Religious works formed the staple of the
literature issued from the Gaelic press from the period now spoken of to the present day.
The great want for many years was the Bible. For a long time the clergy used the Irish
edition reprinted for the use of the Highlands by Mr Kirk; but this was not satisfactory,
from the difference of the dialect; many in consequence preferred translating from the
English. This habit pervaded all classes, and it is not improbable that there are in the
Highlands still persons who prefer translating from the Scriptures for their own use to
the common version. Certain traditional forms of translation given bordered on the
ludicrous. A worthy man was once translating the phrase "And they were
astonied," and he made it "Bha iad air an clachadh," They were stoned.
It was in every way desirable that a correct translation of the Gaelic Bible should be
provided for the use of the Highlands, and this was finally undertaken by the Society for
Propagating Christian Knowledge. The person employed to perform the work was the Rev.
James Stewart of Killin, a man fully qualified for it, and although his translation
retained too much of the Irish dialect of O'Donnell's Irish New Testament, it was welcomed
as a highly creditable work, and as a great boon to the Highlands. Many minor changes have
been made in the Gaelic New Testament of 1767, but it has been the basis of all subsequent
editions which have sought merely to render certain portions of the work more idiomatic
and pleasing to a Scottish ear. The publishing of this version of the New Testament proved
a great benefit to the Highlands.
Soon after the
publication of the New Testament, it was resolved that the Old Testament should be
translated into Gaelic also. This work, like the former, was undertaken by the Society for
Propagating Christian Knowledge, assisted by a collection made throughout the
congregations of the Church of Scotland amounting to £1483. The principal translator
employed was the Rev. Dr. John Stewart of Luss, son of the translator of the New
Testament, who translated three portions of the work, while a fourth portion, including
the Prophets, was executed by the Rev. Dr. Smith of Campbellton, the accomplished editor
of the Sean Dana. The whole work was completed and published in the year 1801. This work
has been of incalculable service to the Highlands, and is one of the many benefits
conferred upon that portion of the country by the excellent Society who undertook it.
Objections have been taken to the many Irish idioms introduced into the language, and the
extent to which the Irish orthography was followed, but these are minor faults, and the
work itself is entitled to all commendation.
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