in general, and those of the Fingalians in particular. To refute their "idle tradition," as he chose to term it, he insisted that one of the supposed graves should be opened. The people have a religious veneration for the dead, and perhaps a latent superstition against disturbing the grave, and consequently they were very much averse to opening the mound. Rather, however, than that their venerated tradition should be termed a fable, they agreed to open one of the graves, and the grave was opened. It was very deep; first there was the gravelly soil common to the place, and then a thick layer of moss; after that the gravelly soil, when they came upon another bed of moss, in which was a skeleton. Moss preserves, and it was for that purpose the body was placed in it. The bones were found to be quite fresh and of an extraordinary size. No person ever saw anything to compare with them before, and it is said no person could at all credit or even imagine the size of them but those who saw them. One gentleman who was present, the late excellent Rev. Mr. MacIver of Glenelg, and father of the much respected present minister of Kilmuir, Skye, stood six
feet two inches high; he was very Stout ill proportion, and was altogether allowed to be one of the handsomest men of his day. Every one was wonder-struck at the immensity of the bones; he took the lower jaw-bone and easily put his head through it.
It is added that it was a beautiful day; but all of a sudden there came on thunder and lightning, wind, and deluging rain, the like of which no man ever heard or saw. The people thought judgment had come upon them for desecrating the bones of the dead, and interfering with what they had no right, so they closed the grave and desisted. Possibly some may think this bordering on the marvellous; but let no one gainsay the truth of it. There are many yet living who were present, all of whom declare that they "shall never forget the day and the scene till the day of their death." There were a number of people present, gentlemen from Skye, and many from the mainland.
I have never heard who the gentleman was whose scepticism caused the opening of the grave, but the incident took place about sixty years ago. 1
Gleann-comhan--Glencoe, that is, the narrow glen--is said by tradition to be the birth-place of Ossian.
[paragraph continues] If there is in Scotland one spot more than another from which such magnificent creations as Ossian's poems could be expected to emanate, that Spot is Glencoe. Nothing can be more terrifically sublime than Glencoe during a storm. "Their sound was like a thousand streams that meet in Cona's vale, when after a stormy night they turn their dark eddies beneath the pale light of the morning." . . . "The gloomy ranks of Lochlin fell like banks of the roaring Cona." "If he overcomes, I shall rush in my strength like the roaring stream of Cona."
Ossian himself is frequently called "the voice of Cona." "Why bends the bard of Cona," said Fingal, "over his secret stream? Is this a time for sorrow, father of low-laid Oscar?" . . . "Such were the words of the bards in the days of song; when the king heard the music of harps-the tales of other times! The chiefs gathered from all the hills and heard the lovely sound. They heard and praised the voice of Cona, the first among a thousand bards!"
In Eadarloch--"twixt lochs "--Benderloch is the Selma of Ossian. It is still called Selma. It is also called Bail-an-righ--the king's house or town; and Dun-MacSntheachain--MacSniachain's hill. Here also is the Beregonium of ancient writers. There are yet many traces that Selma was once the residence of regal splendour. There is a vitrified fort, in which are found "swimming-stones." There were found, some years ago, in a moss close by, some pieces of a wooden pipe. This pipe is supposed to have been used for the purpose of bringing water to the fort or castle from the hill hard by. It is said that Garbh-MacStairn set Fingal's castle on fire, after which Fingal left the place, and resided at Fianntach, already alluded to. This tradition seems
very probable. The marks of some great calamity are yet to be seen.
In the neighbourhood of Selma are a great number of those stones that are supposed by some to have been Druidical temples. I think they are more likely to be stones erected to the memory of fallen warriors--"the dark gray stones" of Ossian. The Fall of Connel--Ossian's "roaring Lora"--is only about three miles from Selma. Not far from Connel is the "Luath," one of Ossian's streams. "Dwells there no joy in song, with hand of the harp of Luath?" Opposite Selma, on the other side of Loch-Etive, is Dunstaffnage Castle, the residence of Sir Angus Campbell, Bart., and the Dun-Lora of Ossian. The Lora-Loch-Etive-washes its base. The Gaelic name for it is Dun-sta-innis, but more properly Dun da-innis, from two islands near by. The noise of the roaring Lora is certainly awful during flood-tides. In a calm summer evening it is heard in the island of Liosmor, distant at least ten or twelve miles. 1
After what has been said, I do not think it is necessary to say more. That there was a race of people called the Feinn or Fingalians, I think no unprejudiced mind can question. That these Fingalians were traditionally remembered through-out the Highlands is perfectly certain, and that much of their poetry has been plentifully scattered and is well known there still, is equally true.
I have given the names of some from whom I myself have got Ossianic poetry, and I could give the
names of ten times more from whom I could get it. I know where and with whom it is to be got in abundance, and, did necessity require it, I could easily procure it. Some, I believe, imagine, in the simplicity of their heart, that MacPherson, the translator, was the author of Ossian's poems. Perhaps it was MacPherson that also composed the thousand and one Fingalian tales that are floating throughout the Highlands? and all the anecdotes of the Fingalians? Well, if so, I can only say that MacPherson must have been very busy in his day.
Why should not Ossian's poetry be handed down from generation to generation like the rest of the Fingalian tales? I do not think that any can be found bold enough to question the authenticity of the tales. I do not believe that any person doubts the antiquity of the Celtic fables and romances. It is more than probable they were composed at least three thousand years ago, and brought by the Celtic nations in their migrations from the East. If, therefore, the Celtae have preserved their fabulous tales and romances for the long period of three thousand years or more, and repeat them still, why not, on the same principle, preserve amongst them the magnificent creations of Ossian for, at least, half the time?
Homer flourished more than nine hundred years B.C., and his poems floated amongst the Greeks for more than five hundred years, till the Greek historian collected them. Yet their authenticity was never questioned. Were the ancient Greeks more addicted to poetry, and consequently more capable of preserving the creations of Homer than the Celtae those of Ossian? I can hardly believe so. There is a very strong resemblance betwixt Homer and Ossian. Both flourished in a primitive state of society, and both are equally
the poets of nature and of nature's laws. If there is an analogy betwixt Homer and Ossian, why not betwixt the preservation of their works?
That poetry of the most magnificent description has been common throughout the Highlands from ages immemorial is unquestionable; that much of that poetry has always been ascribed to Ossian is equally certain; and that he was the author of much of it is more than probable. The ancient Highlanders never for a single moment doubted the authenticity of Ossian's poems. The modern Highlanders believe in those which they know and repeat as certainly and as implicitly as they do in the Song of Solomon or the Psalms of David. This I can testify to from personal observation. I believe in them myself-fully believe. I am literally convinced that Fingal lived and that Ossian sang.
ALEXANDER A. CARMICHAEL.
SKYE, 28th November 1861.
Mr. Carmichael has also referred to many of the printed authorities quoted by me above, to prove that, shortly before MacPherson's time, collections of poetry attributed to Ossian had been made in the Highlands of Scotland.
In a letter dated December 9th, the writer of the above able paper gives an amusing account of a walk through rain and storm to visit an old dame, Catrina nic Mhathain, who is seventy-six, and fully confirms what has been said above. She is a capital singer of Ossianic lays, and praises the singing of a certain catechist, Donald MacIain ic Eoghain, of whom frequent mention is made, and who died many years ago. It was his wont to gather crowds of people by chanting these old lays. I have heard the same account of a
[paragraph continues] Sutherland reciter. It seems that preachers and missionaries did not formerly condemn Gaelic poetry, and the minority who do so now are not of the best educated, so far as my experience goes.
The old dame was asked if she had ever heard tell of Osein. "Who, my dear?" she said in surprise. "Osein and the Fein; did you ever hear tell of them?" "Lord bless us!" said the old lady, "who has not heard tell of Osein! gentle Osein, the son of Fionn--Osein after the Feinne?"
I agree with Mr. Carmichael that this exclamation is worth volumes of argument.
And now, having given all the evidence which I have, let me give my own opinion on this much vexed question.
I hold that there is nothing to prove that MacPherson, Ossian, or any other individual, composed the Gaelic poems of 1807--or that they are older than MacPherson's time as a whole--but there is a mass of evidence to prove that he had genuine materials, some of which we also have got for ourselves, and there is a strong presumption that he had something which we have not. Nothing was forthcoming after MacPherson's death except his manuscript which was published; so that is one "fact," at all events.
When it is considered how much old poetry rests upon the existence of single manuscripts in other languages, and that MacPherson certainly had a mass of materials, it is possible that there may have been some compounder of poems far older than the man who gets the credit and discredit of "Ossian;" still there is nothing but "Ossian's Poems" to prove that their composer lived anywhere at any time. It is certain
that the heroes have been Celtic worthies for centuries, and that their exploits have been celebrated in Gaelic verse ever since the ninth century, if not the seventh: but of the published Gaelic Ossian as an entire work there is not a trace before MacPherson's time. I have no doubt that the work is founded upon genuine old popular materials, and I would rank it for originality with Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," or "Homer," if the Greek poems were floating ballads before they were made into epic poems. But till the author is discovered, MacPherson's name must be associated with his publication. That must rank as a Scoto-Gaelic work at least a hundred years old, and till the contrary is proved, Ireland has not a ghost of a claim to it.
"MacPherson's Ossian" is, as I conceive, without doubt a composite work, to be ranked in the class which I have numbered 5th or 6th; poetry made up of various materials, ancient and modern, like houses which I have seen in ancient Greece. There, an old Corinthian capital is placed upside down in one corner, its graceful acanthus leaves drooping upwards, and beside it lies a fluted shaft, with boulders and turf resting upon it,--sculptured white marble is mingled with ordinary stones of the roughest description, and the whole is bound together with lime and cement, overgrown with weeds, and, it may be, daubed with ignoble mud; but MacPherson's Ossian, like the Greek hut, is, in the main, composed of genuine materials, and a clever antiquary, or a good critic, might yet pick out all the old fragments, and mayhap arrange them more scientifically. To do so would be loss of labour, for we have a mass of similar materials, Scotch and Irish. The Greek hut, with all its incongruities, dirt, and discomfort, with its dress of shrubs and lichens, and utter
disregard of the rules of architecture, is more likely to attract a painter's eye than the most symmetrical museum of antiquities, geology, and botany, or the most luxurious brick palace in London; and so Ossian has attracted the notice and the admiration of famous men, who would not have bestowed a thought upon popular tales and ballads separately arranged, and classed in due order, as I have striven to do with my stores.
Ossian is a fiction, but a structure founded upon facts, a work built mainly of Scotch materials, worked by Scotch minds long ago--a very famous work a century old, which is known far and wide, while that of honest John Gillies is almost quite unknown. But the fame of the architect is not to be coveted, for the stigma of dishonesty rests upon his name. MacPherson undoubtedly tried to deceive, and especially when he denied to Ireland all share in the heroes of Ossian, or seemed to claim the entire work as his own invention.
If this be correct; if such was the real nature of the work; when the author held his peace and refused any explanation; when party spirit ran high, and Scotch were rebels, there was room for controversy. Antiquaries might fall upon the traditional and genuine, because it seemed modern, and deny the antiquity of the whole. Irishmen might recognise bits of their property, and claim the entire work. Indignant Scotchmen, knowing their own, might fret and fume and plead possession, and defend the right and the wrong; and the "Gall," the stranger, knowing nothing of the case, hearing the din, and called on to accept the whole as historically true, and a genuine work, complete, and completely preserved by tradition alone, for some fifteen centuries, might well indignantly reject the
whole as a set of impudent forgeries and fictions. John Bull is "not going to be gulled," and "he will not believe anything of a man who tries to do him once," and so everything Gaelic is suspected to this day. In this battle of the inky plumes all sides might well lose their tempers, or spoil them. But, for all that, truth may now be found amongst the relies of the strife, amongst wasted ink and spoilt paper; and the truth, as I imagine, lies as usual somewhere in the middle. She may be enticed out of her well by coaxing, patience, and perseverance, but she is only driven deeper, and far out of sight, by wrangling critics, who fight for her favours as men have fought, and are still fighting, for the truth of this Ossianic controversy.
When "Flosi (in the Njal Saga) undertook to tell the story of the burning, he was fair to all; and therefore what he said was believed." I have tried to tell my story fairly, and if any one holds a different opinion, let him not quarrel with mine.
"Cogadh na sith," strife or peace, is an old Gaelic watchword, We have tried the first for a century, and made very little by it, except bad blood; let Celts try a turn on the other road, and, at all events, let us give up fighting amongst ourselves.
There is an old monkey of my acquaintance whose wont it is to hoist his hind leg over his shoulder, and lean his head confidingly on the sole of his foot, and caress his cars with his toes, till his toes, in some strange unaccountable manner, excite his wrath; then he seizes the offending foot in both hands, and grins defiance at it, and cuffs it and bites it, till a new freak comes over him, and he sits down upon his heels, and goes to sleep again, at peace with himself and the rest of the world.
I never see this venerable pug without thinking that he must be the embodied spirit of the Ossianic controversy, which it is my ambition to lull fast asleep for good and all.
149:1 There is a popular tale known all over Europe, in which a mortal acquires the power of seeing immortals, betrays the power by speaking to one, and is deprived of one eye. I have got the story in many shapes from the Highlands--J. F. C.
150:1 This legend is very like that of Arthur, who, when he was sore wounded, sailed of in a boat to the "Island of Avalon" (Gaelic, "avlan," apples), where he is supposed still to live.
The curious ceremonies performed by the Hebrideans when they visited the Flannen islands, according to Martin, probably have to do with this old world belief. Flath-innis is one of the words still used for heaven. It means the hero's island, and Flath-innis-ean might easily be contracted to Flannen. There is a chapel on these uninhabited, westernmost of western islands which is of great and unknown antiquity; and there is a chapel on nearly every western island in Scotland and Ireland; and it may be that the first Christian missionaries planted their churches in these remote corners as the very strongholds of Paganism. There is a chapel in the Shiant islands, which I take to be a corruption of Eileanan nan sithichean, the islands of the fairies or peaceful people, and almost every small island to which a legend is attached, such as the haunted island, of the Rhinns of Islay, has its Christian chapel as well.--J. F. C.
154:1 It is to be remarked that the published Ossian, and the whole of the suspected class, are also entirely free from any such words, though the construction of the language is different from that of the ballads.--J. F. C.
154:2 In this, the suspected Ossian resembles the traditional ballads from which it is supposed to have been taken.--J. F. C.
165:1 Story of Burnt Njal, vol. i., 136.
174:1 This idea also occurs in measured prose in the tale of Murdoch MacBrian.
177:1 These words made into English of the same construction, do not convey the meaning. "Daggery, powdery, horny," would be absurd in English poetry, but they are the words in Gaelic.--J. F. C.
188:1 The measure is exactly that of the quick part of a piobaireachd, or pipering, called "pibroch" in English. The conclusion fits the slow ending of such pieces.
198:1 It is to be observed that this witness says nothing of the Gaelic Ossian of 1807.
216:1 The poems in question have been sent to me, and are preserved with the rest. See list at the end.--J. F. C.
218:1 January 1862. Mr. Carmichael has sent me the names of several other persons who can repeat traditional Ossianic lays, and specimens of these compositions, taken down from dictation. Many of these closely resemble ballads which I had got elsewhere, and prove to demonstration that these are very commonly known in all parts of the Highlands. Others resemble parts of the Ossian of 1807-such as "Cuchullin in his Car"--which I believe to be an old passage, and which has been found in Ireland also.--J. F. C.
222:1 I cannot answer for these facts, but I can vouch for the currency of this story in the district; it is fully believed there. Unless the people stumbled upon the grave of a real giant, they must have got hold of the bones of some antediluvian creature. A grave marked by two large stones, some ten feet apart, was once opened by a relation of mine elsewhere, and was found to contain large bones and coarse hair "like horse hair." It is asserted that the skeleton of a fossil man has lately been found, and that several "fossil" skeletons were found in France some time ago, and buried by order of a priest, The learned are engaged upon the discovery. One skull is said to be small, and of a low type; but there are giant Lapps now.-J. F. C.
224:1 All this is very strong internal evidence that the poems published by MacPherson were composed by some bard well acquainted with the west of Scotland.--J. F. C.