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Mine Eyes to the Hills
An Anthology of the Highland Forest arranged by Patrick R. Chalmers illustrated by V. R. Balfour-Browne (1931) (pdf)


“To know ourselves” is best achieved by a study of the life and poetry of our people. One must, however, be extremely careful of the entanglements caused by hasty conclusions, the frantic guess-work of ethnology, and confusing views of history; from which you find perpetuated to-day such statements as that such and such districts are Celtic because the people of them speak Gaelic, or Saxon because Gaelic if not understood there, usually, of course, at the date of the writer himself; whereas language has often little to do with race at all, after long lapse of time subsequent upon settlement. For example, you find in America thousands of negroes, English-speaking and following European habits of thought and living whose boast of being Anglo-Saxon is a broad joke indeed. At the time of the siege of Alafeking, Baden-Powell was taken as the representative of Anglo-Saxon resolute dogged-ness, while his names mark him out distinctly as Cymric, and his race had learned that dogged pulse of frontier warfare, standing dourly in the mists, fighting in De-Wet-like campaign against the English Edward. The fact is tha we are so mixed as a people that perhaps no greater historic fallacy has been perpetuated than the designation of us as the Anglo-Saxon race. Anglo-Celtic would be nearer the marl of truth, and, if we would be fully described as Anglo-Cymri-Dano-Celtic would most truly cover the Scot at any rate.

Dr Samuel Johnson said, “Languages are the pedigree of nations.” Like many other aphoristio utterances, this is not true universally and in Scotland it does not hold at all. “For not only is English spoken throughout the Highlands by people to whose ancestors it was an alien tongue, but the Gaelic language itself is the mother tongue of many whose physical characteristic, plainly show that they come of widely different stocks” (Mackenzie’s “Short History of the Highlands”). We have ourselves seen whole parishes undergo the change from one language to the other, and in places where only a few years since, the children were playing in the one tongue the present generation are playing in the other. In 1830 Gaelic was the absolute vernacular of Braemar, while in 1876 it was preached in four parish churches in Caithness, and in seven congregations of the Free Church in that county. It does not follow that a race changes its history or it pedigree according to the uniform it dons.

The natives of the outer Hebrides an regularly spoken of and thought of as the purest Celts “because Gaelic is their language”; whereas the Highlander himself calls those islands “Innso Gall.” “the island of the strangers,” from the fact that they were largely peopled by. the Norsemen, and held bv Norway till after 1226. Recently an account of the life of George Ross, who founded a little kingdom of his own in the Cocos Islands, in the Indian Ocean, appeared in a newspaper. He was born in Orkney, so to the writer of the article he must be “the Viking,” “the child of the Norseman,” and the like; a thing which no Ross could ever be, for his race could not be anything other than that of the Celtic clan of his name, and he must have been sprung from some settler in the islands, a thing easily explained, Orkney and Shetland having been in historic times the happy hunting grounds of Scots adventurers, as the melancholy traditions of the native people still can testify, and the lingering dislike of the “Scotchman” a name the older generation proves. So, also, a friend of mine, writing about a district from which Gaelic had died out about two generations ago, the people now speaking a broad strong Doric, said— “Their speech proves them to be of the old Teutonic stock,” which it might also have done in regard to the children of the Italian ice-cream vendor in any Scottish village, or the children of a Polish miner “with a name like a sneeze,” but a vocabulary and accent picked up in the parish school.

The Scots are a mixed race, but the predominant trend of thought and sympathy, is Celtic, in the main. The masterful Scandinavian seized, held, and dominated districts of the land. Yet, though he changed much of the local situation, he did not change the blood of the folk. He gave to the kerns whom he conquered his own name as the tribal title, as did the Macleods, the Macaulays, Sinclairs, and their set, but inside the clan thus formed there were sept names and clanlets who kept and keep still their own stories and their own designations. The great clans were most frequently strong co-operative confederacies, rather than ia homogeneous unity sprung from a common source.

Scottish Life and Poetry
by Lauchlan Maclean Watt (London, 1912). (pdf)


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