The Delights of Beltane Tide—Bishop Gawin Douglas—His
Translation of theĆneid—The
Fat of Deer—"Light and Shade" from the Gaelic—Mackworth Praed—Discovery
of an old Flint Manufactory in the Moss of Ballachulish.
poetry and proverbs of our country you constantly meet with references
which go to prove that alternations of sunshine and shower [April 1873]
have for ages been held to be the meteorological characteristics of an
April day throughout the British Islands, and most of all, perhaps, in
Scotland. To go no further, you will remember Scott's concluding lines
"Time and Tide had thus their sway,
an April day,
Smiling noon for sullen morrow,
Years of joy for hours of sorrow."
This, however, has been the driest April known in the
West Highlands for at least a score of years past. Hardly any rain has
fallen during the month, and with a bright sun overhead, and drying
north-easterly winds, rivers and streams have seldom been at a lower ebb
even in midsummer, while in some places you hear complaints of an
absolute scarcity of water even for ordinary household purposes—a very
rare thing, indeed, in the West Highlands at this season of the year, or
for that matter of it at any season. There was, however, such a
superabundance of moisture in the ground, from the heavy rains of the
past winter, that vegetation has as yet suffered little or nothing from
the drought, and the country is beautiful exceedingly in all its
greenery of leaf and gaiety of expanding "blossom and bursting bud. Our
wild-birds never had a finer nesting season, and they are now literally
as merry as the day is long, for with the first flush of dawn in the
east they begin their rich and varied song, which, with a short interval
of quiescence and repose about mid-day, is continued without
interruption until long after the sun has set and the earlier stars are
already twinkling through the twilight gloom. April will be succeeded by
the "merry month of May," which, with the exception of two, or at most
three, cold days, with frost at night, about the 10th, is pretty sure to
be an unusually fine month even for May. It was an article of belief in
the hygienic code of the old Highlanders, and which you come across
occasionally even at the present day, that the invalid, suffering under
no matter what form of internal ailment, upon whom the sun of May once
fairly shed its light, was pretty sure of a renewed lease of life until
at least the next autumnal equinox, and how fine, by the way, and
lightsome and cheery withal, Bishop Gawin Douglas' apostrophe(circa1512):—
been often translated into English, both in prose and verse, since the
days of Gawin Douglas, but we doubt if the Mantuan bard has ever been
more happily rendered than by the good Bishop of Dunkeld. The following
is his rendering of perhaps the hest known and perhaps the most
frequently quoted passage in Virgil:—
of English Poetry)says
of Bishop Douglas'Ćneid,that
"it is executed with equal spirit and fidelity, and is a proof that the
Lowland Scotch and English languages were then nearly the same." "We may
state that Douglas'
of its many and great intrinsic merits, is especially interesting, as
being the first translation of a Eoman classic into the English language
either in verse or prose. "We have quoted above an old Highland belief
in the exceeding efficacy, even in the most serious ailments, of the
kindly beams of a May-day sun. Another belief of theirs was this—
That is—the fat of deer applied internally and
externally, the invalid whose sicknessthatdoes
not heal, why, then, there is no healing for him. The old Highlanders,
you see, knew the value of deer : they hadn't a good word to say of
A few days ago we went into a cottage where a woman was
sitting spinning, and singing a song we had not heard for many years,
though we recollect hearing it frequently sung in hoyhood. The soft and
plaintive air was an old favourite, and her style of singing pleasing.
With a very sweet voice and much feeling, she sang it all on requesting
her to do so ; and after tea in the evening we threw the verses into
English, as follows. It is, however, rather an imitation than a
translation. The original, which is probably known to many of our
is old; how old we know not. Nor have we any clue to the
name of the author, or more probably authoress. Of the authors, indeed,
of many of our very finest Gaelic songs may be said what was said of the
old nameless border-bard, that they—
"Nameless as the race from whence they sprung,
Saved other names and left their own unsung."
The song in Gaelic has no particular title. It is known
by the two first lines quoted above, just as we say, "Of a' the airts
the wind can blaw," and "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon." In default
of anything better, our English version may perhaps appropriately enough
Light and Shade.
Dark and dreary is the world to me,
No sun, no moon, no star;
Vainly I struggle on my midnight sea,
No beacon gleams afar;
A wilderness of winter, frost and snow,
Sad and alone I hang my head in woe.
'Tis vain to strive against the will of fate
(No sun, no moon, no star);
"Where I had looked for love, I found but hate
(No beacon gleams afar);
I gave my heart, my all, to one who cares
Now nought for me—no one my sorrow shares.
Cares not my love though I were dead and gone
(No sun, no moon, no star!)
God help me, I am weak and all alone
(No beacon shines afar):
I dare not reveal my grief, I dare not tell;
The fire that burns my heart no tears can quell.
Traveller that passest o'er hill
have its star!)
Acquaint my love that you have left me ill,
And seen my bleeding scar;
'Twere better to have killed than maimed me thus—
A bird with broken wing in the lone wilderness.
I once was happy, and how bright was then
Sun, moon, and every star!
Spotless and pure I laughed along the glen;
When, swift to mar
This happiness and peace, the spoiler came
And left me all bereft—the child of shame.
And yet I do not hate him, woe is me
(No sun, no moon, no star! )
But shun him, O ye maidens frank and free!
'Twere better far
That you were lifeless laid in the cold tomb,
In all your virgin pride and beauty's bloom.
But God is good, and He will mercy have;
(How bright the morning star!)
Even the weary-laden find a grave—
(The beacon shines afar!)
Bless, Father of our Lord so meek and mild,
An erring mother and a helpless child.
The moral of our song is obvious, though you will observe
the story is told with all possible delicacy and good taste, a
characteristic, by the way, of our hest Gaelic poetry. The reader may
easily understand that, sung in proper time and place, and with proper
feeling, such a song is calculated to have a good effect, and convey a
healthy lesson in its own indirect way, when a sermon or moral
exhortation, however well meant, would he altogether out of the
question. There is much sound sense in Mackworth Praed'sChaunt
of the Brazen Head,the
first verse of which is this—
"I think, whatever mortals crave
With impotent endeavour,
A wreath—a rank-—a throne--a grave —
The world goes round for ever;
I think that life is not too long,
And, therefore, I determine,
That many people read a song.
Who will not read a sermon."
At a hridal, baptism, or other merry-making, such a song
as the ahove is calculated to do more good than the most laboured,
well-meant, and goody-goody sermon that ever was preached. As we rode
away from yonder cottage door, the woman resuming her task, and chanting
a gay and lively air in accompaniment, we were reminded of a verse quiteaproposto
the occasion :—
"Verse sweetens toil, howe\er rude the sound:
All at her work the village maiden sings;
she turns the giddy wheel around,
Revolves the sad vicissitude of things."
And we also thought of the simple and beautiful epitaph
on the tomb of a nameless Roman matron:—
"Domum mansit, lanam fecit,"
which old Robertson of Strowan has so admirably rendered
into our Scottish Doric:—
She keepit weel the house, and birlt at the wheel!
A discovery of considerable archaeological interest has
recently been made by some people employed in trenching the moss of
Ballachulish in our neighbourhood. At a depth of ten feet in the "
drift" subsoil, underlying six or seven feet of moss, only removed
within recent years in the ordinary course of peat-cutting, was found
the remains of what, in the far past, must have been a flint instrument
manufactory on a large scale. Within an area of twenty or thirty square
yards was disclosed several cartloads of flint chippings, manifestly
broken off in the manufacture of flint instruments, for we have been
able to secure several arrow heads, two roughly finished chisels, and a
hammer head of curious shape, with a hole in the centre, which must have
cost the maker no small amount of time and trouble in the manipulation.
What renders this "find" more interesting is the fact that the material
must have been brought to the place of manufacture from a considerable
distance, flint being of rare occurrence anywhere in Nether Lochaber.
Underlying such a depth of solid moss and drift, such a discovery
necessarily carries us back to a race of men who lived in a very remote
period indeed; how remote, even geology is as yet unable absolutely to
say. We were unfortunately from home at the time the discovery was made,
and were thus prevented from examining the wholein
much, however, is certain, that under a diluvial bed of drift, gravel,
and sand of upwards of two feet in thickness, underlying a thickness of
at least six feet of solid moss, a flint instrument manufactory is
found, the work of a people who lived before the deposit of that drift
and the growth of that moss. How many thousands and thousands of years
ago lived that flint-working race, who, in view of the extreme slowness
of geological changes, can say? We know that in the celebrated case of
the discovery of flint weapons at Abbeville and elsewhere in France the
remains of extinct species of elephant, rhinoceros, and other mammals
were found at an immense depth in the drift alongside of flint
instruments unquestionably fashioned by human hands. Whether our
Ballachulish discovery is to be held as a connecting link with a people
of an antiquity as remote as those of Abbeville, it would be rush
positively to assert; but the flint workers, some remains of whose
labours have, as we have stated, been recently brought to light in our
neighbourhood, must have lived at a period when the face of the country
was geologically very different from what it is now; and remembering how
slowly as a rule geological changes are brought about, we shall probably
be still within the mark, if approximately we fix the era of the
earliest flint workers at something like ten thousand years ago, and in
the case of Abbeville, Continental archaeologists have had no hesitation
in suggesting a still remoter antiquity.
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