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Metadata for text 172
No. words in text41494
Title Laoidhean Spioradail Dhùghaill Bhochanain
Author Buchanan, Dugald
Editor Meek, Dòmhnall Eachann
Date Of Edition 2015 (Includes facsimile pages of 1767 edition) (N.B. edition in Corpas na Gàidhlig is the 1913 edition)
Date Of Language 18th c.
Publisher Scottish Gaelic Texts Society
Place Published Edinburgh
Volume N/A
Location National, local and academic libraries
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Perthshire
Register Religion, Verse
Alternative Author Name N/A
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 20cm x 14cm
Short Title The Spiritual Songs of Dugald Buchanan
Reference Details (1) This edition: National, University and public libraries; (2) 1767 edition: Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections, E.B. .891631 Buc.
Number Of Pages xii, 114
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Dugald Buchanan was born at Ardoch in Strathyre, Perthshire, in 1716, the son of a miller and farmer. His mother died when he was six years old. Both parents were religious and the memory of his mother’s devoutness stayed with him throughout his life. He began his working life as a tutor in his home area before learning his trade as a joiner in Kippen, Stirling, and Dumbarton. He claimed to have lived a dissolute life until the 1740s when he began to be concerned about the state of his soul and suffered four years of agonising spiritual turmoil, after which he experienced evangelical conversion. Around 1740, he was in the Divinity College in Glasgow University and was highly-regarded, particularly for his skills in biblical languages. This is evidenced in a letter from the Rev. John MacLaurin to his brother Colin, the distinguished mathematician. Buchanan never became a minister but this academic background may explain why it was he who was asked to supervise the printing of the Gaelic New Testament in Edinburgh in 1765-7. He subsequently became a schoolmaster in Strowan, then Drumcastle and finally at Kinloch Rannoch. He published a small collection of verse, eight hymns, in 1767 and is widely regarded as the most distinguished of Gaelic hymn-writers. The following year, he died of the fever and is buried in Little Leny, near Callander.

Buchanan was bilingual and equally at home writing in English or Gaelic. His earliest verse was written in English. Working in a bilingual context, Buchanan worked within the tradition of Protestant spiritual verse in Gaelic, but also looked to other models which lay outside the Highlands. His work was influenced in varying degrees by that of Isaac Watts (1674-1748), Edward Young (1683-1765), Robert Blair (1699-1746), and James Thomson (1700-48). Some of his verses are clearly a recasting of their works. Extensive borrowing of this type is not uncommon among eighteenth century poets in the wider British context. The roots of Highland evangelicalism lay in the movements which swept through England and the Scottish Lowlands in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When evangelicalism spread to the Highlands, the hymns of Buchanan played a crucial role in providing it with a Gaelic context, second only to the Gaelic Bible and the metrical psalter.

He was clearly aware that the imagery of nature could be used very effectively to transmit religious ideas. The Gaelic Bible was not published until 1767-1801, so it made sense to address Gaelic speakers in terms of General Revelation in which God displays Himself through His creation, rather than Special Revelation, in which God makes Himself known through His word.

Buchanan had a wide range of interests and, in his private letters, reveals himself as one who was au fait with the contemporary Enlightenment and passionately committed to Gaelic culture. This is evidenced in his letter to Sir James Clerk of Penicuik (wrongly described in the NLS catalogue entry as being to Sir John Clerk) asking for support for the compilation of a Gaelic dictionary.

Perhaps significantly, he wrote his autobiography in English. This too is clearly modelled on the work of Anglophone writers like John Bunyan. For general use the best version of his autobiography is the Diary of Dugald Buchanan, with a Memoir of his Life, Edinburgh, 1836.
Contents This volume opens with a Ro-ràdh (pp. vii-viii), Taing (p. ix), and Liosta Leabhraichean is Làmh-sgrìobhainnean (pp. xi-xv). These are followed by the Editor’s Introduction, consisting of Iomradh Toisich (pp. 1-61), Ceistean Deasachaidh is Cànain (pp. 62-74), Prionnsapalan Deasachaidh (pp. 75-76) and Re-aligning Dugald Buchanan: An English Summary of the Gaelic Introduction (pp. 77-95). The eight Laoidhean Spioradail take up pp. 98-283; photographs of Edinburgh University Library’s unique complete copy of the 1767 edition appear on the left-hand side, and edited versions of the same text are placed on the right-hand side of each opening. Each poem is followed by notes on its text and content. The poems appear in the following order.

Mòrachd Dhè (pp. 98-109): This poem is a meditation on the nature of God. It draws heavily on the work of Watts, containing close translations of verses in Watts’ The Creator and the Creatures. In the McNicol MS, a valuable and reliable resource compiled by Rev. Donald McNicol of Lismore, Buchanan’s work is entitled An Cruthadair agus na Creutiribh. The opening stanza is a translation of Watts. At some points the wording is altered, but the overall form of Watts’ work is retained.

Fulangas Chrìosd (pp. 110-37): This is an account of the life of Christ with emphasis on His suffering, effectively giving the Gael the gospel story in his own language. According to MacBean (1919, p. 80), this poem was ‘probably’ composed in 1753.

Là a’ Bhreitheanais (pp. 138-91): This work is regarded by many as being Buchanan’s greatest poetic achievement. It is heavily influenced by Young, some lines being direct translations from his Night Thoughts. It is a powerful description of the Day of Judgement, something with which Buchanan had been preoccupied since childhood. It uses images of familiar natural phenomena to convey a vivid picture of the Last Days. For example, lightning accompanying the destruction of the world is described as Mar fhalaisg ris na sléibhtibh cas (line 152), ‘like a moorburn sweeping up the steep slopes’, and there are many other graphic descriptions of natural phenomena.

Bruadar (pp. 192-207): Here Buchanan ponders man’s quest for spiritual contentment and demonstrates the pointlessness of greed and earthly ambition.

An Gaisgeach (pp. 208-21): In this poem, Buchanan demolishes the conventional view of the hero as a conqueror like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. His hero is the moral and spiritual champion who has won the battle within himself and whose riches are not material but spiritual. MacBean (1919, p. 101) thought that this poem showed signs of having been composed shortly after the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

An Claigeann (pp. 222-51): This poem draws on the work of Blair. Buchanan contemplates a skull which he sees in a graveyard and thinks about what kind of person it may have been associated with. He moralises on the types of individual who make up a community: the fair maid, the man of law, the physician, the soldier, the landlord, and so on, with some strong criticism of common failings. In contrast, the righteous person who has prepared himself to meet his Creator will be amply rewarded.

An Geamhradh (pp. 252-73): This poem is based on the concluding part of a poem of the same name by Thomson. It is full of natural imagery which is original to Buchanan and vividly evokes the onset of a Perthshire winter. It describes how creatures like bees and ants prepare for winter, and exhorts people to prepare with equal zeal for death and to ensure their salvation.

Urnaigh (pp. 274-83): Buchanan allegedly wrote this poem shortly before his death when the fever was rife in his parish. It is a prayer of repentance and a plea for deliverance.

This volume is completed by four Appendices: Agusan A: Trì litrichean Beurla a sgrìobh Dùghall Bochanan (pp. 285-301); Agusan B: Laoidh Bheurla a rinneadh le Dùghall Bochanan (pp. 302-05); Agusan C: ‘Mu thimcheall Mòrachd Dhè (pp. 306-11); Agusan D: Dàn a’ moladh Dhùghaill Bhochanain (pp. 312-18).

The Appendices are followed by a short list of difficult words entitled Faclair/Glossary (pp. 319-23).
Language Buchanan wrote in clear, communicative, Gaelic with some traces of Perthshire Gaelic, including the dropping of final -a/-e and -(e)adh in nouns and verbal nouns. His extensive use of the imagery of the natural world makes his work an important source of vocabulary relating to the land, landscape, etc. His use of the imagery of nature to convey spiritual meaning adds a new dimension to Gaelic religious verse in the early days of the Evangelical Movement.
Edition The 1767 edition was seen through the press by Buchanan himself, and is the authoritative edition. It is reproduced in the present volume, and should be used for excerpting.
Other Sources
Further Reading Buchanan, D., The Diary of Dugald Buchanan (Edinburgh, 1836: [n. pub.].
MacBean, L., Buchanan: Sacred Bard (London, 1919: [n. pub.]).
MacInnes, J., The Evangelical Movement in the Highlands of Scotland, 1688 to 1800 (Aberdeen, 1951: Aberdeen University Press).
Meek, D. E., ‘Ath-sgrùdadh: Dùghall Bochanan’ in Gairm, 147 (1989), 269-70, and 148 (1989), 319-31.
Meek, D. E., ‘Imagery of the Natural World in the Hymnology of Dugald Buchanan and Peter Grant’ in SGS, 17 (1996), 263-77.
Meek, D. E., Laoidhean Spioradail Dhùghaill Bhochanain (Glasgow, 2015: Scottish Gaelic Texts Society).
Sinclair, J., Reminiscences of Dugald Buchanan (Edinburgh, 1875: Religious Tract and Book Society).
Sutherland, A. C., ‘The Poetry of Dugald Buchanan, the Rannoch Bard’ in TGSI, 3-4 (1873-5), 101-115.
Thomson, D. S., ‘Dùghall Bochanan’ in An Gaidheal, 56 (1958).
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