The present series of Celtic
Texts, illustrating, through various moods and phases, the life of the Gael
in early and later times, opens with the works of a man beloved at home and
abroad. Though no real edition of the poet has hitherto appeared the poems
of his which have formerly been published gave some an opportunity of
drinking from the clear wells of genius. Once and again several of these
were printed at Glasgow; but it has been in Canada that the poet has
received most attention. The Toronto Edition of 1861 as well as the Cape
Breton Edition of 1885, both partial but containing entirely different sets
of poems, are tokens of disinterested devotion to the memory of a hallowed
name. The Canadian Gael has left his country only to love it more.
“From the lone sheiling of the
Mountains divide us and a waste of seas,
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we, in dreams, behold the Hebrides.”
The present effort, it is
hoped, will be found as complete; as loving care could make it. Inquiries on
the mainland and journeys to the Isles have largely helped to elicit facts
and reminiscences which shed their own perspective light especially on the
poet’s life, while the free offerings of poems preserved in oral memory have
helped to correct and supplement the fragmentary condition to which time had
reduced the older MSS. in the poet’s hand, thus, in matter wholly new,
doubling the bulk of what has hitherto been open to the public. The justice
and the tenderness so native to John Morison have shed a halo around his
venerated memory and friends have been exceeding kind. Foremost among these
is Alexander Carmichael, whose patriotic devotion, to the rescue of ancient
Celtic literature is only equalled by his noble enthusiasm in all that
concerns John Morison. All the MSS in his possession, which his friend the
late Dr. Donald Munro Morison left behind him, have chiefly aided in making
this edition as full as is now possible. His name is thus associated with
these volumes though words do not fitly express the recognition of his
patience or the record of his praise.
It is much regretted that the late Dr. Morison himself was unable to edit
his father’s poems in his own lifetime; he had so much power and sense of
poetic purity. Those which he published in The Gael, with the music annexed
to them, appear in this edition.
Special thanks are due to the poet’s eldest son, Mr. Eoghan Morison, for
letters and trustworthy information as well as for some of his father’s
poems from memory; to Mr. Angus Macleod for MS journals by his father, the
late Alexander Macleod, tacksman, Ung-na-cille, Isle of Skye; to the Gaelic
poet and scholar, the late Dr. Blair, Barney’s River, Nova Scotia; and to
the late Alexander Nicolson, M.A., LL.D. both of whom died while the work
was passing through the press.
Memories and partial transcripts of MSS. by the poet’s nephew, Mr. Malcolm
Macaskill, Bernera; Mr. Donald Morison, Tarbert; Mr. Archibald Macleod,
South Uist; Mr. Roderick Macleod, Edinburgh; and by the late Mr. Nicolson of
Lewis, through his grandson, Mr. Nicolson Munro, New College, have been
found helpful. But most of all the MS. of Morison’s earlier poems by the
late Hector Macdonald, who died near Mira, Sydney, Cape Breton. Hector
Macdonald, a good Gaelic scholar, and the poet’s friend, wrote this MS. at
Stafford Street, Edinburgh, in 1836, when tutor in the family of General
Mackay of Rockfield, who wrote the life of Lieutenant General Hugh Mackay,
Commander of the Forces in Scotland, 1689-1690. Through this MS., of which
there were one or two transcripts, the Gaelic poems were well known among
Highland students at Edinburgh Universitv during 1836, ’37, ’38. As the late
Dr. Blair put it, “Hector Macdonald was the most beautiful writer he had
ever seen;” and his MS. has rescued many of the earlier poems from oblivion.
The MS. itself, comparable to the work of the finest scribes of Ireland, is
a monument to a warm friendship.
Tender thanks are also due to Mr. Duncan Mackenzie, M.A., for suggestions,
references and criticisms; to the publisher, Mr. Archibald Sinclair, for
some of the poet’s correspondence: to Mr. John Murdoch, to Professor
Mackinnon, to Professor Rhys and to Professor Windisch for kind
encouragement and sympathy.
Berlin, August. 1893.
Electric Scotland Note:
The memoir in Volume 1 and the Introduction in Volume 2 are in English but
all else is in the Gaelic language.
Volume 1 | Volume 2