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Metadata for text 159
No. words in text48098
Title A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs, and Familiar Phrases; Accompanied with an English Translation, Intended to Facilitate the Study of the Language; Illustrated with Notes. To which is added, The Way to Wealth, by Dr. Franklin, translated into Gaelic
Author N/A (Edited work)
Editor Macintosh, Donald
Date Of Edition 1785
Date Of Language 18th c.
Publisher Donaldson, Creech, Elliot, and Sibbald
Place Published Edinburgh
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local (Inverness Reference) libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Various
Register Literature, Prose
Alternative Author Name N/A
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 17cm x 10.5cm
Short Title Gaelic Proverbs
Reference Details NLS: Blair.171
Number Of Pages x + 142 (= pp. 1-71 (Gaelic) and 1-71 (English) printed en face) + 9 (= pp. 73-82)
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Donald Macintosh was born on the farm of Orchilmore, on the Urrard Estate, near Killiecrankie, in 1743. Little is known of Macintosh’s childhood. Having a somewhat delicate physique, he was sent to school, where he proved to be a good scholar. After finishing school, he remained at home, and helped to tutor his brothers and sisters and other children in the neighbourhood. Alexander Campbell wrote, in the 1819 edition of Macintosh’s Proverbs, that ‘by degrees he got into more extensive employment as a teacher, which suggested the idea of trying his fortune in the Scottish capital; and accordingly he made his appearance there, but in a more humble capacity than he had dreamed of’ (p. 2). He was a ‘penny-post man’ for some time, and also obtained occasional work transcribing and keeping books. He later worked for a time as a tutor to the younger brother of Sir George Stewart of Gairntully.

Campbell further stated that, when Macintosh was travelling in Lochaber in 1784, ‘he fell in with a namesake of his own, from whom he obtained a considerable proportion of what forms the present Collection of Gaelic Proverbs. From the recitation of the same person, too, he wrote down several ancient Gaelic poems, one of which “Ceardach Mhic Luin,” is inserted in the Perth Collection, printed 1786, p. 233 [i.e. the Gillies Collection, Text 155]. Previous to his excursion to the more remote districts of the Grampians, our collector had procured a valuable and extensive portion of his materials for the present compilement from John Wallace, who resided at Lettoch, in the vicinity of Moulin, in Athole; and from whom also were obtained several manuscript songs, legendary tales, and anecdotes. Having collected his subject matter, he submitted his materials to several literary characters of the first eminence, who were less or more acquainted with the Gaelic language’ (pp. 3-4). After the publication of this volume in 1785, Macintosh obtained a position in the Office of Mr Davidson, who was ‘crown-agent, and keeper of his Majesty’s signet’ (p. 4).

After the death of Charles Edward Stewart in 1788, most members of the Scottish Episcopal Church accepted George III as king. A few did not, however, and a schism occurred. Only one Bishop, Bishop Rose, refused to accept the authority of the House of Hanover. Rose’s successor was Bishop Brown, and he chose Donald Macintosh, who had become interested in the profession, as his successor. Macintosh thus became, in his own words, ‘a priest of the old Scots Episcopal Church, and last of the non-jurant clergy in Scotland’ (p. 6). While some members of the Episcopal clergy questioned Macintosh’s ordination, his followers always reckoned him to be the only true episcopal priest in Scotland.

In 1794, Macintosh petitioned in the Scottish Supreme Court against the way the Scottish Episcopal Church funds were being handled. The Court did not rule in his favour. In Campbell’s words (1819, p. 8), ‘Albeit after this defeat, he fearlessly pursued his path of duty, making extensive excursions on foot among his widely scattered flock.’ Macintosh’s flock, in fact, covered an area of more than a hundred square miles, from Edinburgh to Loch Katrine, to Glentilt, Glenshee, and to Banff. Macintosh was left a number of legacies by some of his supporters, and he therefore spent his remaining years in comfort. As a member of the clergy, Macintosh still had a keen interest in literature, and he had a number of well-to-do patrons. He compiled a collection of books, which he left to the town of Dunkeld, for the purpose of establishing a library there. Macintosh played the violin and also learned to play the piano. He considered taking a wife at one time, but on seeking advice from a friend, was ‘dissuaded … from so rash an experiment at so advanced a period of life’ (1819, pp. 9-10). In 1801, Macintosh was appointed Translator of the Gaelic Language, and Keeper of Gaelic Records, to the Royal Highland Society of Scotland. He was paid a salary, and gratuities, for this work. With this title came free membership to the Society.

Macintosh’s health eventually declined thereafter, until in 1808 he was unable to make his annual tour around his parish. He died that year, and was buried in Greyfriars churchyard in Edinburgh.
Contents The substance of this volume is preceded by a single page of errata, in which it is stated: ‘In some copies of the impression, page 11. proverb 55. “Bithidh 'n luaireagan luadha na ualachan gille,” is wanting on the Gaelic side, and twice repeated in some other copies.’ This is followed by a dedication headed: ‘To The Right Honourable David Earl of Buchan, Lord Cardross’ (pp. v-viii). In this dedication, Macintosh says of the proverbs in the Collection: ‘The SIMPLE ONES may perhaps despise them for the unadorned plainness of the expressions, but the WISE will ponder them in their hearts, and grow wiser by the instruction they convey. (p. vi). He adds with regard to the annotation provided: ‘In the present collection are several sayings that allude to circumstances not generally known; but as they frequently occur in the common discourse, it seemed proper that they should be inserted, and the reader is led to their meaning by short notes’ (ibid.).

In a short Advertisement (pp. ix-x), Macintosh explains that ‘The author’s design in making the following collection, was to preserve the language, and a few remains of the ancient customs of Scotland, by bringing so many of the proverbial sayings of the people into one point of view’ (p. ix). He adds that he was helped in this work by ‘several gentlemen well versed in Gaelic antiquities, who kindly furnished him with materials; without which, he should not have been able to proceed’ (p. ix).

A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs or Co’-chruinneachadh do Ghna-fhocail Ghaelich is presented in Gaelic and English on facing pages (pp. 1-66). Facing pages, Gaelic and English, are given the same page number. The proverbs are arranged alphabetically, and every fifth proverb is numbered. Footnotes (in English) explain the meaning of some proverbs and suggest comparable English proverbs where these occur. Since Macintosh’s translations are fairly literal, the English equivalents given in the footnotes often leave us with a better idea of the meaning of the proverb. There follows a further selection of proverbs in a section entitled Addenda or Leasachadh (pp. 67-71). The proverbs in this section are also arranged alphabetically, and are presented with English translations on facing pages.

At the end of this volume is added An T Slighe Chum Sai’-Bhris (pp. 73-82), Robert MacFarlane’s translation of the Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin (Oludh Franclin). Macintosh explains that this translation ‘is subjoined at the desire of the EARL of BUCHAN’. It is preceded by a short address ‘to the Inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland’, written by he Earl himself.
Language This volume contains a wide spectrum of terms of the types found in proverbs and familiar phrases. Numerous topics are covered. As the proverbs are listed alphabetically rather than thematically, it is not easy to gain a quick sense of the range of topics covered. However, reference may be made to the 1951, 1996, and 1997 editions of Alexander Nicolson’s Collection of Gaelic Proverbs (i.e. Nicolson 1881, based on the present text), which contain a full subject-index in English. As stated in the description of Text 92, Nicolson divides his collection into 24 categories: Religion; Morals – General; Self-Respect and Sense of Honour; Truth, Justice, Fidelity; Courage; Temperance; Industry, Punctuality, Promptness, Early Rising; Courtesy, Hospitality; Benevolence; Patience; Humility; Silence, Caution, Words and Deeds, Appearances; Fools; Boors; Women, Marriage; Children; Education; Kindred, Fosterhood, Clannishness; Friendship; Landlord and Tenant; Husbandry – Food; Sayings that Refer to Prehistoric Times; Humorous Sayings; and Poetical Sayings. Although Nicolson’s collection contains many more proverbs than Macintosh’s, it seems that Macintosh has examples of most, if not all, of Nicolson’s categories.

Macintosh’s Collection includes a number of proverbs which allude to the weather, e.g.: Toiseach is deire na sìne, clacha mìne meallain (p. 65) and Gaoth air luing, gaoth tre tholl, is gaoth ath-theannda (p. 36), these three being introduced as ‘Bad Winds’ in the English version. There are several proverbs which allude to Clans and Kindreds, e.g.: Cha ’n ’eil saoidh gun choi’meas. \ Cnoic, is uisg’, is Ailpeinich (p. 28). Others refer to the martial characteristics of clan society, e.g.: Dleasaidh arm uram (p. 29). Others again relate to human nature, e.g. Gaoire na caillich ’sa chùil dìanaich (p. 35) and Is i mhathair eas-guidh a ni ’n inghean leasg (p. 47). Many proverbs give explicit advice, e.g. Gabh an la math fad ’sa gheibh thu e (p. 35). Just as frequently, the wisdom of a proverb is imparted obliquely in an observation about character, e.g.: Am fear a ghoideas an t snàthad ghoideadh e ’m mèuran na ’m faodadh e, to which a footnote is added, offering as an English equivalent, ‘He who would steal an egg, would steal an ox’ (p. 1). Further miscellaneous examples include: Cha d’ theid sabhal thair tigh mar bi gaoth ro mhor ann (p. 13); Bi g’a subhach, geinmnich, moch-thrathach san t-samhra (p. 8), of which a footnote says ‘An advice of the Druids, See Smith’s Gaelic Antiquities’ (p. 8); Millidh aon tarruing an t each, is aon each ’n t seisreach (p. 54); and Ruithidh an saigeis fein le bruthaich (p. 60).

This collection also preserves a number of longer sayings and rhymes, including Cumadh an Triubhais \ Cromadh gun ghainne ’sa chaol; aon eanga deug san osan; seachd eang am beul a theach; is tearc neach do nach foghainn; air a chuma’ gu dìrich; agus a tri na ghobhal (p. 26), and Sireadh seam an connalaich. \ Sonas thoirt do chuaille. \ Duine thoirt a chomhairle. \ Far nach gabhar ì uaithe (p. 60). The footnotes are often helpful and are sometimes very interesting. For example, the footnote explaining the proverb Cha bhi Tòisich air Tirìnidh, is cha bhi Tirìnidh gun Tòisich (p. 26), states that the proverb is a ‘ridiculous prophesy, concerning an ancient family in Perthshire, now extinct,’ before describing at length how the Macintoshes were destroyed by the Cummings. Other examples include Thuit an Tarbh Coill’ orra (p. 65), which a footnote interprets as ‘A misfortune befell them’, before explaining what the Tarbh Coill’ was; and Truagh nach bu chàird gu leir sibh an diu (ibid.), where a footnote states that the words were first spoken ‘by the famous warrior Alexander Macdonald’, and the circumstances in which it was said are then detailed.

The final section of this volume contains a translation of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth. It takes the form of a sermon on the virtues of hard work and sensible living, which is delivered by Sean Aoighneas (= ‘Father Abraham’ in the original) to a group of people who are waiting for a sale to begin. They are complaining about the heavy taxes, and ask Aoighneas to give his opinion. He begins ‘Mo chairdibh, deir eisean, tha chain ro throm, agus am b’ iad sin amhain ata ’n t uachdaran a’ cur oirn’ a bh’ aiginn r’a iocadh, b’usadh dhuinn gu mòr ain dioladh; ach ata mòran eil’ againn, agus iad sin n’as ro chruaidhe air cuid aguinn, ata sinn da-fhilt air bhur ciosach le’r diomhanas, tri-fhealt, le’n uabhar, agus a cheithir urrad le’r aimeadachd, nithe o nach urradh luchd tional na ciosa ar fuasgladh le luigse a thabhairt. Ach eisdeamaid ri deagh chomhairle agus feadaidh sinn leasach fhaghail; ni Dia congnamh leosan a ni congamh leo fein, mar a deir Eoghan Tiarmail [= ‘Poor Richard’ in the original]’ (p. 74).
Orthography The orthography is typical of late eighteenth-century texts. Given the variety of sources used by Macintosh it is possible that some inconsistencies reflect the linguistic form of these sources, which could include dialectalisms.
Edition First edition. Another edition, ‘Englished a-new’, was published in 1819, in which Macintosh’s Addenda were incorporated into the body of the collection. A further, expanded edition, edited by Alexander Nicolson, was published in 1881 (i.e. Text 92), with a second, revised edition in 1882. A new edition with an extensive introduction and a subject-index was published by Malcolm MacInnes in 1951. There have been numerous reprints and re-issues since then, the most recent appearing in 2011 (Edinburgh: Birlinn). Editors should perhaps use this edition in conjunction with Nicolson’s 1881 edition.
Other Sources
Further Reading MacInnes, Malcolm (ed.), Gaelic Proverbs collected and translated … by Alexander Nicolson … Reprinted with Index, etc. (Glasgow, 1951: Caledonian Press).
Mackintosh, Donald, MacKintosh’s Collection of Gaelic Proverbs, and Familiar Phrases; Englished a-new, ed. by Alex. Campbell (Edinburgh, 1819: William Stewart).
Nicolson, Alexander, ed., A collection of Gaelic proverbs and familiar phrases: based on Macintosh’s Collection (Edinburgh, 1881: Maclachlan and Stewart).
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