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Metadata for text 193
No. words in textN/A
Title The Book of the Dean of Lismore
Author MacGregor, James
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition N/A
Date Of Language 16th c.
Publisher N/A
Place Published N/A
Volume N/A
Location National Library of Scotland
Geographical Origins Various
Register Literature, Prose and Verse
Alternative Author Name Dean of Lismore
Manuscript Or Edition MS
Size And Condition 20cm x 14cm. Originally vellum covers. Rebound in dark niger morocco covers in 1911 and provided with paper inlay. Trimming of the outer edges of folios when affixing inlay has removed some letters and, very occasionally, whole words. The acidic content of the paper inlay has caused staining on a number of pages. During the 1980s, the 1911 binding was removed and the folios were separated from the inlay, placed in plastic lamination and inserted in two binders. Fairly good condition, some parts unreadable and some require ultra-violet light for retrieval. Number of totally irretrievable words and letters is comparatively small. In addition to damage caused by rebinding, there is fading on the outer margins of certain folios which has probably been caused by friction and exposure to light. Some outer margins have also lost line-ends of text.
Short Title Bk. Dean Lismore
Reference Details NLS Adv. 72.1.37 (DEM thesis and articles used)
Number Of Pages Main part consists of 159 paper folios, with two more folios, containing fragments evidently not part of the original manuscript, and three vellum folios, containing Latin material, which once served as covers. While being examined by the Highland Society for its report in 1805 the manuscript was paginated carelessly. Two consecutive pages sometimes carry the same number, while others have no number. However, pagination indicates that the order of the folios has not been disturbed since the early nineteenth century. Dislocation at an earlier date is evidenced by breaks in the present order of material.
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context The manuscript is the work of a group of scribes from Perthshire, among them Duncan MacGregor and his brother James, who was titular Dean of Lismore from 1514-51. The earliest and latest dates recorded in the manuscript suggest that it was compiled between 1512 and 1542. Dates recorded between those years suggest the scribes worked on the manuscript fairly consistently over a period of thirty years. The Gaelic poetry was entered during the earlier part of that period; for further details see MacGregor (2006).

During this time Campbell power and influence in Breadalbane was increasing, and the MacGregor scribes were vassals of the Campbells of Glenorchy. The Campbells had an interest in both Highland and Lowland cultures and operated successfully in both.

Scots had become a powerful all purpose language in the Lowlands and had begun to cross the Highland Line well before 1500, as evidenced by Scots forms of Gaelic names appearing in monumental sculpture. The Scots-based orthography of the Book of the Dean of Lismore (BDL) attests to Scots/Gaelic bilingual literacy at that time. The MacGregor scribes’ practised ease in handling this orthography suggests it was, to them at least (as professional notaries), a relatively stable tradition. Operating on the frontier of Scots and Gaelic, at a time when linguistic status would have been an issue, they may have held the view that the existing orthographic base of Gaelic was no longer adequate, and should be replaced.
Contents BDL contains material in Gaelic, Latin and Scots. Gaelic material is primarily syllabic verse with some notes and jottings relating to domestic, personal, scientific and business matters (pp. 48, 59b, 74, 92d, 250). Scots material consists of some items of verse and some prose items, including a chronicle. Latin material consists of a canonical text on the vellum covers and other miscellaneous items.

BDL includes a wide selection of poetry ranging from the work of highly-trained bards to that of amateurs. It contains the work of both Scottish and Irish poets. It contains three main categories of poetry:

Bardic verse including elegy, eulogy and religious poetry. Irish and Scottish authors are represented, Scottish outnumbering Irish by about 44 to 21. This is composed in strict forms of syllabic metre obeying rules laid down by the medieval bardic schools. Much of this type of verse has been edited (Watson 1937) or at least transcribed (Quiggin 1937). In territorial terms the Scottish bardic verse represents the following Scottish families: MacGregor, MacDonald, Campbell of Argyll, MacDougall of Dunollie, MacLeod of Lewis, MacLeod of Harris and Dunvegan, Stewart of Rannoch, MacNeill of Gigha and MacSween of Knapdale.

Heroic verse or ballads is the second largest category of poetry, apparently mostly transcribed from manuscripts. These are composed in (usually) four-line stanzas of a loose form of syllabic metre known as ógláchas. Most of the poems were intended for singing or chanting. This material has been edited (Meek 1982).

Courtly and satiric verse ascribed to Irish and Scottish authors. These poems are of interest as the main, and sometimes the only, source for certain poetic genres in Gaelic. The courtly love poetry corresponds closely with the Irish dánta grádha tradition. A second category is concerned with women in general and demonstrates an unfavourable attitude towards them. This body of material shares themes, phrases, lines and figures with the later tradition of misogynist verse. Some poems also exhibit parallels with Middle English and Middle Scots sources, perhaps implying direct contact with non-Gaelic literatures. Other poems are directed against evil women and some are short epigrams to women, mostly scurrilous sallies at the expense of local worthies’ wives and daughters. This body of verse is significant in that it has been composed in several varieties of Gaelic including Classical Early Modern Gaelic, vernacular Scottish Gaelic and various intermediate levels. Comparison of BDL’s contents with those of Irish MSS, and with parallels in non-Gaelic traditions, gives important insights into the Gaelic tradition at that time (Gillies 1977).
Sources The textual state of the heroic ballads shows that these were compiled from manuscript and oral sources, though the evidence provided by scribal emendations suggests that most have come from manuscript sources. These emendations in BDL are unique in the classical tradition of MS compilation. Some involve words, phrases and whole lines. The new readings are written in superscript above their cancellations and derive from alternative versions of the text. In some instances whole verses are added, usually at the bottom of the page. These emendations demonstrate that the scribe was comparing one version with another and making alterations as he went along. They must be distinguished from those which are attempts to correct spelling and rewrite difficult words. This level of editorial intervention is not unique to the heroic ballads, but is most fully developed in this category.

Oral versions are of the Perthshire dialect and provide valuable evidence for contemporary pronunciations of that dialect and for the history of Gaelic phonology, morphology and syntax.

Script and Appearance
BDL is written in the notary or secretary hand which became widespread in Scotland and England from the fifteenth century and which was used in legal, ecclesiastical, personal and literary domains in Lowland Scotland. The use of this hand links BDL to the wider literary world of Lowland Scotland and England, and sets it apart from the Gaelic tradition in which scribes used the Gaelic script known as corra-litir, a development of medieval insular bookhand. For poems, the scribes used a ‘set’ form of secretary hand, while for jottings a ‘free’ more cursive form was used.

Compared with medieval Gaelic manuscripts, written in the regular and often beautiful corra-litir, BDL looks hasty and informal. Decorated initials occur occasionally; these are decidedly plain and correspond to those found in notarial instruments.
Orthography The BDL scribes have used Scots orthography throughout and this appears to have been a deliberate decision. Evidence suggests they were not ignorant of conventional Gaelic orthography, since characteristics of that system recur in certain of their spellings and entire words occasionally appear in Gaelic form. This commitment to non-Gaelic orthography is all the more striking given that the manuscript is probably the work of more than one scribe and was compiled over a period of thirty years. It may also indicate that the scribes and their readers were wholly familiar with a Scots-based orthography. Such systems could have been in use in medieval Scotland in areas where Scots and Gaelic came into contact in a literate context.
Other Sources
Further Reading Gillies, W., ‘Courtly and Satiric Poetry from the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, Scottish Studies, 21 (1977), 35-53.
Gillies, W., ‘The Gaelic Poems of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy’, SGS, 13/1 (1978), 18-45.
Gillies, W., ‘The Book of the Dean of Lismore: the literary perspective’, in Fresche fontanis: studies in the culture of medieval and early modern Scotland, ed. by J. Derrick McClure and Janet Hadley Williams (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2013: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 179-216.
MacGregor, M.D., ‘The view from Fortingall: the worlds of the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, SGS, 22 (2006), 35-85.
Meek, D.E., ‘The Corpus of Heroic Verse in the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 1982.
Meek, D.E., ‘The Scots-Gaelic Scribes of Late Medieval Perthshire: An Overview of the Orthography of the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, in Stewart Style 1513-42: Essays on the Court of James V, ed. by Janet Hadley Williams (East Linton, 1996: Tuckwell Press), 254-72.
Meek, D.E., ‘‘Norsemen and Noble Stewards’: The MacSween Poem in the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 34 (1997), 1-50.
O'Rahilly, T.F., ‘Indexes to the Book of the Dean of Lismore’, SGS, 4 (1934-5), 31-56.
Quiggin, E.C., Poems from the Book of the Dean of Lismore: with a catalogue of the book and indexes (Cambridge, 1937: The University Press). 
Watson, W.J., Scottish Verse from the Book of the Dean of Lismore (Edinburgh, 1937: Scottish Gaelic Texts Society).
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