Thursday, 25 July 2019





Donald E. Meek


Dugald Buchanan (1716-68) has long been recognised as the principal religious poet of Gaelic Scotland.  His claim to such prominence has been based on a small volume of eight ‘hymns’ which was published in Edinburgh in 1767, the same year as the translation of the Gaelic New Testament appeared for the first time, both books being printed by Balfour, Auld & Smellie.  During the winters of 1766 and 1767, Buchanan was ‘attending the press’ in Edinburgh while the Gaelic New Testament was being typeset and printed, and it would seem that the opportunity was taken to publish a selection of his own verse.  We do not know who arranged the publication, nor do we know who paid for it, or why.  It is, however, highly likely that there was a connection between the project to translate the New Testament into Gaelic and the publication of Buchanan’s verse.  Buchanan was closely involved in the practical aspects of the translation, working alongside the Rev. James Stewart (1700-89), parish minister of Killin, who is normally credited as the ‘first translator of the New Testament into Scottish Gaelic’, as the memorial outside Killin Parish Church has proclaimed since 1890.  Buchanan’s known contribution to the making of the Gaelic New Testament included, in 1758, the translation of the Second Epistle of Peter to ease the difficulties facing the SSPCK’s first intended translator of the New Testament, namely the Rev. Alexander MacFarlane (c. 1703-63), by then minister of Arrochar; his acting as a scribe in copying the completed text in 1764; and his supervision of the volume as it went through the press in Edinburgh.  It is, however, quite possible that Buchanan contributed substantially more than that to the translation, as he was a distinguished scholar of Biblical languages, and recognised as such when he attended Divinity College in Glasgow about 1740 (LSDB: 3-4).  If he was assisting James Stewart behind the scenes, the publication of his book may have been intended as his reward from Stewart and his associates within the ‘Killin Circle’, a network of scholarly clerics and less prominent, but equally scholarly, schoolmasters.

Promoting the poets

Given the lack of specific evidence relating to the origination, funding and publication of Buchanan’s book, it is instructive to consider a potential parallel which brings us directly to the ‘Killin Circle’ and to the drafts of several of Buchanan’s hymns in the McLagan Manuscripts.  This parallel relates to the patronage of the Rev. John Stuart, son of James Stewart and parish minister of Luss, who was responsible for the revision of the Gaelic New Testament in 1796 and the translation of the Old Testament into Gaelic, a task completed (in its first version) in 1801.  As in the case of the New Testament, the translation of the Old Testament was evidently what would now be called a ‘team project’, with some members of the team (most notably the clergy) receiving more overt public recognition than the  schoolmasters and other assistants lower down the social scale.  One in the latter category was John Walker, a farmer on the hill of Camstradden (Camus an t-Srathain), Luss, whose poems were published in Glasgow in 1817 (Walker 1817).  According to Donald MacLeod (MacLeod 1891: 209):

The poet had an intimate knowledge of the Gaelic language, and he assisted greatly the Rev. Dr Stuart, minister of Luss, in translating the Bible into that tongue, much of the work being done in the home of the poet.

Walker’s book carries a somewhat fawning Preface, which, we are led to believe, was not written by the poet himself.  The writer emphasises Walker’s ‘almost clannish respect’ for the Lairds of Camstradden, before noting (Walker 1817: iii):

Having made this allusion to the grateful sentiments of the Poet, it would be doing injustice to his feelings – were we to omit the expression of the same sentiments on his part, towards another family in his immediate neighbourhood, (universally known for their benevolence and hospitality,) as well for their uniform kindness to him, as for their friendly attention to his interest in the instance of the present publication.

It is due to the modesty of our Author, to state that it would never have occurred to himself to publish his Poems.  They were written at various intervals during the last thirty years, and none of them with a vew to the press. – This may in some degree account for their great diversity both in the character and merit of the different compositions.

The reference to the ‘[other] family in his immediate neighbourhood’ is, of course, to the Stuarts of Luss.  They are not identified directly, presumably because they were the principal patrons of the volume, and their own debt to Walker is not mentioned. The relationship appears to have been warm, nevertheless, to the extent of permitting Walker to offer Stuart, the eminent parish minister, some rather blunt, fatherly advice when he married Susan MacIntyre, who was much younger than himself, in 1792 (Newton 1999: 118).  The List of Subscribers to the volume includes Sir James Colquhoun of Luss, the Rev. Dr McIntyre, Glenorchy (Rev. John Stuart’s father-in-law), the Rev. Dr McFarlane (sic), Drymen, the Rev. Mr Proudfoot, Arrochar, the Rev. Dr Stuart, Luss, Walter Scott, Esq., Edinburgh, Captain Smollett, Bonhill, and Mr David Wilkie, Glasgow.  This in itself bears witness to the network of influential men of arts and letters within which the Rev. John Stuart of Luss operated.

The publication of Dugald Buchanan’s volume of Laoidhe Spioradail in 1767 could have been facilitated by similar arrangements on the Stewarts’ part, but without subscribers, and without any explanatory preface or elaboration of any kind, possibly because there were no ‘big backers’ beyond the ‘Killin Circle’.  It is hard to believe that Buchanan’s hard-won salary, extracted in the 1760s by means of regular formal petitions to his grasping superiors, could have extended to the printing of a book.  It is obvious from the orthography that it required some finessing for the press, and that its pages were scrutinised by well-informed eyes after publication.   There is evidence that the Stewarts of Killin had a copy of his book, as the copy in Edinburgh University Library bears the signature of ‘Miss Eliza Ste(u)art’, daughter of James Stewart (LSDB: 73), and sister of John Stuart.  The crosses and caret marks on the margins of certain pages of the book suggest that they may have compared the texts as published with manuscript copies available to them, as they appear to have noted certain verses in the manuscripts which are not attested in print. 

There are similarities between the possible ‘airbrushing out’ of Buchanan as an assistant translator of the Gaelic New Testament, and John Stuart’s failure to give any overt credit to Walker as his assistant.  In both instances a publication by each author, containing their respective compositions, may have been a generous and appropriate form of payment for their back-room roles in biblical translation.  Whatever the answer, it is certainly clear that the Rev. John Stuart was prepared to act as a patron of Gaelic poets. In this, as in other matters, he may have been following in his father’s footsteps, though he appears to have been much more significant in that respect than ‘the worthy translator’ (MacKenzie 1992).  John Stuart certainly knew the ropes of printing and publishing from an early age.  In 1768, when a student at the University of Edinburgh, he edited and supervised the printing of the songs of Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, then going through the press, no more than a year after Buchanan’s book.  It is highly likely that, in publishing the poetic output of Buchanan, the ‘Killin Circle’ was the all-important facilitator, supportive if not ‘pro-active’.  At the very least, Walker’s book underlines the power of John Stuart’s patronage and his significance as a man of letters, which is also more than evident in the McLagan Manuscripts.

Rev. John Stuart and the ‘Buchanan papers’

Contrary to the conclusion reached by Professor D. S. Thomson in what appears to have been a surprisingly cursory survey of the relevant McLagan material in the early 1990s, namely,  that ‘For Dùghall Bochanan there is only one item (‘An Claigeann’ in MS 20)’ (TGSI, LVIII, 1992-94, p. 416), the collection contains manuscript drafts of no less than five of Buchanan’s published ‘hymns’.  None of these carries an authorial ascription, as that would not have been required by McLagan and his contemporaries, who would have known their authorship.  Today we can identify the composer by means of the 1767 book.  More interestingly, however, it seems highly likely that these drafts represent Buchanan’s own hand, as argued in DBCL.   The same five ‘hymns’ are also found in the body of manuscripts compiled and collected by the Rev. Donald McNicol (1735-1802), James McLagan’s very near contemporary and parish minister of Lismore, and an obvious member of the ‘Killin Circle’.  There are some slight differences in presentation, and the occasional variant reading, but the orthographies of the texts in both the McNicol and McLagan versions correspond so minutely that McNicol may have copied his material directly from the same Buchanan papers, or from other closely-related sources.  McNicol himself was evidently the scribe.

We do not know how these ‘Buchanan papers’ came to be part of the McLagan holding, but it is highly likely that John Stuart was an intermediary.   The role of the Stewarts, and especially that of John, in contributing to the McLagan collection as a whole is suggested strongly by MS General 1042 / 143, ‘Ginealach nan Stiubhartach’ (‘The Genealogy of the Stewarts’), said in the GU catalogue to be ‘attested by Donald McNicol, James McLagan, James MacIntyre of Glencoe, and John Stuart’.  Nodding in the same direction is MS General 1042 / 210, a collection of four poems, said in the GU catalogue to have been ‘transcribed by James McLagan and either James Stewart of Killin or John Stewart of Luss’.  John Stuart (1743-1821) was, of course, a younger contemporary of James McLagan (1728-1805), and his sister Catherine was married to McLagan.

After his father’s death in 1789, it would have been natural for John Stuart to become the custodian of his papers, including any surviving Buchanan material.  A possible indicator of Stewart ownership is found in the margin of p. 5 of GU MS General 1042 20 (a), containing a version of Buchanan’s ‘An Claigeann’, where a ‘signature’ or ‘signatures’ possibly representing ‘John’ and ‘James’ are attested – these being the names of father and son within the Stewart family.  These signatures are not, however, a formal signing; their light, perfunctory, and even ‘childish’, style suggests that they were little more than a casual pen-test on the part of the writer, perhaps trying out a nib on leaves of paper conveniently to hand.  If that is the case, it is amusing to note that the manuscript material which we today regard as invaluable seens to have been much less ‘precious’ to John Stuart, who, as a young man, would surely have known at first hand both Buchanan himself and his poetic output, perhaps to the extent of feeling at liberty to ‘scribble’ on such pages.  What is infinitely more remarkable than the ‘scribbles’, however, is that these drafts of Buchanan’s hymns were retained for so long after the publication of the 1767 edition, and that they have survived until now.  The availability of the printed book did not cause them to be consigned to oblivion, and for that we must be profoundly grateful.

The 1767 printed texts and the manuscript versions

The drafts of Buchanan’s ‘hymns’ in the McLagan collection, contained in MS General 1042 / 20 (a), MS General 1042 / 20 (b), and MS General 1042 / 4, are of immense value to our understanding of the processes whereby Buchanan composed his hymns and also compiled his 1767 book. The wider context for his compositions, as discussed fully in LSDB, is provided by his intimate knowledge of the works of poets composing in English, most notably Isaac Watts (HL), Edward Young, Robert Blair, and, to a lesser extent, James Thomson.  It is apparent that the manuscript drafts predate the book, and by laying the drafts alongside the printed texts, we can gain some understanding of the dynamics of the poet’s interaction with his compositions in matters of word substitution and wider refashioning, including the addition and subtraction of verses, before the poems reached print.  The variations can be summarised as follows, with poems numbered in the order in which they appear in the 1767 book:

1.      ‘Mòrachd Dhè’ (‘The Majesty of God’), entitled ‘An Cruthadoir & na Creatuiribh’ (‘The Creator and the Creatures’) in McLagan MS General 1042/4. This poem is deeply indebted to two meditative hymns in Horae Lyricae (1706) by Isaac Watts, ‘God Supreme and Self-Sufficient’ and ‘The Creator and the Creatures’.  It combines close translation of some of Watts’ verses with paraphrases of others, and some original quatrains. Where the manuscript and the printed version differ, the manuscript readings are usually closer to Watts, as is the title of the poem in the manuscript.


4.      ‘Bruadar’ (‘Dream’), entitled ‘Bruadar mu Shonnas’ (‘A Dream about Happiness’) in McLagan MS General 1042/4. There is no known direct source which Buchanan may have used as a basis for this poem.  He employs Gaelic proverbs to delineate the futility of humankind’s never-ending search for happiness.  The manuscript texts have three quatrains not found in the 1767 printed book, and lack one verse found in the book.

5.      ‘An Gaisgeach’ (‘The Hero’), entitled ‘Am fior Ghaisgeach’ (‘The True Hero’) in McLagan MS General 1042/4.  The real hero is the theme of this poem – namely, the person who can subdue his/her passions, rather than give them free rein to slaughter others.  The poem is almost entirely a recasting of Watts’ ‘True Monarchy, 1701’, with some original verses at the outset.  The manuscript copies lack the three concluding verses found in printed book, which are derived directly from Watts.   The manuscript  readings are, however, closer to Watts than those in the printed book.

6.      ‘An Claigeann’ (‘The Skull’), entitled ‘Dan mu thiomchi<o>l Cloigionn Duine Mhair<bh>’ (‘A Poem about the Skull of a Dead Man’) in McLagan MS General 1042 / 20 a. Based on Robert Blair’s ‘The Grave’, this poem imagines who might have beeen the owners of a skull found in a graveyard.  A rogues’ gallery, derived from Blair but skilfully recast in strophic verses, is delineated with passion and good-natured black humour.  The manuscript versions have a significantly different, and much more direct, ending.  When compared with the manuscript texts, the printed version appears to have been ‘toned down’, and is much less direct.

7.      ‘An Geamhradh’ (‘Winter’), entitled ‘An Geamhradh is an Tsean Aois air an Samhlachadh re Cheile’ (‘Winter and Old Age Compared with One Another’) in McLagan MS General 1042 /20 b.  This poem takes its starting-point from the last section of James Thomson’s seasonal poem on ‘Winter’ in its 1746 reworking.  The seasons reflect the stages of life in Buchanan’s poem, and winter – the principal theme –  represents death. This is a ‘Memento mori’ poem, with due exhortation to change one’s way of life.  No direct reference is made to God at all, but the message is unequivocal.  The manuscript texts have an alternative version of the opening description of a winter snowfall and its effect.  The ‘tightened’ description in the printed version is sharper in style and image.


Comparison of the manucript evidence with that of the 1767 book suggests that, in contexts in which he derived his inspiration from Watts, Buchanan was sometimes aware that he was ‘just too close’ in his translation of some words and phrases in Watts, and that he had to be less literal.   The texts in 1767 book are less close to Watts than are the manuscripts in terms of ‘incriminating’ line readings, but they tend to be closer to Watts in terms of actual verses, based on ideas rather than words (as in ‘An Gaisgeach’).   See further the transcriptions and discussion of the manuscript texts in DBCL.

The 1767 book contains three poems which are not found in either the McLagan or the McNicol collections.  This strengthens the probability that the Buchanan papers, as lodged in the McLagan corpus, predate the publication of the book.  These three poems (numbered in the order in which they appear in the book) are:

2.      ‘Fulangas Chrìosd’ (‘The Suffering of Christ’). This has no known direct source.  An account of Christ’s life until the Crucifixion, it dwells on the passion (suffering) of Christ in a manner reminiscent of hymns of the period, including those of Watts.  It has remained very popular in Gaelic oral tradition to the present.

3.      ‘Là a’ Bhreitheanais’ (‘The Day of Judgement’).  This is Buchanan’s ‘epic’, with 508 lines.  Influenced by Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, and specifically Young’s ‘The Last Day’ and ‘The Consolation’, it contains little direct translation, but generally takes ideas from Young.  These are recast, and reconfigured into concise quatrains, rather than Young’s sprawling blank verse.  Young, like Blair, represented the ‘Graveyard School’ of minor English poets.  Buchanan, however, offers a Highland apocalypse, rooted in the natural environment of mountains and moorburns.  Aware that he is going into print, he addresses the reader.  Parts of the poem were sung in Mull until the mid-twentieth century.

8.      ‘Ùrnaigh’ (‘A Prayer’).  This is a penitent’s prayer, based on a pastiche of Watts’ meditative poems in Horae Lyricae.  Direct sources for some individual verses can be traced in Watts.

Items 2 and 3 are the most popular of Buchanan’s published hymns in an oral context. Their absence, and that of item 8, from the surviving manuscripts may indicate that they are later than the others in terms of Buchanan’s output.  ‘Là a’ Bhreitheanais’ was possibly still in composition as Buchanan was contemplating the book, and it may have been too recent to have had a significant (prior) life in manuscript.

The stylistic analysis conducted in LSDB is of vital importance in identifying a further poem in the McLagan Manuscripts which is almost certainly Buchanan’s work, namely ‘Ma thiomchail Morthachd Dhe’ in MS General 1042 / 21.  Buchanan’s authorship is consistent with the language (semi-classical Gaelic, as commonly used by Buchanan, but stricter than that of published hymns), the concise and creatively brilliant use of words, and above all the Wattsian style.  The poem is not a direct borrowing from Watts, but a broad ‘pastiche’, with much greater emphasis on the aural and musical dimensions of the creation.  It appears to be a particularly fine example of Buchanan’s poetic skills.  Why, then, did he omit it from the book?  Was it his very last composition, too late to be included in the book, or did he regard it as ‘too high’ in style compared with the other ‘hymns’?

A close comparative study of letter forms, based on Buchanan’s known hand, puts it beyond reasonable doubt that Buchanan not only wrote the drafts of his published hymns preserved in the McLagan collection, but that he also wrote the draft of ‘Ma thiomchail Morthachd Dhe’ (see DBCL).

Further ‘Wattsian’ poems in the McLagan collection

Five further poems are contained in MS General 1042 /19, three of which are fairly direct translations of moralistic verse by Isaac Watts, taken from the concluding section of Horae Lyricae.  These translations display some of the main hallmarks of Buchanan’s verse as defined in LSDB.  However, as discussed in DBCL, they are more obviously translations, rougher in metrical form, and much closer to their originals, than any of the ‘hymns’ in Buchanan’s 1767 edition. These are as follows:

(1) ‘Itheam-Olaim-Cacaim-Caidlim’, a translation of Watts’ poem, ‘The Sluggard’.

(2) ‘An Seangan’, a translation of Watts’ poem, ‘The Ant, or Emmet’.

(3) ‘Lamh Slaodadh Rium’, a translation of Watts’ poem, ‘The Thief’.

(4) ‘Riaghailt Òra an t-Slànaighir’, a translation of Watts’ poem, ‘Our Saviour’s Golden Rule’.

(5) This sequence is rounded off with a versified doxology, ‘Cliu-radh’, quite possibly inspired by Watts’ doxological verses, but rooted in the Epistle of Jude, verses 24-25.

The hand responsible for writing these five items is not, however, that of Buchanan.  Close comparative study of letter forms makes it highly probable that the scribe in this instance was the Rev. Donald McNicol.   Given that McNicol is known to have copied Buchanan’s hymns, it is possible that he copied these items too, perhaps from much earlier drafts in Buchanan’s hand, which he intended solely for use in his school.  It is, of course, also possible that McNicol himself translated these poems from Watts.  To date, however, there is nothing to indicate that McNicol had a creative interest in such verse, although he gained prominence for his satires on Dr Samuel Johnson (Gillies 1786: 173-94), and is said to have composed a love poem (MacLeod 1993).   Even so, Buchanan may not have been the only admirer of Watts, and it is clear that an interest in translating English verse into Gaelic was more broadly pursued in the eighteenth century than has been realised hitherto.

Translations of secular songs in the McLagan Manuscripts

The McLagan collection demonstrates this wider interest in the translation of songs from English to Gaelic existed in the eighteenth century, and this suggests that some translators were probably basing their work on contemporary English magazines and related publications, such as The Spectator, The London Magazine, and Notes and Queries. Two secular poems found consecutively in MS General 1042 / 23, in a format in which each (original) quatrain in English is followed by a translation of that quatrain into Gaelic, are of particular value in this regard.  The MS pages are reproduced in Appendix B.  Both poems are concerned with the attractiveness of women, contested or described lightheartedly.  The first, in dialogue form between the poet and a certain ‘Sir Richard’, begins, ‘Fair Ladies are Delicate Things’, and devotes alternate verses to praising and dispraising ‘a Good Wife’. The second begins, ‘A Whimsical pain has just caught me’, and extols (with tongue in cheek) the beguiling qualities of the ‘Inchanting Mal Ro’. The presentation of the two poems, the one directly following the other in the manuscript, with their verses given in both English and Gaelic, is certainly unusual in terms of the collection as a whole, and also in terms of the wider Gaelic corpus of such verse. Remarkably, a comparison of letter forms in Appendix C and of overall writing styles suggests that the scribe was, once again, the Rev. Donald McNicol of Lismore.   Both poems are edited provisionally with Notes in Appendix A.

Given what we already know of Buchanan, it seems improbable that he, as a religious poet,  was the translator of these secular poems.  The contrast between Buchanan’s ‘concealed originals’ and the transparency of the translator’s approach in these secular examples, with both English and Gaelic verses on display, is also striking.  But is this in itself sufficient to rule out Buchanan’s possible role as translator?  What, besides hymns, could he have composed or translated ‘under the desk’?   Could he have translated these verses as an exercise in the translator’s craft, or in response to a request for a ‘Gaelic version’, with later recopying?  Could McNicol have been the translator?  Or was this the work of yet another translator, or of several translators, hitherto unknown?  It is fascinating to note that a version of ‘Mal Ro’, with alternating English and Gaelic verses as in the McLagan text, but not identical with the McLagan rendering, had reached print by 1798 (Campbell 1798: 133-136).

Whatever the solution, these translations certainly provide a broader context in which to consider the craft of verse translation from English to Gaelic in the eighteenth century – a craft in which Buchanan was clearly highly proficient, but one which has received little significant scholarly attention to date.


It would be hard to overestimate the value of the McLagan Manuscripts, and particularly their gathering of ‘Buchanan papers’, in allowing us to go ‘behind the book’ in the case of Dugald Buchanan’s volume of 1767, and to identify a creative ‘circle’ of clerical scholars (and their associated scribes) who may have facilitated or encouraged the printing of his verse.  Following the publication of his book, the same scholars may have had the foresight to preserve not only earlier drafts of his published ‘hymns’, but also that of an unpublished hymn.  The collection contains several important and more literal Gaelic translations of Watts’ poems which remained in manuscript until the appearance of DBCL.

The drafts of Buchanan’s known hymns preserved in the McLagan Manuscripts permit us to view the hand of this eighteenth-century poet himself, rewording parts of his verse, and evidently modifying some of his poems prior to publication.  His drafts were also being copied by other scribes, most notably the Rev. Donald McNicol of Lismore.  McNicol’s involvement appears to have preserved the additional translations of Watts’ poems, which came to rest in the McLagan collection.  While Buchanan may have been the translator of these poems, perhaps at an early stage in his poetic career, we have to consider the possibility that McNicol himself was their translator, and that there was a wider Gaelic interest in Watts’ work. 

Two further poems in the McLagan collection indicate that the translating of verse, this time of a secular nature, from English to Gaelic was of interest to composers in the wider context of magazines and books which formed a central part of contemporary popular English literature.  The scribe again appears to be McNicol.  But who was the translator?    Ongoing study of the McLagan Manuscripts may help to answer such questions, and to shed additional light on this fascinating field.




G.U. MS General 1042 / 23


[1. Fair Ladies are Delicate Things]


Fair Ladies are Delicate Things

The Pleasure and Joy of Man’s Life

Companions for Nobles & Kings

And who would not have a Good Wife

Companions &c / two last lines repeated /


Ha Baintiernean boiich ro Sheamh

Culi air agus Solas gach Soigh,

Glaci Ri ’s Daoine mòr iad air laimh

Agus cò nach biig Posta ri Mnaoi

Glaci &c / two last lines repeated /



Sir Richard well what do you mean

Are they not the fair Authors of Strife

What impudent Jad[e]s have I seen

And who would be plaug’d with a Wife


Shir Richard well ’s gavi do Sheòl

Nach iad bun gach Constri a chaoi

’S iom Cail aodin darrich ha meol

Agus cò bhiig ga leona le Mnaoi



                    [ 3.]

When we are incumbered with Care

They help to support a man’s life

The half of the Burden they Share

And who could not have a Good Wife


Dar bh’ios shin lan trioblaid Sprochd

Togi iadsa gu Sòlas an Cri

Lea na Heallich gu ngabh iad gu ncoir

Agus cò nach biig Posta ri Mnaoi.



They plunder our Silver & Gold

And trifle about to the life

And often are given to Scold

And who would be Plaugd wt a Wife


’S iad robbis uain airgid is òr

’S biis iad Shuisanich roical is tir

’S tri nteanga gar Gearra le ngloir

Agus co bhiig ga leona le Mnaoi.


                     [5.]                                                  /2

You’re turned a quarrelsome Elf

So full of Contention & Strife

You have come from a Woman yourself

And why Should you hate a good Wife


Ghàs u Carraich Carranich Crion

Lan trioblaid is firish gan bhri

Bhon’s Bean chuair anail an d’Chliabh

Corson ghabh u mi thlachc ri Mnaoi



I hate not a Woman he Cry’d

But oh! the Sad name of a Wife

I cannot endure to be ty’d

A Slave all the Days of my life


Cha nuaich leom Borrinich coir

Ach na luai leom bhi Posta ri Mnaoi

Ba chruai leom bhi m’ thràil ri mo bheo

Ann Buarich na Dòrin fui chaoi




[2. A Whimsical pain has just caught me]



A Whimsical pain has just caught me

Much Worse than the Gout in the toe

No Damsel on earth could have taught me

To Love but the Inchanting MalRo.  With a fall &c.


Rinn Seors d’ Ghreim gorach mo ghlac

’Smo Chrea<s>t na Niugh ansna Meoir

O Calin air Talamh cha Naisig

Mo Ghaolsa air aish uai Mal Ro, Le fal &c.




Tho formerly I was a Sloven

Now for her Ile turn a great Beau

I’le buy a green coat to make Cloathing

And Dress like my Charming Mal Ro.  With a fal &c.


Ged bha mi ntus ndroch ordu

Bith mi nios ghi Sporsail na <Hc>or

Ceanna mise Coat uain ga mo Chodich

’S ga ma chuir nan seol ri Mal Ro   Le fal &c.


                                [3.]                                     /3

xx In the Dance of the Couple she Souples    [Inserted at the end of the sequence, with ‘xx’

                                                                                                    marking earlier position

So Graceful & high doth She go

No Englishman eveer lov’d Pudding

As I do my Charming MalRo                With a fal &c.


Ann ndamhs’ na ncuipil Shi Subuil

Shi ’s maisich shiubhlais air bròig

Cha dug Sasghanach Spèis riabh a’ Phudin

Co mòr ’s thug mi Ghnuis mo Mhal Ro    Le fal &c.



Your Shafts I have Stood Mr Cupid

And oft cry’d a fig for your Bow

But the man that escapes must be Stupid

From the Charms of my Lovely MalRo  With fal &c.                   [‘With’ written over ‘Le’?


Cha dugin doit air do Shordu a Chubid

’S tric ghiar mi gu ghulan do Bhodh’,                                [‘-dh’’ written over ‘w’?

Ach mfear nach bi glacht ’S fior ùmi

Leis mhais ha ’nurl’ Mal Ro, Le fal &c.



Come fill up in Bumpers your Glasses

And let the Brim Bowls overflow

Here’s a Health to the Brightest of Lasses

The Queen of our Club is Mal Ro.  With a fal &c.


Sud lioni na glainichin straichtd

’S biig na Boulichin lan hair mbeoil

Deoch Slaint na Calin is ailt

Shi Bairne na ha nsho Mal Ro   Le fal &c.       [Possible displaced grave accent over ‘Bairne’



The first of these poems, in its English form, has not yet been traced to a published source.  The reference to ‘Sir Richard’ in q. 2 a is probably to Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), co-founder, with Joseph Addison, of The Spectator, and a playwright and author whose themes included women and ethics, and who visited Scotland in 1717.  

The second, however, is known in various versions and sources, including The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, Vol. 4, September 1735, pp. 507-8; The Muse’s Vagaries or The Merry Mortal’s Companion, Part II (London, 1745); and Notes and Queries, No 274, Jan. 27 1855, pp. 58-59, which gives the text of a letter from John Buncle (written in July 1773 at Newton Hall, Yorkshire, and submitted by ‘C de D’). The heroine appears to have been known originally as ‘Moll(y) Row(e)’, and may have have been of Irish provenance. Buncle claims that the song was ‘written one night extempore by a club of gentlemen in the county of Tipperary in Ireland.  It was agreed that each member should, off-hand, write four lines, and they produced the following verses.’  The alleged composers are named below each verse.   The versions in The London Magazine and Notes and Queries include all of the verses in the McLagan text, as well as a number of others not attested in McLagan. 

The poem has been anthologised in a Gaelic collection, namely Duncan Campbell (Kilmun)’s Nuadh orain Ghailach (Campbell 1798), pp. 133-136, where it is entitled ‘A New Song’, and  presented as in the McLagan text, with alternate English and Gaelic verses.  The Campbell text is not identical with that in McLagan, as it includes the verse beginning, ‘When sitting or chatting or drinking’, in addition to those attested in McLagan, and there are interesting differences in wording between McLagan and Campbell.  The rubric to the Campbell text tries to turn Moll(y) Row(e) into a more obviously Highland heroine:  ‘Composed in favour of a young Man, who fell deeply in Love with an amiable young Girl, of the name of MARY MUNRO.’  In the ensuing verses, however, she is named as either MOLL RO (the majority) or ROE, and in one instance only (q. 3) she becomes MOLLY MUNRO. 

Mark Wringe notes (in a post to the present writer): ‘Campbell’s volume is a fascinating curiosity, once you decipher the spelling, apparently produced for a captive market of under-employed Highland soldiers eager to relieve the boredom of a posting to a corner of Ireland with little rebellious activity to attend to in the momentous year of 1798.  A loyal song in English sits alongside some suggestive paens to the likes of Moll Ro, while Campbell references the first secular Gaelic book by starting with Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair’s ‘Moladh an Ughdair’.’



Campbell, Duncan, Nuadh orain Ghailach (Cork, 1798).

DBCL: Dugald Buchanan (1716-68): The Poet, the Translator and the Manuscript Evidence. The Canna Lecture 2016  (Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, Glasgow, 2019).

Gillies 1786:  Sean Dain agus Orain Ghaidhealach air an Tabhairt o Dhaoin Uaisle, araid an Gaeltachd Alba, don Fhear fhoillseachadh Eoin Gillies.  Peairt.

HL:  Horae Lyricae, in Isaac Watts, The Poetical Works of Isaac Watts (London, 1812).

The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, Vol. 4, September 1735.

LS: Laoidhe Spioradail le Dùghall Bochanan (Edinburgh, 1767).

LSDB: Laoidhean Spioradail Dhùghaill Bhochanain, deas. Dòmhnall Eachann Meek, SGTS (Glaschu, 2015).

MacKenzie, Donald W., The Worthy Translator: How the Scottish Gaels got the Scriptures in their own tongue (The Society of Friends of Killin and Ardeonaig Parish Church, 1992), and also TGSI, LVII (1990-92), pp. 168-202.

MacLeod, Donald, Historic Families: Notable People and Memorabilia of the Lennox (Dumbarton, 1891).

MacLeod 1993:  Roderick MacLeod, ‘Mo Shùil ad dhèidh: the story of an eighteenth-century romance’, TGSI, TGSI, LVII (1990-92), pp. 116-34.

The Muse’s Vagaries or The Merry Mortal’s Companion, Part II (London, 1745).

Newton, Michael (ed.), Bho Chluaidh gu Calasraid; from the Clyde to Callendar: Gaelic Songs, Poetry, Tale and Traditions of the Lennox and Menteith in Gaelic with English translations (Stornoway, 1999).

Notes and Queries, No 274, Jan. 27 1855.

Thomson, Derick S., 1994: ‘The McLagan MSS in Glasgow University Library: A Survey’, TGSI, LVIII (1992-4), pp. 406-24.

Walker, John, Poems in English, Scotch and Gaelic on Various Subjects (Glasgow, 1817).



This article builds on my recent work on Dugald Buchanan, but it is intended principally as a summary of the status questionis, or questionum, in this case.  In the course of writing it, I have incurred a number of debts beyond what I already owe to the support and foresight of Dr Dòmhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart in obtaining photocopies of most of the McLagan and McNicol manuscripts discussed above.  My more recent helpers include Mrs Carol Ann Hemfrey, Drymen, who furnished me with excellent material relating to John Walker, Luss, and his somewhat ‘obscured’ role in helping the Rev. John Stuart with his translations of relevant portions of the Gaelic Bible; James Beaton, Glasgow; Linda Gowans, Sunderland; and Dr Valentina Bold, University of Edinburgh, who located published texts of  ‘A Whimsical pain has now caught me’, and directed me to digital editions of the relevant anthologies and periodicals; and Mark Wringe, Sabhal Mòr Òstaig, Skye, who drew my attention to the version of the poem in Duncan Campbell’s 1798 anthology, and provided a link to the digitised book, as well as very useful comments on the book itself.  I am most grateful to them all.

Second draft.  July/August  2019.