Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Fraser's Scottish Annual
Leading Scottish Books of the Year


FROM time to time we have been reminded of the existence of a unique literature among the Highlanders of Scotland. For those, however, not fortunate enough to be able to read Gaelic, the accessible monuments of Highland life and lore have been and are, unhappily, too few. The fame attained by Macpherson's Ossian was European, that work has been the means of directing attention to the oral traditions of the people. The most notable fruit of that interest was the publication of the West Highland Tales by lain F. Campbell of Islay in 1862. That work contains invaluable material for the student of folk-lore and of Gaelic imagination and expression. In this department the highest beauty and significance must be awarded to the tale of Deirdire, collected in Barra by Campbell's life-long friend and fellow-worker, Mr. Alexander Carmichael. That romance of the Gael, otherwise known as the Fate of the Children of Usnach, which Macpherson introduced into his work as Darthula, and which has for ages before been known as one of the three sorrows of story-telling, Carmichael contributed, along with an English rendering, to the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. It is the finest oral tale ever found in Scotland. Otherwise Mr. Carmichael is well-known to students, particularly from his finely written paper in the third volume of Skene's History of Celtic Scotland, more recently, too, by his unique and charming account of the "Grazing and Agrestic Customs of the Hebrides," printed in the Report of the Crofter Commission under Lord Napier and Etterick, not to dwell upon his great help in the way of contributions to Nicolson's edition of the Gaelic Proverbs, and numerous other articles in the proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, The Evergreen, and elsewhere. We must congratulate the distinguished writer upon having at last issued in the most sumptuous form an edition de luxe, in two magnificent volumes, of a portion of his hitherto unpublished collection of Hymns and Incantations, with literal English translation, interesting introductions, admirable notes on natural history and curious myths and old world legends on terms dying and obsolete. The glossary at the end has not at any rate even the fault that a critic found with Johnson's Dictionary when he pronounced it an admirable work were it not that it changed the subject too often. The work is printed on the finest hand-made paper by T. & A. Constable, printers to Her Majesty, and sold by Norman Macleod, George IV. Bridge, Edinburgh. The portrait, prefixed to the first volume, is from the accomplished hand of Mr. Skeoch Cumming, an eminent painter who has won for himself great credit in the South African War, serving with the Midlothian Yeomanry. Long may the years sit lightly on him. His work is such as no other man in Scotland could have done. It is necessarily unique and will increase in value and in interest as the years go by. His years of self- sacrifice, it may be safely predicted, have unconsciously won for him a literary immortality.

These fine poems, and equally fine introductions, with their beautiful personality, show how the Highlander, while firmly holding by Christianity, interweaved older rites and religious observances into the order of his daily life. They are a supreme illustration of the success of the policy which the venerable Bede (H. E. I., 30) tells us was recommended by one of the Roman bishops to the missionaries of Britain to disturb as little as possible existing pagan practices, when these were not directly incompatible with the tenor of the Christian life. The temples, cleansed with holy water, were to be hallowed for Christian worship; heathen festivals, instead of being utterly abolished, were to be devoted to the festivals of the saints. The result was that the ways of his fathers were not too rudely cut off from the nature of the Gael. These poems and charming introductions, while evidencing a high literary faculty, bear the amplest testimony to the lasting character of the work accomplished so many ages ago by Colum Cille, and to the hold upon life exercised by the religion which he and his disciples taught and exemplified in their own lives. The whole of life was seen to be sacred. No place was given to a mere decorous Sunday morality. Their piety permeated all the details of work, sanctifying all innocent pleasures, mingling with and softening the sorrows, while it elevated the joys of life. This spirit is well illustrated by the opening poem in the book, entitled "A Rune before Prayer":

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me
In friendship and affection;
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fulness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God;
To do in the world of the Three
The will of God,
As angels and saints do in heaven
Each shade and light,
Each day and night;
Each time in kindness
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.

Take, again, the Baptismal Blessing:

Thou Being who inhabitest the heights
Imprint Thy blessing betines,
Remember Thou the child of my heart
In name of the Father of peace,
When the priest of the King
Puts the water of meaning upon him
Grant him the blessing of the Three
Who fill the heights.

Sprinkle down upon him Thy grace,
Give Thou to him virtue and growth,
Give Thou to him strength and guidance,
Give Thou to him flocks and possessions,
Sense and reason void of guile,
Angel wisdom in his day
That he may stand without reproach
In Thy presence.

The English translation is all that a literal rendering could be; often it is specially happy, e.g., in a stanza of No. 82.

God kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth
To the Name that is highest of all.

The preface to the work is happy, beautiful, luminous and terse. Mr. Carmichael must be congratulated upon it, as well as upon the long introductions to the hymns on St. Bride, St. Michael, with their many curious pre- Christian reminiscences. These will reveal to scholars many points of comparison with the customs of Greece and Rome and India; the incantations are very peculiar, some of them being common to Scotland and Ireland. The Rev. Mr. Cockayne's work, Old English Leechdoms in the Rolls Series furn- ish some stanzas which are very close to some of these Gaelic pieces. The literal English translation given by Mr. Carmichael in the page facing the original Gaelic shows his marvellous intuition into these often partially obscure and difficult Gaelic words. For the student of folklore, anthropology, theology, poetry, anecdote ; for the Gaelic lexicographer I for the lover of mellow Christian devotion, these volumes afford a treat. Not one of those seven hundred odd pages but furnish material of value in different aspects. The work is enriched and adorned with fine specimens of Gaelic ornamental letters which will feast the eye of the student of Celtic art. They are copied entirely from designs in old Gaelic manuscripts in the Advocates' Library.

As an instance of curious folklore suffice it to quote a short piece from one of the introductions. It tells of the reverence which is accorded in some districts to the sacred beetle and which can be paralleled in West Connaught. The student of aprocryphal sacred legend may be left to trace out the source for himself. "When His enemies were in search of Christ to put Him to death they met the sacred beetle (cearr-dubhan) and the grave-digger beetle (daol) out on a foraging expedition in search of food for their families. The Jews asked the beetles if they had seen. Christ passing that way. Proud to be asked and anxious to conciliate the great people, the grave-digger promptly and volubly replied: Yes, yes, He passed here yesterday evening when I and the people of the town-land were digging a grave and burying the body of a field-mouse that had come to an untimely end. You lie, you lie, said the sacred beetle; it was a year ago yesterday that Christ the Son passed here, when my children and I were searching for food, after the king's horse had passed. The grave-digger bet- lie is always killed when seen, for legend portrays his ready officiousness against Christ. The sacred beetle is spared from his desire to shield Christ from His enemies, but because he told a lie he is always turned on his back."

If I were asked to point to any work which might even approximately be called the Veda of the Gael. I know no work to which I could more truthfully point than this one. In spirit it is Vedic, so far as a work collected at this time of day can be. It gives the heart-aspirations and innermost feelings of the Gaelic race; it enters into the heart of nature and of the poor. These people have the secret of life and it is good to be in their company even for a short time. The fresh breeze blows through it----the ritual of pastoral life, growth, reaping, storage, milling, baking, rising, sleeping, birth, marriage, death; of sacred days and festivals. It is to be treasured up on purpose for a life beyond life. The work is unconsciously great. All libraries and all who can afford it should have a copy of it.


The appearance of the second volume of the history of the Clan Donald marks an epoch in clan history. Not only is it a sumptuous work typographically and pictorially, but the text is worthy of the great subject of the book. Clan Donald towers above all the other clans. The influence which, at the dawn of the historic period, broke up the great tribes of Albion—those comprising the provinces of Moray, Athole, etc., were not felt in the isles or in the mainland possessions of the Macdonalds at as early a period; consequently, while most of the Highland clans were forming, and gradually rising to power, the Macdonalds already held a commanding position as rulers, virtual sovereigns of vast territories, and no other clan ever attained to equal greatness. An adequate history of the Macdonald, it will be understood, therefore, is a herculean undertaking. To say that the two volumes now before the public do justice to the subject, is to bestow the highest possible praise, yet one feels that it would be truly difficult to overstate the excellence of this great work. A memorial has been raised more enduring than brass, and of such workmanship as will command acknowledgment.

The first volume extended to 570 pages, the second is within four pages of 800 royal folios, a bulky volume set in Roxburgh binding. The facsimile reproductions of important deeds and documents, the half-tone and the tinted illustrations are particularly well done, and are a credit to the handicraft of bookmaking. No clansman can help feeling gratified that the history of the Clan Donald has been thus handsomely decorated, and sent forth arrayed in a garb most befitting its important and valuable message.

The second volume opens with that romantic chapter of Clan Donald history, that pertaining to the Macruaries of Garmoran and the North Isles. The relationship of Christina Macruarie to King Robert Bruce brings to notice an interesting historical alliance. Christina married the Earl of Mar; Bruce married their daughter, who thus became a connecting link between the line of the mighty Somerled and the Stewart Kings. Amy Macruarie is lightly passed, the pathos and romance woven by tradition around her person giving place to Chartulary prose. The MacDonald connection of the Clan MacAllister, to whom the Alexanders in various parts of the Lowlands, in Forfar- shire and in Aberdeenshire belonged, and of whom were the Alexanders of Menstrie who rose to the dignity of Earls of Stirling, is shown and the fortunes of these septs are broadly touched. Of special interest to MacDonalds in Canada is the chapter devoted to the house of Stirling, for at one time Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Stirling, held the Canadian lands of New Scotland or Nova Scotia and he it was that created the order of Knight- baronets of Nova Scotia, in the British Baronetage. The Clan ramifications in Ireland—the clan Donald of Ulster, of Connaught and Leinster, find treatment in two chapters, and those of the Macdonalds of Antrim, descended from Sorley Buy Macdonald, whose prowess kept the English Government long at bay are described in one of the most interesting chapters in the volume. To the Highland reader, however, the fortunes of the home branches, of the Macdonalds, of Ardnamurchan, of Glencoe, of Clanranald, of Glengarry, or Dunnyveg and the Glens, will appeal with fascinating interest, for the historians tread on more familiar ground and with greater firmness.

This history was undertaken at the request of the Clan Donald Society, by two reverend clansmen, Rev. A. Macdonald, Kiltarlity, Inverness-shire, and Rev. A. Macdonald, Killearnan, Rosshire, whose tastes run with their opportunities. If the Clan Society had done nothing more than induced the production of this great work, its existence would be more than justified; and the recently formed Clan Donald Society in Canada could do no better than follow the example thus set, in collecting clan history in Canada and perpetuating the story on the printed page.

A book which has made steady headway during the past year is Rev. Duncan Anderson's Scottish Folklore, a Canadian publication issued by the enterprising house of George N. Morang & Company.

Mr. Anderson has for sponsors the Earl of Aberdeen and Professor Clark of Trinity University, two Aberdonians who ought to know the genuine from the spurious in all that pertains to Scottish life and character. Mr. Anderson has produced a readable, amusing, and interesting book which is fated undoubtedly to rank high among the leading books of the year. To while away a winter evening no better collection of good things has been issued these many years by the Canadian press.

Crockett's latest volume "The Sticket Minister's Wooing" and other short stories bears the imprint of Morang & Co. The collection is most excellent. The leading sketches—which give the title to the well bound and bulky volume—are among Crockett's very best writing. He has a strong subject in Robert Fraser, and he handles it with all the power of concentration and rapid touch for which Crockett is noted. No one can sip here without tasting the nectar of genius. "Gibby the Eel,"

"The Hempie's Love Story," "The Little Fair Man," etc., etc., all contribute to make this one of Crockett's most readable collection of sketches. (See page 81.)

Entering the spacious parlors of the Publishers' Syndicate (Toronto), the most attractive volume beyond doubt, is the sumptuous edition of Andrew Lang's History of the Jacobite Episode. Scotsmen will differ, and reasonably differ from the versatile author, on many points in this history, but on one thing every lover of the artistic in book-craft will unite, and that is in doing homage to the superb execution of the mechanical and artistic sides of this wonderful volume. Seldom has the skilled artisan put such exquisite finish on the engraver's art. The plates are magnificent. To say nothing of the rarity of some of the portraits here given to the world, the reproductions in many colors, or in mezzotints, or in black and white tone, are as near perfection as may be. The letter-press is a dream of beauty, a luxury to the fastidious eye, an aesthetic reverie. The binding, and designs are, of course, in keeping with the rest. I say not one word of the contents. Andrew Lang must draw the critics. He cannot help it. Let that pass. The story as he writes it is of course extremely well told. Whether you agree with him or not you must read on to the end. He writes to be read and you must buy him to keep abreast of the times. For the rest you have a book which, for other reasons, although to some this may seem subordinate, is worth its weight in gold.

Then you are shown Stevenson's Letters and his volumes in various styles of binding; so with Sir Walter Scott, everything that can be desired in the matter of careful editing, annotation and lovely page you can choose from; and then you come to Burns. The lover of Burns can be satisfied. From the popular edition of Alexander Smith to the critical volumes of Henley and Henderson he can select, and it is pleasing to be informed that Henley's Burns has had a successful run in Canada. The four volumes form a Burns library unequalled within the same select compass; and erudition, criticism and discrimination can surely do no more for Burns than the collaborateurs have done in these volumes. Needless to say the illustrations have a distinct artistic value.

A book which I pored over with quickened interest was Butler's "Ruined Abbeys of Scotland." What a charm those monuments of piety and patriotism have for the student of Scottish history. If the crumbled down walls could speak what a story would be theirs? Yet "Stone walls have ears"; they have tongues, too; nor are these ruins dumb. Mr. Butler is a master of his art, and he succeeds in his purpose, which is to tell the story of the old churches in the language of the people.

A number of Edinburgh books bearing the imprint of T. & T. Clark, for whom the Publishers' Syndicate are the Canadian agents, are also to be seen. They carry the credentials of the solid Scottish house, but not finding among them any distinctly Scotch, I forbear to refer to such admirable titles as "William Herschel," "Crànmer," "Luther," "Buddha," and others among the "World's Epoch Makers." (See page 86.)

While not a Scottish book, the sum and substance of Professor Bryce's History of the Hudson's Bay Company is so Scottish that it cannot be excluded from this article. Hudson's Bay Company was long under the domination of Scotsmen, much of its greatest work was accomplished by the hardy mountaineer of Scotland that its history reads like a history of the achievements of famous Scots abroad. Dr. Bryce has given us a great book; he tells a wonderful story, and the Scotsman must, indeed, be dead to national impulse who can read the book without cherishing a pardonable pride in his country and its people. William Briggs (Toronto), the public-spirited publisher has done much to encourage the study and research of early Canadian history, and to his patriotic policy Canada owes this and other admirable historical works.

A Scottish book of the year that claims special attention is the poetical works of Alexander MacLachlan, prepared first by his daughter as a labor of love, and carried on by a small committee of friends after her death. The book is a well edited, well printed, and handsomely made volume, which will be a decided addition to the library of any lover of poetry whether English or Scotch. MacLachlan's fame will be still further proclaimed by this posthumous collection of his verse.

A new volume of verse from Mr. J. Stuart Thomson, a brilliant young Canadian who is now one of the managers of the famous Plant System, and with whom the writing of verse is one of the enthusiasms of the hours of leisure from business, is announced by William Briggs. In "A Day's Song," this new book, Mr. Thomson exhibits the fulfilment of the promise of his earlier volume "Estabelle." It is a valuable addition to Canadian literature. Mr. Thomson was born and educated in Montreal. He is of Scotch parentage on his father's side, and on his mother's comes of old U. E. Loyalist stock.

Rev. Alexander Miller, Presbyterian minister of Kintail, Ont. (Old Country friends will remember him as Free Church minister of Renton), has written a vigorous pamphlet of a polemical character, entitled "Plymouthism and the Modern Churches." Whatever the adherents of this sect may think of Mr. Miller's arguments, its opponents will undoubtedly regard them as entirely logical and unanswerable. He handles the tenets of the brethren without gloves.

Rev. Dr. Maclean, a Methodist clergyman, at present stationed at Neepawa, Man., has written a number of valuable works, but his latest, "The Making of a Christian" (William Briggs), is in some respects his best. A reviewer writes of it: "The charm of the style is its rugged Anglo-Saxon, the language of the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. It fairly bristles with monosyllabic sword-points. There is not a dull line in the book. Open it where you will and diamonds may be had for the picking up."

A work of great interest to Bible students, and one for which there has been a felt demand, has been supplied by Rev. Donald McKenzie, a Presbyterian clergyman, living in Toronto, in his "Exposition of the Old Testament Sacrifices," just published by William Briggs. Mr. McKenzie's object has been to prepare a popular work translating the symbolism of those ancient institutions into the life and thought of the present day. In the closing chapter the sacrifice of Christ is expounded in the light of the preceding discussion.

Rev. Dr. MacKay, of Woodstock, whose "Pioneer Life in Zorra" has found readers far beyond the bounds of Canada, has followed this with another Zorra book. In this, under the title, "Zorra Boys at Home and Abroad; or, How to Succeed" (William Briggs), Dr. MacKay traces the career of a score or so of men who were born or brought up in Zorra, that remarkable Highland settlement—and have won distinction in various walks of life—as cabinet ministers, senators, millionaires, presidents and professors of colleges, missionaries, authors, etc. Two of these Zorra boys of whom their native place has special reason to be proud are Mackay of Formosa and "Ralph Connor," the well known author. Dr. MacKay has so sketched these lives as to make them not only deeply interesting reading, but most inspiring in their stimulus toward the cultivation of those qualities and virtues which ensure success. No better book for the young was ever written in Canada.

A new Canadian historical romance that has sprung into quick popularity, is "Lords of the North" (Toronto: William Briggs), the author of which is a young Canadian girl, Agnes C. Lant, of Ottawa. It is a story of the great struggle between the Hudson's Bay Company and its formidable rival the North-West Company for the possession of the fur trade in the North-West. We learn with pleasure that the book within a week of issue ran into a second edition. It is perhaps without exception the most fascinating Canadian work yet written. Miss Lant is of Scottish ancestry on her father's side.

Mr. W. A. Fraser is to be congratulated on the signal success of his "Mooswa." The book has achieved instant and wonderful popularity. The Canadian publisher, William Briggs, considers it the most popular Canadian book he has yet published. An interesting feature in connection with the publication of the book is the flood of letters it has brought the author from all quarters, warmly praising the book, and urging him to further work along the same line. It is no small credit to Canada to have produced two of the three great writers of animal stories today, Fraser and Seton-Thomson the third in the trio being the world famous Kipling, whose "Jungle Tales " merit little, if any, more praise than the stories of his Canadian confreres. (See page 83.)

Among the smaller books deserving more than passing notice is a new Guide Book to Islay, by the Rev. John George MacNeill, United Free Church Manse, Cawdor, Scotland. To natives of the "Green, Grassy, Isle," it will come as a cherished memory, with its wealth of beautiful description and illustrations of noted places, but by a wider circle it will be kindly greeted because of its value as a contribution to typographical literature. The reverend author has not merely compiled a tourists' guide book, but has written a short history of his native island which is of more than ordinary interest to the student of such works. That it will meet with liberal patronage is to be sincerely hoped. (Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair, "Celtic Press," 47 Waterloo street.)

Among the important books of the year, "Life in Scotland a Hundred Years Ago," by James Murray, M.A., claims a conspicuous place. The material is furnished by Sir John Sinclair's Old Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799, an exhaustless mine of information. Mr. Murray has made excellent use of the old parish accounts, originally written by the parish ministers. He classifies his material into agricultural, domestic and social, marriages, births, funerals, popular superstitions, ecclesiastical and theological, schools and schoolmasters, tales and legends, and etymological, and has gleaned to such advantage that a comprehensive and apparently complete picture appears to the mind. The book ought to be widely read. To Canadians it has this especial interest that it gives an authentic account of the life their Scottish forefathers pursued just prior to their leaving to settle in Canada. The work can be strongly recommended.

In the Upper Canada Tract Society's rooms at 102 Yonge street, Toronto, there are many choice volumes of Scottish authorship, chiefly of the religious class. Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier's "Famous Scots" series are on the counters and Stodder & Houghton's publications. Dr. George Matheson's charming volumes, "Studies of the Portrait of Christ," has had a deservedly liberal sale, and what can be more suitable at this season as a gift to a friend than this "banquet of pure, concentrated thought" as the British Weekly describes the book. The British Monthly handled by this house for Canada has had a most cordial reception. It is much sought for, and will very soon be familiar to the Canadian public. Needless to say it is a thoroughly good production, and it seems to have made a hit from the start.

WHEN Prince Charlie resided at Edinburgh, after the battle of Prestonpans, some of the Presbyterian clergy continued to pray for King George at public service. Rev. Mr. Macvicar being asked by some Highlanders to pray for the Prince, promised to comply, and fulfilled his promise thus:- "And as for this young Prince, who is come hither in quest of an earthly crown, grant, O Lord, that he may speedily receive a crown of glory."

THE Scottish term "Wadset," meant that the mortgagee took into possession so much land as would secure the principal and interest of the money lent, for which lie had to give no account though there might be a surplus, but only to return the lands to the former owner when the principal sum was paid off.

IN the Scots' Magazine for July, 1802, there is a copy of a very curious crown grant, dated 11th July, 1487, by which James III confirms to Malice Doire (Malise Dewar), an inhabitant of Strathfillan, in Perthshire, the peaceable exercise and enjoyment of a relic of St. Fillan, called the Quegrich (Crozier) which he and his predecessors are said to have possessed since the days of Bruce. As the Quegrich was used to cure diseases, this document is, probably, the most ancient Scottish patent ever granted for a quack medicine.

THE relics of St. Andrew which, tradition says, were brought into Scotland by Regulus, consisted of: "One joint of the Saint's arm; item, three fingers of his right hand; item, one tooth; item, one knee-pan."

Return to Book Contents Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus