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Smith's Sean Dana


In 1780 appeared a volume of Ossian's Poems, translated and edited by the Rev. John Smith of Kilbrandon, afterwards the Rev. Dr Smith of Campbeltown. The volume is entitled "Gaelic Antiquities &c," containing among other things, "A Collection of Ancient Poems, translated from the Gaelic of Ullin, Ossian, &c." Dr Smith was an admirable Gaelic scholar, as was evidenced by his translation of a portion of the Scriptures into that language, and his metrical version of the Gaelic Psalms. The work before us is a work highly creditable to Dr Smith's talents and industry, and although he complains of the reception which his efforts on behalf of Gaelic literature met with, it is still prized by Gaelic scholars.

In the year 1787 appeared the Gaelic version of the same poems in an octavo volume, entitled, "Sean dana le Oisian, Orran, Ulann, &c." It is a pity that the two versions did not appear simultaneously, as there have not been wanting those who have charged Dr Smith, as was done in the case of Macpherson, with composing himself much of the poetry which he gives as Ossian's. The same has been said of another collector of the name of Kennedy, who collected a large number of poems which now lie in the MS. in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh; but it is a curious fact that some of the pieces which Kennedy is said to have acknowledged having composed, can be shown to be ancient.

Dr Smith's collection begins with the poem called "Dan an Deirg," the Song of Dargo, or the Red Man. It is a famous song in the Highlands, as is indicated by the proverbial saying "gach dān gu dān an Deirg," Every song yields to the song of Dargo. It was sung to a simple, touching air, which is still known. This poem is given by Dr Smith in two sections, entitled severally, "A'cheud chuid," and "An dara cuid." The song is given by the M'Callums , but it is most perplexing that not one word of their version agrees with Dr Smith's. Their version is manifestly of the ancient form and rhythm, with the usual summary at the head of it given by Gaelic reciters ere beginning one of their songs. None of this is found in Dr Smith's version, which is cast very much in the mould of Macpherson's Gaelic Ossian. Mr J.A Campbell, in his Popular Tales of the Highlands gives a few lines of the lament of the wife of Dargo for her husband, but they do not correspond in one line with the version of Dr Smith. The same may be said of Dr Smith's Diarmad", which is entirely different from all the existing versions of the same poem. The versions of the Dean of Lismore and of Gillies are identical, and so are to a large extent other existing versions taken down from oral recitation, but Dr Smith's differs largely from them in locality, matter and rhythm. It removes the story of the death of this Fingalian hero from Glenshee to Sliabh Ghaodhail, in Kintyre. At the same time, it is quite possible that different poems existed bearing the same name; and Dr Smith's poems are compositions of decided excellence. They add much to the stores of the Gaelic scholar, and the English translation is done with a skill little inferior to that of Macpherson himself.

 

 


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