The church and the highlands

Download 1.31 Mb.
Size1.31 Mb.
1   ...   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   ...   61



Knox and the Rascal Multitude

One of Cian Murray


respect; and its blighting influence continues tal be felt wherever the Highland people have been] foolish enough to submit to its preposterous and] arbitrary claims. Like their Knoxian forebears! the exponents of this sect would appear to regardj literature, music and art as so many inventions of] the devil, or to give the Destroyer his due, as so] many survivals from " Popish times," which they] must do their best to eradicate, in order that tha unfortunate beings over whom they exercise jurisi diction may be made as dull, narrow, gloomyl illiberal and ignorant as themselves.

John Knox was a traitor to his Queen and country, a pensioner of England, and the apologist] and companion of assassins, if not the actual inl stigator of bloody and nefarious deeds.1 We have]

1 Thè murder of Cardinal Beaton, as also that of Bizsrio, he " cordially approved ". See his own History of the Beformation, L, 99, 235. His share in the events immediately preceding the] former was too close and intimate to admit of the excuse thafi' on that, as on other occasions on which his conduct has been called in question, he acted without a knowledge of the conse­quences which his participation therein was bound to involves " There can be little doubt," says Skelton (Maitland of Lething­ton, vol. i., p. 188), " that Wishart was aware of Henry's (Vm.] designs upon the cardinal, and that the tragedy in the castle ol St. Andrews had been rehearsed long before. The ferocious jocularity of the Eeformer over the mangled body—'these things we write merily'—is eminently characteristic, but does not impress us with any high sense either of his charity or his sagacity. For the murder was a political blunder, as well as a political crime. Approved by a few stern and bitter fanatics, the death of Beaton scandalised the nation. Henry had devas­tated the Scottish Border; he had burnt the Scottish capital; now he had murdered the only Scottish statesman of European repute. The patriotic fire flamed up, and the people who had been on the verge of a spiritual revolt went back meekly to the Catholic fold. The Scots fighting at Pinkie reproached the English for having deserted the ancient faith. To be esteemed a heretic was thenceforth for many years nearly as disgraceful as to be esteemed an Englishman." seen in what manner and in what spirit the dis­ciples of this wordy bombastic knave set out to "convert" the Highlands; and we know in what spirit and in what manner the modern successors of the " reformer" wear the mantle which he be­queathed them; and knowing these things we ask if it be discreet or just that the Gael of Scotland should be invited to take part in those proceedings in which the rascal multitude in the Lowlands is about to indulge its characteristic veneration for the memory of so unscrupulous and odious a man—an individual who, in our opinion, neither "feared God nor honoured the King," and who, whether we regard him from a Migious or from a political point of view, was one of the worst enemies that the Gael of Scotland has ever had ?

ONE OF CLAN MURRAYI confess I have no great admiration for the guide­book style of literature ; and this book is one which belongs to that numerous and flourishing category. It is a debatable point, too, how far an author is at liberty, when treating of a serious and important theme, to seek to disarm criticism by describing his own lucubrations as " popular ". No doubt it jb more desirable that even a little knowledge should be gained, than that the world should continue in darkness. But great and noble topics


lThe Literature of the Highlands, by Magnus MacLean, M.A. Blackie & Son, London, Glasgow and Dublin. Books to the Gaelic language will be reviewed in that language. Books in English will be reviewed in English.

138 One of Cian Murray

require their corresponding treatment; and if thej3 do not get it, we are apt to be disappointed, and! to visit our resentment upon those who presume to] meddle with what is obviously above their capacity.]

In his Literature of the Celts, Professor MacLeanj embarked on a theme which was obviously too big] for him, though, as in the case of the book before] me, he endeavoured to disarm criticism by pleading] that his indiscretion was but a small one, ana designed to be " popular ". Still, it was impossible! npt to feel some little resentment and indignation! on that score—not because the author's motive! was bad, but by reason of his treatment of great] themes. Doubtless there are persons who admire! the literary methods of Mr. T. P. O'Connor, and who discover a genuine satisfaction in perusing his redoubtable " reviews" of the " books of thl weeks," but such appreciation, however "popular'! and well-meant, does not carry much weight with] it. The guide-book style of literature may endura for a day—to give it its due it undoubtedly supplies a want that is felt—but its perfunctory and un-scholarly methods, its baid "succinctness" and errors of judgment and of taste, render it little] short of contemptible to the genuine man of letters!

Still I have not come to bury the Professor just yet—but to praise him. Undoubtedly he is infinitely more at home in the volume which is before me than ever he was in his Literature of thà Celts. He has supplied, on the whole, a somewhafl readable account of Gaelic literature, within the cir! cumscribed bounds which he proposed to himself] and if he is " succinct and popular " to a somewhafl irritating extent, no doubt he will have his reward] at the hands of a public which admires and clamours for that kind of thing. The Professors


One of Cian Murray

evidently believes in the virtue of the law of supply and demand; and whether in literature or in that other profession which he equally adorns, no doubt he does the best he can to meet it. I do not quarrel with him on that score—indeed, I rather admire him for his enterprise and courage. He knows to a T (as the Professor himself would surely be the first to say) the kind of thing that " takes " with the public, and straightway, without any superfluous beating about the bush or any too conscientious preliminary self-preparation, he rushes in to supply it. What if his style is baid and his literary judgments are the crude epitome of other people's stale opinions, he is doing nevertheless a public service—supplying a long-felt want on " suc­cinct and popular " lines ? His breezy and popular style, his manner of interspersing his narrative with wise saws and sayings (drawn from the most ap­proved sources of public opinion), and above all his pathetic trick of ringing down the curtain at the end of each chapter upon the vanishing Gael (whose " rudeness " in times past he pathetically deplores, and whose speedy absorption he would appear to regard as the best thing that can possibly happen to him), are surely admirable and incontestably "popularLet me, then,hasten to give credit where credit is due. Professor MacLean has written an eminently readable book—that is, a book for the public to read; and I venture to prophesy for it a larger circulation—which, I believe, is the principal desideratum—and a harvest of " reviews " yet more discerning and flattering to the author than even those were which rewarded his Literature of the Celts.

So much by way of compliment to Professor MacLean and his enterprising book. It is unfortu­nate no doubt that I cannot stop here and " round off"—to use an expression much favoured by this author—my review with the customary paean of praise. But in ambitiously—to use no harsher word—styling his book The Literature of the High­lands, I feel bound to point out that the Professor has committed a grievous mistake. A similar tendency to confuse the shadow with the substance was, no doubt, unhappily at work when, in an un­guarded hour, Professor MacLean mistook a previous compilation of his for a history of The Literature of the Celts. But with regard to this I have here nothing to say. My concern is with the volume before me; and with as few words as possible, and with as much consideration for the Professor's feelings as may be consistent with plain speaking, I shall proceed to give grounds for thej faith which is in me.

Professor MacLean styles his book The Litera­ture of the Highlands. But it is to be observed that his modest preface hardly justifies his use of this ambitious title, whilst the contents of the work itself supply what I must needs regard as the; flattest possible contradiction to it. How far an author is justified in pleading popularity for his work as an excuse for " succinct" treatment of his theme, is, as I have stated above, a debatable point. Personally, however, I do not think that he is so justified when he deliberately selects a title which would appear to convey a contrary impression. It is observable that whilst Professor MacLean's book treats only of Highland literature after the '45 {and very perfunctorily during the limited period he has selected), he yet chooses so ambitious and compre­hensive a title as that of The Literature of the Highlands for his "popular and succinct" sketches. What, pray, would be thought of an author who, designing an account of English letters during (say) the Augustan period, should presump­tuously style his work The Literature of England f Professor MacLean, indeed, may plead that he has already answered this serious objection in his pre­face to the present work, wherein he ingenuously refers the reader to his Literature of the Celts " for full information regarding the Highland bards before the Forty-Five, the printed literature of the Scottish Gael, and the gleaners of their poetry". But apart from any objection that we might reason­ably take as to his use of the adjective " full" in connection with so perfunctory and imperfect a sketch as his Literature of the Celts, his use of the title selected by him is, in the circumstances, not to be excused for a moment, being indeed just as absurd and reprehensible as the use of that other would be in the hypothetical case stated above.

A glance at the pages before me should suffice to convince any unprejudiced person of average intelligence that Professor MacLean's use of this title is still further discounted by the contents of his book. Besides being unscholarly, and faultily constructed, it is " scrappy " or rather " succinct" to an almost pitiable degree. Some of the best writers of modern Gaelic are not even mentioned by name. So important a work as Father MacCeachen's translation of the Holy Scriptures, —which for pure and idiomatic Gaelic would be very hard to beat—is passed over in absolute silence; whilst merely English books such as Martin's Western Isles, Burt's Letters, and even MacCulloch's pompous and tiresome effusions are seriously treated as " Highland literature "! Risum teneatis, amid?

At a glance, it is impossible to say whether Professor MacLean's sins of commission or omission are the more serious and numerous. Here was an excellent opportunity for a sketch "succinct and popular," if you like, of contemporary Gaelic letters, yet, like the Levite of old, he has passed coldly by on the other side. His description of Skene's monumental work is mere child's play, and reads quite fantastically meagre compared with his pane­gyric on MacCulloch, one of whose tedious epistles to " my dear Scott" (who thought his correspondent the greatest bore alive) he unnecessarily quotes in extenso. Indeed, the whole work is so faultily constructed and badly written—with the single ex­ception of the chapter on the Ossianic controversy, which is certainly not ill done for a "popular" writer—that, whether you cry heads or tails, the resulting aspect is bound to be disappointing. Professor MacLean revels in "popular" epithets. Thus, authors who are justly esteemed are always "renowned" or "learned" or "enthusiastic" or " interesting"; whilst the poor Scot who believes in his,race, and has the courage of his convictions, is " perfervid," which, apparently, is a mild term of re­proach with him. Evidently Professor MacLean has not much faith in the future of Gaelic as a literary vehicle. "They (the bards)," he says, " have one by one disappeared1—all but those who live in the towns and cities of the South.2 Will
1 Surely he could not expect those who were alive in the '45 to be subsisting at this date ? Here is " Highland longevity " with a vengeance!

2 What South ? The South of Scotland or of England? No doubt it is bad taste on the part of poets to frequent " towns and cities"; but experience teaches us that environment has but little to do with the exercise of the true poetic faculty.

there be a solitary Ossian left—even though last of the Gaelic bardic race—to sing the praises of love and nature, of kin and country, when a new century opens ten decades hence? It is a far-reaching question; but who can answer it?1 One thing, however, cannot have escaped us, and that is that even in bardic effort the tuneful language of our fathers is gradually being supplanted by its rival, English, because the new poets coming up2 prefer the latter as a medium, and know it better." The above affords a fair specimen of this author's style ,•; and of his "popular" way of looking at things which are obviously above and beyond him. As to his absurd remark that the poets now " coming up," as he elegantly expresses it, prefer English to Gaelic as a "medium," pray where and who are they? Personally, I have never met or heard of-one of these singular productions; but apparently the Professor has been more fortunate. Is Neil Munro also among the English-writing bards? And has She-Who-Must-Be-A-Myth—Fiona Mac­Leod, to wit—forsaken her solitary fog-bound islet in the Serpentine in order to scribble English rhymes? We have heard a great deal touching the "Anglo-Celtic" school of literature—perhaps a good deal too much for some of us—but I have never yet met a genuine Scottish Gael who writes English verse, and is at all well known on account of that circumstance. On the other hand, I have certainly read a quantity of Gaelic verse produced by modern writers, some of which possesses con­siderable merit, whilst almost all is tolerable.

Share with your friends:
1   ...   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   ...   61

The database is protected by copyright © 2019
send message

    Main page