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McIan's Highlanders At Home
Going to School


Going to SchoolNo country is more celebrated for its educational institutions than Scotland, the advantages of moral and intellectual improvement being secured to all, by the legal provision for a school and teacher in every parish throughout the kingdom. This system, so admirably adapted for the low country, is less effective in the rugged land of the GaŽl, where the great extent of the parishes was found to require subsidiary establishments.

It is not merely the elementary branches of education which are taught in these seminaries; the schoolmasters having to go through a classical curriculum before being admitted to a parochial charge, and being, indeed, often licentiates for the ministry, their acquirements are sufficient to enable them to prepare pupils for college.

The numbers who attend the parish schools, vary, of course, with the population; but there are always fewer in the summer months, as parents then require the assistance of their children in agricultural or pastoral Occupations.

Fees are paid by all who are able to do so, but the children of the poor have a claim to gratuitous education, a liberal provision, but far from the constitution of a charity school.

The subject of illustration is a scene in Lochaber, representing a peculiar custom. One of the poorer boys is appointed to muster his fellow pupils to their morning tasks, which he does at halfópast eight in summer, and nine in winter: and this juvenile official is known as the Gille an Adharc, or the Boy of the Horn, from the instrument he uses to "gather his motley clan," a duty for which he receives one penny a quarter from each scholar.

It is the practice in rural parishes for each boy to carry a peat, or piece of turf, to school every morning, by which means a good fire is kept up for the general benefit. These ragged-looking, bare-legged urchins, wading through the snow of a cold morning, are, notwithstanding, strong and healthy, and in general hardier than children whose parents wrap them in more comfortable-looking garments. They are also of sharp intellect; and there are few boys in the Highlands of twelve or fourteen years of age who cannot read and write.

The aptitude of the race for the acquisition of knowledge, although assertions have repeatedly been made to the contrary, has been, from the days of Druidism, one of its characteristics, which, to Roman refinement, appeared only an idle and importunate curiosity in the people.

Thiery, speaking of a later division than the GaŽl, more truly observes in them a predilection for "the cultivation of letters, that power of imagination," in which he sees "a trace of their Celtic origin."

The Highlanders have been rashly pronounced an illiterate people. Unacquainted with the early history of those whose language is unknown to their accusers, such writers may be forgiven, but waving consideration of the Bardic remains, so carefully held in oral preservation, and the series of illustrious teachers in the far-famed isle of Iona, for ages the conservators of Gospel light in Western Europe, it will be admitted that their general literary history equals neither that of the Celts of Ireland nor the Cumri of Wales, cognate branches of the same great race. The Highlanders were not, unfortunately, in a state so favourable to the pursuits of peace and the gratification of mental solace as that of their neighbours. It was the attachment of the great Buchanan to the court of King James, that gave him opportunity to display his classical acquirements and literary talent.

The first book printed in Gaelic was the Liturgy of Dr. Carsewell, Bishop of the Isles, in 1566, since which time typography has steadily progressed. Dictionaries and grammars have been long published; well-conducted periodicals have, from time to time, appeared, and a cheap newspaper is now circulated. The names of Doctors Mac Leod, Mackay, Mac Pherson, Ross, Dewar, Armstrong, Stewart, Smith, Ewen Mac Lachian, and many others, would throw lustre on the literature of any country.

In the Highlands, there are about 400,000 persons who speak Gaelic, of whom it is calculated that 80,000 know no other. How surprising therefore it must appear, that among a people so careful of moral and intellectual education, there should not exist in any of the Scottish colleges a chair for the qualification of future teachers in a grammatical knowledge of that language!

If, as it has been stated, in a congregation of 500 persons, not more perhaps than fifty would be found who could understand an English sermon perfectly throughout, the magnitude of such an evil is lamentably obvious.

A spirit has frequently prevailed, strongly opposed to the continuance of old languages, as serving to keep up inconvenient distinctions, and at one time the Assembly of the Scottish Kirk, the guardian of parochial education, thought it right to interdict all tuition through the vernacular tongue. It was alleged by the advocates of this profound policy, that the Gaelic was an insurmountable barrier to all mental improvement. The children were, therefore, taught in English, and the lesson was acquired, and correctly repeated too, without being at all understood!

The latent nationality of some individuals, who saw the absurdity and injustice of such a method of instruction was roused, and funds having been provided, in 1811, "The Gaelic School Society" was established. The plan met with eminent success, and not only did the young joyfully attend, but cases have frequently been reported where the aged have gone to school, learning to read the Scriptures along with their children and offspring! The Venerable Assembly thus stimulated, repealed the insane regulation, and schoolmasters, now most properly, give the first lessons in the mother tongue of the children, the only one which in early life a majority of the population can understand.


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