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John Stuart Blackie
Chapter XVIII. The Celtic Chair 1875 - 1876


THE record of this movement from start to finish forms the main source for Professor BIackie's biography during the ensuing four years.

The matter had been relegated to the University Council as soon as he seriously undertook its promotion. A committee was formed, which included representatives of the Edinburgh University, of the Highlands, of Celtic scholarship, and of the Free Church. Sir Alexander Grant, Professor Masson, Cluny Macpherson, Mr Alexander Nicolson, Lord Neaves, and Professor Macgregor were its members. Professor Blackie was member and convener, as well as executor of its behests. Papers indicating the circumstances which made the preservation of Celtic dialects urgent, and fitted with blank pages for subscription-lists, were prepared and forwarded to all parts of the kingdom, as well as to all provinces and colonies of the empire where Highlanders were resident. These were accompanied by the Professor's personal appeal,—on behalf of the maintenance of Gaelic in the Highlands for the people; of the Celtic dialects in the University for the needs of philological study.

The schools consequent upon the new educational policy were—in all parts of the Highlands —sapping the very foundations of their language. Manned by English-speaking teachers, they condemned the children who did not understand English to sit side by side with those who did, to read the same lessons, and to profit by them as best they could. To little girls and boys who painfully learned to utter sounds which conveyed 110 meaning to them, the hours at school were an unredeemed penance. The teacher had no means of relieving their futility, for a knowledge of Gaelic was not a necessary qualification for his post. At the expense of these early victims, however, the conviction was well stamped into the minds of the Highlanders that education, employment, success depended upon their losing the mother-tongue and adopting that of the Sassenach law-maker. We hear much, and with some indignation, of interference with the languages of Poland, Finland, and such outlying lands of imperial rule; but the process went on in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with a slow, sure, and impalpable tyranny. To arrest its mischievous pressure, and to save Gaelic from extinction, was as much the aim of the "Apostle of the Celts" as was the mere academic rescue of its language and literature. He addressed himself to a more concentrated study of these than hitherto,—comrnunicated with every available scholar whose proficiency was by right of birth as well as by right of inclination,—sought out the local poets and archologists, with whom remained the treasure of traditional lore,—and translated himself passages from the Ossianic poems, and lyrical, heroic, or elegiac songs from the Highland "makers" of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Mr Campbell of Islay was one of his helpers; and Alexander Nicolson, the loyalest Celt, the truest friend, the sweetest singer of his clan, gave him unwearied assistance in disentangling the historical from the mythical in the mass over which he pored.

Along with his studies went his public advocacy, and together they took the concrete form of public lectures. In Scotland the lecture was on Gaelic and its literature, in England it was on the English language with its Celtic elements. They were delivered wherever the platform of an institute, club, or society was opened to him. He charged a fee of from five to ten guineas, according to the finances of the association, and this money went to swell the fund for the Celtic chair. Wherever this duty led him he awoke enthusiastic response, and during the first half of 1875 subscriptions poured into the fund, and their acknowledgment, banking, and booking occupied a considerable portion of his time. By the month of May 4000 stood to the credit of his cause. The Dukes of Argyll and Sutherland, the Mackay clan, the Celtic Society of Glasgow, Mr Duncan M'Neill, The Chisholm, the Marquis of Bute, Mr Fraser Mackintosh of Drummond, Mr Lachlan Macdonald of Skeabost, Mr Barbour, Mr Duncan Smith, Mr Mackinnon, Mr Hall, the Royal Celtic Society of Edinburgh, and Mr C. Morrison contributed 100 each to this sum; and professors, Highland Proprietors, doctors, lawyers, and others made up its complement. It is scarcely delicate, however, to give a detailed list of those who, by prompt giving, made their gifts of double worth, and gave a foretaste of the supplies whose stream his advocacy released. From all quarters came backing for his cause,—from Travancore in India; from Darjeeling and Ceylon; from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Newfoundland; from Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, San Francisco, and Illinois; from Skye, the Lews, Barra, and the sterile islets of the west; from theatres and banks and post-offices and police-stations; from clans and regiments and Highland gatherings; from the richest and the poorest; from her Majesty the Queen, and from Highlanders who could offer only their scanty pence sent in the form of postage-stamps. And with every contribution, great and small, came the same generous enthusiasm, the same ardent gratitude, the same rich meed of admiring encouragement.

It was to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll that Professor Blackie owed her Majesty's cordial interest in his undertaking—an interest expressed in a donation of 200 towards the fund, as well as in her gracious command to be informed from time to time of his success.

The year 1875 began with public meetings,— that at Inverness being perhaps the most notable, although the Professor was not himself present. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Mr Davidson of Tulloch, Bishop Eden, Mr Jolly, and Dr Carruthers roused the neighbourhood with their speeches. By the end of the University session so great progress had been made with the fund that the Council formed a new and larger committee, to which Dr M'Lauchlan, the translator of the Dean of Lismore's collection of Gaelic verse, was added. Dr Clerk of Kilmallie, the most recent of the translators of Ossian, was also requested to join its ranks, and the Committee addressed itself to the work of widening, the circle of enthusiasm already reached.

The Professor himself left Edinburgh for the south at the end of April, and after a journey whose dulness was enhanced by an exasperating effort to master Browning's 'Aristophanes' Apology,' he reached Birmingham, welcomed at the station by "a band of honest Highlanders," and stayed there a couple of days to lecture for the Chair. The next step was to London, where he made his home with the Archers. A promise weighed painfully on his his mind, that of writing a notice of Mr Dobell's poems just published. Love for his friend did not blind him to their defects, and after a prolonged study, he decided to put off an uncongenial task for the present. He could not praise immoderately, and lie feared to wound by a critical estimate.

Mr Archer's portrait of him was now in the Academy's Exhibition, and was much admired. The usual whirl of engagements swept him into its vortex, and he spent all May, with a short interlude, in lunching, dining, breakfasting with friends new and old. The only time he could rescue for his Gaelic study was a morning hour in bed, but every visit paid was an opportunity for "making a victim" to the cause. In several of his letters we discover anxiety about the foxgloves at Altnacraig, and directions for new sowing and transplanting into sheltered nooks of this favourite flower.

A charming letter from Mr Isaac Taylor brought him a contribution on May 19 :-

You have heard [wrote the genial vicar] the story of the widow's mite. I am, as you correctly observe, "a poor devil," and you will see by the enclosed papers that my last year's stipend amounted to the sum of 1, 14s. 1d. Well, to show you the interest I take in your Celtic Chair, I will, like the widow, give it ALL!!!—the only condition being that you must come and fetch it, according to your promise. What are the paltry hundreds and fifties of your great Highland lairds after such munificence? I think I ought to be put in a tract as an example to others.

He rushed north to Edinburgh on May 27 to speak at both Presbyterian Assemblies; and having acquitted himself manfully to thunders of applause, he dined with the Lord High Commissioner on the 29th, and took the night train back to London. Next day he

lunched with Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, whose wife is sister of that noble Celt, John Campbell of Islay; and then I called oil the publisher, who gave me a present of Schliemann's book on Troy, and on Macmillan (two future victims of the Celtic Chair), on the Marquis of Huntly, and on Dr Dyce Duckworth, a pledged victim.

On June 2 came the Duke of Argyll's letter with the welcome news of the Queen's subscription, "accompanied by a warm expression of approval on her Majesty's part"; and on June 6 a great public luncheon was given at Willis's Rooms to further the fund, the Marquis of Huntly presiding.

Next day he was in Oxford, and wrote to Mrs Blackie :-

Archer and I arrived here last night. After breakfast to-day an hour was spent over the last notes of my imminent lecture, and then I marched forth to the new Museum of Natural History. There I waited till the Marquis of Lorne and dear Dr Acland came in, and at twelve exactly we entered the lecture-room, which was quite full of dons and ladies, the grave and the beautiful gracefully blended. I made a proper apology for having invited myself to lecture to such a distinguished audience, and commenced my philologic fire without further ceremony. The audience was most sympathetic and attentive; and I concluded after an hour's talking by reciting two of my own poetical translations from the Gaelic poets, which met with responsive rounds of pedestrian applause, even from the tall, majestic, and grave Dean of Christ Church, who was sitting exactly before me. When I sat down the Marquis stood up to pronounce the triumphant eulogy of the Pro.! After lecture I went with Dr Acland to lunch with the members of the Royal Family who are living in his house. I sat between the Duke of Connaught and Prince Leopold, both pleasant and agreeable young men. From the open window of the lunching-room we walked into a garden of such lux- uriant greenery as England alone can show, in the midst of which the Princess and Mr Acland and the Argyll ladies were sitting at tea under a bower through which the sun shot the most delicate radiance. I sat beside the Princess Louise, whom I love much she is so frank and unaffected, and so tastefully but plainly adorned. While discussing the tea some talk arose about the pronunciation of Latin, and I sung one of the Odes of Horace to a well-known Scotch tune. We then adjourned to the gardens of Worcester College, where there was a grand exhibition of flowers; and now I am in the cool shade of the Rugby club-room, writing to my deane. To-night we go to an evening party at the Aclands', where we shall rub shoulders with Royalty again, and feel less inclined than ever to pull down the Established Church or to dethrone the Queen! To-morrow is Commemoration. I shall see the shows here, and return to London with the afternoon train. On Thursday I breakfast with Gladstone, and take the night train to Edinburgh.

At Dr Acland's party,

who came in but Ruskin, and we embraced publicly! The man is overflowing with goodness, but fond of asserting extreme and one-sided opinions. I love him. Oxford has widened her jacket considerably since I first knew it; has been forced, indeed, like Noah's ark, to admit all sorts of beasts, clean and unclean, being, as the 'Daily News' has it, ethereal enough to admit Mr Ruskin, and Scotch enough to tolerate Professor Blackie!

He was back at Aitnacraig by the middle of June, struggling with a pile of letters which had accumulated during the few days of his detention in Edinburgh. Of these the most interesting, connected with the Celtic Chair, was one from his friend Mr William Jolly, H.M. Inspector of Schools for the Highlands, who had made his home in the neighbourhood of Inverness. This contained an invitation to join a tour of inspection in the Outer Hebrides—the Uists and Barra—a month later.

You would see these remarkable Atlantic lands [wrote Mr Jolly] beneath the great ocean breezes, unadulterated from the American shores and the Gulf Stream; visit the scattered schools, in which you can give full play to your Gaelic; be treated with the ancient hospitalities of the brave Clan Ranald; be tossed on the billows of the open sea in the light strong boats of the good fishermen there; in short, have pleasant, happy, strange, instructive, educational, and unique experiences.

The invitation was promptly accepted, and the intervening weeks were used to put into literary form the results of the Professor's researches into the history and literature of the Highlands. He had wished Mr Campbell of Islay to be a candidate for the Celtic Chair in due season, but the suggestion did " not smile" upon his friend, who wrote on June 19

I would not sit in that chair for 100,000 a-year. There was a man in a tale I woe of who was found by the hero in a field breaking big stones by sitting on them. When the princess was fairly won, a traitor king prepared a chair with a steel spike in it for the hero, who had engaged the stone-crusher as henchman. The henchman sat in the chair, and the hero sat therein afterwards. I have not got a Tonchruaidh to prepare the seat for me, and I would not sit on spikes to be pelted with hard epithets by all the Gaelic scholars in the kingdom. When asked for my opinion, I will vote for the man best fitted to sit on spikes and be pelted with jaw-breakers.

On July 7 he took steamer for Inverness, and stayed with Mr Jolly for a few days. Here is the programme of their activities:-

To-morrow some driving about in the forenoon, and in the evening speechification; on Friday, the great day of the wool-market, public dinner, speechification, and, as I hope, pocket-picking; on Saturday, Glen-Urquhart and its beauties and hospitalities; on Sunday, perhaps Dingvall; on Monday, Portree; and in Skye generally till next Saturday.

Here I am [he wrote on July 10], halfway between Inverness and Glen - Urquhart, where we shall arrive before nine and take breakfast with Major Grant, a ruddy-faced soldier, full of vigour and heartiness, and a good Celt—as all the best-hearted and most manly men in the Highlands are those who have the kindest side to the traditions, character, and language of their fathers. The meeting of the Ossianic Society on Thursday night was a bumper affair. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh was in the chair, giving an element of dignity to the meeting. At 4 pm yesterday we took dinner with the big sheep-lairds and a whole host of people of a very different complexion from the Pro.; but contrast is stimulating and variety agreeable. Fraser-Mackintosh was again in the chair; next to him Lochiel, and next the Pro, and Mr Jolly. It was a very laudable sort of dinner, beinging speeches—in two hours. Lochiel spoke excellently, and the Pro. as usual was " characteristic"

On Monday they made their way by Strome Ferry and Broadford to the manse of l3laven, a first hospitable stage in Skye. The weather changed to drenching rain, and their progress by boat, by dog-cart, and on foot was made

"resigned to the fate of ducks. Nothing else disagree- able has occurred, only a certain obtrusive amount of attention, an everlasting too muchness. Half an inch of butter on the bread is delightful, but a whole inch revives the wish for a dry crust."

This suggests fatigue. Hospitality greeted the travellers in all nooks of Skye, which they left on the 19th for North Uist, spending three days on the treeless island, in whose churchyard he found the grave of a native poet and wit mentioned by Macpherson.

We then proceeded some six or seven miles till we came to the shore of the long faodhia that separates North Uist from Benbecula. It is a long arm or stretch of the sea overflowing the flat laud at full tide, but leaving it dry at low water and half-tide; so we had the strange experieuce of walking across from the one island to the other literally on the sea-bottom, and with a vivid impression of what happened to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, when he made a similar transit across an arm of the Red Sea. It was market-day in Benbecula, and as our transit was made late in the afternoon, we had the satisfaction of seeing large cavalcades of the natives with long strings of cattle coming across the briny flat, and with the high mountains and S.E. cones of N. Uist making a picture worthy of the best moments of Faed. The men, mounted on goodly and most serviceable ponies, are big-boned and massive, and regularly Roman in their noses. The people here generally seem made of good stuff; they are strong and large rather than handsome.

From Benbecula Mr Jolly's duties led them to South Uist, whence the Professor wrote on July 28 :-

This is the place where Flora Macdonald was born, and we arejust returned from visiting the ruins of her cottage, all grown over with nettles, and dock, and burdock, and rank grass. Enclosed is some grey lichen and forget-me-not from the inside of the ruins. I took off my hat and kissed the large grey stone at the door of the house. On Tuesday we ascended Mount Hecla, the highest point of S. Uist, and had a splendid view of the expatiation of desolation of which this island principally consists. On Saturday we cross to Barra.

The tour had been utilised for lectures at For- tree and Drimisdale to Skye and South Uist audiences. It came to an end in Mull about the middle of August.

Many years earlier Professor Blackie had vowed to see a new part of Scotland every summer if possible, and he had made good his purpose hitherto, contenting himself with short visits to as yet unknown localities, when his intervals from the pressure of many engagements were few and brief. This year, however, in Mr Jolly's instructive and pleasant company, he covered a larger area than usual.

On his return to Altnacraig lie found a letter commanding his presence at Inveraray Castle, where the Queen was staying. Her Majesty wished to learn from his own lips the results which he had hitherto attained in advocating the Celtic Chair. His luggage had gone astray, and the summons was immediate. He was starting cheerfully, minus his dress clothes, when at the last moment his portmanteau appeared on a friendly wheelbarrow, and his confidence in the natural course of things" was justified. He got safely through the audience, and the Queen sent her birthday - book for his signature and motto the following morning. He wrote both Greek and Gaelic texts after his name.

The autumn was given to his book on Gaelic literature, to the session work, to Celtic Chair business, and to lectures at Newcastle, Kirkcudbright, Carlisle, and Liverpool. An extract from the minutes of the General Council of the Edinburgh University gives us the date 29th October 1875 for the Council's acknowledgment of the report of the Celtic Chair Committee, and their approval of the investment of sums already collected, with their authority for the investment of further sums on similar security, in the names of the Principal of the University, Professor Blackie, and Mr Donald Beith, W.S.,— the last-named gentleman acting as treasurer to the fund.

The habit of rhyming, which acted as a safety- valve to his emotions and just indignations, laid up a store of verses, the harvest of long journeys, of pedestrian tours, of overwhelming impressions, which demanded issue in book form every few years. In time for a New Year's gift to his wife appeared 'Songs of Religion and of Life,' which included the "Generous Evangelist" already mentioned, as well as a number of poems belonging to former publications. Amongst the contributions freshly minted were some hymns, which combined a very true reverence of feeling with a rather combative expression. His ire was roused by the sacerdotalism which, while a prescribed factor in certain church systems, is too apt to creep into those Churches whose very watchword is liberty from its oppression. The Free Church of Scotland was notorious at the time for the personal pronouncement of dogma as from men having authority, and much of the matter in these verses which hurts the reader's sense to-day was provoked by a kind of parochial Popery when they were written. They represent a mood provoked by clerical presumption, rather than a dispassionate and reverential utterance on their supreme themes.

Some of the Songs of Life better express his Joyous, grateful, deep - seated adoration, and amongst them "A Song of Summer", "Farewell to Summer, A Song of Three Words," and "The Garden " are true and spontaneous strains. But at the time the volume comforted many hearts sore with the fitful prevalency of intolerance and ignorance, and may be held to have done service in its season. The Rev. John Pulsford wrote of it :-

Songs sung into you by heaven and earth, and the Sacred Spirit, which weareth both, will sing something into me. God bless you, and relate you, and me too, more and ever more intimately to the Fountain of all musical truth, and make us clearer voices of its all-including harmonies, for the glory of the Good One, and the quicken- in" and refreshment of His children.

And Sir Theodore Martin, to whom a specially inscribed copy was sent, responded with words of vivid affection :-

The ties which have now for so many years bound us have never been relaxed or broken. Thee are few things in my life I value more than your friendship—few on which I look back with more satisfaction. What a happy thing it has been for a man immersed like me in the exacting labours of professional life, that I made such friends as yourself, and cherished the tastes which such friendship implies!

The work of the fund went on apace. It led the Professor into fierce conflict on the Ossianic question. His advocacy of the Gaelic language, Dr Archibald Clerk's new translation of Ossian, and Dr Hately Waddell's 'Ossian and the Clyde,' had revived the whole question of Macpherson's sincerity. The Professor inclined to Dr Clerk's views, and plunged into the fray against all corners, conspicuously against Mr Campbell of Islay, a humorous and delightful antagonist. Their pens crossed and shivered all the spring and summer of 1876, Mr Campbell refusing to believe in Macpherson's Gaelic, which his opponent respected as partly ancient and partly modern, holding that those epical fragments which were taken down from recitation had suffered the time-change that affects all vernaculars. Mr Campbell was an acknowledged judge of Gaelic, for he had spent his best leisure amongst the West Highlanders in collecting not only their popular tales, but their heroic ballads. The latter he had published in their native language as the 'Leabhar na Feinn,' a book full of true sympathy with the genius of the people. The combatants asserted and reasserted their positions, neither conquering the other's conviction, but the correspondence was one of the Professor's diversions during the year 1876.

Two notes from distinguished contributors to the fund belong to this time, and should be quoted. One is from Dr John Brown, ever the beloved physician" to those who knew him :

This is all I can give [he wrote]; you are a happy and victorious man, clad with zeal as with a cloak.

Professor Lushington's letter runs

MY DEAR HOMEROPHIL,—It is a singular spectacle when the most sonnenklar truths escape the ken of time keenest critics. You, translator and commentator of Homer, have missed time obviously true meaning of some noted passages: it is not given to every man to know himself, and the only possible solution of your failing to discover the true reading must be that you are the true reading.

Rendered in Sassenach,

"Blackie led the Celts, grim hordes of speech uncouth;
Blackie, son of splendour, princely, bright-eyed youth,
Blackie, fairest warrior, came to battle laden
With gold he grabbed from all sides, like a radiant maiden.
The virtuous mail of impudence he donned right merrilie,
A universal beggar, a wordy Wanderer be
He reared a lofty Celtic Chair, which Babel's Tower resembled,
And in the chair he shook himself, and earth and heaven trembled."

The writer of this biography spent a fortnight of January 1866 in the pleasant home-life of 24 Hill Street, and well remembers the constant going and coming of the "wordy Wanderer"; the little dinner-parties, where precedence was not, nor chill, nor tedium,—at a round table, on which the dainty dishes stood and were carved at which Dr John Brown, Dr Hanna, Professor Hodgson, and Isabella Bird vied with each other in wise wit and tender record of human needs and strivings, while laughter hailed the host's alert interjections, and condoned his sparkling personalities. Nor can she forget Mrs Blackie's nursing, nor the invalid's room, to which all kindly visitors repaired, where afternoon tea was drunk, and grey professors did not disdain to visit the sick, made brave in lace and shawls to receive company.

A lecture at Newcastle on "Bismark and Compulsory Military Service" varied the procession of lectures on Gaelic. It was given on February 4, and was fully reported in various journals. The report interested military men, and was circulated amongst them by Colonel Cunningham Robertson, who brought it to the appreciative notice of Sir Garnet Wolseley. But its fee was devoted to the Celtic Chair, and it deserves record rather because he "glorified blood and iron triumphantly in the face of a sweet Quaker hostess," and followed this feat up by a sympathetic visit to the Quakers' meeting, than for any lasting impression made by his belligerent flourish."

Dr Walter C. Smith received a call from the Free High Church of Edinburgh early this year, and "flitted" from Glasgow accordingly. The Professor, who missed Dr Guthrie, welcomed in his friend a poet and scholar, as well as pastor. He regularly attended the afternoon service in the High Church, and part of its value to him was in the walk afterwards with Dr Smith, and the talk upon deep matters of the spiritual life at his house. This became habitual, and there can be no doubt that to his pastor he opened a storehouse of inmost thought and feeling sealed up from the general eye. Not that he acknowledged him as one set in spiritual authority over him, for he held that every believer was a priest, and as such open, if lie would, to the divine revelation; but they met in affectionate and mutual insight, to hold discourse on matters sacred to both.

The review of Sydney Dobell's poems, which he had found impossible the year before, engaged some hours of March, and he was able to imbue it sufficiently with the love and reverence which he bore to the man, to soften the honest rigour of his criticism on the poems. He was not a good judge of poetry, being prejudiced by adhesion to certain hard and fast standards.

It was in this month also that he began to lecture in Edinburgh and elsewhere on "Scottish Song," one of his favourite subjects for the last fifteen of his platform years. Across the Borders this address was always rapturously received on account of the genial gibes which it contained against his Anglified countrymen, who thought it vulgar to sing the songs of Burns, of Lady Nairne, and of the Ettrick Shepherd. Iii the earlier years of its deliverance he sang the illustrations himself, and no one who heard his rendering of "The Bonnie Hoose o' Airlie," or "Get Up and Bar the Door," or "Jenny Geddes," or "Kelvin Grove," or "Wooed air' Married an' a'," was likely to forget it. His voice had lost some of its power and sweetness, but had greatly gained in dramatic expression, and this was enhanced by the vigorous play of feature and of hands, and by the sudden shifting from place to place—marching in time to heroic refrain—flinging himself into attitude, now as the lover, now as the yielding maiden, now as the arrogant foe, now as the brave defender. Here is a report of his appearance on the platform of the Scottish Literary Society :-

Long silvery hair and a wide turned-over shirt-collar recalled to memory the late Professor Wilson, but the resemblance ceased-unless, indeed, the good - humour pervading the finely cut features of Professor l3lackie be taken, though differing in quality, to be the same as used to light up the more massive face of the immortal Christopher.

The fees for this lecture were paid into the fund for the Celtic Chair. It furnished matter for letters from a host of Scotchmen at home and abroad, ready to follow his standard in the fray. It is hardly possible to point to a single peaceful utterance by the Professor in public. His speeches and lectures are never tranquil expositions of their subjects. His rhetoric was ever launched against the foe, his vivacity was pointless unless shafted to pierce. They were bloodless blows indeed that he dealt, and extorted laughter from their victims, because, keen as he was and ready with taunt and challenge, he was utterly free from personal animosity, from rancour, and from envy, and was astonished when in fair verbal fight he drew wrath and invective to himself. He waged war on views and habits, on fashions and opinions, which he disliked, not upon persons,—although the names of persons figured in his diatribes as representative of their theories. A correspondence on the subject of Scottish music occupied some columns of the 'Scotsman' during the last week of March, and the Professor contributed a letter on the 27th of the month which summed up his gospel thereanent,---a gospel to be preached in season and out of season for the remainder of his life.

On May 1 he read a paper to the members of the Royal Society on the subject of the Ossianic controversy, the report of which in the 'Scotsman,' meagre though it was, pleased Dr Clerk of Kilmaflie greatly.

John Campbell will not answer you [wrote the translator],--he can't; but he will contradict you, and repeat his contradiction ten times over, though you should convince all the world except himself. He is a wonderful collector, but he does not know Gaelic with any degree of accuracy,—great "circa Celtica," nothing "in Celticis." I hope your lecture will be published separately and widely circulated. It will do a world of good.

"John Campbell" wrote:-

If you want to kick up more dust, send me a copy of your speech for review and I'll pitch into you. I will send you my writing, if I write, and you can get it printed if you like. What mean you by "scrappy"? I find that word together with "scratchy" applied to my own writings; but if Macpherson's materials were scraps, how about his grand Gaelic originals? May your coppers increase, and the basis of your chair be broad as the Pyramids of Egypt. FAILTE!

Professor Campbell Shairp came from St Andrews expressly to hear the paper, and endorsed its argument with his agreement.

The Gaelic Society at Inverness elected the Professor as its chief about this time.

He was in correspondence with all the living versifiers in the Gaelic language, and was busy making translations from their works. In sober truth," wrote Dugald Macphail, the Mull poet, and contributor to the 'Gael,' "I don't consider myself worthy of notice as a Gaelic poet. I love and admire the language, and these passions intensify the more I study and know it." His poem on Mull is answer enough to this modest disclaimer :-

"My blessing, fair Mull, shall be constant with thee,
And thy green-mantled Bens, with their roots in the sea!"

John Campbell of Ledaig was an old friend, a neighbour indeed in summer, whose acquaintance visits to Connel Ferry had cultivated; and Mary Mackellar was an occasional visitor in Hill Street. Specimens of their verses are to be found translated by Professor Blackie and Sheriff Nicolson in the 'Language and Literature of the Highlands,' with whose concluding pages the author was now busy.

An Inquiry Commission for the Scottish Universities commenced its work in 1875, and he had been in correspondence with several of its members during the year. Its slow processes brought about in the end some of the reforms which he had demanded during nearly half a century, amongst them the preliminary examination for all students intending to qualify for a degree. A letter received in May from Mr J. A. Froude, who served on this leisurely Commission, is interesting rather from its frankly- admitted ignorance than from its value to the history of University Reform :-

Beyond having assented to a request that I would be a member of the Scottish Universities Commission, which I received sonic months ago, I have not heard another word about it. I know not who my colleagues are—or for what object the Commission has been appointed. You, it appears, know all about it. You know, or imply, that we are to sit in Scotland and not in London. You cannot do better than enlarge your present letter by giving me all the information which you possess. I am sorry to give you so much trouble, but to-morrow being Sunday, you will have leisure from all harder duties than listening to a sermon, and you can spare me a few minutes. My own ideas are the vaguest. I should like to see one Scotch University to be made really brilliant by Endowment, and, if necessary, a grant from the Crown,—the four present Universities to relinquish their privilege of granting degrees and to become colleges. A change like this, however, may be undesirable for many reasons with which I am not acquainted. At any rate, I conceive no such scheme is likely to be preferred or listened to at present. We shall confine ourselves to less ambitious details, and I do not think that you and I are likely to differ widely about them.

The possibility of such a smiting hip and thigh of our Scottish Universities could have occurred only to the self-complacent provincialism of an Oxonian, and must have been received with Homeric laughter by the Professor. He watched the consultations of the Inquiry Commission, its resolution into three Executive Commissions, and their modicum of reform achieved, with unabated interest, and had much to say on the subject fifteen years later, when their course was run.

The summer was spent at Altnacraig, with excursions to Mull and Cantyre during parts of August and September. Dr and Mrs Hanna were amongst the summer guests, and Dr Robert Wyld was there on July 2, when the host's sixty-seventh birthday was kept, and he gave the toast at dinner in words of loving testimony to a friendship more than half a century old.

August 10 found him at Loch Baa, whence he wrote to Mrs Blackie

Since I came here I have been busied in a strange way. The wall of this unique establishment inside is all scrawled over with curious, significant sketches by John Campbell, Lord Colin, and Lord Archibald: also the Princess has tried her artistic hand and immortalised John Campbell at full length on the wall at the left side of the fireplace. There is a blank on the right, which, as soon as I came in, the quick eye of J. F. Campbell pounced on as a convenient niche for immortalising me; so down he sat, with me before him, and I am done off already on a sheet of brown packing-paper, to be cut out and pasted on the wall.

J. F. C. and I are examining glacial grooves and scratches, and discussing the ruin of Highland estates.

No doubt the Ossianic controversy waxed and waned o' nights, and Dr Cumming and Dr Hanna listened amazed to their explosive eloquence. By the 21st, Dr Hanna and the Professor had left Loch Baa for Calgary, near Tobermory,—"the most delightful, snug little sea-corner imaginable. If any place yet visited by me is entitled to be called the end of the world, it is Calgary. Send all such letters as are worth reading, not 'bothers' or 'blethers.'

Back to Loch Baa on the 26th, when the whole party took to fishing, and the Professor, to his own great astonishment, caught an unspecified monster weighing a pound and a half. He stayed over a Sunday, and then started on foot for IJiva, Pennyghael, Salen, and Loch Buie, his consecutive halting-places, where he picked up cheques for the Chair.

Towards the middle of September he left Altnacraig again to give two lectures at Callander; and with short breathing-space he went to Balnakill near Tarbert, to pay Mr Mackinnon of the Oriental Company a visit, and to make from his house a thorough exploration of the Mull of Cantyre. His host, later Sir William Mackinnon, gave him 200 towards the Celtic Chair, a donation which only the Queen and Mr M'Lean of Redeastle in Otago, N.Z., had equalled. Amongst the circle of guests were two of the very earliest contributors of 100 each, and he levied toll from the others.

The country here is full of green lanes and leafy woods, and much less highland than Oban. Within the house hilarity and sobriety, humanity and piety, prevail,—a thoroughly healthy atmosphere.

Steam-yacht excursions occupied the days, one of them to Islay; but there was only time for a glance at Mr Ramsay's new house, and the deer that spotted the lawn "as thick and tame as sheep."

When he returned to Altnacraig, it was "to gather up the fag-ends of the summer, and gird up loins for the winter."

The issue of his book on 'The Language and Literature of the Highlands' greeted his return to Hill Street. It was dedicated to her Grace Elizabeth, Duchess of Argyll. The Gaelic language with its imported elements occupied the first chapter, while time others dealt with its literature, ancient, medieval, modern, and immediate. Chapter IV. handled the Ossianic questions rather iii the spirit of impartial narration than of polemics, and may be read as genuine information, and as a somewhat rare specimen of the Professor in a neutral attitude. Perhaps the general clash of arms over Macpherson blunted his eagerness, for it is certain that he preferred to do battle single-handed, and that at signs of a backing he was apt to leave the field. On the whole, he leant to Dr Clerk's views, which in less judicial circumstances he was wont to advocate. The most interesting chapters of the book are those which treat of the Gaelic poets of Jacobite and later times,---lain Loin, Macdonald, Duncan Ban, and Rob Donn.

The volume was cordially received, and helped on the fund which led to its preparation. Perhaps best worth quoting of the many congratulatory letters which he received is one from the late Duke of Sutherland:-

The book is most interesting to us Highlanders. And now I am going to scold you. Why did I not see you at Lairg this season? You would have enjoyed seeing what a large piece of land is under crop, and what Highland hands can do. You must come next season.

Early in November Professor Blackie attended a banquet in the Balmoral Hotel in honour of Mr R. H. Wyndham, for many years manager of the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh. Sir Alexander Grant was in the chair, and the guests numbered more than a hundred of the representative men of Scotland. The toast of The Drama" fell to the Professor, and his speech was a full expression of his lifelong position towards the influential art. After alluding to a boyhood whose cravings for the theatre were starved by paternal interdict, he went on to state with reasoned eloquence his own estimate of the best drama:-

It is the only form of art which combines everything that makes a man a man; it combines lyric poetry and the narrations of epic poetry; it combines the highest ideal of heroism and the most minute features in the variety of character in common life; it combines the good and the beautiful; it combines the instructive and the entertaining; it is the highest form of art, and if therefore any nation is not exalted in this form of art, it is not a nation to whom God has given the mission of preaching the highest things that belong to the human race. I have not been a habitual frequenter of the theatre, but whenever I could spare a free evening I have gone to see the play that had the run of the season, but I never went to see a play that had anything base or degrading in it. When I was in London five or six years ago there were two plays which had the run of the season; the one was called "Leab," and the other was called "The Bells." The whole moral of "Leah" is the evangelical virtue of forgiveness. And if it ever was possible for a preacher using the styles of conventional theology—if it was ever possible for him to make men feel the horror of a violated conscience, he could not present a sermon more impressive than is exhibited before us in that noble melodrama, "The Bells."

Is it not a strange thing that in modern times, with our high-strung religion, we have made a divorce between the stage and morality and religion, whereas in ancient times, growing out of mere joviality,—out of the harvest-home, as it were,—there came up a Greek tragedy, which became a pulpit from which you have sermons upon conscience which go to move the inner strings of the heart as much as any sermon which was ever preached. Recall the opening chorus of "Agamemnon," or read the choruses of "Eumenides," and tell me if it is not a most monstrous thing for men preaching the Gospel to say that there is anything in these tending to a divorce between the Church and the Theatre. Leave the theatre to drift, and depend upon it that if they who are God's servants do not know how to use it, the devil is far too clever a fellow not to use it for his own business. I beg to propose the modern Drama, and especially in its union with the Christian Gospel.

These were bold words to utter in the capital of Scotland, and they horrified the Free Churchmen of the north, against whom the speaker levelled many an interjected personality, better now omitted. The speech made a stir, not only amongst those who decried the stage, but, very naturally, amongst those actors who, loving their profession and honouring it, sought to save it from "the devil's business." A sheaf of letters testifies to their interest in Professor Blackie's advocacy. From this sheaf one may be drawn for quotation, from Henry Irving. it is dated 12th November 1876

Opinion will always differ [he wrote] about such matters, but on one point there can be no dispute, that the opening up the subject at this time, and in so genial a spirit, and with the endorsement of a name so honoured as your own, is a gallant act, for which all who respect the stage, as well as those who minister about the temple, must sincerely thank you,—and not those alone, but all who value an honest, manly expression of opinion. For myself, I became an actor because I loved the drama, and every word said in its behalf, as a great social power to elevate mankind, finds an echo in my heart. Tens of thousands feel the influence of the theatre during six days of the week—against the pulpit with only one day, and with relatively fewer listeners; and knowing this all true moralists wish that this great power may be used for good. Nothing will more certainly tend to the elevation of the stage than the encouragement of men like yourself, whose judgment in matters referring to the culture of the generation growing up should be final.


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