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THERE still exists on the West Coast of Sutherlandshire a race of people known among their neighbours as “The children of the Mermaid"_“ Sliochd na Maighdean Chuain"—and the tradition of their origin is as follows:
A young fisherman lay one day among the rocks by the seashore awaiting the turn of the tide, when all of a sudden he beheld a beautiful face peering from the tiny wavelets that broke so gently on the beach. He kept carefully out of sight, and by-and-bye he saw the shower of golden hair that fell over the loveliest shoulders that he had ever beheld. As he gazed at this strange creature he got wildly enamoured of her, although he knew she was not of mortal mould; and all his desire was to gain possession of her. If the Mermaid had seen him she would likely have lured him to his doom, as the old ballads tell us such creatures were wont to do, when they sat before their admirers in their unadorned charms, combing their "golden locks" with a "golden kame,"and singing so sweetly that they got them to follow them to their coral caves under “the saut sea faim.” In this instance, the Mermaid had not seen the young fisherman, and so she came ashore and divested herself of a skin like that of a seal that had encased her body to the waist. This skin had given the lower part of her body the shape of a fish, but when it was off she stood up a handsome and well-formed woman. She left the skin in the crevice of the rock in which the fisherman was hiding, and she went in her woman's form to disport herself in the water along the shore. The fisherman got possession of the skin and hid it, and when the Mermaid came to look for it and could not find it she was wild with grief, for she could not go back to her ocean home without it. The fisherman then captured her, and led her to his home, where he made her his wife, and in the course of years she became the mother of several children. She was a quiet, unoffensive creature, leading a passive life of peace, but never happy looking, and at night she often went down to the rocks where she would sit to sing the most plaintive melodies, after searching in vain for her lost treasure.
Upon a beautiful day in early summer, her husband had gone
out fishing, and the children were playing in the barn that was now empty, and after turning out all the corners of it they found a strange-looking thing having the tail of a fish, and they hastened with it to their mother that she might tell them what it was. She did not at first pay attention to their enquiries, but when her eyes fell upon what they had brought she gave a cry of joy such as they had never heard from her before. She took possession of her treasure with gleaming eyes, and, without waiting to bid them farewell, she rushed off to the sea. The children followed her and saw her putting on again her long-lost covering, and then she disappeared into the depths of the sea. When her husband returned home he was frantic with grief at the loss of her, and though he often went about the rocks calling her by all sorts of endearing names he never saw her again. She seemed, however, to hover near these rocks, and her children said she used to drive the fish to their hooks when they were fishing, as they had always better fish and more of them than their companions had. They said also that she often spoke to them, and one of her sayings has become a proverb
Na òl an sàile am feasd gun sioladh,
'S ioma biasd a tha 's a' chuan.
There is many a living creature in the ocean. We know not if the Gaelic is the native language of these mysterious creatures of the flood, but if not the above proverb would indicate that this one of them had proved an apt scholar and acquired it well. Some of the Sutherland people speak of the descendants of this creature as “ Sliochd an Roin," but this term came probably from the sealskin the lady wore on her extremities. We prefer “Sliochd na Maighdean Chuain” as the more poetic form, and as also giving more of an air of probability to
GAELIC TRANSLATION OF THE QUEEN'S BOOK.*
The late gifted Ewen Maclachlan, perhaps the most accomplished Gaelic poet and littérateur of modern times, in translating the Iliad of Homer into Gaelic thought that one of the best recommendations for his work would be that it was translated by a Lochaber man. Echoing, therefore, the words so familiar on the title page of the Gaelic Scriptures, “Eadar-theangaichte gu Gaidhlig Albannaich" ("translated into Scottish Gaelic") he announced his translation of the Iliad as “Eadar-theangaichte gu Gaidhlig Abraich," If we put forward a similar plea on behalf of Mrs. Mackellar's translation of the Queen's Book, we mean the compliment to carry all the weight implied in its being translated by a person hailing also from Lochaber-a district where the language is spoken with a copiousness and a classical finish not met with in many parts of Scotland. To this fortunate linguistic circumstance Mrs. Mackellar has added the additional knowledge of the Gaelic language of other regions derived from residence among and contact with speakers of the dialects of every part of the country; the literary finish of one who has written much, and the idiomatic fluency of the Gaelic bard.
It must be admitted that the task allotted to Mrs. Mackellar, though a congenial and appropriate one, was not by any means an easy one. The Queen's Book makes no pretensions to literary excellence or power. There is in it very little scope for a display of Gaelic fine-writing. Its language is homely, and its descriptions totally devoid of enthusiasm. It is dry. To look for the opposite characteristics in the translation therefore would be to expect Mrs. Mackellar to construct a new Gaelic book for the Queen. This could not be ; but it might not be inappropriate to suggest here that Mrs. Mackellar might write, what she could do so very well, a Jubilee life of Her Majesty in the Gaelic language for the
* TUILLEADH DHUILLEAG BHO M' LEABHAR-LATHA mu Chunntas mo Bheatha anns a' Ghaidhealtachd, bho 1862 gu 1882. Villeam Blackwood agus a Mhic Duneideann ’us Lunnainn, 1886.
benefit of her loyal Highland subjects. The materials for such a work are ample, and the great love which the Queen cherishes towards the Highlands and the Highland people, and which so frequently and so markedly betrays itself in her book, and more so in her acts and movements among them, would, we are certain, ensure for the work a warm welcome among the speakers of the Gaelic language. Our stock of original Gaelic literature is very small indeed, and now that the language is once more becoming a language of the schools, there is a field for fresh activity alike in the collection and preservation of the old and perishing oral lore, and the construction of new literature for the times in which we live. In no other way can the Gaelic language be kept abreast of the age, or even maintained at all as a tongue of living interest.
But we are wandering from our text-The Queen's Book. We have referred to the undoubted fitness of the translator, and the character of the work. It remains for us only to say that the work does not belie the high expectations which we had formed. The language of Mrs. Mackellar is idiomatic, and her mode of expression natural and free. In some parts of the book we are safe in saying that the work has gained in the translation, especially where the subject was continuous and afforded scope for the genius and power of the translator. This is exemplified in the translation, for instance, of the address presented to Her Majesty on the occasion of unveiling the statue of the Prince Consort at Aberdeen in the year 1863. We quote one eloquent and expressive extract:
Chan 'eil feum air cuimhneachan sam bith a chumail beo ainm aon a chuir a leithid de sgèimh air an inbhe is airde anns an tir, le ard-shoilleireachd 'inntinn, a dheagh bheusan, agus an t-eud fior-ghlan agus tuigseach a bha aige air son gach ni a bha gu math a' mhor-shluaigh. Tha a chuimhne cruinte le urram air feadh an t-saoghail mar nach robh cuimhne moran de phrionnsachan riamh roimhe; agus tasgaidh an rioghachd mhor so 'eiseamplair mar ionmhas priseil. Gidheadh tha coir shonraichte air e bhith air a ghleidheadh air chuimhne anns an earrainn so de 'n Rioghachd Aonaichte, air an robh am Priomisa uasal so a' cur de dh-onair agus gun robh e ga taghal bho bhliadhna gu bliadhna, agus anns a' bhaile so a thuair de dhfhabhor le a ghistean arda a bhi air an nochdadh ann an doigh cho araidh an uair a bh e na Fhear-Riaghlaidh air a' Chomunn Bhreatunnach, a tha air son adhartachadh ealdhain ; agus bha gach inbhe d'an t-sluagh deonach air gum biodh cuimhneachan a mhaireadh air a chur suas 'n ar measg a nochdadh an uaraim agus a' ghraidh a dhuisg e 'n ar cridheachan.
Another short extract from a preface written by the late Rev. Dr. Norman Macleod for a collection of pipe music by William Ross, the Queen's piper, shows no less the enthusiasm which the music of the bagpipe awoke in the warm Celtic soul of Dr. Macleod than the power and elegance with which Mrs. Mackellar can wield the Gaelic language when the subject is inspiring and the theme congenial
“Is i piob nuallanach nan dos inneal-ciuil s sonraichte. “Tir nam Beann,' agus i gu h-aighearach air ghleus an achlais fior Ghaidheil. A mheoir gu grad air an fheadan, e an lan eideadh nan sonn, agus e le cheum stadail ann an seomar uaibhreach a chinn-fheadhna no air feadh nan gleann aillidh anns an do threagair mac-talla nan creag do fheadain shiubhlach a shinnsearachd. Chan 'eil inneal-ciuil eile cho freagrach air son tional clann gach fine bho gach gleann gu cruinneachadh mu bhrataichean an cinntheadhna, agus tha dearbh fhios gur i a mhain a chuireas gillean an fheilidh air mhire-chath do 'n bhlar. Is beo a bheir i failte do 'n cheann-theadhna a'tilleadh gu buadhar bho 'n chath, agus is tiamhaidh a thig an tuireadh uaipe an uair a ghiulainear le a dhaoine bronach e gu a dhachaidh bhuan anns a' ghleann, no do 'n eilein naomh anns a bheil a dhàimh na 'n cadal. Tha doimhneachd faireachdainn agus tiamhachd anns a' cheol so, a tha air a chur cho saothrachail ri cheile, agus nach tuig neach e ach Gaidheal a mhain. Tha e dhasan lan de chuimhneachain dhruighteach mu a dhachaidh agus mu a dhuthaich ; tha an ceol so a' toirt a rithist fo chomhair a shuilean na h-aodainn agus na cruthan a dh'fhalbh ; tha e a' toirt air suilean 'inntinn a bhith a rithist a' faicinn gach beann, agus loch, agus gleann de dhuthaich oige, agus a' dusgadh suas cuimhne air na laithean a chaith e na 'm measg an uair a bha a shonas aig airde.”
It might be perfectly possible to find in Mrs. Mackellar's work isolated words and phrases that a purist in Gaelic matters would object to as not classic, but such instances are insignificant in view of the general excellence of the translation, and it were a pity in that case to magnify and give exceptional prominence to mere verbal inelegancies, and overlook the very large amount of expressive and vigorous Gaelic which goes to constitute the main substance of the work. It is no very difficult task with the aid of a dictionary to supply verbal equivalents for almost any word in the English language, but it is another and a very different thing to furnish idiomatic phrases and sentences of unimpeachable Gaelic. Our English habits of thought and reading are daily rendering the task more difficult. Our idioms are getting lost: no dictionary is able to preserve them, and it is this that makes translations like Mrs. Mackellar's of peculiar value. The only conspicuous fault to which we would refer is the want of care on