THE GAELIC LITERARY ENLIGHTENMENT:THE MAKING OF THE SCOTTISH GAELIC NEW TESTAMENT AND ASSOCIATED BOOKS, 1750-1820
The O'Donnell Lecture, University of Edinburgh, 31 May 2018
Donald E. Meek
Since retiring in 2008 – and I can scarcely believe that ten years have passed since then – I have had the privilege of editing a number of Gaelic religious texts, and particularly the poems of the eighteenth-century poet Dugald Buchanan, who died in 1768, exactly 250 years ago. Back in 1992, a quarter of a century ago, I completed an orthographic revision of the standard Gaelic Bible for the National Bible Society of Scotland, and I followed this with a diglot version of the Gaelic New Testament, with a parallel English text, in 2002. The Gaelic New Testament was first published in 1767 in Edinburgh, on behalf of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, by Balfour, Auld and Smellie, printers to the University of Edinburgh, and the predecessors of Edinburgh University Press. The poet Dugald Buchanan ‘attended the press’ in Edinburgh in the winters of 1766 and 1767 to supervise the printing of the New Testament. The Gaelic New Testament celebrated the 250th anniversary of its publication last year. The translation of the Old Testament was completed in 1801.
It therefore seemed appropriate to devote the core of this O’ Donnell lecture to the translating and publication of the Gaelic New Testament, as well as to the achievement of Dugald Buchanan, and to set both in the context of what is commonly known as the Scottish Enlightenment. At the same time, it seemed no less appropriate to discuss the contributions and qualities of the various other scholars who were involved in translating the New and Old Testaments, in addition to a range of other religious texts. Broadly speaking, the period in which these foundational texts were translated lies within the seventy years covered by the title of this lecture. Of course, translation of religious works into Gaelic began two hundred years earlier, with the translation of The Book of Common Order by John Carswell in 1567 – the first-ever Gaelic book to be printed in Scotland or Ireland. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, Carswell was very much in tune with the principles of Renaissance Humanism, which flowed into the Reformation. Translation of religious texts likewise did not cease in 1820, but continued into the later nineteenth century, and beyond.
On this occasion, the so-called ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ is my broader operational context. I say ‘so-called’ because I am uncomfortable with the term ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the adjective ‘Scottish’ seems to stretch the evidence used by scholars like Professor Alexander Broadie somewhat further than it warrants in terms of the evidence presented. What Broadie and others describe is a Lowland, metropolitan ‘enlightenment’, centred pre-eminently on the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. It has little to say about the Scottish Highlands, or about Gaelic, unless by way of some hackneyed discussion of James Macpherson and his alleged ‘Ossianic forgeries’ of the early 1760s. The great thinkers, the great intellectuals, were all in the non-Gaelic regions. The best minds were usually in the coffee-houses of Edinburgh, exchanging wonderful, world-changing ideas, and you would search for many a long day to find such enlightened thinkers in the sticks of Cowdenbeath or Wanlockhead, far less the Highlands and Islands. This model falls into much the same trap as the old version of so-called ‘Scottish History’ which was in fashion when I was a benighted and unenlightened student at Glasgow in the late 1960s. ‘Scottish’, in effect, meant ‘Lowland’, and the Highlands and Islands were no more than a minor appendage, if even that, to the important land mass south of the Ochils, where everything of any earthly significance tended to happen. The adjective ‘Scottish’ also tends to set whatever is meant by ‘enlightenment’ apart from the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. The ‘enlightenment’ was by no means only Scottish. It may have produced a distinctively Scottish manifestation, but, of course, it may have produced several different Scottish manifestations, depending on location and culture.
The Lowland version of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’, centring on Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, may have been no more than one of these versions. In fact, my own concern in this lecture will be with a particular part of the Gaelic-speaking Highlands of the eighteenth century, namely the swathe of territory which comes within the bounds of what is now the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. Most of the scholars whom I will consider belonged to, and operated in, that particular region, and most were ministers, though Dugald Buchanan was a schoolmaster for the Forfeited Estates and the Society in Scotland for Propagaing Christian Knowledge (SSPCK). This was, in fact, a threshold area of the Highlands and Lowlands, which gave relatively easy access to and from Highlands and Lowlands to the clergy and schoolmasters stationed within it. English and Gaelic co-existed side by side, and bilingualism would have been normal to many ministers and schoolmasters, giving them access to English, as well as Gaelic, literature.
I will not be concerned with the more northerly and westerly parts of the Highlands or with the Islands. Nevertheless, the material which I will consider leaves me in no doubt that the term ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’ has a much wider validity, as the texts produced in this period in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area were used by literate and religiously inclined readers throughout the Highlands and Islands, who would have made their substance orally accessible to other non-literate audiences. Indeed, the harbinger of the ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’ appeared from this very area in 1690, when the Rev. Robert Kirk, the Episcopal incumbent of Aberfoyle, and previously of Balquhidder, produced his version of ‘Bedell’s Bible’ in Roman (rather than ‘Irish’) font specifically for the literate clergy of Scotland. Though indebted to ‘Kirk’s Bible’, as it was known, the Gaelic New Testament of 1767 and the Old Testament of 1801 used a form of language much closer to spoken Scottish Gaelic. The availability of other printed volumes of a didactic and Protestant nature in this style from 1750 likewise helped to extend and reinforce the distinctively Scottish Gaelic literary tradition, and to establish ‘modern Gaelic literature’.
If the scholars of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ have locked themselves into some problematic cul de sacs, from which we feel we must free them for the benefit of their own intellectual health and for more inclusive purposes, I think we have to admit that Gaelic scholars too have created their own sets of road-blocks. The eighteenth-century Highlands and Islands are almost always portrayed as a society riven by political and social woes, most notably the causes and consequences of the two rebellions of 1715 and 1745. The tendency has been to see little beyond a grim contextual scenario, consisting of two ranks of enemies, the inevitable Jacobites and Hanoverians, slogging it out over the issue of succession to the British crown. Scholarly sympathies, on the whole, have tended to lie with Jacobites, and Hanoverian and Presbyterian activities have been seen as an integral part of the ‘regime’ against which the Jacobites rebelled. On the other hand, it has been argued that the fear of Jacobitism, and a campaign to eradicate it, helped to drive Protestant religious enthusiasm in the second half of the eighteenth century, and to stimulate the Gaelic publications with which we are mainly concerned here. A connection between their authors and the post-Culloden ‘new world order’ is certainly clear enough in some cases, but we must also remember that the translating of ‘English theology’ into languages such as Dutch and German had developed into something of an industry in Europe in the later seventeenth century, as Professor W. R.Ward has ably demonstrated. Indeed, at least one disgruntled clerical observer stated that the Dutch ‘have been as bold with our English sermons as with our fishing’, and advocated ‘reprizals against them’. Professor Ward then comments, ‘The plagiarism continues to provide employment for modern literary detectives…’ That comment certainly strikes a chord with me, as the ‘plagiarism’ of Dugald Buchanan has kept me happily in academic business for a considerable while!
The intellectual world of the authors, or principally translators, of Gaelic religious works has been lost to a large extent between competing, and often disparaging, if not highly contentious, views of the eighteenth-century Highlands and Islands. A joined-up case for a link between these authors and the wider ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ has barely surfaced, though it has made a rather tentative appearance in a recent volume of essays about the pro-Jacobite Gaelic poet, Alexander MacDonald, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, who has been called in its sub-title, ‘Bard of the Gaelic Enlightenment’. MacDonald, who had taught in an SSPCK school before ‘coming out’ as a fervent Jacobite, had educational, business-related and political links with Glasgow and Edinburgh, he knew and used the works of Allan Ramsay and James Thomson, and he published highly original and important Gaelic books, most notably his Gaelic Vocabulary of 1741, and his book of pro-Jacobite poems of 1751, the first-ever printed volume of secular Gaelic verse, most copies of which were promptly burnt at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh. Books could be burnt, of course, but ideas could survive, as could the movements at the heart of such innovation.
MacDonald’s book of poems takes me to within a year of the starting-date for the evidence which I wish to present in this lecture. In 1750, the first Puritan work was translated into Gaelic – Richard Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, or Gairm an De Mhoir Iompachadh agus Bith Beo, as it was entitled in Gaelic. Richard Baxter of Kidderminster was well known for other works too, some of which were likewise translated into Gaelic at a later date, in what became a veritable flood of English Puritan books in Gaelic. The translator was the Rev. Alexander MacFarlan(e), or ‘MacFarlain’ (as he spelt his own name in a letter), then minister of the parish of Kilninver and Kilmelfort in Argyll. MacFarlane was a Gaelic speaker who was born about 1703 on the farm of Pollochro in the parish of Buchanan on the east side of Loch Lomond. He graduated M.A. from the University of Glasgow in 1728, and by the 1750s was deeply immersed in translating religious material of various kinds into Gaelic. Writing to his brother Duncan, minister at Drymen, in March 1753, shortly before moving to the charge of Arrochar, he states that ‘I was closely confin’d by Appointment of our Argadian Sanhedrin, correcting our Guidhelian Targum now in the press, and sent me Sheet after Sheet per Express from Glasgow.’ The ‘Guidhelian Targum’ is a clever reference to the Gaelic Metrical Psalter which MacFarlane was revising for the Synod of Argyll, or the ‘Argadian Sanhedrin’, as he called this august body. The revised Psalter was duly published later in 1753. In the same letter, MacFarlane discloses that he has some political translation to carry out: ‘I am Just now translating into Caledonian Gallic the public Oaths of the Government at the Duke of Argyll’s Desire, to be tender’d to all his Guidhelian Tacks-men against Whitsunday next.’ MacFarlane’s Gaelic versions of the ‘public Oaths of the Government’ have survived in the Bighouse Papers (TGSI, Vol. 23, 32-34), entitled ‘Mionna Coitcheann Rioghachd Mhoir-Bhritinn, 1754’. We thus have what some might consider to be an example of the archetypal Hanoverian and Presbyterian minister carrying out his part in the ‘civilising’ of the Highlands, and, of course, the same could be said about schoolmasters such as Dugald Buchanan, who was also trying to bring ‘civilisation’ to bear on the renegades of the forfeited estate of Strowan.
Yet to be dismissive in this way is precisely what blinds us to appreciating the intellectual power and significance of families like the MacFarlanes. Alexander MacFarlane’s brother Duncan, to whom he wrote as ‘Minister of the Gospel at Drymen,’ was a well-known character in his time, and his son, another Duncan, who succeeded him as minister of Drymen, went on to become Principal of the University of Glasgow between 1823 and 1858, very much in the tradition of eighteenth-century Moderate clergy of the Lowland Enlightenment, who often became university Principals. (For information on the MacFarlan(e)s, I am deeply indebted to Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich, University of Glasgow, whose excellent research into the links between that university and the ‘Gaidhealtachd’ is the pre-eminent example of an approach and a methodology which are brilliantly ‘enlightened’ in terms of giving Gaelic its due place in the intellectual history of Scotland across the centuries.)
Given his skill as a scholarly translator of religious texts into Gaelic, it is hardly surprising that Alexander MacFarlane was the first choice for another – and much more demanding – task of the same kind shortly after arriving in the parish of Arrochar in 1754. This was at the request of the SSPCK, who wished him to translate the New Testament. We must admire MacFarlane’s willingness to attempt the assignment, as he had been extremely busy with other literary demands over the previous decade. However, he seems to have had great difficulty in proceeding with the work, because he had no manse in his new parish, and also required an amanuensis. By 1757, when he wrote to the SSPCK, little if any progress had been made, and the SSPCK was becoming restive. A year later, the society had found a solution to MacFarlane’s plight. A very willing assistant had been identified, and he had already made a most encouraging practical contribution to facilitate the translation. The Minutes of the SSPCK (GD95/2/7: 491-2) record what happened:
Produced two Letters from Dougald Buchannan Schoolmaster at Drumchastle, Covering a Translation in Earse, of the Second Epistle of Peter, and proposing that the Same Should be sent to Mr. Mcffarlane to be revised by him, which might be a mean of forwarding the Translation of the New Testament, for Expeding of which Mr. Buchannan proposes to pay a Visite to Mr. Mcffarlane, and, if it was Agreeable to the Committee, to stay with him for three or four moneths, when his school is thinnest, in which time he might make Great progress in the Translation, which Letters being read, and the said Specimen being produced, The Committee in respect there is no Account Come from Mr. Mcffarlane, for a long time past About his Translation, Recommended to the preses to write him a Letter, desiring to know what progress he has made in it, and to promise him fifty Guineas for his trouble in translating the new Testament, providing the Same / will be ready in such time, as that it may be ready to be printed against May one thousand seven hundred and fifty nine years, and at the same time to acquaint him, that the Committee propose to send him one of their Schoolmasters versant in the Earse Language to be his Amanuensis, whose Board wages and other Expence will be paid by the Society, and if this proposall be Agreed to by Mr. Mcffarlane the Committee resolved to Employ Dougald Buchanan for that purpose, and in the mean time Delayed giving any Directions About the Specimen now produced untill Mr. Mcffarlane’s Answer came to hand.
There is no surviving evidence that Mr MacFarlane’s answer ever came to hand, but by 1760 the SSPCK had reassigned the translation to the Rev. James Stewart of Killin. MacFarlane died in 1764, and it is possible that he had become unwell by 1760 or that the parish of Arrochar proved too demanding to allow him time for the translation.
Before we consider the Stewarts of Killin, however, it is vital that we give Dugald Buchanan his central place in what I have termed the ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’. He was the first person, as far as we know, to translate any portion of what became the 1767 Gaelic New Testament, and it was he who ‘attended the press’ in Edinburgh in the winters of 1766 and 1767 when that same New Testament was being printed. Buchanan, who is best known for the volume of his ‘spiritual hymns’ published in Edinburgh in 1767, the same year as the Gaelic New Testament, is the only Gaelic writer of the eighteenth century who can also be fitted relatively easily into the Lowland and metropolitan wing of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ through his association with its leading figures and in his range of interests. In Buchanan’s case, it is hard to avoid these ‘connections’.
Buchanan was born in 1716 in Ardoch, Strathyre, where his original home – the miller’s house – still stands. We have no details of his early education, but it was possibly through an SSPCK school. Later, as a boy tutor with well-to-do families, Buchanan was able to take advantage of their libraries to broaden his reading. We do know, however, that by 1740 he was in Divinity College in Glasgow (presumably the University of Glasgow), where his brilliance had attracted the attention of the Rev. John MacLaurin, brother of the celebrated ‘boy prodigy’ and distinguished mathematician of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ Professor Colin MacLaurin. Both were Gaelic speakers, as they hailed from Kilmodan in Argyll (with earlier family roots in Tiree). John McLaurin was a distinguished theologian of the evangelical stamp and minister of (St David’s) Ramshorn Church in Glasgow, having previously been minister of Luss. He appears to have been ‘talent-spotting’ for suitable candidates for the ministry of the Church of Scotland, and specially wanted to find Buchanan, or at least find out about him. He describes his quest for Buchanan in a letter to his brother:
In Company where the Conversation turn’d on the most eminent young men about our Divinity hall now, I have heard one Mr Buchanan who has Irish, from Balquidder or Bupridir [?] commended as of that number. This made me take pains this day, both forenoon & afternoon, to meet with Persons who could give me the best Account of him; I did not find the person I wanted in the forenoon, but in the evening I return’d a visit I was owing to the Master of College whom I have heard Speak of him formerly, & after Speaking about the Scarcity of Probationers now & the Talk that was some time ago about licensing some of our best young men; He confirm’d the Accounts I had heard of Mr Buchanan before, as one of our best Students; & particularly as one well skilled in the learn’d Languages & its Divinity. Meantime I have heard oftner than once that he is reckon’d what they call, too monkish & retir’d.
Buchanan did not go into the ministry, and appears not to have graduated from Glasgow. He became a schoolmaster on the Forfeited Estate of Strowan, in Perthshire, in 1750s, with a salary paid by the then factor, William Ramsey, and was latterly based at Kinloch Rannoch. Interestingly, Buchanan himself has nothing at all to say about his Glasgow years in his spiritual diary, which covers the 1740s, as if he was trying to get away from a misspent youth. During the 1750s, he proved his worth and efficiency by providing, very speedily in 1757, a new translation of The Mother’s Catechism for the SSPCK. During the 1760s, he seems to have been in the background of the translation of the New Testament, appearing occasionally in SSPCK Minutes as a scribe for its copying in 1764. The speedy production of the first full draft of the New Testament owes, I suspect, a great deal to Buchanan, though that has never been overtly acknowledged.
Buchanan’s links with the Lowland Scottish Enlightenment appear in his correspondence. In 1767, he wrote to Sir James Clerk of Penicuik, seeking support for the making of a Gaelic dictionary, based on the vocabulary which accompanied the New Testament, but which the SSPCK refused to expand into a fuller lexicon. He also advocated a tour to the islands to gather Gaelic poems for an anthology. In that letter, he shows a thorough knowledge of the main Gaelic scholars of the eighteenth century and earlier, including the obstacles some faced in trying to bring their work to publication.
Buchanan’s own collection of verse, Laoidhe Spioradail, further reflects his wider Enlightenment perspectives. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, some of his poems directly translate, paraphrase, borrow more subtly from, and, in cetain cases, supplement, compositions by the prominent English scholar and composer of hymns, Dr Isaac Watts. Watts was a strong supporter of the ideas of John Locke, and he also absorbed the formulations of Sir Isaac Newton with regard to the nature of the universe. These ideas and formulations were all part of the Enlightenment as it appeared in England, and entered the British mainstream. Buchanan drew inspiration and more from the verse of the English poet Edward Young, most obviously in his epic on the Day of Judgement. His poem on ‘The Skull’ is deeply indebted to a poem called ‘The Grave’ by the Scottish clergyman, Robert Blair. Robert Blair was, in fact, a cousin of Hugh Blair, a very prominent figure in the Lowland ‘Scottish Enlightenment’, and minister of St Giles, as well as Professor of Rhetoric and Belle Lettres at the University of Edinburgh. As is well known, Hugh Blair was the great ‘encourager’ of James Macpherson. Buchanan would probably have known Hugh Blair, and quite possibly also David Hume, with whom, tradition asserts, he debated theological matters. Buchanan certainly attended classes at Edinburgh when supervising the labour of putting the Gaelic New Testament through the press.
It also seems to me that several of Buchanan’s poems breathe the sentiments and philosophies of some of the broader themes of the Enlightenment. For example, his printed poem on the ‘Greatness of God’ (‘Mòrachd Dhè’) considers how far reason and ‘natural theology’ can take us in our search for the existence of God. ‘Revealed theology’ is necessary to show us the Creator, as found in God’s own word. In an unpublished poem which is contained in the McLagan Manuscripts, and which is almost certainly by Bochanan, he depicts the voices of creation, pouring forth speech, and declaring the majesty of God, in a steady-state universe which would have been immediately recognisable to Newton, and was also the theme of a similar hymn by Joseph Addison published in The Spectator.
We must now turn to the Stewarts of Killin and Luss, whom Dugald Buchanan evidently knew extremely well, and with whom he worked on what might be called the ‘unifying project’ of the ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’, namely the Gaelic translation of the New Testament and then the Old Testament. The former was under the wing of the Rev. James Stewart of Killin, and the latter under the wing of his son, the Rev. John Stuart (who spelt his surname ‘Stuart’ rather than ‘Stewart’, which was the form used initially by the Killin Stewarts). Although James Stewart has been ‘monumentalised’ and put on great plinths of word and stone as ‘the worthy translator’ (thanks largely to Dr Johnson, and the ‘single scholarly giant’ syndrome of eulogistic Gaelic writers), one of the puzzles, among many relating to the Gaelic New Testament, is how he came to be given this responsibility. Prior to undertaking this project in 1760, he seems to have had no earlier experience of Gaelic translation – unlike both Alexander MacFarlane and Dugald Buchanan. Indeed, Buchanan, who had already produced a Gaelic translation of the Second Epistle of Peter two years earlier, would surely have been the obvious choice, if track record were the principal criterion.
Status was, no doubt, the deciding factor, as ministers were more highly esteemed than humble schoolmasters, however brilliant. Born in Glenfinlass in 1700, and a graduate of St Andrews, James Stewart was minister at Killin from 1737 until his death in 1789. What is, however, clear is that, when the translation was entrusted to Stewart, it moved quickly and expeditiously, and was ready for checking and copying by 1764. The project was undertaken more or less at the same time as James Macpherson’s Ossian was appearing, and earning the devotion of the great Enlightenment stars of Edinburgh.
The Old Manse of Killin was probably the equivalent of what we would call today a ‘hub’, where other workers met and participated in the project. It was more than the equivalent of any Edinburgh coffee-house, and it looks as if the Stewarts were at the centre of a network which I have called the ‘Killin Circle’, and which stretched through Perthshire to Argyllshire, and into the northern Highlands. Scribes came from as far afield as Lismore to work on the New Testament. Buchanan was one of the more local ‘skivvies’, although, as we know, he looked after the book at the press, and probably made a major input to the translation. I suspect that, having started on the translation when attempting to help Alexander MacFarlane, he kept at it, and had an even larger donation ready for James Stewart when the work began officially in 1760. James Stewart was, in my opinion, the ‘organising editor’, primus inter pares, though, when the book actually appeared, he was happy to be seen as its sole translator, and signed himself thus. The monument to him in Killin, erected as late as 1890, when a trend towards memorialising was in fashion, describes him as ‘Ceud eadar-theangair an Tiomnaidh Nuaidh gu Gàidhlig Albannaich’ (‘The first translator of the New Testament to Scottish Gaelic’). This is, of course, inaccurate, as Dugald Buchanan was, it seems, the very first translator to produce a portion of the new volume – in 1758. The process of memorialising Buchanan also got under way in the later nineteenth century, with its own range of blind spots and misconceptions and reconstructed traditional narratives.
The practices of the Old Manse of Killin and its ‘worthy’ minister were replicated elsewhere, most notably in the manse of Luss, when James Stewart’s son John became minister there in 1777, and where he remained in post until his death in 1821 – the year that suggested my terminal date of 1820 for this overview. In my opinion, John Stuart was even more ‘worthy’ than his father, with his various contributions to Gaelic Bible translation, to the publishing of secular Gaelic books, and to the study of botany. John had been a student at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1771. He obviously took full advantage of what was available on the curriculum of the university which was at the heart, some might claim, of the Lowland Scottish Enlightenment. In the course of his studies, he attended the botany class conducted by Professor John Hope. As an expert with great knowledge of the flora of his area, Stuart assisted botanists like John Lightfoot, and travellers like Thomas Pennant. The last quarter of the eighteenth century, it will be remembered, was the period when Captain James Cook sailed to the Pacific to view the transit of Venus. With him on his first voyage was Joseph Banks, who was later to make a name for himself in botanical matters, and also as the ‘father’ of Botany Bay. The study of botany thus belongs to the wider Enlightenment in Great Britain.
John Stuart’s best-known undertaking was the translation into Gaelic of the Old Testament, which began shortly after the completion of the New, but is pre-eminently associated with his time in Luss. He was certainly the organising editor of this very large assignment. For the purposes of translation, the Old Testament was divided into four sections. Stuart is reputed to have been the main translator of the first two parts, namely Genesis to Joshua (1783) and Judges to Chronicles (1787) and the sole translator of the third part, Ezra to Lamentations (1801). The fourth part, Isaiah to Malachi (The Prophets) (1786), was translated by Dr John Smith of Campbeltown, and caused a stouché when it appeared, principally because Smith had used the most recent scholarship on the books of the Prophets, namely that of Benjamin Blaney and Bishop Lowth. His translation differed in certain readings, sometimes substantially, from the Authorised Version, and his methods came under suspicion. The relevant section had to be retranslated by the Rev. Alexander Stewart of Dingwall, and republished in 1807.
Stuart’s work as a translator was acknowledged by a D.D. degree from the University of Glasgow in 1795, but he was by no means on his own in his undertakings. He had various assistants, two of whom stand at opposite ends of the formal educational spectrum. Among his clerical helpers we find no less a person than the Rev. James McLagan, a former Army chaplain, and later minister of Amulrie and Blair Atholl. McLagan was married to John Stuart’s sister Catherine. He revised Stuart’s version of the Book of Proverbs, as far as Chapter 20, as he informed the Secretary of the SSPCK in February 1800. Today, James McLagan’s role in the translation has been largely forgotten. He is most obviously associated with the McLagan Manuscripts housed in Glasgow University Library, a collection of verse and other material of immense value which contains, among many other gems, important drafts of five of Dugald Buchanan’s hymns which predate the versions in the 1767 book, as well as half-a-dozen more translations of poems by Watts, which are clearly by Buchanan. In addition to that, McLagan preserves material written by John Stuart, and currently being edited and set in context by Professor Roibéard Ó Maolálaigh, University of Glasgow, who has generously furnished me with information. The McLagan Manuscripts are further evidence of the intellectual stimulus of what I have called the ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’. McLagan and Stuart had also been collaborators in a ‘Highland Gentlemen’s Dictionary’.
The other equally important assistant in John Stuart’s labours was a farmer from Camustradden (Camus an t-Srathain), Luss, called John Walker, who had never seen the inside of a university, but was extremely talented. As far as I am aware, we have no surviving records of what exactly Walker did for Stuart, but there is clear evidence that he helped him in his labours. We do, however, know what Stuart did for Walker, doubtless in acknowledgement of his support, and that was to act as patron for the publication of a book of Walker’s poems, in English, Scots and Gaelic, which appeared in 1817. In addition to Stuart’s support, subscriptions were solicited from a wide range of leading figures, writers, artists and others, who included Walter Scott in Edinburgh and the Rev. Duncan MacFarlan, Drymen, nephew of the Rev. Alexander MacFarlane of Arrochar.
That takes us back to the beginning of my lecture, but it also underlines another crucially important aspect of the Stewarts’ literary endeavours. They were supporters and editors and supervisors of non-biblical Gaelic publications, both religious and non-religious. My own feeling is that it was James Stewart and his associates who arranged for the publication of Buchanan’s poems in Edinburgh in 1767, alongside the Gaelic New Testament, as a way of thanking Buchanan for his otherewise unacknowledged services. A year later, John Stuart, while still a student at Edinburgh, was supervising the printing of the first edition of the poems of the celebrated Gaelic poet, Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, from Glenorchy, whose verse had been written down from his own oral recitation by another member of the ‘Killin Circle’, the Rev. Donald McNicol of Lismore. It was John Stuart too who edited the poems for publication. John Stuart was a mighty man of great literary valour from his earliest days, standing head and shoulders above his father in terms of output and achievement.
Let me now try to reach a conclusion. There is no doubt in my mind that the evidence that I have produced in this lecture amounts to a convincing preliminary case for believing that a ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’ was taking place in the part of Scotland now lying within the bounds of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The region was no more, and no less, than the intellectual powerhouse which stimulated the emergence of modern Gaelic literature. The translation of the New Testament and then the Old Testament laid the foundation of the Gaelic Societies which made literacy in Gaelic one of their main goals, and, as a consequence, new writing in Gaelic, in the form of journals, secular and sacred, began to appear in the first half of the nineteenth century.
If I have made the case for a ‘Gaelic Literary Enlightenment’, may I then plead for the creation of a much more inclusive model of what we can all justly and fairly call the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’? It is high time, in my view, that the major scholars of eighteenth-century Gaelic Scotland, namely the ministers and schoolmasters whom I have commemorated here, and doubtless others whom I have not mentioned, should stand alongside their peers in the Lowland South. I pray that, in future, it will prove impossible to write another so-called History of Scottish Literature or an appreciation of the Scottish Enlightenment which has next to nothing – and usually nothing! – to say about them. I salute, and I hope you do too, the remarkable achievements of Dugald Buchanan and the Stewarts of Killin and Luss as I conclude the O’ Donnell lecture for 2018, two hundred and fifty years after the publication of the Scottish Gaelic New Testament and the hymns of Dugald Buchanan, who died in 1768. Tapadh leibh. / Thank you.