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Significant Scots
Buchanan, Dugald


The Sacred Bard of the Scottish Highlands, his Confessions and his Spititial Songs rendered into English verse with his letters and a Sketch of his Life by Lachlan MacBean.


The public has bad to wait long for a complete edition in English of the works of Buchanan, the sacred bard of the Scottish Highlands.

Of his Spiritual Songs, certain passages and even entire poems have appeared, and a few years ago a complete translation into English prose was published by the Bev. A. Sinclair. In 1885 the present writer rendered the whole of these beautiful works into English verse, but that book has been long out of print. It is therefore felt that a new issue of the poems in English verse is now overdue. Accordingly the translations have been revised and in some cases recast for this volume. Each poem has been supplied with a brief introduction and supplemented by notes on certain words in the original text, and the collection is prefaced by a chapter on the metrical forms that Buchanan employed.

Buchanan’s Diary, so-called, here entitled his Confessions, was among the papers he left at his death in 1768. It was published in 1836, and in 1853 it was reproduced in a work on “Man’s Twofold State.” But for many years it has been inaccessible to ordinary English readers, although a Gaelic translation has been available, at least since 1844. The original edition has been carefully edited for this book, and some passages have been omitted in order to increase the effectiveness of the story. At the same time, the periods covered by the different sections of the narrative have been more distinctly indicated.

Along with the Poems and the Confessions, two important letters by Buchanan are given in an appendix. One of these is here printed for the first time.

In the books enumerated in the Bibliography several interesting details regarding Buchanan are given, but it has been thought well to provide now a more definite account of his life as a whole, to accompany this complete edition of his remarkable works.

October, 1919.

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BUCHANAN, DUGALD, a Highland poet of eminent merit, was born, in the early part of the eighteenth century, in the parish of Balquhidder, Perthshire. In early youth he is said to have been of a dissolute character; but little is known of him till he was found keeping a small school in a hamlet of his native country, and in possession of much local fame as a writer of devotional and pious verses. Some respectable persons, struck by his talents, interested themselves in his fate, and obtained for him the superior situation of schoolmaster and catechist at Rannoch, on the establishment of the society for propagating Christian knowledge. When he first went to reside in that remote district, the people were so rude, from the want of religious instruction, that they hardly recognised the sacred nature of the Sabbath. They were in the habit of meeting at different places, on that day, to amuse themselves with football and other sports. The parish clergyman visited them once every three weeks; but, from the extent of the parish, he seems to have been unable to exercise any proper control over them. Buchanan, it is said, invited them all to come and enjoy their Sunday recreations with him, and when they arrived, began to perform divine worship, which he seasoned with a lecture on the sin of Sabbath-breaking. Though many were disgusted at first, all of them became at length convinced of their error, and Buchanan in time brought them into a state of high religious culture, the effects of which are said to be visible at this day in Rannoch.

The education of this poor scholar was not of the best order; yet he was acquainted with divinity, natural philosophy, and history, and possessed a most felicitous gift of poetry, which he almost exclusively employed for sacred purposes. His writings, which are unknown to English readers, and never can be adequately translated, resemble those of Cowper. An effort was made to obtain for him a license as a preacher of the Scottish church, but without success. He was of much service to the Rev. James Stewart of Killin, in translating the New Testament into Gaelic. Having accompanied that gentleman to Edinburgh, in order to aid him in superintending the press, he took the opportunity of improving himself by attendance on the classes for natural philosophy and anatomy in the college. He was at the same time introduced to David Hume, who maintained, in conversation with him, that, although the bible was an excellent book, it was surpassed in beauty and sublimity of language by many profane authors. In support of his assertion, he quoted the lines –

" The cloud-capt towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself;
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Leave not a wreck behind."

The devout bard admitted the beauty and sublimity of these lines, but said, that he could furnish a passage from the New Testament still more sublime, and recited the following verses: (Rev. xx. 22.) "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which was the book of life: - And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works."

Buchanan was very tender-hearted, insomuch, that when he heard a pathetic tale recounted, he could not abstain from weeping. He was equally subject to shed tears when his bosom was excited with joy, gratitude, and admiration. In his conversation, he was modest, mild, and unassuming, and distinguished by great affability; always the best and truest marks of a man of poetical genius. His poems and hymns, which have been repeatedly printed, are allowed to be equal to any in the Gaelic language for style, matter, and harmony of versification. The pieces entitled "La a' Bhreitheanais" and "an Claigionn" are the most celebrated, and are read with perfect enthusiasm by all Highlanders. Though the circumstances of this ingenious poet were of the humblest description, he was most religiously cheerful and contented under his lot. He died, on the 2nd of July, 1768, under very painful circumstances. On returning home from a long journey, he found two of his children lying sick of a fever. Shortly after, six more of them were seized by it, together with himself and two of his servants. While his family lay in this sad condition, his wife could prevail upon no one to engage in her service, and being herself in a peculiarly delicate condition, she was unable to do much for their comfort. The poor poet soon became delirious, and, in a few days, he and all his family were swept off, leaving only his wife to lament his fate, and her own melancholy condition.

Reminiscences of the Life and Labours of Dugald Buchanan

Here follows an extract from "La a' Bhreitheanais" which was translated into Scots by James Robertson. This long poem on the final confrontation between God and sinner is generally regarded as Buchanan's masterpiece. A terrifying and dramatic vision of eternal punishment.

La a' Bhreiteanais

The Day o' Judgment

AM FEADH ta chuid as mo de'n t-saogh'l
Gun ghaol do Chriosd, gun sgoinn d'a reachd,
Gun chreideamh ac' gu'n tig e ris
Thoirt breith na firinn air gach neach.

An cadal peacaidh taid 'nan suain
A' bruadar pailteis de gach ni,
Gun umhail ac' 'n uair thig am bas,
Nach meal iad Parra o'n ard Righ.

MAIST FOWK hae, while in this warld,
Nae luve for Christ, nae lug for his law;
Mair, they misdout he will return
tae judge them truly yin an aw.

Dozent in sinnin sleep they dream,
Their heids ram-fou wi wealth an vice;
Nae thocht that at the warld's ootgang
They'll be debarred frae Paradise.

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