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The translation into Gaelic of the forms of prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and catechism of the Christian religion, as used in the reformed church of Scotland, by John Carswell, Bishop of the Isles, first printed at Edinburgh in the year 1567, is one of the earliest books of piety translated into Gaelic, in Scotland. The Bishop, in his preface, mentions the existence of Gaelic MS. poems of the ancient bards from remote periods, and he censures the preference given to such worldly histories over the godly books which he had published.

The pious Bishop expressly mentions Gaelic MSS.

concerning warriors and champions, and Fingal the son of Cumhall with his heroes. But, as it may be gratifying to some readers, the following extract is a close translation from the Bishop’s Gaelic, as taken from the preface to the ingenious Mr.

Alexander Campbell’s Tour through parts of North vol. in, pd


Britain.* “But there is a great want,” says the Bishop, “ with us, and it is a great weight upon us the Gad of Scotland and Ireland,^ above the rest of mankind, that our Gaelic language is not printed,

as are the other languages and tongues of the world :

and there is a greater want still, that of the Holy Bible not being printed in the Gaelic language, as it is in the Latin and English, and every other tongue: and also it is a want that we have never yet had any account printed of the antiquities of our country, or of our ancestors amongst us. But although we have some accounts of the Gael of Scotland and Ireland, in the Manuscript Books of Chief Bards a7id Historiographers^ and others, yet the labour of writing them over with the hand is great; but the process of printing, be the work how voluminous so ever, is speedily and easily accomplished.” In the preface to Kirk’s edition of the Psalms of David, first published in Gaelic at Edinburgh in 1684, mention is also made of heroic ballads composed by the Scottish bards ; and, in reproving those Highlanders, who have a predilection for such works, ' he piously recommends a preference to be given to learning the sublime songs of the Psalmist. The following is the author’s address in Gaelic to his work, * This work, published in 1802, contains, as expressed in the title, Remarks on Scottish Landscapes, and Observations on Rural CEconomy, Natural History, Manufactures, Trade, and Commerce; with Anecdotes traditional, literary, and historical. In 1798, the same author published a History of the Poetry of Scotland, in two volumes quarto.

f “ Gaoidhil Alban agas Eirean."

X “ Fileadh agas Ollamhan."


of which the English is given in Sir John Sinclair’s

Dissertation :

–  –  –

In the appendix to Nicolson’s Scottish Historical Library (No. II.), there is a vocabulary of Gaelic words collected by Mr, Kirk, which he arranged under the following classes. 1. Of heaven. 2. Of the elements and meteors. 3. Of stones and metals.

4. Of parts and adjuncts. 5. Of herbs. 6. Of trees, shrubs, and plants. 7. Of the proper parts and adjuncts of animals, fishes, and birds. 8. Of four-footed beasts. Q. Of kindred and affinity. 10.

Of homogeneous parts, and heterogeneous parts.

11. Of God. 12. Of created spirits.

An accurate description of the Western Isles of Scotland, by Mr. Donald Monroe, High Dean of the Isles, who travelled through them in 1549, contains some interesting notices of Gaelic antiquities. Great reliance is placed on the veracity of this author, and he has been frequently quoted by the Scottish historian Buchanan, and by Martin, in his Description of the Western Isles. It appears that this last mentioned book was what first excited the curiosity of Doctor Johnson to visit the Western Isles. Mr.

Boswell has given a description of some of the circumstances which led the Doctor, in the year 1773, to undertake his tour. He has said in his publication, that “ he scarcely remembered how the wish to visit


the Hebrides was excited.” But, says Mr. Boswell, “ he told me in summer 1763, that his father put Martin’s account into his hands when he was very young, and that he was much pleased with it.” As the limits we have prescribed will not admit of our dwelling more in detail upon every work which has been published, on Gaelic antiquities, or subjects connected with the language, manners, and customs of the Celts, the reader is referred to the brief notices of such books at the end of these observations, as well as to the list of various Gaelic publications in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.




The Gaelic scholar has, by the publication of the originals, now an opportunity of examining and comparing the internal character of Ossian’s poems, whether in the bold, animated, and metaphorical language, natural to an early stage of society, the hunting state; or in the nervous, simple, and concise style of the poet’s composition : and he will thereby readily perceive, that these qualities are peculiar to him alone who describes objects in nature, such as he felt and saw them, and celebrates actions in which he and his family bore a conspicuous part. The best critics in the Gaelic will also be convinced, that no translator could transfuse into another language AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 405 the characteristic style of Ossian’s original composition ; far less that any modern author, great as his talents might be, could possibly invent or compose poems similar in nature to those ascribed to Ossian, in which the manners and customs of a remote tera are so faithfully delineated.

The singular affinity, which a number of Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian words bear to the Celtic or Gaelic, as spoken at this day, ought naturally to excite the curiosity of the historian and philosopher, and lead them to investigate the cause. If we can depend upon the affinity of languages as a clue to the historian in tracing the origin of man and the early history of nations, it will be found, that no language, ancient or modern, contains more primitive roots than the Celtic. It is a well known fact, that the Gaelic scholar can acquire a knowledge of the structure and pronunciation of the dead and living languages with singular facility. This may probably arise from the variety of Celtic roots, or radical words, which are interspersed in all other languages, joined to the simplicity of the structure of the Gaelic, and an articulation, which easily adapts the organs to every known language.

In acquiring several of the languages of Europe by occasional visits to foreign countries, and in studying the Persian, during a residence of nearly three years in India, the writer can affirm, that he was much assisted by the fundamental principles of the Gaelic, his vernacular tongue: and it must be admitted by all, who have made foreign languages a peculiar object of their attention, and been stimulated to make researches into the affinity of their


radicals with the Celtic, that perhaps no language contains so many, certainly no one more, primitive roots capable of illustrating the European and Oriental languages, than the Celtic, or Gaelic. It may not therefore be improper to notice in another place various words in the Arabic, Persic, and other languages, which bear so great an affinity with the Gaelic as to justify the assertion we have made.

The writer is strongly impressed with an idea, that researches of this nature will tend to throw new light on the etymon and philosophy of language, and lead to some fixed criterion whereon to decide the question which, though hitherto a subject of much controversy among the learned, is still veiled in obscurity; namely, what was the primitive language ? Or, what known languge is the nearest in its radical substantives, to that which may be considered to have been the primitive language ?

The solution of this question will require laborious and persevering research into the analogy or affinity of languages, the origin and history of man, and the manners and customs of different nations;

so, as by uniting and comparing these with each other, we may be able to discover truths, and trace causes from their effects.

Nothing can more forcibly evince the general conviction of the utility and necesstity of such researches, than the number of learned men who have, from time to time, written on the science of etymology. In every celebrated academy in Europe there are strong advocates for those pursuits, which tend to dispel the mist, that overshadows ancient history. It unquestionably requires so much AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 407 investigation to perceive the connection of languages, nations, and ages of great antiquity, and to rescue them from the thick veil under which their history is enveloped, that hitherto the faculties of man have been in a manner unprofitably employed in the pursuit. But, as a celebrated philologist observes,* “ How useful to ethic science, and indeed to knowledge in general, a grammatical disquisition into the etymology and meaning of words was esteemed by the chief and ablest philosophers, may be seen by consulting Plato, Xenophon, Arion, and Epictetus.” The language first spoken by man may be termed primitive. If, in examining the essential words in the living and dead languages, we can discover that, in all times and every where, elementary words had and have the same sound, have preserved the same meaning, and that such alterations, as they have received among different nations, are founded on the genius of the compounded languages spoken, will it not be evident, that the primitive language has always existed, and that it exists at this day, although diffused among the languages of different nations, and separated into various dialects ?

As every modern language presents vestiges of an ancient language, which seems to have prevailed universally in ail countries, and as each have words common to all others, it may be inferred that the languages now spoken are all derived from the same parent stock. It may be said, that the primiHarris’s Hermes, or Philosophical Inquiry concerning Unireisal Grammar.


tive language exists nowhere ; but still everywhere are its fragments to be found. All the Oriental tongues are perfectly alike in their roots to the languages of the north of Europe and Asia, not excepting the Chinese language. The Phenician, Syriac, and Greek, are only dialects of a general language diffused formerly in Asia and Africa. It cannot be doubted, that the first language was extremely simple, and without any compound terms.

These qualities peculiarly belong to the Hebrew and Celtic: for the radical words had never more than three letters, forming monosyllables, and sometimes dissyllables; there is indeed every appearance that originally there were many more monosyllables, than are now to be found in those languages.

Were we to separate all the compound words and derivatives in any language from the general mass, we would find very few roots remaining composed of monosyllables; and those few are be regarded as the elements of languages, and as the source from which all other words are compounded. These elements must have been given to man by nature, consequently, in their origin represented natural objects, and could not represent artificial or moral objects, unless by analogy with natural ones; because artificial or moral objects cannot be described of themselves, but by relation or in opposition to natural and positive elements. Thus the natural objects, man horse} cow, water, &c. would be the first elementary words of a language, and the artificial objects, house, ship, cradle, stable, See. would be of our own making;

and, by a more refined operation of the mind alone, AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 409 we have what philologers call the moral qualities, or abstract substances of goodfiess, convenience, swiftness, whiteness, &c.

These are the distinguishing characteristics of radical words, and which every etymologist will naturally attend to; for, if we place between the radical words other words of more than one syllable, and words which only represent a figurative, or negative sense, there will be much difficulty in tracing the roots common to all languages.* The names of animals peculiar to a country, material elements, parts of the body, natural objects and relations, strong affections of the mind, and other ideas common to the whole race of man, are the surest criterion for comparing the affinity of radical words in different languages. Ancient languages have their words less altered than modern, which renders it much easier to compare the ancient languages together than the modern. If, in analyzing the Celtic, or Gaelic language, we abstract from it all the compound words of two or three syllables, there will remain very few roots, or words of one syllable; and these few are what ought to be regarded as the elements of the language. The same observation is applicable to the Chinese, Sanscrit, and Arabic languages; and, notwithstanding the multiplicity of compound words in the Chinese language, it is rather singular to remark that the roots, or monosyllables, do not exceed three hundred and fifty.f The Arabic language yields to none in the * Le Monde Primitif par Monsieur Gebellin, Vol. I.

t Barrow’s Travels, p. 449.


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