The Old Foundations of Life

Malvine, Dying in the Arms of Fingal, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.
Malvine, Dying in the Arms of Fingal, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.

Gaelic-speaking Ireland, because its art has been made, not only by the artist choosing his material from wherever he has a mind to, but by adding a little to something which it has taken generations to invent, has always had a popular literature. We cannot say how much that literature has done for the vigour of the race, for we cannot count the hands its praise of kings and high-hearted queens made hot upon the sword-hilt, or the amorous eyes it made lustful for strength and beauty. We remember indeed that when the farming people and the labourers of the towns made their last attempt to cast out England by force of arms they named themselves after the companions of Finn. Even when Gaelic has gone, and the poetry with it, something of the habit remains in ways of speech and thought and ‘come-all-ye’s’ and political sayings; nor is it only among the poor that the old thought has been for strength or weakness. Surely these old stories, whether of Finn or Cuchulain, helped to sing the old Irish and the old Norman-Irish aristocracy to their end. They heard their hereditary poets and story-tellers, and they took to horse and died fighting against Elizabeth or against Cromwell; and when an English-speaking aristocracy had their place, it listened to no poetry indeed, but it felt about it in the popular mind an exacting and ancient tribunal, and began a play that had for spectators men and women that loved the high wasteful virtues. I do not think that their own mixed blood or the habit of their time need take all, or nearly all, credit or discredit for the impulse that made our modern gentlemen fight duels over pocket-handkerchiefs, and set out to play ball against the gates of Jerusalem for a wager, and scatter money before the public eye; and at last, after an epoch of such eloquence the world has hardly seen its like, lose their public spirit and their high heart and grow querulous and selfish as men do who have played life out not heartily but with noise and tumult. Had they understood the people and the game a little better, they might have created an aristocracy in an age that has lost the meaning of the word. When we read of the Fianna, or of Cuchulain, or of some great hero, we remember that the fine life is always a part played finely before fine spectators. There also we notice the hot cup and the cold cup of intoxication; and when the fine spectators have ended, surely the fine players grow weary, and aristocratic life is ended. When O’Connell covered with a dark glove the hand that had killed a man in the duelling field, he played his part; and when Alexander stayed his army marching to the conquest of the world that he might contemplate the beauty of a plane-tree, he played his part. When Osgar complained, as he lay dying, of the keening of the women and the old fighting men, he too played his part: ‘No man ever knew any heart in me,’ he said, ‘but a heart of twisted horn, and it covered with iron; but the howling of the dogs beside me,’ he said, ‘and the keening of the old fighting men and the crying of the women one after another, those are the things that are vexing me’.

If we would create a great community–and what other game is so worth the labour?–we must recreate the old foundations of life, not as they existed in that splendid misunderstanding of the eighteenth century, but as they must always exist when the finest minds and Ned the beggar and Sean the fool think about the same thing, although they may not think the same thought about it.

— W. B. Yeats’s Preface to Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men, 1904.

30 November 1554

Arms of Reginald Cardinal Pole.
Arms of Reginald Cardinal Pole.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Which with His most precious blood hath redeemed and washed us from all our sins and iniquities, that He might purchase unto Himself a glorious spouse without spot or wrinkle, and the Father hath appointed Head over all His Church, He by His mercy absolve you. And we, by apostolic authority given unto us by the most holy lord Pope Julius III., His vicegerent here on earth, do absolve and deliver you, and every of you, with the whole realm and dominions thereof, from all heresy and schism, and from all and every judgment, censures, and pains, for that cause incurred; and, also, we do restore you again unto the unity of our mother the holy Church, as in our letters more plainly it shall appear: in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Absolution restoring the Realm of England to Catholic unity, proclaimed 30 November 1554, the Queen, the King, and the Papal Legate being all present in the House of Lords.

Colin Campbell, 8th Laird of Glenorchy

Sir Colin Campbell, 2nd Baronet, 8th Laird of Glenorchy, from the Black Book of Taymouth.
Sir Colin Campbell, 2nd Baronet, 8th Laird of Glenorchy, from the Black Book of Taymouth.

Item, the said Sir Coline Campbell of Glenurchay Knycht barronett of gude memorie depairt this lyfe in Balloch the sext day of September the yeir of God 1640 yeiris, being laird of Glenurchay nyne yeiris, and thriescore thrie yeiris of age.

And wes honourablie buried in the chappell of Finlarg be his nixt brother Sir Robert Campbell nynt laird of Glenurchay, being accompanyit with diveris of his honourabill freinds and neighbouris, his brethreen, and the rest of his freendis of the name Campbell come of his hous.

Black Book of Taymouth.

Sir Colin and Lady Juliana Campbell

“Scotland of Old”

Cover of Bartholomew's Map of Scotland of Old, John Bartholomew & Son, Edinburgh, c. 1956.
Cover of Bartholomew’s Map of Scotland of Old, John Bartholomew & Son, Edinburgh, c. 1956.
Bartholomew's Map of Scotland of Old, John Bartholomew & Son, Edinburgh, c. 1956; clan map by Sir Iain Moncreiffe, Albany Herald, and Don Pottinger, Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms.
Bartholomew’s Map of Scotland of Old, John Bartholomew & Son, Edinburgh, c. 1956; clan map by Sir Iain Moncreiffe, Albany Herald, and Don Pottinger, Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms.

Heere & Heerafter

Letter from Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, to his son, James Campbell, on the day of his execution, 30 June 1685.
Letter from Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, to his son, James Campbell, on the day of his execution, 30 June 1685.

Ed[inburgh] Castle 30 June 85

Deare James

Learne to feare God it is the only way to make you happie heere and heerafter Loue & reſpect my wiffe and hearken to her aduice the Lord bleſs you I am

Yr Louing Father
ARGYLL.

For
Mr. James Campbell.

The Witch of Keil

Entrance to one of the caves at Keil, Southend, Kintyre.
Entrance to one of the caves at Keil, Southend, Kintyre.

This old lady is introduced to us by Mr. F. A. Mackay, in his poem of “The Heir of Lorn.” Moila was her name, and she lived at the beginning of the thirteenth century, though she was popularly supposed to have seen Fingal in his prime, and her wrinkled and tremendously aged face seemed, literally, to give utterance to such an idea. She claimed kindred with the Clan Donald, to one of whom she had been a sort of foster-mother, and she lived near to St. Columba’s church, in one of those mysterious caverns of which there are so many in the district of Keil. When the visitor was admitted to her presence, this was the species of old lady on which his gaze fell :—

. . . . a hideous form
Like to the monster of the midnight storm;
Skins of the beasts of prey are loosely thrown
Across a shape whose shrivell’d limbs are shown;
Fierce, wild, and ruthless; long her matted hair,
Which ill protects a bosom dark and bare.
A rod of iron fills her skinny hand,
With which anon she stirs the blazing brand;
A crown of bramble decks her wrinkled brow;
Coarse is the fringe which shades her eye below ;
Out from its hairy covered cell it stares,
As lightning through the gathered rain-cloud glares.
A smoking cauldron hangs above the fire,
Whose fitful blazes flare and then expire;
A wild succession of unearthly shapes,
Glides down the throat where gloomy darkness gapes;
Before the fire, on back of hard tortoise,
An old sly cat his one-eyed sleep enjoys;
Heaped in a corner lie, not far apart,
The mystic books of her divining art;—
Toads, asps, and adders crawl along the ground,
Whilst slimy snails coat all the rocks around.

She is further described as having “Her hands like toads, each finger like an asp;” but her repulsiveness is atoned for by her magic powers. She weaves her spell, and summons her kindred spirits, which come trooping to her cave to do her bidding.

See how she stirs the cauldron, smoking white!
Around her dance fantastic spirits bright;
Some green, some red, some yellow, others blue—
A fiend-like mocking of the rainbow’s hue;
With maddening swiftness round and round they wheel,
Like fiery belt which makes the vision reel.
Slow through the smoke appears a lurid hand,
Which drops some charm at Moila’s stern command;
The hissing pot gives forth a lurid gleam,
The witch chants out, the spirits dance and scream.
‘Tis seven times done ! loud bursts a joyous shout,
Away! away! dread darkness ends the rout.

Such were the incantations of Moila, the witch of Keil.

— Bede Cuthbert, Argyll’s Highlands, Glasgow, 1902.

Whose Is the Right

John Pettie (1834-93), Bonnie Prince Charlie Entering the Ballroom at Holyroodhouse, perhaps accompanied by Cameron of Lochiel (c. 1700-1748), and Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo (1678-1762).
John Pettie (1834-93), Bonnie Prince Charlie Entering the Ballroom at Holyroodhouse, perhaps accompanied by Cameron of Lochiel (c. 1700-1748), and Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo (1678-1762).

God bless the prince, I pray,
God bless the prince, I pray,
Charlie I mean;
That Scotland we may see
Freed from vile Presbyt’ry,
Both George and his Feckie.
Even so. Amen.

God bless the happy hour!
May the Almighty Power
Make all things well;
That the whole progeny
Who are in Italy
May soon and suddenly
Come to Whitehall.

God bless the church, I pray,
God save the church, I pray,
Pure to remain,
Free from all Whiggery,
And Whigs’ hypocrisy,
Who strive maliciously
Her to defame.

Here’s to the subjects all,
God send them, great and small,
Firmly to stand,
That would call home the king
Whose is the right to reign:
This is the only thing
Can save the land.

Four verses of the King’s Anthem, as published in Charles MacKay, ed., The Jacobite Songs and Ballads of Scotland from 1688 to 1746, Glasgow: Richard Griffin and Co., 1861.