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Original prose writings

Of these Mr Reid, in his Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica, gives but a scanty catalogue. He gives but a list of ten, most of them single sermons. There are several other writings, however, which have been added since Reid's list was made up. Among these appears M'Kenzie's Bliadhna Thearlaich, "Charles's year," a vigorous well-written account of the rebellion of 1745-6. M'Kenzie was the compiler of a volume of Gaelic poetry in which the best specimens of the works of the bards are generally given, and although having ideas of his own on the subject of orthography, few men knew the Gaelic language better. We have also a volume on astronomy by the Rev. D. Connell; and a History of Scotland by the Rev. Angus MacKenzie, both of them creditable performances. It is doubtful how far these works have been patronised by the public, and how far they have been of pecuniary benefit to their authors, but they are deserving works, and if they have not proved a remunerative investment, it is from want of interest on the part of the readers more than from want of ability on the part of the writers. In addition to these have been several magazines, the contents of which have in some instances been collected into a volume and published separately. Of these are An teachdair Gaidhealach, "the Gaelic Messenger," edited by the late Rev. Dr M'leod of Glasgow, and a free church magazine An Fhiannuis, "The Witness," edited by the Rev. Dr Mackay, now of Harris. "The Gaelic Messenger," An Teachdaire Gaidhealach, contained a large proportion of the papers furnished by the editor, Dr M'Leod. These have been since that time collected into a volume by his son-in-law the Rev. Archibald Clerk of Kilmallie, and published under the title of Caraid nan Gaidheal, "The Friend of the Highlanders." This is an admirable volume, containing, as it does, our best specimens of racy, idiomatic Gaelic of which Dr M'Leod was a master. It is a most interesting addition to our Gaelic literature. besides this, Dr M'Leod produced Leabhar nan Cnoc is an admirable collection of fragments, well adapted for school use, and at the same time interesting to the general reader.

But the most remarkable addition that has recently been made to Gaelic prose literature is Mr J.F. Campbell's of "Sgeulachdan" or ancient Highland tales. It was long known that a large amount of this kind of literature existed in the Highlands; that it formed the treasure of the reciter, a character recognised and appreciated in every small community ; and that it was the staple fireside amusement of many a winter evening. Specimens of this literature appeared occasionally in print, and one of great interest, and remarkably well given, called Spiorad na h-aoise, "The Spirit of Age", appears in Leabhar nan Cnoc, the collection already spoken of. Mr Campbell set himself to collect this literature from the traditions of the people, and he has embodied the results in four goodly volumes, which every lover of the language and literature of the Celt must prize. Many coadjutors aided Mr Campbell in his undertaking, and he was happy in finding, as has already been said, in Mr Hector M'Lean, teacher, Islay, a most efficient collector and transcriber of the tales. These tales were known among the Highlanders as Sgeulachdan"Tales, or "Ursgeulan" Noble Tales, the latter having reference usually to stories of the Fingalian heroes. They are chiefly "Folk lore" of the kinds which are now known to pervade the world amongst a certain class as their oral literature. The Tales themselves are of various degrees of merit, and are manifestly derived from various sources. Some of them took their origin in the fertile imagination of the Celt, while others are obviously;y of classical origin, and are an adaptation of ancient Greek and Latin stories to the taste of the Celt of Scotland. Mr Campbell, in his disquisitions accompanying the tales, which are often as amusing and instructive as the tales themselves, traces numerous bonds of connection between them and similar legends common to almost all the European nations. He shows where they meet and where they diverge, and makes it very clear that most of them must have had a common origin. It has been maintained that many of these legends were brought to Scotland by returning Crusaders; that they were often the amusement of the camp among these soldiers of the ancient Church; and that, related among hearers of all nations, they became dispersed among those nations, and that thus Scotland came to obtain and to retain her share of them.

That Scotland felt largely the influence of the Crusades cannot be denied by any observant student of her history. Her whole political and social system was modified by them, while to them is largely due the place and power which the medieval Church obtained under the government of David I. That Scottish literature should have felt their influence is more than likely, and it is possible, although it is hardly safe to go further, that some of these tales of the Scottish Highlands owe their existence to the wanderings of Scottish Crusaders. Be their origin, however, what it may, they afford a deeply interesting field of enquiry to the student of the popular literature of the country. In our own view, they are of great value, as presenting us with admirable specimens of idiomatic Gaelic. The versions of such tales are various, but the general line of the narrative is always the same. Scores of these tales may still be picked up in the West Highlands, although Mr Campbell has sifted them most carefully and skilfully, and given to the public those which are undoubtedly best. The following is a specimen referring to the famous Tom na h-iubhraich, in the neighbourhood of Inverness. It was taken down by the writer from the recital of an Ardnamurchan man in Edinburgh, and has never been printed before. The resemblance of a portion of it to what is told of Thomas the Rhymer and the Eildon Hills, is too close to escape observation. These tales are valuable as preserving admirable specimens of the idioms of the Gaelic language.



Bha fear air astar uaireigin mu thuath, a rir coslais, mu Shiorramachd Inbirnis. Bha e a’ coiseachd l, ‘us chunnaic e fear a’buain sgrath leis an lr -chaipe. Thainig e far an robh an duine. Thubhairt e ris, "Oh, nach sean sibhse, ‘dhuine, ris an abair sin." Thubhairt an duine ris, "Oh, nam faiceadh tu m’athair, is e a’s sine na mise." "D’athair ars’ an duine, "am bheil d’athair be ‘s an t-saoghal fhathasd?" "Oh, tha" ars’ esan. "Cite am bheil d’athair" ars’ esan, "am b’urrainn mi ‘fhaicinn?" "Uh, is urrainn" ars’ esan, "tha e a’tarruing dhathigh nan sgrath." Dh’innis e an rathad a ghabhadh e ach am faiceadh e ‘arthair. Thinig e far an robh e. Thubhairt e ris, "Nach sean sibhse, ‘dhuine, ris an obair sin." "Uh, ars’ esan, "nam faiceadh tu m’athair, is e a ‘s sine na mise." "Oh, am bheil d’athair’s an t-saoghal fhatasd?" "Uh, tha", ars’ esan. "C’aite am bheil e" ars’ esan, " an urrainn mi ‘fhaicinn?" "Uh, is urrainn," ars’ esan, "tha e a’tilgeadh nan sgrath air an tigh." Rinig e am fear a bha ‘tilgeadh nan sgrath. "Oh, nach sean sibhse, ‘dhuine, ris an obair sin," ars’ esan. "Uh, nam faiceadh tu m’athair," ars’ esan, "tha e mran na ‘s sine na mise." Am bheil d’athair agam r’a fhaicinn?" "Uh, tha," ars’ esan,"rach timchoil, ‘us chi thu e a’cur nan sgrath." Thainig e ‘us chunnaic e am fear a bha ‘cur nan sgrath. "Oh, a dhuine" ars’ esan, "is mr an aois a dh’fheumas sibse a bhi." "Oh," ras’ esan, "nam faiceadh tu m’athair." "An urrainn mi d’athair fhaicinn?" ars’ esan, "C’ite am bheil e?" "Mata" ars’ an duine, is lach tapaidh coltach thu, tha mi ‘creidsinn gu’m faod mi m’athair a shealltuinn duit. "Tha e," ars’ esan, "stigh ann an geadan climhe an ceann eile an tighe." Chaidh e stigh leis’g a fhaicinn. Bha na h-uile gin dibhsan ro mhr, nach ‘eil an leithid a nid r’a fhaotainn. "Tha duine beag an so," ars esan, ‘athair, "air am bheil coslas laich thapaidh, Albannach, ‘us toil aige ‘ur faicinn." Bruidhinn e ris, ‘us thubbairt e, "Co as a thinig thu? Thoir dhomh do lmh, ‘Albannach." Thug a mhac lmh air seann choltair croinn a bha ‘na luidhe limh riu. Shnaim e aodach uime. "Thoir dha sin," ars’ esan ris an Albannach, "‘us na toir dha do lmh." Rug an seann duine air a’ choltair, ‘us a’ cheann eile aig an duine eile ‘na limh. An ite an coltair a bhi leathann, rinn e cruinn e, ‘us dh’fhg e lrach nan cuig meur ann, mar gu’m bitheadh uibe taois ann. "Nach cruadalach an lmh a th’agad, ‘Albannaich," ars’ esan, "Nam bitheadh do chridhe cho cruadalach, tapaidh, dh’iarrainnse rud ort nach d’iarr mi’air fear roimhe." "Ciod e sin, a dhuine?" ars’ esan, "ma tha ni ann a’s ussainn mise ‘dheannamh, ni mi e." "Bheirinnse dhuit" ars’ esan, "fideag a tha an so, agus fiosr aichidh tu far am bheil Tm na h-ibhraich, laimh ri Inbhirnis, agus an uair a theid thu ann, ch thu creag bheag, ghlas, air an dara taobh dheth. An uair a’theid thu a dh’ionnsuidh na creige, chi thu mu mheudachd dorius, ‘us air cumadh dorius bhige air a’chreig. Buail srn do choise air tr uairean, ‘us air an uair mu dheireadh fosgailidh e. Dh’fhalbh e, ‘us rinig e ‘us fhuair e an dorus. Thubhairt an seann duine ris, "An uair a dh’fhosgaileas tu an dorus, sirmidh tu an fhdeag, bheir thu tri seirmean oirre ‘us air an t-seirm mu dheireadh," ars’ esan, "eiridh leat na bhitheas stigh, ‘us ma bhitheas tu cho tapaidh ‘us gun dean thu sin, is fheairrd thu fhin e ‘us do mhac, ‘us d’ogha, ‘us d’iar-ogha. Thug e a’cheud sheirm air an fheag. Sheall e’us stad e. Shn na coin a bha’n an luidhe lthair ris na daoinibh an cosan.’us charaich na daoine uile. Thug e an ath sheirm oirre. Dh’irich na daoine air an uilnibh ‘us dh’irich na coin ‘n an suidhe. Thionndaidh am fear ris an dorus, ‘us ghabh e eagal. Tharruing e an dorus ‘n a dhigh. Ghlaodh iadsan uile gu lir, "Is miosa ‘dh’fhg na fhuair, is miosa ‘dh’fhg na fhuair." Dh’fhalbh e ‘n a ruith. Thinig e gu lochan uisge, a bha an sin, ‘us thilg e an fhdeag anns an lochan. Dhealaich mise riu.



There was a man once on a journey in the north, according to all appearance in the sheriffdom of Inverness. He was travelling one day, and he saw a man casting divots with the flaughter-spade. He came to where the man was. He said to him, "Oh, you are very old to be employed in such work." The man said to him, "Oh, if you saw my father, he is much older than I am." "Your father", said the man, "is your father alive in the world still ?" "Oh, yes", said he. "Where is your father?" said he, "could I see him?" "Oh, yes," said he, "he is leading home the divots." He told him what way he should take in order to see his father. He came where he was. He said to him," You are old to be engaged in such work." "Oh," said he, "if you saw my father, he is older than I." "Oh, is your father still in the world?" "Oh, yes", said he . "Where is your father?" said he; "can I see him!" "Oh, yes," said he, "he is reaching the divots at the house." He came to the man who was reaching the divots. "Oh, you are old," said he," to be employed in such work". "Oh, if you saw my father," said he, " he is much older than I." "Is your father to be seen?", said he. "Oh yes, go round the house and you will see him laying the divots on the roof." He came and he saw the man who was laying the divots on the roof. "Oh man," said he, "you must be a great age." "Oh, if you saw my father." "Oh can I see your father; where is he?" "Well", said the man, "you look like a clever fellow; I daresay I may show you my father." "He is," said he, " inside in a tuft of wool in the further end of the house." He went in with him to show him to him. Every one of these men was very big, so much so that their like is not to be found now. "There is a little man here," said he to his father, "who looks like a clever fellow, a Scotchman, and he is wishful to see you." He spoke to him, and said, "Where did you come from? Give me your hand, Scotchman." His son laid hold of the old coulter of a plough that lay there. He knotted a cloth around it. "Give him that," said he to the Scotchman," and don’t give him your hand." The old man laid hold of the coulter, while the man held the other end in his hand. Instead of the coulter being broad, he made it round, and left the mark of his five fingers in it as if it were a lump of leaven. "you have a brave hand, Scotchman," said he, " If your heart were as brave and clever, I would ask something of you that I never asked of another." "What is that, man?", said he; "if there is anything I can do, I shall do it." "I would give you", said he , "a whistle that I have here, and you will find out where Tomnahurich is near Inverness, and when you find it you will see a little grey rock on one side of it. When you go to the rock you will see about the size of a door, and the shape of a little door in the rock. Strike the point of your foot three times, and at the third time it will open." He went away, and he reached and found the door. "When you open the door," the old man said, " you will sound the whistle; you will sound it thrice. At the third sounding all that are within will rise along with you; and if you be clever enough to do that, you, and your son, and your grandson, and your great-grandson, will be the better of it." He gave the first sound on the whistle. He looked, and he stopped. The dogs that lay near the men stretched their legs, and all the men moved. He gave the second sound. The men rose on their elbows, and the dogs sat up. The man turned to the door, and became frightened. He drew the door after him. They all cried out,"Left us worse than he found us; left us worse than he found us." He went away running. He came to a little fresh water loch that was there, and he threw the whistle into the loch. I left them.

These specimens give a good idea of the popular prose of the Highlands. Whence it was derived is difficult to say. It may have originated with the people themselves, but many portions of it bear the marks of having been derived even, as has been said, from an Eastern source, while the last tale which has been transcribed above gives the Highland version of an old Scottish tradition.


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