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Campbell of Argyll

The supremacy of the Campbells of Argyll by the time printing was invented assured their patronage of the first books to be published in Gaelic, while their support of the reformed religion helped to make Argyll a center of the dissemination of Calvinist literature.  So it was that, a thousand years after the mission of Saint Columba, the very parts of Scotland to which he had brought the Christian message first issued it in print in Columba's own tongue.  The Liturgy of John Knox was published in 1567 in Bishop Carswell's translation, and was followed in 1631 by a Gaelic version of Calvin's Catechism.  Its authorship is uncertain, but the very fact that the translator may have been the family bard of the Earl of Argyll is significant.

It was the Synod of Argyll which authorized the Gaelic Shorter Catechism which was distributed in print in 1653: Dugald Campbell, minister of Knapdale, was one of the translators.  The Synod next commissioned Gaelic verse translations of the psalms, and Dugald Campbell undertook to provide numbers twenty through forty.  His son Duncan, minister of Glenorchy, was given the responsibility for the last fifty.  Political upheavals endangered the enterprise, but the entire collection was found safely among the papers of the Earl of Argyll, and was published in 1694.

This religious affiliation separated the Campbells from the rich and ancient literary tradition preserved by the Beatons and the MacMhuirichs.  Even the evidence of Clan Diarmid's links with its ancient cultural heritage was allowed to become scanty.  The MacEwens were bards to the Campbells of Argyll, yet only one of their poems survived.  It was a MacGregor who preserved a solitary Gaelic poem composed by Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy who, at the age of seventy, gave his life in 1513 on the field of Flodden.  The strictures which Carswell published in 1567, in his Gaelic introduction of the Liturgy of Knox, are suggestive.  They roundly condemn the profane and Catholic literature, with its roots in Ireland.  Yet at the end of the day Campbells, even in the Calvinist ministry, have been pre-eminent among those who have preserved this heritage.  John Gregorson Campbell, minister of the island of Tiree, is especially noteworthy.  In 1891 was published his Ossianic collection, called The Fians.  It was followed by Clan Traditions and Popular Tales in 1895, by Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in 1900, and two years later by his work Witchcraft and Second Sight.

But it was in the great houses of the Campbells that their achievement is without parallel.  It includes the Records of Argyll published in 1885 by Lord Archibald Campbell, and the help which his father the 8th Duke gave to John Francis Campbell of Islay in his lifelong study of Gaelic tradition.  Campbell of Islay did on his private initiative what no Scottish institution has succeeded in doing: he organized the collection of folk tales all over the Highlands and Islands.  The successive volumes of his Popular Tales of the West Highlands were issued between 1860 and 1862, and two further volumes of his material have been published since 1940.  In 1872 he produced Leabhar na Feinne, the first volume of Scotland's incomparable Gaelic ballads to be published in the country.

The successor to these devoted men belongs to the military family of Inverneil, and descends from the elder brother of its most distinguished soldier Sir Archibald Campbell (1739-1791).  Dr. John Lorne Campbell exchanged Inverneil for the low fertile island of Canna, which lies southwest of the Cuillin mountains of Skye.  Hi published his Highland Songs of the Forty-Five in 1933, and since then no Scottish university has equaled the productions of mind and pen during the same period.  His lifelong collection of songs and stories has given us English and Gaelic texts of the Tales of Barra told by the Coddy (1961) showing how a bilingual storyteller manipulates two such different languages.

The Furrow Behind Me preserves the autobiography of a Gaelic monoglot Hebridean crofter, as well as giving it to the world in English translation.  Campbell has searched out and edited neglected manuscripts, as is Edward Lhuyd in the Scottish Highlands 1699-1700 (1963) and A School in South Uist (1964).  He has published the poetry of Father Allan Macdonald of Eriskay in Bardachd Mhgr Ailein (1965), and exposed the fraudulent use that Ada Goodrich Freer made of his papers in Strange Things (1968) - a fascinating detective story.  In 1981 Dr. Campbell published the third and final volume of his great work Hebridean Folksongs, and conveyed the isle of Canna with his library and folklore collection to the National Trust for Scotland.

Ian Grimble
Scottish Clans and Tartans