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Nether Lochaber
Chapter 1


Primroses and Daisies in early March—"The Posie "—Burns—"The Ancient Mariner"— William Tennant, Author of Anster Fair—Hebridean Efithaluuium—A Bard's Blessing—A Translation—Macleod of Berneray.

The weather [March 1868] with us here still continues wonderfully genial and mild : taken all in all, the season may be noted as in this respect perhaps without precedent in our meteorological annals. The sun, with nearly eight degrees of southern declination, is not yet halfway through Pisccs; we are still three weeks from the vernal equinox, and yet on our table before us, as we write these lines, there is as pretty a posy of wild-flowers as you could wish to see, consisting of daisies, primroses, and other modest beauties, the " firstlings of the year," culled from bank and brae at a date when in ordinary seasons the country, snow-covered or ice-bound, is but a bleak and barren waste. Older and Anster people than ourselves confidently predict "a winter in mid-spring" as yet in store for us; but meh'ora speramus, we had rather believe that to one of the mildest winters on record will succeed a genial spring, a splendid summer, and an abundant harvest. In any case, as somebody said of Scaliger and Clavius, Mallem cum Scaligero errare quam cum Clavio rede sapcre: I had rather, that is, be a partaker in the errors of Scaliger, than a sharer in all the wisdom of Clavius. Even so, we had rather err with the optimists than be ranked with the pessimists, even when their predictions turn out the truest. In our forenoon ramble on Friday last did we not find a merle's nest in the close and well-guarded embrace of an old thorn root, with its pretty treasure of four brown-spotted, greyish-green eggs and with our wild-flower bouquet before us, are we not better employed in crooning one of Burns' sweetest lyrics than in predicting evil, even if we were certain that our prediction should become true?—said lyric being that entitled The Posie, which, dear reader, if you do not know it already, you should incontinently get by heart. Here is a verse or two :—

"Oh, luve will venture in where it daurna weel be seen;
Oh, luve will venture in, where wisdom ance has been;
But I will down yon river rove, amang the wood sac green—
And a' to pu' a posie to my ain dear May.

"The primrose I will pu', the firstling o' the year,
And I will pu' the pink, the emblem o' my dear;
For she's the pink o' womankind, and blooms without a peer—
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

"The lily it if pure, and the lily it is fair.
And in her lovely bosom I'll place the lily there;
The daisy's for simplicity and unaffected air—
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

"The hawthorn I will pu', wi' its locks o' siller grey,
Where, like an aged man, it stands at break o' day;
 
But the sonqster's nest within the bush I winna tak away— 
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May."

Mark that line in italics, and ponder its exquisite tenderness. How it must have irradiated, like a sudden flood of sunshine over a mountain landscape, the poet's heart as he penned it! Here you have the germ of the doctrine afterwards more broadly taught by Coleridge in the well-known lines of the Ancient Mariner:—

"Farewell, farewell, but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding Guest,
He praycth well, who loveth well
Both man, and bird, and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things, both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."'

We love The Posie of Burns for its own sake, but we love it all the more, perhaps, because our attention was first directed to its sweet simplicity and tender beauty by one of our earliest and kindest friends, himself a poet of no mean order, the late Professor William Tennant, author of Anster Fair, in all its fantastical gaiety and homely mirth the most original poem, perhaps, to be found in the literature of our country.

A gentleman who resides at present in Cheltenham, a cadet of one of the oldest and most respectable families on the West Coast, and himself the head of a house not unknown in Highland story, has been so good as to send us a short Gaelic poem in manuscript, with a request that we should give an English version of it. With this request we very readily comply, such a task being to us a labour of love; the poem itself, besides, being very beautiful, and the history of its composition extremely interesting, as throwing some light on the manners and customs of the olden times. The following prefatory note from the MS. itself sufficiently explains the origin of this quaint and curious Hebridean Epithalamium:"It was the custom in the West Highlands of Scotland in the olden time to meet the bride coming forth from her chamber with her maidens on the morning after her marriage, and to salute her with a poetical blessing called Beannachadh Baird. On the occasion of the marriage of the Eev. Donald Macleod of Durinish, in the Isle of Skye, this practice having then got very much into desuetude, and none being found prepared to salute his bride agreeably to it, lie himself came forward and received her with the following beautiful address." "We present our readers with the original lines verbatim et literatim, precisely as they stand in the MS., only omitting two lines that are partly illegible from their falling into the sharp foldings of the sheet. The sense and tenor of these lines, however, we have ventured to guess at and to incorporate with our English version:—

Beannachadh Baird

Whether with the sense of the above we have succeeded in catching anything of its quaint beauty and tenderness in the following lines, is for the reader to judge:—

A Baud's Blessing

Comely and kerchief'd, blooming, fresh and fair,
All hail and welcome! joy and peace be thine;
Of happiness and health a bounteous share
Be shower'd upon thee from the hand divine.
"Wearing the matron's coif, thou seem'st to be
Even lovelier now than erst, when fancy-free,
Thou in thy beauty's strength did'st steal my heart from me.

Though young in years thou 'rt now a wedded wife;
O seek His guidance who can guide aright.
With aid from Him, the rugged path of life
May still be trod with pleasure and delight;
For He who made us bids us not forego
A single, sinless pleasure in this world of woe.

Be open-hearted, but be eident too,
Be strong anil full of courage, but be staid;
Aught like unseemly folly still eschew—
Be faultluss wife as thou wast faultless maid!
Guard against hasty speech and temper violent,
And knowing when to speak, know also to be silent.

Guard thy good name and mine from smallest stain;
In manner still be kindly, frank, and free;
If thou 'rt reviled, revile not thou again;
In hour of trial calm and patient be;
And when thy cup is full, walk humbly still,
A careless, proud, rash step the blissful cup may spill!

With this bard's blessing on thy wedded morn,
All at thy bridal chamber-door we greet thee;
May every joy of truth and goodness born
Through all thy life-long journey crowd to meet thee;
And may the God of Peace now richly shed
A blessing on thy kerchief-cinctured head!

The word breid in the original, which we have rendered kerchief and coif, was in the olden times the peculiar head-dress of married females, while virgins wore their braided locks uncovered, a simple ribbon to bind the hair, and occasionally a sprig of heather or modest flower by way of ornament, being the only head-dress that could with propriety be worn by a maiden in the good old anti-chignon days of our grandmothers. The Highland maiden's narrow ribbon for binding the hair was in the south of Scotland called a snood, probably from the old English snod—"neat, handsome"—a word still in use in the English border counties. In the south, even more pointedly than in the north, the emblematical character of the maiden ribbon or snood was recognised. It was only when a maiden became an honest, lawful wife that the coif—also called curch and toy—could be worn with propriety. If a damsel was so unfortunate as to lose pretentions to the name of maiden, without acquiring a right to that of matron, she was neither permitted to wear that emblem of virgin purity, the snood, nor advanced to the graver dignity of the coif or curch. In old Scottish songs there occur many sly allusions to such misfortunes, as in the original words of the popular tune of "Ovver the muir amang the heather"—

"Down amang the broom, the broom,
Down among the broom, my dearie,
The lassie lost her silken snood,
That gart her greet till she was wearie."

And in a verse of a curious old ballad that we took down some years ago from the recitation of a grey-headed Paisley weaver—

"And did ye say ye lo'ed me weel?
Then, kind sir, ye maun marrie me;
For that I maunna wear my snood
Aft brings the saut tear to my ee."

The reverend author of the above lines was probably born about the year 1700, or perhaps ten or twenty years earlier, for we find that he died a man well advanced in years in 1760. In the Scots Magazine of that year there is the following notice of Mr Macleod's death :— "Jan. 12th.—At Durinish, in the Isle of Skye, the Rev. Donald Macleod, minister of that parish, a gentleman, says our correspondent, who adorned his profession, not so much by a literary merit, of which he possessed a considerable share, as by a consistent practice of the most useful and excellent virtues. To do good was the ruling passion of his heart; in composing differences, in diffusing the spirit of peace and friendship, in relieving the distressed, in promoting the happiness of the widow and orphan, his zeal was almost unexampled, his activity unmeasured, his success remarkable. It is almost unnecessary to add that he lived with a most amiable character, and died universally regretted."

A somewhat curious circumstance is the following :—One of the Rev. Mr. Macleod's daughters was married to Macleod of Berneray, she being that gentleman's third wife. Berneray was at the date of this third marriage seventy-five years of age, notwithstanding which he became by this lady the father of nine children. He lived a hale and hearty old man till he was upwards of ninety. He was reckoned in his day a splendid specimen of the stalwart, sterling, straight-forward, and chivalrous Highland gentleman, "all of the olden time."


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