The church and the highlands

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1 Anderson's Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, Vol. II. p. 15.

That the Scots sailed from Ireland in the capacity of enemies, as some authors contend, is hardly per­missible to believe, in view of the fact that, so far as is known, the relations subsisting between these two peoples were friendly in the extreme ; for Scot and Pict had fought side by side in their common endeavours against the Roman arms. Neither is the argument by which such as take this view endeavour to support the same at all conformable to fact or agreeable to reason. They pretend that the Scottish occupation of Dailriada was effected at a time when the power of the Picts had been greatly reduced by reason of internal dissension and disunion, and, farther, that the geographical position of the in­truders was adverse to their summary expulsion. With regard to the first of these assertions, there is absolutely no evidence to show that such a state of affairs prevailed in Pictavia at the period indicated, whatever may have been the case in subsequent times. And even supposing that civil warfare had wrought in Pictavia all the evils and mischiefs which commonly attend it, rendering that country power­less to defend, and incompetent to assert, itself, ib is not to be believed for a moment that so gross an insult and wanton an aggression as a forcible seizure of territory by a parcel of colonists would have been suffered to pass unchallenged, or to go unpunished, especially on the part of a fierce and warlike people such as were the Picts, according to all reliable accounts. It is only reasonable to assume, had the circumstances in which the Scots made their appear­ance in Scotland been such as have been described, that the Picts' internal dissensions and private quarrels, however obstinately prosecuted and fiercely pursued at home, would have been immediately stayed at the invaders' first coming, and the whole force of the nation forthwith directed to the dis­charge of the one great imperative duty confronting it, namely, the expulsion and chastisement of the intruders.

With regard to the second, upon which undue stress has been laid, it must be a difficult country indeed which the hardy and warlike Picts could not pass over, especially when in quest of an enemy ; and though, no doubt, the mountain chain or ridge known to classic waiters as Dorsum Brittaniae might have offered to the Scots an effectual barrier against invasion for a part of their territory, yet it is not to be supposed for a moment that there were not passes and channels in abundance through which the Picts might pass with ease and in com­parative safety in order to expel the intruders.A tendency to attach undue importance to mountain chains and other physical features, as affording ethnological barriers or asylums of an impregnable sort, is a noticeable fault in many historians. His impracticable views regarding the sufficiency of the Munth or Mounth in this respect, joined to some rather confused reading of a not very respectable authority, caused Skene to blunder sadly when he accepted this range of hills as constituting the dividing line between two imaginary peoples, the Northern and the Southern Picts. And the so-called "highland line," which is but a part of the same fallacy, is still, despite its obvious absurdity, a favourite theme with some writers, noticeably cian historians and the like, who, regardless or ignorant of their country's geography, obstinately cling to the notion of the existence of a physical barrier of well-ascertained limits and formidable dimensions, beyond


1 It is a pity some authors do not keep a map of Scotland before them when they sit down to write Scottish history.

which the foot of the Sassenach could not venture to tread, and behind which all the Gaels of the land were crowded together.

But to return to the subject of the Scottish succession to the throne of Pictavia: in whatever precise manner this was achieved (and here it is proper to observe that, to quote Dr MacBain, " the conquest of the Picts cannot be clearly explained from our present materials"), the fact remains that about the year 844 King Kenneth MacAlpin finally subdued the Picts, and completely Gaelicised them —a remarkable achievement indeed, if we are to consider the numerical superiority of the Picts over the Dailriads, the distance of the latter from Ireland, their original home, and the source of all their supplies, and the many other difficulties and disabilities which they must have laboured under as colonists, and as the exponents of a social and political system which in many respects was greatly opposed to that of the Picts.

Of all the varied phenomena that the study of history has to offer us, perhaps none is so extra­ordinary and unaccountable as the almost total dis­appearance of the Picts after their final subjugation by the Scots. History teaches us that conquered peoples, however low their civilisation, humble their extraction, obscure their originals, or contemptible their parts, and however great their natural in­clination to political servitude or slavery, generally manage to leave some traces of their former ex­istence as a nation behind them when they pass under foreign yoke or become merged in their conquerors. But, excepting a few personal appella­tions and a handful of place-names of dubious import, the Picts would appear to have left ab­solutely nothing behind them by which their former condition might be ascertained. Indeed, if the map of Pictavia had been a slate, and a wet sponge had been rapidly passed over it, with a view to obliterat­ing all traces of the writing wherewith it was filled, Picts and Pictavia could not have disappeared more swiftly, silently, effectually and suddenly than they actually did pass away by reason of their conquest by the Scots.

Admitting that the civilisation which the Scots brought with them from Ireland was greatly superior to that which obtained among the Picts (which it certainly was), and that the Scots were greatly favoured by time and circumstance in their struggles with the Picts, it is still very difficult to account, even in an approximately reasonable and satisfactory manner, for what would appear to be the phenomenal thoroughness of their conquest. Their numbers are not known to have been legion nor their supplies inexhaustible. Neither are they at all likely to have resorted to indiscriminate slaughter in the prosecution of their engagements with the Picts. On the contrary, as well from a principle of religion as by ties of consanguinity, it is more than likely that they were restrained from carrying out their conquest in a ferocious and barbarous manner, or from imposing those scarcely less destructive and disintegrating disabilities, which, though they may not injure the body yet debauch the mind and depress the soul; which makes this extraordinary event so much the more difficult to account for. Moreover, the natural difficulties of the question, considering the remoteness of those times from these, and a host of other attendant circumstances of an obscure and subsidiary character, are here con­siderably aggravated by reason of the fact that it is known that the war in which Picts and Scots were simultaneously engaged was by no means a war of mutual extermination. It would appear to have been rather a leisurely war of succession (such as every student of modern European history is familiar with), a series of armed polemics or dynastic con­tests for a crown (that of united Dailriada and Pictavia), than a war to the knife, a succession of sanguinary engagements, in which men are discovered killing one another for the mere sake of slaying, and in obedience to some instinct of race-hatred which, for the time being, renders them no better than savages. Under these circumstances, therefore, our admiration at what we cannot penetrate is bound to be the more acute and our consequent anxiety to set our baffled curiosity at rest the more teasing and persistent. But here, again, alas! the limited ex­tent of man's knowledge of the past confronts and confounds us, and we are obliged to seek refuge and consolation in speculation and conjecture, at which, making certain necessary reservations or allowances on account of individual perspicacity and relative scholarship, one man is to be esteemed almost as good as another. Perhaps, when Gaelic scholarship is a little more advanced, and some of the precious documents now lying in Irish archives, like neglected lumber in some garret, have been translated or pre­pared for the Press, we may learn something more than the little we now know concerning this surpris­ing revolution. Meanwhile, however, we must perforce remain content with what we possess; or, failing satisfaction, must launch out into vain and unprofitable speculation, whose only possible events must be the bewilderment of the public and the encouragement of empiricism, together with the growth of a false and unsound manner of writing in history.

There is one other topic inviting particular mention in this place, which, if it shall seem some­what speculative, especially in view of what has just been said on that head, the author begs to apologise for introducing, which is, that the conquest of the Picts by the Scots is a circumstance to which we might reasonably look for explanation of the various ethnologic and other differences which close observers cannot fail to have noticed as subsisting between the Scots of the west and those who inhabit what was formerly the country of the Picts. However thorough the victory of the Irish colonists of Dailriada, it could not have been so much so that none of the Picts remained after the Scottish yoke had been imposed. It is highly probable, therefore, that the greatest number of the Highlanders of to-day is descended from the vanquished Picts. There are marked and peculiar differences subsisting between Western and Central and Eastern Scots, which it would be difficult to account for on any other hypothesis. The true Scots of Scotland, if I may be permitted the expression, much more resemble their kinsmen of Ireland, in respect of physical appearance and temperament, than do the so-called Scots of the more central and northern districts. It is significant, in view of what has been asserted above, that Eeligion and Nationalism (qualities for which the Irish are pre-eminently remarkable) are, in their proper Celtic forms, far stronger in the west than they are in the north, or in the east or in the central countries of Scotland. And though com­parisons are odious, and, therefore, much to be deprecated, as tending unnecessarily to divide a people and to keep them estranged one from another, yet the fact itself, as noted above, is interesting and, what is more, may serve to assist the thoughtful


The Literary Outlook

The Literary Outlook


Btudent of history in his endeavours to trace the
springs of actions to their true sources, and to
account for some things in our story which, without
it, it might be difficult to explain upon understand-
able grounds, or to find cause for in a plain and
reasonable manner. H. M.


(By a Publisher)

It is a common observation on the part of those who have much to do with Celtic publications that they very rarely justify the time and money which are spent on them. The mortality among Celtic periodicals is, relatively speaking, prodigious; and but comparatively few of them have lived to enjoy the garrulous distinction of old age. Commercially, they leave much to be desired, as those who have made trial of them can best testify. For a time, they may do well enough; their circulations may temporarily justify the most sanguine estimates formed of them, touching their future ; but after a season they begin to languish ; readers drop off one by one, and presently the melancholy announcement appears, or the news is bruited abroad, that the Gad or the Clansman (of whom such bright things were prognosticated) has incontinently ceased to exist.

It may be inquired, at whose door is the responsi­bility for this unfortunate state of affairs to be laid ? Is it the fault of the " general reader," or is it the fault of those who undertake publications of a Celtic character ? For my part (and I write as one having some authority, for I have published several Celtic works in my time), the responsibility, as the blame, are to be equally divided between reader and publisher. Undoubtedly, the Highland reader does not accord that measure of support to publications, which are sent forth from the press admittedly in his interests and for his entertainment and instruction, which he should give. On the other hand, the fault is largely the publisher's. Frequently, he takes no proper measures to have his publications circulated, or worse still, if that be possible, he pursues a line of literary conduct which ends by alienating his readers. It is possible to have too much of even a good thing. The Celtic hobby may, quite conceivably, be ridden to death. A publication which narrows its views to such a compass that it takes no cognisance of affairs outside

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